Forgiveness and Peace

Preached on: Sunday 28th February 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. there is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Philippians 4:2-9
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us join together in a moment’s prayer. Let us pray

Loving and faithful God as we quiet our minds and hearts before You we ask that You will come upon us by Your Holy Spirit. We praise You that You are the Living Word and we ask that You will make Your word live to us, and all to the glory of Your great name

Amen.

In our reading this morning Paul is preparing to bring his letter to the Philippians to a close and as he does so he gives to them in verses 4 to 9. Some short, pithy, but vitally important instructions to govern their future walk as followers of their Lord. We might say he was underlining to them that it wasn’t sufficient to talk the talk, it was vitally important that they put his advice into practice and walk the walk.

But before he gets there he deals with an ongoing situation in the church, a situation that sadly can be all too common in the church in any day, a situation that tarnishes our witness as children of God and robs us of blessing as individuals and potentially as a congregation.

There had been a serious falling out between two members of the congregation, two of the ladies there who had hitherto been front line workers for the Gospel. They weren’t on speaking terms and it seems that this was having a much more far-reaching effect than merely between the two of them but was impinging on the witness of the church.

in the previous chapters Paul has been hinting that there’s division in the ranks.

Chapter 1 verse 27 “whatever happens conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”
Chapter 2 verse 2 “make my joy complete by being like-minded” verse 3 “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourselves”

It shows how seriously Paul was alarmed by the situation when in a general letter to the congregation he named the two ladies involved Eurodia and Syntyche.

I wonder how they felt when their names were read out? Did they cringe? Did they wish they could disappear through the floor? Or indeed did they take offense at Paul – how dare he?

But Paul is not seeking to humiliate them, he is seeking to help them get back to the place where they had formerly been, that place of spiritual vitality, the place of sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, the place of effectiveness in Christ’s service.

In verse 3 we learn that these women were no slouches. Paul tells us that they’d contended at his side in the cause of the Gospel. Some translations render this. They had labored with him and he goes on to say that their names are in the book of life. That was a traditional title of honour often used for people of God who’d suffered persecution but remained faithful. But human nature being what it is they’d had a serious fallout and it would seem that the church was possibly in danger of taking sides and thus causing division.

It’s not just sad when that happens in the church, it is an inroad for Satan to so discard, eventually nullify, the witness not only of those directly concerned but of the congregation as a whole and leave a trail of hurt and discord that is very difficult to heal – and so often the cause of the initial problem is comparatively trivial. But someone’s feelings have been hurt and they seek to bolster their situation by appealing to others to agree with them that they’ve been hard done by and so the ball rolls on and on gathering momentum as it goes and Satan rubs his hands in glee.

Paul asks them to overcome their dispute with one another and put into practice the qualities he’s previously mentioned in chapter 2 verses 1 to 4. To be like-minded; to be one and spirit and purpose; do nothing out of selfishness or conceit; be humble; love each other – the attitude of Jesus Himself.

Paul is so concerned he doesn’t just leave it to the combatants to get themselves sorted out, we might say he appointed an arbitrator, an unnamed person, but obviously a mature Christian whom Paul trusted, to help sort out the situation for the good not just of Eurodia and Syntyche but the church as a whole.

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to know what happened. Was Paul’s advice heeded? Did the two women have the grace to acknowledge their sin and be reconciled to each other, unto the Savior they loved, the savior for whom they’d previously been effective witnesses?

let’s not kid ourselves that we can carry on being effective witnesses for Christ if we’re harboring resentment against another in our hearts. The two are incompatible. Jesus was a well aware of that. In Matthew 5 he first tells us in verse 23 if we’re wanting to serve God but have a grievance against someone the first thing we’ve got to do is go to that person and make our peace with them, and then in verse 43 he goes even further and tells us to love our enemies. We cannot at one and the same time truly love someone and hold a grudge against them. Holding a grudge is the sure way to lose our peace of mind and heart and Paul tells us in verse 4 to rejoice in the Lord always.

Rejoice in the Lord when we’re harboring the acid of resentment and bitterness even of hate?

I read about one Christian man who had been terribly hurt by another. It was a really bad situation. Unfortunately, the first man found it impossible to forgive. Instead, the incident took over his whole life. He could neither think nor talk about anything else, Several people including his wife and even his doctor advised him to forgive the other person but he refused. He preferred to hold on to his hurt. He developed all sorts of physical problems, all caused by his attitude of mind and heart.

He died while still a comparatively young man and the doctor remarked to the widow that it was a pity the death certificate couldn’t show the real cause of death – death by unforgiveness.

Paul tells us to be anxious about nothing rather to be faithful in prayer, and assures us that when that’s the case we’ll enjoy the peace of God that passes understanding. The peace of God, but when our hearts are filled with self-pity, with anger, with spitefulness, I don’t think so! To be like Jesus.

We sing “all I ask to be like Him”. What was he like?

Well, he prayed for those who nailed Him to His cross and asked His Father to forgive them. That means only one thing – if someone has hurt us even and especially when they’ve hurt us badly, there’s only one thing that we as Christians can do to be obedient to the Savior we say we love, and that is in the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and through us, to love that person, really love them, pray for them, forgive them, no matter how hard that is and nobody least of all Jesus said it would be easy.

and every time after that when the familiar negative feelings resurface, as they will, stop forgive, all over again and pray for them and for yourself, hard.

When we live like that we will be able to follow Paul’s advice in these verses when he said in verse 8 “whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.”

I pray that all of us will know the reality of the peace of God within our hearts and lives as we live for Him and know His love and His grace filling us and flowing through us. Then we will indeed be faithful and effective servants of our Father God and His Son Christ Jesus.

Amen.

Justice: God has a plan of hope

Preached on: Sunday 8th 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 20-11-08-Message-PPT-slides-multi-page.
Bible references: Isaiah 25:1-12
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Isaiah 25:1-12
Sunday 8th November 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchLet 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.

What did you feel when you woke up on Wednesday morning and saw that the US election was still rumbling on and hadn’t been decided? What did you feel when it seemed a legal battle might ensue? What have you been feeling as the events of this year have developed, improved, worsened and continue to change and roll on? What did you feel when you heard of terrorism in France, racism in America, or conflicts around the world?

