The perfected Kingdom

Preached on: Sunday 13th October 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-10-13-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: Revelation 21:1-22:5
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Revelation 21:1-22:5
Sunday 13th October 2019
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

This is the last week of our sermon series about ‘the kingdom of God’, which we began back in late August. At that point I introduced the series by asking whether ‘the kingdom of God’ was of much importance to us, because often we do not talk about, or even use the words, ‘the kingdom of God’ very much. In particular, I highlighted the need to make decisions with a ‘kingdom of God’ mentality, that a kingdom-focused analysis and discussion might help us discern what is the best way forward, even if it doesn’t suit everyone. At that time, I was talking about the summer services, but isn’t it really interesting that on the final week of our series, we get the news about future Presbytery plans …
and the realities that we have to work within going forward? I’m going to come back to the insert you found in your news sheet today about the reduction in ministers in the Braes area, later in the sermon – so, hold onto that thought for a bit.

But when I introduced the series, I also said it was my hope that our kingdom-focus would sharpen, like putting on a pair of glasses to see better, and also that we might see the kingdom of God as a binding theme throughout the Scriptures, from beginning to end, with each part adding a distinctive contribution to our understanding. And so, from Genesis, through the history of Israel, with Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets, and then into the New Testament, with the coming of Jesus and then the age of the Spirit and the work of the church.
Last week, we reminded ourselves that the Kingdom of God is still growing, Jesus is still extending His kingdom by the Spirit of God, through the Church of God. And that period runs through much of the New Testament: from Acts to the book of Jude.

And so, on our journey through the Scriptures, we come at last to the final book, the book of Revelation. Most likely this book was written by the apostle John, for his name is used a number of times, and we are told in the first chapter that it was written on the island of Patmos, where John was likely imprisoned. We cannot be exactly sure when John wrote this book, but the content suggests a time of great trial, maybe a time of persecution.

It’s style of writing is that of ‘apocalyptic’ literature, which uses symbolism to convey its message. We often think of ‘apocalyptic’ meaning destruction or disaster, but actually, ‘apocalypse’ means ‘revelation’ or ‘unveiling’ in the original Greek language. Within the book of Revelation, then, God gives John a series of visions in which the Lord pulls back the curtain to reveal what is going on behind the scenes of human history. These visions were given to strengthen believers in their trials, particularly trials of persecution and suffering.

One word of caution with interpreting the book of Revelation, is that it is not really written as a timeline, even though we would really that, because we humans like to know what is happening and so gain a greater sense of control.
But instead, Revelation invites us to lift our eyes to Jesus, to His Kingdom, both present and future, and in doing so find peace and hope, even amidst times of uncertainty.

I clearly do not have time to go through the whole of Revelation today, which you’ll be glad to hear, but the portion we read today summarises much at the heart of the book. And like with our other weeks we’ll take our four headings of: God’s people, living in God’s place, under God’s rule and enjoying God’s blessing – and we’ll going to see what Revelation says about these. Because much of our reading today spoke of a future place, that’s where we’re going to begin, with God’s place.

This vision in chapter 21 begins with John seeing ‘‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.’
(Rev. 21:1-3)

God’s place, quite clearly, is now among the people, in a new and fuller way, and we are given pictures to try and help us grasp something of what this means for God’s people. In verse one, we are told that John sees ‘a new heaven and a new earth’, which echoes the prophecies of Isaiah, where God said He would make a new heaven and a new earth, and so what we read here is an affirmation that those great promises will be fulfilled.
In this new heaven and new earth, there are echoes of the Garden of Eden, for we read:
‘Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal…On each side of the river stood the tree of life.’ (Rev. 22:1-2)

The deliberate inclusion of some features from Genesis chapter 2, highlights Eden will be restored: what once was, and has now been lost, will be once more.

But this future place is not only a new heaven and a new earth, a restoration of the Garden of Eden, it is also described as ‘the Holy City, the new Jerusalem’ (Rev. 21:2). Yet this is no ordinary city, for it is on a scale that we can barely imagine, and it needs no light. And both these features point to something special about this city.
We are told that: ‘The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length [1,400 miles], and as wide and high as it is long.’ (Rev. 21:16)

So, the new Jerusalem is a perfect cube, with its height being the most dramatic feature since the top of Mount Everest is less than 5.5 miles above sea level. But by being a cube, the new Jerusalem echoes the shape of the Most Holy Place in the first temple, the temple built by King Solomon. And that was the place where God’s presence was focused; it was a small place and only one person, once a year could enter.

But here, in the new Jerusalem, the whole city is the Most
Holy Place, and the point we are meant to see…
is that there will be no special place where God’s presence is concentrated, for God will be everywhere, indeed, as we read: ‘God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.’ (Rev. 21:3)

We won’t have to go to a holy building to meet with God, the whole of the new creation is His place, and so that’s why we read in verse 22: ‘I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.’ There will be no distance between God’s people and Himself any more; they shall know Him perfectly and in His light they will live, and so the city needs neither sun nor moon, for the glory of God gives it light.

But who will live in this new creation, this new
Jerusalem? Well, Revelation shows…

that the people of God will come from all nations (Rev. 21:24), indeed in an earlier vision within the book, John shares that ‘there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.’ (Rev. 7:9)

Earlier in the chapter we are told that the number is 144,000 but this isn’t meant to be a literal number, simply as verse 9 says, it is a number beyond reckoning, full of people from all ages and countries, from all cultures and all races, a perfect community, united in worship of Jesus.

And it is Jesus who truly takes centre stage here and throughout Revelation. A number of times we read of the
‘throne’, that ‘throne of God and of the Lamb’,…
the Lamb being Jesus, the one who was slain, the one who was given as sacrifice for our sins – He sits on the throne – and so, Jesus rules perfectly, and all submit to His rule, giving Him full worship.

The outworking of this complete and total rule of Jesus within the new creation is that all God’s people will know God’s blessing. As such, we read today that:
‘“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ (Rev. 21:4)

The cycle of life followed by death will be broken. There will be none of the things that spoil life currently here on earth, which is good, because our future there will be a physical one. What is more, we read that ‘no longer will there be any curse’ (Rev. 22:3) – that curse, beginning in Genesis 3, which was God’s judgment on human sin, is completely removed, we will return to knowing life eternal, with none of the hardship or pain that we yearn to be free of now.

What we have here in Revelation is the perfected Kingdom of God, a picture of what will be, a picture of hope to give strength and perspective in the present time.

But we might ask: when will we get to enjoy this perfected Kingdom? The answer to that depends on a number of factors. If we die before the new creation comes then the Westminster Confession, which is affirmed by the Church of Scotland, summarises the biblical teaching this way:
‘The souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies.’ (Q. 57)

And that picks up on words of Jesus, such as:
‘I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.’ (John 14:3) or…
‘Jesus [said], ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’ (Luke 23:43) Or the words of Paul:
‘I…would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.’ (2 Cor. 5:8)

What it means to be at home with the Lord, what it means to be in paradise, is not fully revealed to us. At our annual Bereavement Service in May this year, I read a portion of a book written by one pastor, who wrote of a conversation he had with his father, and I’d like to read that again just now.

A few years before my father died, he asked to see me. I went into his study and we sat together. He was not well at all and his thoughts were much concerned with dying and death. I remember so vividly the questions he asked me.

‘Son, is there time as we know it in heaven?’

I remember replying that I doubted it. It seemed to me then, and it seems to me now, that heaven is a dimension beyond space and time. Therefore, the measurement of time, with which we are concerned, does not concern those in the heavenly realms.

This provoked a second question.

‘If there is no time in heaven, there must be no consciousness of time passing, and that means there can be no sense of waiting for something future to come to pass.’

I remember replying that this seemed logical, though heaven’s mysteries may not be unlocked by the key of logic alone.

Then Dad asked me his final question.

‘If there is no time in heaven, and there is not consciousness of waiting, won’t that mean that when I die, I won’t have to wait for you in heaven, even though you are still living here on earth?’

