Forgiveness and Peace

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

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

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

Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Wisdom & Intolerance (James 3:13-18)

Preached on: Sunday 16th February 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 20-02-16-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-morning.

Bible references: James 3:13-18

Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: James 3:13-18
Sunday 16th February 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.How would you define ‘wisdom’? I think it’s a lot harder than we first imagine. I suspect that we may come up with a number of possible answers and we could lean towards an answer like the Cambridge Dictionary: ‘the ability to use your knowledge and experience to make good decisions and judgments.’

So, when we read about true and false wisdom in these verses from James, it’s easy to get the wrong idea, because ‘wisdom’ for James is something quite different.

Let’s also take the word ‘peace’. How would you define ‘peace’? Looking again at the Cambridge Dictionary, it summarises peace as there being ‘no violence’ and having ‘calm’. But for James, ‘peace’ is a much richer word, because as a Christian from a Jewish background, saturated in the Scriptures of the Old Testament, he understood both peace and wisdom in a much fuller way, and in a moment we’ll get into that.

Because, in case you’re worrying that this is going to be like a lecture rather than a sermon, here are four pictures of recent events, potentially affected by false wisdom. You may have read about them or heard about them on the TV or radio. We have Kate Forbes, SNP minister; Franklin Graham, American evangelist; Israel Folau, rugby player; and Destiny Church, Edinburgh…

So, we will get to these situations, because as Christians we need to be aware of them, we need to be aware of what is happening within our society. But before we can engage with the issues appropriately, we need to first understand what James is getting at within these five verses, including the definitions behind his words.

We might first wonder though why James begins writing about wisdom at all, because again it seems like another blunt change of topic. But remembering this proverb might help:
‘The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.’
(Proverbs 15:2)

We see that the tongue and wisdom are closely linked in the Scriptures, and so for James it’s a natural progression to move from our words to speaking about wisdom.

He writes in verse 13: ‘Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.’

This is the overarching thought for these verses on wisdom. So, what is James saying here?

He asserts that someone with wisdom will show humility and good deeds in their life. But again, what does he mean by ‘wisdom’, or ‘humility’?

Let’s start with wisdom. Wisdom from a biblical
perspective is much more than the dictionary definition,

much more than an ability to make good decisions and it’s much more than pragmatic advice. From a biblical perspective, wisdom has a beginning and a goal, summarised by this verse in Proverbs:
‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.’
(Proverbs 9:10)

This expression is used 18 times in the book of Proverbs and there is similar language elsewhere in the Scriptures. Wisdom begins by having true reverence, ‘fear’, of the Lord. It is recognition of who is actually God, that there is a God, that that God is holy and almighty in character and nature. But wisdom is more than just having these ideas in our heads, wisdom includes knowledge and understanding which leads to a changed life…

The Scriptures speak in Genesis of Adam knowing Eve, knowing her in a way that changed both their lives forever. So, wisdom includes a knowledge that changes the course of our lives, it includes a reverence that leads to obedience.

But biblical wisdom is not only having this awareness of God and responding appropriately to Him, biblical wisdom is also understanding what God is up to in the world and living in response. The Apostle Paul speaks of such in first Corinthians:
‘Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.’ (1 Cor. 1:22-24)

What Paul is getting at is this: when Jesus was crucified, Jews thought it was weakness, Greeks (or Gentiles) thought it foolishness – for Jews knew that someone crucified was under the curse of God, and Gentiles knew that crucifixion was the most humiliating of deaths reserved for the worst of traitors. Both Jew and Gentile knew, they just knew, that Jesus could not be the promised Messiah, He could not be God in the flesh coming to save the world
– or so they thought.

But the Church for two thousand years has argued differently: that the Cross was the epitome of God’s wisdom and strength, because there He defeated death, there He conquered sin and the enemies of hell. Nevertheless, many Jews and Gentiles could not see what God was up to in Jesus, and so they could not live in response to God’s actions, they could not have wisdom in the biblical sense.

James said, ‘Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.’

To have wisdom includes reverence for God and an understanding of what God is up to in the world and then living in response. From this, from such true wisdom, comes humility; for wisdom creates a healthy perspective of ourselves before God. We realise that He is God, not ourselves; that the universe does not revolve around us. We realise the gift of life we have been given; we realise also our limitations. We realise how messed up and broken we are, how rebellious we are towards God and yet He still
loves us, that He loved us enough to die for us…

It’s no wonder that this should create humility, leaving no room for pride, no room for selfishness.

As a result, through humility created from true wisdom, a way of life should come about that is good and is seen in good deeds.

