Who is the ‘elder brother’ today?

Preached on: Sunday 2nd June 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-06-02-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-morning.
Bible references: Luke 15:11-32
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Luke 15:11-32
Sunday 2nd June 2019
Brightons Parish ChurchIn our sermon series on Luke chapter 15, we have been exploring what these three parables of Jesus reveal to us of our heavenly Father and our focus has primarily been on the sheep, coin and younger son. Each of these three is very clearly lost – the sheep wanders away and the shepherd goes to find it; the coin falls, rolls into a dark corner and the woman hunts high and low; the younger son rebels but is welcomed home by a loving, patient, compassionate and forgiving father.

But in the telling of these three parables, who was the target audience for Jesus? What prompted the telling of these parables in the first place? We read in v1-3:

‘Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering round to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.’ Then Jesus told them this parable…’

There are two groups of people gathering to listen to Jesus: the sinners, the bad people, and the religious leaders, the moral people. And it is the muttering of the religious leaders which prompts Jesus to tell the three parables.

Now, in the parable of the prodigal father, there are two sons – one bad and rebellious, one good and obedient. There are two groups of people are listening to Jesus; there are two sons in the story. So, quite clearly, the elder brother, the one who stays at home,…
portrays the religious leaders. In telling this parable, with its particular characters and ending, Jesus is seeking to speak into the lives of the religious leaders, He is seeking to challenge their way of life just as much as He is seeking to challenge the tax collectors and sinners.

So, what is Jesus saying to them? Well all three parables are about being lost and how we become found, how we return home, how we become reconciled with Father God. The sheep is found, the coin is recovered, the younger son is welcomed home. So, we can naturally conclude that Jesus is saying the elder son is just as lost as the others and that there is a way for him to find his way home as well.

So, in what way is the older son lost? Well, when the elder brother hears that a celebration is being held for the return of the younger son, this is his response:

‘The elder brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”’ (Luke 15: 28-30)

The elder son is furious, furious at the father for the grace and forgiveness and compassion that has been shown to the younger son.
But just like the younger son, the elder son also disgraces the father, for he refuses to go in to what is perhaps the biggest feast and public event the father has ever held. The elder son, remains outside, a vote of no confidence in the father’s actions, a refusal to condone such love and welcome. This forces the father to go out to the elder son, a demeaning thing to do when you are the head of the family and host of a great feast. And in response, the elder son does not address his dad as “esteemed father”, or “my dear father”, but simply with the word “look!” – in our culture, we would probably say “look you!”, and to say that, in a culture of respect and deference to elders, is simply outrageous behaviour. The elder son, in mere minutes, has disgraced his father three times, and in his disgracing of his father, we begin to see how the elder son is lost, for in the midst of his rant he says this:
‘All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.’ (v29)

I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. The elder son has been seeking to earn his way into his father’s good books; by slavish obedience and rigid morality the elder son has become lost. For sure, he toes the line with diligence and self-sacrifice, but it is done out of duty, not love. For sure, he stays in the same house as the father, but he is not at home. For sure, the elder son is within reach of the father, but he is distant in his heart. The elder son is lost, and he is lost because of his good works, not in spite of them.

And so, what Jesus seeks to convey here…
is that you can rebel and be distant from the father, from God, either by breaking His rules, like the younger son, or by keeping all His rules diligently, like the older son. This is the challenge of Jesus to the Pharisees, that by their rule keeping, they are just as lost as the sinners gathered around Jesus. As one commentator wrote, ‘the main barrier between the Pharisees and God is “not their [blatant] sins, but their damnable good works.”’

And sadly, in every generation, across all the millennia of human existence, we have thought we can earn God’s approval, that we can earn salvation, that we can balance the scales and do enough to merit the Father’s love, to merit access to heaven, by our good deeds. But the teaching of the Christian faith, the teaching of Jesus and of the early church, challenges that very idea.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans: ‘For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.’
(Romans 3:20)

He also wrote to the Galatians: ‘we know we cannot become right with God by obeying the Law. A man is made right with God by putting his trust in Jesus Christ…No man can be made right with God by obeying the Law.’ (Gal. 2:16)

Jesus himself taught the same thing, for in another parable He said, ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said,
“God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” ‘I tell you,’ said Jesus, ‘that this man, rather than the other, went home right with God.’ (Luke 18:10-14)

In every generation of human existence, there have always been elder brothers, like the Pharisees, who have sought to be their own Saviour and Lord, and who have been blind to this reality in their lives.

But the teaching of the Scriptures, the teaching of Jesus, calls out to us – challenging that tendency within…

all our hearts to think we can do enough, to think we can be our own Saviour.

Friends, on a day when we have heard a profession of faith in Jesus and come to celebrate the meal that reminds us of the sacrifice of Jesus, can I ask you: who is your Saviour? On what grounds does the Father accept you? On what grounds are your sins forgiven? On what grounds will you get into heaven?

If you think you don’t need forgiveness, then that is a sign you are lost. If you think God will overlook your sin, then that is a sign you are lost. If you think the Father accepts you and will welcome you into the kingdom of heaven … because you’ve tried to be good, and you’re not as bad as other people, then that too is a sign you are lost.
But the Good News of the Christian faith is both frightfully challenging and wonderfully liberating: you can’t be your own Saviour, yet Jesus died and rose to save you, and He is a Saviour you can fully trust.

In preparation for today, Alan and I worked through the Open Door material, and we spent some time talking about this verse from John chapter 1:

‘Yet to all who did receive him [Jesus], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.’ (v12)

You are never welcomed into the family of God through good works, nor the family you were born into, nor attendance at church or being a member –
as Alan and I discussed, we enter God’s family, we come home to God, when we believe in Jesus and receive Him. It’s not enough to have the right thoughts, the right beliefs, about Jesus – even the demons know who Jesus is.

But when we act upon our beliefs, then we receive Jesus: to receive Jesus, we must acknowledge that we need forgiveness, we must trust in Jesus for that forgiveness by asking for it, and we must submit to Him as King, as Lord, of our lives.

The Good News of the Christian faith is both frightfully challenging and wonderfully liberating: you can’t be your own Saviour, there’s no shortcut, there’s no back door into the family of God, it’s only through Jesus.
Yet, wonderfully, He makes it so easy, you must simply ask for His forgiveness, and yet it is also so costly, for you must submit to Him as Lord of your life.

In the parable of the prodigal Father, the younger son, the rebellious one, he comes home, he accepts the Father’s ways. But it is the elder son, the obedient one, who refuses to come in; he refuses to accept the Father’s ways, he refuses the way of grace and love and forgiveness.

Friends, who will we be? Who are we?

Are we younger sons and daughters, ready to acknowledge our need of forgiveness,…
to depend on the grace of Father God, and come home by trusting in His means of salvation through Jesus?

Or, are we elder brothers and sisters, blind to our true condition and seeking to be our own Saviour and refusing to bow the knee to Jesus?

Who is your Saviour? Is it yourself and your damnable good deeds? Or is it Jesus?

Who is your Saviour, my friends? I pray it will be Jesus.

The Father: compassionate and running

Preached on: Sunday 19th May 2019
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: Luke 15:11-20 and Romans 5:6-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Luke 15:11-20 and Romans 5:6-11
Sunday 19th May 2019
Brightons Parish Church
Let us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

We are now part way through our sermon series on Luke chapter 15, and we have been slowing down to really explore what these three parables of Jesus reveal to us of our heavenly Father.

We’ve seen that Father God loves with a seeking and prodigal love, that we are so precious to God that He seeks us out like a lost coin or sheep, and then in the example of the father and his lost son, we see a God who is extravagantly patient and recklessly generous in love.
We’ve also asked whether it is possible to hold onto belief in such a good God in light of the brokenness of our world.

To get us into this week’s focus, I wonder if you would turn to your neighbour, and try to come up with a working definition for compassion. I’ll give you one minute. Go!
(PAUSE)

Compassion has been defined as suffering with someone in their pain and distress. It means to come alongside someone in their suffering and to feel what they feel. It means far more than just pity – it is empathetic love. It involves the engagement of both the heart and the hand
– the heart in sharing in another’s pain,…
the hand in reaching out to help. Compassion, in short, is about participation, not detachment. It is about actions more than words. It is about ‘suffering love.’

It can be hard to picture compassion sometimes but when we see it, it is so very powerful. During the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, British athlete Derek Redmond ran in the 400 metres semi-final, which was the fulfilment of a dream for him. But 100 metres into the race he fell on the track, having torn a hamstring. Here is a video of what happened – look out for the moment of compassion.
(PLAY VIDEO)

What was unknown to most folks at the time, was that the man who helped Derek reach the finish line was his dad, Jim…
His father, seeing his son’s distress, came alongside him – Jim refused to let guards deter him, he even pushed one over, because he was driven by compassion, by suffering love, to help his child finish that race.