That was some question.
(Mark Stibbe, ‘The Father You’ve Been Waiting For’, pages 39-40)

A little food for thought, but as the Westminster Confession said, we may be in glory, yet we still are not in the full new creation. For that new creation, our new home with our new bodies, will not be realised until Jesus returns. We are told repeatedly in Scripture that we live in the last days, the days between the first coming of Jesus and His second coming, His return.

We have been waiting 2000 years for the return of Jesus, but the delay will not go on for ever…
The Scriptures affirm that this world is heading for a conclusion, and that just as God fulfilled His promises in the first coming of Jesus, so He will also fulfil His promises about the return of Jesus.

The apostle Peter predicted that sceptics would arise and wonder whether Jesus will ever return, and so Peter writes to fellow Christians in his time about such matters: ‘…in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this “coming” he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’’ (2 Peter 3:3-4)

But Peter goes on to give encouragement by saying:
‘But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’ (2 Peter 3:8-9)

Two thousand years is not long from God’s perspective, and He is deliberately delaying the return of Jesus so that as many people as possible find salvation in Jesus. For not everyone gets into heaven. Our reading today affirmed that: ‘Nothing impure will ever enter it [the new Jerusalem], nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.’ (Rev. 21:27)
Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. It’s a stark reminder: only those whom Jesus knows, only those who have relationship with Him, are allowed to enter the new creation, the new Jerusalem.

And in our day we don’t like the sound of that – we want the good bit, the new creation, but we would rather leave to the side the bit about a final judgment, and that some, indeed maybe many, will not enter God’s new creation.
We wonder: can’t we have one and just leave the other?

Well the Scriptures don’t allow us – we have to gloss over or cut out so much of what is there to do away with the claim of Scripture that there will be a separation. What is more, do you really want a God who overlooks impurity, who overlooks sin?
When it comes to terrible acts of evil, we all want that judged, but when it comes to ourselves, to our loved ones, we want a different set of rules. We want to make a religion, and a God, of our liking; we want to make it possible to earn a place in heaven.

But we all know we’re a mixed bag, that each of us is a mixture of good and something less than good, and as we read, nothing that is impure, nothing that is less than perfection can enter the new Jerusalem. And so, God must exclude it, but it does not make Him lacking in love. Indeed, as the apostle Paul reminds us, ‘love…does not rejoice in evil’ (1 Cor.13:6) – it is because God is pure love, and completely holy, that He must judge and bar anything impure from entrance to the new creation.

We don’t like this, but to some degree, neither does God – He disliked it enough to come in the person of His Son and give His life, in our place, to face our judgment, our eternal separation from Him, so that we would never have to face that reality, and could be sure of having our name written in the book of life, if only we trust in the Lamb who was slain, the Lord Jesus.

Friends, one day the perfected kingdom will come, when Jesus returns, and on that day, there will be a final judgment, and a separating of all peoples. Are we sure that our own names are in the book of life? Have we placed our trust in the salvation offered to us by Jesus? Have we recognised Him as our King, and bent the knee to Him? For that is the mark of all who will be with Him.

And when we bend the knee to Jesus, brothers and sisters, all fear can go, peace and joy can come, hope of that new creation, of that new home, can come as well – and we can have reassurance of our place in that perfected kingdom of the Lord Jesus.

And if that is our destiny, if that is the destiny to which God has called us, to belong to the perfected kingdom of Jesus, then it should make an impact now, and we should live accordingly now.

Remember, the apostle John was given these visions to encourage his fellow Christians and help them orientate themselves amidst a time of great trial and uncertainty.
Our time may not be as terrible, but I’d be surprised if anyone who read the insert in today’s newssheet about the future Presbytery Plan was not taken aback.

For the Braes Churches are being asked to consider what ministry and life as a group of churches might look like if, and likely when, the number of ministers is reduced from 4 to only 2. And Brightons will be affected by this, we won’t forever be able to be on our own and have one minister for one congregation. And so, we need to engage in the conversation, and work with our brothers and sisters from the Braes area to imagine and to dream what church might be like, and what opportunities might arise, with fewer numbers of ministers.

I’m not saying I like it – because, if anything, it is going to increase my workload, which is already busy; it is going to take me away from some things I would rather do; it is going to change what ministry looks like for me and for you; it is going to mean I have less time among you and less time to journey with you.

Our challenges are not like that of the first century Christians, but Revelation is just as helpful, I think, because it reorientates us to what is truly important, and what is upon the heart of God. Revelation reminds us of the fundamentals: of Jesus, the kingdom and salvation. As such, it also challenges us to hold lightly to more temporal things, to the ways we have liked things, to the way things have been but which, one day, will also pass away.
I wonder, as we go into uncharted territory as a congregation, can we be a people who make decisions and have conversations with a kingdom of God mentality and heart? We’ll only be able to do so, if we know that our own names are written in the book of life and as such, that our true home is with Jesus in His perfected Kingdom. I pray we may be such a people. Amen.

The proclaimed Kingdom

Preached on: 6th October 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-10-06-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: Acts 1:1-9 and 1 Corinthians 12:7-14
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Acts 1:1-9 and 1 Corinthians 12:7-14
Sunday 6th October 2019
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Last week in our current sermon series on ‘the kingdom of God’ we saw that in Jesus the Kingdom of God came, that when He came to earth He was the embodiment of God’s people, God’s place, His rule, King and blessing. Hopefully we went home thinking about that, excited about who Jesus is, and ready to be part of His Kingdom.

Because when Jesus was here with His disciples, after His resurrection, they were excited, they were expectant. For forty days after He rose from the dead Jesus taught them about the Kingdom of God, and it prompted one of the disciples, we don’t who, to ask this question:
‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ (Acts 1:6)

Gathered around Jesus, expectant of what might happen, because He’s just come back from the dead, they start to wonder: is this it? Is this when we’ll see all our hopes and dreams for the kingdom of God realised?

But within the space of minutes, we read this about Jesus: ‘After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.’ (Acts 1:9)

Jesus leaves, He ascends to heaven, as He said He would do – He’s alive, but Jesus is now no longer present. What does this mean for the Kingdom of God? If Jesus…
is the embodiment of God’s kingdom, does that mean that the Kingdom of God is no longer present either?

Well, we did miss out a few important verses, in what we read this morning. Jesus had been teaching them about the Kingdom of God and reminded them that something was about to change. On one occasion he said: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’ (Acts 1:4-5)

And in response to the question He was asked, Jesus said this: ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ (Acts 1:8)

Jesus reminds them, time and time again, that they are going to receive the Holy Spirit. This Spirit, whom Jesus had during His ministry, this Spirit, whom only the greatest heroes and prophets in the Old Testament had known, well this Spirit was going to be given to the Church, to the disciples of Jesus.

Paul in His first letter to the Corinthians wrote these words:
‘Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. And so the body is not made up of one part but of many.’ (1 Cor. 12:12-14)
It is by the Spirit that we are formed into the body of Christ – that in sharing the Spirit we become united to Jesus, part of His body. And so, Paul affirms that the Spirit is given to all who claim to have placed their faith in Jesus – indeed, in writing to the Romans, Paul says:
‘…if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.’ (Romans 8:9)

You cannot be a Christian without the Spirit – the Spirit is essential – and if you have confessed Jesus as Lord, and called out to Him to be your Saviour, then the teaching of Scripture is that you have the Spirit, you have been given the Holy Spirit. But what does it mean, what are the implications? Well, let’s take our familiar headings, of
God’s people, God’s place, God’s rule and blessing, and see what the Spirit does for the Kingdom of God, and for you and me.
We’ll begin with God’s people. Last week, we looked at those verses from John’s gospel:
‘I am the vine; you are the branches.’ (John 15:5)

In calling Himself the ‘vine’, Jesus was saying that He is the true Israel, the embodiment of God’s people. But in calling His disciples the branches, Jesus affirms that God’s people includes all who are joined to Jesus. But how do you get joined to Jesus? Is it simply head knowledge, is it about knowing the right stuff? Is it about attending church?

Well, earlier in John’s gospel, Jesus had a meeting with Nicodemus, one of the Jewish leaders and we read this:

Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’
‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!’

Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.’ (John 3:3-5)

We come into the Kingdom of God, we are joined to Jesus, we become part of God’s people, as the Spirit brings about a new birth. We are not then part of God’s people because we come to church, or because we are nice people, or even because of what we know about Jesus. And sadly, these ideas still persist, even today, not only within our culture, but within church folk. I’ve had people said to me, over the years…
that such and such is a Christian, or must be a Christian, because they are deeply religious, or display Christian values. But being deeply religious, being a good person, is not confined to the church – there is in most people, if not all people, a tendency towards being ‘religious’, it maybe just gets masked with other things.

I was with a friend the other day, and he recounted going to a football game, and he described the experience as like being at church – because football, the game, had become for some people their religion, the thing that was foundational to life, that gave purpose and meaning, to which they gave of themselves, even sacrificially. It is their religion, but many other things can be other people’s religion – family, success, the list is endless…
So, maybe we’re all religious about something, so being religious doesn’t mean that you’re part of God’s people, that you’re part of the Kingdom of God, even if you’re religious about church stuff.

Likewise, being a good person, isn’t confined to the church, and theologically we explain this because of what we read in Genesis – that we’re all made in the image of God, and even though that image is marred because of the fall, we still see something of God in all of us, there’s still good in people. And so, being a good person, doesn’t mean you’re part of God’s people, that you’re part of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus said, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’

Are you born again? You might ask, how can we know? So, here are a few ideas:
• John 16:7-10 – Jesus said that the Spirit would bring conviction of sin. Have you been convicted of your sin, and is the Spirit continuing to convict you of your sin? Because if you’ve never been convicted, or it’s been some time since you’ve been convicted, maybe you’re not in a good place with God.
• Romans 8:15 – Paul says that the Spirit brings about our adoption as children of God such that we know God as ‘Abba’, our heavenly Father. Do you know God that way? Is God intimate and known to you, is He real and personal? Because if God seems distant, if God is simply up in the sky to you, again maybe, you’re not in a good place with God – you might know about God, but maybe you’re missing out on that new birth.
• 2 Cor. 5:5-15 – Paul says that anyone who is a Christian has been given the Spirit, and an outworking of this, is that we should no longer live for ourselves but for Jesus who died for us and was raised again. Do you live for Jesus? Does He shape your choices, your values, your priorities? Because if Jesus is just a nice guy, or if you think about Jesus on a Sunday but the rest of the week you call the shots, then I’m afraid you’re may not be in a good place with God.

Jesus said, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’ You’re only part of God’s kingdom, you’re only part of His people, part of the body of Christ, if you are born again. You may not be able to say when it happened, but Jesus makes no if’s or but’s about this, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. So, are you born again?
As I said at the beginning, all who are God’s people are given the Spirit, not only to facilitate this new birth, but for other reasons as well.

Let’s look at God’s place. The kingdom of God includes God’s people living in God’s place, enjoying God’s presence. Before the Fall, God lived amongst His people in the garden of Eden. After the Fall, God formed a people for Himself and He took them to a land He would give, and He lived among them, He presenced Himself in the place of the tabernacle, and then eventually the temple.

However, last week we saw that Jesus is the embodiment of God’s place, because in Jesus the Word became flesh, the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity moved into the neighbourhood. And so, we might say that Jesus is the true temple, the place of God’s presence.
But within the writings of the New Testament, we find another change because of the Spirit. Jesus is still the true temple, but because we are part of Jesus, by the Spirit, the language of ‘temple’ is extended in two ways. Firstly, in 1 Corinthians 6, we reed:
‘Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from
God?’

It’s a natural development of what we’ve seen already about the Spirit – if we individually are now part of Jesus, by the Spirit, then our very selves, are temples of the Spirit, He lives within each of us.

Secondly, we reed these words in Ephesians chapter 2: ‘In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.’
(Ephesians 2:21-22)

Paul describes the church as a building, with a foundation, with a chief cornerstone, such that together we are a holy temple in Jesus, a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit. Now, this isn’t referring to us individually, but as a community – within us, as a community, God lives by His Spirit. So, God lives within us individually, but God lives within us a community; God’s place is within His Church, because His Church is within Jesus by the Spirit.
Now, if we are God’s people and so also the place of God’s presence, all because we are in Jesus Christ by the Spirit, then this really should have an impact, don’t you think?

I think it should, and it should have an impact in at least two ways. Firstly, it should have an impact on us individually, on how we live and on what we do with our lives. This is part of the reason why Paul in His letters will say in one form or another: ‘…I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.’ (Eph. 4:1)

You are God’s people, you are God’s temple, so live as such, and we do so by living under the rule of God, just as Jesus did. Paul will detail, in every letter, what this looks
like, but he will also remind them…
that it is by the Spirit that we are enabled to live under the rule of God. For example, he writes in Romans: ‘…by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body…’ (Romans 8:13)

When we trust in Jesus and are born again, we are saved from the penalty of sin by the death of Jesus. In a future day, when Jesus returns, we will be saved from the presence of sin. But in our present time, we are being saved from the power of sin. And so, although we shall
never be sinless this side of heaven, God the Spirit is at work within us to help us fight sin and become more like Jesus.

The Spirit is ready to help us grow in love of God and love of neighbour, so where do you need the Spirit’s help?
What is the sin over which you need the power of the Spirit to break free?…
Where in your life, do you need power to pursue the things of God and His ways? In some cases it will take time to change, as you partner with the Spirit, and that will bring greater maturity of character. But in other cases, the change can be more instantaneous. Where do you need the power of the Spirit to live under the rule of God?

I said earlier, that now we are God’s people and His temple, then it should have an impact in at least two ways, and the second way it should have an impact, is through us to the people around us.Remember that
promise given to Abraham: ‘You will be a blessing…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’ (Genesis 12:2-3)

What we have, and who we are, is meant to ripple out and affect the world around us. As Jesus said in our passage today: ‘…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.’ (Acts 1:8)

The blessings that we have in Father God through Jesus by the Spirit are not just for us, not just available to us – we are meant to help others know the blessing of God for themselves; we are meant to be a signpost to God, an ambassador of His kingdom.

And again, in this the Spirit helps us, that by His work in us, changing our character into the likeness of Jesus, love for neighbour should be seen. And so, bringing a donation for the Foodbank should be a natural expression of who we are, but this really shouldn’t be a one-off, this should be regular and generous, if we are going to live up to our calling.
We can also be a signpost, a witness, to God in other ways. For example, our reading in Corinthians reminds us that we are each given gifts by the Spirit of God for the good of the Church and for our corporate mission. Are we giving ourselves to the ministry of this congregation? You have been given gifts to further and strengthen what God would do amongst us and through us. Are you playing your part?

But love of neighbour, and use of gifts, are only two ways that the Spirit works in us to impact the world around us. I came across a challenging quote this week, which read: ‘We cannot claim to be filled with the Spirit as individuals or as [congregations] if we are not active in evangelism; [for] the Spirit’s great concern is to lead people to Christ.’
(Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture, page 136)
I wonder what you make of that. I suspect a lot of us will be uncomfortable with it. We’ll push back. We’ll try to argue against it, maybe we’ll say: “I’m introverted”, or “it’s the minister’s job”, “or I don’t know how to share my faith”. But this writer is correct is saying that the Spirit’s great concern, even His greatest concern, is to lead people to faith in Jesus.

But the Spirit seeks to do that through God’s people, and the testimony of the church is that from the very beginning, in the book of Acts, up to our modern day, that individuals and churches who share their faith are also individuals and churches who are full and overflowing with the Spirit. They might not know how to do it, but they will try or they will try to learn; it will be an itch that needs attention, so they might read, or go on courses,… or give it a shot and make really bad mistakes, but they will have a burden to share their faith.

