Category Archives: Topical Talks

Matthew 2: One King Too Many!

“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us!”

I always thought John Wayne said it. But apparently it’s from a 1932 B-grade Western called “The Western Code”.

It’s what happens when TWO people BOTH want to be in charge. And ONE of them will be disappointed!

“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us!” It might have been what someone said in an old Western movie. But it’s ALSO what King Herod said in about 2 BC.

He’s thinking of King Jesus. And the town was Jerusalem.

Because there was a new king in town. And the OLD King wasn’t too pleased. As far as Herod saw it, ONE king was just right. And any new contenders were a threat. Because Herod was in no mood to share his power with ANYONE.

The trouble started when some astronomers turned up. Wise men from around Persia. They’d arrived because they’d noticed a new star appear. And they’d worked out that meant A KING OF THE JEWS had been born. Literally, a sign in the heavens.

And so they turn up at Herod’s palace in Jerusalem. The obvious place for a new king of the Jews to be born. And they ask, in v2.

“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

This new KING OF THE JEWS was so important, A star had appeared to herald his birth. Like a 21 gun salute. Or a trumpet fanfare.

The WHOLE COSMOS was sitting up and taking notice. And that’s what these wise men wanted to do, too. Because when they found him, they wanted to WORSHIP him.

The problem was it was NEWS TO HEROD. His wife hadn’t given birth. So there was no new prince HE was responsible for.

And so this new king, whoever he was, was a THREAT. And he thinks, “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us.”

Now, King Herod – Herod the Great – had a history of wiping out his opposition. He’d already murdered a wife, his three sons, his mother-in-law, his brother-in-law, and an uncle. All because he thought they might be a threat.

And they were just NORMAL people. But the wise men were talking about a new king whose birth was announced by a NEW STAR! And who was worth WORSHIPPING. V3 says Herod was DISTURBED, and all Jerusalem WITH him. And no wonder – with HIS reputation, NO ONE was safe!

So Herod got to work. First up, v4, interrogating THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS. “Where would the Christ, or Messiah, appear?” (God’s promised chosen rescuer). They told him Bethlehem was the place. A little town just up the road. That’s what the prophet Micah had predicted.

Next up, he calls THE WISE MEN in, v7, secretly. He finds out when the star had first appeared. That will give him a BIRTH DATE, so he knows how old the boy is.

Then he points them in the direction of Bethlehem. And enlists them to do his dirty work for him. Listen to his instructions. There in v8.

He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

Yeah right! Herod’s about as likely to worship this new king as Donald Trump is to send a Christmas card to Joe Biden.

And so the Magi head off again. But rather than follow HEROD’s directions. It’s THE STAR that leads the way. So they follow IT, INSTEAD.

And v9 tells us the star stopped over the place the child was. It’s actually a PASSIVE verb. The star WAS STOPPED. It didn’t just stop. It was MADE to STOP. In other words, GOD stopped the star.

The God who controls the events of history. Controlled the star that honoured his Son. The star that rose in the sky at his BIRTH. The star that guided the Wise men to where he was.

And notice what happened next. It’s there in v10. What is it that makes the Magi so happy?

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.

I don’t think it’s THE STAR that made them happy. They’d obviously seen IT before. I think it was the fact that the star had STOPPED. They were overjoyed because their journey was OVER. Their searching was finished. They were finally HOME.

They may be hundreds of kilometers from where they LIVED. But they were HOME. The place where the REST of their LIFE BEGAN. Where questions would be answered. Where searching stopped. Where everything would get put into perspective.

Now the NIV translation’s pretty weak here. “They were overjoyed”. There are actually four different words. The old RSV is an accurate translation. “They rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”

And this was even before they’d MET Jesus. That’s in v11.

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary,

Two things to notice, just as an aside. They didn’t meet Jesus in the stable. And he wasn’t in a manger. It was a HOUSE. And it wasn’t a BABY – but a CHILD.

So it must have been some time AFTER Jesus’ birth. (After the night the shepherds visited).

Some other information that supports that:

First, it’s likely the star appeared at Jesus’ BIRTH. And it took the wise men a reasonable period of time to TRAVEL. A number of months at least.

Secondly, Herod sets an age limit of TWO YEARS when he sends his soldiers to kill the baby boys in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16). Because he’d worked out when Jesus was born. And done his sums.

In fact, it doesn’t actually say they went to BETHLEHEM AT ALL. Herod TOLD them to go to Bethlehem. But LUKE’S gospel tells us Jesus’ family returned to Nazareth after his dedication in the temple at 40 days old. So it’s possible that’s where the house is.

So, most nativity scenes and Christmas cards get that bit wrong! Where they show the shepherds and wise men all gathering around the manger.

Almost certainly, it’s two different events. Which makes sense, seeing it’s LUKE’S gospel that tells us about the SHEPHERDS. And Matthew that tells us about the WISE MEN. And neither mentions the other.

So, these wise men finally meet Jesus. And what do they do? V11.

… they BOWED DOWN and WORSHIPED him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with GIFTS of gold and of incense and of myrrh.

The journey was OVER. They’d found the one they’d been looking for. And they fell down. They WORSHIPPED. They gave their gifts. In recognition and gratitude.

