Remember the upper story

Preached on: Sunday 15th October 2023
The sermon text is available as subtitles in the Youtube video (the accuracy of which is not guaranteed). A transcript of the sermon can be made available on request. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this message.
Bible references: Daniel 2 selected verses
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Pause, praise & prayer
– Perfect love drives out fear
– Upper story – God wins

Rest in the storm

Preached on: Sunday 30th July 2023
The sermon text is available as subtitles in the Youtube video (the accuracy of which is not guaranteed). A transcript of the sermon can be made available on request. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this massage.
Bible references: Mark 4:35-41
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– We are to chew on God’s word
– Strength of faith is not based on physical prowess or inner strength
– Faith, strength and rest are found in Jesus Christ

Rend your heart

Preached on: Sunday 7th May 2023
The sermon text is available as subtitles in the Youtube video (the accuracy of which is not guaranteed). A transcript of the sermon can be made available on request. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this message.
Bible references: Joel 2:12-17
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Return to God’s ways
– Rend your heart and repent
– God will relent from bringing disaster

Lament

Preached on: Sunday 16th April 2023
The sermon text is available as subtitles in the Youtube video (the accuracy of which is not guaranteed). A transcript of the sermon can be made available on request. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this message.
Bible references: Joel 1:1-20
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– wake-up!
– lament
– repent

I AM WHO I AM (evening)

Preached on: Sunday 26th February 2023
The sermon text is available as subtitles in the Youtube video (the accuracy of which is not guaranteed). A transcript of the sermon can be made available on request. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this message.
Bible references: Exodus 3:1-15
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
4 attributes of God –
– boldness; God exists
– nothing behind God
– God is His own source of energy
– God does not change

Nothing without Jesus

Preached on: Sunday 23rd October 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: John 15:1-17
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– There are no ‘silver bullets’ for church revitalisation.
– In John 15 Jesus however makes it very clear as to what does brings LIFE (see John14:6):
– as branches are to a vine, so are we to Jesus; without him we can do nothing
– as branches of the vine, we will bear fruit if we remain in Him
– it is to the Father’s glory that we bear much fruit
– the nutrients that produce fruit that lasts is love

I asked the band if it was okay, or I asked Eric if it was okay, if I could speak here even though they’re over my shoulder. So, if I don’t make as much eye contact, I apologize. And also, if you’re up upstairs in the balcony wave at me if I’m not looking at you when I’m speaking.

Before I start, I want to just say, I’m here under the authority of Scott. Scott is our Teaching Elder and he permits people to speak under his authority. And also, I want to say that if there is anything that is not of the Lord, we need to let that flow away as chaff.

So, let me pray before we begin to look at God’s Word:
Almighty God, we thank you that Your Word is truth and as we come to look at it now, we pray that Your Spirit might move in our hearts and that whatever the speaker may say or may have prepared, that Your Holy Spirit will speak, and if there is anything that’s not of You may it be cast aside as chaff but, if there is truth, may Your sword go to the heart, I pray. Amen.

Today we’re continuing to look at some of the lessons that can be taken from that book that Scott has been sharing called The Anatomy of a Revived Church. Now, as a reminder, the book draws on research that was undertaken into churches that were on the edge of death but were turned around and, for the past three weeks, we’ve been looking into the lessons from the research and, today, Scott has asked me to consider a particular chapter that’s headed ‘Seeking silver bullets no more’. Seeking silver bullets no more. Now, I wasn’t sure if people knew the phrase ‘silver bullets’ because I grew up in New Zealand with the Lone Ranger on television and he had the silver bullets because they were better than lead bullets. But it’s a metaphor. It describes a magical solution or a fix to a difficult problem. Now, given the events of the last few days, you might want to say that the Conservative party is currently looking for a silver bullet when it comes to the replacement of yet another prime minister.

No more politics! The author of the book says this ‘The silver bullet syndrome is alive and well in thousands of congregations. The silver bullet sentence typically begins with ‘If we only had ……… ‘ then the church leader or the member informs me of the magical solution that would turn their church around. He goes on, ‘Hear me clearly, there are no silver bullets for churches in need of revitalization. There are no shortcuts and our anatomy of revived churches the results were 100 percent. No successful church revitalization depended on a silver bullet. Not one!’

Well, what are these supposed silver bullets that apparently don’t work? What are these if we only had ….? The author of the book provides a list:
• if we only had the right kind of minister
• if we only had more money
• if we only had better music
• if we only had the right sort of building or if the building was in the right place
Now, that’s the list from the book. I’m sure you’ve been in these conversations with people when they bring out the silver bullet question, the one fix that doesn’t work. Now, the easy thing that I could do this morning is just rattle through those and tell you why they don’t work. Well, that’s not what I’m going to do because I figure we are done with hearing about what doesn’t work.

All week we’ve been hammered by information about what doesn’t work in the government, what doesn’t work in the economy, what doesn’t work in the health system, what doesn’t work in our energy needs. What you don’t need from me this morning is a lesson on what doesn’t work in the church. Not today anyway. There’s just too much negativity about. So, instead, I want to come to a passage from God’s Word that is positive.

Now, I want you to open your Bibles this morning. I want you to keep your Bibles open, because, when we go on and look at this passage, I’m almost going to go through it verse by verse. There’s going to be nothing complicated. So, John 15, keep it opened as we go through.

And it starts with that phrase that John and I were talking about before ‘I am the true vine and my father is the gardener.’

Around Easter time, we looked at a passage from John chapter 15 when, on Palm Sunday, we were looking at Jesus coming into Jerusalem on the donkey and, back then, I took us through some of the chapters ahead of that and I suggested that it was really important that we got a grip on what Jesus said to His disciples during Holy Week, in particular, what he said to them at the Last Supper, and I tried to turn our attention to chapters 13 to 17. Flick through, flock through the Bible as we’re looking at this and you’ll see, you’ll see where I am with this, Chapters 13 to 17 should really jump out at us.

