Kingdom culture

Preached on: Sunday 10th July 2022
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 22-07-10 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Matthew 5:21-37
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– In the Kingdom, the King sets the culture
– In the kingdom, there is no place for anger, contempt, lust, unfaithfulness, dishonesty and manipulation
– In the Kingdom, we treasure one another

Let us take a moment to pray before we dig into God’s word. Let us pray together:

Come Holy Spirit and, as we pray each week, soften our hearts that we might receive Your Word for us today.
Come Holy Spirit and create in us the kingdom of God.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

As Marion was alluding to in her prayer, there’s been quite a lot on the go, obviously in politics, this past week and major changes coming and within government, within number 10 Downing Street and all because, obviously, the decisions, the ethics that lie behind those decisions have, at times, been very questionable, very poor and it really creates a culture, I think many people have said, which seems corrosive, really quite negative, some would probably go as far as to say a modicum of corrupt, and surely it all stems from leadership, from the heart and character of those in leadership, and hold on to that for a moment because we’ve now begun this series in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus is teaching us about the way of the kingdom, that the life, the best life, the blessed life is found in the kingdom and that there’s a radical welcome for anyone to share in that and, but when you’re called into that, it’s going to feel foolish and subversive because the ways of the kingdom often appear that way and if you share in that kingdom you’re then called to be light and salt in the world by first being changed from the inside out.

Jumping back, culture is important in the kingdom as well but culture, whether we’re talking about the culture of the kingdom or the culture of number 10 Downing Street, is a word that we band around but can mean a lot of different things by it. So, before you hear my definition of culture why not take just 20 or 30 seconds to talk to your neighbor next to you and come up with your own working definition of culture. What is culture? Okay, so over to you for 20 or 30 seconds.

So, probably a lot of ideas. I won’t get you to shout it out because we can’t probably be here forever and a day, but the working definition that I’m going to go with is something I picked up somewhere along the lines that, culture is the way things are done here. So, it’s our practices, it’s our traditions, our values, our expectations, the way things are done here, and that can apply to many different groups and situations. Yes, number 10 Downing Street or a place of work, it can apply to a church culture, it can apply to your family, your family has a culture, your group of friends have a culture, your area has a culture, your society and country has a culture and so, we all belong to many different cultures all at the same time. Now, we clearly are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world and so we are to embody something of a kingdom culture in all those different spheres of life, and to help us know what that kingdom culture looks like and what it means practically, Jesus has given us the Sermon on the Mount to get very specific and in the previous couple of weeks He’s crammed a lot into some very few verses but now He slows down to look at some very specific areas of life and that’s His way of fulfilling the law, of filling it out, by giving it its true interpretation.

Now, before we get into the specifics, we need to know something that’s very key if we want to live a kingdom culture in our own lives and as a church family because a couple of times in the passage Jesus is going to say this ‘You have heard that it was said to the people long ago but I tell you….’ You’ve heard in the law of the Old Testament, you’ve heard that and you’ve heard the various interpretations whether it be the Pharisees or the Sadducees or some other group. You’ve heard all that but I tell you, I tell you, and behind that phrase of a very bold claim, an incredible claim, a claim of authority that His way is the true way, greater than Moses, greater than the Pharisees and Sadducees who sought just to build on what Moses is saying but He’s saying ‘Actually, I’m kicking right back to the source, this is what it really meant.’ and He’s able to do that because He claims to be God, He claims to be the Lord of the lord, the king of all creation. And so, what Jesus is doing here is more than just rehashing some old laws, more than just making it harder or more difficult or feeling more burdensome, what Jesus is doing here is giving its true interpretation because, after all, in the kingdom the king sets the culture. A culture is the way things are done here. It’s our values, it’s our traditions, it’s our practices, our expectations, and so, Jesus is setting the culture of the kingdom but He does it because any king should do it, to bring life in that kingdom, to enable all to know and share in that good life of the kingdom, and so, yes, it feels at first read when you hear this, as we went through that and Jean’s reading it and I’m like ‘Oh, why have I picked this passage?’ but you go through it and you think at first this is really hard, this is really negative almost, but we need to remind ourselves that behind all this is the goodness of God’s kingdom and as we go through that I’m going to try and bring that out for us today, because it’s not just negative, it’s to show what doesn’t belong, so they know what does belong now.

Jesus has taken a very different approach from the Pharisees. He is, rather than trying to narrow it down to something very specific or broaden it out to try and wriggle out of things, He’s going to choose another path and that’s going to, at times, feel really hard hitting and really quite challenging and, depending what we make of Jesus, will determine our response. So, before we get specific, can I ask you all this – Who is setting the culture of your life? Who’s setting the culture in our church family, in your family, in your household? Is it Jesus? Is it Jesus? We might claim it to be Jesus but is it really Him? Because it’s easy to say ‘Yeah, it’s Jesus, of course it’s Jesus. I’m in church. It’s got to be Jesus.’ But is it Jesus? Have you resolved in your heart that the one who will set the culture for your life, for the life of our church, is Jesus? Not our traditions, not what’s most comfortable or comes most naturally or easy to us. Is it going to be Jesus? And you need to make that decision for yourself if you’re going to live the kingdom life and through you that life is going to be experienced by others as Jesus setting the culture of your life. So, let’s get specific in our portion today.

We’ve got four little parts to look at and we read earlier ‘You have heard that it was said ‘You shall not murder’ but I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment and anyone who says ‘You fool’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.’ Now, when it comes to the teaching of the Pharisees, they narrowed it down to just physical homicide, the taking of a life, the killing of another, but Jesus says that the full application of the law ‘You shall not murder’ includes both anger and contempt and we might be tempted to say ‘Why Jesus? How is that ever on the same scale?’

Before we get into that we do need to know that not all anger is wrong. God gets angry at sin. So, there can be a righteous anger. But how many of us are perfect like God such that more often than not our anger is only righteous? So, let’s not let ourselves quite off the hook yet, okay, but let’s note that there is a righteous anger. In thinking about anger and contempt Dallas Willard in his book The Divine Conspiracy wrote some very helpful material that I found this past week and so Willard says that ‘anger often arises in us when our will is obstructed, when our will is obstructed, or when our life is interfered with’. So, that might be in a workplace and you’re trying to do something and someone undermines you, undercuts you, doesn’t do what you expect, and you get angry because what you expected, what you wanted done, isn’t getting done. I feel this at times sometimes with my children. You might with your grandchildren or people in your community, that something is not done that you want it to be done that way and you get angry because your will has been obstructed, how you wanted life to go has been interfered with and so anger arises. But with that also comes something else because when your will is interfered with often what can arise, even unaware to us, is a will also to correct that, to get that person out of the way because they’re obstructing your life and they’re interfering with your life, we want to get them out of the way and if that anger is very strong there can be then a will to harm, a will to harm. Now, it might be physical but it might also be in a look. How many of us know, have given a look this past week because anger arose in us? And just with a look we wounded another in their heart. Or words. Proverbs says that there is power of life and death in our words or even silence, even silence. The cold treatment because we got angry and there’s a will to harm that person, to make them know that you’re angry at them and so, you treat them with the with silence.

