Friday Feb 09, 2024
Friday Feb 09, 2024
Friday Feb 09, 2024
A Strategy to Cope (Hebrews 3)
How can we, as 21st century Christians, keep from falling away from our faith in God through Jesus Christ? It is a question I am often asked. I would call it the COPE strategy: Consider, Persevere and Encourage.
1. Keep Considering! (vs1-6)
The first thing we do is to consider Jesus or as the NIV here puts it "fix our thoughts". Now remember, that these are Hebrew believers. I guess we would call them Messianic Jews today. They believed that Jesus was their Messiah, Saviour and Lord. They were obviously coming under pressure from their Jewish friends and leaders to deny this Jesus and return to the fold. They would have been told how great Moses was. In the previous chapter we read how Jesus is greater than the angels, because He is God, but was made a little lower than the angels when he became a man.
Moses was cool!
In this chapter, we read a comparison between Jesus and Moses. Moses, to the Jews, was like a superhero. Moses was revered because it was to him that God revealed His will. Moses was the key figure in the establishment of Israel as a nation - God's chosen people! Moses suffered persecution and rejection from the rest of the family of Israel. He had great zeal for God and was willing to sacrifice everything for God. He had fellowship with God. Yet all this is merely a shadow and a prophetic sign of what was to come in Jesus. Moses, we read in Numbers 12:7, was faithful to God's house, God's people. The house of God is the people of God. It was this Moses who was held in such high regard by the Jews, that some might well have been tempted to renounce Jesus and go back to the old ways.
God's Messiah would need to be greater than Moses, and Jesus is and was this Messiah. Later on in the book of Hebrews, we discover that Jesus is greater than Aaron through whom the law was ministered; but here we see that Jesus is greater than Moses, the lawgiver, the servant of the house of God. Moses and Aaron represented God's house in Israel; Moses was the Apostle or Prophet and Aaron was the High Priest. Jesus, an Apostle and Prophet as well as being the High Priest, joined the two together. By Apostle, I mean as a Messenger - that's what an apostle is - a messenger or representative. As the Apostle of our faith, Jesus was faithful. Jesus was God's representative for us, making God known to us. Jesus was totally faithful, means to be both trusting and to be capable of being trusted. Moses was the one to whom the Law was given - the Mosaic covenant under which the Jewish people lived. This covenant with Moses commenced with the stipulation "Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me." (Exodus 19v5). This covenant was to Israel in order that those who believed God's promise to Abraham, could know how to live rightly in accordance with how God wanted them to live.
This covenant with Moses covered the three areas of life:
- The commandments were given so they would know how to relate socially to God (Exodus 20v1-6)
- The judgments were given in order that they could relate socially to each other (Exodus 21v1 -4v11)
- The decrees dictated their religious life so that God could be approached by humanity on His terms (Exodus 24v12 - 31v18).
This covenant that God made with Moses and the ancient nation of Israel was never meant to be as a means for providing salvation. It was given so that they could realize the helplessness and futility of their own efforts and their need of God's help. It was to serve only as a protective fence until the promised Messiah came; the long waited for Saviour of all humanity, so that the whole world, Jew and Gentile, could be made right with God through faith and faith alone.
In Comes Jesus
And that is where Jesus comes in. As their Messiah and Saviour, Jesus ushered in the New Covenant, which was promised by God through the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel. What are the features of this New Covenant or promise?
Four features of this covenant are:
- Regeneration -God will write His law on the hearts of people.
- Restoration - God will be their God, and they will be His people.
- Promised Holy Spirit - God will indwell people and they will be led by Him
- Justification - Sins will be forgiven and removed eternally
This new covenant is sealed only through the perfect sacrifice of the God-Man Jesus on the cross. His blood ensures the truth of this New Covenant. His death pays the penalty for the sins of all people who say yes to God and are ready to run the race and travel the course. This New Covenant finalizes what the Mosaic Covenant could only point to: the follower of God living in a relationship with God conforming to God's holy character. That is one very specific way of Jesus being superior to Moses! The original readers of this letter being God-fearing Jews would be aware of all this.
They would also be aware that it is sin, which separates humans from God and as a consequence leads to both a spiritual and physical death (Romans 3v23, Romans 6v23, Isaiah 59v2). In the Old Testament, sins were dealt with by blood sacrifices of atonement as coverings for sin (Leviticus 17v11), for without the shedding of blood there could be no remission of sin (Hebrews 9v22). A blood sacrifice is God's way of dealing with sin. These blood sacrifices of the Old Testament signified several things:
- It provided a covering for sin.
- It showed the great cost of sin.
- It was an exchange or substitution.
- It was only always going to be a temporary measure, as it pointed forward to Jesus' death and it needed to be done over and over again.
How is Jesus better than Moses?
The answer lies in the solution to sin. The ultimate solution to sin lies not in the continuing animal sacrifice under the Covenant with Moses, because as the writer later in Hebrews 10v4 stipulates the blood of animals cannot take away sin but was only ever going to be a veneer or a covering. That was why it was necessary to repeat time and time again!
It is only through the victorious death of Jesus, that sin is permanently taken away (Hebrews 9:v11-15, 26-28), because Jesus is the permanent sacrificial substitute! It is as if the writer is saying give up on Jesus, stop considering Him and you would still be in your sins - that's the way the original readers would have understood it!
As for us?
As followers of Jesus Christ we are built together so that the Spirit of God may join us together in love. Both individually and as a group, we are the house of God. Jesus said, "We will come and make our home in you". We know Jesus has been faithful as a Son over God's people. We celebrate His faithfulness at Easter, when we acknowledge and rejoice at the sacrifice He made for us. We remember it in the act of Communion, which we will have later. Jesus suffered persecution and rejection from his peers. We know Jesus was godly and full of zeal for God, and was willing to sacrifice everything for God and his people. We are the house of God. And yet, do we not reject Jesus sometimes, or do we keep on considering? Do we give Him and trust in His faithfulness to complete the good work he has started in us?
This NIV translation has "fix your thoughts". Here is how the New King James Version puts verse 1 "Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus". I personally think that that is a better way of putting it. And not only because it has the word partakers in there! To "consider" has a much broader meaning than just "fixing your thoughts" as the NIV puts it. It means to seek, to fully understand or comprehend as well as fixing thoughtfully. To consider means to contemplate, to think about, to persevere with, to concentrate on and to fix eyes and thoughts upon.
We have to allow Jesus Christ to permeate every aspect of our life, if we are to be partakers of Him. To consider not just how Jesus would do something, but how Jesus would think. What attitude would Jesus take? What would Jesus not do? Just as the Hebrews receiving this letter were told to do, in their race of the life following Jesus, we too are to hold fast to our courage, but only by considering Jesus and trusting in Him relying on the Holy Spirit to help us as we ask Him. This phrase "to consider" is perhaps the central theme of the book of Hebrews. We are to consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession. Jesus was faithful to the purpose of His Coming to be among people. His purpose in coming to earth, as a mere man, was to die for sins and be raised up on the third day so as to be victorious over death and sin. This Jesus perfected our human nature in His life of simplicity, suffering, devotion and obedience. He now lives at the right hand of the Father in heaven, to communicate to us His life and blessedness through the indwelling Holy Spirit. We must therefore consider Jesus in everything we do, every thought we think and in every attitude.
This is the aim of the writer to persuade these Hebrew Christians that if they knew Jesus to be the faithful, compassionate Almighty apostle and priest in Heaven, then they would find everything in Him that they needed for life. Moses couldn't help them, but Jesus could! Moses had died, they could perhaps visit his tomb if they wanted to. But Jesus, well, Jesus' tomb was empty! Jesus is alive! The life of these Hebrew Christians would be united with their faith, and united with the life of Jesus whom their faith would glorify God. To these Hebrew Christians their salvation was based on Jesus, but to renounce Jesus and go back to following Moses was apostasy. Moses couldn't offer salvation because the Law was not meant as a means of salvation! But what about you? Are you trusting in this Jesus for salvation or are you even subconsciously relying on your own good works or something else? That was what these believing Hebrews were to do - consider how vastly superior Jesus is to Moses. We also are to consider how superior Jesus is to all other things that would try to entangle us and allure us away with false promises.
2. Keep Persevering!
And then after considering Jesus, these Hebrew Christians were to do something! They were to persevere in believing. The writer now warns these Hebrew believers against the sin of unbelief, which is the hardening of their hearts. The writer quoting from Psalm 95 reminds them of the way Israel rebelled against God in the desert. He warns them not to be like their forefathers, who did not trust fully in the Lord their God. From Psalm 95, he proceeds to remind them of their ancestors' deeds of unbelief. The privilege of the house of God is in hearing God's voice. By choosing not to listen to God's voice, peoples' hearts grew hard and cold. These words are of course written to believing Christian Hebrews, not unbelieving Jews, and are as appropriate for us today, as it was for them when they received it. As the people of God today we need to be ready to listen to God's voice. As we see God working in us, our trust and belief in Him grows. If we do not believe in Him to help us, then of course our hearts will harden against him. As we grow and run the race, willingly sacrificing what needs to be sacrificed, we realize the glory and majesty of God, His holiness and perfection, His love and tenderness, and gladly listen to hear what He says to us, and willingly receive what He gives us.
When you pray, do you have your Bible open? When you read your Bible, do you do so prayerfully and considerately? Bible reading and prayer go together! Unbelief stops a person from holding fellowship with God. Our God is alive, not a dead idol on the shelf or in the bank. This church of Hebrew believers, for all their Christian profession and religious exercises, were in danger of falling away from God, due to their not believing totally in Him. God would not abandon them, but they would abandon God! We need to take care, in case we also fall into unbelief. Unbelief and falling away act upon and react to each other. If we have any unbelief in our hearts tonight, then let us ask God to give us a heart that believes in Him so that we may not fall away from Him. And what is one of the main ways we can stop from falling away or letting others fall away into unbelief?
