Upper Braes Joint Service

Preached on: Sunday 11th February 2024
The sermon text is available as subtitles in the Youtube video (the accuracy of which is not guaranteed). A transcript of the sermon can be made available on request. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this message.
Bible references: Matthew 4:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermons keypoints:
– Hungry for God
– Trusting God
– Worship God alone

CAP 04Feb24

Preached on: Sunday 4th February 2024
The sermon text is available as subtitles in the Youtube video (the accuracy of which is not guaranteed). A transcript of the sermon can be made available on request. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this message.
Bible references: Matthew 14:13-21
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:

Kindness

Preached on: Sunday 31st December 2023
The sermon text is available as subtitles in the Youtube video (the accuracy of which is not guaranteed). A transcript of the sermon can be made available on request. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this message.
Bible references: 2 Timothy 2:23-24 & Matthew 2:1-12
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Kind kings
– Kind King of kings
– Kind like Jesus:
– kind words
– kind actions
– kind smiles

True Rest

Preached on: Sunday 9th July 2023
The sermon text is available as subtitles in the Youtube video (the accuracy of which is not guaranteed). A transcript of the sermon can be made available on request. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 23-07-09 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Matthew 11:28-12:14
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Come to Jesus truly
– Learn the heart of Jesus
-Learn the way of Jesus

Teacher (evening)

Preached on: Sunday 30th April 2023
The sermon text is available as subtitles in the Youtube video (the accuracy of which is not guaranteed). A transcript of the sermon can be made available on request. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this message.
Bible references: Matthew 7:24-29
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Jesus as Teacher/Rabbi
– We need to know the voice of Jesus
– Jesus leads us into truth

Worshipping

Preached on: Sunday 1st January 2023
The sermon text is available as subtitles in the Youtube video (the accuracy of which is not guaranteed). A transcript of the sermon can be made available on request. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this message.
Bible references: Matthew 2:1-12
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Why do we come to church?
– Upset by the message
– Unfair message
– Who do we worship?

SERMON TEXT AVAILABLE ON REQUEST

Waiting for restoration

Preached on: Sunday 27th November 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above AVAILABLE SOON. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 22-11-27 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Isaiah 2:1-5 & Matthew 24:36-44
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoint:
– Waiting for restoration
– Waiting with hope
– Waiting with watchfulness

SERMON TEXT AVAIABLE SOON

Who’s counting?

Preached on: Sunday 16th October 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Numbers 1:1-4, 17-19, 45-50 & Matthew 28:16-20
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Gathering
– Giving
– Groups

If like me you’re a fan of tennis and, in particular, Andy Murray, you’ll understand why I say that as long as he is winning it’s a joy to watch but as soon as the score is not going his way well, I don’t know about you, but I often have to leave the room. I can’t bear the tension.

In any sport from football or rugby to ice hockey, cricket to tennis, if you don’t count the goals, the tries, the runs or the points, you don’t know who’s winning.

Well, what about the church? How can you tell who’s winning in the church?

I can remember when every Church of Scotland had to count the number of people attending communion at least once annually and send it into Presbytery who in turn sent it in to 121 and that exercise was supposed to be a good way of keeping count of how many people attend a church regularly. So, someone who is in church every Sunday for example but happened to miss the twice or thrice yearly communion because they were away on holiday or they were unwell, well, they were counted as a non-attender whereas someone could roll up once a year just to keep their name on the congregational role and be counted as regularly attending. What a piece of nonsense! Thankfully, those days are gone.

We need to be wise when it comes to counting numbers in church. Obsessing over numbers as a so-called measure of success can cause wrongful pride. Which church do you go to? Oh, I go to !!!!!!!! church. Oh, how many people go on a Sunday? Um, just a few. Oh well, I go to Brightons Church and every Sunday there’s at least 200 in church.

I/we wish. Well, sometimes anyway!

Rural congregations, for example, have no opportunity whatsoever to gather in that kind of number of people. But we can go too far in the opposite direction, if we dismiss keeping numbers, keeping track of numbers all together.