This little boy/ embodied God himself. And deserved their worship. Not just their GIFTS, but their LOYALTY and RESPECT and their LIVES.

And their gifts show a God-given insight into Jesus. His identity and role. GOLD fit for a KING. INCENSE – used by the PRIESTS in offering up prayers. And a strange gift for a baby – MYRRH – used to embalm A DEAD BODY.

So much expectation wrapped up in such a small bundle. Arrives with the backing of the God who controls THE STARS. The God who prepared his people to expect him through prophetic messages.

This little child destined for such an AWESOME and PUZZLING combination of roles and responsibilities. A KING over the world – over life and death. Over the fate of people. (promised to David, predicted in Isaiah 9)

A PRIEST standing between God and man. Representing one before the other. (An ETERNAL priest in the order of Melchizedek, promised in Psalm 110).

A DEATHLY SACRIFICE – a life offered in place of others. The means of atonement. A suffering servant pierced for our transgressions, promised in Isaiah 53).

Somehow, they’d perceived that this life that had started with such INNOCENCE and WEAKNESS and PROMISE. Would END in POWERFUL, LOVING, VIOLENT SACRIFICE.

No wonder they’d bowed down and worshipped!

That’s ONE reaction to Jesus. But the opposite reaction is never far from the surface. Look at the very next verse. Verse 12.

And having been warned in a dream not to go back to HEROD, they returned to their country by another route.

And it was just as well they did. Look at how Herod reacted when he found out. Down in v16.

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was FURIOUS, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.

Herod. And the Magi. Two opposite responses to Jesus.

Herod was troubled. And jealous. And threatened. And furious. He’d do ANYTHING to keep Jesus OFF the throne.

And the Magi. They’d do anything to SEE HIM ENTHRONED. To WORSHIP him. To OFFER THEMSELVES in SERVICE to him.

And it’s the same today. There are millions of Herods around. Puny, deluded kings. Looking to control every part of their life. (Their health, their financial security, their pleasure, their leisure, their choices). Refusing to submit. Always knowing best. Ruthless in dealing with any threat to their autonomy.

You see, anyone who lives life WITHOUT Jesus on the throne. Is a King Herod.

It’s JESUS who deserves to be your king. In fact, he IS the king over the cosmos, whether we recognize him or NOT.

God sent him to be a priest and a sacrifice. To die in our place. To win our reconciliation back to God. And then he RAISED HIM FROM DEATH, DECLARING him to be both LORD and MESSIAH. To be KING over EVERYTHING. (That’s Acts 2:36)

Philippians 2 says God EXALTED Jesus to the HIGHEST place, and gave him the name that is above EVERY name. So that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE SHOULD BOW.

And, ONE DAY, that WILL happen. (Every knee will bow before King Jesus). Either WILLINGLY, or Unwillingly.

The wise men just got in EARLY. They bowed the knee to Jesus as a little BOY.

But MOST people AREN’T wise. They’re like King Herod. Most people think life’s about looking after “Number One”. And ignoring the opposition. Doing WHAT they want/ WHEN they want. People might OPENLY thumb our noses at Jesus. Try to wipe him out. That’s what Herod did. Or people might just PRETEND he’s not there. ACT as if he’s not there. That’s probably most Aussies. But either way. For most people. If Jesus is on the scene. (If he’s asserting his right to rule). THAT’S ONE KING TOO MANY.

And THAT sort of attitude/ is what the Bible calls sin. (Setting yourself up on life’s throne. Instead of Jesus. Thinking you know better than the God who created you). That’s sin.

And God says/ that deserves his JUDGMENT. ETERNAL separation from him. Giving us what we WANT. Independence from God for all eternity. (People thought being on HEROD’S bad side was a scary thing. But that’s NOTHING compared to being on God’s bad side.)

Much better, says Matthew, to be a WISE GUY. Wisdom/ is recognising the true state of affairs and acting on it. It’s what the Magi did. Recognise who Jesus is. And submit to him. Fall before him. That’s where we deserve to be. On our faces in front of him.

This Christmas we all give and receive gifts. But how about giving KING JESUS the gift HE deserves? Our loyalty. Our worship. A life committed to serving him as king.

You see, the Magi ALSO knew that once Jesus arrived/ that was ONE KING TOO MANY. They couldn’t continue being king of their life/ while Jesus was king.

And so they demitted. They stepped off the throne of their lives. They bowed down and worshipped. They gave the crown to Jesus instead.

And that’s what WE need to do. The FIRST time we do that is when God makes us a new person. When we become a Christian.

Perhaps that’s something YOU need to do this Christmas.

Most of you have already done that. But we need to KEEP doing that. EACH DAY hopping off our thrones. And bowing before King Jesus. In SUBMISSION to his majesty and authority. And in THANKS that he’s saved us. Give up your kingship in your CAREER. In your AMBITION. Give it up / in your plans for how your CHILDREN will grow up. Or your plans for the future. Give it up in your MARRIAGE. Or your singleness. Give up your kingship over your HEALTH. And over your COMFORT. And PLEASURE. And your FINANCIAL SECURITY.

Wise Guys give up their kingship EVERY DAY. And fall before King Jesus. Because they recognise that TWO kings/ is ONE king too many.

