Forward with hope

Preached on: Sunday 27th December 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 20-12-27 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Matthew 2:13-23
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Matthew 2:13-23
Sunday 27th December 2020
Brightons Parish Church


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

Last weekend I was chatting with some of the tech guys about various bits and pieces including some great songs from the 80s, and so when I was listening to the music later in the week, it got me thinking: what songs would sum up 2020? This kind of thing is often done when we approach the start of a new year and so I did some research on the internet and via Braes Blether, and here’s a video with some of the ideas that came up.
(PLAY VIDEO)
Feel free to add your own ideas in the Live Chat at home. Obviously, what was shared there is meant to be slightly humorous, echoing some of the feelings that we’ve probably all felt in this past year. Music has the capacity to capture some of what we feel, and we can often link a piece of music to a particular season or event in life, and whenever we hear that music it brings back the emotion and the memories of long ago. Music can even give us a sense of articulation in what we are feeling.

Nevertheless, there have been other feelings this year, feelings of genuine isolation, of grief and loss, of anger and frustration, and of fear and worry. In the face of such emotion, no song can truly capture this; no song, can speak to the rawness of our emotions and of our pain. Because songs come and go, they’re here today and… gone tomorrow, and so don’t we need something more than a song as we reflect on 2020 and prepare to enter into the new year? I think we do, and that’s where Matthew chapter 2 comes in.

It’s a tough portion of Scripture; it’s not one we’re going to use much in Sunday School. We often forget the next part of the Christmas story – we stop at the magi bringing their gifts to the baby Jesus, because it’s cute and it’s heart-warming, and so we tend to gloss over how their story ended, that they too were forced to flee. But there is that one final part of the Christmas story, captured in what we read today: Jesus, the promised Messiah, is born in a land and at a time full of trouble, tension, violence and fear. Before He had even learnt to walk, Jesus was a homeless refugee with a price on His head.
So, what are we mean to see here today? What do we see here of the identity of Jesus and what has that got to do with us on the cusp of 2021?

Well, firstly, let’s remember what we read last Sunday: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).
(Matthew 1:23)

This is Jesus, He is Immanuel, God with us and His coming into the brokenness of our world is how He will go about changing the world; the promised Messiah will not live in pomp and ease, instead He is with us. For there’s no point in Him arriving in comfort, when the world is in misery; there’s no point in Him having an easy life, when the world suffers violence and injustice. If He is to be truly… Immanuel, God with us, then He must be with us in our pain and in our brokenness; He must know what it is to live in fear, in need and in isolation.

Friends, we have more than a song, we have a Saviour who is with us in the struggles. Not that those struggles always miraculously disappear; after all, Jesus, Mary and Joseph knew real hardship, even though they also knew moments of God’s protection and provision. But God was with them and God is with us; we have more than a song, we have a Saviour, Immanuel, who is here, with us, in every moment of our brokenness.

In addition to this, our passage today also points towards something else. Because not only does Jesus experience the reality of this world, He is also the hope of this world… Three times Matthew says that Jesus is fulfilling Scripture in what happens here. But Jesus is fulfilling these Scriptures in a different way to what we read in chapter one. There Jesus was fulfilling what was predicted, but here, Jesus and the events surrounding His birth are seen as fulfilling what already happened 1,000 years before. In Matthew chapter 2, Jesus is seen as embodying once again the story of God’s people, Israel, from long ago. In the Old Testament we read that Israel went down to Egypt to seek safety and they came back under God’s protection. Likewise, Jesus finds safety among the Jewish colonies in Egypt, where His people numbered in the millions. Additionally, when the time was right, Father God brought His son Jesus safely out of Egypt and to the promised land of Israel.

What is more, the sorrow that 10 to 30 families would have experienced because of Herod’s actions, that sorrow is seen as echoing the sorrow Israel would have felt when families were scattered by the Babylonians as they took Israel into exile.

In each story, including the account of Jesus being a Nazarene, we are meant to see solidarity between the story of Jesus and the story of God’s people and in that solidarity, find hope once more. Because when those families wailed at the time of exile, the prophet Jeremiah also spoke about how God would fulfil His promises and bring life out of death and hope amidst darkness. We are meant to see in Jesus that He is the fulfilment of Israel’s story and thus that hope is still alive, because Jesus is still alive. He is the promised Messiah…
and the mission He came to fulfil will not be thwarted, He will bring life and justice and peace, He will bring freedom, and so we can have hope because of Him.

Friends, this year has been so hard, and as we enter 2021 we face a future of tighter restrictions and questions about this new strain of the virus and still we wait for things to “go back to normal”. It’s essential to know that Jesus is with us in the struggles, but we need more than as well, we need hope, we need to know that hope is still alive. And it is alive, friends, because our Saviour is alive. He is with us, not only in stories from 2,000 years ago – but in the here and now, for the babe that came at Christmas, grew to be a man, and yes He died upon a cross, but after 3 days, Father God raised Him from the dead, and so for 2,000 years this has been the testimony… and hope of the church: that Jesus conquered death, he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay, instead, Father God vindicated His sacrifice on the cross by raising Jesus to life.

Brothers and sisters, as we go into 2021, let us also look forward, look forward to a year in which Jesus will journey with us in every moment, in every season, in every high and low, because He is the Saviour who is Immanuel, God with us, for He is alive even today.

To help nurture this perspective, to help nurture this hope in us, I’d like to invite you to consider joining me in doing something this year.

It’s my practice, to start my day by reading some Scripture and thinking about its meaning for myself. Often in those moments, God speaks, bringing hope, encouragement, sometimes a challenge. On the 1st of January, I am planning to begin reading through the whole of the New Testament again, rooting myself in the accounts of Jesus and the teaching passed on to us.

