The rule of Jesus

Preached on: Sunday 27th February 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above Sunday 27th February 2022. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 22-02-27 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Colossians 3:15-4:1
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Please do be seated

Let us come to God in prayer before we think about His word. Let us pray:

Holy Spirit we pray for you to come amongst us and soften our hearts to the word of God Holy Spirit come and shape our lives under the rule of Jesus come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction for we ask it in Jesus’ name amen

this past week we saw the next phase of president Putin’s plans of invasion for Ukraine the world waits now with baited breath to see what will transpire that this is happening on our doorstep that this is happening to a country that really poses and seeks no threat no issue with Russia i think it leaves us all a little dumbfounded whatever the underlying motivations whatever the end goal what is clear to everyone is that we are seeing a world leader a ruler of a nation exercise his power in some of the worst ways imaginable now Putin is not the only world leader we could critique for their misuse of power and so in general i suspect we have a rather large distrust of leaders and the rule of leaders so when we come to a passage like the one today we might engage it with a whole lot of baggage a lot of distrust and criticism what is more our culture has vastly changed from Paul’s day in his day slavery was part and parcel of everyday life and shame on us is still a part of modern day life but not to the same extent and the dynamics in families and the role of women have changed as well this means that we face a temptation as we approach our passage today we face the temptation to rubbish it or ignore it or skip over it or say it’s an example of a text that exhorts a misuse and abuse of power and helps to maintain such power imbalances and structures

but if we go with that vein of thought and do not take the time to dig into these verses we will miss out what God was doing in that day and what God is seeking to do in our day through his word changing the world one life one mind one heart at a time and to get to grips with this passage we first need to appreciate the guiding thought to Paul’s writing which is this the rule of Jesus shaping the lives of his people is good the rule of Jesus shaping the lives of his people is good maybe you think oh here goes Scott picking another idea of the thin air so let me explain where i get this from whenever we approach scripture to try and understand what the bible is teaching us there’s a number of things we need to do and two of the things are this first we need to identify and look out for what is repeated what’s the words that are repeated what are the ideas that are repeated second we need to be aware of the context of the writing and of the wider context of the scriptures so what’s repeated Paul speaks of the peace of Christ the rule of Christ the name of the lord Jesus there’s a repetition there the name of the lord is repeated six times in six verses and again there’s a reference to Jesus as master in heaven so clearly whatever Paul is getting at Jesus is central to this Jesus is shaping this passage what’s the context the context as we heard last week is the kingdom of God the kingdom of God shaping our lives clothing us to be fitting for the kingdom of God both now and for eternity and so it’s the rule of Jesus shaping the lives not of society but of his people Paul is writing to God’s people writing about how their shared activities help to shape their lives so he says we are shaped by the work and message of Jesus actually he says the peace and message of Jesus but I’ll get to that in a moment because i think he’s speaking of the work and message of Jesus we’re shared we’re shaped by our shared activities our thankfulness our teaching our exhortation our singing together all this shapes us shapes us around Jesus and then Paul talks of being shaped by the reality of Jesus in those later verses children are to do what pleases the lord you can’t please someone who doesn’t exist and so it’s be aware of the reality of Jesus he is real this is not just some guy in an old book or a history lesson he is real he is there or verse 23 that whatever we do we do it as working for the lord and that masters are to be mindful we’ve all to be mindful that we all have a master a lord in heaven and we will be accountable to him we are shaped and to be shaped by the reality of Jesus

and so what’s guiding Paul’s thinking is that the rule of Jesus is shaping and is to shape the lives of his people and i’ve added that that’s good i think it’s there in Paul’s writing but you might be wondering well is it good really like if the bible includes such passages and such writings about wives submit to your husbands and slaves the whole regime of slavery doesn’t get challenged in the scriptures is the rule of Jesus really good

well let’s go back to context this God who made himself known in Jesus he wants to give grace and peace and strength to his people he’s already given hope and redemption he has provided the means of forgiveness of sins at his own expense that he died on the cross nailed to that cross even when we were enemies of him in our minds chapter one of Colossians this same God who we’re not enemies with now if we have faith in Jesus this same God has overcome the enemies we still face of death and sin and the devil and he did it for sake of you and me this is the God who did that that we might chapter 3 have life in him and our life might be hidden in him so that it is secure that we are part of his kingdom now and will be for all eternity this is the God who inspired such writings this is the God whose kingdom we’re called to shape being this is the God who invites us to allow him to shape our lives and it is good and for our good

the wider scriptures also speak of the kingdom of God there’s too many scriptures to pick on but I’ll stick with Paul who says in romans for the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness peace and joy in the Holy Spirit the kingdom of God the rule of Jesus is good he seeks to bring righteousness peace and joy to your life to this world that is his ultimate end goal

so Jesus is no Putin he’s not even a Boris he’s not akin to that boss that you know that was grumpy and dictating to you in the workplace Jesus is good and his desire to shape our lives is for our good so how are you going to approach his word today and the invitation to let him rule in your life will it be with trust and his goodness or will it be with criticism or a weariness maybe even a prideful disposition because it’s so easy to think we know best isn’t it it has been the plague of humanity since the beginning of time go back to the beginning of the biblical narrative Adam and Eve one thing not to do don’t eat from the tree and yet they end up doubting the goodness of God God’s holding something back from you and so they decide they know what’s better and they disregard God they doubt his goodness and we and they have paid the price ever since so how will you respond to God’s word God’s rule and his invitation today is it going to be with trust in his goodness trust to allow the rule of Jesus to shape your life

now Paul in particular in our verses today wants the rule of Jesus to shape our relationships and he names three areas of relationships, relationships within the church relationships within the family and then the master slave relationship those we are subject to or those who are subject to us and so beginning with the relationships within the church Paul says in verse 15 let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts since as members of one body you were called to peace and be thankful now when we read this verse we probably end up thinking about feelings and about us individually because as a society we are very feelings driven and we are very individualistic so we end up thinking that Paul is talking about some subjective peace that we’ve to let somehow rule in our hearts and that’s often to guide our thing thinking and our feelings and our decisions if you’ve got peace in your heart then you’re good it’s probably how we often approach such language but it’s not what Paul means Paul in the letter to Ephesians talks about the dividing wall between peoples between Jew and Gentile and in Galatians talks between not just Jew and Gentile but male and female slave and free there is this dividing wall

but now through Jesus through his work on the cross there is no division there needs to be no division that we can be reconciled to him and to one another and that is the peace he has won we are called to one body we are one body that is the peace that has been secured and for that peace for the people who make up that peace from all the different backgrounds of life we are to be thankful yes we need to be more thankful in general but that’s not what Paul is to be thankful saying here it’s in the context of being a body of recognizing that the people sitting around us the people who make up our fellowship the people who make up the Christian body beyond just our local congregation are people Jesus died for who were worthy apparently for him to die for

and that is to shape our thinking that is to shape our relating that is to shape the church now how do we keep that thought how do we maintain such an outlook or challenge behavior and ways of relating that are against that kind of thought well Paul says in verse 16 let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through Psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit

did you notice that it’s addressed to you

as you teach and admonish not you the minister not you Paul the apostle you every one of us has a part to play in this

we’ve all to do that as we talk about our faith as we point one another to Jesus as we sing the songs of faith we remind ourselves about the reality of Jesus about who he is about his will and his teaching about his work on the cross and so we remember how to relate to one another and we allow the gospel to shape our living

so who’s the person in church that gets under your skin it might be the minister

who’s that person that’s voice oh just greets you the wrong way who’s that person with the outlook that’s just so different from you and you can’t understand them who’s that person whose demeanor just gets you down who’s that person with a theology that you think is dated or heretical or just doesn’t belong here maybe it’s time to be thankful for them

and how can we

talk about our faith so that we keep the gospel central that we keep pointing each other back to what Jesus has done and of his relevance in our lives and his presence in our lives so for example when you are meeting during the week or after the service maybe ask each other a question what did you take away from Sunday I think there’s always something to take away I’m sure I’ve told the story before that when I was a young Christian i we went i was on a summer mission and we went to a service and i thought this old minister was talking the biggest lot of nonsense and I didn’t understand a word I just had a really hard prideful heart and I ranted and raved after the service and my friend Laurie same age as me been a Christian for a bit longer uh he just said well this is all the stuff that I got and I was I have been challenged since then that you might not have agreed with my message or whoever’s preaching but there will be something you can take away from the hymn from a prayer from a reading so focus on that maybe God’s got something in that for you and then share that with someone else so that you build up their faith don’t just keep it to yourself or maybe say to them how can I pray for you this week could we try and ask that question a bit more amongst one another because when you ask that question not just oh I’m thinking about you or how’s your week going when we ask how can I pray for you we’re reminding one another there is a God we can pray to that we’re not on our own that this world might be looking like it’s going to hell in a hand basket but there is a God and we can call to him and he cares for us

we are called to be a people who in our relationships point each other to Jesus keep the gospel central to all our relationships and all our decision making so that was the easy bit what about the rest of the passage that talks about those apparently maybe slightly dated very tricky verses relating to husbands and wives fathers and children slaves and masters well I’m not going to share an awful lot of hard and fast points of application on that section I’m afraid because in many ways we don’t know the context of Paul’s meaning here that when he says wives submit to your husbands as is fitting in the lord or husbands love your wives and do not be harsh to them what is Paul meaning and what is the context he writes into is he is he mindful because the commentaries are just all over the place on this um and i generally have a kind of I don’t read every commentary but a fair number is he referring to as the situation like in Corinth where spouses were thinking about divorcing their other spouse because one was a believer and one wasn’t a believer and they were worried was this marriage a bad thing is God against my marriage and Paul writes to say no stay in your marriage is that what it means to submit to your husband in that context or is Paul aware of a kind of behavior that is that is wrong and unhealthy is there manipulation going on in the side of the wife maybe or something one or two commentators said that because there’s that old adage and I’d never normally quote this because my wife would probably kill me um the man might be the head of the wife or the family but the wife is neck

she’s in control really

literally there are books written on the subject matter here no matter which side of the debate you go for whether you think there is or is not a role for a husband to play a leadership function within a marriage

but let’s notice a few things at least a few things that need named first of all Paul says that wives are to submit not obey it’s children who are to obey parents and so there is no green light here for husbands to be controlling manipulative or violent and Paul also qualifies his statement that it is only as far as fitting in the lord what is fitting in the lord well let me just give you one example that we’ve already looked at that verse in romans that the kingdom of God is one of righteousness peace and joy and if there is none of that in your marriage if there are things happening in your marriage that are meaning that there is not righteousness peace or joy then there is something going wrong there

also to go back to the letter of Ephesians there’s much more teaching there on this relationship between husband and wife and Paul says that the relationship between husband and wife echoes the relationship between Jesus and his church that he says that as Christ loved the church husbands are to love their wives but equally the church is to submit to Jesus to his rule his leadership that he is head of the church now submission in the context of Jesus in the church is an act of trust to submit to Jesus as an act of trust so is Paul simply meaning that wiser to trust their husbands to trust that their husbands will put them first and seek their best is that what he means

then there’s what Paul says to husbands that they are to love their wives and not be harsh to them and in a culture where women were seen as little more than property as a thing that we were belittled by all faiths Paul is being very counter-cultural he is really shaking things up

and so though his words may seem dated aren’t they still relevant today too which husband here loves their wife as Jesus loved the church how many of us men whether by our words or by the looks upon our faces or in our body language have communicated harshness to our wives this week

whatever Paul’s getting at here ultimately in all these relationships it is about the gospel shaping them and husbands and wives whether married or single with children and a slave master relationship or in the church every relationship is to be shaped by the gospel so is it and with our children either your children or the children who attend church do we communicate the gospel so for example do we communicate to our children well you’re only loved you’re only appreciated we only want you here if you do as we tell you as you obey our rules

or do we communicate differently that you’re loved as you are not as you ought to be not as you should have been not as you might become you are loved as you are

because isn’t that the gospel that Jesus loved you despite you being a sinner despite you telling God to take a hike despite you being an enemy of God Colossians chapter one in your mind God died for you and me that’s the gospel how is that gospel worked out in your relationships is Paul’s point

so where might you embody the gospel and so embody the role of Jesus in your relationships

now despite what I’ve said despite the various caveats I’ve put on it some of us will still feel that Paul did not go far enough some of us will think that his teaching here propped up slavery for hundreds of years and that it still props up the subjugation of women

and why is whilst i would and will counter such claims we do need to acknowledge that the church has a shameful past when it comes to slavery and a shameful past when it comes to the treatment the care and the place of women too many a man too many a slave owner has taken these verses out of context and used them to justify sinful behavior men and women are equals in the sight of God made in the image of God loved equally by God

additionally the church has been woefully slow to change seem more to be playing catch up to wider society and then be maybe dragged into ways that are not of God because we are playing catch up we were called by Jesus to be salt and light to be salt and light and too often we have lost our saltiness

because salt not only preserves but it brings out flavor let’s go back to romans 14 what is the flavor of the kingdom of God righteousness peace and joy we have not brought that out in society

and so I think it’s right that as a church we now have a gender-based violence team and you might think that that is just a pandering to society where the church feels obligated to have such activities but i see it as part of our discipleship as part of what it means to pursue Jesus and embody the kingdom and i’ll explain why in a moment and I’m glad that we now have that team as part of the discipleship team rightly so and in the coming months we hope to roll out some opportunities for you all if you wish to engage with that to understand more about gender-based violence why is this an issue why what does it lead to and how can we do something about that and i encourage you not to become skeptical about it and think it is a pandering to society but to see it as crucial to your discipleship and our day and to come and invest your time learning about gender-based violence because here’s the thing

the changes that have come since Paul’s day in relation to men and women slaves and free it all came about because of Jesus teaching an example and it was built upon by the early church and yes it was built upon by Paul Paul’s teaching as it relates to home life as it relates to the slave master relationship was vastly different to his culture to not see people as things as property to not only value men and the free and Paul’s day he was incredibly egalitarian he would have been vilified for such a position

and whilst you may think he did not go far enough i found this quote helpful in one of the commentaries this week Paul does not protest against the institution of slavery or the dynamic between men and women and we should admit that his approach is subtler he has found a fixed point on which to stand from which to move the world slaves too are human beings slaves too are people Jesus died for women are people who Jesus died for all are loved all our people all are valued

and Paul’s teaching began to change the world maybe not fast enough for you maybe too slowly often times not appreciated often times ignored or thwarted but it was the Christian faith which gave the impetus to value people differently it was the Christian faith which would lay the foundation upon which wider change would come in society and to the dynamics between men and women

from the Christian faith things began to move in the world

so what about your life and your context where are we called to put the work and message of Jesus into practice in our relationships such that the world moves

it might not seem like much with all that’s going on in the news it might not seem like much but every choice matters every choice moves the world that little bit more towards the kingdom of God because did you notice all the little words of action in the passage let teach sing do it all submit love obey provide they’re all action words and they’re all words that require you and me to make a choice to exert our will our power not to dominate as a Roman dictator does a Russian dictator does

but to use our power to allow Jesus to rule in us and through us that the hallmarks of his kingdom might be seen in our day in our lives in our relationships in our community

that then the rule of Jesus might shape more and more lives for the good it might not seem like much but every choice is a choice to help the world move

and that happens one life at a time one mind at a time one heart at a time i pray that we make that choice today and every day may it be so. Amen.

Share in His Kingdom

Preached on: Sunday 20th February 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 22-02-20 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Colossians 3:1-14
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word. Let’s pray:

Holy Spirit, breath of God, come soften our hearts to the word of God.
Holy Spirit, come and reveal truth that life and freedom might flourish.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

I wonder if you can think of someone either living or deceased who, to you, embodies Jesus? Can you think of someone whose character, whose life, whose faith just meant that they shone Jesus to you? If you’re sitting next to someone why not for the next 30 seconds just turn to them and see who comes to mind for you. Over to you for 30 seconds.

Well, feel free to pick up those conversations afterwards and maybe I think that the weather’s a little bit less windy than it was so maybe, afterwards, outside you can also see who else came up with different ideas and I would love to hear the names and the folks that you thought of. I’m sure I’ve got some similar ideas to you but actually some ways, what’s more upon my mind, is how did they get like that? How did they grow in such a character, in such a way that they embody Jesus, that you noticed and that you remember? There’s another thought that I wonder about also, could it be that you, me might be there one day? That someone might look at us and see Jesus in us? Could the next generation see Jesus in you already?

And our passage today, Paul continues to build on all that he’s written in chapters one and two, his great prayer for the Colossians, of Jesus and Jesus is supreme over all, this Jesus that Paul seeks to make known, the commission that Jesus gave to Paul and so, he’s right into the Colossians, to strengthen and safeguard their faith from these false teachers, from this false avenue of worship. But now, going into chapter three, things change. He’s beginning to now say ‘Well, if this is who Jesus is, if this is who you have faith in, and it’s a real faith, and a genuine faith, then there should be a way of living a lifestyle that is congruent with that, that should accompany that faith. But even then, Paul is going to have a few surprises for us. Surprises that make Christianity different from those false avenues of worship and, as he’s done throughout this letter. he’s going to get the Colossians to look up to Jesus but also so that they can see the truth about themselves as well.

And so, he writes in the first portion ‘You have been raised with Christ who is seated at the right hand of God. For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ and God when Christ who is your life appears then you also will appear with him in glory.’ And, as is typical of Paul, he fits enough into four verses that really could do with four sermons but you’re not gonna get that thing instead, I’m gonna give you my best summary thoughts of what I can condense this down into and it’s this – you share now in the future Kingdom of Jesus, you share now in the future Kingdom of Jesus. But let me explain where I got that from in this these verses.

There’s two people on display, there’s Jesus and there’s the Colossians, so, what’s the picture of Jesus here? Well, he is named Christ which is not His surname/ It’s not His surname, it’s His title. He is Jesus the Christ, the Messiah in Hebrew and that was a promised figure who would come to bring God’s Kingdom and to bring salvation upon the earth. And He is now seated at the right hand of God, which is biblical language, picture language, for saying that salvation He has accomplished. He’s not working and laboring at that. He has accomplished it so, he is seated. And He is seated at the Father’s right hand, He’s seated at the throne of God. And all this picture language of Jesus is showing us that that He is Hing, He is King of a Kingdom and although we don’t experience that fully yet, He has broken into this world in His coming. But notice what else it says of Jesus ‘when Christ appears.’ He’s coming back. He’s coming back to bring the fullness of His Kingdom into the creation. Created order, that’s a picture of Jesus.

