Without belief! (Passion Wk.6)

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

God gives himself through Jesus (Passion Wk.3 Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 31st March 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 20-03-31-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-Tuesday-sermon.
Bible references: Luke 17:5-19
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 17:5-19
Tuesday 31st March 2020 Brightons Parish Church

Let us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Two weeks’ ago, we began our journey towards Easter, and we tuned in to that part of Luke’s gospel where Jesus resolutely sets out for Jerusalem. On Sunday we had our final service before we reach Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. We’re hoping to have some online prayers and reflections then for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, led for us by ministers in the Braes area, and more details will be available on Sunday.

In our passage for this evening, we have the third and final story where Samaritans are talked about and it follows on after a lengthy teaching portion, which began back in Luke chapter 15. In the particular section we heard tonight, it began and ended on the topic of faith, and that’s where we’ll start this evening.

As I said on Sunday, having faith just now is hard, we have questions, some people may even scoff at the idea of faith, scoff at it having value and relevance. But I think that hard times do not mean faith cannot exist, or that faith is simply wishful thinking. It is possible to be people of faith even amidst uncertain times.

But as the example of the disciples teaches us, it’s OK to be honest with Jesus about our doubts. In verse 5, we see that the apostles, those close friends of Jesus, said to
Him: ‘Increase our faith!’
Here are the people that Jesus is training up, training up to be involved in His continuing ministry, and despite having seen so many miracles already, they are now struggling, they perceive their faith is maybe not quite big enough for what Jesus asks of them.

And what does Jesus ask of them? We didn’t read those particular verses tonight but if you open your Bible, you can see in verse 1 that Jesus speaks of keeping faith even when things come along that might cause some to stumble, then in verses 2 to 3, Jesus speaks of living in such a manner as not to undermine another’s faith, then finally in verses 3 to 4, Jesus teaches that we are to forgive as often as repentance occurs.

What’s quite striking here, is that the things which provoke the disciples to say, ‘increase our faith’, are not great wonders or undertakings which we might normally associate with needing faith. We may more naturally think of deeds such as praying for healing, or being asked to preach, or give up something that is dear to us.

Yet, what Jesus shares here, are every day, normal activities. Keeping the faith, building others up, and forgiving as often as needed. Doesn’t sound very grand, but aren’t they just as hard? Even now, amidst this pandemic, don’t we face all three to some degree? Keeping the faith when events around us might seem to belittle our beliefs. Building others up when it’s so much easier to jump on the bandwagon of criticism, doubt and moaning. And as we face lockdown, maybe for weeks upon weeks, and we get grumpy with one another because we’re living in such close proximity all the time, or we get bitter because we are alone and we feel forgotten, is not forgiveness needed in such times?

I wonder, as time passes and the lockdown extends, might not we also be inclined, with the disciples, to cry out, ‘Lord increase our faith’ because these otherwise mundane tasks are actually quite demanding.

So, what is Jesus reply? He says, ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it will obey you.’ (Luke 17:6) Clearly, Jesus is using hyperbole because He and the disciples never did such a thing themselves.
Instead, Jesus is trying to highlight that it’s not the amount of faith that is important, but rather simply its presence and what underpins or defines our faith. Sinclair Ferguson, a professor of Systematic Theology, reminds us of this: ‘…our spiritual forefathers used to say that little faith gets the same Saviour as great faith, but it may not get his greatness.’ (Sinclair Ferguson, To Seek and To Save, page 66)

What he’s saying, as with Jesus, is that what is important is not the size of our faith, but rather the substance of our faith. Often, we are tempted to say, “I don’t have enough faith”, or “He or she has more faith than I”. But such statements reveal that we think faith is dependant on us, that what we feel, what we can muster up, is what defines the character and strength of our faith.
But Jesus, as with our spiritual forefathers, is saying something else. They are revealing that faith should have its character and strength defined by God, rather than ourselves. This means, argues Ferguson, that ‘faith should be described as the extent to which our trust in the Lord is in keeping with the greatness of God’s person and the certainty of His promises.’ For example: if I trust, that Jesus is always with me unto the end of the age, as He has promised to be, and I trust this because I know Him to be alive, then this shapes my faith and so defines my living, my choices, and my perspective.

