Jesus is risen!

Preached on: Sunday 17th April 2022
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 22-04-17 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: John 20:1-2 & 11-18
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– The resurrection proves Jesus has secured the new earth and heavens
– Jesus doesn’t deny the hard realities of this world (vis-a-vis ‘naive triumphalism’)
– Jesus is with us because He is alive (vis-a-vis ‘gloomy dualism’)

So, boys and girls, hopefully you had your listening ears on there because I’ll have a couple of questions for you in a moment. But, have you had a good Easter break? Have you all had a good Easter break? Ready to go back to school and nursery, yeah? Probably the parents and grandparents are more eager for that than you are. But here is a question I have for you this morning. It’s about, now what’s going on here, I’m not quite sure. There we go. The question is: What has changed in the last two weeks in your life in the last two weeks? What has changed in your life? It might be something you can think of that is a big thing, a small thing. It could be a good thing, could be a bad thing. And this is not just for the children, this is for everybody to think about. In the last two weeks, what has changed in your life? See what you can come up with, I’ll give you 30 seconds to have a chat with the person next to you, and see what you can come up with. What has changed in the last two weeks?

Thank-you.

So, hopefully you came up with some interesting things. Anybody want to shout out or share? Anybody down the front anything what to share? What’s changed in the last few weeks two weeks?

Shout out.

Three new chickens! Whoa exciting! Someone else? Anybody over this side? Upstairs or downstairs? Something you want to share? What about anybody in the middle? Could be a young person, could be an adult, that you want to share something, anything. What – you’re three! Oh, exciting. Did you have a good time celebrating? Did you get some birthday cake? Oh nice! What about over here ain’t nobody, Daniel Emily?

What? New drawers, okay, just making sure I heard you right there and Emily? Your room’s tidy. Hey good job, good job!

Well these are some really, I didn’t expect most of these answers but these are really great answers. Things that you notice, things that changed. But, you know, in your life there are things that have changed that you clearly didn’t think about because you didn’t name them this morning. So, for example, do you know that your hair has grown on average 5.6 millimeters? I know, you can’t tell it from my hair but I shave it every week. Okay now, or your fingernails? Your fingernails on average have grown 1.2 millimeters in the last two weeks and you probably didn’t even notice because you’ve been nibbling away at them. Or what about our planet? We know that our planet is spinning round and it also goes in an orbit. In the last two weeks alone, you have spun 204,000 miles in the last two weeks alone. As part of our orbit you have moved 22 million miles and you didn’t even notice. Like, oh, that’s nothing! These incredible things are happening and we don’t even, we’re not even aware of them, and the same was true that first Easter and our story, boys and girls, there were four people. There was the two angels but there was also two main characters. Who were our two main characters? Anybody want to stick our hand, can you remember two main characters other than the angels?

Emily – Mary. Did you see Mary? Yeah. And who is the other one? Shout out together – Jesus, Jesus. So, that was the first Easter and so we tell the story that Jesus died on the cross after being in the garden where he was praying and then where did they put His body – in the tomb, that’s right and so Mary goes to the tomb but she’s really upset because what does she find has happened? What’s happened on Easter Sunday?

Did it disappear? The body was gone, the stone was rolled away, yeah, it’s been moved. Now, why would she be upset about that? Why would she be upset at that? Hope, hand up please, okay, someone else, you’ve answered a couple of questions. Anybody else willing to brave any answers? Up the top at all? No, okay, we’ll go back here then. Why would she be upset? Shout it out,

She couldn’t see Jesus’s body. His body had disappeared. She thought someone’s taken it. And Jesus mattered so much to Mary that she was just aghast at this and so she runs off to tell the disciples, ‘Someone’s taking the body of Jesus’ and then she comes back to the tomb and she’s standing there at the tomb just looking and she sees these two angels. She doesn’t know it’s two angels but then she hears someone ask a question and she turns around and someone is there. Who is there with her now? Who’s there with her? Can you remember that part of the story? Who was there? Lydia – Jesus that’s right. Now, did she realize it was Jesus at the start? Did she realize it was Jesus at the start? No, she didn’t. We don’t really know why. Maybe she was just so tearful she couldn’t see passing tears. Maybe she didn’t turn around enough or maybe something had changed about Jesus. Maybe something had changed about how He looked and how He was but He says Mary and she turns and she realizes it’s Jesus. Jesus is alive, and she wants to just rush to him and give him a big hug like you would your best friend or your mum or your dad or grandparent. She hadn’t seen him in a long time, she just wants to give him a hug. But, does Jesus allow her to get close and just give that big hug? Does she? Is she allowed to do it? Not really, because He goes on to say this to her ‘Do not hold on to me for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them I am ascending to my Father and your father, to my God and your God.’ It’s a really weird thing to say and probably not what you expected me to focus on from our reading, but there’s something really important for us here in this, I think. Because, what do we celebrate on Easter Sunday? What are we celebrating today? What do you think we’re celebrating? Anybody want to shout out?

Jesus is alive, we’re celebrating Jesus is alive. But, when you look out at the world, is the world perfect? The bad things happen. Do you think all the promises that God made in the Bible, are they all fulfilled yet? Do we see heaven on earth as Jesus taught us to pray for? Not really. Our world is a bit of a mess. Sometimes it can feel like things are getting worse and life can sometimes feel pretty hard and worrying and scary. And so, we can be tempted to react in one two ways. We can kind of have one reaction that says ‘Wow, Jesus is alive!’ and just ignore the world out there, or we can have another reaction that says ‘You know, the world out there is a mess so Jesus can’t be alive, it must just be a made-up story.’ And there’s one writer that I was reading just this past week, NT Wright that said we can either be in this side which is just ‘naive triumphalism’ but ignores the world, or we can be tempted to be on another side ‘gloomy dualism, where we think ‘Well, God doesn’t care, it can’t be real. If He is there, He’s just not involved or caring at all.’ Here’s the thing, neither side is right and neither side does Jesus fit into because He said ‘Do not hold on to me I have not yet gone to my heavenly Father.’ Jesus has died on the cross and when He died on the cross, He said ‘It is finished.’ What he had set out he accomplished, something changed, even though we were not aware of it and so He was risen from the dead to prove that. But there’s more to come, there’s more to come because His passion secured a future day, a future world that will be made perfect and whole and everything will be made new. It’s a change we’re not even aware of, just like we’re not aware of our world moving, there’s a change being made because Jesus on the cross died to defeat sin and death and all the powers of evil and one day His kingdom will be all that there is and that is our hope and that is our joy and that is proven by Jesus rising from the dead.

Now, when he rose, boys and girls, on that Easter, first Easter morning and met with Mary, she was quite sad but when she realized that Jesus was alive what do you think she started to feel? What do you think she maybe felt then? Anybody willing? What do you think she was feeling? She wasn’t sad anymore. What do you think? She was happy, joyful, She was because she now knew that Jesus was alive. He was there. He was present. And we might be here today feeling life is hard, we might be feeling and thinking that the world’s just a mess, that holding on in faith is just too hard, or seems crazy, but we can know that Jesus is alive, we can, Easter doesn’t deny the hard realities of life for the world but it reminds us that Jesus is alive, a future day has been secured and you can have that relationship with Jesus, beginning even now. You can hear His voice. You can journey with Jesus. And, maybe this Easter invitation is for you, to invite Him afresh into your life, to grow in faith, or pursue faith for the first time. And so, maybe this Wednesday evening, think about coming along to Alpha or if you can’t make the first week, then come to the second, we can catch you up. Come along to Alpha, explore the faith, ask hard questions. Or maybe get involved in a group in church or read a book, or read a bit more of your Bible – but grow in faith, invite Jesus afresh that together we might say with Mary ‘I have seen the Lord. He’s alive, He’s in my life.’ And then, we too can share in the Easter joy. I pray it may be so. Amen.

The big Reveal!

Preached on: Sunday 10th April 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: John 12:12-19 (and John 1:1-14 & 20:30-31)
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
• The triumphal entry into Jerusalem was a ‘hinge’ moment in John’s account of the life of Jesus.
• Chapters 1-11 of John’s Gospel provide ‘signs’ of the Christ’s rescue plan – but Palm Sunday is the beginning of the big reveal as Jesus ‘goes public’. Chapters 12-21 show Jesus in control and navigating every step of his journey to the Cross.
• John, as an eye witness, reveals Jesus as God who by ‘dwelling with us’ revealed himself and the father by demonstrating that he is the way, the truth and the light.
• The shouts of Hosanna ( save us ) from the Passover crowds began a week of Easter bedlam, the unexpected significance of which only became clear after Jesus’ resurrection.

Thank-you Jason.

Lord God, I pray that the word that we now hear from Your word would go deep into our hearts, that You would speak to us and that your Holy Spirit would lead anything that the speaker says, that’s not of You, send it away like chaff, but anything that’s true, make it hit our hearts like an arrow. Amen.

Last time I was up here it was the second of January and I can remember saying or telling you a little bit about my Sunday School experience. Not sure that that qualifies me to be up here but I was, I’ve been a regular Sunday School teacher for, I don’t know, it was about 25 years and I loved it. It helped me learn the Bible because I prepared and I knew I would get all sorts of interesting questions and interesting feedback from the boys and girls that were there. I’ll never forget Jack McManus. I’m sitting and I’m telling some story from the Bible and he turns to his neighbor and he says ‘He talks funny.” Yep, Jack was absolutely right. And then there was the unnamed member of a Sunday School class I was in and this kid was very, very quick on the uptake, you only need to tell him something once. And we were telling a story and he started making a noise like a frog ‘Heard it. Heard it. Heard it. Read it. Read it.’ Didn’t matter what the story was, this kid knew the story.

Don’t let me put you off. If you want to join Sunday School teaching, it is fantastic. I genuinely mean that, I genuinely mean that. It’s the best thing I think I’ve ever done on my Christian walk/ But, why am I telling you Sunday school stories? Well, it’s because I think today’s message falls into that category, of one of those familiar stories that we’ve heard time and time and time again, and what it means is that we can turn our minds off, we can stop, we can stop thinking about it and it’s a real trap for me. It’s when someone preaches on the Good Samaritan, because I think I’ve heard it hundreds of times and I’ve got to take my brain and really switch on. So, I want to challenge you today, as we look at the story of Palm Sunday – I keep calling it Psalm Sunday – Palm Sunday, not to turn your mind off but to really engage with the story. If you’ve heard it hundreds and hundreds of times, hear it like it’s fresh, and if you have heard it, if this is the first time, then strap yourself in and enjoy it.