3. Keep encouraging!
So we keep on considering Jesus. We persevere in our believing in Him. Now thirdly, to show we are considering Jesus and are persevering in our believing Him, we are to encourage and be encouraged! In verse 12, we read, "See to it, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God". This means, that we are not only to take care of our own hearts, but as verse 13 goes on to say, we are to encourage and ensure no one is in danger of falling away. We who are believers, have to make sure that each one of us is staying on the path that leads to life, that is, the race towards Jesus.
This group of Hebrew Christians were to help and encourage each other! And so are we! For us, maybe it is by phoning somebody you haven't seen in a while or to phone somebody you get a random thought about! If we see a brother or sister that we know is starting to fall out of the race, we need to do all we can to stop them falling away. We need to encourage them, to continue considering Jesus and believing in Him. We all know of people who are new believers, full of joy and zeal for God, that end up falling back into unbelief, unable to hold fast to the end. To some degree, it is because the Church body has failed to encourage them to continue on in the race. It is our duty, and our daily responsibility to encourage people on in the race or the journey.
However, to encourage is not just these easy things. To encourage can also mean to rebuke, to correct in love. I look back at my tutor, during my first stint of Bible College back in the 1980s. His name was Ed. Ed the head we called him. We had weekly tutorials then. Every week he would get me to read a chapter of Knowing God by JI Packer and a chapter of Mere Christianity by CS Lewis. Then during our tutorial I would have to try and explain what I learnt from both those chapters. It was a slog at times I tell you. Sometimes I would get a clip round the ear for being stubborn or just being plain thick! But it gave me a good grounding for my Christian thinking and life of discipleship to Jesus. Or I think back to my dear friend Rose, a kind and dear elderly lady from the church I used to attend back in the 80s. She would have us young adults back to her house overlooking the ocean for coffee after church on a Sunday evening. She would always be loving, caring and encouraging to all people - ready to lift them when they were down and eager to cheer from the sidelines. She was also a tough cookie at times and if we got out of line, she would say so in no uncertain terms! Not so much an arm around the shoulder then but a good swift kick! Both methods of encouragement when required!
When we see somebody sinning or contemplating sinning, our reaction should be to gently encourage him or her not to continue in pursuit of that sin. Therefore in considering Jesus, believe in Him and encourage others to do the same. That is the purpose of encouragement mentioned here..
Let all of us give ourselves to the service of Jesus to watch over other people: let all the fresh grace and deeper knowledge of Jesus we see, be for the service of those around us. Where will you and I be spiritually next year, in 10 years' time, in 25 years' time? Will you be able to honestly say to yourself at that time, I have grown spiritually and haven't fallen away?
If you are here tonight, would call yourself a Christian, and you are unsure where you are, then do this. Look back and remember what Jesus has done for you. Consider Him as you look back to your first profession of faith in Him. Consider that just as He died, you died in the waters of baptism. Consider that just as He rose to physical life, you rose from the waters of baptism and will also rise again when you physically die. Consider that just as Jesus will be glorified, so too will you be glorified before the Father - if you hold out until the end. Be assured of who you are - you are a child of the living God - hold out to the end. He has a firm grip on you, so maintain your grip on Him! Remember who you are! The way to cope with the rigors of 21st century life as a Christian believer is to keep considering, keep persevering and keep encouraging. Thank you...
Thursday Feb 08, 2024
Thursday Feb 08, 2024
Thursday Feb 08, 2024
The WOW of Grace (Romans 8:38-39)
Romans 8:31-39 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
As it is written:
"For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Come and listen to discover more!
Wednesday Feb 07, 2024
Wednesday Feb 07, 2024
Wednesday Feb 07, 2024
Fly! Be Free!
These Roman Christians were united with Jesus Christ, united in Jesus Christ and all because of Jesus Christ alone. How could this be? Entirely due to the twin wellsprings of God’s grace and mercy. And so do we, as all Christians do down through time! In these three chapters, Romans 5-8, Paul is explaining about life under grace – life for all those who claim Jesus to be their Master, their Lord and their God – having responded to God’s free offer! Here in Romans 5-8, Paul shows from 8 different angles or lenses about life for all those who claim to be a Christian disciple – somebody who has decided to follow Jesus. It’s like he is creating this fabulous stained glass window or a tapestry about life for the Christian believer who is now under grace and has Jesus as their master and Lord.
What’s going on?
What was happening here in Chapter 6? In this section of Romans, Paul wants the believers in Rome to know, understand, recognize and comprehend all that living under grace encompasses. Paul knows that right thinking leads to right living. Paul is writing basic doctrine to this group of believers in Rome. There are 3 possible scenarios in Paul’s thinking – 2 here in Romans 6 and another in Romans 7! Paul had obviously encountered this thinking before – perhaps even in his own life! So let’s look at these scenarios together… As Paul writes, he informs the readers
Scenario 1 (v1)
- Informing them of what they were in the past!
- Informing them of what they are now!
- Informing them of what they are to do in the future!
- And why all this, Paul? Informing them about Jesus!
- Informing them of what they were in the past!
- Informing them of what they are now!
- Informing them of what they are to do in the future!
- And why all this, Paul? Informing them about Jesus!
Application - What about us?
Tuesday Feb 06, 2024
Tuesday Feb 06, 2024
Tuesday Feb 06, 2024
Count Your Blessings, Christian!
Romans 5:1-11 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, let us have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.
Not only so, but let us also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
1. We have peace with God.
2. We have access to God.
3. We have a glorious hope.
4. We develop Godly character.
5. We have God's love.
6. We have the Holy Spirit.
7. We have salvation from future wrath of God.
8. We have reconciliation with God.
Part 3 - Recap and Conclusion
What are we to do with these blessings? Download or listen to the mp3 now to discover!
Monday Feb 05, 2024
Monday Feb 05, 2024
Monday Feb 05, 2024
A God of Salvation
1. The Problem
Justification is the transformation from a condemned criminal to that of an heir awaiting a majestic legacy. If God doesn't punish unrighteousness, then God would have to destroy not only us, but also Himself. Holiness is an absolute attribute of God, which requires the punishment of any impurity or unrighteousness (that is sin), and if unrighteousness remained unpunished, God would cease to be God and we would cease to be human. Ergo, since the first rebellion God has had a Gospel plan to restore righteousness to man.
2. Initial Questions
The Gospel is one, which Paul is separated to according to his own words in Romans.1:1. Paul announces it is the power of God for the salvation of all in Romans 1:16. The Gospel is the good news that God has provided the means for rebellious humanity to be rescued from His wrath and judgment.
The Gospel is a two-fold message: it is deliverance from the final judgment resulting from God's anger against sin and a crediting of righteousness upon sinful man. Not only will humanity be saved, but has been saved.This Gospel creates faith (Romans.1:16-17); brings life (Romans.1:16) and judgment (Romans.2:16)
2b. What is wrath? When we think of wrath, it is usually of an uncontrollable rage or temper tantrum. God's wrath does not portray the human weaknesses of vindictiveness, or an uncontrolled pique. We can dismiss such ideas, since due to His forbearance, God's anger and judgment has been smouldering since the first rebellion of Adam and Eve. God's wrath invokes justice (Romans.2:5).
2c. What is righteousness? There are three meanings to this key phrase of Paul's: "righteousness of God". Firstly, righteousness is an immutable characteristic of God, in that whether it is a righteousness that judges or a righteousness that saves, it is still God's righteousness. Secondly, that His righteousness demands God actively keeps the promises He has made. Thirdly, that His righteousness makes us righteous. So, who needs this righteousness?
3. God's Judgment
3a. Inescapable We are inherently self-righteously hypercritical of others. Paul tells us that this makes us hypocritical and we have no right to stand in condemnation over people, as what is common in all humanity is a universal sinfulness or separation from God (Romans.2:1). We set unachievable high standards for others and yet remarkably low standard for ourselves.
3b. Righteous God will judge according to what each person has done (Romans.2:6). While we may be justified and declared righteous by faith, we will be judged based on the works we do, to earn rewards. Our faith is to be supported by good works (Galatians.5:6; James.2:18). Paul here shows two destinies. Eternal life, glory, honour, peace and immortality for those who enduringly desire to perform good works (Romans.2:7,10). Juxtaposed to this are the self-indulgent and disobedient who shall incur God's indignation, wrath and righteous judgment (Romans.2:8-9).
3c. Impartial God shows no favouritism (Romans.2:11), so whether Jew or Gentile, both can be saved and be declared righteous. God is eternally just and righteous. It is a reflection of His mercy, that nobody can claim God is unfair.
4. All have sinned and need God's righteousness
4b. The Jew is in need Jews had the Law and boasted in it (Romans.2:23). However, possession of the Law was of no consequence to God and Paul claims it is practicing the Law, which matters. Their religion was an external action but not an internal attitude. Jesus' regular denunciation of the Pharisees reflects this. Adultery, robbery and idolatry (Romans.2:21) were perfectly possible for a Jew to commit secretly according to the Sermon on the Mount. Instead of being God's light to the nations, Jews were dishonouring God (Romans.2:24; Isaiah.52:5). Packer in his book "Knowing God" reflects: "The Law cannot save us, for its only effect is to stimulate sin and shows us how far short we fall from God's righteousness." If not the Law, then surely through circumcision a Jew will be declared righteous! After all, the circumcision is the mark of God's covenant with Israel (Genesis.17). Again, Paul says no. Circumcision avails nothing if the Law is not kept (Romans.2:25). An uncircumcised Gentile who keeps the law is more acceptable to God than a circumcised Jew who breaks the Law. A Jew is one who inwardly experiences God, not one who exhibits external worship alone (Romans.2:28-29). Paul continues. All humanity has rebelled against God, both Jew and Gentile. Paul cites Old Testament verses to back his claims that all men are unrighteous before God's wrath (Romans.3:10-18). There are no excuses. Just like the excuses we come up for when caught speeding in our cars.
