Joshua: context, character, cross

Preached on: Sunday 9th 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.
Bible references: Joshua 5:13-6:20
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

Come Holy Spirit, change our hearts and minds to be more like Jesus. Come Holy Spirit, soften our hearts to the Word of God. Come among us Holy Spirit, with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Up to this point in Joshua things have been quite easy for us, the readers. We’ve heard God’s call through the early chapters…
to commit ourselves to His purposes, daunting though that is, but nonetheless God calls us to it because He promises to be with us. And so, as a united people we can press forward, we can dream again, for we know and remember that God can do the incredible, that He is calling us to greater things, and He showed His power and grace when He gave His life our us in Jesus upon the Cross.

But with the story of Jericho and its defeat, we enter upon uncomfortable reading, for none of the city are spared, except Rahab…
and her household. These kind of passages raise hard, disquieting questions, and reconciling what we read here with what we know of God through Jesus is a challenge to say the very least.

As such, Christians have tended to spiritualise these parts of the Scriptures, maybe seeing in the fall of Jericho a metaphor for other things in life. Or, we’ve simply ignored or rejected anything we find offensive, including the difficult portions here. To be honest, we’d probably rather tear out the pages.
So, what are we to do with this kind of material? Does it have any relevance for us today? In answer to these questions, I have three words to structure our thinking this morning: context, character and cross.

Firstly, ‘context’. As with every passage of Scripture it’s always important to remember the context and there are various parts to this context. We need to note, for example, that we read Joshua through modern lenses tinted by our culture’s abhorrence of war and violence and — in the case of Christians —
by Jesus’ ethical teachings. The world of Joshua’s day jars with us because it is so distant from our time and sounds so harsh to our ears. The reality is that the ancient and modern worlds are truly different, with a huge chasm of three thousand years and vast cultural differences between their time and ours. As one commentator said: ‘…in a sense, readers’ discomfort with Joshua is a good sign: it shows the depth with which the gospel has transformed them.’

And not just transformed Christians, but…
transformed wider society as well. Sure, we still have our issues with wider society today, but it was the Christian Scriptures that fuelled faith and dreams to treat women and children better, and to end the slave trade, and to influence the shaping of laws where love for neighbour and even your enemy was unknown before Jesus spoke those words.

Under ‘context’, we also need to remember the wider story in the Scriptures, because there is a context which leads to this point in history. In Genesis, we read these words:
‘…the Lord said to [Abram]…In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.’ (Genesis 15:16)

For four hundred years, God had patiently observed the peoples of Canaan, the Amorites, and had seen their moral decline. A decline which led to child sacrifice as part of their worship of false gods. The name Jericho means ‘moon city’ and likely it was dedicated to worshipping the mood god. This is part of the context.
So, let’s move onto ‘character’ and in particular the character of God. Can God be truly loving when it is His actions that led to the fall of Jericho? Is there a disparity between the God of the Old and New Testaments? Has God got a split personality?

Well, let us first note that the New Testament shows no unease about Joshua’s actions and Jesus never disowns the Old Testament or how it portrayed God. In fact, Hebrews chapter 11, where we read of great heroes of the faith, includes the story of Jericho…
and affirms God’s people, as well as Rahab, as individuals who acted in faith. The early church was able to look back on this story differently than what we do. Why is that?

As part of the New Testament reading plan, it’s been really helpful working through the book of Acts again, and along the way certain words and ideas have been jumping out for me. Of relevance for us today, is part of a speech which Peter makes to people who want to know more about his faith, and so Peter says this about Jesus: ‘We are witnesses of everything [Jesus] did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen…He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.’ (Acts 10:39-42)

If someone asked you about your faith, what would you say? We might speak of Jesus, we might speak of the Cross, but would we dare to mention that Jesus is judge of the living…
and the dead? I’m not sure, because it makes us and others uncomfortable. Now, there could be any number of reasons for this. For example, the early church faced great persecution and Christians were executed for their faith, so I wonder if it is easier – maybe even helpful – to speak of Jesus as judge when we face great evil.

Nevertheless, the idea of God, of Jesus, being judge is a truth affirmed throughout the Scriptures and even in the teaching of Jesus. In fact, it could be argued that when…
Jesus speaks of judgment He’s even tougher than a lot of the Old Testament. And let’s also remember that God is described in the Old Testament as the One who is truly righteous, a merciful ruler of all peoples, a defender of the weak in all nations, and that ultimately it will be the coming of His kingdom which brings an end to war and true peace for all.

What is more, God is on record as stating His preference for life and blessing, for He says through the prophet Ezekiel: “As surely as I live…I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways!’ (Ezekiel 18:23)

Across the Scriptures, we see that God reveals Himself as loving, life-giving, merciful and gracious. But He is also holy, righteous and so the judge of all. Paul writing to the Corinthians, says that love ‘…does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.’ (1 Cor. 13:6) It is not incompatible to having a loving God who also judges evil, judges all sin, and that is what happens with Jericho.
As we read earlier, God waited, He knew the Amorites were on a trajectory of moral decline and eventually He would judge them for that, using the nation of ancient Israel as the agents of His judgment. That may be why the angel, who met with Joshua, said he was neither for Israel or its enemies; God was not taking sides there, and Joshua needed to remember that he was part of something bigger.

However, this role for Joshua and the people was a specific and time-limited calling, and the Old Testament rarely recalls the violent…
conquest of Canaan, it never glories in its harshness, and never promotes it as policy for the future.

But let there be no mistaking: God is judge, yet He is a judge who is kind and patient, offering grace after grace. Indeed, He shows that even to Jericho, because He didn’t have to instruct Israel to walk around the city for 6 days – God could have judged it in other ways. But that procession around the city was a final, repeated last chance – a bid, a call to surrender to God and turn from their ways,… grace still remained a possibility, as seen in the treatment of Rahab.

The balance of God as judge and as loving Creator, is brought into sharp focus with our third word: ‘Cross’. The story of the fall of Jericho reminds us that God does not overlook sin forever, and that one day we must all give an account to God. This is an uncomfortable claim, and we may try to push back, seeking to justify our actions, that we’re not on a par with the Amorites, that they deserved judgment, but not us, not me.
In the New Testament, we find the church teaching otherwise, for Paul will say to the those in Rome: ‘…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). We all have sinned, we all have gone astray, following our way rather than God’s, we do not live up to His standard, His glory. It does not matter if our lives are outwardly better than the Amorites, we all have sinned – and so when we stand before our judge, we come before Him as imperfect, and only that which is holy, on a standard with the glory of God, will share in His future kingdom.
Friends, would you claim holiness? Is your holiness on a standard with God’s glory? When I came to faith, I was at my moral lowest, brought face to face with my sin. Now, in the nineteen years of following Jesus, I’ve grown, I’ve matured, my character is better than it was. Yet, even this past week I could name multiple times when my anger led me to sin, when hurt or apathy has led me to minimise others or treat them poorly, even in righteous anger for an injustice someone else faced I entertained thoughts that were less than loving and not reflective of God’s glory.
Friends, we all have a sin problem and nothing we do can cover over that or wipe the slate clean. Indeed, just before Paul said that all have sinned, he also wrote this: ‘… no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.’ (Rom. 3:20)

