Amazing grace: amazing power

Preached on: Sunday 30th May 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-05-30 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Acts 14:21-26 & Hebrews 4:14-16
Location: Brightons Parish Church

let us come to God in prayer let us pray

come holy spirit soften our hearts to the word of God come holy spirit with revelation and wisdom of our father and our lord Jesus

come holy spirit with power and deep conviction for we ask it in Jesus name amen last week we began a new sermon series on grace and our aim is to understand more of this wonderful word because it is rich and meaningful partly because of its many uses and references in the scriptures and we saw previously that one of its uses is to talk about our spiritual gifts that the spirit gives us to enable us to be part of God’s mission but our passage today doesn’t use grace in that manner we read from Italian Paul and Barnabas sailed back to Antioch where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed earlier in chapter 13 these two men had been prayed for by the local church and sent on their way because the church had felt prompted to do this by the holy spirit so what we read here in chapter 14 is telling us that those prayers are committing of these Christians to the grace of God and so grace here is not referring to spiritual gifts or to saving grace or to God’s character of grace so raises the question what is this grace and what does it do because let’s notice something else first despite being committed to the grace of God despite being faithful and exemplary brothers in the faith they faced hard times in fact a little earlier if you go back earlier in chapter 14 we read of Paul being stoned in response to his labors for the lord and in the second letter to the church in Corinth Paul says five times i received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one three times I was beaten with rods once i was pelted with stones three times I was shipwrecked i spent a night and a day in the open sea i have been constantly on the move I’ve been in danger from rivers and danger from bandits in danger from my fellow Jews in danger from gentiles endangering the city endangering the country in danger at sea and in danger from false believers I have laboured and toiled and often gone without sleep i have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food i have been cold and naked besides everything else i face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches and i don’t know about you but looking at that list there’s part of me that says what is so amazing about grace if this is what Paul had to face what is so amazing about grace

and I wonder friends if you can relate to that and the hardships that you maybe face right now are you maybe asking what’s so amazing about grace where are you God why how am I meant to cope with this when will this end Christians across the ages have shared these same questions and struggles the famous preacher Charles Spurgeon who was used mightily of God in the 19th century suffered recurring bouts of depression throughout his adult life he was also simultaneously popular and unpopular in the stands he took and often as a result would face ridicule including from other pastors added to this was his need to provide relentless care for his wife who was an invalid for most of their marriage and on top of all that if it wasn’t enough Spurgeon faced the last 20 a third of the last 27 years of his ministry out of the pulpit because of his own physical illness there was hardly a weakness an insult a hardship or difficulty that Spurgeon didn’t know personally

so what about you what’s your story

and in the midst of that story are you asking what’s so amazing about grace

and to begin responding to that question we need to turn to other passages later in the same letter to the church in Corinth Paul says i was given a thorn in my flesh a messenger of Satan to torment me three times i pleaded with the lord to take it away from me but he said to me my grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness therefore when i am weak then i am strong what does this passage say about grace well the lord says my grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness notice the parallel my power my grace so when we receive the lord’s grace we receive his power but power for what does he give this power for well based upon Paul’s experience and the t his teaching in part God gives his grace his power to sustain us to sustain our faith that we might persevere to the end after all in our passage from acts we read Paul and Barnabas return to Lystra Iconium and Antioch strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God they said core to the teaching of the early church was the awareness that hard times come that in fact we will say face such difficulties that it will potentially rock our faith that will test our faith and we may even be tempted simply to walk from Jesus

so what can help us persevere what will hold us fast that we might persevere to the end and share in the perfection and glory of the kingdom of God when it comes

well the answer my friends is the grace of God it is his power that sustains now maybe you’re thinking well that doesn’t sound like very much Scott I’d like a bit more

and i wonder if part of that thinking is because we want a Jesus who makes things right now we want a Jesus who meets our needs in the way we want them met

but as one commentator said God did not change the situation by removing the affliction he changed it by adding a new ingredient grace God did not give Paul any explanations instead he gave him a promise my grace is sufficient for thee we do not live in explanations we live on promises for promises generate faith and faith strengthens hope

