Longing for light

Preached on: Sunday 15th January 2023
The sermon text is available as subtitles in the Youtube video (the accuracy of which is not guaranteed). A transcript of the sermon can be made available on request. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this message.
Bible references: John 1:1-9 and John 3:16-21
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Jesus never passes darkness
– Jesus’ light shines into lives
– Jesus’ light changes lives
– We need to be that light

Called to change the world

Preached on: Sunday 3rd July 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 22-07-03 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Matthew 5:13-20
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Called to change the world by our saltiness
– Called to change the world by our light
– Called to be changed

Let us take a moment to pause and pray before we dig in to God’s word. Let’s pray together:

Come Holy Spirit and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit and reveal the truth You would speak into our lives this day.
Come now Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Over the summer I’m going to give you a little bit more opportunity to discuss and talk with your neighbor, not too much but a little bit more, and so, I’ve got an open question for us to have a wee think about and talk with your neighbor about. If you don’t know your neighbor then always you can ask their name first before you begin a conversation if you wish. But here’s your question for today – what is the hardest thing to change? Six months in it feels like the hardest thing to change is to get Innes to sleep through the night but, hopefully, we’re getting there. But I’m sure there are many other hard things to change. What is the hardest thing to change? Turn to your neighbor and 20 or 30 seconds see what comes to mind. Over to you.

Well, sounds like there’s a lot of ideas there. I won’t get you to say them in case they’re embarrassing or in case there’s so many that we could be here all day I’m sure, but keep them in mind as we as we dig into our passage.

We’ve begun this new teaching series on The Sermon on the Mount and we’ve seen that what Jesus is going to teach us here has to connect somehow to the kingdom of God because the kingdom of God was His core message, it’s what He embodied, it is what He brought into the world. And so, last week, we saw that His teaching was completely upending things for His original listeners, turning things on its head as He taught about a kingdom which was subversive and foolish and yet, people still chose to follow Jesus, they still were captivated by Him because of what He taught, what He led them into brought life. And so, as we come back into the passage let’s remember He’s still speaking to those same people. He’s still speaking to our people who up to this point have really been told by the religious authorities that they’re worthless, they’re unimportant to God, that they’re a bunch of sinners, they’re spiritual zeroes, that’s who Jesus is speaking to.

And so, as we begin at verses 13 to 16 we see that Jesus is saying something to a group of people that would never have thought this about themselves. He’s saying that they’re called to change the world. He calls them to be the salt and light of the world. Now, imagine these people, these people who have been downtrodden, who are just being written off by wider societies, especially the spiritual authorities, the religious authorities, Jesus is telling them that He, they are to be the salt and light of the world and let’s remember what their world was like as we pondered about last week a little a Roman dominated world, harsh, hard, unrelenting, with no mercy, where the strong triumph over the weak so often they. These people are to somehow change that world and maybe they thought ‘That’s just the hardest thing to change Jesus. There’s no way that that can happen.’ But they and we need to realize that He calls them, He calls us into this because we are able to change the world, we’re able to impact the world because of the saltiness and light that is in our lives as we follow Jesus. He says to them ‘You’re the salt of the earth but if the salt loses its saltiness how can it be made salty again? It is of no longer good for anything.’ Jesus calls His followers to change the world by their saltiness.

I was talking earlier with the children and saying that our two main ways that we think of using salt are flavoring things and so bringing out a greater flavor of something that would be otherwise quite bland and another way, I hadn’t thought about the salt on the road for melting the snow thing, apparently, so might be a third way but the other way that I was particularly thinking of is how salt was used in Jesus’ day to prevent or slow down decay. And we might think ‘Well, that seems like two very divergent uses of salt.’ But I wonder if in the kingdom they’re actually two sides of the same coin. That as you slow down moral and spiritual decay, you might also then allow the flavors, the tangible feeling of God’s kingdom to come forward much more. And so, they play off one another and so Jesus calls us to be the salt and light. But you can only have a salty influence Jesus says, if you’re not losing your saltiness. We need to stay salty and I was talking to the chemists amongst us, or at least one of them, I just ‘Is this right?’ just to make sure of what I was reading. But salt doesn’t actually lose its saltiness really, it’s more it gets diluted or it gets mixed with impurities and so, for salt to be salty, it needs to maintain its distinctiveness from the surrounding bodies, not to be diluted too much or not to be mixed with impurities.