Paul is saying that nothing we do, not our religious activity, nor our morally good actions, make us right (or righteous) before God. God’s law simply helps us see how far short we fall of the glory of God.
So, is that the end of the story? Is God simply circling around the world, waiting for the time to bring judgment upon us all? Well, no – hallelujah! Because Paul goes on to say: ‘…righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith.’ (Rom. 3:22-25)
By faith, Rahab turned to the living God and was spared. By faith, we too can be made right with God if we turn to Jesus. Because on the Cross He died as a sacrifice for us, He took upon Himself the sin of the world and faced the consequences on our behalf. Yet, to benefit from His death we must respond in faith, we must call upon Jesus for salvation. If we do, then we are ‘justified’ as Paul says. Justified can be understood as ‘just-as-if I’d-never-sinned’; the sin that separates you from God and brings you under the judgment of God, is transferred to Jesus,…
and it leaves you in perfect, unspoiled, reconciled relationship with God, and it’s upon that basis – the free gift offered in Jesus – that God, the judge, can declare us justified.

Friends, upon the cross of Jesus, the righteousness and love of God are perfectly balanced, and He waits with open arms to receive you back into relationship with Himself if you will but acknowledge your sin and receive forgiveness through Jesus. It’s a choice we all face, just like Rahab had to. Would she continue listening to her culture – to the traditions, upbringing and influences around her? Or would she turn to the living God in faith and find life?

Brothers and sisters, friends, sometimes the Scriptures bring an uncomfortable word, speaking from their context into ours such that we might see afresh a fuller picture of the character of God. He is a loving Father and loves you enough that He gave His Son for you. But He is also holy and righteous, and He will not overlook sin forever, and so He will judge when the time comes.
I hope and pray that we each have put our faith in Jesus, receiving then the forgiveness and reconciliation He secured through His death for each of us.

Before we close our service, I feel it’s important we take a moment to pray, so let us pray.

Justice: called to change

Preached on: Sunday 22nd November 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-11-22 Message PPT slides multi-page.
Bible references: Isaiah 61:1-9
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Isaiah 61:1-9
Sunday 22nd November 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchMessage
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be true and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Today is our last week in our series focusing on justice through the book of Isaiah. Over the previous weeks, we’ve seen time and again that justice is a priority for the Lord because it is central to worship and core to His plan for bringing hope and light to the world, so that the norm changes and there might life for all. Each week, we’ve also had input from members of our church family, sharing with us ideas for seeking justice.

Of the passages we explored, several may be less well known to us, but today’s passage could be familiar, or the beginning at least, because these words were quoted by Jesus. In Luke chapter 4, Jesus is in the synagogue at Nazareth and He reads this very passage, then says: ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ (Luke 4:21) This passage of Scripture foretold of someone who would come, anointed in the Spirit of the Lord, to set the world right, to bring life and healing of soul and of society. In that synagogue, Jesus was claiming to be the person referred to in Isaiah, the promised Messiah who would come to suffer and to serve, that God’s promises and plan would be fulfilled. Many of the promises in this passage should be familiar to us by now because they echo many earlier passages that we read and more besides.
Yet, there is something else in this passage, which I think helpfully rounds off our series on justice. Isaiah said:
‘They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendour.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations…
And you will be called priests of the Lord,
you will be named ministers of our God.’
(Isaiah 61:3-4, 6)

In these verses, we see that, whilst the principle agent of change and restoration is the promised Messiah, the people who benefit from Him, the people who receive…
His deliverance and salvation and help and grace, these same people are then called to be His ongoing agents, His ambassadors, His priests and ministers, such that they stand in the gap on His behalf and share what they have received from Him with the wider world. These people are called to change, they are called to change the world – to rebuild a world that has been devastated by sin, a world marked by a lack of love and too much cruelty and a way of life that says to take care of yourself first and at all costs. To all who have met with the Messiah, who have met with Jesus, there is a calling – we have a calling – to play a part in rebuilding lives and even rebuilding societies. It addresses the spiritual dynamics of life but also the material, for the earlier verses in the chapter speak of the Messiah transforming the full range of human reality and experience.
So, I wonder friends, as we heed last week’s message, that simply returning to normal is not viable and so we must look forward and look out, where are our resources being invested? What are we rebuilding or restoring? Are we simply maintaining the old structures and institution? Or can we learn the way of Jesus, to look outward and see the brokenness all around, and in love and compassion – where ‘compassion’ literally means ‘with suffering’ – can we love and suffer with this broken world for their benefit, and so play our part in what Jesus, the Messiah, is doing in our world? Friends, we are called to change, to change the world, so how is that seen in your life? How is that seen in our congregation’s life?

But this calling to change is not only external, it’s also internal. Isaiah did say:
‘They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendour…
For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.’
(Isaiah 61:3, 8)

We are called to change, but not only to change the world, we are called to change within ourselves. The Lord through Isaiah says that those who experience the ministry of the Messiah will be called ‘oaks of righteousness’, they will change in character, in their nature, such that they ‘display…his splendour’, His glory, His likeness – they will pursue justice, because He…
is the Lord who loves justice. So firm is His commitment to our change, that it is in fact part of the everlasting covenant He makes with us, His people. And this is key friends, because we shouldn’t fall into a false understanding about these matters – we don’t grow in righteousness by trying harder, that would be man-made religion. Instead, we are ‘a planting of the Lord’ – it is He who will nurture and grow this righteousness in us.

It’s a theme picked up in many places across the New Testament. Paul will say to Titus: ‘…our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ,…gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.’ (Titus 2:14) God through Isaiah, God through Paul, God across the Scriptures invites us into relationship and through that relationship into a calling to change, to change on the inside. It’s something we see in the life and ministry of Jesus: He transformed a tax collector into a disciple, a prostitute into a missionary, a sceptic into an apostle, a madman into a family man, and a thief into a friend.

Of course, it takes time – the Scriptures don’t speak of us becoming perfect instantaneously – because an oak matures slowly, it doesn’t become great overnight. But nevertheless, this is part of God’s plan, part of His calling upon our lives – and He will help make it possible. He promises to give us His Spirit to dwell in us and enable us to change. Paul says: ‘…by the Spirit…put to death the misdeeds of the body…’ (Romans 8:13) and the fruit of the Spirit – not the fruit of our hard labour – is ‘…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ (Gal. 5:22-23) God will do what we cannot do for ourselves – change our nature, change us on the inside.