We read today these words: ‘But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms round him and kissed him.’ (v20) The father saw the younger son and was filled with compassion for him.

This father had watched his precious child rebel and go off the rails, shaming the father and disappearing off into the sunset, with no intention of ever returning. But every day the father had been looking. Whenever a merchant came into the village, the father would ask,…
‘Have you seen him? Have you seen my son? Have you seen him on your travels, especially in the far country?’

And every time he would see that blank stare, that look which signalled ‘no’. Every day the father lived with the gossip and the rumour-mongering in the village. Every night the father stayed awake and no one ever saw the tears that streamed down his face as he relived the agonising day of his son’s departure. No one saw the heaving of his shoulders as he gave way to quiet grief.

Yet, every day he patiently waited, he kept up hope, sitting on the flat roof of his house, looking towards the horizon. Then, one day, he caught sight of a familiar outline. He rubbed his eyes, blinked several time, and peered again. Could it be? Is it he?
At first the father feels shock, then momentary hesitation, but finally, certainty sets in, as he becomes sure it is his precious child, and with gut-wrenching emotion filling his entire being, the father can’t help himself anymore and he runs towards his son.

When we read that one little verse, we almost skip over it – we might be tempted to think, “well of course he did that, that’s obvious, who wouldn’t run to their child?”

But we need to remember the cultural dynamics at the time when this parable was told. As a general rule, distinguished Middle Eastern patriarchs did not run. There was a proverb around at the time: ‘A man’s manner of walking tells you what he is.’ Children might run; women might run; young men might run…
But not the father of the family, the dignified pillar of the community, the owner of the great estate. He would not pick up his robes and bare his legs like some boy. It was shameful and dishonourable for a man over 30 to be seen running in public, because quite literally you would be revealing your undergarments. No man who held honour highly enough would ever do that.

But this father does. He runs to his son – his feet move in response to his heart, to the deep well of compassion in the bowels of his very being; his love for his child is so deep that he will overcome all embarrassment and social conventions to reach his child.

So, what does Jesus hope to reveal of our heavenly Father in this parable? Well, we are clearly meant to see that our heavenly Father is filled with compassion towards us.

A few weeks ago, we saw that we each are like the younger son, we each have told God that He is as good as dead to us, that we want no part of Him, even though we want all the good stuff He has given us. We considered the agony that God would feel in response to such a rejection, a rejection, which if we suffered it, would result in a temper tantrum and the end of the relationship.

But Jesus is revealing something else entirely – Father God feels such compassion for us that He will pay a price to be reconciled to us. And that very price is summed up for us by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans: ‘But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Rom. 5:8)

While we were still far off rebels, telling God to drop dead, He literally did – He laid down His life to make it possible for us to be forgiven. At the very moment when we were furthest away, the Father took the initiative. Even though we have sinned by rejecting Him, the Father decided to act. The justice of God said that human beings must experience the consequences of their rejection of God, and so experience separation from Him eternally. But the love of God said that this could not be the end of the story. So, out of this tension in the heart of God, the Father acted in history – He showed His great compassion for us by sending His one and only Son to die the death that we deserved…

Our heavenly Father, is a God who runs to rescue us, He is truly the God who saves, for at the Cross we see God’s love come running towards us, with outstretched arms, defusing the power of guilt and shame in any son or daughter who will return home.

If you feel far away from God, then remember the Father whom Jesus reveals in this parable – the Father who is waiting for you to come home. God’s heart is not filled with anger and hatred towards you, He loves you with a suffering love, with such compassion that He died in the person of His Son to bring you home, He is for you and His arms are opened wide. I asked a few weeks ago, friends, but just in case anyone was not here to hear it, I’ll ask it again – do you need to come home to God?

To be a Christian, is to come home to God – where God becomes the centre of your life, such that you build your life upon Him and He shapes your choices, your values, your priorities – that’s when you know you live for God, that’s when you know you’ve come home. That’s true repentance.

And God is lovingly waiting for us, my friends – if you haven’t returned to God, will you come home to God? If you’re unsure how to begin that journey home, then come speak with me after the service, and you can come home to God today.

But for those of us who have returned home, then there is the call of God upon our lives to grow up in the family likeness and take up the family business: we are to grow in the compassion of God and take up the reconciling work of God.
I know that you are a socially compassionate church – I have seen and felt it personally. I have seen you give of your time and of your money and of your love to help folks in desperate need and real sadness and brokenness. I am not speaking into these aspects of our congregational life, for there you do reflect the love of God.

But Jesus did not tell this parable to challenge us to be more loving in practical ways – that’s the parable of the Good Samaritan. No, Jesus told this parable in the context of helping His listeners understand the Father’s desire to be reconciled to us. In this instance, to reflect the compassion of God, is to take up the family business and help people come back into relationship with God, to come back home to God; that’s what Jesus was about here, that’s how the compassion of God was being displayed.
So, let me ask you, brothers and sisters in Christ: will we get out of the stands and get alongside others to help them finish the race? Like Derek Redmond’s father, will we get out of the comfort of the pew, or our homes, or our church groups, and will we break with convention, expectation, or even political correctness so as to come alongside others in compassion with the Good News of Jesus Christ? Will we wave off embarrassment, excuses of age or ability, or the apathy within our hearts and get out into our parish with the Good News of these very parables?

I realise it’s not easy; I am not a natural evangelist either.
Every time I stand up here and ask you to come home to God, I don’t do it well and every fibre of my being cringes.
But I know I’ve to do it because I know God wants as many as possible to come home to Him.

So, today I want to share with you in these closing moments, two initiatives to help us grow and show the compassion of God in this particular way.

The first is the prayer initiative you will have found in your news sheet. (READ SHEET) (WATCH VIDEO)

So, that’s the first initiative. As it happens, the time for Thy Kingdom Come, comes right before we are seeking to have our weekend of invitation here at Brightons Church on Sunday 9th June…

The idea with this initiative is for us to invite someone to church that weekend. To help with this, we’ve produced a simple invitation that will go out with the next copy of the Bright Lights magazine. The elders’ hope is that those who don’t regularly attend might be encouraged to come back. But also, that those of us who do come regularly, might take the invitation and use it to invite someone else along on the 9th June. This might be a neighbour, family member, colleague at work.

I realise that this is a big step for a lot of us – it’s a big step for me. So, that’s why we are coupling it with prayer – because we will never invite someone without deep compassion and conviction, and really, that only comes about as the Holy Spirit works in us and we talk with God in prayer about our fears, our hopes, our need for help.
So, please consider joining in prayer and using your invitation to share the compassion of our heavenly Father with those who are in your life, and invite them to not only to come to church, but to come home to God.

Can God really be this good?

Preached on: Sunday 12th May 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-05-12-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-morning-website.
Bible references: Luke 15:1-10 and Romans 8:18-39
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Luke 15:1-10 and Romans 8:18-39
Sunday 12th May 2019
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Over the last few weeks we’ve begun our sermon series on Luke chapter 15, exploring what these three parables of Jesus reveal to us of our heavenly Father.

We’ve seen that Father God loves with a seeking and prodigal love, for in the example of the shepherd and the woman we see a God who seeks us out, so as to rescue us from our lostness, because we are that precious to God. And then in the example of the father and his lost son, we see a God who loves with such extravagance patience and such reckless generosity that He is truly the one that is prodigal in His love and in His waiting.
This week I want to attempt to respond to one question that can arise in our minds in response to these parables. It is a question that can arise in response to many passages or come to us amidst the varied events of life. And the question is this: can God really be this good? You may even want to shorten it to: is God good?

After seeing and hearing about a good heavenly Father who loves with a seeking and prodigal love, such that He patiently waits for us, is it truly possible to hold on to such a view of our heavenly Father when all around us we see a terribly broken world with so much pain and hardship? Is it possible to hold the tension between the goodness of God and the suffering in the world?

It is a question that people have asked across the ages, and indeed one that Christians have asked across the centuries, for many of our New Testament letters and gospels were written amidst periods of great suffering, particularly persecution. It can be helpful to remember, that the authors of the New Testament were not only seeking to share the Good News of the Christian faith or how to live godly lives; those very same authors were often seeking to help the Church at large understand how to hold the tension between a belief in a good heavenly Father who loves with a seeking, prodigal love, whilst at the same time experiencing brutal treatment and even death for their faith in Jesus Christ.

And likely, this question, this tension, is one which many, if not all of us, have wrestled with, or are still wrestling with.
Indeed, I suspect that few of us ever really settle the issue fully, and instead, we are forced by the repeated hardships of life to re-evaluate where we have got to in our handling of the tension. And I phrase it that way quite deliberately – “where we have got to in our handling of the tension” – because to say we should or can reach an answer, or a conclusion on the issue seems, to me, to be unlikely and maybe even unhelpful.

