Vision and discernment

Preached on: Sunday 7th August 2022
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: Matthew 7:1-12
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints: AVAILABLE SOON

Just a brief prayer now, as we come to think about God’s word in the passage that Norma read so beautifully to us:

Heavenly Father, we ask that, as we listen to the exposition of Your word now, nothing will destroy our peace. It’s so easy, as we said already, for all sorts of things to come in and worry us and, as we reflect on this passage in a complicated world, we ask that Your Spirit will give us great wisdom. give it to the preacher as well, to the people, because it is a searching passage and few of us pass the test on this one. Father, be very gracious to us now as we think about Your Word, in Jesus; name we ask these things. Amen,

If you were here when I last spoke in January you will probably remember what I spoke about

I spoke about my glasses and I spoke about eyesight to the young people. And, if you watched me coming in here, what did I do? I cleaned my glasses first and foremost, constantly looking for the speck on the glass and trying to make my vision as clear as possible. And here we are today again, and the eyes have it once more, if I can borrow a well-known phrase. The eyes are back. Vision and discernment are at the very heart of the passage we are looking at. The human eye is central to the passage that we’ve read. it explains the passage and without it, the passage falls flat.

Did you ever think, do you ever think that Jesus has a sense of humor? I think He does. When I was preparing and thinking about the eye I thought, how interesting that I’m being asked to speak about a passage about eyes when I’m so obsessed with eyes. First point. But then, Jesus is using humor in this passage today. He’s full of wit which is gently slipped in. So gently that we perhaps, don’t notice it or we’ve become so familiar with the passage that we don’t think about it or we’ve lost the context. And we’ll look at that in due course.

Before, however, this passage, if we were here last week, we would have noticed that Jesus does have a lot to say about the eye. He points out to us that the eye is extremely important and it is the lamp of the body. In chapter 6 verse 22 ‘The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness.’ And then he comes back to the eye again here ‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye.’ Now then, just imagine trying to find a speck in someone’s eye when there’s a plank in your own. You get that wee joke?

Now, have you ever tried to find a speck in somebody’s eye? When I was a boy in Tiree, I knew a lot about what we in Scotland call ‘stoor’ or what our English friends might call just ‘dust’. But i think the Scottish word, the Scots word ‘stoor’ has something about it and Gaelic it’s ‘stour’ and that’s even worse I can assure you. On a croft or on a farm where I was brought up, stoor was an occupational hazard. It arose quite literally from just about everything. A gust of wind would lift tiny particles of sand from a sandy surface and before you knew it you had a particle in your eye. Or when we would be thrashing corn what would happen? Particles would rise and we could get something in our eye. Or when we were sawing a wee speck of sawdust would come and lodge in the eye and what trouble that little speck would cause. My father had particularly sensitive eyes. Very, very sensitive indeed and he battled with eyes that seemed to catch every speck that was going. So, you can imagine what happened – he would summon me and say ‘Can you see the speck in my eye?’ and I would have to open my dad’s eye like this and look in and see if I could detect the speck. And sometimes he would have to do it for me. How did we get it out? Well sometimes we didn’t get it out and the eye would water and water, but if we did see the speck we would find something like a match, one of these and put a wee bit of cotton wool on the end and try hard to lift it out and many of you can identify with that. I’m sure you did it. Nowadays we’re protected probably from it because we can go to a hospital but in Tiree you didn’t have that. It wasn’t easy so you had to do everything yourself. And what if you didn’t find it? You would have a go with an eyeglass. Do you remember the eyeglasses? They looked like little egg cups with a special bit in them so that you could cover the surface of the eye. We would have a go with that and try to bathe the eye to see if we could clear the speck. But what a job it was trying to find that speck and what trouble the speck caused. And I used to see my father reduced literally to tears by the speck in his eye and he couldn’t do the work. We were stopped. Now imagine if that were a plank, a railway sleeper. Yes, and it’s in your eye and you then go off to see if you can see the speck in somebody else’s eye. Well clever you if you can do that. You certainly are somebody in a million, probably 10 million and more. And that’s the joke, right at the heart of this passage.

