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

Justice: called to change

Preached on: Sunday 22nd November 2020
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 20-11-22 Message PPT slides multi-page.
Bible references: Isaiah 61:1-9
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Isaiah 61:1-9
Sunday 22nd November 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchMessage
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be true and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.Today is our last week in our series focusing on justice through the book of Isaiah. Over the previous weeks, we’ve seen time and again that justice is a priority for the Lord because it is central to worship and core to His plan for bringing hope and light to the world, so that the norm changes and there might life for all. Each week, we’ve also had input from members of our church family, sharing with us ideas for seeking justice.Of the passages we explored, several may be less well known to us, but today’s passage could be familiar, or the beginning at least, because these words were quoted by Jesus. In Luke chapter 4, Jesus is in the synagogue at Nazareth and He reads this very passage, then says: ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ (Luke 4:21) This passage of Scripture foretold of someone who would come, anointed in the Spirit of the Lord, to set the world right, to bring life and healing of soul and of society. In that synagogue, Jesus was claiming to be the person referred to in Isaiah, the promised Messiah who would come to suffer and to serve, that God’s promises and plan would be fulfilled. Many of the promises in this passage should be familiar to us by now because they echo many earlier passages that we read and more besides.
Yet, there is something else in this passage, which I think helpfully rounds off our series on justice. Isaiah said:
‘They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendour.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations…
And you will be called priests of the Lord,
you will be named ministers of our God.’
(Isaiah 61:3-4, 6)

In these verses, we see that, whilst the principle agent of change and restoration is the promised Messiah, the people who benefit from Him, the people who receive…
His deliverance and salvation and help and grace, these same people are then called to be His ongoing agents, His ambassadors, His priests and ministers, such that they stand in the gap on His behalf and share what they have received from Him with the wider world. These people are called to change, they are called to change the world – to rebuild a world that has been devastated by sin, a world marked by a lack of love and too much cruelty and a way of life that says to take care of yourself first and at all costs. To all who have met with the Messiah, who have met with Jesus, there is a calling – we have a calling – to play a part in rebuilding lives and even rebuilding societies. It addresses the spiritual dynamics of life but also the material, for the earlier verses in the chapter speak of the Messiah transforming the full range of human reality and experience.
So, I wonder friends, as we heed last week’s message, that simply returning to normal is not viable and so we must look forward and look out, where are our resources being invested? What are we rebuilding or restoring? Are we simply maintaining the old structures and institution? Or can we learn the way of Jesus, to look outward and see the brokenness all around, and in love and compassion – where ‘compassion’ literally means ‘with suffering’ – can we love and suffer with this broken world for their benefit, and so play our part in what Jesus, the Messiah, is doing in our world? Friends, we are called to change, to change the world, so how is that seen in your life? How is that seen in our congregation’s life?

But this calling to change is not only external, it’s also internal. Isaiah did say:
‘They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendour…
For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.’
(Isaiah 61:3, 8)

We are called to change, but not only to change the world, we are called to change within ourselves. The Lord through Isaiah says that those who experience the ministry of the Messiah will be called ‘oaks of righteousness’, they will change in character, in their nature, such that they ‘display…his splendour’, His glory, His likeness – they will pursue justice, because He…
is the Lord who loves justice. So firm is His commitment to our change, that it is in fact part of the everlasting covenant He makes with us, His people. And this is key friends, because we shouldn’t fall into a false understanding about these matters – we don’t grow in righteousness by trying harder, that would be man-made religion. Instead, we are ‘a planting of the Lord’ – it is He who will nurture and grow this righteousness in us.

It’s a theme picked up in many places across the New Testament. Paul will say to Titus: ‘…our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ,…gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.’ (Titus 2:14) God through Isaiah, God through Paul, God across the Scriptures invites us into relationship and through that relationship into a calling to change, to change on the inside. It’s something we see in the life and ministry of Jesus: He transformed a tax collector into a disciple, a prostitute into a missionary, a sceptic into an apostle, a madman into a family man, and a thief into a friend.

