The way of the Cross: step forward

Preached on: Sunday 14th March 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here21-03-14 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Mark 8:27 – 9:1
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

Come Holy Spirit, lead us in the way of Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit, reveal Jesus to us.
Come Holy Spirit, with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name,
Amen.

When you were younger, did you ever play that relay race where you would take two steps forward and then one step back? I remember playing that in the Cub Scouts and it’s harder than you think. It’s not natural. It doesn’t come easy, and so when I was a Scout Leader and playing it with Beaver Scouts, who are younger than Cubs, they would struggle, often bending the rules because they just want to go forward.

I wonder if that’s a picture which could capture how you feel or have felt about your faith?

Maybe you were making progress, two steps forward, but then something came along and it forced you to take a step back, and in some cases you might even have taken several steps back.

We imagine the life of faith, don’t we, to be a constant, upward, positive journey – forward step after forward step – when the backward steps do come they take us by surprise and, because no one prepared us, and few of us are open enough about our faith, then we struggle and our faith becomes undermined, even in a detrimental way.

I think Peter would know some of that experience himself. Up to this point in the book of Mark, Peter has been watching and listening to Jesus and he, along with the other disciples, has been asking ‘Who is this?” “Who is this whom even the wind and the waves obey?” “Who is this who heals and teaches with such authority?”

As they journey with Jesus, they hear what others are saying. They hear the whispers, the rumors, the questions. They’ve maybe been asking them themselves and slowly, ever so slowly, the pieces start coming together, and Jesus discerns it’s the right time to ask a question or two.

“Who do people say I am?” The answer given is largely positive and makes sense but it’s not quite there yet, because the crowd hasn’t spent as much time with Jesus as the disciples have.

So, Jesus presses them further “Who do you say I am?” Peter answers “You are the Messiah, the Christ?” Well done Peter, two steps forward, you’ve figured it out!

So, now Jesus begins to teach them the true nature of what it means to be Messiah. He discerns that they are ready to hear this and the way he will go.

We read these words earlier, “Jesus then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed, and after three days rise. Again he spoke plainly about this and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”

The Messiah must die. The way of Jesus is the way of the Cross, and so, Jesus is the Messiah who will give his life for others.

But this is too much for Peter, because Peter, as with all his contemporaries, expected the Messiah to be a king-like figure who would rid Israel of Roman occupation and bring Israel back to its glory days. So, how can Jesus speak of suffering? How can he speak of dying? If he dies he cannot be the true Messiah and so Peter rebukes Jesus. Peter seeks to impose his perspective, his agenda onto Jesus, because Peter’s concept of Jesus as Messiah is too narrow.

In the space of a few minutes Peter suddenly takes a backward step and, with the rebuke of Jesus, maybe he even takes a couple of steps back. What’s striking here is that it is Jesus who causes Peter to take those steps back. We might say, even, it is Jesus who undermines the faith of Peter. Yet Jesus does this so as to lead Peter to a higher and truer faith. There will come more steps forward but first Peter must step back so that Jesus can help Peter know the Messiah truly.

This has been the case for people across the centuries. Paul would one day say “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”

The secret of Jesus identity is not that he was the Messiah but what he came to do as the Messiah, and the way in which he would accomplish this. His way seemed weak, seemed foolish, to many, a backward step, an undermining of faith, but it is the way of Jesus.

Friends, have we recently experienced the backward step of faith ourselves? Maybe because of the pandemic. Where are you going? Maybe because of the changes coming for the Braes churches. Is this really what you want God?

Maybe it’s in a personal area of life. Don’t you love me God?

Maybe you feel like you’ve taken a backward step, that your faith has been undermined and it might raise the question of whether belief in this God, belief in Jesus as God, is foolish and weak.

I wonder, in the midst of your questions, in the midst of all you are wrestling with, are you willing to allow Jesus to change your perspective of Him? Are you willing to allow Him to undo the easy answers? Will you allow him to lead you to a higher and truer faith even if difficulties remain or lie ahead?