Contempt is very similar. There’s a will to harm within contempt because in contempt we want to exclude, we want to isolate, we want to write someone off and, actually, that brings harm too because God has made the human soul such that it needs to belong, it needs to belong, we each need to belong somewhere and know a sense of belonging and when we have contempt for someone, we end up excluding them, isolating them, cutting them off and that withers the soul. And so, there’s a will to harm with contempt and that’s why Jesus says in the kingdom there’s no place for anger or contempt because, like murder, it has a will to harm and instead there should be the highest regard for one another, the highest regard such that He goes on to say if you know there’s a broken relationship with someone you seek reconciliation and He gives the example of being at the altar with your offering and just leave it to go and be reconciled. And we think ‘Ah, yeah, of course you’d do that. Of course, you would do that.’ Let me put that into context: I would have to be the equivalent would be me preaching probably my most important mark of the week and I put in many hours to be here, imagine just letting me thinking ‘Oh, there’s a broken relationship there and I’ve not done anything to try and reconcile that. Sorry guys, see later. I’m going to go and do something about that.’ and you’d be like ‘What is he on!’ But that is literally. Or imagine me, put it in another context, we’ve had a number of weddings recently, imagine being at the front ready to exchange your vows ‘Repeat after me … Oh, hold on. I’ve just remembered there’s that broken relationship and I haven’t done anything.’ Literally that is what Jesus is saying, that is how seriously we are to take our relationships with one another and with anyone that, if there’s a break, we would pause even our wedding ceremony, that is what Jesus is teaching here, because we have to in the kingdom flee from anger and content and pursue the highest regard for one another. So, that’s part one.

Part two, Jesus goes on and says ‘You have heard that it was said ‘You shall not commit adultery’ but I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ Again, the Pharisees narrowed it down, so it’s literally the physical act of adultery and everything else, looks and conversation, all of that is fair game because you haven’t physically done anything, so you’re safe, you’re good. But again, Jesus extends it out to include lust. Why? Well Willard has another helpful comment to say that ‘to look upon a person for the purpose of lusting for them using their visual presence as a means of savoring the fantasized act has thereby committed adultery with them in your heart.’ It’s not until you get specific with that kind of language that you can really see the logic of Jesus teaching because, imagine your spouse or such like, looking at someone lustfully and you finding out about that. You would be hurt, you would feel betrayed because, after all, that is what adultery is, that breaking of a covenant, that unfaithfulness and so what Jesus says makes complete sense. Now Willard’s quote helpfully puts it as both male and female. He, but also, we should note that attraction is not wrong, temptation isn’t wrong either. Jesus was tempted in every way but he did not sin. But for us, sin is less than a heartbeat away and so we can very easily and quickly move from attraction and temptation to turning people into an object, a thing, a physical body, that is simply there for our pleasure even if only in our imagination, and Jesus says there’s no place for this in the kingdom, there’s no place for lust, just as there’s no place for sex outside of marriage in the kingdom, and to do otherwise, to reject that teaching, is to put our desires, our wants above the ways of the kingdom and instead Jesus says we should be pursuing the respect and honor of one another, that we don’t see people as things, as bodies, as possessions, but we see them as people made in the image of God, a person of great value and so they’re not there to be used or to have or to make you feel comfortable or fulfilled or whatever it would be rather, you’ve to will their good rather than willing to have them or use them.

And again, He gives some points of application here. He goes on to speak of how important this is in the kingdom that you’re to, apparently, pluck out your eye and cut off your hand, and I’m not sure any of us have done that recently so clearly, we must be disobeying scripture in some way, if we took it literally but Jesus, thankfully, has not been literal because the law also taught in the Old Testament that mutilation, self-mutilation, was forbidden, so Jesus is simply using hyperbola to get our attention, to raise our awareness of how important this is, how important it is but the idea that the principle, the metaphor of maiming is still important, still helpful because, there might be things that we need to cut off, that fuel are lust. It could be certain books or magazines; it could be certain films. Gill and I we won’t watch certain categories of films and if we know our film is going to include certain material, we won’t go near that, not just because of lust but because of other factors too. We might limit certain sites and our internet access because either going to a certain shopping site might be unhelpful. Or it might be that actually the plain blatant pornographic sites are clearly out of bounds and unhelpful and just will raise that lust and are not embodying the respect and honor of the kingdom. But it can be in everyday ways that we just need to learn to cut off the things that might feed and fuel or lust. You might be just walking down the street and you notice someone, there’s a degree of attraction, you notice that but it’s then learning to bounce the eye off rather than linger and it becoming more developed, because sin is less than a heartbeat away and so, you learn just to bounce so that you’re not feeling that and you’re walking in the ways of the kingdom where we hold the highest respect and honour for one another.

Thirdly, Jesus says ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give for a certificate of divorce, it has been said. But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife except for sexual immorality makes her the victim of adultery…’ Now, this is an area of the law where the Pharisees had added extra rules and interpretations to try and wriggle a way out of it and so but even within the Pharisees there was disagreement. So, there’s one school of thought that took the words of the law which said that a certificate of divorce could be given if a wife did something unseemly or indecently then a certificate of divorce could be given and there was one school that kept it quite narrow. There was another school that said even if she burnt the dinner then that was a good enough reason to issue a certificate of divorce. Which just seems completely ridiculous but literally that’s that was the case, I’m not making this up, and Jesus narrows the understanding of divorce to say that, in the kingdom, there are exceptionally few reasons for divorce and He says here that one reason is sexual immorality, the breaking of a covenant because, literally, as I said earlier, that is the meaning of adultery, to break a covenant, to be unfaithful and that’s why He goes on to say that if a man was to divorce his wife that would make her a victim of adultery because adultery is the breaking of a covenant, it’s unfaithfulness which is why God with His people talks about their covenant breaking being an act of adultery. Now I guess more could be said. Some might want more to be said about divorce, particularly with the rates of divorce in our world today, but John Stott argued, quite helpfully I think, that to preach more on divorce could end up being unhelpful, might lead to greater pain, might lead to a degree of confusion because, in preaching, you have to paint with very broad brush strokes and so, he argued, actually, that it’s better to have these kind of conversations as a conversation, as dialogue rather than say too much in preaching, but at the very least we can say that in the kingdom we’re to pursue fidelity, lifelong fidelity, where we keep our promises and we embody the faithfulness of God.