We’ve read the story or we heard this story – I’m using the word story, I mean a report by John from John chapter 12 – and we know it must be an important account because it comes up in all four of the gospels, Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem. All four gospels. Now remember, not all four gospels actually recount the birth of Jesus, so this must be significant. The other thing is that, in the Christian tradition, over the course of 2000 years, Palm Sunday is a big deal. Roman Catholics celebrate it big time, Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate it big time, and Protestants celebrate it as well, and I was going to put some screenshots up of some of the ways in which people celebrate it particularly in the South Pacific but I thought it would be really quite distracting. The other thing is songwriters go to town on it. I could have picked any number of hymns today about Palm Sunday and it’s just a big, big theme. But, why? Why is it a big deal?

Let’s set the scene:
Last week Scott was preaching from John chapter 11 and he gave us the account of Lazarus being risen from the dead, and he shared with us the deep symbolism, the deep signs of the future of Jesus that were being played out on through the resurrection of Lazarus but also, at a very practical level, you have to say it caused a bit of a stooshie. You don’t see people coming back from the dead very often. It was the talk of Judea and the back story from what Scott was sharing and from today’s story was that, after it happened, Jesus and his disciples, they had to leave the town, they had to go into the desert region because it had caused such a commotion. They brought a dead man back to life and, of course, the Pharisees, the church leaders of the day, were concerned about it. They created a meeting of the Sanhedrin and so we start chapter 12 with Jesus coming back from the desert and going back into Bethany and it says that there’s a large crowd spot him. We read if we look at chapter 12 in verse 19 and verse 9 it says ‘Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and they came not only because of him but also to see Lazarus who he had raised from the dead. So, the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well for, on account of him, many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.’

So, there’s something happening here, without doubt. Jesus is going public because, up until this point yes, Jesus had a public ministry, but it was quite low profile but then, suddenly, things start to get stirred up and it’s the start of the Passover festival with Jews coming into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Josephus tells us, and I don’t know how he could have come up with that figure but Josephus, the church that the Jewish historian at the time said that during Passover Jerusalem swelled by maybe two million people. But also remember, that at that time, Judea was like a vassal state, it was like Belarus or maybe like Hong Kong, it was kind of under its own control but not really, because the Romans still utterly dominated and the Romans had the local officials and the local leaders in their pocket. It was corrupt and the time of the Passover was when real rebellion started to swell and people were looking for this, looking for other options, they were looking to be free, there was a sense of stirring all over the place, if you like. Jerusalem was a hotbed and we know that that’s a fact because before the time of Jesus there’d been revolutions and soon after the time of Jesus there’d been such a desperate revolution that Jerusalem was destroyed and the temple was destroyed. So, it’s some picture but right in the middle of this picture, of this jumble of Passover in Jerusalem comes Jesus and he’s riding on a colt, a young donkey. We get that from the other gospels that the young colt has its mother beside it and that’s significant because this wasn’t some little toy horse, this was an unredeemed male donkey, full of massive symbolism to the Jews and here was Jesus taking on a deliberate challenge because He was taking on the symbol of kingship and riding into and towards Jerusalem.

Jesus was being provocative really, in a very public way because, at this time in Judea, you didn’t rock the boat, you stayed on board with the Romans, you were in bed with the Romans. Remember, for example, Herod and his cronies. Herod that the moment that there was a suggestion of adultery he had the head of John the Baptist. But here was Jesus rabble-rousing, Jesus was being incendiary.

Now I want you to pause and think about that picture because, so often the picture we have of Jesus is kind of that stained glass Jesus, meek and mild, touching the heads of little children and well, this is this is quite a different looking Jesus altogether. He’s working up the crowds again, if we look at the passage, if we look at verse 12 ‘A great crowd had come to the feast and they took Palm branches and they went out to meet him shouting ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel.’ Jesus found a young donkey and he sat upon it, as it was written:
‘Do not be afraid oh Daughter of Zion, see your king is coming seated on a donkey’s colt.’’ Now, the Romans might not get it, but the Jews, who knew their Bible, did and they knew the symbolism of a man on a donkey processing.

He was coming in as a future king. He was coming in as a liberator. He knew exactly what he was doing. It wasn’t as if he’d got tired legs and decided that he would just find a donkey to save the walk. This comes straight from the passages of Psalms. Psalm 118 ‘Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the king of Israel.’ And the crowds were getting it. The crowd knew that something was happening, that there was something about this being the promised leader and just imagine the sense of rebellion that’s brewing at the time amongst the language of the of the festival of the Passover. Here comes a revolutionary, here comes a man to save us. This is looking like a coup. This is looking like a revolution, a power grab.

Now, is that the Jesus that we’ve come to read about and think about over many years? Is that the kind of Jesus that we teach to our kids in Sunday School?

This man looks like he is on a power grab.

What’s going to happen?

Here’s a nobody, a man from up north in Galilee, he had a career as a carpenter, he then becomes some sort of traveling teacher, preacher and now, here he is, crossing swords with the authorities in Jerusalem. A complete upstart. So, if you were looking at this story, if you’re in the story and thinking it was a novel or a picture, what’s going to happen? I suggest it can only go one of two ways. Somehow this is the start of an uprising and Jesus is going to take over Jerusalem, he’s going to seize power and he’s going to take on the Romans now. It’s not as fanciful as it sounds. People genuinely had that notion at the time and Jesus was literally going to become King of the Jews. Now, in a week’s time we know that that phrase King of the Jews is used in a very different way. Put yourself in the story. You see, it’s not so outlandish. Muhammad the founder of the Muslim faith certainly operated that way. Muhammad carried a sword and he used it.

So, that’s one thing that might happen. What else can happen?

Well, it’s pretty obvious the authorities are going to deal to Him, they’re going to get Him and we see that theme coming through that the Pharisees were already plotting to kill Jesus, indeed, they were now plotting to kill Lazarus as well because that would have been quite a convenient mop-up. And if they don’t catch Him, well, he’ll sleek away back into the desert again with his disciples and that’ll be the end of that. All a very unfortunate mistake.

But look at verse 16. Even his disciples don’t know what’s going on. ‘At first his disciples did not understand all this only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had been and that they had done these things to him.’

And that’s where I want you to capture the story, capture the significance of what John is doing here. You see, this is a critical moment, it’s a critical moment in the life of Jesus because it’s His big reveal.

I’m calling it a hinge moment. Heather knows I’ve been speaking spending all week trying to find a hinge that I could show you, that just didn’t work but what I’m meaning is it’s a hinge moment in a story that John wrote down. You see, for 11 chapters from John through chapter 1 to 11, he’s telling the story of Jesus and he’s telling the signs but then, at this moment of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, it’s a hinge because from this point on, from chapter 12 to the end, we’re getting to see the real story, the real revelation of why Jesus came and that’s why, that’s why I had for read for us the very beginning of John’s gospel, that’s why I put the images up of the of the of the papyrus that John wrote his whole book to demonstrate who Jesus was and this is a hinge point in it.

Let’s go back to John 1. I’m going to read those five verses again, they’re very, very famous verses but I want you to get it and I want you to listen again as if it’s for the first time. So don’t, in your mind, go ‘Heard it. Heard it. Heard it.’ Listen to it for the first time. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. Hhe 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 men. That light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not understood it.’ That is John’s story. That’s why he wrote it down.

But, but I think it sounds preposterous. Jesus Christ is God. He came to earth as a human being. It’s preposterous!

Now, you may have been coming to church all your days, I teased John, I know he’s been coming to church all his days but you may have been coming to church all your days and this has kind of just washed over you over time. It’s a strange and bizarre statement that a human being came to earth and he was God. That is the Easter story, that is the Christmas story and John wrote this for a reason and I’m sorry but I think it sounds strange. He is God.

But it goes further. John chapter 1 verse 10 ‘He was in the world and though the world was made through him the world did not recognize him.’ Verse 14 ‘The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’ Jason prayed that we might hear the truth. Jesus is the truth. But it’s a really big claim and it’s a claim that our modern world thinks it’s kind of grown out of.

If Fergal Keane or Clive Myrie presented the news tonight and said that there’s a guy in, there’s a guy who’s coming to Jerusalem and he’s claiming to be the king of the Jews, he’s claiming to be the Son of God, well, I kind of know what your reaction would be because I kind of know what my reaction would be to that sort of news report. But that is the claim, that is the claim that John made and he was an eyewitness. Again, that was the point of me putting up the papyrus, he was there and we can trust the evidence of eyewitnesses. But getting back to what Scott’s been preaching to us for the last four or five weeks from chapter 1 through 11, there’s been signs all the way through John’s message of the Messiah but now that subtle sign is stopping and he’s actually here in Jerusalem Bang! presenting Himself as the king.

The only thing is, a week later or five days later, they’re marching Him to the cross and the accolades of the crowds and the Hosanna-business is all behind Him and He’s being put to put to death, put to death, and then the strange story that on the Sunday he rises again.

Now please, I totally get it, I totally get that you may think ‘Look I can’t accept this. It’s an absurd story. It’s made up.’ Maybe that’s you. Maybe at best you’re sitting here today and you’re a skeptic or maybe you’re thinking ‘You know what, I’ve never given it any thought. I’ve never given it any thought. I’ve lived a good life. I’ve always thought of myself as a Christian. I grew up with all these stories, they’re nice stories and well, I’ve just gone along with them.’ I don’t know, maybe you’re different from that all together and you’re just, you’re just a person who said ‘I’m not, it’s not hard for me. I just accept it. I just believe.’ Or maybe you’re just not clear. maybe you still just puzzling it through. If that’s you, then good on you, keep puzzling, keep puzzling. You see, wherever you are on the spectrum of belief, you’ve got to make something of this account, of this guy coming into Jerusalem on a donkey which was deeply, deeply wrong, symbolically wrong, to be riding on an unredeemed young male colt, deeply wrong and yet, the crowds are going crazy and singing ‘Hosanna! Hosanna!’ because they see in the context of the of the Passover Festival that the Messiah is coming, and then a week later it’s all gone. You’ve got to make something of it. You’ve got to, even if it’s like I’m ignoring it.

The disciples didn’t know either and I think that’s quite interesting. Remember we get to know the end story because we can jump to the end of the story but, at the time, the disciples are clueless and I don’t mean that unkindly to the disciples, it’s not being revealed.

The young donkey, only Jesus knows what the donkey’s for. Only Jesus knows of the coming betrayal of Judas. Only Jesus knows that Peter will deny Him. Only Jesus knows the outcome of His trial before it happens. And only Jesus knows that He’s going to the cross. Because, through chapters 12 to 21, we’re seeing a story of bedlam, bedlam and I don’t, I don’t blame the disciples for being confused by it. Look at poor Thomas – he gets a hard time in the scriptures sometimes – I think he says ‘Well Jesus, we don’t know where you’re going, we don’t know what you’re doing, we don’t know the way,’ Jesus turns to in chapter 14 and then says, ‘I am the way. I am the truth. I am the life.’ This notion of truth has been thrown away in our society today. Nobody believes in truth. Jesus says ‘I am the truth.’ Again, it’s a big claim and you’ve got to have a reaction to it whether you believe it or reject it.