Interestingly, in his book Anatomy of a Revived Church, consultant Tom Rayner discovered, completely unexpectedly, and I might add, that revitalized congregations were counting. They were keeping track of their numbers.

So, continuing the series based on this book that Scott began two Sundays back, and I’m doing what I’m told Scott, if you’re watching this morning, we come to Who’s Counting?, that’s the title of my sermon, Who’s Counting?, and we begin firstly with Gathering.

Now, just in case anyone is thinking this isn’t very biblical can I remind you of our first reading from the Old Testament that Margo read to us. Numbers is called Numbers, in English it’s not known as that, in the Hebrew but it’s known as Numbers in the English translations because it takes its title from the first few verses. As Margo read to us, we heard that, instructed by The Lord, Moses was told ‘You and Aaron are to number by their divisions, all the men in Israel 20 years old or more who are able to serve in the army.’ and that was in verse 3.

Now, let me give you a little bit of background to Numbers because it’s one of those books that well, if we’re honest, we don’t read that much you know with the people who decide ‘Right, I’m going to read the Bible from the very beginning.’ Genesis, Exodus and then they get to Leviticus and yeah, the struggle and of course Numbers comes next so maybe skip over it but it’s actually quite an interesting book. It came at a pivotal point in the history of God’s people. Having been rescued from Egyptian slavery, the people of God arrived at Mount Sinai. God had provided for their spiritual and their physical needs. He’d given them the Covenant Law by which to live and a Tent of Meeting in which to worship and also a system of sacrifice to ensure forgiveness of sins. So, in Numbers, the people of God, the Israelites, are finally ready to make the journey to Canaan, the Promised Land.

Now, counting the number of men suitable for army service was part of that preparation. To set off along the way they would learn some valuable lessons about holy living, the importance of good leadership, the dangers of temptation and perhaps, most importantly, that God is gracious and keeps His promises.

Now isn’t that bang up to date for the 21st century? The kind of things that we need to know as individual followers of Jesus but also as a church community and congregation and family.

Our aim, of course, is not to enter into the land of Canaan but, as Jesus commanded us in our second reading, our aim is this ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them everything I have commanded you.’ That’s Matthew 28 verse 19 as Margo read. That is our aim.

Just for a moment, to go back to the people of Israel, in order to ensure that they could defend themselves Moses counted the Israelite men who could fight should that be needed and, as we know, the journey to the promised land did not go rather smoothly but rather lonely, rather long, longer than this sermon is going to be, 40 years exact and well, a lot of problems on the way. But, in order to work out if what we are doing in church is actually reaching people outwith the church, we actually also need to count numbers.

Now, one group of church leaders, sensing that things in their congregation were declining, called this consultant who wrote the book to ask for help, and he analyzed their Sunday worship attendance over the past 10 years. In the words of one elder the results were breathtakingly shocking.

Now, to their credit the leaders of that congregation didn’t panic nor did they stick their heads in the sand and refuse to change, you know that well-oft used phrase in the Church of Scotland ‘Well, if it sees me oot, it’ll day fine!’ Well, actually, it won’t. They didn’t panic, they didn’t refuse to change, instead they decided to take seriously their mission to their community and they began to prayerfully plan. Their focus changed. In other words, from being inward to being outward.

So, by engaging with where people’s actual needs were, showing that they cared, sharing God’s love slowly, new people started to come and they kept track of church attendance because they reckoned that if what they were doing was working then it would increase and, in fact, in that congregation it did, So, Gathering is my first point.

My second point is Giving. Financial giving can make more people more nervous than any other subject in church life especially if that congregation is behind budget and it can also make more people more apathetic if that congregation is doing well. Now, I don’t know if Brightons still has a Deacons Court. Have you still got? You do, well, in Larbert East we had a Deacons Court as well, but we changed over to the new constitution a couple of years before I retired in preparation for what was coming but a number of years ago a lovely godly church member left quite a large legacy to the church. It was actually a quarter of a million pounds and that’s, I can say that because it’s out in the public domain. When the Deacons Court learned about this, I saw the pound signs appear in their eyes and I told them, I’m usually quite a gentle person, but on this occasion, I was less than gentle, and I said to them ‘I can see what you’re thinking so, if you think that money is going to be used to pretty up the church building, or if you think you’re going to invest it in something like the lottery then you’ll be looking for a new minister.’ Well, to their credit, they realized what I was saying. That money was invested with the Church of Scotland and is used to finance 80 percent through its interest, 80 percent of the salary of the part-time family worker in the church. Parish Outreach worker. So, money can be a blessing if it’s used in a godly way.