Four years ago, my family went through some really hard times, which I won’t share today, because I don’t want those times to become the focus of our attention. But shortly after those difficult experiences, we met someone who knew what had happened, but we hadn’t seen this person in a while. In the brief conversation they had with us,
I think they sought to give us a measure of support and encouragement.
However, what they shared with us was anything but that, because to try and tell us that “God only lets these things happen to people whom He knows can handle them” is not pastorally sensitive and I wouldn’t recommend saying it any time soon.

To claim to have answers to these questions is, in my experience, very unhelpful. Sure, we all want answers, but I’m just not certain God gives that many on these particular issues. Yet what that person shared, was probably shared out of where they were at in their own handling of the tension between belief in a good Father and the very apparent hardships of life. And likewise, what you’ll get from me today is borne out of my four years of wrestling with the issues, in light of the Scriptures, and represents some of where I have got to in my own thinking… But most likely, my own thinking will continue to adapt, and hopefully mature, with the passing of time and the gaining of experience in pastoral ministry.

So, all that was introduction and setting the scene, but is it possible to hold the tension between the goodness of God and the suffering in the world? For myself, I think I have managed to reach a point where I can live with that tension, and I can do so because of what the Scriptures teach about the Christian faith.

Firstly, the Scriptures clearly face up to the reality of suffering in our world, and the Christian faith has always done so. Indeed, the Apostle Paul never tries to hide the fact of suffering and often he goes as far as to highlight it.
We read today: ‘For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration…in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay…We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.’ (Romans 8:19-23)

Here Paul highlights that all of creation groans in its current state, that it yearns to be liberated from its bondage to decay. When Greek speakers talked about things decaying, they were referring to the tendency of living things to become sick, tired, or die…
and it included the inevitable process by which material objects collapsed and food spoiled. So, the biblical tradition affirms the perspective that our world is broken, that it is not what it once was or should be, that it is not what God intended it to be.

But Paul is also aware that it is not only the wider creation which groans – we, human beings, also groan for something more, we groan to be free of the degeneration, sickness and death we see around us or experience. And this groaning is there just as much for Christian folk – for Paul affirms that we Christians continue to groan ourselves, that we are not exempt from problems, and sadness, and disappointment.

So, the Scriptures clearly face up to the reality of suffering and of our innate yearning for liberation from such circumstances; there is then no belittling of our experiences, there is no exhortation to a stiff upper lip, there is no encouragement towards a faith that either ignores these hardships by sticking one’s head in the sand, nor towards a faith that is so spiritually minded that it glosses over the difficult times. The Christian faith is not scared to admit that the world is a mess – yet it also affirms the continued validity of faith and of being able to hold the tension between the goodness of God and the suffering we see around us.

The ability to hold that tension is possible, I think, because of two incredible facets of the Christian faith.

Firstly, we have hope. Paul writes: ‘I consider that our present sufferings [do not compare] with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration…in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God…we ourselves…groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.’

In the Christian faith we have hope, specifically, we have hope that this is not the end, that God hasn’t given up, that God Himself hasn’t been defeated, but that more is in store. And what is in store, is that there is a ‘glory that will be revealed in us’ (v18), there is a ‘freedom and glory’ for us the children of God (v21), and there will be a future ‘adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies’ (v23). These are phrases worth unpacking a little.

When Paul speaks here of ‘glory’ we need to remind ourselves of what else he has associated ‘glory’ with in the letter to the Romans: God’s immortality (1:23), the immortality of those to whom God gives eternal life (2:7), the power of God that raised Jesus from the dead (6:4). So, in all these instances Paul associates ‘glory’ with the expectation of sharing in the resurrection life of Jesus and His immortality. Elsewhere, Paul writes in Philippians: ‘But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who…will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.’ (Philippians 3:20-21)
When Paul speaks of ‘glory’ in Romans 8 this is what he has in mind – of a glory that will come to us from outside and transform us personally, such that it is ‘revealed in us’, in our physical, resurrected bodies.

Paul also writes, in the 3rd bullet point, that ‘we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.’ (v23) This is not to say that we aren’t children of God already, because we are, and Paul has affirmed that very reality in v16-17. But there is a sense in which our adoption is also in the future because we don’t experience now the fullness of what has been won for us by God in that we still have bodies which decay. In that sense, our salvation and redemption are still something we are waiting for, even if we have the firstfruits of it now.
So, in all this, Paul affirms the hope the Christian has, the hope they received when they placed their faith in Jesus: that the suffering and injustice which we experience will one day give way to God’s re-created world, and in that “new creation” we will no longer grow weak, fall apart, or die but will live in immortality. Moreover, God will also release the world around us from the effects of sin, and so both we and the world will be free from all suffering. In that new creation our existence will be like that of Jesus Himself, who presently lives in immortality and in a loving relationship with Father God.

So, whilst the suffering in the world currently obscures the glory which is ours, that glory will one day be revealed in full, but in the meantime, we hope – we hope for what we do not yet have; we hope, we wait with expectation… for a future in which every tear will be wiped away, and then there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the present order of things will have passed away.

This hope is part of what helps me hold the tension, when faced with the realities of life, that our God is truly good, because He hasn’t left us or deserted us, He hasn’t been defeated, instead, He has secured for us a future beyond our present comprehension, a future that is good.

And God has secured that future through His works and especially the person and work of His Son. Let’s begin with the works of God. Paul writes: ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.’ (Romans 8:28-30)

Many of us will know that first line and may have found comfort in its words for our own lives. But I must admit, until this week I struggled to find much comfort in them, probably because I read more into those words than may actually be there. So often, I think we understand these words to say that God orchestrates the suffering of life or that God brings good out of the sufferings of life, that He is working all things together for good.
But renowned biblical scholar John Stott admits himself that this rendering of the words is ‘to be rejected, since all things do not automatically work themselves together into a pattern of good.’ And so, I think it might be helpful to review what Paul could be saying here.

Let’s unpack a few key words. ‘God works for the good…’- what is ‘the good’ here? Well, in the context of the passage, ‘the good’ is the glory which God has prepared for us, the glory in which we hope. That final future, that the new creation, where we shall share in the resurrection life of Jesus, with glorified bodies in a perfect new heaven and new earth – that is the good which Paul means, that is the purpose which God has for those who love Him, who are part of the people of God.

And if that is the good, then the ‘works’ which God does, are the actions of God which create, sustain and bring His people into the glory He has provided. And so, we read, ‘For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.’ (v29-30)

These are the ‘works’ of God, coupled with what Paul said in v26-27, that God has given us His Spirit to ‘help us in our weakness’ – He has given the Spirit to sustain us through the times of suffering and ensure that one day we will reach the glory in which we currently hope.

And so, if that is the ‘works’ of God, which bring about ‘the good’ He has planned and provided, then to say that God works ‘in all things’, is to say that in the midst of all things, in the midst of all circumstances and times of difficulty, God is at work, but His works are to help and sustain, to comfort and see us through into the glory He has purposed for us. That is how God works in all things.

So, it need not mean, and may not mean, that God orchestrates your suffering or that He will work all things together for good. Because, to be honest, I think we end up minimalizing so much suffering by our over-reaching with this verse, and we possibly over-reach because we want an answer to the “why?”, because we don’t like the tension and the unresolved questions.
But in our seeking to resolve it, we may go too far, and unnecessarily too far, because our hope is not undermined and God’s purpose is not defeated, His works are not thwarted, and His love remains strong and sure, despite the tensions, despite the questions – and all because of what we read next in Paul’s writings:

‘What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?…we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced…[nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 8:31-32, 37-39)

In the four years of my wrestling with the tension of believing in a good heavenly Father, yet experiencing the reality of our world, the Cross is what has got me through – that on the Cross, God died, in the person of His Son, for love of me, to secure a glory beyond anything that I can imagine and so guarantee reunion with those I have lost.

That foundational truth has got me through, has allowed me to hold the tension, because in the Cross I know that God is “for me”, and in the Cross and resurrection of Jesus, I know with certainty that God was won a sweeping victory, such that we are more than mere conquerors over the enemies of sin, flesh, decay, death or shame; none of these will prevail against the purposes of God because of our Saviour.

In the Cross of Jesus, I see a God who is concerned with our suffering, is concerned with our plight, such that He did something about it – He sought us out, as the parables of Jesus affirm; He died to reconcile us to Himself through the forgiveness of our sin, securing for us a place in God’s family, and thus one day full conformity to the image, to the likeness, of His glorified, His immortal Son.

Is it possible to hold the tension between the goodness of God and the suffering in life? Is God truly as good as the parables of Jesus portray? I’ve managed to reach a point where I can live with that tension, because I see in our faith, a God who knows our suffering, who cares about our suffering, who never minimises our suffering, and so
He did something about it in Jesus,…
He entered into our suffering and so in Jesus, I see the love of God and I find hope, a God-given hope, of a future glory.

