I am forgiven (Psalm 130)

Preached on: Sunday 14th June 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 20-06-14-Message-PowerPoint.
Bible references: Psalm 130
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Psalm 130 (NIV)
Sunday 14th June 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.

I promised on Facebook that we would have a super-easy, quick game, so here it is! Are you ready?

Which of these fruit is an apple? The answer is…
Which of these birds is a magpie? The answer is…
What sauce do I prefer to have on my sandwiches? HP
Which of these dogs is my dog Hector? The answer is…

OK, final question – and this one is hard! Which of these people is a Christian? I’m going to give you 30 seconds to think or talk about that at home – so over to you! (PAUSE) That was a bit harder, wasn’t it! Well, the answer is…I don’t know. I don’t know which of those people is a Christian or not, because I just got their pictures from the internet! My point is this – looking at these people, we can’t tell by them standing there who is and who is not a Christian. So, how can we tell? Is it even possible?

Well, what things would you include on a list, if you were trying to figure out if someone was a Christian? Would it be – “goes to church”, “reads the Bible”, “doesn’t say bad words”, “knows the Lord’s Prayer”, “is loving”. What if none of those things is what makes someone a Christian?

There was once a man called John Wesley – he lived a long time ago in the seventeen hundreds. When John had finished school, he went to university in Oxford…
and became a minister, like me. With his brother Charles, John formed a group of friends who made a promise to read the Bible, pray, fast and help other people. John and his brother even went all the way to America as missionaries for a while in 1735.

But even though they did all this, neither John nor his brother Charles, ever felt sure that they were a Christian. In his own words, John later said at that time they had “a fair summer religion” and about their trip to America he said, “I went to America to convert the Indians; but, oh, who shall convert me?”

You see – it’s possible to be a very good person yet not be a Christian; it’s possible to do all the external things that a Christian should do, like go to church, read your Bible, pray, and even be a minister, but still not be a Christian. That was the experience of John and Charles Wesley, and many other people over the years.

So, is it possible to know for sure if you are a Christian? I’ll give you another 30 seconds to think or talk about that at home. (PAUSE)

There’s a lot in today’s psalm and we’ll get to more of it in the Tuesday Evening Sermon, so join us then if you’re able, or catch it later in the week as a recording.

But this morning, I’d like to focus on a few verses, starting with verse 4:
‘But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.’
The psalmist speaks about forgiveness, because he is aware he needs forgiveness. In verse 3 he said:
‘If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,…who could stand?’

So, he wants forgiveness, he knows he needs forgiveness for his sins, the wrong things he has done. Then in verse 1 he says: ‘Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord…’

Maybe he feels like there is a great distance between God and himself; maybe God feels very far away. Maybe he feels that his relationship with God is broken – that’s possibly why he uses two different names of God: ‘LORD’ in capitals, meaning ‘Yahweh’, which is the covenant name of God; but also ‘Lord’ with only a capital L, meaning ‘master’ or ‘king’….
But both are about relationship; a good relationship, one of trust, reverence and love. Yet, the psalmist knows the relationship is broken, because of his sin, and so now there is distance between himself and God.

Nevertheless, he knows something else – he knows that Yahweh, the Lord, his King, is a forgiving God, that with Yahweh is forgiveness – that forgiveness is part of God’s character, and God has the authority to forgive.

So, the psalmist waits on the Lord, he puts his hope in God’s promise to forgive. Maybe the psalmist is thinking of Isaiah chapter 1:
‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord.
‘Though your sins are like scarlet,…
they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’ (v18)

He knows that the Lord is willing to forgive but also that out of this forgiveness will arise, even must arise, ‘reverence’, a reverence that leads to serving the Lord. Other translations speak of forgiveness leading to a healthy ‘fear’ of the Lord; a fear where we submit to God as our King, giving Him His place in our lives.

I talked about this at the end of last week’s message: of having a faith where God’s Word shapes our lives, shapes our hearts, and changes us from the inside out. But for that to happen, we must first receive the forgiveness of God and bend the knee to our Lord, allowing Him to be… King of our lives once more, maybe even for the first time.