I know of other congregations, I was ministering one who received a legacy and the congregational board in that church sat back and folded their arms, whereas the other congregation with which it was linked wasn’t so, wasn’t so fortunate in one sense and they worked hard and they were the ones who increased their financial giving and saw life in the church. You see, congregational giving is an indicator of leading trends of the spiritual state of the congregation and, interestingly, in this book, Rainer discovered that people often stop giving before they stop coming to church altogether. So, if someone is struggling for whatever reason and stops giving it is a pastoral matter not just a financial one.

So, before we rub our hands together and start counting the offering, here are three simple principles to note that come from the book, and they’re biblical as well, and I share them with you in the hope that your Deacons Court will take them on board and prayerfully consider them. It may be that you’re already doing them so forgive me if I’m doing repeat, saying something that you’re already doing.

But the first is a systematic approach to first-time givers works wonders. People need to know that they are appreciated. That’s actually a Biblical principle, to show someone, you know, to thank them, to be kind to them.

Secondly, tie money to mission. Using an offering to showcase how givers are supporting God’s work is the surest way of making sure that it continues to be supported.

And thirdly, thank generous givers because it appears that some people don’t even know if anyone in their congregation cares that they are supporting their congregations. Now, I’m not saying that about Brightons. That is just a general principle that has been discovered in the study of the anatomy of revitalized churches.

So, that leads us thirdly to Groups, I hope you notice the alliteration Gathering, Giving, Groups, specially done for you. Seven out of ten revitalized churches also tracked attendance at groups associated with their congregations.

Now, take, for example, James had been a minister at a certain church for 12 years, it was in decline before he was called to be the minister but that decline continued gradually in his time too, so the church decided to get serious about Jesus’ command in Matthew 28. and to make some more disciples. They track Church attendance but also Church groups. It enabled them to see where the greater spiritual fruit was growing in terms of the groups connected with the congregation and they also discovered, incidentally, that those who had stayed with the church through its decline were all part, every single one of them, was part of an existing group within the church. So, they learned from this that pouring resources into groups that were working was the way ahead instead of wasting energy and time on those groups that weren’t, and the growth in that congregation was slow but steady. The trend reversed and it went up. Everybody in the congregation didn’t have to do everything or go to everything. Remember our passage in Numbers where the Levites the members of the tribe of Levi, the Levites, weren’t counted as fighting men because their job was to take care of the worship side and the tent of The Lord’s presence. In other words, people should use their God-given gifts where they are most suited. Not forced into doing that which isn’t their gifting. So, if you aren’t good with children, resist all pressure to go and teach children. If you aren’t good at finance like me, get your wife to do it and make sure you’ve got people in the congregation who know what they’re doing. We don’t have to do everything. We don’t have to go to every group but there’s all always something where we can become more involved and use our gifts and that way, the church family grows.

So, who’s counting? It’s a proven fact that revived churches are. They are counting people who are gathering for worship and incidentally, remember to include those who are worshiping online because there are still people who, after the pandemic, are worried about coming back to church and there are people who are two and a half years older and a wee bit more frail but they can still watch online and, if you’re watching today, you are part of the worshiping community of Brightons Church just as much as everyone sitting in the pew.

So, growing churches are counting people who are gathering for worship. They’re also counting how people are giving financially and of their time and talents, and also the groups in which people are involved.

This is not about counting for counting’s sake. Nor this about counting so we can boast about our increased church attendance. This is about counting for accountability. We are all accountable to The Lord, for how we are serving Him in our church congregations.