All this, all of this, James captures in one verse and then he springboards into a description of false wisdom and what it leads to. He writes:
‘But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.’ (James 3:14-16)

James speaks of false wisdom, which is empty of humility and so leads to envy and selfish ambition culminating in disorder and a deepening moral crisis. Again here, the words used by James are meaningful.

‘Bitter envy’ is a wishing for others to have less, or to be less. ‘Selfish ambition’ is power hungry and status- seeking, so much so, that it leads to feuds, to divisiveness. James wants to highlight for us the perils of selfish individualism, which he says, ‘does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.’

Again, meaningful words chosen here. ‘Earthly’, earthbound we might say, such that false wisdom shuts out God and focuses our eyes simply on the present, on the physical.

‘Unspiritual’ is used in the Scriptures when human feeling and human reason reign supreme in our lives. False wisdom unseats God from the throne of our hearts; there is no reverence, there is no fear of the Lord, and so false wisdom, unspiritual wisdom, is also ‘demonic’, because it is opposed to God.

Unsurprisingly, such false wisdom leads to ‘disorder and every evil practice’. This disorder is not only at the individual level, it is also at the level of communities, even societies. ‘Disorder’ here speaks of commotion, confusion, restlessness. The same root word is translated “uprisings” in Luke 21:9, where Jesus forewarned of restlessness and unsettled global affairs prior to His return, of society increasing in persecution, particularly of the church.

So, let me pause here, and return to those earlier pictures. Kate Forbes; Franklin Graham; Israel Folau; and Destiny Church. I’ve no idea if you’ll have heard of these incidents; but I’ve been directed to a number of helpful sources which highlight the issues around these four situations.

Kate Forbes, a committed Christian, delivered the Scottish government budget a few weeks’ ago at the age of 29, but is now being targeted by members of her own party. One such SNP member said of Kate Forbes: “the last thing our party needs is Kate Forbes climbing the ladder when she has such questionable views on equality.” As evidence of these “questionable” views, that individual linked to a letter published in The Scotsman last year, authored by fifteen female MSPs, who raised concerns over the Scottish government’s proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act. AS far as I know, only Kate Forbes seems to have been targeted but she is the one who is a Christian and attends church, and holds an orthodox view of human sexuality.

And then there are the cases of Franklin Graham, Israel Folau and Destiny Church and all have a degree of similarity in the issue they face, though there are nuances. Each one in turn has faced censure because they hold and have expressed orthodox Christian views on human sexuality.

Franklin Graham was booked to speak at the Hydro Centre in Glasgow as part of a UK tour. The venue is part- owned by Glasgow City Council, and Susan Aitken, the leader of the local authority, said allowing Graham to go ahead could have broken the law. Franklin Graham has not attacked anyone, he has not spoken any hate crime, but he appears to be penalised for what someone thinks he might say or that his views are simply not in alignment with the current popular position. To some commentators, this would appear to be discrimination based on religious beliefs and it may be that the council have to explain how their decision is not a breach of the Equalities Act.

A similar situation arose with Destiny Church, just two weeks’ ago, where their annual conference at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh was cancelled because the speakers held to orthodox Christian beliefs on human sexuality.

In the situation involving Glasgow City Council, one commentator wrote: ‘Ms Aitken is saying that because of ‘equality’ someone who holds a view, which is (for the moment) still legal…can be banned on the basis that it would be breaking the law to have him speak. Given that the Catholic church, the Church of England and most evangelical churches hold the view that sex outside marriage is wrong (and marriage is between a man and a woman), does this mean that the churches are against the law?’ The commentator goes on to speak about the ‘intolerance of tolerance’ within our society.

In a similar vein, on an episode of ‘Inside Track’ for BBC5 Live, dated 30th January 2020, Martin Bashir, the BBC Religious Editor, spoke about the situation around Israel Folau, and he referred to a term called ‘totalitolerance’, which is a worldview which says: “unless you agree with

every single view that I have and I embrace, I want
nothing to do with you and will run you out of town.”

Now, I’m aware that we are a mixed group of Christians and will have a range of opinions, but I would hope and affirm that we can all find a place of home here. Yet, in the four situations I’ve outlined, it feels like there’s something not quite right. That instead of having free speech, we may have a form of totalitolerance; that actually, in the name of tolerance we have a form of intolerance. All this brings to mind that famous line, probably misattributed to Voltaire: “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it.”

It’s often been cited in support of free speech because whether we agree with the content or not, free speech is central to democracy, and freedom of speech is only worth something when it affirms the freedom of all people, including the ones we disagree with.