Lastly, Jesus said ‘Again you have heard that it was said to the people long ago do not break your oath but fulfill to the lord the oaths you have made but I tell you do not swear enough at all. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ Once more the Pharisees had added some wriggle room here and they basically said that well unless you use the name of God in your vow and oath then you don’t really need to keep it, you can get out of it. So, they had this system, this elaborate way or and rules around this and vows and of course that is going to create a culture of distrust or lack of honesty, of not really being knowing if you can trust someone, if they’re going to fulfill that vow, and Jesus said that this is completely abusing what the law says for, in fact, we should not be taking the Lord’s name in vain anyway or invoking anything else because it belongs to God and ultimately you’re only having to do that because you’re dishonest people, you can’t be trusted and so, you’re trying to engender a greater degree of trust, we might even say you’re trying to manipulate a greater degree of trust. So, instead, in the kingdom, pursue trust and in transparency by being a people who are so honest that you don’t need to resort to adding more to your yes or no,

So, these are some of the ways that Jesus calls us to embody a kingdom culture and I suspect that the issues around anger and lust are the most pressing for us in our day and maybe in our own lives and there might be a conversation, there might be an incident from this past week where you feel a degree of challenge even now that the Holy Spirit is saying you know in that moment this past week and that look that you gave and that we comment or words, that was not of my kingdom and that’ll feel challenging. But let’s remember, as has been said before, God doesn’t convict to make you small or to make you feel terrible about yourself. He convicts to bring life, to bring you into the life of the kingdom, the goodness of the kingdom and then, through that, others may experience the goodness of the kingdom. So, I encourage you if you’re feeling challenged about something, if there’s something drawn out from you then spend some time in prayer with the Lord later today. Go for a walk. Get some time alone in the room somewhere and just talk to Him. Ask for His grace to forgive but His grace also to enable you to make that right with a person and to keep on changing you.

Going through the material this week in preparation for today I was struck by one idea though that really, we could summarize all of these portions of scripture with this thought that yes, in the kingdom the king sets the culture but, in the kingdom, we treasure one another. In the kingdom we treasure one another. I think it summarizes all of what we’ve read because when we treasure. when we value one another. when we treat one another as precious, rather than resorting to anger and contempt or lust and unfaithfulness or manipulation and dishonesty, rather than any of those ways, we instead, we pursue the highest regard for one another where we seek reconciliation, where we hold one another with respect and honor, we seek the good of each other, we remain in lifelong fidelity, we pursue trust and transparency and honesty. These are all ways that we treasure one another and so embody the culture of the kingdom.

Now, we’re going to stumble, we’re going to get this wrong because none of us are fully mature, we’re all on a journey towards the wholeness of the kingdom, but know this brothers and sisters, know this, we are called to treasure others because our God first treasured us. You are so dear to Him that He came and died on a cross that there might be, instead of judgment, grace. Grace to forgive you. Grace to change you. Grace to help you put things right. Grace to hold you fast unto the end.

That is our God. That is our King. It’s the marks of His Kingdom and it’s the culture He calls us to embody in our own lives and in our shared life together, and I pray, I really do pray, that it might be so. Amen.

Share in His Kingdom

Preached on: Sunday 20th February 2022
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 22-02-20 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Colossians 3:1-14
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

Holy Spirit, breath of God, come soften our hearts to the word of God.
Holy Spirit, come and reveal truth that life and freedom might flourish.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

I wonder if you can think of someone either living or deceased who, to you, embodies Jesus? Can you think of someone whose character, whose life, whose faith just meant that they shone Jesus to you? If you’re sitting next to someone why not for the next 30 seconds just turn to them and see who comes to mind for you. Over to you for 30 seconds.

Well, feel free to pick up those conversations afterwards and maybe I think that the weather’s a little bit less windy than it was so maybe, afterwards, outside you can also see who else came up with different ideas and I would love to hear the names and the folks that you thought of. I’m sure I’ve got some similar ideas to you but actually some ways, what’s more upon my mind, is how did they get like that? How did they grow in such a character, in such a way that they embody Jesus, that you noticed and that you remember? There’s another thought that I wonder about also, could it be that you, me might be there one day? That someone might look at us and see Jesus in us? Could the next generation see Jesus in you already?

And our passage today, Paul continues to build on all that he’s written in chapters one and two, his great prayer for the Colossians, of Jesus and Jesus is supreme over all, this Jesus that Paul seeks to make known, the commission that Jesus gave to Paul and so, he’s right into the Colossians, to strengthen and safeguard their faith from these false teachers, from this false avenue of worship. But now, going into chapter three, things change. He’s beginning to now say ‘Well, if this is who Jesus is, if this is who you have faith in, and it’s a real faith, and a genuine faith, then there should be a way of living a lifestyle that is congruent with that, that should accompany that faith. But even then, Paul is going to have a few surprises for us. Surprises that make Christianity different from those false avenues of worship and, as he’s done throughout this letter. he’s going to get the Colossians to look up to Jesus but also so that they can see the truth about themselves as well.

And so, he writes in the first portion ‘You have been raised with Christ who is seated at the right hand of God. For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ and God when Christ who is your life appears then you also will appear with him in glory.’ And, as is typical of Paul, he fits enough into four verses that really could do with four sermons but you’re not gonna get that thing instead, I’m gonna give you my best summary thoughts of what I can condense this down into and it’s this – you share now in the future Kingdom of Jesus, you share now in the future Kingdom of Jesus. But let me explain where I got that from in this these verses.

There’s two people on display, there’s Jesus and there’s the Colossians, so, what’s the picture of Jesus here? Well, he is named Christ which is not His surname/ It’s not His surname, it’s His title. He is Jesus the Christ, the Messiah in Hebrew and that was a promised figure who would come to bring God’s Kingdom and to bring salvation upon the earth. And He is now seated at the right hand of God, which is biblical language, picture language, for saying that salvation He has accomplished. He’s not working and laboring at that. He has accomplished it so, he is seated. And He is seated at the Father’s right hand, He’s seated at the throne of God. And all this picture language of Jesus is showing us that that He is Hing, He is King of a Kingdom and although we don’t experience that fully yet, He has broken into this world in His coming. But notice what else it says of Jesus ‘when Christ appears.’ He’s coming back. He’s coming back to bring the fullness of His Kingdom into the creation. Created order, that’s a picture of Jesus.