Now, all of the Bible is important but I think Jesus was really trying to drive home to His disciples why He had come, why He was about to die and I think those chapters really need focused attention. I’m looking at Norma. I remember last time Norma when you read the Bible and you’ve referred to Jesus red letters about the start of it. This is like the purple patch of what Jesus is looking at from chapters 13 to 17 and here, right in the middle at chapter 15, Jesus says ‘I am the vine’ and He tells His disciples ‘you are the branches.’ Now, it’s important to pause for a moment because the vine in the Hebrew Bible, in the Old Testament, was very, very important because the Jews, the nation of Israel, its symbol was the vine. If you look at some of the ancient coinage, it’s got vines on it. It’s as if, for the Jews, the vine was like the thistle for people in Scotland. It was the national symbol and so, Jesus, typically radical, flips things on its head again and He says ‘I am the true vine.’ Now, we wouldn’t get that here in Scotland but if Jesus said, bad illustration, but if Jesus says ‘I’m the real thistle’ then that would resonate much more with us and so, the Jews knew when he says ‘I am the true vine’ that he was saying something very, very radical. John wanted to get that across to us.

Now, you might be saying ‘Well, what’s any of this got to do with a revitalized church?’ Why am I so fixated by it? Well, chapter 15 is really important and the image of the vine is very important because it’s a picture of the Jesus-way. When I spoke, back in August, we looked for a moment at John chapter 14. I want you just to cast your eye on that again. Do you remember Thomas, the flummoxed disciple? Because Jesus said ‘Look, I’m going to prepare a place and you know where I’m going.’ and Thomas says ‘We don’t know where you’re going.’ and do you remember those words that Jesus said to Him? Can anybody? Can anybody shout them out to me – ‘I am ……’’

Fantastic my job is done! ‘I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the father but by me.’ Now, I don’t apologize for going back and going over those words again because I believe that they are at the heart of the Gospel, at the heart of the Good News and, you know, I thought it was marvelous, I thought it was marvelous that at the Queen’s funeral, that was the text that she took, because the Queen planned her funeral and she took the Bible reading from that very passage, that Jesus is the way the truth and the life. That was the Queen’s final message to us from the grave. And Jesus, at the Last Supper, when He gets His final chance to have a conversation with His disciples, He’s sitting there and His very best shot at explaining what He was about, was this picture of the vine. ‘I am the vine, you are the branches.’

Can I suggest this to you this morning? Can I suggest that you take this passage in John chapter 15 and that you make it your go-to passage, a go-to passage when you are trying to understand what Jesus is about, a go-to passage when you’re speaking with others about Jesus and I urge you, in your own time, to look at this passage, to, as it were, eat it to drink it up, to learn it to study it, to mark it. It’s so central and it’s such a brilliant symbol of a relationship with Christ. So, all I can do in the time that I’ve got and all I want to do is skip through the passage. Now, it’s going to be light. I don’t have the time to go into it in any depth but I want to skip through some of these verses.

Verse 1. ‘I am the true vine; my father is the gardener.’ Jesus the vine. It’s our focus but,
as I tried to draw out with John, it’s the father God, who is the gardener and He tends the vine and He tends the branches.

Verse 2. ‘He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes.’ What a picture. John lovingly tending his plants. Now, I know many people in this congregation have got green fingers and you know exactly how to bring on your vegetables and your flowers and your plants through the summer, and you know how important it is to prune, how to make a plant flourish. That’s how gardening works. Such an important picture, and it’s so important that we understand that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are involved, are involved in this image of the vine.

Now, there’s much that could be considered about pruning and about dead wood but I’m not going to go there today. I want to move on and I want to look at some of the positive messages that Jesus has given.

Verse 4. ‘Remain in me.’ Those of you that use the older versions of the Bible, you’ll know that the word that comes up again and again is ‘abide in me.’ Remain in me. But I’ve underlined in this passage the number of times that that word ‘remain’ comes up. It’s incredible. ‘Remain in me and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself, it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.’

Verse 5. ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.’

Now, you hardly need me to expand on this can. You remember back to your school biology days – what was it? – phloem and xylem going through the plant, reaching the leaves from the stems through the plant, from the branches, that’s what it means to be in Christ.

Verse 5. ‘Remain in me and I in you. Remain in me and you will bear much fruit.’ That’s Jesus asserting a fact.

But look further at the sentence. He says ‘apart from me, you can do nothing.’ When asked ‘John, what you do with the deadwood?’ he said ‘Well, you burn it because it’s useless.’ Do you see that these are, these are incredible statements. Remain in Jesus and you will bear fruit; apart from Jesus, you can do nothing. Now, I wonder, do you believe that? Do you really believe that? Do you pray that? Oh Lord Jesus, may I remain in You and may You remain in me. Oh Lord Jesus, apart from You I can do nothing. Can you say that with conviction? Is Jesus a living vine to you? Do you believe that He sustains you and that, without Him, you can’t bear any fruit bear, any fruit? Or is your Jesus just of the sort of stained-glass variety?

What about us as a body of God’s people, as a community, as a church?

Remain in me and I in you. Without you, I can do nothing. In my Bible I’ve got those words underlined and I pray them most days and I remember Jesus Christ my Savior tells me ‘apart from me you can do nothing.’

Now, I’m laying this on thick. I’m really laying this on thick because it’s so important. Do we live that? Do we stop at each meal and say ‘Thank-you Jesus’? Do we wake up in the morning and say ‘Thank-you Jesus’? When we put our head on the pillow at night do we say ‘Thank-you Jesus for another day.? Whether things are good or bad, whether things are hard or easy, can you pray that? Do you believe that ‘apart from me you can do nothing’?