Of course, it takes time – the Scriptures don’t speak of us becoming perfect instantaneously – because an oak matures slowly, it doesn’t become great overnight. But nevertheless, this is part of God’s plan, part of His calling upon our lives – and He will help make it possible. He promises to give us His Spirit to dwell in us and enable us to change. Paul says: ‘…by the Spirit…put to death the misdeeds of the body…’ (Romans 8:13) and the fruit of the Spirit – not the fruit of our hard labour – is ‘…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ (Gal. 5:22-23) God will do what we cannot do for ourselves – change our nature, change us on the inside.

Does this mean we have no part to play? Do we simply lie back and allow God to work some magic on us? Well no, in that same quote from Romans, Paul says: ‘…by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body…’ (Romans 8:13) You, with the Spirit, but without the Spirit you haven’t got a chance; for our brokenness, our darkness, the captivity within us because of sin is too powerful for us to overcome alone. But by the death and resurrection of Jesus, and because He has ascended into heaven and sent the Spirit, we can now know the healing and transformation promised in Isaiah and so increasingly grow as oaks of righteousness.
In our culture today, there’s that practice of taking a picture or selfie and adding a filter to make you look better or jazz things up a bit. Sometimes it’s just for fun, but other times I wonder if it points to a wishful desire in us, or a discontentment with who we are – so we end up putting on the filter, we fake it, and whilst the outside changes, it does nothing about the inside. We’re still broken, we’re still insecure or easily angered, because we need outside help to change on the inside.

Friends, we’ve been exploring God’s call to seek justice. That call requires us to change, it requires us to put others first, and like every call and command of God, if we see it as optional, we will never change. When I first became a Christian, I knew I had to stop getting drunk, I knew I had to stop swearing, I knew I had to treat girls better,… because the Scriptures teach us these things and I knew it wasn’t an option. And so I wholeheartedly said “yes” to God’s way, and change came, much quicker than I ever expected – but I had to choose, I had to choose to submit to God and not see it as optional. By taking that step, that step of faith to trust God’s way over mine, He then gave power by His Spirit and I did change on the inside.

Brothers and sisters, we are called to change, to change this world and see it rebuilt and restored. But for that to be – for our future to be different from the past – we must also heeds God’s call to change on the inside and allow His Spirit to grow and mature us in His character and in His ways, which includes the seeking of justice.

I pray it may be so. Amen.

The right heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing circumstances

Preached on: Sunday 18th November 2018
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 20181118 Powerpoint multislides.
Bible references: Acts 1:1-14

Rev.Scott Burton preaching as Sole Nominee
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us come to God in prayer and let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, Oh Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen

The church in every time and in every place has found itself in changing circumstances and faced with that, the church has had to walk a tightrope between holding on to what is core and changing the rest, so that it fulfills its calling to make disciples of all the nations. I don’t know about you, but it feels like we are finally, finally starting to get that. That we need to change as a church. Now, I have my reservations about some of the changes happening at a national level but, here at Brightons, it feels like you are aware of the need to keep that tension between holding on to what is core and nevertheless changing other things.

Your Parish Profile said that you wanted to ‘remain vibrant, relevant and accessible to all, and always true to God’s word’ and yet, you are also honest about the necessity of change because you wrote that you needed to ‘increase and enhance our prayer life and expand our outreach securing the future of the church particularly through creative work with children, young people and families’. When I spent a very powerful and informative two and a half hours with your Nominating Committee being interviewed by them, and returning the favour! They put me through my paces making sure the core would be core, and it was great to experience that, and as you just heard I was also upfront with them about a couple of challenging questions that I had, and it was great that they were honest about the needs of the congregation and receptive to those questions. So, even though you are a healthy, vibrant congregation, it’s really encouraging to see that you’re facing up to reality, that you are not content to rest upon your laurels.

At present I am a locum for a vacant link charge up north and I am a member of the Ministries Council of the Church of Scotland so I am aware that being in a season of change and facing even more change can be unsettling for us, even scary. It can raise all sorts of questions and uncertainties. So, what might God’s word say to us in such times?