Now, Rainer did not expect to find this aspect of counting amongst churches that were revitalized but, when he did and thought about it, it made sense because, if what a church is doing for example in worship is still seeing decline then it isn’t working. Hard questions need to be asked and that isn’t just about the minister, in case anybody thinks that I’ll blame Scott.

Do you know, a number of years ago, my wife and I went to a church, I won’t say which church it is, it was in Falkirk Presbytery where I knew, as Presbytery Chaplain, that the minister was struggling and when we arrived at the door there were two elders that were greeting people and I knew who these Elders were because one was a Presbytery Elder and the other was an additional Elder on Presbytery and when they saw us walking towards them this is what they did – they looked us up and down, folded their arms and turned their backs. That’s true. An utter disgrace! No wonder the minister was struggling. And that’s why what’s happening in church is not just the minister, it’s the entire congregation. I can’t tell you what a joy it is to hear you singing this morning. It’s absolutely amazing. I can sense that you’re worshiping The Lord.

So, if what’s happening in worship is not working, it’s everyone’s responsibility, together. It’s about the entire congregation, to seek where God is leading because you see, what really matters, is making disciples of Jesus. It’s what he commanded us to do, and that’s why I’m going to reissue my challenge that I raised with the children earlier. Those people that you’ve thought about that you could invite to church. Please do it. If they say no, then you’ve done your part. Maybe God will work on them. But maybe go back in a wee while and try again and pray for them.

You see, let’s not forget that along with His command to make more disciples, Jesus also said this ‘And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.’

Amen

A year to say ‘YES’

Preached on: Sunday 21st August 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: Matthew 7:24-29
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– say ‘YES’ to Jesus

So, boys and girls, it’s really good to be all together as a church family, to have all our ages and hear the buzz and atmosphere.

Have you had a good summer? Well, that doesn’t sound very good! Have you had a good summer? Oh, I’m sure we could be a wee bit louder than that! Have you had a good summer? Oh, that’s good to hear. Well, over the summer we’ve been looking at a particular Bible passage where Jesus teaches us lots of things about the kingdom of God and it has a special name this little bit of the Bible. Does anybody remember what this little bit is called? What’s it called? Do you remember? What it’s called? Any of our older young people around to help us? It’s called the Sermon on the Mount. Do you know why it’s called that? Where do you think Jesus was at the time teaching it? Was He in the river? No! Was He up a tree? No! He was actually on a hill, on a mountain and He was sitting down teaching his friends. Because, who’s Jesus? He’s God and so He had this incredible thing to teach about the kingdom of God. Now, there was so much in that little bit of the Bible that to help us remember some of it at least, I have hidden some boxes around the sanctuary, downstairs and upstairs, and in a moment, I’m going to count you down and if you want you can help me find these boxes and come and stack them up here. Okay. Now, a couple of things you’re not allowed to run, once you’ve found one you go back and take your seat. Okay. So that everybody gets a wee shot and I think those are the only rules. Okay. So, you’re looking for what? Can you see any of them just now? Can you see some? They’re brown with some white writing. Now, maybe some of our older young people could maybe do the upstairs and the younger ones maybe stay downstairs. Okay. So, I’m going to count you down. We’re going to have a wee bit music while we do this. Three. No running remember. Three, two, one, go. Great Peter, thank-you.

All right, we’ve still got a lot more to go so maybe, if you found one, you could maybe – we’ve got 12 more to go, 12 more to go. Keep looking. Maybe the adults can check underneath their chairs just to make sure they’re not hiding them with their feet. Oh good job Harris, thank-you sir, much appreciated. Right, we’ve got eight to go, eight to go before the music runs out. Come on, where are these? Ah, good job. Magic. Right seven can’t count under pressure let’s not set it on fire though. Thank-you. Good job. Six to go. Oh two, good job. That makes four, three, three to go. One to go. Everybody check underneath your seat. Make sure you’re not hiding it. One to go, one to go. Oh, one’s coming. Perfect. Thank-you so much.

