Request and Response

Preached on: Sunday 1st August 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Matthew 21:28-32
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Today’s hero is the older son because he shows us the gift of having a changed mind.

This little parable packs a punch. Here we have the vineyard owner again, but instead of looking for hired workers, he’s asking his own sons to help out. The two sons both react very differently in the moment. They both tell the truth one says ‘No’ or perhaps ‘I won’t’ or ‘I don’t want to’ but the other obeys in that moment. The good son is obvious as we see in the passage, the words are empty, much like the religious leaders in the faith it encounters. The challenge of this parable goes two ways – to act on our convictions and to make us willing to recognize our errors and to put them right.

If you perhaps have older kids about your lives, you delve into the questions that the religious leaders hit and pass on the things. We so often ask and the Yeses and the No’s we get are perhaps even just the grunts or the groans. The religious leaders at that time were trying to trap Jesus but He kept asking them questions and they were too scared to answer those questions. and then he had another question for them in our parable this morning.

There was a vineyard owner, says Jesus, and Jesus liked to tell stories about vineyard owners there were lots of vineyards about lots of people drank wine and this vineyard owner had two sons two sons who were sitting near his house not doing anything at all to help

and of course there’s a shout from their father as he spots them and he says those vines they need tending go and help the workers he goes right over to the elder sun where he’s sitting and he asked them to go and help and the son looks down at the ground he really didn’t want to help today he was hoping that some of his friends were maybe going to come round but yet he didn’t want to lie to his father he says i’m sorry father i don’t want to today says

the father looked sad but decided to ask the younger son will you go and help

yes sir he replies knowing that was what his father wanted to hear he thought that he would go and help and as soon as he finished the game he was playing

now we find hours later the younger son was still sitting playing he knew he should be in the vineyard but he was having too much fun and his father didn’t seem to be too upset he wasn’t chasing about after him and his older brother had said no and so he didn’t move all day until the evening meal had been called meanwhile the older brother feels terrible when his friends arrive he sends them away so he could go and do his work as the father had asked he changes his clothes and he goes to work and make up for the time he’d sat around the house which of the two did what his father asked says Jesus

it was an easy answer the older son because the older son saw that his choice had been wrong and he changed his mind yet the religious leaders didn’t want to change their minds even when they realize that they might be wrong

Jesus said that because of this they would be the very last to enter god’s kingdom

like any parable we have different aspects of symbolism for the listener the Jew of that day they would have understood the vineyard to be Israel and the work to be god’s work and the father would be God and the sons would be two different classes of people the good son who agrees to work would be the pharisees and the religious Jews who outwardly would affirm their relationship with God and yet inwardly did nothing to further his kingdom and the other son would be the sinners those who had rejected God in the past but through the good news of the gospel preached by Christ and by John the Baptist they’ve repented and they began to do the work that God calls them to do

in this short story you can see the frustration of Christ at the long history of the Jews who have seen god’s work tasted god’s goodness and favor and yet still turn away for us today the symbolism is similar the good son could be those who can talk a good game when it comes to God and religion those good people who believe in God and try to be good but it stops at that the commands of God and the work of the kingdom have no place in their lives the rebellious son would be those who have turned from God rejected him at various points in their lives and have that heart change and now become active in the kingdom obeying his call and his commands

it makes you think which one describes you better

now we know neither of these sons are perfect and that was not the intent of Jesus to say that one or the other is how we should be there are those who say yes to God and they follow through and the intent of Christ here the big idea is to impress upon his disciples that a relationship with God is about more than just words and a theme that we’ve seen repeated over and over as Christ has dealt with the pharisees it’s not about the outside the way we look and the ceremonies we engage in and the trappings of religion it’s about that heart change it’s about obedience and a being and before his ministry is done Christ wants to make sure that there’s no doubt at all about this fact in god’s kingdom it’s not enough to talk the talk you’ve got to back it up by walking the walk so let’s pull a few things out of this little passage first of all there’s a request he says son go work in the vineyard today not much has changed over the years fathers are still having to get after their sons and their daughters to be somewhat more productive all of us can remember our moms and dads asking us to do something that we absolutely didn’t want to do maybe because of the kind of work it is maybe it was because we had other plans and we all know what it’s like to be doing a job we don’t want to do we’re not going to spend much time here rather than to point out that the request and the call is there it’s identical to the call given in the parables in other parts of the new testament God has not and he won’t change he wants us to be active out there in the fields active in the harvest active in the work of the kingdom here in Brightons Church and far beyond it

often times for us the that work is not something that we want to do maybe we’re shy maybe we’re busy maybe we’re preoccupied with other things

God’s call comes at the most convenient time for us in our lives but yet that call

is consistent it’s work in my fields get out there and do something and perhaps as we start to move out from this pandemic it’s even more important to get out there amongst those and get that work done because they haven’t heard about God and the wonderful things that he can do for us in our lives

and then we have two sons that respond in very different ways

the response of the first son was nothing short of open rebellion we don’t know if he was angry about being asked and that’s not important but we do know that he was certainly stubborn the moment he heard the request he says defiantly i will know

those two great words that are used there are as defiant and as resolute responds as could be in any of the gospels

there’s there is no precedent in the bible for such a short and sharp reply in the same way it’s constructed together he didn’t care to argue with his father he just said it the message was clear i don’t care don’t bother me

get someone else it was pure open rebellion and maybe sometimes we know perhaps ourselves or others that can fall into that category openly defying god’s call and his offer of that relationship openly living in a way that displeases him and while that may only describe a few now the reality is at that point that we often find ourselves in these positions

many do in Colossians 1 21 it says you were once so far away from God you were his enemies separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions all of us become separated from God at one point all of us have shared the mark of this first son being rebellious by virtue of the sins that were born into and now there would have been very little good that we could take from this story if rebellion was the only thing that marked out the sun but there was something else because this sun was also marked by his repentance