But, if I believe Jesus to be God but quite distant, detached from our experience, then I do have faith, I do have access to Jesus, but I do not appreciate His greatness as fully as I should, and so my faith is diminished and its impact upon my life is equally limited.

Faith, which can tell a mulberry tree to jump into the sea, is a faith which appreciates the greatness of God and lives accordingly. It’s not about the size of our faith, but rather the substance of our faith, and the substance of our faith is matured and maintained by the extent to which we grow in our relationship with God, and we do that by appreciating more of His person and His promises.

So, that’s why we’re encouraging everyone to invest time in their relationship with God during this time of isolation, and we principally grow in our relationship with God as we dig into His Word, because it’s in His Word that we learn of His person and promises. We’ve offered a couple of ideas for this in our Sunday services, with an online reading plan begun yesterday, exploring faith and doubts. It’s not too late to get involved and details are still available on our website and Facebook page.

But, whether you join the reading plans or not, please invest some time in your relationship with God by getting into His Word. Then, the substance of your faith can be matured and maintained in line with the true revelation of God, as you learn of His person and promises.

On Sunday, I also mentioned that this issue of faith among the apostles is followed on after with the story of the ten lepers, where faith in Jesus arises in the most unlikely of places – a Samaritan leper. It was that man who evidenced a faith which had substance – He

recognised in Jesus the God of all creation and that Jesus the God-man was overflowing with loving kindness.

I said on Sunday, that loving kindness was one way of unpacking the words ‘pity’ or ‘mercy’, which is what the ten lepers asked of Jesus in the first place. Jesus did heal them, He granted what they asked for, they experienced His loving kindness. But they do so, after following His command to: ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ (Luke 17:14)

I deliberately skipped over that part of the passage because our service was seeking to be all age. But now, I’d like to give you a little more context for those words. In the Old Testament, the people of God were given instructions regarding various skin conditions, and as I outlined, it was pretty hard back then to tell what people had. So, anyone with one of these particular skin conditions had to leave home, they had to leave the village, because those skin conditions could be spread to other people and the only way to protect the community was for those people to be isolated and removed.

But it was also possible for someone to be welcomed back into the community if their condition changed or went away. At that point, they were to go to their local priest, for only they could legally declare a leper “clean” and healthy, and so able then to return to a normal life.

What’s striking in the story of the ten lepers, is that one returns to Jesus, rather than going on to find the priest. Clearly, we’re right to talk about gratitude and thankfulness because it’s there in the passage, and we’ll come back to that soon. But this idea of Jesus being asked for mercy, and of the one leper coming to Jesus, when all the rest go seeking their priest, does call to mind what the writer to the Hebrews wrote: ‘…[Jesus] shared in [our] humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death…For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.’ (Hebrews 2:14-17)

There’s a lot packed into those few verses, but did you notice that the writer speaks of Jesus as a merciful high priest? In the Old Testament, the high priest had the role of once a year going into the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle, or temple, so as to make atonement for the people. This was part of the wider system which secured their forgiveness of sin such that they were in right standing with God.

The writer of Hebrews makes a lengthy argument that Jesus is the eternal, perfect high priest, bringing in a new and eternal covenant between God and humanity, such that any who will put their faith in Jesus can have their sins forgiven, once for all, remembered no more, and then given unrestricted access to God’s presence because they are made children of God through the Son of God who died in their place, even though He Himself was perfectly sinless.
But to establish that new, eternal covenant, Jesus had to be both fully man and fully God, which is what the writer said in the passage we read. As such, Jesus is then our merciful high priest, He is able to represent both God and mankind, and stand in the gap between us, offering us mercy, loving kindness, through His own sacrifice, and welcoming us into the family of God with right standing before God.

It’s in that place, as the writer outlines, that we are then freed from the fear of death, because eternal life is secured for us by Jesus, our merciful high priest.

Now, coming back to the story of the ten lepers, it’s interesting that the one leper who cannot go to the
Jewish priests, because he’s a Samaritan, comes instead to Jesus. Does that individual realise that he needs no other priest, for Jesus, the God-man, is priest enough?