I wonder brothers and sisters how’s your faith doing what’s your level of hope in the face of your hardships how how how are you trying to persevere are you simply trying to kind of work up some more willpower and get through on your own strengths or are you trying to resort to positive thinking and simply downplay the doubt in the heart because Paul’s perseverance didn’t come from either of those approaches instead he found in the grace of the lord Jesus Christ a power a strength beyond any human capacity to emulate or duplicate earlier I spoke of Charles Spurgeon and the great hardships he faced and yet he himself said this it is easy to believe in grace for the past and the future but to rest in it for the immediate necessity is true faith at this moment and at all moments which shall ever occur between now and glory the grace of God will be sufficient for you this sufficiency is declared without any limiting words and there I’ve therefore I understand the passage to mean that the grace of our lord Jesus is sufficient to uphold thee sufficient to strengthen the sufficient to comfort thee sufficient to enable thee to triumph over it sufficient to bring the out of ten thousand like it sufficient to bring the home to heaven whatever would be good for the Christ grace is sufficient to bestow whatever would harm thee has grace is sufficient to avert whatever thou desirest his grace is sufficient to give thee if it be good for thee whatever thou wouldst avoid his grace can shield thee from it if so his wisdom shall dictate hear let me press upon you the pleasing opportunity of taking home now the promise personally at this moment for no believer here need be under any fear since for her or him also at this very instant the grace of the lord Jesus is sufficient

Paul and Spurgeon in the midst of their suffering knew God’s grace in the face of any suffering wherever however whenever they knew the grace of Christ to be sufficient but let’s not fall into easy errors in relation to these words or the words from acts Paul is not a theological masochist who glorifies suffering itself indeed he prayed for deliverance from his hardships what is more Paul is not saying that only when you are weak do you have the grace and power of Jesus weakness is not its one and only condition what is more the experience of grace is not a reward or payment for suffering nor must we seek suffering to receive grace and not going through hardships does not earn us a place in the kingdom of God so let’s not misconstrue things from these weighty passages instead let us see the invitation of God the invitation of God to each of us brothers and sisters to have a grace to have a power that is sufficient for any and every need we may face

yet yet to find and receive this grace there needs to be a response of trust and so we come at last to a passage from Hebrews earlier we read since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven Jesus the son of God let us hold firmly to the faith we profess for we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses but we have one who has been tempted in every way just as we are yet he did not sin let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need if we want God’s grace if we want his power and his help in our time of need then the response of trust is to approach him it’s basically to have a relationship with him and to come in prayer that is how we find and receive the grace of God the writer says we’ve to approach let us approach and the idea in the original language is approached regularly almost constantly he says too we’ve to come with confidence as one commentator put it approach with bold frankness with bold frankness that’s the invitation of God to you he’s not a God who asks you to deny the situation he’s not a God that says well it’s all karma so it’s your fault or this is because you’re too attached to the physical world and so again it’s your fault no no no no that’s not our God our God is the God who says come to me oh you are weary and burdened we are to have this confidence we are to pursue God this intently because he knows our experience Jesus knows our experience he shared the depth of our humanity he shared the suffering of humanity our God does not stand alive but he sympathizes to the point of stepping into our brokenness and experiencing it himself

that is our God

yet friends how easy how often too easy too often we drift from God and we allow bitterness and self-pity to create distance between us and God and in doing so we we rob ourselves of immense and timely help

so what about you where are you at with God and the hardships you face the hardships you observe are you making space for God are you coming to his throne of grace or does your life display a practical atheism does your lack of prayer show your true colors do you say with your mouth yeah i believe in God but any lack of prayer simply points to something else that actually deeper down you believe you can do without them that you don’t really need them in huddle recently which is one of our discipleship groups we’ve been exploring the rhythms of our life we’ve been talking about the balance of our relationships and in the midst of that we’re just beginning to hear both the invitation and challenge of Jesus to order our lives according to his wisdom i wonder brothers and sisters do we need more of the same in our own lives

and i don’t simply mean going to Jesus and with lots of words good though that is unnecessary though that is because one of the things I’ve been learning in recent months is just the value and the discipline of silence and solitude and so every day i will try and spend 10 minutes in silence before the lord saying as little as i can seeking him in that place vernally honestly and as much as i can with a heart of worship though it’s easily distracted and it’s only been a couple of months but i can tell you those 10 minutes are making a difference because they are a means of grace in my life but i not only spend some time in silence i do pray as well i pray for the day ahead i pray for my family i pray for some close friends and i pray for at least two families in my pastoral grouping every day so that by the end of the week i pray for my whole pastor of gripping every week and that’s my way of approaching the throne of grace for myself and for these others that we all might know the grace of God and i wonder friends are you creating space are you creating space for God and approaching his throne