So, what’s the picture of the Colossians, we have here? Well, they have been raised because they have died, and we touched on this in previous sermons, that they have died to old masters, as chapter 1 verse 13 said, they have been brought out of the dominion of darkness but they’ve been raised with Christ, they have been brought into the Kingdom of the Son, the Kingdom of Jesus and so their life is now heading up, wrapped up in Jesus and in His Kingdom, and it doesn’t maybe look like that sometimes but that is what the truth is. And so, it goes on, here’s your life and then you also will appear with Him, when He appears you will appear, when His Kingdom comes you will share in that Kingdom, you will share in the glory of that Kingdom. And so, we get the summary phrase ‘you share now in the future Kingdom of Jesus.’ He is the King of all, as we saw in chapter one, He’s supreme and He has a Kingdom and you share in that Kingdom. It’s so crucial to biblical theology. It’s so crucial to the writing of the scriptures. It’s so crucial to this very passage. Is it crucial to your life? Does it shape your life day-to-day, week-to-week, year-on-year? Does it shape your purpose and your values? Does it shape your living and your choices? Does it shape the confidence you have as a Christian? You’re not just a member of the Church of Scotland, which is declining. You’re part of the Kingdom of God and one day that’s all there will be.

But really Paul is just echoing the teaching of Jesus. If I was to ask you to say what is the Gospel, what would you say? What is the good news? Would you come up with the same answer as Jesus. ‘Jesus went into Galilee proclaiming the good news. (the Gospel) The time has come, the Kingdom of God has come near.’ Now, that’s not to deny that the Gospel includes the cross, or faith in Jesus, both of those are essential if you want to share in the Kingdom of God, but the Gospel is about the Kingdom of Jesus. That’s the Gospel!

Two years ago a few months before the pandemic struck we had an end of year all-age service just at the end of 2019, hopefully you might remember back to that and that you were there, we asked you a question and gave you some post-it notes to write on – is this jogging any memories now – and on the way out you were asked to post it, post up your post-it notes and we would collect them in and we were doing this as part of our purpose and values – and if you don’t know what they are check out our website – now on the day we got 150, 200 plus post-it notes and the question we asked you was ‘What is important to Jesus?’ and we got answers ranging from the Bible to prayer, to church, to people, to love, to forgiveness but guess what wasn’t there, not one posting – the Kingdom of God – not once, not one. Now, why is that?

Let me say, I don’t think it’s your fault, I don’t think it’s your fault. If anyone is to blame for that scenario happening, it lies with the ministers, generations of ministers who’ve not taught that. Not just me, not just Murdo and Scott, but generations before that. That maybe we ministers have been so wrapped up by our culture, our individualistic culture, that we have focused so much on the individual, and not focused on the Kingdom, not focused on the fact that so much of scripture is addressed to our community, not just to an individual, or we get so wrapped up in the institutions and the congregation and the parish and, to be honest there ain’t anything of that in here! It doesn’t seem like God really cares much for denominations or a parish system or whatever/ It might be His focus is on the Kingdom, on unity. There is no them and us as Paul says in verse 11 ‘Christ is all and is in all Christ.’ is all that matters and He is in every person who calls himself a Christian.

But, wherever the blame lies, can we change our thinking now? Can we go forward from this point now, much more shaped by a Kingdom mindset so that it does affect our day-to-day life? Because, if we don’t, we’ll hit a barrier a glass ceiling or maybe not even a glass ceiling, a very solid ceiling of faith both individually and together because, without that theology of the Kingdom of God rooted deep in us, shaping our mindset, shaping our lives individually and collectively, we won’t have the right outlook on faith or life and we’ll just hit a ceiling. It would be like a barrier where the plants have just got a barrier over and they can’t flourish and grow and they just grow inward. Your faith, our collective faith, will just grow inward without that framework of the Kingdom of God. It’s so important to the scriptures and it’s so important to this passage, because Paul goes on now to say well if that’s true of you, if you share now in the future Kingdom of Jesus, there’s a lifestyle that goes along with that.

And so, he goes on to say ‘Put to death therefore whatever belongs to your earthly nature. You must also rid yourselves of all such things as these. You have taken off your old self with its practices.’ Again, there’s a lot in here and these three strands seem to again have a similar thought to them and I would summarize it this way – cast off what is not fitting for Christ’s Kingdom, cast off what is not fitting for Christ’s Kingdom. Because here and in the later verses of the same passage, he uses this picture of clothing that is or is not fitting for the Kingdom of Jesus and here he’s saying to cast it off. I’m pretty sure at one point I’ve told you that Gill and I got invited, when I worked with the Scout Association, to the Queen’s Garden Party in Holyrood, at Holyrood Palace. Lovely day, thankfully it didn’t rain and everybody’s getting really glammed up and there was Gil looking fabulous and hat and everything on, and there’s me less fabulous and my Scout uniform, now I did have my kilt on so we better dash of color, but imagine if we rocked up there and t-shirts on ‘Down with the monarchy’! I’m not really sure that would have went down so well, it would have been scandalous, it would have been an absolute mockery of things, it would have been ill-fitting. And the same is true with our lifestyle, with how we live our faith. There is a faith, a lifestyle that is fitting as someone who belongs to the Kingdom and there is a lifestyle that is ill-fitting and Paul wants us to put to death what is ill-fitting.

Now, because that makes us uncomfortable, we often shrug it off, we want to look at the positive rather than the negative, but we need to grasp the more negative and to help us do that I want to very briefly read out three analogies that I picked up in my reading because they between them they grasp some of the what is Paul is getting at here and what differentiates what Paul is teaching, what the Christian faith is teaching from those other false avenues of worship and the three pictures are: the house; the well; and the cage.

The house – When you ask God into your life you think He’s going to come into your inner house, look around and see that you just need a little cleaning and so you go along for the first week while thinking how nice life is now that God is part of it, then you look out the window one day and to your horror you see a wrecking ball outside. It turns out that God actually thinks your whole foundation is shot and you’re going to have to start over from scratch.

The well – A Tennessee farmer once said ‘What comes up in the bucket is usually what’s down in the well’. The list of vices Paul gives points to an inner pollution. No list of do’s and don’ts will ever change that pollution, the only solution is to change what is down in the well of our very souls.

The cage – The false teaching Paul opposed put the wild animals of lust and hatred into cages, there they remained alive, dangerous, beating at the bars, threatening to get out and capture their captor again, Paul’s solution is more drastic – the wild animals are to be killed. The old method of holiness attacked symptoms; the true method goes for the root.