Ephesians 1:3-2:10: God and Us

Michelangelo’s famous painting, The Creation of Adam, is a fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, in Rome. It shows God reaching out to touch Adam, giving him life. It was painted between 1508 and 1512. It’s a METAPHOR that shows what God is like. (His character, and how his acts.) Not what he LOOKS like. But his nature and how he acts. It’s a much more intimate image of God than anything painted in the West before it. He’s simply-dressed. He’s the God of Genesis 2 – accessible and interested, actively reaching out to humanity. Rather than the God of Genesis 1 – the all-powerful and distant king, who interacts only with HIS WORD.

And compare God and Adam. Notice how Adam matches the shape of God. Perhaps showing that he’s made in God’s image. But there’s a relaxed, indifferent feel about his posture. While God is engaged and active, twisting and reaching out to bridge the gap. Even down to comparing the fingers. God’s finger is firm and pointed. While Adam’s is relaxed and floppy, like he doesn’t really care.

I think it’s a powerful picture, not just of CREATION, but of THE WHOLE of God’s relationship with humanity, down through history. From the Garden of Eden in Genesis to the New Jerusalem in Revelation, God ACTIVELY WORKS to undo the separation that sin caused. To bridge the gap between himself and us. To connect us back into an intimate relationship with himself.

It’s just a PICTURE, but I think it’s quite POWERFUL. And the Bible’s full of pictures, just like Michelangelo’s painting, that help us understand what God’s doing to JOIN US to himself. I’ve counted at least FIFTEEN DIFFERENT PICTURES. (Earthly metaphors that capture something of the spiritual reality). You’ll be relieved to know we’ll only look at TEN today. Each one adds a different emphasis. (Shows God’s work from a different perspective). And they’re given so we’ll UNDERSTAND his offer, and TRUST him, and CONNECT to him. And then LIVE THAT TRUST OUT in PRAISE and OBEDIENCE.

So that’s the goal for today’s sermon. That at the end of it, you’ll see and appreciate more of what God’s done. You’ll rejoice in it, and praise him. And you’ll trust, love and obey him better.  Or maybe, if you’re NOT YET a Christian. When you see ALL THE BENEFITS God gives his children, you’ll WANT THEM TO. And you’ll accept his invitation, and COME to him.

SEVEN of the pictures get mentioned in Ephesians 1 and 2, that we read earlier. We’ll get to those in a moment.

  1.  Covenant

But some of the BIG ones come up quite early in the Bible. The FIRST one is COVENANT. It’s A LEGAL CONTRACT. Often between a king and his subjects. Or between a more POWERFUL king, and a WEAKER king.

The picture of the covenant helps us to trust God’s promises. He’s not going to change his commitment to his people. In Genesis 15, God makes a covenant with Abram when he’s tempted not to trust God’s promise. In a vision, God tells Abraham to cut some animals in half, and then, v17. When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land

It’s what happened in that culture with HUMAN covenants. Both parties would walk between animals cut in half. It symbolised an oath, “May THIS happen to me if I break this covenant.” Except here, God, represented by the smoking firepot and the blazing torch, is the only one who walks through the pieces. God will keep his word! And it WORKS. Because Abram BELIEVES God. We’re told, back up in v6, that Abram BELIEVED the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

  • Justification

And that’s ANOTHER picture of what God’s doing. Justification. Or declaring righteous. It’s a picture that comes from the law court. When a judge declares someone INNOCENT, or NOT GUILTY, or RIGHTEOUS. He JUSTIFIES them. In THIS case, not because Abram IS innocent. But he TRUSTS GOD, and so God credits that faith to his righteousness account.

And that’s what God, the just judge, does with EVERY PERSON who trusts him. Whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament. He declares them righteous, not because they ARE innocent, but because of their FAITH. No one EARNS their innocence. Because NO ONE is good enough. And God’s legal verdict of justification gives us FREEDOM and CONFIDENCE and JOY, rather than uncertainty and fear. We can REST in it.

  • Atonement

As we move through the history of Israel there’s one more picture that’s really important in explaining HOW God, the JUST JUDGE, can declare guilty people innocent. Because justification doesn’t seem FAIR. And so the picture he sets into the religious structure of Israel is that of ATONEMENT. It’s an image from the TEMPLE. To ATONE for sin means to SATISFY GOD’S WRATH. And, in the Old Testament, God sets up SACRIFICES to do that. He graciously allows the death of AN ANIMAL to satisfy his justice, rather than require the death of the SINNER. The sinner would lay his hands on the animal, symbolically transferring his sin onto the animal. And then the animal would die in his place. And God would choose to count the death of the animal as satisfaction of justice.

The gory details of sacrifice and atonement emphasise how SERIOUS sin is. And how holy God is. And what a wonderful GIFT he’s given us is his Son. And our response is to offer OURSELVES as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to him. In humble thanks that we’re not treated as our sins deserve. But that another receives what WE’RE due.

There’s more pictures from the Old Testament we could talk about, but let’s jump over to our Ephesians passage.