I wonder, and I’m asking you as personally as I can, if you’ve never done it before, pray it tonight, pray it in the morning, better still, when you go home at lunch time, pray it as you eat your food, pray it in front of your children or your grandchildren, pray it in front of the people who are around you, if you’re on your own, pray it out loud, say it out loud ‘Lord Jesus, you are the vine, I am the branch. Thank-you. Thank-you for this food. Thank-you for my house. Thank-you for my clothing. Lord, I can do nothing without you. Nothing.’

I am laying it on thick because sometimes, I think, it needs to be laid on thick to ourselves. But what about as a church? What about as a collective? What about as a group of Christians here in this place? Do we really believe, collectively, that, without Jesus, we can do nothing? Or instead, are we just a distracted congregation, looking for those silver bullets, those simple solutions that take us away from what is the main thing? I wonder?

You see, I can’t skip over verse six. Verse 6 says ‘If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers. Such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.’ It burdens my heart, each Sunday, when I drive home from this place that we pass a church and that church looks dead, there is nothing happening there. It burdens my heart that there are churches in this country that are offering no hope. Sorry, that wasn’t scripted.

Verse 7. ‘If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given to you.’ Really?

Verse 8. ‘This is to my father’s glory that you bear much fruit showing yourselves to be my disciples.’ Now, I haven’t had a chance to talk much about fruit in this message but look at that. I think that’s incredible. I think that’s incredible. Let me tell you why. Let’s back up a bit. Jesus is the vine, we are the branches. We only produce fruit if we are in the vine, if we remain in Jesus, if we abide in Him but that fruit’s not for us, fruit’s not for this church. Look at verse 8 again. ‘This is to my father’s glory.’ My father’s glory. Not your glory Church. Not your glory, Brent. This is for the father’s glory. Now, is that not extraordinary? The maker of the universe, the controller of time and space, takes glory from our fruit? He takes glory from our fruit? How does that work? That is almost too much for my mind to comprehend.

But, let’s return to the business of what it means to remain in Christ because He explains it further verse 9, and 9 through 11 ‘As the father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now, remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love just as I have obeyed my father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.’ Now look, there’s so much in those verses that I’ve just read. It’s a sermon in itself and then some!

But, do you see, the nutrient, the nutrient flowing through the vine to the branches is the nutrient of love and it’s the nutrient of joy. ‘If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love just as I have obeyed my father’s commands and remain in his love.’

Well, what is that command?

Verse 12. ‘My command is this: love each other as I have loved you.’ I hate the way the secular word is taken, the secular world has taken over the use of this word ‘love’ and it’s become some sort of sentimental greeting card nonsense. The love of the Father to the Son and the love of the Son to the Father and the love of the Son to us, His branches, and our love to Him is central to our faith. Never let it be cheapened by what the, by what the secular world might describe love as.

Verse 12. ‘Again, my command is this love each other as I have loved you.’

Now, I started by saying that there were no silver bullets, that there was no one solution for a church to be revitalized. You might, at this point, be challenging me on that, because there kinda is, that kinda is a formula in a way and it’s this, that Jesus is the vine, that we are the branches, if we remain in Him then there is fruit but it requires obedience.

Skipping all over the place but verse 17. ‘This is my command’ if you take nothing out the door today, take these three words, right at the end of verse 17 ‘love each other.’

My challenge to you is, get hold of John 15 and make it your go-to passage. Make it your go-to passage, to remain in Jesus, abide with me, remain in me.

Let’s sing that out. Let’s tell out our soul. Let’s be, let’s be led in that final hymn ss we sing that now. Amen

The narrow gate

Preached on: Sunday 14th August 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Matthew 7:13-23
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Living in rubble, rebuilding in faith

Preached on: Sunday 15th May 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Nehemiah 4:1-23
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
A great biblical theme is that God’s people on earth will face spiritual opposition – so we need to be alert (Ephesians 6).
• In this chapter opposition comes by way of ridicule, intimidation and discouragement – leading to fear.
• Such opposition needs to be met by active, prayerful resistance – ‘prayer and action’
• Nehemiah encouraged the people to face fear with faith in the Lord who is ‘great and awesome’ (v15)
• Nehemiah modelled good leadership, so can we. ‘Be imitators of me as I am of Christ’ ( 1 Cor 11.1)

Lord, as we prayed, may any words that come from this pulpit that are not of You be cast aside like dust and may the words of Your Holy Spirit, that are from You, go deep into our hearts this day, we pray. Amen.

When speakers start sermons, they often play a clever opening line or they might come up with a joke or something that kind of draws people in to what they’re going to say. Now, I think Scott is an expert at that but he’s learnt from the master because Jesus taught in parables, Jesus taught in stories. Well, I’m sorry, nothing clever from me today, all my creative efforts are on the floor.

I want to start heavy okay, because chapter 4 of Nehemiah is an incredible chapter and I think it deals with evil. So, I want to ask you three questions that you do not need to answer to your neighbor but I want to just put those questions to you now as we think about this chapter:
• Do you believe in this thing called evil?
• Do you believe in the devil? Do you believe in the satan?
• Do you believe that there are unseen forces in the world, unseen evil forces even around Brightons and Falkirk?
Heavy questions and questions with no context. We’ll hold those as we get and start to look at this chapter.

But, you know, we’re four weeks into Nehemiah and I can’t help thinking that we need a bit of a recap.