It’s so easy to see the speck in someone else’s eye, is it? And yet, some people are experts at it. If we move the metaphor to the way that we judge others, we’re not a minute finding the spec in somebody else’s eye but for some reason we can’t see the plank in our own. The plank allows us to see through. I ponder this passage as I say. It’s humorous, it’s clever and it’s absolutely true to life. This was the supreme teacher at work and sometimes folks, a wee bit of humor helps the teaching to stick.

Now, if we’re foolish enough to take this passage just at face value, and remember Jesus was taking people to another level as He taught, He was turning the world upside down, He was forcing them to think just a little beyond the surface of things. Now, if we take it as it comes ‘Do not judge or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged.’ you might think that Jesus is saying stop judging, never ever judge anything, nothing at al. Don’t, because all too often you are simply not capable of doing it or the way you judge is below the quality that would be expected. And the image that’s behind this is of measuring out something. Remember the old days when you had scales on a shop counter and the grocer or whoever would put a weight in one and he would put your particular item on the other and try to get a balance. Yes, well that’s the picture about the measure, of the measure here. And sometimes our judgment falls short. And the point is, if we’re giving judgments that are short measure then somebody says, Jesus will measure it back that way to us. So, we’ve got to be careful. But the point here is that we have to judge anyway. There are certain judgments we can never get away from. We’ve got to use this thing up here and we’ve got to try to reach some sort of judgment as to what we do. I’ve heard people say ‘Oh, I mustn’t judge.’ so that excuses them from saying anything in a particular context. You’ve heard that and I’ve heard also ‘Oh, I mustn’t judge.’ But and then you get an avalanche of criticism about the person concerned. So, we use this. We can be a bit equivocal in the way we use such passages and a bit two-faced and we excuse ourselves and so on but the point is, judgment is essential. It’s the kind of judgment we do that can be the problem. We have to reason. We have to think through.

Think of doctors. ‘Oh, I can’t judge possibly judge to do a diagnosis.’ Think of lecturers, teachers, lawyers, captains of ships. Hear that one often, Caledonian McBrayne blaming the captain because he’s had to make a judgment about the weather. And we think we know better than the captain. Oh, this passage is very subtle. How often I’ve done that. I think ‘Why has he not sailed today? I would have sailed if I was in that bridge.’ And so, it goes on. Would I? They have to make decisions and they have to judge. Aircraft pilots, when to land, when to try to land, when to take off. Ministers have to make judgments too. Our minister here, Reverend Scott Burton has to make judgments. And Kirk Sessions, yes, there’s been a big judgment here about the manse and the grounds and so on they’ve had to do that. We all have to judge at one point or another. And the great question is how we do it? That’s what this passage is about. What’s your spirit when you judge something or someone? Is it censorious? Is that the way it’s done. And do you have roast preachers for dinner because you could have done better? And really it’s because the preacher has said something that’s got you. That’s the problem. Very often it’s a problem, that’s the problem. It’s a warning, this passage about rushing to judgment without being aware of our own faults and failings. Otherwise, as this passage puts before us very simply, we are hypocrites. ‘You hypocrite? First take the plank out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.’ Oh, just so!

So, who does this? Who’s the number one culprit? I am, let me tell you! Like me, I’m sure you all love tailbacks. I’m sure you just glory in them and when you see red lights ahead you say ‘Ah yummy!’ I know you don’t. I was going down old Redding Road the other day and there was some work being done on the bridge parapet and there was a system there, single lane system and a notice that said when the red light shows what does it say – wait here. And, as usual, I turned up when there was a lot of cars ahead of me and I thought, by the time that one is through its cycle, I’ll be stuck again. So, I was ready and off I went keeping my eye fixed on the light and, of course, when I got there, when the cars had moved it was just about going to red again so I thought ‘Oh no bother, I’ll just jump in behind the previous one’ and off I went. That was fine and through I went and I thought ‘Oh, terrific!’ and I was glad to get through. But then I looked behind me and three or four other cars were doing exactly the same thing. And what did I say. I said ‘What drivers they really are! Terrible, terrible! Oh, do they never read the Highway Code? Do they never think about the driver in front.’ And then when I reached Spinkill something happened inside my own mind and a wee voice said to me ‘You hypocrite! If you had stopped at that light, you would have saved three or four others from breaking the law in the way you did, going through a red light.’ It’s just so easy to start judging others and forget about your own failings. I’m culprit number one. How often have you done things like that and then blamed the person behind you?