After a brief greeting, it jumps straight into it. V3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING IN CHRIST. Paul wants to PRAISE God because he’s blessed Christians in ALL SORTS of WAYS. And then, from v4, he spends the next chapter and a bit LISTING them all. It’s Father’s Day today. And many of you wrote a card for your Dad. Perhaps you THANKED him for the things he does. You may have even LISTED some of the things you appreciate. That’s what we’ve got HERE. It’s a Father’s Day card to our HEAVENLY Father, listing the things we appreciate. (Every spiritual blessing.)

  •  Adoption

And the FIRST of these is ADOPTION. (Which is fitting on Father’s Day). Whoever’s joined to the Son gets adopted into the family, and becomes a son or daughter TOO. Look at v5 In love 5he predestined us TO BE ADOPTED AS HIS SONS through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will

It’s a picture that helps us, as children, approach our Heavenly Father CONFIDENTLY. He’ll listen to us, provide for us, and protect us. We can be sure of his love. Sometimes adopted children doubt the love of their adoptive parents. But the OPPOSITE is really true. A couple who wants to adopt makes A CONSCIOUS DECISION – a COMMITMENT – to the child. You HAVE to love a natural child, but you CHOOSE to love an adopted child. Which is what God, our heavenly father, does. IN LOVE, he PREDESTINED us = chosen BEFOREHAND – to be adopted.

And because we’re part of God’s family, it means we have brothers and sisters all over the world. All children of their heavenly Father. A new family with new loyalties and ways of behaving.

  • Redemption

The NEXT picture of how God has blessed us in Jesus comes in v7. Redemption.

In him we have REDEMPTION through his blood,

Redemption is to do with buying slaves out of slavery. In that culture, a price had to be paid to the owner – normally a debt the slave was working off. After that, the slave WAS FREE.

The image is used of God rescuing Israel from slavery in Egypt. In Exodus 6:6 God promises

‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will REDEEM you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.

In OUR case, we’re TRAPPED in slavery by SIN AND DEATH. And v7 says Jesus PAID for our freedom with his BLOOD. The chains of sin and death that bound us have been broken. And we’ve been RELEASED to serve him in FREEDOM. Romans 6:18 describes our life like THIS

You have been SET FREE from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

It’s a picture that emphasises we’re not trapped to sin, again and again. Jesus has FREED us, to DO GOOD. TO OBEY GOD.

  • Forgiveness of sins

The next spiritual blessing that’s ours in Christ is ALSO in v7. FORGIVENESS. (In him we have redemption through his blood), the FORGIVENESS OF SINS,

Forgiveness is a picture to do with the wiping out of debt. Or overlooking an offence. Wiping the slate clean. Returning the debtor’s ledger to zero. Re-formatting the hard drive. The picture of forgiveness helps us to APPRECIATE the clean slate we have before God. The fresh start. We’re new creatures, with no guilt holding us back. And knowing God’s forgiveness gives us the ability to genuinely forgive OTHERS. Because we know that we’ve been forgiven a far greater debt than anything anyone might commit against US.

  • Union with Christ

The next image is down in v13. We’ve been UNITED WITH CHRIST. V13 And you also were INCLUDED IN CHRIST when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.

God joins us to Jesus when we trust him. And then we receive all that belongs to Christ, because he stands in our place. He’s our representative. Like when one of our representative sporting teams plays. Like the Australian cricket team. Or the Diamonds Netball team. When they win, we say AUSTRALIA won. WE ALL won, because our REPRESENTATIVE won. Same with Jesus. He defeats sin and death, and is raised to life. And so are WE, because we’re JOINED to him. HE’S righteous before God because he lived the perfect life, and so are WE because we’re joined to HIM.

If we’re reading carefully, we’ve already seen it again and again in this passage. All the way through, blessings come IN CHRIST. In fact, if I had to choose ONE of the pictures that’s most important (that all the others DEPEND on). This would be it. UNION WITH CHRIST. All the rest flow from THIS. That’s what it says in v3. Every spiritual blessing is IN Christ. (We receive them because we’re in him.) V4 and 11 God CHOSE us in him. V6. He’s freely given us his grace IN THE ONE HE LOVES. V7 We have REDEMPTION in him. In v22 and 23 Jesus is described as the head over everything. And we, the church are his BODY. We’re connected to him, and he guides and gives us life. And, v23, he’s WITH us, filling us with the fullness of his presence in everything.

And if we jump down to Ch 2, we see in v5, God seated us with Christ in the heavenly realms IN CHRIST JESUS. (Since JESUS is seated with God in heaven, we’re there TOO, because he’s our representative. Heaven is where our identity and our loyalty is found.)

And it all comes to us because we’re UNITED TO Christ.

  • Marked with a seal

The NEXT picture is there in v13 too. (Along with union with Christ). We were marked with a seal. Having believed, you were MARKED IN HIM WITH A SEAL, the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance

A seal is a mark of authenticity. Like on a University degree. Or on a land title. To show its REAL. Letters used to be sealed with a wax stamped with the official emblem to show who sent. And when God makes us his own, he puts his stamp of ownership on us, his own Holy Spirit. It says THIS ONE BELONGS TO ME.

We know SOMETHING of God’s presence now. But his Spirit is a deposit guaranteeing even MORE TO COME. Like someone might put a holding deposit on a house they want to be. A commitment that the house belongs to them. And the REST of the money’s coming SOON. God’s SEAL gives us confidence and courage, because we know we BELONG to him.