Friends, we’ve spoken tonight of developing a faith which has substance by learning of the person and promises of God, such that it matures and is maintained. I wonder, if the example of the Samaritan, is not only one of thankfulness, but of recognising something of the person and promises of Jesus: that He is merciful, overflowing with loving kindness, ready to forgive and welcome us into the family of God, if only we will bow the knee and respond in faith to Him. That kind of faith has a measure of substance, and by such faith we can be freed of fear and as we sung on Sunday, having a hope which is steadfast and sure.

I think, as we recognise more of the person and promises of Jesus, that a real depth of thankfulness will overflow within us, and so let’s close with some reflections on that idea from the passage.

It’s clear from what Jesus says that thankfulness is important, especially thankfulness to Jesus Himself, and that’s something we are taught again and again. The Apostle Paul encouraged us, as we saw, to, ‘Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Eph. 5:19-20)

So, are you someone who’s thankful? I really valued those words from Tom Wright, who said: ‘…our God is the giver of all things: every mouthful of food we take, every breath of air we inhale, every note of music we hear, every smile on the face of a friend, a child, a spouse – all that, and a million things more, are good gifts of his generosity. The world didn’t need to be like this. It could have been far more drab.’ (Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone, page 206)

I wonder, have you begun to do anything about that yet? Because being a people of thankfulness, not only makes us less prone to anger or bitterness, it also guards against that common human tendency to think God “owes” us or that God is some kind of “genie in a bottle”.

I think that’s part of the reason behind Jesus’ words in verses 7 to 10: that nothing we do, or experience, can put God in our debt, because He has been generous already, and immeasurably added to His generosity through the death of His perfect Son, our merciful high priest.

Again, as our faith develops substance, rather than size, by appreciating the person and promises of God, then we are freed from unhealthy perceptions of God, we are enabled to see His goodness, His grace, His loving kindness, such that He owes us nothing and we owe Him everything.

So, how are you going to develop a rhythm of thanking God for the gifts of His generosity? When I was in training, I came across a spiritual discipline called Examen, and it’s a form of prayer that helps us realise the many good gifts of God throughout our day. We don’t have time to go into it just now, but I’ll put up some links on our website and Facebook page if you want to dig into that, because it’s a practice that I’ve found helpful, even though I’m only beginning now to cultivate in my own life.

Friends, as we journey with Jesus towards Easter, may we be a people whose faith grows in substance as we see more clearly the person of God, that He is full of loving kindness, that He comes close, and out of His abundant generosity give us good things, including Himself. May we also, appreciate afresh the promises we have from God, particularly the promises secured for us through Jesus, who gave Himself for us upon the Cross, that we might be welcomed into His family and have a hope that is sure and steadfast, even in the most difficult of times. To Him, be all glory and thanks, now and forevermore. Amen.

God gives himself through Jesus (Passion Wk.3)

Preached on: Sunday 29th March 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 20-03-29-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-morning-message.
Bible references: Luke 17:11-19
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 17:11-19
Sunday 29th March 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Two weeks’ ago, we began our journey towards Easter, and we tuned in to that part of Luke’s gospel where Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Today is our final service before Palm Sunday, and our passage this morning, is the third and final story where Samaritans are talked about. Boys and girls, can you remember: did the people in Jesus’ day like Samaritans? Did they? Give me a thumbs up or thumbs down! The right answer is: “no” – they did not like Samaritans! No one in Israel had time for Samaritans; no one would give them attention or help.

So, in our story today Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem when He comes to a village and He is met by a group of men. How many people were in that group – can you remember? Was it 5? Was it 8? Was it 10? It was 10!

Ten men were needing help, so they came looking for Jesus. But they kept a little distance from Jesus because they had leprosy. That word was used for a whole lot of different conditions, because back then it was pretty hard to tell what people had. So, a rule was given that anyone with a particular skin condition had to leave home, they had to leave the village because those skin conditions could be spread to other people and the only way to protect the community was for those people to be isolated, they had to be removed.
I wonder, does that feel familiar at all? Can we relate a little to the idea of being cut off, isolated, alone?

So, here are these lepers, social outcasts; they draw near to Jesus seeking His help, but they have to maintain social distancing, probably more than two metres. They cry out to Jesus, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’ ‘Pity’ here is what we might call ‘mercy’, or ‘loving kindness’.