So, I’d like to invite you to consider doing this with me. Later today, we’ll email out and put on our website a copy of this reading plan, and we’ll also post a copy to those on our mailing list. The reading plan gives you something to read five days a week and then some questions to think about, as a means of meeting with God. Because if we want to be a people who keep our faith in Jesus, who have hope because of Jesus, and who know Jesus…
Page
with us in our struggles, then the testimony of Christians across the ages is that we need to be regularly in the Scriptures. And maybe if we do this, and do this as a community, then we might also find support and encouragement from one another, and together, stay connected to Jesus, knowing that He is alive and journeying with us in all the struggles of life, not only in 2020 but forevermore.

I pray it may be so. 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: light in the darkness?

Preached on: Sunday 25th 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 20-10-25-Message-PPT-slides-multi-page.
Bible references: Isaiah 9:2-7
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Isaiah 9:2-7
Sunday 25th October 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchMessage
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be true and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

In the last few weeks, we’ve watched or read much about local, national and international government. As our politicians seek to respond to Coronavirus, we saw tensions mount between representatives in Manchester and Westminster. And in less than 10 days, we will know whether the United States has a new President or not. Looking in upon both these scenarios, and even our own issues of government here in Scotland and Falkirk, we may well agree with Winston Churchill, who famously said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” In every era of history, humanity has tried various forms of government, but none are perfect, and none can be.

None can be, because they are made up, of human beings and we are not perfect. There is a darkness to all our souls, a selfishness, a brokenness, and so we find ourselves looking out upon a world and see this brokenness played out before us on an international scale, with such horror and brutality and evil that human trafficking and other injustices continue in our day.

We may ask: what is there to be done? Is there any hope? Does God care? But God has not been silent, for the Scriptures never dodge the darkness in our world, even in own lives, for through the Bible we’re helped to see that the darkness of our world in not the only, nor the fundamental, reality of things. The darkness is not all of the story, it is not the end of the story – there is more to come, there can be hope, there is hope.

In our passage today, we are at the end of a portion in which God has been trying to persuade Israel to put their trust in Him. Yet, they have not listened, they have rejected God’s ways, and so now find themselves surrounded, overtaken even, by the Assyrian army.
Darkness appears to be on all sides, and yet despite Israel’s rejection, despite their lack of trust, God, in His grace, draws near once more and brings a message of hope, a message that the story is not finished, the story will not end in darkness, for there is hope of a future king and His kingdom.

We read today: ‘The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned…
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called…
Wonderful Counsellor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.’
(Isa. 9:2, 6)

In the midst of darkness comes light, and Isaiah is so sure of it coming about that his words speak of it as if it had already happened: ‘…for to us a child IS born.’ Yet this child will be no ordinary king, for the first three names designate divinity ‘Wonderful counsellor’ speaks of one who can work wonders and whose wisdom is far above any human’s, and so this individual is described in Hebrew terms which convey a ‘supernatural’ quality.

No wonder then, that this future king is described as ‘Mighty God’, a mighty warrior who leads the hosts of heaven, and yet He is also ‘Everlasting Father’ for He loves with such perfect and parental love. This is no ordinary child, but it is a human child nonetheless, as confirmed for us by the title ‘Prince of Peace’, where ‘prince’ is always used in the Scriptures of human leaders.

Through Isaiah, God brings a message of hope, that the story is not ending here, the darkness will not prevail, for the odds will be overcome by this future King. Indeed, that is why we read here of the reference to Midian in verse 4, which points us back to the book of Judges. At that time, Israel was once more surrounded by a vast multitude of the enemy, swarming over the land, and yet the Lord defeats this foe with a mere 300 individuals led by the trembling Gideon. Israel felt powerless at that time, Israel thought the darkness would win out, but the
Lord brought a different ending, ‘for as in the day of Midian’s defeat…’ the Lord broke the rod and broke the bar. Isaiah is saying the same thing will happen through this child, that the odds will be overcome, there is good news, there is hope, the story does not end here and the Lord will turn our darkness into light, our conflict into peace, our loss into abundance and our despair into joy.

And He will do this in the coming of a child, a child who was no mere human being, a child who would then grow up and one day begin to fulfil these words of prophecy, such that we read in the book of Matthew:
‘[Jesus] went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali – to fulfil what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
‘Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people living in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.’
From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’’
(Matt. 4:12-17)

In the person of Jesus, this prophecy began to be fulfilled – the King had come and so His Kingdom was breaking into this world, it had come near. As we read through the four gospels of the New Testament, we see signs of God’s Kingdom breaking in, we see signs of the One who is
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. He came with power to work wonders; He came with wisdom and teaching that has lasted the ages; He came revealing the love of God in His life and most powerfully in His death. Jesus was this promised King, the One who ensured that the story would not end in darkness but that light had dawned, and yet, this Jesus is not dead, He is not a myth or a child’s story or a relic of history, but He is the Living One, Everlasting, for He was raised to life and He will return to bring the fullness of His Kingdom into reality.

I wonder friends, do you know this Jesus? Do you know this living King? Because without faith in Him, without relationship with Him, all we are left with are the worst

forms of government that we as a species have tried from time to time. But Jesus came saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ (John 8:12) Darkness does not need to be our only or fundamental reality, for in Jesus there is hope, He is our living King and one day His Kingdom will be all that there is.

Now Isaiah’s prophecy also gives us some details of that kingdom, for we read today:
‘Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing
and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever.’ (Isa. 9:7)

There are some very key words in this verse, for ‘peace’ is the Hebrew word ‘shalom’, referring to a well-being or wholeness, which impacts all of an individual’s life, and all life between individuals. In that future kingdom, where shalom exists, all things are whole, healthy and complete. The experience of shalom will be spiritual, physical, psychological and social.