So, what’s the picture of the Colossians, we have here? Well, they have been raised because they have died, and we touched on this in previous sermons, that they have died to old masters, as chapter 1 verse 13 said, they have been brought out of the dominion of darkness but they’ve been raised with Christ, they have been brought into the Kingdom of the Son, the Kingdom of Jesus and so their life is now heading up, wrapped up in Jesus and in His Kingdom, and it doesn’t maybe look like that sometimes but that is what the truth is. And so, it goes on, here’s your life and then you also will appear with Him, when He appears you will appear, when His Kingdom comes you will share in that Kingdom, you will share in the glory of that Kingdom. And so, we get the summary phrase ‘you share now in the future Kingdom of Jesus.’ He is the King of all, as we saw in chapter one, He’s supreme and He has a Kingdom and you share in that Kingdom. It’s so crucial to biblical theology. It’s so crucial to the writing of the scriptures. It’s so crucial to this very passage. Is it crucial to your life? Does it shape your life day-to-day, week-to-week, year-on-year? Does it shape your purpose and your values? Does it shape your living and your choices? Does it shape the confidence you have as a Christian? You’re not just a member of the Church of Scotland, which is declining. You’re part of the Kingdom of God and one day that’s all there will be.

But really Paul is just echoing the teaching of Jesus. If I was to ask you to say what is the Gospel, what would you say? What is the good news? Would you come up with the same answer as Jesus. ‘Jesus went into Galilee proclaiming the good news. (the Gospel) The time has come, the Kingdom of God has come near.’ Now, that’s not to deny that the Gospel includes the cross, or faith in Jesus, both of those are essential if you want to share in the Kingdom of God, but the Gospel is about the Kingdom of Jesus. That’s the Gospel!

Two years ago a few months before the pandemic struck we had an end of year all-age service just at the end of 2019, hopefully you might remember back to that and that you were there, we asked you a question and gave you some post-it notes to write on – is this jogging any memories now – and on the way out you were asked to post it, post up your post-it notes and we would collect them in and we were doing this as part of our purpose and values – and if you don’t know what they are check out our website – now on the day we got 150, 200 plus post-it notes and the question we asked you was ‘What is important to Jesus?’ and we got answers ranging from the Bible to prayer, to church, to people, to love, to forgiveness but guess what wasn’t there, not one posting – the Kingdom of God – not once, not one. Now, why is that?

Let me say, I don’t think it’s your fault, I don’t think it’s your fault. If anyone is to blame for that scenario happening, it lies with the ministers, generations of ministers who’ve not taught that. Not just me, not just Murdo and Scott, but generations before that. That maybe we ministers have been so wrapped up by our culture, our individualistic culture, that we have focused so much on the individual, and not focused on the Kingdom, not focused on the fact that so much of scripture is addressed to our community, not just to an individual, or we get so wrapped up in the institutions and the congregation and the parish and, to be honest there ain’t anything of that in here! It doesn’t seem like God really cares much for denominations or a parish system or whatever/ It might be His focus is on the Kingdom, on unity. There is no them and us as Paul says in verse 11 ‘Christ is all and is in all Christ.’ is all that matters and He is in every person who calls himself a Christian.

But, wherever the blame lies, can we change our thinking now? Can we go forward from this point now, much more shaped by a Kingdom mindset so that it does affect our day-to-day life? Because, if we don’t, we’ll hit a barrier a glass ceiling or maybe not even a glass ceiling, a very solid ceiling of faith both individually and together because, without that theology of the Kingdom of God rooted deep in us, shaping our mindset, shaping our lives individually and collectively, we won’t have the right outlook on faith or life and we’ll just hit a ceiling. It would be like a barrier where the plants have just got a barrier over and they can’t flourish and grow and they just grow inward. Your faith, our collective faith, will just grow inward without that framework of the Kingdom of God. It’s so important to the scriptures and it’s so important to this passage, because Paul goes on now to say well if that’s true of you, if you share now in the future Kingdom of Jesus, there’s a lifestyle that goes along with that.

And so, he goes on to say ‘Put to death therefore whatever belongs to your earthly nature. You must also rid yourselves of all such things as these. You have taken off your old self with its practices.’ Again, there’s a lot in here and these three strands seem to again have a similar thought to them and I would summarize it this way – cast off what is not fitting for Christ’s Kingdom, cast off what is not fitting for Christ’s Kingdom. Because here and in the later verses of the same passage, he uses this picture of clothing that is or is not fitting for the Kingdom of Jesus and here he’s saying to cast it off. I’m pretty sure at one point I’ve told you that Gill and I got invited, when I worked with the Scout Association, to the Queen’s Garden Party in Holyrood, at Holyrood Palace. Lovely day, thankfully it didn’t rain and everybody’s getting really glammed up and there was Gil looking fabulous and hat and everything on, and there’s me less fabulous and my Scout uniform, now I did have my kilt on so we better dash of color, but imagine if we rocked up there and t-shirts on ‘Down with the monarchy’! I’m not really sure that would have went down so well, it would have been scandalous, it would have been an absolute mockery of things, it would have been ill-fitting. And the same is true with our lifestyle, with how we live our faith. There is a faith, a lifestyle that is fitting as someone who belongs to the Kingdom and there is a lifestyle that is ill-fitting and Paul wants us to put to death what is ill-fitting.

Now, because that makes us uncomfortable, we often shrug it off, we want to look at the positive rather than the negative, but we need to grasp the more negative and to help us do that I want to very briefly read out three analogies that I picked up in my reading because they between them they grasp some of the what is Paul is getting at here and what differentiates what Paul is teaching, what the Christian faith is teaching from those other false avenues of worship and the three pictures are: the house; the well; and the cage.

The house – When you ask God into your life you think He’s going to come into your inner house, look around and see that you just need a little cleaning and so you go along for the first week while thinking how nice life is now that God is part of it, then you look out the window one day and to your horror you see a wrecking ball outside. It turns out that God actually thinks your whole foundation is shot and you’re going to have to start over from scratch.

The well – A Tennessee farmer once said ‘What comes up in the bucket is usually what’s down in the well’. The list of vices Paul gives points to an inner pollution. No list of do’s and don’ts will ever change that pollution, the only solution is to change what is down in the well of our very souls.

The cage – The false teaching Paul opposed put the wild animals of lust and hatred into cages, there they remained alive, dangerous, beating at the bars, threatening to get out and capture their captor again, Paul’s solution is more drastic – the wild animals are to be killed. The old method of holiness attacked symptoms; the true method goes for the root.

Paul’s not really teaching a list of do’s and don’ts, he’s much more interested and you’ve been changed from the inside out, been changed in the depths of your being so that what is fitting for the Kingdom grows and exudes from you, that when people see you, they see Jesus, and we could spend literally sermons on this thought as well, but I don’t have the time and so I want to refer you to a resource that I found helpful not only on this particular topic but on several others as well. It’s a book by Timothy Keller called ‘Prayer’ and he’s basically bringing together his research and his life over many decades of ministry to say this, this is what I found useful and in that he has a chapter on finding the grace of God, the grace of God, and in it he talks about how you can put to death the sinful nature your earthly nature and what he writes in there is fresh and life-giving and really helpful. The whole book is great but even just for that one chapter it would be worth having a copy. Now, if you don’t want to particularly buy it I’m happy to lend out mine so first come-first served and you can take it away today. Because Paul is serious about this. We really do need to put to death what is ill-fitting so that we can grow in that lifestyle that is fitting but, as Keller writes, it’s finding His grace to forgive yes, but grace also to change. As we saw in our last series, our series on Grace before the summer last year, Grace is also in the scriptures synonymous with God’s power, God’s power to transform you, power to change you. But to access that power there first has to be something else that comes before and I briefly just want to touch on this because if you want to access this power you first need to be, need to have died and be raised to life as Paul says or in the language of Jesus, you need to be born again.

Now, some of us are going to say ‘Well, I didn’t have a clear conversion moment, Scott, so how do I know?’ and many people can say that, but they still know with certainty that they’re a Christian, that they have died and been and raised to have life in Jesus. Because none of us is born a Christian, coming to church doesn’t make you a Christian, being baptized or being a member doesn’t make you a Christian, the only thing that makes you a Christian is that you have died and been raised with Jesus. So, how can you know, how can you know with a degree of certainty and encouragement?

Well, what I’ve found really helpful in discerning this is Paul’s writings in second Corinthians and he says in chapter 5 ‘and he (that is Jesus) died for all that that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.’ and what Paul is saying is that, someone who has died and been raised to have life in Jesus within them, as a desire to no longer live for themselves but to live for Jesus. Now, none of us gets it right perfectly, even the minister had a very clear conversion experience and I’ll go into some detail on this in a moment, he doesn’t get it right, go ask my wife, every day there are issues, but at the core of a Christian should be that desire for this to be true of their life, that they don’t want to just live for themselves, they want to live for Jesus, and increasingly so. If you can say that’s true of you then you know you have died and been raised to life, and if you haven’t, and if that’s not there, there might be reasons for that. I’d happily talk that through or maybe we can ponder it at home on our own, because, if you desire to live for Christ rather than just for yourself, if you are have died and been raised to life then you share in Christ, you share in His Kingdom. And so, because of that, there is a lifestyle that is fitting and unfitting for that and God wants to help us grow in that by accessing His power, accessing His grace. So, that’s putting to death what’s ill-fitting and first accessing the grace of God by knowing that we’re in Christ.

So, how can we put on what is fitting and what does that even mean ‘to put on what is fitting’? Well, Paul says ‘set your hearts on things above ….. set your minds on things above, not on earthly things…. you have put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator therefore ….. clothe yourselves’ That middle sentence I have practiced it so much because they just trip over it quite easily, it’s a bit tricky there. And there’s two things I want to highlight for us.

‘Earthly things’ – first of all I think it’s very possible that we could read this and get the wrong end of the stick with Paul because when you think of earthly things on a first read we might begin to wonder well is Paul talking about some form of escapism like have I not to be bothered about what I wear, or am I not allowed to enjoy a glass of wine, or company with friends, or the chocolate bar? What is it that he means like by ‘focus your minds and hearts on things above and not on earthly things’? Like, what is that about? And for me, what helped this week, was to realize that in verse 2 ‘earthly things’ there’s a Greek phrase used there, ‘earthly things’ that’s the same Greek phrase in verse 5 for ‘earthly nature’. So, in verse 5 Paul is saying there’s this part of your earthly nature that is opposed to God, opposed to the will of God, that is ugly and just wrong, that’s your earthly nature, but earthly things in chapter verse 2 is just the same phrase and it’s the same thing. So Paul is not against you enjoying life, he’s not calling you to be so heavenly minded that you’re not involved in the day-to-day of life or not enjoying the day-to-day of life, that’s not what he’s about, ultimately he’s about saying that we need to change from the inside out about what we think about, what captures our hearts, that it wouldn’t be these earthly wrong things but other things, the good things of God, that he’s given us, that the good things in Him, the good things of His will.

And so we have the second phrase saying that we’ve to be ‘renewed in knowledge in the image of its creator’ and until this week if you’d asked me ‘What does that mean Scott?’ I probably would have waffled some nonsense, I’m pretty good at that not always maybe convincingly, but I can waffle as good as the next minister probably, but until this week, I had not a clue really what that meant.

But this week, I had an experience on Monday that I’m about to tell you and then in the midst of that I also happen to be researching and trying to understand the scriptures and the two came together and I’m just so excited to share what I got because I just find it so life-giving that God’s just perfect timing brought those things together! So, on Monday, Gill comes home from visiting her parents and she shares with me the news that her dad had spilt milk on her phone such that and left it for a while, I might add, such that that the earpiece of the phone wasn’t working properly. Now, she has a nice new iPhone not the brand new one it’s a couple of years older I think, but it’s pretty good, it’s not a cheap phone, and inside me starts bubbling a whole range of emotions. I didn’t say anything but my mood, the vibe I was giving off was a bit prickly, a bit moody, We term it, Gill and I, my passive aggressiveness which it is, it is passive aggressive. I don’t vent so I don’t go into a rage as Paul says but there’s this just exuding of my passive aggressiveness and at first Gill thinks ‘He’s annoyed.’ I’m annoyed at her that this has happened, but we’ve kind of learned to work through conflict, thankfully, over these many years of marriage, and we’ve got to that point so we talk it through and I say to her ‘Well, I’m not annoyed at you, what actually is going on is I’m worried. I’m worried about finances. I’m worried that here’s more that we’re going to have to fork out for and cost of living crisis and all, that just amalgamation of things and worried, and so my worry has generated this passive aggressive prickliness.’ We kind of talked that through but at the same time I’m reading up about this verse and this passage and it just jumps off the page with fresh life and just spoke to me because what I realized was this, my passive aggressiveness, my prickliness, came from my worry over finances but my worry was a sign that I didn’t trust my Heavenly Father didn’t trust His love and provision because, if you think about it, let’s go to Jesus, did Jesus ever show passive aggressiveness? No! He showed anger, injustice but not passive aggressive and that’s because He never worried and He never worried because He was perfectly trusting in the Father’s love and provision. And so, for me, what I’ve realized is, that I need to have my mind renewed, my understanding of God and His character, of what it means to be His child, so that I don’t worry, and, the next time her dad spills milk on the phone, which is bound to happen, then I’m going to respond in a more Jesus-like manner with gentleness and kindness and ‘Oh, that’s grand. No worries.’ whatever it might be, I have no idea, but it won’t be passive aggressiveness. I’m not there yet and there’ll be many more days of passive aggressiveness I’m sure, but I’ve realized this. But it all starts in the mind and being renewed in your mind of what you understand of God and of His character and of His will. And the same is true of the sin and of the lack of Jesus image in your life, of all the ways that you show what’s here or in the other scriptures, where you’re not showing Jesus or you’re going against the will of God. It all starts from what needs to change in your mind, and I want to give you just a few quick worked examples based on the passage.

So, chapter verse 5 Paul says ‘put to death your earthly nature’ which includes sexual immorality and I don’t know what that brings up in your mind but just to let you know what the scriptures teach, that sexual immorality is sex outside of marriage. Now we can debate and discuss that at another time but sexual immoral immorality, sex outside of marriage is the thing that’s the outward product. What is the thinking that leads to that? It’s either you don’t understand the Biblical teaching about sex and where that is to be experienced marriage, or you think you know better than God. And so, well that’s something that needs to change in your thinking too or something else maybe around temptation on and how-to walk-in God’s ways in the face of temptation. There could be a number of things in your thinking that need to change so that you walk in God’s will, and on the outward product is not sexual immorality anymore.

Let’s take verse 11 where Paul is talking that ‘there’s no longer Jew or Greek and Jew or Gentile’ and there should be no division. There should be no Brightons or Slamannan, Brightons or Polmont, Brightons or Maddiston Evangelical, there’s nothing of the Kingdom because what needs to change in our mind is that as verse 11 says ‘Christ is all and is in all’ Christ is all that matters. The Bible doesn’t give a jot about denominations. So, that needs to change in our thinking so that we have a much more Kingdom outlook and then we evidence greater unity and less about them and us and that we’re all one family wherever we’re based.

Or let’s take verse 13 where Paul talks about bearing with each other forgiving one another ‘forgive as the Lord forgives you.’ Now, let me first say that there are some elements of forgiveness, some things that are done to you that require a lot more nuance than I’m going to give just now and forgiveness can sometimes be a lengthy process, I’ve been there with some things, and they’re not even the worst things that you can experience. So, please bear in mind that, there’s lots of caveats around this. But it’s not uncommon for people in churches to experience stuff that peeves you off and so you just get really annoyed and you end up having a grievance against someone but then you don’t forgive and that grievance becomes bitterness. We’ve all probably been there. That stems, in part, there’s a process there and maybe that’s what you need to understand, the process of reaching forgiveness, but in part it can stem from thinking you’re better than the other person. So pride or not understanding that actually you were an enemy of God and yet He died for you so if He’s willing to extend you forgiveness why are you not willing to extend that other person forgiveness? There’s so much that could be wrong in our thinking or just not formed in our thinking, that is in line with the scriptures that on the other hand we end up displaying just bitterness and unforgiveness. You could do that with everything in here, lust, evil desires, idolatry, greed, everything stems from something that needs to change in our thinking so that, in us, has renewed the image of Jesus,

And I pray, church, that we would really take this on board. Take this on board so that our today’s generation sees that the Christian faith is not about just ticking a box and coming to church, it’s not about even being a nice person, it’s about knowing the living God whose grace you know, whose grace is at work in your life, such that you’re changing and you exude Jesus in your day-to-day life, because you’re part of His Kingdom and the grace and power of His Kingdom is at work in your life and you’re then embodying that Kingdom by casting off what is not of it and putting on what is.

I pray that that would be our testimony, our story and that we would share that with today’s generation. May it be so. Amen

Reality found in Christ

Preached on: Sunday 13th February 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 22-02-13 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Colossians 2:16-23
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word:

Holy Spirit come among as we pray and soften our hearts to the word of God Holy Spirit come among us and help us see the life offered to us in Jesus Holy Spirit come among us with power and deep conviction for we ask it in Jesus name amen

I’ve got a question for you to think about and at first hearing it might sound a little shocking, maybe even heretical. Here’s the question.

If you were to make your own religion what would it look like? If you were to make your own religion what would it look like? And I’m not asking that simply because I’m at home and safe from you all, I do have a reason and it is tied to our passage. What is more, the question gets at something in human nature in general, because we are wired for worship whether we end up worshiping sport or money or sex or power or family, we worship something and as John Calvin the great reformer and theologian said ‘Our heart, the human heart, is a factory of idols we end up worshiping something more often than not.’ Sadly, it’s not God. What are we worshiping? If you make your own religion what would it look like?