the new inter international version use of the phrase changed his mind is rather a weak and inferior translation the Greek is regretted or repented it’s the same word Matthew used for Judas’s repentance literally being seized with remorse the son came to the point where he wished his rebellion had never changed and he had changed not only his mind but his attitude his whole heart his priorities and his actions changed he came to the conclusion that he was wrong and he expressed his remorse and repented and understood that the father was right and he went out and he did what was asked of him and of course repentance leads to forgiveness allows us those who were once rebellious and sinful to stand before our God holy and clean and pure again it’s an amazing truth and the first son’s story was marked by rebellion but then repentance led to his life being marked as a life of obedience for each of us is the end result of that repentance true repentance involves turning from our sin and heading in the opposite direction that direction is the way that God calls us to live Paul says in acts 26 20 first to those in Damascus then to those in Jerusalem and all Judea and to the gentiles also i preach that they should retire repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds

the proof that repentance has happened is in our actions and the way we live and in the way we obey and follow god’s call in our lives the first son’s change of heart would have been rather hollow if it had not been followed by obedience of his actions

and then we have the marks of the second son on the surface this one sounded like he would be the good son he hears the request he immediately replies a whirlwind and for good measure he throws in a sir how many parents would pass out if this was the immediate response they got from their teenage child now when asked to do some work the first son agrees to request unfortunately where things got better for the first son they didn’t go well for the other and while he agrees initially we see that he’s also marked by his inactivity he agrees but then nothing happens he accepts the call but no activity on his part he may look good on the outside he may look like there’s an issue of repentance but not like that rebellious brother of his on the inside

unfortunately today there are too many Christians who fall into the category of this son come to church they sing the songs they do a few more things along the way and throughout the week but when God says work in my field they decide they’re quite comfortable where they’re at yet god’s call requires commitment to him and to his church it requires stepping out and being uncomfortable at times god’s call is not a call to sit and look good it’s a call to get dirty and messy and to be involved in the lives of those he puts in our path

if our relationship with our father is definitely by inactivity i hope this story might make us sit up make us a bit uncomfortable

and maybe lead us to a change and realize our disobedience

Matthew 7 21 says ‘Not everyone who says to me Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven but only the one who does the will of my father in heaven.’

doing nothing is a sin in the same way that openly rebelling is conforming to what God expects outwardly but refusing to do it inwardly is empty and hollow and doesn’t please God

I’m sure you’ve all heard those stories of a conversation perhaps with a toddler or a little one and you’re asking them to do something or perhaps rather to stop doing something and eventually they do stop doing it but you get that little mumbo but they’re still doing it on the inside

Was that obedience?

Well, it’s conforming outwardly but rebelling inwardly it was disobedience and it was sin and in the same way the second son conformed and agreed on the surface but in the heart he rebelled and remained inactive and disobedient

two very different responses

give us two very different results the results are clear and simple repentance led to the work of getting done Christ said that those who are like this son who turn away from their son their sin when they’re confronted with the truth they enter the kingdom of God ahead of those who produced the second result and their lip service led to the work remaining untouched when you consider that the work we’re talking about directly influences the eternity of all those around us it’s quite a sobering thought of what we’ve been left to do and yet even this reality is not enough for some to change their focus from what they look like on the outside or what ministry looks like on the outside or to whether or not that heart is clean and obedient and the work is there on the inside

as we close why not take three things away with you as we apply them in our lives

firstly there’s always hope God is not looking for the ones who look perfect on the outside he’s not asking us for unattainable perfection he just wants us to obey his call no matter where we’ve gone or what we’ve done no matter how much rebellion there’s been in our lives there’s always hope through the forgiveness of our sins and we only have to ask for it and we can join the others in the field and build god’s kingdom here on earth secondly repentance is a right response to our sin when we see a rebellion for what it is repentance is the only right response before our God we need to have that remorse over our sins turn away from them and back to God and with repentance comes this third truth our obedience is shown through our actions

some of us say yes in church every week yes in bible study yes and prayer meetings yes in our small groups

we become like the pharisees looking spotless and holy on the outside but like that child rebelling still on the inside

Jesus says in john 14 15 if you love me you will obey what i command it’s as simple as that he wants our hearts he wants our obedience and if the external is not flowing out from inside and our lives are not marked by our obedience then we’re just playing at being religious missing out on that relationship with god

obedience is shown through our actions hope repentance and obedience these are the lessons of this short story this morning these are the truths that Christ wanted his disciples then and wants his followers today to grasp hold of every word every action contains the truth that can transform the way that we think and live today

Amen. Let’s pray:

Father God we ask that indeed we can say Yes and our Yes will mean Yes rather than a firm No that means No. You give us the opportunity to change our minds changes from this day forward that we continue to work and serve You in our in Your kingdom. That our hearts are open and obedient to you so that we can trust and obey because there’s no other way to be happy and serving You. Trust and obey. Amen.

Power revealed

Preached on: Sunday 25th July 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. there are no Powerpoint slides accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: John 2:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us pray.

Speak o Lord, indeed, to us that the earth may be filled with Your glory.
Your glory was seen in this first miracle that we look at today performed at a wedding in Cana and many miracles thereafter have taken place not just through the pages of scripture but in life in many different ways as we come to this world today continue to work in our lives and show anew the things that we might do. In Your name we ask these things. Amen.

In the second chapter of John’s gospel, we have the account of the very first miracle of our Lord. The scene has now shifted from Judea where John the Baptist has been baptizing in the Jordan and they’re now 70 miles north the area of Galilee. Jesus and his disciples have walked all that way. The occasion was a wedding, an eastern wedding.

Eastern weddings were very different from western affairs. In western weddings the bride is the prominent figure when she enters clad in all her glory the whole congregation stand and the organ thunders and whatever it is. Every eye is focused on her, but in eastern weddings it’s the groom that is prominent, he is the featured one. The bride merely shows up for the wedding. I’m sure we wouldn’t like that here but not only is this groom the featured person but he also pays for the whole affair. So, some of those weddings and those times would go on for two or three days, some as long as a week, and both sides of the family would join together for a big celebration. This is the kind of wedding that John is talking about here this morning. Very sadly, unfortunately not the kind of weddings that people have had to have during this these times of lockdown and pandemic. It was a big affair and Mary figures rather prominently at this wedding too.

