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.

Advent: welcome and sent

Preached on: Sunday 29th 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 20-11-29 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Matthew 1:1-6a
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Matthew 1:1-6a
Sunday 29th November 2020
Brightons Parish Church

Introduction to series
Today we begin a new series that will see us through to the end of the year. But first, here’s a question for you to think about or engage with in the Live Chat: how far back can you trace your family history? I know my dad has done some work on this and there’s also that TV programme which helps people trace their family line. At times something unexpected arises, a revelation that impacts the identity of those living today.

Over the next three sermons we’re going to focus on the genealogy of Jesus, as found at the start of Matthew’s gospel. The genealogy is structured with three sets of fourteen generations and we’ll take one set each week. Often when we read this list of names we find it dull and a bit odd, we don’t really see the relevance of it.
But in Jesus’ day, and at the time when Matthew wrote this gospel, having the genealogy of Jesus written down, spelt out, would have been impressive, exciting, compelling for the people of their day because it revealed the roots of Jesus, it revealed His identity.

As we journey through Advent, my hope is that we will not only become familiar with the identity of Jesus, but that our own identity might be matured as well. Because when we place our faith in Jesus, when we identify as people who follow Him, then as the New Testament tells us, we are “in Christ” – we share in who He was and what He was about – in truth, our identity becomes entwinned with His identity, because we are now part of the family of God. So, let us open our Bibles and hear today’s passage read for us but Norma Thompson. (PAUSE) Message
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

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

Matthew’s tracing of the family line of Jesus began with these words:
‘This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham…’ (v1)

With so few words, Matthew would have grabbed the attention of his original readers, because he is making big claims about Jesus: Matthew is claiming that Jesus is not only descended from Abraham and David, …
but that the promises given to these individuals, and the hopes that God’s people had kept alive for hundreds of years, Matthew is claiming that in Jesus these promises, these hopes, are now being fulfilled. So, let’s briefly see what those promises were.

To Abraham, God had said:
‘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 12:2-3)

With Abraham, God initiated a plan to bless all peoples, all nations, to bring them back into relationship with Himself and so be part of His kingdom and know the life that can only come through a relationship with the living God.

But the Lord also made a promise to David, we read:
‘“…when your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom…I will be his father, and he shall be my son…my love will never be taken away from him…Your house and your kingdom shall endure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.”’
(2 Samuel 7:12, 14-16)

An incredible promise, a promise that had seemed to be lost, or unfulfilled for so long, and yet the people continued to wait for a son of David to be born. We saw in our last series in Isaiah, several of the prophecies given by God, confirming to His people that He would fulfil this promise: that a King would come and in time this individual came to be known as the Messiah, the Anointed One, or in the Greek, Christos, from which we get the title Christ.

So, when Matthew says: ‘This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham…’ – this is a very loaded statement and part of Matthew’s purpose in detailing the family line is to affirm and validate the identity of Jesus: He is Messiah, the Christ; He is heir to the promises of David and of Abraham.
But, what does that mean for us? For you and me? Well, we need to understand that Jesus – who He was, what He was about, the message He conveyed and the ministry He carried out – all of this was so vast, so multi-layered, multi-faceted that none of the gospel writers could weave everything together, so they each sought to capture a perspective on Jesus, a perspective that spoke to the needs and concerns of a particular audience.

Now, these perspectives do not conflict – it’s like seeing a diamond from different angles, with it’s different faces and cuts, yet each perspective allows us to appreciate the overall beauty and significance. It’s the same with Jesus, for in Matthew’s gospel we find a focus on the “Kingdom of heaven” and the “son of David”. Again and again,
Matthew uses language…
to get us thinking about the kingdom of God and the rule of Jesus. But Matthew’s focus on this, is not only in reference to historical promises being fulfilled in Jesus – Matthew also knows that following Jesus, identifying with Him and His family line, is to identify with the Kingdom of God and the rule of Jesus in your own life and as a community of faith. To follow Jesus, within Matthew’s gospel, is to recognise Him as King and ourselves as His subjects and ambassadors. To have faith in Jesus, is to confess Jesus as King of kings and actively seek the extension of His Kingdom. So, it’s no surprise that Matthew concludes his gospel with these words:
‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have
commanded you.’ (Matthew 28:18-20)
You may still be wondering: how does this relate to us? Well, firstly – you are welcome; you are welcome into the Kingdom of God for God delights in you. For a long time, Israel misunderstood its place and its role, becoming very insular, writing others off. But God always had a plan that was for all the nations, for all peoples – we saw that in the promises made to Abraham and in the verses we read today, we see mention of three women – and I’ll say more about them in the coming weeks – but for now, let’s notice that Tamar, Ruth, Rahab and probably even Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, were all foreigners. They were Gentiles, outsiders, usually excluded, ostracised, unwelcome. But they are named in the family line of
Jesus to help us see the all-embracing love of God; we see His welcome to the nations, to one and all, to any who will come to Him in faith through Jesus.

I wonder, do you know this welcome, friends? Do you know the affirmation of God? You may not because you are not yet following Jesus, and if that’s you, then God extends His welcome to you as well and all you need to do is come in faith to Him through Jesus. Friends, when you know the welcome of God, it changes your life because you realise you’re not written off, you are valued, you are precious to God, He truly delights in You and wants You to know a place in His family, through faith in Jesus. Friends, do you know the welcome of God?

But what if you do know the welcome of God? What if you do follow Jesus and part of your identity is having faith in the One who is Messiah, the promised King? Well, if that’s you brothers and sisters, then let me ask: in our day-to-day lives, in the life of our congregation, where… is our focus? What is our priority? Is it the Kingdom of God? So, for example, we are exploring our future place with the seven Braes churches coming together as a Hub – is our focus on the Kingdom of God, or is it upon our building and our future as Brightons? As a congregation, do we have an identity defined by the Kingdom of God?

Or on a personal level, are you sharing in the great commission, given to all of us who follow Jesus? We saw, in the verses from Matthew 28, that we’re all sent to make disciples of the nations; each of us is personally called by Jesus to be His ambassador. Is that part of your identity? Because it’s not optional, it’s not for a select few; everyone who claims to follow Jesus is called to make Him known and extend His kingdom.
So, here’s an easy first step, to help us all grow in our identity as ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. In the next couple of weeks, our church Christmas card will be coming out, but due to restrictions we’re not delivering to the whole parish. Instead, each church household will receive two cards – one for yourself and another to give away, that you might invite someone to watch or attend a service over the festive period. This is a really simple way of extending the welcome of God to another person and playing your part within the Kingdom of God as His ambassador.

I pray that over this time of Advent, we will see more clearly the identity of Jesus and grow in our identity as people who are in Christ: welcomed and sent out.
May it be so. Amen.

Kingdom identity (Haggai 2:20-23)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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