And where that burden is weak, or non-existent, in an individual or a community, then it’s not to say that you don’t have the Spirit, for all in Christ do, but the Scriptures say that we can ‘quench’ the Spirit, we can turn off the tap, with regard to the Spirit’s influence in our lives. The Scriptures also say we can ‘grieve’ the Spirit, and so whether it be by quenching, or whether it be by grieving, there are ways we can become less full of the Spirit, because the Spirit will not give of Himself in great measure to a people, or to a person, who resists, or outright rejects, the Spirit’s concerns and activity. His principle concern is to see people come to know Jesus, and if we do not share that concern, if it is not a burden of our hearts, then He may well hold back a little,…
and that may go a little way to explaining why our denomination, and the Western Church, is in such dire straits. Friends, let’s not kid ourselves: if we don’t share the concern of the Spirit, then maybe we have a lack of the Spirit, individually and as a community.

But that too can change, quickly and powerfully, as we respond to the Spirit’s promptings through the Word, as we say “yes” to Him, as we give of ourselves in prayer for His concerns.

Friends, I want to play for you a video that speaks of what the Spirit can do in our lives, and in the lives of anyone. It’s a video that we saw on Wednesday night at Alpha, so apologies to those who have already seen it, but I found it deeply moving. (PLAY VIDEO)
Brothers and sisters, friends, the Kingdom of God came in the person of Jesus 2000 years ago but even though we can’t see Jesus, He is still extending His kingdom by the Spirit of God. That Spirit invites us to experience a new birth, of being joined to Christ, part of God’s people, such that we become a dwelling place of God, individually and corporately. To each who has the Spirit, there is power over sin, there are gifts for service, and there is a call to be a witness through love and the sharing of the Good News, so that the rule of God and the blessing of God, might extend to the nations.

I pray that we would be a people, together and individually, who are full of the Spirit, and as such see the
Kingdom of God come in our midst. May it be so. Amen.

The present Kingdom

Preached on: Sunday 29th September 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-09-29-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: Luke 10:25-37 and Hebrews 9:1-15
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Luke 10:25-37 and Hebrews 9:1-15
Sunday 29th September 2019
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May it be so. Let us pray.

The prophesied Kingdom

Preached on: Sunday 22nd September 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-09-22-Dedication-Service-Message.
Bible references:
Location: Brightons Parish Church

• WELL, IT IS SO GOOD TO HAVE ALL OUR CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE IN THE SERVICE TODAY, AND ESPECIALLY ALL THOSE CONNECTED WITH GIRLS BRIGADE AND BOYS BRIGADE.
• I WAS IN THE SHOPS THE OTHER DAY, I THINK IT WAS DOBBIES, AND CAN YOU GUESS WHAT THEY WERE BEGINNING TO SELL? (CHRISTMAS STUFF)…

• CAN YOU GUESS HOW MANY DAYS IT IS UNTIL CHRISTMAS? (**94!!)
• NOW, DOES THAT SEEM LIKE A VERY LONG TIME TO YOU, OR A VERY SHORT TIME? (HANDS UP)…

• THE WORDS WE READ TODAY FROM THE BIBLE ARE OFTEN READ AT CHRISTMAS TIME.
• THEY WERE SAID BY A MAN CALLED ISAIAH, AND HE WAS A PROPHET.
• CAN ANYONE TELL ME WHAT A PROPHET IS? (SOMEONE WHO HEARS FROM GOD)
• ISAIAH HAD A MESSAGE TO PASS ON FROM GOD, AND IN WHAT WE READ TODAY, ISAIAH TOLD GOD’S PEOPLE SOME IMPORTANT THINGS.
• I’VE PICKED OUT SOME THINGS FROM HIS MESSAGE, AND I’VE HIDDEN SOME WORDS, CAN YOU GUESS THEM?
V6: “to us a _ _ _ is given”
V7: “He will reign on
_ _ _ _ _’_ throne” V6: “he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty _ _ _,
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Father”
• CAN YOU HELP FILL IN THE MISSING WORDS? (WRITE IN)
• V6A – A (SON) WOULD BE BORN
• **V7B – HE WOULD REIGN ON (DAVID’)S THRONE: HE WOULD BE A KING, PART OF THE DAVID’S FAMILY TREE
• **V6C – HE WOULD BE CALLED WONDERFUL COUNSELLOR, MIGHTY (GOD), (EVERLASTING) FATHER, PRINCE OF (PEACE).
• SO, THIS WOULD BE NO ORDINARY KING, BECAUSE HE WOULD BE GOD IN THE FLESH.
• BUT WHY DID GOD GIVE ISAIAH THIS MESSAGE?…

• WELL, HAVE YOU EVER HOPED OR WISHED FOR SOMETHING, BUT YOU NEVER GOT IT THE FIRST TIME AND SO YOU HAD TO KEEP ON WAITING FOR IT?
• MAYBE FOR YOUR FAVOURITE TEAM TO WIN THE TROPHY, OR FOR A BUS HOME, EVEN THOUGH YOU ARRIVE AT THE RIGHT TIME FOR THE BUS AND THEN IT DIDN’T SHOW UP?
• WELL, GOD’S PEOPLE HAD HOPED FOR SOMETHING TOO, AND THEY HAD BEEN WAITING FOR A VERY LONG TIME…

• THEY WERE WAITING FOR A KING TO COME WHO WOULD MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE, AND THERE HAD BEEN MANY KINGS, BUT NONE OF THEM HAD BEEN THE PERFECT KING, FOR THEY ALL MADE MISTAKES.
• SO, GOD WAS NOW SENDING A MESSAGE TO SAY THAT ONE DAY A SON WOULD BE BORN AND HE WOULD BE THIS AMAZING KING.
• CAN YOU GUESS WHO IT WAS? (JESUS)…

• THAT’S RIGHT, IT WAS JESUS.
• GOD WAS FAITHFUL TO HIS PROMISE AND HE SENT HIS SON TO BE THIS WONDERFUL KING
• AND BECAUSE CHRISTIANS BELIEVE JESUS IS THIS AMAZING KING, WE GATHER TO WORSHIP HIM HERE IN CHURCH
• AND AS PART OF OUR WORSHIP, WE GIVE AN OFFERING TO CARE FOR HIS WORLD
AND FURTHER HIS PURPOSES, AND SO WE’RE NOW GOING TO TAKE UP THE
OFFERING, AS WE REMAIN SEATED TO SING…

• EARLIER WE THOUGHT ABOUT THAT MESSAGE FROM ISAIAH AND WE SAID THAT JESUS WAS THE KING THE PEOPLE OF GOD WERE WAITING FOR.
• BUT HOW DO WE KNOW THAT JESUS IS THAT WONDERFUL KING? HOW DO WE KNOW THAT HE REALLY IS THAT KING? (THE GOSPELS)…

• FOUR BOOKS OF THE BIBLE ABOUT JESUS: MATTHEW, MARK, LUKE AND JOHN
• BUT HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED IF YOU CAN TRUST WHAT YOU READ IN THE BIBLE ABOUT JESUS?
• SAY YOU WENT DOWN TO TESCO…

• …AND AT THE CHECK OUTS YOU SAW SOME MAGAZINES AND NEWSPAPERS…
• AND SAY THOSE MAGAZINES AND NEWSPAPERS SAID THAT ALIENS** HAD
ABDUCTED THE PRIME MINISTER (WHICH WOULD EXPLAIN A LOT BY THE WAY),
OR THAT A REAL-LIFE DRAGON** HAD BEEN FOUND IN BRIGHTONS –
• YOU’D BE THINKING, WOW, THAT’S AMAZING!?! I WANT TO GO SEE THAT DRAGON, AND I WANT A NEW PRIME MINISTER.
• BUT YOUR MUM OR DAD, WOULD BE SAYING TO YOU, “DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU READ, IT’S NOT ALWAYS TRUE.”
• AND YOU KNOW, SOMETIMES PEOPLE FEEL THAT WAY ABOUT THE BIBLE, THAT WE CAN’T TRUST IT.
• WE MIGHT WONDER, ARE THE STORIES ABOUT JESUS JUST MADE UP?…