In my own job I judged all the time. I was a lecturer, a teacher. I had to reach conclusions about students work. But there was a wider judgment as well of other people, colleagues, folk around and quite often when somebody new came as a boss that was difficult and people would talk and I would talk about the qualities of that person. What a bossy, bossy person that was and then, occasionally, it would dawn who really likes to be boss. I had a wee phrase which I used to use when the managers annoyed me and it was ‘I was trained to fly solo.’ and the fault that I was seeing in others was one that I had myself see. It’s such a subtle, subtle, subtle thing this, and you don’t notice it. And even as I preach to you, I think to myself I have any real right to be here. You know, it gets to each and every one of us, right through into us, this passage, and we have to be so careful.

I have a friend, Dr Michael Haiken, who works in one of the colleges in the United States and I keep up with his posts because he is a man with considerable discernment. And just a couple of weeks back, when I started to prepare this and think through what I was going to say, a post from Michael appeared and it showed another aspect of this problem. This was what Michael wrote:
‘Years ago I knew Christian brother more than double my age who helped me enormously in some areas of doctrine but as I spent time with him I noticed that his speech was invariably very critical of others indeed, he was biting in his criticism. I found that after I was with him for a while, I felt polluted in mind and heart.’ Now imagine that. ‘I am not sure how to even express how I felt. I just knew that it was not good for my soul to be with him so, over time, I allowed our friendship to die. I did confront him about one issue but to no avail.’

See, he didn’t see the plank in his own eye and quite often in matters theological I’ve seen people falling out about trivia and then dismissing people wholly because of that one point of difference and quite often they don’t see that they have a real problem in the way they’re criticizing others.

Now, if we move on in this passage, there is some salutary teaching about how and when we should apply judgment. ‘Do not give dogs what is sacred. Do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet and then turn and tear you to pieces.’ When we’re passing judgment on people, we need to be aware that we need discernment and to be aware of context. There are times, places, contexts in which judgment or a word in season, is timely, required and right, but there are other occasions when it is not appropriate to start lecturing others about their faults or whatever they do. Various commentators have discussed the pearls here. Some relate it to the preaching of the Gospel that there are certain contexts in which you don’t go, if you’re being mocked and so on. I don’t really take that one. I think that what is being said here is that we have, if we have good things to say to people, wise things, things that will steer them through their problems, then there are places and times when it is appropriate to say them. Times when it’s not. If you’ve got pearls, use them wisely.

Pearls and pigs? Well, I was brought up with pigs and I knew a lot about pigs and many a time I prepared their food in a great big boiler. They liked potatoes, they liked oatmeal, they liked whatever you could give them. And you brought it along to them and as soon as they got it they would rush to get it and put their foot down like that to keep the other pig out. One would keep the other, elbowing all the time, and they absolutely loved their foot. But imagine coming to them with a bucket full of pearls? I don’t think the pigs would have been at all happy and this is what the passage here is about, if I see, if I understand it correctly, and I may not. If you throw your pearls to pigs, they may trample them under their feet. And you have to be aware that dogs don’t want them either, from time to time. Be very careful with dogs. So, there are warnings here.

And we live in a world today where we have to be extremely wise about how we handle people. Never has there been more in the way of sensitivity. My mother used to talk about people who had, who had hides like a rhinoceros and you couldn’t get through to them. She wasn’t talking about me I know that. But nowadays the problem is that we’re all thin-skinned, or quite a lot of us are, and we are very sensitive to criticism. It’s a difficult world. And also the ethical and moral dilemmas with which we have to deal are very, very sensitive and hard. Never has it been harder. There was a time when black was black, white was white but now, we live in a very, very much in a grey area and we have to find our way through in a God honoring, God glorifying manner so that we are effective. Sometimes, if we are not wise, what we get back is (a punch) and we have to watch it, be very, very careful. And discernment’s at the heart of this. We’ve got to know who the dogs are. We’ve got to know when, or in the context of pigs, we’ve got to be able to distinguish them from pink unicorns or whatever. I’ve got to use this and be very, very wise, with God’s grace and God’s help. A hard-hadt world.