  • Made Alive

If we jump over Paul’s prayer in v15-23, we come to NEXT picture. Into chapter 2, v5. We were MADE ALIVE. God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-

The start of the chapter describe what it means to be dead in transgressions. Following the ways of the world, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature, objects of wrath. Physically alive, but spiritually dead. Separated from God, the source of life. Headed for judgment and eternal death. And dead people are HELPLESS. Have you ever seen a dead person jump up and perform CPR on themselves? When you’re dead, you need someone ELSE to give you LIFE. Which is what GOD does. He makes us alive WITH CHRIST.  Jesus is the AUTHOR of life. The SOURCE of life. And God RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD. Then joined US to him by faith. So WE are made alive. We enjoy the benefits of his victory! It’s a picture that emphasises the newness of life as a Christian. There’s joy and freshness and purpose and hope. Compared to the old DEAD way of life we USED to live.

  1. Salvation 2.5, 2.8

The LAST picture is right there in v5 too. SALVATION, or RESCUE. God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been SAVED.

God rescues from EARTHLY danger. From sickness, or enemies, or physical harm. But it’s his JUDGMENT we MOST need saving from. We were headed for DEATH because of our transgressions. It’s what we DESERVED. But God showed us MERCY – he didn’t give us what we deserved. He showed us GRACE – gave us something we DIDN’T deserve – RESCUE! The picture of SALVATION emphasises how HELPLESS we were. God’s holding out the life preserver to us. Without it, we’re DEAD. All we need to do is reach out in faith and GRAB it.

Down in v8 it says that even our FAITH comes from God For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and THIS NOT FROM YOURSELVES, IT is the gift of God– 9not by works, so that no one can boast. God’s rescue is ALL of him, and NOTHING of us. And that means we’re HUMBLED. And GRATEFUL. With no grounds for BOASTING.

I’m going to stop there. Although I’m tempted to keep going. Because there’s FOUR MORE pictures in the next section, before the end of chapter 2! Perhaps you can have a read over it after church, and see if you can find them.

Our response

  1. Hear and believe

But what I want to do before we finish is think about our RESPONSE to all this. Firstly, if God is reaching OUT to us, the OBVIOUS response is to grab hold of him. Verse 13 describes it well. And you also were included in Christ when you HEARD the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having BELIEVED, you were marked in him with a seal

God himself is SPEAKING to you. The true word about Jesus. (Through the Bible, or perhaps someone telling you. Telling you about how God can SAVE you.) Your response is to HEAR the message, and BELIEVE it. And then LIVE OUT that trust in repentance and obedience. And, for those of us who ARE Christians, our response is to partner with God, SPEAK that word of truth, so OTHERS get to hear it TOO, and believe it. And be saved. Have you DONE that yet? (Heard and believed?) If not, then today’s a great day to DO that.

  • Praise

If you HAVE, the SECOND way to respond to these pictures of what God’s done/ is TO PRAISE him. That’s the way Paul BEGINS. Back in v3. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

At the very least, that means giving God honour and glory and thanks with OUR WORDS. In songs and prayers. In our conversations with others. But if God’s done so much for us, words are hardly enough. God deserves MORE. In fact, God EXPECTS more. Look at v12 to see his plan (we were also chosen), 12in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might BE FOR THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORY.

That’s A WHOLE LIFE. God wants EVERYTHING. Not just your Sunday mornings, or your words, or your work, or your money. He wants you to BE for the praise of his glory. To EXIST for it. Head, heart, hands and mouth. Giving EVERYTHING back to God for his goodness, and pointing OTHERS to it.

  • Do good works

Lastly, our THIRD response is to DO GOOD WORKS. Down in Ch 2 v10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Notice three times WORK is mentioned? We’re the result of GOD’S work. (His gracious work of choosing and saving and forgiving.) And his PURPOSE in doing that/ is that WE would work. That we’d do the good works he’s prepared for us. Not things WE’D choose. But the ones he’s pre-worked for us.

And notice we’re not saved BY our good works –v9 says that. We’re saved FOR good works.

The good works that are FOR THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORY. Works of grace and generosity and mercy that point to HIS grace and generosity and mercy. Works of love and forgiveness and rescue that point to HIS love and forgiveness and rescue. Works of truth and justice and life that point to HIS truth and justice and life.

PRAISE BE to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has BLESSED us in the heavenly realms with EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING IN CHRIST!

1 John 4:7-21: God is love

It makes a big difference when you know how much someone loves you. In 2015 a Korean man went to HUGE lengths to show his girlfriend how much he loved her. While the couple sat in a restaurant across the street, friends and work colleagues stuck thousands of post it notes on the full length windows on three floors of a neighbouring building. They spelled out a wedding proposal inside a love heart. That’s a big gesture. I’m sure she’s in no doubt how much he loves her.

But it’s NOTHING compared to the big gesture God’s given US. He’s loved us from before the creation of the world. And he wants us to KNOW how much he loves us. But not just so we feel loved. He wants it to change HOW WE ACT.

So that’s what we’re going to do today. Answer the two questions: How do I KNOW God loves me? And how should I live in RESPONSE to that love?