• WELL, SOME OF THE BOOKS THAT TEACH US ABOUT JESUS WERE WRITTEN BY EYE
WITNESSES**, BY PEOPLE WHO WERE ACTUALLY WITH JESUS, AND OTHERS WERE WRITTEN BY PEOPLE WHO SEARCHED OUT THE FACTS FROM PEOPLE WHO WERE ALSO THERE. SO, WHAT WE HAVE IS WHAT PEOPLE SAID ACTUALLY HAPPENED.
• WE SHOULD ALSO REMEMBER THAT THE PEOPLE WHO WROTE ABOUT JESUS
DIDN’T GET RICH, OR POWERFUL, OR POPULAR BECAUSE OF WHAT THEY
WROTE** – OFTEN THEY WERE PUT IN PRISON OR WORSE, BECAUSE OF WHAT THEY WROTE. AND, WHY WOULD THEY MAKE UP A STORY THAT GETS THEM INTO TROUBLE, OR WHICH PEOPLE THINK IS FOOLISH?
• FINALLY, WE CAN TRUST THE STORIES ABOUT JESUS BECAUSE THEY WERE
WRITTEN DOWN WHILST PEOPLE, WHO HAD SEEN JESUS, WERE STILL ALIVE**. SO,
IF THESE AMAZING STORIES WERE LIES, THEN PEOPLE COULD HAVE COME
FORWARD AND PUT THE RECORD STRAIGHT…

• BUT FOR 2000 YEARS, NO ONE HAS BEEN SUCCESSFUL IN DISPROVING THE CLAIMS ABOUT JESUS, BECAUSE THE EVIDENCE IS VERY STRONG.
• SMART PEOPLE BELIEVED IN HIM WHEN HE WAS HERE ON EARTH, AND SMART PEOPLE STILL BELIEVE IN HIM TODAY.
• AND BECAUSE WE CAN TRUST THE FOUR RECORDS ABOUT JESUS, THEN…

• THEN…WE CAN ALSO TRUST THE REST OF THE BIBLE TOO, AND WE CAN BE CONFIDENT THAT JESUS REALLY IS THE KING WHO GOD PROMISED.
• AND THAT’S WHY WE TEACH ABOUT JESUS IN CHURCH, IN SUNDAY SCHOOL, IN GB & BB, BECAUSE WE HOPE MANY PEOPLE WILL CHOOSE TO FOLLOW JESUS AS THEIR KING, AND THAT’S WHY THE BIBLE IS REALLY IMPORTANT TO US.

• YOU’LL SEE THE NEW BIBLES ON OUR PEWS, WHICH WERE A GIFT FROM SOMEONE IN THE CHURCH, AND WE HAVE A NEW PULPIT BIBLE AS WELL, WHICH SOMEONE ALSO GIFTED.
• THE NEW PULPIT BIBLE IS THE SAME VERSION AS THE NEW PEW BIBLES, AND IT’S BEEN BOUND IN LEATHER AND WITH AN INSCRIPTION ON THE FRONT AND INSIDE.
• TODAY, WE DEDICATED OURSELVES TO OUR WORK AMONGST CHILDREN AND
YOUNG PEOPLE, BUT ALL OF IT IS DEPENDENT ON US BEING A PEOPLE WHO LIVE
UNDER AND TEACH THE SCRIPTURES, AND SO WE ARE NOW GOING TO DEDICATE OUR NEW BIBLES AND ASK FOR GOD’S HELP AS WE SEEK TO TEACH HIS WORD AND LIVE BY IT.
• LET US PRAY.

The partial Kingdom

Preached on: Sunday 15th September 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-09-15-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: 2 Samuel 7v1-17 and Romans 1v1-6
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: 2 Samuel 7v1-17 and Romans 1v1-6
Sunday 15th September 2019
Brightons Parish Church
Let us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

I want to show your a few famous lines from films and I wonder if you can guess where they featured:
• “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Casablanca, 1942
• “Houston, we have a problem.” Apollo 13, 1995
• “Ogres are like onions.” Shrek, 2001

To really get these lines, to grasp their meaning and significance, you need to know the back story – whether it be a love story, or a rescue mission, or a simple feel good film with poignant truths – knowing the back story helps.
And the same is true of ‘the kingdom of God’ – without knowing the back story it can be quite meaningless.

We are now into week four of our current sermon series on ‘the kingdom of God’ and over the last three weeks we’ve seen that from the beginning of creation ‘the kingdom of God’ has been central to the biblical story. In Genesis 1 and 2, we saw the pattern of the kingdom, with God’s people, living in God’s place, under God’s rule and enjoying God’s blessing.

In Genesis 3, we saw how the pattern of the kingdom was lost, for when Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, they were rejecting God’s rule, and as a result, they were no longer His people, which led to them being expelled… from God’s place, the garden of Eden, and consequently, they also lost the blessing of God.

But then last week, with Ian, we read from later in Genesis, where in chapters 12, 15 and 17, God makes a covenant, a promise, with Abraham to once again form a people of God, who will be given a land, who will live under God’s rule and once again enjoy God’s blessing.

So, we’re only up to Genesis 17, and yet we are beginning to get a rich and full back story to ‘the kingdom of God’. But from Genesis 17 to where we read in 2nd Samuel, it took about 900 years for everything to pass, so there’s a lot of history sandwiched between those two moments in the biblical story, which you may be glad to hear, we won’t try to cover in depth in this series.
And yet, to understand ‘the kingdom of God’, and to understand how God seeks to restore the pattern of the kingdom we need to know some of that 900-year history, which I’ll review, very briefly, just now.

Broadly speaking, from Genesis chapter 12 to Exodus chapter 18, the focus is primarily on God’s people, on how God would once again form a people who would be His special possession. And so, we find God taking Abraham, and from that old man, forming a nation, through Isaac, Jacob and then Jacob’s 12 sons, including Joseph.

Over the summer months, we worked through the story of Joseph, seeing how God’s promise began to be worked out – that this great grandson of Abraham…
was used of God to save God’s people from starvation by providing a home for them in Egypt.

But after Joseph, hundreds of years pass, and the people of God grow to be very numerous in Egypt, numbering in the millions. Yet they have become slaves to Egypt, and so they cry out to God, who hears them. He takes Moses and uses him to rescue God’s people and bring them out of Egypt, through what we call the Exodus, that act of God by which the people of God are saved.

Then, God leads them, by a pillar of cloud and fire, to Mount Sinai, which we reed about in Exodus chapter 19. And from chapter 19 of Exodus to the end of the book of Leviticus, we now find a focus on God’s rule and blessing, for in those chapters, we see how the people of God… are to live, and also how a holy God can presence Himself amongst His people so that they have relationship.

After Leviticus, we have the books of Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua, and whilst some of their content continues to describe the rule of God, these books also begin to move the focus onto God’s place, that land which was promised to Abraham many years before.

Now, the people of God are still, at the beginning of Numbers, situated at Mount Sinai, but because of grumbling, protest and unbelief the people of God are punished, and instead of a few months’ journey to the promised land, they travel for 40 years around the desert, so that all but two of that generation pass away, all who were filled with ingratitude and unbelief.

Eventually they do reach the promised land, but under a new leader, under Joshua, and they enter the land of Canaan, taking possession of it, and settling into a place that flowed with milk and honey.

At the end of the book of Joshua, Joshua himself gives a warning to the people, to not turn away from the Lord, and the question arises: will they or won’t they? What will happen to the people of God now?

We then enter into the book of Judges, where there is a cycle of sin and grace, for the people of God keep turning away from Him, doing evil in His eyes,…
and so, they are punished by God. They then cry out for mercy, so God sends a ruler, a judge, to lead them back under the rule of God, enabling them to enjoy God’s blessing and peace once more. This cycle of sin and grace repeats, again and again and again throughout the book, until we get to the very last line of the book of Judges, where we reed: ‘In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.’ (Judges 21:25)

There is here a hint of what the solution might be, that the people need a king. But this is not a new idea, for a king and ruler had been mentioned back in Genesis 49, where the line of Judah was said to hold a ‘sceptre’ and the ‘ruler’s staff’, and that ‘the obedience of the nations shall be his’. The idea of a king is also mentioned in the book of Deuteronomy, where the king is commanded: ‘..to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law…It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not…turn from the law to the right or to the left.’
(Deut. 17:18-20)

God’s appointed king was to be the means by which the rule of God came upon and through God’s people so that they could then enjoy God’s blessing. God would rule His kingdom through His king.