The great preacher of the 19th century, Charles Spurgeon, said: ‘none fear the Lord like those who have experienced His forgiving love.’ So, if we come back to those four individuals, which one is a Christian? We don’t know – not even by their outside life!

And that’s because, what’s most important, is what’s in your heart. Do you know the forgiveness of God for yourself? You might not know when you first received it – but a Christian should know, in here, that they have received the forgiveness of God, and this forgiveness should shape their lives, such that out of reverence, holy fear, we give our lives in service to God….
Where there is no reverence, where there is no holy fear, where life is lived largely according to your standards and God’s ways are far from your thinking and will – well, if that’s you, then I worry you may have that “fair weather religion” John Wesley spoke of, and truly, that form of religion does not make you right with God, you haven’t really experienced His forgiveness, because with forgiveness comes reverence and service.

A few years after John Wesley came home from America, he still felt much the same as in 1735, he did not know the grace and peace of God. But on the 24th of May 1738, he heard today’s psalm in an afternoon church service, before going to a Christian meeting that night. He later wrote in his journal a now-famous account of his
conversion, he said: “In the evening I went…

very unwillingly to a [meeting] in Aldersgate Street, where [some]one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

In the years after his return from America, it took John Wesley time to see that it’s not “Christ and good works” which secure our forgiveness, but Christ alone who saves, resulting in good works.

Many of you listening today are Christians, so what is there for you today? Well, we always need to be asking ourselves if we are convinced and resolute on this, or have we become lukewarm and apathetic about the forgiveness we have through Jesus? Because to remove the absolute, eternal need of forgiveness for everyone, or to play down the death of Jesus on the cross, is to gut the Bible and the Christian faith of all substance. Also, such was the impact on John Wesley that he travelled some 250,000 miles on horseback and gave over 40,000 sermons. How is God’s forgiveness impacting us?

I hope today there are also others listening in, folks who know they are not a Christian; you’re maybe watching for the first time, or after some time away from church.
There might be others, who have fulfilled all…
religious duty like the young John Wesley, but you know that the forgiveness of God has not touched your heart: you lack reverence for God, and God is not King, not the Lord of your life, if you’re brutally honest. And there may be in either of those groups, and others beside, folks who do not feel at peace with God – He may seem distant to you, and for any and all these people the forgiving love of Jesus may well be unknown to you.

So, why not today, bend the knee to Jesus, admit your sin, and come into His embrace? It’s in that place you can come to know the hope, the peace, the freedom that the people of God have experienced whenever they have put their hope in the promises of God. If that is something you would like to do, then let us do it just now, and I invite you to repeat the words of this prayer with me… “Lord Jesus Christ, thank You that You died on the cross for me so that I could be forgiven and set free. I am sorry for the things I have done wrong in my life and I name these before you now…Please forgive me. I now turn from everything I know is wrong and allow You to be King over my life. Thank You that You offer me forgiveness and the gift of Your Spirit to help me serve You. I now receive these gifts. Please come into my life by Your Holy Spirit to be with me forever. Thank You, Lord Jesus. Amen.”

Friends, if you’ve prayed that for the first time, or if you know that this has brought some change for you today, then please tell someone else, it’s a really important step when we receive the forgiveness of God – get in touch with me if you like, I’d love to hear that you’ve taken this step. To God be the glory, now and forever. Amen.

I will confess (Psalm 32)

Preached on: Sunday 10th May 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 20-05-10-Morning-Message-PowerPoint-Study.
Bible references: Psalm 32
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Psalm 32 (Easy English Version)
Sunday 10th May 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.

Boys and girls, do you like stories? I love a good story and during lockdown I’ve been reading books by my favourite author. Shout out for me your favourite story at the top of your voice! (PAUSE) Wow those sound like amazing stories and I’m sure you’ve read them lots of times!

But we don’t only read about stories, we often tell stories to each other – hands up if you’ve been video calling friends and family? Me too – we’ve been calling people to tell them what we’ve been doing, and it’s been lovely to tell our stories.
There might also be things around our homes which help us remember important stories in our lives. Let me show you some things which do that for me, in my home.