To Him be the praise and honour, this day and for ever.
Amen.

The Father: patient and waiting

Preached on: Sunday 5th May 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-05-05-Sermon-PowerPoint.
Bible references: Luke 15:11-20
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Luke 15:11-20
Sunday 5th May 2019
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Last week we began our sermon series on Luke chapter 15 and we took quite a broad overview of the chapter, looking at each of the three parables Jesus told.

In the first two parables, Jesus spoke about a shepherd going in search of his lost sheep and a woman going in search of her lost coin. In the third parable, we explored the story of a father and his younger son. To help us understand what Jesus is getting at with these parables, we need to remember what He said to His disciples:

‘All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’ (Mt. 11:27) Here Jesus helps the disciples understand that He knows the Father perfectly, that Jesus is the ultimate authority on what the Father is actually like, and that part of His mission is to reveal the Father to others.

So, in our three parables from Luke 15, Jesus is seeking to help us grasp the character of Father God, and to see what the Father prioritises and how He interacts with the world. Last week, we saw that Father God loves with a seeking and prodigal love, that in the example of the shepherd and the woman we see a God who seeks us out, so as to rescue us from our lostness, because God never writes us off.

And then in the example of the father and his lost son, we see a God who loves with such extravagance and such reckless generosity that He can truly be described as prodigal.

In the coming weeks, we’ll take some time to dig a little deeper into some of the other traits which Jesus gives us of Father God, and we’ll also ask some of the questions that arise out of these parables, especially the parable of the prodigal father and his two sons.

Since arriving here in Brightons, I’ve generally had a Friday off to look after my daughter Hope. A common feature of my days off to go swimming together and we’ve been doing that since she was about one year old.

Now-a-days, I know not to fit in too many things before or after swimming, but in my foolish youth, I often attempted to fit in a bit of shopping as well. When Hope was younger, it generally worked quite easily, because she would sit in the trolley, interact or eat away on something. But when she could start walking, that brought its own challenges, because my daughter refused to go in the trolley any more.

The experience helps me empathise with a short story I read this week: a man is in a supermarket, pushing a trolley which contained, among other things, a screaming baby. As the man proceeded along the aisles, he kept repeating softly,’Keep calm, George. Don’t get excited, George. Don’t get excited, George. Don’t yell, George.’

A lady watching with admiration said to the man, ‘You are certainly to be commended for your patience in trying to quiet little George.’

‘Lady,’ he declared, ‘I’m George.’

How I feel that father’s pain! Keeping our patience is such a difficult thing, whether with children, or colleagues, or family members, neighbours, or even here, we can rub each other up the wrong way.

Patience has been defined as a state of suffering with fortitude, as the ability to endure evils without complaining. The word comes from a Latin word meaning ‘suffering’, and has the idea of being able to endure much, to be ‘long-suffering’, of enduring without giving way to fury or to flight.

In the parable we read today, the third from Luke chapter 15, we are reminded of the younger son’s request and of the father’s response. Last week we saw how shockingly offensive these remarks by the younger son are: ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ (Lk. 15:12) To say such a thing in the context of Middle Eastern customs would be the equivalent of someone here saying: “I can’t wait until your dead. I want the money now.”
And then, to sell that portion of the estate, whilst the father was still alive, showed a total lack of decency and effectively said of the father, “To me, you don’t exist any more.” Ouch!

In all of this, the younger son rejects his father, he rejects the Father personally, he rejects the fathers ancestry, he rejects the father’s way of life and what he stood for.

Now, I find it hard to keep my cool when Hope decides she doesn’t want the lunch I’ve prepared – a lunch she specifically asked for, let me tell you – and yet here is a child causing untold hurt on multiple levels as he rejects his father so completely.

At this point in the story, following the customs of the time, the original listeners would be expecting a traditional Middle Eastern response from the father, which would have involved him driving out the son from the family with nothing less than physical blows.

And yet, the father, does nothing like that. We read that: ‘So the father divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, and set off for a distant country.’ (Lk. 15:12-13) Instead of responding with blows, the father patiently endures a tremendous loss of honour as well as the pain of rejected love. Ordinarily, when our love is rejected, we get angry, we retaliate and do what we can so that we don’t hurt as much.
But this father maintains his patience, and so his affection, for his son. The father bears the agony – he is truly long-suffering, he endures without giving way to fury or flight, and he doesn’t compile rejection upon rejection.

And in this wonderfully moving story, we see a portrayal of our heavenly Father, who loves with a seeking and prodigal love, and does so with great patience towards us, His children.

I wonder, to what measure do we reflect this kind of patience? It is a of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, it should be increasingly seen in our lives if we are followers of Jesus.

Leonardo da Vinci once said:
‘Patience serves as a protection against wrongs, as clothes do against cold. For if you put on more clothes as the cold increases, it will have no power to hurt you. So in like manner you must grow in patience when you meet with great wrongs, and they will then be less powerful to vex your mind.’

This quote reminds me of what a friend once said: Christians should be the least offendable people anyone knows. Christians should be the least offendable people anyone knows. If makes sense, if you think about it a moment – if we are growing in the fruit of the Spirit, particularly love and patience, then we really shouldn’t take offence at very much, should we?
Paul says to the Colossians that we are to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, as well as bearing with one another and forgiving as quickly and fully as we have been forgiven by the Lord. So, we should be the least offendable people around, should we not? But, let me ask: how quickly do you take offence? How long do you hold on to a grievance? What hurts are you still holding on to and allowing to vex your mind?

These are hard questions to face up to – but we must, because we are called to reflect our heavenly Father. So, maybe it is time friends, for us to face up to the lack of patience in our lives? Maybe it is time to face up to all the ways we are short with one another,…
or where we become easily irritated, or hold onto a grudge or offence made against us? Because, the God we serve, and whom we call our heavenly Father, He is prodigal in His patience towards us, and we are called to reflect Him.

In addition to the father showing great patience and longsuffering at the beginning of the story, in response to such terrible treatment by his younger son, we also see another facet of the father’s patience and a little later in the parable.

In v20 we read: ‘So [the younger son] got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms round him and kissed him.’ The younger son has come to his senses, he has realised the folly of his choices and the selfishness of his actions, indeed, he probably realises the great shame he brought on his father and so the pain he also inflicted. But in his desperation, he still goes back to his father. And what do we read? ‘But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him…’

His father saw him. His father was looking out for him. Who knows how long the father had been watching? Long enough for his son to burn through a fortune, then become desperate, so desperate that he will work on a pig farm, which is offensive to Jews, and still longer than that because the son endures part of a famine as well.

The father likely waited a long time. He was longsuffering. He was patient. Who knows how many days he squinted in the sunlight, peering into the horizon, for the slightest hint of movement? Who knows how many nights he lit a torch and walked the boundaries of his home waiting on his son?

But the father did it, and he did it, because he loves with a prodigal, seeking love which will not allow him to give up being patient towards his precious child.

How many of us have waited patiently for something? It can feel like agony, but in these particular circumstances, it surely would have been near unbearable for the father.
To help us get a true feel of this, Christian author, Philip Yancey, has rewritten the parable in today’s context and I’ve made it fit our situation, so let me read it to you.

(READ FROM BOOK: ‘The Father You’ve Been Waiting For’ by Mark Stibbe, pg179-183.)

Her father waited. Her father waited with patience beyond our comprehension, probably with great agony, and he did so because he loved her so very much.

Friends, Jesus told the parable, and Yancey retold the parable in today’s language, so that we could see and appreciate afresh the prodigal love and patience of God – not with a fictional character, but with you and me.
We, each, are younger sons and daughters – we, each, have told God to drop dead, that we want His stuff: life, pleasure, the wonders of this creation, satisfaction in work, the enjoyment of family…many good, good things actually…and yet, we’d rather not have God – in fact, God is as good as dead to us.

Now, you know how much agony it feels when we are rejected, and you can imagine some of the agony the parents of the girl in the story must have felt. But imagine with me the agony God must feel, when we reject Him? Imagine loving with a perfect love – not the measure of love that you and I have towards our children, or the measure of love felt by the girls’ parents – but rather a perfect, pure love, a love that is so holy, so other,…
that it defines love? What degree of agony does someone face when they love that strongly and they are rejected?

Friends, God loves you that much, that perfectly, and His heart breaks for you to return to Him and live in relationship with Him as His child. In His very great patience, fuelled by prodigal love, God waits, God suffers, for you, for you to return to Him.

Let me ask: have you returned to God yet? Would you call yourself a Christian? Would you say that God is the centre of your life? Being a Christian, being a child of God, is much more than coming to church, or giving your offering, or even being loving and patient.