And so, at the end of Judges, this idea is raised once more, enabling us to enter into the books of Ruth, 1st Samuel, 2nd Samuel and 1st Kings, where we see how God raises up for Himself a king to rule over His people…

Eventually, David, that famous shepherd boy, becomes king. His journey is one of suffering and rejection, he faces many struggles to reach a position of peace, of rest, and that is where we find ourselves as we come into 2nd Samuel chapter 7. All this is the back story leading to this very chapter, 900 years of God forming a people, of giving them His Law, His rule, of taking them to the promised land, and then establishing a king, through whom God’s rule and blessing could come to God’s people within God’s place.

Chapter seven opens with these words: “After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, ‘Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.’ Nathan replied to the king, ‘Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.’” (2 Sam. 7:1-3)

The king is at rest, at last, but he recognises it has come from God’s hand, and yet the ark of God, the symbol of God’s presence amongst His people, remains in a tent, whilst the king lives in a house of expensive cedar. And so, there is a burden upon David’s heart to do something, which receives the support of the prophet Nathan.

But that night the Lord spoke to His prophet, relaying to Nathan, and then on to David, that the Lord was going to turn David’s offer upon its head, for the Lord now promised to build a flesh and blood house, a lineage for David. We read:
“‘Now then, tell my servant David, “This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great…The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: when your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son…’” (2 Sam. 7:8-9, 11b-14a)

In this passage, God refers to the covenant promises made to Abraham: of a people, of a land, of blessing… But these are now tied to the king and so Israel’s future is identified with the king’s future. Concerning this king, God promises:
• That he will be a descendant of David (v12)
• That His kingdom will be established by God (v12)
• That this future king will build a house for God (v13)
• Will reign for ever (v13, 15-16)
• And will be a son of God (v14)

So, a future king, one greater than David, is to come, and through this king, God’s kingdom will be established, His rule over His people, in His place, will become reality, and all will know and live in God’s blessing.

With the coming of David’s son, Solomon, as king, in the book of 1st Kings, we see the building up of the kingdom, such that by chapter 10 of 1st Kings the nation of Israel experiences a Golden Age, and we’re left asking: is Solomon the king who was promised? Is he this son of God?

Well, chapter 11 of 1st Kings reveals that Solomon is led astray from God, he does evil in the eyes of the Lord, and despite the intervention of the Lord, Solomon does not turn from his ways. As such, it’s not long before this partial rebuilding of the kingdom begins to disintegrate.

This is Israel’s highpoint as a kingdom under a human king, and so the promise and the hope of 2nd Samuel 7 still awaits fulfilment, we still await to see how God will restore His kingdom, through a human king, who will also be a son of God, such that the people of God live under the rule of God, in God’s place, and enjoying God’s blessing.

It’s been a long story, and there’s still more to come, but what might we glean from Genesis 12 to 1st Kings 11?

One of the most striking things about this period of the biblical story is how so many parts of it leave us hanging, leave us wanting more, and leave the people of God wanting more. In the book of Leviticus, God lay down the means by which He, as a holy God, could continue to presence Himself amongst His imperfect people. They are given instructions on how to construct the tabernacle, the tent where the ark of God would dwell, which was a symbol of God’s holy presence. They were also given the sacrificial system. But there are limitations – only one person, once a year, could come into most holy place within the tabernacle. There is then a limitation of relationship, it’s only a partial restoration of what was in the garden of Eden,… and so a greater peace between God and humanity must come, and so the people of God are left wanting.

In the books of Numbers to Judges, we see a limitation of obedience by God’s people, we see God’s people displaying unbelief and wilful disobedience, again and again. They so often have a hard heart towards God and His ways and so there is only a partial restoration of God’s people: they are numerically there, but their hearts are still so often wayward. The people of God are left wanting.

And then in 1 Samuel to 1st Kings 11, we see a series of imperfect human kings, through whom only a partial restoration of God’s rule and blessing comes about, and then only for a short time in the reign of Solomon,… before quickly crumbling away. Once more, the people of God are left wanting and hopes are dashed.

And I wonder if you resonate with that lack, with that hunger for something greater: of greater intimacy with God, or of greater obedience to God’s ways, or for a greater king who offers true hope?

Now these may not have been the first things to jump to mind when you thought about what you lack, but if we’re honest, all of us have some degree of discontentment, some degree of awareness that something is lacking in our lives.

It may be that you lack peace in your soul. It may be that you have discontentment with your life,…
maybe especially in the relationships you have with others, or with infirmity. It may be that you lack hope and encouragement amidst the greatest challenges of life.

Friends, the discontentment, the hunger in our lives, is a sign of the brokenness of our world, and of our God-given sense that there is meant to be something more, something better, of a kingdom that has been lost.

That lack we feel also highlights that our man-made solutions are insufficient, they don’t truly meet our need.
We try to anaesthetise our lack of peace and contentment with stuff, with pleasure, with popularity. Similarly, we try to fix our broken relationships through guilt, through nagging, through manipulation and trying to get our own way.
But the discontentment of our souls has at its root a deep spiritual need and problem, and no man-made solution can address that, just as no mere human king could be the solution to restoring God’s kingdom, nor could an external Law change the heart of broken humanity, just as no animal sacrifice could cleanse the human conscience and restore full intimacy with God.

The discontentment we feel, as the discontentment the people of old felt, is a pointer beyond ourselves and our solutions, to something else, indeed to someone else.

And that someone else, as we’ll see in future weeks, is Jesus – for in Him, as we read in Romans, we find a descendant of David, but also the Son of God. In Jesus, as the apostle Paul outlines, we find someone who:
• Is the Christ, the promised King (v1)
• He has conquered death (v4)
• He rules in power as Lord (v4)
• This Jesus calls us and equips us by His ‘grace’ to ‘obedience’ – to live under God’s rule (v5)
• And He calls us into relationship with Himself – that we might be a people who ‘belong to Jesus Christ’ (v6)

Friends, in the midst of our discontentment, God is calling, calling us into deeper relationship with Himself through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.

Just as there was more for the people of God long ago, there is also more for us as well – there can be greater peace, greater contentment, greater depth of intimacy with God and greater hope for tomorrow.
Friends, where do you lack that discontentment? Where is the lack in your life? Too often I have allowed my discontentment to lead me into unhealthy choices and actions, and I encourage you not to do that, but to seek Jesus in the midst of your discontentment.

Yesterday, I heard a song that sums this idea up well. As we listen to it, bring the deep ache of your soul to Jesus. PLAY: “Falling Into You” – Sam Hibbard

Friends, may today be more than a history lesson, may we hear the call of God to turn our eyes to our heavenly King so that in Jesus we see the One who can meet the deep ache of our souls, for He is the One through whom the kingdom of God will come. To Him, be all glory, now and forever. Amen.

The promised Kingdom

Preached on: Sunday 8th September 2019
There are no sermon text or Powerpoint pdfs accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Genesis 17:1-22 and Galatians 3:6-9
Location: Brightons Parish Church

The perished Kingdom

Preached on: Sunday 1st September 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-09-01-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: Genesis 3:1-15
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Genesis 3:1-15
Sunday 1st September 2019
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Last week we began our new sermon series on ‘the kingdom of God’ and we read from chapters 1 and 2 of
Genesis, where we saw the pattern of the kingdom, with God’s people, living in God’s place, under God’s rule and enjoying God’s blessing.

We saw that God made mankind in His own image, and then placed humanity in a garden, to tend it and care for it, and with only one rule, under which they were to fulfil their mandate, thus living within God’s ways and under His care, enjoying His blessing, His presence, and His rest.

Life was perfect, there was perfect relationship between humanity and God, between Adam and Eve, and between humanity and the wider creation. It was a perfect creation, described as ‘very good’, and it gave the pattern of the kingdom.

But, can I ask – do you feel that perfection? Is life a bunch of rosy relationships and experiences for you? Are you living the dream? I do hope life is good for you, but even if it is, not one of us escapes the brokenness of our world.