It should be no surprise then, that in the next sentence we read that this King will uphold His kingdom with justice, ‘mishpat’, and righteousness, ‘tzadeqah’. Tim Keller, in his book on Generous Justice, argues that when we see these two words close to one another, as in this verse, then the best English expression of our time, to convey its meaning, could be ‘social justice’. If that’s accurate, then the hope of this future King and the hope of His future Kingdom brings a message that darkness will not prevail, that the darkness of human trafficking will not prevail, there will be right relationship between God and humanity, and right relationship across humanity, from one to another, and rather than treat one another as commodities or as slaves, there will be social justice.

But is it all just future? Is all that we have to offer simply a message of hope? Well, Jesus said:
‘This, then, is how you should pray:
‘“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth
as it is in heaven…”’
(Matt. 6:9-10)

God’s Kingdom, this Kingdom which will have peace and social justice, we are to pray for this kingdom to come in greater measure in our day, that on earth we would see the kingdom of God. But is all we have to offer a prayer?

Well, I don’t think so, because as we said about prayer and the Lord’s Prayer, part of prayer is about changing us – that as we focus on God, as we understand more of His Kingdom and pray and yearn for this, then we change, and more often than not, we are then the answer to this prayer, for we realise we are to embody His character and ways, and so must live differently. Yes, let’s pray “Thy kingdom come”, but we better get ready to be the answer to that prayer as well, for through you God might do a work of bringing justice upon the earth.

Friends, this Halloween, let us replace darkness with light, let us scrap the costume and take up justice, let us forget the stories of witches and mummies or superheroes, and instead be a people who say that darkness is not the end of the story, that there is hope, there is Good News of a King, His Kingdom is breaking into this world, and so we will stand alongside the oppressed, for our God and His Kingdom is one of justice and of light. 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.

No fake story! (Passion Wk.5)

Preached on: Sunday 12th April 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 20-04-12-Morning-Message-PowerPoint.
Bible references: Luke 24:1-12
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 24:1-12
Sunday 12th April 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.

Boys and girls, what school or nursery do you go to? Shout it out just now! (PAUSE) I can’t hear you! Shout louder!!…Oh, that one!

Well, I’m sure some of you go to Wallacestone Primary School and I’m usually in there every Friday morning and lunchtime to visit two or three classes, and then run the Friday lunchtime Scripture Union Group. Going into Wallacestone was one of the highlights of my week and I’m really missing it!

Now, just before we all had an early school holiday, I was in chatting with the Primary 7s about Easter – and most of them know the Easter story, so I thought I would share with them some of the reasons why I think the Easter story really happened.

One of those reasons is in our story today, but our passage also gave me two more reasons – which is fantastic! So, I’ve got 3 questions for you, to see if you can remember the story, OK? Each one gives me confidence that Jesus is alive. Are you ready? Let’s get started.

First off – what weight do you think the stone over the tomb was? I’ll give you some ideas. Would it have weighed as much as: two bags of cement; two of me; two sofas; or two cars? Make a choice…quick, quick!…the answer is…two cars! Well done if you picked the right answer.

The stone would have weighed about two tonnes, or the weight of two 1979 VW Beetles. That’s a lot of stone, so if Jesus wasn’t dead and maybe He had simply fainted, then there is no way He could have got out Himself, and no way His friends could have rolled the stone away without the Roman guards hearing something and stopping them. So, the stone being rolled away is a major clue that Jesus really did come back to life!

OK, question number 2: who first found out that Jesus was alive? Can you remember? Point this way if you think it was women…point the other way if you think it was the disciples! It was…the women! Good remembering!
And here’s question number 3, because question 2 and 3 are closely related: did the disciples believe the women about Jesus being alive? Did they believe them? Thumbs up for “yes”, thumbs down for “no”…the answer is… “no”, the disciples did not believe the women!

Now, why are these two clues important? Well, back in the days of Jesus, sadly women were not believed, they were not regarded as good enough witnesses, for anything. Which is part of the reason why in v11 we read, that ‘[the disciples] did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.’

It seemed nonsense to the disciples, the men, because no one was expecting this, and they weren’t simply going to believe the women, because they were…women. Exactly!
It came across to the men as a silly dream, the sort of thing that people back then would expect from a few women who are upset with grief and lack of sleep.

Now, sometimes people today think that the first disciples must have made up the story about Jesus, because, after all, no one comes back from the dead, right?

Well, if the first disciples were trying to convince people back then to believe a fake story, then they would not have picked women as the first people to find out Jesus was alive! That would have been a bad plan, and so this another clue for us today: Jesus really did come back to life because the story matches with what really happened rather than what people would have made up!
The third clue is very like that too: if it was a made up story, then the smart idea would be to show the disciples having faith straight away, because then the disciples would be examples of faith and the perfect people to lead the early church.

But that’s not what we read: the disciples did not believe, they were not expecting Jesus to come back to life, it was a complete surprise to them! In a fake story, the disciples should believe straight away, rather than doubt.

Now, there are many more reasons for believing that Jesus came back to life, but those are three reasons from the story today: the big stone; the women witnesses; and the disciples being surprised.

I wonder, do you like surprises? And if you were trying to give someone a surprise, what would say? Might it be: boo? Or maybe: ta-da?

I read a story this week, about another minister, and in this story the minister is talking with the children at an Easter service in church, and he asks the children: what do you think Jesus’ first words were to his friends after He came back to life? And one little boy sprang to his feet, spread his arms out wide and said, “Ta-Da!”

The story of Easter, the story of Jesus coming back to life, was a surprise for the disciples. It wasn’t announced with a “ta-da” or a “boo”, but it was still a surprise, and it was a surprise to people who were sad, who were afraid, and who were doubting.
The story of Jesus coming back to life is a story which began in the real world of sorrow and uncertainty but with a message for that very same world. Don’t we also live with sadness, or fear, or doubt just now?