Well, in the book of Acts we find the early church in changing circumstances. Too they are on the cusp of truly significant change, change like they have never experienced, change like they can never anticipate or expect, and so Acts especially, those early chapters, gives us insight into some core things to remember and hold on to, especially in the midst of change. Acts opens with these words ‘In my former book Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven.’ From the earliest times, the writing of the book of Acts has been attributed to Luke, that gentile doctor, who came to faith in Jesus and became a valuable helper and friend to the apostle Paul. So Acts is the second installment from Luke. In his former book, that is the gospel which bears his name, Luke wrote about all that Jesus began to do detailing the life of Jesus and his ministry on earth, but notice what that sentence says ‘all that Jesus began to do, not all that Jesus did but all that Jesus began to do, so Luke’s gospel details Jesus ministry on earth and Acts details the continuing ministry of Jesus then and even now, and Luke can write such a claim because of his confidence that Jesus is alive. He writes ‘After his suffering (that is Jesus) he presented himself to them the apostles and disciples and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.’ Luke is convinced of this. Convinced of its reality, that Jesus is alive and so the ministry of Jesus continues and continues even to this day. Can I ask you this – do you believe that do you have the confidence of Luke?

As outlined to our children and young people, there is great evidence to give us confidence in this and I feel and I know it is crucial for us to have this confidence because, in the changing circumstances as a church, and in the changing circumstances of life and all the struggles of life, to be confident that Jesus truly is alive changes everything. This core truth gives courage and comfort in difficult times, it sustains passion across the decades and it gives hope of a better future for our world, for our church, and for each of us individually. So, can I ask you – do you believe that Jesus is alive are you confident in this?

If you’re not, please be honest and please do something about that feeling. Please speak with your locum, speak with your elders, read The Case for Christ, for example, but I beg you, do something. For Jesus is alive and His ministry does continue now. that ministry can,, if we let it challenge us and change us. Luke goes on to write that ‘he (Jesus) appeared to them over a period of 40 days and spoke about the kingdom of God’ and that prompted the disciples to reply with a question – ‘Lord, are you, at this time, going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ They expected still,, a political and territorial kingdom, a national kingdom of Israel, and they hoped it would be established.

Now, in response the continuing ministry of Jesus brings a challenge to their thinking he says to them ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the father has set by his own authority but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.’

There’s so much in those two verses but let us for now notice this – the continued ministry of Jesus challenged them. It challenged their ideas about Jesus and the kingdom. For the kingdom of God is primarily spiritual in character, that as people submit to the reign of God in their lives, He transforms their hearts and He renews their mind. This kingdom is also going to be international says Jesus and it will grow gradually, so even after three years of intense discipleship and a further 40 days with the risen Jesus, the continuing ministry of Jesus is still challenging their thinking and way of life.

So, what about us? How is the continuing ministry of Jesus challenging our way of life and our thinking individually and corporately here in Brightons?

At the beginning of this message I spoke about the changing and challenging circumstances that we find ourselves in both nationally and locally, and so often we look on it negatively. The number of ministers is dropping, buildings are closing, parishes are expanding and the list goes on and on. But, what if we are in a divine moment? Have you wondered that? What if we are in a divine moment? A divine moment of opportunity when the continuing ministry of Jesus might challenge our thinking and our way of life so that the kingdom of God extends to the ends of the earth but begins growing right here too? Have you wondered that yet?

Returning to those early disciples, I’m sure some of them felt shock and horror as Jesus said those words. Maybe some of them thought ‘Jesus, are you nuts, there’s only 120 of us. How is this ever going to happen. You cannot be serious!’ but Jesus knew that by His continuing ministry in them and through them by the Holy Spirit, that this world would be turned upside down, that the words of Isaiah would come true that some would say ‘I belong to the Lord and become part of the family and people of God’.

Jesus has just challenged their thinking about the future so, how is the continuing ministry of Jesus challenging us? How is He challenging you?