To be a Christian, is to come home to God – that God becomes the centre of your life, such that you build your life upon Him and He shapes your choices, your values, your priorities – that’s when you know you live for God, that’s when you know you’ve come home. That’s true repentance.

And God is lovingly waiting for us, my friends – if you haven’t returned to God, will you come home to God today?

But God is lovingly waiting for any of us who have grown cold towards Him, despite being a Christian – for us too, He waits, and calls us home once more. If that is you, will you hear the call of God today and return home to Him?
Will you come back into His embrace and know His prodigal love for you? Because, even for you, God patiently waits, He waits for all of us to respond today, and every day, to His love.

May we all come home to God. Let us pray.

Prodigal and Extravagent God

Preached on: Sunday 28th April 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-04-28-Sermon-Powerpoint-morning.
Bible references: Luke 15:1-32
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Luke 15:1-32
Sunday 28th April 2019
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

In my own devotional time, where I read the Bible, journal and pray, I usually prefer to work through a chapter of the Bible each day, working steadily through a book of the Bible over a period of time. But this year, I’ve been taking a chapter of a devotional book written by a British pastor and reflecting on the theme of that chapter over a few days, maybe even the whole week in some cases. I’ve found it to be a helpful change of pace because it has allowed me to dwell within a theme or passage for a longer period of time, rather than rushing through the Scriptures, and with that different insights have come from the very same theme or passage.
Over the weeks up to the summer break, we’re going to adopt a similar approach with Luke chapter 15 and especially with the verses relating to the parable of the lost son. My hope is that by taking the time to dwell in this small portion of Scripture, we might then see the richness of these parables and appreciate as much of their relevance for our lives as possible.

To get us started, I wonder if you might turn to your neighbour and for one minute, share with them what the last thing you lost was? You’ve got 1 minute – so go!

We loose stuff all the time – keys, wallets, glasses, hopefully not the kids or grandkids too often But I also have friends who within themselves feel lost at times – they are confused, maybe unsure about the future, struggling to join the dots or chart a way forward, maybe stuck in a never-ending cycle of difficulty. It is not only stuff that we lose, we can lose a whole lot more than that.

In the time of Jesus, the people of God, the Israelites, had lost things too – they had lost their independence and were now governed by Rome; they had lost the glory days when the royal line of David sat upon the throne such that the nation prospered. Much had been lost and the people longed for God to fulfil His promises to send the
Messiah, the promised King,…
the One who would rebuild the nation, restoring hope and justice and peace, and ushering in the very kingdom of God upon the earth.

So, when Jesus comes on the scene and rumours start to fly that He might be the Messiah, well, it raised all sorts of questions, including for the religious leaders. Because the religious leaders had their ideas of what the Messiah might be like and what He would achieve; they had a vision of how God’s kingdom would take shape and, in particular, who would qualify for membership in the kingdom of God.

For the Pharisees, moral and religious purity was paramount. They believed that God would only restore what Israel had lost if, and when, the nation turned to God and followed God’s law more completely.

But for all the religious leaders, Jesus posed a quandary: on the one hand, Jesus was doing and saying some incredible things, things that no one could do if God wasn’t with Him. But on the other hand, He was saying and doing some things that went completely against each and every school of religious thought within Judaism.

For the Pharisees, one particular issue is that: ‘This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.’ (v2). The ‘them’ here is the ‘tax collectors and sinners’ who were gathering around to hear Jesus (v1). For the Pharisees, this is a complete breach of God’s law, there is no way
God would sanction such behaviour,…
and God is certainly not going to restore what has been lost to Israel as a result. Indeed, there was a Rabbinic saying which read: ‘Let not a man associate with the wicked, not even to bring him to the Law.’

The wicked were cut off – they were of no value – even if they might have been persuaded to follow the Law and become part of God’s people. No, those tax collectors were written off – they were lackeys and disloyal – and those sinners, well they’re so immoral and unclean that they are of no value either, neither will have no place in the kingdom of God, neither will not feature in what God will bring through the Messiah. And so, they mutter against Jesus, ‘This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them’ (v2) –
because how could any possible Messiah eat with such people, and in doing so, show them acceptance and solidarity?

I wonder, do you ever feel ‘lost’ in these ways? Do you feel cut-off, or that you don’t fit? Maybe you feel of lesser value, or that you don’t make the grade? Maybe you are caught in a lifestyle that is unhelpful, which no one else even notices, and it isn’t the head-line grabbing, but it still makes life hard, and leaves you feeling lost?

Or maybe you look at your life, or the life of those you care about, and it’s not what you want it to be, and you wonder: have I done wrong, has God abandoned me, is God punishing me? Is that the kind of lostness you face?

There comes a time in all our lives, maybe more often than we’d prefer, when it is more than our keys which are lost, and in those moments, I wonder what, if any, hope you would take from your faith?

In our passage today, Jesus speaks into the lostness of His audience. To those first hearers, both the religious elite and the religiously bankrupt, Jesus shares Good News, for the three parables are His answer to the questioning and objections He faces.

In the first two parables a singular portrayal of God is conveyed. Jesus begins with a story of a shepherd and his lost sheep. The shepherd has 100 sheep, but one has wandered away and become lost. And so, the shepherd goes looking for that one, individual sheep,…
leaving the 99 behind. It may seem foolish to our ears for the shepherd to leave the 99 so as to search for the one. But likely, the shepherd knew that the 99 would be safe in the sheepfold, probably being cared for by other shepherds, whereas the lost sheep was in danger. Because each sheep was of high value, any shepherd knew that it was worthwhile to search diligently for the lost one.

Jesus simply appeals to common custom on how a shepherd would care for his sheep, that it was worth the shepherd’s time and effort to search far and wide for that one lost sheep.

Then in the second parable, a woman has 10 coins, and she loses one,…

prompting a thorough search of her small property. These coins may have been the woman’s life savings, or they might have been coins she received as a wedding gift, as was the custom of the time. Either way, the loss of a coin would be a serious matter for this poor woman, and so she hunts high and low for that one lost coin.

What is striking about both these parables, is how they overturn Rabbinic teaching of the time.

Jewish scholar, C.G. Montefiore, saw in the parable of the shepherd a new idea about God, for the rabbis agreed that God would welcome the penitent sinner, but the idea that God takes the initiative, that God seeks out the lost and brings them home, that God is a seeking God, well that is distinctive to the teaching of Jesus.
Similarly, among the rabbinic writings there is the lost coin motif, but it is used very differently. ‘If a man keeps seeking for a lost coin [how] much more should he seek for the Law’, said the rabbis. But there is no rabbinic equivalent to God’s seeking of lost coins, and certainly not of lost individuals.

The characteristic feature of these two parables is that the Lord goes out to seek what is lost even before that individual turns to God. What Jesus reveals to the religious elite and to the religiously bankrupt is that God loves with an extraordinary love: God never says, “It is but one; let it go; enough remain.” God will never nonchalantly say, “You win some; you lose some.” No, no, no, says Jesus….
The Father’s heart is one of seeking love, for if a shepherd will go to this much effort to recover a sheep and if a woman will go to this much effort to recover a coin, how much more effort will God exert to recover a lost person!

In the teaching of Jesus, in His revelation of the Father’s heart, “it is now the case that repentance comes by means of grace” – for Jesus, grace is the first thing, the unmerited favour and affection of God comes first, and then repentance comes as a response to grace.

Friends, do you see what Jesus is teaching us? Do you see what He reveals of Father God’s heart for you and I? Do you appreciate that God loves with a love that seeks us out?
In all the ways we can get ourselves lost, from destructive life choices, to inner confusion, to an eternal future without God – across the whole gambit of what it means to be lost, God seeks you out, He seeks to set you free and bring you into life in all its fullness. And He does it all, because He loves with an extraordinary love.

And yet, Jesus goes one step further, for in His telling of a third parable, He really flips everyone’s ideas of God upside down. The story is familiar to many of us: there was a father who had two sons. The younger asked for his share of the inheritance, received it, and promptly left for a far country, where he squandered it all on sensual and frivolous pleasure. He returned home penitently and, to his surprise, was received with open arms by his father.

It is familiar, but without knowing the customs of the time, it is easy to miss the significance of the parable. When the younger son comes to the father and says, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate’ (v12) the original listeners would have been astounded – not that there was anything amiss in the son’s expectation of a share in the family wealth, that usually would happen upon death. But to ASK for it now, well that is the equivalent of wishing his father to be dead.

But the father does it, he divides the property, and the Greek word for property here is the equivalent of “life” – for the love of his child, the father will tear his life apart for the younger son. Here is a love that is startling. But Jesus goes further still.

Upon the son’s return, the father runs to meet him, he kisses the son, he wraps his precious child in his arms, then calls for a robe and ring to be placed on his son, signs of restored standing in the family. And yet the father goes further again, he orders the servants to prepare a feast of celebration by killing the fattened calf – most meals did not include meat, it was reserved for special occasions and parties. But the father commands that a feast be held to celebrate the restoration of the younger son.