So, how does this connect with the writing we have in James today? Well I wonder if what we are seeing in the growing evidence of intolerance, of totalitolerance, I wonder if in this we are seeing something of the false wisdom spoken about by James. In that false wisdom, there is ‘bitter envy’, wherein people wish for others to have less or be less. James also spoke of disorder, of ambition that leads to divisiveness, and of a deepening moral crisis. Don’t we see something of this false wisdom in our society and in these situations?

I worry that we do, because a life, a society, a community of people who are marked by true wisdom display something quite different, as James makes clear. He says: ‘But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.’ (James: 3:17-18)

James says that true wisdom is pure, putting it first to show that it is a prerequisite for the other attributes. By purity, James is referring to an unmixed devotion to God, for the word has the same root as ‘holy’ and ‘hallowed’. A person can also be called pure when they partake of the character of God, when they walk in God’s ways.

With such purity, true wisdom, should be humble, it should have an appropriate understanding of self, giving true reverence to God, and as such it is also:
• Peace-loving: there is unity, at-one-ness, with good close relationships.
• Considerate – which is a way of grouping together gentleness, patience and kindness.
• Submissive – or we might say, teachable, willing to yield to the truth of God.
• Full of mercy and good fruit – such unity, kindness, humility will allow such persons to be conscious of the neediness and helplessness of others so that mercy and good fruit will be seen in practical action.
• Impartial – that practical action will not show favouritism, as James already highlighted. And finally…

• Sincere – because such humble gentleness, seeking after true unity, will not show hypocrisy or pretence, but rather favour only truth.

What is striking about all these attributes, is that they are all seen in God and in His way of relating to us. True wisdom is reflective of God:
• Peace-loving: God sought peace with us by dying on the cross; He gave His life for peace. (Col. 1:20)
• Considerate: Romans 2:4 speaks of the kindness and patience of God which seeks to lead us back into relationship with Himself.
• Submissive: Jesus Himself said, ‘I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’ (Matthew 11:29)

• Full of mercy and good fruit: a few weeks ago, we spoke of God’s mercy towards us on the cross. (Eph. 2:4)
• Impartial: similarly, we also spoke of God’s impartiality, that He has no favourites. (Deut. 10:17)
• Sincere: as James reminded us, there are no shifting shadows to God. (James 1:17)

As such, true wisdom puts to death envy, it eradicates selfish ambition, there would be no disorder, no propagation of base actions with true wisdom, and instead we would see peace and righteousness, which leads to James’ conclusion: ‘Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.’ (James 3:18)

The ‘peace’ that James speaks of is influenced by the Old Testament, where the word ‘peace’ is known as ‘shalom’, which is more than the absence of obvious tension. Shalom exists where things are whole, healthy, complete. The experience of shalom is meant to be multi- dimensional, for shalom is well-being physically, psychologically, spiritually and socially.

Tim Keller writes, that at a social level, ‘shalom would be seen in people sharing resources with each other and working together so that shared public services work, the environment is safe and beautiful, that schools educate, businesses flourish, and poverty and hunger are minimal.’ When shalom comes upon a community, even a society, there would be wholeness of relationships, with truth, righteousness and justice evident.

Because of such depth to shalom, even just social shalom, James speaks of ‘peacemakers’ rather than ‘peace- keepers’. A peacemaker must confront the problems which need addressed, sometimes disrupting a community (or a society) in order to deal with root problems. Peacemakers are to work peace, tilling the ground, rooting out the weeds and as they do so, from their labour comes a harvest of righteousness, a harvest that is reflective of God and thus true wisdom.

So, when voices raise up in our media, or amongst our politicians, or when public venues refuse a platform for voices that they disagree with, does this speak of true wisdom? Does it convey humility, gentleness, an openness to the other even amidst disagreement? Is it impartial and is it being honest about it motives?
Personally, I’m not so sure, I’m not so sure…

that the intolerance of tolerance, or the totalitolerance that is creeping into society, is true wisdom.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus calls us to be salt and light in the world, shining His light, His true wisdom that all might see more clearly and so find true life. We are also to bear His distinctive flavour, so that like salt, we might bring forth the best in the world, and flavour it with Jesus.

It has to begin first at home; we have to cultivate this in our own lives, in our families, and in our congregation. James says that such wisdom is from above, and that God gives wisdom if we but ask for it (James 1:5). So, here’s my question: for the sake of yourself, the church and indeed even for society, will we humble ourselves and seek God’s wisdom? Will we dig into His Word? Will we ask for His Spirit of wisdom and revelation?

Because God is ready to give true wisdom, that we might usher in a greater degree of shalom as peacemakers and so be known, as Jesus said in Matthew 5, as the children of God. I pray it may be so. Amen.

The partial Kingdom

Preached on: Sunday 15th September 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-09-15-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: 2 Samuel 7v1-17 and Romans 1v1-6
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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