Does this mean we have no part to play? Do we simply lie back and allow God to work some magic on us? Well no, in that same quote from Romans, Paul says: ‘…by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body…’ (Romans 8:13) You, with the Spirit, but without the Spirit you haven’t got a chance; for our brokenness, our darkness, the captivity within us because of sin is too powerful for us to overcome alone. But by the death and resurrection of Jesus, and because He has ascended into heaven and sent the Spirit, we can now know the healing and transformation promised in Isaiah and so increasingly grow as oaks of righteousness.
In our culture today, there’s that practice of taking a picture or selfie and adding a filter to make you look better or jazz things up a bit. Sometimes it’s just for fun, but other times I wonder if it points to a wishful desire in us, or a discontentment with who we are – so we end up putting on the filter, we fake it, and whilst the outside changes, it does nothing about the inside. We’re still broken, we’re still insecure or easily angered, because we need outside help to change on the inside.

Friends, we’ve been exploring God’s call to seek justice. That call requires us to change, it requires us to put others first, and like every call and command of God, if we see it as optional, we will never change. When I first became a Christian, I knew I had to stop getting drunk, I knew I had to stop swearing, I knew I had to treat girls better,… because the Scriptures teach us these things and I knew it wasn’t an option. And so I wholeheartedly said “yes” to God’s way, and change came, much quicker than I ever expected – but I had to choose, I had to choose to submit to God and not see it as optional. By taking that step, that step of faith to trust God’s way over mine, He then gave power by His Spirit and I did change on the inside.

Brothers and sisters, we are called to change, to change this world and see it rebuilt and restored. But for that to be – for our future to be different from the past – we must also heeds God’s call to change on the inside and allow His Spirit to grow and mature us in His character and in His ways, which includes the seeking of justice.

I pray it may be so. Amen.

The Possibilities of Robots (Wonder Zone wk.5)

Preached on: Sunday 26th July 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 20-07-26-Message-PPT-slides.
Bible references: Luke 15:11-24
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 15:11-24 (NIV)
Sunday 26th July 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchLet 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.

Boys and girls, do any of you have robotic toys? That’s a toy which is electronic and programmed to do something. My daughter Hope has this robotic horse. It’s programmed to make noises or move on these wheels or shake and turn its head if you brush it with this comb or try and feed it some of its toy food.

Or, do any of you have a voice assistant? Maybe you have
Alexa at home, or maybe an adult you know has Google Assistant or Siri on their phone? It’s incredible how many things you can ask a voice assistant, and the ways they can help with everyday life – Alexa, add chocolate to the shopping list!

Robots, computers and artificial intelligences are amazing – they can do many things we can’t do, in places we can’t go yet. For example, just last week a robot was launched to the planet Mars to go explore it, because we’re not ready to send human beings yet. Other times, robots can seem very similar to us and do the same things as we do, like Alexa talking and answering questions.

But today’s robots, computers and artificial intelligences are not able to make emotional choices. They might be good at playing your favourite music for you, but they can’t choose to be someone’s friend, and they don’t make decisions that aren’t good for them. But we can choose to be friends with people and we can make bad choices.

I wonder, if you could design a robot or voice assistant to help with something, what would that be? Would it be to do your homework? Would it be to cut the grass, iron the clothes, make the dinner? I’ll give you 30 seconds to think or talk about that at home.
(PAUSE)

If you like, put up in the Live Chat what your design would help with. Sometimes, the choices we make can have unexpected consequences. Like, if you had a voice assistant do all your homework, then you would miss out on learning important things and that could make life boring or hard when you are older. Or, if you wanted a robot to do all your cooking, then you wouldn’t know how make a delicious meal for your family and you might feel a bit useless. So, the choices we make can have unexpected consequences.

The younger son in our story today made some choices. Can you remember what they were? First, he made the choice to ask his dad for money, but not just a little money, this younger son was asking for the money that he would only get when his dad had died. Basically, he was saying, “Dad, I wish you were dead now, so I can go away and have a good time.” That doesn’t seem like a good choice, to hurt the people around us.

Or, what about his choice to use that money in a bad way – he was selfish with it and wasted the money, in fact he made so many bad choices with his money that he ended up poor, homeless and left with a job that no one would want. More bad choices.

So, the choices we make can have unexpected consequences. Sure, it seemed like a great idea to ask for the money and to go spend in the way he did, but the end result showed that his choices were poor choices.

But why was Jesus telling this story? What choices was He thinking about? Well, before Jesus started telling this story, we read these words: ‘Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”’ (v1-2)

Here was Jesus sitting with a bunch of people who had made some bad choices. Tax collectors had chosen to betray their country and their neighbours, often to get rich. Sinners has chosen to reject God ways and live life the way they wanted. And both groups would have known the bad choices they made; both groups could resonate with the younger son, and might be thinking,
“that’s just like my life, and the bad choices I’ve made.”

Now, everyone knew that tax collectors and sinners were not the best people, everyone knew you shouldn’t hang around them with, yet here was Jesus doing that – and this really bothered the religious leaders of the day, because if Jesus was really the promised messiah then why was he hanging out with them, rather than doing what was expected. And so, Jesus tells a story, He tells a story about choices – about the choices we make, and the choices God makes, and both our choices and God’s choices have consequences.

All of us, at one time or another, have made a choice like the younger son. The Father in the story is a picture of God, and we make choices all the time that tell God to take a hike, we make choices all the time that tell God we don’t care for Him, we make choices all the time that say “I want my life but I don’t want you” – even though God gave us this life.

How do you think that makes God feel? How do you think it feels, when the person you love tells you something like that? I’ll give you another 30 seconds to talk or think about that at home. (PAUSE)

In Jesus’ day, everyone knew that tax collectors and sinners had told God to take a hike, that God and His priorities could die for all they cared. For those choices, the religious leaders expected consequences, dire consequences, a complete rejection by God.

But Jesus’ story took an expected turn – do you remember what happened? The younger son realised his mistakes and so he decided to head home. He made another choice, but this time, a good choice. He chose to turn back and prepared himself to say sorry.
And then what happened? What was the reaction of the Father? Did the Father reject the son? Did he? No! I’m sure that’s what people expected to hear, but Jesus told a different story, He revealed an unexpected choice of God – the Father welcomed home the younger son, he ran to His son, He threw His arms around the son, kissed him, and celebrated the son’s return!

That final choice of the son had an unexpected consequence because he didn’t expect to be welcomed home, but that is what happened, for the Father chose to forgive him and lavish His love upon His son.

I wonder, have you made that choice of the younger son? Have you chosen to return to Father God? Have you asked to be forgiven for your wrong choices and your daily

rejection of God? Maybe today is the day when you’ll finally make that good choice?

But, what if you’ve already made that choice? What if you would already say you are a Christian? Well, I was really struck by the interview with the scientist this morning, because at the end she said, “opportunities to make choices to trust in God or not, are always coming up in life, and so it’s important to keep choosing Him – it’s not just once.” It’s not just once.

So, where are you needing to choose God in your life just now? Is there an area of your life where you need to go God’s way, rather than your own? Is there a decision you need to make, but will you let God in on that decision? Is there a hard situation in your life, and you have a choice
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about whether to trust God in that or not? Where are you needing to choose God today?

It was Jesus, who earlier in the book of Luke said, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’ (Luke 9:23) Where do you need to take up your cross? Where do you need to choose to trust God?