Nehemiah, we remember that the story of Nehemiah and Ezra, the book before it, are set at the end of exile. Exile is one of the big themes of the Old Testament. Way back in Exodus, Moses is telling the children of Israel what God is saying and it’s kind of simple in some respects – follow God’s ways, things will work out; don’t follow God’s ways, there will be consequences. And so, what we then see through Exodus, Leviticus on, we go into the Kings and the Chronicles, what happens? The children of Israel just cannot obey, they just cannot obey, and repeatedly they’re warned and then eventually the consequences follow, and the twelve tribes of the north are scattered and the two tribes of the south, eventually, Jerusalem is attacked the walls fall down the temple is destroyed and they’re carted off to Babylon.

And so, we pick up the story again upon the return. But upon the return things are still a little bit disappointing, because the temple is rebuilt and well it’s not quite as good as the previous temple and, get this, they spend the good part of 60, 80 years with Jerusalem in a shambles, a complete shambles, The walls are broken down, people come in and out, trade doesn’t work because there’s no security, there’s no sense of community, it’s a mess. So one of the questions I ask myself which we won’t talk on today is ‘Why did the people in Jerusalem not get on with this themselves? Why did it need a Nehemiah to be called and to come and help them?

I put that to one side.

But let’s think about this extraordinary construction project. It’s extraordinary because, what we were learning last week was, it was all being put together by people who were completely unskilled, completely unskilled at building walls. But what happens? Well, we’ve got three weeks of thinking that the story is quite good, we’ve got three weeks of thinking ‘Nehemiah, that’s a good book for us to study as we come out of the pandemic because it’s about rebuilding.’ and Scott our minister has been talking about the rebuilding that we need to be doing locally and this is a good book because it’s all going well.

I’ve got news for you today. As George read, the news wasn’t all good because there was so much opposition, and we face opposition. But, from this chapter, I want to draw out four types of opposition that Nehemiah and his crew in Jerusalem were facing: ridicule, intimidation, discouragement and fear. So, we’ll jog our way through each of those and see whether there’s application for us when it comes to that today.

First of all, ridicule. If you’ve, if you’re near a Bible I’d encourage you to open it, we’re on page 487, because I’m going to be taking bits out and reading through. And the first bit I want to read is this bit that George started with, that big deep breath and chat at the start of chapter four ‘When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria he said ‘What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish it in the day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble?’ Bits of leg! ‘Tobiah the Ammonite who was at his side said ‘What they’re building, if even a fox climbed up on it then he would break down their wall of stones.’ Ridicule! Now, we touched on this a little bit last week so I’m not going to go too far into it but I think Christians get what ridicule is, particularly today, in the world of social media, it’s out there everywhere, it’s so easy to ridicule and still in this day Christians cop it more than most others because they’re an easy target. You bunch of wet, bleeding-hearted Christians, nicely settled in your religious bubble, wet and wimpy. It’s got to the point where Christianity is labeled as a bigots religion and it’s got to the point, bizarrely, where Christianity is regarded by the world as immoral. Oh, I think that’s an extraordinary flip by the enemy and I think we’ve only seen it in the last few years. But what, it’s easy to then become defensive about all this stuff isn’t it?

What’s Nehemiah’s response to the ridicule? Have a look at verse four. Now this is a really tough prayer. It’s known in the Bible that by the fancy word of an imprecatory prayer. It’s a prayer which is calling God’s judgment on an enemy and we get very nervous about talking about those sorts of prayers in the Bible but if you take any time to read the book of Psalms you’ll see it there all the time. But let me read Nehemiah’s prayer verse 4 ‘Hear us, oh our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in the land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.’

I don’t know what your prayer life is like but I’m a bit reluctant to pray that bravely, that God might keep His judgment down on my enemies, but it’s there and you know what, we all prayed that this morning already. What do you think in the Lord’s Prayer those words ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ actually means? It means that we want God’s justice, the justice of the heavens, to also be played out on earth and if you take that forward, that has consequences.

Now, we have to be very careful about how we pray those sorts of prayers but it’s there and there’s a lot of learning to take from it. It could be a whole sermon series, don’t worry, the clock’s back, I won’t be that long,

God is a God of justice, and evil will have its day of reckoning.

Now, we have to move on verse six.

‘So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height for the people worked with all their heart.’ The people worked with all their heart. I love that simple phrase. Isn’t it good when people work with all their heart? Nice and simple. But the problems are still going on throughout the chapter.

The second one, intimidation. If we look and see what happens down in verses seven and eight when Samballat, Tobiah and the Arabs, and the Ammonites and the men of Ashdod heard that the repairs of Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry and they plotted together to come and to fight against Jerusalem and to stir up trouble against it.’ Now, I don’t think we need too much imagination to see what that looks like because our screens have been full of it in recent months in the Ukraine but I think we’ve become dulled to all of those atrocities, and we need to think more deeply on what intimidation looks like. This is the magazine Barnabas Aid, you often see copies at the front of the church and many of us read it. Its strapline says ‘Bringing hope and aid to suffering Christians’ and it’s a magazine that shares good stories, good news stories about people in the suffering church around the world, but it also has horrendous stories in it. Stories of Christians who are stopped from worshipping, who are intimidated, Christians who are killed.

If you’re a Christian in China or a Christian in Pakistan you read this Bible very differently and with a very different lens to we might read it here. If you’re a Christian in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, if you’ve got one of these you hide it. We don’t know what intimidation is to some extent but there is intimidation in Scotland.

The Free Church in Stirling was kicked out of its accommodation, its rented accommodation, because its landlord had the view that they didn’t fancy that church’s teaching on marriage, Now, that case was challenged and thankfully the law of the land found in their favor. Or the street pastor in Glasgow, bundled into a police van in Buchanan Street because he’s simply reading the Bible in public and being processed, not for a crime, not for a crime, but for a hate incident and so he’s registered, and he has a not a criminal record but a police record, for preaching the gospel on Buchanan Street. Now that’s been challenged as well. Or even closer to home, the good folk at Grace Church, Larbert wanting to embark on a building program were horrendously intimidated and told that they were bigots because they had a homophobic attitude. Not true. But the intimidation that that church, just in our area, has had is absolutely incredible. Now I’m tempering, okay I’m tempering what’s happened overseas with Christians intimidated and killed, with the type of intimidation we get here but it’s real and we can too easily cower and stay away from it.

