I yearn for the Kingdom (Psalm 72 Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 2nd June 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Psalm 72
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Tuesday Evening Sermon – 2nd June 2020

So Psalm 72, this royal sum which speaks of the king and the kingdom and is a prayer that people would have prayed for hundreds of years. As we saw on Sunday morning, there is so much in this Psalm which links the king and God and God’s kingdom so closely together, so entwined together and really what we’re seeing here is that we’re to understand that through the king of Israel God’s rule would be seen.

And that comes across in a number of different verses. We could start with verse 1 for example, there we read of this prayer: ‘Endow the king with your justice, O God, with your righteousness.’ The prayer is not simply for the king to be just or to be good, but to have God’s justice, God’s righteousness.

That’s further developed with him to judge God’s people in verse 2 and then we see later in the Psalm things that you just can’t really imagine for a purely human king. For example verse 5: ‘May he endure as long as the son as long as the moon through all generations. ‘ she Sun and the moon obviously not understood quite as we understand them in our scientific age, but seen us as signs of things which that lasts forever and So asking this prayer that the King would endure for as long as these bodies in the sky. Yet, how can this be for a human king? It boggles the mind

And what is more there’s that prayer further down in verse 8 for him to rule ‘To the ends of the earth’; indeed for ‘all nations’ in verse 11 ‘to serve Him’. There’s this idea here that the kingdom is going to extend and whilst they didn’t know the full extent of the world and their day but as far as they knew they imagined the king ruling that for and further to the whole. Yet what human king ever had yet, even in the great nations of the time? And later as Israel was ruled by other powers – to still hold this prayer to pray this prayer and imagine and pray for a king that that rules beyond just the land of Israel, beyond even the peak of Israel’s history with David and Solomon. to yearn for him to rule even further? No human king in Israel’s time managed such a thing.

And then if we go further down again to verse 17, there is the prayer that his name would ‘endure for ever’. But what’s striking is that just a few verses later it’s ‘praise be to God’s glorious name for ever’ and if you look at the Psalms, it’s the name of God that is the focus of praise – not the Kings name. Yet as we saw in verse 17, ‘May his name endure for ever’ – may the name of the King endure forever. And connected in the same verse of 19 is this idea that ‘may the whole earth be filled with his glory’ and we saw earlier about the nations, of his the kingdom extending to all nations, that the whole earth be filled with his glory – again this entwining of God and the king in God’s kingdom together.

It really starts to raise the expectation that much more than just some ordinary king is is yearned for or expected. There starts to be nurtured in Israel this expectation of one who will come, a king who will come, who would be much more than just a human king – there has to be a messiah, someone special, set apart, anointed in some way beyond what they can comprehend, to fulfil this prayer.

Now that the seeds of it, as we know from Samuel, were sown in David’s time, that David was promised by God in second Samuel chapter seven. God said to David that he would establish a house for David and that God would raise up David’s offspring to succeed him, that God would establish his kingdom and that Kingdom the throne of his kingdom would be established for ever. And what is more God said ‘I will be his father and he shall be my son’. The seeds of it are sown in David’s time and it develops over time, greater clarity comes such that in the time of Isaiah later on and a portion that we would often read more at Christmas time than in the heat of this summer we see in Isaiah chapter 11 how this prophecy developed. And so we read there in Isaiah
11…

Friends, there develop that expectation that one would come a messiah, an anointed king, who would be of the Lion of David, who would inherit the promises made to Abraham, promises from Genesis 12…

And what do we see in our Psalm, we see this idea that the nations will be blessed through the king. But the king is only blessed because God’s blessing is upon him. And so it’s really from God and so God is entwined with the king here and God’s kingdom with the king – it’s all entwined in the rule of God.

And so we know, now looking back, it can never just be a human king – yes, he would be of the line of David, but there had to be something more to him to bring about what Isaiah spoke about of a kingdom of a world where what is natural is completely turned on it’s head, and things changed so radically and powerfully.

And so people had to keep praying for the kingdom of God to come, for one to come, the Messiah to come and then one day Jesus came, proclaiming that the kingdom of God was near, it was breaking in with him to this world and everything was going to change. The prophecies of Isaiah would begin to come true, the prayers of God’s people like in Psalm 72 were to begin to come true. And of course who did Jesus minister most? He ministered most to the poor and needy, giving them life and wholeness beyond what they could ever imagine. And we know from the letters to the church, from the Apostle Paul in particular, but elsewhere as well, Paul writes in Ephesians chapter 1 that God had a plan and it was put into effect when the times had reached their fulfilment o bring unity of all things in heaven and on earth under Jesus under the Christ, the Messiah – and so when the time was right he came.

Friends only Jesus, only Jesus could be this king and only because of the cross and his resurrection. It was he who conquered death, the first to rise from the dead to prove that he had conquered death. Friends he is King and he now sits at the right hand of God reigning there, given the Spirit to pour out on his people his kingdom might be extended. He sits in the position of power and authority at God’s right hand even now because he conquered, he was victorious, he was proven to be the promised king and messiah.

So, what does this mean then for us? Well a great deal clearly. One of the things that I’ve been pondering recently and I spent some time during my week off reading about it was about ‘discipleship’ – about how do we go about seeking ways to disciple others, to invite them in, to equip them and encourage them as disciples of Jesus? And it’s got me thinking as I read this Psalm alongside what I was reading there it’s got me clearly thinking of Matthew 28 and from Jesus the Great Commission to the disciples to ‘go to all the ends of the earth’ to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey him.

And it gets me thinking that we’re to be part of how this kingdom extends. Yes we’re to pray, to pray that God’s kingdom would come and will come more to that and a few moments. But we also have a part to play – disciple making is not just going to happen; God has no plan B. We are it friends, the church, we are called to go make disciples and that is principally how Jesus imagines his kingdom to grow. As we see in Acts chapter one, that they are to be his witnesses in Jerusalem Samaria Judea and to all the ends of the earth, just like our psalm.