And so, thinking about the church, if the church is going to have this salty influence on the surrounding world, we need to maintain our distinctiveness. Not in a Amish kind of retreating into ourselves kind of way, but more in our the choices, the way we live our lives, the moral and spiritual dynamics of life, by embodying the Beatitudes and the teaching that’s to come and what we read in the scriptures. And, you know, that is sometimes going to make both us and the world uncomfortable. I’m sure many of us have had to resort to a salt bath or putting a hand or a foot into salt to cleanse maybe a wound and when you do that you can feel the sharp negative feeling. Well, sometimes that’s going to be the case with the role of the church and with our influence in the world. It’s sometimes going to have a sharp negative sensation but to bring healing, to bring God’s goodness into the world. But one commentator noted that sometimes ‘to look at some Christians …….. (we’d) think that their ambition is to be the honey pot of the world. They sweeten and sugar the bitterness of life with an all-too-easy conception of a loving God……’ Sometimes we don’t want to be that sensation upon the world, we don’t want to be seen in that negative way, we don’t want to feel like we’re having to be that voice, be that presence that causes that uncomfortable sensation but if we lose our distinctive saltiness then we end up either just becoming really bland and ignored in the world, put to the side, or we just become this honeypot where we just sugarcoat everything. ‘Oh, everything’s okay. Your choices are okay. That’s fine, I’m sure God will be okay with that because God is love after all’ and that’s okay but that’s to misunderstand love and truth, light and darkness. We’re called to change the world by our saltiness.

But Jesus says we’re also called to change the world by our light he says ‘You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden so, let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.’ Followers of Jesus are to be the light of the world and Jesus says that our light here equates to our good deeds. That is what our light is. It’s the good deeds that of how we love our neighbor as we’re called to do. But love of neighbor captures the whole of life doesn’t it? If you love just them practically, you’re ignoring them spiritually, but if you just love them spiritually, you’re ignoring the practical side of life. To love your neighbor, you have to love the whole person, all of life.

And so, these good deeds are speaking to all aspects of life. To love in both ways and some of us need to hear that. I’m probably more inclined towards the spiritual and I need to think about how can I live practically. Some of us will think ‘Oh, the practical’s really easy, that’s my thing.’ But we need to learn to love in the kind of spiritual side of life as well to be that light in that way that we might point people towards our God.

But again, in the verse that I haven’t quoted here, verse 15, Jesus warns that we can dim our light. Earlier, with the young people, I almost set the church on fire or I thought I might because I got the candle down and I had our wash basket, which is a kind of woven wash basket, over the top I was like ‘Please don’t put the church on fire!’ We’re obviously fine because we’re still here. Because he says there’s a danger of hindering our light. So, here’s your, the second discussion question I got the children and our families to do this this morning. What hinders our light? What hinders our light? Okay, we’re called to be the light of the world. What hinders, what covers, what conceals that light? So, 20 to 30 seconds, over to you with your neighbor once more. Just help yourself.

So again, there’s probably many ideas here around what can hinder our light. One of the ideas that came out this morning was fear. We sometimes want to just hide away; we don’t want to feel on display. Maybe it’s sin, the wrong choices that hide that light and maybe that is seen through wrong priorities or being too busy that we feel ‘I’m just too busy to be used of God in that way. I’ve got to kind of get my stuff done and when I get the time then I then I can do those other things.’ It might be selfishness, that might be compromising. We don’t want to be on display in that manner and so we compromise in some way rather than point people. We might just feel like we’re not gifted in that way to be used of God, to shine a light. But, if we allow God by His Spirit to week by week shape our lives, reshape our thinking so that we can live His kingdom ways then we can shine a light that changes the world. And last week I spoke about the early church of how the early church just was such a radically loving church, that they set their day, their empire, actually on fire in some ways, not literally although they got blamed for that but they upturned the Roman empire with how radically they loved their neighbor and there’s many different stories you could you could pick on but I guess this was brought to mind again for me this past week because of probably things we’ve read in the news and that have then led to other things being in our news within Scotland, around changes within the United States of Roe versus Wade and of how the rights to abortion are changing there and I came across an article which reminded me of the radical love that the early church showed and I just want to read you a few excerpts from that to remind us of our Christian heritage, of why for so long that the church has said no to abortion but that we’ve probably also forgot some of the other dynamics that go along with that.