So, where does that leave us? Back to my Sunday School answer, have you ‘Heard it. Heard it. Heard it?’

I’m told that the intensive care nurse who looked after Boris Johnson when he was near death told him the story of the gospel. So I know the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has heard the gospel and pray God he doesn’t say ‘Heard it. Heard it. I heard it.’

Why don’t you take a little time this week, find a Bible, find John’s gospel, there’s a few going free at the front of the church, and read it. Read it from chapter 12 to 21. See how far you can get. See what you make of it.

Those old bits of papyrus, copied from 2,000 years ago, and copied, and copied, and copied, and copied, and copied, and shared, there’s got to be something in it. Our Lord lets you reject it but He also gives you a very, very clear picture.

Jesus is God. See what you make of His death and resurrection as we move into Easter.

Let’s pray:

Lord, may Your word touch us. May Your gospel go deep down inside us, even if we’ve heard it before, and reveal Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life, Amen.

Trust in Jesus

Preached on: Sunday 3rd April 2022
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 22-04-03 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: John 11:1-45
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Jesus is moved by our sorrows
– Jesus is able to overcome death
– Jesus invites us to trust Him

Please do be seated.

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word:

Come Holy Spirit and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit and deepen our trust as we hear the voice of our Father through His word
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention to the news in the past week but in the past week we’ve had the Oscars and it got a little bit more attention than normal because Will Smith slapped Chris Rock on stage, live to the world, and he did so, Will Smith did so because Chris Rock had made a joke at his wife’s expense. His wife has alopecia and she has chosen to shave her head which is quite a big thing for a black woman, probably for really anyone and there’s been lots of reaction. There’s been the negative side of saying he should never have resorted to violence to respond to this issue, and there are those on the positive side who say ‘Well, good for him, he stood up for his wife and did so very publicly.’ Whatever our reaction might be to it, clearly Will Smith was moved into action. I wonder what his motives were. It’s clearly he was deeply troubled. Was it love? Was it anger? Was it anger and injustice he felt? His wife experienced that here as she and she is suffering in some form and for whatever reason she’s made the end of a joke, he might feel that there’s gender inequality here, maybe there was an injustice he was standing up against. I wonder also though, if there’s an unspoken motivation, that fear may have motivated him. I don’t even know if Will Smith would be aware of it, because there’s part of me wonders whether he responded to human vulnerability, his wife’s vulnerability at her illness. It’s not life-threatening maybe, but still it speaks of her vulnerability, he speaks of all our vulnerabilities and often, when we feel vulnerable, we react and we can react in fear. And the greatest fear that we all share is the fear of death and that can move us to action, sometimes unhealthy actions. And so, as we turn our passage, to turn to our passage today, is it this that moves Jesus in the face of death, in the face of human vulnerability? Is it fear that moves Jesus?

We’re journeying, just now, towards Easter, two weeks away, and we’ve been journeying through the gospel of John, looking at different passages where John helps us to see some of the purpose of the passion. And so, we looked in John chapter 3 where God so loved the world that he gave his son to save us, to bring us into God’s family, through new birth. And in chapter 4 we saw that God is seeking true worshipers, worshipers who will worship in the Spirit and in truth. And in last week, in John 9 and 10 that Jesus came to give life in all its fullness. And for all these reasons, Jesus went through His passion, He went through suffering for us.

Today’s passage gives us another facet and, in view of how John structures his writing, I think he wants to help us see that this is the greatest part, the greatest insight into the purpose of Jesus, and I can say that with some degree of confidence because, along the way, John will highlight for us the word sign that there are signs that are pointing towards Jesus, but he’ll also use ‘I am’ statements having Jesus says ‘I am’ and he’ll complete that sentence pointing to His divinity. And so, this passage is spoken of as the seventh and final sign before the cross and Jesus uses an ‘I am’ statement in it.

Seven is a very special number in the Bible it speaks of completeness and so it points to this sign being of the greatest importance to all the others and revealing who Jesus is and what He came to achieve. So, what does this event reveal of the purpose of the passion? In the face of death, what moves Jesus?

Well, we read earlier ‘When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come along with her, also weeping, he was deeply moved in Spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked. ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied. Jesus wept.’ What moves Jesus? Our sorrow, our sorrow at death, our inability, our vulnerability against this greatest of foes. In reaction to Mary’s weeping, He weeps, He feels our pain, He shares our sorrow, he has lived our experience and shared in this human experience. Across all of history, in every human life, He is moved by our sorrow. But notice also that He’s troubled and, in fact, the phrase ‘deeply moved’ is repeated again in verse 38 and in some ways it’s an unfortunate translation, ‘deeply moved.’ Because the Greek phrase that lies behind that, when you look at it in every other usage, speaks of human anger, even outrage and fury. So, Jesus is moved here to anger, not against Mary, but rather towards death. Jesus is moved by our sorrow and His reaction is to weep and to be angry.

Pastor and writer John Stott had this to say about this ‘[What he saw] enraged Jesus because it brought home the evil of death, its unnaturalness, it’s ‘violent tyranny’. In Mary’s grief He sees and feels the misery of the whole race and burns with rage against the oppressor of humanity. It is death that is the subject of His wrath, and behind death him who has the power of death, and whom He had come into the world to destroy.

Friends, in our passage today we see the compassion of Jesus, a compassion that is more than mere pity, and His empathy is more than just there to console us, and surely He does consume us, surely we read of our God as one who draws near to the brokenhearted and weeps with those who weep. But His compassion is a true compassion, it moves Him to action here, and in His passion, it moves Him to confront death on our behalf.

So friends, do you see the heart of Jesus for you, for us? Our God is not uncaring. Our God is not unmoving. He is not akin to any false notion that would say God feels nothing towards us, nor is He willing to be involved in the brokenness of our world. That is not a true picture of our God because God enters in through Jesus to the human experience and to the heartbreaking realities of life. He’s there in our sorrow. He knows the pain that tears our soul and, what is more, He’s moved to intervene. He steps into history as a human being to experience it with us, to confront it with us, and for us, to defeat death itself. This is part of His purpose, part of the purpose of His passion.

Yet, some of us, as we reread that passage today, the question will come to mind of ‘Well, why did He delay?’ He knows God. If God is so caring, if He’s so loving, why did He delay there? Why does He delay in other ways? And I don’t have answers to all the other questions, and maybe the situations in your life, but for here at least there’s something to be said. We read earlier ‘Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, so, when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days and then he said to his disciples ‘Let us go back to Judea.’’ Why, if He loves them, why delay? Why wait?

Well, there’s three things that we need to understand here. Firstly, at this time in history, in this particular location, people were buried on the day they died. People were buried on the day they died. Secondly, as regards timing, we know from verse 17 that Jesus, when He arrives, finds Lazarus to have been in the tomb for four days, so, Jesus isn’t very far away, probably takes Him about a day to travel there and, assuming it takes the messengers a day to find Jesus and reach Him, then this means Lazarus died as soon as the messengers leave or very soon after, so it wouldn’t have mattered when Jesus left, Lazarus would have been dead and buried in the tomb. Day to travel, day to travel back, two days from the point of Lazarus death but still we might wonder ‘Why delay?’ And here’s the third thing you need to know, there was a Jewish belief, at the time, not held by Jews any longer, not held by Christians, but a Jewish belief at the time that held the soul of a dead person remained in the vicinity of the body for three days, hoping to re-enter it, but once decomposition set in, the soul departed. As I say not something that we subscribe to, not something that Jews subscribe to nowadays, but held at the time. And so, Jesus delays for our reason, He delays to prove beyond doubt something about who He is, that this wasn’t just an accidental resuscitation or something, that Jesus didn’t arrive just at the right time and ‘Well, you know these things happen.’ No, he leaves it four days to prove beyond doubt that who He is and what His power can do so as to strengthen the trust His disciples have in Him. And so, when He arrives he says to Martha ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Now Martha has been taught well, she’s been taught from the scriptures that there will be a resurrection at the last end and she knows this, she believes that, she trusts this and so she believes she will see her brother one day. But Jesus has a more immediate plan in mind and He wants to deepen her understanding of Him and of what He can do and so, he says ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even though they die and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.’

‘Do you believe this?’ Now, let’s note that Jesus doesn’t simply say that he can provide resurrection and life, that would be impressive in itself, no, he says that life eternal life is in Him, that the escape from the finality of death is available from Him by being in relationship with Him. That’s how we share in this life and then this hope and He says very similarly later on in John 17 saying ‘Now this is eternal life that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.’ Eternal life is not a ticket, it’s not a little thing you just put in your back pocket for when the day arrives, it’s not even a force or some kind of power or gift, eternal life is all tied up in relationship with Jesus and knowing Him and sharing in Him by believing in Him.

And, to prove His claim, to prove His identity and power, Jesus raises Lazarus. He calls to Lazarus in a loud voice, we hear a voice of true and raw authority, the voice we might say that at the beginning of time said ‘Let there be light’ for He is the light of the world and in His light there is life.

Friends, Jesus comes into our day, into your brokenness, to stand with us and for us against death, and offer us life. As one commentator said he offers us the ‘indestructible life of the resurrection the very life of the deathless God Himself. This is our God, this is our Jesus, and to know Him, to share in Him, to believe in Him is to have this hope. Not that we don’t grieve. Jesus doesn’t tell Martha and Mary not to grieve but that we grieve with hope and for this Jesus came, for this Jesus went through His passion, for this He has moved to action that we might share in His life and have hope. He makes this move towards us and our world. So, how will we respond to Him? How will we move in response to His movement to us? Because, in the passage He asks of Martha ‘Do you believe this?’ Do you believe this. Now, belief here in the Greek is not, I know this in my head or yeah, you know, fake idea and then you just get on with life, to believe in a biblical sense is to believe in such a way that it makes a difference to your life, that your actions change, that your outlook changes, it’s not just mental agreement to an idea.

So, what about us, what about you, do you believe this?

Maybe you’re unsure or maybe you’re not even ready to say that you believe it, and so, I wonder whether you should consider signing up for Alpha. We have an Alpha Course starting in just a couple of weeks’ time and Alpha is a great way of either refreshing your knowledge of the Christian faith, if you’ve maybe been coming to church for a long time, it’s a great way to be refreshed in the fundamentals of the Christian faith, or, if you’re not a Christian at all, to explore the Christian faith, to ask difficult questions, the team are ready for them, they might not have the answers but they’re ready for them. Come along, sign up to Alpha, explore and seek Jesus, make a move towards Him and He will make a move towards you, and details are in the news sheet of how you can sign up for that.