I suspect if we were to actually make our own religion it would be very like the world religions today. There would be something in it that would give us a benefit because all religions do. There’d be something in it whereby we do something that something that looks spiritual, religious, that have pre things to do and things to have as part of that religion. There would of course have to be, I suspect as all the religions do, a way of improving yourself, because none of us are perfect, we’ve always got room to improve, and, because we’re not perfect and we do wrong things, there needs to be a way of balancing the scales. All of these would likely feature in whatever we made up as our religion.

But, in our passage today, Paul wants to keep the Colossians faith in Jesus exclusively in Jesus. I might add and to achieve that he speaks of things that they are to reject.

He says in verses 16, 18 and 20 ‘Therefore, do not let anyone judge you, do not let anyone disqualify you. Why do you submit?’ In these three portions he’s basically getting at the same idea – reject false worship – and he’s going to give us two broad avenues of worship that we are to reject so that we keep our faith exclusively in Jesus.

The first chunk, the first paragraph is really to do with shadow worship. He says in verses 16 to 17 ‘Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink or with regard to a religious festival, a new moon celebration or a sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come.’ These are a shadow of things to come, we are to reject shadow worship and Paul outlines at the start there are a whole range of Old Testament practices and he says they’re all a shadow. They were all something pointing back to the real thing. They were pointing to something else. They’re a shadow,

So, for example, the eating and drinking laws. They were to identify who was part of the people of God, to say who was in and who was out, and that was a shadow pointing to the reality. Or the religious festivals which were annual events often tied into forgiveness, spiritual forgiveness, again pointing to another reality, The monthly new moon celebrations often tied to a theme of spiritual renewal. And then, the weekly sabbath day which symbolized freedom and security and rest in God, again pointing to something else, All of these were a shadow says Paul. They are fleeting. They are temporary, They’re not the real thing. So, reject now such worship. He goes on to say this in verse 18 ‘Do not let anyone who delights in false worship and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen. They are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind.’

So, let me unpack a few words and phrases here. False humility probably has connotations of fasting and so it may be fasting to bring on a spiritual experience or fasting to appear very spiritual and mature. Worship of angels can mean a couple of different things, we’re not entirely sure. It could mean the actual worship of angels rather than God, or it could have could mean having a spiritual experience where you’re caught up amongst the worship the angels are giving to God and you’re kind of joining in that experience but really, whatever it means, ultimately Paul says in the next sentence they are ‘idle notions’, they lead nowhere, they are not worth anything.

He says also, that this kind of worship, this false kind of worship, just puffs people up, it makes them prideful, makes them full of hot air. And so, again, don’t let them disqualify you. Reject such claims and such teaching because that form of worship is empty. It’s again, a form of shadow worship, so reject it.

Let’s go back to that intro question thinking about if you were to make your own religion what would it look like. Well, I suspect if we did try and create our own religion we would naturally seek a kind of positive side, a positive side to our religion. It brings us benefits and asks us to do things which just appear spiritual, appear good on the surface, pure beneficial and Paul’s principle in this portion of our passage is that the Colossians are to reject shadow worship so as to keep their worship on Jesus alone, they are to reject shadow worship things that look beneficial and worship Jesus alone. So, what about us? Do we engage in shadow worship? Do the people in our community engage in shadow worship?

You know across the three years I’ve been here I’ve seen different forms of shadow worship. I’ve or heard of things at least I know of one place where people were organizing a fun night by inviting a spiritualist to host an event and indeed there are around and about, maybe more so in West Lothian, but probably here as well, there are spiritualist churches and sadly that’s quite a misleading title because a spiritualist or a spiritualist church or meeting is about connecting with spirits of people who have died, either friends or family, and I want to briefly mention this just in case you or someone you know is ever thinking of engaging in such things and I want to point out why doing so is not healthy, is a shadow form of worship. Because the Bible teaches that when someone dies, whether they know God or not, their spirit automatically goes on to whatever lies ahead, to either be with God or to face judgment. There is no mix up, there’s no accidental staying behind or anything like that, it’s one or other, and that means that whatever is happening in a spiritualist meeting or event and whatever has been facilitated by a spiritualist, should it be real at all, it can’t be a human spirit, it’s not going to be anything of God’s kingdom, because God doesn’t deceive, he doesn’t lie and try and trick us, and the only other spiritual force or place that that could come about then is the dominion of darkness, which Paul talked about earlier in Colossians, basically the demonic. So, I caution you against such things. I would caution anyone in our community against such things and in fact actually, when I heard about that event because it was somewhere important to me and I didn’t want them to have that event I did go and speak to the management and say I really don’t think this should be happening and here’s why. We do, as human beings, engage in shadow worship.

There are also people in groups which engage in other kinds of shadow worship. You might know or have been involved in a right or ceremony which claimed religious connotations and maybe include symbolism, maybe the symbolism of being blindfolded, maybe the symbolism of having something tied around your neck and it might just have been described as a metaphor or that it didn’t carry any great meaning or effect but actually, it does, it is a portrayal a symbolism of spiritual dynamics the blindfold inviting spiritual blindness the thing tied around your neck talking about silence. These are not healthy practices and if you’ve engaged in them or engaged with a spiritualist or a oui-ja board or whatever, it might be you’ve potentially opened yourself up to forces beyond Jesus, because nothing in our faith encourages us to engage in such practices and if that unsettles you then please just come and have a talk with me, and we can find freedom and life in Jesus.

So, those are maybe more out-there kind of things and it might seem like a bit of a side issue for many of us but if I don’t talk about it, who is going to talk about it. So, this is my one time just because it comes up in Colossians I, right I’m going to mention this.

So, let’s think about more everyday things. Let’s think about things within the church, for example. So, in the first part of this passage Paul talks about people who are claiming to have spiritual experiences, a real spiritual high and if you’re not having that, seeing that, experiencing that, then maybe your faith in Jesus is insufficient or not real, and it makes me wonder – Are we seeking a spiritual high rather than seeking Jesus? Are we, in our faith, simply about making us feel good or about following Jesus? Because, you know, following Jesus is really hard. There are times when sacrifices are made. There are times when feeling close to Jesus just isn’t there. You feel distant from Him and that doesn’t mean He’s not real, doesn’t mean that your faith’s not genuine. And if we are seeking a spiritual high, a spiritual experience, if our faith is only about making us feel good, then we’re worshiping that rather than worshiping Jesus. Or in the church we have other dangers as well, because we can end up worshiping so much else than Jesus. Although we think we’re worshiping Jesus. So, for example, we might say I wish there was more band music or I wish there was more organ music or I wish there was more silence or I wish there was more noise and informality. You know, do we worship the style of worship more than we actually worship Jesus? Or we’re talking about buildings as well in the church circles just now and will we keep our building, will other buildings close? And, if our building was to close, would you stop coming to worship? Would you refuse to go elsewhere? Could that suggest you worship the building more than you worship Jesus? There’s so many different ways that this can happen, that we end up engaging in shadow worship rather than the worship of Jesus, and Paul’s call to us in this first part of the passage is to reject shadow worship because it is fleeting and empty.

So, let’s go back to that intro question, if you were to make your own religion what would it look like? and what we’ve discovered. We’ve looked at the positive side, the benefits, the things you might do in a positive manner and as part of that religion but, you know, every religion deals with the negative side of humanity somehow. We need something in our religion that deals with our brokenness and tries to balance the scales of that so that there’s justice in the world.

And I think that Paul is aware that the false teachers are going to or are or are already trying to push a false worship that seeks to deal with that negative side of our humanity, but in unhealthy ways. So he says for example ‘Why do you submit to its rules? Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’ These rules which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use are based on merely human commands and teachings.

Now. let’s be clear, Paul’s not against morality as we’ll see in the next couple of chapters but he is careful to differentiate between as he says rules that are merely human commands and teachings with what is from God and what is actually effective. Because, let’s see what he says in the next verse ‘Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.’ Now, let’s be clear, by sensual indulgence Paul is not just meaning sex or sexual temptation, although that is included, if you look in the letter to the Galatians chapter 5 you’ll see Paul listing various ways that the flesh portrays itself; yes, there’s the sexual stuff, but there’s also envy and greed and bitterness and anger and rage and such like. All of that is part of how our flesh, our sinful nature, shows itself and displays itself and we war against that, and the tendency of humanity is just to create more and more religions that try and deal with that through tick boxes, through a list of rules, rather than trying to get to the heart of the issue, which is our sinful heart, We would rather deal with anything, we would rather have a list of rules as long as your arm, rather than face up to our willful rebellion in our hearts against God, we’d rather do anything else, speak about anything else than face up to that reality, and have God deal with that reality in the depths of our being.

I wonder if in past generations you’ve seen some of that as well. I’m conscious that I think there was a period of time, maybe it was more in the States but possibly here in the UK as well, where Christians were not expected to do certain things there, they might have not drunk and alcohol, and they might not have went to dances, they might not have went to the cinema. Now, those rules may have come in for good reasons, at least on the surface, but, actually, did it deal with the real issues the issues of our heart? Did they actually foster anything of the fruit of the spirit of love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness or indeed self-control? Probably not. And so, we have to wonder if such rules were simply hollow, they lacked any value, because they didn’t change us from the inside out, they gave the appearance of being holy but didn’t actually nurture holiness. It maybe relied much more on our strength of will than on the power of God’s Spirit to change us. After all, Paul says in Romans 8 ‘If, by the spirit, you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.’ You have a role to play putting to death the misdeeds of the body but it can only happen by the Spirit, by the Spirit that we put to death over the course of our life, we put to death the misdeeds of our body so that we grow in greater likeness to Jesus, displaying the fruit of the Spirit in increasing measure, that is part of the hope of the Christian journey but it’s a process, and it can’t be in our own strength and so, Paul is saying that we are to reject futile rule making because it’s passing, it’s hollow, it’s simply trusting in the wrong things.

So, what about us? What about you? Where are you tempted to trust the wrong things rather than trust in Jesus and in the power of His Spirit? For example, maybe you have a sense that you need to appease God, that you’re not perfect and you do wrong things. All of us probably have that feeling at times but, are you trying to appease God in your own way, with your own resources, your own achievements, your own sacrifices? Do you ever think along these lines, that surely God accepts you, surely God will welcome you into heaven, into the kingdom of heaven, into His family because of your moral life, because you’ve given up so much, or done so much, or went to such great lengths? Is that what you base your confidence, your faith upon? Do you think that your religion and your activity in the name of religion will be enough? Because, after all, Paul says this in Galatians ‘For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse. As it is written ‘cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the book of the law.’ Clearly, no one who relies on the law is justified before God because the righteous will live by faith.’

If we try and rely on our own merits, try and obey the rules, try and tick the boxes, if we stumble at one fault, that is the whole lot cast down, that is the whole lot stained, because, as the verse says, to live by the law you have to do everything and if you don’t you’re under a curse. So, the law doesn’t actually justify you because you can’t be justified, can’t be made right with God through what you do, you cannot live a good enough life to earn salvation, it’s all futile rule making, and Paul calls us to reject it because it is passing and hollow.

So, Paul has given us two avenues of worship to reject. We’re to reject false worship and we’ve to reject futile rule making. But, you know, along the way as Paul does, he weaves in some positive encouragement, positive reminders, positive truth, because after all, he wants the Colossians to keep their faith exclusively in Jesus, and so he just can’t help himself but point to Jesus because, in Jesus, is the life we seek. He says in verse 17 ‘These are a shadow of the things that were to come.’ The reality however, is found in Jesus, the reality is found in Jesus, all that was portrayed through the Old Testament, the forgiveness, the spiritual renewal, the freedom, the security, the welcome into God’s family, the rest that you yearn. for all of that is now found in Jesus. so come to Him. And you know, finding something, when you’re looking around the house and you find it, you take hold of it and you keep a hold of it, It’s that idea here, as well. Lay hold of Jesus and keep a hold of Jesus because the life you seek is in Him. Paul goes on, he also said they have lost their false teachers, have lost connection with the head from whom the whole body supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. The head from whom the whole body grows. The image of a head and body we know from chapter 1 verse 18 is speaking of Jesus as the head and the church, as the body the members or the individual Christians. And so Paul, is saying that the life you seek is in Jesus but you need to stay connected to Him. Don’t be distracted, don’t be taken away elsewhere, stay connected to Jesus. And we understand that picture language, don’t we, because our head and our body are so intricately tied and connected through our head. It’s how we access food and what we drink through, our head is how we take an air that our body needs, our head is where thinking and senses are processed, through our head is where the life comes from the body and when the head becomes disconnected from the body, well, the body’s dead. The same is true of the Christian life, any spiritual life. If you want life, it’s through Jesus and you need to stay connected to Him.

But Paul has one final little bit that throws us a bit of a curveball maybe. He says in verse 20 ‘You died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world. Why, as though you still belong to the world do you submit to its rules?’ It seems a little bit oxymoronic because, how can life come from death? It seems a bit odd but actually, Paul is simply echoing the teaching of Jesus here because Jesus said in several of the gospels ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life, will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me, and for the gospel, will save it.’ The language of ‘take up your cross’ and of ‘losing your life’ is the language of dying that your will, dies and submits to the will of Jesus and follows in His way. It is a language to help us understand what in part it means to be a Christian, to follow Jesus, that the things that we maybe want we have to die to. How we understand the world wrongly is to die the priorities that we think are so important. Sometimes need to die so that we find life through Him.

The life we seek is in Jesus and in sharing in His death and taking up our cross and losing our life for His sake. We come into that life we yearn for and that means we need to allow things to die. We need to allow our man-made forms of worship to die. We need to allow our shadow-worship, we need to allow our futile rule-making, to die. Because we are now in Christ. We are now a new creation. We’ve come out from under those false old ways, that shadow-worship, that futile rule-making. We don’t need to submit to it any longer. We don’t need to submit to that old way of life anymore, because we have died to it and we now have life through Jesus.

Friends, the spiritual life we seek, the life of meaning, community, freedom, the life of forgiveness, renewal, hope, joy, peace, security, that spiritual life we yearn for is to be found in Jesus. We don’t need to make up our own religion. We don’t need to answer the question I asked at the start. We don’t need to go to a spiritualist. We don’t need to belong to an exclusive group. We don’t need to seek spiritual highs or tick religious boxes or appease God with our own efforts. The life we seek is found in Jesus so, reject shadow-worship, reject futile rule-making and simply come to Jesus. Trust in Him. Worship Him. Hold fast to Him. Stay connected to Him because the life you seek is found in Jesus.

May we each find that life today and all the days of our life. May it be so, Amen.

We close our service as we sing together our final hymn ‘All I once held dear.’

Confidence in Christ Jesus as Lord

Preached on: Sunday 6th February 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 22-02-06 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Colossians 2:6-15
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word:
Holy Spirit, come among us and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Holy Spirit, come among us and help us see the truths of Jesus and hear them for ourselves.
Come Holy Spirit now, we pray, with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.I wonder, do you ever feel like your faith has waned or diminished somehow? Maybe when you were a teen or a young person? Maybe when you took on a new role in church that was a real high point in your faith journey, but you know, maybe something’s happened and your faith has taken a knock it’s dropped, it’s dimmed, and maybe now you’re feeling less confident in your faith? And you know, if that’s you or someone that you know, it’s very similar to what Paul was feeling for the Colossians. Maybe even very similar to what the Colossian Christians were feeling themselves, because, in their case, Paul was afraid that other teachers, maybe especially Jewish teachers, would come in and try to influence the church, trying to undermine their confidence, their confidence in the faith and so, he writes now both to safeguard and strengthen that faith.

He begins by taking them back to the start of their faith journey. He writes in verse 6 ‘So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord.’ Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord and with those eight words, Paul has the heart of his letter. This is the central bit to the whole letter. It concludes what has kind of come before. It has been building up to this point but those eight words prepare for the rest of the letter too, and we can just so easily skip over them because we’re like ‘Oh well, we know that language. We know what that means and yet, in the first century, those eight words were radical. Those eight words were daring, dangerous words because, to claim Jesus as Lord, well that was to assert that no one else was God, no other God was God, and it was to transfer your allegiance to Jesus, above all other allegiances, including the Roman Emperor and that was dangerous to do back in the day. This was a claim that could get you ostracized from your family, from your local community. This was a claim that could get you arrested, even killed but, really, it’s the natural conclusion of all that Paul said before. Particularly Donald’s passage a couple of weeks ago in chapter one where we looked at the supremacy of Jesus. This one who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation and whom the fullness of God dwell. This is a natural conclusion that Jesus is Lord and so Paul is saying that to be a Christian is to have received Jesus as Lord, the Lord of your life. It’s to have transferred your allegiance to Him, above all other allegiances.

Now, we might say ‘Well, I’m a Christian because Jesus is my Savior.’ and that might well be true but true saving faith also includes transferring your allegiance to Jesus as Lord because, when we repent, we’re not simply saying sorry for things that we’ve done for our sin, we’re turning from that old way of life and we’re seeking to live a new way of life under the Lordship of Jesus, and that was part of Jesus’s teaching as well. He says in Matthew chapter 11 ‘Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.’ The rest of salvation, the rest that comes through knowing you’re forgiven and reconciled to God, but he goes on ‘Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.’ That language of the yoke and taking it upon you was a Rabbi’s way of saying my way of life, my teaching, take it upon you come under my authority, learn from me. It is coming to Jesus as Lord and so, you might know some knowledge about Jesus, you may even think well of Jesus, you might even say ‘Well, I’ve asked Jesus to forgive me’ but biblical faith, saving faith, includes receiving Jesus as Lord. That is central to being a Christian because, you know, even the demons believe that Jesus is God in the flesh, even demons believe that you can go to Jesus for forgiveness but they don’t receive Him as Lord.

So, can I ask you, have you, have you received Jesus as Lord? Have you transferred your allegiance to Him?

I’ve told my story of coming to faith on a number of occasions but a central part of that faith story is that I transferred my allegiance to Jesus. Up to that point, at the age of 19, I’d been pretty much living how I wanted to live. My way was the highway, and I just did what I wanted to do, and it hurt a lot of people along the way. Actually, it was a very selfish life but when I came to faith I realized not only did I need forgiveness, which I did and which I asked for, but I had to turn from that old way and I had to come under the Lordship of Jesus. Now, I didn’t know that language, I didn’t know that’s what I even really did, but looking back, that’s what happened. I came to transfer my allegiance to Jesus to see that He had to become my Lord and I had to live under His authority. can I ask you friends, have you come to that point, truly come to that point, where Jesus is more than just a nice guy, an old teacher, a figure of wisdom, he might even be someone you regard so highly? Because you can be forgiven through Him but if you come to know Him as Lord, true repentance includes that. So, can you say that, with the Colossians that you have received Jesus as Lord?