This pastor in New York writes ‘How should we respond in light of a decision like this? First, we should note that Christians have historically placed a sacred value on children born and unborn. In the ancient world children were seen as commodities for family gain and nothing more than property to be disposed of if unwanted and in defiant resistance to this idea Christians stated that children are had inherent value in the eyes of God, been made in his image and formed in the womb according to His design. In the New Testament children are shown counter cultural value as being members of the Christian community, capable of both response and participation. This teaching, though, did not lead to judgment but to deep compassion. Compassion for disfigured children from failed abortions were adopted and cared for by followers of Jesus. Children given to exposure or infanticide were cared for and adopted by Christians and taken into their care. Orphanages sprung up often run and funded by Christians for unwanted children in the Greco-Roman world. Christians did not believe life did not just believe life mattered, they showed it with their actions in category defying ways, that have echoed through the centuries down to us.’ He goes on to say ‘Though the church has had a consistent vision of the sacredness of life it has, at times, failed to live up to that vision in a holistic manner. The church has, at times, moralized where it should have empathized, and sermonized what it should have sacrificed.’ He has much more to say and he speaks also about being a champion of women, of women, of all women because Jesus showed that in His life and ministry, He’s championed women. He concludes with saying, ‘You may agree with me or disagree but I want you to know we will continue to be a church that seeks to follow Jesus with category defying love, cares about life as historically taught and shown in the scriptures, and loves and empowers women.’

The early church lived in a salty and light-giving way and they were willing to pay the cost of that both in what they said but also then in their lives. I wonder if we do? I wonder if we’re willing to step up in that? it’s all too easy to, I really hate those web, the news articles where you see Christians standing at the side and they’re hollering at people. I just have no patience for that and do not think that Christians should be involved in such a practice. Are those same people sacrificially giving of their lives? Would they seem people have a child come and live with them? Maybe they would, it’s hard to know just from newspaper articles, but it just doesn’t feel like a salty, a light giving approach in the world.

So, how can we do differently? How can we, whether it’s with the big issues, whether it’s the other issues of life, like care for the poor, creation care, gender-based violence, the treatment and care of refugees? So many of the big ways that we could be salt and light. But it can also be in the everyday ways, the ways that we’re getting involved in, the ways that you just stumble across almost. Like, I was talking to a colleague this past weekend and although she is ridiculously tired, she knows of a couple that have a number of children and they were just worn out at the end of the week and she said ‘I’ll take two of your kids just for a couple of hours to give you a break.’ That couple are just new around church, they’re just getting back into faith and one of them is just used to be an alcoholic or is an alcoholic and has been sober now for about 16 weeks and she just gave of out love in that way and shone a light into their situation. It could be in the most minute kind of ways. I was sharing with the children I was at Tesco this past weekend, come back with my trolley to the trolley park after getting the stuff in the car and the place is a mess, I couldn’t get my trolley in and so I think right ‘I’ll just tidy this up.’ so I can get my trolley in, sure it’ll help other people but predominantly for me, and I turn around to leave and this guy, I have no idea who he is, he doesn’t know me, he just says ‘Oh, you’re doing your good Samaritan thing for the week.’ Like, completely unprompted. I’m like ‘What did I do here?’ so I just said ‘Well, if the local minister doesn’t do it then who is?’ just to sew that wee seed and saying ‘Well, you know, I am a Christian and I’m here doing this thing’ and, yeah, I probably did it for quite selfish reasons but hey it benefits my neighbor. So, but just that we salt and it can be in the most small ways, the most unintended of ways, we can be salt and light, we can be that salt and light and change our world in little ways, and in great ways.

And this would have been really news to Jesus followers, as the crowd, as He’s sitting with them, because no one would have ever said to them you can be that kind of influence in the world, that would have been for the religious, the militarily mighty and such like, not these little folk. And so, as He begins to upend their world, it seems, because we have to remember that this is a flow of a sermon and in the days of Jesus teaching was very didactic so it wasn’t just a three-hour sermon that He gave or whatever. So, it appears that like there’s maybe some conversation, maybe people are beginning to ask questions and so Jesus maybe hears some questions that say ‘Well, if you’re turning the world upside down in this area of life Jesus, are you going to do that with God’s law as well. Like, is God’s law may be less relevant? Can we just kind of ignore it a bit, or are you going to do away with it because it feels like everything the religious leaders are teaching us, you’re turning upside down? So, are you basically just chucking out God’s law?’ And, to them, to that question He says, ‘Do not think I have come to abolish the law of the prophets. I’ve not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.’