We too, like Peter, can begin to take steps forward once more, and to do so we simply need to keep journeying with Jesus. We keep giving him our time in prayer, through reading the scriptures, in worship, or solitude. We keep journeying the way of Jesus even amidst the dark night of the soul, and one day, one day light will come, hope will arise, pieces might fit together, not with easy answers, but with a higher and truer faith in Jesus the Messiah who suffered to give his life for you and for me.

In our reading today, Jesus sought not only to mature Peter’s faith, the occasion gave Jesus the opportunity to speak to the wider crowd as well, and help them see that He wasn’t calling them to a revolution against the Romans, no, His way, the way of the Cross was also for His disciples, for any who would follow Him and seek life through Him. Jesus said “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Forever whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

To follow Jesus and find life through Him, to belong to the way, is to give your life for Jesus. We might think that to follow Jesus is to give our life away for others, after all that’s what Jesus did, but this is not what Jesus says, he says “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Why does Jesus say this? Is he an egotistical Messiah?

Well Jesus taught, in line with the old testament, that the first commandment, the first, is to love the lord your God’s with all your being with every area of your life. The second is to love others. And when we get the order of our loves right then we are able to love rightly. As we love God’s and receive His love, we can grow then and truer and purer love for others. For as we learn to deny self, as we follow Jesus, then we are better placed to love others sacrificially.

Jesus is not seeking a minor adjustment to our lives. Here we are called to the way of Jesus, to the way of the Cross, but we cannot do that if we do not love Jesus and show that love by giving our lives for Him. What is more, do you know what can happen when we love others first or even seek to do good without reference to Jesus? Well, it can lead us to think we deserve God’s blessing. We might think to ourselves “God, I have loved others surely I deserve salvation?” or we might think to ourselves as well “God, I have loved others so why am I facing these difficult times?”

The way of Jesus is the way of the Cross. He is the Messiah who will give His life for others. To follow Him, to follow in the way of Jesus, is to give your life for Jesus. When we get this wrong we build a wrong perspective of Jesus, we put our agenda on Him and we turn Him into a genie God or a slot machine God, a God for the good times and a God who must make our life go our way.

Sometimes when we picture Jesus like this and then experience an event which forces us to take a backward step, we can become stuck in that backward step, I think, maybe because we understood Christianity as something other than loving Jesus first, something other than giving our lives for Him.

This has been a problem across the centuries such that in the 15th century a Christian writer named Thomas à Kempis said this:

“Jesus today has many who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who carry His cross. Plenty of people He finds to share His banquet, few to share His fast. Everyone desires to take part in His rejoicing, but few are willing to suffer anything for His sake. There are many that love Jesus as long as nothing runs counter to them, many that praise and bless Him as long as they receive comfort from Him but, should Jesus hide from them and leave them for a while to draw them into deeper relationship with Himself, they fall to complaining. Those who love Jesus for His own sake, not for the sake of their own comfort. Bless Him in time of trouble and heartache as much as when they are full of consolation.”

Brothers and sisters, we journey with Jesus towards Easter. The Jesus who is Messiah, who would suffer and die as Messiah, came to die as Messiah, and as people who belong to the way, Jesus bids us come follow Him, give our lives, our love to Him, that we might walk in His way and carry our cross in our day.

I pray it may be so,

Amen.

Rejoice

Preached on: Sunday 14th February 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-02-14 Message PPT slides full slides.
Bible references: Philippians 3:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

Come Holy Spirit, come reveal Jesus. Come Holy Spirit, lead us in the way of Jesus. Come Holy Spirit, with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name,

Amen

What I’m about to say by introduction will come as a surprise, but there are times when I envy Winnie the Pooh, so carefree, so focused on the moment, and in one of his more memorable lines he says “Life is a journey to be experienced, not a problem to be solved.” and yet, I know that I and probably we yearn for solutions to the complexities, to the hardships that come our way, for life is a journey, yet it’s full of unexpected twists and turns, of situations that break our hearts and which we’d rather not experience at all.
I wonder friends, I wonder if you’re facing a hard time at present? It may be in the context of Coronavirus and its impact on you. It could be something else, a situation, a difficulty, that is now part of your life’s story and the words of Pooh bear just seem empty, or they irk. So, is there another perspective? is there another place to go where we might find hope for the journey and strength amidst the questions?