Right, there we go, we’ve found them. Now, I could have made so many more boxes here and I’ll just put them on screen. Oh, let’s cancel that just now. I’ll put them on screen a moment. There’s things like trusting, things like asking, things like investing in eternity, laying up treasure in heaven, being light, turning to God, being salty, knowing God is our Heavenly Father. So many things over these past seven weeks or so. I want to give you an opportunity in a moment to turn to your neighbor or boys and girls to turn and talk with your Sunday School leaders. What one do you think is either the most important or what one has resonated with you most? That might be more an adult, for an adult question. What has resonated with you most? And we’ll get this on screen so you can see it. Okay, 30 seconds either what’s most important or what is resonating with you most this summer.

Okay. Well, I’m not gonna ask for a vote of what you think is the most important or anything like that, but I’m sure there’s a good conversation to be had there, maybe over a cup of tea like ‘Oh why did you pick that one and why did that resonate with you?’ Or ‘Why do you think that’s most important?’ Have those conversations afterwards. Don’t let it just end with that.

Now, Jesus, after teaching about all these things, and much more besides, He gets to the end of His sermon, boys and girls, and we read earlier these words ‘Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.’ Jesus is saying that when we hear it, but much more important, when we put it into practice, when we do what He teaches, we’re being wise, we’re making a good choice, we’re on the way to the good life, and to help us understand how important a choice this is He talks about two people who build a house. Do you remember that bit of the story? So, there’s a person who builds a house and what do they build on? Do you remember? One person chose to build on, do you remember? What was that? Rock. So, someone built on rock for sure and the other one built on sand. That’s right, sand and rock. And so, when the rain came down on the house that was built on the sand the person who tried to do it the easy, what happened? The house went flat! Can we do that together? One, two, three, flat! It fell down because they had tried just to do the easy thing. But then, the other person built on rock. Dug down, put in some effort, listened to it to what was the right thing to do and when the rain came down it stood firm. Didn’t it? Now Jesus is trying to help us see the importance of putting His words into practice, the importance of saying yes to Jesus, the importance of responding to Him. And this idea about saying yes reminded me of a film that it came out a couple of years ago where a family had to learn to say yes to one another. You might have seen it; you might not have. So, let me put this trailer on just now and sorry if this causes any problems at home.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being a mom, it’s that parents and kids always disagree on one thing. No, no, no rules. But saying no 50 times an hour, no, absolutely not, nope on a rope, it’s part of the job. But all of that is about to change. Have you heard about yes-day? It’s this new thing where parents say yes to everything their kids asked for. For 24 hours. Radical? What am I just cheering about this? Well, yes-days are like fun and mom and dad are like fun-killers. We are plenty fun. We used to say yes to everything. We can be fun again. Really. Let’s do this!
It’s yes-day. Who’s ready for yes-day? Ellie wants to do your hair and makeup. I have a vision. Yes, I’m glad you’re using your watercolors. What do we do. One word, two letters and oh, windows down. What is happening?

So, as I say, apologies if I just made your day much harder! But this family found the importance of saying yes to one another. That when they did, it brought them closer, it brought life, and it brought joy. And the same is true in your relationship with Jesus. Whether you’re a young person, whether you are young at heart, your choice is the same. Whether you’re going to say yes or no to Jesus, and put His teaching into practice, respond to Him, Because, when we say yes, then we get closer to Him. When we say yes, we learn more of His life and more of His joy, more of that kingdom-way. And so, I wonder whether this year, as we come back together, as a church family, as we start a new session together, can this be the year when we more often say yes to Jesus than no. Might this be a year of saying yes, not just on a Sunday, not just when the preacher says something, or a Sunday school leader says something, but, boys and girls, could we say yes to Jesus more often in our everyday. That we take what we hear on a Sunday, in our Bible readings at home, wherever it be that Jesus speaks to us, and we say yes to Him this year. Because, if we do, I think incredible things would happen in us through us, and change the community around us. So I’m praying that we say yes to Jesus this year.

The narrow gate

Preached on: Sunday 14th August 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: Matthew 7:13-23
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– 2 ways: narrow gate and that leads to ‘life’; wide gate and a broad road and it leads to destruction
– What is this ‘life’ an what is this ‘narrow’ gate? – It is Jesus himself!
– Jesus warns us to watch on for false teachers and warns us not to deceive ourselves; but to do the will of Father God
– Jesus is the truth
– This is a sober warning!

