Worthy of the Gospel: Unity and Trust

Preached on: Sunday 17th January 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-01-17 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Philippians 1:27-2:4
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Philippians 1:27-2:4
Sunday 17th January 2021
Brightons Parish Church

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

Come Holy Spirit, draw near in this time wherever we may be. Come in power. Come, take the word of God and change our hearts and minds. Come Holy Spirit and make Jesus real to us help us to hear His voice today for we ask this in His name, Amen.

I’ve appreciated the way in which Gordon and Ian have helped us start our new series in Philippians, this very special letter within the New Testament, for they’ve helped us see its relevance for our lives today. We’ve seen how crucial it is to know that we, “you”, are a good work, to remember that God has done – and is doing – something within us and among us, such that we are to pray for one another and live with a perspective shaped by Jesus and the gospel, even in hard times.
Before the Christmas break, I was contacted by the Communications Department for the Church of Scotland because they are doing a series of articles this year about people coming into ministry. The questions they asked made me think about my faith journey and other events, moments that defined, shaped, my life. To help us get into today’s passage, I’ve a question for you to think about at home: what have been the defining moments of your life? Has there even been a defining moment? I’ll give you 30 seconds to think about that at home. (PAUSE)

I wonder what you came up with – feel free to share it in the Live Chat. The man who authored this letter was the apostle Paul and before he became a Christian he persecuted the early church, dragging those early disciples of Jesus to prison and even to death.
But then we know from his story, recorded in the book of Acts, that he had a powerful conversion – an event that radically redefined his life, such that he put his trust in Jesus and gave his life away for the sake of Jesus, the sake of the gospel and the well-being of the church. His coming to faith, his coming into relationship with Jesus, defined Paul’s life because in that process of coming to trust Jesus Paul met with the love and grace of God and as such he sought to live his life in light of that.

Now, not all of us will have had Paul’s experience, but what he received, is what every person who calls themself a “Christian” has received as well: the grace, the love, the welcome and invitation of Jesus; your sin has been forgiven, you no longer stand in condemnation, you will no longer pay the penalty of your sin – you are free,… you are redeemed, you stand in right relationship with God and He adores you. All this and so much more is the inheritance of every person who claims to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus. As such, what Paul says in verse 27 applies to one and all of us: ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…’ This verse shapes Paul’s life and his letter, and it is there in his other letters as well: if you claim faith in Jesus, then live in a manner worthy of the love and grace you have received from God.

In our portion today, what does it mean to live in a worthy manner? I want to give us two points to take away and put into practice. Firstly, being ‘worthy of the gospel through unity’.

Paul says, ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then…I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel…Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.’ (1:27; 2:1-2)

Paul’s not calling into question their status as followers of Jesus here – the “if” is more like a “since”: ‘since you have been united with Christ…since you have known His love…since you share in the Spirit’ then be worthy of the gospel, and for any group of Christians, being worthy of the gospel includes a concrete expression of unity.
Now unity is much more than acquiescence, it is more than mere consent or approval, it is more than turning up to church or having the status of a member – unity involves the heart, such that there is an overflow of love, the love of God nonetheless, through us to others, and so it must involve action, it must involve the weaving of our lives together. This unity also involves the mind, not that we have uniformity in all things, but there must still be a shared understanding, a shared understanding of the gospel, such that we are collectively motivated with a deep conviction to be worthy of the gospel, so that our lives together might point to Jesus. In both heart and mind, in word and in deed, Paul longs for these dear followers of Jesus to be worthy of the grace and love they have experienced from God.

What this looks like in concrete actions is spelled out for us by Paul: ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.’ (2:3-4)

When we know the love and grace of God, then our motives change and so our lives change as well: we look beyond ourselves, we look beyond self. So, when Paul speaks of ‘vain conceit’, literally in the Greek this means ‘empty glory’, a chasing after ambitions that are unworthy of anyone who has tasted God’s love and grace.

In some ways, our recently adopted values seek to remind us of this and prompt us to live this out: that we are ‘family’, a community who journey together, and… we seek to share ‘share’, to share our lives and share the good news of God’s love in word and deed. Last Tuesday’s video, about hopes for 2021, gives some ideas of what this could look like, and I’d encourage you to go listen.

Yet even just now, let us each ask ourselves: do we look beyond our own interests to those within our church family? Could it be said that the love of God is seen in and through us? Do we seek to serve others – are you serving in some way within and through this congregation? As one person said on Tuesday evening – it’s easy to sit back, to keep to ourselves, but as Paul says here, we need to intentionally look out for ‘the other’, and demonstrating love in that way will help us move towards a way of life that is increasingly worthy of the gospel, worthy of what we have received from God.
But this is a tall order, is it not? An impossible calling, surely? Well of course, it is; it is beyond our own human ability – the human soul is so broken, fractured, sinful, that more often than not we look out for self than for others, we are more prone to factions and division than unity, and we clamour for status, wealth, comfort, power – the empty glory of such things – much more than the way of self-sacrifice and humility. How can Paul call us to such a way of life? Well, he also says that we are to be worthy of the gospel through trust.

He began by saying: ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you…

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.’ (1:27-30)

Let’s be clear, Paul is not talking about all suffering in these verses. The suffering in mind here is that of persecution, of suffering because of your faith. So, let’s not jump to conclusions. But let us also admit there are many ways that our believing, or in the literal Greek, our ‘trusting’ may bring suffering into our lives. Believing here, is not intellectual assent to some doctrines; to believe, is to entrust ourselves to Jesus, to commit ourselves to Him. Paul is saying, that to be worthy of the gospel also includes trust; trusting in the hard times, trusting through sacrificial choices.
Now, in our society, the degree of persecution we face is minimal whilst many in our world literally face death for their faith. There are 10 Christians a day dying in Nigeria because of persecution against them. Yet even here, there is opposition, that are voices, forces, events that can undermine our trusting in Jesus, they can seek to rob us of our peace and joy. So, as one commentator said, ‘where is it important for you and your church to hold your nerve & remain unafraid in the face of opposition?’