Well, the early Church knew real hardship, maybe greater than we’ve ever known. Paul himself knew such trials, indeed, just before our passage today, he spoke of Epaphroditus whom he almost lost, which would have been sorrow upon sorrow for him, and then, in the change of topic in chapter three, Paul seems to anticipate difficulties ahead for the Philippians and so he seeks to safeguard them.

So, what is it he shares? What gives Paul such hope for the journey of life? How is it possible, even for this man locked in prison, facing the potential of execution, how can he keep speaking in chapter after chapter about rejoicing?

In our passage today Paul speaks of the trust and hope he has in Jesus. Here is a man who achieved and displayed high moral spiritual religious attainment, his rank, his status, his exemplary life were beyond compare and yet he came to realize that they were a false basis for any hope or confidence before God, even a hindrance. We often think that the Good News of God’s word about Jesus and His kingdom might be just for the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the sinners that we read about so often in the Gospels and yet, here is Paul, a model citizen, a model man, in need as well, and so, we see in his life, that we’re all in need, we’re all in need of this Good News, the Good News that says that we can have a right relationship with God, we can have righteousness through simple faith in Jesus, the Jesus that we read about in chapter 2, who is God in human form, the Jesus who gave up the perfection and glory of heaven to be born as a babe in squalor, to know the grief of losing a loved one, and then to be abandoned by His friends before being unjustly tried, mocked, tortured and crucified.

This is the Jesus that Paul now puts his trust, his confidence in. He says “… whatever gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” Those old attainments, they are worthless. Paul describes them like garbage and the Greek gets literally “dung”! Paul had been striving, Paul had been seeking to live the perfect life, Paul thought he might attain a right relationship with God through his own effort, and yet, he came to realize it was all folly and that instead God was offering him the gift of a fresh start, in a right relationship with Himself through faith, simple faith, and that astounded Paul!

It turned his world upside down! This wasn’t the way God was meant to behave. This wasn’t how God showed His power and holiness, surely? and yet it was, because in Jesus coming, and as a man, and his death on the cross, God showed His true power, His true holiness and the depth of His love for us.

Paul came to experience this for himself and says “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord.”

Knowing here is more than knowing about facts. To have knowledge of something, especially from a biblical perspective and to have knowledge of a person is to have an intimate personal relationship.

Paul came to know Jesus, to know God through simple faith, and this became the foundation of his life. His confidence was now in Jesus, both for this life and for the next. No longer was Paul putting his confidence in ritual, ethnicity, rank or tradition. It didn’t matter to what group he belonged and no longer did it matter about his rule-keeping, his zealousness for his faith, or his obedience to the law.

His confidence, his trust, his hope, was in Jesus, by having a relationship with Jesus.

Friends, have we come to that place yet? Have we each come to the place of finding, possessing and treasuring Jesus for ourselves?

Because he promises to be the rock upon which we can cling in the storms. He promises to be the good shepherd who journeys with us through the valley of the shadow of death. Because hard times do come. There are unexpected twists and turns but Jesus is still there. Jesus is ready to hold you fast no matter the smallness of your faith.

I had a friend at a past church and she shared one time that she’d wandered from the way of Jesus, but life had got hard and she knew she should turn back to Jesus, yet she struggled with doubt and was put off following Jesus by a number of things, and yet she started to pray “Jesus help me to want, to want to follow you” that’s how far she felt from Jesus. She didn’t even want to follow Him. That’s how little faith she had, and yet she prayed that prayer, and kept praying that prayer, and in time she found her way into a powerful and life-changing relationship with Jesus.

Friends, who is Jesus to you? Has He yet become a person you relate to directly and personally? or are you still trying to add something to simple faith in him? Because, when you add something to the Good News of Jesus you lose the Good News completely. The only thing that counts is faith in Jesus, and when you have that, truly, then you have a rock that is secure even in the storms, and so you have hope for the journey.

Yet Paul not only knew hope by trusting in Jesus, he was able to say again and again Rejoice in the Lord. But what does he mean by that? Because it’s really hard to rejoice in the midst of suffering and loss, especially when it’s a loved one that’s going through that?