But the witnessing was more than just being a body of people in a place. It was more than just loving their neighbour. It was more than gathering for worship on a Sunday. It was active disciple making because by making disciples the world starts to change. The things, the facets, of God’s kingdom start to come about, which is why I said on Sunday do we want to see hopelessness decrease? Do we want to see isolation decrease? Do we want to see a crime decrease? So many things happen and change and can only change really when the kingdom of God comes.

We might think of the stories of revival, I particularly think of the Welsh revival and I remember reading that in the Welsh revival they actually had to ask the police officers to stop doing their jobs effectively because there was no one in the jails, there was no one in the cells, because God’s Spirit came, brought revival and people became disciples of Jesus, the kingdom of God came in their midst and not only did people come to faith but lives changed.

There was that question from Sunday: do you want to see our world become a better place? Then pray for the kingdom of God to come. Because we have a king who has a glorious Kingdom and he wants it to come in our world. He wants it to extend to the ends of the earth and principally that happens as his church, you and I, share our faith, meet Jesus and see people become disciples.

Now how we do that we all need to learn. I need to learn as well. Because no one really discipled me, it has mostly been guesswork and trial and error and even now it’s trial and error and guesswork because part of my training in the Church of Scotland was not actually how to go and make disciples, which tells you an awful lot about the Church of Scotland frankly. But there are people, there are ways, to learn how to disciple others and if we want to see the kingdom of God come in our parish, in the Braes area and our nation and world, then we need to learn how to go and make disciples.

You’ll be hearing about later this week in the notices, probably in an email too, you’re going to be hear about an invitation from the Strategy Group, which is a group within the Kirk Session, they’ve been looking and clarifying what are our purpose and values for Brightons Parish Church and what is there in our DNA already? What is there in the Scriptures? And trying to bring some clarity on that because, well, it’s quite hard to carry around a whole Bible with you. And so we need some touch-stones, we need some kind of foundation clarity on things, and the invitation is going to be there for you to join in some focus groups that the strategy group are doing it and the ‘purpose’ includes a clear focus on this idea of discipleship because of this teaching that is there throughout the Scriptures: the God as our King, Jesus is the promised King, He proved it, and he has a kingdom and he wants that kingdom to extend to the ends of the earth.
But principally how he does that is through his church, His church going and making disciples.

So look out for that email, look out for the notice, read it, get involved in what we’re asking as we’d love as many people to get involved to help bring clarity to our purpose and our values as Brightons Church in this new season of our life, to bring clarity to what our strategy might be in the future.

But going back to our Psalm, one of the things that I picked up in the commentaries I was reading was the structure of the Psalm and what’s very striking is that the Psalm begins with God’s justice, and righteousness, and particular righteousness is repeated several times verse 1 verse 2 verse 3 and then come things like compassion for God’s afflicted people, for the children of the needy, then comes things like Shalom, peace, which we’ll look at in a moment – the goodness, the prosperity of the nation and the kingdom and to the world.

But first comes righteousness, and this wasn’t an idea that was unknown to God’s people, the Mosaic law spoke of it as well that, first of all, was righteousness, even before compassion there was to be no favouritism to poor or rich. Righteousness was to come first and this was because It was core to who God is.

Psalm ninety seven says: ‘clouds and thick darkness around him, righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.’ They were key to who God was/is, and so they were key to his kingdom. And so there’s this prayer, for the King to have this justice and righteousness from God, from these the rest might flow, and so for example you see in Isaiah that righteousness is the soil, the atmosphere, the climate within which peace can flourish and he same is true in the Psalm.

And it’s unhelpful in the NIV actually that in verse 3 it says ‘may the mountains bring prosperity to the people’ and an unhelpful choice of word there because if you go back to the Hebrew, the word is Shalom, which would normally be classified as peace. And so maybe the translators are trying to get away from ‘peace’ because we think of peace as a lack of conflict, of a peace of soul like calmness and so I can see what they’re trying to do. But prosperity just doesn’t quite catch it, and maybe they’re not quite ready yet maybe to go with a word like wholeness, which I think would catch much more of the meaning of Shalom. It’s used by many commentators: wholeness or well-being, and this is a wholeness or well-being that’s multidimensional.

I quoted in a sermon somewhere in the last year or so about Tim Keller. He has a really helpful article in the NIV Study Bible and you can get on the NIV Study Bible website, it has a really helpful article about Shalom and he says Shalom is ‘multidimensional – it’s complete well-being, physical, psychological, social and spiritual. It flows from all of one’s relationships being put right with God, with and in one’s self, and with others.’

And so this idea of Shalom is so rich and wide and varied and deep. It’s much more than peace, it’s much more than prosperity and it’s not just spiritual. We often equate with this peace with being just spiritual but it’s more than that, but the spiritual is core to it because from that spiritual can come the rest. From that righteousness, that right relationship with God, that walking in his ways, can come peace, can come compassion for the needy. It’s interesting that the needy are spoken of a couple of times, ‘to save the children of the needy, in verse 4, ‘to save the needy from death’ verse thirteen, and what we have to remember is that in the wisdom literature in particular death generally was not seen as just happening and often death would come about through your choice. Obviously that’s not always the case but saving the needy from death, this way of life that they were maybe trapped in because of the injustice around them, and so this idea that the most defenceless, those most unable to protect themselves, had to be helped, had to be protected, that this was part of the king’s role and calling, and so part of his kingdom and part of what he expects of his subjects, you and I as well.

And so, we are reminded that they are ‘precious’ verse 14, those who suffer from oppression and violence, those who are needy and weak, that ‘precious is their blood’ or is their life to him. And we know this of our Saviour, we know he speaks of His father, whom he represents on earth, Jesus speaks of the Father saying he knows how many hairs upon our head, he speaks of a Father who so loves us that he gives his Son for this world, for you and I, for the weak the oppressed, the needy.