And just imagine if you threw the law about in a bullying way. Suddenly you pulled something out of the law book and said Stop! How would people react? In a very, very difficult world, such wisdom is needed. God-given. And I think particularly of lawyers who work to maintain Christian values in the kind of society that we live in today. They’ve got to judge. They can’t leave it, and the judges and the courts have to judge and the society we live in is just so difficult.

We have to be light to folks, but we also have to be salt, and we have to know what context we need the salt. We can’t just throw the salt in wherever. No! That doesn’t work. That leaves bitterness. It leaves a bad taste. But if we know when to drop in a little particle or two of salt as required, it helps and sometimes, later down the line, we discover that that particle has indeed gone in and it has begun to do its transforming work. People, you think, weren’t listening, completely closed to your advice, they come back and say to you ‘I was very grateful for that word.’ A word in season, in the right place, at the right time. And so, discernment goes through this passage all the way. When you look at this passage – I’m not going to go into all of it today, I don’t have the time, and I was very grateful to Judith Norton for taking on the theme of asking, seeking, knocking again, – you see the wisdom here, the question of discernment, even when we ask God for something do we know what we’re asking for. We’ve got to be persistent. Ask, seek and then knock. That we have to know what we’re asking for. We struggle with what I sometimes call and others call, the age of entitlement. When people think they should have everything. We get infected by the spirit of the age. As I was saying earlier, it affects judgment, it affects how we do things, but this sense of entitlement that lots of people are and then they go to God and suddenly their prayers they realize the prayer wasn’t answered, they pick a quarrel with God. It’s very easy to do it, very easy to do it. How many of us have not done it and said God ‘Why didn’t you give me this, that and the next thing’ and this passage warns us about that sort of attitude. ‘If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly father give good gifts to those who ask him?’ This spirit of discernment, we need it when we’re judging, we need it when we’re praying for ourselves, we need it in every aspect of life and we should be people who are distinguished for clear judgment, words in season, prayers that are appropriate for ourselves and for others.

And in all of that we’re asked to persevere, even in our judgments. I think we should, if we’re wise enough, and we know when to put in the salt, we know when to apply the word in season, then we should persevere in that. We shouldn’t just say ‘Oh, nobody’s listening. God’s not listening.’ No, that’s not the way it works and that’s not what this passage is saying.

It’s a sobering passage my friends, and few of us really measure up. The number of times I’ve judged others and I’m just as bad myself. I stand condemned by this passage. How do we solve the problem?

Well, we do so by removing the plank to give us greater wisdom as we judge and as we pray. And how do we remove the plank? Well, the answer is to go to God and ask Him to remove it.

A good friend of mine the Reverend Dr. Don Carson has written this ‘The kingdom of heaven requires poverty of spirit, purity of heart, truth, compassion and non-retaliatory spirit. A life of integrity. And we lack all of these things then, let us ask for them. Such asking, when sincere and humble, is already a step of repentance and faith. For it is an acknowledgement that the virtues the Kingdom requires you do not possess and that these same virtues, only God can give.’ I’m sure Don could have added, clarity of spiritual vision, to the list and I think he could also have added the plank. We all need a plank removed somewhere along the line and when we remove it, and when we act like this, we behave as members of the kingdom. The golden rule of not doing to others what you wouldn’t like them to do to you, it’s not because you want them to,, you know scratch your back because you’ve scratched theirs, no ,it’s because you are living within the rules of the Kingdom of God and Jesus says in this passage that such an ethical code fulfills the law and the prophets and that’s what He said He was doing in the Sermon on the Mount and what He Himself was doing.
It’s a searching passage, my friends. It applies to me first and foremost and I leave you to think about it yourself. Not comfortable, but God give us, in this age in which we live, a responsible, sensitive awareness of when we can say things, judge correctly, apply the judgment and help others so that, they too, when they see us operating, will seek the Kingdom of God,


Spiritual vision

Preached on: Sunday 16th January 2022
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: Colossians 1:15-23
Location: Brightons Parish Church

I am a bit of an expert in physical vision or so I think.