So, that’s what Paul begins this section by reminding them, of taking them back to the start of their faith journey, that they received Jesus as Lord and he does that because Paul is concerned for their spiritual welfare. He says in verse 8 ‘See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy.’ Paul is concerned for their spiritual welfare, He’s concerned that someone is going to take them captive through other teaching and the words there ‘take you captive’, the language there has echoes of the day of slave traders coming and taking off victims body and soul and taking them into a new way of life, a life that is no life really, and Paul doesn’t want that for them, he doesn’t want them to be taken away from the life they found in Jesus and taken into slavery and so as to safeguard and strengthen their faith in Jesus, Paul wants to give them confidence in Jesus and to build up their confidence in Jesus.

He gives them four reasons that they can have such confidence and his first reason is this – Have confidence in Jesus, because He is fully God. In verses 9 and 10 Paul says ‘For in Christ all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.’ So Paul’s concerned that some teachers are going to come along and they’re going to say ‘Well, if you want truthfulness, if you want to really know God, Jesus is not enough, you need to to do something else or you need to have something else or know something else or know someone else.’ But not so, says Paul, because in Jesus actually the deity, not just divinity, the deity lives in Jesus and that means that Jesus is not a demi-God, He’s not half-divine and half-human and nor does He simply have a human body within which is a divine spirit or mind ‘No, no, no.’ all the deity fully lives in Jesus. He is the sole human being who embodies the fullness of God and, as such, that means He’s the head over every power and authority. He is all authority over them. He is the Lord Almighty, the unopposed ruler. He is more powerful than any other. He is the Lord. To have confidence in Jesus, the one who is fully God.

Reason number two, have confidence in Jesus because you have been fully integrated into God’s family. You have been fully integrated into God’s family. He says in verse 11 ‘In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self, ruled by the flesh, was put off when you were circumcised by Christ.’ Now these verses can seem a bit odd, slightly out of place and pretty dense stuff as well, and it’s because of these verses and because of what Paul writes here that it seems likely Paul is concerned about Jewish teachers coming along to undermine the faith and confidence that Colossians have in Jesus otherwise, why would Paul go off on this tangent. And so, we need to remember first of all what circumcision was about. It was about being obedient to God’s covenant in the Old Testament and it signified that someone was part of the people of God. It was a sign, a way in, and so Paul is aware of this from the experience with the Galatians, that people might come along and say ‘Well, if you really want to belong to the people of God, if you really want to be saved, if you really want to be reconciled to God, then you need to have circumcision it’s not just enough to have faith in Jesus’ but Paul says otherwise. It says otherwise in just about all these letters and his argument here is that they actually, the Colossians and any Christian has been circumcised, already circumcised, and the only sense that really matters, a circumcision of the heart, not done by hand, a circumcision of the heart done by Jesus and what Paul means is this, that when you come to faith in Jesus and you put your faith in Him such that He becomes your Lord, not simply your Savior, but your Lord as well, that means you’ve submitted to the Lordship of Jesus, His rule in your life, you’ve transferred your allegiance to Jesus in the depths of your being, where it really matters, and that’s what circumcision was meant to facilitate and enable and represent That old circumcision was meant to represent that inner circumcision and so, Paul says your whole self, ruled by the flesh, ruled by sin that that old way of life where you were under the mastery of sin, that is not gone because you’ve been circumcised in the heart where it really matters and so at that point of repentance when Jesus became your savior and your Lord, you put off that old master and you receive Jesus as your new Master, your new King, your new Lord, and you transferred your allegiance to Him and that means you’re no longer an enemy of God. Chapter 1 verse 21 ‘Because you receive God and his lordship through Jesus in your life’ and that means you’re now part of His people and so you’re fully integrated into God’s people and that is represented and displayed and affirmed in baptism, particularly the baptism of immersion, is particularly helpful to portray this and so Paul writes in verse 12 ‘Having been back buried with him in baptism in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God who raised him from the dead.’ So the idea here is that in the baptism of immersion where you go under the water to be baptized that that is a dying a picture of dying going underneath the ground that you’re buried with Christ, you’ve died to your old way of life, you’ve died to your other masters, and you’re rising to a new life in Jesus, to having Jesus as your Lord and submitting to Him. That’s what Paul is getting at here and so through these verses Paul is saying, have confidence in Jesus because you’re fully integrated into God’s people, you’ve had the true circumcision, the true circumcision of your heart, which the Old Testament physical circumcision was meant to point towards and help facilitate, that inner circumcision has happened and so you don’t need that other circumcision because your allegiance is now in Jesus who is God after all, and so you are part of the people of God and you can have confidence in Jesus.

Reason number three, have confidence in Jesus because you are fully forgiven. Paul says in verses 13 and 14 ‘When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ he forgave us all our sins having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness which stood against us and condemned us. He has taken it away nailing it to the cross’ and so Paul says that these Colossians, before they had faith in Jesus, were dead in their sins which every human being is before faith in Jesus, and in the uncircumcision of your flesh that that sin, your flesh, was your master in that previous state. You were dead, you were estranged from God, the source of life but then God made you alive and He made you alive by forgiving your sins by forgiving you fully through Jesus’ death on the cross. Now, the phrase in these verses where Paul says ‘the charge of our legal indebtedness’, that phrase, the charge of our legal indebtedness, that’s Paul’s shorthand here of referring to the Old Testament law. The Old Testament law would simply build up a list of things that we failed to do, a list of ways that we rebelled against God, ‘that we were enemies of God in our minds by our evil behavior’ Chapter 1 verse 21, and as such, the law simply put us under a doomed future, a curse, because we sin and we sin and we sin, and we send some more and all that means is that our future, the only future ahead of us, without receiving forgiveness, the only future that was ahead of us is eternal separation from God because of sin, but Paul is saying that now, through Jesus, you can have that debt taken away, not ripped up and forgotten about, but actually borne by Jesus on the cross. There it is nailed with Jesus and He dies our death, He bears the punishment of our sin. God can’t simply ignore it because He’s a holy, righteous God but, out of love, He dies in your place and in my place and if we put our faith in Jesus, we can be fully forgiven such that the law, the charge of our legal indebtedness has no charge against us now when we have faith in Jesus, when we belong to Him because we’re fully forgiven, we’re reconciled to God. Chapter 1 ‘and so let’s have confidence in Jesus because of his death on the cross.’

Reason number four, have confidence in Jesus because you are fully secure. Paul says in verse 15 ‘and having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them triumphing over them by the cross.’ Now there’s various references in this letter and in other letters of Paul’s to the spiritual forces to powers and authorities and it’s not exactly clear what Paul means by that language. Here he doesn’t really expand upon it overly much so it could refer to demonic powers, it could refer to foreign gods, it could simply refer to the Roman government even. Of course, it could refer to all three and whichever one, it is ultimately Paul’s point is still the same, that Jesus has disarmed these powers, Jesus has disarmed any embodiment of rebellion against God and so that means that Colossians, by having faith in Jesus, don’t need to fear these powers, they don’t need to submit to these powers. Again, they don’t need to try and appease these powers once more, rather they’ve to see that, in Jesus, they have the true God of true Gods, they have the Lord of all creation who, through his death, has won the final victory and such that one day His kingdom will be established and that will be all there is. So, have confidence in Jesus because you’re fully secure through Him.

Those are the four reasons that Paul gives to the Colossians. Reasons to have confidence in Jesus and I wonder friends, which reason do we need to take heed of today in our own life?

Do we need to have confidence that in Jesus? We have the one who is fully God, so why look elsewhere? Why look for faith and another God, or by another name? Simply come to Jesus.

Or do you need to have confidence that through Jesus you’re fully part of God’s family? So, why are you taking other steps to try and earn it, earn your way into God’s family, earn your status or your welcome in God’s family. You are part of God’s family.

Are you needing to have greater confidence in the forgiveness you have through Jesus? And so, you don’t need to look to your own solutions, you don’t need to try and appease God with your good behavior. Come to faith in Jesus and a confidence in what He’s achieved on the cross.

Or do you need to know that you’re fully secure in Jesus, that you don’t need to fear other powers, you don’t need to trust in other sources of security or salvation? Trust in Jesus, have confidence in Him, for in Him you’re fully secure.

Friends, where is it you need to grow in your confidence in Jesus today? Where is it you feel undermined? In these four areas of life, we can feel undermined by so much, so Paul exhorts us, as he exhorts the Colossians, to have confidence in Jesus and Jesus alone, because of these four ways.

And so, Paul has seen seeking to safeguard and strengthen the Colossians faith in Jesus as Lord and he gives those four reasons but actually, Paul said something else as well, something I skipped over just to help me structure this sermon.

In a useful manner Paul earlier on said this ‘So then, just as you receive Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him. Strengthened in the faith as you were taught and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive.’ Paul doesn’t want to see this group of Christians just hang in there with a lukewarm or dry faith. His picture of the Christian life is not that someone comes to faith in Jesus and just hangs in there until the day they see Jesus’ face to face. No, no, Paul has a greater vision for the Christian life. He wants to see these Christians continue in Jesus, to continue exclusively in Jesus, to continue strong in Jesus, to continue in Jesus with thankfulness. That’s his heart and vision for these Christians and so he says ‘Continue to live your lives and him keep trusting in Jesus. Pursue Jesus with passion and with excitement, with overflowing with thankfulness because’ as he says you’re rooted in Him already, you’re rooted in Him when you received Him as Lord, you’ve become rooted in Him so now, be built up, don’t be undermined, don’t just hang in there, with the smallest amount of faith or knowledge or joy or passion, be built up, build on the foundation you have in Jesus Lord so that your strength, faith is strengthened and then you’re not taken captive by other false philosophies which are empty, which are dead, which don’t lead to life, don’t allow your allegiance to be transferred from Jesus to something or someone else keep your allegiance in Jesus and evidence that by continuing to live in Him and grow in your faith.

And don’t we need to hear this as well church? There is so much in life, whether it’s on social media, in the newspapers, and what we see on the TV and the demands of the marketplace to try and get us to buy different things. There is so much around us in our culture which seeks to draw our allegiance away from Jesus and give our allegiance to other things, to find our security, to find our salvation, to find hope and confidence and authority in other places rather than in Jesus. And you know friends, there are local groups, local institutions which you might even be a part of on a voluntary basis, which are seeking to lead you astray. They might even claim to be Christian in nature. They could even involve the Bible in certain ceremonies and rights, but you know, they might prevent you from mentioning the name of Jesus, they might bar you from mentioning His name in prayers or in other activities and meetings. And if that’s the case friends, if you’re part of a group that’s like that where the name of Jesus is banned then it’s seeking to draw you away, it’s undermining the authority of Jesus, it’s not encouraging you to have Jesus as your Lord, truly and so I caution you there.

But whether that applies to you or not friends, all of us at times can feel an emptiness in faith, even in life and all of us at times can have faith feel like it’s waning a little bit or that God seems more distant than He once was, there are times in all of our lives when our confidence in Jesus is undermined but the answer is not, it is not to go looking elsewhere. The answer is to seek Jesus, to pursue Him afresh, to continue in Him, to continue exclusively in Jesus and keep our allegiance to Him because, let’s remember these great promises of Jesus ‘Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, for everyone who asks receives, the one who seeks finds’ and then later in the same gospel He says ‘Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’

Friends, do you need to come to Jesus afresh today maybe this year? Do you need to come to Him, to find the rest of knowing God that you don’t need to look elsewhere? In Jesus, you have God in all His fullness so come to Jesus. Do you need to know the rest of being part of God’s people, His family through Jesus, that you’re safe and secure in Him for all eternity? Do you need to know the rest of being forgiven, of reconciled to God through Jesus death on the cross? Do you need to know the rest of being secure in Jesus that He has disarmed all powers and authorities? You don’t need to fear them. Have peace through Jesus and come to Him afresh today because friends, Paul exhorts us to continue in Jesus, to come to Jesus that we might have confidence, that we might overflow with thankfulness for all that we have in Him because, in Jesus, we have the one who’s fully God in Jesus, we are fully part of God’s people now and for all eternity, in Jesus we are forgiven, we are secure, so let’s continue confidently and thankfully in Him. I pray it may be so. Amen.

We close our service with our final hymn, How firm our foundation. We’re going to sing it to a different tune than we know it would normally but it’s a tune that should be well known to you. We sing together then, How firm a foundation.

The main thing

Preached on: Sunday 30th January 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 22-01-30 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: COLOSSIANS 1:24-2:5
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us come to God in prayer. Let us pray:
Holy Spirit, be amongst us and open our minds to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit and open our hearts that we might hear the voice of Father God to us.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

So, 2022 is upon us and nearly a whole month has passed, one twelfth of the year has nearly gone and, for me at least, it’s flying past. Maybe that’s the newborn baby thing of sleep deprivation and the days blurring together; maybe it’s been out of the manse for about half of January because of a beetle infestation; who knows. One or two things, you know, to juggle and deal with. That means my month has just flown by. I wonder how yours has gone? But what is 2022 going to be the year of, do you think? What will 2022 be the year of? The year of getting back to normal? I thought I’d get a bit more of a ‘Yeah’ than that ‘Amen brother!’ And getting rid of these masks, eh? Or is it the year we see the end of the reign of Boris Johnson? I won’t ask you to vote in favor against that one! Is it the year that Russia does invade Ukraine? And what about for the church, us locally, the Church of Scotland nationally? Is this the year when it becomes a bit clearer what the shape of church will be? What buildings are going in the years to come, to be open or closed? Is that going to become a bit clearer?

All of these issues are important and they all have the potential to impact us one way or another but, as I’ve prepared for this week, there’s part of me has wondered – Are some of these, or maybe all of these are, something that can distract us? just consumes us so much that we fail to keep the main thing the main thing? Partly. I’m led to wonder about that because, if you read on in Colossians, and we’ll get to that there in the weeks to come, but in Colossians chapter 4 Paul says he’s a prisoner, he’s in chains. And so, he is in prison, he’s in chains because of his faith and being in prison in those days carried with it the threat of the death penalty. He is facing those circumstances and yet he will not be diverted, he will not be consumed by his circumstances and he will keep the main thing the main thing because he says in verse 25 that he’s become a ‘servant of the church by the commission God gave him’, he has a commission from God and he has real clarity about that commission. He knows he’s to present the word of God in all its fullness; he knows he’s to share the good news, the ‘mystery the gospel’ as he calls it, about Jesus, and by sharing that he hopes to build up the church, so that it remains firm in faith and encouraged in heart. he hopes, by sharing the gospel, that more people, the nations, will come to faith in Jesus and so he is clear about this, he is compelled towards it, and he will not be diverted.

It makes me wonder about us brothers and sisters. Makes me wonder about us, because, we too have a commission, don’t we? This is the beginning of my fourth year with you now and I think every year I think I’ve started with these same verses so we probably should be quite familiar with them by now Jesus says ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’ We have been given a commission, a commission by God, and it’s a commission that carries eternal significance for the people we know, the people in our lives, the people in this area. We have to go and call them to follow Jesus and, when they respond in faith, to help them grow in faith and become mature followers. Paul would not be diverted from his commission – I wonder are we do we put it off? Or ‘I’ll get to it Scott when things are normal? You know, when I can get rid of the mask, finally I’ll be able to do x, y and z; finally, I’ll be able to give myself to them commission from God.’ Or ‘When (fill in the blank).’ Could be so many other things that we just allow to so consume us, so divert us that we never get round to this commission. I wonder, could this be the year when we learn that little bit more to keep the main thing the main thing?

And it’s a challenge that I will have to face all over again, as I learned to be a dad of two children, and one of them particularly young. It’s a commission, that I feel like I’m still learning to know what it means to be a minister and that keeps changing on me because we have a congregation of about 500 on the roll and that’s going to nearly double in size when, in the years to come, we go into a union with the other churches. What does it even mean to be a minister to that size of congregation? I’m not sure I don’t know, I’m going to have to learn, might have to stop things, might have to start things. I’m having to learn how to keep the main thing the main thing too but, if we commit together in this, then maybe we can encourage and spur one another on, maybe we can learn together to keep the main thing the main thing and I hope there’s a part of you that is rising up and saying ‘Yes, I want to this year!’ It’s a month into the year maybe this is your new year’s resolution, if you didn’t make one, that you want to keep the main thing the main thing but, in all likelihood, I wouldn’t be surprised, if there’s a part of you that’s fighting that, just wants to keep it at a distance, that maybe there’s not even a part of you that wants to say ‘Yes’ because you just feel weighed down, weighed down by weariness, weighed down by disillusionment or fear even, and so there’s this war in you that knows that you should maybe say yes but you just you can’t because of all that the last two years have brought, but maybe because of all that you are facing personally, in work, or in life, or in faith, that it’s sapping your reserves, it’s sapping your hope, and so we just don’t feel able to say yes and it’s so easy to become diverted and you know what is more, on top of all of that, we know that, don’t we, that our commission is costly to follow and put into practice. What Jesus says, it’s going to be costly, we’re going to have to give up time and energy, we’re going to have to give up maybe comfort or money, or maybe even popularity, we might have to stop doing things that we have been doing for a long time, and so, in the face of all, that it’s been natural and understandable for us to not feel able to say yes and to want to just put off that that bit more of 2022.

You know, Paul knew hardship and yet he still pursued his commission. He writes in verse 24 ‘Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body which is the church.’ Paul knew hardship, he knew affliction he knew suffering, and yet, somehow, Paul kept persevering. How was it that this man was able to keep saying yes to God’s commission despite his chains, despite the threat of execution for his faith?