And what is more, when Jesus came back to life, many things remained unchanged: the Romans were still in charge; the religious leaders were still bullies and bad people; people were still sick and scared.

But here’s the thing – on one level the wider world was still the same after Jesus came back to life; but on another level, everything had also changed – everything! Because in the wonderful events of Easter, there is a dead man who has come back to life, Jesus has conquered death and the grave, and that’s the kind of surprising good news which rewrites history, and not just for a year, a decade, or even a century…no, this is the kind of surprising good news that rewrites history for everyone, everywhere, and for evermore.

Friends, my prayer this Easter, is for us to know the risen Jesus journeying with us in these difficult days. Because as the Apostle Peter later reminds us: ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…’ (1 Peter 1:3)

Brothers and sisters, we not only have hope, we have a living hope, living because Jesus lives. And it’s hope, not wishful thinking. It’s hope, because it’s certain, we have strong and confidence assurance….

But we only have this because of Easter Sunday, which is summed up so well in our final hymn today:

“Then came the morning that sealed the promise
Your buried body began to breathe
Out of the silence, the Roaring Lion
Declared the grave has no claim on me
Jesus, Yours is the victory.”
(Living Hope, Phil Wickham & Brian Johnson)

Friends, our passage today, reminds us of the surprising story of Easter, a story that was not faked, a story which rewrote all history, and a story which suggests that even in our present darkness, uncertainty and fear, when all around seems to remain unchanged because of Easter, well, this story suggests we can still…
encounter Jesus today, because Christ is risen, He is risen…indeed! Praise be to God. Amen.

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.

Living Hope (Passion Wk.2 Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 24th 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 20-03-24-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-Tuesday-Evening-Sermon.
Bible references: Luke 10:25-37
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 10:25-37
Tuesday 24th 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.

As I introduced a few Sunday’s ago, in the weeks leading up to Easter, we’re journeying with Jesus towards Jerusalem. We started at that point in the story where Luke says Jesus ‘…resolutely set out…’ (Luke 9:51), He set His face towards the purpose He had come to fulfil. There is a great deal of material contained within the journeying phase of Luke’s gospel; Jesus does not enter Jerusalem until halfway through of chapter 19. So, we’re going to focus on three encounters Jesus had with Samaritan people, because that was really unexpected of Jesus.

As we heard two Sunday’s ago, the Samaritans were Jews who intermarried with their Assyrian conquerors, people of non-Jewish nationality, and that brought about a mixed race who became known as the Samaritans. They were viewed as “half breeds” and “renegades” by the more “purebred” and loyal Jewish people, and in turn the Samaritans developed a hatred for the Jews.

In our passage tonight, we read of the Good Samaritan – it’s a story many of us have heard before, it’s a story children will still hear in school for Religious and Moral Education, because it’s a timeless story, teaching truths that now-a-days we hold as self-evident, a simple outworking of “the golden rule” – to treat others as you wish to be treated.

So, as I said on Sunday, we probably feel like we know what the parable means: we’ve to be a good neighbour; we’ve to look out for people who need our help; we’ve to love other people. And that’s certainly one important thing to take away because part of what Jesus showed us in His life and teaching was the importance of loving others as we love ourselves.

So, once again hear the call to sign up and offer your time in the coming months. Sadly, we won’t get out all our Easter cards now due to the lockdown – but it was fantastic that over 50% were given since Sunday afternoon. And I wonder, have you called anyone yet? Anyone outside your family? I’m sure we were all busy calling our mums and our grans on Sunday, and then we were back in to work on Monday, even if it was from home –
so, we might have forgotten that part of the message. But in our changing times, a telephone call is really going to make a big difference to people. So, let’s be the best neighbours we can during this time, and the more of us who join in, the more care and support there will be in our local community.

As I explained on Sunday morning, when I was thinking about the story of the Good Samaritan this week I was drawn to the other characters in the parable, particularly the priest and the Levite, those two who simply walked on past the man needing help. Now, we must remember that they walked past an individual who was part of their tribe; a people who were a persecuted people, so you’d normally stand up for one another, you’d normally be there for one another.
Instead they simply walk past and Jesus doesn’t really give us a reason, yet as you know, I’ve been wondering if they did it because of fear. Maybe fear of doing the wrong thing, maybe it was fear of the robbers coming back.

You see, they may have feared doing the wrong thing because God’s Word said that touching a dead body would make an individual unclean, it would create a disconnect between God and the person who became unclean. But even then, that’s just an excuse, because God’s Word, as we heard again tonight, says we are to “love your neighbour as yourself”. By failing to do that, the priest and the Levite are already unclean; by failing to do that, they are going to have to go through the steps to become pure again, to be right with God once more. They placed a higher value on something other than loving neighbour, and all for naught.
Jesus listeners’ would have expected the priest and the Levite to be the good guys in the story, but we see that they embody two things. Firstly, fear and maybe secondly, weariness.

On Sunday, we explored part of the issue around fear, and now tonight, we’ve seen another: that fear of becoming impure by touching a dead body. Were they letting fear motivate them to do the wrong thing? Because it’s easy to give in to fear, especially when it’s not to our benefit to do otherwise. So, the priest and Levite embody fear.

But secondly, do they embody weariness? Remember, these are people who are seeking to maintain spiritual purity at all costs, and if they were relying on their own strength to do this, then that’s a weary job –
the Pharisees had come up with hundreds of rules on how to know if you were breaking God’s Law or not, and you’d have to be constantly checking yourself to maintain that level of purity. They must have been so weary.

Maybe, these two individuals not only feared the robbers returning or of doing the wrong thing, maybe they were simply weary – weary of trying to keep hitting the mark, and so seeing this individual, was just too much for them, it was a step too far, a cry for help they couldn’t answer.