But first comes that righteousness and why I’m kind of labouring this point is that if we are going to change our way of life, if we are going to give ourselves for the purposes of God, if we are even going to learn what way is, then we need that righteousness – not just that right relationship with God, but to train us in his way of righteousness, to train us in his ways, to have his heart.

And to have that, as 2nd Timothy 3:16 says, teaching, training, maturing us in righteousness – that we need God to help us see the ways that we’re just not seeing what he is about, we’re just not seeing his priorities, we need to be taught and rebuked and we need to be corrected and trained in his ways – not just to be a nice person but to love with a radical, dangerous, even zealous love we might say.

And I think part of why this is on my heart just now is another book I was reading in my week off, and I’ve been reading it for a while, is a book I was recommended, that I’ve heard many people speak of it, and a number of people follow the author online.

Wow, it’s an incredible book, emotionally charged because of the topic but what he writes, and he was a missionary so he’s steeped in the scriptures, but his understanding of God’s ways, of His righteousness is second to none, particularly in this subject matter and so I’ll finally give you the name and title, it’s Krish Kandiah, and his book is ‘Home for Good: making a difference for children in need’ and he’s writing particularly about fostering and adoption, in particular in the UK. He is a British Christian and he is part of a campaign called ‘Home for Good’ which is seeking to encourage the church to consider how it might support and get involved with adoption and fostering. There’s so much in the book that that really struck me, but I guess one of the things that’s kind of stuck with me a little bit is that we often look for ways, I guess in our context: how can we show the world that we care, that Jesus makes a difference? What is the issue of our time that can speak to our nation, can be prophetic to them, can help them see the ways of God and the love of God? And Krish makes a
very convincing case for adoption and fostering to be that way and he said something that was really profound and striking for me. He said that if one family or one individual in every church in the UK was to get involved in adoption or fostering and be supported by their church family then the church alone could eradicate the need of and the lack of fostering homes and adoption homes in the UK. And I wondered, does that stack up? And so I know from Falkirk Council that they need something like forty five fostering places and then for Falkirk Presbytery alone of the Church of Scotland there are 35 churches. There must be at least another ten in the Falkirk area, we’ve got a couple just up the road in Madison for example. So easily the church could meet that need. So I’m just throwing it out there in case it speaks to someone and because as you as you read the Psalms and God’s ways, meeting the needs of the needy, who could be more ‘needy’ verse 4 ‘saving the children of the needy’ as Krish clearly paints in this book – these desperately needy children and maybe part of how the kingdom comes in our time is that disciples like you and I allow God’s Spirit to convict us, to challenger us, to rebuke us, even correct us, to train us in righteousness and the ways of God that we might take that zealous, dangerous, risky step of faith and open our homes to the children who are desperately in need. I wonder if that’s how the justice and righteousness of God in our time comes to fruition and the kingdom is extended – not to convert these children, to love them. We don’t turn them into a project, but we love them, and we evidence that God is on the move.

But you know, this is all quite challenging. How do we see this come about? How do we have the strength, the courage, to take such steps? How do we see God’s kingdom come through us? Well on Sunday we spoke about praying ‘thy kingdom come’ but Sunday was also Pentecost, and I just didn’t have the time or the space to weave in a whole other thread, so forgive me that I missed an incredibly important aspect of how the kingdom comes. But I wanted to focus on Sunday on the kingdom, on praying for the kingdom.

But as we pray the Lord’s Prayer, as we pray thy kingdom come, we open ourselves up to the influence of the Spirit – for him to identify the ways that we need to grow and change and get to know God better, and so often the church entwines praying for the kingdom with praying for the coming of the Spirit. Because it’s only going to be by the Spirit working in us and through us that that we will see the kingdom come. We have to break this idea in the Western Church and especially I’m afraid in the Church of Scotland, that if we somehow have the resources, that if were just clever enough or creative enough or strategic enough or have good enough management or enough money or a good enough building that it’s all going to fall into place. Because I don’t know about you, but I’m not very good at changing people’s hearts, I’m not really very good at changing people’s minds, and I’m not very good at making people become less of a sinner. I don’t know how you are, I just know that I’m not very good at it and that’s because these things are the work of God’s Spirit. And so we need to be praying thy kingdom come and come Holy Spirit upon us, upon our area, upon our nation because we can’t do it in our own strength – as the prophet Zechariah reminds us (chapter 4 verse 6) that is not by our strength not by our own might but by the Spirit that God’s kingdom comes.

One of my favourite letters about the Spirit is Ephesians because Paul speaks of the Spirit there so much and so if you’re wanting ideas of things to be praying about in relation to the Spirit go there. For I realise the Spirit is not the person of God that we feel most comfortable with. God the Father, yes, Jesus, sure, but with the Spirit we often feel like, “Who and what does he do?” So often we call him an “it” which really we shouldn’t because it sounds like we’re just making the Spirit into a force like in Star Wars but the Spirit is a person, a “he”.

Paul, who is so steeped in God’s ways, has as these prayers laced throughout the verses of, such as Ephesians 1 verse 17: that ‘the Spirit of wisdom and revelation would be given so that you may know God better’, get to know our Heavenly Father better. Or what about in chapter 3? Praying for the Spirit to be given so we would have strength through his power, the power of the Spirit, ‘in our inner being so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith’: that he would be a home in our inner person, in our hearts and our souls and our minds and so he would rule there and lead us in his ways of righteousness that bring His compassion, that bring his justice his righteousness and so His kingdom would come in our midst and through our lives.

Understandably then Paul speaks in chapter five verse 18 that we are not to get drunk on wine not to get drunk in alcohol not to give way to that, but to ‘be filled with the Spirit’ – we are to keep being filled with the Spirit, asking to be filled with the Spirit: “God fill me with your Spirit so that your kingdom would come, that I might know you better, that I may embody the love of Jesus, that I may embody his justice and his righteousness that compassion would flow, that justice would flow, that your wholeness would come in my life and through my life to others”.