Before we get on to answer that I just want to pause and unpick this verse a little bit because, as we read it we might it might raise questions for us, and we might wonder is Paul saying that the cross is insufficient, that it is lacking something. Is that what Paul means by Christ’s afflictions? And well, the answer is a very clear ‘No!’ No, the cross is not lacking, because Paul, in his letters, never refers to the cross as an affliction. Christ endured and if you look at even just the book of Colossians in chapter 1 verses 21 and 22 and in chapter 2 verses 13 and 14, Paul makes it very clear that what Jesus was to achieve on the cross he did achieve, that you can now be forgiven through Jesus’ death, that on the cross He died so that you could be forgiven and fully reconciled to God, so that you can stand before Almighty God without blemish, free of accusation, and reconciled to your Heavenly Father. That offer is there for every one of us. The cross is not lacking in any way, but what Paul knows is that to be a Christian is more than to attend church. To be a Christian is to do more than simply pray or read the Bible. To be a Christian is to be more than just a good person. A Christian is someone who is united with Jesus, not in an abstract way, but in a very deep spiritual way. When you are a Christian, you are part of the body of Christ, and so Paul knows that, as he suffers, Jesus suffers alongside him; as he suffers to fulfill his commission, Jesus suffers with him; and this is what helps Paul persevere, because he goes on to say in verses 27 and 29 that the mystery the gospel, the good news, he seeks to share with the nations, is that you can know Christ, you can know Jesus in you, not Christ with , not Christ around you, or near you, or above you, but Christ in you, in you, and it’s when Christ becomes that real to you, you then have the hope of glory, the hope that this life with its afflictions, with its hardships, with its suffering, this life isn’t all there is, that there is a spiritual dynamic to life, that there is a hope of a new heaven and a new earth, that there will one day be God’s kingdom in all its fullness. That’s the hope of glory.

but that hope is not as real and tangible if you don’t know Christ in you, if Jesus is just a nice story to you, if Jesus is just a figure from history, or a wise teacher to learn from, you won’t have that glory, that hope of glory, and what is more Paul knows that, as he contends, strenuously contends, Jesus is in him working powerfully. There’s power to help him persevere, there’s power to help him labor, there’s power to help him keep going. I wonder, friends, do you know that power by knowing Jesus, that power that helps you overcome sin, that power that helps you keep going, and keep laboring, in his name, tired though you may be? Friends, to be a Christian is not to know loads of stuff in the Bible, to be a Christian is not to be busy with religion, to be a Christian is not even to come to church, or keep a building open, or keep the organization running, principally, to be a Christian, is to know Jesus personally.

And so, let me ask – Do you know Jesus that way? Is Jesus a reality to you? And, if he’s not, or if Jesus seems distant, maybe this is the year you press into that, maybe this is the year you pursue Jesus in a fresh way? There are so many ways to get to know and journey with Jesus and maybe His invitation for you this year is to get to know Him in a different way. To engage with the scriptures or to engage with prayer in a different way. But to meet with Him. to know Him personally. And so, I’m really excited that this year we’re doing Huddle again and you would have seen that notice in the news sheet that Huddle is a way for us to grow in faith. And do you know that the key question in Huddle is? What is Jesus saying to you? The second key question is – What are you going to do about that? But that is the key question – What is Jesus saying to you? And so, if you want to grow in faith, if you want to be able to answer that question, then why not get involved in Huddle come, and speak to me, I probably again need to know today if that’s something you want to do. because we need to get dates in the diary. So, if you want to grow in faith maybe think about Huddle. Maybe think about getting into the word of God differently this year, somehow. There are so many ways. Or engaging with prayer and praise maybe in a different way. That you might have the hope of glory.

So Paul, he had clarity of commission and he knew Jesus personally and that gave him hope and power for his life and his circumstances but, you know, I think there was one other thing his life, his writings teach us today, one other thing that, if it wasn’t there, his commission still wouldn’t have been fulfilled because I think it’s possible, friends, I think it’s possible to be clear about the commission and you might be able to recite Matthew 28 to me and you might be able to say to me ‘Well Scott, I know Jesus and I have the hope of glory.’ it’s possible to have both of those things and still not fulfill your commission, because there’s something else that Paul had. Paul knew that to fulfill our commission, his commission, our commission, we must invest in the eternal, we must invest in the eternal, the eternal, the spiritual, that relationship with God, that faith which is so intangible, isn’t it, faith is just so intangible and infuriating at times, it’s less concrete than the rest of life and so we give ourselves to work, we give ourselves to whatever it may be, that a new hobby, or another issue, or another, which is so much more concrete than God, and the things of God’s kingdom. I was reminded of this just quite recently I met up with some friends from school 20 years on and there’s a real group of these guy friends that we just keep meeting with and I love seeing them, they’re real brothers to me, and some of them, quite a few of them, are in engineering of one form or another and I get talking to them and they they’re able to tell me all the different ways that they are developing technology and I just sit there amazed and slightly envious that they they’re so concrete in what they’re able to see their job brings about, and then there’s another friend and he’s in education, he’s a high school teacher and he’s able to say the difference he’s making in the lives of young people and he also has some quite funny stories about what goes on at high school at times and we have a good chuckle and again there’s a bit of me that’s like ‘I’m really envious of you that you’re able to see that, and know that it’s much more concrete’ because, when they come to me and say ‘Well, how’s your job going, Scott?’ I haven’t quite found the right answer to that yet because I tell them a little bit of what I’m doing and it’s just blank look, move on, because my job is about the intangibles in life, often it’s about faith and about the kingdom of God, and there are times when it hits the really hard times of life as well, and we don’t know what to say in those times and so we kind of skip quickly on about what Scott does. I investing in the eternal, is hard, it’s intangible, it’s less concrete and so, because of that again, we’re often like ‘Well, I’ll get around to it when I feel like. I’ll get around to it when I don’t have to wear a mask. I’ll get around to it when I’ve got a wee bit more time’ But that wee bit more time never seems to come, because all those more concrete things just seem to press in upon us, and in Paul’s life and in his ministry he displayed loads of ways that he invested in the eternal. He pursued God in prayer and he writes about what he’s praying for the Colossians as he does for all the churches and he invests in the eternal by cherishing the church and you can read how he cherishes the church and he invests in the people of the church but you can see how he invests in eternal by sharing the good news with others that they might come to faith in Jesus as well.

So, friends, what would it look like for us to invest in the eternal in 2022? What would that look like for you to not just invest in what is concrete but to invest in the eternal and invest in faith and then the kingdom of God?

I’ll give you some ideas just from Paul’s own example.

So, I mentioned that he prays. Are we praying for your day, are you praying for this church, in our ministry? You know, we have a Thursday prayer time and it’s online just now because of Covid and, hopefully, that will change one day, but if you have a telephone and I won’t ask you to put up your hand if you’ve got a telephone, because everybody’s probably got a telephone, if you have a telephone, you can join that time of prayer, you don’t need a computer, you don’t need a smartphone or tablet you can simply phone up and listen in and you don’t have to say a word other than maybe ‘Hi’ just to say hi but after that you can be silent the rest of the time, but by listening in, you are praying and you are praying and investing in the eternal. Might this be the year when we see our Thursday time of prayer grow in size again? Because the churches that are thriving across denominations generally are those churches that are coming together for prayer. Might we invest in prayer this year?

Paul’s example also shows that he invests in relationships, he invests both in people outside the church and he invests in people inside the church. So, what would that look like for you? Are you investing in relationships? Are you building relationships with the local community? And how are you building relationships amongst one another? Most of us, if not all of us, are in a Pastoral Grouping. You know, you don’t have to leave it just to your Pastoral Grouping Leader to care for your pastoral grouping. You can work alongside them. You can say to them ‘Hey, I’d be willing to maybe give someone a call or pay someone a visit or send someone a card.’ You can get involved certainly, speak to your Pastoral Grouping leader and we’ll help make it happen, because it doesn’t have to just rest on a small group of people, in fact it can’t, it needs every one of us.

Or what about using your gifts? Rachel prayed for it this morning particularly amongst our work and volunteering with young people. Paul labors and uses his gifts to help others to serve the church. You know, our Junior Boys Brigade section might not run after the summer because we don’t have enough volunteers. Do we want that to stop? Do we want that to have to stop because we don’t have enough volunteers? And so, we have to stop investing in the eternal of those young boys? The only way it’s going to be able to keep running is if people step forward and volunteer and there’s probably any number of other areas of ministry where that’s the case. Could you step forward and volunteer with the Junior Boys Brigade? You don’t have to be the main leader because we have a very able main leader but she cannot do it on her own, we need others to help. Could that be you?

Because we have a commission, a commission from God, a commission that transcends our current pressures and insecurities, the concerns of our day, because it’s a commission to invest in the eternal, to invest in the eternal welfare of others. We have a commission to go make disciples, to call people to follow Jesus, and if we want to see that commission fulfilled in greater measure this year, then we must learn to keep the main thing the main thing and we must do that by having clarity of commission, knowing Christ is in us, and then investing in the eternal. I pray it may be so. Amen.

Prince of Peace

Preached on: Sunday 19th December 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Isaiah 9:6-7
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Well, well done to our young people, boys and girls, to the helpers. That really helped pull that together. It’s difficult especially amidst all the circumstances that we feel to pull that off. So, well done! Why don’t we give them another round of applause.

Boys and girls, thank-you for helping us remember and live the Christmas story again to remember this wonderful present that God gave to the world at Christmas. And, today I’ve brought along my own present to help us think about this Christmas story a little bit. While I get it out, yeah. Well I’ll get it out. You don’t seem very excited about this Christmas present, but having all this effort to wrap it up, a bow and everything, while I get the present out right.

Right, I think I probably need two volunteers. Just two volunteers. Readers, two of our narrators, you can come up and give me a wee hand. Right, go for it quick make a choice.

Right, there you go. Let’s take this apart. So, start with the ribbon. Let’s go for it, don’t be too shy. I’m sure you’re not like this on Christmas day are you. Pull an end each there you go, right nice knot you know, I’m a Scout and all that, so it’s always a bit tricky right you don’t need to. Come on don’t be shy about it. There we go. Hey, that’s a bit better. Right, fire away. I’m sure you know how to do this. I’m not expecting to recycle it it’s recycled paper, so it’s all good for the plane, Right, let’s open up, let’s see, we’ll go in here, come on, get it out. What have we got? What have we got? A pine cone! Anything else in there? Tissue paper, pine cone and tissue paper. That’s it? Oh well, thanks for your help. You can have your seat again. Not very exciting. No, there is something I need in here, which was too small, probably, to see. There was also a seed.

What would you think if you got this for Christmas? Would you be excited? Would you not be excited? Like, a nice muddy pine cone and a little seed. You’ll not be excited about that.

Now, what does a seed grow into do you think? What do you think this seed grows into? What do you think? A tree, that’s right. This particular one would be an apple tree because I got an apple yesterday. So, if it grew it might grow into an apple tree. Now it would be amazing if this was a sequoia seed because sequoias are some of the biggest trees in the world, and Neil’s going to put up a wee picture here just now. There is an adult standing next to a sequoia tree and just to try and help you get your heads around one of the biggest trees I need another two volunteers. So, can I have another two volunteers, Matilda near the end, and Fiona right, so Fiona can you come stand here. Come on, run over here. You need to be quick.

There is a tree called General Sherman and he’s that wide that’s how wide General Sherman is. He’s 36 and a half feet wide, he is 300 feet high, which is probably about six times the height of this ceiling. That is how big General Sherman is and he grew from a seed probably about the same size as that, to that size of tree. Thank-you to our two volunteers, you can have a seat now. Thank-you, thank-you, well done, thank-you. That is how big General Sherman is from a little seed like that. It might look really small but it contained so much promise, so much potential,

But God gave us an even more amazing Christmas present. What was God’s amazing Christmas present to us? Samuel, exactly Jesus. Jesus, as we were reading in Isaiah, as Isla read that story, that’s one of the many prophecies that was told about Jesus, that He came to fulfill and He came to fulfill them because He was a very special person. He was God in human form and so, He had some very special titles.

Well, we’ll see if the adults have learned their lines from the last three weeks. Do you think they can remember the three special titles about Jesus? Do you think they can get it in the right order? Well, we’ll see. So, title number one? Wonderful Counselor – there we go, you got a prompt there. See if we can do it together, second one? – Mighty God there we go. Third one? Everlasting Father. And this week’s one is the Prince of Peace. Can we say that together – Prince of Peace – that’s right. But, what is peace? What is peace, boys and girls? Any of our young people? What is peace? What does that mean? It’s a strange word isn’t it. What is peace?

Yes, you’re getting peace but what do you mean by getting peace, What does that – Alexander? Nobody’s fighting, definitely. And when there’s peace no one’s fighting.

Does it mean anything else? What does peace mean? All alone, it’s nice and quiet. Look at me nice and peaceful. Anything else that it means? You want to add something? No.

We might feel quiet or peaceful, calm on the inside and it might mean we’re also getting on with people but those are all just little bits of what peace means. Because in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, the word for peace is the Hebrew ‘Shalom’. Can we say that together boys and girls? Shalom. It’s a much richer, fuller word and, I think we find it hard to get our heads around Shalom because it just affects so much of life. It’s not only not fighting and it’s not only having quiet around us, and inside us. It is being free of all fear, all worry, no gloom, of everything being right both mentally physically, emotionally, spiritually, that everything in society is good and perfect, and functions as it should. It is everything like it was before sin entered the world. So perfect is the Shalom that God speaks about in the Old Testament and Jesus came as a baby at Christmas to bring us into that peace, to bring us into Shalom and many people, sadly, think that Jesus is unimportant, that He’s, because He’s a babe, it’s just He’s so insignificant but actually, just like this seed, the promise that Jesus comes to fulfill has so much potential, it is beyond what we can get our heads around and He does that, He fulfills that, because He is the Prince of Peace.

But, you know, it takes a long time for this little seed or something like it to grow into the big General Sherman. How many years do you think it took for General Sherman to get that big? Anybody want to go for a hundred years? Anybody going for 100 years? Yeah, 100 years. Anybody want to go for more than 100 years? How many years are we going to go for? Shout out. What do you what Simon? 300. Anybody want to go higher than 300, I get more than 300? John? A thousand. Anybody going for more than a thousand? How many years? Maybe not as much as a trillion admittedly, not as much as a trillion. Anybody want to go for less than a trillion but more than a thousand? Anybody? Girls, two thousand years. Anybody want to go for more than two thousand years? Hope?

Oh, a thousand as well. Anybody want to go for something different? Last one Alexander. Two thousand, three thousand years is how long we estimate General Sherman has been growing, three thousand years. And just like it takes a little seed a long time to grow into a great big tree and fulfill its potential and promise, the same is true with Jesus.

You know, some of us especially this Christmas again, when Christmas has been affected so negatively and limited because of Omicron, we might be thinking ‘Jesus, why are you taking so long, 2000 years? Come on. Why are you taking so long? Why is it taking so long to bring us into Your peace? And well, Jesus does have His reasons. He does have His reasons. But our passage reminds us that He is the Prince of Peace. He is the Prince of Peace. It means He has the government; He has the ability; He has the means to bring us into that peace. He has all power and wisdom and love. He will fulfill that promise one day. he will return to bring us fully into that peace. And so, with all the changes we are experiencing this Christmas once again, with the fear and the worry we might be experiencing this Christmas, the call, the invitation this Advent, is to put our hope in Jesus the Prince of Peace, true peace, Shalom and one day He will bring us into that. Don’t put your hope in institutions, the church or the NHS or government. Don’t put it in an ideology. Don’t put it anywhere else. Put your hope, your ultimate hope in that babe that came at Christmas, who grew to be a man and died upon a cross, to secure that peace. He paid a king’s ransom, His own life, to secure that promise and make sure that it will come about one day.

Friends, can we be a people of hope this Christmas? Who hope in Jesus the Prince of Peace and make that known? Embody that to neighbor, friend, family this year? I pray that we might be such a people because He is that Prince.

Boys and girls, before we finish our service, let’s pray together one more time. Let’s pray.

 

Father God, thank-you for Christmas and for the gift of Your Son who came as a baby. He is the Prince of Peace and through Him we have hope of a better day. Help us to trust in Jesus, to have hope because of Him, even in the waiting, and may we share that hope with all we meet this Advent season. We ask it in Jesus name. Amen, amen.

We’re going to conclude with our final song.

Everlasting Father

Preached on: Sunday 12th December 2021

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 here21-12-12 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Isaiah 9:6-7 & John 14:1, 7-11, 18-23
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Please do be seated.
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word.
Holy Spirit, come among us please and reveal to us the heart of our Father.
Come Holy Spirit and help us see the hope we have through Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen

It’s only nine days to go, nine days to go, and before you start worrying, I’m not talking about Christmas, you’ve got an extra four days on top of that. It’s not nine days to go either to the arrival of the little one, hopefully, we’ll see although, it could be. No, it’s nine days until the shortest day of the year, Did you know that? The 21st of December is the day when we will have the least amount of light in the day, which means in 10 days’ time the days start getting longer, the light starts increasing and strangely, for some reason, as I get older, this becomes a bigger deal, just to get through the winter and get to that point where I know, just mentally, the days are getting longer, the summer is coming, light is coming, and I hope, as we’ve journeyed through this Advent series, maybe it has been a bit of a turning point for you, a bit like knowing this – there’s a light on the horizon.

Because this year has been hard and it continues to be hard, and so, we’ve spoken about the kinds of darkness that we can experience, the circumstances around us are, in personal life that can bring a measure of darkness to our lives. Yet I’m conscious that there’s an area of darkness in our lives which is not related to the circumstances beyond our control. Sometimes we face darkness in our lives because of choices we make, actions we take and, let’s be honest, that affects every one of us, affects you and it affects me. Words said, actions taken, maybe public, maybe private, and every one of us will be able to name something this past year which maybe lingers at the back of our minds and we wish we’d done things differently. There may be something we didn’t do and maybe that haunts us as well. And so, in the face of that kind of darkness does, does the Advent message say anything? Does the Advent message have anything of good news to say to us? And well, we read earlier ‘For to us a child is born and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’ and we’ve seen that Jesus fulfills those first two titles so well yet, in the case of Mighty God especially, so surprisingly.