Somehow, these lepers knew that Jesus was someone of loving kindness, and so they seek Him out. Jesus then says a bit of a strange thing and we’ll get into that more with our Tuesday Evening Sermon.

But notice what happens next – they’re healed, they’re cleansed. Now, boys and girls, at this point in the story, how many return to Jesus after being healed by Him? Why don’t you hold up your fingers to tell me how many returned? Just one! Only one returned to Jesus and said thank you, and he was a Samaritan! Those people who everyone else shunned and thought was worthless – that’s who returned and thanked Jesus.

What do you think Jesus felt at that point? When He says:
‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?’ (Luke 17:17) – what was Jesus feeling? Why don’t you tell whoever you’re with what you think Jesus was feeling?

I think maybe Jesus was feeling a bit sad – sad that more people had not figured out who He was, that here was God, right with them, and He cared and listened to isolated and broken people.
So, what are you going to take away from our story today? I’ve got two quick ideas for you!

First of all, it’s really clear that thankfulness is important, thankfulness to Jesus, and that’s something the Bible teaches again and again. The Apostle Paul encouraged us to, ‘Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Eph. 5:19-20)

I wonder, are you someone who’s thankful? We shouldn’t fake thankfulness, so if some of us are grieving, then our thankfulness will be different. We’re also living in difficult times, uncertain times, is it possible to be thankful just now?
Well, we’ve got to remember, that the folks who wrote the Bible were writing in hard times themselves, yet, they were still thankful.

A man called Tom Wright, who is a Christian and writer, said this: ‘…our God is the giver of all things: every mouthful of food we take, every breath of air we inhale, every note of music we hear, every smile on the face of a friend, a child, a spouse – all that, and a million things more, are good gifts of his generosity. The world didn’t need to be like this. It could have been far more drab.’ (Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone, page 206)

In this time of isolation, in this time of food being harder to get, and the normal things being disrupted, maybe it will help us become more thankful for the things we often taken for granted.
So, why not, get into a rhythm of thanking God for the gifts of His generosity, maybe at the start or end of your day. Because the more we are people of thankfulness, the less likely we are to be people of anger or bitterness.

And if you’d like a new song to sing along to, one which is full of thankfulness, then try out Matt Mayer’s song, ‘Alive and Breathing’ – it’s a great song and really lifts my soul!

So, let’s be a people who are thankful. Idea number two – let’s be people of faith yet honest about our doubts. I’ll get into this a bit more in our Tuesday Evening Sermon, but in verse 5, we see that the apostles, the close friends of Jesus, say to Him: ‘Increase our faith!’

Here are the people that Jesus is training up, and they’ve seen lots of miracles already, yet they are struggling, their faith is not quite big enough. Then we read of the ten lepers, where faith in Jesus arises in the most unlikely of places – a Samaritan leper. It is that man who has the greatest faith – He recognises in Jesus that the God of all creation is here, He is near, and is full of loving kindness.

Having faith just now is hard, we have questions, but hard times do not mean faith cannot exist, or that faith is simply wishful thinking. I think it’s possible to be honest with our doubts, and yet still be people of faith.

This week, I read a story out of Italy, of doctors in a hospital facing the most difficult situations, and into their midst came an elderly priest, vulnerable himself…
What that priest did, and how he did it, powerfully touched some of the staff in this hospital. When he arrived, they did not believe in God, but within two weeks faith arose within them because of that priest.

We all have doubts, we all like the disciples, have moments when we cry, ‘Lord, increase our faith!’ So, in this time of isolation, why not invest a little time in your relationship with God? One idea is to join our online Bible reading plan – you can do it on a website or in the Bible app, and details will be on our website and Facebook page. There’s going to be one for adults, and another for older children and younger teens, so consider getting involved, encourage your children to get involved, and let’s be honest about our doubts, yet seek to grow in our relationship with God and so be a people of faith.

Friends, as we journey with Jesus towards Easter, we see that He is the God of loving kindness, who comes close, ready to hear our doubts, increase our faith, and out of His abundant generosity give us good things, including Himself. Jesus is the God who gives Himself to us, He gave us Himself upon the Cross that we might not remain isolated from Him but be welcomed into His family and have a hope that is sure and steadfast, even in the most difficult of times.