So, up to now he’s been turning up the world of the Pharisees, I think now he turns the world of the folks He’s listening to because, let’s remember the lifestyle of the Pharisee, the teaching of the Pharisees. We have all the Old Testament laws, there’s quite a few of them, to that the Pharisees added 600 more. Like ‘Come on guys, 600 more?’ And that was to help you understand how to live out the old teaching the Old Testament teaching and the law, which just seems crazy. I’m sure the people would have been thinking ‘Jesus, how is this ever possible? Like, the Pharisees are here and we’re down here, there’s no way our righteousness can surpass them!’ But Jesus is doing this to surprise and shock them a little bit, to push them, to call them into His kingdom ways in in a greater measure, because He wants them to have life, to know that good life, the life of the kingdom, if they’ll understand Him properly.

And so, we need to do a wee bit of digging in here. When Jesus says about fulfilling the law and the prophets, fulfill means to fill out literally and what He means here depends upon the law that He’s mentioned, referring to. So, if he’s mentioned, if He’s talking about the doctrine of the Old Testament then He’s bringing a fuller a revelation of God, He’s filling out the picture we have of God and He certainly does that. If he’s talking about the prophetic aspects of the law then Jesus fulfills that because He completes it, He puts it into practice, He fills it out in that way. There were the ceremonial parts of the law and they were talked about as a shadow pointing towards something else and Jesus fulfills them as He dies on the cross, as he dies as a sacrifice as we sung about today and that’s how He fulfills that. He also fulfills the law ethically. There are all the ethical teachings, the do and the don’t do, the ways to live, and He fulfills that by doing it Himself, obeying that perfectly himself. But also, drawing out its true interpretation, and we’ll get into more of that in the coming weeks with the Sermon on the Mount, so Jesus actually fulfills the law in all these ways and He’s going to fulfill it in all these ways across the course of His life and ministry but in these latter verses where He talks about our righteousness, this righteousness that this surpassed the Pharisees. I think He’s particularly talking about the ethical dynamics and the prophetic dynamics of the law because, let’s remember, there were prophets like Ezekiel and Jeremiah who said things like this, ‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh and I will put my spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.’

The Pharisees problem was not that they didn’t have enough rules, it was that their heart was hard and prideful and distant and cold to God. That was their problem, because your heart determines your actions. Jesus says that ‘out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks’ of what’s in us comes that darkness and no matter how meticulous your rules are, no matter how good your intentions are, if your heart is still not right in one particular way or another, then those rules and those good intentions will just be overruled by your heart. The Pharisees needed a new heart and it comes by receiving the Spirit of God into our lives and to us by Him dwelling within us.

To go back to that earlier question from the start of our sermon What’s the hardest thing to change? the longer I live and I’m not particularly old, but the longer I live it feels like the hardest thing to change is a human heart, as a husband, as a dad, as a minister and all the ways that I just wish I could change, the human heart feels like the hardest thing to change.

And so, Jesus calls His followers not just to change the world, but to be changed. To be changed. That, actually, to be that light in the world we first need to have the light of Jesus in us, to be that salt of the kingdom, that brings that saltiness of the kingdom, we need to know the purifying work of Jesus in our own hearts. So, we need that, we need God to be at work in us by His Spirit. And, just in case you’re wondering, in verse 20 where He says ‘You won’t enter the kingdom of heaven and unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees’ He’s not teaching that you have to be good enough to get into the kingdom, He’s trying to draw them into, to the wider teaching of the scriptures, that teaching that says it’s only by trusting in God and being right with Him that you are then born again, you receive His Spirit and after that the Spirit’s working in your life, will change you to bring forward that righteousness. So, if you see your character growing in the likeness of Jesus, even minutely, because it’s a whole life journey, and it’s never perfected this side of heaven, but if you’re growing in the likeness of Jesus that is because the Spirit’s in your life and that’s there, He’s there because you’re in the kingdom, through trusting in Jesus and being born again. He’s not teaching salvation by works, He’s not teaching anything different from the rest of the scriptures, He’s drawing them in to good news that there is a God who wants to be involved in our lives and change us from the inside out so that we can change the world as well.