I wonder, in the face of any – and all – of these events, did you feel any hope? Has your level of hope begun to wane as 2020 plays itself out, particularly if you’ve faced a difficult year personally?

Ancient Israel was no stranger to difficulty and was only too familiar with losing people in war, as they suffered from invasion and defeat time and time again. I wonder, what did they feel? What was their level of hope? We may be two and a half thousand years on from Isaiah’s time, but we still live in a world full of oppression, arrogance, hatred, conflict, death and mourning. So, the message from Isaiah is just as relevant and powerful for us as it was in his day.

Isaiah came with good news for the Lord’s people, good news that God has a plan. He said:
‘Lord, you are my God;
I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago.’ (v1)

God has a plan, a plan for wonderful things, deeds beyond mere human ability, and this echoes that promise made in chapter 9 of a king who would be ‘Wonderful Counsellor and Mighty God’ (Isa. 9:7).

Yet, this plan will not simply be for ancient Israel, because from a heart of overflowing love and grace God says through Isaiah that:
‘On this mountain [He] will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples…’ (v6)

All peoples! Everyone is invited to the feast. Everyone is invited to share in the good and abundant provision of God. So, what will this include? Isaiah goes on:
‘On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death for ever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.’ (v7-8)

God’s plan, the plan He invites everyone to share in, is a promise to utterly destroy death itself. God holds out hope to all the nations so that they can share in that day, when it comes, when He will pass from one individual to the next and wipe away each tear.

It is a grand plan and a grand promise, but not a wishful promise – it is a promise guaranteed and verified as truly available to each of us, because that promised King came, it was Jesus and Jesus truly rose from the dead, confirming His claim:
‘‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” (John 11:25) Friends, we have such a hope, offered to us by God Himself, but how do we share in that hope? How do we take up the invitation of God? Isaiah says:
‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.’ (v9)

Those who trust, and continue to trust, in the Lord will share in this promise, will share in this hope. Yet, on the other hand, if we, like Moab, that country which bordered ancient Israel, if we are like them and with pride keep our distance, then we will not share that hope and not share that promise. For it’s not enough to belong to a group who stand on the threshold of God’s kingdom, or to have known some who crossed over into it. So, it’s not enough to watch this service today, or simply come to church, or have your name down as member – it’s not enough! You could do all that and more besides and still be on the threshold, you could still be holding back and not trusting the Lord, not trusting His promise and plan.

Friends, is your trust in the Lord? Is your trust in His promise? If your hope is low, if it’s beginning to wane, then renew your trust in the Lord. Come to Him afresh, confess where you’ve put your hope in other things, and talk with Him about how you want to put your trust in Him and His promises alone.

Isaiah came with good news, good news that would have inspired hope. But might it also have inspired bewilderment? For Isaiah also said:
‘…strong peoples will honour [the Lord]; cities of ruthless nations will revere [Him].’ (v3)

Isaiah is saying that the very people who have invaded and defeated Israel, these same people will be invited to the feast, to this glorious hope. Can you imagine what the people might have felt? Is it any wonder that they might have felt bewilderment? How could God do such a thing? How could He forgive? How is it enough that they simply repented? Where is justice?

Isaiah, will respond to such questions, but not for many chapters. So, let us instead turn to the New Testament, where read:
‘God offered [Jesus], so that by his blood he should become the means by which people’s sins are forgiven through their faith [their trust] in him. God did this in order to demonstrate that he is righteous. In the past he was patient and overlooked people’s sins; but in the present time he deals with their sins, in order to demonstrate his righteousness. In this way God shows that he himself is righteous and that he puts right everyone who believes in Jesus.’ (Romans 3:25-26)

God doesn’t overlook sin – not yours, not mine, nor the tyrant or the oppressor – every one will be judged, there will be justice. But anyone who puts their trust in the death of Jesus will be forgiven, and they will be invited to the banquet, where together they can rejoice in the love and grace of God, and there be unity.

You may wonder, if this is possible. You may wonder, if this is just fanciful nonsense. So, let me play you an old recording, wherein Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch Christian, who was captured and sent to a concentration camp by the Nazi’s, shares a little of her story.
(PLAY VIDEO)

In Jesus Christ, we have hope that God has a plan, including to conquer death itself, and in this same Jesus Christ, we see that there will be justice, but there will also be mercy, if we will but trust in Jesus. Friends, I pray that you will know the scandalous forgiveness and grace of God, such that you have hope for the storms of life, and love for the least, the last and the lost, no matter who they be, or what they may have done. May it be so.
Amen.

Justice: central to worship

Preached on: Sunday 11th October 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 20-10-11-Message-PPT-slides-2×2.
Bible references: Isaiah 1:1-4, 11-18
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Isaiah 1:1-4, 11-18
Sunday 11th October 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchIntroduction to Reading
Today we begin a new teaching series and similar to this time last year, we’re going to work through one of the Old Testament prophets, in particular, the prophecies of Isaiah. This is a book within which we find some of our favourite passages, like, ‘For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…’ or ‘…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength…They will soar on wings like eagles…’ and finally ‘…he was pierced for our transgressions…the punishment that brough us peace was on him.’ Great passages laden with significance and pointing us to Jesus.

But there is much more to the book of Isaiah, much that we never read or dig into, and so for seven weeks, leading up to Advent, we’re going to focus on some unfamiliar passages. Since March, we’ve had many a sermon, in fact a couple of series even, that have spoken into our current situation, encouraging us to look to God and look out for one another. This will continue in many ways through the life of our church and even in our Sunday worship. But nevertheless, there are issues beyond coronavirus, issues that make people’s lives desperate and truly hard, issues that many of us are simply unaware of. And so, part of the aim of this series is to help us look out and to do so by turning to those passages which talk about the issue of ‘justice’.

I don’t actually know what to expect from this series, I don’t know what particular issues may arise, but I hope that as we give time and space to this, especially amidst restrictions, that God might use this time to help us mature as His children, so that when one day we can again be together physically we will go out into the world with His light and hope and good news.

Today, we read from Isaiah chapter 1, which serves as an introduction to the rest of the book. It is set around the 8th century BC, roughly 700 years before the coming of Jesus, at a time when Israel was being invaded by the Assyrian Empire.