But what about those of us who are sure of this? We say we believe this or we’re at least a little more sure of this we might say? I wonder, do we believe this enough to share it this Easter, or will we let fear divert us? Earlier in the passage we read that little middle portion between verses 8 to 16 where Jesus talks about light and darkness and about stumbling and not stumbling and it seems quite an odd little bit, but Jesus is responding to the disciples’ fear. They’re scared that what’s going to happen. People are already trying to stone Jesus. ‘If we do this Jesus. are they going to stone you?
Are they going to stone us?’ And so, they get fearful and they’re going to be diverted from what Jesus says. They should do but Jesus will not let them divert Him. He warns them against overestimating the danger because He is with them, the light of the world is with them, and so He will not let them stumble, He will guard them and so they must obey the Father, they must go to Lazarus so that God will be glorified, and faith might be strengthened,

So, what about us, friends? Will we allow fear to divert us this Easter time? Or will we put our belief into practice? Will we share the good news, knowing who it is that stands with us, as we make that invitation? Knowing who it is that’s in us by His Spirit? We have the light of the world, the God of all life, with us. And so, maybe take the Easter cards, this is last year’s one, take the Easter cards that were sent to you and hand them out, they were posted to every member this past week, you got one for yourself you got one to give away. Give it away. Invite someone along. Or the Easter Fun Day and if you’ve misplaced it or given it away already, there’s more at the front and rear door. Take one away, invite someone along, come with them so as to encourage them there and build that relationship and share something of the good news of Easter this year. Or if you’re on social media, don’t just like the church posts, share the church posts because that’s how it gets out towards your friends and your contacts on social media. Help us get the word out that there’s something good to believe in our God who’s come into this world to stand with us in our sorrow and to defeat death on our behalf.

So, do you believe this? Maybe you need to investigate it a bit more. Maybe you need to share it a bit more. But, may we all see in the passion, this God who stands with us, this God who defeated death for us, this God who bids us come, trust Him afresh. I pray it may be so. Amen.

Fullness of life

Preached on: Sunday 27th Mar h 2022
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 22-03-27 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: John 9:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
• asking our questions
• trusting Jesus
• journeying towards life to the full

Well boys and girls, it is so good to have you, our uniformed organizations, with us this morning and great to mark these high achievements of the Queen’s Badge awards but, also on Friday night, we had a great night with the Boys Brigade Company marking so many other achievements and awards and it was lovely to be a part of that and see that. I know that, in the week coming, there’s the Anchor Boys final evening, there’s also the Girls Brigade coming together on Wednesday night, and I’m sure those will be full of special moments too.

But beyond helping you develop and achieve and recognizing that hard work, another point part of Boys Brigade and Girls Brigade is having a little fun and I think we should give Billy one last chance to have a little fun don’t you. I think we should maybe give him a chance because after this well, the fun level’s just going to dive off a cliff, Billy. So, should we get them up front to give us a wee hand? How about a wee game? Right Billy, come on up.
I thought I’d avoided this.
You must have known something like this. So, Billy the plan is that we’re going to have a little game. Have you ever played the game 20 guesses or 20 questions? Okay, so I have picked a character and it could be a real-life character or a make-believe character, it could be male or female and you have to ask us 20 questions and the answers are yes or no, that we can give you. Now, I’m going to show us all the picture of it, in a moment. Mister Rankine will close his eyes so he’s no peeking. You’ve got your glasses off.
I could put my glasses on and I wouldn’t see.
Don’t.
Don’t say it okay, don’t even whisper it, because I’m sure he’s got really good hearing and despite him getting slightly on in years you know, but he’ll be grand, so I will show you and then you can help me answer the questions so he’s got his eyes closed.
Okay right so 20 questions.
I can open my eyes again.
So yes or no, yes or no answers, is all we can give him.
Is it a male?
Is it male? 1 oh it’s not me that’s good! That’s not my question. Is it a real life character?
Is it real life?
No not real life.
It’s a cartoon character. Is it a Disney cartoon character.
Yes.
So female Disney cartoon character.
You’re doing well.
Can I get my daughter to come down and help me?
No! We won’t use that as a question.
Right is it a recent Disney cartoon.
No.
Okay. So, I’ve got a reasonable chance.
I’ve tried to play it in your favor.
Okay, dear me, I really could do with Eilidh’s head. Let me see, is it’s a real, it’s a human. What is it? Right, so is it an animal, a female animal character?
No, not an animal.
Quick, that was a good question coming up. Is it a cartoon that’s still on the go just now? No. 10. No, well you can watch it but it’s not going to go.
Okay, so that’s a bit more senior Netflix or something, yeah,
It’s not a human. So, it’s an animal, didn’t say tha,t is that an animal, no, no. Right and you said it wasn’t it said – my memory is going here as well. Did you say was it a female, human, cartoon character.
No, human’s a bit of a broad term, I’d say, I’m not quite sure it’s human.
Is it a ship?
No.
That wouldn’t help me much anyway, I’m really, Im really struggling here.
Got dust dust.
Would it be a fairy type character.
Yes.
Would it be based on a very old book. That should not go out after midnight.
I don’t know okay, you must be thinking another guy.
No Cinderella?
No.
Okay, no Cinderella. No, I was banking on it being Cinderella there folks.
I obviously was at Boys Brigade too much when you were watching Disney characters. Mark, can you help.
There’s a famous boy in it and he can fly.
Ah right, okay. So, there was a there’s a ship involved in this? There is character, yeah, I’m just gonna, I’m gonna take this right now. So there’s a kind of Peter Pan type character involved here.
You’re getting very close.
And I can’t really remember the name.
Begins with a T.
Ah yes indeed, yeah, we’ll get there the second part of it would ring possibly?
Yes it would ring our bell maybe yeah.
Yeah. So, that would be Tinkerbell!
Good job! Right, you can say you’re safe. Yes, Tinkerbell. Well done, we got you there eventually. So, good, good sport, good sport.

So part of your time is about learning and development and recognizing that part of it is about fun but there’s another part to Girls and Boys Brigade, and that is also learning about Jesus. And in some ways that’s the most important part and that’s what we hope to pass on and to share with you and what we aim to do as a church family as well.

In our story today Jesus did something amazing. What did he do? Can anybody remember? What did he do? Anybody from the front? Okay. No, what did he do in our story today? What did he do in our story today? Can anybody remember from the Explorers or the Anchor Boys? Yeah, what did he do today? We can hear from the back then.

Yeah, He made the man see again. And what did He, what did He do? What did He use to him to make him see? Can you remember? What did He do? What did He do? Daniel? He put him right in his eyes, He got some mud and used some saliva like ‘Jesus. come on, what are you doing? That’s just we’ve been yucky!’ But Jesus was doing some odd things He was doing some amazing things and people were beginning to go ‘Who is this guy? What is he about? Is he just a teacher? Is he a more than that, is he a prophet? Is he even more than a prophet?’ And so, people were guessing and guessing and guessing and they probably were doing an even worse job than Mister Rankine. Now, some people got it right. Who got it right in our story today? Who got it right in the story? The blind man didn’t he. He managed to guess it eventually who it was and so eventually he bowed down in worship of Jesus. So, who did the blind man think that Jesus was? What would be another name that we might use? God, that’s right. God had come in a human body and His name was Jesus. This is what he eventually understood and so though he had been blind at the start, he was the first to see with the eyes of his heart, to see the truth about Jesus, and part of our church family, part of the Girls and Boys Brigade is to help you ask your questions, to help us ask our questions about Jesus so that we can come to trust Him and worship Him for ourselves.

But, did you notice in the story the man had to do something to show his trust. What did he need to do? Jesus made that little mud pack and put it on his eyes. What did he have to do next? Can anybody remember? What did he do next? What did he do? Lauren – he had to go and wash it off, that’s right. He had to go and wash it. It was an act of trust. Now, that man was born blind. Explorers and Anchor Boys, can you think what would he have seen for the first time? What would he have seen for the first time that would be so amazing? What do you think? Yeah, that. What he would have seen? The water. He’d never seen water before. What else would he see, what else even beyond that little pool, what other things would he see that would be so amazing? What do you think he might have seen? Some fish, and he’d never seen fish before. What else he might have seen not just at that moment but going back as he went back home? What would he have seen? What do you think? His food, his home, his family, his friends. He’d never seen any of that. What are the things that you think you look at and are so amazing? What other things do you think are so amazing? Right at the back. Yeah, yeah definitely. He would have seen the fish. He would have seen like the sun, like we’re on a sunny day, never had seen the sun before. So, Jesus has given this man not only his sight but given this man life, new life, amazing life and in the very next chapter of the Bible he goes on to say ‘I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.’ That’s why Jesus came, part of why He came, part of His purpose, to give us life to the full. We’ll never experience all of it in this life but He came that we might have life, we might be on a journey towards fullness of life, it’s part of the reason He died on the cross, and part of the reason He rose again, so that we could have life to the full and it all begins by trusting Jesus, by choosing to trust Jesus in our everyday lives, trusting what He says in the Bible, putting that into practice, trusting what He says about Himself in the Bible, that He’s the light of the world, He’s the good shepherd and He is with us every day.

Boys and Girls, I hope this past year in Boys and Girls Brigade, that you have asked your questions and if you’ve got questions about Jesus then make sure you ask your officers, make it really tricky for them, I know they love the questions and if you’ve got questions in church then come ask your questions as well, ask your questions, that you can grow and trust and so that we remember, as we journey towards Easter, that part of the reason Jesus came was to bring us into fullness of life. I pray it may be so. Amen.

Now on your way in did you get a little candle? And if you’re in the pews for our uniformed organizations there were some put at the end of the pew. So, if you can pass them along. Don’t switch it on yet and Richard, we can skip on to the prayer bit, so maybe a second slide. So, there’s a little black switch on the bottom that’s how you switch it on, but don’t use it yet, Okay, and what we’re going to do is that we are going to pray together using this candle, okay. We’re going to pray three short simple prayers so let’s put off the light just now, okay, but during the prayer I’m going to invite you to switch it on, okay, as a sign of asking for God’s light to come in to the world in different situations.
So can you try and think of someone, nice and quiet, think of someone who maybe needs help just now. Maybe they’re sad, maybe they’re unwell, maybe they’re angry with something, maybe they’re scared, maybe someone at school, might be someone in the church family, maybe someone in your family. Can you quietly think of someone. Maybe close your eyes just to help you think and to know that we’re going to pray.
Okay. So, let’s pray together:

Heavenly Father, we’re thinking of someone that we want to pray for, someone that we want Your light to come into their life and so we switch on our candle as a sign of that prayer. Please, our God, shine Your light into their life to bring hope, to bring life, to bring your peace. May fear and anger or despair or sadness go. May they know that You are near and you are the light of the world Lord Jesus. Amen.

Okay, let’s switch it off again, switch it off again. Okay, I want you to think of something in the big wide world, maybe a situation that you know about, maybe someone who needs some help in the big wide world. So, not someone at school or in your family, something in the big wide world where you want God’s light to come. Okay, can you try it in the quiet, just think of someone or something.