So, what does it mean that Jesus is Everlasting Father? Because, if we’re honest, as Christians, we hear this and we’re like ‘I’m a bit confused! Isn’t Jesus the Son of God so how can He be Everlasting Father? It just doesn’t seem to make sense!’ And so, before we get into Jesus in the New Testament let’s pause that thought and take a kind of backward step into the Old Testament and think what that reveals that would have brought light in the darkness for the people of Isaiah’s day/ Because, in the Old Testament, there are so many references to a kind of father-son relationship or to the Father-heart of God. And so, in Hosea we read ‘When Israel was a child I loved him and out of Egypt I called my son.’ And so, God speaks of His relationship with His people and a father-child, a father-son relationship and He treats them in that way, He loves them and so He rescued His son from Egypt, from slavery, and brought them into the promised land. That’s what Isaiah is recalling here.

But there are also scriptures that speak of the Father-heart of God and how He relates to His people.

So, in the Psalms we read ‘As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him for he knows how we are formed he remembers that we are dust.’ The Father treats us, relates to us, as this father, this is how God relates to His people, as one with compassion. And let’s remember, compassion is not just mere pity, compassion is an emotion that’s deep in the bowels of your being, and it compels you to action. That is the compassion of scripture and that is how God feels towards His people, and then He treats them with understanding and with gentleness. He knows that we are but dust. This is how the Father-heart of God is portrayed in the scriptures or in another Psalm we realize we have God being a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, He stands beside those who might be on the fringes and more vulnerable, the more needy in society. And so, he instituted laws in the time of His people to care for them, to make sure that they weren’t taken advantage of, they weren’t neglected, they weren’t left destitute. The Father-heart of God sought to protect and to care for His people across all of society. And so, when Isaiah speaks of the Everlasting Father, this father across the generations, the people would have recalled these kind of scriptures, they would have recalled this about God and it would have lightened the soul, it would have brought good news in the darkness, to hear again of the Father-heart of God. And so, before we move into the New Testament and look at this in reference to Jesus, can I ask you of this – What shapes your understanding of the father-heart of God? What shapes your understanding of the father-heart of God?

Is it your own experience? Your own father who might have been absent for any number of different reasons? Who might have been overly harsh or angry or was just a disciplinarian type of father, maybe inherited that from his own father? What is it that shapes your perception of the father-heart of God?

And maybe the invitation this Advent, this week of Advent, is for you to allow scripture to speak more loudly. If that be the case to allow scripture to help you see the father-heart of God as it truly is, rather than it be shaped by another experience and by another voice. Allow God’s word to shape your perception of the father-heart of God. Because, one day, an individual did come speaking and teaching about the father-heart of God and He fulfilled these promises of Isaiah and in His ministry, He spoke with such authority and intimacy about the Father and time and time again He displayed the father-heart of God and it was, of course Jesus, and what He said. And then though once again confounding people just like last week’s message, it confounded people, it startled people because the Jews had been taught there’s one God, there’s only one God in all the universe, and He alone is worthy and He’s not found in any image or person, so worship Him alone. And so, Jesus comes and He starts teaching and starts modeling something and He brings the next phase of revelation about God to build upon what had been there in the Old Testament and what had been hinted at in the Old Testament but He brought the next phase of revelation and people found it hard to take on board, and so we read earlier ‘Philip said ‘Lord show us the Father and that’ll be enough for us.’’ Like ‘Good Sunday School answer Philip, great, you’ve got that heart. Fantastic, well done, gold star’ big tick!’ But then Jesus says ‘Don’t you know me, Philip? Even after I’ve been among you such a long time. Anyone who’s seen me has seen the Father. How could you say ‘show us the father? Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.’ And you can kind of now appreciate why Philip and the other disciples are finding it hard to get their head around this because, in effect, Jesus is saying ‘I’m God, The Father’s God. We’re distinct persons but we’re both God.’ Like ‘What?’ And then later on with the teaching about the Holy Spirit and then with the coming of the Holy Spirit we see that the Holy Spirit is also God but the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son either, and so what we end up having is what we now call the Trinity. It’s not a word found in the Bible but it’s a helpful title phrase that just recalls this teaching, that in Christianity, we understand Jesus to have shown us that there is one God but there are three persons and each person is fully God but there’s still only one God. And, in case you’re struggling to get your head around that, so has the church for 2000 years, so you’re not alone. Okay? And every analogy we try and use to get our heads around this falls down in some way. Whether you want to talk about water or clover leaves or eggs or whatever, none of them are perfect and in case you think also that ‘What’s the point of this? What has this got to do with anything? Is this just some nice pie in the sky theological nonsense?’ I was reading in Wayne Grudem’s bible doctrine and preparation for today and he gives six reasons why the Trinity is important Doctrine because he says ‘From this we’re then confident about:

Being made right with God

We can know we are justified by faith rather than by having to try and earn it

We can worship Jesus as God and not commit idolatry

We can know we’re saved by grace rather than by any other means

We can be truly know that God is a personal God

And that there is in fact unity to the universe.

I would never have come up with all those without his help and I’m not going to go into all the detail of all these. If you want to know more, I’ll lend you the book, but you can see that a lot hinges on the Trinity, on this revelation that there’s one God but there’s three persons, and actually the church has got itself into such a mess when we’ve ignored this, shelved this, or tried to go too far with this, and break it down into something we can try and understand.

And, by the way, just as a little aside, I’m sure you’re conscious of in our community or different communities, you’ll be conscious of folks like Jehovah’s witnesses or Mormons, The Church of the Latter’s Day Saints. These two organizations are not Christian by the way, if you didn’t know, because they deny the Trinity and by denying the Trinity they make Jesus to be a separate God, from the Father and the rest of this falls down because neither organization teaches salvation by faith and grace alone, so they’re not Christian. That doesn’t mean you should shun them or be nasty to them, but it’s just knowing where the lines are. They’re not Christian and just if they come knocking at your door or chatting to it and they are trying to change your mind, don’t let them, because the script, even if they say they’re using the Bible, it’s often the Bible in their theology or in the case of Jehovah’s witnesses the Bible wrongly translated, to support their case. So, just that wee aside on.

Okay, because what’s of relevance for us today really, is this point, that when you see Jesus you see the heart of the Father. Hebrews says ‘The Son is the radiance of God’s glory.’ when you see Jesus you don’t see the Father, but you see the heart of the Father, the Father’s heart shines through everything Jesus says and does. So if you were to try and think through some of the Gospel stories the accounts of Jesus life and ministry – What is it that you see there of the father-heart of God? What stories come to mind? What do you see through the life and ministry, the death and resurrection of Jesus? What do you see of the father-heart of God shining through?

To give you something concrete to take away and to have us on a similar page today at least, I went back to the three main passages I’ve referred to today Isaiah, John and also Hosea, to say ‘What did these teach us about the father-heart of God?’ And I’ve got four words which I’ll speak on very briefly.

Passionate, Present, Retaining and Restoring.

And so, in Isaiah we read those great promises that a child would come and he’d be called Everlasting Father and the government would be in his shoulders and there’d be a great work done and there’d be great hope through this child. But what instigates it, what drives it, what underpins everything is the zeal of the Lord Almighty. And you may just have skipped over that. ‘Well that’s a nice wee thought.’ but not really giving it much attention. But the zeal of the Lord Almighty speaks of the passionate commitment of God, the passionate love of God, and it’s there in that scripture that we so often refer to but again just skip over that ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only son.’ That God so loved you that he sent His Son as a babe at Christmas, that is how much God loves you that He is committed to you passionately with a zealous kind of love, that is the love God has for you. So, whatever this year has brought for you and the darkness you may be facing maybe even because of your own choices don’t doubt this – God passionately loves you – don’t doubt it!

And out of that love He’s also present. As I spoke of the people rejoicing before God, they’re in the presence of God, Jesus spoke of not leaving the disciples as orphans, that He would come to them, that the Father and He would make His, their home with His people. He’s present, He’s the present, He’s with us, He’s near us and so, we see it in the Christmas story that not only does the Father’s love cause the Son to come into the world but by coming into the world as a babe into our darkness and brokenness even into the sin and the mess we make of life, He draws near, He shows that He is present even now, even with all the choices you’ve made, He is present to you. Don’t doubt that either. And because He’s passionate and He’s present, He’s going to do a couple of things and the first is, He’s going to retain, He’s going to hold on. We read earlier from Hosea at the beginning of chapter 11. but just a few verses later we hear of God speaking to Israel again and saying ‘How can I give you up Ephraim or Israel? How can I hand you over? My heart is changed within me. All my compassion has aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger now.’ To give you some background to the book of Isaiah, Hosea, his ministry and both his life are a picture of the unfaithfulness of God’s people towards God and so he comes with a message about that but actually in his life you see it as well because Hosea is married to a prostitute and she is unfaithful to him, she commits infidelity and it’s meant to be a picture of God and His people, that His people have been unfaithful to Him and so, imagine that pain, imagine that betrayal, imagine what that would feel like, and still saying ‘How can I give you up? That my compassion, the depth of emotion I feel in my being, causes me into action to hold on to you my people, to retain you, no matter what you’ve done, no matter the darkness you may feel because of choices made this year, I will hold on to you, I will retain you. Such is my love.; And I’m getting so much out of this book Gentle and Lowly just now. I wonder if George drew upon this in some of his prayer – I’ll need to check with him later-  but a couple of weeks ago I was reading from this book and the author quotes John Bunyan who wrote, I think it was about the 18th century or so, and John Bunyan draws upon one verse of scripture and I think he writes a whole book about one verse of scripture as the puritans often did, and the verse is in John as well and it’s where Jesus said ‘All that the Father gives me will come to me and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.’ and John Bunyan imagines a conversation between humanity or individuals with Jesus and here’s what he writes:

But I am a great sinner you say. I will never cast you out says Christ.
But I am an old sinner you say. I will never cast you out says Christ.
I’m a hard-hearted sinner you say. I will never cast you out says Jesus.
I am a backsliding sinner you say. I will never cast you out says Jesus.
But I’ve sinned against light and mercy you say. I will never cast you out says Jesus.
But I have no good thing to bring with me you say. I will never cast you out says Jesus.

In the darkness you might be facing because of choices made never doubt His hold on you, His love, His presence compel Him to hold on to you fast, to retain you such, so precious are you to Him, He is a father who holds you fast whatever the darkness, whatever the choice.

But He is a good father that He doesn’t just hold you fast, He wants something else for you. His passionate love and presence compel Him to something else. He compelled Him to restore you. Isaiah said ‘You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy.’ and those words enlarged and increased are restoring words. That the people are facing gloom and darkness, they’re facing persecution, the nation is on the decline, there’s death and destruction, but God is going to restore, He’s going to grow the nation again, He’s going to bring a better future for them so their joy will increase. Where there is fear and gloom, this promise is a promise of restoration. That the Lord hasn’t given up on His people, that He wants a better future for His people and He wants a better future for you, whatever the darkness has brought this year. In the darkness of your own choices know this – you can never fully plumb the depths of the Father’s heart for you, His love for you, His love shown through Jesus coming as a babe, dying on a cross. You can never plumb the depths of it and so He accepts you as you are, but He will not leave you there, He wants to take you on a journey of restoration, He wants to take you on a journey of restoration and so today, you might be feeling in the darkest of winter, you might be feeling that the road ahead just looks bleak and dark and lonely, because of this year, because of your choices, but know this – there’s a corner ahead, there can be light ahead, if you will receive the father-heart of God for you today, and in the days ahead, So will you this Advent receive Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Will you let Him in that you might turn that corner, that you might receive His light and that He might then lead you on that journey of restoration?

I really pray that you will let Him in and so let us take a moment now to pray. Let us pray.

So, as you cast your mind over the year – Where do you need the father-heart of God?
Is it to know that He’s not abandoned you? That He’s passionately committed to you? That he’s present, he’s holding on, that he’ll restore?
In the stillness why not invite Him into that darkness. It might not be wrong choices. It might be something else.
But welcome him in. Welcome Him in,
If there have been wrong choices, take the time now to name them before Him and to ask for his forgiveness.
We’ve all done it, we’ve all been there.

Father God, thank-you for revealing the depths of Your heart through Jesus, for making that tangible. Sometimes we can just turn You into ideas, or have a picture of You as very distant, but you break through all that. Through Jesus, You show what Your heart’s really like, Your passionate commitment, Your presence in the darkness, Your heart to hold us fast, never cast us out and to restore us, that there’s a better day ahead, a better future. Thank-you Father.
And where we do need forgiveness, may that grace just be poured out now, may we receive that and it might not fix the problems, but at least we’re right with You.
And we say to You, we trust You, we cling to You we ask you, to lead us on. Lead us on Father, for You are good, You’re compassionate, You’re wholly trustworthy,
So, receive our thanks and praise in Jesus name. Amen.

We close our service as we sing together Advent hymn it’s it might be an odd one to finish on but in the words of the hymn and some of the verses I’ve picked – the organ is misbehaving itself that’s not Jill – so, in the verses I’ve picked and the verses are picked the there’s some reference to the difficulties we can go through and the love of that’s portrayed in the hymn of Father God so let’s stand to sing Once in Royal David’s City.

Mighty God

Preached on: Sunday 5th December 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button aboveSermon Sunday 5th December 2021. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-12-05 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Isaiah 9:6-7 and 2 Corinthians 4:5-12
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word:
Holy Spirit, please come among us and reveal to us the way of our Heavenly Father.
Holy Spirit, please be present and reveal to us the hope we have through Jesus
Come now Holy Spirit we pray, with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’
name. Amen.

I wonder what kind of person are you when it comes to the Christmas lists and the buying of Christmas presents? Are you a person who enjoys surprises for your Christmas presents?  or Do you write a list and give that to family and friends saying I’d like something from this? I’m going to give you 20 to 30 seconds just to talk about that with your neighbour if you feel able. Are you a surprise kind of person or not? Over to you.

Okay, dokey. So, hands up if you’re a surprise kind of person? Are you. Who’s the surprise kind? I think you might be in the minority not by much but I think it would seem like a that. So, the rest of you might be a bit like me. If there’s something I really want then I do probably have an idea of what I’m after, if it’s a piece of tech, if it’s a piece of ( Andrew could we just turn that down a tad) sorry, if it’s a piece of tech or a piece of gear I probably know what I want but there is also something nice about receiving those surprise Christmas presents. Isn’t there?

Last year’s one, the funny one that Gill gave me that I think I showed, the baldy Christmas mug that I received, I really like that, it’s one of the ones I really like, so it gave me a good laugh, and I think we also had a laugh because I think I showed it on the Christmas day service. So I do like a bit of a surprise but Christmas presents is not the only things where a surprise can happen.

Life also has its surprises and more often than not the surprises that come with life are not often the good ones, they’re hard and they can leave us feeling in a really difficult place, a really hard place. The biggest one obviously we’ve all had to be dealing with is coronavirus and it’s ongoing twists and turns but maybe this past year for you has brought other surprises. Maybe surprises with health, maybe surprises of relationships, maybe at work or friends or family, a loss you’ve experienced. Who knows where the surprise may be but I’m sure all of us can resonate with it to some degree. All of us will have experienced that unexpected event that was just not welcome, it was not a positive surprise like on Christmas day, and maybe as you approach Advent this year you’re carrying some of that with you, and so you don’t approach Advent this year with anticipation or peace or joy, but rather something else and maybe when you were hearing of Sharon’s testimony last week on the one hand you’re really encouraged that God is that companion and He’s ready to give wisdom but maybe hearing that testimony on the other hand brought to mind unanswered prayers that you’ve got in your life and you struggle with that and it just brings that to mind for you as you heard that ‘Why, God, are you not answering my prayers?’

And so, as we said last week, we’re beginning this new series where we’re digging into this familiar passage in Isaiah chapter 9 where we read of these four titles of Jesus because it’s so easy just to skip over those four titles and not really grasp maybe something of what they’re trying to communicate to us. And so, last week, we did see that Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise made in Isaiah but this week we’re going to see that He fulfills the second title in a very surprising way. Isaiah said ‘For to us a child is born and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

And so, what does it mean that Jesus is Mighty God? What does that mean?

Well, ‘mighty in the Old Testament has connotations of military prowess, of being bold and brave, and so it conveys this idea of someone who has the power to resist every evil or threat and he’s able to make his people safe, particularly the kings would be thought of in that way, and so it’s quite natural that a Zionist prophecy speaks also of Midian which was an event in the history of Israel where Israel faced this threat that was described as being so numerous it was like a ‘plague of locusts descending upon the land’ and you can read about that in Judges chapter 6. But Israel did defeat them, they defeated a foe of 120 thousand enemies and there’s that encouragement in Isaiah’s day as they face the threat from Assyria and a numerous enemy as well. There’s Isaiah to bring that encouragement that the Mighty God is on their side and so they should trust in Him, they should wait upon Him, they should wait for His promise to be fulfilled. But, as we saw last week, that this promise can’t be just fulfilled in one particular person, can be fulfilled in the normal kings, that there’s this echo, this sign, that it would be a divine person and no king up until Jesus fulfilled fully those expectations.

And so, we’ve read of incidents like in Mark 2 where Jesus healed the paralytic and the paralytic was able to stand and pick up His mat and walk out the door, and as people saw that, they were just wowed with awe, that here was someone who had the power of God and could heal in such incredible manner. Or the incident in Mark 6 where Jesus is in the boat with the disciples and He’s sleeping in the in the back but then the storm comes and the disciples are so scared that they think they’re going to drown and so they wake up Jesus and He gets up and He simply says ‘Be still’ and everything died down.

And what does, what do they say? How? Here is one who even the winds and the waves obey him? such is His power, such is His authority. And because Jesus kept doing all these things, people expected Him to be this Messiah that they had anticipated, that Isaiah had promised, and so they expect Him to come and to rule in might and power and to kick out the Romans and re-establish the political kingdom of Israel and bring back the glory days where they would rule their land and everything would be perfect and good once more. And so, they want to establish Him as their king but Jesus wasn’t there to establish a political kingdom, He was there to exert His power in a different way and in a surprising way, a way that even confounded people and along the journey of time through His ministry He shared, began to share with His disciples that He would go to die on a cross and they couldn’t take that in. How could God, how could our Messiah die? and it baffled His disciples, it baffled people later when He did die, it baffled people afterwards and as the church began to share that message that God had come as a babe at Christmas and when He grew, He then went and died on a cross.