Love demonstrated

How do I know God loves me? Because he’s DEMONSTRATED it. He wants us to KNOW it. (Just like that Korean man wanted his fiancé to know he loved her.) He’s made a grand gesture, far greater than thousands of post it notes. He’s given us his Son. Romans 5:8 says God DEMONSTRATES his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

That’s LOVE! And it was a gift that COST EVERYTHING. Life itself! That’s LOVE! A gift given to those who were undeserving and ignorant and rebellious. Which makes the love even GREATER!

And because we were helpless – stuck in our sin- it was a gift WE DESPERATELY NEEDED. A gift that means we can go from SINNERS to SAINTS. From ENEMIES to FRIENDS. A costly, generous gift that demonstrates love.

And 1 John 4:9 says something similar This is how God SHOWED his love among us: He SENT HIS ONE AND ONLY SON INTO THE WORLD that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins

God’s love language is gifts. And acts of service. He’s shown love to his children by sending Jesus, his ONLY SON, to die in our place, paying the penalty for our sin. So we can LIVE.

It’s an act that DEFINES love. “THIS is love”. Love begins with God. His initiative. It’s not a reaction to our love for him. True love INITIATES action, rather than simply RESPONDS to it.

In LOVE, he graciously chose us, then sent His Son to die in our place. Then, in LOVE he called us and saved us.

A love story

In fact, one way of thinking about the story of the Bible is that it’s A LOVE STORY. Between God and humanity. The bridegroom and the bride. The story begins with God making us to be his image bearers in his world. In rebellion we ran away. From that point on, God works to entice and woo his unfaithful bride. To win her back. He makes covenants with her, being her God and making her his people.

In the book of Isaiah God describes his historical relationship with Israel like that of a husband and his adulterous wife. In chapter 54 v5, he says

For your Maker is your husband- the LORD Almighty is his name… 6 The LORD will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit… 7 “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back.

God rescues Israel from slavery in Egypt, he makes a covenant commitment to them, to be their God. But they won’t commit to him. They keep loving other gods. And so God sends them into exile. And then, IN LOVE, he brings them back. But they still aren’t faithful.

But God’s got a better reconciliation planned. A greater intimacy and faithfulness. In the fullness of time, Jesus comes. And brings the separation to an end. And God joins us to him, in faith. The two become ONE. Ephesians 5 uses the image of husband and wife to describe Christ and the church. (Even the marriage idea of two being united, and becoming one flesh). And a husband’s sacrificial love for his wife is to be modelled on Christ’s love for his bride, the church.

And, finally, at the end of the Bible. At the end of this world. Revelation describes eternity beginning with a wedding feast. Between Jesus, the Lamb, and his bride, the church. Revelation 19:7 Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. 8Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) 9Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’

And that joy and unity and intimacy will continue FOREVER in the new heavens and new earth.

The story of the Bible is A LOVE STORY. The story of God’s love DEMONSTRATED. Most clearly in the giving of his Son.

Love recognised

And because he’s demonstrated it, it means he wants us to RECOGNISE and APPRECIATE it. It’s not enough for us to just GAIN THE BENEFITS of his love. He wants us to SEE it and UNDERSTAND it. That’s what Paul prays in Ephesians 3:17-19. He prays that you, being ROOTED AND ESTABLISHED in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to GRASP HOW WIDE AND LONG AND HIGH AND DEEP IS THE LOVE OF CHRIST, 19and to KNOW this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

The context is about how God’s Spirit lives in us. We EXPERIENCE God’s love because Christ is dwelling in our hearts through faith. That’s what it means to be rooted and established in love. God’s love is the soil our roots grow into. And his love is the foundation our lives are built on.

And Paul’s prayer is that we have the power to UNDERSTAND it. We’ve already gained the BENEFITS of his love. (We’re FORGIVEN and ADOPTED. We know what it MEANS to be loved.) But God wants us to BUILD on that experience.

He wants us to know how WIDE his love is. How all inclusive and encompassing. There are no extremes of behaviour or acceptability that are beyond Christ’s love. And there’s NO ONE beyond the boundary of his love. Jew and Gentile. Rich and poor. Red and yellow, black and white – ALL are precious in his sight. And there’s no situation where his love won’t hold you. No danger, no enemy, no power. Nothing can separate you from his love. (His love is WIDE).

And God wants us to have power to understand how LONG his love is. It’s no teenage infatuation, that lasts a lunch time, and then, tomorrow has moved on. It’s love that began before the creation of the world. Ephesians 1:4 says For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. IN LOVE 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ (He’s loved us for longer than the Universe has existed!)

And it’s LONG love in the sense that it’s infinitely PATIENT and long-suffering. There’s no limit to the amount of unlovely behaviour on our part that he’ll overlook. It’s not like HUMAN love – that’s FICKLE and TRANSITORY. That stays as long as the object of the love remains LOVEABLE. God’s love has stickability. His love is LONG. In Exodus 34:6-7 God describes himself THIS way. The LORD , the LORD , the compassionate and gracious God, SLOW TO ANGER, ABOUNDING IN LOVE and faithfulness, (His love is LONG)

And God wants us to have power to understand how HIGH Christ’s love is. Perhaps the idea is that it’s love that boosts and promotes us. It’s ACTIVE and PURPOSEFUL. It doesn’t leave us where we were. Christ’s love LIFTS US UP, makes us new creatures, with a new purpose and nature and future. It moves us from ONE kingdom into ANOTHER. Ephesians 2:6 says And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his KINDNESS to us in Christ Jesus.