A few things to note, I think, in passing,

Firstly, Paul knew sorrow and anxiety. Just read the end of chapter two, and faced even more when Epaphroditus was near death. So, Paul is not saying Christians should only feel joy. Furthermore he addresses a community of faith, not simply individuals, and so some will rejoice in joy and some, I think, will rejoice in sadness, because, here’s the thing, I think we’re conditioned to think that rejoicing must mean we can, must be happy, or that we can only rejoice when we’re happy. But to rejoice in the Lord could simply be to cling to the Lord in those hard times. To rejoice in the Lord can simply be to declare again and again the promises of God, and the hope we have in Him. Like the hope we have that there is a resurrection from the dead, or that Jesus is with us in the midst of the storm, and that our God will never leave us nor abandon us.

Friends, to rejoice in the Lord is to appreciate Jesus for who He is and what He has done. It is to find a measure, even a small measure, of satisfaction in the Lord, and yet, too often, I think we cultivate an ingratitude or, sadly, even apathy or coldness towards the Lord along the journey of life.

So, if your satisfaction with the Lord is low or missing, then it simply means you have more to learn about the Lord, you have more to appreciate of Jesus still.

And the Good News is that he always extends an invitation to know Him better.

Over the past few months, as I’ve walked the dog, I’ve been listening to the audiobook The Hiding Place. It’s the life story of Corey Ten Boom, that lady I mentioned last Remembrance Sunday. She lived through World War 2 in Holland and then was taken to a concentration camp where she lost her sister. It has to be one of the hardest books to read or listen to, and yet I was struck by individuals who, time and time again, found and kept hope and even a measure of rejoicing in the very darkest of journeys.

Friends, I don’t know all that you are facing just now. I know one message can’t speak to all situations yet, I do pray that like Paul, like Corey Ten Boom and her sister, might we too have hope through trust in Jesus, might we too have a steadfast rejoicing in Him as we get to know and appreciate Him more in each of our life’s journey.

May it be so, Amen

Becoming

Preached on: Sunday 31st January 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-01-31 Message PPT slides multi pages.
above).
Bible references: Philippians 2:12-18
Location: Brightons Parish Church

I’m sure, like me and many others, many of you will have had the experience of driving with your family through a spectacular awe-inspiring scenery only to have one of the kids call from the back of the car “Are we nearly there yet?” and sometimes I think that when it comes to the way we react with God, many of us can be like that; we can be so intent on reaching our destination that we miss out on the journey and the beauty of the journey.
And of course, sadly, our spiritual journeys often involve us listening to the culture around us, telling us how we should feel what we should think.
On our spiritual journeys, we’re often influenced by the world which is concerned about getting things done, about getting where we’re going, instead of making the most of the journey.

That’s why I think that we have such a big problem in the Church with people who say they want to be holy, be godly, be spiritual, be great husbands and fathers, or wives and mothers, be generous givers, be prudent spenders, be all these things, but,
at the same time, struggle to become what they say they want to be.
We’re a society that’s focused on “being” rather than on “becoming”.

There’s a good chance that some of you are sitting in your living rooms right now thinking to yourselves – I wish you’d get to the point! or Where are you going with this? because that’s what society has taught us to think. We have to focus on results, on outcomes.

I’m still pretty much at the beginning of my sermon but already some of you are wanting to know how it ends.
The problem is, life doesn’t work that way, life is not about that, it’s not only about being, it’s about becoming.

The difference between how you were when you were born, and how you are now, is not because someone told you that this is how you should be and you became, but rather, it’s a gradual process of becoming.

Who we are and, if we think of the Christian life when we refer to someone, converting to Christianity, we’re glad to say Oh so-and-so became a Christian yesterday which is a reason for celebration but,

we should also bear in mind that although he or she became a Christian yesterday they’re going to spend the rest of their lives becoming more Christlike,
continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God who works in you and to act according to His good purpose.

Christian life is not just about being it’s about becoming!