because he calls us to be a family and a family is there for one another and so will you seek God will you come to his throne both for yourself and for one another that together with Paul we might confidently say the grace of Jesus is sufficient and though we are hard pressed on every side we are not crushed and though perplexed we do not despair and though we may face persecution we are not abandoned and even if we are struck down and our life is given in the cause of Jesus and his gospel we are not destroyed we are not destroyed for we are heirs of God and coheres with Christ and we shall know his glory and the glory of his kingdom for his grace is sufficient

let us pray

God’s right here right now

is there an area of your life where you need to come before the throne of grace

and maybe just in the quiet of your heart

tell him what that is it might just even be one or two words

he knows what’s on your heart

he knows who you’re breaking

he knows where you’re doubting

and he wants to meet you now with his grace

lord for however is upon our heart or whatever situation breaks our heart maybe today for whatever feels like it’s just too much and we wonder how will i cope and when will this end father we ask afresh for your grace your power to uphold us to hold us fast

both now and always

for we ask it in Jesus name

Amen

Prayer as relationship

Preached on: Sunday 27th September 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 20-09-27-Message-PPT-slides.
Bible references: Psalm 27:1-8, 13-14
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Psalm 27:1-8, 13-14
Sunday 27th September 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 pure and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

I wonder how you responded to the news this week about the extra restrictions? I wonder how you felt as we awaited that news being released? I suspect there’s a broad range of reaction and feeling associated with what we’ve heard, and many of us may have a sense that the crisis continues, that these unprecedented days have carried now beyond six months and their end…well, we just don’t know when that will be.
In this midst of it all, we might be asking “where is God? What’s He up to?” These are questions and emotions that the people of God across the ages have felt and asked. Indeed, David, who wrote the psalm we read today, he was in a crisis, for he faced people who were bent on doing evil towards him, ready to go to war, ready to show savagery and devour him, like a pack of wild beasts ready to pounce and bring him low. David faces his own crisis, and we face ours, each just as life threatening, each just as potentially unsettling. Yet I’m struck by David’s posture, his reaction, the emotions that flow through him, for twice he speaks of his confidence, he says:
‘…though war break out against me, even then I will be confident… I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.’ (v3, 13)

In the midst of his crisis, David still has a confidence, a feeling of security. I wonder if we do? I wonder where, or to whom, we go when life seems too much to handle? Is it a spouse or a close friend, a trusted advisor, or parents? I’m sure David was surrounded by all such people, yet his confidence comes from another source, his confidence comes from another relationship, it comes from his intimate relationship with God, the Lord.

Notice what David says in verse 1: ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?’ (v1) David knows God, but in a very relational way – this is not simply head knowledge, information about God, but rather it is a reality that David knows for himself. ‘The Lord is MY light and MY salvation…the Lord is the stronghold of MY life.’ At the heart of biblical faith, is not a list of rules, nor expectation of duty, but a relationship with the living God and David draws upon what he knows of God as he faces his crisis.

So he says, ‘the Lord is my light’ – the Lord dispels the darkness of fear, the Lord lights the way ahead, and in the light of His presence and love…life, hope, faith is revived and helped to flourish.

But the Lord is also ‘my salvation’ – the One who can deliver me and rescue me – and the Lord is also his ‘stronghold’, ‘the stronghold of [his] life’, that place of security. In the Lord then, David receives protective presence and care, and it this very relationship which allows David to maintain a confidence, without fear, but also without minimising the realities either.

I wonder, do you have that confidence? In the midst of our crisis, in the midst of whatever crisis you may be individually facing, is there a quiet confidence in who God is? God doesn’t promise to fix all our problems now, and yet the Lord’s people over the centuries have affirmed His unchanging nature, that in Him they have found light and salvation and a place of refuge, a stronghold, even in the greatest and darkest of times. I wonder, do you share in that? Or, do you want to share in that?