Okay, let’s close our eyes again and let’s pray:

Heavenly Father, we’re all thinking of something that needs Your light to come into it. It might be the war in Ukraine. It might be a situation in the news we’ve heard about today. And so, we switch on our candles as a sign of asking for Your light to come into that situation, to bring truth, to light, to bring Your wisdom to bear, to lead forward on a path of righteousness and peace. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

All right, switch off. One last prayer. Today is Mother’s Day in case you forgot, but we’re not just thinking about mums, we’re thinking about people who have had a positive impact in our lives. It might be your officers. It might be your mum. It might be a granny or an aunt. So, it could be someone who’s has helped you, who’s a good role model to you, someone that’s really been a good influence in your life. Can you think of someone. Someone that you’re thankful for. Yeah, right, let’s close our eyes and pray one more time:

Our God, we want to thank You for this person who’s been a part of our life. They might not be with us anymore or they might be, and we thank you for their influence in our lives, We thank You for how they brought Your light into our lives. Maybe they shared something of You, maybe they shared something of Your image because they’re made in Your image, something of Your light. And so, we put this candle on one last time to remember the light that’s shown in them, Your light shining into our lives. We thank You for them and we ask that what they passed on to us, that You would help us to live out in our day-to-day lives. We want to thank You for all the officers and staff of the Girls and Boys Brigades. Thank-you for all they give and the light that they shine to the generations here in Brightons, in the wider Braes area. We ask your blessing upon them and upon each of our children and young people who are part of the Brigades. We ask that Your light would go with them across these summer months and they would come back in September full of stories and of joy, are full of having grown again and ready for a new session to begin. Guard them and keep them we pray. For we ask it all in Jesus’ name. Amen.

You can switch it off and you can take this home. Maybe at home at night time you might want to say a little prayer and just switch on that candle as a sign that you are asking for God’s light to be in your life. It’s an act of trust. Faith is all an act of trust, of holding onto God and asking for His light and life to be in our lives.

True worshippers

Preached on: Sunday 20th March 2022
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 22-03-20 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: John 4:1-30; 39-42
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– God is seeking true worshippers to complete our joy
– God transforms our worship by the Holy Spirit
– God invites all into true worship

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word

Holy Spirit, come among us and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit and open our hears that we might hear the invitation of our Heavenly Father.
Come now Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

In four weeks time we will be celebrating Easter but what and why do we celebrate? In the final week leading up to Easter Sunday we have what’s called Holy Week and there will be a service each night of the week from Monday to Friday in one of the Braes Churches I invite you to come along. Each night we look at a different part of the journey of Jesus took towards the cross or what is some in that week, is sometimes called His Passion which refers to His suffering. So, let me ask again, why do we celebrate Easter? What is the Purpose of the Passion?

To help us answer this, last Sunday we began a new series where we’re going to look at six passages in the Gospel of John, Six passages to help explore the Purpose of the Passion and Monica kick-started us in John 3 where we read in verse 16 that ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ Part of the purpose of the passion is the love of God saving us. But is that the end goal? Is that the end goal? Does God simply want you to have a ticket to heaven? Is that all He’s about?

Well, our passage today continues to build on this, continues to add another dynamic to the purpose of the passion, but to help us really get to grips with our passage, I need to teach it in reverse order starting near the end with what the Father seeks, His goal and then bringing in what this means, how he brings that goal about, and finally, concluding with His invitation which reveals His heart.

And so, near the end, we read these words of Jesus ‘Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.’ The true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. The father is seeking true worship, true worshipers. This is His goal. This is part of the purpose of the passion and it’s echoed across the scriptures. I’ve just given you three examples. I won’t delve into any depth.

But go into Titus and you read that Jesus came to have a people of His own. That’s part of why he died.
And first Peter too we read that this people who he died for are called a holy nation, they’re called a chosen people, a royal priesthood.
But Peter’s just echoing what we read in Exodus where in Exodus God says through Moses that to the people that they will become a kingdom of priests, are people who will bring the praise of God, who will worship Him and enable others to worship Him.
It’s a purpose God has had across the millennia, across the scriptures and it’s part of the purpose of the passion. The Father is seeking true worshipers, who worship in the spirit and in truth. But what does that even mean? What does it mean to worship in the Spirit and in truth?

I’d like to begin with the truth part because in the verse immediately before, this is where it’s helpful to bring a Bible if you can, Jesus says ‘You Samaritans worship what you do not know, we worship what we do know for salvation is from the Jews.’ You Samaritans worship what you do not know. So, what don’t they know? Well, the Samaritans only had the first five books of the Old Testament, what we call the Pentateuch. They didn’t have the rest of the Old Testament. They didn’t have that fuller revelation of the character of God and of His ways. They didn’t have that fuller revelation of how He would bring salvation for the world. Just imagine all that they were missing, across all the prophets, across all the books of wisdom and Psalms. They didn’t have any of that and so, they have this gap of spiritual knowledge. They don’t know the character of God in all its fullness. They don’t know His plans and His purposes. They lacked the truth of God and so, it led them into false worship. They worshiped in the wrong place. They worshiped through the wrong means. It led them astray because, to worship truly, requires us to worship in truth. We must know God as He has revealed himself and live in light of that and His plans.

But God didn’t leave it there. At the end of the Old Testament there was a next part of His revelation and it was through Jesus. Because the writer to Hebrews reminds us ‘In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets but, in these last days, he has spoken to us by his son Jesus’ The son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, the fullest and final revelation of the character and the ways and the purposes of God was in Jesus, because Jesus wasn’t just a man, He was God in the flesh. God was revealing Himself and so to worship in truth is to worship the God revealed in Jesus, in His life and His teaching and His death and resurrection, and to worship anything else, to worship any other being, under any other name, is then false worship. And so, to be a true worshiper, which is God’s goal, requires worshipping in truth, worshiping God as revealed in Jesus.

But you know, as I was thinking about this this week it took me down a line of thought and into some material that I haven’t looked at in years. Because the question could come to our minds – Is God a bit egotistical? Is God a bit needy? Like, if I said to you, worship and praise me, well you’d probably think I was mad or more mad than you already think I, am and you think ‘What is he on about, like he is so needy, he is so prideful, he is so egotistical, and you’d be rightly disgusted, Is the same true of God? How would you answer that one?

An author and pastor has written and thought about this for decades and his name is John Piper, and in a moment I’d like to share something he wrote. But to understand what he wrote you first need to read something from C S Lewis, because John Piper built his argument upon what C S Lewis wrote. So, C S Lewis said ‘I thought of praise in terms of compliment, approval or the giving of honor. I never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise.’ Let’s pause there. All enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise – so think about it, you’re out walking this afternoon along the canal here or wherever happens to be your favorite jaunt, and you just are stunned at the view because the sun is pouring down and it’s just marvelous you say ‘How glorious!’ – you just can’t help yourself, your enjoyment overflows into praise. Or a little baby, baby Innes or whoever it might be, Willow and the others that we’ve had, you see them and you just coo and oh, you’re so gorgeous, they’re so beautiful, you’re so wonderfully made. You just can’t help yourself. Or you’re spending time with a friend or with your partner or whoever it might be, and you just ‘I love you. I really appreciate you. I value your friendship greatly. You are a rock in my life.’ You just can’t help yourself. You see what C S Lewis is getting at? It goes on ‘I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment…..’ There’s another level of joy when we express what we feel, when we speak out that praise of whatever it might be. It takes us to a next stage of joy.

And so, John Piper builds on this and he says ‘If God would have your joy complete He must command you to do what will make you infinitely and eternally happy, namely, praise Him. God is the one being in the universe for Him gathering attention for Himself is not arrogant, it’s not selfish, it’s not abusive and manipulative, but is love …’ God’s not seeking your worship because He needs it, He’s God, He existed perfectly before any of creation was ever there, but He calls you to praise Him so that you might have your joy made complete. God seeks true worshipers to complete your joy, your joy, your joy.

So, take it back to the woman at the well. There’s at least two ways that she is worshiping falsely. First of all she’s worshiping at the wrong place, in the wrong faith tradition and so, she doesn’t know the character of God, she doesn’t know the plans and purposes of God and so, she wouldn’t have the security and peace and hope that were the Jews, because they could see how God was going to save the world although He did it again in the ways unexpected. She was missing out on that, she didn’t have the joy that could have been hers. She also wrongly worshipped the attention of men. She’d had multiple relationships and she sought that attention to feel loved, to feel affirmation, to find security, to find a place and a belonging, a home. But where does it leave her? She’s ostracized, she’s alone, she’s despised. Where she sought her joy did not lead to joy because, when we fail to worship God and fail to worship Him in truth, we end up worshiping something else and it doesn’t lead to the joy we thought it would, and this has repercussions on so many levels.

I could take you to a global level with Russia and Putin just now. There is a man who worships either himself or power or a former picture of Russia, and wanting to bring that back. Who knows what exactly he worships, but it’s clearly not God as revealed in Jesus, and it has repercussions horrific repercussions.

But let’s not just point the finger. Let’s remember that it’s there in all our lives, my life too. We might worship comfort and so, we don’t love our neighbor as we should because we want to be comfortable, we want the nice house, we want the nice things, we want, we want, we want. Our comfort can have its other ways as well. We can want a comfortable life and when someone does something we don’t like, changes something we don’t like, or does something that doesn’t agree with us and makes us a little bit uncomfortable, in many different ways, we can just bite their head off, we can be angry and nit-pick, because we worship our comfort and we’ll defend that even if it means that we don’t love our neighbor. But you can worship your health, you can worship money, you can worship your reputation and image, you could worship success, you can worship this building. There’s false worship in all of our lives and, if we are to know the joy that God would have for us, we need to root that out, just like Jesus sought to do with this woman. That’s why he came to lead us into true joy as part of the purpose of the passion. For the Father seeks true worshipers who worship in truth.

But how, how do we become true worshipers? That’s the next logical question, isn’t it? If you want that joy to be complete if you, want life in all its fullness, as Jesus says then, then how Jesus? Is it by going to a particular place? Is it by a particular style of worship? Is it is it by ticking certain religious boxes? How?

I don’t think it’s any of that, partly because of what Jesus says in verse 21 ‘A time is coming when you will worship the father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem’. It’s not through that means, not through what you can achieve.