It’s seen when we trust that God’s Word is true, and so that Jesus is alive, that He is Lord and God alone, that He is the way of salvation and the source life in all its fullness. This trusting is seen when we choose to obey God’s Word rather than go our own way. This trusting is put to the test in many ways, yes by persecution, but also in the hardships of life, or when God’s standards call us to live differently to the world’s ways.

Your answer to this question might be quite specific to your circumstances, yet nevertheless, in our day, in our society, one of the greatest fears for most Christians, is the fear of others, of what others might think of us, or how they might respond if we were to share our faith or admit our faith or prioritise our faith. Another kind of fear, that can undermine our trust, is a fear that Jesus seems to ask too much, that we are afraid to give over control of our lives to Him, and allow Him to reign over our choices and our priorities.

These two fears are probably two of the greatest ways we experience a measure of suffering for following Jesus and yet to be worthy of the gospel, we are called to trust – to trust for the first time and then to keep on trusting, to keep on following Jesus and His way, yielding to His call upon our lives, individually and collectively. And when we do that, when we yield, trust, orientate our lives around Jesus, He then gives us His Spirit individually, and as a community, to help us live in unity and for His glory.

This trusting happens at the beginning of our faith journey, but it’s also a daily part of following Jesus. Every day is a new opportunity, a new invitation, to keep trusting Jesus; every Sunday, every message, every time you read your Bible, is another opportunity to trust, by responding to what God is saying in His Word.

So, in light of that, I want to give you an opportunity to respond today. I want to invite you to respond in trust to Jesus, at home, right now. In a moment, I’m going to pray, and there will be a couple of different prayers.

First, I want to give an opportunity for you to trust Jesus for the first time and begin following Him by asking for His forgiveness and yielding to His way in your life.

Secondly, I’ll give space for each of us to respond to this message, the call to live lives worthy of the gospel in unity and at personal cost for the sake of Jesus.

Lastly, there will be space to pray a prayer of trust in the midst of trials, of suffering and hard times. So, let us pray.

So, for those that want to invite Jesus into their lives, today, this morning I invite you maybe even just to put out your hands in invitation to Jesus. You don’t have to but I find it helpful to embody my prayers and then repeat with me these words of a prayer. Speak them out yourselves, at home, right now if you can.

Lord Jesus Christ I am sorry for the things I’ve done wrong in my life. I take a few moments now to name this before You, to confess my sin, what I’ve done wrong.
Please forgive me Lord. I choose now to turn from everything that I know is wrong. Thank You that You died on the cross for me so that I could be forgiven and set free. Thank You that You offer me forgiveness and You promise to help change my life, to put it on a different path by the gift of Your Spirit living in me, and so I now receive that gift. Please come into my life by Your Holy Spirit to be with me forever.
Thank You Lord Jesus

To those of us who claim the title Christian, who claimed to follow Jesus, what has been the prompt this morning from the Lord? What has been the challenge?
Is He calling you to give your life away for Him in a new way or to renew that.
Is He maybe bringing someone to mind that you have to show the love of God. So come Holy Spirit. Speak to our hearts. I’m not going to give you words to pray this time just just speak to the Lord in quiet or out loud. Speak to Him about what is upon your heart, what you’ve been challenged by, how you’re going to respond, how you want to live worthy of the Gospel.

Admit your incapacity to do this yourself and invite the Holy Spirit to come and fill you in this time. Come Holy Spirit, fill us to overflowing, fill us with the love of God, fill us with power, fill us with power to walk in Your ways, to choose Your ways over ours. Come Holy Spirit.

And for those of us in the midst of trials of really hard times let me pray for you.

Lord I pray for these precious ones. I pray, Lord, that they would know You close. I pray that they would know that You’ll never leave them, nor forsake them. I pray that they know that You know the depth of their pain and their anguish, that You know what it’s like to suffer and, yes, there will be the questions and there will be deep anger sometimes Lord, and You’re ready to receive them. And there might not be answers this side of heaven but Lord may they know that You weep with them. May they know that You care and may You help them Lord to keep trusting keep trusting You this day in the next day and the next day, be their light in their darkness, be their light for the path ahead. Lord and help us to wrap the love of God around them in real tangible ways even amidst limitations. Lord, may we overflow with love for these dear precious ones. Lord may we be like Paul who, from a distance, sought to encourage and strengthen. May we see the ways that we can do that Lord for them, that they would know that they’re not alone in this journey, that You’re with them, we are with them. Oh Lord, help them trust You

Help them to keep trusting You Lord hear all our prayers this morning before we ask it in Jesus name, Amen

You: a Good Work

Preached on: Sunday 3rd January 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. there is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Philippians 1:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

I have a confession to make, I had never heard of Brightons before Scott came here. Falkirk yes, Brightons no, but it has been a privilege, a real privilege, to get, in a sense, to know you through Scott.

Scott and I have known each other for quite a number of years, quite a number of years! He was studying at the Bible College and we worked together in a church in Edinburgh. He was really like my youth worker and the thing I always remember about Scott, I don’t know if he’s listening in or not, was we almost had to put the reins on him such was his enthusiasm, his keenness, that he just had such a heart and passion for the Lord and I’m sure that is continuing with you to know just now. But now I do know Brightons, I can even find my way here, mind you I did use the sat nav!
So I’d never heard of the Church. I just thought I would go into Google for a couple of minutes and just try and find out some of the history. I couldn’t find very much. You might be able to enlighten me, and even if my few facts here are wrong you can enlighten me but I believe the Church was built in the mid 1800s. I’m getting the nod so that’s great. And it started from stone quarried in the village nearby. It was probably a lot smaller even then. It was quarried by a man called Alexander Laurie and the Church building now still stands here. There’s obviously been some additions from what I can see and gather, but, more important than this building, beautiful though it is, and established though it be, is that the people of God are still here. Now not the same ones certainly looking around I doubt any of you go back quite that far! That God’s people are still here over many years. Additions will have been made; people will have been taken home; others will have moved away from the area.

You’re going to be studying and looking at the book of Philippians. It’s actually one of my favorite books. I just love the book of Philippians! There’s such a love and a warmth that comes ringing through it but one of the things, one of the portions I love, is the portion that I’ve been given to start off with and I’ve used these verses many a time to friends and colleagues who I really thank God for. And Paul’s heart just reaches into my heart and into the hearts of people that you cannot help but just lift your heart and thank God every time you remember them and what they’ve meant to you. You have to read in Acts chapter 16 for the foundation of this church; every church has its foundation.