Are we feeling fear just now? Are we feeling weary just now? Because fear and weariness can cause us to be poor neighbours. We’ve seen how fear has motivated stock piling
– and we might not yet be feeling it, but to love our neighbours well is going to be draining, it might weary us, if all we’re doing is relying on our own strength.
So, what’s the antidote? Well, let’s go back to the start of the story, as I said on Sunday. Jesus tells the parable because He is asked a question, and in that conversation, we hear that we’ve to love God with all that we are – with all our heart, soul, mind and strength – and we are to love our neighbour. Jesus is saying that these are the two most important things, but He is also saying they’re connected.

Because as we love God – as we pursue a relationship with God, then we learn of His love for us, and then His love begins to change us. For God has promised to help us, to give us strength and wisdom and grace – if we will seek Him. That verse from 1st John chapter 4 has stuck with me so powerfully over the years, that “…perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18) The antidote to fear is to know God’s perfect love and we get to know God’s love by spending time with Him.
So, what about weariness? Because, you know, to love is really hard work. Take those words from 1st Corinthians that we delight in hearing at weddings: ‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.’ (1 Cor. 13:4-7) Love is hard work; even in the normal rhythm of life, never mind amidst a pandemic.

The man who wrote those words about love, was no stranger to it. He was called the Apostle Paul and he went around starting new churches, helping people understand about Jesus and come to worship Jesus. It was hard work, Paul speaks about how hard it was…

in one of his other letters, he says: ‘Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move…I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.’ (2 Cor. 11:23-27)

Paul went through all of that because of love – love for God and for his fellow human being, as he’ll say time and time again in his own writings. So, how did Paul keep on loving? Well, he also said that ‘…God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit…’ (Romans 5:5)…
It was God’s Spirit that gave Paul a heart of love and helped him to keep on loving.

Maybe it’s for this reason that Paul writes to the Ephesians: ‘For this reason I kneel before the Father…I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.’ (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Paul prays for the Ephesians to have the help of God’s
Spirit to give them power to grasp the love of God…
I wonder, do we ever pray that? Do we even realise what Paul is saying here? His claim is that we cannot know God’s love by ourselves, or at least we cannot know the fullest measure of it without the power of the Holy Spirit working in us. So, if we want to have hearts full of God’s love, then we also need God’s Spirit, and we receive the help of God’s Spirit through prayer.

That might be new idea for us, we might have assumed up till now that we can simply know God’s love by our own efforts. But even Jesus needed the help of the Spirit, because the affirmation of the Father was as much communicated by the Spirit, in the form of the dove alighting on Jesus, as it was by the words of the Father from heaven. If Jesus needed the Spirit, so do we.

Once again, then, let me ask you: will you invest some time in your relationship with God during these coming months of isolation? And specifically, will you pray and ask for God’s Spirit to be given to you and to us all? For it is by Him, the Spirit of God, that we gain power to grasp something more of the fullness of God’s love for us and for this world, and through that same Spirit we can then have hearts full of the love of God, full enough to fend off weariness in loving neighbour, and fend off the fear we may feel in these difficult times.

Jesus knows all about fear and all about weariness – in the Garden of Gethsemane He feared what was coming, He feared dying on the Cross. But He did not let fear stop Him, He did not let fear make Him a poor neighbour – instead, for love of you and me, for love of His Father, Jesus carried on towards Jerusalem to secure for us a living hope.

And often Jesus would become tired, weary enough that He took Himself off to a solitary place where He could spend some time with His heavenly Father and become refreshed in His love to continue that journey He and the Father had agreed upon from eternity past.

For me, that’s part of what makes the story of Martha and Mary so interesting. It comes right after a story which is about doing stuff and helping people, about sacrificing ourselves and going the extra mile. The Samaritan paid enough money for two weeks of care at that inn, and those of us in self-isolation, can begin to appreciate something of how long two weeks can be.
But right next to that story, is another story where Jesus seems to say the opposite thing. Martha is busy serving, she’s busy being the good neighbour, and in fact she is so busy, and feeling so isolated, that she is at her wits end; she is weary, weary enough to lash out at Jesus. I mean, come on, if there’s anyone you don’t lash out at, surely it’s Jesus.

But Martha is run dry, she’s run ragged, she’s weary. Jesus, I think, sees that weariness, it’s maybe part of the reason why His response is so gentle: “Martha, Martha.” There’s genuine emotional concern in His voice. He doesn’t give her a lecture about losing her temper, or even the importance of better organisation and delegation to others. For love is patient, love is kind, and Jesus is love incarnate.
Yet, Jesus doesn’t leave Martha there, He doesn’t gloss over it completely, as we might be tempted to do, because true love nurtures, it brings life. Jesus knows that Martha has become distracted by many things, by doing things for others, doing things for Jesus, and all of this has taken the place of simply being with Jesus, of sitting at His feet, as Mary does.

Mary adopts the position of a learner, a student, what the Jews called in their time, a disciple, and a disciple learnt by spending time with their teacher, their rabbi.

Luke reminds us in these two stories, that we are called to a radical love, a love which crosses divisions and boundaries, and sacrifices for others. But love for
neighbour is only half of the life we are called to, there is also love for God, and in loving Him knowing His love for us.
The man who asked Jesus the question at the start of the story had forgotten this; he imagined that eternal life was wrapped up and secured in what we do. But as Jesus reminds us in His own words: ‘this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.’ (John 17:3)

The expert in the law had forgotten this, Martha had maybe become distracted from this by the many things, but Mary knew, she remembered, so she spent time at the feet of Jesus and in that place, she found life, she found love, a perfect love, which filled her heart.