Again thinking about the work of the Strategy Group we have very deliberately in the four values that we’re beginning to test and suggest, everyone mentions the Spirit because of this, because it’s not feasible by us in our own strength, or by our own resources. And it’s not even just by having His Word, because his word is alive and active because of the Spirit, breathing it to being in the first place through the various writers and it is the Spirit that makes it alive and active and sharper than any sword, piercing to the very core of our being – the Spirit upon the Word and through the people of God to bring the righteousness, to bring the kingdom, of God in our lives, in our midst, that the blessing of God, the wholeness of God may come to our parish, to our nation, to you and I, to our families and friends.

My friends, do you long for this? Then pray thy kingdom come, come Holy Spirit. So, why don’t we take some time to do that just know? Let us pray.

I yearn for the Kingdom (Psalm 72)

Preached on: Sunday 31st May 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 20-05-31-Message-PowerPoint.
Bible references: Psalm 72
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Psalm 72 (International Children’s Bible)
Sunday 31st May 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.

Boys and girls – what am I saying?
(SIGN START OF LORD’S PRAYER)
Do you know? Could you remember? It was the start of the prayer Jesus taught us, we prayed it today:
‘Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name,
Your kingdom come…’
(Matthew 6:9-10)

We say this prayer every Sunday and hopefully you’re starting to learn both the prayer and the sign language so that you can join in and say it with us.
Now, Jesus wasn’t the first person to encourage us to pray for God’s Kingdom to come into the world because about one thousand years before Jesus this psalm was written. Our psalm today is one example of a prayer where God’s people prayed for God’s Kingdom to come, and they probably prayed it when a new king of Israel started to reign as king. It might have first been used when Solomon was starting out as king and the people would have prayed this psalm, asking, hoping that Solomon would be a good king and receive from God, God’s justice and righteousness, God’s goodness, so that God’s Kingdom would be seen on the earth. I wonder, can you remember any other names of kings in Israel? I’ll give you 30 seconds to see what you can come up with.
(PAUSE)

So, I wonder what names you remembered – if you want, you can share them in the live chat just now. You might have said good kings like David or Josiah. Or, you might have said some bad kings, like Jeroboam or Ahab. But even the good kings were not perfect, not as perfect as what the people prayed for in this psalm. Also, none of the kings stayed as ‘king’ for ever, and none of them reigned over as big an area as the people prayed for – they prayed for all the nations to be blessed because of the king (v17), for they wanted everyone to know God’s justice, protection, and peace, or we might say wholeness. And so, the people had to keep praying this prayer, until one day someone very special came – who do you think this was boys and girls? Who was this special person? Shout it out loud of me! (PAUSE)
That’s right – it was Jesus. When Jesus had grown up to become a man and started going around teaching people about God, He said this:
‘The time has come…The kingdom of God has come near.
Repent and believe the good news!’ (Mark 1:15)

Jesus was saying, that because He had come to earth, then the Kingdom of God was breaking into the world and starting to change the world. Another time Jesus said:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
(Luke 4:18-21)

As Jesus started going around helping people, healing people, teaching people, the kingdom of God started to come into people’s lives and change their lives. That prayer, which God’s people had been praying for hundreds of years, was coming true through Jesus, because Jesus is the perfect King, the King of God’s Kingdom, and so people started to experience God’s justice and righteousness; they started to experience God’s peace, His shalom, the gift of wholeness; the people knew that what Jesus said of Himself was true: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…’ (Matthew 11:28) or another time He said, ‘…whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ (John 4:14)
The hopes of that psalm were coming true in Jesus… because Jesus was God’s promised King, the King the people had been praying and waiting for, the King through whom God’s Kingdom would come upon the earth and change people’s lives.

So, why did Jesus include a line in His prayer, which says, ‘Your Kingdom come’? I’ll give you 30 seconds to think or talk about that. (PAUSE)

Again, if you want to, you can share your ideas in the live chat just now because there’s probably lots of things we could say. But I wonder if part of the reason is that Jesus wanted to shape our agenda, because what you care about, you pray about. I wonder, what do we pray about?
How high up the agenda is God’s Kingdom in our prayer life?
Or, do we simply jump into ‘give me my daily bread’…
and rarely get past that? Not that God doesn’t care for our daily bread, He told us to pray about it after all. But, do you want to see this world get better? Do you? Do you want to see justice reign and love for neighbour to grow? Then pray for God’s Kingdom to come. Do you want to see the poor treated right and to know life in your own soul and mind and body? Then pray for God’s Kingdom to come. Do you want to see crime and addictions and isolation and hopelessness decrease? Then pray for the Kingdom of God to come. Maybe Jesus includes that line, and puts it so near the top, so as to challenge us, to recalibrate our priorities, and to call us to seek His Kingdom and pray for His Kingdom, because it is the coming of His Kingdom into this world and into our individual lives that will bring the wholeness, the blessing, which our psalm spoke of.
So, in these difficult days, are we praying for God’s Kingdom to come? Are we praying for light to come into darkness, and for love to come where people are lonely? Are we praying for creativity and understanding in the issue of a vaccination? This too is to pray for God’s Kingdom to come.

And what about the situation here in the Braes area, as we face a future with 2 ministers instead of 5 – how high up our agenda is the Kingdom of God? Or is our focus more on our little area, our stuff, our buildings, our reputation, our minister, our comfort, our needs? Or can we pray, ‘Your Kingdom come’? Because if we pray this, then our focus may move from ourselves and to the wider concerns of God’s Kingdom, through which blessing and wholeness will come to our area and beyond.
There is much more to say, and I’ll share some of that in our Tuesday Evening Sermon, so join me then, if you’re able or get the recording later in the week.

But let us be a people who pray, ‘Thy Kingdom come’, not simply by rote, not simply because of tradition, but because our hearts yearn for the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus to come in our midst, that the people in our parishes, in our workplaces, in our families and circle of friends, might experience in increasing measure the kingdom of God, and so know with certainty that one day they will experience the fullness of God’s kingdom when Jesus returns and we see Him face to face.