Now the church of course is not buildings. That’s part of us but this was on Paul’s second missionary journey round about AD 52, so it wasn’t too long after actually Jesus’s crucifixion and certainly it was a church of some traumatic beginnings, some lovely thoughts, as well of the woman Lydia praying down by the riverside, but then you get the traumatic appearance or calling of this young slave girl and that caused such an upset. When Paul rebuked the spirit and the spirit left her, the evil spirit left her, and she was no longer good for her master’s use of telling fortunes, and that led to trouble, to a riot that led to Paul being imprisoned and been beaten. It led to an earthquake!
It was quite traumatic and read it for yourself and you’ll find out the beginnings of this church and sometimes as you go through a book you need to constantly almost look back to remind yourselves as to the beginnings because the people here in the pews the people at home perhaps you’re starting to forget some of their faces. Not those that you know very well but I’m sure, like many churches, there are people that will come and go, people that just come in and listen to the word and sing and then leave, and you hardly get to know them. Others will be known, you’ll have known them for years but these have been very difficult years or a year, very difficult months, so you’re not just sitters in a pew, you’re not just people who sit at home, and I hope when this is all over you will return to the pews, there’s sometimes a fear that people think “Oh this is great I just have to get up last minute, get my cup of coffee and then I’ll join in the church service.” Do not deny yourself the fellowship of God’s people when we’re allowed to meet once again.

What I want to do is just look at some of the words in this passage. Words that stand out to me in just 11 short verses, and the first one is the word you, you, you. You know in 11 short verses it’s mentioned 11 times? Now that’s a lot for one little word and it’s in the plural. It’s not just so often we become very individualistic and we certainly live in a very individualistic society. “It’s me” “My” “Mine”. The church is not “me, my and mine”! The church is “you” collectively and there Paul writes every time I remember you who were the you. Now obviously from my point of view I know Scott and Gill, I don’t know any of you either here or in your homes, but you do! You, God’s holy people. That’s what Paul said right at the beginning “to all God’s holy people in Christ” and then he goes on every time “I remember you”, and we’ll look at some of the others in a moment. You just feel and you recognize and I’m sure, as you go through the book you will see it again and again, how Paul pours out his heart and thankfulness for “you” now, who, where – the ”You”.

Well of course we don’t really know, we can surmise, it may have been Lydia or she may have gone home to Thyatira to her business, it probably certainly was the jailer and his family. You know it may even have been some of the other people in the jail with Paul and Silas at the time. Paul and Timothy sorry at the time, it may have been a young slave girl and her owner, it may have been the soldiers? We just don’t know names. We do know, because they’re in the book itself, is Epaphroditus as Euodia and Syntyche and Clement, but for most of them we don’t know who they were. But when you have a phrase like this from his heart, he remembers you “I remember you from my heart” it’s amazing! Now I don’t know how long it’d been but it was about 10 years from the founding of this church to when Paul actually writes this letter, so things would have changed as things would change in your church.

What are you thinking about just now of the “you” that are not here? Perhaps it’s many weeks or months since you’ve seen some of them. Even close people that you know and perhaps you’ve even forgotten the faces or the names of the person you last spoke with who was new to the church. You think I don’t remember their names? They have been very difficult months but let’s remind ourselves, even when you’re a full church, we are not just people who sit in pews, we are people who are in partnership together with the Gospel and “all my prayers for you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now.”

It’s great when we come together because we can build one another but it’s not just to have nice wee pally conversations, it is that and we need that, and we miss that, but we are in partnership together in the Gospel. “I remember you” so when you go through this book remember that you are a you together as Paul teaches, as he perhaps rebukes, so he doesn’t do an awful lot in this book as he does in some others, but just remember you are together. Even if you get right through this book, which is very possible, and we’re still not able to meet together in the way we would love to so, that’s one word “you”.

Another word that struck me was struck me was remember, remember. Do you remember the day when we didn’t have to wear masks? Do you remember the time when we could sing our hearts out? It will happen again and these masks will go. I can remember you know, not that long ago, of you watch people in countries which are terribly polluted by fumes car fumes etc. and a lot of the people go around with masks on. You think “Oh my goodness!” and now we are, but here is this word
Remember, remember. Because this pandemic has brought a lot of troubles into our midst, individually and collectively, There’s the fear of dying or of catching it. There’s the fear of those who have lost loved ones and have not even been able to go to their funerals. It just hurts. So remember, there’s a lot of people. and it may include you sitting here. and it will certainly include some at home. of the heart and the pain of being unable to say goodbye in a normal way.

There’s a pain in the heart of those who have lost their jobs and will yet lose their jobs, but you know, despite all that, and it is horrific, personally one of my biggest struggles is the loss of fellowship. We’re built for congregational, we’re a gregarious people, we are not individuals. You miss the hugs. you miss the lack of visiting people. I have a brother in Edinburgh who’s dying of prostate cancer and I can’t visit him. Well, I shouldn’t visit him! There’s times when I’ve had to go – he’s not a believer, he has prostate cancer his wife has Parkinson’s – and it’s hurt. We’ve never fallen out but we’ve never been that close but I’ve been able to read with them to pray with him and sometimes I confess and admit – and please don’t tell this to the authorities – I’ve broken the rules and crossed the bridge and gone into Edinburgh because I felt I had to and if he deteriorates and get worse I would do it again. I would do it again because sometimes there are laws that are greater than the laws of our government. Now that’s not to encourage you to break rules, and we know one of the big problems, and we need to remember this, that this epidemic has caused an epidemic of loneliness. People on their own. My wife at the moment is going through, well we don’t know what it is but she’s just not well at all and it’s got worse and worse. And how we miss friends that just can’t come and visit us. Our friends that we just can’t go and visit them. We have families that live abroad, well one lives in in southern Spain and another lives in Northern Ireland, and their children. We have one daughter at home. But it’s this sense of loneliness and how we need to remember, how you need to remember, the people that sat beside you, the people that sat around you, and Paul encourages “I remember you. I always pray with joy because of your partnership.”