(PICTURES IN LIVINGROOM)

In all our lives there are moments which are important, which shape our lives, and there may be pictures or ornaments that help us remember those moments.

I wonder, boys and girls, what big things can you remember doing with your family? I’ll give everyone thirty seconds to talk or think about that at home. (PAUSE)
Our psalm today is another prayer by David, and it is thought that David may have written this prayer… sometime after events in the Bible when David made some bad choices; it’s the story of David, Bathsheba and Uriah. Because of David’s selfishness he chose to commit adultery and then to lie and then to cover it all up. Psalm 51 was probably written at the time when David owned up to his mistakes, but Psalm 32, our reading today, was written later on, as he reflected on what had happened and how it had shaped his life.

So, it’s really interesting that David chooses to write a prayer about this – it’s like he chooses to hang up a picture about his past mistakes and invites people to remember his story! I suspect many of us would find that a little bit uncomfortable. So, why does David do it? I’ll give you another thirty seconds to think about that or talk about it at home. (PAUSE)
Let me share with you what I think David’s psalm teaches us about why he chose to share his story. Firstly, it seems like David has found happiness, joy, by coming to know God’s forgiveness. In verses 1 to 2, he says: ‘When God has forgiven someone’s sins, they are truly happy!
They may have turned against God, but when God forgives them, they are happy. They may have done something bad, but when the Lord says, ‘Not guilty!’, he has truly blessed them…’ (v1-2)

And David is not alone in feeling that way; many people can speak of knowing greater peace, contentment, hope when they have asked God to forgive them. Sometimes people may feel this because they were worried…
about the future, or about what happens after we die, but I think many more people have experienced joy, peace and hope because when they received God’s forgiveness they also came into a meaningful relationship with God. That was my experience, and I’ll tell some more of my story on Tuesday evening.

Yet David speaks of this himself as well – did you notice how he structures the psalm? First there’s forgiveness and flowing from that comes knowing God as his refuge (v6-7), then having God as a guide into the “right way” or the best way to live (v8), then in verse 10 comes knowing God’s unfailing love and finally in verse 11, having a true and deep sense that you ‘belong to the Lord’. It’s really no wonder that David says people are happy and blessed when they have their sins forgiven.
But I wonder if that all sounds too good to you? Or, I wonder to what degree it matches with your experience of being a Christian? And to each of those questions, I want to share something specific.

Firstly, on Tuesday evening, in place of a sermon, I’m hoping to have 5 or 6 of you share your story about the difference God’s forgiveness has made to your life. I’d like to get all sorts of stories – from men, from women; from the young and the less young; stories of people who came to faith in a moment and stories of those who came to faith over time.

My hope is that hearing these stories may help us all. We may learn a different kind of story and so expect more of
God. We may hear a story a little like ours and so…
feel affirmed. We may hear a story and yearn for God to do that in our lives as well. So, join us on Tuesday evening as we hear the stories of others.

But I’m still looking for 3 or 4 more stories, so please get in touch this afternoon if you are a Christian and can share how God’s forgiveness makes a difference in your life. Please don’t allow fear to stop you – because what if your story, like David’s story, is the one people need to hear to help them find hope? Imagine if David had kept quiet about his experience – would we realise that God is ready and willing to forgive any, and all, of our sins? Without David’s story, would we realise that it’s only when we quit the pretence of being perfect, and own up to our mistakes, that it’s only then do we come into a right and meaningful relationship with God?
I’m so grateful for this psalm because of what it teaches about God and the kind of relationship we can have with Him. So, friends, I look forward to hearing from you this afternoon, because it’s important we tell our stories.

But what if this psalm doesn’t match with your experience of being a Christian? Specifically, some of you may say you’ve never really known God as refuge, or guide, or any sense of having Him surround you with His unfailing love, or you belong to Him. If we were meeting together I might ask some questions and try to understand some of your story, even though I wouldn’t necessarily have an “answer”, but I’d be curious to know what your relationship with God is like. Because I’ve known a little of those feelings myself – before I came to know God’s forgiveness, I believed in God, but…
He seemed pretty distant. I did not know Him as a refuge or guide, nor did I have any sense of belonging to Him.