So, let us turn to God’s Word, which is read today for us by Donald Meek.
(PAUSE)

Message
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 pure and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Have you ever wondered what gets under God’s skin? Ever wondered what bothers God? If you were to go and ask the average person on the street – socially distanced of course – what do you think they would say? Feel free to share in the Live Chat. I suspect many people would talk about God being bothered that they don’t go to church or they’re not religious enough, maybe they would name the “big issues” like sexual immorality.
In our passage today, God is very bothered by His people, in fact there’s a surprising rejection here by God due to a rebellion by His people. He says through the prophet Isaiah:
‘“I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me…” Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the Lord;
they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.’

But what is the nature of this rebellion? What is so grievous that it brings a rejection by God? Are they not religious enough? Do they not attend church enough? Are they too promiscuous? What have they done which bothers God so much?

Well, it’s not their level of worship. In verses 11 to 15, we see that the people are being very regular in worship, meeting the requirements of the ‘offerings’ and special festivals like ‘New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations’, and they are bringing ‘many prayers’. In fact, they are offering their ‘fattened animals’, which would have been costly. So, their worship is meticulous, it is plentiful in time and outrageously sacrificial in terms of money. They are more than religious enough, so what’s got under God’s skin?

Let us read on:
‘Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong.’

Again, we might ask, what are these evils deeds? What is the wrong they are to stop? We read:
‘Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.’

At the heart of what is bothering God is their lack of justice. Not their lack of religious attendance or giving, not their lack of sexual purity or fidelity, but justice. I doubt very much, that this would have been the answer from people on the street – I wonder if it would have been an answer given by ourselves?

Yet what is ‘justice’? Is not caring for the fatherless and widow more an issue of charity, than justice? In preparation for this series, I read a few helpful books, one being ‘Generous Justice’ by Tim Keller. I’d highly recommend getting a copy.

In the opening chapter, Keller introduces us to the biblical idea of justice. He writes that there are two Hebrew words for justice, the first being ‘mishpat’, which we [red] in verse 17. Across the range of its use, mishpat means to ‘give people what they are due, whether punishment or protection and care’. (pg. 4) This is sometimes called ‘rectifying justice’, as in correcting or repairing. We see it in verse 17 today, where the fatherless and the widow need care and protection. But it is also possible, as the footnote in the NIV shows, to translate ‘defend the oppressed’ as ‘correct the oppressor’, and so we see that wider meaning of mishpat as well, to correct and punish. Justice, then, is about issues in society, that sin has a social dimension, and so to seek justice includes the transformation of the one inflicting oppression and the one who is suffering. This is mishpat.

The other Hebrew word is ‘tzadeqah’, sometimes called ‘primary justice’. This is about living in right relationship with God and right relationship with one another, and so it’s more often translated ‘righteousness’, but in our day we usually think of righteousness in terms of private morality and so maybe justice is more helpful. So,

tzadeqah, when talking about our relationships with other people, is about treating others with fairness, generosity and equity. If we lived out tzadeqah, justice, all the time then there would be no need for mishpat, for justice which puts things right. When you have primary justice, you don’t need rectifying justice.

But in Isaiah’s day, there were gross violations of tzadeqah, and so God calls them to seek mishpat, defending the oppressed, taking up the cause of the fatherless and pleading the case of the widow. Tim Keller argues that in today’s world, we should be thinking about any who lack social power, those most vulnerable, and so this might include the refugee, the migrant worker, the homeless, many single parents, even some elderly.
We see here that God is bothered about the lack of justice in Israelite society and He calls for justice because He sees a total divorce between worship and justice – the sacrifices keep coming, the prayers keep coming, but justice is completely ignored, it’s not even on the agenda of God’s people, and yet, it should be. For God had given laws about justice, justice is in the heart of God Himself and prompted the saving of His people, for He heard their cry in Egypt, their oppression, their lack of tzadeqah under Pharaoh, and so He brought them out, bringing mishpat, justice, to them and to the Egyptians.

But this has either been forgotten or completely disregarded by Israel, and so there is a divide between worship and how they live – they praise the God of justice and yet they live out injustice. As such their worship is ‘meaningless’ (v13), ‘detestable’ (v13) and God is ‘weary’ of it (v14) because genuine worship, real biblical faith, includes obedience to God’s ways. Indeed, in the New Testament itself, we [reed] in James, that ‘faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead’ (James 2:17) and it was Jesus who said, ‘If you love me, keep my commands.’ (John 14:15) Real faith leads to obedience and that includes justice, for as the Psalmist reminds us:
‘The Lord loves righteousness [tzadeqah] and justice [mishpat]…’ (Psalm 33:5)

So, I wonder friends, how high up our agenda, is justice? Have we divorced worship and justice? Are we in danger of keeping up external religious appearances and yet disregarding the Word of God and its call to ‘justice’?
These are hard questions, but let me end on a note of hope, because time and again Isaiah will bring a word of hope, a message of grace. The people of Israel had got themselves stuck in a rut, their way of life had become so deeply ingrained that the Lord says their sins ‘are like scarlet…red as crimson’. Now, this colour was a deep permanent dye, virtually impossible to remove, and so the Lord is saying that the injustice He sees is deeply rooted in His people, permeating not only their society but their very souls.

Yet the Lord also says:
‘Come now [come near], let us settle the matter… Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.’

Though the stain of their sin seems as equally permanent as crimson, God extends an invitation of hope – an invitation to forgiveness, an invitation to a new life, with a purer heart, and so the hope of a transformed society. But it is God who takes the initiative, the holy One; He always takes the first step – whether it be God searching for Adam in the garden of Eden, or Jesus coming ‘to seek… and save the lost’, the initiative is God’s and He does it for love of us all, for love of His people then and love for you and me now. In undeserved grace, God comes close and invites us to take heed, to hear the word of the Lord and so ‘Learn to do right; seek justice [and] defend the oppressed.’ (v17)

Friends I pray that we would respond to the Lord in this new series, even today, and not be a people who divorce worship and justice, but instead, as a people of prayer, we come to Him in the isolated place of prayer we receive His forgiveness and allow Him to changes our lives from the inside out, preparing us now for the life we are called to live when we can gather once more together.

May it be so. Amen.