Friends, in these difficult times, God is with us. He knows our fears, He knows our frailty, that we are but dust. Yet
He calls us to keep loving our neighbours well…
and through loving Him to know His perfect love, a perfect love which can drive out all fear and restore the weariness of our hearts.

I pray that God will give us power by His Spirit, to know His love, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and for us to know this personally in our lives and so be able to show it others.

May it be so. Amen.

Living Hope (Passion Wk.2)

Preached on: Sunday 22nd 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 20-03-22-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-morning.
Bible references: Luke 9v51-62 and Philippians 2:1-8
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 9v51-62 and Philippians 2:1-8
Sunday 22nd 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.

Normally, by this point on a Sunday morning, the children would be out in their groups and I would be in the pulpit, ready to share something on God’s Word, the Bible. I’d be looking out on the congregation – and this area I would maybe see: Rena, May, Molly; Margaret and Cathy; at the back Charles and Myra, Bill and Lena; or near the front George, John, Tom, and Bill, as well as Fiona, with Jean and Robert sitting over there.

But here I am, sitting in these pews by myself. It’s a strange experience and yet it prompts me to think of you all, to think of the neighbours I would normally see.
In the weeks leading up to Easter, we’re journeying with Jesus towards Jerusalem, and we’re focusing on three encounters Jesus had with Samaritan people, because that was really unexpected of Jesus, and you can hear more about that in the Tuesday Evening Sermon.

Today’s story is about the Good Samaritan – it’s a story many of us have heard before, it’s a story children will still hear in school for Religious and Moral Education. Have any of you children and young people heard it before? If you have, comment in the live video just now!

So most likely, we all feel like we know what the parable means: we’ve to be a good neighbour; we’ve to look out for people who need our help; we’ve to love other people.
And that’s certainly one important thing to take away because part of what Jesus showed us was the importance of loving others as we love ourselves.

So, sign up to help others by completing the online volunteer form, or come help us deliver the Easter card, or call up the people you would normally sit with in church or even your next door neighbour. Let’s be the best neighbours we can during this time, and we can all do that: from the little tots, to the young people and right up to our adult members. Just because we are to limit our face to face contact, does not mean we cannot be good neighbours and the more of us who join in, the more care and support there will be in our local community.

But as I was thinking about the story this week…
I was thinking about the other characters in the story. Can you remember who they are boys and girls? There were two other characters – the priest and the Levite. Now, did they go and help the man who was injured? No – they decided to walk past and leave him all alone.

I’ve been wondering why they did that? Why did they just walk past? Jesus didn’t give us a reason, but I’ve been wondering if they did it because of fear. Maybe fear of doing the wrong thing, which I’ll explain in Tuesday’s sermon. Or maybe it was fear of the robbers coming back?

Did they look around the road, up into the hills or the trees and wonder: “Am I next? Will they come for me too? Maybe I should get going – avoid this person – keep my distance.”
I wonder if they let fear motivate them to do the wrong thing? Because it’s easy to give in to fear, especially when it’s not our family, not our kith and kin.

Are we feeling fear just now? Is that fear causing us to be poor neighbours? I am not saying we should ignore the government guidance – because we do have to reduce our social contact, especially to keep our more vulnerable members healthy and safe. So, please follow the guidance.

But, have you seen the pictures online of empty shops? Have you struggled to get food and essentials yourselves? I wonder if part of the stockpiling is motivated by fear – and if it is, we are then allowing fear to impact how we treat others, we are being poor neighbours because of fear, rather than showing the care for others the Good Samaritan did.
So, what’s the antidote to fear? Well, I want to take you back to the start of the story. Jesus tells the parable because He is asked a question, and in that conversation, we hear that we’re to love God with all that we are – with our heart, soul, mind and strength – and we are to love our neighbour. Jesus agrees that these are two very important things to do, but He is also saying something else in these verses.

I think Jesus is saying that loving God and loving neighbour God hand in hand; they’re connected. We can, of course, be very loving to other people without God, but all of us have moments when fear or selfishness make us behave as poor neighbours.

But if we love God – if we pursue a relationship with God then God promises to help us, to change us, and to give us strength and wisdom and grace. As we love God, we learn of His love for us, and in another part of the Bible we’re reminded that “…perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). The antidote to fear is to know God’s love and we get to know God’s love by loving Him through prayer, reading the Bible, and spending time with Him.

So, why not invest some time in these ideas during the coming months of isolation? Get into reading the Bible, maybe start with the book of Luke or use the Lectio365 app, or keep joining us for Sunday worship, but engage with the Tuesday Evening Sermon, or come to the open prayer space on Thursday mornings, or engage with our “Prayer for the Braes” group on our Facebook page.
Because, there really is a God out there; He really is with us in all of the fear and uncertainty. We might, in these times, wonder whether God cares for us. We might, in these times, scoff at the idea of there being a God.

But two thousand years ago, God showed up – He was born in a manger and grew into a man, and that man set His face toward Jerusalem, He willing journeyed towards His death, for love of me and love of you.

That man was Jesus and Jesus knows all about fear – in the Garden of Gethsemane He feared what was coming, He feared dying on the Cross. But He did not let fear stop Him, He did not let fear make Him a poor neighbour – instead, for love of you and me, for love of His Father, Jesus carried on towards Jerusalem to secure for us a living hope.
Friends, in these difficult times, God is with us, He knows our fears, but He calls us to keep loving our neighbours well and through loving Him to know His love for each of us, because His perfect love drives out all fear.

May it be so. Amen.