Until that day, we pray, Thy Kingdom come. May it be so.
Amen.

Kingdom identity (Haggai 2:20-23)

Preached on: Sunday 17th 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 19-11-17-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: Haggai 2:20-23; John 17:20-26
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Haggai 2:20-23; John 17:20-26
Sunday 17th November 2019
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.

Have you seen that programme on the BBC: ‘who do you think you are?’ I’m not sure it’s still running now-a-days, but you can see a few episodes on BBC iPlayer and sometimes on replays. The basic premise of the show is that various celebrities are helped to explore their ancestry, often discovering secrets and surprises within their family tree. One of the episodes I watched included Billy Connelly, the comedian, and he found out that his great grandmother was baptised in India, even though he thought their background was of Irish immigrants who came to Glasgow for work…
It came as a real surprise to Connelly, to find this out about his family. Knowing the truth about his background reshaped his story, and reshaped his self-understanding, his identity.

That question of ‘who do you think you are?’ is a crucial one for anyone to engage with and understand, because our identity has an effect upon us that sometimes we are unaware of. To have a poor understanding of ourselves can be deeply detrimental to our choices, our aspirations, even our health, and to our peace and joy.

This coming Wednesday is the final week of our Alpha course here at Brightons and it has been a great course – with more folks attending than in previous years and everyone growing in their faith, whether they be longtime church members…
or someone new and simply exploring what it means for their life. If you haven’t done Alpha already then I encourage you to think about doing it next year.

One of the most powerful aspects of the course is that the Alpha videos include many stories of how the Christian faith and knowing Jesus has changed people’s lives, often bringing great healing for these people. I’d like to play a video of one of those stories for you just now.
(PLAY VIDEO)

Here is an educated, articulate, professional young woman, and she was so very broken. She is typical of us all really, whether inside or outside the church because we all have brokenness within us, and often that
brokenness is tied to our identity,…
often a misplaced, unhealthy, even negative identity, and that broken identity can feel like a prison, a prison we so desperately want to be free of.

So, how would you define yourself? What is the voice that goes around in your head, describing your identity? Is it ‘failure’, ‘untrustworthy’, ‘never good enough’, ‘ugly’, ‘unimportant’? The list of possibilities is endless, but to be aware of that inner voice in our heads, and to bring it into God’s light is so crucial for us individually, but also for us corporately.

The question, ‘who do you think you are?’, was also relevant in Haggai’s time – for both the people and their leader Zerubbabel.

In previous weeks, we’ve covered God’s summons to the people to rebuild the temple, and to show fidelity to His commands. Throughout there has been this underlying question: who do you think you are? How do you define yourself, O Israel?

We have followed some of their journey, some of their rediscovery, their reawakening of their identity as the people of God, and as such, the need to give of themselves to His purposes and obey His commands. As the people have allowed their identity to be shaped by God’s word through His prophet Haggai, they have come into a new season as the people of God, and they are now on the brink of knowing God’s blessing like they have never known it before. God has been asking them: are you really my people? Are you willing to show that…
in how you live and in what you give yourselves to? Are you focused on your lives, or will you adopt an identity focused upon my kingdom?

In today’s reading, we see that Haggai is sent with a second message on the very same day that he gave that previous word of encouragement. This time, however, the message is to Zerubbabel, to their political leader, titled the ‘governor of Judah’ in verse 21.

Again, the message here is forward looking – looking ahead to what God is going to do amongst the nations and for the people. So, God’s promise to ‘bless’ in verse 19, is also connected to this portion: for the previous promise of blessing upon the harvest…
and of resources for the temple, well that was simply a kind of firstfruits by God, for now God adds that a far greater blessing is to come.

At the heart of what God says here to Zerubbabel is a question of identity for him, and through him to the wider people: who are you Zerubbabel? Are you simply the governor of Judah, or is there something else to you?
What is it that defines you?

Because in verse 23 the Lord packs in five very key phrases which begin a monumental change for Zerubbabel and for the people. It might not seem
immediately obvious but let me walk us through this verse.

We read this morning: ‘“On that day,” declares the Lord
Almighty.’
It begins, ‘on that day’, and this is prophetic language used by all the prophets to point beyond the immediate time to a future time when God will do something significant, when His kingdom will break into our world in even greater measure than we currently see it in Haggai’s time. So, what we read previously in verses 21-22, should be seen in that context – the shaking of the universe, the overthrowing of human power – this is not going to come immediately, but is part of God’s larger purposes and plans, yet it begins now.

For we reed here in verse 23: “I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel…and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,” declares the Lord Almighty.’

Here four key phrases, as I’ve highlighted, all point towards Zerubbabel playing a part in God’s larger plans and purposes. The language used here is all Messianic language, for in many places in the Old Testament these same words or phrases are used. For example…

‘I will take you’ – echoes what God said to David: ‘“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.”’ (2 Sam. 7:8)

These words were used by God to remind David of the journey taken and they lie within 2nd Samuel at the point where God promises to David an eternal throne and someone to sit upon that throne,…

someone who will be ‘a son of God’, and that promised King would become known as the Messiah.

Similarly, ‘my servant’ became a well-known title for the Messiah, such as in Ezekiel’s prophecy: ‘I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd.’ (Ezek. 34:23) What’s interesting here is that Ezekiel is speaking this hundreds of years after the death of David, so it’s clearly not the original David being referred to, but again that promise to have someone sit on David’s throne, a King, and he will be the servant of God.

At the end of verse 23 we read the words ‘I have chosen you’, and again, this echoes what God said of His servant, the promised Messiah, for we reed in Isaiah:
‘Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.’
(Isaiah 42:1)

Again, Messianic overtones. But in the middle of what God says through Haggai are these words:
‘…my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel…I will make you like my signet ring…’ (Haggai 2:23)

We need to begin with the reference to a ‘signet ring’. As many of us will know, it was a sign of authority. It would be worn by the king, engraved with the king’s seal, and was used to endorse all official documents…
It was so precious that it was personally guarded by the king, who would wear it and keep it with him at all times.