With the Nominating Committee, as I said, I spent a good wee while with them which was great and I outlined a number of key principles in the midst of that conversation about myself and about any future ministry, and one is that I feel the church at large, and maybe some of us here, need to wake up to the fact that we are called to be witnesses. We each are disciples of Jesus. We each are to go and make disciples of others. We are to share our faith. We are to go and call people to follow Jesus, to repent and live for Him. And I was grateful in the midst of that conversation with the Nominating Committee, that one of their number was honest and said ‘I’m just not sure how to do that. I’m not sure how to do that. How do I reach out to my peers? How do I reach out to my peers who are successful and affluent and capable?

That member communicated a feeling, I think, that we all have. We can all be daunted by that call to be a witness. We don’t know what to do because we haven’t been discipled in that way ourselves so often, but that same person in literally the same breath, spoke about their confliction to lean into that call, that they wanted to play their part and it was so inspiring to hear!

As I say, I suspect she’s not alone. I suspect that many of us here have the same apprehension, but we are each called as witnesses as disciples who are to go and make disciples. And so my question is – are you up for that? Are you up for that? I’m being very upfront with you. If you call me here, I’ll lean into that myself, but I’ll call you to lean into that too. I’ll work with your elders, I’ll work with you individually, but we’ll lean into that, if you call me here, and it might change your life radically, and it’ll be costly. Are you up for that? Are you up for it?

The continuing ministry of Jesus brings challenge and that is but one, I’m sure there’ll be more, whether here at Brightons or for our church nationally, and you might say back to me ‘Well Scott, it was easy for the disciples. Come on! Jesus was right there in their midst’ but notice what happens after He leaves. They returned to Jerusalem, went upstairs to the room and joined together constantly in prayer. Prior to His leaving, the disciples had spent time with Jesus. They had listened to His teaching. They had soaked in the love of God, and so now it is instinctive for them to turn to Him in prayer, and that is how they will wait upon Him. That is how they will wait upon His provision and leading. Again and again, if you read through the book of Acts, the disciples come together in prayer and God leads and provides for them.

Maybe they also came together because of that commission Jesus gave them in verse 8. It’s hard to see in our English translations but when he says ‘you will be my witnesses’ he’s calling them to a costly future because the Greek word for witness is the exact same root word for our English word martyr.

So, Jesus has just called them to sacrificial way of life, to loyalty whatever the cost ,but these early followers of Jesus were so confident in the continuing ministry of Jesus, were so challenged and captivated by that ministry, were so aware of their need to depend on Him, that they came together in prayer.

Friends, can the same be said of us? Do we unite in prayer here? It can be so tempting to rush ahead. We prefer to get on with the job. We don’t like waiting and we really don’t like depending on another. Are you like that? I know I can be, but the truth is, we can’t do this on our own. The gaps in these pews are not going to fill by our own efforts.

If we are going to grow in confidence in the continuing ministry of Jesus, if we are to hear the challenge of the continuing ministry of Jesus, if we are to receive all that we need to participate in the continuing ministry of Jesus, then we must wait, we must wait upon Him and you can of course do that at home, individually, but the testimony of Christians across the ages is that the church needs to come together in prayer if we are to know His leading, if we are to know His providing, if we are to have the courage to take the costly choices and be His witnesses, then we must pray and we must pray together.

I’ve heard that your Nominating Committee is prayerful perhaps, overly prayerful if that can ever be possible, they pray a lot and I know that you have a midweek time together and hopefully you’re praying in your home groups and in other ways too, but if you are not personally gathering in prayer, some way, somehow, can I ask that you find a way. If the time is difficult, if the day is difficult, if you’re just unsure how to pray with others or even just how to pray, again, I encourage you speak with someone, be honest about that, talk to your locum, talk to your elders, talk to your session, feed it back to them and maybe together we can work out a way to help you gather together in prayer, but at some point you must make the choice, at some point you must see that prayer is enough of a priority that you fit it into your diary, but it’s only by prayer that you will find the confidence that Jesus is alive and it’s only by prayer that you will have the courage you need to be His witnesses and to respond to His challenge. The testimony of the early church, in the church across the ages, is that the people of God must unite in prayer if we are to participate in the continuing ministry of Jesus.

In these changing times, are you confident that Jesus is alive? Will you respond to His challenge at this present time and will we come together in prayer? The ministry of Jesus is continuing and to Him be the glory both now and forevermore. Amen