Father God, as we now come before Your Word, and as we look at Your words, Lord Jesus, the words from the Sermon on the Mount, we pray that You would open our minds, open our hearts and give us listening ears. If the words of the speaker are out of line, Lord, cast them aside. But those words of the speaker that come from You, may they go deep into our hearts I pray. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Liz Truss. Rishi Sunak. Two names that I suspect not many years ago none of us would have known. Both have been setting out their program for government, close to manifestos. Close to manifestos. I’ll say nothing more about that.

Sometimes the Sermon on the Mount is described as the kingdom manifesto, as Jesus’s manifesto. I’d like you today, if you can to have a Bible near you and open it up and just have those chapters five to seven in front of you.

I don’t know about you but I’ve found the going through the Sermon on the Mount really enjoyable but at the same time really challenging. I hit on a marvelous thing. I started to listen to it on my audio Bible and what I would do is I would start in chapter five and I’d listen to the whole lot in a oner because, if you look at it in your Bible, you’ll see that it’s broken up with little headings. Those headings are fine. They help us navigate our way around the Bible but those headings are not Holy Scripture and what they can tempt us to do is to break the Sermon on the Mount down into little, little chunks and, actually, the Sermon on the Mount was a sermon on the mount. It was Jesus’ sermon. Well, today, we’re getting to the point where Jesus is beginning to conclude what He’s been saying in the in the Sermon on the Mount and frankly, He says some things in today’s passage which are difficult to hear. Scott’s smiling. Well, let me tell you a little secret. I must say that when Scott shared with me the program for the summer and he told me what my passage was, I was horrified. Of course, I didn’t tell him that. ‘Horrified’ you say, ‘about a passage in the Bible?’ Well, I’ll explain that in a minute.

But let me first recap a little bit on Jesus’ manifesto. The Sermon on the Mount is challenging yet, at the same time, it’s full of really uplifting passages and two weeks ago Scott said that there was a real danger that when we read through the Sermon on the Mount, we see it as a list of do’s and don’ts and, if we do, that it leads to a lifeless religion that would deaden your soul. Those were his precise words. I wrote them down. A lifeless religion that would deafen your soul. You see, in Jesus’ day, Judaism was plagued with legalism. A mistaken view that, if you obeyed all the rules all the time, you are living the right way and you are on the right path. Yet, consistently, Jesus calls that out as hypocrisy and that’s the running theme through the Sermon on the Mount. Instead, this amazing manifesto, flips everything. It flips it and it becomes something that’s really quite radical. Now, you often hear me talking about Jesus being a radical and the message being radical. I say that deliberately because I think we have a problem in the Christian church today. I think the message is now seen to be so old, from 2000 years ago, that we’re blunted it and we see it as an old message but, in fact, it’s a radical, new message and we must believe, that we must stand up to that. It is hard to take an old message and see it as radical.

But, think about it for a moment. What if the Sermon on the Mount was truly implemented today? Everything on earth would change, if implemented. Everything would change. Modern slavery, immigration, war, famine, sex crimes, family tensions, fraud, exploitation, gone in a moment.

Now, I know some of you will be thinking ‘Bent’s exaggerating again!’ Well, let’s go back to our candidates for Prime Minister and imagine for the moment that one of them stands up, or both of them, and says ‘I declare to you today that if I am your Prime Minister, the country will be governed by the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount.’

How’s that going to work out? I’m serious. How’s that going to work out? I can tell you, without a shadow of a doubt, that it would end in political failure. And the reasons for my confidence? Well, we’re coming to it in today’s passage.

You see, having set out His program for government, His manifesto, Jesus changes the mood music. Verse 13 ‘Enter through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life and only a few find it.’ Whatever has gone on in the Sermon on the Mount to that point, these words shock you. See. throughout the manifesto, Jesus has, He’s referred to the kingdom-way of living and He’s nudged and He’s cajoled us listeners into really thinking about an upside-down way of living on the whole, in the world, in an upside-down way, a heavenly focused way. We pray it ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth.’ We pray it as Christians.