And I’m sure the people of the day would have been thinking both ‘Wow, this is amazing!’ but also ‘You’re crazy Jesus! You’re crazy!’ Wow, because here’s good news. I’m sure all of us have a way or many ways in our lives that we want to see changed. We see a darkness in us, we fly off the handle, or we’re more snippy than we want to be, or we were more prone to moaning than thankfulness, or we’ve whatever it would be. There’ll be a part of our lives where there’s ingrained ways of darkness and the good news is there’s a God who wants to be involved in your life and change you from the inside out. But, equally, the message that you can change the world is for you as well and you might be thinking ‘Well, I’m just little old me. I’m nothing compared to this person or that person. I can’t do this, I can’t do that.’ But actually, there’s a God who says He will use you if you will allow Him. That, if you will invite Him into your life, if you will keep in step with Him, He will use you to change the world and who knows what that’ll look like. It might be in the practical ways, it might be in in spiritual ways, often the spiritual ways we just have no idea what to do and we’re trying to resource us as a congregation to invest in that as well. So, you know of the card stall through and the hall and that’s a great way to show to sow a seed in a very gentle way getting a card that shares something of your faith but, on your pews today, we just put out these reprinted books that we had a number of years ago and then there are some prayers. Now, you might want to pray them just at home but there might come time, a time when you want to pray with someone and you’re like ‘I’m not sure what to pray.’ Well, if you’ve got this in your bag or in your car or whatever, then there’s some prayers you might utilize. There are also some questions in there where you can be thinking about how to share something of your faith or what God’s speaking to you, of what he’s maybe saying through the church service to you. So, that we can practice amongst ourselves and in practice having and then carry those conversations out into today, every day as well. So, you might want to pick up one of these, they’re at the end of your pews. We do have some more and that might just resource you as well so we can be a people who love our neighbor both physically, materially and spiritually, and be that that light and show that there is a good a God who wants to bring good news to our world and good news to each of us because it all depends on the Spirit and so, let’s close our time as we pray together and ask for the Spirit to come and fill us.

Our God and Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your word today. We thank You for the hope of these verses, that You call us to be salt and light in the world, that we can have an influence, whether it’s in small ways or big ways. Often we feel intimidated by that but You call us maybe just to love the person in front of us, the next person in front of us. To shine a little of Your light into their life. Lord, help us to be that.

So, we ask for Your Spirit to come and fill us. Fill us to enable us to live Your kingdom ways and Lord, if there’s an area of life that that we’re longing to see changed, we’re longing to live more in step with Your kingdom ways, then again, fill us with Your Spirit to overflow. Bring us into life and into freedom. Help us to be renewed and changed in our minds and in our hearts so that we can live that way, we can live in a way that is not concealing Your light or diluting our saltiness but which points to You and the goodness of Your kingdom, breaking into our lives and into this world. So, come Holy Spirit we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The gift of Christ

Preached on: Sunday 26th December 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Mark 1:9-15
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Thank-you. Please be seated.
As we said earlier, today is all about gifts, giving and receiving of gifts. And gifts were brought to Jesus of course. We know the story so well, and the Magi brought those three gifts and they may have seemed a little bit odd, those gifts, because they aren’t the typical gifts that you would give to a baby.

Somebody once said that the three wise guys weren’t so wise after all, because
they should have sent their wives to do the Christmas shopping and they would have come back with a nice warm blankie, and a ton of good formula and maybe something else to make that baby Jesus more comfortable. But these gifts were prophetic gifts.

And one of the gifts, the gift of gold, was a gift symbolizing and prophesying about
the nature of this King that was born. Gold was for kings, and that gift of gold was
for The King of all time, Jesus Christ.

Frankincense says, well, frankincense was often used as a sweet-smelling perfume, you probably wouldn’t wear it today mind you, but it was it was in that time a very expensive perfume also used as a form of incense during prayer times as well. So there was a sense in that it was a message to God, a sweet smelling smell for God as well.

And then, of course, there was myrrh. You remember that myrrh was the one thing that was brought to Jesus and a gift that He refused on the cross. He refused the gift of myrrh on the cross because myrrh is also used as a preservative and a painkiller and when that gift of myrrh was offered to Him on the cross, He refused to drink it. So, that was a gift that Jesus had to turn away from, strangely enough.