Verse 8 ‘they plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it.’ Well how do you face intimidation? What did they do? You’re probably not going to be surprised by the answer – verse 9 ‘But we prayed to our God and we posted a guard day and night to meet the threat.’ Prayer and action. These are just such consistent themes throughout Nehemiah. Nehemiah is a leader and he is consistent in prayer. Prayer before action. And that’s what we’re talking about today because it builds on the last three sermons we’ve heard this that this man started with prayer ‘they prayed and posted a guard.’ Prayer and action.

But the enemy’s still not beat, is it?

And in verse 10 and verse 11, verse 12 we read that ‘Meantime, the people in Judah said ‘The strength of the labourers is giving out and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.’ Also our enemies said ‘Before they know it or see it or see us we will be right there amongst them and we will kill them and put an end to the work. Then the Jews who lived near where they came and they told us 10 times over ‘Whatever you turn, wherever you turn,.’ they will attack us

So here it comes, old discouragement. Now, I don’t know about you, if you want to discourage me you don’t need to tell me something 10 times over. The Jewish trends, the Hebrew translation there is that they were being told time and time and time and time again that this just couldn’t be done. For me, just tell me once or twice that I can’t do it, that’ll encourage me, that’ll discourage m, I mean.

But what’s all this about?

There’s a change, if you can see, between mockery and intimidation which are all external, to discouragement which is inside the camp, which is a real cancerous way of getting it people. Now, to be fair, to be fair, these detractors, they probably had a point because as construction projects go well, it wasn’t exactly the easiest. 150 years of rubble, trying to rebuild the wall. I was worried that the kids were going to start pulling the Lego about up to bits and take it and I reckon we’d have been here till 5 o’clock building it there. Building, rebuilding in rubble is not fun, and the picture that we have of the project is that it’s basically being opposed by everybody inside and out and you can kind of hear that you can kind of hear that conversation with Nehemiah ‘Listen laddie, that’s not how we do around here. You needn’t think that this building project is going to be successful. Not only that, look at our labourers, they’re all tired, they can’t do it anymore.

So, discouragement then leads to that fourth tactic of the enemy, fear.

Ridicule, intimidation, discouragement – fear, I think sometimes is like the ultimate enemy. It’s contagious and it can paralyze us. Indeed, Annabella was praying that just before I started to speak. So the passage is not teaching us to ignore fear but it is teaching us how it affects us and how we can tackle it. It teaches us to face fear. If you look at Nehemiah verse 13 onwards ‘Therefore in face of what was going on he said I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points on the wall at the exposed places posting them by families with their swords, spears and bows and after I looked things over I stood up and I said to the nobles and the officials and to the rest of the people ‘Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord who is great and awesome.’ Remember the Lord who is great and awesome.

Now, this is no Churchill rallying cry, this is no President Zelenski, land of hope and glory, rally round the flag, we can do it. It’s not like that at all. The focus is on God who is great and awesome. Then down in verse 20 he says ‘For our God will fight for us.’ Same theme – prayer and action – prayer and action. And I want you to see that Nehemiah is not naïve. This is a hard job. It’s a struggle, but he leads with faith, not faith in flesh and blood, but faith in God.

Now, all of us face situations which create fear in our heart and, like I say, it’s paralyzing. As I use the word ‘fear’ I can almost paralyze myself. It doesn’t need to be great matters of state, it doesn’t mean that that we are facing a church that’s under real attack, it’s an everyday stuff. The stuff that we muddle away through. Fear about things in family, in our place of work, money worries, health worries, just the general disappointments of life. We know that. We know we face fears constantly.

Someone here today who often quotes to me that verse in James ‘perfect love drives out fear’ perfect love drives out fear. That love is the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. So, it seems to me that when we look at the time of Ezra and Nehemia,h we are just like those people in Jerusalem and we are trying to rebuild, in a time just beyond the exile, the temple is rebuilt but it’s just not what it used to be and the wall,s the walls of our natio,n the walls of our church.

I cut a lot out of my sermon last night because I was gonna say things about the nation and I was gonna say things about our church but I’m a guest in this pulpit and that is not my role. You can have that conversation with me later but is it not fair to say we are living in rubble. Broken bits of Lego everywhere.

But Nehemiah’s words and his character, they lead me to say something else to us today. At this moment, amid the rubble in God’s goodness, we have a hard-working and motivated Nehemiah with us in our presence. You don’t need to look around, he’s not in the building today. And actually, he couldn’t speak these words from the pulpit, so let me speak very, very plainly. Repeatedly, you have heard our minister referring to his calling in this congregation. Repeatedly and from the very beginning of his time with us he has challenged us to have a vision. Keith’s out with the kids but during vacancy, Keith repeatedly said to us where there is no vision, that people perish, words from the Old Testament. Scott, he’s worked with us to consider our purpose and our values that underpin our vision. Rrepeatedly he’s called us to pray, to be a praying people. Repeatedly, like Nehemiah, he’s surveyed the job at hand and he’s challenged us on the state of our walls. Just last week, he was calling for volunteers because there’s work to be done, the walls need built.

I see him ridiculed. I see him intimidated. I see him undermined by naysayers. Lord, forgive me, I’ve probably been one of those people who’s been a naysayer. And don’t get me wrong, our minister is not perfect, nobody’s perfect, Jesus was perfect, but can I urge you, can I urge you to pray for our minister, reflect on how we’re treating our spiritual leader. Hebrews says this, Hebrews chapter 13 towards the end ‘Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.’