The Creatures of the World (Wonder Zone wk.4)

Preached on: Sunday 19th July 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 20-07-19-Message-PPT-slides.
Bible references: Psalm 139:1-6, 13-17
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Psalm 139:1-6, 13-17 (NIV)
Sunday 19th July 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchLet 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 acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Boys and girls, so far in our summer services, we’ve looked up with wonder to the stars and planets! Last week we looked in wonder at light and how it makes a difference in our world. Every week though, we’ve also marvelled at the God who made it all.

But today our drama reminded us of the incredible variety of life around us – from the tiny ant, to human beings, to magnificent trees and underground caves. Every animal, every plant, every part of this world has something amazing about it!
Those ants from the drama can do things we can’t – ants can lift 20 times their own body weight, which is the same as me lifting an Indian Rhinoceros – can you imagine?! I can’t! Also, ants don’t have ears but they “hear” by feeling vibrations through their feet, and they also don’t have lungs, instead, oxygen enters through tiny holes all over the body – that’s amazing!

I’ve also met some other amazing animals – when Gill and I travelled to Zambia in Africa we got to touch a lion and a cheetah, who were part of a programme to reintroduce their cubs to the wild. And with the cheetah in particular, such was its size that when I purred it shook the air – that was amazing and slightly intimidating at the same time!

The people who wrote the Bible included songs and poems about the world around us. One of these psalms, Psalm 104, goes like this:
“My God with all my heart, I want to tell you how amazing you are! You built the earth and covered it with the ocean, your voice thundered and mountains rose up, valleys appeared and the oceans were created! You provide water for the donkeys and other wild animals, birds build their nests and sing in the trees. You cause the earth to produce food for all creatures, including us! Stalks make their home in the fir trees, goats make their home in the mountains, small animals make their homes between the rocks! You created the sun and the moon to rule the day and the night. At night lions roar and hunt but in the morning they go back to their dens, while we go off to work. By your wisdom you made so many things!
The whole earth is covered with living creatures and the oceans are alive with creatures big and small! Lord God let your glory last forever and ever! Let everyone see and know how amazing you are! May you be pleased with everything you have created…I will sing of your astounding deeds for as long as I live because you make me glad.”

We truly live in an amazing world, with amazing creatures and plants. So, here’s a question for you today: what is your most favourite animal or plant, and what is so special about it that you would thank God for it? I’ll give you 60 seconds to think or talk about that at home.
(PAUSE)

The psalm we read today is another psalm which speaks of God’s wonderful creation, but instead of talking about plants and animals, it focuses on you and me, human beings. We read these incredible words: ‘For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you
because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…’ (v13-14)

In the original language, which was Hebrew, the final line there simply reads: ‘I am fearfully wonderful.’ ‘I am fearfully wonderful.’ Not only are the stars and planets, the plants and the animals wonderful – we are wonderful, says God. You are wonderful! The complexity and intricacy of your body, mind, soul is beyond our understanding, it fills us with wonder and amazement… It was Isaac Newton who said, ‘In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.’ And yet the thumb pales in significance to what makes us human, for there is so much which sets us apart from the animal world and confirms that we are made in the image of God. Each of us has a degree of creativity within us and a desire for purpose and meaning; each of us can appreciate beauty; each of us has intelligence, morality and a spirituality. These things are not taught, these things are not modern or ancient developments, they are unique but universal to humanity. God created your inmost being, made in His likeness, and so you are fearfully wonderful.

Instead of a question just now, let us instead take a moment to pray. Boys and girls, you can get involved…
in this as well because in a moment, we’re going to ask God a question, and then wait for God to answer. The question to ask God is this: ‘who do you want me to tell, this week, that they are wonderful?’ You can ask it out loud, you can whisper into your hands, or you can think it in your head, but ask God, ‘who do you want me to tell, this week, that they are wonderful?’ And then whoever comes to mind, first off, maybe that’s who God wants you to tell. So, don’t over complicate it, just the first person who comes to mind.

Let’s take a moment to pray.
(PAUSE)

Today we’ve been thinking about the amazing world around us and that we are fearfully wonderful.
But the psalms we’ve looked at today remind us that it all exists because there is an amazing God who made this amazing world and made all of you amazing people. And this God wants a relationship with you. The psalmist says that God:
• Knows us (v1)
• Follows us (v2-3)
• Hears us (v4)
• Surrounds us (v5)
This is a God who is not only amazingly powerful and creative, this God is also caring and close. There is nowhere in fact that we can go where He is not already there, and wherever we journey God personally pursues us, for we are the continual object of His thoughts. He loves you so much that He wants to relate to you at the deepest level.
But I wonder if you want that? This way of talking about God can appear quite intimidating – is God just the ultimate Big Brother? Is He just waiting to pounce and catch us out? Well, the Apostle John reminds us of the relationship we can have with God, for John wrote: ‘See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!… This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins…There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.’ (1 John 3:1; 4:9-10, 18)

We don’t need to fear God’s attention if we have come to know His forgiveness. In that place of being His child, we can allow God to expose all the areas of our lives, just as David prayed, and so allow Him to lead us ‘…in the way everlasting’, the way of life with God close, now and for all eternity.

I pray that each of us knows this powerful, creative and caring God close to us day-by-day, as we rest in the amazing forgiveness and love He offers through Jesus.

May it be so. Amen.