We often call this parable, the parable of the prodigal son, where we understand “prodigal” to mean
“extravagant, recklessly wasteful, generous in giving”, or “having spent everything”. We often equate this with being “wayward”, or “rebellious”,…
of spending until you have nothing left, and in the younger son we see someone who has been prodigal.

But the parable also reveals someone else who is prodigal: the Father. At every step of the way, the father is reckless, extravagant in his love of the younger son, he holds nothing back and gives his all. And in this portrait of the father, Jesus is seeking to help us see the character of our heavenly Father: that He is reckless in His love towards us; He is generous; He is extravagant; He holds nothing back. We might be better to say that this is the parable of the prodigal father, even the prodigal God.

Often, when we call this the parable of the prodigal son, we end up shining the light on the son and so then comparing ourselves to the prodigal son,…
Where we risk superficial introspection, and maybe even a degree of self-satisfaction, because most of us are not as bad as the younger son.

But when we put the focus onto the father, then two things can happen. Firstly, we see a picture of God that can be very captivating, but equally unsettling, for we see a Father who seeks us out in our lostness, and wants to restore us to wholeness, to give us hope and a future, secure in His love, His seeking and prodigal love. And that is Good News, Good News for so many of those times when we feel lost.

Friends, does your picture of God include labels such as seeking and prodigal? If not, is it time to let Jesus, through His word, give you a fuller revelation of the Father?…
Is it time to come into knowing the love of God in these ways?

Secondly, when we put the focus onto the father, then we have to ask ourselves as His children, do we portray the Father’s seeking and prodigal love to one another and to the wider world?

For example, 1 Corinthians 13 is well known for its description of love, but it equally portrays its opposite and the opposite of prodigal love. Whenever we lack patience, or are unkind, or when we envy, or boast, are arrogant or rude, whenever we insist on our own way, keep a record of wrong, or show irritability or resentment, then we are not showing…
the Father’s prodigal love. And how many of those things, are part of your life?

When the spotlight is on the father in the parable, then we see more clearly God’s prodigal love. And when the spotlight is on the shepherd, then we see more clearly God’s seeking love. This is a love we each need to know, and to show. I pray that in the weeks to come, God might by His Spirit, lead us deeper in our knowledge of His love, and nurture it in us as well. May it be so. Amen.

Devoted to teaching, fellowship, communion and prayer

Preached on: Sunday 17th February 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-02-17-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-website.
Bible references: Acts 2:42-47
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Acts 2:42-47
Sunday 17th February 2019
Brightons Parish ChurchJesus said, ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”’ (Matt. 22:37-39)

With our young people I began to unpack that, love for God and for one another was central to the early Church, so much so that even in their changing circumstances they prioritised certain practices and were devoted to doing them, because, as we saw last week, they wanted to live for Jesus and play their part in His continuing ministry; they were convinced He was alive and so, they wanted to know more of His life for themselves and be a conduit of His life to others.

Over the years it transformed the world – in a relatively short space of time, the early church came to be envied by the Roman authorities for how extravagantly they showed love to neighbour, no matter creed, colour or class.

And the result was this: “…the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47) The growth of the Christian faith was phenomenal, not only here at the birth of the church but across the early centuries. Yet does this phrase mean that these Christians simply stayed at home? Does it mean that they played no part in these historical changes coming to fruition? Of course not – the verses we will look at in a moment, as well as the rest of Acts, if not the rest of the New Testament,… make it very clear that individual Christians and the Christian community as a whole play a key role, that what we do, what you and I do, is of great importance. If Brightons Parish Church is to have a vibrant future, and if that is to overflow into our community, such that our community thrives as well – then we all (we all) have a part to play in that; we all do need to do certain things, as we’ll see today and next week.

But before we get practical, notice this: “…the Lord added to their number” – “…the Lord added to their number” – the early church knew that any life, any growth, any success, any vibrancy, any positive impact upon its own members and then the surrounding community was a result of the Lord being active in and amongst them,… and so, they made it clear in their account: “…the Lord added to their number.”

Maybe it’s because of this conviction that the author of Acts sandwiches the stuff we like: the miracles, the great feats of love, the joy, the incredible growth in numbers – the author sandwiches all these things that we’d love to see, between two key statements: “They devoted themselves to……[and] the Lord added to their number.” The start and the end go hand in hand, because the top list is like the four wheels of a car – without those four wheels, the car won’t move, or with some wheels missing it will only bump and grind along the road, but never reach its full potential, never seeing the distance and destination it could reach with all four wheels.

Or it’s like me trying to make my favourite cake – Chocolate Guinness Cake (and yes, I can make it) – it’s like me trying to make that cake without chocolate, Guinness, bicarbonate of soda or cream cheese: any Chocolate Guinness cake that doesn’t include those things is going to be dull and flat, lacking life and lacking all the good stuff that makes me want to keep it to myself!

With baking and cars we know that we need the whole package, but when it comes to church we somehow think we can have one without the other – we want the miracles, the great feats of love, the joy, the incredible growth in numbers – but we’d rather leave the other stuff to the “spiritual people” or “religious people” or the minister. So, please here me clearly on this: we will never get the good life, without the Good Lord; we will never get the good life, without the Good Lord.
If we want vibrancy in Brightons Parish Church, and if we want that vibrancy to overflow to the community, such that it blesses and benefits the community, and if we want people out there to think church might be relevant, then we each, individually, must know and walk with the Good Lord – because when we do that, His life, His power, His love, His grace will flow into our lives and overflow into the lives of the wider community. It’s simply how it works: we will never get the good life, without the Good Lord.

So, our passage today is not complex or even hard to understand, and many of the ideas and terms you will be familiar with. In some ways, I probably could end the sermon here and leave the rest up to you…but I love to learn, and consequently, I love to give others the opportunity to learn and grow as well.
So, in the time remaining, I am going to try and limit what I say, and give you as much of the remaining time to chat amongst yourselves. My idea is that this week we’ll focus on verse 42, and next week we’ll cover the other verses. Hopefully you’re up for giving that a try for these two weeks, and then we’ll go back to me talking for twenty minutes. Sound fair enough?

So, v42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

But what do these terms mean for us today?

• Firstly, they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching: they learnt about Jesus and His ways. We can do that a little through Sunday worship,..
but we each need more, and so today, maybe you should consider starting to read your Bible more regularly, and if you need help with that, then the discipleship team have daily reading notes available in the vestibule after today’s service.

• Secondly, they devoted themselves to fellowship: the word for fellowship here is “koinonia” and its basic idea is “sharing” – sharing in life together. How can we do that with one another? Maybe join a fellowship group; or maybe get involved in active service in this church and next week we’ll hopefully have a vacancy list to help with that. Or help with the Easter Fun Day.

• Thirdly, they devoted themselves to the breaking of bread: they shared in communion,…

they came back to the Cross time and time again. Here we only celebrate that a handful of times a year, so please try and be here for it.

• Lastly, they devoted themselves to prayer: they prayed; again and again throughout Acts we see that the early church prayed. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is quoted as saying this: “there has never, to the best of my knowledge, been a revival in the church that did not begin with a renewal of prayer.” We never get the good life, without the Good Lord, and that’s so true of prayer. For us, that could mean coming to the Thursday evening prayer meeting. Or you could come to the Sunday evening services, because this year I’m thinking our theme for them will be prayer.

So, now it’s over to you – I’d like to give you the remaining time in small groups to talk about what it might look like for you to be devoted to Jesus through these things, to know and walk with the Good Lord. If you like, one idea is to start the conversation with the category you are weakest at – but whatever you do, try to come up with one or two things you personally could do differently so as to love the Lord a little more with your heart and soul and mind. So, over to you.

(PAUSE FOR DISCUSSION)

Friends, we obviously have not had time to think about all the ways we could apply these verses in our lives – but hopefully you’ve got a few ideas to take away, and maybe you can take some time this week…

to read these verses again and think through how you might put them into practice in your own life. For these things do help us to walk with the Lord, from whom we receive life, and love and grace – and as we dwell in Him and He in us, then His life and love will overflow in this place and out into the wider community, and maybe then Brightons Parish Church might also testify too that “…the Lord added to their number.”

May it be so. Amen.

The right heart

Preached on: Sunday 10th February 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-02-10-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-website.
Bible references: 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2 and Acts 2:36-41
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2 and Acts 2:36-41
Sunday 10th February 2019
Brightons Parish Church“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’”

Between my first sermon in November last year and the first three sermons of my time here, we have begun to explore what the early chapters of the book of Acts might say to us at this time. In Acts we find the early church experiencing the winds of change – they are on the cusp of huge changes, changes like they had never seen nor expected. And so, Acts, especially these early chapters, gives us insight into some core things to remember in the midst of change.