She’s there at the wedding and Jesus turns up as we’re told with five disciples. Now, whether they hadn’t sent back their reply or hadn’t saved the date they weren’t expected. He had just called these disciples to Himself and they had walked for two days from Judea. No-one had time to send word that they were additional members in Jesus party but as is ordinarily true in these rural settings people do not make a great deal of fuss about things, they’re always there to add a little more water in the soup and take care of the unexpected guests that show up. So, the disciples come with Jesus unexpected and that maybe explains why the wine run out. Not that I’m saying the disciples drunk at all but there were extra people there for two or three days and that called on a great deal of wine at these celebrations so Mary seizes the occasion to say very significantly to Jesus these words “They have no wine.”

She doesn’t ask Him to do anything about it, she merely states the fact “They have no wine.” Some of the commentators suggest that what she meant was that it was a gentle hint that maybe they had turned up unexpected and had caused the situation, they had put a strain on the hospitality of their host and maybe they should have left before it fully run out, but another says that Mary did not expect any miracle because Jesus, up to that point, hadn’t done any. But the account makes rather clear that Mary did expect Jesus to help. She came to Him with the problem and she expected Him to do something about it. Personally, I believe she did expect Him to do something startling and supernatural. We have to understand Mary had expectations that had been greatly awakened. Undoubtedly she had been told about the accounts of what had happened in Judea how he had been baptized by John the Baptist and how indeed the heavens opened, the dove lighted on Jesus head and the voice cried out “This is my beloved son“ and she too remembered the promises of the would-be Messiah when she carried Him in her womb. Undoubtedly, she expected Him to act along with all the other Jews of that day. She doubtless expected Him, as the Messiah, to claim the throne of David, to somehow drive out the Romans and fulfill all the prophecies of the Old Testament, but now that Jesus has taken the initiative, He’s called some disciples, she had a sort of right to expect more to happen, and the fact that Jesus clearly understood her came back in His response and He says “Woman, what has that to do with me?”

It’s not a rude or disrespectful answer to his mother, although it may sound like it. If a young man today called his mother ‘woman’ he probably would have got a clip around the ear, but here Jesus was using a very common title of respect in the same way on the cross he addressed Mary as “Woman, behold your son.”

When he says what was it to do with Him, He’s just more or less saying ‘I don’t
Understand? What do you want to accomplish? What do you want to happen? What do you want in the plan, mother?’, and often that’s the questions we ask in our lives ‘What are, what is part of God’s plan? We look for the miracles and they don’t often happen but sometimes they do and Mary already had in her mind that something was going to happen because at the end of speaking with Jesus these few words she turns to the servants as we hear and says “Do whatever he tells you to do”.

Notice the simplicity of her words, how easily, how quietly and with dignity it was done and then Jesus takes over from there, not in any flashy way, but just simply says “Fill the jars with water” and, of course, they fill these great big stone jars up with water to the brim with gallons and gallons of water and then he tells them to “Draw out some, take it to the steward of the feast.” There was no prayer, there was no words of command, there was no hysterical shouting or bleating or laying on the hands, nothing at all, He didn’t even touch the water, He didn’t even taste it afterwards Himself to see what has happened, He simply says “take it to the steward” the master of ceremonies or whatever you want to call them, and quite simply the water became wine.

This happened within the limits of a natural process. It’s very important to see this. Milk didn’t become the wine, the water didn’t become milk, he didn’t change it into something like Irn Bru brew or whatever, what happened was something that also happens in nature, water is being changed into wine in every vineyard in France, Spain, Portugal and further afield, it’s part of the long process of growth, gathering, and crushing, and it involves the activity of men and women and the process of fermentation, it’s a natural process and this was the characteristic of these miracles of Jesus, they were a very natural process.

There’s a very helpful book by C S Lewis called Miracles where he pointed out that every miracle Jesus did is simply a kind of short circuiting of natural processes, doing instantly something which, in general, would take a longer period of time. Lewis says in the book each miracle writes for us, in small letters, something that God has already written or will write, and letters almost too large to be noticed across the whole canvas of nature. This is what Jesus is doing, He’s overleaping the elements of time, growth, gathering, crushing, fermenting and he takes the water right to wine without a word or a gesture. He demonstrates His marvelous ability to master the processes of nature.

Some claim that Jesus didn’t change water into real wine that all he did was change it into very good grape juice. I consider that claim that they make ridiculous, probably hardly worthy of an answer. They don’t serve grape juice at Jewish weddings. They never have and they probably never will. In fact, in other places in the New Testament where we have warnings against the overuse of wine, we have a clear indication that the wine of that day was indeed intoxicating, people had to watch it then, just as they must watch today. Wine was a commonplace drink, one that believers partook off along with everyone else in the culture and climate. Our Lord certainly did change that water into real, true, genuine wine. Actually, the very force of this miracle depended upon the fact that it was good wine and this was confirmed to the amazement of the steward of the feast when he drank the wine. Can you just picture them taking the cup and sipping it, swirling it around, perhaps smelling it, and drinking it again, and then realizing what a wonderful blend or brand of wine it was, in fact, such a good wine that had come from these jars that had been filled with water.

The account that we read this morning even hints at the bewilderment of the very bridegroom, we’re not told that the what the bridegroom said but he evidently didn’t say anything he must have been quite, I suppose, bewildered by everything. He just keeps his mouth shut and he takes the credit for the whole incident and for his guests realizing that they had kept and served the best wine last which was not the common practice at these things.

“This is the first of His signs that Jesus did in Cana and Galilee! it says in John 2:11 and it manifested His glory and the disciples believed in Him.