Now, by referencing this picture, the Lord through Haggai is alluding to an earlier prophetic message given to the line of David in Jeremiah, where we reed:
‘‘As surely as I live,’ declares the Lord, ‘even if you, Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, were a signet ring on my right hand, I would still pull you off…Record this man as if childless, a man who will not prosper in his lifetime, for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule any more in Judah.’ (Jeremiah 22:24, 30)

In this prophecy, given 80 years before the coming of
Zerubbabel, God is saying that He is rejecting…
King Jehoiachin because of his idolatry; that the signet ring, the seal of the office of the Davidic King, was stripped from Jehoiachin and furthermore, in declaring Jehoiachin as “childless” this means that no son of his would ever sit on the throne. This word from the Lord came true and as a result the line of David through his son Solomon was terminated here, and indeed many may have thought that the Davidic line was null and void all together.

But God said to Zerubbabel:
‘…my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel…I will make you like my signet ring…’ (Haggai 2:23)

So, God is taking Zerubbabel and from him the line of David, the line of the Messiah will continue. For, if we were to trace Zerubbabel’s ancestry,…
we’d see that he is within David’s family tree, though not an obvious branch of it. Nevertheless, God is addressing the Davidic line through Zerubbabel, and reinstating that line as the signet ring of the Lord, from whom the Messiah will come.

It’s a remarkable turn around for the family – a family that was once rejected because of its disobedience, now forgiven and restored, given a royal identity once more. Within these words we can hear the Lord asking: “Who do you think you are Zerubbabel? Are you simply a governor? Or are you something more?”

In declaring this over Zerubbabel, the Lord is not only changing the identity of this one man, He is once again summoning all Israel to a royal identity –
to see themselves as the people of God, contributing towards the purposes of God. They are meant to see that the rebuilding of the temple is the first step in God’s plan to bring His rule to the nations of the world. The people are also to have a ‘kingdom of God’ vision, a ‘kingdom of God’ identity, this is not just for Zerubbabel.

So, it’s all about identity: who do you think you are? What defines you? You’re past, Israel and Zerubbabel? Are you defined by the decline and failing of previous generations? Or by what the Lord says in this time? Will you heed His word now and embrace an identity within the kingdom of God?

And these are questions that God asks all of us, maybe especially in this time…
Will we, like God’s people of old, adopt a kingdom identity and vision? Just like in Haggai’s time, we don’t know when or how God might fulfil His promise and our prayers for His kingdom to come – but our job, our summons is to adopt a kingdom identity and vision, and as always, we then have a choice to make – will we, or won’t we? So, what’s it going to be brothers and sisters?
What is going to define us?

At an individual level, adopting a kingdom identity is lifegiving, faith-increasing and adventure-making. One way I’ve experienced this in the development of my willingness to pray for and with other people. I began praying with people two months after becoming a
Christian; it was just the environment I fell into. So, I got used to it quite quickly and grew to love it.
But as doors opened to new areas of responsibility in ministry, I soon found myself in situations where I needed to pray with people for stuff outside of my comfort zone. It was really daunting; I thought to myself, who am I to pray this? Can I pray this?

But then, I received some really excellent teaching on prayer ministry, and with that came the realisation that by being a Christian, I am truly “in Christ”, as the Bible says. And if I am in Christ, then I am an heir and co-heir of the kingdom of God, I am a son of God, a prince of the kingdom, with authority as an ambassador of the kingdom, with direct access to the throne of grace, seated at the right hand of God in heaven even though my feet walk upon the earth. And if all that is true, which it is,…
if all that is true, then it was time to truly adopt a kingdom identity and vision, a kingdom confidence and passion.

Now, there are times when I have wobbles – when a particular issue may arise for prayer – but then I need to remember that it’s not so much the words that matter, but that I am in Christ, and being found in Him makes all the difference. And I tell you, praying with people, laying a hand on their shoulder and bringing them before Father God, it is one of the delights of the Christian life! But it shouldn’t be just the minister or the mature few who experience this; this should be prevalent throughout our church family, for if we are in Christ, then we are all sons and daughters of God, indeed, though it sounds odd, we are all princes and princesses of the kingdom!
But how seldom we live in that reality!? We’re often scared to pray. We hesitate to step out in faith, not only in prayer, but in a variety of ways. How often we are held back, in fear, because we lack a sufficiently mature kingdom identity.

Just like that woman in the video from Alpha, I think God wants to set us all free and heal our brokenness, and part of that, on an individual level, is to grow in our kingdom identity, to know deep down that we are ambassadors of the kingdom, sons and daughters of the living God such that our lives change and the lives of people around us are changed as well. So, who do you think you are?

Let’s take this focus on developing a kingdom identity up to the corporate level; to us as a church family.
We are going into a challenging phase as a congregation, a Presbytery and a denomination. And with challenges and change come questions and tensions including over identity: who do we think we are? Who are we?

This afternoon we have the first meeting of the representatives and ministers from the Braes Churches and the question must be asked: who are we? What is our principle identity? Is it Brightons Parish Church, Slamannan Church, Polmont Old Church? Or is it sons and daughters of God, ambassadors of the kingdom? Because, how we answer that, how we see ourselves, is going to shape the conversations and future direction for this area.

So, are we simple governors, or are we in Christ, His signet ring, and dear to the Father? Are we intimidated by the changes that we face, the forces around us, like the Israelites so often were? Or do we see ourselves as in Christ, the Messiah, the One who is the Lion of the tribe of Judah? Are we paupers or are we princes and princesses?