So, what is it that brings true worship? What brings us into true joy? Well, there earlier on in the conversation Jesus said this ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty. Again, whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’

This whole episode began with Jesus saying ‘Can I have a drink?’ and then, after, follows a conversation where she clearly gets the wrong end of the stick and, to be honest, there’s part of me that’s like ‘I can understand why.’ because Jesus uses language and words that she would interpret a particular way. But he’s doing that to get her attention and to draw her in. And I get that, but, but there’s words here that normally would refer to actual water. So, in the previous verse He talked about living water and here He talks about a spring of water and, in the context of the day, living water is moving water, it’s water that moves and much like a spring of water, that there’s a source, and it travels downhill and it’s good and it’s clean, because it’s moving. That’s different from water you get in a well in this area, because that well is a hundred foot deep and it’s letting you pull up water that’s flowed together underground, it’s not free-flowing, it’s not classed as living water, it’s probably a little bit stagnant and so, she’s like ‘Well, I want the good stuff. I don’t want this stuff. I want the good stuff.’ And so, I can kind of understand where she’s getting confused by. But we all know that Jesus isn’t talking about actual water, He’s using that as a starting point to get her attention and draw her in, because He sees that she is trapped in false worship, He sees that her joy is very much not complete. What she is drawing from the well, the spiritual well she is drawing from, is either dry or stagnant and she needs a new source, she needs a source of living water, she needs this water to come rushing into the depths of her soul such that her life changes and she finds that true life she craves, the life God desires for her to know. So, what is that source? What is this living water? What is the means by which we become true worshipers?

Well, a little later on in John, a couple of chapters later Jesus says something that very much echoes this passage, but then John adds a little commentary to help us understand, and because he was one of the apostles, close followers of Jesus, he’s a pretty trustworthy source. He says ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ All sounds very similar. And then John adds ‘By this he meant the spirit.’ By this he meant the spirit. To become a true worshiper, you need the Spirit of God within you. Jesus said in the early passage, true worshipers will worship in the spirit. What we need is the Spirit of God in us, transforming us into that place of worship, rather than it being confined to a building of four walls, we need the Spirit in us. And that’s just echoing what God had promised to do across the ages. He said in Ezekiel, for example ‘I will sprinkle clean water on you. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh, and I will put my spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.’ What is needed is the Spirit, the Spirit to come into a person’s life and change their heart so that they no longer have a heart of stone, a heart hardened by sin, that is uncaring towards God, that is distant towards God, that is not moved by God’s character and His plans, and yearns to live for God. That is the kind of heart change that we need. And I’ve told my story so often enough, that you’re probably sick of it, so I won’t labor it, but that change that happened in my life was exactly captured in these verses – to change from a heart of stone into a heart of flesh – by the Spirit coming into my life. What the woman needed was the Spirit of God coming into her life and to the depths of her being and changing her from the inside out and freeing her from false worship.

To become a true worshiper, you need the Spirit of God. It’s not in your power to make it happen. It doesn’t happen by you coming to church, doesn’t happen by you becoming a member, it’s not within your gift to make happen, you need God to act and He’s ready. He promised it. He fulfilled it and offered it to this woman and He came through for her and He can come through for you and make you into that temple, that place where He dwells, where He resides and brings about true worship.

Now, maybe you’re beginning to wonder ‘Well, have I experienced that? Have I received the Spirit, Have I received the living water of Jesus?

And there’s so many scriptures that we could go to here that would to help you discern that or not. We could look at Ezekiel 36 which we just looked at. Do you know that you are forgiven? Do you know that you have a right relationship with God? Then the Spirit’s been at work in your life. Romans 8 that says, if you know God as your Heavenly Father, if God is no longer just an idea to you or a figure from history, if God is personal to you, then the Spirit has been at work in your life. First Corinthians 12 would say you can’t know who Jesus is, you can’t see that He’s the lord and Savior you need, you can’t put your faith in Him, unless the Spirit has been at work in your life. Second Corinthians 5 and Romans 12 would say that, if your desire is to live more for Jesus than you currently are, if your desire is to offer your life and worship to Jesus, then the Spirit has been at work in your life. But if there’s no such desire, if there’s no such confidence of knowing God, of being in right relationship with God, then maybe something’s missing.

I wonder where are you friends? Do you know this to be true of your own journey and your own relationship with God? None of us gets it perfect, we don’t always live for Jesus but, is there a desire there? Do you know God?

And maybe, what God wants for you this Easter, as we journey to the cross, is maybe just for you to know you are His. You are His. He has been at work in you, so press on, pursue Him, invite Him into your life in even greater measure, invite Him to root out that false worship, to lead you further and further into true joy.

Ephesians 5 reminds us to ‘keep on being filled with the Spirit’. It’s not a one-off affair that you leave back 20 years ago when you chose to follow Jesus for the first time. Keep on asking to be filled with the Spirit that you might overflow and be led into that fullness of life and live your life in worship of God. Maybe that’s what you need to know, that affirmation, you are His, He’s been at work in your life, so press on, press in no more. But what if that’s not you? What if you look at that list and you think ‘I just don’t know? I don’t know if this describes me.’ And if it doesn’t ‘Maybe I don’t have the Spirit.’

Well, I’ve got good news for you as well, and it’s all summed up in one random little verse from back in John chapter 4. Jesus, we read about John wrote about Jesus ‘Now he had to go through Samaria.’ Jesus had to go through Samaria and right now you’re probably thinking ‘This guy is like having a trip! What is he getting at with this verse?’ Because, at first read, it doesn’t mean anything, we just skip over it. But, think about it – He had to leave because there was pressure from the Pharisees, but there’s nothing to say he had to go through Samaria, nothing. He wasn’t in a particular rush to get anywhere. He didn’t have a deadline to get to something, and every Jew would avoid Samaria because you didn’t associate with Samaritans, they were the enemy, they were second class, you avoided them at any cost. So, why does Jesus have to go through Samaria?

He has to go through Samaria because of his heart for these people. The heart that lay behind the passion, the heart of love, love for this woman, love for these people. These people were seen as heretical, as traitors. They were despised, they were second class, they were told, they were written-off from the mercy of God. And this woman was a woman, and that day that was less than so many other things, and she was an adulterer, she was seen as immoral, she has despised even more, she has ostracized as we’ve already said, but Jesus had to go through Samaria, he pursued her, He pursued them, He broke tradition, He broke taboos, He broke, He risked everything for love of her, for love of her because He wants to invite her into true worship. And He came into the world for love of you and to invite you to drink, invite you to have that joy.

Now, you might wonder ‘I’m not worthy Scott.’ Neither was she. You might think ‘Well, I’ve got nothing to offer in response.’ Neither did she, but her heart and her worship. And, pursuing this woman, and pursuing the Samaritans, God shows that the invitation is open to all, to you today. It’s there.

But we, like that woman, we can try and keep God at a distance. We’d prefer to evade God and avoid God. We’d prefer not to have our comfort upended because we’ve grown used to worshiping the wrong things and, when God comes close as He’s maybe coming close right now to you, He’s maybe whispering in your heart to say you don’t have this, and if you want this you’ve got to let me in, and that might be making you a little bit uncomfortable right now. Friends, don’t keep God at arm’s length, invite Him in. Invite Him in because, if you don’t, you won’t know the life, you won’t know the joy He wants you to have. You’ve got to trust Jesus; you’ve got to invite him in because you won’t find it anywhere else. So, what will it be friends? What will you choose today?

The purpose of the passion includes making your joy complete through true worship. So, come to Jesus, come drink of His Spirit, come admitting the thirst of your soul and the ache to live and fuller life, come recognizing the truth of Jesus, come see that He is the Savior you need, the Savior of the world, He is the savior who pursues you even unto His own death such is His love for you.

Come worship in the Spirit and in truth because the Father invites you to be transformed from the inside out, that you may know true life and true joy.

So, let us come to God now in prayer. Let us pray:

I wonder friends, where are you seeking joy in the wrong places?
It might be a good thing, but you’re maybe worshiping it rather than worshiping God.

Or, where is there a part of your life that is joyless and sapping your joy? It may be that you’re worshiping something wrongly there.

And, today, the Father would seek to free you of that.

Our God and Heavenly Father

All of us have an ache in our hearts and souls. All of us yearn for that greater joy, that fullness of joy and life, that You offer and we won’t know it completely in this life but we can know more of it. And so, we invite You into our lives. Come now, Holy Spirit, and fill us afresh, fill us to overflowing, make us a temple of Your presence. Come, free us of false worship, forgive us of that, forgive us of that false worship, and help us to worship in truth, to worship You alone, to order our lives rightly, and be led into that greater joy.

Lord, if anyone here doesn’t know You yet, if they’ve not made that choice yet, and if they are ready and willing, and they’re open to You coming into their lives, come now, we pray. Come, fill them and change them. You might just want to say even a few words just asking Jesus to come into your life, asking Him to fill you afresh with His Spirit, but you need to make the choice.

Father, thank-you for Your word today. Thank-you for your love that invites us into that fullness of joy, into that true worship. Lead us on, complete the good work you’ve begun in us, for we ask it in Jesus’ name and for His glory. Amen.

As I always say, if you made that choice for the first time, if you said you wanted Jesus to be part of your life for the first time, then please tell me. Not for my ego, not cos I’m needy, but because by saying that you are speaking out that act of faith and it really helps solidify that that faith journey that you’ve begun today so let me know if that’s the case.

God loves you

Preached on: Sunday 13th March 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: Psalm 40:1-10 & John 3:1-17
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– ‘God did not send His Son to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.’
– God is love!
– We are set free from a wrong perception of God
– We should recognise the times when God has been involved in our lives
– God is the one who changes us through His Spirit – not about what we do ourselves

Let us pray:

Father God, we pray that as we come around Your word now, that You will fill us with Your Spirit that You would open our ears Lord, so that we can hear You speaking to us, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.’

These are words that summarize the entire Gospel for us. The core of the Christian message for us is ‘God loves you’ and God wants us to know that, and that is why Jesus was sent into the world to live among us, to suffer for us, and to rise again for us
and, in some ways, this has a major implication for us because it changes the way in which we should see God, it changes how we experience God in our lives, Jesus’ influence in the world.

But what he said and by what he did, established a foundation for all Christians and for the body of believers such as we are here today. The church and this foundation is all that Christians are to communicate to each other and to the world. God is love. In fact, the scriptures teach us that love is the very nature and being of God and it’s this message that Jesus was communicating to Nicodemus and so, we see that in His conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus wanted to do a couple of things and the first of these is that Jesus wanted to set Nicodemus free from a wrong perception of God.

Nicodemus had everything going for him. He was in the inner circle of the Jewish leaders. He was wealthy. He had status. He was a member of the elite Jewish council and he was considered to be very knowledgeable. However, Nicodemus had a particular perception of God and how to enter God’s kingdom, and that perception was not correct. As a Jewish leader, he had dedicated his life to this way of living. Nicodemus was traveling down a road of what he thought was important, of doing everything correctly, a road that suggests that unless you do everything 100% correctly, God will reject you forever. Nicodemus thought that God’s biggest priority was to select the elite for a place in heaven and to reject everyone else. In other words, he thought that God was like a grumpy old judge boss who would severely punish anyone who didn’t perform absolutely perfectly and there were no second chances.