5. Salvation for all
5b. God's Wrath Propitiated through Redemption. Redemption implies ransom. It is the purchase of a slave, simply to set that slave free. It involves a ransom payment. God's grace pays God's justice on our behalf so that righteousness can be declared. God's grace is the origin of our justification. This redemption, results from God the Father presenting Jesus Christ as a sacrifice to appease His wrath. Our redemption involved the death of Jesus as our payment. God's righteous wrath now averted and appeased through this act of propitiation, means we are therefore liberated as a demonstration of His righteousness (Romans.3:25-26). All humanity are slaves or prisoners to sin (Romans.3:9), and it is from this slavery the Gospel declares we have been delivered. The full consequences of this redemption will not be experienced until we have overcome and persevered to gain our eternal inheritance (Romans.8:23-25).
Is there any difference today? People are still blasé and ignorant of God, having suppressed the truth. People still declare that the existance of God cannot be proven by rational science and advanced knowledge. People are still both hypercritical of others and therefore hypocrites. It is to this world, we are to apply our theology. This gospel of salvation, which justifies us in order to declare us righteous, thus sparing us from God's condemnatory wrath, is the one we are to use to spread the good news, that God's righteousness is free by faith, to all who humble themselves, admit their guilt and ‘lost-ness' and ask God for forgiveness.
For those who would already call themselves a Christian, you are to tell others about this salvation and you are to serve Him, where ever you are and where ever you go! Jesus is the one you are following and its on His terms alone that you are His disciple. If you view Him as a superhero, somebody who you call upon only when you need something or even as your boyfriend, then beware: Jesus will not be mocked - He wants all aspects of your life to be submitted to Him! Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who defied Hitler, wrote these words "When Jesus Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. Discipleship is not an offer that man makes to Jesus Christ, nor is it hero worship, but intimacy with Christ."
Want to be intimate with Jesus Christ? Worship him alone and exhibit your faith to all you come into contact with! Too often Christians and churches side with the rights of the powerful and elite, while forgetting the poor, oppressed and marginalised. Too often Christians and churches neglect to feed the hungry, seek justice for the oppressed and help the poor.
There are enough Christians and churches in the UK to make significant positive change to their local communities. Too often Christians sit around on their backsides discussing good theology while in that same community people die of loneliness & neglect. You say you have faith in Jesus Christ and are dedicated to Him! Good! Then show it and this community will be transformed to the glory and praise of Jesus Christ! Go tell somebody this good news of Jesus Christ. Won't you go tell somebody this very day, this week, this message of salvation? Salvation, as a free gift and available to all who ask, because nobody can earn it or buy it. The price has already been paid - by Jesus Christ alone on a Roman cross two thousand years ago. If you ever hear people say that I have died, tell them that is false. Tell them I am now more alive than ever before.
For those who would not yet call themselves Christian, you need to bow your knee before Almighty God. If you want to turn to God there is no need for delay. He is ready and willing to take you as His own right now. You only have to ask Him to forgive you and to give you help on the journey ahead. It is a partnership between God and yourself. When you place your faith in Jesus, becoming utterly dependent upon Him, you turn to God. You don't need to do or change anything to become a follower of Jesus! However once you have made that decision, you leave behind your spiritual isolation and rebellion against Him. As you live each day, becoming more involved with Jesus day by day, you will find yourself changing. You will stop doing those things that separated you from Him. You will find yourself doing things that please Jesus and develop your relationship with Him. God asks that you accept his guidance and management of your life. His point of view and His strength become your point of view and your source of strength. You turn your mind, will and heart to Him for all you do. If you want to become a Christian there are three simple steps to follow. Firstly, admit that you have done wrong against God and His ways. Secondly, believe and trust in Jesus. Call on Him, receive, trust, obey and worship Him, recognizing Him for who He is and what He has done. Lastly, confess Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. Once sin has been confessed, and Jesus is believed in and trusted as Saviour, then you are a Christian. Now you are ready as Peter writes in the Bible, "to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." 7 Welcome to the family of God. God has chosen you; Jesus has paid for you and has put His mark within you through His Spirit.
Sunday Feb 04, 2024
Sunday Feb 04, 2024
Sunday Feb 04, 2024
Solomon the Wise prays to God, Dedicating the Temple!
2 Chronicles 6v1-21
What is the story so far?
History is important though, not only to learn the lessons from it but also as Christians, the Bible shows how God has acted in human history.
A brief recap of chapter 7.
From the first 3 verses of chapter 7, we read the Chronicler regaling one of the many great WOW moments of the Old Testament. The time when the glory of the Lord came down like fire and filled the temple to overflowing! The people fell down in worship of a great God, who was their God! This was followed by a great scene of abundantly joyful sacrificial worship to this God!
That must have been some prayer eh! Well, tonight as you may have gathered, we go back to looking at those prayers. Not in an exhaustive way, but to discover together what we can learn about God and His relationship with those who are His and seeing how this is relevant to us some 3 millennia later. During the intervening period, I wonder if Solomon had wrestled in his mind over what he prayed… Let us wrestle together now, in these prayers of his, albeit briefly. This is a key passage, a link if you like, between the Covenant that God made with Solomon’s father, David, including the building of a House for God, the Temple, and the glory of the Lord filling the Temple in 2 Chronicles 7. This reflects I think, the necessity and vitality of prayer in the unfolding of God’s will for humanity. The story is also regaled in 1 Kings 8 but with some nuance as you may expect.
A Covenant Making God
Down through history, the Bible reveals that God has made Covenants with humanity. A covenant is an important way to describe the progress of the relationship between God and humanity through the Biblical story. A covenant at the time of the Old Testament was a solemn commitment between the two covenanting parties to fulfil all the promises and obligations of the covenant. Covenants were common in all kinds of life, and not just between God and humanity. The idea comes from the sort of agreement commonly entered into in the ancient area round Israel between a high king, and a sub king or clan chief.
It is easy to see how a covenant is a good way to describe the relationship between God and humanity. God, who promises to protect and help the human with faithfulness, and the human who promises to worship and honour God with faith. The Covenants between God and humanity have several things about them regarding the relationship.
In these Covenants between God and humanity, God always took the initiative – sometimes by complete surprise. God has made certain commitments and has given His solemn promise to fulfil His end of the bargain. God waits for a response from humanity. God does not coerce or force but waits for humanity to take the responsibility of replying and acquiescing to God's covenantal promises through obedience, faithfulness and worship.
There are Covenants made in the Garden of Eden, Covenants made in history with Adam, Noah and Abraham, but we will fast forward to the Covenant between God and Moses before going onto His covenant with Solomon’s father, David.
The Mosaic Covenant
Why look at the Covenant made between God and Moses? We do so because there is a connection between that Covenant and the prayer of Solomon we are looking at tonight. Indeed the very Ark of the Covenant contained a gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and two tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed. Charles Spurgeon commented “One is struck, with the fact that the language of Solomon is far from new, and is full of quotations from the Pentateuch (where the Mosaic Covenant is fully explained), some of which are almost word for word.”
This covenant is between God and humanity, in this case with the particular nation of Israel. It commences with the stipulation “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine” (Exodus 19:5). This covenant was to Israel in order that those who believed God’s promise, could know how to live righteously. Israel’s task was to bring the knowledge of God to all the world so that blessing might come to all humanity. In this, however, they were to fail and only when Jesus came as the perfectly obedient Israelite was it to become possible that all the world should be blessed.
This Mosaic covenant covered the three areas of life:
- The commandments were given so they would know how to relate socially to God correctly (Exodus 20:1-17)
- The judgments were given in order that they could relate socially to each other properly (Exodus 21:1 - 24:11 and in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy)
- The decrees dictate their religious life so that God could be approached by humanity on His terms (Exodus 24:12 - 31:18, and in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy).
The Mosaic Covenant was never meant as a means by which humanity could achieve salvation with God. It was given so that they could realize the helplessness of their own efforts, and their need of God's help as well as expressing their devotion to the Lord. Yet they still failed to bring blessing to other peoples. Galatians 3:22-24 explains that the Law was only a protective fence until through the promised Messiah, when humanity could be made right with God through faith. That Messiah we know to be the man Jesus Christ. More later though.
The Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7:4-17)
Now we fast forward to the Covenant which was in place as Solomon dedicates the Temple to God and is mentioned here. This covenant that God made with David, Solomon’s father. Three great things were promised:
- A land forever (2 Samuel 7:10);
- A dynasty without end (2 Samuel 7:11, 16)
- A perpetual kingdom (2 Samuel 7:13, 16)
Through the Covenants we see a God who is willing to interact with His creation and bless it. When first century Christians such as the Apostles Paul, Peter and John checked and thought over all the events surrounding the life of Jesus Christ, they searched their Scriptures (our Old Testament). It was as God the Holy Spirit illuminated their minds, that they wrote down and passed on the whole range of Old Testament promises which were fulfilled in God's Messiah and the world's hope - Jesus Christ and Him alone. That is why it is important for us as twenty-first century Christian Disciples to read our Old Testament as well as the New Testament. For by reading the Old Testament, new light is shed upon our own understanding of the New Testament. One of the fundamentals of understanding the Bible, is to let the Bible interpret the Bible.
There is one more Covenant of God which we are to look at tonight, but we will see that shortly! We press on with these prayers of Solomon.
There are 3 prayers here.
- v1-2 are opening words of praise to God
- v4-11 are the 2nd prayer
- v16-41 are the 3rd prayer.
We won’t go into any great detail tonight, you will no doubt be glad to know. We will get to about verse 21 I think. But with a very general overview, let’s look together and see what we can learn together from the wise man Solomon about God and about prayer. Charles Spurgeon said that “It is worthy of remark concerning this prayer that it is as full and comprehensive as if it were meant to be the summary of all future prayers offered in the temple.”