I think that’s because, until that point, I didn’t truly understand forgiveness. You see, most of us grow up with an idea that God is so loving and nice that we can ask God for forgiveness, He’ll just give us it, and then we can carry on as normal. But again, notice the progression in the psalm – David is forgiven by humbling himself, and stays humble by being open to God’s teaching.

Boys and girls, can you remember our second song this morning? If I did the actions, would it help? (ACTIONS)

That’s it – “I’m following the King”… “I’m ready to obey, to listen to His Word.” In my own life,…

I must have asked for God’s forgiveness many times in Sunday School and church, but it wasn’t until around the age of 19 that I came to the point of bending the knee to Jesus, of truly accepting Him as my King, or as the Bible calls Him, my Lord. And that meant allowing Jesus to call the shots; allowing Him to teach me what values, principles, priorities to have.

You know, if you look around my home, you won’t actually see any pictures of faith – there’s no pictures of Jesus, there’s no pictures of the cross. And it got me thinking – most of us don’t have pictures of Jesus or faith around the house, and that’s OK, because it should be in our lives that people see Jesus, it should be in our lives that the story of us bending the knee to Jesus should be seen.
So, if I looked at your life, if I look at my own life, what would I see? Would I see the values and priorities of Jesus? Would I see the ways you bend the knee to Him? Is your life somehow different because of the forgiveness you have received through Jesus?

It’s my experience, that when we bend the knee, heed His teaching, and allow Him to be Lord and King over every area of our lives, that then our relationship with Jesus becomes meaningful and we come to know Him as refuge and guide, with a true sense of belonging to Him. But it begins first, most often, with forgiveness.

I wonder friends, do we know the forgiveness of Jesus, and with that have we welcomed Him as Lord and King? I pray that we might, and so come to know the same joy… as David and have a story to tell of God’s grace which speaks to others in our day and in the days to come.

May it be so. Amen.

I will declare Your Name (Psalm 22 Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 5th May 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 20-05-05-Tuesday-Evening-Sermon-PowerPoint.
Bible references: Psalm 22
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Psalm 22 (NIV)
Tuesday 5th May 2020
Brightons Parish Church

Let us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Once again in tonight’s sermon, I’m going to draw upon the parts of the psalm left out from Sunday morning so as to help us see what else these contribute to the all age message which was shared. Because clearly the absence and action of God are core to this psalm, and so it wonderfully weaves together raw honesty with worldchanging hope, and these ideas are still there in the other verses of our psalm.

Having now heard this prayer a second time, we might begin to feel quite familiar with the struggle David is facing. He feels forsaken, he feels that God is absent,… and this just doesn’t make sense to David, and so he cries out, “My God, my God, why…”

The specific occasion that raises this question for David is not revealed to us, yet we see in some of the later verses, the affliction he faces. There are enemies which treat him so badly that David says: ‘I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.’

David feels reduced and degraded below the status of a human being by the taunts of his enemies; he is dehumanised by their attacks such that he sees himself in these early verses of lament as little more than a worm.
This fierce attack reduces David to fear and weakness. He describes these oppressors in the imagery of animals. The lion and the ox represent the epitome of power; the dogs and pack of villains evoke a picture of helpless prey being surrounded. As such, his strength departs like water poured out on the ground so that his body feels awkward and out of control. Similarly, the psalmist’s heart, his courage, melts away like wax before a fierce flame. He feels weakened by fear and unable to speak as death approaches. So desperate is his situation, that he speaks of his ‘precious life’ – his only life – now hanging in the balance.

Yet what makes this even worse for David is that he feels that these vicious animals can only have come close because God is so far away, and that is a scenario… he never expected, it boggles his mind and rends his soul, because he feels forsaken, he feels like no one is there to help, not even his God.