I pray that today, each of us, from the youngest upwards, might choose to follow Jesus in very concrete ways by choosing to put our trust, and keep our trust, in Him.

May it be so. Amen.

We close our time together with our final hymn…

Following the path (Passion Wk.1)

Preached on: Sunday 15th March 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 20-03-15-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-morning.
Bible references: Luke 9v51-62 and Philippians 2:1-8
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 9v51-62 and Philippians 2:1-8
Sunday 15th March 2020
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.

The metaphor of ‘journeying with God’ is used time and time again in the Scriptures, and often we talk of faith as being a journey. So, it’s this very idea which Luke draws upon as he writes these words in chapter 9: ‘As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.’ (Luke 9:51) Other versions talk of Jesus ‘setting His face to go to Jerusalem.’ With steely resolve, with a clear and fixed understanding of His purpose, Jesus journeys towards Jerusalem.

Earlier in the same chapter, Luke has outlined that Jesus knows His purpose and He knows what is coming:…
Jesus said to His disciples, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.’ (Luke 9:22)

Jesus knows what lies ahead of Him; He knows with certainty the suffering He will face so as to accomplish the purpose and will of His Father, and to that end Jesus resolutely sets out for Jerusalem, He sets His face.

So, over the coming weeks between now and Easter, we will journey with Jesus towards Jerusalem, and along the way we will see some of the people He met and explore as well, the teaching Jesus shared along the way. This will give us the opportunity to reflect upon the reaction of people towards Jesus and see if we react similarly…
We’ll also have the opportunity to hear what Jesus taught about being His disciple and weigh up if we are walking in His way today. But primarily, I hope that in this season, as we journey with Jesus towards Jerusalem, we will also see the heart of Jesus, the character of Jesus, and so grow in our own love of Jesus.

Now, this isn’t some nice mental exercise, this isn’t divorced from reality, because what we see of Jesus, what we see of His way and of His calling upon us as His disciples, is relevant for today and for the issues we wrestle with as a church family.

It’s been some time since I’ve mentioned the issue, but we must remember that from this year we will start to see an impact upon our church life as things change within the
Braes area…
Likely I will become Interim Moderator for another Kirk Session on the 1st of July this year, so my available time here in Brightons will reduce. Also, we were meant to have a meeting tomorrow as the Braes Churches to explore some of the issues, but that has been replaced with an alternative process, not because of coronavirus but simply a more participative approach, and in all likelihood, God-willing, there will be a meeting in August when we might need to decide as a group of Kirk Sessions what the future shape of ministry will be in the Braes area. This will ask us to sacrifice things, we will have to give things up, and change from what we’ve known to a model that’s only now beginning to be piloted. What guidance might the way of Jesus and His example have upon our thinking and our planning as we follow His journey towards Jerusalem?
But even within our own congregation we are wrestling with significant issues. The elders are seeking clarity on what our purpose is as a congregation, as well as the values that underpin how that purpose should be worked out amongst us. We need to do this because we don’t have clarity on this, we don’t know what we are about or the manner we seek to accomplish it. And in case that sounds a bit vague, then let me try and make it a bit more concrete.

At present, the Kirk Session have made a plan, Godwilling, to meet on the 31st March for an extra meeting, and we’ll be discussing then the place of children, the place of adults, the idea of us being all generations together and we will seek to come to resolution of this, because we know there are differing perspectives about this matter…
For example, we need to make a plan about the summer services: will they be all age, or will they not? Other than personal preference or who shouts the loudest, we do not have a way to answer that questions, because we are not clear on our purpose and we are not clear on our values, and we’re not even necessarily on the same page about how we do life together as all the generations who make up Brightons Parish Church.

Once again, what guidance might the way of Jesus and His example have upon our thinking and our planning as we follow His journey towards Jerusalem? I don’t really know yet, I don’t have it all planned out, but I know today speaks a powerful word to these very issues and questions.
So, let’s dig into our passage for today. Jesus is resolutely setting out for Jerusalem and He first comes to a Samaritan village. It’s helpful if we know some of the background here. Around the year 700BC, the Assyrian Empire invaded and conquered the northern land of Israel, and Assyria resettled that land with its own people, such that the Jews who were left there intermarried with those of non-Jewish nationality, which brought about a mixed race who became known as Samaritans. They were viewed as “half breeds” by the more “purebred” Jewish people, and in turn the Samaritans developed a hatred for the Jews. Indeed, such was the tension between the two peoples that Jewish travellers would walk around Samaritan territory rather than go through it, even though this would lengthen their trip considerably. To these people, Jesus goes.
But ahead of Him, He sends an advance group, to get ready things for His arrival because at this point it’s not just Jesus and the 12 disciples any more, as Luke chapter 8 reveals, there is now Jesus, the 12 apostles and ‘many others’. Such a large group will need special preparations for accommodation and meals, and so Jesus sends some of the people head.

However, they seem to let slip that Jesus is heading for Jerusalem and the reply they get is that Jesus and His followers are not welcome in the village. We don’t really know why and Luke’s focus is not so much on the response of the Samaritans, but on the disciples’ reaction. James and John, who are brothers, call out to Jesus and ask: ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from
heaven to destroy them?’ (Luke 9:54)
There is a degree to which their reaction makes some sense. For example, earlier in chapter 9, we reed that some people thought Jesus was a prophet akin to the prophet Elijah, and everyone knew the stories of Elijah – he was the one who called down fire on Mount Carmel, he was the one who called down fire on enemy soldiers sent to capture him. So, to some degree, we might argue that the reaction from James and John is one of great faith – faith that Jesus is a prophet like Elijah, even greater than Elijah, because enough fire might be sent to burn a whole village!

What is more, Jesus had earlier said in the same chapter, that if people did not welcome the disciples they were to ‘shake the dust off your feet’ and walk away. Maybe, James and John thought they were honouring Jesus even more,…

because not only are they willing to shake the dust of this village off their feet, they are also willing to reduce this village to dust, and surely such a response is fitting when people reject the coming of God in their very midst? In a culture of honour and shame, surely such irreverence towards Jesus demands the strongest of responses? Maybe it was this reaction from the brothers which coined their nickname, ‘the sons of thunder’ (Mark 3:17).

Do you ever feel like James and John? Do you ever get annoyed with the disrespect shown to Jesus? Do you stand up to defend Jesus? Defending His honour, defending His praise, defending His rightful place? Well, James and John were just about to realise how different
Jesus was from Elijah – He might come in the Spirit and… power of Elijah, but these disciples still have much to learn about the way of Jesus, for Jesus ‘turned and rebuked them.’ (Luke 9:55)

He turned – maybe Jesus was already out in front of His disciples, heading for the next village, but here they are, calling Him back, pestering Him with their agenda, with their grand ideas, dictating to Jesus what they thought HE should be doing and how matters of religion should be done. Instead, Jesus rebukes them and they go to another village.