1. Verses 1 & 2 - Solomon acknowledges God’s presence in the cloud
Here we see that Solomon acknowledges God’s presence in the cloud. The cloud of God’s glory has a long association with His presence. Solomon knew that the presence of the cloud meant that God dwelt in the temple in a special way. It was to be a special place to come and meet with God. It was symbolic of God living with His people.
2.Verses 3 to 9 – Solomon blessed the people and blesses God.
Here we see that Solomon blessed the people and blesses God. Solomon knew, affirmed and recognized that the completion of the Temple was the fulfilment of the plan of God and not of Solomon himself or indeed of his father David. God’s plan. David and Solomon were merely the human instruments, they were God’s arms and legs, but the work was affirmed to be God’s alone! God’s actions or work have confirmed His words, His promises! God’s hands were at work building the Temple as He guided and strengthened the human workers who contributed themselves to its construction.
Solomon recounts how their ancestors had escaped from Egypt in the Exodus 500 years hence. This shows its importance to the people of Israel at the time! Their minds were singing “If the Lord can bring us out of Egypt and rescue us, He will help us establish ourselves as a nation and build this Temple in order to worship Him. “
God is faithful to His promises. Down through the ages God has been faithful and keeping His part of the Covenant that He made with people. Later when we come to conclude we will see together briefly the promises of God for the Christian, including us today almost 3 millennia later.
Solomon now issues a statement concerning his father, David! Why David was not to build it. Though David, the mighty King had done extensive preparations for it, he didn’t actually complete it. The completion was left for his son, Solomon. Why? Because of God’s ideal of rest for his King and for his people. David had fought many wars and battles. It was part of his rest in God not to build the Temple. Solomon was spared the emotional turmoil of war, so could dedicate his energies to building the Temple – the House of God.
3. Verses 10-11 - Solomon presents the finished temple unto God.
And with verses 10 to 11, we see that Solomon presents the finished Temple to God. Solomon recognized that being the successor of his father David to the throne of Israel was significant. He then places the Ark of the Covenant, in its resting place in the Temple. The Ark of the Covenant was a physical representation of God’s promised presence with His people, the nation of Israel. It was a wooden chest clad with gold containing a gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. Solomon speaks of a God who fulfilled with His hands what He had spoken with His mouth. God had said what He was going to do, and then went and did it.
How are we doing at worshipping as we work for the Lord? Are we workers primarily and then click a switch to engage worship mode as we come here on a Sunday? Or do we consider ourselves God worshippers as we work? God wants worshippers before workers. In God’s mind, the only acceptable workers are those who have learnt the art of worship. Do you consider all you do as acts of worship to God? Everything you do as acts of worship to God? Because that is the kind of people God wants and desires, the kind of people who worship Him in Spirit and in truth and in all aspects of life – not just for a couple of hours on a Sunday. With those thoughts, let’s take a break now to sing to this amazing God we love, serve and are to keep our vision upon – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Part 2. Solomon’s prayer.
Verses 12-14 - Humility before and praise unto God.
.Here in verses 12 to 14 we see that Solomon stands before the altar of the Lord. Solomon did not dedicate the Temple from within the Temple itself because that would have been the wrong place. That was where only the Priest could go, so Solomon stands outside, raised up so that the throngs of people could see him. Before the altar, spreading out his hands in an act of symbolism - reaching out toward heaven in a gesture of surrender, openness, and ready reception.
Here Solomon recognizes that God was and is completely unique in all facets of being and expresses it. The false and pretend gods of the nations around Israel could not compare to Him in any way.
Verses 15-17 - Solomon recognizes God as the maker and keeper of promises.
Solomon commences now to thankfully praise God, because God has kept all His promises that He had mad in the past. Have you done that in your prayer life? Speaking out thanks for what God has done for you in the past?
He continues and calls upon God to keep the promises that He has now made. We are, as His people, to take on board God’s promises, take them to heart in faith, and then boldly and reverently call upon Him to fulfil the promises. Again, is that part of your prayer life? God promises and we are to appropriate, take hold of them and proclaim them, taking them on board in our life by faith, knowing that God fulfils the promises that He makes to people.
Verses 18-21 - Solomon asks God to dwell in this place and honour those who seek Him here.
Solomon now asks a question in this prayer! How often have you and I asked God questions as we pray, rather than just listing off our demands. God would reside in the Temple but not to the exclusion of other places. While God would have a special presence in the Temple, He would not be restricted to it. Solomon asks God to listen to His people as they pray and worship in this Temple dedicated to Him. When God hears the prayers made in the Tempe, Solomon implores that He would forgive His people and probably the greatest answer to prayer that they could expect.
Conclusion - Promises of God for the Christian
After such a prayer, how can we conclude? What are the challenges and comforts we have seen from this passage of Scripture? This Temple was destroyed about 400 years later by the Babylonians. It is long gone. What about David’s Covenant though? Was that ever fulfilled?
Remember David’s Covenant which we looked at briefly earlier on? Was that ever fulfilled? We can say that it has been! It was fulfilled gloriously in the coming of God, in the man Jesus Christ. When the great God did indeed come as a human being in the person we know as Jesus Christ. It is historical fact.
2 Samuel 7:12 predicted the birth of Solomon as David's successor to the throne, with his role being to establish David's throne forever (2 Samuel 7:13). We see this link to the man Jesus Christ, through the genealogies to both Joseph: who had a legal right to King David's throne (Matthew 1:1-17) and to Mary: who had a blood right to King David's throne (Luke 3:23-38). The land is the whole world, now potentially the sphere of the rule of Jesus (Romans 4:13); the dynasty was, through Solomon, eventually to be the eternal son, Jesus (Matthew 1:1, 6, 16; Luke 3:23, 31); the Kingdom is the kingdom of God, now established, and ever growing in the world in which we live. (Matthew 11:12)
All of which were fulfilled gloriously in the coming of Jesus Christ. Jesus the Messiah, the Saviour. Jesus Christ – fully God and fully human. Not just for the Jews but for all people of every race and language. Really that should make us go WOW in awe of our God. Our God is the God of history and has stepped into history as a human being.
The New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Luke 22:15-20)
We see all this in what is called the New Covenant. Four features of this covenant are:
- Regeneration – God will write His law on the hearts of people. (Jeremiah 31:33)
- Restoration - God will be their God, and they will be God's people. (Jeremiah 31:33)
- Promised Holy Spirit – God will indwell people and they will be led by Him (Jeremiah 31:34)
- Justification – Sins will be forgiven, removed and remembered no more (Jeremiah 31:34)
This new covenant is sealed only through the perfect sacrifice of the God-Man Jesus on the cross. His death ensures the truth of this New Covenant. His death pays the penalty for the sins of all people. That is why we are to say yes to God and His New Covenant. This New Covenant can be contrasted with the Old Covenant, the Mosaic covenant that we looked at earlier, (Jeremiah 31:32; Hebrews 8:6-13) because this New Covenant finalizes and makes possible what the Mosaic Covenant could only point to: the follower of God living in a righteous life conforming to God's holy character.
Solomon asks in verse 18 “But will God really dwell on earth with humans? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple that I have built!” In Solomon’s direct context, he was talking about the Temple which he was dedicating to God. In the overall context of the Bible, however, God did indeed come and dwell on earth. Not just with humans, but to be a human. Jesus Christ, the God-man. God keeps His promises and Jesus Christ is evidence of that. Oh that is so easy to forget when we are undergoing the trials of life. In what way does God keep His promises to us today?
Five quick statements.
- By faith, He is praying for us. God the Son, Jesus Christ is making intercessions for Christians (Romans 8:34). He knows our troubles and He feels our cares and knows what we are going through (Hebrews 4:14-16). Isn’t that simply amazing and oh how easily we forget.
- By faith - He will come to us. Have you ever felt like God is far away? Well you aren’t alone! Solomon’s father, David, often felt that God was far away and unconcerned with his life. Just a cursory look in the Psalms will reveal that. However he also knew that God would ultimately rescue him. Jesus always comes to us through difficult times. Although He may not come in the time we think He should come, because He knows when we need Him most.
- By faith - He will help us grow - Once, when His disciples were in the storm on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus came to them walking on the water (Matthew 14:22-33). The purpose of this incident was to show that Jesus would be leaving them soon, so they had to learn to trust in Him when He wasn’t physically present. One of those disciples, Peter, wrote later on in his life, “for the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers” (1 Peter 3:12). How are you growing as a follower of Jesus? Not only in your knowledge but also in your transformation and development? As we are being transformed by the power of God the Holy Spirit into the image of God the Son, Jesus Christ, it is to the praise and glory of God the Father. Our transformation reveals God at work.
- By faith, He will see us through - Again, when the disciples were in the storm, Jesus said “Come” and Peter went with Him. This must have encouraged the other disciples, for upon seeing Jesus’ power they worshipped him. Whatever troubles you are undergoing are temporary, and Jesus will see you through. For various reasons 2015 for Youngmi and I started out as if it could be our annus horribilus. Yet it became our annus mirabilis instead as we saw God at work each day throughout the year.
- By faith, you have salvation - if you are trusting in Jesus alone for your salvation. By faith Jesus is praying for you, will come to you, grow you and help you through troubles. By being obedient to God, you and I are showing others our salvation and showing that faith, is not blind, but active. We can be obedient to Him by relying on His strength and wisdom. We are to be faithful to God and show it by being obedient to Him and getting on with the work we have been given, just as Solomon was in getting the Temple competed. Is your work worship or your worship work?
As we go out tonight, let us remember that God keeps His promises, He is listening to your prayers and He wants us to be in a dynamic moment by moment relationship with Himself. This great God wants you and I to be actively obedient to Him in all facets of our lives – our work, our play, our conversations, our worship and our relationships. If you are struggling in a particular area, get trusted others to pray for you and to hold you accountable – that is part of discipleship – part of following and loving God.