I’ve had my eyes tested more times than I care to count and when I go to the optician almost inevitably the optician will put up a great big card and asks me to read the letters on the card and I start off very well, I can do the top lines, and I’m very pleased with myself, then we get to the middle and I can do some of them and then when I get to the little bottom lines and the letters begin to get smaller, I start guessing and eventually I run out of guesses. That’s physical vision, and I’ve had to go regularly to have my eyes tested, and one of the things that strikes me is how subtly I can lose my vision. I wonder what I’ll be like in another 10 years’ time. Wonderfully my sight is stable at the moment but I’ve got to be careful.

As I said to the children, there are more ways than one of seeing. The apostle Paul reminded the Ephesians that they had eyes in their hearts. ‘I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints.’ We have different kinds of vision. I’m well aware of it when I’m working on an academic problem and it’s very difficult and then, suddenly, there comes a moment and from my brain and my mind these simple words ‘I see!’ We’ve got vision inside ourselves, we’ve got spiritual vision too, and I would just like to ask you how often do you have a spiritual vision check?

It’s very easy just to avoid that and our spiritual vision can sometimes certainly go away. As Eric was saying in his moving prayer, we’re bombarded with so many things. The world around us and we’re looking this way and that and we lose the central focus. So many things compete for our attention and we can lose our focus on Jesus Christ, our Lord, very easily. I was reminded of this even in preparing this sermon. I was pulling out books and commentaries that I hadn’t looked at in years and suddenly I realized that I’d been losing my spiritual vision. And I was reading about the person and work of The Lord Jesus Christ, reading very deep books and I don’t intend to go into their depths with you today. I’ll spare you that. But it made me aware of just how easily and how subtly we can lose our spiritual vision.

William Cooper, the hymn writer, put it like this ‘Where is the blessedness I knew when once I saw The Lord. When first I saw The Lord. Where is the soul refreshing view of Jesus and His word.’ It’s just so easy to lose our spiritual vision. Things happen in life. Sadness, disappointments and all that. I’m just covered and we’re so glued to that and worried and sometimes we really redefine our faith. We even redefine the person of Jesus to suit ourselves, to make Him non-threatening, to make Him just somebody that we can refer to when we want, rather than when He wants to talk to us. Oh, it’s so subtle, certainly the essence of modernity corrode us.

But you know, the consolation is, as we come to God’s word and to the epistle to the Colossians and also to the Laodiceans, they were to read it too, it wasn’t just Colossae that had the problem, this is an old problem. Vision of Jesus was becoming fuzzy and colossal and the Colossians and evidently the Laodiceans too, were losing their focus.

It was happening for a variety of reasons. Different teachings around, different philosophies, and they were seeping into their souls and some were probably listening to the teachers and enjoying the different messages without being aware that they were gradually drifting away from the bedrock of their salvation. It happens so subtly folks and it’s an old, old problem, and Paul is tackling it in Colossians and what he does here is something quite dramatic, in a way, as he speaks to the Colossians telling them of how Jesus has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. He then gives us this amazing picture of that very Son and it occupies most of the passage that we have read together.

It’s a very complicated passage in many ways. As I was preparing myself over the last six weeks to speak to you, I became aware of how scholars tussle with it and if we were to go round down their particular road we could be in here for weeks. I’ll try to avoid that.

But he puts it before them straight, a big picture of Jesus a big, big picture

The heights and depths of this passage are truly amazing, and the passage acts as the cornerstone for the rest of the letter. As I was reading through it I noted the number of times that the sections in this chapter were taken through like little blocks and built on again with implications for what the Colossians did in their own lives.

But what Paul does primarily is that he makes them look up. He says, come away from these teachers and the philosophies for a minute and start doing that, looking up and see the salvation that has been prepared for you in Jesus Christ. He puts this picture right at the center of the letter or at the beginning really, but it is central to it all and he asks them to look at it and what I want to do today is to take you and make you look up to Jesus.