C. S. Lewis tells of his experience standing in a dark shed on a sunny day. Through a chink in the wall a sunbeam probed its way into the dark interior of the shed and Lewis suggests it is two quite different things to look at the beam of light and how it interacts with the dark, illuminating only a small part of the shed, or to step into the light and look along the beam to its source. If you want to share in the confidence of David, you need to come into the light, the light that comes from a relationship with God, a relationship that we pursue and invest time in, a relationship that is personal to you, and not confined to four walls on a Sunday morning. Because when we step into the light and seek the Lord, although it may be dark within the walls of our shed, although our very lives may be dark, there is still light and it bathes our whole perspective when we look to its source.
I wonder, are you someone who is looking in from the side? Do you see a beam of light, but you’re simply looking on? Maybe you see it in another’s life, maybe you see it in the Scriptures, but this relationship with God, this knowledge of God, is external to you, it’s not your experience. If that’s you, how can we change that reality? How can we step into the light? Well, let’s turn to David’s example once more.

He writes: ‘One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple…
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.’ (v4, 14)

In these verses of his psalm, David gives us a window into how he pursues this relationship with God, and we see there a prayerful waiting, a prayerful seeking, of the Lord. David does this by spending time in the presence of God, which for him, at his particular point in history, meant going to the central place of worship, the tabernacle. So, David would seek the presence of God, in a prayerful way, by giving time to this.

But in that time, David would also ‘gaze on the beauty of the Lord’ – and this is language which speaks of a steady, sustained focus, rather than a one-time glimpse, and during this time instead of asking the Lord for things, David is praising and admiring and enjoying God, for who God is. David finds God captivating, not just useful for getting stuff. In spending time with the Lord in prayer, resting in His presence and appreciating who He is, David cultivates confidence, a contentment which carried him through many a crisis.

Again, I wonder, does this describe us? Is this part of our prayer life? Do we know how to slow down and wait in the presence of God, wait in such a manner that we enjoy Him? It could be argued, based on the Lord’s Prayer, that this is where we should start, for Jesus said to pray, ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.’ In one line, Jesus echoes David, for in these familiar words, which we often rush past, we call to mind who God is and we hallow Him, we admire, we enjoy, we praise Him.

But unlike David, we don’t need a temple or a sacred place, because Jesus in His death made a way for us to come directly to God, and in the sending of the Holy
Spirit, we are enabled to know God and meet with God. Indeed, Jesus would say, ‘I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you for ever – the Spirit of truth…you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.’ (John 14:16-17) At the heart of biblical faith, is a direct, immediate relationship with God, where you can relate to Him as the perfect Father, and so share in the confidence of David.

I want to give you now the prayer for this week, a prayer that my own minister, Kenny Borthwick, shared in a parish magazine some 8 years ago, yet it has stuck with me ever since and I keep turning to it, especially in the hard times, and I can do that because it’s only one line. It reads: ‘Abba, beloved Father, I belong to You, I am Your son, and I bring You great joy.’

My encouragement to you this week, is to take 5 minutes each day, and pray this line. Talk with God about each word, talk with Him about the words you find hard, talk with Him about the wonderful reality that is captured in these words. Also, can I encourage you to pray it out loud? In our psalm, David said, ‘Hear my voice when I call, Lord.’ David spoke out and there is something powerful, life-giving when we pray directly to God and speak out. I’m not asking you to do it in front of people, but the things we believe and hold dear, are the things we put into words, and same is true in our relationship with God.
So, I encourage you to speak out this prayer this week.
Why don’t we take a moment to pray this together, and I’m going to move into a more comfortable seat.
(PAUSE)

Here we are in my livingroom, in the seat I sit in each morning to spend time with God, and from time to time I’ll use that line. But I’ll also use it when I’m out walking Hector in the woods and fields. Use it where you see fit, use it where you need and want to connect with God, but let us pray it now. Let us pray.
(SHORT PRAYER)

Why pray?

Preached on: Sunday 6th September 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 20-09-06-Message-PPT-slides.
Bible references: Luke 11:1-10
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 11:1-10
Sunday 6th September 2020
Brightons Parish Church

Introduction to reading
In our last teaching series, we explored in the book of Matthew the calling of Jesus to His disciples, both then and for us now. We saw that we are all called into a relationship with Jesus, and with that comes an invitation, a command even, to give our lives away for His purposes, as part of the family of God, such that we share the love of God and we mature in the character of God.