Such is the heart and such should be our hearts for those you know. Memories are a wonderful thing and I know the older you get sometimes the memories fade a bit so you can’t remember! I’m getting to the stage where I can’t remember people’s names that I know, so, well I don’t know if there’s a problem going on, but here Paul says I have you in my heart. Are there people that are on your heart, in your heart, in your congregation that you haven’t seen for weeks and perhaps you felt you’ve not been able to contact. You may not be able to visit them but you can phone them. Now this is where we really thank God, which I’ve now never always done, is for the internet and for guys that can put these things out and pull together ways that we’ve been able to meet in some ways. But the memory of the people you miss dearly. It must have been a while since Paul had seen some of them but he longs for them. Long for the people of your congregation. Go on longing for them and for the day that you’ll be able to sit together once again. Let your mind even now, I don’t mind if it wanders the rest of this sermon and wanders to people that you remember so fondly.

And you can still contact them either through social media by phone or, my next word, through prayer. I do admit when it comes to this word and Paul’s prayer I would take a series of sermons in itself to go through the whole gambit of prayer for one another but Paul says, and I’ll just simply read this “and this is my prayer, that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ. Tto the glory and praise of God.” You see Paul’s big heart in these verses and you see Paul’s big prayers.
Extend your prayers either to people or what you desire for people and as you go through this book. Many things will come to you and perhaps somebody that you are really feeling for. What you learn through the next few weeks, pray for someone in the congregation. They might be listening but you add to what they’re hearing because it is terrible not being in touch and even when we do have social media. I’ve heard, I’ve said that many, many times “You know, I am Zoomed out!” I never even heard of Zoom before! That’s the problem, most of us hadn’t! I’m sure their share price has rocketed – but you know there are times when you just get weary. We thank God for the whole setup but we long just for that hug, that handshake, and that warmth. But remember because Paul comes through with here, with that joy of who’s ever running through your mind just now, that you long to see, to remember those people with love and with feeling and to remember to pray fervently for one another.

The day will come when we will be back together and my last word is not actually one word but two words and Paul says this in verse six “Being confident of this that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
note the word “good work”. “He who began a good work in you.” Now he doesn’t say good works, it’s not plural, it’s our work that’s been done in you and me and many others. What is that “good work”. Now there’s been lots of good works being done during this pandemic, some of them are amazing, what people have done. I just even heard on the news this morning about a group a group of Sikhs that took food down to the lorry drivers and I think they traveled quite a distance and you just wonder who else was doing that? Were the Christian communities likewise doing that? They have been named. You think there’s people that have felt for these lorry drivers stuck away from home, stuck in something that was not of their making, and here were people with kindness, there were good works, You’ve got the young footballer Marcus Rashford that has taken him back to his childhood, a difficult childhood, and longs to see children properly fed. Lots of good works. But that’s not what Paul’s talking about here. There is a theory, well it’s a theory, there’s a belief that by good works people are saved. You know if I do good enough, enough good things, then God’s bound to let me into heaven. That is false good works. Never saved anyone. But His good work did. It’s the work of God, “He who began a good work in you.” I wasn’t brought up in a Christian home and still I don’t my family, my immediate older family are not Christians, but what was that good work? It was when the Lord took hold of my life and saved me and changed me. Just let me read a verse or two in the book before in Ephesians “As for you”, there’s that word again “you were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air”. We were all dead in trespasses and sins, every single one of us. The same, not just here but same for people sitting at home. There was a time when we were not in Christ.

And for those of you who are listening who are not in Christ, you know there is a good work that God wants to do in your life now and it can only be done through Jesus. Doesn’t matter how many good works you do and keep doing them, but it will not save you. It will not get you to heaven. Here is a good work, the work of God, and again you could do a whole series on this the ministry of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, into our lives. An initial starting of a good work in you – perhaps this new year you will find Christ as your Savior and that good work will change your life but of course it’s more than just an initial thing because he says “who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” It doesn’t end when we first get saved, that’s the starting point of the journey. If you’re a young Christian and have not long come to find faith let me quote Jeremiah 29 where Jesus our God says “I have plans for you.” “I have plans for you.” You have a tremendous journey ahead of you. See, I wasn’t born into a Christian home and as I look back over the many years since I’ve become a Christian it’s incredible what has happened in me through the teaching of the Word, through the way the Lord has led. It’s taken me to places that I thought I would never ever see. The Lord has been so gracious and He continues on in that work. So if you’re not long starting the journey then I thank God for it. Sometimes I wish I was starting again but I’m not, I’m coming nearer to the end of my journey, and certainly I am from the beginning His plans for us will be very different from the plans that He’s had for me. Plans about your jobs, plans about your home, plans about your family, plans about where He might take you, what he might do with you. So look back and remember the day when Christ saved you. He began a good work in you. He will continue a good work in you and if you’re of the age – I am and retired and I don’t particularly enjoy retirement, I’ve struggled a lot with it – He’s not finished because you’re still here. You can’t do the things you used to do but sometimes a stillness, sometimes just a heaviness, a weariness settles into our lives but you know it need not be, and I think I speak very personally, so wherever you are, if you’re not yet a Christian, may that good work begin in you, even this morning, this year, this month. If you’re a new Christian just look forward to an exciting journey ahead of you. If you’re a long-standing person in the faith and feeling stale, find a freshness and as you go through this book. Many other avenues will open up to you. We’re yet in another lockdown and even coming across I think it was the bridge or somewhere it says stay local and I think Well I’m not staying local. You’re now in tier four and I know I shouldn’t be.” but in one sense Scott assured me no you’re coming to a place of work not just a place of worship, so I’m quite legitimate in me coming here but in other areas we are in lockdown who could have imagined. We’re not in a dictatorship. Who could have imagined that our government could have legislated to lock us down? It was just unthinkable but physically we are, but sadly some people are getting spiritually locked down and that’s what we need to do, to remember, to remember, to pray, to grow and to have our spiritual lives refreshed and renewed no matter how young or no matter how old we be. And so my prayer, as we close, is to just simply say to you “the Lord bless you and keep you and the Lord use you, as a congregation of His holy people. May it be so for His namesake.