Three factors call for our attention in that particular verse because John says that the miracle was a ‘sign’. It was an acted parable and signs are not merely miracles they’re miracles that have a meaning, they’re intended to convey truth that would not otherwise have been known, that’s what signs are for, to tell us something that we wouldn’t otherwise know, that’s what John means when he says that this miracle was a sign and what it pictured on that day was the normal outcome of the combination of human and divine activity. Men can fill water jars, only God can change water into wine. Men can do the ordinary, the common place, the normal activity, but God touches it and brings it to life and gives it its flavor, and what’s the meaning of this sign that day, it’s an indication of what the ministry of Jesus was going to be like, Whenever He touched a human life, not only during His lifetime on earth, but well beyond that, and that’s how it affects us today as well. Bring God into our situations, into all the humdrum calling places, activities, and we’re touched with a new power, become different, more fragrant, more flavourable, more enjoyable and delightful, and the joy and the gladness of our heart when He comes into our lives, and that was the meaning of the sign that day where God indeed manifested Himself to humankind and showing this first miracle, and, according to John, that the second thing was that indeed it did show God’s glory. Already in chapter one John has told us that the glory of Jesus is His great grace and truth, and that He’s full of that grace and truth, and here in this event this morning we see both of these together.

His grace is manifested in the fact that He brought with Him five, with Himself six, unexpected guests to the wedding. They had no gifts to bring, so He seizes on the fact of the six stone water jars and He has them filled to the brim and He changes them and thereby He gives the most generous gift anybody would give at a wedding. He gives that newly married couple a gift of the best wine in the whole countryside. One jar for each of those unexpected guests. What a gracious truth comes from our Lord’s grace as He gives and gifts to each one of us and with it comes the truth and the glory of Jesus in His fullness, in that event there, was manifested truth about Himself that He indeed was the Lord of all nature.

A I pointed out earlier, He was carrying out a natural process but in a very short period of time.

We can open up the fairy tale books. We find ourselves in a world of miracles so diverse that they can hardly be classified – beasts that turn into men; men into beasts or trees; trees that talk; ships that do things; magic rings that change; all these things in the land of fairytales, but the fitness of the Christian miracles and their difference from these mythological miracles and storytellers lies in the fact that they show invasion of a further power, the great power of God. He brings the light into the world through His son Jesus Christ and He’s proclaimed the King of kings and His majesty is there for all to see and it was starting to become evident as these miracles were carried out.

He worked with things in nature changed them quickly, and people talk about nature. I read a little explanation in our gardening magazine that someone has said nature is the glove on the hand of God and we see the glove at work and we think it’s marvelous and it spoke about many of the ladies gardening and wearing their gloves wearing their garden gloves to dig up the earth, to pull the weeds, to sow the seeds and the plants.

Wouldn’t you think it’s strange if someone came along past your garden seeing all the fine work you had done and marvel that your gloves could do such a thing.

It’s the hand inside the glove that does the work to show the glory of the garden and it’s God indeed in Christ that shows the work that glorifies Him in life.

We see everything in the natural world, we see the cycles of snow and rain, we see the stars in the heaven, the sun, the moon.

Who did it? It wasn’t the glove behind all these things, and the power of nature was God Himself.

The third thing that John brings out and concluding this passage he says “His disciples believed in him” they believed that here was God’s man, they had started following Him, He was ruling over all the works of God’s hand, He was put in dominion and authority and given power over all the earth and here He had power over nature, a limitless power, and that was the sign in this very first miracle when the disciples saw the water changed into wine they believed more deeply in Him than they ever had before, they saw that here was one who could handle life, here is one who could take a commonplace thing, nothing out of the ordinary, simple water, and make it wine, make a source of joy, glory and warmth, and He still comes yet, but not to change water into wine, but to change us. The hand is there upon us, and in us, and through us, and the power of His spirit, and He can bring out in us more flavor and fragrance and strength and beauty than can ever be brought out in whatever bottle wine. He will do this with each of us if we ask Him if we follow Him, and if we believe Him.

Through the miracle at Cana, His disciples believed in Him, and through that very miracle today can we indeed strengthen our belief that He works in all things for the good of His glory and continues to mould each of us day by day, Amen

Let’s just pray:
Thank-you Father for this look at this simple event on that day in Galilee. Help us define its meaning for our own lives, knowing that He who, without a word, without any ostentation, transformed, silently,, quietly with dignity, the water of that day into wine. So, can He take the water of our commonplace lives and change it into wine that we may be rich and full of His power and His glory. We thank you for that, in Jesus name, Amen

Joshua: remember

Preached on: Sunday 2nd May 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no Powerpoint pdf accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Joshua 4:1-24
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us pray.

Father God, as we come now before Your word we ask that indeed that You will bless us through that word, You will guide and You will lead us just as You led the Israelites across the Jordan, lead us across the difficulties that we may face in life, that we might walk with You and that we might understand Your word. In Jesus name we ask it, Amen.

That was appropriate we had a technical hitch just when it was ‘I do not know what lies ahead’. I trust the God of miracles and we also trust Richard the technician of technology here in the sanctuary for getting us up and running and going again.

And we come this morning to the Israelites again, with Joshua, and they stand there at the Jordan and they’re about to cross over. As we join them in chapter 4 this morning we are with these people and we’re with a God who, in this passage this morning, calls them to remember; to remember how good their God is and how He maintains His purposes; how He keeps His promises.

The people of God have already been told to tie the word on their wrists and put it on their doorsteps that they might remember the Lord their God at every moment and here in Joshua chapter 4 verse 7 we have these stones which are to be, to the people of Israel, a memorial forever.

Humanity by nature, however, is very good at forgetting. We, as people, are very good at forgetting. We come up with a number of mnemonic devices to assist in remembering all sorts of things; names, phone numbers, dates and vocabulary, and what is true of us all, as individuals, is also true as a nation. Forgetfulness is the cause of all kinds of trouble; it’s true in interpersonal relationships, marriage relationships, community relationships, and also in our relationship with God.

Israel long has recognized the need to remember so God has, at various points in the redemptive history, had his people place markers as memorials to remind them of His mighty deeds, and this is the case this morning in chapter 4. God wants to ensure that his people will never forget what He has done and so He says, in verse 7 “these stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” This is not the first time that God asked His people to remember. After His mighty work in rescuing the people from Egypt and the Passover, God says “When your children ask you what this means, tell them this” You can find this call to remember in the previous book of Deuteronomy also, in Ecclesiastes, and here in Joshua. The word ‘remember’ doesn’t simply mean ‘to bring to mind’, it means to focus on and reflect on with love and devotion and this theme is picked up in the New Testament as Paul says to Timothy “remember Christ Jesus” or Peter says too, it is right to refresh your memory, and of course our Lord Jesus Christ Himself as He brought bread, and gave thanks for it, to His disciples He said “Do this in remembrance of me.”