There may be tensions at home, or in the family – it’s easy to roll out of bed and straight into an argument at the beginning of the day. Or maybe you are on your own, with a
different kind of brokenness, with a yearning for companionship, maybe where there has never been one, or maybe where one has been lost.
You may experience that brokenness in your place of work, or in the community, with the people you see and interact with. There’s that individual you just don’t get on with; there’s that feeling you don’t matter, or you’re being overlooked; there’s that guy down the road who’s in a dark, dark place; there’s that young family who come to the foodbank.

And in the midst of all that hurt and brokenness, there’s that question, that frustration which comes to mind: where are you God? Do you exist? Do you care? Because I just don’t feel you close right now.

I think we all know that we live in a broken world, that it’s not quite as it should be, that there is something deeply wrong, but not only around us, but it’s also within us.
Because if we’re honest, we know that we cannot live up to our own standards and hopes. We made that promise to change, and well…we’ve still not changed. We want to be more loving and gracious and kind…but, well, criticism and anger just come so much more easily. There’s something deeply wrong, and it’s not only in the world around us, it’s within us as well, and I’m sure you can put your finger on the things, where you feel the brokenness.

The claim of the Christian faith is that here in Genesis chapter 3, we see where it all began to go wrong, where that brokenness entered in. For in Genesis 3, we’re taken back to the Garden of Eden, with Adam and Eve in perfection, with only one rule, given in Genesis 2:
‘…you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.’
And then, Genesis 3 comes along, where Adam and Eve are persuaded to doubt God’s word, it is distorted and questioned by the serpent, such that God’s motives are distorted as well:
‘You will not certainly die,’ the snake said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ (Genesis 3:4-5)

And so, Adam and Eve give way to temptation, they take and eat the fruit of the tree, that fruit which was forbidden. But the thought might come to our minds, why was this so terrible? Surely it’s good to know the difference between right and wrong?

Well, what we need to understand here is that…
‘the knowledge of good and evil’ refers not simply to knowing what is right and wrong, but rather to deciding what is right and wrong.

In taking the fruit, Adam and Eve were in effect saying to God, “From now on, we want to set the standards, God, we want to be the ones who make the laws.” It was a blatant act of rebellion to the King who gave them life and every good gift. And that has been at the heart of our
problem ever since, that is at the heart of what we call ‘sin’:
our rejection of God, and the establishing of our kingdom.

And maybe that seems like no big deal to you, maybe it seems quite trivial. But the brokenness of our world, of our lives, begins here in Genesis 3 and it ripples out. For with Adam and Eve, where there had once been complete trust and intimacy, that is now gone and replaced…
with shame and distance, they seek to cover their nakedness. And then the battle of the sexes begins, and relationships within humanity are broken.

Also, where once Adam and Eve enjoyed the perfect creation, and life was very good, now God foretells that life will be very different, with greater pain, greater toil, greater wrestling with the issues of evil. Indeed, in the chapters after this, the world goes so horribly wrong.

But finally, Adam and Eve, who once enjoyed perfect relationship with God, wherein they experienced His blessing and rest, they are now told to leave the garden, they are driven out of God’s presence. And with the breaking of that divine-human relationship, what God foretold comes true: death comes into human experience.

The pattern of the kingdom is lost, for now no one is God’s people by nature, we’ve turned away from Him. We no longer live in His place; we are banished from the garden. And instead of living under His rule and enjoying His blessing, His rule is now rejected, we live in disobedience, and we experience the brokenness of our world.

That is where the Bible could have ended, it might have been only 3.5 pages long, with a perfect world destroyed by human rebellion.

But God is a gracious God, and whilst there is no reason He should do anything to help us, nevertheless He does.
And He does so even with Adam and Eve, there is still hope here in Genesis 3, for in the darkness there are glimmers of light.
In verse 9, we read:
‘But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’’

This comes straight after their rebellion, Adam and Eve are trying to hide from Almighty God, and yet He comes seeking, He comes calling, He comes in grace.

At the opposite end of the tale, there is grace once more, for God takes those shabby, pathetic coverings of their fig leaves, and replaces them, we read in verse 21:
‘The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.’

God gives a more fitting and proper covering for the life they will now live outside the garden. In this act of grace, a life is laid down, so that humanity can continue to live.

And then in between these two acts of grace, we read in verse 15:
The Lord God said,…‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.’

In grace, God makes a promise, hinting to a time in the future when a son of Eve, a human being, will destroy evil.

And all three of these acts of grace are most fully completed and displayed in the life of Jesus. He is that son of Eve, but also that son of God, who came to destroy evil, who came to destroy sin and hell and death itself.
In Jesus, we find provision, a covering, wherein guilt and condemnation, wherein shame, are dealt with completely, and we are restored to right standing with God. In Jesus we also find freedom from bondage to sin, to our rebellion and disobedience, for through faith in Jesus, God promises to begin a new life in us, to overcome our internal brokenness, and bring forth the character of Jesus. What’s more, God promises in Jesus, God evidences in Jesus, in His death and resurrection, that death is conquered, it does not have the final say, in Him there is a means to return to the garden, to the place of life, and share in life eternal with God. In Jesus, life can and does begin again, and it does so because He laid down His life for us on the cross. Finally, in Jesus, God comes to us, He comes seeking, He comes calling. He comes inviting us back into relationship with Himself… that even amidst the brokenness we feel, there might be hope, there might be promise of a future day wherein all will be made right once more.

And to share in that hope, we need do nothing more, than what Caroline has done – not in becoming a church member, that’s not how we share in the promise. No, we share in the promise through faith, through faith in Jesus, through confessing Him as our Lord and Saviour, to which Caroline testified this day, as she confirmed her faith.

Friends, I hope you share in this faith, in this hope. But if you don’t, it’s only a step away – all you need do is put your faith in Jesus. If that’s something you’d like to do, please come have a chat with me.

To all who claim such a faith, there is hope, and there is the invitation to share in the meal of the Lord’s Supper, for here, we feast and rejoice in all we have in Jesus, for He is the embodiment of God’s grace amidst our brokenness, and the means by which the pattern of the kingdom of God will one day be restored.

To Him, be all glory, now and forever. Amen.

The pattern of the Kingdom

Preached on: Sunday 8th August 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-08-25-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: Genesis 1:1-2:3
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Genesis 1:1-2:3
Sunday 25th August 2019 (morning)
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

For one minute, I wonder if you would turn to your neighbour and discuss what you think the answer to this question is: ‘what was the subject most taught about by Jesus?’ You’ve got 1 minute discuss – over to you!
(PAUSE)

One analysis of this question suggested that ‘love’ came #43, forgiveness #32, money #4, Father God #2 – and top of the list, the most taught about subject by Jesus was ‘the kingdom of God’! Yet, how often do we talk about the kingdom of God? Or, when did it last feature in your decision-making when you went to the shops?
It makes me wonder – is the kingdom of God quite low importance for us? Is personal preference, cultural norms or the survival of our denomination more important than the kingdom of God? Or when we come to decision making, what do we base it upon?

For example, last week we received 70 feedback forms regarding the summer services. The responses will be typed up, discussed within Session and eventually inform what we do next summer. Please do get one in. But let’s be honest – there are broadly two groups: one supports the format we had this year, the other prefers to reestablish the Summer Sunday School. There are competing values here – how is Session to make a
decision? It may be, though not guaranteed, that a kingdom focused analysis and discussion might help us discern what is the best way forward, even if it doesn’t suit everyone.
And so today we begin a new teaching series, which will run for 8 weeks in total, and it will focus on the kingdom of God. Each week will draw upon a different portion of Scripture, starting in Genesis and ending up in Revelation, and it is my hope that it will not only sharpen our kingdom-focus, but that we might also see the kingdom of God as a binding theme throughout the Scriptures, from beginning to end, although each part will add a distinctive contribution to our understanding.