I wonder how many of us have thought about God in that way? That God wants to condemn rather than to save? There are some folk who have a picture of judgment day, one where there is a huge television screen, let’s call it, showing a DVD of your life and that you will be fast forwarding your story pausing every now and then to point out all the sinful parts of your lives, parts where you made wrong choices. Of course, this is certainly not so. Such a picture tells only a really small and distorted part of the story. On judgement day there may well be a showing of a film of our lives but I feel certain that, from what Jesus was saying to Nicodemus, that what we are told throughout the scriptures, that God will be highlighting those occasions when He has been at work in our lives, like when we were created, like when we were accepted into God’s family in baptism, like when God gave us opportunities to develop as a person, as a Christian, when God molded us as a result of our experience of Him, experiences in worship, in prayer, Bible study, in fellowship with other Christians, and every time some of the perhaps not so good things of our lives are shown, Jesus will be standing right there saying ]I already paid for that. Don’t worry, I already paid for that.’

Nicodemus had a completely different way of thinking about God. No doubt, he sought to keep all the main man-made rules of his religion as well as the law, of course, which God had given to Moses. Nicodemus was a religious man, he was an upright man, he was a teacher, and he was respected in society and yet, Nicodemus knew within himself that something was missing in his life, and so convinced by the miracles of Jesus that he had seen and those that he had heard of, Nicodemus comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness and Jesus explains to him the nature of God’s love, the nature of God’s love for all of humankind, that God’s love is not static or self-centered, but that ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’

Christ came to save. Christ did not come to condemn. Why? Because God considers mankind special, and that includes each one of us, and he calls us to come closer to Jesus and not just for today, but every day. God’s love reaches out and draws others in, draws us in as well. God sets the pattern of true love. When we love somebody dearly, we are willing to give freely of ourselves, even to the point of sacrifice. God paid dearly with the life of His Son. The highest price that anyone could pay. Jesus paid the price for your sins and for mine, and then He offered to all of us, if we believe in Him, a life, a new life that He bought for us. And the message Jesus wanted to convey to Nicodemus was that he needed to allow God to be his influence and not all those other things in his life. Not the religious ritual he was accustomed to. Jesus wanted to set Nicodemus free from the wrong perception that he had of God, and then Jesus wanted to make Nicodemus aware of the radical nature of God’s love and to emphasize to him that, in order to receive the gift of eternal life, one must be born again of the Spirit.

Jesus says to Nicodemus ‘You are a respected Jewish teacher but I assure you no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born again. Humans can reproduce human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to Spiritual life.’

Unfortunately, Nicodemus was struggling with a concept of being born. He finds it really difficult to grasp this way of thinking so we hear him saying to Jesus in verse 3 to 11 ‘How can a man be born again when he is old? Surely he can’t enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born.’ See Nicodemus was looking at Spiritual matters from an earthly perspective. When Jesus speaks about being ‘born again’ Nicodemus is scratching his head,. trying to work out how it might be possible to crawl back into his mother’s womb. The thing is that, Nicodemus was too focused on what he had to do to receive the gift of eternal life/ Of course, that’s part of our nature. We find and it was part of his nature too. We find that really difficult to understand and probably most people on their faith journey will struggle with that concept too, because, most often in our faith journey, we are overly concerned about what we do, and what Jesus is saying to Nicodemus and to us today, it’s not about what you do, it’s about what God is doing for you, and what God does for you, changes you, changes your status with God. For each of us it begins and ends with a baptism based on faith. The day we were baptized is the day that we can say God claimed us for His own, it is the day we began being influenced by God, it’s the day we can say we are committed to being in a relationship with our triune God, it is from then on that we make God the influence of our lives. This relationship is absolutely important because without it we are allowing things other than God, to influence us and the influence of God has, that in the influence God has on our lives is to constantly remind us and to demonstrate to us He loved the world so much that he gave His one and only Son that when we believe in Him, we will not perish but we will have the gift of eternal life.

The message of Jesus is clear. It’s a message that will transform us. It’s a message that will allow us to take a careful look at ourselves. It’s a message that, when we give our hearts to Jesus, we will take on a new road a road of recovery and discovery, where we will find so much joy in knowing that we are loved by God. It is this message that transformed Nicodemus and we see this in John chapter 7 and verse 50 where Nicodemus tries to defend Jesus. We also see it in John chapter 19 when, after the crucifixion of Jesus, Nicodemus goes with Joseph of Aramathia to wrap the body of Jesus with spices and sheets of linen cloth. In fact, we are told in the scriptures that Nicodemus brought 32 kilograms of perfumed ointment with which to provide for Jesus burial.

Jesus had made it clear to Nicodemus that only a radical change in following God can lead to eternal life and certainly the message of Jesus took Nicodemus away from the road where he was primarily focused on himself and what he was doing the things that he thought were important to gain that space that elite space in God’s kingdom. The message of Jesus took Nicodemus to a place where he allowed Christ to do the work for him, to save him and to grant him eternal life.

But the concept of being born again remains difficult to grasp and, while most of us may have had a really good understanding of God’s message through Jesus Christ, as a body of believers, as the church of Jesus Christ in Scotland, our task is also to do all that we can in order that people can hear and experience the message of John 3,16 and that of verse 17 that God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through Him.

When I hear how people came to join the church, to join a congregation, or came back to church after being away for a lot of years, it’s often as a result of something, something new that they have experienced. In most cases, it was how another Christian brother or sister had related to them or treated them. How people were patient with them in answering their questions. How people were displaying the fruits of the Spirit which we find in Galatians chapter five – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control. These are not actions that we have or that we are born with. These are actions that arise out of having a strong relationship with God and in this relationship we are influenced by God as a result of our earnest prayer times, of regular Christian worship, of Bible reading, Bible study and a fellowship with other believers and when we serve the church, when we serve our families and the various communities in which God has placed us, giving of our time and our talents and our money for God’s work, we are also encouraging others to grasp hold of the message of Jesus Christ, to set aside the things of the world and be born again.

A question we can ask ourselves today – Is the message of John 3 16 to 17 being clearly communicated in every experience people have with a church in which we serve? Are the people experiencing the message of John 3 16 to 17 when they cross our path? Are they experiencing that God loves them, that God welcomes them, wants them to be safe and wants them to be in heaven with Him? Are they hearing that God came to save them, not to condemn them, or to forget about them, because He considers them special? Are we, as a church of Jesus Christ, vehicles of God’s love?

In John chapter 4 and verse 9 we read ‘God showed his love for us by sending his only son into the world so that we might have life through him.’ The love of God is expressed through His offer to us, of a chance to join His Spiritual family and to live forever.

The starting point though, the starting point is to receive the gift of Christ and thereby taking up the offer of eternal life. So, how does this transformation happen in a believer? It is nothing less than the work of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God who is love and for those who obey his word 1 John 2 verse 5 God’s love is truly made complete in them. And this is how we know we are in union with Him: whoever claims to live in Him, must walk as Jesus walked. God’s love is not just expressed in the fact that Jesus was willing to die for mankind, for you and for me, but that He lives for us, that He is in us and that is also, through us, God’s love is expressed on how much we live like Jesus, and that is the plan of God. You see, the plan of God in the world is that the kingdom of God should grow, that is why God’s Spirit works through us and we must be really attentive to that. God’s love originates and finds its birth in the stable of our hearts. God’s plan to put love in the world started with the birth of Jesus Christ but includes the rebirth of you and of me and our task is to keep ourselves in God’s love as we wait for the mercy of our Lord to bring Jesus Christ alongside of us and to take us to be with Him for all eternity. To Him who is able to keep us from falling and present us before His glorious presence, the only God, our Savior, be glory, majesty, power and authority through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Purpose of the Passion

Preached on: Sunday 13th March 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: John 3:1-16
Location: Blackbraes & Shieldhill with Muiravonside

Let us come to God in prayer before we think about His word. Let us pray:

Come Holy Spirit and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit and bind up our hearts and open our eyes.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

I wonder what are your earliest memories of church? What are your earliest memories of church? My own memories include going to church with my family, standing beside my dad, maybe even being held by my dad, and him singing the hymns out fairly loudly – which is probably where I get that habit from – I remember juice and biscuits after the service along the tables with other boys and girls, and just such a hubbub of conversation and activity there, I remember getting dressed smartly, I remember sitting with my Gran when we moved church. I don’t really remember much of what the minister said, which hopefully won’t be your experience today! I wonder what you remember? What your earliest memories of church are?

They could be very well tied-in with this building. These memories we are fond of. Many of them are good and they make a lasting impression upon us. These memories probably shape our view of what church is about and of what church means to us. For most of my early life I probably associated church with these memories. It was about going to a building, it was about doing certain things, it was about wearing certain things.

But then, at the age of 19, I became a Christian. That was when my faith became truly alive and real to me. Up to that point I believed in God but that belief made very little difference to my everyday life. In fact, life was becoming more and more selfish such that during my teenage years I was hurting others around me as a result. But then came a crisis moment and I came to truly know Jesus and not only did I change, but my understanding of church did as well.

In our passage today we see a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, and in that passage Jesus says ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again’. Then later he says ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. No one can see, whoever believes.

Jesus is not simply teaching moral truths and spiritual truths, he’s talking about people, he’s not talking about an organization or a building or a place. Jesus is talking about people.

And that’s because the church is made of people. Jesus came to earth, He came to die on a cross for people, people like you and me. The church is made of people and we know this, we know this because we sing this. Do you remember the song:
‘I am the church. You are the church. We are the church together.
The church is not a building. The church is not a steeple. The church is not a resting place.
The church is a people.’

The church is made of people. It’s why Jesus came to die. It’s why His resurrection is important because His resurrection proves there is hope for people, for people like you and me.

I know we know this. I realize it sounds like something from Sunday School but have we followed through the logic of what this means? It means the church is broader than us, the church is broader than here. There is, in fact, no them and us. There is only the church.

As a result, this means we have a great security and we have belonging. We don’t just belong to Muiravonside or Blackbraes & Shieldhill Parish Church. There is a place for us in any church and every church should stand in solidarity with one another, across congregations, across boundaries, even across continents. Isn’t that what we see when we pray for the persecuted church. So many of our brothers and sisters persecuted for their faith and yet we join in prayer for them and we don’t care what ethnicity they are, we don’t care what nationality they are, we don’t care what denomination they are, we simply pray for them. We join in prayer across all man-made boundaries for our brothers and sisters in Christ because the church is made of people. That’s why Jesus came. That was the purpose of His mission and His passion. This means we belong to something bigger. We actually have a greater security than we may ever have realized.

But is the church made up of just anybody? Or, let me put it another way, how can someone be part of the church?

Do we become part of the church by attending? Do we become part of the church by giving or becoming a member?