It’s quite a long time since I trained for the ministry – Scott might be able to tell us how things have changed since I trained back in the 1970s – but when we were taught about preaching, we were taught that sermons should last 20 minutes, they should have three points, and, if possible, you should use alliteration to illustrate your points because you’ll remember better. We were told that congregations couldn’t really concentrate for any longer than 20 minutes so, don’t go over the 20 minutes.

And there were all these rules about how to get from the start to the finish of your sermon in the right way.
And those rules, the three points, the preaching no longer than 20 minutes, alliteration, always accepted, I think we’re both told get to the point!

Those are the rules but, of course, life isn’t like that, and I’m sorry to say, today’s sermon’s not like that either
because we spend our lives out there in the world, in the world where TV and media define who you are.
That creates in each of us, even in Christians, it creates an impatience and a need for speed, and a need for instant results, and that moulds us into a position where we expect that kind of result in every area of life,

but the problem is, instant results might work in some areas, they might work in the office, they might work at Mcdonald’s but they don’t work in life.
Instant results don’t come in marriages, for example, don’t come in friendships, they don’t come in parenting. Instant results don’t come in building character, or in the spiritual life. Instant results don’t happen in any area of life that really matter.
In those areas, it’s going to take some time.

We all know what Jesus said in John 14 “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
See, it turns out that Jesus is not only the truth, he’s not only the guy with the teachings that we need to know in order to get to God, Jesus is also the way.
The way is not simply a set of rules to be followed that we can learn and then sit back and relax because we’ve found the way,
the way is not a destination, by definition, the way is the life of Jesus

The way Jesus lived – that’s the way,
and what happens when people are so used to instant results try to embrace the way of Jesus, we find that it can’t be done overnight, because that’s not a place or a principle or a set of beliefs.

The way of Jesus – it’s a life to be lived – it’s a person who has to be embraced, and learned from, and understood, and grown into relationship with.
So, what happens is the only thing that can possibly happen in that scenario ……
we get burdened by guilt or discouragement or frustration, because we’re not getting it immediately.
It’s not enough that we realize that Jesus is the way, we have to pay attention – this is going to sound as if I’m playing my words here – but we’re going we have to pay attention to the ways in which Jesus is the way.
I’m not trying to be clever with words here – we say that Jesus is the way to Heaven, if we confess our belief in Him, He will forgive us our sins and set us right with God. That’s what we’re told in the scriptures,
and when we say that, when we tell people that, then we are expressing one of the ways in which Jesus is the way.
It’s true, of course, it’s true that if we confess our sins Jesus will forgive us our sins, but that’s the beginning of a process. Jesus will also transform us from the inside out if we are following in His way.
If we say, read the bible and learn about Jesus, again we are expressing one of the ways in which Jesus is the way
because it’s true that we need to learn about God by studying His word but, more than learning about Him, we need to learn to know Him, we need to learn to become more like Him,

because the way is not about learning, it’s not about knowledge, it’s not about information, it’s about becoming more like Him.

So, I’m afraid, although Jesus is the way, he doesn’t fit neatly into a concise three-point sermon, that’s no longer than 20 minutes, and makes a joke at the beginning to keep you interested, and another joke halfway through to maintain your interest, and all that stuff

what I’m trying to say is, Jesus is the way, but not in a concise three-point sermon kind of way, not in using great stories and appealing to people’s need for entertainment, kind of way
it turns out that Jesus is the way and I think I’m getting it a little better now, I think I’m learning to be a bit more patient with myself, because, after all, Jesus is patient with me and if I’m hard on myself and if I’m critical of myself, then I’m pursuing the way in the wrong way.
Does that make sense?

If Jesus is the way then we must pursue the way in the correct way.
How many of us get frustrated with ourselves over our failures, and many of us beat ourselves up and condemn ourselves because we feel incapable of doing this, the spiritual things that we would like to do, because we don’t pray enough, we don’t go to Church enough, we don’t evangelize enough, we don’t read the Bible enough, we don’t pray enough.