It’s a funny thought, because John is the apostle we so often associate with love, for he wrote, ‘Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.’ (1 John 4:7-8)

And yet, here in Luke, John is advocating anything but love. He still has much to learn about the love of Jesus; he still needs to learn that Jesus, that God, is love and that divine love is full of grace.

Our second reading today, from the letter to the Philippians, spells out for us the depth and nature of the love of Jesus. It’s a love which does nothing out of selfish ambition; it’s a love that looks not to its own interests but to the interests of others; His is a love which made Himself nothing, becoming a servant, and with such humility became obedient to death, even death on a cross. The disciples of Luke chapter 9,…
perceive Jesus to be the promised Messiah, but they expect Him to be the triumphant, all conquering, resistance crushing King of popular opinion, even though Jesus had earlier taught them about love of enemy and that He came to die for the purposes of God. For as Jesus will later say, He came to seek and to save the lost, and to do that by the giving of His life. The way of Jesus is the way of grace, which is so strong, so wide-ranging, so patient, so self-sacrificing that it is surprising, shocking, even scandalous, to the disciples and especially to the religious people of His time.

I wonder: what’s your picture of Jesus? How wideranging, how scandalous, is His grace in your thinking?
And do you show that grace to others?

I remember reading a story one time that is told by a sociologist and pastor called Tony Campolo. In his story, Campolo was traveling to speak in Honolulu, Hawaii. He says that because of jet lag on the first night he got up at 3 o’clock in the morning and went to a nearby restaurant. It wasn’t the most desirable or upscale place you could encounter and when he went in an unshaven cook with a cigar in his mouth asked him what he would like and Campolo asked for a cup of coffee and donut, because that’s all he dared to try.

As he sat eating his doughnut and drinking his coffee, about a dozen prostitutes walked in and sat down. Campolo said he tried to disappear, but they were on either side of him and he couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. One of the prostitutes said,…
“tomorrow is my birthday.” Another of the women with her said sarcastically, “so what you want, a cake? You want us to throw you a party?” The woman responded, “I’m just saying it’s my birthday. You don’t have to hurt my feelings.” And then she said, “I’ve never had a birthday party in my whole life.”

Eventually, they all got up and left. So, Campolo called over to the cook and asked, “Shall we have a party for that woman?” And the Cook responded, “That’s Agnes. That’s a great idea. That’s beautiful. We’ll have a party. I’ll make the cake.”

So, that’s what they did. Campolo came back the next morning at about 2:15 AM, with crêpe paper and a big sign that said HAPPY BIRTHDAY AGNES…
They put the word out on the street, and by 3:15, Campolo says, every prostitute in town was packed inside that restaurant. At 3:30 AM, right on time, in walked Agnes with her friends and everybody in the restaurant shouted out, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY AGNES.”

Agnes was stunned. She sat down on a stool, as the group sang to her ‘happy birthday’. When they had finished, the cook brought out the cake, but Agnes was in tears and could not blow out the candles, so the cook did. He handed her a knife and said, “cut the cake Agnes.” But she asked, “is it okay if I don’t cut the cake? I want to show it to my mum. She lives just around the corner.” Campolo said to her, “It’s your cake. Do as you like.” And she told the group that she would be right back and she left.
Campolo said that as she left the room, it was dead silent. Awkward. So Campolo asked, “why don’t we pray?” And hearing no objection, he did. He prayed for Agnes. He prayed that she might be sealed and delivered from all the pain in her life. He prayed that God would make her new.

When he was done, the cook said, “You said you were a sociologist but you’re a preacher. What kind of church do you preach in?”

And Campolo said it was one of those times where he got the right words at the right moment. He replied, “I preach in a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3.30 in the morning.”

And the cook said, “No you don’t. No, you don’t. Because I’d go to a church like that.”

Brothers and sisters, are we a church like that? Are we a congregation of radical grace, of scandalous grace? You will only show that grace if you see Jesus as the God of such grace and know that grace for yourself. Are we a church of scandalous grace? A church of such grace that the love we show is a love which does nothing out of selfish ambition; a love that doesn’t look to its own interests but to the interests of others; a love which calls us to be servants of all, and embody such humility that we are willing to became obedient to death and take up our cross daily. Are we that church? Are we the church of scandalous grace? And in this time with coronavirus, will we show that grace to our neighbour and community?
Now, it’s such grace and love, which underpins and fuels the second part of our reading in Luke’s gospel today. Jesus encounters three would be disciples and with each their commitment is shown to be lacking.

The first is full of enthusiasm, confidently asserting that he will follow Jesus wherever Jesus may lay his head. Maybe the individual thinks of Jesus as an itinerant teacher who will open for doors for him, teach him the ways of God that life might then be good. Along the way, there will be comfortable places to stay, respect will be experienced because this man will be following in the shadow of this famous Jesus.

But Jesus points out, that to follow Him, is to follow a prophet who calls people to faithfulness to God…
For Jesus knows no comfort, He will depend on the generosity of others; the Lord of the whole universe is made poor, is humbled to the position of a servant, all for the love of mankind, because for them He comes to give His life to seek and save the lost.

The second individual first asks to go and bury his father, which was the sign of highest respect in Jewish culture and even commanded by Scripture. One commentator suggests that if the father had actually died already, it would be more likely that the man would be at home, rather than with Jesus, the man would be busy with funeral preparation, too busy to be with Jesus. So, in all likelihood, the man was asking to stay at home until his father had died. This might have meant a significant delay and the call of Jesus being put off until a more opportune time. The man is saying, “yes, I’ll follow You Jesus…but later.” Once again, commitment is lacking and failure to understand Jesus and the importance of His mission is apparent.

Finally, the third individual, who seems to ask a fair request, a request also raised by Elijah when Elijah was called by God, and Elijah was allowed to go home and say his farewells. But Jesus, once again, says that such a request is not fitting for the times we now find ourselves in. We’re not to look back, we’re not to plough with one eye behind and one eye out front; instead full commitment, full focus upon the priorities of the kingdom, is crucial for disciples of Jesus.

In summary of these three individuals, we see that Jesus is looking for disciples who are willing to follow His example,…
giving up comfort, giving up tradition and family expectation, even what might appear religiously correct, and giving up life as we knew it, so that we, one and all, may follow Jesus wherever He leads and share in His purposes to make the Kingdom known.

Do we share the urgency of Jesus? Are we willing to give up comfort, tradition, expectation, life as we know it, to fulfil the mandate given to us by Jesus? Because, imagine if Jesus had done that? Imagine if Jesus had said, “You know Father, I’d rather not; the comfort of heaven, it’s rather good; and I’d be breaking tradition for angels not to worship me; and the idea of pain, crucifixion, becoming a man…seems a bit undignified, I think I’ll pass.”

I mean – come on!?! Imagine if Jesus had been like that, and thank the Lord He wasn’t!
Instead, He did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, humbling himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!

He gave up comfort; He gave up all that was rightfully His; He gave up life as He knew it and entered into our pain and suffering and world – for love you and love of me, to seek and to save the lost. He calls His disciples, He calls us, to walk in His way, and show such commitment as He did to the Kingdom of God.