Paul’s not really teaching a list of do’s and don’ts, he’s much more interested and you’ve been changed from the inside out, been changed in the depths of your being so that what is fitting for the Kingdom grows and exudes from you, that when people see you, they see Jesus, and we could spend literally sermons on this thought as well, but I don’t have the time and so I want to refer you to a resource that I found helpful not only on this particular topic but on several others as well. It’s a book by Timothy Keller called ‘Prayer’ and he’s basically bringing together his research and his life over many decades of ministry to say this, this is what I found useful and in that he has a chapter on finding the grace of God, the grace of God, and in it he talks about how you can put to death the sinful nature your earthly nature and what he writes in there is fresh and life-giving and really helpful. The whole book is great but even just for that one chapter it would be worth having a copy. Now, if you don’t want to particularly buy it I’m happy to lend out mine so first come-first served and you can take it away today. Because Paul is serious about this. We really do need to put to death what is ill-fitting so that we can grow in that lifestyle that is fitting but, as Keller writes, it’s finding His grace to forgive yes, but grace also to change. As we saw in our last series, our series on Grace before the summer last year, Grace is also in the scriptures synonymous with God’s power, God’s power to transform you, power to change you. But to access that power there first has to be something else that comes before and I briefly just want to touch on this because if you want to access this power you first need to be, need to have died and be raised to life as Paul says or in the language of Jesus, you need to be born again.

Now, some of us are going to say ‘Well, I didn’t have a clear conversion moment, Scott, so how do I know?’ and many people can say that, but they still know with certainty that they’re a Christian, that they have died and been and raised to have life in Jesus. Because none of us is born a Christian, coming to church doesn’t make you a Christian, being baptized or being a member doesn’t make you a Christian, the only thing that makes you a Christian is that you have died and been raised with Jesus. So, how can you know, how can you know with a degree of certainty and encouragement?

Well, what I’ve found really helpful in discerning this is Paul’s writings in second Corinthians and he says in chapter 5 ‘and he (that is Jesus) died for all that that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.’ and what Paul is saying is that, someone who has died and been raised to have life in Jesus within them, as a desire to no longer live for themselves but to live for Jesus. Now, none of us gets it right perfectly, even the minister had a very clear conversion experience and I’ll go into some detail on this in a moment, he doesn’t get it right, go ask my wife, every day there are issues, but at the core of a Christian should be that desire for this to be true of their life, that they don’t want to just live for themselves, they want to live for Jesus, and increasingly so. If you can say that’s true of you then you know you have died and been raised to life, and if you haven’t, and if that’s not there, there might be reasons for that. I’d happily talk that through or maybe we can ponder it at home on our own, because, if you desire to live for Christ rather than just for yourself, if you are have died and been raised to life then you share in Christ, you share in His Kingdom. And so, because of that, there is a lifestyle that is fitting and unfitting for that and God wants to help us grow in that by accessing His power, accessing His grace. So, that’s putting to death what’s ill-fitting and first accessing the grace of God by knowing that we’re in Christ.

So, how can we put on what is fitting and what does that even mean ‘to put on what is fitting’? Well, Paul says ‘set your hearts on things above ….. set your minds on things above, not on earthly things…. you have put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator therefore ….. clothe yourselves’ That middle sentence I have practiced it so much because they just trip over it quite easily, it’s a bit tricky there. And there’s two things I want to highlight for us.

‘Earthly things’ – first of all I think it’s very possible that we could read this and get the wrong end of the stick with Paul because when you think of earthly things on a first read we might begin to wonder well is Paul talking about some form of escapism like have I not to be bothered about what I wear, or am I not allowed to enjoy a glass of wine, or company with friends, or the chocolate bar? What is it that he means like by ‘focus your minds and hearts on things above and not on earthly things’? Like, what is that about? And for me, what helped this week, was to realize that in verse 2 ‘earthly things’ there’s a Greek phrase used there, ‘earthly things’ that’s the same Greek phrase in verse 5 for ‘earthly nature’. So, in verse 5 Paul is saying there’s this part of your earthly nature that is opposed to God, opposed to the will of God, that is ugly and just wrong, that’s your earthly nature, but earthly things in chapter verse 2 is just the same phrase and it’s the same thing. So Paul is not against you enjoying life, he’s not calling you to be so heavenly minded that you’re not involved in the day-to-day of life or not enjoying the day-to-day of life, that’s not what he’s about, ultimately he’s about saying that we need to change from the inside out about what we think about, what captures our hearts, that it wouldn’t be these earthly wrong things but other things, the good things of God, that he’s given us, that the good things in Him, the good things of His will.

And so we have the second phrase saying that we’ve to be ‘renewed in knowledge in the image of its creator’ and until this week if you’d asked me ‘What does that mean Scott?’ I probably would have waffled some nonsense, I’m pretty good at that not always maybe convincingly, but I can waffle as good as the next minister probably, but until this week, I had not a clue really what that meant.

But this week, I had an experience on Monday that I’m about to tell you and then in the midst of that I also happen to be researching and trying to understand the scriptures and the two came together and I’m just so excited to share what I got because I just find it so life-giving that God’s just perfect timing brought those things together! So, on Monday, Gill comes home from visiting her parents and she shares with me the news that her dad had spilt milk on her phone such that and left it for a while, I might add, such that that the earpiece of the phone wasn’t working properly. Now, she has a nice new iPhone not the brand new one it’s a couple of years older I think, but it’s pretty good, it’s not a cheap phone, and inside me starts bubbling a whole range of emotions. I didn’t say anything but my mood, the vibe I was giving off was a bit prickly, a bit moody, We term it, Gill and I, my passive aggressiveness which it is, it is passive aggressive. I don’t vent so I don’t go into a rage as Paul says but there’s this just exuding of my passive aggressiveness and at first Gill thinks ‘He’s annoyed.’ I’m annoyed at her that this has happened, but we’ve kind of learned to work through conflict, thankfully, over these many years of marriage, and we’ve got to that point so we talk it through and I say to her ‘Well, I’m not annoyed at you, what actually is going on is I’m worried. I’m worried about finances. I’m worried that here’s more that we’re going to have to fork out for and cost of living crisis and all, that just amalgamation of things and worried, and so my worry has generated this passive aggressive prickliness.’ We kind of talked that through but at the same time I’m reading up about this verse and this passage and it just jumps off the page with fresh life and just spoke to me because what I realized was this, my passive aggressiveness, my prickliness, came from my worry over finances but my worry was a sign that I didn’t trust my Heavenly Father didn’t trust His love and provision because, if you think about it, let’s go to Jesus, did Jesus ever show passive aggressiveness? No! He showed anger, injustice but not passive aggressive and that’s because He never worried and He never worried because He was perfectly trusting in the Father’s love and provision. And so, for me, what I’ve realized is, that I need to have my mind renewed, my understanding of God and His character, of what it means to be His child, so that I don’t worry, and, the next time her dad spills milk on the phone, which is bound to happen, then I’m going to respond in a more Jesus-like manner with gentleness and kindness and ‘Oh, that’s grand. No worries.’ whatever it might be, I have no idea, but it won’t be passive aggressiveness. I’m not there yet and there’ll be many more days of passive aggressiveness I’m sure, but I’ve realized this. But it all starts in the mind and being renewed in your mind of what you understand of God and of His character and of His will. And the same is true of the sin and of the lack of Jesus image in your life, of all the ways that you show what’s here or in the other scriptures, where you’re not showing Jesus or you’re going against the will of God. It all starts from what needs to change in your mind, and I want to give you just a few quick worked examples based on the passage.