Now it’s not just about Scott. All of us are leaders. All of us are to imitate. Paul says ‘Be imitators of me as I am imitators of Christ.’ Nehemiah didn’t get the job done on his own. Let us think about having the trowel and the sword, that picture from Nehemia,h so that we’re working and we’re praying. Let us recognize that there is an enemy. Sure, things come along but there is a spiritual enemy because one of the great themes of the Bible is that God’s people face opposition. Right at the beginning of the Bible whatever you make of the story of the Garden of Eden and the serpent, that is the satan. All the way through the Bible. And the only way that God’s people conquer evil is through the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Paul knew this we. We touched on this at the prayer meeting on Thursday night. Paul in Ephesians says ‘This our struggle, it’s not against flesh and blood’ and that is hard to see isn’t it. Sometimes we just think our struggles are about the things that are actually in front of us but Paul says ‘our struggles are not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.’

These things are real. Real evil forces. And if you try to confront ridicule and intimidation and discouragement and fear without that understanding, the reality that there are unseen forces and that we need to be on our knees, whether literally or metaphorically, in prayer, you’re gonna fail, you’re gonna fail.

Paul ends that passage in Ephesians with this ‘and pray in the spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert.’ I love that word, Christians should be alert. I think alert is a modern word. I think it’s a word that says, be on your guard, be ready. We need to be alert people – prayer and action.

My time’s up. There’s so much more in this chapter. I’d encourage you to get into it. I’d encourage you to keep reading Nehemiah as we’re in the series, because it’s so rich. Think about those people in Jerusalem. Why were they so lame? Why were they so ineffective? Why did they do nothing for nye-on 100 years after the exile, and had this city that was just a shambles? That needed Nehemiah? They could have done this job without Nehemiah and God’s grace he sent him but why?

Let me close there, but as we go into singing our final song ‘An army of ordinary people’ let’s sing that to the Lord with a sense of inspiration. We are an army of ordinary people, a kingdom where love is the key.

The big Reveal!

Preached on: Sunday 10th April 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: John 12:12-19 (and John 1:1-14 & 20:30-31)
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

Thank-you Jason.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This man looks like he is on a power grab.

What’s going to happen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s go back to John 1. I’m going to read those five verses again, they’re very, very famous verses but I want you to get it and I want you to listen again as if it’s for the first time. So don’t, in your mind, go ‘Heard it. Heard it. Heard it.’ Listen to it for the first time. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. Hhe was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not understood it.’ That is John’s story. That’s why he wrote it down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s pray:

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

Saturated in The Word

Preached on: Sunday 2nd January 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20220102 slides.
Bible references: Colossians 1:1-8
Location: Brightons Parish Church

PART 1
So, let me assure you this is not a power kick. I’m not running up to get into the pulpit as quick as possible but I just know that having sat upstairs recently it is really difficult to see the speaker when the speaker’s down there, so that’s why I’m here at the moment.

Now, today we’re going to break the sermon into two parts – sorry Andy, I’m mucking up your Bible arrangement here I need more space – we’re gonna, we’re gonna split the sermon into two parts so, when I stop speaking, I haven’t finished.

So, this is part one and then we’ll move on to further parts of the service.

We’ve already said that today we’re looking at a new book. New book, new year, the book of Colossians. So, I thought I would start to see what the brain fog is like at this time of year by asking a few questions. Now, I know what it’s like I sit there with you when someone says that they’re going to ask questions you’re thinking ‘Don’t ask me!’ You don’t need to answer anything. Think about these in your own mind.

Before Advent, what was the name of the book of the Bible that we were studying? Okay, probably easy enough.

Next question – What was, what was the main thing that you felt that you learned from our study in the book of Malachi?

next question – If you met me out the front in the fresh air later on and I said ‘Give me a summary of the book of Malachi’ How do you think you would go?

I put some of those questions to myself this week as I was getting ready to look at the book of Colossians and I thought it was a bit of a challenge to be honest, but new year, new book, new series, I want to throw that challenge back at you, and I want to, I want you, in your mind’s eye, to think a month ahead, or two months ahead, once we’re well through the study of the book of Colossians, and I want you to picture being able to talk to me and summarize the book of Colossians. You think you could do that? Do I think I could do that?

I take great inspiration from listening to other people talking about their spiritual disciplines. For example, taking our Minister Scott. Last year Scott got us all or offered a Bible reading plan, he followed it himself, he built it into the rhythm of the church, he allowed us to make questions, he put on some sessions about it, and he lived it through himself.

Think of what else Scott’s been doing while he’s been here. He got us into a series on prayer and he tried to get us to pray, to practice prayer, to think about different ways of praying, he even videoed himself walking around the streets praying. Wonderful, wonderful, spiritual discipline. Disciplines for us to learn.

Could you bring up the screen please, yeah next, next slide.

This is my friend Sundeep. Judith I think you’ve been to Sundeep’s place with me. Sundeep, like me, is an adopted son of Scotland. Sundeep’s from India and there’s something kind of mystical about Sundeep. He tells me that he flips a coin every new year and decides whether to grow a beard or not and then when he grows it for that year he doesn’t cut it and I’ve seen it in about October, it’s quite impressive, it has to be said, but Sundeep has a spiritual discipline that I just love.

He saturates himself in the Bible. He saturates himself in the Bible. Now, I’m sure you’ve got a picture of someone who’s just reading and reading and reading and reading and reading, and not doing anything else. Sundeep doesn’t do that. Sundeep from India believes that the scriptures were written to be heard and so Sundeep saturates himself in listening to the Bible and he puts the Bible on around the house. He’s got one of those audios, a good one is Youvision for example, and he plays it and he plays it and he plays it. So, he plays the Bible in the kitchen. He plays the Bible when he’s in the car. Apparently puts his headphones on and he plays the Bible when he goes to sleep at night. He saturates himself in the Bible. I wonder what that would look like if we did something similar?