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.

Called to Give Our Lives away

Preached on: Sunday 30th August 2020
No sermon text is available.
Bible references: Matthew 20:20-28
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Called to Wholeness and called to Family

Preached on: Sunday 9th August 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 20-08-09-Message-PPT-slides.
Bible references: Matthew 9:1-13
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Matthew 9:1-13 (NIV)
Sunday 9th August 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.

Last week we were introduced to that statement from the Church Without Walls Report, which said that the core purpose of the church is ‘to invite, encourage and enable people to be disciples of Jesus Christ.’ We focused especially on the words ‘invite’ and ‘disciples’, so today I want to focus more on ‘encourage’, because in this life of faith, in this calling to be disciples who invite others to be disciples, we need encouragement.

Boys and girls, have you ever done something that’s hard? Maybe you had to try something new? Well, whatever that hard thing was, what helped you keep going? To keep trying? I’ll give you 60 seconds to think or talk about that at home. (PAUSE)

If you like, put up in the Live Chat the ideas you came up with. Maybe you said, people who were around you, like friends or family; it might have been the words that they used; or maybe it was a sense of accomplishment that helped you to keep going.

One of my hobbies is rock climbing, and when I was starting out in rock climbing, it was really hard. My arms would get sore, I’d fall off the wall, I’d get frustrated that
I couldn’t get to the top of a climb…
But what kept me going were my friends, because their encouragement, their words, their own perseverance, helped me find strength, of body and of heart, of will.

The word “encouragement” literally means “to give heart” – to give strength to your heart to keep going, to persevere – and we all need that, most days, most weeks; we need someone to help us keep going, maybe through their example, their words or even just their company, because these things strengthen our heart, our will.

In our story today, once more we see Jesus calling someone to follow Him, to be His disciple. Can you remember his name? It was…Matthew. Now, can you also remember what Matthew’s job was? Matthew was
a tax collector and tax collectors were not liked…
very much. They were employed by the Romans, who everybody hated, and Matthew’s job was to make sure people paid a certain amount of money to the Romans. But tax collectors were also a bit of a bad bunch, because they’d usually charge too much and so they would get rich on the extra money. This meant that everyone hated them as well, because they were traitors for helping the Romans, and they were bad because they got rich at the expense of others.

So, here comes Jesus and He calls Matthew, a tax collector, to be His disciple. Matthew was being invited into relationship, invited into God’s purpose, just like the other disciples were last week. But Matthew’s story teaches us something else as well.

Matthew would have been despised, he would have been an outcast, with a group of friends you could only trust as far as you could throw them. But Jesus calls Matthew and then goes home with him to have a meal. That was a big deal back then because there was an old saying that said: ‘to share a meal is to share a life.’ The people you ate with were the people you accepted and welcomed into your life.

So, Jesus is doing something special here, in particular with Matthew. Jesus is inviting Matthew into a new family, a new place where he belongs. Matthew is no longer going to be known simply as “the tax collector”; he’s now a disciple of Jesus, he’s in relationship with Jesus, and as Jesus will say later, ‘…whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister.’
That goes for all the disciples – to every one of them, to every one of us: Jesus gives us an invitation to relationship and to purpose, but we don’t do it alone, to help us keep going, to give us heart and strength, Jesus invites us into His family, the family of God. This is more than just a loose collection of acquaintances or superficial friendships; we are called to be family together, in all the seasons of life.

In our current season this is especially important. You may have heard that the elders at Brightons have decided not to open up the church sanctuary for worship just now. It is their decision to make and they weighed up all the issues and feedback. Currently, things are very limited in what we can do in worship and who could attend, and it was felt by the elders that such a worship environment… would not offer as meaningful an experience for the majority of people than what is currently available online, on via CD or in printed format.

Nevertheless, the elders are aware that maybe what we most yearn for right now is community, to see one another and to be family together. There are probably many ways we could do this, from watching the Sunday service together with a neighbour (though without singing); or inviting some someone round for a cuppa, whether outdoors or indoors. But there may be other ideas as well, so if you have an idea about how we could be family together, then please get in contact and help us be family in this time. Equally, if you are feeling isolated and want support, then get in contact as well or try something new.
For example, your picture in for Community Corner, or joining the pre-service Zoom Cuppa. This runs from 10 to 10.40 every Sunday morning, and you don’t need to use a computer or tablet, you can just phone in and talk to a group of other people from the church. And because we are family, there are people around who are willing to help you get connected, so please just ask if you want to give it a try.

Matthew was being invited into a new family, the family of God, but in this story of Matthew’s call to follow Jesus, we see something else. Matthew is also invited into forgiveness, to have peace with God. Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’ Jesus comes with the invitation to know the forgiveness of God,…
which is central to what God wishes to give us, because sin has broken our relationship with God, it has broken our relationship with others, it has broken this world, even ourselves. Jesus, the Great Physician, comes to forgive sin as part of the means of healing this world.

We see in the Old Testament, that the heart of God is for us to know peace, shalom, which we might describe as ‘wholeness’ today. It includes peace with God, peace with others, peace within yourself, peace of soul and mind. Jesus comes with the invitation to begin a journey towards wholeness. Matthew had lost his way, he’d gone down a wrong track; he was broken on the inside, he was broken in his relationship with others, he was broken in his relationship with God – yet in every dimension of
Matthew’s life, Jesus offers healing, He offers wholeness.

And as Matthew begins to experience this, he naturally invites others into that experience for themselves, to meet with Jesus, this God-man, who has authority to forgive, to heal the soul, and change our lives forever.

Friends, will we respond like Matthew to Jesus? Will we take up His calling to follow, to be family, to show a scandalous generosity towards others? You can’t do that by staying removed, or just looking out for yourself – you have to start looking out to others, and rather than seeing them as people who don’t meet your mark, you have to show mercy, loving-kindness, the ‘hesed’ covenant love of God.

Yet, all of us have failed in this at some point, and so all of us are broken on the inside, we need the healing…
Page
of Jesus, we need His forgiveness. I wonder, will you respond to the invitation of Jesus? To family and to wholeness? I pray it be so. Amen.