To see ourselves rightly, is so important that even Jesus prayed about it, and probably still prays about it even now as He intercedes for us in heaven. We read today: ‘I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.’ (John
17:20-21)
This is at the heart of what Jesus yearns for His church, even today: that we display unity. Now, this is not about uniformity or conformity, as Jesus says, our unity is rooted in the Father and the Son: ‘may they also be in us’ (v21). Our unity is not institutional or organisational, rather it is a living, organic oneness, a unity of being, not only of purpose and action. This unity is not a moral effort powered by human energy and self-will; it is an outworking of our union with Jesus – we are in Him, He is in us, we are sons and daughters of God, branches of the vine, ambassadors of the kingdom, princes and
princesses, heirs of Christ. This unity is not so much a byproduct of discussion and diplomacy, as it is of worship, repentance and prayer.

And deep down, or at the back of our minds, we know this. If you pray for someone – if you pray for their wellbeing, and if you wrestle over the things they wrestle with, then you will grow in love for them and you will yearn and ache with the burdens that they feel as well. The Christians I am closest to, are probably those I have prayed with and for, and those that have done the same for me. It’s like that in all of life; we all ‘love’ the children that are around us, but we learn to truly love them as we spend time with them and their families, getting to know their personalities, foibles, and quirks. It’s the same with church unity – as we worship and pray and repent together, as we focus together on Jesus, and find in Him our common identity, then the boundaries and walls blur and crumble – it’s no longer Brightons Church and
Slamannan Church; it’s the Church of Jesus Christ,…
and we are together children of God, princes and princesses, ambassadors of the kingdom.

So, who do you think you are? Who are you individually? Who are we corporately? As we go into this new season, are we going to bunker down, are we going to adopt a pauper mentality and identity? Or, are we going to adopt a kingdom of God, identity understanding ourselves to be in Christ and so conducting our lives, individually and corporately, in light of that?

In our day, in our time of change and uncertainty, I pray we also may hear the summons of God to a kingdom identity and vision. May it be so. Amen.

The pattern of the Kingdom

Preached on: Sunday 8th August 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 19-08-25-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: Genesis 1:1-2:3
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Genesis 1:1-2:3
Sunday 25th August 2019 (morning)
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.

For one minute, I wonder if you would turn to your neighbour and discuss what you think the answer to this question is: ‘what was the subject most taught about by Jesus?’ You’ve got 1 minute discuss – over to you!
(PAUSE)

One analysis of this question suggested that ‘love’ came #43, forgiveness #32, money #4, Father God #2 – and top of the list, the most taught about subject by Jesus was ‘the kingdom of God’! Yet, how often do we talk about the kingdom of God? Or, when did it last feature in your decision-making when you went to the shops?
It makes me wonder – is the kingdom of God quite low importance for us? Is personal preference, cultural norms or the survival of our denomination more important than the kingdom of God? Or when we come to decision making, what do we base it upon?

For example, last week we received 70 feedback forms regarding the summer services. The responses will be typed up, discussed within Session and eventually inform what we do next summer. Please do get one in. But let’s be honest – there are broadly two groups: one supports the format we had this year, the other prefers to reestablish the Summer Sunday School. There are competing values here – how is Session to make a
decision? It may be, though not guaranteed, that a kingdom focused analysis and discussion might help us discern what is the best way forward, even if it doesn’t suit everyone.
And so today we begin a new teaching series, which will run for 8 weeks in total, and it will focus on the kingdom of God. Each week will draw upon a different portion of Scripture, starting in Genesis and ending up in Revelation, and it is my hope that it will not only sharpen our kingdom-focus, but that we might also see the kingdom of God as a binding theme throughout the Scriptures, from beginning to end, although each part will add a distinctive contribution to our understanding.

Additionally, the series should also help us to see how the Scriptures hold together, that although there are 66 books written by 40 authors over the course of 2000 years, that in fact, the Bible really is one book, with one main author, telling one core story throughout. So, let’s get into today’s passage.
The phrase ‘the kingdom of God’ is never actually used in the Old Testament – it uniquely begins with Jesus in each of the New Testament gospels – and yet, the idea and the reality of the kingdom of God is found everywhere in the Old Testament as well. Take for example Psalm 47:
‘Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. For the Lord Most High is awesome, the great King over all the earth.’ (v1-2)

Clearly the Psalmist understands God as King, and this was upheld by the people of God across the millennia. But they got this from their theology, from what they understood of God, from the revelation God had given of Himself: that He is was King and as King He has a kingdom.
And that understanding of God as King has its roots all the way back into Genesis 1 – ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…And God said, “Let there be light…”’ (v1,3)

These words reveal that God alone is sovereign and eternal; He alone existed before all else and it was by His powerful word, by His kingly command, that our universe came into being – and so God is therefore the rightful ruler and King over all creation.

I wonder if that shocks you at all, or makes you a little bit uncomfortable? It might not, but it really should, and when it was first being taught about 4000 years ago, it was a truly shocking claim – because this teaching clashed with the religions and perspectives of the day.
In contrast to the other Ancient Near Eastern religions of the time, Genesis 1 is a shockingly controversial rejection of their claim about how the universe came into being. There were several creation myths around at the time, particularly in nearby Babylonia, but they claimed that creation may have come about after a conflict between good and evil beings, or that it came by procreation of such divine beings, or that all creation was somehow eternal.

But against all that, Genesis claims the Lord, Yahweh, does not produce or bring forth, He creates from nothing, for He alone is almighty and eternal – He has no equal, He alone is King of all creation. And this very teaching would have jarred with the thinking of the day, it would have shocked then, even angered some, just as it does today.
For in our day, we have twin pressures from our surrounding culture – there is on the one hand, that pressure from an increasingly forceful atheism, which seeks to limit the sphere of faith. And on the other hand, there is pressure to say that all religions are equal, that all paths lead to God, that no one faith is more true than another. But neither is wise, accurate or good for society.

For there is plenty of evidence from history that when a society removes religious freedom and pursues a purely atheistic culture that it is then on route to becoming an unhealthy society: examples could include Stalin’s Russia, or Mao’s China.

And as for an approach which says all religions are equally true…well that just doesn’t make sense. You can’t have one saying all matter is eternal, whilst another doesn’t; or one which says God cared enough for His creation to enter into it, whilst another would be horrified at such a claim. These are not differences we can, or should, gloss over – it cannot be both/and, it truly is one or the other. And in our culture, in our day, that can make us feel quite uncomfortable, it almost sounds unloving.