Back on the 15th of July I was praying and asking the Lord for guidance, and I believe He shared a number of things to help us enter into His purposes, His freedom, and the life He has for us. I noted these down in my journal and one prompting was a call to prayer, to grow in prayer, to become a more prayerful people, and this is as much for me because I know that I need to grow in prayer.
So, beginning today and through to the October break, we are going to look at some teaching on prayer and each week have a particular prayer or activity to use in helping us to pray. Because it’s all well and good having a clear purpose and a sense of what Jesus has called us to, but without being a people of prayer, we won’t change, and this world will not change either.

During my recent holiday I read a little on the issue of justice, and the concluding words focused on prayer. In particular, this portion caught my attention: ‘we must [empower the pursuit of justice] with prayer. If we [rely on] willpower, hard work, protest and activism alone, we will become exhausted. Prayer gives the battle over to Jesus. Prayer fuels our action. Through prayer, Jesus will give us strength, truth, wisdom, peace, insight, love, forgiveness and power. Through prayer, God wins the main battleground – the human heart.’
(Ben Lindsay, We Need To Talk About Race)

Whether it be the issue of justice, or the calling to ‘invite, encourage and enable people to follow Jesus’, we need to be a people of prayer, because our own finite resources are just not enough. So today, we begin a new series on prayer, and hear now our first reading from the Scriptures.
(PAUSE)

Message
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Prayer is one of those parts of life, parts of faith, which we know we should do, but often don’t. That can be for any number of reasons: we don’t know what words to use; we fear getting it wrong; we maybe don’t think it does anything. There can also be other reasons, such as simple laziness or apathy.

This past week, Gill and I celebrated 15 years of marriage, and if I told you that we rarely talk, don’t listen to each other, and generally get on with our separate lives, it wouldn’t matter than we lived in the same house, or had our marriage certificate, or shared our financial resources, you would still be thinking that the quality of our marriage was quite poor, even worrying. Thankfully, none of those things actually apply!

Yet, the same is true with our relationship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You might come to church, you might have a baptism certificate or something that marks when you became a member or an elder, and you might give generously in finances or in time to the work of God’s church. But if you are not praying, not relating personally and directly to God on a regular basis, then I would wonder about the quality of your relationship with Him.

In our day there is a prayer movement called ‘24-7 Prayer’, and a number of years ago they produced a video which summaries ‘why’ we might pray, and I would like to play that for you, just now.
(PAUSE – play video)

I wonder what jumped out for you – do feel free to share it in the live chat just now. I was struck by the idea that prayer may be the most powerful thing we do to change our world, to change ourselves, because when we pray we are connecting with the living God, engaging in a twoway relationship, and as we do so, what we pray echoes into eternity. So, prayer is key, it is powerful, and sometimes the best way to learn to pray is simply to pray.

Nonetheless, one day the disciples came to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray…’ (v1) Clearly, they saw something – something in the way He prayed, or in what He prayed, something different. Or maybe they saw how Jesus had prayer underpinning all of life because again and again He would go off to pray. And so, the one and only thing they ever ask to be taught, is to pray.

In response, Jesus shares with them what we now call the Lord’s Prayer, which is probably the most famous prayer in history. Martin Luther said: “To this day I am still nursing myself on the Lord’s Prayer like a child, and I am still eating and drinking of it like an old man without getting bored of it.” Christian writer, Timothy Jones, also argued: “To cultivate a deeper prayer life all you have to do is say the Lord’s Prayer, but take an hour to do it.”
We know from history, that it was traditional for rabbis of the time to have their own unique prayer which brought together their foundational teaching. John the Baptist’s followers likely had such a prayer because in our passage today the disciples said, ‘“Lord teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”’ (Luke 11:1)

It’s unlikely they were just asking Jesus for a few good prayer tips. They were saying: ‘We need know what You are about, we need a statement of faith!’ As such, the Lord’s Prayer is maybe our primary foundation for understanding life and faith, giving shape to everything else. In this way, the Lord’s Prayer is like a model prayer: knowing what to pray and so we might simply repeat the words as given, because repeating it regularly can help its central truths to slowly shape our hearts and our minds.
But the Lord’s Prayer can also be like a map: teaching us the way of prayer, the route to take. Many of us find prayer difficult, don’t we? We get distracted or struggle to know what to say. But praying each phrase, even a few words of the prayer, can spark ideas of what to pray. In this way, the Lord’s Prayer helps us become real with God: real with Him about what we think of Him, of the needs we have for ourselves and the needs of others, as well as seeking His forgiveness for our sin and asking for His help in the difficult realities of life.