But now, where the rubber hits the road, Jesus says there’s a choice and today people don’t like choices. There’s a choice. Two gates. One that is narrow and small, and one that is wide and broad. And I’ll read that verse again because it’s so, so important ‘Enter through the narrow gate’ says Jesus, ‘for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it but small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life and only a few find it.’ Now, I’ll tell you, I don’t like the word ‘narrow’. People might call me narrow-minded. People might think I have a narrow perspective, but these are the words of Jesus so I need to take them seriously. You see, Jesus was no politician. He’s not looking to get elected and He’s certainly not out to win a popularity contest. H wouldn’t try Strictly Come Dancing I don’t think. This is Jesus Christ. His claim, His exclusive claim, whatever you make of it, is that He is God. God come to earth as a human being on a rescue mission. This is Jesus Christ telling the truth and I’m going to use these words, an absolute truth.

Now, to be honest, that might be hard to hear. Jesus, in very plain language is saying that, there are only two ways; one way that leads to life and one way that leads to destruction. Two ways. Not many ways. Not three ways. And that is offensive. It’s offensive today because we live in a multicultural, multi-faith, secular, pluralistic world -all big words but it basically means anything, and I mean anything and everything, is okay. Where everyone has their own truth, that’s your truth, that’s my truth and you know, to all of that, not in a shouty way, not in an aggressive way, Jesus just says ‘No, no. There are only two ways.’ And, actually, when you really think about it, what He is saying is that there is only one way.

I know it’s a bit dull but I’m going to read that verse again. ‘Enter through the narrow gate for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it but small is the gate and a narrow is the road that leads to life and only a few find it.’

Notice the last six words ‘only a few find it’?

Last week Donald took us on a car journey. Well, let me try and do the same. Come along with the Haywoods. Heather uses our car every day. She is a good driver. Ii am not as skilled as Heather. If Heather is driving and she comes across a signpost that’s got two choices, I know Heather will pick the right choice. I know she will end up at the right destination. Now, I’m the son of a taxi driver- Alistair – if I’m behind the wheel of a car and I see the signpost to wherever we’re meant to be going, but then I see a smooth road going in a slightly different way and it’s a wider road and it might get the other, it might get to there, eventually well, Ii just might take it. We might get there sometime.
But Jesus would say that my strategy for driving is not a sound strategy. It’s certainly not a sound strategy for life and if I applied my navigation skills in the car to my life then I think I would be on the road to destruction.

So, there’s two choices and frankly, people, this is now where it gets awkward because I’m compelled to say ‘What gate are you passing through? What road are you on?’ Now, maybe you can answer that and you’re quite confident, or maybe you say ‘Look, I don’t buy into any of this Jesus-way stuff.’ Well, that’s okay, that’s your choice. Jesus doesn’t compel anyone. I said to the children this morning that Jesus is not a policeman. But all I can say is good luck to you. But maybe you’re not sure and you don’t know and well, gate and road and way stuff, what does that all mean? And like I said, why does it have to be narrow?

Well, the answer is maybe not quite what you would expect. You see let’s take another passage. If your bible’s open, you have a look in John 14.

And this is, this is, this is a really significant part. All parts of the Bible are significant but this is a discussion Jesus is having with His disciples on the night before He’s killed. I don’t know about you but when someone’s close to death I tend to take notice of the things that they might want to tell me. Let me take this slowly through the passages from John 14.

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.’ This is Jesus speaking. ‘You believe in God. Believe also. In my father’s house has many rooms. If that were not so would I have told you that. I am going there to prepare a place for you and if I go and prepare a place for you I will come back and take you to be with me, that you may also be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.’ Now, I’ve mentioned Thomas last time I was speaking or the time before. I think Thomas gets a bad rap in the Bible sometimes but Thomas was one of His disciples and he says ‘Lord, we don’t know where you’re going so, how can we know the way.’ Jesus answers ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.’ I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through me. Now, this is not the only time in the Gospel when Jesus explains Himself this way, but here we have it an exclusive claim, yes, a narrow claim, because the claim of Jesus is that He is the way, that He is the gate, He is the narrow path. Exclusive, because there is no other way to Father God. You see, the kingdom manifesto is about the king, and the kingdom-way is exclusive and it’s narrow because it’s a person, it’s Jesus. There’s no neutrality with Jesus. There’s no middle road with Jesus. The claim of Jesus is that He is the truth. So, if your truth is different well, like I said to you, good luck. And it’s hard to say it but you are on the road to destruction.