And Joshua basically catechizes His people at the end of this chapter, for providing them the question that they know they’re going to be asked he gives them the answer that they’re to give as well as the purpose as to why they’ve to give it.

The question they will be asked is “What do these stones mean?” Children ask lots of questions. have a very inquisitive grandson, Caleb, and at times the questions he asked fill me with delight, other times they may be wearing me out, or they may be a bit difficult just to get the right answer, but few things give me more joy than when he and other children ask about Jesus and God and what he’s done and I can only imagine that if our children today saw these stones for themselves they’d be asking what that pile of stones was there for, and one day our own children, grandchildren, and by God’s grace will become parents too, and if we’ve done our job now answering their questions about God, then one day too they’ll be able to glorify Him giving the answer to their children and on and on the generations. Joshua describes in detail the answer that he’d be given this morning, God’s word tells us of the many important questions but what does it mean here?

Well perhaps whatever you want it to mean today, but that’s quite a welcome answer. In our modern society reflecting and turning the answer to what suits us rather than what suits God and they don’t always give the Biblical answer, the answer given by God’s word,

The stones mean something. We Christians with a biblical worldview, one that begins with God and His Holy Majesty, with His power and His creation, we recognize that when God interferes into His world and intervenes in what’s going on, He does so very purposely. So, Joshua says, the answer to the question is, God dried up the river Jordan before you until you had crossed over. In the same way he dried up the Red Sea when He rescued His people out of Egypt. God enabled the people to cross the river Jordan and so the people of God are to tell their children what God has done and the uniqueness of what He did.

It’s interesting that in verse 19 the day is mentioned, and that day is significant because it’s 40 years exactly to the day that the Passover was established. God performed this mighty deed at just the right time, even a time when the river Jordan was in full flow mode in the previous chapter.

So, God gives them the question, He gives them the answer and He also gives them the reason. God and His purposes bring His people to places and points in their lives where the only possibility for salvation and victory and triumph is if He provides it. We see this in His stated purposes in Joshua 4. His purpose is that all the peoples of the earth would know that the hand of the Lord has a powerful hand and so the people of God who fear the Lord God, leads His people across the river at just such a time that there is no way of victory crossing the river unless God Himself can get them across. It’s in times like this that the people of God will sing with the Psalmist those words “I lift my eyes to the hills from where does my help come. My help is in the name of the Lord.

With the odds so dramatically stacked against the people of God, the only chance of rescue was if God Himself did it and when this happens all the glory goes to God, the one who is due all glory. To be sure the people are obedient but God’s power is behind it and it’s no different today, God saves and calls us His people to obedience, to fear the Lord our God and to revere Him. He acts to engender the faith and His people and the obedience and He speaks still of the awe-struck wonder of His people today.

Can you imagine all those years ago just being there? One day we will all stand on that side of the Jordan river and, as much as it represents death, and God calls us into obedience and we’ll stand ready to make a safe crossing based on the promise of God and His power.

And so, the people of God have that experience which is the same that has been through all the generations.

It might need to be said here that it flies somewhat in the face of those who say things like “You interpret the bible your way, I’ll interpret it mine.” but this passage doesn’t really allow for that. God gives the question, the answer and the interpretation, stating His reason and in all of this Jesus is there too, within the passage is the Ark, the Ark of the Covenant is a sign of God’s presence and His very power and purpose. It contained the Law of God framed by the mercy seat and it’s a symbol of the justice and the mercy of our God, as it contained the Law and as it took the blood of sacrifice that was sprinkled for the sins of the people by the priest at the time. Just as that Ark represented the power and the presence of God, we know that it most clearly seen as, seen in Jesus Christ, seen in His life, His death and His resurrection and so for the people of Israel to look to The Ark is for us who stand on this side of the cross to look to Christ Jesus because the way we know the invisible God in human form ultimately is in the person of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, we don’t look to an Ark this side of the cross, we look to Christ Himself, we look at the very power of that cross, He’s the author and the finisher of faith and for us the symbol has been replaced by the actual reality of the Resurrection.

Just as God wants the stones as a memorial of His great name, we, as people living on this side of the cross, need to look to the empty cross, look at the empty tomb.

Since God raised Jesus from the dead, He will also raise me too from the dead. It says look to the resurrection of Jesus, the unique and dramatic interventions of God throughout history, and there focus our eyes on the presence on the empty cross.

And so, we can, like the Israelites, say to our children and our children’s children, our God did this for us and He will be faithful to all, in all His promises, for He is the living God.

As we begin to head out from another lockdown with our hopes and aspirations, it may have felt like 40 years, but it hasn’t been it, but it might have seemed a long time since this pandemic began, and we know we still have some time to go before again we see some sort of normality in our church buildings, and we probably feel as if we’ve been standing waiting to cross the Jordan,

There are many times, not just during this pandemic when each of us will have stood at the water’s edge, stood there in times of job loss and financial insecurity, stood there at times of ill-health, stood at the water’s edge when we’ve lost a loved one, stood there in those times of pain and suffering, and we have or if we still have, we will come through them, and always remember, God was there in the midst of those times, He was right in front of us just as He went ahead of the tribes of Israel before they crossed over into the promised land.

Today, from this passage, we have to remember God’s great power, lest we forget the power of the cross itself, unless we forget about the Christ who died for you and for me.

I picked a little story up from the theologian Alistair Begg and he tells a story about three golfers Bill, Tom and Fred. There used to be a group of four along with Harry and they often played golf together over the last 12 years, but Harry had died. It wasn’t only Harry’s company they missed on the golf course, but they missed the fact that he was the only one at his age that could see well enough to follow where their ball landed after they hit it, and so they went to the club pro or president, or whatever they’re called, and they said they need a fourth man and the only requirement they wanted that he was able to see because none of us can see well enough to follow their tee-shots. And so, he gave them George assuring them that George had great eyesight for a man of his age.