And, finally, God wants us to have power to understand how DEEP Christ’s love is. It’s not superficial or mild. There’s an INTENSITY to his love. He gave EVERYTHING. The depth of his physical and spiritual suffering reflects his DEEP love.

And God doesn’t just want us to UNDERSTAND it, or COMPREHEND it. But to KNOW it (v19). To EXPERIENCE it. To know it from THE INSIDE – from being THE BELOVED.

And that’s a task you’ll never completely achieve. We can only BEGIN to know it. That’s what the phrase means in Ephesians 3:19 “to know this love THAT SURPASSES KNOWLEDGE.” Which sounds like a contradiction, but I think he means we know SOMETHING of it, but we’ll NEVER FULLY ARRIVE. We’ll spend our lives experiencing MORE of what it means to be loved by God. It’s an assignment worth committing your life to.

We know his love more as we read and re-read all God’s PROMISES found through the Bible. And MEDITATE on them, and PUT THEM TO THE TEST. We know it more as we read the gospels – the descriptions of Jesus’ earthly life and teaching and character. How he treated people.

We know it more as Christ dwells in our hearts through faith. As we TRUST him, and OBEY him. And find him faithful, and generous, and wise and good. We EXPERIENCE his love day by day.

And it’s an assignment you can’t do on your own. Did notice that it’s a GROUP TASK? Paul prays (v18) that we’d have power, TOGETHER WITH ALL THE SAINTS, to understand the love of Christ. As we SPEAK to each other, and SING to one another, of what we’re learning and experiencing of God’s love, OTHERS will know it more. And as we LOVE each other more, both LOVER and BELOVED grow in their EXPERIENCE of our FATHER’S love.

Love responded to

So that’s the FIRST two sections. Love DEMONSTRATED, and love RECOGNISED.

And God’s PURPOSE in that is that we’d RESPOND to it. You SHOW you’ve recognised it by the way you RESPOND.

  1. Love one another

And that was the point of the Bible reading from 1 John. The main purpose of the letter is to help the readers identify FALSE teachers from TRUE ones. And one of the three tests for a TRUE teacher was whether they LOVE OTHER CHRISTIANS. The true response to God loving you is to love his CHILDREN. See there in v7? Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

A person who DOESN’T LOVE THE BROTHERS shows that they DON’T KNOW THE LOVE OF GOD.

God has SHOWN us what love looks like. It’s costly and undeserved and sacrificial and other person centred. V9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

SOME people feel that God loves them because they see a pretty sunset. Or have a feeling of peace as they meditate by the ocean. Or because they got a new job. Or had a baby. Or they’re healthy and wealthy. But those things come, and DON’T come, to EVERYONE. (To God’s children, and those who AREN’T his children ALIKE). And they’re no SIGN of God’s special love for his children. But what IS a clear communication of his love is the GIVING of his only Son to save UNDESERVING SINNERS by dying in their place. And then to FORGIVE their sin. So they can trust, and obey, and love. THAT’S love! THAT’S the God who loves you. And the WAY he loves you.

And here’s the appropriate response to that love. V11 Dear friends, since God so loved US, we ALSO ought to love ONE ANOTHER.

That’s why it’s so important to KNOW God’s love. (To FEEL it). Because it’s the fuel for our love for OTHERS. We love the way the MOON gives light. The moon doesn’t PRODUCE light, it REFLECTS the light from the Sun. And TRUE love doesn’t COME from us. It shines from God ONTO us, and then we KNOW it and TRUST it, and we REFLECT IT ON. That’s what v10 is getting at This is love: NOT THAT WE LOVED GOD, but that he loved us

He’s not saying we can’t love AT ALL. I think what he means is that TRUE love doesn’t BEGIN with US. We didn’t love God FIRST. We can only love OTHERS TRULY (in the way GOD loves) when we’re LOVED BY GOD. When we KNOW it, and RECEIVE it. And when we’re JOINED to the God who is love. THEN we can love others with God’s love.

If you don’t KNOW sacrificial, undeserving love TO YOU/ then you can’t GIVE it. You can only give a pale imitation of it. A poor reflection of it. If you haven’t received the undeserved, forgiving, giving-everything love from God. If you haven’t recognised your complete UNWORTHINESS to be forgiven. Then you can’t truly love undeserving people. You’ll only love CONDITIONALLY. You’ll only love when they love you BACK, or when they DESERVE it. Or when you FEEL like it.

How well does our reflected love to others point people to the love God has for us? Is our love costly, and undeserved, and sacrificial? Or is it conditional, calculating, and self-protective? Does it point people to Jesus? Or does it turn people OFF him?

  1. Don’t fear

The SECOND way we respond to God’s love is NOT TO FEAR. To be confident. In ANY situation. Romans 8:35 gives these amazing promises. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us

Whatever happens to us, there’s nothing to FEAR, because nothing can SEPARATE you from God’s protective, powerful, saving LOVE.