I wonder, is being a Christian, is being a disciple of Jesus, merely another commitment, another title, which we add to the long list of our other commitments?
Because Jesus is calling for Him and His kingdom to become our number one commitment, and our lives to be ordered around that.

Or when it comes to clarifying our purpose as church, or what our values are, or how we might relate with our sister churches in the Braes area, will Jesus and His Kingdom be the deciding factor? Or, is it going to be what makes us comfortable, or our traditions, expectations and even life as we knew it? Are we going our way, or are we following in the way of Jesus?

As we begin this journey with Jesus towards Easter, with Jesus setting His face and resolutely following the path to Jerusalem, that place where He would give His life in sacrifice for us,…
I pray we might learn His way the way of scandalous grace that calls us to give our all for the sake of the Kingdom of God, that God who gave His life for you and for me.

May it be so. Amen.

Kingdom identity (Haggai 2:20-23)

Preached on: Sunday 17th November 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-11-17-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: Haggai 2:20-23; John 17:20-26
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prodigal and Extravagent God

Preached on: Sunday 28th April 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 19-04-28-Sermon-Powerpoint-morning.
Bible references: Luke 15:1-32
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Luke 15:1-32
Sunday 28th April 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.

In my own devotional time, where I read the Bible, journal and pray, I usually prefer to work through a chapter of the Bible each day, working steadily through a book of the Bible over a period of time. But this year, I’ve been taking a chapter of a devotional book written by a British pastor and reflecting on the theme of that chapter over a few days, maybe even the whole week in some cases. I’ve found it to be a helpful change of pace because it has allowed me to dwell within a theme or passage for a longer period of time, rather than rushing through the Scriptures, and with that different insights have come from the very same theme or passage.
Over the weeks up to the summer break, we’re going to adopt a similar approach with Luke chapter 15 and especially with the verses relating to the parable of the lost son. My hope is that by taking the time to dwell in this small portion of Scripture, we might then see the richness of these parables and appreciate as much of their relevance for our lives as possible.

To get us started, I wonder if you might turn to your neighbour and for one minute, share with them what the last thing you lost was? You’ve got 1 minute – so go!

We loose stuff all the time – keys, wallets, glasses, hopefully not the kids or grandkids too often But I also have friends who within themselves feel lost at times – they are confused, maybe unsure about the future, struggling to join the dots or chart a way forward, maybe stuck in a never-ending cycle of difficulty. It is not only stuff that we lose, we can lose a whole lot more than that.

In the time of Jesus, the people of God, the Israelites, had lost things too – they had lost their independence and were now governed by Rome; they had lost the glory days when the royal line of David sat upon the throne such that the nation prospered. Much had been lost and the people longed for God to fulfil His promises to send the
Messiah, the promised King,…
the One who would rebuild the nation, restoring hope and justice and peace, and ushering in the very kingdom of God upon the earth.

So, when Jesus comes on the scene and rumours start to fly that He might be the Messiah, well, it raised all sorts of questions, including for the religious leaders. Because the religious leaders had their ideas of what the Messiah might be like and what He would achieve; they had a vision of how God’s kingdom would take shape and, in particular, who would qualify for membership in the kingdom of God.

For the Pharisees, moral and religious purity was paramount. They believed that God would only restore what Israel had lost if, and when, the nation turned to God and followed God’s law more completely.

But for all the religious leaders, Jesus posed a quandary: on the one hand, Jesus was doing and saying some incredible things, things that no one could do if God wasn’t with Him. But on the other hand, He was saying and doing some things that went completely against each and every school of religious thought within Judaism.

For the Pharisees, one particular issue is that: ‘This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.’ (v2). The ‘them’ here is the ‘tax collectors and sinners’ who were gathering around to hear Jesus (v1). For the Pharisees, this is a complete breach of God’s law, there is no way
God would sanction such behaviour,…
and God is certainly not going to restore what has been lost to Israel as a result. Indeed, there was a Rabbinic saying which read: ‘Let not a man associate with the wicked, not even to bring him to the Law.’

The wicked were cut off – they were of no value – even if they might have been persuaded to follow the Law and become part of God’s people. No, those tax collectors were written off – they were lackeys and disloyal – and those sinners, well they’re so immoral and unclean that they are of no value either, neither will have no place in the kingdom of God, neither will not feature in what God will bring through the Messiah. And so, they mutter against Jesus, ‘This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them’ (v2) –
because how could any possible Messiah eat with such people, and in doing so, show them acceptance and solidarity?

I wonder, do you ever feel ‘lost’ in these ways? Do you feel cut-off, or that you don’t fit? Maybe you feel of lesser value, or that you don’t make the grade? Maybe you are caught in a lifestyle that is unhelpful, which no one else even notices, and it isn’t the head-line grabbing, but it still makes life hard, and leaves you feeling lost?

Or maybe you look at your life, or the life of those you care about, and it’s not what you want it to be, and you wonder: have I done wrong, has God abandoned me, is God punishing me? Is that the kind of lostness you face?

There comes a time in all our lives, maybe more often than we’d prefer, when it is more than our keys which are lost, and in those moments, I wonder what, if any, hope you would take from your faith?

In our passage today, Jesus speaks into the lostness of His audience. To those first hearers, both the religious elite and the religiously bankrupt, Jesus shares Good News, for the three parables are His answer to the questioning and objections He faces.

In the first two parables a singular portrayal of God is conveyed. Jesus begins with a story of a shepherd and his lost sheep. The shepherd has 100 sheep, but one has wandered away and become lost. And so, the shepherd goes looking for that one, individual sheep,…
leaving the 99 behind. It may seem foolish to our ears for the shepherd to leave the 99 so as to search for the one. But likely, the shepherd knew that the 99 would be safe in the sheepfold, probably being cared for by other shepherds, whereas the lost sheep was in danger. Because each sheep was of high value, any shepherd knew that it was worthwhile to search diligently for the lost one.

Jesus simply appeals to common custom on how a shepherd would care for his sheep, that it was worth the shepherd’s time and effort to search far and wide for that one lost sheep.

Then in the second parable, a woman has 10 coins, and she loses one,…

prompting a thorough search of her small property. These coins may have been the woman’s life savings, or they might have been coins she received as a wedding gift, as was the custom of the time. Either way, the loss of a coin would be a serious matter for this poor woman, and so she hunts high and low for that one lost coin.

What is striking about both these parables, is how they overturn Rabbinic teaching of the time.

Jewish scholar, C.G. Montefiore, saw in the parable of the shepherd a new idea about God, for the rabbis agreed that God would welcome the penitent sinner, but the idea that God takes the initiative, that God seeks out the lost and brings them home, that God is a seeking God, well that is distinctive to the teaching of Jesus.
Similarly, among the rabbinic writings there is the lost coin motif, but it is used very differently. ‘If a man keeps seeking for a lost coin [how] much more should he seek for the Law’, said the rabbis. But there is no rabbinic equivalent to God’s seeking of lost coins, and certainly not of lost individuals.