We close our time together with our final hymn…

I am forgiven (Psalm 130 Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 16th June 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Psalm 130
Location: Brightons Parish Church

TUESDAY EVENING SERMON

16 June 2020

Good evening everybody! Welcome to the manse and to Tuesday Evening Sermon. It’s great to have you with us. Thanks for putting in the time to be here and to dig more into God’s Word. I pray as we do so you’ll hear the voice of God, he will speak to you through this time as you give him space to speak to you through his word. After tonight’s Tuesday evening sermon there will be the opportunity to dig into this a little bit more. One way to do that is to download some discussion questions from our website from the sermons page there or you can do that as well as join in the Jitsi discussion room and if you’re wanting to join that, if you don’t have the details, then just put a little message in the live chat tonight or put something on our Facebook page, drop me an email or a text message if you’ve got my details and I’ll get you details so that you can then get on to the Jitsi discussion tonight and join in with that discussion as people wrestle with some questions up to about 9 o’clock and so join in if you are able. So let’s crack open our Bibles, let’s open our Bible apps and turn to Psalm 130 and it will be read for us once more by Sandra Anderson. 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. O come, Holy Spirit, come close to us now. Let us hear the voice of Jesus and see the heart of our Heavenly Father, that we would be captivated afresh, spurred into the life that you have for us individually and collectively as a body of your people here in Brightons, and for any who join us beyond, Lord, give them an equal and greater blessing even, we pray, for we ask it in your name. Amen. So Psalm 130 a really amazing Psalm, one of the songs of ascent, sometimes called a lament Psalm as well because of you know elements it has that seem to speak of lament, of crying out from the depths as the psalmist says in verse 1. And as you’ll have heard on Sunday, I focused particularly on a few verses and so had to skip over various other parts and so today, tonight, we’re going to build on Sunday, we’re going to look at some of the words and phrases that we didn’t really have space or time to get into, but then also as always try to see well what does that mean for our individual and our corporate lives as a church family, and so I pray, really do pray, that this will be a blessing, knowing God might speak to us through this time. One of the first words I want to look at is in verse 3. The psalmist says, ‘If you Lord kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?’ and the word ‘sins’ there is the Hebrew word avon, and it’s much more than just a list of wrongdoing, avon has a sense of both the actions and then the consequences that come from that, the damage that results from our actions, from our avon. And it’s kind of the picture of a flood which just carries us along and from which there is no escape and it just wreaks destruction after destruction, and it’s not just the instantaneous effect that a flood has, but then the ongoing effect and how that detrimentally impacts a life or a group of lives. Imagine a village being struck by a flood and the consequences that has for years, generations even sometimes. And that’s the idea here behind avon. Not just our little wrongdoings, our misdemeanours, our mis-steps, but our way of life that has repercussions beyond us and affecting beyond us. And so that’s the the first word to bear in mind here and from this, from sins, from avon. the psalmist says the only escape is through the Lord’s, verse 7 he calls out to the group of people that are joining him in worship and the psalmist says: ‘Israel put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.’ This idea of full redemption is a powerful phrase, full of meaning, it’s so very rich and it’s much more than simply forgiveness, much more than God saying you are forgiven. It is a freeing from that flood, it is a lifting of a burden so that we might be whole and know life in all its fullness. It is often used in reference to the exodus of God’s people from the the slavery of Egypt and so redemption means to free something or someone from slavery, from bondage and to do so by paying a price, by buying that freedom. And this is what is also with the Lord, not only forgiveness but Redemption with the Lord, with Yahweh is forgiveness but this forgiveness brings redemption for it is also with him, it is part of his character, his heart, that he wants life for us and life in all its fullness. But to reach that place the psalmist says the people and he are to wait, to put their hope in him. This ‘wait’ and ‘hope’ are synonymous really in the Psalm and in many Psalms, they’re much the same, to wait with eager and active anticipation that God will do something, that God will step in, he’ll break in, he’ll lead us on a path through, in the case of Israel and the Exodus a path through the waters, he will create a way to lead us into that new life and so he waits, he waits upon the Lord, he waits upon the Lord to speak. He says in verse 5, ‘I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits and in his word I will put my hope.’ We think again of the Exodus and the people trapped at the Red Sea fleeing for their lives and now trapped, unsure where to go, and then God speaks. He says to Moses ‘lift up your staff’, and the way is open for them into new life. His word came and it brought that freedom, that redemption, that way into life and all its fulness. And the psalmist knows from God’s dealings with his people and what he has revealed in his word that he can be waited upon, and he will be faithful to speak, to act to bring them through, and so he waits for the Lord to do so, to speak and to act. And he is confident of this because not only with the Lord is there forgiveness, not only with the Lord is there full redemption, with the Lord there is unfailing love. Verse 7 again, ‘Israel put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love.’ That idea for unfailing love is the word in Hebrew hesed, hesed. I’ve mentioned it a number of times. It’s a really rich, important biblical word, it’s one of those words we really need to cling on to and become aware of and really, when we see it, our antennae should be going every time, because it speaks of God’s covenant love, his steadfast love, a love which just doesn’t give up, it’s unflinching in its faithfulness, it is loyal beyond our comprehension, a love which God demonstrated so often to his people despite their rebellion. It’s a love that just does not give up, an ‘unfailing love’ as it’s translated here in the NIV. And those are the key words that I want to bring out for us tonight from this, avon sins, ‘redemption’ as full redemption, this idea of waiting actively with anticipation and hope for the Lord to speak because he is also the God of hesed, unfailing love, covenant love, his loving faithfulness. The Psalm gives us that encouragement, that provocation almost, to anticipate more of God, to anticipate an encounter with God, a knowing of God that is more than just of the mind; yes it will affect the mind, but it will be more than the mind, it will speak to our hearts and our souls and it will be with forgiveness and with steadfast love and with full abundant redemption. And in all this we see that the character of God is neither bent against us, nor is God just neutral in his justice and righteousness, and so often people get that misconception of God that God is just one or other of these. He’s against us or is very neutral, distant, kind of standoffish, God- in-the-sky, old man with beard picture. But this Psalm, with God’s heart for forgiveness, with God’s heart of unfailing love and redemption, this is a God who bends and leans towards us, and so yes, the psalmist waits, he waits with anticipation, he waits with hope, and don’t we find that same God described in the New Testament, revealed in the life and action of Jesus. Take for example one of our most famous verses, the one which our children and young people focused on in their activities for the service on Sunday morning, John 3:16: ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.’ He gave, he made every effort he held nothing back, and so Paul in the book of Romans and chapter 8, Paul can say in verse 31: ‘What then shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also along with him graciously give us all things?.’ Graciously lead us into full redemption, life in all its fullness. Jesus said in John chapter 10: ‘I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.’ Life in its fullness. Of course, Paul says in the very same book, Romans, that we wait for the redemption, for full redemption, the redemption of our bodies that has been secured for us, but we don’t experience it yet, and so we have a foretaste of that through the gift of the Holy Spirit. But we have that still full redemption to wait for but it is there, it is guaranteed and will be ours. and so we begin our journey towards wholeness, towards life, towards full redemption because of a God, our Lord, who comes with full forgiveness, who comes with unfailing love, hesed, love. He comes with full redemption. And you know like this idea of talking about forgiveness is not comfortable. I don’t even find it comfortable and there are times when we probably want to talk about just about anything else and we’ve not been trained, I’ve talked said this so often, I think I said it last time, we’ve not been trained in discipleship, we’ve not been trained to share our faith and to invite people in to know the life that God has promised. That terrifies us and so like I had to step out in faith on Sunday and issue that call to forgiveness and invite people to know the forgiveness through Jesus. That is still scary for me, that was not part of my training, it’s not been part of my upbringing as a Christian, it’s something I just know that I need to do, but if it wasn’t for God like last week in my quiet times just mentioning it again and again through my devotions I probably would have bottled it, but he was very clear and so I stepped out. and there’s that question I guess, it comes to mind of, ‘Oh God, do we need to talk about this again?’ and ‘God is this really even relevant for everyone?’ because there are voices within society, sadly there are voices within the church which sometimes say, ‘Well this idea that everybody needs forgiveness, well not really sure on that front’, and you know I found a really helpful passage in some reading I was doing at the weekend that kind of puts another perspective on this, maybe phrases this in ways that are unfamiliar with us but which maybe resonate better with our generation, so I want to read you it so that you can hear it, kind of follow along with me as I journey in faith and what I’m digging into, and it’s a passage from a book I
mentioned recently, ‘Dangerous Wonder’ by Mike Iaconelli. I’m beginning to read through it again with my friend Gordon. It’s ‘the adventure of childlike faith’ and so sit back, get comfortable and let me read this couple of pages to you, not chapters, you’ll be glad to hear! Don’t try to hold on to every words but get the sense of what he is speaking because so much of what is mentioned in this and another little section I’d like to read to you, echoes this Psalm I think. ‘There is deep within all of us a voice. It speaks to us continuously, knocking on the door of our consciousness. When we are children the voice is very loud, as it was with me, shattering our awareness with overwhelming clarity. Its loudness is not like a train or jet engine; it shouts to us with a whisper; it is like the wind breezing through a field of daisies, scattering their petals across the sky into a flower snowstorm; it is like a thousand flutes echoing in the middle of the forest. This voice of our childhood is the voice of wonder and amazement, the voice of God which has always been speaking to us even before we were born. One sad day we are aware of an absence, we can no longer hear the God voice and we are left with only silence; not a quiet silence but a roaring silence. Indeed God kept on speaking We did not want to stop hearing, but our lives became louder; the increasing crescendo of our possessions, the ear-piercing noise of busyness and the soul-smothering volume of our endless activity drowned out the still small voice of God. Most of us cannot say when it happened, we only know that it happened. When we became aware of the absence of God’s voice there were a thousand deaths within us. Idealism and innocence died first and across the scarred terrain of our souls one could see the withered remains of dreams, spontaneity, poetry, passion and ourselves, our real selves, the persons we were made to be. What happened; what happened to our aliveness? How could we grow up, accumulate 12 to 15 years of education or more, get married, have children, work for decades and never really live? How could we begin our lives with clarity and passion, wonder and spontaneity, yet so quickly find ourselves at the middle or end of our lives dull and bleary-eyed, listless and passionless? The death of the soul is never quick; it is a slow dying, a succession of little deaths that continues until we wake up one day on the edge of God’s voice, on the fringe of God’s belovedness, beyond the adventure of God’s claim on our lives. We become lost. It took me 50 years to realize I was lost. No one knew I was lost, my life had all the trappings of foundness. I was a pastor, for heaven’s sake! I’d spent 25 years in church related ministry and most of my days were consumed with writing or talking about Jesus, and yet I was lost, confused, soul-weary, thirsty and bone tired. I had succeeded at mimicking aliveness, but I was nearly dead.’ Friends, this echoes the place I think so many people find themselves in, maybe even so many of us in the church at times, echoes very much and in a much more modern day the experience of John Wesley which I spoke about on Sunday. A lostness. I wonder instead of saying to people, ‘Do you, do you see your sins and how you you need forgiveness,’ I wonder whether we say, ‘Do you know the voice of God? Do you know the voice of God?’ People might say they don’t know what you’re talking about and maybe that leads to a conversation then about sin, because he doesn’t deny sin, and he goes on to talk about it and clearly the scriptures talk about sin, but he speaks of this scarred terrain of our souls, the weathered remains of dreams and x, y & z and echoes that avon that flood which sweeps us along and we lose the voice, the reality, the relationship, the dynamic intimate relationship with God that we were made to have. And so yes, everyone needs forgiveness, because everyone at some stage or another ends up on the edge of God’s voice, on the fringe of God’s belovedness, and they need to hear his voice calling them home. The question is, are we convinced of this, are we convinced of this enough to live a life that in Mike’s words, is dangerous. I want to read you another little bit that just hits me between the eyes and hopefully it’ll do the same for you. ‘The critical issue today is dullness. We have lost our astonishment. The good news is no longer ‘good news’, it is ‘okay news’. Christianity is no longer life-changing, it is life enhancing. Jesus doesn’t change people into wild-eyed radicals anymore, he changes them into nice people. If Christianity is simply about being nice, I’m not interested. What happened to radical Christianity, the un-nice version of Christianity that turned the world upside down? What happened to the category smashing, life-threatening, anti- institutional gospel that spread through the first century like wildfire and was considered, by those in power, dangerous? What happened to the kind of Christians whose hearts were on fire, who had no fear, who spoke the truth no matter what the consequence, who made the world uncomfortable, who were willing to follow Jesus wherever he went? What happened to the kind of Christians who were filled with passion and gratitude and who everyday were unable to get over the grace of God. The greatest enemy of Christianity may be people who say they believe in Jesus but who are no longer astonished and amazed.’ I’m reminded of a song by DC Talk, called ‘Jesus Freak’ and in there they have this little quote by someone I can’t remember who it was, but the quote goes something like this, that the most powerful voice against Christianity sometimes are Christians who live in such a way that it seems to deny what Jesus has done, and that that has any relevance for the rest of the world. And so that question that I asked on Sunday: are we convinced of the truths that are in this Psalm and how that is then carried on into the New Testament, that we have a God who wants to offer us forgiveness but forgiveness isn’t the goal, its forgiveness into something else, into reverence and then service; but it’s not a lifeless, boring religiosity, and the Westminster Confession puts it that ‘the goal of man is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever’. Enjoy God! And so that service is that invitation into a ‘dangerous wonder’, as Mike Iaconelli says, a ‘full redemption’ as the Psalm talks about, us enjoying God as the Westminster Confession did. And is that, are we passionate about that, are we convinced of that, are we giving our all to that, are we willing to travel 250,000 miles on horseback to preach 40,000 sermons. I’m only on sermon about a hundred and sixty. I have no idea and that’s from all my training and time as a youth pastor, I’m only on sermon about a hundred and sixty or something maybe even less than that and he did forty thousand! So, are we convinced, are we passionate, are we, are we ready to follow Jesus wherever he might lead, to make known, to invite people into this and you know this is so crucial the I’m glad the strategy group kind of stumbled and then took it up and then came across this this quote from a Church of Scotland report called ‘The Church Without Walls Report’, which was written a number of years ago now and which the church really hasn’t done very much with, but in there, the report talks about what the church understands to be the core purpose of the church and it’s what the strategy group propose should be the possible purpose of Brighton’s parish church, to invite encourage and equip people as disciples of Jesus Christ. We’ve not come up with anything new, it’s clearly based on the scriptures and it’s been endorsed by the Church of Scotland General Assembly, so how can we really argue with it? Although we do want you to engage with it at the strategy group, but its core and so there’s that invitation and there’s that equipping so that we might know how to go and and invite people into that and equip them and and help them reach that full redemption. And so in our values, our values are kind of like the, well, there’s the purpose, but what does that look like and what does that look like in Brightons and help us put some flesh on the bones for that and that’s what the values are about and I won’t give you them all just now so as not to spoil all the fun, so get involved in the focus groups if you want to, but within there we speak of wholeness through redemption, we speak of experience of knowing God and so waiting on the Lord, hoping in his word, expecting God to speak and to meet with us. You know we speak of sharing, sharing our life, sharing the good news, sharing what we have and who we are with our church family but also way beyond that. We speak of maturing, of being able to hear and know the voice of God and having the courage and the boldness to follow wherever that voice leads us, follow with a dangerous wonder, that we might participate in in the life and the mission of God in this world, and know it for ourselves and be a group of Christians who are not just ticking the box and not just getting through life and not just doing the nice things, but who really take God’s Word and his gospel so seriously, captivated by it so powerfully, that we will live that dangerous calling that he calls us to. Maybe be known as people that are anything but boring, they follow the Living God wherever he goes or wherever he calls because we’re tuning in to the voice of God, this God who with him comes forgiveness and unfailing love and full redemption. I pray that we may know that God for ourselves and we may make that God known in our time and in our place. May it be so. Amen. Will you join me in prayer, let us pray: Our God and Heavenly Father, we praise you that you are the God of hesed love, unfailing love and who leads us on a journey towards full redemption, a redemption that is sure and certain, secured for us by Jesus, and we praise you, Jesus, for your great love that took you to the cross, that saw you lean into that and face it unflinching that we might know life and life and all its fullness. You, Jesus were killed for me, for us. You were pinned to that cross because of my sin, my avon, and Jesus that breaks our heart that you were pinned there to die for me and I praise you and sit in wonder of you Jesus, and tell you that because you first loved me I love you now and I want to give my life in service of you. I want to live in holy fear and reverence of you and to to be unflinching as far as I’m able by the power of your spirit to follow in that life of dangerous wonder, to share in your mission to make you known, to invite people into relationship with you that they might hear the voice of God for themselves and by so doing also begin that journey towards full redemption. Heavenly Father lead us, lead us individually and as a group of your people into your plan and purposes for us now, here, give us wisdom and discernment, give us boldness and courage and passion. Lord, may we be anything other than the Christians described by Mike Iaconelli, of dullness and just being apathetic to the gospel and unconvinced, and Lord save us from that. And so I yield, we yield ourselves to you, Lord, that you might lead us in your way. We pray that prayer together now as Jesus taught his disciples, saying in one voice: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors, and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom the power and the glory forever. Amen. Friends thanks for joining us tonight for our Tuesday evening sermon. We’ll be back live on Thursday evening for live prayer at 8:15; join us either in our zoom room and email us if you don’t have the details for that; if you need technical help getting connected please do get in touch; try and join a little bit before 8:15 as well just in case there are any issues if it’s your first time; or get us on YouTube channel where we’ll be streaming Live the prayers as we bring them towards others and if you’ve got any prayer requests please do get them in via the live chat, via Facebook page or email. Get in touch and we’ll gladly bring your prayers before our God and Heavenly Father. We’ll be back on Sunday Morning, as well this Sunday we have the Sunday school closing service where there’ll be great input from our young people and leaders, so join us then if you’re able and as you go from here may the blessing of God Almighty, Father Son and Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you this night and forevermore. Amen.