Here is a prayer that we often just recite without much thought, yet it can be a framework into which we pour all of the thoughts and concerns of our lives. It is possible to take the thing that is most burning in your heart at this time and pray about it using the Lord’s Prayer.

Earlier in the service, I said that in each week of this season of prayer, we would have a prayer to pray, or an activity to use, and the Lord’s Prayer is the one for this week. You can simply take the version you are most comfortable with and pray it in one of the ways I’ve described this morning. Or, if you wish, you can find an alternative version on our website, in the “Sermons” page, as well as from our Facebook page this afternoon. In that document there are various examples of the Lord’s Prayer, sometimes using different language to express its meaning, or capturing the prayer from a particular angle. If you’ve been praying this prayer for many years, it may be helpful to try a different version because then may you to see and engage with it afresh.

But whether you pray in “Thee’s” and “Thou’s”, or take it a word or line at a time, may we choose to grow as a people of prayer, responding to this call to pray, and investing time in our relationship with God by using the Lord’s Prayer each day this coming week. For Jesus has promised: ‘ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.’ (v9) As we prayer, as we ask, seek and knock, may we know the reciprocal welcome and provision of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 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.

The perished Kingdom

Preached on: Sunday 1st 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 19-09-01-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: Genesis 3:1-15
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Genesis 3:1-15
Sunday 1st September 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.

Last week we began our new sermon series on ‘the kingdom of God’ and we read from chapters 1 and 2 of
Genesis, where 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.

We saw that God made mankind in His own image, and then placed humanity in a garden, to tend it and care for it, and with only one rule, under which they were to fulfil their mandate, thus living within God’s ways and under His care, enjoying His blessing, His presence, and His rest.

Life was perfect, there was perfect relationship between humanity and God, between Adam and Eve, and between humanity and the wider creation. It was a perfect creation, described as ‘very good’, and it gave the pattern of the kingdom.

But, can I ask – do you feel that perfection? Is life a bunch of rosy relationships and experiences for you? Are you living the dream? I do hope life is good for you, but even if it is, not one of us escapes the brokenness of our world.

There may be tensions at home, or in the family – it’s easy to roll out of bed and straight into an argument at the beginning of the day. Or maybe you are on your own, with a
different kind of brokenness, with a yearning for companionship, maybe where there has never been one, or maybe where one has been lost.
You may experience that brokenness in your place of work, or in the community, with the people you see and interact with. There’s that individual you just don’t get on with; there’s that feeling you don’t matter, or you’re being overlooked; there’s that guy down the road who’s in a dark, dark place; there’s that young family who come to the foodbank.

And in the midst of all that hurt and brokenness, there’s that question, that frustration which comes to mind: where are you God? Do you exist? Do you care? Because I just don’t feel you close right now.

I think we all know that we live in a broken world, that it’s not quite as it should be, that there is something deeply wrong, but not only around us, but it’s also within us.
Because if we’re honest, we know that we cannot live up to our own standards and hopes. We made that promise to change, and well…we’ve still not changed. We want to be more loving and gracious and kind…but, well, criticism and anger just come so much more easily. There’s something deeply wrong, and it’s not only in the world around us, it’s within us as well, and I’m sure you can put your finger on the things, where you feel the brokenness.

The claim of the Christian faith is that here in Genesis chapter 3, we see where it all began to go wrong, where that brokenness entered in. For in Genesis 3, we’re taken back to the Garden of Eden, with Adam and Eve in perfection, with only one rule, given in Genesis 2:
‘…you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.’
And then, Genesis 3 comes along, where Adam and Eve are persuaded to doubt God’s word, it is distorted and questioned by the serpent, such that God’s motives are distorted as well:
‘You will not certainly die,’ the snake said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ (Genesis 3:4-5)

And so, Adam and Eve give way to temptation, they take and eat the fruit of the tree, that fruit which was forbidden. But the thought might come to our minds, why was this so terrible? Surely it’s good to know the difference between right and wrong?