For we are, ourselves, in the midst of change too. You have a new minister here and that will bring change, in time, maybe even already.
But more broadly, the Church, both the Church of Scotland and the universal Church, finds itself in changing times. As a denomination, numbers are falling and we struggle to know how to engage with today’s generation; indeed, we struggle to engage with any of the generations that don’t come to church, not just the young. In our denomination too, it is predicted that minister numbers will continue to fall, that in ten years’ time, maybe less, there will be around half our current number of ministers, meaning about one minister for every three churches. We are very much in changing circumstances, and Brightons Parish Church will not remain unaffected. What’s more, you also may be facing a change in personal circumstances. Change is everywhere.

So, what core things has Acts taught us so far? Well, we’ve thought about how Jesus IS risen and His ministry continues, even to this very day. We’ve seen that part of His continuing ministry is to challenge us, to force us to reconsider the box we have Him in, so that He can expand that box, or even blow it apart, leading us into a greater fullness of life with the aid of His Holy Spirit. And last week, we thought about how Jesus was shown to be the promised Messiah and that He is Lord and so in Jesus we see the reign of God.

In our passage today, Peter has covered the same material we have, and he reaches that point where he says: “‘Therefore…be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’”

But the moment does not end there, for we read: “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to
Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’”

The people were conscience-stricken and convicted; they were convicted of their need for Jesus; they were convicted that their faith had not been in Him, but in other things and in other people.

Another translation puts it this way: ‘Cut to the quick, those who were there listening asked Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers! Brothers! So now what do we do?”’

So now what do we do? That question is as applicable for us as it was then. In the midst of change – so now what do we do? After we know whom Jesus is: that He is alive, that He is Lord and Messiah,…
that He His ministry is continuing by His Spirit through His Church – so now, what do we do? So now what do we do when we know He is challenging us and calling us to expand the box? So now, what do we do?

We read on: “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

First off, Peter says to repent and to repent is much more than saying sorry or feeling remorse for what we’ve done. True repentance is when our minds are changed about Jesus such that our attitudes towards Him change and consequently, the direction of our life changes too…
In essence, we need to know for ourselves what the Apostle Paul wrote: That ‘he [Jesus] died for all, [so] that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.’ (2 Cor.5:15)

We see here that repentance involves two things. Firstly, we can’t truly repent if we don’t truly know who Jesus is and why He died on the Cross.

In the same passage, Paul writes in v21, ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.’ It’s a strange sounding idea, but what Paul wants us to understand is that Jesus, the perfect, holy, sinless Son of God, was treated as a sinner and bore the penalty of all sin in place of us. But why did God do that?

Well, our God is a holy God – and thank God that He is! Imagine a God who could simply overlook sin? That God would not be righteous, that God would not be perfect – that God would not even be loving because love does not delight in evil. And so, sin offends God, it grieves God, it alienates God and ourselves, and so we need a Saviour – everyone of us needs someone to save us from our alienation from God and the brokenness we have brought upon ourselves. And Jesus is that Saviour, He is the Messiah. Jesus died, that we might be reconciled to God, that we might be forgiven for our sins.

But it is perfectly possible to know who Jesus is and why He died, but never to repent. And so, Paul’s second point about true repentance comes to the fore.

‘he died for all, [so] that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.’ (2 Cor.5:15)

That those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him. This is the true mark of repentance – do you live for Jesus? Does He shape your life? You will know you have truly repented when you see Jesus as He truly is and you can honestly say that He shapes your choices, your values, your priorities – that’s when you know you live for Him. That’s true repentance.

But as I say, it’s entirely easy not to repent because so often we only get half of the story. In the Church of Scotland, we have not been good in calling for a response to Jesus, we shy away from it and so we leave people short-changed…
Sure, we share that God loves you, that Jesus died for you, but we don’t tell people the next bit – that they need to respond. And so, they miss out on the whole package. My own story is a testimony to this very failure in our denomination but also of God’s grace.

I grew up in the Church of Scotland, being baptised within it, going to Sunday School and then to Youth Fellowship. I remember one time in my teenage years of being motivated to read the Gospel of Mark, and going to my minister with my questions, but he simply brushed over them. I could never really understand his preaching, and I cannot remember hearing much about the love God has for me, nor that I needed to respond…

And so, I went to Youth Fellowship until it stopped, and then to the Sunday evening service when I worked in the morning, and I thought I was genuinely a Christian because I went to church, I helped run my local Cub Scout Pack and I had a good public image.

But over the course of my teenage years I grew in confidence and with that I grew in selfishness, and that particularly impacted the girls that I dated, for it was all about me and what I could get from the relationship. It came to a head when I was out celebrating my 19th birthday, and the parts I can remember from that night continue to shock and horrify me. My selfishness was rampant, and I lived for me.

But in the small hours of the morning after, God met with me, as I lay in bed, and He convicted me of my sin, and I repented – I didn’t say anything, but I died to self, and I got up that morning, out of that bed, a new man, a new creation as the Apostle Paul puts it, and I no longer lived for self but for Jesus: He was the centre of my life now, His will and His call and His goodness and love shown on Cross were the things I would build my life upon.

Friends, we don’t all need to have such a dramatic change, but do all need to repent – to respond to the Good News of who Jesus is and why He died, such that He becomes the centre of our lives and we then live for Him. Hopefully you’ve heard that before, but if you haven’t, now is the day of salvation, now can be the day of your salvation – and so as Christ’s ambassador, I implore you: be reconciled to God. Humble yourself, truly repent; come to God anew, set your hope upon Jesus, and come in to that new life with God. Before I became a Christian, I thought I was living life to the full, I thought I knew what the good life was, but it wasn’t the whole truth; it’s only through Jesus that you can know life in all its fullness – not an easy life, not a perfect life – but a life beyond imagination, a life we all hunger for in the deepest parts of our souls.

Friends, if you haven’t repented, if you don’t live for Jesus, then today could be your day, and I invite you to come speak with me after the service and together we can help you find that new life in Jesus.

But if you have repented, if by God’s grace you are a new creation, then there is a call upon your life for Peter says: “‘Repent…every one of you…And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Now what is that gift given for? We’ve heard in recent weeks that the Holy Spirit helps us to know who Jesus is and assures us that we are children of God – but the Spirit is also given for another reason. As the Apostle Paul said: “All this is from God, who…gave us the ministry of reconciliation…We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”

So, there is call for all of us to live for Jesus by being His ambassador, His witness, and so you are called into the ministry of reconciliation;…
you are called to share your faith with others, to see everyone you meet through the lens of the cross, and to give of yourself for that ministry, the continuing ministry of Jesus.

Today, I want to focus on our hearts and outlook, because in all likelihood, some of us may shy away from this for any number of reasons. We might let fear, or feelings of inadequacy or awkwardness, or past negative experiences put us off. We might also shy away from it because we are not motivated to do so, that “Christ’s love [does not] compel us”. And that may have happened because of any number of reasons as well.

But whether you shy away because of fear, or for lack of love for God and neighbour, today God wants to help you have the right heart –
He calls you back to live for Jesus, He calls you out of fear and out of apathy, because today, now, is the day of salvation, and what you have received is not for you alone, but for every person that Jesus died for. Friends, if that is you – if fear or apathy hold you back from sharing in the life of this church, from sharing your faith with others – then you need to do business with God, and in a few moments, we’ll have an opportunity to pray about that.

So, we need to have the right heart for this ministry of reconciliation – but we also need to have the right outlook. We need to see, we need to appreciate, that “now is the day of salvation”. Now is the day, now is the time. Now is the day that people can come into a lifechanging relationship with Jesus; now is the time for broken hearts to be mended, and injustices to be challenged, and the poor helped…
Now is the day, now is the time, for the kingdom of God to come in our midst – and for that we need to have the right outlook, so that we can see the world as it is and see the world as it could be within the kingdom of God. With the right outlook we will see that “now is the day of salvation”, and we will do everything we can to usher in the kingdom.

Friends, we are in changing circumstances, and more change will come, and will need to come, if we want to know life in all its fullness, for ourselves, for one another and for the wider world. But for that to happen, we need to have the right outlook – that “this is the day of salvation” – and we need to have the right heart – that
“the love of Christ compels us” –
because then we will give of ourselves to that change, we lean in to that change, and before we know it, we’ll really be living for Jesus and participating in His continuing ministry, the ministry of reconciliation.

Brothers, sisters, what shall we do? First of all – have you repented? Do you live for Jesus? Secondly, will we commit to this ministry of reconciliation? Do we have the right heart? Do we have the right outlook?

Your Jesus box

Preached on: Sunday 3rd February 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-02-03-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-website.
Bible references: Psalm 115:1-11 and Acts 2:22-36
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Like with our young people, we each have particular labels, and words, and ideas that describe God, that define His character and His ways. And we take those words and we take those ideas and we construct a box for God.