And that is a struggle for David because God has revealed Himself, and been praised by Israel, as ‘the Holy One’. To name God in this way is short-hand for affirming that God is set apart, unique, from human beings, as such God is seen as pure, righteous, and so should always be known and praised for His faithfulness to His promises. As one commentator said:
‘To say that God is holy in the midst of lament about unanswered prayer means that God is not indifferent or impotent like the pagan gods – He is different; He has power; and He has a history of answering prayer.’
(Goldingay, Psalms, page 327)
In the tension of who David knows God to be, and the experience of what he faces, the psalmist cries out: ‘My
God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

As we saw on Sunday, this prayer can be a model for us when we are in the midst of terrible times, moments when we face the apparent absence of God. We can, as the saints and people of God have done over the centuries, we can take these words to our lips, take this form of prayer, this very lament, and use it to echo the depths of anguish we may feel. The psalms give us permission, as does Jesus, to come with raw honesty before our God.

Yet, it’s also fitting to remember that these psalms were later compiled and used within the corporate worship… of Israel, indeed, the later part of this psalm itself raises the very idea. So, this psalm, and the other laments we find in the Psalms, were not only for individuals but also to facilitate the corporate voice of Israel, the corporate voice of lament. And that raises two ideas for me.

Firstly, is not such a psalm fitting for our times, as a nation, as a world even, to give us all a voice, a form of words, a form of prayer, to echo the rending of our souls in these difficult times?

But secondly, to find such a psalm in the Scriptures, to know such a psalm was used in the corporate worship of Israel, and not cast aside, but allowed to remain and be seen as inspired by God such that it should form part of the Word of God – does this not maybe challenge us about our corporate worship? Do we have space in our time, in our songs, in our prayers, for lament? Would we even know how to weave that in and facilitate it? And would we be willing, in an age which hungers for answer and ease and contentment, would we be willing for the raw, honest questions to be raised and even sometimes left hanging, unsure of how it will be answered?

Part of my faith journey has been learning to live with mystery, with questions unanswered. I have found that to be hard, frustrating, soul rending at times, rending not only once, but year on year, when an anniversary comes round or an event happens, and once again the mystery raises its ugly head and the pain returns. I wonder friends, if you are in that place, or know of that pain? And do you say with David, ‘My God, my God, why…?’
But as I’ve also said, even in recent weeks, there are some things I cling to, and likewise, David had things he clung to as well. About the middle of the psalm, David finally, and only once, uses the covenant name of God: ‘LORD’ in the English, or ‘Yahweh’ in the Hebrew. By invoking that name of God, David can recall the very great promises given to him, and to his forefathers. We looked at this in detail in our autumn series on the kingdom of God. We saw there that God made this promise to David in 2nd Samuel:
‘“The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you:…I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom….I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son…Your house and your kingdom shall endure for ever before me…”’
(2 Samuel 7:11-16)
David remembers this promise as he calls on the name of the Lord, but maybe he also remembers that far older, even greater, promise made to his forefather Abraham: ‘The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
‘I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing… and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’
(Genesis 12:1-3)

Maybe David, by the Spirit of God, calls both promises to mind because from verse 19 the tone changes. Another way of translating verse 19 is this:
‘But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
O my help, come quickly to my aid’

In verse 11, David said there was ‘no one to help’, yet now, he remembers that the Lord is his help, for the Lord has made great promises to David and to his father Abraham. From verse 19 David grows in confidence, his hope returns, and eventually he is able to envisage a future where that great promise to Abraham comes to fruition, and all the nations remember and turn to the Lord, to Yahweh. In that future, the nations are drawn, as if by a magnet, to worship the Lord and to know His blessing. As they submit to His power…
‘the poor will eat and be satisfied…the rich of the earth will feast and worship’ (v26, 29) – there is a levelling of the rich and poor – and those who have gone ‘down to the dust…who [could not] keep themselves alive’ – they are there too and enjoying the reign of God.

All this David appears to hold on to as he calls upon Yahweh, the Lord, the one who has made covenant with him and with his forefathers. I wonder, in the midst of our searching, our wrestling, what promises do we call to mind? Do we even call these promises to mind?

I guess that will depend on what we make of these promises. Are they simply wishful thinking on the part of David and previous generations? Is this prayer just a poem, or a corporate worship song, rather than anything more?