It was too much for some and so as Paul says in the first letter to Corinthians ‘Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.’ Jesus came exerting His power in an unexpected way, in a way that confounded people, that just seemed like foolishness, it was a blocker for some to faith in Him but maybe, if they had remembered the story of Midian more fully, they might have remembered, might have struggled less with that because Gideon is the one who was used of God to secure Israel’s safety and salvation but he says to the Lord when the Lord comes to him in the form of an angel he says ‘How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh and I am the least in my family.’

The people of God are led into salvation through an insignificant individual, a person who’s weak, who displayed nothing of power or might. And, what is more, do you remember how many the Lord used to defeat 120,000? 300, 300 Israelites is what He used to defeat 120,000. He used weakness, He used insignificance, He used limitation to achieve His purposes and so for the people in Isaiah’s day and the people in the time of Jesus, even in our day, we expect God to exert His power, His might in a particular way, we expect it to be through strength and dominion and force. God often doesn’t work that way. He has the power over our sickness and nature in the demonic for sure as we saw in the life of Jesus, but ultimately, He just chose to display His power in weakness, in death and being born as a babe and growing as a man and living a human life in the midst of that. That’s how He ultimately displayed He was Mighty God.

And so, maybe the Advent message for us this year is that, that God will rescue, He will save His people, nothing can thwart His plans because He is Mighty God. But maybe He displays His power in a way we don’t expect, is through limitation, the limitation of the incarnation of becoming human and in the limitation of death. Maybe there’s an invitation this Advent for us to have our picture of God changed, to go maybe deeper and have a more surprising understanding of God rather than us casting God in the image that we would want. Maybe we allow Him to shape our perspective of Him through His word.

And so, if Jesus is the Mighty God and displays His power in surprising ways, in ways that we don’t expect, naturally that we’d rather He didn’t, we’d rather He just conformed to what we expect this Mighty God to do. If He doesn’t do that, if He’s constantly just inviting us into an alternative perspective of Him what should be our response to that? How should we respond to this Mighty God revealing Himself in weakness and limitation?

Well, I said last week that the chapters of Isaiah 8 and 9 run very closely together and we read a little bit at the end of chapter 8 last week but this week I’d like to read a little bit earlier in Isaiah because Isaiah says this ‘This is what the Lord says to me warning me not to follow the way of this people. Do not call conspiracy everything this people calls a conspiracy. Do not fear what they fear and do not dread it.’ Is that making you worry about conversations we’ve heard around the coronavirus and all that’s just the way aside the Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy. He is the one you are to fear – I will wait for the Lord. I will put my trust in Him.

Isaiah is sent to people facing overwhelming odds, an overwhelming threat and he is sent to them to call them to trust Him, to trust Him when it looks like all the odds are against you and the future is bleak and you feel in darkness and gloom. He sent to call them to trust in the Lord rather than trust in other sources of power or wisdom, other places that we might look to for our salvation. Trust in the Lord is his message because here is the promising it goes into Isaiah 9 there to trust and to keep on trusting.

And the same was true in Paul’s day. Paul, we know from what we read earlier, they would say that for God who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, the God who created all things and said ‘Let there be light and suddenly there was light’ this God has made His light shine in our hearts to give us the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. Basically, when you see Jesus, you see this God who created all things. God has come in human form. That was their testimony, crazy as it sounded, and yet that early church was hard-pressed, they were perplexed, persecuted, struck down, they faced such hard times as we have never known for generations, and it raised difficult questions.

People began to wonder ‘Is Jesus really this Mighty God?’ because in the culture of the time if you claim that your God was the Mighty God and the strongest God then you should be safe, you should be the one in control and dominion, and so the Roman Gods they were the powerful Gods, because the Romans were in power and there was all these claims about who is the most powerful God and because Christians suffered there was questions about ‘Well, is Jesus really this Mighty God? Has he really secured salvation and victory?’ and so, they began to circulate false claims about Jesus. There began to be others who would deny Jesus and forsake Jesus yet, what is Paul’s response, this man who was persecuted, this man who eventually gave his life for the sake of Jesus, what’s his response?

Well, in the next couple of verses he goes on to ‘It is written ‘I believed therefore I have spoken’. Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak. Because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself, since we have that same spirit of faith.’ We have that same spirit of faith. Paul adopts a posture of faith, of trust, of holding on and trust to Jesus, and maybe the invitation for us is to do likewise this Advent. That in all the difficulties you face this year, know the difficulties you maybe continue to face even now, as you look at Advent and it’s not for you a season of joy, maybe the invitation is simply to trust, to trust in this Jesus and not allow fear and not allow darkness to turn you away from Jesus, to rather press you deeper into Him and to wait upon Him because that is what Isaiah also said he said ‘I will wait for the Lord’ and you’re trusting. Wait for the Lord. Wait for Him to act in his way and in His timing rather than in the way you expect or want God to do. Trust in Him. Wait upon Him. Maybe that’s the first invitation in response to Jesus being our Mighty God?

Our reading from second Corinthians does however give us a second possible response this morning and earlier we read in first second Corinthians ‘we always carry around in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body for we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus sake so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body so then death is at work in us but life is at work in you.’

And these words of Paul and indeed in his life and ministry, there was this example, this calling to give your life for the sake of Jesus for His purposes, for His priorities, for His people, to give yourself, to die to self. But Paul was just echoing Jesus wasn’t he? Because Jesus said ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Whoever wants to save their life, will lose it but whoever loses their life for me, and for the gospel, will save it.’

Again, the same echo, the same idea. Give your life away. If Jesus is truly this Mighty God and if you trust in Him, then in a dark times, wait and the rest of life even now in the dark times follow Him, give your life for Him, give your life for His purposes and priorities, make Him known, care for His church, advance His kingdom.

And so, maybe the invitation this Advent for you is to do that. To give yourself , just as Paul did in the face of persecution and ridicule. Paul continued to hold on to Jesus, to trust in Jesus, to give his life for Jesus, to follow the way of Jesus, and that’s so counter-cultural in our day because in our day we just want what benefits us, we don’t want a religion that is costly but actually in dying to self, there’s a thing of beauty, there’s a thing of beauty.

Last week I mentioned that I recently went on retreat and whilst there was prayer walking not only did I receive from the Lord, things that I mentioned last week that really helped to heal some wounds, I also was struck by this scene so I was walking around the the walled garden and I was looking up and looking out for how the Lord would speak to me and this scene just captured my attention. Now, what tree do you think captured my attention from that view? The one in the middle, the big golden one. It was, that was the one that captured my attention. Not the kind of sparse looking drab one on the right. Not even that lush kind of ever-greeny one – that was kind of boring. The one in the middle, this auburn autumn leafed tree is the one that captured my attention. It was beautiful and just appreciating it and taking the time to marvel at it was a real gift to my soul and to my spirit. But here’s the thing, that tree is only that way because the leaves are dying. It was through death that I received life, just by admiring that tree and they are dying so as to bring life in the next season.

It’s the same principle in God’s wired into creation that when we die to self, there can be life for others.

And I wonder what that looks like this Advent season for you as you follow in the way of Jesus, as you say ‘Well Jesus is the Mighty God and I follow Him and that means I’ve to die to self as He died for me?’ He didn’t come just to have a nice wee Advent scene, He came as a babe for a purpose and that purpose was to die for you and me, to walk the way of the cross. And we, likewise, are called to walk a similar way. What does that look like for you this Advent?

There’s so many examples and ideas and I’m just going to pick two but think about where else it could apply in your life, maybe in your home life, in your family life, in your relationships, in your workplace, but I want to pick two just as we examples.

You hopefully received if you’re a member three or four of these Christmas cards to invite people to Christmas services and hear the good news about a God who loved them that He came into the brokenness of this world. Have you given them away yet? Because, sometimes our embarrassment and our fear holds us back but dying to self would encourage us to get over that embarrassment, to not let that hold us back that we would care more for others than for our own image and reputation, that we’d be willing to take that step of faith and say ‘Hey, my church has done some events this Christmas, do you fancy coming along?’ It’s a wee silly way but it is the same principle because who knows what you doing that will lead in the life of another, who knows if that invitation will lead to them coming to know Jesus and that would be a thing of beauty, a thing of beauty.

You’ll also know that over this past year I’ve mentioned it in a number of sermons and in Bright Lights articles and letters to our members directly that we’re having conversations about the future shape of the Braes churches, that there needs to be the closure of some buildings, and I wonder what this principle of following Jesus and dying to self would say to us? Is it possible that closing some churches, so as to sustain other places of mission, might be a dying to self that is beautiful?

There are so many ways that this principle is relevant as we finish off this year and head into a new year and so I encourage you to take some time to think that through, to think through where is this truth, this revelation that God is the Mighty God revealed in Jesus. He reveals it in startling, surprising ways and yet, we are called then to trust Him, to trust Him in the waiting and trust Him by following in His way, in His example. I pray it may be so for each and all of us, Amen.

Wonderful Counsellor

Preached on: Sunday 28th November 2021
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 21-11-28 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Isaiah 9:2-7
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us come to God in prayer. Let us pray:
Holy Spirit, be welcome here and reveal to us the heart of our Father.
Holy Spirit, be welcome here and reveal to us the hope we have through Jesus.
Come now Holy Spirit, we pray, with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name. Amen.

So, however your Christmas preparations go, I’m not the best at organizing the Christmas shopping, someone else in my family has been busy with that over the last couple of months, whether prompted by an ensuing pregnancy and coming up in a few weeks’ time or whether it’s because of the news we heard about coronavirus and Brexit having this great clash of impact upon shopping, hopefully you’re making a better progress because time’s ticking, less than four weeks now, and I wonder if you’re beginning to think, like me are, we going to get it like we normally get it or are we going back to last year where we had that one day of freedom and the frustration and the limitation of that. So, I wonder how you’re approaching advent this year? But as I said in the introduction before the reading, maybe there’s other things going on and how you’re approaching Advent this year. That, actually, if you were to take a moment to pause and slow down and be really honest, is there something deeper going on in you or maybe in people you know, are in our wider community, and world? That though we’re going through the motions and we’re doing the usual habits and making the list and getting it sorted out, actually, deep down, there’s deeper emotions on the go here? Maybe emotions of fear, of weariness? Maybe even of pain, pain of what the last year has brought to you in your life? And the temptation is to bury it and to ignore it, but actually, maybe we need to name it and share it. That, although the nights might be drawing in and it’s getting darker earlier, there is too, in us, a darkness, a spiritual, emotional darkness that’s got nothing to do with sin maybe, not our sin at least and it’s the darkness that has been nurtured sadly by the impact of life on you.

In Isaiah’s day, the people there were experiencing a darkness as well. Just before our passage that we read from, at the end of chapter 8 Isaiah says this of the people ‘Then they will look towards the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom and they will be thrust into utter darkness.’ The situation for them is not coronavirus or political tensions of a form, but political tensions with Assyria that they face. The threat of Assyria coming and conquering them and so the people are filled with a fearful gloom and whenever the future they look to, the circumstances around them, it just looks dark, it looks bleak, it is full of gloom for them. And so, what does Isaiah say to the people in their darkness? What does he say to us in our darkness?

Well, as we read ‘The people walking in darkness have seen a great light on those living in the land of deep darkness. A light has dawned. For to as a child is born. To us a son is given and the government will be on his shoulders and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ Isaiah sent with a message of hope, a message that light is coming. In fact, in Isaiah, the words are a light has come as a child is born. It’s that certain. It’s spoken of as if it’s already happened, even though it’s still in the future. it’s that certain. God is going to make sure this happens. A light is coming and it will come with the arrival of a child.

Now, maybe, the people would be thinking ‘Well, who is this child? Who is this?’ We know that Isaiah, his ministry stretched over a period of a number of kings and it’s likely that Hezekiah was just born before this particular message. They might be wondering ‘Is it Hezekiah he speaks of? Is this the child that we’re to look to?’ But it can’t be. It can’t be because the words highlighted here point to something that would be startling. ‘Wonderful’ it was only used in the context of the wonders that God had done, like when you and I we look up to the stars on a dark night in these winter months and we are just filled with awe at the magnitude of creation, of something that only God can do. That’s the sense of Wonderful here. And no prince, no king, no human being was ever called Mighty God. In Israel to do so would be blasphemy and clearly no king, prince whoever, had ever been Everlasting, had been eternal, and so all these terms are pointing to someone who would come that seems to be divine somehow. But then Prince? Prince was a term used of human rulers and so it speaks of someone who would have human lineage and so we have this promise of someone who will come who is both divine and human.

And in the midst of giving that promise, God calls His people to wait, to wait in hope, and in faith, and they had to wait a long time. 800 years from the point of Isaiah, 400 years from the point of Malachi, who we were just looking at in the last couple of weeks. But eventually, finally, a child comes and when He grows, His life, His ministry fulfills every expectation of these verses, every expectation of every other promise given by God, and so the claim of Christianity for 2000 years has been that God fulfilled His promise. That child was born. He, the promised one, the Messiah as he would come to be known, God in human form, bringing light and life into the darkness of our world.

And so, we often read the very familiar passages in the early chapters of Matthew and Luke that tell us the Christmas story and they echo these words of Isaiah like the angel to Mary who says ‘You will conceive and give birth to a son and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever. His kingdom will never end.’

Do you see the similarities in the two passages of Isaiah and Luke of the reference to the throne of David, that the government will be on His shoulders, as Isaiah said, that His kingdom will never end, as Isaiah was referring to as well. There are these echoes between the passages because God and Jesus fulfilled His promise but you know, for us, it’s old news. Do we want to have a competition of who gets the most Christmases underneath their belt? Because I want you to put your hand up on that one, because it’s for us, it almost just washes over us, that I’ve heard this so often, Jesus is the answer but when we allow it to wash over us, when we lose the wonder of Advent, we lose the hope of Advent as well, the hope and the good news that God would want to give us in this season as we draw to the close of another year. Because, if Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise of Isaiah, and if that God held true to that promise, then He’s also able to fulfill the other promises of Jesus.

There are the promises concerning His titles. There are promises and testimony of scripture that, for example in the New Testament we read that Jesus is alive even now that He reigns at the Father’s side, and that you and I can know Him. Jesus is not just an idea and He’s not just a moral figure to try and emulate. If God fulfilled this promise and this testimony about Jesus then every other promise is true as well, and so that means you can know Him right here now in your life and you can be sharing testimony like Sharon did.

Because Jesus can be an active part of your life and He can bring light into your darkness, the darkness you may be experiencing even today. that is the hope and offer we’re reminded of in our verses today and, if it’s true that Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise made, and if that means that the rest of what we read about Jesus is true, that we can cling to that in faith, then what do the titles of Jesus mean? What does it mean that he’s a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace? What do those mean? Because, again, we just gloss over them, we just skip over them so easily. ‘Oh I’ve heard those before?’ but, actually, there’s so much depth in them, so much life in them, and so, each week, starting today, we’re going to look at one of them, and today’s is Wonderful Counselor.

I’ve already shared about what the meaning of Wonderful means, that it’s something that only God can do, that’s beyond mere human ability, and Counselor has connotations of someone who is an advisor, who gives wise advice and direction, of how to order or govern our lives, both individually and collectively, we might describe it as ‘extraordinary wisdom’ and don’t we see that in the life of Jesus when we read through the gospels? For example, there’s that point when he’s 12 years old and He’s in the temple and He’s engaging with the teachers and He’s asking questions and they’re asking questions, He’s giving answers and then we read that ‘Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.’ Extraordinary wisdom from the youngest of age. But as He grows up and He begins His ministry, one of the things that really struck the people was how He taught, that He taught as someone who had authority, that He spoke with deep knowledge and certainty about the things of God and the things of the kingdom, He spoke with certainty, with authority about how to live life, about how life was structured to be lived the best way, and He could give direction on that. He could give direction that would lead to life and people remarked on that. They noticed that and those that heeded it found that true life, life and all its fullness but you know He’s still offering it even today. He’s still offering that life-giving wisdom even today, to you and I, but we easily, so easily, too easily turn away from them and go our own way.

Back in Isaiah’s day the people had done very similarly. We read just at that end verse at the end of chapter 8 where they’re in darkness. Well, just a few verses before that one, we also read this ‘When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, whose whisper and mutter, should not our people inquire of their God, why consult the dead on behalf of the living, consult God’s’ instruction and the testimony of warning the people were turning to other sources of wisdom. And now, we might not be turning to mediums and spiritus, although some in our community do, but we easily turn to other sources of wisdom. We say ‘Well, these are just old words or these words are too difficult?’ or ‘I just want to pursue what I think is right and what I think is wise.’ and our culture just reinforces that message, reinforces ‘Just live your own story. Live your own way. Allow no one or nothing to restrict or confine your life, because that’s not true life, that’s not true freedom. Do not allow yourself to be governed’ Is the message of our culture. But how we just get ourselves into a mess when we do that and actually we need the wisdom of God and so we find repeated encouragements in the scriptures to turn to God’s word, to find life as the one verse here reminds us that His word revives us and we heard that with Sharon’s testimony today of how God spoke through that verse that someone shared with her and brought life brought encouragement, sustained her when she wasn’t sure what the future held and it gave her such confidence and peace. And so, maybe the invitation this Advent is not only to realize that the promise of Jesus is true and fulfilled and that you can know Him but to let Him in by opening up His word again, to get into a habit, our pattern, our rhythm of being in His word. Now, if you need some help with that then we do order regularly printed copies of daily reading notes and we can get you a physical copy of that of Every day with Jesus or Daily Bread and I’m sure they’re probably just about to begin an Advent series and that might be how you just dig in for maybe 10 minutes at the start of your day or maybe the end of your day and you allow God to speak His wisdom into your life, or if you’ve got a smartphone or a tablet or such like, you could get the Bible app and one of the reading plans there or you could get the Lectio 365 app which I’ve gone on about multiple times, but I really do go on about it because I think it weaves together scripture and prayer so well. We need to be a people who allow the wisdom of God, to be nurtured in us, spoken to us, and the only way to receive that is to be in His word because when we’re in that place of being in His word and being in prayer and we set good rhythms, then God is faithful.