In reality, putting God in a box suits us – we quite like the idea of knowing we have the lid on God, that we know the boundaries to His character and ways. We generally prefer not having many surprises with God – we like knowing where the edges and corners to God are, we like knowing His colours and so His temperament. We like the assurance that we understand God and that God will behave according to the way we understand Him.
We also like the sense of control we have over God by Him being in the box because being in a box makes God a bit more manageable.

We all have a box for God – I have a box for God. People of every age, of every culture have had a box for God. And the same was true 2000 years ago when the Holy Spirit came upon the early Church for the first time. In that moment, something happened – something totally unexpected and new, something outside of everyone’s box. Certain people felt it went too far and they sneered and mocked the disciples, because these accusers had God in a box – a small, tight, clearly defined box.

But Peter stood up and He countered their allegations, explaining that something new had happened, that what they had heard and seen and experienced was nothing less than God and His kingdom breaking into our world and blowing open their boxes.

Friends, Jesus is always seeking to change, expand, or even blow apart, the box that we all have Him in so that by His Spirit He brings us all into a deeper understanding of Himself, and into a life of faith that is lived to the full.

But that raises the question: who is the Jesus that we each know and follow? Which of these names would you use? How would you describe His character and ways?

Maybe more importantly, would you still hold that perspective when life gets tough? When the difficulties of life come along, they confront us with some searching questions, and we might echo the words of the psalm: “where is God?” Who is this God that I’m called to trust in? What can I be sure of?

Any number of things could force each of us to ask these questions. It could be the death of a loved one; or the loss of health, work or a relationship; or it could be change – maybe changes in family or society, even changes in church.

All those experiences, all these questions, I can resonate with because there have been two times, at least, in my relatively short life when I’ve been left holding the pieces, holding the pieces of my life, of my faith, and wondering, where are You God? Who are You God? What can I be sure of?
It’s in the hard times that you really come down to focus on the essentials, because the hard times remind us that much of life and of faith is mystery, that there are questions we cannot answer, and may never get an answer.

But there are some questions that can be answered, and in their answer, we find hope for the difficult times and something to cling to when we’re holding our broken pieces and asking: where are you God?

One such answer is given in our passage today: in response to the question, “who is Jesus?”, Peter reminds us, encourages us, with these words: ‘Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’ (v36)

I like how the NRSV puts this verse: ‘Therefore…know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ – – – Know with certainty…be assured – of what? That Jesus is both Lord and Messiah.

But why is that hope for the difficult times? How is that anything to cling to 2000 years after the fact?

Let’s take a moment to think about each of these titles of Jesus and I’ll start with Jesus being Messiah.

Messiah is that Hebrew title from which we get the English title Christ. It literally means, “the anointed one” or “chosen one”…
In biblical times, anointing someone with oil was a sign that God was setting apart that person for a particular role. Thus, an “anointed one” was someone with a special, God-ordained purpose, usually a prophet, priest or king. But the Old Testament predicted that a Deliverer would come – someone who would be chosen and anointed by God to set Israel free, and this Deliverer was called the Messiah.

Is Jesus the Messiah? Well Peter argues He is: that Jesus was ‘a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him’ (v22) – and the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the Bible give us eye witness accounts of what Jesus did – He was no ordinary man.

Peter also argues that the death of Jesus confirms Him to be the Messiah for He died on the cross because of ‘God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge’ (v23). Peter wants us to understand here that the death of Jesus was not the unfortunate defeat of a good man who had no power to save Himself. To see Jesus that way is to miss the point entirely – for even though it might look that way, it was in fact brought about because of the foreknowledge, decision and plan of God. This was no ordinary death of a common criminal or failed religious leader.

And to clinch his argument, Peter concludes with one final claim – – – that Jesus being raised to life fulfils the prophetic words of David, who wrote: ‘you will not let your holy one see decay’ (v27). These words are about the Messiah and were written 1000 years before Jesus,
So in resurrecting His Son, God the Father…
vindicates the death of Jesus and confirms that it was not some failed moral revolution, but instead a triumph over the agonising power of death and sin.

So in His life, in His death and in His resurrection, Jesus is confirmed as the Messiah, the Promised One, our Saviour, our Deliverer, one who is mighty to save, conqueror of sin and death.

In Jesus then, we can find hope, hope for today and hope for tomorrow, indeed hope for all eternity, because in Jesus we see the embodiment of God’s love and faithfulness, in Jesus we see the extent that God was willing to go for us: that He loved you and me with a suffering love, and He has loved us with that love from all eternity…

because He made a deliberate plan to send Jesus as our deliverer, as our Messiah. In fact, God was so meticulous and deliberate about this plan that He gave 60 prophecies in the Old Testament about the coming Messiah. Do you want to guess the odds of Jesus fulfilling just 8 of those prophecies? It is 1 in a hundred million billion – basically impossible without divine intervention! But the incredible news is that Jesus didn’t just fulfil 8 prophecies, He fulfilled all 60, showing that He truly is the Messiah.

So, when hard times come, and we feel in the grip of darkness, will we remember that Jesus is Messiah? When changes come, and we feel unsettled and fearful, will we remember that Jesus is Messiah? When an opportunity comes to take a step of faith, and we’re tempted to play it safe, will we remember that Jesus is Messiah?
Years after the events of Acts 2, Peter will write in his first epistle these words: ‘set your hope on…Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 1:13), Jesus the Messiah. So can I ask? Is your hope set on Jesus, Jesus the Messiah? It is a choice – you choose where to set your hope. In the dark times, in the times of asking, “where are you God?”, will you choose to set your hope on Jesus? There’s nowhere better, nowhere surer, no one else has conquered sin and death, no one else offers life in all its fullness and life eternal. So, my friends, set your hope on Jesus, on Jesus the Messiah.

In addition to all that, Peter says that Jesus is also Lord. Peter is convinced of it so, he now introduces a key Old Testament quotation:
‘“The Lord said to my Lord:
‘Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.’” (v34-35)

To our ears it is a strange argument but it is a quote from
Psalm 110, a psalm that was believed to refer to the Messiah – this chosen one, this anointed one. The Jews understood that the Messiah would be a direct descendant of King David, because that is what God had promised, and so the Messiah would be a man, a real human being.

But David, here, refers to this coming Messiah as “my Lord”, ‘Adonai’, giving to the Messiah a title that is reserved for God alone and the Jews didn’t really have an answer for this conundrum. So, Peter now makes it clear
– this Messiah is a man but He is also God –
and His name is Jesus. And this very Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father, ruling in a position of all authority, including over salvation and its blessings, and so it is from Jesus, by Jesus, through Jesus that we receive the grace of God: it is as we call on the name of Jesus that we receive salvation.

And the impact of this is huge! If Jesus is not only Messiah, but Lord and God, then in Jesus we see the reign of God – we see that God is not distant, He came close as a real human being; we see that God is not uncaring, He died for love of you and me. What’s more, we see that God is not a figment of imagination or superstition, rather He is risen and alive, a true person you can know; and finally, God is not just any god or every god, He is Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible, and no other but He is truly God.

In the hard times, in changing times, is that the Jesus you turn to? Or is your picture of Jesus simply of a man, or a good teacher? If that’s the case my friends, hear this: your picture of Jesus falls so far short, you have been shortchanged, because you are missing out on knowing the true Jesus, the Jesus who is Lord.

Maybe that doesn’t sound much to you. You may even conclude that if Jesus is God, then He is doing a pretty poor job. And you know, the people of Peter’s day would probably have thought the same thing – for Peter to claim that Jesus was Lord was startling news, ridiculous news, even laughable news, because this Jesus had been crucified, and everyone knew that if you were crucified, hung from a tree, you were under the curse of God…
How could any such person be Lord? How could any such person be Messiah?

But appearances can be deceiving, for despite appearances, God was working His purposes out in Jesus – – – death did not have the final say, that cross, which by all accounts should have been the end of Jesus, was His finest moment.

Friends, in the hard times, in changing times, we can be asking: “where is God?” Who is this God that I’m called to trust in? What can I be sure of?

Despite all appearances, despite all other claims, the testimony across the generations is that only Jesus is
Messiah, only Jesus is Lord –
it is in Him that we can find true hope for the dark times, and someone to cling to when we’re left holding the pieces. It is Him I have run to when my life has fallen apart; it is Him who has been my rock when all else is unsteady and unsure.

Friends, who is Your Jesus? Is He Messiah and Lord? Is He your Messiah and Lord? Have you chosen to put your hope in Him? Have you called on His name for salvation? Do you daily turn to Him in prayer and in His Word to find the refuge and strength and guidance we each need every day? My encouragement to you this morning, is allow your box to be expanded and come afresh to Jesus, even now, and set your hope on Him, our Messiah and Lord.