They all hit off their tee shots and turned to George asking if he seen where the ball went “Sure did!” he replied in each case and then they jump and the buggies or the carts and they drive to where Bill would usually hit his ball. He stops the car and he asked George “Where’s my ball?” to which George replied “I can’t remember!”

This morning, can we remember God in the time of Joshua as they cross the Jordan, God when He’s beside us in our moments, and the God who will be with us.

Remember, Amen

Joshua: go and trust

Preached on: Sunday 18th April 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. there is no Powerpoint pdf accompanying this sermon..
Bible references: Joshua 2:1-19
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Before we come to our message this morning let’s come to God in prayer let us pray

father God we come to you now and we ask that indeed these words of scripture might indeed encourage and lead us in our lives as we continue through this time just as you led the Israelites through and eventually into the promised land we know that you will encourage and lead us to that place too within the meantime encourage us by this message and let your spirit indeed fill all our lives as indeed we look as to what more we can and should be doing as we journey through our lives with you in Jesus name we ask amen

in the previous chapter that we had um last week from Scott God had promised Joshua and the Israelites the land and he said that in verse 1 3 that everywhere you set their foot they would have victory so now in this next chapter Joshua gets busy he secretly sends a couple of people to spy out the land especially this great city of Jericho you may remember that Joshua had gone as part of a part of um a spy mission earlier when indeed 12 spies were sent out to go into the promised land to come and report back 10 of those spies came back reporting about the fears they had of entering that land but Joshua and indeed Caleb too both returned full of praise and full of hope to enter the promised land knowing that God would go with them during that time my bible doesn’t say anything about God telling Joshua to send more spies in and indeed didn’t God just promise in the chapter before to give Joshua the whole land then why did he see the need to send in the spies does that display a lack of trust on josh’s part a sort of taking matters into his own hands kind of thing why didn’t he just trust God rest on the promises and march across the river Jordan and claim that land

the questions become even more relevant if we sneak a peek ahead into chapters five and six where we have the story of the fall of Jericho remember how the city falls into the hands of the Israelites they take the city simply by marching around it for seven days and then God miraculously tears down the walls at a shout yeah simply a shout of the Israelite army God had a plan for the fall of Jericho he knew how it was going to happen so why bother with this whole spy thing they obviously weren’t going to need detailed reconnaissance on the military readiness of the people of Jericho why send spies if God was going to do a miracle even worse isn’t it this whole spy thing contrary to the very nature of what it means to trust God isn’t it an example of Joshua acting on his own strengths rather than in Gods

to answer those questions this morning we need to know what the response of God was to josh’s actions was Joshua rebuked punished for not believing chastised for not simply trusting no not at all in fact and this is fascinating God says nothing in this chapter this morning he has lots to say in chapter one and much more to say in three four five and six in all those places we read and the lord said to Joshua but here it just says Joshua secretly sent two spies obviously God was not upset at Joshua or there definitely would have been consequences as we’ll see when we get into chapter 7. in fact there’s a wonderful result to this spy story and that’s the meeting of rehab and having her become a celebrated woman of faith seeing all her family saved and indeed through that family and through that lineage it came right down indeed to the father to the lineage of Jesus Christ himself

so obviously God blessed josh’s actions and God worked through those actions even though God had a different plan for taking the city

here’s the lesson i see for you and i this morning

sometimes it’s okay for us to get busy and do the things that make the most sense I’ve known people who wanted to walk with God they wanted obedient to God they wanted God to take to be in control and so they would even pray about very minor things and attempt to discern God’s will for which pair of socks to put on that morning i believe that God gave us the ability to make decisions and we often take that and run with it and we try to make all the decisions ourselves without involving God in our daily lives and that so often is what goes wrong

but it’s also wrong to never make decisions that leads to disobedience for example if God tells us to go in one direction and then we sit around waiting for him to tell us whether to walk or run or take the bus obviously wearing our mask and end up staying in the same place we disobeyed God’s call to go sometimes all he tells us is to go and he leaves the method of travel up to us to decide

here’s what i want to say trusting God means that we wait on him for guidance and direction and leadership it also means that we get going in the direction that he points us in

let me give you an example most times when i sit down at my computer to work on a sermon i pray i ask God to speak to me to show me what he wants to reveal to me and to us through his word sometimes i sit there and pray waiting for all those great revelations to come flooding into my mind but most of the time that doesn’t happen maybe some of you agree with me on that most of the time the ideas and the revelations start to flow as a right in fact I’m a bit concerned this morning about the writing and the time because I’ve tried to move a bit with technology I’ve got my paper copy here but I’m using the tablet but the sermon is actually 35 pages long on a tablet a lot more than the usual 10. so you see trusting in God does mean waiting for his direction and then starting to head in that direction with trust and that’s what we see here this morning in the second chapter of Joshua even though God had a different plan for taking Jericho Joshua was not wrong in sending the spies it wasn’t an indication of a lack of trust or a lack of faith it was the right thing to do God surprised them with a different ending but God also honored Joshua for doing the smart thing by sending in the spies he was getting a handle on what was happening in Jericho right at that time

sometimes in life we get stuck we get in a wrap we feel like we’re spinning our wheels we’re discouraged and down and going nowhere maybe that’s how you’re feeling about life today that you are kind of stuck i suppose for a while we all have been stuck at home and we look forward perhaps to getting out and about a wee bit more and traveling that bit further distance but if you’re stuck in a rat in any other way because you don’t know where to go or you’re stuck because you do know where to go but you’re waiting for something else to happen before you’re going to head that direction if you don’t know where to go then you need to pray and seek God’s guidance wait a little while and let go and listen to him

and on the other hand if you’re stuck but you do know which way you should be headed get going get moving make the necessary decisions stop waiting for each piece of the puzzle to fall into place before taking those early steps just get moving and God will lead the Israelites as we know had been stuck at this place before 40 years earlier they knew which way to go under Moses but got scared and retreated and this time around they still know which way to go and by the way it’s still the same direction if they go but this time they get a little extra encouragement from the report of the spies