I am forgiven (Psalm 130)

Preached on: Sunday 14th June 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 20-06-14-Message-PowerPoint.
Bible references: Psalm 130
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Psalm 130 (NIV)
Sunday 14th June 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.

I promised on Facebook that we would have a super-easy, quick game, so here it is! Are you ready?

Which of these fruit is an apple? The answer is…
Which of these birds is a magpie? The answer is…
What sauce do I prefer to have on my sandwiches? HP
Which of these dogs is my dog Hector? The answer is…

OK, final question – and this one is hard! Which of these people is a Christian? I’m going to give you 30 seconds to think or talk about that at home – so over to you! (PAUSE) That was a bit harder, wasn’t it! Well, the answer is…I don’t know. I don’t know which of those people is a Christian or not, because I just got their pictures from the internet! My point is this – looking at these people, we can’t tell by them standing there who is and who is not a Christian. So, how can we tell? Is it even possible?

Well, what things would you include on a list, if you were trying to figure out if someone was a Christian? Would it be – “goes to church”, “reads the Bible”, “doesn’t say bad words”, “knows the Lord’s Prayer”, “is loving”. What if none of those things is what makes someone a Christian?

There was once a man called John Wesley – he lived a long time ago in the seventeen hundreds. When John had finished school, he went to university in Oxford…
and became a minister, like me. With his brother Charles, John formed a group of friends who made a promise to read the Bible, pray, fast and help other people. John and his brother even went all the way to America as missionaries for a while in 1735.

But even though they did all this, neither John nor his brother Charles, ever felt sure that they were a Christian. In his own words, John later said at that time they had “a fair summer religion” and about their trip to America he said, “I went to America to convert the Indians; but, oh, who shall convert me?”

You see – it’s possible to be a very good person yet not be a Christian; it’s possible to do all the external things that a Christian should do, like go to church, read your Bible, pray, and even be a minister, but still not be a Christian. That was the experience of John and Charles Wesley, and many other people over the years.

So, is it possible to know for sure if you are a Christian? I’ll give you another 30 seconds to think or talk about that at home. (PAUSE)

There’s a lot in today’s psalm and we’ll get to more of it in the Tuesday Evening Sermon, so join us then if you’re able, or catch it later in the week as a recording.

But this morning, I’d like to focus on a few verses, starting with verse 4:
‘But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.’
The psalmist speaks about forgiveness, because he is aware he needs forgiveness. In verse 3 he said:
‘If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,…who could stand?’

So, he wants forgiveness, he knows he needs forgiveness for his sins, the wrong things he has done. Then in verse 1 he says: ‘Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord…’

Maybe he feels like there is a great distance between God and himself; maybe God feels very far away. Maybe he feels that his relationship with God is broken – that’s possibly why he uses two different names of God: ‘LORD’ in capitals, meaning ‘Yahweh’, which is the covenant name of God; but also ‘Lord’ with only a capital L, meaning ‘master’ or ‘king’….
But both are about relationship; a good relationship, one of trust, reverence and love. Yet, the psalmist knows the relationship is broken, because of his sin, and so now there is distance between himself and God.

Nevertheless, he knows something else – he knows that Yahweh, the Lord, his King, is a forgiving God, that with Yahweh is forgiveness – that forgiveness is part of God’s character, and God has the authority to forgive.

So, the psalmist waits on the Lord, he puts his hope in God’s promise to forgive. Maybe the psalmist is thinking of Isaiah chapter 1:
‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord.
‘Though your sins are like scarlet,…
they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’ (v18)

He knows that the Lord is willing to forgive but also that out of this forgiveness will arise, even must arise, ‘reverence’, a reverence that leads to serving the Lord. Other translations speak of forgiveness leading to a healthy ‘fear’ of the Lord; a fear where we submit to God as our King, giving Him His place in our lives.

I talked about this at the end of last week’s message: of having a faith where God’s Word shapes our lives, shapes our hearts, and changes us from the inside out. But for that to happen, we must first receive the forgiveness of God and bend the knee to our Lord, allowing Him to be… King of our lives once more, maybe even for the first time.

The great preacher of the 19th century, Charles Spurgeon, said: ‘none fear the Lord like those who have experienced His forgiving love.’ So, if we come back to those four individuals, which one is a Christian? We don’t know – not even by their outside life!

And that’s because, what’s most important, is what’s in your heart. Do you know the forgiveness of God for yourself? You might not know when you first received it – but a Christian should know, in here, that they have received the forgiveness of God, and this forgiveness should shape their lives, such that out of reverence, holy fear, we give our lives in service to God….
Where there is no reverence, where there is no holy fear, where life is lived largely according to your standards and God’s ways are far from your thinking and will – well, if that’s you, then I worry you may have that “fair weather religion” John Wesley spoke of, and truly, that form of religion does not make you right with God, you haven’t really experienced His forgiveness, because with forgiveness comes reverence and service.

A few years after John Wesley came home from America, he still felt much the same as in 1735, he did not know the grace and peace of God. But on the 24th of May 1738, he heard today’s psalm in an afternoon church service, before going to a Christian meeting that night. He later wrote in his journal a now-famous account of his
conversion, he said: “In the evening I went…

very unwillingly to a [meeting] in Aldersgate Street, where [some]one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

In the years after his return from America, it took John Wesley time to see that it’s not “Christ and good works” which secure our forgiveness, but Christ alone who saves, resulting in good works.

Many of you listening today are Christians, so what is there for you today? Well, we always need to be asking ourselves if we are convinced and resolute on this, or have we become lukewarm and apathetic about the forgiveness we have through Jesus? Because to remove the absolute, eternal need of forgiveness for everyone, or to play down the death of Jesus on the cross, is to gut the Bible and the Christian faith of all substance. Also, such was the impact on John Wesley that he travelled some 250,000 miles on horseback and gave over 40,000 sermons. How is God’s forgiveness impacting us?

I hope today there are also others listening in, folks who know they are not a Christian; you’re maybe watching for the first time, or after some time away from church.
There might be others, who have fulfilled all…
religious duty like the young John Wesley, but you know that the forgiveness of God has not touched your heart: you lack reverence for God, and God is not King, not the Lord of your life, if you’re brutally honest. And there may be in either of those groups, and others beside, folks who do not feel at peace with God – He may seem distant to you, and for any and all these people the forgiving love of Jesus may well be unknown to you.

So, why not today, bend the knee to Jesus, admit your sin, and come into His embrace? It’s in that place you can come to know the hope, the peace, the freedom that the people of God have experienced whenever they have put their hope in the promises of God. If that is something you would like to do, then let us do it just now, and I invite you to repeat the words of this prayer with me… “Lord Jesus Christ, thank You that You died on the cross for me so that I could be forgiven and set free. I am sorry for the things I have done wrong in my life and I name these before you now…Please forgive me. I now turn from everything I know is wrong and allow You to be King over my life. Thank You that You offer me forgiveness and the gift of Your Spirit to help me serve You. I now receive these gifts. Please come into my life by Your Holy Spirit to be with me forever. Thank You, Lord Jesus. Amen.”

Friends, if you’ve prayed that for the first time, or if you know that this has brought some change for you today, then please tell someone else, it’s a really important step when we receive the forgiveness of God – get in touch with me if you like, I’d love to hear that you’ve taken this step. To God be the glory, now and forever. Amen.

Who is the ‘elder brother’ today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friends, who will we be? Who are we?

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

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

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

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