So, chapter verse 5 Paul says ‘put to death your earthly nature’ which includes sexual immorality and I don’t know what that brings up in your mind but just to let you know what the scriptures teach, that sexual immorality is sex outside of marriage. Now we can debate and discuss that at another time but sexual immoral immorality, sex outside of marriage is the thing that’s the outward product. What is the thinking that leads to that? It’s either you don’t understand the Biblical teaching about sex and where that is to be experienced marriage, or you think you know better than God. And so, well that’s something that needs to change in your thinking too or something else maybe around temptation on and how-to walk-in God’s ways in the face of temptation. There could be a number of things in your thinking that need to change so that you walk in God’s will, and on the outward product is not sexual immorality anymore.

Let’s take verse 11 where Paul is talking that ‘there’s no longer Jew or Greek and Jew or Gentile’ and there should be no division. There should be no Brightons or Slamannan, Brightons or Polmont, Brightons or Maddiston Evangelical, there’s nothing of the Kingdom because what needs to change in our mind is that as verse 11 says ‘Christ is all and is in all’ Christ is all that matters. The Bible doesn’t give a jot about denominations. So, that needs to change in our thinking so that we have a much more Kingdom outlook and then we evidence greater unity and less about them and us and that we’re all one family wherever we’re based.

Or let’s take verse 13 where Paul talks about bearing with each other forgiving one another ‘forgive as the Lord forgives you.’ Now, let me first say that there are some elements of forgiveness, some things that are done to you that require a lot more nuance than I’m going to give just now and forgiveness can sometimes be a lengthy process, I’ve been there with some things, and they’re not even the worst things that you can experience. So, please bear in mind that, there’s lots of caveats around this. But it’s not uncommon for people in churches to experience stuff that peeves you off and so you just get really annoyed and you end up having a grievance against someone but then you don’t forgive and that grievance becomes bitterness. We’ve all probably been there. That stems, in part, there’s a process there and maybe that’s what you need to understand, the process of reaching forgiveness, but in part it can stem from thinking you’re better than the other person. So pride or not understanding that actually you were an enemy of God and yet He died for you so if He’s willing to extend you forgiveness why are you not willing to extend that other person forgiveness? There’s so much that could be wrong in our thinking or just not formed in our thinking, that is in line with the scriptures that on the other hand we end up displaying just bitterness and unforgiveness. You could do that with everything in here, lust, evil desires, idolatry, greed, everything stems from something that needs to change in our thinking so that, in us, has renewed the image of Jesus,

And I pray, church, that we would really take this on board. Take this on board so that our today’s generation sees that the Christian faith is not about just ticking a box and coming to church, it’s not about even being a nice person, it’s about knowing the living God whose grace you know, whose grace is at work in your life, such that you’re changing and you exude Jesus in your day-to-day life, because you’re part of His Kingdom and the grace and power of His Kingdom is at work in your life and you’re then embodying that Kingdom by casting off what is not of it and putting on what is.

I pray that that would be our testimony, our story and that we would share that with today’s generation. May it be so. Amen

I yearn for the Kingdom (Psalm 72)

Preached on: Sunday 31st May 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-05-31-Message-PowerPoint.
Bible references: Psalm 72
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Psalm 72 (International Children’s Bible)
Sunday 31st May 2020
Brightons Parish Church

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

Boys and girls – what am I saying?
Do you know? Could you remember? It was the start of the prayer Jesus taught us, we prayed it today:
‘Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name,
Your kingdom come…’
(Matthew 6:9-10)

We say this prayer every Sunday and hopefully you’re starting to learn both the prayer and the sign language so that you can join in and say it with us.
Now, Jesus wasn’t the first person to encourage us to pray for God’s Kingdom to come into the world because about one thousand years before Jesus this psalm was written. Our psalm today is one example of a prayer where God’s people prayed for God’s Kingdom to come, and they probably prayed it when a new king of Israel started to reign as king. It might have first been used when Solomon was starting out as king and the people would have prayed this psalm, asking, hoping that Solomon would be a good king and receive from God, God’s justice and righteousness, God’s goodness, so that God’s Kingdom would be seen on the earth. I wonder, can you remember any other names of kings in Israel? I’ll give you 30 seconds to see what you can come up with.

So, I wonder what names you remembered – if you want, you can share them in the live chat just now. You might have said good kings like David or Josiah. Or, you might have said some bad kings, like Jeroboam or Ahab. But even the good kings were not perfect, not as perfect as what the people prayed for in this psalm. Also, none of the kings stayed as ‘king’ for ever, and none of them reigned over as big an area as the people prayed for – they prayed for all the nations to be blessed because of the king (v17), for they wanted everyone to know God’s justice, protection, and peace, or we might say wholeness. And so, the people had to keep praying this prayer, until one day someone very special came – who do you think this was boys and girls? Who was this special person? Shout it out loud of me! (PAUSE)
That’s right – it was Jesus. When Jesus had grown up to become a man and started going around teaching people about God, He said this:
‘The time has come…The kingdom of God has come near.
Repent and believe the good news!’ (Mark 1:15)

Jesus was saying, that because He had come to earth, then the Kingdom of God was breaking into the world and starting to change the world. Another time Jesus said:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
(Luke 4:18-21)

As Jesus started going around helping people, healing people, teaching people, the kingdom of God started to come into people’s lives and change their lives. That prayer, which God’s people had been praying for hundreds of years, was coming true through Jesus, because Jesus is the perfect King, the King of God’s Kingdom, and so people started to experience God’s justice and righteousness; they started to experience God’s peace, His shalom, the gift of wholeness; the people knew that what Jesus said of Himself was true: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest…’ (Matthew 11:28) or another time He said, ‘…whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ (John 4:14)
The hopes of that psalm were coming true in Jesus… because Jesus was God’s promised King, the King the people had been praying and waiting for, the King through whom God’s Kingdom would come upon the earth and change people’s lives.