So, this is where we need to remember Jesus. Yes, what I said on Sunday still stands – this prayer, said by Jesus, speaks of His identification with our suffering and our sense of abandonment. But equally, the psalm speaks of prophecy, speaks of God’s will…being done.

As I highlighted a little in our service, much of this psalm can be seen in the life, and especially the crucifixion, of Jesus. Of course, we know that Jesus prays verse 1 Himself on the cross, but verses 6 to 8, and verses 12 to 15, remind us of the mockers who gathered around Jesus and said:
‘He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him…’ (Matthew 27:43)

Or the incident where Jesus’ clothes are divided up by the casting of lots, which is written in verse 18 of our psalm and highlighted in John chapter 19, verses 23-24.

Then there’s the verse which speaks of hands and feet being pierced, verse 16. If you look at the various translations, you might notice that there is some variance in the words. The Good News says: ‘they tear at my hands and feet.’ The NRSV says, ‘my hands and feet have shrivelled.’

The issue here is largely due to how you translate one particular Hebrew word, but ‘pierce’ seems the best fit, not due to the crucifixion of Jesus, but because when the Hebrew version of Psalm 22 was translated into Greek around the 3rd century BC, the translators at that time chose ‘pierce’. This means, at least two hundred years before Jesus, the Jews thought that the word should be ‘pierce’. Two hundred years before Jesus, was a prophecy, initially given at around 1000 years before Jesus, that someone was pierced in the hands and feet, that that person had their clothes divided by lot, that person would be surrounded by mockers, that person would suffer as an afflicted one, that person would lead to the conquering of death and the affirmation that God has done it, it is finished. To my mind, this all points to Jesus and indeed Psalm 22 has been seen as containing prophecy concerning Jesus since the early church.

So, if God could bring about the fulfilment of that part of the prophecy, then God is able to bring the rest of the psalm to fruition as well. God’s will, will be done…
God is present and He is working out His good promises, including that day when we will see the nations return to Him and know His blessing. What God promises, He brings about; no if’s, no buts – for there is a King, of the line of David, sitting now upon the divine throne, even if all evidence might cause some to mock and call into question the very existence of God, as the mockers did in David’s day.

But holding on in faith to the promises of God is nothing new for God’s people; indeed, the early church did that very thing, for as Paul reminds us:
‘Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.’ (1 Cor. 1:22-25)

The wisdom of this world, or own human wisdom, might seek to either rubbish the Good News of Jesus, or even simply downplay it. But in His wisdom, God has chosen to act in the person of His Son, and that doesn’t answer all the questions; even with the coming, death and resurrection of Jesus we still face mystery. And yet, He also gives us ground for hope, a world-changing hope: that God is faithful to His promises, and one day, one day, the dead will rise, the old order of things will pass away, God’s blessing to extend to the nations, and we will all say, ‘He has done it.’

In the meantime, we have that call to share in the choice of the psalmist: ‘I will declare Your name…’ (v21) – yes, beginning with the people of God, but as the Great Commission of Jesus shows, we are called to ‘go make disciples of all nations teaching them to obey…’ the Lord (Matthew 28:19-20). It’s quite hard to teach without making known, without declaring. You and I might have quite different roles in this, but we are all called to share our faith, to make known what God has done.

Now, what we read in verse 22 onwards is likely from a thanksgiving service where David fulfilled a vow (v25). David had prayed and then he was delivered, and the Old Testament Law encouraged those who had vowed some service to God, and found their prayer granted, well they were to fulfil that vow with a sacrifice,…
followed by a feast, which might last as long as two days. They were not to keep their happiness to themselves, but to invite servants and other needy folk to eat with them in celebration of God’s faithfulness.

Strikingly, I came across a quote this week, which I’ve heard before, yet never knew where it came from. It is accredited to Indian missionary D.T. Niles, who once described Christian mission as ‘one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.’ We are to share the feast with others; we are to invite them to the feast of God, that they too might ‘proclaim His righteousness, declaring…He has done it.’

So, how might we do that? It’s interesting, I’ve had conversations even in the last week which have sown ideas and encouragement. For example, I was talking with one member of our congregation and she was telling me about how she was inviting friends, family and even neighbours to come watch the church service online.