To Him, be all glory and thanks, now and forevermore.
Amen.

True Faith (James 2:14-26)

Preached on: Sunday 2nd February 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 20-02-02-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-morning.
Bible references: James 2:14-26
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: James 2:14-26
Sunday 2nd February 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

This past week I was away in Perth for two nights at the Church of Scotland First Five Years’ Conference – and yes, we did get snow as well. The conference is open to any minister who is in their first five years and it gives us newbies time to be together for support and to get some input on the dynamics of modern day ministry. Of course, whilst we’re there we try our best to set the world aright, especially within the Church and maybe because I’ve been talking about the life of our denomination a lot this week, here’s a question I invite you to discuss with your neighbour: what one thing would you blame for the current predicament of our national church?
Now this isn’t a question we discussed at the conference, but it does do the rounds: what one thing would you blame for the current predicament of our national church?

So, if you’re willing, turn to your neighbour for one minute and have a quick discussion.
(PAUSE)
The reality is that in all likelihood, every answer we’ve aired has played its part, and many more could be added to the list.

In our passage today, the second half of James chapter 2 doesn’t offer us a silver bullet to our situation or an exact diagnosis of where it all went wrong. But I do think it poses us some questions and as we wrestle with them… there are likely many points of application we could derive from the passage, yet they all centre around one key issue, which James drives home with four
illustrations, and it is this: ‘faith without deeds is dead.’

This idea is repeated four times by James:
• ‘faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead’ (v17)
• ‘faith without deeds is useless’ (v20)
• ‘a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone’ (v24)
• ‘faith without deeds is dead’ (v26)

Yes, there is nuance a little there in the middle verses, but the point James is trying to get across remains the same:
‘faith without deeds is dead.’
He has one key issue and he has been building towards this from the outset of the letter, building his case that true faith is proven by the lives we live, and to make sure his readers are really clear on this, he now gives them four further illustrations.

Illustration 1 – in verses 14 to 17 here, James outlines a scenario wherein a fellow Christian is in need, due to lack of food or clothing. James probably begins with this illustration because he’s been speaking about the poor in the earlier part of the chapter. In the scenario, James imagines someone within the Christian community replying to such a poor and needy soul in this way: “‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs…” (James 2:16)

It would be like us saying, ‘off you go, try not to worry. Keep warm; eat plenty’. It’s an empty saying. In this situation, James asks: ‘…what good is it?’

Now, James’ point is not simply about ‘what good is it’ to the poor people, for obviously their needs are left wanting; to them there is no good, no benefit. But James is primarily highlighting the benefit of such faith to the individual spurning the poor believer, for James wrote:

‘What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?… faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.’ (James 2:14, 17)

And here is the predicament that James want his readers (and us) to grasp: if we claim to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, if we claim to be a Christian, but then have no specific action, no distinctive lifestyle flowing from such faith, well then, that faith is dead, it is of no good, for it does not save you.

James probably still has the earlier thought from verses 12 to 13 in mind, of God’s judgment, which we explored last week. We saw last week that apart from the forgiveness and mercy available to us at the Cross of Jesus there is no escape from judgment; it’s only when we ask God in faith to forgive us, because of the death of Jesus on the Cross, it’s only then, that we come into right standing with God, forgiven of sin, the slate wiped clean.
It’s only then that we are saved.

But if we claim to have such faith and claim to have such a status before God through Jesus, then as we saw last week, it should leave its mark, our lives should display His mercy and love. Conversely, a faith which appears to make no impact on your life, may be no faith at all. You may claim to have faith, you may be able to confess true and right doctrine, you may be a church member – but if your faith shows no mercy, if it bears no fruit, then James says it is no good, you are potentially not saved, you remain under the judgment of God, for in all likelihood your claim to faith is as empty as saying to a poor man,
‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed.’

So, let me ask you this friends: do you claim to have faith? Do you claim to have faith? And if you do, what can you point to in your life where your faith makes a difference in your life and in the life of others? For example,…
let’s take James’ reference to the poor and not just gloss over that. Where is your faith costing you more than nice sentiment to the poor? It’s easy to become jaded to such needs; it’s easy to come up with excuses. Living in a manse that is right behind the church helps people know where your house is, and they then come asking for money and food and help with the electricity. So, every now and again, the questions arise: does my faith make a
difference here? Or is it, merely words?