Additionally, the series should also help us to see how the Scriptures hold together, that although there are 66 books written by 40 authors over the course of 2000 years, that in fact, the Bible really is one book, with one main author, telling one core story throughout. So, let’s get into today’s passage.
The phrase ‘the kingdom of God’ is never actually used in the Old Testament – it uniquely begins with Jesus in each of the New Testament gospels – and yet, the idea and the reality of the kingdom of God is found everywhere in the Old Testament as well. Take for example Psalm 47:
‘Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. For the Lord Most High is awesome, the great King over all the earth.’ (v1-2)

Clearly the Psalmist understands God as King, and this was upheld by the people of God across the millennia. But they got this from their theology, from what they understood of God, from the revelation God had given of Himself: that He is was King and as King He has a kingdom.
And that understanding of God as King has its roots all the way back into Genesis 1 – ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…And God said, “Let there be light…”’ (v1,3)

These words reveal that God alone is sovereign and eternal; He alone existed before all else and it was by His powerful word, by His kingly command, that our universe came into being – and so God is therefore the rightful ruler and King over all creation.

I wonder if that shocks you at all, or makes you a little bit uncomfortable? It might not, but it really should, and when it was first being taught about 4000 years ago, it was a truly shocking claim – because this teaching clashed with the religions and perspectives of the day.
In contrast to the other Ancient Near Eastern religions of the time, Genesis 1 is a shockingly controversial rejection of their claim about how the universe came into being. There were several creation myths around at the time, particularly in nearby Babylonia, but they claimed that creation may have come about after a conflict between good and evil beings, or that it came by procreation of such divine beings, or that all creation was somehow eternal.

But against all that, Genesis claims the Lord, Yahweh, does not produce or bring forth, He creates from nothing, for He alone is almighty and eternal – He has no equal, He alone is King of all creation. And this very teaching would have jarred with the thinking of the day, it would have shocked then, even angered some, just as it does today.
For in our day, we have twin pressures from our surrounding culture – there is on the one hand, that pressure from an increasingly forceful atheism, which seeks to limit the sphere of faith. And on the other hand, there is pressure to say that all religions are equal, that all paths lead to God, that no one faith is more true than another. But neither is wise, accurate or good for society.

For there is plenty of evidence from history that when a society removes religious freedom and pursues a purely atheistic culture that it is then on route to becoming an unhealthy society: examples could include Stalin’s Russia, or Mao’s China.

And as for an approach which says all religions are equally true…well that just doesn’t make sense. You can’t have one saying all matter is eternal, whilst another doesn’t; or one which says God cared enough for His creation to enter into it, whilst another would be horrified at such a claim. These are not differences we can, or should, gloss over – it cannot be both/and, it truly is one or the other. And in our culture, in our day, that can make us feel quite uncomfortable, it almost sounds unloving.

But claiming, as Genesis does, that there is one eternal King and He has no equal, is not arrogance or intolerance, for logic and reason demand that the different claims be weighed, they can’t all be equally true, and to allow the claim of Genesis to be given up so as to appease our postmodern mindset is actually to the detriment of others, for then they won’t bother to explore the Christian faith, why should they when everything is relative or equal? But to hold on to the claim, that they then might find Jesus…
as their Saviour, well that’s the most loving thing we can do for anyone. It is only when we hold on to the claim that there is one eternal King, do we then begin to lay a foundation for a faith that is robust and offers genuine hope to our broken world.

Because in this world, which God created in love and upon which He established His Kingdom, the Lord also created all life, and the pinnacle of His creation was mankind – you and I. We read in Genesis 1: ‘So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’ (v27)

Only humanity is described in this manner, only humanity is created in the image of God, and so men and women…

are set apart from the rest of creation, giving each one great dignity, for we bear the image of God within us.
And God places His image-bearers, this mankind, in a garden, telling them to be fruitful and increase in number, to fill the earth and enjoy the produce of the land. God gives them also a mandate, a purpose, and only one boundary, given for their good, it’s in Genesis chp2: ‘And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”’ (v16-17)

And so, in the place He has given, the people God has made, can continue to enjoy His blessing as they fulfil His mandate and remain with His rule. This understanding of what is portrayed here in Genesis gives us a pattern of the kingdom of God and…
it has been summarised by Graeme Goldsworthy as: ‘the kingdom of God…is God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule and enjoying God’s blessing.’

This is a phrase we’ll keep returning to during the series because in different parts of the Scriptures, different elements of this phrase are emphasised, or are seen to be out of place or marred. But the pattern of the kingdom is laid down here in Genesis 1 and 2: ‘the kingdom of God…is God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule and enjoying God’s blessing.’

In these chapters, at the beginning of the story, we can see three important points of application. Firstly, we were created with a purpose, for we read: ‘God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”’ (Gen. 1:28) and then in chapter 2 we reed: ‘The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.’ (Gen. 2:15)

As the image bearers of the King we are given the royal purpose of stewarding creation – we’ve to take care of it, rather than abuse it – and so matter matters to God for it is part of His kingdom, God is not only concerned with our souls; He is also concerned with our bodies and the whole material creation. And so, it is right to speak with our children, indeed all of us, and raise the issue of how our products and how our lifestyle affect the material world. We understand ourselves to be part of God’s people – are we living under His rule by heeding our call to steward creation well? If we are not, how could we steward better?
Secondly, these chapters also highlight that we were created not only with a purpose but with a need for community. We reed in Genesis 2: ‘But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God…made a woman…and he brought her to the man.’ (Gen. 2:20-22)

Until Eve was made, Adam had no companionship with another like himself, and earlier in v18 the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’ We are made with a need for community – just as no man is an island, neither are God’s people – Genesis 1 and 2 make it clear that even within the perfection at the beginning of creation, God’s people, within God’s kingdom, need one another, and they were given to one another as part of the blessing of God. We have a need for community, we need each other…
and so, it is also right to emphasis the opportunity the Guild affords you and I, but we could also add in Friendship Plus, the coffee morning or the Fellowship Groups. Why not give one of these a try as they restart in the next month?

But can I also raise an issue I’ve become more aware of recently after some team meetings and pastoral visits? You’re probably aware, but we are quite a big church, and it’s easy to get lost, and it’s easy to be overlooked. And it’s easy to forget that some in our older generations have far fewer friends than they did a few years ago, or even this time last year, and they can start to feel isolated and undervalued. They too have a need of community. So, can we be on the lookout, not only for new people, but also for those that might be getting lost in the crowd?…
For they too are God’s people and they matter in God’s kingdom.

Lastly, in God’s kingdom, God’s people are to enjoy God’s blessing by living under God’s rule, but that is not only about living according to God’s laws and ways; living under God’s rule is also about enjoying God Himself and enjoying His rest. We read in Genesis 2:
‘By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.’ (Gen. 2:2)

This is the climax of creation, that day upon which God rested, for His work was complete. We do not then hear of an eighth day, nor do we return to the first day, for we are meant to see that the seventh day continues,…
and so God’s rest continues – not that God is sitting with His feet up, for He sustains our very creation, but He has rested from creating, and so the seventh day continues. Within that rest, creation, and especially humanity, is meant to live. We are meant to live in God’s rest, to share in it, enjoying the perfect creation, and enjoying relationship with God. To live under the rule of God, is to live within His rest and to enjoy God Himself.

I wonder, do you enjoy God? Maybe you don’t enjoy God because you don’t know God yet, you don’t know Him as your friend and heavenly Father, nor as your good King. And that may be because you haven’t put your faith in Him yet, and if that’s you, I’d encourage you to go listen to last week’s message which you can get on the website or via CD.
Yet, there could be any number of reasons you are not enjoying God, and if that’s you, if there is distance, can I encourage you to tell someone, and if you can, tell someone whose faith encourages you.

A number of years ago, I got into a bit of a rut in my faith; I wasn’t reading the Bible, I wasn’t praying. But then in one church service I felt challenged by my minister and I decided to go speak with my good friend Ollie, whose faith is a real encouragement to me. We started to meet up, to talk about faith, to talk about life, and over the course of time my faith came alive again, and I started to enjoy God once more.

Friends, you were created to enjoy God and His rest, to live under His rule, alongside His people,…
sharing in His blessing – for this is what Genesis reveals about what it means to be part of the Kingdom of God, this is the pattern of the Kingdom.

I pray that as we journey through this series together, may we become more kingdom-minded, leaning into our purpose, helping to meet our need for community, and growing in our enjoyment of God.

May it be so. Amen.