Or there was the discussion we had within the Discipleship Team last week about running the Alpha Course online from September, just as many people are doing, even now. The church where Alpha is based out of, were starting a weekly online course during the first month of the pandemic in the UK, such was the interest in an online course. We may very well go with the idea, but ultimately Alpha works by people being invited, and they’ll only be invited if you are in their life and ready and willing to invite them. So, I’m just sowing the seed, because sometime over the summer you might want to bring up the idea with them.

Or, how about sharing a summary of the Sunday message if it was helpful to you, or a prayer from our Facebook page or website, if those were helpful to you? There are lots of easy ways we might share our faith and help others to begin a journey of finding hope through Jesus.

Friends, brothers and sisters, in these days, may the words of Psalm 22 be an encouragement to come before the Lord with raw honesty, knowing that He has shared our experience of the absence of God. But equally, may Psalm 22 also encourage us to say with David, “I will declare Your name…” and then go on to fulfil our vow, one beggar to another. May it be so. Amen.

Who is the ‘elder brother’ today?

Preached on: Sunday 2nd June 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 19-06-02-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-morning.
Bible references: Luke 15:11-32
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Luke 15:11-32
Sunday 2nd June 2019
Brightons Parish ChurchIn our sermon series on Luke chapter 15, we have been exploring what these three parables of Jesus reveal to us of our heavenly Father and our focus has primarily been on the sheep, coin and younger son. Each of these three is very clearly lost – the sheep wanders away and the shepherd goes to find it; the coin falls, rolls into a dark corner and the woman hunts high and low; the younger son rebels but is welcomed home by a loving, patient, compassionate and forgiving father.

But in the telling of these three parables, who was the target audience for Jesus? What prompted the telling of these parables in the first place? We read in v1-3:

‘Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering round to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.’ Then Jesus told them this parable…’

There are two groups of people gathering to listen to Jesus: the sinners, the bad people, and the religious leaders, the moral people. And it is the muttering of the religious leaders which prompts Jesus to tell the three parables.

Now, in the parable of the prodigal father, there are two sons – one bad and rebellious, one good and obedient. There are two groups of people are listening to Jesus; there are two sons in the story. So, quite clearly, the elder brother, the one who stays at home,…
portrays the religious leaders. In telling this parable, with its particular characters and ending, Jesus is seeking to speak into the lives of the religious leaders, He is seeking to challenge their way of life just as much as He is seeking to challenge the tax collectors and sinners.

So, what is Jesus saying to them? Well all three parables are about being lost and how we become found, how we return home, how we become reconciled with Father God. The sheep is found, the coin is recovered, the younger son is welcomed home. So, we can naturally conclude that Jesus is saying the elder son is just as lost as the others and that there is a way for him to find his way home as well.

So, in what way is the older son lost? Well, when the elder brother hears that a celebration is being held for the return of the younger son, this is his response:

‘The elder brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”’ (Luke 15: 28-30)

The elder son is furious, furious at the father for the grace and forgiveness and compassion that has been shown to the younger son.
But just like the younger son, the elder son also disgraces the father, for he refuses to go in to what is perhaps the biggest feast and public event the father has ever held. The elder son, remains outside, a vote of no confidence in the father’s actions, a refusal to condone such love and welcome. This forces the father to go out to the elder son, a demeaning thing to do when you are the head of the family and host of a great feast. And in response, the elder son does not address his dad as “esteemed father”, or “my dear father”, but simply with the word “look!” – in our culture, we would probably say “look you!”, and to say that, in a culture of respect and deference to elders, is simply outrageous behaviour. The elder son, in mere minutes, has disgraced his father three times, and in his disgracing of his father, we begin to see how the elder son is lost, for in the midst of his rant he says this:
‘All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.’ (v29)

I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. The elder son has been seeking to earn his way into his father’s good books; by slavish obedience and rigid morality the elder son has become lost. For sure, he toes the line with diligence and self-sacrifice, but it is done out of duty, not love. For sure, he stays in the same house as the father, but he is not at home. For sure, the elder son is within reach of the father, but he is distant in his heart. The elder son is lost, and he is lost because of his good works, not in spite of them.