James reminds us, that a claim to faith which has no impact on your life, which stirs little mercy or compassion, that is dead faith, it is of no good, your faith is just empty words, and empty words do not save. So, what does your life reveal? Is your faith alive or dead?

James now moves on to his next illustration. In verses 18 to 20, he introduces an imaginary interrupter; someone’s got a question and they are jumping in. These verses have proved complex for interpreters and commentators to engage with because in the original Greek there is no punctuation and so we have to wrestle with the text to know where to put in English punctuation so that the text stays true to the flow of the argument but is also clear. I think the NIV does a good job here and its structure, shared by other translations, has led to several commentators pointing out that the interrupter here is probably not hostile towards James, but rather is simply seeking clarification about James’ argument.

We can well imagine someone saying, ‘You have faith; I have deeds. Both are equally valid methods…

of showing genuine Christianity, don’t you think James? We’re obviously not in favour of being unmerciful, it’s just that, some of us do the deeds of mercy, whilst others of us encourage those that do the acts of mercy. Surely both are equally valid James?’

To such an interrupter, to someone who wants to allow space for both, James holds fast, because faith without deeds is useless, it is dead. His first reply is very much like his earlier case: ‘Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.’ (James 2:18b) – because faith without action is just empty words, it’s just a claim, it cannot be demonstrated.

But then James takes it one stage further, for he says:
‘You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?’ (James 2:19-20)

Maybe James imagines the interrupter affirming that central truth about God, quoting from the Old Testament passage in Deuteronomy: ‘Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one…’ (Deut. 6:4)

And James responds with a quip that basically says: well, that’s all well and good, and very accurate, but even the demons believe that, they know that to be a truth. But here’s the thing, my friends, says James: the demons believe it, they know it to be true, and yet they still live in rebellion towards God, for the next verse after what you’ve quoted is this: ‘…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength’ (Deut. 6:5) – and that is something a demon will never do, though at least they shudder, for at least they know the future that awaits them.

And so, James responds with: ‘You foolish person…’ (v20) You’re a fool because you’re like the demons, you’re no more saved than the demons, because your claim of faith is no more than what the demons have – it has not led you to loving the Lord your God with your whole being and so loving your neighbour as yourself. Your faith is useless, it is dead.

Friends, when faith is true, when faith is living, we each can face up to the reality that we are broken people, we are sinners, and as such we each deserve an eternity separate from God. But when faith is true,…
you don’t fear that anymore, you don’t shudder like the demons, instead you come into a place of forgiveness and peace. You come to know yourself as a child of God, reconciled to your heavenly Father, still aware that you’re imperfect, that it was your sin that led Jesus to be crucified, that He faced divine wrath because of us, because of me, because of you. But when you come in to living faith, you come to see the love of God at the cross, that for love He died for you, and so in response you love Him, and in that relationship of love all fear is gone, you don’t shudder likes the demons.

Friends, is your faith living? Can you face the reality that you are a sinner, deserving of judgment and wrath, but knowing that because of your living faith in Jesus,… you’re forgiven, you’re reconciled to God? Do the words of the old song echo true for you:
‘Mercy there was great, and grace was free;
Pardon there was multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty,
At Calvary.’

Does the cross of Calvary stir in you fear or joy? Is your faith living or dead?

It’s at this point that James switches tack and speaks of two positive examples to illustrate his point. Why he mentions Abraham is anyone’s guess – he is writing to Christians from a Jewish background, maybe that’s his reason. It could be that James is aware of how the early church based its argument for salvation by faith alone… on the passages from Genesis about Abraham. But for whatever reason, James switches tack.

It’s at this point also that some have wondered if James contradicts the teaching of the Apostle Paul, for James summaries his reference to Abraham with these words: ‘You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.’ (James 2:24)

But Paul said, ‘For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.’ (Romans 3:28)

It was because of such an apparent contradiction that Luther wanted to get rid of the book of James completely. So, which is it? Is there conflict here? Or is something else going on?
Well, what we need to realise is that James and Paul are writing at two different periods of history, James was likely first, and they are writing to deal with different issues. Paul was writing to argue against a false teaching which said deeds of the law in addition to faith lead to salvation; his opponents argued for reliance on something as well as faith to secure salvation, in particular circumcision.