The partial Kingdom

Preached on: Sunday 15th September 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 19-09-15-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: 2 Samuel 7v1-17 and Romans 1v1-6
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: 2 Samuel 7v1-17 and Romans 1v1-6
Sunday 15th September 2019
Brightons Parish Church
Let us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

I want to show your a few famous lines from films and I wonder if you can guess where they featured:
• “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Casablanca, 1942
• “Houston, we have a problem.” Apollo 13, 1995
• “Ogres are like onions.” Shrek, 2001

To really get these lines, to grasp their meaning and significance, you need to know the back story – whether it be a love story, or a rescue mission, or a simple feel good film with poignant truths – knowing the back story helps.
And the same is true of ‘the kingdom of God’ – without knowing the back story it can be quite meaningless.

We are now into week four of our current sermon series on ‘the kingdom of God’ and over the last three weeks we’ve seen that from the beginning of creation ‘the kingdom of God’ has been central to the biblical story. In Genesis 1 and 2, we saw the pattern of the kingdom, with God’s people, living in God’s place, under God’s rule and enjoying God’s blessing.

In Genesis 3, we saw how the pattern of the kingdom was lost, for when Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, they were rejecting God’s rule, and as a result, they were no longer His people, which led to them being expelled… from God’s place, the garden of Eden, and consequently, they also lost the blessing of God.

But then last week, with Ian, we read from later in Genesis, where in chapters 12, 15 and 17, God makes a covenant, a promise, with Abraham to once again form a people of God, who will be given a land, who will live under God’s rule and once again enjoy God’s blessing.

So, we’re only up to Genesis 17, and yet we are beginning to get a rich and full back story to ‘the kingdom of God’. But from Genesis 17 to where we read in 2nd Samuel, it took about 900 years for everything to pass, so there’s a lot of history sandwiched between those two moments in the biblical story, which you may be glad to hear, we won’t try to cover in depth in this series.
And yet, to understand ‘the kingdom of God’, and to understand how God seeks to restore the pattern of the kingdom we need to know some of that 900-year history, which I’ll review, very briefly, just now.

Broadly speaking, from Genesis chapter 12 to Exodus chapter 18, the focus is primarily on God’s people, on how God would once again form a people who would be His special possession. And so, we find God taking Abraham, and from that old man, forming a nation, through Isaac, Jacob and then Jacob’s 12 sons, including Joseph.

Over the summer months, we worked through the story of Joseph, seeing how God’s promise began to be worked out – that this great grandson of Abraham…
was used of God to save God’s people from starvation by providing a home for them in Egypt.

But after Joseph, hundreds of years pass, and the people of God grow to be very numerous in Egypt, numbering in the millions. Yet they have become slaves to Egypt, and so they cry out to God, who hears them. He takes Moses and uses him to rescue God’s people and bring them out of Egypt, through what we call the Exodus, that act of God by which the people of God are saved.

Then, God leads them, by a pillar of cloud and fire, to Mount Sinai, which we reed about in Exodus chapter 19. And from chapter 19 of Exodus to the end of the book of Leviticus, we now find a focus on God’s rule and blessing, for in those chapters, we see how the people of God… are to live, and also how a holy God can presence Himself amongst His people so that they have relationship.

After Leviticus, we have the books of Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua, and whilst some of their content continues to describe the rule of God, these books also begin to move the focus onto God’s place, that land which was promised to Abraham many years before.

Now, the people of God are still, at the beginning of Numbers, situated at Mount Sinai, but because of grumbling, protest and unbelief the people of God are punished, and instead of a few months’ journey to the promised land, they travel for 40 years around the desert, so that all but two of that generation pass away, all who were filled with ingratitude and unbelief.

Eventually they do reach the promised land, but under a new leader, under Joshua, and they enter the land of Canaan, taking possession of it, and settling into a place that flowed with milk and honey.

At the end of the book of Joshua, Joshua himself gives a warning to the people, to not turn away from the Lord, and the question arises: will they or won’t they? What will happen to the people of God now?

We then enter into the book of Judges, where there is a cycle of sin and grace, for the people of God keep turning away from Him, doing evil in His eyes,…
and so, they are punished by God. They then cry out for mercy, so God sends a ruler, a judge, to lead them back under the rule of God, enabling them to enjoy God’s blessing and peace once more. This cycle of sin and grace repeats, again and again and again throughout the book, until we get to the very last line of the book of Judges, where we reed: ‘In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.’ (Judges 21:25)

There is here a hint of what the solution might be, that the people need a king. But this is not a new idea, for a king and ruler had been mentioned back in Genesis 49, where the line of Judah was said to hold a ‘sceptre’ and the ‘ruler’s staff’, and that ‘the obedience of the nations shall be his’. The idea of a king is also mentioned in the book of Deuteronomy, where the king is commanded: ‘..to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law…It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not…turn from the law to the right or to the left.’
(Deut. 17:18-20)

God’s appointed king was to be the means by which the rule of God came upon and through God’s people so that they could then enjoy God’s blessing. God would rule His kingdom through His king.

And so, at the end of Judges, this idea is raised once more, enabling us to enter into the books of Ruth, 1st Samuel, 2nd Samuel and 1st Kings, where we see how God raises up for Himself a king to rule over His people…

Eventually, David, that famous shepherd boy, becomes king. His journey is one of suffering and rejection, he faces many struggles to reach a position of peace, of rest, and that is where we find ourselves as we come into 2nd Samuel chapter 7. All this is the back story leading to this very chapter, 900 years of God forming a people, of giving them His Law, His rule, of taking them to the promised land, and then establishing a king, through whom God’s rule and blessing could come to God’s people within God’s place.

Chapter seven opens with these words: “After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, ‘Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.’ Nathan replied to the king, ‘Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.’” (2 Sam. 7:1-3)

The king is at rest, at last, but he recognises it has come from God’s hand, and yet the ark of God, the symbol of God’s presence amongst His people, remains in a tent, whilst the king lives in a house of expensive cedar. And so, there is a burden upon David’s heart to do something, which receives the support of the prophet Nathan.