Our verse for the year as a Church is Psalm 105:4 “Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always.” That was what Solomon did in the building of the Temple. That is what we are to do as well, as I am sure you are aware. Not only the Church here as a whole, but as individual followers of Jesus Christ. If we try to do it in our own strength we will fail. If we do it in the strength of the God we proclaim to love, worship, serve and glorify then we can – because all glory and honour will go to Him and Him alone.
As we go, are we ready in some way to tell others about this great God we claim is great and sing here in this fabulous building of our love and service? Are we ready to enable and encourage each other in the faith, and not just our friends and favourites, in some way as we see need? Are we actively engaging with the great God throughout each day, worshipping Him in all aspects of life and letting Him have dominion over every aspect of our lives as we put our trust fully in Him and in all aspects of life?
We are to be faithful to God and show it by being obedient to Him and getting on with the work we have been given, just as Solomon was in getting the job done.
As a general observation, most of the Church is scared of that word evangelism. We are not all to be evangelists like the Billy Grahams or Bruce Kitchings of this world, but we are to tell and show others about the God we claim to love and are in covenant with. Let’s go WOW the world, all of it, including our little corner here for God with the news of our God – the God who is outside of time who stepped down into time, into human history, in order that humanity could choose to follow Him or not - to be His children or not. Let’s keep our eyes fixed firmly on our God as we seek to enable and encourage – not just as a church body but also as individuals to all others that we meet. We are the Church on the hill. Let us, both as a church and as individuals, “Look to the LORD and his strength; seeking his face always.” Let’s go WOW for God together, heeding His advice and worshipping Him alone in all facets of life.
Are you tired and in need of comfort from all the challenges you are having to endure? Keep your eyes on God and allow Him to embrace you, comfort and lift you up. Remember that He is for you, He lives within you and you are His child.
Are you too comfortable? In need of a challenge to stop you becoming complacent? Ask God to help you overcome, to empower you and seek His face and wisdom. Ask for His strength to help you do what He has asked you to do?
The God we have comforts us in our challenges and challenges us in our comfort. We have an amazingly glorious God!
Let’s have a minute or two to bring ourselves before God and ask God to help you as only He can. Then I will close with a prayer before we go on to have our final song together.
Saturday Feb 03, 2024
Saturday Feb 03, 2024
Saturday Feb 03, 2024
God pays a visit to Solomon!
2 Chronicles 7v11-22
Yesterday we looked at David's final recorded public prayer in 1 Chronicles 29. We saw that David's God oozed greatness, power, glory, victory and majesty from all aspects of His very being! All of which are essential attributes of who He is: unchangeable and permanent. We discovered that this God is a God who gives and gives abundantly! The temple was yet to be built but the gifts from the King and the people had come in! People were waiting to start! Not only to build it but to serve within it! We came to the conclusion that we should pray not just for what God can give to us but also what we can give and do for our God! Giving not just money and goods, but our talents and imagination! Because from that, the community we live, work and worship within could be transformed to God's glory!
But now the Chronicler has moved on in his story! The remnant of Israel you may remember has returned from exile and the Chronicler is giving them an abridged version of history! The great king David has died, and his son, Solomon, is now on the throne. Solomon has had his first encounter with God and received the gift of wisdom! In Chapter 6, Solomon has prayed a great prayer to His God! We shall look at that in the podcast tomorrw.
Here, in our first reading, from the first 3 verses of chapter 7, we hear the Chronicler regaling one of the many great WOW moments of the Old Testament, when the glory of the Lord came down like fire and filled the temple to overflowing! The people fell down in worship of a great God, who was their God! This was followed by a great scene of abundantly joyful sacrificial worship to this God!
In the passage before us tonight, v11 to v22, the temple is now complete. Solomon is now probably sleeping in his palace. It has been 13 years since he prayed that prayer in chapter 6! No doubt, during those 13 years, many times has Solomon wrestled in his mind over what he prayed... Then, one night God Himself turns up.
Here the Chronicler reveals what God said to Solomon. The original readers/hearers are a remnant of the great nation of Israel, just returned to their land after being in exile! Probably wondering what happened, because under Solomon, the nation of Israel reached its pinnacle! Asking themselves questions like: Who is our God? Who are we, Israel, as a nation? Why are we in the situation we find ourselves in? The Chronicler is putting across his own theology as he writes this book of Chronicles! His theology, however, is consistent with the writings of the rest of the Old Testament and indeed the New Testament! So what does the Chronicler wish to convey to the remnant about this God from this encounter with Solomon?
1. A God of all History
The first thing I see, from this passage, is that their God is a God of history! All human history is covered beneath his throne - the past, present and future! a. God of the past! He is the God of Israel's past! God throughout history had made covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and here, God reminds Solomon of the Covenant that He made with Solomon's father, David! This covenant promised 3 things! That there would be:
- A land forever
- A dynasty without end
- A perpetual kingdom
b. God of the present But not only is He a God of the past, He is also a God of the present! He has heard the prayers and accepted the temple as a place of worship - v12 "I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices." He is the God of the present because He is speaking to Solomon in Solomon's present! Visiting Solomon, probably while Solomon is snoring his head off!
c. God of the Future So God is a God of the past and the present, but also a God of the future! And because God is the God of the future, all things are under His control! Even v13 "When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people", shows the God of the past, present and future being in control.
The Lord God says in this speech to Solomon, "I will..." several times! "I will hear!" "I will forgive!" "I will heal the land!" "I will open my eyes!" "I will establish your throne!" But not only of these humanly beneficial things but also Gods says in v20 "I will uproot you from here and send you into exile!" All in the future tense! And in v16 "I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there." Their God, who is the God of all human history - past, present and future - is from everlasting to everlasting! Nothing in the future is set rigidly! God may know what is going to happen but He also knows all that may happen as well! We see this through the tension of "If you do this, I will do this!" God is all-knowing, far beyond our human capacity and capability!
2. A God Who Lives!
So a God over all human history - past, present and future. So what else is there here about this God? This God is also a God who lives and lives dynamically! This God is not like the gods of Israel's neighbours - a mere inert block of wood, bone or stone to be lumped about, put on a pedestal, have many copies made, bowed to impersonally and chanted manically at. No! This God of Israel is a God who lives! This God lives and wants to live with His people! God is a God who exhibits His life in at least 3 ways from this encounter with Solomon!
a. A God who is Personal! This God is personal! Fourteen times, the Chronicler uses for God the personal pronoun "I" and fourteen times, he uses "me" or "myself." Twelve times, he uses the word "you" - on a single individual basis as well as a collective "you" on the basis of the nation itself. This God is personal to the individual Solomon, the King of Israel, but also personal to the nation of Israel. The Chronicler is intimating that no other nation had enjoyed a dynamic, robust and intimate relationship with their God, like Israel does! Our God is personal the Chronicler cries out!
Because He is personal, it cries out that He lives! This God wants to be intimately involved with the people and nation He has chosen for Himself. Read through with me as I share some of these with you and hear how intimate and personal this God is!
Listen for the ‘I' "I have heard your prayer; I shut; I will forgive; I will heal; I have chosen; I will establish; I have covenanted; I have given; I will uproot; I will reject; I will make This is a personal God! Listen for the ‘my' chosen this place for myself; among my people, called by my name; seek my face; my eyes will be open; my ears attentive; my Name may be there forever; my heart will always be there; an object of ridicule for my Name, Now listen for the ‘you', ‘their', themselves' and ‘they' you walk before me faithfully; humble themselves and pray; You do; Your father David; You observe; Your royal throne; their wicked ways ; if you turn away and forsake; you and go off to serve other gods; they have forsaken the LORD and they embraced other gods!
This is a personal, living and dynamic God wanting a personal and dynamic relationship with His people! Not some mere impersonal piece of wood, metal or stone like the gods of the surrounding nations to whom people babble!
b. A God who is Responsive! This personal God is also responsive! This God, the Chronicler writes, has responded to the worship of the people when at the beginning of this chapter, His glory filled the temple to overflowing! Their worship was pleasing to Him and He acknowledged this with fire! WOW - v1 "the fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple!" That must have been an awe-inspiring moment when their living God did that! So awe inspiring that they continued in worship by singing and offering sacrifices!
This God responds to His gathered people! But this God also responds and appears to the individual, in this case, their King and leader, Solomon and with a personal answer to Solomon's own prayer we read in chapter 6!
Here in v17-18, God confirms Solomon's anointing as King and leader of Israel! He reminds Solomon of the importance of the Temple in the life of Israel and as a symbol of commitment to the Covenant of David. This is a direct response to Solomon's prayer we read in 6v16-17. God is personally committed to the line of David. Now that's all very well when things are going swimmingly and Israel is being obedient, following the commands and ordinances of their personal God! But what happens if they choose not to obey or serve him rightly? God administers judgement, but v14 offers a way back - of humble repentance. However, if they continue to sin and are not repentant, well that leads us to another part of God being responsive - God judges! And not unjustly or recklessly but with justice!
c. A God who Judges and Restores!
In v13 we see that disasters can be sent by God! Droughts and plagues can be used by God to bring people ultimately back to repentance. In v19-23, we see what happens if Israel abandons their God and continues in their sinful ways (v19)! God abandons them because they first abandoned Him and went away to embrace other gods - gods of non-personality! Then God uproots them from the land that He had given them and rejects this very same Temple which He chose Himself to be a place of prayer and sacrifice. That's the reason Israel was to go into exile, away from the land of promise. But if God is the God who judges and does these things, He is also the God who enables restoration! When evil befalls Israel, natural, social or political, it is because of their disobedience and God must judge it or He would be a pretty impotent, capricious, spiteful and fickle God if He didn't! So while God maybe the author of disasters, He is also the agent of restoration!