When Brent Haywood spoke to us at the very beginning, he used the image of balancing that broom on its handle and, you know, I’ve almost been going around with that, almost trying to do it because it’s such a good image. So often, when our vision fails, we start looking down and we can’t anymore balance the broom on our fingers. It’s a great image. And that’s just what was happening here so Paul’s antidote to that is to just give them straight, a picture, a great picture of Jesus Christ.

Now, there are various views about this passage. One of them is that it may well be an earlier statement of belief that Christians had been wrestling with this, before Paul wrote this letter. As I said, it’s not a new problem that they had formulated. What mattered, what really mattered, and it was a crucial statement of some kind and there’s a lot to be said for that because, if you note at verse 21, he changes a little and he says here’s the picture in verses 15 to 20, here’s the picture and here are the consequences of that picture, what you have to do and what you have to remember. Now, all I want to do today, very simply, is to take you through the main points as they seem to be to me, of the picture of Jesus that Paul gives. As I say, it’s very complicated at one level but I want to draw out just the simple points so that you take them away and perhaps will be encouraged to look at them further when you leave here, look at the picture as we go. What a picture.

As I was preparing, I was thinking of Rio de Janeiro and I’m sure you will know why because as you go into Rio de Janeiro there’s a huge statue sitting above it of Christ the Redeemer but even that’s inadequate, very inadequate. It lifts our eyes but it doesn’t take as much beyond stone and concrete. Here we have a wonderful picture in which Jesus is lifted up first of all. Paul says through this passage guided by the Holy Spirit Jesus is supreme in and over all creation.

First point – Jesus is not simply a spiritual being, He is spiritual, deeply so because He is very God of very God, He is the very image of God as well, but He is also supreme over creation, He’s not separated from creation, He’s not divorced from it, but at the same time, He’s over it. He’s come into this creation in the incarnation but the amazing thing is that He has been there from the beginning of time. He is before all things. He’s not simply being born for the first time at Christmas Day. He takes on our flesh but He’s there from the very beginning. It’s a complex thought but you know we acknowledge Jesus, The Lord Jesus’ role in creation. In our hymns don’t we and I’m going to put in a wee hymn, a verse from a hymn with each point so that you can think about it – ‘Jesus is Lord, creation’s voice proclaims it, for by his power each tree and flower was planned and made. Jesus is Lord, the universe declares it, sun, moon and stars in heaven cry, Jesus is Lord.’ I often hear that verse going through my head.

Jesus, the supreme Son of God, coexistent with the Father, is the agent of creation. The process of creation is a different matter to me. I don’t fully understand it and I will leave it gladly to the scientists to work out all of it, but I know, on the basis of the scriptures, who has been the creator and for whom it was all created. So, that’s the first point.

Second, Paul points out that Jesus is supreme over all thrones and powers, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities. All things were created by Him and for Him. He’s not just another king and He made that point Himself on this earth. He is integral, as we said, to the making and sustaining of the physical world but even its greatest rulers were created by Him and fought them in heaven and on earth and also in the supernatural realm because these principalities and powers often refer to the supernatural and it may well be that the Colossians were having a wee listen to all sorts of supernatural ideas and Paul brings them back and says, look here, there’s one that’s greater than all these powers, all thrones and powers. What did Isaac Watts say these many years ago ‘Jesus shall reign where the sun doth his successive journeys run. His kingdom stretch from shore to shore, till moon shall wax and wane no more.’ He’s over all of that.

Third, Jesus is supreme over the church and He is the head of the body the church. He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead. We have funny ideas of the church sometimes, don’t we. We think of it sometimes as a building, sometimes as a denomination, and then we think who’s at the head of the denomination, is it the pope, is it the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and is it the Queen. And each of the structures has its own physical head but beyond that and over the church, as we know it, as we meet together as believers, with our fellow believers throughout the world, Jesus is Lord and He’s head of the church. We sing it as in these other hymns so we’ve got a hymn for this ‘The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord. She is His new creation by water and the word. From heaven he came and sought us, to be His holy bride, and with His blood H bought us and for her life He died.’ We actually know these things. That’s what I’m telling you, but there are times in life when we need to come back and reinforce them and hear them again because of the seepage into our souls of modernity and our loss of focus and vision.