Next picture please.

I wonder if anybody can tell me who these two chaps are? The guy on the left, not too difficult, I don’t think, Any ideas? Justin Welby. Does anybody know who the guy on the right is?

That man’s name is Dick Lucas. Dick Lucas is a retired minister in London. He’s 96 years old and Dick Lucas has a practice, every year he picks out one book of the Bible and he studies it for the whole year. That’s a Bible study.

Next slide.

I’ve been preparing for today. I’ve looked at one of Dick Lucas’s commentaries on Colossians because he’s actually, you’d miss him in the street, this is what someone has said of him ‘Lucas is the author of a number of evangelical books and commentaries with John Stott, J.J. Packer and others. Lucas was a key figure in shaping the conservative evangelical movement in the United Kingdom during the 20th century.’ That man was a key mover in our church in the 20th century the great thing is he’s still going and he’s still producing work and he’s still studying the Bible. I love, that I love that spiritual discipline. What would it look like if we, as a church, really got serious with the Bible and started studying it at that depth? What would it look like?

Sundeep saturates himself in the Bible. Lucas saturates himself in the Bible. As we’ll see when we go on to look further in Colossians, Paul also saturated the Colossians with the truth of the Gospel.

Right my voice is starting to tire so I think we should break.

PART 2

Almighty God, now, as we open up Your Word and see what you have to say, may You breathe upon it, May anything that comes from me that’s not of You be just cast away like chaff but may Your truths go deep down inside as we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Right, time to do some scene setting. The book of Colossians, well, in fact, I should stop just there, it’s not a book, it’s a letter. It’s a letter from Paul and Timothy. Paul is in prison. We know that because he says as much at the very end of the letter but if you go through the book of Acts you can trace through just exactly where Paul went and what he did.

Paul’s story is in the second half of the book of Acts and you’ll see that he winds up in prison quite often and there’s one reason for that; Paul consistently preaches the resurrection, he preaches the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. He consistently gets into trouble with his own ethnic group, the Jews. He consistently gets in trouble with every other ethnic group in the Roman empire, the Gentiles. And, basically, well he just offends people.

Actually, that’s not quite true. The message that he brings is what offends people. You’ll see it again and again as you read through, he starts riots in Ephesus – not himself, but a riot flows from it – there’s death, there’s a plot to kill him when he’s in Jesusalem. He eventually, he was probably executed in Rome. He’s just a troublemaker. He offends people. His message offends people. And in a Scotland of 2022, we have to realize that the message of the Gospel is offensive.

So, what’s this letter about? Paul, writing in prison, dispatches a letter to this little group of Christians in Colossae. Now, at the time, it’s probably maybe 30 years after Jesus has been killed and the resurrection of Jesus, so the Lord Jesus Christ is in everybody’s living memory, and although Paul’s never been to Colossae, he writes this letter to encourage people, as Billy read to us, he writes and he says ‘Look you’re doing great.’ Massive encouragement, massive encouragement to the small group of Christians in Colossae but it’s not just some random letter of encouragement. You see, Paul’s been told that there’s something going on in this church that is not good and he wants to nip it in the bud.

You see, they’ve got muddled like my duck on a bike. They’ve got muddled by all sorts of things. Now, in this letter it’s not explicit what it is that they’ve got themselves confused about, and I think it’s actually very interesting that Paul, on this occasion, does not explicitly set out what the problem is. You see, anybody who’s read anything about Saint Paul and about his letters, will know that he was really, really good at calling things out. he was really good at calling things out. I mean, let me put it this way, he was a little bit more Glasgow than Edinburgh, and plenty of the letters in the Bible, Paul does exactly that. At one stage Peter really cops it. If you ever read the book of Galatians or the end of Romans and you’ll read of the accounts where Paul, well, let’s just say he had a real nose for sniffing out heresy. So, although something really serious is going on in this little church, Paul’s decided not to confront it up front. Instead, he’s tried a different strategy, Saturation, saturation. I talked about Sundeep and how he’s saturated in the Bible, well, Paul decides that he would saturate the Colossians with Jesus, he’d saturate them with Jesus’ supremacy, His sovereignty, His sacrifice.

It’s as if he’s decided that whatever it was that was undermining these Christians, they just needed more Jesus. Jesus front and center. And you know, to be honest, initially it’s all a bit over the top. You have a look go home during the week and read the first two chapters of Colossians. I hesitate to say it but, Paul’s a bit of a fanatic. But there’s a reason for it. You see, they were getting conned, they were getting distracted, and they were getting confused by conflicting messages. You see, on the one hand there are all sorts of pressures to conform to tradition, probably Jewish traditions, and then, on the other hand, there were all sorts of weird philosophies coming on. They had nothing whatsoever to do with the Gospel.

Now, you might find this odd, but when I was a brand-new university student about 100 years ago I put this verse up from Colossians 2 on my bedroom wall. Colossians 2:8 ‘See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of the world rather than Christ.’ You see, one of the papers I was studying was philosophy and I knew that that could be a real danger, that the things of the world could really take me over. How on earth at that age I’d grip that I don’t know, but I must have found that verse in the Bible and put it up there. And that was Paul was trying to point out to these guys because they were like my crazy duck on the bike, they were all over the place, and people were throwing in all sorts of things that were extra to the to the Bible, extra to the truth, extra to the truth of the Gospel. And you know, I think we get that today, I think we get that.