3. A God Who Expects!
This is a personal God of all human history who lives! This God judges disobedience but offers a way back through repentance. Part of His being personal is that this is a God who expects!
a. God Expects His People to be Holy!
How is this? Why does He judge? Because God is holy! He is of utter moral excellence and perfection. There is and can be no stain of sin and He must be totally separated from sin. Holy is what God is!! This holiness of God is seen in righteousness, which is holiness in action. God's actions conform to His Holiness. Justice deals with the absence of righteousness. Sin must be dealt with deal with it He will and must! If God were not Holy, He could not and would not be God! If He were to cast aside his Holiness even for the briefest of times, he would cease to be God!
b. God expects obedience!
Not only is God holy, writes the Chronicler, but His people must also be holy and be seen to live rightly! God expects obedience! Israel was to be a nation of light reflecting their great and living God to the surrounding nations! They alone had the law of the Lord and they were to live rightly and obediently before God and the surrounding nations! They were to worship this living God and Him alone! In v17, we see the request to walk with God alone and follow His decrees and commands - the law of Moses! In v19-20, as we saw earlier, there was the penalty for idolatry and abandoning this living God!
c. God expects prayers of repentance
Now you may be saying, yeah right, Dave... If God is just, and of grace, He will provide a way out of these judgments! But you know what! He does! The people can be restored! How can this be? Verse 14 is the key! This is a key of grace: "if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves, pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land." How does He restore? Through the humility and repentance of the disobedient! Even when this great Living God is angry! Prayers by the disobedient, consisting of humility and repentance are necessary, in order to enable God to forgive and heal the destruction of sin and disobedience.
In 6v32-33, we can see that anyone who acknowledges God's name and authority may pray with utter confidence that God would hear their petitions. Seeking God's face with humility is the key. What is repentance? It is a voluntary change in mind, in which the person and nation turn from a life of disobedience to living a life of obedience to God. It is done firstly in the Mind or the Intellect, where it is recognition of disobedience and guilt before God. Then, there is also at an Emotional level, exhibiting genuine sorrow for disobedience, a bit more difficult for us men!
Finally it's also an act of the Will - a decision to turn back to God from disobedience, self-pleasure and self-centredness. And what is humility? Humility is where total trust is placed in God alone, and He has priority in all aspects of life. Humility is a lack of pride and of total commitment to God. This is a living and holy God, who expects His people to be holy, reflecting His holiness and being prepared to make themselves nothing in order to be restored and for their disobedience to be forgiven.
What an awesome and great God this is! This is the God who is the God over all human history - past, present and future! This is a God who is personal and responsive! This is a God who is holy, commands obedience and yet accepts humble repentance! What a great and Almighty God! Not only those things but He is a God of grace! How do we see that?
This chapter from Scripture, 2 Chronicles 7v11-22, could well be a summary of all 1 & 2 Chronicles, if not the Old Testament and indeed all of Scripture! Some say that grace is missing from the book, just as some say that grace is missing from the Old Testament itself! But as we have hopefully seen, one aspect of God that shines through this passage is that He is a God of grace, with a message of grace as exemplified in v14! "if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."
But so what? What are we to do with and for this God? We are to be personally and collectively obedient to Him. Following closely to the leading of the Spirit and following our leaders, the pastors, elders and deacons as they seek to follow this great God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said "You can only learn what obedience is, by obeying." Lets be an obedient people. How do we do that? By loving God! How do we show we love God? By loving others, for as Jesus said, this sums up the whole Law!.
The community out there, which we are a part of, is looking at us. We have this fantastic new building, and I can guarantee you, that there will be some people out there, just waiting for this adventure of ours with God to fail. Let us not allow that to happen. One of the key areas of obedience concerns idolatry! Now we may not go off to other gods and worship them, as Solomon and ancient Israel did. But we can set up false idols of our own, both as individuals and collectively. Calvin wrote that "What is idolatry? It is to worship the gifts instead of the great Giver?" This is a beautiful building! But let us not worship it and consider it so sanctified even for a moment, that it becomes our idol of worship. Let us be thankful to God for the gift and allow Him to use it for the benefit of the whole community and not just for our own sake. Let each of us ensure that God takes first place over everything in our individual and collective lives. Let us worship alone our great living God who gives abundantly, rather than commit disobedient idolatry by worshipping the gifts of the Giver.
Then finally, let us hold our leaders up in prayer that they will be, collectively and individually, obedient to God! As Adam shared this morning, old hairy legs satan likes to stick his nose in and try to get leaders like Adam off track. Many churches have built new buildings, only for them to lie wasted shortly after, due to personal disobedience of the leadership. Lets not be one of those. The church I attended in Australia before coming to the UK, 21 years ago this coming Saturday, was very much like PBC is now! Growing, vibrant and they had just finished building a new church building! Everyone was excited and looking forward to the future! I am not going to say specifically what happened, but within 2 years that church was practically empty. In fact it is still going but it hasn't recovered to the way that it was. The leadership were found to have committed both personal and corporate disobedience and when it became public; it decimated the church and made it a public mockery. Those people who were in leadership are now restored back into a right relationship with God, but they had to find humility the hard way. Somebody asked me during the week, "If Solomon was the wisest man on earth, how come he fell into idolatry?" The answer I gave was not because he had so many wives and girlfriends. Nor was it, as suggested by a certain member of this congregation here tonight, the number of mother in laws. I think it was because he became proud, forgot not just who he was in God's eyes but he also forgot who God was! That led him to forsake the God of His youth and commit idolatrous acts.
Let's go from here, willing to be obedient to this great God, remembering who we are and who our God is. This great God we love and serve who is the God of all human history - past, present and future. This Almighty God, who is living, dynamic, personal, and responsive: who both judges and restores. This is a God who is holy and expects His followers to be holy, living obedient lives and being quick to seek repentance after disobedience. Let's go out into our community this week, being His voice and light, confident that our living God is within us, as we engage actively and passively with those who don't know this great God!
Friday Feb 02, 2024
Friday Feb 02, 2024
Friday Feb 02, 2024
David's Final Prayer
1 Chronicles 29:10-20
Originally 1 & 2 Chronicles were one book. It was the final book of the Jewish Canon, probably written by Ezra and was also known as the "the events of the days", "the things omitted" which would suggest that Chronicles were to be regarded as additional to the books of Kings and Samuel. It's a book which was written for those from the nation of Israel who are now in exile, to remind them of their spiritual heritage - the journey & history of Israel as a nation.
For us though, not least I, it issues certain challenges to us all.I will be reading from the Authorised Version. It's the 400th year anniversary this year and as I read, you will see how much of its language has entered into our language today. Its influence on the development of English language is remarkable.
Here is the great king David!
The building of the Temple was to be ultimately achieved by his great son Solomon to do!
What has happened so far?
This house of God would be a community effort - King & pauper alike, giving generously and honestly!So here is David, a man, who despite his many faults, is described as a man after God's own heart. Israel's greatest king, saying this prayer of intimate praise & adoration to his God in front of the assembled throngs. This prayer, like his gifts of gold etc., could be said, to be David's legacy to the nation of Israel, to Solomon and by extension also to us.
1. WOW factor of God! (v10-13)
Verse 10 sets the scene "Blessed be thou, LORD God of Israel our father, for ever and ever." God is their father!
He is everlasting! Before Israel was, He is and always will be! He was to be their God and they were to be His people. God takes care of them as a father does His children - giving generously, protecting them and always being available for guidance & wisdom.
Verse 11 is perhaps the central verse of this prayer: "Thine, O LORD is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all."
The whole emphasis is on the LORD God! Greatness, power, glory, victory and majesty - all are yours O God - throughout the earth and the heavens! Yours is the kingdom! Not ours, but yours, O King! For they are attributes of a king!
God's greatness is vast, incomparable and unfathomable. God's power is that of a warrior: almighty, overwhelming yet alluring; and all power comes from Him to every dependent creature. God's glory is the exuberant and ecstatic magnificence of His very being! Victory shows God as an all-conquering hero: transcendent and supreme, to whom all creatures and creation are subject. His victories are irrefutable and undeniable. His uncompromising majesty symbolises a dignity, regency, splendour and awesome magnificence!
These things: greatness, power, glory, victory and majesty are essential attributes of who God is: indelible, immutable, unchangeable and permanent. God is a King in greater splendour than any of the excesses of King Louis XVI. If you don't know about Louis, go look him up and the scale of extravagance! This God is a mighty King to be exalted above all things and He is to be held in His rightful place: high and lifted up!As for the kingdom, whose is it? Is it Israel's? No! Is it David's? No! It is God's and His alone! His Kingdom is of total magnificence and greater than the Roman Empire to come! Even greater than the British Empire, which was never to see the sun set on it. Jesus is probably quoting here, in what we call the Lord's Prayer. So David's words resonate down through history.In this context however, David uses kingdom to symbolise the fact that the building materials, the amassed wealth, did not belong to Israel, but rather they were God's alone! God's kingdom shows His universal influence, authority and universality.
Everything is God's! Its all His! Nobody can say they own ultimate possession of anything! The only reason, to paraphrase David, "we have this amassed wealth to build the Temple is because we have the leasehold to it! God owns the freehold, its all His and because of His generosity we can build Him this house!And not only these material possessions, but also the imagination, ingenuity, craftsmanship, skills and talents - well they all came from God as well, so you craftsmen, bless God because God has blessed you with skilled hands to work on His house! Your strength is ultimately from His unlimited resources of strength!"