And then, at the end Paul of the first passage, Paul makes clear to us and to the Colossians that Jesus is supreme in the resurrection. The first born from among the dead. When the phrase first born is used here it generally means that He’s got the position of the first son in a primogeniture context and has everything, the authority and He has this that in all things He may have the preeminence. He was the one who conquered death. There were other resurrections through His power before He went to the grave. Lazarus, for example, but Jesus did not die a second time, He went into heaven and there He is and He has and all of that, the preeminence, We need to remind ourselves of that. It’s a glorious truth put before us in the New Testament and we sing that too. there’s an Easter hymn that I just love ‘Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son. Endless is the victory thou o’er death has won.’ It’s not just an Easter hymn, it’s a hymn for every day. Birch Hoyle’s wonderful translation of it. I often hear it going through my head and the music lifting me heavenwards.

And then finally, at least in my little interpretation, Jesus is supreme in reconciliation. He’s bringing us to God. He’s bringing many sons and daughters to glory and Paul emphasizes that there’s no need for any add-on. He’s complete. He’s got the pleroma the fullness of God within and He is the one who has the authority, solely Jesus, to bring us into God’s presence and that is profound as well. So many doctrines there are that tell us that we need something else, that we can’t really depend on the reconciling power of Jesus. These ideas have been around for a long time, as I’ve said, they were there in Colossae.


‘My hope is built’ said the hymn writer ‘on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame but holy trust on Jesus’ name. On Christ this solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.’ I don’t know what hymns will be sung the day I go at my funeral but I’ll tell you this, I want that one sung because it really sums up the totality of where, as Christians, we ought to stand.

And then there’s the next section here, the consequences for us. We could just admire the wonderful work of Jesus but we’ve got to make it ours and we’ve got to persevere with it as the reverend George Macdonald reminded us last week. ‘But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body, if you continue in your faith established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.’ Brent mentioned the Christian hope when he was opening up this passage, this epistle to us and it’s a wonderful thing the Christian hope. The writer to the Hebrews says ‘we have this hope as an anchor for the soul’ and as somebody who was brought up in the Hebrides with boats I just love that. I see the times when we brought in the boat of an evening and we pulled up the anchor chain and we put it on it on the bow and we knew the ship was holding fast but we had to lift that chain put it on and do our bit and the same is through here.

See, when we lose the big vision, the up vision, we become very earthly, we start to look down. It’s the Brent’s brush again. Powerful image. And our eyes go down and we wobble and this was happening with the Colossians. I’m sure Reverend Scott Burton and others will cover these points better than I possibly could, but just at the beginning of chapter three Paul says this to the Colossians ‘Since then you have been, since then you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not earthly things, for you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.’ Wonderful words and it’s only by looking up, as I’m trying to encourage you to do today, that we can escape the down-drag the gravity of earth which is all around us and tries to seep into us and shape our spiritual vision and gradually we lose it.

So, my friends, this morning, the question as I conclude ‘How is your spiritual vision?

Often the optician will ask when he or she puts in a lens or adjusts the modern thing ‘Better or worse?’ and I would ask you this morning how’s your spiritual vision to come to this passage of scripture ‘Better or worse?’

I do hope that it will be just a little better for having been here today and you’ve been able to look up and not be pulled down as we so often are by the suction and gravity of this world. Paul has given us an eye-test here with a great picture, a great bit of writing on a book reading it.

How’s your spiritual vision? I trust this morning as you go out it will be just a little better. Mine certainly is a lot better for having had the great privilege of preparing for this service. Amen.

We are going to conclude now by singing a hymn, another modern one. Michael Soward’s lovely hymn ‘Christ triumphant, ever reigning. Master, Savior, King.’ A truly wonderful hymn. I love this one because it does exactly what I’ve been saying we should do, and Colossians encourages us to do – look up to Christ triumphant ever reigning.

Kingdom identity (Haggai 2:20-23)

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

Texts: Haggai 2:20-23; John 17:20-26
Sunday 17th November 2019
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I will take you’ – echoes what God said to David: ‘“tell my servant David, “This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel.”’ (2 Sam. 7:8)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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