I think we probably all bring assumptions to our faith. We all do. And the same was true in Jesus’ day as well. And the same was true of Nicodemus. We read of Nicodemus in verse one ‘Now there was a pharisee, a man named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.’ As a pharisee he obeyed the strictest of rules, he sought to honor God in every way imaginable, he wanted to know exactly how to apply God’s law, and he followed those rules very strictly. He was for this, highly esteemed. He would be seen as a truly righteous man and through years of study and self-application, he has gained a position on the Jewish ruling council. Nicodemus has ticked all the boxes. He assumes his place in God’s family and kingdom. He assumes he is in; he is safe.

But as the dialogue shows, we can assume the wrong things, we can trust the wrong things and by doing that, we gain a false sense of security.

And what Jesus says, He helps Nicodemus to see things more rightly and to see where he can find life and hope and so Jesus says ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they’re born again.’ He goes on to say ‘just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’

Jesus is saying that life is to be found in Him. We are to trust in Jesus. It is this that qualifies someone to be in the kingdom or not, to be in the church or not, to believe in Jesus, to trust in Jesus is what ultimately allows us to belong or not, to His church because the church is made of people who trust in Jesus.

I wonder friends, is that where your trust is? Or have we trusted in other things?

Have we maybe trusted in the denomination, in its strength and size, and its legacy? Have we trusted in the building? That as long as the building’s here, as long as the walls stay up, and the roof is intact, everything will be okay? Have we maybe derived a false sense of security from these, just like Nicodemus? And as the future of these things that we’ve put our trust in seems more uncertain, have we responded like Nicodemus does to Jesus? Twice Nicodemus says ‘How?’ ‘How?’ ‘How can this be?’

And maybe you’re asking the same question with all the uncertainty you face because your trust is not in Jesus, it’s been in something else, you’ve assumed the wrong things.

So, maybe this Easter season, maybe in this journey towards the cross anew this year, maybe amidst all you’re facing, God’s invitation is for you to trust Jesus more deeply, to trust Jesus more truly, maybe even to trust Jesus for the first time, not so that you can get your own way, not so that everything will be okay, but, as you trust in Jesus, you might find a greater peace and hope and joy, even in the darkest of times.

For a number of reasons these past few weeks, I’ve been reminded of the story and life of Corrie Ten Boom and if you don’t know her story then at the end of April, Brightons is hosting a production of her story called ‘The hiding place’ which is based upon the book of the same title ‘The hiding place’. I encourage you to get a copy of the book or to join us down at Brightons for that production at the end of April and we’ll let you know of more details. Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch Christian and in her young adult life experienced World War II, her herself, her sister and her dad were in fact taken by the Nazis to concentration camps because they helped Jews escape from the Nazis. And her story speaks of how it is possible to keep trust in Jesus even in the darkest of times, even in the horror of such circumstances.

Corrie didn’t always trust perfectly, her sister did more often actually, and it was her sister’s influence that helped shape Corrie, helped strengthen Corrie, helped refine Corrie’s trust herself. And Corrie lived through that when her sister and father did not and she would go on to inspire many others to trust in Jesus, to trust in the way of Jesus, and to see the church grow. Because the church is made of people who trust in Jesus. And I wonder friends, does that describe you?

But maybe you’re wondering ‘Well, what kind of trust are we talking about? Is this a kind of trust where you just grit your teeth and get through to the end? Is it a kind of trust where you’re simply holding on and you’re simply fulfilling duty? I’m not sure it is, and it’s certainly not that kind of trust that got Corrie Ten Boom through her experience either. It was something other than duty, it was something other than just sheer doggedness and sheer human strength, it was something other, it was something of which Jesus spoke about in our passage today where he says ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son.’ For God so loved the world.

If the church is made of people and those people have come from the world to believe in Jesus, to trust in Jesus, then do you know what that means? The church is made of people loved by God as well. The church is made of people loved by God.

I wonder friends, do we know that? Do we believe it? Have we received it for ourselves? Do we actually know that God is for us, for you personally?

He’s proven it. He’s proven it to the greatest degree he possibly can. He sent His one and only son to die for us. God is for us.

Now, it can be hard to hold on to that in a broken world with all that is going on and all that is changing in our world and in our local context. It is said that in our day we are in a grey zone, a period of time between the eras when things are changing, when things are in flux when the world as we know it is disappearing before our eyes. Being in that grey zone is unsettling, it is disorientating, it is scary. I’m sure you feel it like I do as well.

And maybe God’s invitation this Easter is to perceive His love more fully and to receive His love more deeply.

As we journey towards Easter together, reflecting on the cross, reflecting on the reasons that Jesus came and the purpose of His passion, may we see the love God has for us. May we see the depth and height and breadth and length of the love of God for you, not just for the world, but for you. For you.

I encourage you please, to try and make the time between now and Easter to dig into God’s word, to meet with Him in prayer. Maybe you can invest some time reading through the Gospel of John, maybe read a bit of a chapter a day or one chapter a day, whatever you feel you can manage. That through this gospel, this gospel where we find such truths as we’ve seen today, you can grow in your knowledge of God’s love, you can grow in your appreciation of God’s love, a love that drove Him to send His one and only Son into the world, to die on a cross for you, for you. Because, ultimately, that’s why Jesus came, that was the purpose of His passion. It was the reason for His journey to the cross, to have a church, a church made of people, a group of people who trust in Him, and know the love of God.

May we be such a people now and all our days come what may. I pray it may be so.
Amen.

World upside down

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.’

Amen.

Everlasting Father

Preached on: Sunday 12th December 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 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.

Hope and Friendship

Preached on: Sunday 22nd August 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: John 21:1-14
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Well boys and girls, we’re thinking about this story in the Bible where there is a boat and our breakfast but I was thinking it might be quite nice almost to have a boat here in church if only we could make a boat here in church to help us imagine!

And so, I wonder if you might help me with some of these props. You’re going to have to really use your imagination because it’s going to be pretty basic but I wondered if using these blankets we might make a bit of a boat shape around this area at the front. Do you think you can help me? In a moment once the music starts we’ll do it.

Now, there’s not enough for everybody so we’re going to have to have some teamwork okay. So, everybody kind of working in teams to do this, make a nice boat shape and maybe our adults around the front can help with that too. So, we’re going to put on some music and get this going. Let’s see what we can do.

Make a nice boat shape on the ground. Can we put it on the ground? All right, make a big boat, make it big enough for everybody to get in, make it big enough for everybody to get in.

All right, all right can you have a seat in your boat put my seat in the boat. Right in the boat is everybody in time. Oh, we’ve got a few outside the boat. Let’s put it on the ground, use the blankets to, all right, we’re all in the boat. Are we in? Did we fit in? Just! Well, we just fitted in I think.

So, we’re inside the boat. We’ve got our boat, now I want you to imagine that you’re some of Jesus’s friends, the Disciples, and it’s been a crazy few days at this stage because just a few days ago Jesus has risen from the dead and the tomb’s empty, and He’s appeared to you. Now, maybe you’re wondering ‘Well, why are we in a boat if this amazing thing has happened? Why are we in a boat?’ Well, we don’t really know but well they are, some of them are fishermen and maybe it was just out of comfort they decided ‘Well, we’ll go back to fishing.’ So, I want us to imagine that we’re in this boat and sometimes there might be a big sail and there might be roads so can we roll out we’re going out fishing can you roll with me we’re rowing out, hard work getting out in the boat and we’re rowing out and because experienced fishing we know it’s best to go at night, so it’s night time the sun is setting, they rowed and they get to the spot so they stop rowing and then they throw out their net. Can you throw out your net? We’re throwing out our net now, all night long they’re throwing out their net and then what do we need to do with the net once we’ve thrown it out? Pull it back in! That’s right, pull it back in, pull it back in. Oh, it’s hard work but guess what? no fish were caught, no fish were caught and that happened again and again and again and as the sun began to rise these fishermen were tired.

Can you pretend to be tired? Can you pretend to be cold? So cold, and they were like How do you think they were feeling at this point? Can I see a face, to make up a face to show me how they were feeling? What faces are you going to go for? Oh, we’ve got some grumpy, we’ve got some tired, Oh, lots of scary faces here.

Oh, they were not in a good mood were the,y and they thought it was time to go back so they rowed back. Can you row with me? Oh, back, back and short and as they go closer and closer to shore they notice someone on the shore. So, you can, yeah look over this way see. What you can see?

“Throw your nets on the right side then you will find some.”

Oh,, so the someone on the shore said to throw out their nets again. Let’s throw out our nets. We’re throwing out your nets and then pull in your nets. Oh, oh, so much fish. Oh, and the boat fills up with all these fish. How do you think these Disciples were feeling now? How do you think they were feeling? Happy, excited. At that point they realized that this person, not Richard, but this person was Jesus – just to get that in there before you got any ideas – we’ll talk about that later I’m sure – and at that point they were like Wow, Jesus had made what was impossible and not working into something good and something possible happened, and they only did that because Jesus guided them and Jesus used His power to help them. And you know, this past year boys and girls, adults amongst us, it has been a tough year and we’ve missed so many things and we’ve missed and struggled with being in lockdown and being at home and stuck at home and feeling isolated and feeling alone and maybe feeling forgotten and maybe feeling scared and disappointed like some of the Disciples were feeling, but just like the Disciples we can hope and trust in Jesus. He is our help because Pslam 33 reminds us “So our hope is in the Lord for he is our help.’ Boys and girls, could you repeat that with me and our adults let’s say that together – So our hope and in the Lord, he is our help. Say it again So our hope is in the Lord, he is our help.

That is true. Jesus is our help and that’s what the boat reminds us today that Jesus is our help and so our hope, our trust should be in Him. But the story doesn’t end there, there’s also a breakfast and as soon as His Disciples realize that Jesus was there well Peter couldn’t contain himself, he just had to get to Jesus, and the rest of the Disciples they eventually came as well and when they got there, Jesus had prepared a fire and Jesus had prepared a breakfast as , and said to them ‘Bring more food’ because they were hungry and the fire would warm them up, but not only that, Jesus stayed with them and spent time with them, and He talked with them, and He listened to them, and he just enjoyed their company, and they enjoyed His company because these men were His friends because they followed Jesus and He loved them, and, boys and girls, adults here, we need to remember that too. Not only Jesus is our help. He is our friend and He loves us with an unbreaking love, He loves us such that He will never leave us nor forsake us.

But how much of that is just head knowledge, and how much of it is heart knowledge? We need it to go deep down to know He wants your company, He wants your company and He gives His company to us as well, because He loves us with an unchanging and unchanging love.

And so, our story today with the boat reminds us that Jesus is our help and so we have to hope in Him and the breakfast reminds us that Jesus is our friend and His presence and His power and His friendship is there for us as well, and as we go back to normal in some shape or form, either here at church, or at home, and at school, and nursery, boys and girls, or as we go on to do different things to fulfill our purpose as a church, we need to remember Jesus is our help and that gives us courage, but Jesus is our friend and we can celebrate that whatever the storm or situation. I pray that we know these truths for ourselves. May it be so, Amen.