This is no impersonal statue or idol like the surrounding nations. This is the living God, awesome in all things yet willing to be involved in a personal relationship. This is the God, who through the Levitical Law, wants to live with His people of joy, to be their Living God! This God is the light of all things good, bright and blessed. He is the greatest of the greatest, truly incomprehensible yet also knowable. David is in utter adoration of this great God! I wonder if David knew that this physical Temple itself was only ever going to be a temporary building until the coming of the Messiah - when God would no longer dwell in a house made of gold and stone but rather live in human hearts.
It is out of His wonderfully glorious grace that the Lord God Almighty gave the gifts in the first place and the cheerful sacrificial response from His people in gratitude to Him was remarkable! All these things were given willingly - the possessions, the gold, the silver, the skills, the power and strength - all in service of the great God of Israel, the great Father of Abraham, Isaac, Moses and the other patriarchs.Surely, this is a God worthy of all praise, worship and life commitment! Each person praises differently and in different ways, so let's rejoice when we see other people praising God differently to our own style.
2. David - its all Him (v14-20)
"But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? For all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee."
Its all about God for David! He would say that I am only here because of Him! David has been reflecting on his whole life - from the time he defeated the Philistine armed only with a sling and stone. He sees his past failures, the utter depravity of those but also his repentant heart before a holy God.
The end of verse 14 again, "All things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee", and this resonates down through history, in churches worldwide as the offering prayer.David exhibits great humility before God, and sets an example for his son, Solomon and the other people of Israel, to follow.
And then in v15 "For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding"
David acknowledges that Israel were only tenants in the Promised Land - on a leasehold agreement. They were a nation of sojourners travelling a journey, from their foundation as a nation onwards. It is like David was saying to the Lord: "We are here temporarily but You, O God, are here permanently. What an amazingly generous God you are, giving with such exceeding grace to us." David confesses they are but transient and aliens in the land God had given them. It is an image tying them to their patriarchs as they wandered in the wilderness, living only on what their God provided them with, as they looked for the Promised Land. It is also an image of an acknowledgement that all life is supremely dependent upon God and God alone. God was to be their God and they were to be His people - to be shining as a light to all nations as God's representatives.
Here is the mighty King David, bowing in humility before a great God whom he adores, serves and worships. He knew that his whole life had been one of dependence upon God for all things, and David was exhibiting this before his people. David's prayer was that the people of Israel would continue to depend on God but also exhibit that dependence and show how God supplied them graciously.
Not only for David but also for the Chronicler too! He was recording this for the people of Israel when they were in exile.The Chronicler reminds the people in exile to be utterly dependent upon God for all and everything. For the Chronicler, the building of the Temple was more a matter of the heart, and built upon the faith of God to supply. This faith was expressed in the building made of gold, silver, wood and other metals.It was due to God's generosity alone the Temple would be built and nothing to do with David and his people. It would have been a tremendous temptation to be filled with boastful pride about it. It was a test of people's hearts to see if they really did love their God.Then in the final words of this prayer, we see David praying for unreserved and enthusiastic giving from the people. He changes from acknowledgement to petition.In verses 18-20, David exhorts an outpouring of generosity from his people, from a heart filled with thanks - a heart acknowledging total dependence on God for all things - a heart & life of loyal obedience to Almighty God.
Solomon also was to be wholeheartedly obedient and devoted fully to God. A heart filled with peace with God, a life totally devoted to Him, exhibited with joyful giving. That's what David was praying for his people and for his son Solomon. Its also what the Chronicler was expecting from the people in exile as he recounts this to them. It was to be a community effort of devotion and obedience to an almighty God, on whom they were dependent for all facets of human life. Everybody giving what they could - out of riches or poverty.
3. So what?
Tonight's bible passage was a superb piece of thanksgiving. When was the last time you thanked God for all the things He has given you? How can we put this thanks and praise into action? Lets see quickly!
Firstly, I am convinced there are enough wealthy Christians sitting in churches in the West, who could make significant donations and virtually eradicate a lot of the poverty in the developing world and indeed their own countries. This would be active Christian giving on a radical scale. In biblical stories, such as this from 1 Chronicles 29, its always those who had the most, gave the most as an example to others of God's generosity. After all, God owns it all anyway and it's only given as a loan from God and not a transference of ownership.
As Christians, we are to desire to mature spiritually - growing in adoration, obedience and commitment to God. Perhaps the greatest indicator of today, concerns our giving. Giving is to be done whole-heartedly and cheerfully. It is also not so much about how much is given, but how much is left after giving and the attitude behind it. God looks beyond that which is given to the motive and attitude behind it. All our money and possessions belong to Him anyway, as we have seen, so giving is to be in response to this. Our money and possessions are a leasehold agreement not a freehold one. Giving done willingly is also not done to boost our own egos or for the feel-good factor, but rather to bring glory and honour to God as a thankful response to His giving all things to us.Many prayers seemingly go unanswered because God is waiting on people to be obedient to Him, in order to answer the unanswered prayers of others. .We are to be generous with everything we have, not just in the area of money but with our very lives. We all have time, information, knowledge imagination, gifts and talents. All these too are to be given back to God . That may well take radical action to do, but radical giving is what we are called to do. God has given everything so that you and I may live and have life, so by caring and giving, we will reflect that. Let's be radical church together and encourage others to be likewise.
But, as we have seen, it's not only about giving money and resources. Giving is also to include skills, information, imagination and knowledge. Remember, the priests and craftsmen were waiting to give in the building of and service within the Temple.Churches, particularly these days, need to capture the imagination of those looking for a church home, and get them involved. Involvement in such a way that it builds up commitment to God and a growing adoration of Him. If people are involved, they will stay. It means training them up, to be fit for service within the church. If training for service doesn't occur, then commitment and dedication to God is likely to be diminished. If the same people do the same thing year after year, that local church will eventually die out. Each local church is only one generation away from closing its doors permanently.Giving, as we saw in tonight's passage, is also a community affair. This Church is to be a community, both within the church and outside of it, where the strongest members support the weakest members.
But, as we also saw tonight, it is not just for leaders to give! Giving is to be for everyone! Every church has a fantastic array of knowledge, wisdom, possessions and imagination. Let us share that with people outside the church. Who knows what our caring and giving will do for them as it reflects the glory of God!Too often, we are found turning a blind eye to the suffering of others where the necessities of life are in sparse existence. Too often we neglect to give up our personal space, time, imagination, information and money generously to help the poor and needy in our local, national and global communities.By doing this giving collectively, we will show our faith to be real and practical. There are people out there in our local community just waiting for somebody to give generously to them. We need to be seen to be radically giving to all - of our money, our possessions, and also our time, imagination, knowledge, practical help, care and love.
Let us show our relevance to our local community and not be seen as just a curious gathering of people meeting on a Sunday.If you have ideas of how you can help the church here at PBC in anyway, then see the elders or the Pastor and talk to them about it.So if I could summarise all this up in one sentence, it would be something like this
"Ask not only what your God can give to you,
but what great things you can do and give to your God."
Thursday Feb 01, 2024
Thursday Feb 01, 2024
Thursday Feb 01, 2024
Sermon - The First Deaconate
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word." This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
So far in the book of Acts, we can see that the Church has come under attack by the
- The world (persecution),
- satan (deceit & moral compromise)
Now a new crisis appears. Unable to destroy the church by way of persecution and deceit, satan now tries to create a split in the church by getting believers to argue and fight with each other. If satan had succeeded in creating an implosion within this church, the only church in existence at the time, then the effects could have been devastating. The media in our world loves to report about anything negative to do with Christianity and the church. So any form of dissension, pressure splits and arguments within the Church, is often reported with an almost earnest gleefulness by the media. From this Bible passage, four questions quite naturally arise.
- What was the problem?
- How was it resolved?
- What happened after it was resolved?
- How can we apply it to church life, 2000 years after the event?
The Problem! (v1)
- Good news - they were growing, but this had caused a problem!
- Bad news - Some widows were not being cared for!
Hebraic Jews = always had lived in the then nation of Israel, spoke mainly Aramaic and some Hebraic. Well used to life in a Jewish society, the Temple and avoiding those who were not Jews - the Gentiles.. Grecian or Hellenestic Jews = were part of the Jewish Diaspora, born elsewhere within the known world and had returned to Jerusalem. These mainly spoke Greek, and well used to working with Gentiles. Widows were important to God, because justice is important to God. God is a God of justice and mercy. In the Old Testament, under the Law of Moses, God commanded provision for those who were widows, oppressed or uncared for. There was no NHS at the time in Jerusalem. The Apostles would have known about God caring for the widows and in Jesus teaching about justice for the poor and the oppressed. We know this because if you remember from Acts 2 and 4, people were selling and sharing possessions and ensuring that people within the Christian community were being looked after and cared for. This included making sure that everyone got fed, particularly those who had no family to care for them. Somehow, unintentional or not, this group of widows were missing out. What to do?
The Solution! (v2-6)
Three things about the solution
Transformation of the Apostles - James, Peter & John particularly (v2) Its not stated here, but a transformation had taken place! Only a few short time ago, the disciples of Jesus had refused to wash feet as an act of service (Peter); some had wanted positions of power and greatness (James & John). Their old nature must have started asking questions and prompting them to react negatively. The world has attacked the church, satan has attacked the church, and now satan would have been using the Apostles old nature to attack the church. But - as they are transformed by the indwelling Holy Spirit and now have a new nature, the nature of Jesus Christ, they react much more righteously and judiciously.
All together now! (v2-5) Notice they gathered all the believers together for a church meeting. The gave their opinion or judgment if you like, that their ministry or time would be better spent doing what God had called them to do - to be leaders of the Church, praying, preaching, evangelizing and discerning how best to apply the 3 years of teaching that they had had when traveling with Jesus Christ before His ascension. Their time, rightly so, was best spent doing that, for that was their ministry of service. But other people in the church gathering, who had a ministry of service and overseeing the food distribution, could spend their time doing that! So what of these seven men with Greek names? They were elected by the whole church, both Grecian and Hebraic, to perform this duty. They may already have been doing it, but now were being set apart especially for this role. These men were controlled by the Holy Spirit and were wise. They were chosen to give relief to the leadership so that the Word of God and prayer would not be hindered.