And so, what Jesus seeks to convey here…
is that you can rebel and be distant from the father, from God, either by breaking His rules, like the younger son, or by keeping all His rules diligently, like the older son. This is the challenge of Jesus to the Pharisees, that by their rule keeping, they are just as lost as the sinners gathered around Jesus. As one commentator wrote, ‘the main barrier between the Pharisees and God is “not their [blatant] sins, but their damnable good works.”’

And sadly, in every generation, across all the millennia of human existence, we have thought we can earn God’s approval, that we can earn salvation, that we can balance the scales and do enough to merit the Father’s love, to merit access to heaven, by our good deeds. But the teaching of the Christian faith, the teaching of Jesus and of the early church, challenges that very idea.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans: ‘For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.’
(Romans 3:20)

He also wrote to the Galatians: ‘we know we cannot become right with God by obeying the Law. A man is made right with God by putting his trust in Jesus Christ…No man can be made right with God by obeying the Law.’ (Gal. 2:16)

Jesus himself taught the same thing, for in another parable He said, ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said,
“God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” ‘I tell you,’ said Jesus, ‘that this man, rather than the other, went home right with God.’ (Luke 18:10-14)

In every generation of human existence, there have always been elder brothers, like the Pharisees, who have sought to be their own Saviour and Lord, and who have been blind to this reality in their lives.

But the teaching of the Scriptures, the teaching of Jesus, calls out to us – challenging that tendency within…

all our hearts to think we can do enough, to think we can be our own Saviour.

Friends, on a day when we have heard a profession of faith in Jesus and come to celebrate the meal that reminds us of the sacrifice of Jesus, can I ask you: who is your Saviour? On what grounds does the Father accept you? On what grounds are your sins forgiven? On what grounds will you get into heaven?

If you think you don’t need forgiveness, then that is a sign you are lost. If you think God will overlook your sin, then that is a sign you are lost. If you think the Father accepts you and will welcome you into the kingdom of heaven … because you’ve tried to be good, and you’re not as bad as other people, then that too is a sign you are lost.
But the Good News of the Christian faith is both frightfully challenging and wonderfully liberating: you can’t be your own Saviour, yet Jesus died and rose to save you, and He is a Saviour you can fully trust.

In preparation for today, Alan and I worked through the Open Door material, and we spent some time talking about this verse from John chapter 1:

‘Yet to all who did receive him [Jesus], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.’ (v12)

You are never welcomed into the family of God through good works, nor the family you were born into, nor attendance at church or being a member –
as Alan and I discussed, we enter God’s family, we come home to God, when we believe in Jesus and receive Him. It’s not enough to have the right thoughts, the right beliefs, about Jesus – even the demons know who Jesus is.

But when we act upon our beliefs, then we receive Jesus: to receive Jesus, we must acknowledge that we need forgiveness, we must trust in Jesus for that forgiveness by asking for it, and we must submit to Him as King, as Lord, of our lives.

The Good News of the Christian faith is both frightfully challenging and wonderfully liberating: you can’t be your own Saviour, there’s no shortcut, there’s no back door into the family of God, it’s only through Jesus.
Yet, wonderfully, He makes it so easy, you must simply ask for His forgiveness, and yet it is also so costly, for you must submit to Him as Lord of your life.

In the parable of the prodigal Father, the younger son, the rebellious one, he comes home, he accepts the Father’s ways. But it is the elder son, the obedient one, who refuses to come in; he refuses to accept the Father’s ways, he refuses the way of grace and love and forgiveness.

Friends, who will we be? Who are we?

Are we younger sons and daughters, ready to acknowledge our need of forgiveness,…
to depend on the grace of Father God, and come home by trusting in His means of salvation through Jesus?

Or, are we elder brothers and sisters, blind to our true condition and seeking to be our own Saviour and refusing to bow the knee to Jesus?

Who is your Saviour? Is it yourself and your damnable good deeds? Or is it Jesus?

Who is your Saviour, my friends? I pray it will be Jesus.