And so just a couple of weeks ago I was on retreat and I have a rhythm of trying to go three or four times a year to the Bield up near Perth and go and retreat just to get some time away because, well, no one’s preaching to me, so I just need to make sure that I have some space and time where God meets with me and I receive from Him and that particular week I’d gone feeling a bit bruised. I’d received some harsh criticism and it had bruised me and so I went just needing something from God, to hear from Him, to meet with Him and, as I do at the start of every day of retreat, I take some time in prayer and in journaling and I write down what I need from God that day whether it’s direction or a revelation or a word of encouragement or comfort, whatever it might be, and that’s a practice I’ve picked up from the writings of others and in that day God spoke, so much actually, that I left feeling encouraged and strengthened with light for the next part of the journey and ready to come back and to serve and to minister in His name. God was faithful, He spoke wisdom into that time with Him that when we create space for Him to speak He does and so maybe the invitation this Christmas is to begin to become reacquainted with the Wonderful Counselor by being in His , by being in the place of prayer and allow Him to speak His life-giving wisdom into your life rather than just trying to go at your own and rely on your own wisdom to govern your life as how you think best and, instead, let Him begin to govern your life by His word.

In Sharon’s testimony as well this morning the council of friends was really helpful and often when we think of who do you go to for advice we probably end up thinking well I’ll speak to my friends you might also say you’d speak to a spouse or a partner or maybe a parent but again you’d probably do that because they’re your friend. How many of a spouse would say ‘Well, they’re my best friend’ so even if it is a spouse, a partner or a parent it’s often because you’ve developed a degree of friendship with them and so I’ve been thinking in my preparation can we understand the counsel of Jesus in terms of His friendship and actually I think we can because the word Counselor also has connotations of someone who gives comfort of someone, who draws alongside us, who journeys with us and we see that in the gospels of Jesus that He was often called a friend of tax collectors and sinners, He welcomed them, He spent time with them, He counseled them about how to live but He was , He journeyed with them, with people whose lives were messy, broken, maybe dark, and I was reading around the same time a chapter from a book that I’ve referred to you before Gentle and Lowly and if you’ve not got a copy I do encourage you to get one because it’s such a wonderful book just sot brings out the heart of Jesus to us and in that particular chapter on the friendship of Jesus. The author builds his case over the chapter speaking of how Jesus is our companion and friend and he reaches this conclusion near the end he says ‘Christ’s heart for us means that He will know, He will be our never-failing friend, He offers us a friendship that gets underneath the pain’ He offers us a friendship that gets underneath the pain – can you imagine a friend like that? Do you need a friend like that? Who knows the depths of your soul? Who knows the heart and the pain, the doubt and the dismay, that’s there and who is present there with you as you face that? Because that is the heart of Jesus for us. He proved it two thousand years ago that rather than stay in the glory of heaven He came in human form, born into squalor and experienced the hardest of lives, experienced everything that we might be able to experience, He held nothing back but entered into the pain and brokenness of our world and maybe what you need to know is that is who Jesus is and He’s there with you this Advent season. He is the Wonderful Counselor who offers life-giving wisdom and companionship because sometimes the best counsel is not a whole lot of words but just someone’s presence and maybe you just need to know the presence of Jesus with you this Advent. That His presence can be that light that sees you through the dark times and into a new day, a new day of hope and of joy and of peace, but in the time between now and then that He journeys with you. He’s that faithful companion. He will never leave you nor forsake you and He offers you light for your path.

If you’re experiencing darkness, it is real and there’s no need to deny it, but it doesn’t have to be the only reality in your life. Jesus can also be there. He can be that companion, that Wonderful Counselor, and so He can then reshape life and reshape your reality.

So, why not this Advent let Jesus in. Get into His word. Spend time with Him in prayer, for He is the Wonderful Counselor. May it be so Amen

We close our service as we sing together our final hymn another traditional advent hymn calling upon Jesus to come into our lives to come into our world afresh as we journey towards Christmas we sing together ‘Come thou long expected Jesus’.

Malachi: treasured possession

Preached on: Sunday 21st November 2021
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 21-11-21 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Malachi 3:13-4:6
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word.
Holy Spirit, come among us and reveal the call of Father God.
Holy Spirit, be present and reveal the hope we have through Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name. Amen.

The day I became a Christian I felt sick in the pit of my stomach. I know it wasn’t because the idea of becoming a Christian made me feel uneasy and it wasn’t because of the hangover I had that morning. I had been out the night before and I don’t remember much of the evening but the bits I do remember, as I’ve shared on a number of occasions, they made me sick to the pit of my stomach because I made some really bad choices that night and I woke up realizing I had a problem and at that time I would have called my problem selfishness. Now. further along the journey of faith. I can be quite honest and say it’s just sin. And what’s more shocking is that I thought I was a Christian. You know, I worked on a Sunday at W.H Smith and so I couldn’t go to the morning service but there was holy-me going to the evening service. Surely that made me a Christian? And I volunteered with my Scout group and gave up my time to benefit young people, and I had a good reputation and people, hopefully, thought quite well of me but, but here was me that morning, the day I became a Christian, faced with the reality of my life, that, actually, in my heart was a growing selfishness, and my heart was very far from God, because God was just an idea, He wasn’t a person I related to in any real way and there’s been so much that I’ve taken from my experience but what I’d want to relate to you this morning is that it’s easy to assume things are okay, it’s easy to ignore the deeper issues in our lives, it’s easy to get so wrapped up in the moment that we forget to take stock of our lives, and so, the day I became a Christian, I had that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, but that day, the day I became a Christian, changed my life for the better and I’ve never regretted a moment since then, I just wish it hadn’t taken me messing up my life quite so much to come to that realization that I had a problem and I needed God’s help. And you know, this morning, you might have a bit of a queasy feeling in your stomach, and it’s probably got nothing to do with anything else other than the bible passage we heard this morning because, if truth be told, it was a wee bit uncomfortable was it not. I’ve been stewing on it all week how am I going to preach from this? What does it mean? And if you feel uncomfortable, the person that invited you to be here for them becoming a member or them getting their child baptized they probably feel even more uncomfortable. So, when you go out the door and you’re chatting about the service afterwards just bless them and be really kind and merciful to them because they had no idea what was coming today, because we’ve simply been working through the book of Malachi and I didn’t aim for this passage to be today, it just happened to be the last bit before we go into Advent.

But you know, maybe it’s timely, maybe in some ways it’s timely for you and for us because, sometimes, we need something to help us sit up and take notice, something to make us take stock of life rather than getting into a real mess like I did all those years ago. And so, maybe today is helpful and the message of Malachi might be helpful for us because Malachi was also sent to our people who were completely oblivious. There was something deeply wrong but they didn’t actually have a clue and so God sent Malachi one more time and He says to the people ‘You have spoken arrogantly against me. You have said it is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements?’ and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty. There’s something deeply wrong with the people, something deep in the souls of their being. There’s arrogance and there’s distance from God and, sure their meeting His requirements, they say, and that might be like they’re going to the temple and they’re praying and they’re giving their sacrifices, they’re maybe bringing their offering. They’re going around like mourners. They’ve already got dust and ash and sackcloth on them to show signs of repentance but actually, it’s all just external, going through the motions, it’s not from the heart and they’re bothered by this. They say it’s futile! What’s the point? What good is this to me? There’s no return for this, there’s no profit in this for me God! What’s the point? What good is it doing me? You know, they’ve turned faith into something very selfish. They appear to be serving God but actually they’re just serving themselves and there again is echoes of my story, echoes of my selfishness, echoes of my brokenness, my sin, but it’s an issue we all deal with don’t we. Because if truth be told, as human beings, we can turn just about anything into being about us and asking ‘Well, what’s the benefit in this for me?’ or ‘How can I benefit from this in some way?’ We twist it.

So, for example, I was in the playground this week and I was talking to one of the other dads who’s also called Scott, and we got talking and he was telling me about the parents’ night and how it went for his son, and that his son was reading already, primary one, age five, same year as my daughter, and there’s a part of me that’s like ‘Well, Hope’s not reading!’ And there’s almost a part of you that could twist that into ‘I need to get Hope reading’ so that I don’t feel so terrible as a parent. I, you, as a human being, you could twist just about anything family, kids, money, your job, church – How often in church is it ‘Has the service suiting me?’ – as the minister, the elders, the pastoral grouping leaders, the Sunday School. Is it suiting me and meeting my needs? Just about anything in life we can twist because and I think that part of the reason is as our last song suggested, the longing of our soul is something else than where we often look, we often look to these other things and we try and have the longing of our soul met by these other things and it just can’t, and so we end up twisting things. And last week we were thinking about God sorting out the world, sorting out the problems and making this world a better place, that one day He would restore all things and so we that was a really positive message hopefully and hopefully you left encouraged and hopefully you’re like ‘God, come on sort out the world. Come back sort out, sort out the problems out there.’

But maybe, when it comes to today’s message of sorting the problems in here, maybe that just feels too uncomfortable, maybe we’d rather say to God ‘You know God, just back off back off! It’s my life.’ or ‘Treat me a bit differently God, you know, I’m not as bad as the person down the road, I’m not as bad as the person in that country, or doing that thing or that politician, just treat me a bit differently. God, come on geeza break!’ But you know, to God, sin is sin and whether it’s the smallest acts or the tiniest indiscretion, He knows it. And this is a truth He had to reestablish with His people through Malachi because they think serving God is futile, they think God just overlooks sin. Here’s these evildoers, they’re getting away with stuff. God doesn’t matter. He doesn’t care. What’s the point? And so, He sends Malachi to remind them of the truth. He sends them to take heed because as He says – there will be a day when He will act. There will be a day when the Lord will act. There’ll be a day when He will restore the world and He’s going to make it all new and there’ll be no more sin or death or mourning. There’ll be no more brokenness or selfishness.

But that creates a problem, doesn’t it? Because what does God do with you and me, the darkness in us. If not a jot of sin can be in that new creation, what does He do with us?

Another prophet put the problem this way ‘We all like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to our own way.’ And the new hymn actually picked up on that too, I hadn’t noticed until we sung it there, we all got our own way. We’ll tell God to take a hike, and our culture just reinforces that message, doesn’t it? It just says, be free, throw off restraints, just go for it alone, ignore God, don’t let Him tell you, don’t let the church tell you how to live your life, be free, because that’s the way to a good life, a best life. But you know, it’s a lie it’s a lie because at 19 I pursued that, at 19 I pursued life my way, and where did it lead me? It just led me into more brokenness and for more for the heart for other people and so on the day I became a Christian, as I sat there with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, I had to own up to my brokenness, my sin, because nothing was going to change if I didn’t do that first.

And part of being a Christian involves that lonely moment when you acknowledge that, when you acknowledge that reality in your life, and all our members, new members who stood there today at one point or another they’ve all had to own up to that reality, that they have a problem, like I have a problem, like you have a problem. That problem is sin and, as we affirmed in the Apostles’ Creed, that has been the belief for 2000 years and beyond, that God was going to come back one day to deal with sin and none of us will be exempt from that. And so, God has to get these truths back into the lives of His people, people who are oblivious to this reality and they don’t know something’s wrong and so He brings a wake-up call He did in my life the day I became a Christian. That was a wake-up call for me and maybe you’re sitting there feeling really uncomfortable and really wishing you weren’t in church today and you’re really going to give the person a hard time that invited you along, despite what I said earlier, but you know maybe that uncomfortableness, maybe even that anger, because this can raise anger in us, maybe those feelings are actually God shining a wee torchlight in your life and just saying ‘Look there is a problem here. There is something we need to talk about. There’s a deeper issue we need to address.’ but you know, God doesn’t do it to be mean, He doesn’t include passages like this in the Bible to be mean, and He doesn’t do it to leave us feeling condemned or judged or guilty, because, most of the time, I don’t live my life that way because not only did God on the day I became a Christian I’d highlight my problem, He provided a solution because He loves us, He loves you in the depth of His being He loves you.

And so, also in Malachi we read these words ‘Surely the day is coming the Son of Righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.’ The day of the Lord is coming and on that day, though it will be like the rising of the sun, and the rays of that event will bring healing to the world, to all creation and do away with sin forever and that idea, that hope, that reality is spoken in so many places across the scriptures. We read earlier from Isaiah, and in just before the verses immediately before what we read, we read this also from Isaiah ‘Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering. Yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him and afflicted but he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was on him and by his wounds we are healed. We all like sheep have gone astray. each of us has turned to our own way and the lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’ Time and time again God tells of an event and then of a person who will come to bring this restored world about who will bring this freedom from sin who will bring healing for all.

And that event came 400 years after Malachi. That event happened in the Advent season we’re about to celebrate. It happened with the coming of Jesus, when God stepped into our broken world, when God went to the cross to die the death we should for our sin. So, you might get angry at God for what He’s saying this morning, I’m really uncomfortable with it, but let’s remember He also provides that solution he hung on a cross and bled for you and for me that’s how much he loves you, He died so that sin wouldn’t have the final say, He died so that if you put your faith in Him you can share in that great and glorious day when He’ll make all things new and the Son of Righteousness will bring healing from all sin and you know since that day, since the day Jesus died and then rose again, and across the centuries since then, people across this world have been putting their faith in Jesus, just like our new members did, they’ve been finding that the words of scripture are true that there is forgiveness through Jesus, that you can be reconciled to God through Jesus, and we’ve come to see that it’s all of grace, it’s all a gift, we don’t earn it, we don’t deserve it, we simply receive it through faith in Jesus and every day, even today, there are people coming to faith in this truth, they’re coming to find life and hope through Jesus, this one who will bring healing when the Son of Righteousness rises.

And so, what do we do with today’s message? What do we do with these two sides of the one coin? On the one side we have the really bad news that we all have a sin problem, and on the other side of the coin there’s good news, that there’s hope and forgiveness through Jesus. What do we do with that?

Well our passage gives us two ideas and the first, on the first thing to do is to repent, which means change your thinking, such that your heart and your life changes as well, and there were people who heard what the Lord said they heeded Him and they turned to Him, and in turning to Him, the Lord said over them they were his treasured possession and He would spare them.

Maybe you need to repent today. Maybe you’re not a Christian. Maybe you’ve been coming to church for a long time and you know you’ve not made that choice yourself. Maybe today is the day you need to repent and turn to the Lord and admit ‘I’ve got a problem God, and I need Your forgiveness.’

The second idea of how to respond this morning is to stand and be counted. Those that responded, their names were written down they were counted, and our new members today, their names will be added to our Church Roll, they’re being counted and so maybe one of the things you need to consider doing is becoming a member here in church, to publicly say ‘You know, I believe in Jesus. I’m following Jesus, and this is my spiritual home.’ Maybe that’s the step you need to take to stand and be counted but that membership as the promises were asked today not only includes having your name on a bit of paper it involves being part of this church family through the giving of your time, talents and your money, and so maybe there’s something in that for you. Maybe you’re standing and being counted needs to look like getting involved or caring for the people who call this their spiritual home. It’s if you’re not infirm and housebound or limited in some capacity like that then really do we have an excuse? We need to stand and be counted because if we’ve counted this as our spiritual home and made these promises we made promises to get involved. Maybe you need to get involved.

But maybe standing be counted as also like in verse chapter 4 verse 4 here where it says ‘Remember the law of my servant Moses’ we think of remembering as just having a bit of information in our head but in Hebrew and in the Old Testament the idea of remembering was that you not only remembered it but you lived in light of it, you walked in accordance with God’s ways, you lived your life God’s way, that’s what it means to truly remember and you know maybe there’s an area of your life that you need to stand up and be counted. The other six days of the week you’re out and about because our final promise that our members made today was to do that to witness to Jesus in all the rest of their life and you know maybe there’s something in your life, an area of your life you need to stand and be counted. It might be sharing your faith, but it could be that you need to choose God’s way rather than your culture’s way or the way of your colleagues. Maybe you need to walk in truth and in uprightness. Maybe there’s a sin in your life that you know God would want you to turn from. Maybe anger. Maybe sexual immorality of some form. Who knows what it might be.

And the question is Will you stand and be counted by walking in God’s ways rather than yours or the culture? Will you live in response to the grace you’ve received? is basically what the passage is calling us to do. So, before we finish up, I want to give us a moment to pray. I want to give a moment first of all to turn to God in repentance. That if you’ve never done that, maybe today is the day to do that because I wouldn’t be doing my job if I simply told you an idea but maybe just didn’t help you along that next bit of the journey. So, if you want to make that step today, let me help you make that step and I’ll lead you in a prayer and then we’ll go on to pray as well about how we respond to the grace we’ve received by being stuck by standing and being counted. So, let’s come to God in prayer. Let us pray:

So, if you want to welcome Jesus into your life and receive forgiveness, why don’t you pray along with me just in the quiet of your heart, pray these words with me.

Lord Jesus, I’m sorry for the things I’ve done wrong in my life for the selfishness that’s there, and I take a moment to name anything that’s on my conscience this morning.
Lord, please forgive me.
I turn from everything that I know is wrong and I choose to walk in step with You. Thank-you, You died on the cross so that I could be forgiven. Thank-you for Your love. Thank-you for Your grace.
I ask for you to fill me with Your Holy Spirit that I might walk with You all the days of my life.
Thank-you Lord Jesus.

Lord God, we hear a tough message from Your word today but You speak it in love, to call us deeper, to call us into Your ways, to respond to Your grace and so I pray for those that have made that choice today, to respond for the first time, protect them, I pray, protect this choice they’ve made today.

And for all of us Lord, as we as we ponder the magnitude of Your love and grace, that took You to the cross, and the reality that one day You will return. Help us live between now and then to Your glory, to live lives worthy of your calling and so stand and be counted in all the areas of life.

Lord where there’s a sin we may be trapped in, give us grace and break us free Lord where we need to stand and be counted by getting involved or coming into membership or making You known at work.

Lord, give us grace that we might have strength and power to witness to You and to give our lives for Your glory.

Oh God, You’re a good God, a great God, and we delight in You this morning. Thank-you that You delight in us, that we are your treasured possession. May we go here from here knowing that, rejoicing in that, and inviting all to know that as well by coming to faith in Jesus, for in His name we ask this. Amen

If you have made that choice for the first time today, please come and talk to me, tell me, tell a trusted Christian you know, because it’s easy to make it, just keep it very personal but you need to take that next step of faith to say ‘I’ve made that choice and that will just help to solidify and strengthen that choice of faith you’ve made today. So, come and chat to me. I won’t ask you a lot of questions, I’ll just rejoice with you, or tell a Christian, a trusted Christian, that you’re here with today.