We close our time together with our final hymn…

Called to Follow & Fish

Preached on: Sunday 2nd August 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 20-08-02-Message-PPT-slides.
Bible references: Matthew 4:18 to 5:1
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Matthew 4:18-5:1 (NIV)
Sunday 2nd August 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, if you could receive an invitation from anyone in the world, from any time in history, and go to their birthday party, who would you choose? Would you want to go to the birthday party of someone famous, or someone who changed history, or maybe a family member you didn’t get to know? Who would you choose? Who would you want an invitation from? I’ll give you 30 seconds to think or talk about that at home. (PAUSE)

If you like, put up in the Live Chat who you picked, because I’m sure there’s some interesting ideas.

I wonder, if you got that invitation, would you be excited? A little nervous? How would you feel? Because when that invitation is put in your hand, you would feel something, and the same is true of the disciples today.

It’s likely the disciples knew Jesus before this particular encounter, because John’s gospel has an earlier story, but Jesus wasn’t quite ready to start his mission at that stage and Matthew doesn’t have room to include everything.

So, here comes Jesus, drawing alongside these fishermen at work and He says to them, ‘Come, follow me…and I will send you out to fish for people.’ These words would change their lives forever and with one sentence, Jesus gives to them an invitation, a calling, into a relationship and into a purpose.

When Jesus says, ‘Come, follow me…’ he literally meant, ‘Come, behind me…’ and these fishermen would have known this to be an invitation to become His disciples, to learn His teaching and His way of life. A good teacher, a good rabbi, would expect to have a group of such followers but normally the rabbi would be asked by the would-be disciple. So, Jesus is doing something different here, because it’s Jesus who comes calling, and in the giving of that call, ‘Come, follow me…come, behind me…’ there is an invitation to relationship.

Now, they’ve already met Jesus, in John’s gospel, John the Baptist told these disciples that Jesus is ‘the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1:29) and ‘is God’s Chosen One’ (John 1:34). So, what must the disciples have felt when Jesus said to them, ‘Come, follow me…’? Excitement? A bit nervous? Every emotion you could possibly imagine? Here is God’s Messiah calling them into relationship with Him – they are no longer just people in the crowd, they are called to follow, to know Jesus more intimately than others, and in that relationship with Him, in being present to the lamb of God, the Messiah, their lives will change because they will experience the presence of God daily and personally.

This an invitation Jesus keeps extending again and again and again. He extends it even today,…
Jesus extends you this invitation to know Him, to be present with Him every day, and in such a way that it changes your life. This is the core of Christianity – that God became a man, He died and rose again, and so now you can know Him, experience Him, for yourself, for He offers this invitation to you and all of humanity. Jesus invites us into relationship, He calls us all to follow Him.

I hope, I pray, you’ve responded to that invitation, that whatever your age you can say, “I’ve chosen to follow Jesus, I am His disciple.” If you’d like to know more, then check out last week’s message or get in contact with me, and if you’d like ideas on how to nurture that with children and young people, then check out last month’s and this Tuesday’s video on YouTube with Parenting For Faith, because some great ideas were shared there.
Jesus called these disciples, as He calls us all, into relationship, but He also called them into a purpose, for He said: ‘…I will send you out to fish for people.’ (v19) It’s a purpose He would repeat at the end of Matthew’s gospel: ‘…go and make disciples of all nations…’ (Matt. 28:19) On both occasions, Jesus invites them, He calls them, into a purpose and that purpose has been core to the Church for two thousand years. I’m encouraged that in the Church of Scotland we stood by that call in a report which was published nearly twenty years ago. It was called, ‘The Church Without Walls Report’, and in it they said the core calling, the core purpose, of the church was: ‘to invite, encourage and enable people to be disciples of Jesus Christ.’ This is a phrase I’ll probably keep coming back to, even in this series, because today we’ve looked at the invitation of Jesus, the invitation to be His disciple.
But part of being a disciple of Jesus is that we are called to go and make disciples of Jesus, and again this was different to how rabbi’s operated. Normally, someone would come and ask the rabbi to be their disciple, and if accepted would follow the rabbi and learn from the rabbi. But eventually that disciple would learn everything they needed, their apprenticeship would finish, and then they would become a rabbi and maybe attract their own followers.

Not so with Jesus, for He says, ‘go and make disciples…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’ (Matt. 28:19-20) Jesus doesn’t graduate His disciples because a disciple of Jesus remains a disciple, yet they to commissioned to invite others into that relationship with Jesus as well.
So, why this difference between Jesus and the other rabbis? Why is it He who calls? Why is do His disciples stay as His followers? Well, it’s because of who Jesus is. Just before He reiterated that purpose, Jesus said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’ (Matt. 28:18) Because of His death on the cross, which conquered sin and the grave, and was vindicated by His resurrection, Jesus is shown to be God’s Chosen One, the Messiah, God in the flesh. Jesus then is the Lord and so disciples are called into allegiance to Him, they are to be committed to Him, not simply His teaching, not even His church, and certainly not our own preferences, for we are to follow Jesus, we are to heed His call, and see it not as a suggestion but as His command: ‘go, make disciples…go, fish.’ We are called ‘to invite…people to be disciples of Jesus Christ’.
Yet, here’s the thing – do we heed that? Will we heed this call of God? You see, it wasn’t only the disciples who followed Jesus. We read today that, ‘Large crowds….followed him.’ (v25) But the crowd followed Jesus in a different way. The crowd was amazed by Jesus, they even liked what they heard from Jesus on the whole, many may even have agreed with Jesus. But the nature of their following was different to that of the disciples. The disciples were committed to Jesus; but it was the crowd who would commit Jesus to the cross, it was the crowd who turned on Jesus and shouted, ‘Crucify him!…Crucify him!’ (Matt. 27:22-23)

A disciple has committed themselves to follow Jesus, to heed His call to relationship and to a purpose. I wonder friends, is that us? Is that Brightons?…

Is that the Braes Churches? Do we follow Jesus as disciples, or are we following Jesus like the crowd? Jesus extends you His invitation to relationship and to purpose – I pray that each of us accepts that call.

May it be so. Amen.