But claiming, as Genesis does, that there is one eternal King and He has no equal, is not arrogance or intolerance, for logic and reason demand that the different claims be weighed, they can’t all be equally true, and to allow the claim of Genesis to be given up so as to appease our postmodern mindset is actually to the detriment of others, for then they won’t bother to explore the Christian faith, why should they when everything is relative or equal? But to hold on to the claim, that they then might find Jesus…
as their Saviour, well that’s the most loving thing we can do for anyone. It is only when we hold on to the claim that there is one eternal King, do we then begin to lay a foundation for a faith that is robust and offers genuine hope to our broken world.

Because in this world, which God created in love and upon which He established His Kingdom, the Lord also created all life, and the pinnacle of His creation was mankind – you and I. We read in Genesis 1: ‘So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’ (v27)

Only humanity is described in this manner, only humanity is created in the image of God, and so men and women…

are set apart from the rest of creation, giving each one great dignity, for we bear the image of God within us.
And God places His image-bearers, this mankind, in a garden, telling them to be fruitful and increase in number, to fill the earth and enjoy the produce of the land. God gives them also a mandate, a purpose, and only one boundary, given for their good, it’s in Genesis chp2: ‘And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”’ (v16-17)

And so, in the place He has given, the people God has made, can continue to enjoy His blessing as they fulfil His mandate and remain with His rule. This understanding of what is portrayed here in Genesis gives us a pattern of the kingdom of God and…
it has been summarised by Graeme Goldsworthy as: ‘the kingdom of God…is God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule and enjoying God’s blessing.’

This is a phrase we’ll keep returning to during the series because in different parts of the Scriptures, different elements of this phrase are emphasised, or are seen to be out of place or marred. But the pattern of the kingdom is laid down here in Genesis 1 and 2: ‘the kingdom of God…is God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule and enjoying God’s blessing.’

In these chapters, at the beginning of the story, we can see three important points of application. Firstly, we were created with a purpose, for we read: ‘God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”’ (Gen. 1:28) and then in chapter 2 we reed: ‘The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.’ (Gen. 2:15)

As the image bearers of the King we are given the royal purpose of stewarding creation – we’ve to take care of it, rather than abuse it – and so matter matters to God for it is part of His kingdom, God is not only concerned with our souls; He is also concerned with our bodies and the whole material creation. And so, it is right to speak with our children, indeed all of us, and raise the issue of how our products and how our lifestyle affect the material world. We understand ourselves to be part of God’s people – are we living under His rule by heeding our call to steward creation well? If we are not, how could we steward better?
Secondly, these chapters also highlight that we were created not only with a purpose but with a need for community. We reed in Genesis 2: ‘But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God…made a woman…and he brought her to the man.’ (Gen. 2:20-22)

Until Eve was made, Adam had no companionship with another like himself, and earlier in v18 the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’ We are made with a need for community – just as no man is an island, neither are God’s people – Genesis 1 and 2 make it clear that even within the perfection at the beginning of creation, God’s people, within God’s kingdom, need one another, and they were given to one another as part of the blessing of God. We have a need for community, we need each other…
and so, it is also right to emphasis the opportunity the Guild affords you and I, but we could also add in Friendship Plus, the coffee morning or the Fellowship Groups. Why not give one of these a try as they restart in the next month?

But can I also raise an issue I’ve become more aware of recently after some team meetings and pastoral visits? You’re probably aware, but we are quite a big church, and it’s easy to get lost, and it’s easy to be overlooked. And it’s easy to forget that some in our older generations have far fewer friends than they did a few years ago, or even this time last year, and they can start to feel isolated and undervalued. They too have a need of community. So, can we be on the lookout, not only for new people, but also for those that might be getting lost in the crowd?…
For they too are God’s people and they matter in God’s kingdom.

Lastly, in God’s kingdom, God’s people are to enjoy God’s blessing by living under God’s rule, but that is not only about living according to God’s laws and ways; living under God’s rule is also about enjoying God Himself and enjoying His rest. We read in Genesis 2:
‘By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.’ (Gen. 2:2)

This is the climax of creation, that day upon which God rested, for His work was complete. We do not then hear of an eighth day, nor do we return to the first day, for we are meant to see that the seventh day continues,…
and so God’s rest continues – not that God is sitting with His feet up, for He sustains our very creation, but He has rested from creating, and so the seventh day continues. Within that rest, creation, and especially humanity, is meant to live. We are meant to live in God’s rest, to share in it, enjoying the perfect creation, and enjoying relationship with God. To live under the rule of God, is to live within His rest and to enjoy God Himself.

I wonder, do you enjoy God? Maybe you don’t enjoy God because you don’t know God yet, you don’t know Him as your friend and heavenly Father, nor as your good King. And that may be because you haven’t put your faith in Him yet, and if that’s you, I’d encourage you to go listen to last week’s message which you can get on the website or via CD.
Yet, there could be any number of reasons you are not enjoying God, and if that’s you, if there is distance, can I encourage you to tell someone, and if you can, tell someone whose faith encourages you.

A number of years ago, I got into a bit of a rut in my faith; I wasn’t reading the Bible, I wasn’t praying. But then in one church service I felt challenged by my minister and I decided to go speak with my good friend Ollie, whose faith is a real encouragement to me. We started to meet up, to talk about faith, to talk about life, and over the course of time my faith came alive again, and I started to enjoy God once more.

Friends, you were created to enjoy God and His rest, to live under His rule, alongside His people,…
sharing in His blessing – for this is what Genesis reveals about what it means to be part of the Kingdom of God, this is the pattern of the Kingdom.

I pray that as we journey through this series together, may we become more kingdom-minded, leaning into our purpose, helping to meet our need for community, and growing in our enjoyment of God.

May it be so. Amen.