So, why did Jesus include a line in His prayer, which says, ‘Your Kingdom come’? I’ll give you 30 seconds to think or talk about that. (PAUSE)

Again, if you want to, you can share your ideas in the live chat just now because there’s probably lots of things we could say. But I wonder if part of the reason is that Jesus wanted to shape our agenda, because what you care about, you pray about. I wonder, what do we pray about?
How high up the agenda is God’s Kingdom in our prayer life?
Or, do we simply jump into ‘give me my daily bread’…
and rarely get past that? Not that God doesn’t care for our daily bread, He told us to pray about it after all. But, do you want to see this world get better? Do you? Do you want to see justice reign and love for neighbour to grow? Then pray for God’s Kingdom to come. Do you want to see the poor treated right and to know life in your own soul and mind and body? Then pray for God’s Kingdom to come. Do you want to see crime and addictions and isolation and hopelessness decrease? Then pray for the Kingdom of God to come. Maybe Jesus includes that line, and puts it so near the top, so as to challenge us, to recalibrate our priorities, and to call us to seek His Kingdom and pray for His Kingdom, because it is the coming of His Kingdom into this world and into our individual lives that will bring the wholeness, the blessing, which our psalm spoke of.
So, in these difficult days, are we praying for God’s Kingdom to come? Are we praying for light to come into darkness, and for love to come where people are lonely? Are we praying for creativity and understanding in the issue of a vaccination? This too is to pray for God’s Kingdom to come.

And what about the situation here in the Braes area, as we face a future with 2 ministers instead of 5 – how high up our agenda is the Kingdom of God? Or is our focus more on our little area, our stuff, our buildings, our reputation, our minister, our comfort, our needs? Or can we pray, ‘Your Kingdom come’? Because if we pray this, then our focus may move from ourselves and to the wider concerns of God’s Kingdom, through which blessing and wholeness will come to our area and beyond.
There is much more to say, and I’ll share some of that in our Tuesday Evening Sermon, so join me then, if you’re able or get the recording later in the week.

But let us be a people who pray, ‘Thy Kingdom come’, not simply by rote, not simply because of tradition, but because our hearts yearn for the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus to come in our midst, that the people in our parishes, in our workplaces, in our families and circle of friends, might experience in increasing measure the kingdom of God, and so know with certainty that one day they will experience the fullness of God’s kingdom when Jesus returns and we see Him face to face.

Until that day, we pray, Thy Kingdom come. May it be so.

Kingdom identity (Haggai 2:20-23)

Preached on: Sunday 17th November 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-11-17-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: Haggai 2:20-23; John 17:20-26
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The pattern of the Kingdom

Preached on: Sunday 8th August 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-08-25-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: Genesis 1:1-2:3
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Genesis 1:1-2:3
Sunday 25th August 2019 (morning)
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.

For one minute, I wonder if you would turn to your neighbour and discuss what you think the answer to this question is: ‘what was the subject most taught about by Jesus?’ You’ve got 1 minute discuss – over to you!

One analysis of this question suggested that ‘love’ came #43, forgiveness #32, money #4, Father God #2 – and top of the list, the most taught about subject by Jesus was ‘the kingdom of God’! Yet, how often do we talk about the kingdom of God? Or, when did it last feature in your decision-making when you went to the shops?
It makes me wonder – is the kingdom of God quite low importance for us? Is personal preference, cultural norms or the survival of our denomination more important than the kingdom of God? Or when we come to decision making, what do we base it upon?

For example, last week we received 70 feedback forms regarding the summer services. The responses will be typed up, discussed within Session and eventually inform what we do next summer. Please do get one in. But let’s be honest – there are broadly two groups: one supports the format we had this year, the other prefers to reestablish the Summer Sunday School. There are competing values here – how is Session to make a
decision? It may be, though not guaranteed, that a kingdom focused analysis and discussion might help us discern what is the best way forward, even if it doesn’t suit everyone.
And so today we begin a new teaching series, which will run for 8 weeks in total, and it will focus on the kingdom of God. Each week will draw upon a different portion of Scripture, starting in Genesis and ending up in Revelation, and it is my hope that it will not only sharpen our kingdom-focus, but that we might also see the kingdom of God as a binding theme throughout the Scriptures, from beginning to end, although each part will add a distinctive contribution to our understanding.

Additionally, the series should also help us to see how the Scriptures hold together, that although there are 66 books written by 40 authors over the course of 2000 years, that in fact, the Bible really is one book, with one main author, telling one core story throughout. So, let’s get into today’s passage.
The phrase ‘the kingdom of God’ is never actually used in the Old Testament – it uniquely begins with Jesus in each of the New Testament gospels – and yet, the idea and the reality of the kingdom of God is found everywhere in the Old Testament as well. Take for example Psalm 47:
‘Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. For the Lord Most High is awesome, the great King over all the earth.’ (v1-2)

Clearly the Psalmist understands God as King, and this was upheld by the people of God across the millennia. But they got this from their theology, from what they understood of God, from the revelation God had given of Himself: that He is was King and as King He has a kingdom.
And that understanding of God as King has its roots all the way back into Genesis 1 – ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…And God said, “Let there be light…”’ (v1,3)

These words reveal that God alone is sovereign and eternal; He alone existed before all else and it was by His powerful word, by His kingly command, that our universe came into being – and so God is therefore the rightful ruler and King over all creation.

I wonder if that shocks you at all, or makes you a little bit uncomfortable? It might not, but it really should, and when it was first being taught about 4000 years ago, it was a truly shocking claim – because this teaching clashed with the religions and perspectives of the day.
In contrast to the other Ancient Near Eastern religions of the time, Genesis 1 is a shockingly controversial rejection of their claim about how the universe came into being. There were several creation myths around at the time, particularly in nearby Babylonia, but they claimed that creation may have come about after a conflict between good and evil beings, or that it came by procreation of such divine beings, or that all creation was somehow eternal.

But against all that, Genesis claims the Lord, Yahweh, does not produce or bring forth, He creates from nothing, for He alone is almighty and eternal – He has no equal, He alone is King of all creation. And this very teaching would have jarred with the thinking of the day, it would have shocked then, even angered some, just as it does today.
For in our day, we have twin pressures from our surrounding culture – there is on the one hand, that pressure from an increasingly forceful atheism, which seeks to limit the sphere of faith. And on the other hand, there is pressure to say that all religions are equal, that all paths lead to God, that no one faith is more true than another. But neither is wise, accurate or good for society.