Listen, the way of Jesus is a way of gracious kindness, the Jesus way is full of patience and rest, it’s a way that will give us rest for our souls. If, and in our pursuit to follow the way of Jesus, we find that we don’t have peace or rest, we find that we are agitated and frustrated, then, maybe, we need to ask ourselves if we are actually following Jesus in the right way.
Maybe, instead, we’re following Jesus in the world’s way or in our own way?
Jesus said in Matthew 11 28-30 “Come to me all you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you a rest. Take my yoke upon, let me teach you because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your soul. For my yoke is easy to bear and my burden is light.”
And that promised rest is not just for the end of the journey. Are we finding that rest in Christ here and now? Are we learning from Him in a way that lifts our spirits, a way that is gentle and encouraging? Are we experiencing Him, His infinite love that He has for us?

Because, if we’re not, and maybe the question we need to ask ourselves is –

Did Jesus mean that this peace and rest that He promised was only for at the end of the journey? Was Jesus saying come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden,
come to Me and live your life with Me, which will be a struggle, but after you die you’ll find rest that’s what Jesus said?
Of course not! Jesus said Let me teach you how to live.
In other words, Jesus is not only the way to Heaven, He’s the way to eternal life, right here and now. He says my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Folks! this can only mean that that we should be experiencing rest now, not just in the sweet by and by when we die,
but we should experience that rest that he offers, every day of our lives. If we are in harness with, if we are learning from Him to live in His way, which is easier. His burden is lighter. If we do that, we will find rest for our souls as we walk with Him and share His yoke. Side by side, learning the Jesus way.

So, what does that mean if we are not experiencing that kind of peace and rest in our spiritual life?

I think there’s only one thing we can conclude; that maybe we’re pursuing the way in the wrong way.

Is Jesus harsh? Is he a slave driver or a hard task master? Does he stand over us with a whip?

or Do we sometimes realize, when we look closely at the master with the whip,
that it’s our own face that we see and not the face of Jesus?

What I mean is, the way of guilt is not Jesus we have, is not Jesus, the way of endless self-doubt and self-blame and self-castigation and self-pity and self-condemnation.

They’re not the Jesus that should be self-evident when you see how many of those terms begin with self and explaining how humanity went wrong and got twisted up in sin.

Here’s what the apostle Paul writes he says, this is from The Message translation, he says “They traded the true God for a fake god, and worshiped the god they made instead of the God who made them.”
See, when we experience constant condemnation and fear and guilt, is that coming from Jesus? Or is it coming from the image of God that we’ve created ourselves? Or that our society has created because we’re trying to follow the way using the tools of this world?

We impose on ourselves the need for instant results and instant success and instant growth in the way of Jesus, and then when they don’t materialize right away, we cast blame on ourselves, we get angry with ourselves, we grow disappointed and frustrated, which are the very things that Jesus promises we can escape if we walk with Him.

Now, please don’t sit there thinking or feeling terrible because you’re sure I’m talking about you.

I’ve often said from the pulpit that I’m preaching at me as much as anyone else, but that’s exactly the kind of thing I’m referring to. As soon as we understand that we have something to learn or that there’s something that we’ve been doing that’s not leading us on the way, we feel terrible, we sink into discouragement

But, the way of Jesus is gentle and humble, the way of Jesus is patient, the way of Jesus is about becoming more than about being.

We can follow Jesus in a hurried, frantic, rushed, schizophrenic kind of way,
but the problem is that’s not the way of Jesus, and if we try to follow the way in that way, we never find a way!

Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the life, and so we follow the way which leads to truth, which leads to life.

If you’ve not yet decided to follow the Jesus way, I hope you will make that decision. To become a follower of Jesus.

It begins with understanding that your way, my way, is not sufficient and is a dead-end,
and that the sin problem is a problem because it keeps us serving ourselves and keeps us alienated from God, and, as we realize this, we confess to Christ in prayer. We state our desire to Him that He forgive our sins and look kindly upon us,
and the great thing is that’s exactly what he wants to do, and then we turn and we leave our way, and we get on His way.

But, he will teach us a new way of living which will gradually change the way we think and the way we act in every area of our lives.

So, if you’ve never done that before I invite you today to become a disciple of Jesus and walk with Him, with us, as we learn together to leave our old ways behind.
Something specific to suggest that you might do this week, next time you feel guilty or discouragement or excessive hurry or panic or any other negative emotion, just ask yourself Is this what God’s voice sounds like?