The characteristic feature of these two parables is that the Lord goes out to seek what is lost even before that individual turns to God. What Jesus reveals to the religious elite and to the religiously bankrupt is that God loves with an extraordinary love: God never says, “It is but one; let it go; enough remain.” God will never nonchalantly say, “You win some; you lose some.” No, no, no, says Jesus….
The Father’s heart is one of seeking love, for if a shepherd will go to this much effort to recover a sheep and if a woman will go to this much effort to recover a coin, how much more effort will God exert to recover a lost person!

In the teaching of Jesus, in His revelation of the Father’s heart, “it is now the case that repentance comes by means of grace” – for Jesus, grace is the first thing, the unmerited favour and affection of God comes first, and then repentance comes as a response to grace.

Friends, do you see what Jesus is teaching us? Do you see what He reveals of Father God’s heart for you and I? Do you appreciate that God loves with a love that seeks us out?
In all the ways we can get ourselves lost, from destructive life choices, to inner confusion, to an eternal future without God – across the whole gambit of what it means to be lost, God seeks you out, He seeks to set you free and bring you into life in all its fullness. And He does it all, because He loves with an extraordinary love.

And yet, Jesus goes one step further, for in His telling of a third parable, He really flips everyone’s ideas of God upside down. The story is familiar to many of us: there was a father who had two sons. The younger asked for his share of the inheritance, received it, and promptly left for a far country, where he squandered it all on sensual and frivolous pleasure. He returned home penitently and, to his surprise, was received with open arms by his father.

It is familiar, but without knowing the customs of the time, it is easy to miss the significance of the parable. When the younger son comes to the father and says, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate’ (v12) the original listeners would have been astounded – not that there was anything amiss in the son’s expectation of a share in the family wealth, that usually would happen upon death. But to ASK for it now, well that is the equivalent of wishing his father to be dead.

But the father does it, he divides the property, and the Greek word for property here is the equivalent of “life” – for the love of his child, the father will tear his life apart for the younger son. Here is a love that is startling. But Jesus goes further still.

Upon the son’s return, the father runs to meet him, he kisses the son, he wraps his precious child in his arms, then calls for a robe and ring to be placed on his son, signs of restored standing in the family. And yet the father goes further again, he orders the servants to prepare a feast of celebration by killing the fattened calf – most meals did not include meat, it was reserved for special occasions and parties. But the father commands that a feast be held to celebrate the restoration of the younger son.

We often call this parable, the parable of the prodigal son, where we understand “prodigal” to mean
“extravagant, recklessly wasteful, generous in giving”, or “having spent everything”. We often equate this with being “wayward”, or “rebellious”,…
of spending until you have nothing left, and in the younger son we see someone who has been prodigal.

But the parable also reveals someone else who is prodigal: the Father. At every step of the way, the father is reckless, extravagant in his love of the younger son, he holds nothing back and gives his all. And in this portrait of the father, Jesus is seeking to help us see the character of our heavenly Father: that He is reckless in His love towards us; He is generous; He is extravagant; He holds nothing back. We might be better to say that this is the parable of the prodigal father, even the prodigal God.

Often, when we call this the parable of the prodigal son, we end up shining the light on the son and so then comparing ourselves to the prodigal son,…
Where we risk superficial introspection, and maybe even a degree of self-satisfaction, because most of us are not as bad as the younger son.

But when we put the focus onto the father, then two things can happen. Firstly, we see a picture of God that can be very captivating, but equally unsettling, for we see a Father who seeks us out in our lostness, and wants to restore us to wholeness, to give us hope and a future, secure in His love, His seeking and prodigal love. And that is Good News, Good News for so many of those times when we feel lost.

Friends, does your picture of God include labels such as seeking and prodigal? If not, is it time to let Jesus, through His word, give you a fuller revelation of the Father?…
Is it time to come into knowing the love of God in these ways?

Secondly, when we put the focus onto the father, then we have to ask ourselves as His children, do we portray the Father’s seeking and prodigal love to one another and to the wider world?

For example, 1 Corinthians 13 is well known for its description of love, but it equally portrays its opposite and the opposite of prodigal love. Whenever we lack patience, or are unkind, or when we envy, or boast, are arrogant or rude, whenever we insist on our own way, keep a record of wrong, or show irritability or resentment, then we are not showing…
the Father’s prodigal love. And how many of those things, are part of your life?

When the spotlight is on the father in the parable, then we see more clearly God’s prodigal love. And when the spotlight is on the shepherd, then we see more clearly God’s seeking love. This is a love we each need to know, and to show. I pray that in the weeks to come, God might by His Spirit, lead us deeper in our knowledge of His love, and nurture it in us as well. May it be so. Amen.

Your Jesus box

Preached on: Sunday 3rd February 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 19-02-03-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-website.
Bible references: Psalm 115:1-11 and Acts 2:22-36
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Psalm 115:1-11 and Acts 2:22-36
Sunday 3rd February 2019
Brightons Parish ChurchLike with our young people, we each have particular labels, and words, and ideas that describe God, that define His character and His ways. And we take those words and we take those ideas and we construct a box for God.

In reality, putting God in a box suits us – we quite like the idea of knowing we have the lid on God, that we know the boundaries to His character and ways. We generally prefer not having many surprises with God – we like knowing where the edges and corners to God are, we like knowing His colours and so His temperament. We like the assurance that we understand God and that God will behave according to the way we understand Him.
We also like the sense of control we have over God by Him being in the box because being in a box makes God a bit more manageable.

We all have a box for God – I have a box for God. People of every age, of every culture have had a box for God. And the same was true 2000 years ago when the Holy Spirit came upon the early Church for the first time. In that moment, something happened – something totally unexpected and new, something outside of everyone’s box. Certain people felt it went too far and they sneered and mocked the disciples, because these accusers had God in a box – a small, tight, clearly defined box.

But Peter stood up and He countered their allegations, explaining that something new had happened, that what they had heard and seen and experienced was nothing less than God and His kingdom breaking into our world and blowing open their boxes.

Friends, Jesus is always seeking to change, expand, or even blow apart, the box that we all have Him in so that by His Spirit He brings us all into a deeper understanding of Himself, and into a life of faith that is lived to the full.

But that raises the question: who is the Jesus that we each know and follow? Which of these names would you use? How would you describe His character and ways?

Maybe more importantly, would you still hold that perspective when life gets tough? When the difficulties of life come along, they confront us with some searching questions, and we might echo the words of the psalm: “where is God?” Who is this God that I’m called to trust in? What can I be sure of?

Any number of things could force each of us to ask these questions. It could be the death of a loved one; or the loss of health, work or a relationship; or it could be change – maybe changes in family or society, even changes in church.