And, of course, there are other gifts as well, that Jesus gave to us. He received gifts, I’m going to look at maybe three of the gifts that Jesus gives to us and I’ve brought them along here.

And I’ve got them in the bag and I’ve got little items to remind me of those gifts and we were going to get the children to open them up for us. But, just to be on the safe side with all the new rules and regulations, I’m going to open up gift number one to see what it is, what this wonderful gift is.

That reminds us of what Jesus actually gave to us? Does anybody know what that is?
Nobody? A nightlight, it is. It’s a nightlight, and this is my own little nightlight. Now, the nightlight is an amazing thing. It gives light but it only switches on when it’s dark. So,
you don’t really think about it but when it gets dark it’s there, and I use this at night. I sometimes get up at night to get a drink of water and it stops me falling over my shoes while I’m going to get my drink of water. So, it comes on when it’s dark and sometimes we use it when we are afraid of the dark as well. So many children have a nightlight because they’re a little bit scared of the dark and they don’t know what’s there and the little nightlight – Do they have nightlights, your children, have nightlights as well? – Yeah, yeah – any of the older folk have night lights? – well the only one, Eric you’ve got
a nightlight as well that’s great, okay. So, that’s a very, very precious gift and sometimes all of us are a little bit afraid of the dark, we’re not quite sure what lies ahead of us in the dark, so we need alight to shine in the dark and Jesus said ‘I’m the light of the world’. He shines for us and especially, especially when it’s dark for us, and sometimes we are afraid because we’ve done something in the past and that puts light on that darkness as well and Jesus came to sort out the past for us, to see it, to dispose of it, and to go into that dark place and make it light again. So it reminds us of that sometimes we’re a bit worried about the future, the future lies ahead of all of us, we don’t know what the new year has to offer for us, but God is in the future and we know that that dark future also has a light, because Christ is ahead of us and He knows what’s there, and we can know that, if Christ knows, it’s okay with us as well.

The first gift given us through the birth of Jesus the angel said to them ‘Don’t
be afraid.’ The baby in Bethlehem’s manger grew up to be a man who promised us freedom from fear and darkness. He said to his followers ‘Therefore, I say to you, do not worry about your life what you would eat or what you will drink nor about your body, what you will wear, what you will put on, for your Heavenly Father knows what you need
and that you need all these things but seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be given to you, So, do not worry about tomorrow.’ Jesus came to make sure that the darkness of tomorrow will have the light of the knowledge of Christ/ ‘I am the resurrection and the life,’ he said ‘he who believes in me though he may die, he shall live.’ even in the darkest place that we can think of, dead and dying, yet there too, there to, the light shines as well. A wonderful Christmas gift from Jesus, light in the darkness. Do not be afraid.

And then we’ve got another wee gift here as well. There’s gift number two. I’m going to open that one up. Let’s just have a look, now. Ah, it’s the same one it’s come back to
haunt me again, there we go, all right. Well, that’s the gift of good news, that’s the gift of good news and remember what the angel said ‘I’m here
with good news.’ said the angel ‘This very day in David’s town, your savior was born.’ Jesus, and of course that savior’s name Jesus had a very special meaning because the word Jesus in Hebrew means rescuer and we often talk about savior but in fact it’s more like deliverer or rescuer. And Jesus came to rescue us. He came as light in a dark world
and He came with a purpose and His purpose, His destiny in fact was to rescue His people. ‘And she will have a son and you shall call his name Jesus for he will save his people from their sins.’ And Jesus wants us to come to Him, He can’t come to us but
He wants us to come to Him to be rescued, not run away from Him but to come to Him
and so, we do have to do two things to Jesus. Wen Jesus went preaching the gospel
He preached two things.

He said ‘The kingdom is near, believe and repent.’ Two things, and they are very closely associated with each other because if we believe and we turn to God we’ve also got to turn away from the past and turn away from the bad things in our lives. So, believe, turn to God, repent, turn from sin. And so, we come with that good news gift.