Because, I believe you’ll quickly realize, that it’s not, and then ask yourself What is the way of the easy yoke? What way does Jesus, who loves us and accepts us completely, what way does he want us to live? What does he want us to know at this moment?

In other words, ask yourself, Where is God in all this?

Here’s a hint: God is the one who always loves you, who always has patience with you, who never guilt-trips you, or hurries, or manipulates you; He never uses fear to motivate.

God is the one who is steady and calm in the middle of your panic. God is the one who always says this to you “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet, my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace removed.”

This is God’s eternal, unchanging stance towards you and towards me, regardless of our failures, regardless of our shortcomings and our mistakes in the way, and I encourage you to allow yourself to hear God’s voice this week, and don’t worry,

we won’t get there overnight but, the great thing is, God wants you to enjoy the journey, to look out and see Him in action in the world around you, and know that He’s there and that H’s enough.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, in spite of all that we hear and read about our Saviour Jesus in Your Word, in spite of His love. His life, His humility, His service; in spite of all that we sometimes fall and fall for, the world’s lies that You’re a hard and cruel taskmaster; in Jesus we have seen and heard of Your love, and patience, and goodness, and kindness.

May we walk with You in the way of Jesus, the way that leads to eternal, abundant life, the way that begins right here where we are, and leads us ever closer to You, and may we know that, even if we get sidetracked or turned away, You are patient, and kind, and will lead us back, and back to whatever or wherever we are on the journey.

Help us to know that You are eager to walk with us, whether we’re just starting out in the way of faith, or whether we’re closer to the end of our journey, You are still the same Good Shepherd who wants the best for his sheep.

Amen.

Advent: welcome and remembered

Preached on: Sunday 10th 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 20-12-13 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Matthew 1:12-17
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Matthew 1:12-17
Sunday 13th 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.

What are some of your favourite memories of Christmas? When you think back over the years, what comes to mind? I remember decorating the tree with mum and dad, as well as Christmas card deliveries with the Scout Post and hiding behind the sofa with one of my sisters for some strange reason that I don’t recall. Feel free to share in the Live Chat at home some of your own favourite Christmas memories.

In our Advent series so far, we’ve seen in the genealogy of Jesus that God welcomes us into His family – He welcomes one and all, indeed, all the nations, for none are written off; no matter our brokenness or personal story, the welcome of God is extended to each of us. And when we accept that welcome, when we choose to repent and find our identity in Jesus, then a journey with God begins, a journey whereby God rewrites our future, and weaves our story into His greater story, and as part of that He sends us out with the good news of Jesus.

But Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus is not the only genealogy within the New Testament. In fact, the gospel of Luke contains one as well. Yet, if you compare the two side by side, there are very significant differences because they each miss out people that the other writer… mentions. The issue is further complicated within Matthew’s genealogy, in that there are three sets of fourteen generations, but there’s no way that this accounts for the length of time inferred here. So, what’s going on? Are Matthew and Luke being forgetful? Is Matthew simply glossing over gaps in his memory?

Well, these are not new questions – people have asked them over many generations and commentators have helped us realise that there are two things to bear in mind. Firstly, when we read today, that ‘Jacob was the father of Joseph…’ (v16) we take it very literally, in a biological and genetic kind of way, which creates a problem when we read in Luke’s gospel that ‘Joseph, [was] the son of Heli…’ (4:23). So, is Joseph, Jacob or Heli’s son? The answer is – both.
Because in the Greek language that the New Testament was written, the phrase, ‘the father of…’ in Matthew’s gospel, can mean ‘the ancestor of…’ and it was a phrase used of relationships that were not genetic, such as between a rabbi and his disciple.

But something else is going on as well, and what Matthew is recording here is the line of succession to the royal throne, the ‘official’ genealogy. This would not necessarily pass from father to son, but would still remain within the family. Matthew is helping us see the legal claim that Jesus has to the throne, where as the genealogy within Luke, focuses on the physical family line. So, neither Matthew or Luke are having memory problems. Indeed, the individuals listed by Matthew in
that final portion, are largely unknown to us,…
there are no records of their lives within the Scriptures, as compared to most of the individuals listed before the exile. Yet, we know that certain cultures of the time, and particularly the Jews, were fastidious in keeping family records and so both Matthew and Luke are drawing upon this to fill in the gaps, so that a record, a memory of the genealogy of Jesus might be known and never lost.