All those experiences, all these questions, I can resonate with because there have been two times, at least, in my relatively short life when I’ve been left holding the pieces, holding the pieces of my life, of my faith, and wondering, where are You God? Who are You God? What can I be sure of?
It’s in the hard times that you really come down to focus on the essentials, because the hard times remind us that much of life and of faith is mystery, that there are questions we cannot answer, and may never get an answer.

But there are some questions that can be answered, and in their answer, we find hope for the difficult times and something to cling to when we’re holding our broken pieces and asking: where are you God?

One such answer is given in our passage today: in response to the question, “who is Jesus?”, Peter reminds us, encourages us, with these words: ‘Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’ (v36)

I like how the NRSV puts this verse: ‘Therefore…know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ – – – Know with certainty…be assured – of what? That Jesus is both Lord and Messiah.

But why is that hope for the difficult times? How is that anything to cling to 2000 years after the fact?

Let’s take a moment to think about each of these titles of Jesus and I’ll start with Jesus being Messiah.

Messiah is that Hebrew title from which we get the English title Christ. It literally means, “the anointed one” or “chosen one”…
In biblical times, anointing someone with oil was a sign that God was setting apart that person for a particular role. Thus, an “anointed one” was someone with a special, God-ordained purpose, usually a prophet, priest or king. But the Old Testament predicted that a Deliverer would come – someone who would be chosen and anointed by God to set Israel free, and this Deliverer was called the Messiah.

Is Jesus the Messiah? Well Peter argues He is: that Jesus was ‘a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him’ (v22) – and the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the Bible give us eye witness accounts of what Jesus did – He was no ordinary man.

Peter also argues that the death of Jesus confirms Him to be the Messiah for He died on the cross because of ‘God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge’ (v23). Peter wants us to understand here that the death of Jesus was not the unfortunate defeat of a good man who had no power to save Himself. To see Jesus that way is to miss the point entirely – for even though it might look that way, it was in fact brought about because of the foreknowledge, decision and plan of God. This was no ordinary death of a common criminal or failed religious leader.

And to clinch his argument, Peter concludes with one final claim – – – that Jesus being raised to life fulfils the prophetic words of David, who wrote: ‘you will not let your holy one see decay’ (v27). These words are about the Messiah and were written 1000 years before Jesus,
So in resurrecting His Son, God the Father…
vindicates the death of Jesus and confirms that it was not some failed moral revolution, but instead a triumph over the agonising power of death and sin.

So in His life, in His death and in His resurrection, Jesus is confirmed as the Messiah, the Promised One, our Saviour, our Deliverer, one who is mighty to save, conqueror of sin and death.

In Jesus then, we can find hope, hope for today and hope for tomorrow, indeed hope for all eternity, because in Jesus we see the embodiment of God’s love and faithfulness, in Jesus we see the extent that God was willing to go for us: that He loved you and me with a suffering love, and He has loved us with that love from all eternity…

because He made a deliberate plan to send Jesus as our deliverer, as our Messiah. In fact, God was so meticulous and deliberate about this plan that He gave 60 prophecies in the Old Testament about the coming Messiah. Do you want to guess the odds of Jesus fulfilling just 8 of those prophecies? It is 1 in a hundred million billion – basically impossible without divine intervention! But the incredible news is that Jesus didn’t just fulfil 8 prophecies, He fulfilled all 60, showing that He truly is the Messiah.

So, when hard times come, and we feel in the grip of darkness, will we remember that Jesus is Messiah? When changes come, and we feel unsettled and fearful, will we remember that Jesus is Messiah? When an opportunity comes to take a step of faith, and we’re tempted to play it safe, will we remember that Jesus is Messiah?
Years after the events of Acts 2, Peter will write in his first epistle these words: ‘set your hope on…Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 1:13), Jesus the Messiah. So can I ask? Is your hope set on Jesus, Jesus the Messiah? It is a choice – you choose where to set your hope. In the dark times, in the times of asking, “where are you God?”, will you choose to set your hope on Jesus? There’s nowhere better, nowhere surer, no one else has conquered sin and death, no one else offers life in all its fullness and life eternal. So, my friends, set your hope on Jesus, on Jesus the Messiah.

In addition to all that, Peter says that Jesus is also Lord. Peter is convinced of it so, he now introduces a key Old Testament quotation:
‘“The Lord said to my Lord:
‘Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.’” (v34-35)

To our ears it is a strange argument but it is a quote from
Psalm 110, a psalm that was believed to refer to the Messiah – this chosen one, this anointed one. The Jews understood that the Messiah would be a direct descendant of King David, because that is what God had promised, and so the Messiah would be a man, a real human being.

But David, here, refers to this coming Messiah as “my Lord”, ‘Adonai’, giving to the Messiah a title that is reserved for God alone and the Jews didn’t really have an answer for this conundrum. So, Peter now makes it clear
– this Messiah is a man but He is also God –
and His name is Jesus. And this very Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father, ruling in a position of all authority, including over salvation and its blessings, and so it is from Jesus, by Jesus, through Jesus that we receive the grace of God: it is as we call on the name of Jesus that we receive salvation.

And the impact of this is huge! If Jesus is not only Messiah, but Lord and God, then in Jesus we see the reign of God – we see that God is not distant, He came close as a real human being; we see that God is not uncaring, He died for love of you and me. What’s more, we see that God is not a figment of imagination or superstition, rather He is risen and alive, a true person you can know; and finally, God is not just any god or every god, He is Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible, and no other but He is truly God.

In the hard times, in changing times, is that the Jesus you turn to? Or is your picture of Jesus simply of a man, or a good teacher? If that’s the case my friends, hear this: your picture of Jesus falls so far short, you have been shortchanged, because you are missing out on knowing the true Jesus, the Jesus who is Lord.

Maybe that doesn’t sound much to you. You may even conclude that if Jesus is God, then He is doing a pretty poor job. And you know, the people of Peter’s day would probably have thought the same thing – for Peter to claim that Jesus was Lord was startling news, ridiculous news, even laughable news, because this Jesus had been crucified, and everyone knew that if you were crucified, hung from a tree, you were under the curse of God…
How could any such person be Lord? How could any such person be Messiah?

But appearances can be deceiving, for despite appearances, God was working His purposes out in Jesus – – – death did not have the final say, that cross, which by all accounts should have been the end of Jesus, was His finest moment.

Friends, in the hard times, in changing times, we can be asking: “where is God?” Who is this God that I’m called to trust in? What can I be sure of?

Despite all appearances, despite all other claims, the testimony across the generations is that only Jesus is
Messiah, only Jesus is Lord –
it is in Him that we can find true hope for the dark times, and someone to cling to when we’re left holding the pieces. It is Him I have run to when my life has fallen apart; it is Him who has been my rock when all else is unsteady and unsure.

Friends, who is Your Jesus? Is He Messiah and Lord? Is He your Messiah and Lord? Have you chosen to put your hope in Him? Have you called on His name for salvation? Do you daily turn to Him in prayer and in His Word to find the refuge and strength and guidance we each need every day? My encouragement to you this morning, is allow your box to be expanded and come afresh to Jesus, even now, and set your hope on Him, our Messiah and Lord.