But the scenario for James is quite different – he’s not saying we have to add something to faith to be saved, he’s not even saying that faith by itself is deficient when he says that Abraham’s faith had to be made complete.

All James is arguing for is that true living faith always – it always – results in good deeds, in a radical obedience…
to God. Which is what we see in Abraham’s life: his willingness to follow God’s command, to the letter, by being willing to offer Isaac in sacrifice that showed Abraham’s faith to be real, and by his obedience his faith matured, it was made complete, it was given fuller meaning, as it was put to the test of obedience.

And Paul is not against such an understanding of faith, for he himself wrote: ‘The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.’ (Galatians 5:6)

Paul also argued for a changed life, a life that loved God and loved neighbour because of faith in God, of right relationship with God. Paul would affirm everything that James has said, it is simply that James looked at the experience of Abraham and saw there that the
willingness of Abraham to express his faith…
through obedience ratified his claim to a living faith. Because living faith should lead to radical obedience, or it is dead.

A similar point is brought home with Rahab – for though she was different in nearly every way from Abraham: him a man, she a woman; he respected, she unscrupulous; Abraham rich, Rahab poor; her a foreigner, him the father of Israel – but in both a living faith that was seen in how they lived, for their faith led to radical obedience.

The aid which Rahab gave to the Israelites would have risked her life, would have risked even her family. But living faith is more than a private transaction of the heart; it is a life of active, costly obedience to God, wherein… we share, at personal expense, we share in the purposes of God, holding nothing back from Him.

So, where might God be calling us to radical obedience? Where might God be calling us to costly risk-taking as we put our living faith into practice? Where is God calling you to share in His purposes today and not simply give a verbal claim to be a Christian?

The application of this could be as numerous as the people here, but if I may draw upon Rahab’s experience, in particular, can I ask: where are you serving the purposes of God?

Maybe this comes to mind for me because every month, if not nearly every week, I hear of the need we have…
for extra volunteers to sustain and develop our many ministries. At present those needing help especially include the Friends of Jesus group, the Sunday School, our uniformed organisations, but I’m pretty sure every group would welcome some new help.

Now this year we as a congregation have responded sacrificially towards the purposes of God with our finances; and I am blown away by how greatly you have increased your giving.

But we need to serve as well, within this congregation, and that might raise some queries in your mind. Firstly, you might say that you serve elsewhere already, and that’s great, but if you want this congregation to have a future, we all need to be involved in some way.
Secondly, you might say you’re too old, but being too old to do does not make you too old to pray. And if we could gather together 10, 20, 40 people who will commit to praying for the ministry of this church, and specifically give me their name so that I can give you updates and specific prayer needs, then you’d be putting your faith into practice and you’d be underpinning everything we do here. I have my friend, Dick Anderson, I’ve mentioned him before, now in his 80’s, still sharing his faith, but also praying for me and praying for us here at Brightons. If you’re too old to do, will you sign up to pray?

Thirdly, you might say: “I’m too busy, I’m too busy to do anything beyond work, family and coming here on a Sunday.” Now some people do have very severe circumstances and if that’s you, then this bit isn’t for you, so you can switch off. But for the rest of us, let’s remember Rahab, let’s remember Abraham – willing to count the cost so as to share in the purposes of God, putting their faith into practice. And that’s relevant for us because in our culture today, it seems like everything else comes first and God gets the leftovers – a few minutes here, a few minutes there. But Rahab and Abraham’s example, calls us to give of ourselves towards the purposes of God, to radical obedience, because that’s what living faith does.

Thinking back to my earlier question, there’s really no point in blaming the past; we can of course learn from it, but our focus should be on today. Because if a church, a congregation, could arise where all having a living faith accompanied with radical obedience, then…
that’s a body of people who could transform society, changing the lives of the poor, as well as raiding the dominion of darkness for great things would be seen in them and through them.

I wonder, if we are willing to resolve to be a people of living faith that we might then share in the purposes of God today. So, is our faith dead, or is it living?

Let us pray.