For there is plenty of evidence from history that when a society removes religious freedom and pursues a purely atheistic culture that it is then on route to becoming an unhealthy society: examples could include Stalin’s Russia, or Mao’s China.

And as for an approach which says all religions are equally true…well that just doesn’t make sense. You can’t have one saying all matter is eternal, whilst another doesn’t; or one which says God cared enough for His creation to enter into it, whilst another would be horrified at such a claim. These are not differences we can, or should, gloss over – it cannot be both/and, it truly is one or the other. And in our culture, in our day, that can make us feel quite uncomfortable, it almost sounds unloving.

But claiming, as Genesis does, that there is one eternal King and He has no equal, is not arrogance or intolerance, for logic and reason demand that the different claims be weighed, they can’t all be equally true, and to allow the claim of Genesis to be given up so as to appease our postmodern mindset is actually to the detriment of others, for then they won’t bother to explore the Christian faith, why should they when everything is relative or equal? But to hold on to the claim, that they then might find Jesus…
as their Saviour, well that’s the most loving thing we can do for anyone. It is only when we hold on to the claim that there is one eternal King, do we then begin to lay a foundation for a faith that is robust and offers genuine hope to our broken world.

Because in this world, which God created in love and upon which He established His Kingdom, the Lord also created all life, and the pinnacle of His creation was mankind – you and I. We read in Genesis 1: ‘So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’ (v27)

Only humanity is described in this manner, only humanity is created in the image of God, and so men and women…

are set apart from the rest of creation, giving each one great dignity, for we bear the image of God within us.
And God places His image-bearers, this mankind, in a garden, telling them to be fruitful and increase in number, to fill the earth and enjoy the produce of the land. God gives them also a mandate, a purpose, and only one boundary, given for their good, it’s in Genesis chp2: ‘And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”’ (v16-17)

And so, in the place He has given, the people God has made, can continue to enjoy His blessing as they fulfil His mandate and remain with His rule. This understanding of what is portrayed here in Genesis gives us a pattern of the kingdom of God and…
it has been summarised by Graeme Goldsworthy as: ‘the kingdom of God…is God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule and enjoying God’s blessing.’

This is a phrase we’ll keep returning to during the series because in different parts of the Scriptures, different elements of this phrase are emphasised, or are seen to be out of place or marred. But the pattern of the kingdom is laid down here in Genesis 1 and 2: ‘the kingdom of God…is God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule and enjoying God’s blessing.’

In these chapters, at the beginning of the story, we can see three important points of application. Firstly, we were created with a purpose, for we read: ‘God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”’ (Gen. 1:28) and then in chapter 2 we reed: ‘The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.’ (Gen. 2:15)

As the image bearers of the King we are given the royal purpose of stewarding creation – we’ve to take care of it, rather than abuse it – and so matter matters to God for it is part of His kingdom, God is not only concerned with our souls; He is also concerned with our bodies and the whole material creation. And so, it is right to speak with our children, indeed all of us, and raise the issue of how our products and how our lifestyle affect the material world. We understand ourselves to be part of God’s people – are we living under His rule by heeding our call to steward creation well? If we are not, how could we steward better?
Secondly, these chapters also highlight that we were created not only with a purpose but with a need for community. We reed in Genesis 2: ‘But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God…made a woman…and he brought her to the man.’ (Gen. 2:20-22)

Until Eve was made, Adam had no companionship with another like himself, and earlier in v18 the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’ We are made with a need for community – just as no man is an island, neither are God’s people – Genesis 1 and 2 make it clear that even within the perfection at the beginning of creation, God’s people, within God’s kingdom, need one another, and they were given to one another as part of the blessing of God. We have a need for community, we need each other…
and so, it is also right to emphasis the opportunity the Guild affords you and I, but we could also add in Friendship Plus, the coffee morning or the Fellowship Groups. Why not give one of these a try as they restart in the next month?

But can I also raise an issue I’ve become more aware of recently after some team meetings and pastoral visits? You’re probably aware, but we are quite a big church, and it’s easy to get lost, and it’s easy to be overlooked. And it’s easy to forget that some in our older generations have far fewer friends than they did a few years ago, or even this time last year, and they can start to feel isolated and undervalued. They too have a need of community. So, can we be on the lookout, not only for new people, but also for those that might be getting lost in the crowd?…
For they too are God’s people and they matter in God’s kingdom.

Lastly, in God’s kingdom, God’s people are to enjoy God’s blessing by living under God’s rule, but that is not only about living according to God’s laws and ways; living under God’s rule is also about enjoying God Himself and enjoying His rest. We read in Genesis 2:
‘By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.’ (Gen. 2:2)

This is the climax of creation, that day upon which God rested, for His work was complete. We do not then hear of an eighth day, nor do we return to the first day, for we are meant to see that the seventh day continues,…
and so God’s rest continues – not that God is sitting with His feet up, for He sustains our very creation, but He has rested from creating, and so the seventh day continues. Within that rest, creation, and especially humanity, is meant to live. We are meant to live in God’s rest, to share in it, enjoying the perfect creation, and enjoying relationship with God. To live under the rule of God, is to live within His rest and to enjoy God Himself.

I wonder, do you enjoy God? Maybe you don’t enjoy God because you don’t know God yet, you don’t know Him as your friend and heavenly Father, nor as your good King. And that may be because you haven’t put your faith in Him yet, and if that’s you, I’d encourage you to go listen to last week’s message which you can get on the website or via CD.
Yet, there could be any number of reasons you are not enjoying God, and if that’s you, if there is distance, can I encourage you to tell someone, and if you can, tell someone whose faith encourages you.

A number of years ago, I got into a bit of a rut in my faith; I wasn’t reading the Bible, I wasn’t praying. But then in one church service I felt challenged by my minister and I decided to go speak with my good friend Ollie, whose faith is a real encouragement to me. We started to meet up, to talk about faith, to talk about life, and over the course of time my faith came alive again, and I started to enjoy God once more.

Friends, you were created to enjoy God and His rest, to live under His rule, alongside His people,…
sharing in His blessing – for this is what Genesis reveals about what it means to be part of the Kingdom of God, this is the pattern of the Kingdom.

I pray that as we journey through this series together, may we become more kingdom-minded, leaning into our purpose, helping to meet our need for community, and growing in our enjoyment of God.

May it be so. Amen.