So, now do you see why I was horrified that this was the passage I was preaching on?

This is not a popular message and you may be sitting in your seat fuming or you may be watching this online and are about to give up, and I understand that. I did not pick this passage but though it makes me feel awkward to say it – you need to go through the narrow gate. Jesus says, if you don’t, you’re on the path to destruction. And again, it’s actually easier for me to say this to a crowd of people but I know people here, personally, and I’ve never been able to go up to you and say, have you gone through the narrow gate, or are you on the road to destruction. I ask you that question today. I ask you that question today. You see, because in the language of the Bible, and this is not language that people like today, if you have not gone through the narrow gate, then you’re going to hell.

ACDC, that wonderful prophetic, rock band – You’re on the highway to hell.

To say that is difficult. It’s been difficult for two thousand years. Particularly, interestingly, to middle class people, for some reason, through history and through the Bible we see that poor people are more likely to accept that message. But you know what, the man who first claimed it was not popular and they put him on a cross. The man who baptized Him, John the Baptist, got his head cut off. Jim, I think you’re okay. Those first Christians were imprisoned and beaten and martyred. Even this very day in Asia and Africa people are dying because they’ve decided to follow the narrow way. We couldn’t preach this openly in Afghanistan or North Korea or even China. And here I am, telling you that I’m horrified or feeling awkward about telling you this. It’s narrow and it’s hard and only a few find it.

Think on that, think on that, for you. Now, usually a hard-hitting message like this you’d stop, but anybody who’s awake has realized that there’s two thirds of the passage that I haven’t gone into. Don’t worry Scott, I’m gonna finish soon.

But we’ve got a little bit more to do. You see, verses 15 to, 15 onwards, also reference back to that because they reference this business about false teachers. ‘Watch out for false teachers, wolves in sheep’s clothing.’ I don’t actually need to expand that. A wolf in sheep’s clothing looks like a wolf, and a wolf eats sheep. You see, the problem has been throughout the history of the Christian church that there are have been false prophets and false teachers and Jesus in His very manifesto at the start, is telling us about what the kingdom-way is says, watch out, there are going to be false teachers. So, let’s not get hung up on that and let’s not get overcome with the fact that there are some bad apples. Jesus simply says, watch out and be and be aware. And, if we go back to the passage that Donald was teaching us about last Sunday, the word from that was ‘discernment’. We need to discern, we need to know and see the bad, they see the false teachers and how well again, Jesus is just such a master at painting pictures, and He makes reference to the fact that, if the tree is unhealthy, the fruit will be unhealthy. So, the bad apple analogy is quite a good. One, you’ll see you’ll see the fruits of a false teacher and the reason there are false teachers goes back to what we’ve been talking about for most of this sermon is that it is a difficult message to say that there is only one way and that Jesus is the way. And people water it down. People try to have a little bit of both. A little bit of Jesus and a little bit of the wide road. And that’s where the false teaching comes in. But it’s Jesus Christ Himself at the foundation of bringing forward the message of salvation says that’ll be there, you need to watch.

And even if we go a little bit further, it even gets tougher because we need to watch ourselves. Discernment. Verse 21 to 23 an important warning to take heart on it says ‘Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven but only he who does the will of my father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly’ and again, these are Jesus words ‘then I will tell them plainly, I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers.’

Wow! That’s a warning. We can even fool ourselves. You see, we can fool ourselves into thinking we’re on the right road. There’s no magic formula into heaven and there’s no amount of effort will get you there. Trying to live the kingdom manifesto under your own strength, as Scott said two weeks ago, won’t work. Jesus is the narrow gate. He is the gate that we need to go through. watch out for false teachers, Do the will of God.

Amen.