But Jesus came as a rescuer, a savior, The Messiah, and then we’ve got another little gift last one, and here we go. Ah this was a card that we received and can you see what it is? What does a dove symbolize? Peace and love. Symbolizes peace. And, of course, that was the other gift as well. The third gift, ‘Peace on earth to those with whom he is
Pleased.’ Now, I don’t know about you, but if my wife is not pleased with me, I get no peace, I can tell you that now that’s for sure, and so when we want to please God
we need to do something. We need to be right with Him, we need to be right with Him and if we are right with Him then we have the peace with God and the peace of God. And so, peace is a wonderful gift. It’s not just a card, it’s a reality, it’s a reality. Jesus, of course, was called The Prince of Peace, The Prince of Peace. He knew all about peace. He didn’t have a lot of peace in His life mechanically speaking, but theologically speaking, He did have peace. He had peace with His Father. He was prepared to do many things which normal people would not have been able to do and He did it because He had peace and He was prepared to share that peace. And you know one of the first things Jesus said when he rose from the grave was ‘Peace be unto you.’ He said to them. He blessed His followers. He said ‘Peace be unto you. My peace I give unto you, not as the world gives.’ A special peace. And Christ has given us that peace. That’s His wonderful gift to us and it’s a gift that we can share. We can share. We have to be peacemakers, peace givers, and sometimes we think it’s nations who fight, it’s nations who disrupt the world, but behind the nations, in the nations, are people and peace starts with one person, starts with you, and if you can share peace with an R factor of two, and we know what the R factor is now of course – if one person gets it and shares it with two people it really explodes, we’ve seen it happening. Peace works in exactly the same way. If we are going out into the world of an R factor of two or more, and if one person tells two other people about the peace of Christ and why, then the Gospel will explode in the world, and that’s the way Christianity has always been modeled, to go along in the world people sharing it from generation to generation/ So, it’s important that we tell our children and we tell our grandchildren and they learn to tell others that there’s no other way that the gospel can be shared. That gift, of course, the gift of peace
has to be shared wherever we are in the world as well.

And so, in Romans 5 Paul says ‘Therefore, having been made right with God by faith,
we have peace with God, through our Lord, Jesus Christ.’

Three gifts of Christmas and these can be opened at any time, not just Christmas, and sometimes it’s a bit sad that we stop the fighting just for a day or two around about Christmas time. That’s not the story of Christmas. The story of Christmas is that Christ is here, He’s Emmanuel, He’s God with us, night and day, He is with us in every area of
Life, He is with us, and so we never stop opening the three gifts of Christmas, a special
reason in a special season. But also, in the season of our lives God has given those gifts to us all:

the gift of light in our darkness, to not be afraid
the gift of good news, the good news of salvation, and
the gift of peace, a gift well worth sharing.

And we’ve been given those special gifts of Jesus to share with others and, just like we can hand out these little candy canes, so we can hand out the message of hope and joy and good will and peace and salvation to others around us. Not only can we do it, we must do it. We have been asked to do it, we have been commanded to do it. And so, Christmas is also a command of joy to be shared in the world and peace as well.

Have a great new year when it comes and enjoy your gifts well into 2022 and way beyond as well.

Let us pray together:

Gracious Father, You gave us the gift of life and made each one of us to be special in Your sight. We thank You for the gift of children. We thank You for Scott and Gill and
their growing family, for the new boy has been born as a brother to Hope. We thank You for all our children. We thank You for our grandchildren. Such special gifts for us.

You love us and you want to give all your children good gifts so, we thank You today for every gift at Christmas.

The gift of family. The gift of love. The gift of Jesus and the gift of Peace.

We ask that you would be with all those today who may be afraid or suffering or
poor or in a dark place. Help those who are sick and worried, who have no homes and no hope and be with all of us here today, that we may know your peace and your
presence. Help us to go out to share Your good news gift with those around us so that the light of Jesus we tried in us and through us into every dark place in this world.

We pray this in Jesus name. That same Jesus who grew up to teach His followers to
pray together:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever.

Our closing hymn is a perennial favorite.

Justice: light in the darkness?

Preached on: Sunday 25th October 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-10-25-Message-PPT-slides-multi-page.
Bible references: Isaiah 9:2-7
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Isaiah 9:2-7
Sunday 25th October 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchMessage
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be true and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.In the last few weeks, we’ve watched or read much about local, national and international government. As our politicians seek to respond to Coronavirus, we saw tensions mount between representatives in Manchester and Westminster. And in less than 10 days, we will know whether the United States has a new President or not. Looking in upon both these scenarios, and even our own issues of government here in Scotland and Falkirk, we may well agree with Winston Churchill, who famously said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” In every era of history, humanity has tried various forms of government, but none are perfect, and none can be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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