There’s a wee phrase I’ve heard more and more it goes something like this:

‘Well, I don’t know what to think anymore’ ‘I don’t know what to think anymore’ Just look around us. There’s moves afoot again to change the law to permit assisted dying. Now, there’s some in the church that’s saying that’s okay, and there’s others in the church that, it’s not this church I’m talking, the church nationally, but there’s others in the church that are calling it out as a great evil. Or, and I hesitate, but there’s this business in our own denomination, an allowance for ministers to solemnize what the law of the land is calling same-sex marriage. Or there’s this whole question of gender recognition and the massive confusion that that is causing our children, and all of us, as to what a man and a woman is. Political confusion but it’s also dividing the church.

‘Well, I just don’t know what to think anymore. It’s all a bit befuddling.’

Paul’s solution at least with these new Christians in Colossae, is to help them get their thinking right to center the church on Jesus Christ, and the truth of the Gospel, and so he writes to impress upon them something that’s become, frankly, unfashionable or at least it’s a word that’s become unfashionable these days.

You know that word is? Doctrine, doctrine. What we really believe. So, Paul sets out in the letter to say ‘Here is what the Gospel is. This is what you believe. This is the work of the cross. Not only that, Epaphras got it right when he told you what it was.’

Now, I hope that as we get into this series we’ll see that being explained more and more from the pulpit, as we see just what these intense words in the first two chapters of this book really, really are. It’s hard to digest. You’ve got to take it slow. Paul is a fanatic but in those two chapters, like I said earlier on, if we really study God’s word, if we really get to know those two chapters, it’ll be a bit like when Ewan was balancing that broom; we’ll be looking up and we won’t be looking down.

Here’s what Colossians 3:1 says – I was tempted to bring the broom up but I couldn’t trust myself it would drop from here, but imagine I’ve got the broom – ‘Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above not on earthly things for you died and your life is now hidden with Christ and God when Christ who, is your life, appears then you will also appear with him in glory.’ I think that’s marvelous!

Time’s running out for me and I haven’t actually got to the part in the Bible reading that Billy gave to us, so, I’ve probably got seven or eight minutes maybe. Let’s bring up Colossians 3:1-4 if we could Neil. Thank you very much.

This is perhaps, the broom and the duck are silly, silly illustrations but Paul’s letter is a massive encouragement to look, to look up, but here in verses 3 and 4 he’s giving them a massive encouragement and he’s saying ‘I’ve heard about you, I’ve heard about you, we’ve all heard about you, we’ve heard about you even though we don’t know you, and we’re praying for you. We thank God for you because we’ve heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints.’

Now, sometimes it’s hard to pray but I found this verse really, really encouraging. Sometimes it’s hard to know how to start to pray. Sometimes we can feel dry and aren’t in the mood to pray, or we’re just not motivated. Go to this verse. Paul just starts by saying thank-you, thank-you God, thank-you God for the Colossians. Thank-you God for the people at Brightons, thank-you God for the people in Falkirk, thank-you God for the people we know and such and such. That’s a really, really easy way to get into prayer.

But what is Paul giving thanks for? Verse 5 – it’s the faith and the love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven, and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the Gospel that has come to you. God’s grace in all its truth faith and love from hope. Now, faith, hope, faith, love and hope are big themes throughout the New Testament and we’ll get into that further as we’re doing this study. But I wonder, I wonder about this for a moment? Are there reports from Brightons about their faith and their love so that other Christians are praying for them and thanking God for their faith and love? I wonder, I wonder if people think upon us and pray and thank God for that? It’s a question for us to ponder isn’t it? Now, I’m putting that challenge down. I want to make sure that there’s not something that’s lost from this part of the passage and this is what I will finish on. Their faith and their love is founded on something. The Word says that it springs up from something. It springs up from hope. Well, that’s not true. It springs up from the hope, the hope and again hope is a massive theme in this book a massive theme of Paul’s.

I hope that others preaching this service, this series will go back and get into that some more but let me just let me just touch on hope for a moment. Hope is one of those words that you actually hear a lot at new year.

‘Well, I hope 2022 is a bit better than 2021.’

‘Well, I hope we can, I hope it snows so that we can go sledging.’ I think this is not forecast.

‘I hope Falkirk win the league.’

Can I say that that’s hopeless?

Setting your sights on the unknown like Covid 19, I mean we do hope that the vaccine program, the vaccine program is going to put paid to the pandemic and we do hope that it’s going to go away, but that is not a Christian hope, that’s just wishful thinking. It’s like taking a lottery ticket. Christian hope is something so much different and so much deeper and again that’s what Paul is trying to teach these young Christians in Colossae. Your hope is in something which is certain. If we had time I would take you into Romans 8 where Paul unfolds what hope means. That hope is a certainty. Hope is seeing something that is certain, that we do not we do not see now but that we know Christian hope is certain.

It’s not like the hopelessness of today. It’s not like my crazy duck that seems to be a metaphor of the world that we’re in, where we’re going around in circles and our heads are spinning and our eyes are turning, and it’s just hope less. There’s a bumper sticker that you see on the back of cars in New Zealand. It only came to mind this morning when I was thinking about this and the bumper sticker says ‘He who dies with the most toys, wins.’

How wrong is that! How wrong is that.

Think of the broom, think of the magnificent Ewan Norton and his broom trick, and think of my crazy duck. We don’t want to be like these Colossians. We want to learn from this. We want to learn from this book. We want to balance the broom.

May that be so as we go forward into this year. May that be so.

Isaac Watts wrote a magnificent, magnificent hymn Amazing Grace. I might have that wrong, it might be John Newton. Actually it was John Newton the slave owner. Amazing Grace. And that’s the amazing grace that Paul talks about and that’s the amazing grace that we’re going to sing now. Amazing, Amazing Grace.