the lord has surely given the whole land into our hands all the people are melting in fear because of us says verse 24. that was just the added bit of confidence that they needed and maybe that is the added bit of encouragement that you need today God has it under control he knows the hardness he knows the pitfalls he knows the obstacles and he’s bigger than all of them

you will find sufficient on that journey you will find him abundantly able to meet the needs as you go along the road this is the big message trusting in God in God waiting on him getting direction and then using our minds and our gifts and as long as we head out in that direction in his strength and not on our own as long as we continue to trust him along the way and even make those mid-course corrections we can be confident with trusting him and walking in his power and not our own there’s one other point i want to get out of this passage this morning and that is that God goes ahead of us Joshua does the smart thing sends the spies in they go to the house of a prostitute most likely because it was a place where the foreigners wouldn’t arise a lot of suspicion and whether we’d be able to get a handle on what the people were thinking and what they find there is miraculous somehow word gets out to the king and he sends in his henchmen so much for those secret undercover agents but here is where the story gets interesting because rehab that very prostitute hides them she lies for them she sends the king’s men off on a wild goose chase and protects them and gives them the information they need provides an escape route and what happens in return she and all her family have their life spared and rehab takes a very prominent place in the history of Israel and in Christianity because of our faith

here is what this tells me God goes ahead of me and not only does he go ahead of me preparing the way he prepares the hearts of people he reveals his fame he reveals his glory and he goes ahead of each one of us

those spies found God at work in the most unlikely place in the faith of Rahab and applying this to sharing our own faith we often look at the prospect of having to share our faith with some trepidation like we’re making a further foreign into enemy territory we don’t want to cross the lines and share our faith in the unknown perhaps with those who live beside us in the street work beside us or even our relatives or close friends we head into those situations feeling like it is our God job to take God to people to take it to those who don’t know him and there is this big dark land and we have the light and we must take it into this very dangerous place but this spy story this morning reminds us God is already ahead of us we aren’t going in carrying him along with us he’s beginning to make a start and his spirit is possibly working and prodding and pursuing in these lives that we are going to meet sharing our faith isn’t only about bringing people to salvation that’s the final step in the process and of course it’s a final step and a person’s growth to faith but there are lots of steps lots of steps to go lots of things to do words deeds expression and love lots more to do when we can meet with those people that perhaps are coming to God through this time lots more when we can share with them here in this place of fellowship God’s ahead of us but look out for those opportunities look out for those people that you can speak to and you can share God goes ahead he prepares away and he has all sorts of things prepared for us he writes to the Ephesians in chapter 2 10 he says for we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do the way is prepared Joshua is sure he has God with him and yet he sends some men before him he didn’t quite trust the situation but then things sorted himself out

where has God been or is going to call you to go what’s he been telling you that you need to be obedient about if you’re feeling stuck if you’re uncertain about which direction to head or how to get started be encouraged that God goes with you and God goes ahead of you he’s prepared the road he knows where our journey is going and he knows what we need the promise of God is that he has prepared for us a great kingdom which he desires us to experience here in this life as well as in the next it’s a kingdom of joy and freedom and of power God invites you and me to experience this kingdom through his holy spirit and i encourage each of us to take some steps to do the things that make sense and pursue a more fulfilling experience in God’s kingdom in our lives so that we can continue to see God’s kingdom come to those others around us that will also share and benefit in that

Amen

Perspective: advancing the Gospel

Preached on: Sunday 10th January 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no Powerpoint pdf accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Philippians 1:12-26
Location: Brightons Parish Church

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

In your opinion and from your perspective, how well does that describe our day and time? You could be forgiven for thinking that these words had been written fairly recently, yet they’re taken from the all-time best-selling book originally written in English Charles Dickens novel A Tale of Two Cities. I would imagine most of us were glad to see the end of 2020 and despite the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel with approval now of two vaccines, the introduction earlier this week of a further lockdown does not give much encouragement as we enter 2021. A lot of how we view this new year has a lot to do with our perspective. I’m not sure we realize this but our perspective on life is incredibly important because it either can make us or break us.

That’s what this text that we just read in Philippians 1 is all about. In verses 12 to 18 we learn from Paul to have a positive perspective in the midst of tough times. Paul is writing to the Church in Philippi, a church he had planted about 10 years before. But he’s writing it while he’s in prison in Rome and it’s obvious that he’s restricted, limited and quite literally in chains. There’s no freedom, almost no privacy and I doubt that the food was what you’d get from Marks and Spencers or some decent restaurant. Moreover, if we know anything at all about Paul, we know that instead of being stuck in a small one-room house in Rome chained to a succession of Roman palace guards, he wanted to travel to Spain to preach the gospel or roam from city to city in Greece and Asia minor to visit all the churches he started, or minister the love and grace of Christ to all the people that he’s won to the faith. And not only is he imprisoned but it’s clear that he’s got some enemies in the Church who are trying to shame him because of his arrest and impending trial before the emperor.

We don’t know who these people were but as he notes, they’re trying to cause him more pain and anguish as he suffers through the difficulties of his imprisonment if there was ever a person whose life illustrated that to be a follower of Jesus means taking up a cross to follow Him, it was Paul. He shows us that sometimes life is just plain tough! Life can be tough even for God’s people as it was for Paul and yet he transforms this tough time by turning his prison into a pulpit. I don’t know why but God has used prisons in enormously powerful ways. John Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress from Bedfordshire jail; Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote letters to his students and friends from Osnaburg prison in Nazi Germany Martin Luther King junior wrote his famous letters from the jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama; and Paul wrote this great letter to the Philippians from his prison in Rome, to give them a fresh perspective.

For starters, he focuses on the mission of God from verse 12 and the Gospel is advancing. The Pretorian guard knows he’s in prison for his religious beliefs not because he was an enemy of Caesar and his friends and his enemies are being motivated to share Christ, and people are coming to faith. Christ’s kingdom is advancing. The Gospel is expanding and as a result he can rejoice.