Commissioning (v6) Interestingly enough, the word diakonia is translated here in the NIV as ministry. Another way to translate it is as deacons, as our sermon title suggests. But, they were not deacons in the way the Paul uses the word as part of a church government in 1 Timothy 3. Rather they were deacons, set apart for this specific task - it was their ministry. It may well have been from here, that Paul developed what some parts of the universal church understands of the role of deacons. So these seven men, were prototypes as it were, for the Paul-ine idea of deacons. Note also that the Apostles didn't say their work was more important than serving. They were just following what God had called them to do, just as God had called these seven men to take responsibility for providing food for the widows. So they were commissioned by God, by the laying on of hands and set apart to perform it. We know only of Steven and Phillip and that they continued doing other ministries as well as this.
The Result! (v7)
Growth and witness = conversion of former enemies...
(v7) Growth and witness = reasoning and transformation Now that the Apostles had time for their dedicated and unique ministry, all the widows could be fed, and all believers able to participating within the life of the church. Not only that, Stephen was instrumental in reaching the Apostle Paul (Acts 7:58). Philip was instrumental in reaching the city of Samaria and won over for Jesus Christ, the Ethiopian Eunuch who then took the gospel to Africa. (Acts 8)
This growth was where the word of God increased in its effectiveness in the lives of those unbelievers who would listen to the gospel. This growth was not merely addition but multiplication! It was explosive! So explosive that even former enemies were becoming converts! Sadducees were Jewish believers who didn't believe in a bodily resurrection - yet they came to faith and started to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. It's not hard to imagine that some of those Priests coming to faith in Jesus Christ were former persecutors of the Church! They were watching the church to see how best to attack and debate them. Yet found that they were joining the church, rather than continuing to oppose it. The church was preaching one thing and acting upon it. There was no hypocrisy within the church. The church was transparent - it lived as it believed. The church was seen as transformative and servant-like.
While the Church continue to reason with others about the validity of Jesus Christ's claims to be the Messiah, it would have not been effective if lives were not being transformed. If lives were not being changed, then no amount of reasoning alone would have seen the growth in numbers being added to the Church. Just as transformation and change alone would not have been the catalyst for growth, without the reasoning behind it.
Transformation As we have seen here, the first Church was a radical community of believers, growing quickly. The church today, also needs to be a community that is seen to be radical by the surrounding society. At Pentecost, the church community began when the Holy Spirit filled the Disciples (Acts 2v4). The hallmarks of this community were commitment and transformation. This community was radical. It was where people's lives were being changed as the Holy Spirit filled them. Instead of being a withdrawn people filled with fear of retribution from the Roman government and Jewish leaders, they became a people filled with boldness and joy.
This church in Jerusalem grew by being a radical community imbued with radical individuals engaging with others and serving. It was a church where every member was asked and expected to play some role. Imagine this church here, if nobody straightened the chairs, vacuumed the carpets, made the tea and coffee etc. All vital parts of church life, and everyone can participate in the life of the church. I was glad to see in the handout Steve gave me that all members were encouraged to participate in some way within the life of the Church here in Bearwood. Today's church will grow by building a strong community. And by church, I don't mean just Bearwood Chapel, but all churches in this area, this country and this world. In working with other local churches, a church community can be created which involves joining together isolated and solitary individuals where people are imbued with love, shown caring for each other, particularly the frail, elderly and young. Despite small differences in worship style and non-essential doctrines, local churches working together can show a world looking in, that all local churches are unified in some positive aspect. In doing this, churches can be a visible symbol of the invisible link that unites all churches.
And we can do it, with what somebody once called a "creative passion for the impossible." An inherent human need is the need to belong, and by fulfilling relational needs, the radical church community will become relevant to the people within it. It will then also become relevant to those who are on the outside and looking in. And people are looking in, all the time, whether you want them to or not. When systematic persecution comes to this country, and it will, local churches will need to work with each other and show that Jesus Christ is the reason for our hope and faith. This is shown partly be caring for those who are in need within the community as a whole, and not just in the Church. This involves improving present societal conditions, rather than remaining a conservative community, which merely repairs the status quo. In doing this, today's church will be emulating characteristics of this church we have read and heard about this morning. Jesus Christ is glorified, honoured as the Church community's spiritual health gets stronger and the community bonds in unity. I know of churches that are good at one thing but not the other. Some churches are excellent at social care and social justice, but are very weak in regards to teaching from the Bible and prayer. I know others who are the opposite - are faithful in prayer and bible teaching, but neglectful in regards to social justice. The church must be both as it endeavours to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. The church must be a community of people, willing to be holy. By holy, I mean living a life of constant transformation into the image of Jesus Christ. Being transformed by the Holy Spirit as God's Word is read, studied and applied to your life. It is by being holy, that the church will grow, as we have seen with this church in Jerusalem. The role of the community engaged in radical transformation is to help people to be holy and not merely happy. Happiness will flow from holiness, but holiness will not necessarily flow from an induced ‘feel good factor'. Good leadership, as we have seen this morning, stems from good accountability to each other and to the whole church community.
Ministry for all - serving! The Christian life is not to be static or inactive. The Christian life is to be dynamic and active. As we have seen the word "deacon" here denotes ministry. Ministry is any service for Jesus Christ When you serve as God's deacon in this way, God's honour is released. That's why the embryonic Church in Jerusalem grew and flourished. This is done because service shows the beauty and glory of Jesus Christ to those being served and to those watching. That is to be our motive for service. I don't know you. I don't know how or why or if you serve in the Church here in Bearwood. But I do know that ministry and serving in some capacity is for all Christians. In some parts of the worldwide church, ministry is only ever used of the clergy, missionaries and other "professional Christians". And, with a few exceptions notably the Brethren movement, this was the case in most Christian denominations until 40 or 50 years ago. But since then, service and ministry has returned to its New Testament roots. Service and ministry is the domain of all those who would profess to call Jesus Christ as LORD. Serving and ministry should never to be about what you and I can get out of it. When that is the motive, God is not glorified. God's glory and supremacy is our goal as Christians. Spiritual growth comes from serving rather than being served. This is because what ever is given in service of God and others, faith grows and Jesus Christ gives back even more. Jesus speaking in Matthew 25v15-30 tells of the rewards for faithful service and the penalties for being faithless. Serving others is a sign that you are trusting God and having faith in God. Serving God and others is the mark of a spiritually maturity and through service, the greatest servant of all, is reflected: Jesus Christ, who came to serve and give his very life for others (Mark 10v45). As Christians, we are to be as Jesus Christ (Romans 8v28; Philippians 2v5) and to serve. Yet if we are honest, we sometimes feel incapable, just as Moses did (Exodus 3). An excellent example to follow is that of the deacon Stephen. As the church, we are dependent upon each other, just as one part of the human body has dependence on another part. That is why we serve each other and use the gifts generously given by God. If we are Christians here today, you have spiritual gifts and talents, and you have a responsibility to discover and develop them (1 Timothy 4v14)! As we have hopefully seen today, God has called all Christians into one ministry or another and equipped them to fulfill that ministry. So find where in this church, you can serve. Ask the elders and other Church leaders, how they think you can serve here. Finally, if you would not call yourself a Christian here today, then I would urge you to look at this Church. You maybe here having investigated Christianity rationally but still need a bit more for one reason or another. In that case, I would urge you to see how this church cares for the poor and the widows of this area and the world, and match that against its dedication to Jesus Christ. Or you may be here, because you have seen the transforming work of this church with the poor and the widows, but feel you need a bit of something else. Then I would urge you to match this transforming work in individuals against what the Bible says and rationality. Maybe you are in one of those camps, you want to cross the line to faith, but just can't quite get there. Ask one of the Church leaders here, how they might be able to help you. Let's pray.
Wednesday Jan 31, 2024
Wednesday Jan 31, 2024
Wednesday Jan 31, 2024
Sermon - 1 Peter 1:1-2; 2:11-12
1 Peter 1:1-2 - Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, exiles, scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
1 Peter 2:11-12 - Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
The verses we have today, 1 Peter 1:1-2 and 1 Peter 2:11-12 may seem an odd combination but they both start respect natural halves of the letter. 1 Peter 1:1-2 is obviously the beginning of the letter and the first section. 1 Peter 2:11-12, structurally speaking, is the beginning of the second section.
Our title for today is “Living in the face of alienation and its cure”.
Part 1. God (1 Peter 1:1-2)
Trinity is Love Indivisible
God is made of one indivisible essence or substance, and this is expressed in three persons - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Trinity is a Love Relationship
Salvation is a co-ordination within, and by, the Trinity (Hebrews 10:7-17; Ephesians 4:4-6; 1 Corinthians 12:4-6).
- God the Father foreknew!
- God the Spirit sanctifies!
- God the Son sacrifices.
Part 2. Therefore (1 Peter 2:11-12)!
Peter reminds the sojourners!
- They are God’s dear children – beloved of God!
- They are in exile – maybe physically but certainly spiritually because their permanent home was not in this world.
- They were travelling towards the heavenly city.
- They were to abstain from sinful desires and go to battle spiritually!
- They are to live lives so innocent, clean and good, that their very lives, were to be a living testimony to the God they had their hope in
If you have not responded to the Father’s call, talk to somebody or leave a comment here! We will get back to you!
If you are already a Christian
- Remember who you are! A person chosen as an object of love by God the Father, sanctified by God the Holy Spirit through the obedient sacrifice of God the Son.
- Remember your permanent home is not on this earth.
- Remember to persevere through all your suffering and persecutions.
- Remember to keep short accounts with God.
- Remember in all aspects of life, as a Christian you are to be seen as different - “counter-cultural”!