We close our time together with our final hymn…

King of kings (Passion Wk.4 Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 7th April 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 20-04-07-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-Tuesday-evening-sermon.
Bible references: Luke 19:28-48
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 19:28-48
Tuesday 7th April 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.

Three weeks’ ago, we began our journey towards Easter, with Jesus resolutely setting out for Jerusalem. Along the way, we specifically looked at those parts of Luke’s gospel where Jesus met with, or spoke about, Samaritans – those people who were outcasts, despised, usually forgotten or ignored by their Jewish neighbours.

But tonight, Jesus reaches Jerusalem, the journey is at an end, yet it has not been easy. He has walked mile after mile, up from Jericho, which is the lowest town on the face of the earth, up through the winding, sandy hills and now He reaches the heights of Jerusalem…
Jesus has crossed through Judean desert, climbing steadily uphill, up what feels like a mountain. It’s been dusty, because it’s hot and it seldom rains.

But we know that Jesus has chosen this journey because Luke reminds us that ‘After Jesus had [finished teaching], he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.’ (v28) Jesus leads the way. This is to be the climax of His story, of His public ministry, and He knows well what lies ahead, yet He sets His face to go and meet it head on.

About two miles from Jerusalem, Jesus comes to Bethany and Bethphage, a place He has been before, and He sends two disciples ahead to acquire a donkey for the final portion of the journey. Likely this has been arranged ahead of time…
And with it all going according to how Jesus says it would, He can now enter Jerusalem.

As He does so, the people start to lay down their cloaks on the ground for Jesus to walk on, for His donkey to walk on. It seems a bit strange to us, but there’s a story in the Old Testament, 2nd Kings chapter 9, where the new king, Jehu, is welcomed into Jerusalem by people doing the very same thing.

And as the crowds lay their cloaks before Jesus, we start to hear a chant, a song, rise up upon their lips – we start to hear the crowd say things like, ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ (v38)
They clearly think Jesus is the King that God had promised to send, the King who would make the world a better place. So, they sing an old song, Psalm 118, it’s a song of victory, a hymn of praise to the God who establishes His kingdom upon the earth.

As I said on Sunday, in all of this, Luke is trying to help us see something about Jesus; we’re meant to see that Jesus is the King, the Messiah, that God promised, and that this King has certain characteristics.

He is a King who has power and authority; that comes across in a number of ways. In v31, the reason to give for the request of the donkey, is that ‘The Lord needs it.’ God needs it, and that Lord, that God, is Jesus.
What is more, we know from v30, that this animal has never been ridden before, you would think it would just throw off a backwater carpenter and rabbi. But low and behold, no such thing is recorded, we’re meant to see that Jesus is King of all creation, including what might be otherwise wild and untameable.

On top of this, the particular reason given for the crowds believing Jesus to be the promised King is spelled out for us in v37: ‘the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen.’ Countless miracles, things beyond explanation, things only the promised Messiah, the promised King, could do, because He came in the name and power of God.
It’s because Jesus is such a King, that even though some of the Pharisees object in v39, even then, Jesus says the praise of the disciples is fitting because otherwise the stones would cry out in praise themselves! Jesus is due praise even from the inanimate parts of creation, such is His right and claim. I think we’re meant to see in Jesus a King who has power and authority.

But, as I said on Sunday, that’s not all we see of Jesus, for we see Him entering Jerusalem riding on a donkey. Not the grand animal chosen by other kings. Yet as the words from Zechariah remind us:
‘Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ (Zech. 9:9)

Here Jesus comes, riding on a donkey, for He is humble and lowly – He is the King who comes in humility to serve.

Jesus does so, because He cares. We’ve seen that along the way in the particular stories we’ve focused on: scandalous grace shown to the undeserving; mercy shown to the neighbour whom we might otherwise overlook; abundant generosity for the least, the last and the lost. This is King Jesus, this is the King of kings that Luke has been trying to help us see.

Brothers and sisters, in our time, with what we face, doesn’t this sound like a King whom we all need to know?
And even a King we all need to emulate? In Jesus we see a King who cares for people, for people who think they are outcasts and to them He shows scandalous grace. Where do we need to show grace in these days? Who has fallen? Who has not met expectations or seen things as we have? There is grace awaiting from Jesus for them, but is there grace from us?

We’ve also seen that Jesus cares for people who think they are forgotten or insignificant. I wonder if that’s you friends? I wonder, as you sit at home, slowly bouncing off the walls, wondering if someone will call today, because they didn’t call yesterday, maybe not even called for the last week, and the thought begins to go around your head – am I forgotten? Am I insignificant? Well, not to Jesus, not Him, because He came to earth for you, for love of you; to Him you are worth dying for.

And in a world, shaken to its knees by coronavirus, does that world not need to know that Jesus cares for all the nations? That not one is favoured more than another, that there is love and care and concern in His heart for every one, and so none is rejected, all are welcome.

Friends, do you need to know the King of grace, mercy and generosity, whom despite His power and authority, comes close in humility to serve, because He cares for you, for me and for this world? I know I need that King.

Nevertheless, in every age, in every decade, indeed in every life, events arise that question this. In fact, at the time, people questioned this.

We read tonight of some Pharisees in the crowd, who just could not see this of Jesus and so they call out to Jesus to rebuke His disciples for what they say of Him. To these Pharisees it sounds irrational, it sounds dangerous in fact, because it sounds like the kind of thing which will disturb the peace, for it might catch the attention of the Romans and get the Jewish nation in trouble. These Pharisees would rather hush up Jesus and keep the peace, than see Him for who He truly is. They question the claims of Jesus.

But other people also questioned, even rejected Jesus, at the time. At the end of our reading tonight, the chief priests, teachers of the law and leaders want to kill Jesus. The time has come; He’s gone too far, they’re thinking to themselves: “who does this upstart, backwater rabbi think He is? The stories about Him cannot be true; it’s just a placebo for the masses; folk tales and wild fantasy. We know the truth,” they say, “we know how the world works, and Jesus does not feature in it.” These folks also questioned the claims of Jesus.

In our day, understandably I might add, people question the claims of Jesus. Amid coronavirus, we might all question the claims of Jesus. Is He really King? Really?