We started this series with the aim of learning more about the identity of Jesus and so more of our identity as people who are in Christ, people who follow Him. So, how does what we now know, aid us? What we do we learn here of the identity of Jesus and of ourselves?

Well, I think our portion of Scripture today is a call to remember, to remember that God has revealed Himself… in history, that the Christian faith is a historical faith, rooted in real people and real acts of God within history. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Colossae and said: ‘The Son is the image of the invisible God…For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him…’ (Colossians 1:15, 19)

Jesus is more than just a good teacher, or an above average human being; He’s even more than simply a legal and physical descendant of Abraham and David. Jesus is, in fact, God in the flesh and such a claim is no mere thing because the claim of Scripture, the claim of the Christian faith, is that Jesus is unique and uniquely qualified to fulfil the promises made to Abraham and to David because He is God in the flesh, appearing in history in Jesus. We are called to remember this and in our remembering to trust.
Because in our day of fake news and relative truth, as well as amidst the struggles of life, there is so much which can undermine our trust in Jesus, there is so much which can undermine the uniqueness of Jesus and make Him seem like a myth or just some wishful thought. But we are to remember, to remember that the God of all creation came in human form, in the person of Jesus, and stepped into history that we might know Him and trust Him, both in this life and for the life to come.

I wonder, friends, do you need to remember this? Is your faith wavering? Has it been undermined this past year? Are you facing a future or a decision, and in the midst of facing it, do you need to remember the truth, the reality, that God stepped into history, through Jesus, so that you could have a relationship with God, today and forever?
Maybe God is calling you to remember, to remember what He done in the past, in Jesus, and so to trust Him now for what lies ahead.

There is also something else we can take away from this portion of the genealogy of Jesus. Not only are we to remember, but God remembers as well. In our passage today, there is, as I said, a list of names which we know very little about – most of these individuals are unknown, largely forgotten, lost in the sands of time. But they are remembered by God. He chose to have these names written down in the Scriptures. These people are not unfamiliar to Him, they are not overlooked by Him. Instead, they are known, they are seen, they are remembered by God.

This is something that also comes across in other parts of the genealogy, for as we saw in earlier weeks, within the family line of Jesus are a number of foreigners and most of them are women. Their names are Rahab, Tamar, Ruth and Bathsheba, and it’s very unusual to see the names of women listed in a genealogy from this period of time. It would have been startling to people of the day, for in both Greek and Jewish culture a woman had no legal rights, yet this is a legal record. What is more, women were often seen more like a thing, than a person, and a Jewish man would thank God each day that he had not been created a slave, a Gentile or a woman – and yet there are four such women listed in the genealogy of Jesus, because God sees, He knows, He remembers.

I wonder, do you need to hear this about God today: that He sees you, He knows you intimately, and He has not, and will never, forget you. In all that you are facing, He has not taken His eye off of you and you haven’t slipped His mind.

And what if you, or a loved one, are affected by one of the many conditions that affect memory – either, your memory or theirs? What does it mean that God remembers? Well, in the midst of changes and losses which are so painful, and when it seems that our, or their, sense of self – their identity – as we have known it, is literally vanishing before our eyes, to know that God remembers is to know that He holds the memory of our true self in Him, and so we will never, ever, be forgotten and one day our true selves will be restored.
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Brothers and sisters, God sees you, He knows you and He will always, always, remember you. In the midst of whatever you may be facing, you are not forgotten, for you and all this world, are so dear to Him that He came as a babe at Christmas, entering into history, that we might know His welcome into His family, the family of Jesus.

I pray that this season of Advent will not only be a time to recall our fond memories of Christmas, but to remember God and His welcome shown in Jesus, in whom we are called to place our trust, for He is God in the flesh, and He sees you, remembers you and loves you. May it be so. Amen.