But that night the Lord spoke to His prophet, relaying to Nathan, and then on to David, that the Lord was going to turn David’s offer upon its head, for the Lord now promised to build a flesh and blood house, a lineage for David. We read:
“‘Now then, tell my servant David, “This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great…The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: when your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son…’” (2 Sam. 7:8-9, 11b-14a)

In this passage, God refers to the covenant promises made to Abraham: of a people, of a land, of blessing… But these are now tied to the king and so Israel’s future is identified with the king’s future. Concerning this king, God promises:
• That he will be a descendant of David (v12)
• That His kingdom will be established by God (v12)
• That this future king will build a house for God (v13)
• Will reign for ever (v13, 15-16)
• And will be a son of God (v14)

So, a future king, one greater than David, is to come, and through this king, God’s kingdom will be established, His rule over His people, in His place, will become reality, and all will know and live in God’s blessing.

With the coming of David’s son, Solomon, as king, in the book of 1st Kings, we see the building up of the kingdom, such that by chapter 10 of 1st Kings the nation of Israel experiences a Golden Age, and we’re left asking: is Solomon the king who was promised? Is he this son of God?

Well, chapter 11 of 1st Kings reveals that Solomon is led astray from God, he does evil in the eyes of the Lord, and despite the intervention of the Lord, Solomon does not turn from his ways. As such, it’s not long before this partial rebuilding of the kingdom begins to disintegrate.

This is Israel’s highpoint as a kingdom under a human king, and so the promise and the hope of 2nd Samuel 7 still awaits fulfilment, we still await to see how God will restore His kingdom, through a human king, who will also be a son of God, such that the people of God live under the rule of God, in God’s place, and enjoying God’s blessing.

It’s been a long story, and there’s still more to come, but what might we glean from Genesis 12 to 1st Kings 11?

One of the most striking things about this period of the biblical story is how so many parts of it leave us hanging, leave us wanting more, and leave the people of God wanting more. In the book of Leviticus, God lay down the means by which He, as a holy God, could continue to presence Himself amongst His imperfect people. They are given instructions on how to construct the tabernacle, the tent where the ark of God would dwell, which was a symbol of God’s holy presence. They were also given the sacrificial system. But there are limitations – only one person, once a year, could come into most holy place within the tabernacle. There is then a limitation of relationship, it’s only a partial restoration of what was in the garden of Eden,… and so a greater peace between God and humanity must come, and so the people of God are left wanting.

In the books of Numbers to Judges, we see a limitation of obedience by God’s people, we see God’s people displaying unbelief and wilful disobedience, again and again. They so often have a hard heart towards God and His ways and so there is only a partial restoration of God’s people: they are numerically there, but their hearts are still so often wayward. The people of God are left wanting.

And then in 1 Samuel to 1st Kings 11, we see a series of imperfect human kings, through whom only a partial restoration of God’s rule and blessing comes about, and then only for a short time in the reign of Solomon,… before quickly crumbling away. Once more, the people of God are left wanting and hopes are dashed.

And I wonder if you resonate with that lack, with that hunger for something greater: of greater intimacy with God, or of greater obedience to God’s ways, or for a greater king who offers true hope?

Now these may not have been the first things to jump to mind when you thought about what you lack, but if we’re honest, all of us have some degree of discontentment, some degree of awareness that something is lacking in our lives.

It may be that you lack peace in your soul. It may be that you have discontentment with your life,…
maybe especially in the relationships you have with others, or with infirmity. It may be that you lack hope and encouragement amidst the greatest challenges of life.

Friends, the discontentment, the hunger in our lives, is a sign of the brokenness of our world, and of our God-given sense that there is meant to be something more, something better, of a kingdom that has been lost.

That lack we feel also highlights that our man-made solutions are insufficient, they don’t truly meet our need.
We try to anaesthetise our lack of peace and contentment with stuff, with pleasure, with popularity. Similarly, we try to fix our broken relationships through guilt, through nagging, through manipulation and trying to get our own way.
But the discontentment of our souls has at its root a deep spiritual need and problem, and no man-made solution can address that, just as no mere human king could be the solution to restoring God’s kingdom, nor could an external Law change the heart of broken humanity, just as no animal sacrifice could cleanse the human conscience and restore full intimacy with God.

The discontentment we feel, as the discontentment the people of old felt, is a pointer beyond ourselves and our solutions, to something else, indeed to someone else.

And that someone else, as we’ll see in future weeks, is Jesus – for in Him, as we read in Romans, we find a descendant of David, but also the Son of God. In Jesus, as the apostle Paul outlines, we find someone who:
• Is the Christ, the promised King (v1)
• He has conquered death (v4)
• He rules in power as Lord (v4)
• This Jesus calls us and equips us by His ‘grace’ to ‘obedience’ – to live under God’s rule (v5)
• And He calls us into relationship with Himself – that we might be a people who ‘belong to Jesus Christ’ (v6)

Friends, in the midst of our discontentment, God is calling, calling us into deeper relationship with Himself through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.

Just as there was more for the people of God long ago, there is also more for us as well – there can be greater peace, greater contentment, greater depth of intimacy with God and greater hope for tomorrow.
Friends, where do you lack that discontentment? Where is the lack in your life? Too often I have allowed my discontentment to lead me into unhealthy choices and actions, and I encourage you not to do that, but to seek Jesus in the midst of your discontentment.

Yesterday, I heard a song that sums this idea up well. As we listen to it, bring the deep ache of your soul to Jesus. PLAY: “Falling Into You” – Sam Hibbard

Friends, may today be more than a history lesson, may we hear the call of God to turn our eyes to our heavenly King so that in Jesus we see the One who can meet the deep ache of our souls, for He is the One through whom the kingdom of God will come. To Him, be all glory, now and forever. Amen.