The claim of Christianity that Jesus is King is as confounding as a King who rides on a donkey. But Jesus did it then, He does it now; He does things that just don’t make sense to us, and in the midst of it, He asks us: who do you say I am? And will you follow me?

You see, in the account we read tonight, it’s all about Jesus and what our response to Him is. Some question and reject, as we’ve seen. Others appear to welcome Jesus, there’s the great crowd who gather round and join the celebrations. But in reality, these folks have simply got caught up in the moment; they’re going along for the trip, hoping Jesus will fulfil some of their hopes and desires. They’re happy to sing the songs of praise, but only as long as Jesus retains the potential of doing what they want of Him. Because, these same folks, will in a few days’ time be shouting: “Crucify! Crucify!”

Nevertheless, there are some who genuinely follow Jesus, they trust Him to be King, to be Messiah, and though the coming week will put them to flight momentarily,…
They still have faith in Him, it’s just that their faith needs to mature in substance.

So, I wonder friends, where do we sit? Who are you most like? Is it the Pharisees? Those who can’t quite make sense of Jesus. Does the claim that Jesus is King make you feel a bit unsettled and you’d rather keep Him at arms length and not disturb the peace?

Or is it, the religious and political leaders you most feel akin to? Do you know how the world works and Jesus isn’t part of the picture, so He is not welcome?

Could you be a member of the crowd? Ready to follow Jesus, but only if He meets your expectations?

Or, are you a disciple? Have you come to that point, where you know, deep down, that Jesus is this King? You can’t explain Him fully; you don’t have all the T’s crossed and the I’s dotted; because He’s the King who rides a donkey. But there’s enough faith, because it’s not size that matters after all, there’s enough substance to your faith, that you know Jesus is King. You’re a disciple, you’re a follower of Jesus, through and through, come what may. Friends, which are you?

I suspect that many of us might have had experiences with a number of these groups. I don’t think I’ve ever been amongst the religious and political leaders, certainly not as far as God is concerned, though maybe a little with Jesus Himself. Because, after all, I didn’t really understand anything about Jesus for a long time…
I knew His name, but not anything of Him, I had no real understanding of the significance of Easter, for example, and so I didn’t doubt God, but this Jesus guy didn’t figure in my understanding of the world.

And then, one day, He did. Because one day, I came to see my need of Jesus. I’d messed up. I came face to face with my own brokenness, my own humanity, and I found in Jesus scandalous grace, a mercy wide and free, which I knew I now needed, and it changed my life forever.

But along the way, I’ve had my wobbles. There have been those moments when Jesus has just not matched up to my earlier expectations. And there have been those times when I’ve come to the point of asking: what do I really believe of Jesus? What do I really even know, of Jesus?
Back in mid-March, I was speaking at the Breathing In event at Brightons Church, and we were speaking a little about Christian apologetics, about the defence of the faith. I recalled for the folks there a time when I really questioned what I knew of Jesus, and all I was sure of was this: I knew I could trust the Bible, so I knew Jesus lived, that He died, that He rose again, so He was who He claimed to be, and I knew by putting faith in Him, I was a child of God. I think that’s about all I was sure of, but it got me through, and in time, faith was restored, relationship rebuilt, pain healed but with scars that were there below the surface.

So now, today, I would say I’m quite firmly in the disciple group. I’m not saying I don’t question or doubt. But I’ve come to a place where I can live with mystery, with the unknown and unanswered. I know Jesus to be King. I know Him to love me and love this world. After all, this week of all weeks, is the one which proves these things.

Friends, what’s your response to Jesus? Does He feature in your picture of the world? Is He more, than simply, your “genie in a bottle”? Have you come to know Jesus as King of all creation, but the King who comes riding on a donkey? Is He to you the King of kings, even though He does stuff, or things happen, which just don’t make sense?

Friends, I hope we can all reach that place, but even if we can, faith is not easy. There are still questions, there are still unknowns, there is still mystery. And there will be those times, still, where the best, maybe the only, response is to weep, to wail, to lament. But as we saw on Sunday, we’re in good company, for in v41, we read, ‘As [Jesus] approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it…’

Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and He weeps because it was the place of deepest rebellion against God, its people are blind to the One in whom true peace lies and in whom fullness of life could be found. For they have and will set their own interests and agenda before those of God, they will resort to murder to do so. Jesus can see where Israel is heading, and He knows that their infidelity to God and obstinacy towards His reign will only lead to ruin.

But, as you hear those words of judgment and see His actions of rebuke in the temple, as you see both prophet and priest in Jesus, speaking truth to power one moment then cleansing what is defiled the next, remember His tears, remember His tears of lament. What He says, what He does, issues forth not from a stern and cold justice, but from a heart of love, a heart that wants the best for, and from, His people, and so now must oppose their rebellion, even though it breaks His heart.

It’s the mystery of the gospel friends: that God is love, but His love will not overlook, cannot overlook, evil, and so there will be judgment of sin. But it breaks the heart of God. God was grieved to His heart, Genesis declares, over the violent wickedness of His human creatures. He was devastated when His own people, described as His bride, turned away from His love to give their love to another.

Some Christians like to think of God as above all that, knowing everything, in charge of everything, calm and unaffected by the troubles in His world. But that’s not the picture we get in the Bible, and lament is not just an outlet for frail, little humanity. Here is King Jesus, full of power and authority, yet vulnerable, honest and caring enough that He cries, He laments.

Lament is the cry of a heart that is shattered, raw, gazing into suffering, bruised by its ragged edges and crying out for justice. Lament resists shallow, packaged, simplistic answers. It demands fierce authenticity and is unafraid of unanswerable questions. Lament is not the antithesis of faith; it is what faith looks like when it draws near to grief. The more passionately we believe in the goodness of God, the more passionately we protest when His goodness is obscured, and so we lament.

Friends, we don’t have to have all the answers, ever, and not even in or for our present time. Yet not having the answers, doesn’t mean we must give up on Jesus being King of kings or truly caring for the nations. For He welcomes us to cry with those who cry, and mourn with those who mourn, and in the midst of pain and brokenness, find the God who laments with us and for us.

May this be the Jesus we know and whom we follow, not only this week, but until we see Him face to face.

May it be so. Amen.