Our perspective on life is incredibly important because it can make us or break us, and Paul knew that so he was going to do everything he could to look for the providential work of the Sovereign Savior in the midst of tough times. So, let me ask you this: Do you see any way that the Sovereign Savior might be providentially at work in the midst of your circumstances to advance the gospel? As we begin 2021, without diminishing your pain, how is your perspective?

Paul felt the pain of his imprisonment but what’s really interesting and important for us is that he takes the perspective that God is doing some great things and then applies it to himself.

Look at the rest of 18-20. Paul is telling the Philippians that, through their prayers and the work of the Holy Spirit, God is providentially at work and so his imprisonment will work out for his best. If we go to Acts 25 Paul was on trial in Caesarea before the Roman Governor Felix and he leveraged his Roman citizenship and appealed to Caesar. So that’s what got him to this prison in Rome, but that meant that in the very near future he would go before Caesar and the emperor would decide his fate which would either be to release him or have him executed as an enemy of Rome. Caesar at that time was Nero. Nero was a compulsive, corrupt, wildly extravagant and violent man who ended up killing his own mother and one of his brothers. He was a genuinely dangerous and malevolent personality. So there’s a real chance that he could have given Paul a thumbs-down and sent him to the chopping block, and yet, in the face of that he’s rejoicing because he really believes that all this will work out for his best. Paul is not a naive optimist about life who’s in denial about the suffering that’s come his way, he’s not a pie-in-the-sky, by-and-by person who’s emotionally shut down in order to protect himself from more pain, he’s in prison under severe restrictions bothered by his enemies and there’s a very real possibility that he might be executed, and yet he’s thrilled excited and he is rejoicing. The reason he could do that was because his perspective on life and death had been Christianized.

“For me to live as Christ and to die is gain” – this is the key statement in this passage and Paul spells out in detail what he meant by this. let’s look at the first part in verse 22.

“If I go on living in the body this means fruitful labor for me.” Paul is arguing that since he centered his life in Christ the Sovereign Savior, if he’s allowed to live, that will mean fruitful labor for him.

It’s better to view life as a wheel with a series of spokes around the hub. To live as Christ means that we put Jesus at the center and let all the spokes of our lives be influenced by Him. That’s what Paul did. Christ was at the center of his life when he was making tents to pay bills, when he was traveling from place to place to preach the gospel, and when he was relating to both believers and unbelievers, and now here, when he was in prison and as a result of Christ, has transformed his perspective on life. If we place Jesus at the centre he will influence every part of our lives and like Paul, over time, will bear good fruit. We will see ourselves growing in grace and godliness and good character; we’ll have a positive impact on our family and friends and our co-workers; we’ll see the value of church and ministry; and we’ll reach out to our friends and neighbours in the love of Jesus.

Philippians 1 also impacts how we see death. Look at what Paul says into it verse 23 “I’m torn between the two a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.” Paul is teasing out his statement in this verse that to die is gain. He’s saying that when we die our souls go to be with the glorified Jesus and when we’re in His presence everything is peaceful and happy, as we wait for the day when Christ returns and we get our own resurrected bodies to live in the new heaven and the new earth. Death is an enemy but it’s an enemy that Christ has conquered and transformed for those who trust in Him and therefore it has become a means of gain for His people. Our perspective on life, especially when it goes south, is incredibly important because it can either make us or break us, and that’s why it’s so important that we develop a Philippians 1 perspective on life and death. This takes time. A Philippians 1 perspective where we look for the good in the midst of the bad takes time to develop because it’s not natural, it’s supernatural, and so we gain from this kind of perspective.

Let’s look again at verse 19 where Paul says I know that through your prayers and help given by the spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my best. He recognizes he needs God’s grace to maintain his perspective and that will come through their prayers and the Holy Spirit’s help. Paul is saying that through our prayers and God’s choreography on our lives, whatever happens will turn out for the best. We may not see it at this precise moment, we may not feel it in the middle of these tough times, but God will give grace to change our perspective so that, in due time, we can see the good things that have happened.

Finally, our perspective impacts other people. In the closing verses Paul has to go before the emperor for the legal decision on his case but he loves the Philippians and he wants what’s best for them and so, in faith, he makes a statement about remaining in the flesh so that he can be united with them again and minister to them again and everyone can be happy together. And, according to tradition, Paul was released by Nero and continued his ministry in the empire for another six or seven years and yet while he’s still there in prison Paul knew that how he saw his situation would impact everyone around him, the praetorian guards and anyone else he came into contact with. These verses go beyond Paul’s circumstances and his experience, they show us that our perspective on suffering life and death really influences those around us. if we have a Philippians 1 perspective, the perspective that Jesus our Sovereign Savior is actively at work in our lives and that he will more than take care of us in death, that will give us the energy, enthusiasm. A really Paul’s positive impact because a Philippians 1 perspective is really good for each of us and it’s good for all of those around us. Just imagine if every single person listening today by the grace of God developed a Philippians perspective, imagine the joy that we would all experience personally, and then imagine the happiness it would bring to our relationships, our families and our friends. Just imagine if we all prayed that God’s grace would descend on the political process and then the love of Christ we all stepped across the political wire and said we’re about something much, much bigger than perhaps elections or plans or things that need to be done. We are about spreading the Good News of the Gospel because it’s the hope of our nation and the hope of the world. I think that if, by the grace of God, we all did that, everyone around us would be amazed. The Good News of Jesus would expand much further than we can ever imagine or think of and we all would be much happier because Paul shows us that in our message today.

Justice: compassion over complacency?

Preached on: Sunday 18th October 2020
There are no sermon text or Powerpoint pdfs accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Isaiah 5:1-8, 18, 20-23
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Persistence in prayer

Preached on: Sunday 4th October 2020
There is no sermon text or Powerpoint pdfs available for this sermon.
Bible references: Luke 18:1-8
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Without belief! (Passion Wk.6)

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

Trials and Temptations (James 1:9-18)

Preached on: Sunday 12th January 2020
The sermon text is not available.
Bible references: James 1:9-18; Psalm 90:9-17
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Put God first (Haggai 1:1-15)

Preached on: Sunday 20th October 2019
There are no sermon text or Powerpoint pdfs accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Haggai 1:1-15
Location: Brightons Parish Church