Well, what we need to understand here is that…
‘the knowledge of good and evil’ refers not simply to knowing what is right and wrong, but rather to deciding what is right and wrong.

In taking the fruit, Adam and Eve were in effect saying to God, “From now on, we want to set the standards, God, we want to be the ones who make the laws.” It was a blatant act of rebellion to the King who gave them life and every good gift. And that has been at the heart of our
problem ever since, that is at the heart of what we call ‘sin’:
our rejection of God, and the establishing of our kingdom.

And maybe that seems like no big deal to you, maybe it seems quite trivial. But the brokenness of our world, of our lives, begins here in Genesis 3 and it ripples out. For with Adam and Eve, where there had once been complete trust and intimacy, that is now gone and replaced…
with shame and distance, they seek to cover their nakedness. And then the battle of the sexes begins, and relationships within humanity are broken.

Also, where once Adam and Eve enjoyed the perfect creation, and life was very good, now God foretells that life will be very different, with greater pain, greater toil, greater wrestling with the issues of evil. Indeed, in the chapters after this, the world goes so horribly wrong.

But finally, Adam and Eve, who once enjoyed perfect relationship with God, wherein they experienced His blessing and rest, they are now told to leave the garden, they are driven out of God’s presence. And with the breaking of that divine-human relationship, what God foretold comes true: death comes into human experience.

The pattern of the kingdom is lost, for now no one is God’s people by nature, we’ve turned away from Him. We no longer live in His place; we are banished from the garden. And instead of living under His rule and enjoying His blessing, His rule is now rejected, we live in disobedience, and we experience the brokenness of our world.

That is where the Bible could have ended, it might have been only 3.5 pages long, with a perfect world destroyed by human rebellion.

But God is a gracious God, and whilst there is no reason He should do anything to help us, nevertheless He does.
And He does so even with Adam and Eve, there is still hope here in Genesis 3, for in the darkness there are glimmers of light.
In verse 9, we read:
‘But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’’

This comes straight after their rebellion, Adam and Eve are trying to hide from Almighty God, and yet He comes seeking, He comes calling, He comes in grace.

At the opposite end of the tale, there is grace once more, for God takes those shabby, pathetic coverings of their fig leaves, and replaces them, we read in verse 21:
‘The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.’

God gives a more fitting and proper covering for the life they will now live outside the garden. In this act of grace, a life is laid down, so that humanity can continue to live.

And then in between these two acts of grace, we read in verse 15:
The Lord God said,…‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.’

In grace, God makes a promise, hinting to a time in the future when a son of Eve, a human being, will destroy evil.

And all three of these acts of grace are most fully completed and displayed in the life of Jesus. He is that son of Eve, but also that son of God, who came to destroy evil, who came to destroy sin and hell and death itself.
In Jesus, we find provision, a covering, wherein guilt and condemnation, wherein shame, are dealt with completely, and we are restored to right standing with God. In Jesus we also find freedom from bondage to sin, to our rebellion and disobedience, for through faith in Jesus, God promises to begin a new life in us, to overcome our internal brokenness, and bring forth the character of Jesus. What’s more, God promises in Jesus, God evidences in Jesus, in His death and resurrection, that death is conquered, it does not have the final say, in Him there is a means to return to the garden, to the place of life, and share in life eternal with God. In Jesus, life can and does begin again, and it does so because He laid down His life for us on the cross. Finally, in Jesus, God comes to us, He comes seeking, He comes calling. He comes inviting us back into relationship with Himself… that even amidst the brokenness we feel, there might be hope, there might be promise of a future day wherein all will be made right once more.

And to share in that hope, we need do nothing more, than what Caroline has done – not in becoming a church member, that’s not how we share in the promise. No, we share in the promise through faith, through faith in Jesus, through confessing Him as our Lord and Saviour, to which Caroline testified this day, as she confirmed her faith.

Friends, I hope you share in this faith, in this hope. But if you don’t, it’s only a step away – all you need do is put your faith in Jesus. If that’s something you’d like to do, please come have a chat with me.

To all who claim such a faith, there is hope, and there is the invitation to share in the meal of the Lord’s Supper, for here, we feast and rejoice in all we have in Jesus, for He is the embodiment of God’s grace amidst our brokenness, and the means by which the pattern of the kingdom of God will one day be restored.

To Him, be all glory, now and forever. Amen.