  1. Accept discipline

THIRD. Not only can we be CONFIDENT in the face of bad things. We can ACCEPT THEM GRATEFULLY as DISCIPLINE. Hebrews 12 encourages us My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” 7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.

Bad things aren’t just things to be endured with COURAGE. They’re TRAINING from the hand of your LOVING heavenly Father.

And, just like PHYSICAL training, NO PAIN NO GAIN. A few verses further on there’s this application. V10 God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. 12Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees

Let life’s difficulties train your SPIRITUAL muscles because your LOVING Father is GROWING YOU STRONG. James 1:2 even encourages us to REJOICE in them, because they develop perseverance and maturity.

  1. Compelled by love

One final response to God’s love. Let it COMPEL you. Inspire you. Control you. In 2 Corinthians 5.14 Paul gives a hint to what DRIVES or MOTIVATES him. He talks about his life’s work of trying to persuade people with the gospel (v11). And that God’s given him the ministry of reconciliation as an ambassador, imploring people to be reconciled to God (v20). But in v14 we get this insight into his motivation. For Christ’s love COMPELS us, because we are convinced that ONE DIED FOR ALL, and therefore ALL DIED. 15And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again

Christ’s love COMPELS us. FUELS, INSPIRES and MOTIVATES us. He DIED for us. And so, we die. We die to our plans and ambitions. We belong to another. We’re, no longer, to live for ourselves. But to live for HIM who died for us and was raised again.

Let me finish with this quote from Jim Packer’s fantastic book, Knowing God. Great questions for us to contemplate about whether the truth of God’s love has reached beyond our HEADS to our HEARTS.

Is it true that God is love to me as a Christian?… If so, certain questions arise. Why do I ever grumble and show discontent and resentment at the circumstances in which God has placed me? Why am I ever distrustful, fearful or depressed? Why do I ever allow myself to grow cool, formal and half-hearted in the service of the God who loves me so? Why do I ever allow my loyalties to be divided, so that God has not all my heart?” J.I. Packer, “The Love of God”, Knowing God.

Romans 2:1-16: God is judge

It’s been interesting watching the reactions of different people to government COVID restrictions. Most of us are fine. We’ll stay home. We’ll wear a mask. We won’t travel. We’re willing to recognise the government’s authority over us. We’re willing to give up some of our individual freedoms for the sake of the whole society.

But other people demand that they’ve got the right to do what they want. There was Karen at Bunnings, ranting at staff, and refusing to wear a mask. And there was Cynthia Page, who, last week, sued the New York state for its COVID 14-day quarantine period. Because she said it infringed her fundamental right to travel. She lost!

And it’s the same sort of reaction MANY people have to the idea that God will JUDGE them. They feel they have the right to make their own choices, and no one, including God, has the right to question, or intrude on, that independence.

I think it’s the cultural individualism in the West that’s largely to blame. People quite like the idea that God FORGIVES people. Just not the JUDGMENT part. The unspoken rule of our culture is that each of us, basically, has the right to do whatever we want. And perhaps the greatest evil is to RESTRICT someone’s freedom, or tell them they’re wrong.

So what I want to do today is defend the idea of God’s judgment. Firstly, to show that it’s a central teaching of the Bible. Secondly, to give you three reasons to REJOICE in God’s judgment. And, thirdly, to give you three APPLICATIONS of God’s judgment. (How it affects how we think and behave.)

The Bible teaches it

Firstly, the Bible TEACHES it. From start to finish, Genesis to Revelation, we see the truth that God holds us accountable. And, in the end, will JUDGE us.

In Genesis, God creates Adam and Eve, tells them not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad. And then delivers judgment on them when they disobey him. He’s the one who’s CREATED us, so he’s got the right to do with us whatever he decides.

He SEES EVERYTHING. Nothing’s hidden from his sight. Ecclesiastes 12:14 says For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

No one can escape. Even the powerful and rich and well-connected. God is more powerful than ALL of them. Psalm 11:5-6 says The Lord is at your right hand; he will crush kings on the day of his wrath. 6 He will JUDGE THE NATIONS, heaping up the dead and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.

Which seems completely scary. But at the same time, God is infinitely WISE, and completely RIGHTEOUS. So we can be confident he’ll always make the RIGHT JUDGMENT. In Genesis 18:25, Abraham is pleading with God to show mercy on the city of Sodom. And he appeals to God’s character in not destroying righteous people. And he concludes Will not the Judge of all the earth do RIGHT? One thing we CAN be sure of, in the midst of uncertainty. God will ALWAYS act wisely and justly.

And then, in the LAST book of the Bible, in Revelation 20, at the end of this world, God will be seated on a great white throne, and everyone will stand before him, and he’ll judge them according to what they’ve done.

And Romans 2, which we just read, talks about that day TOO. In fact, it begins in Romans 1. From v18 we read that God’s wrath is being revealed against the godlessness and wickedness of people. They choose to ignore God, and do what they want INSTEAD. And our world bears the SCARS of that. And that’s God’s wrath! And chapter one finishes with this damning description of humanity. Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

It’s painful to hear. I find myself not wanting to read the whole list. To skip over it, and just get to the end. But that’s what God sees and feels when he looks at out our world. You may not be ALL of those things. But you’re MANY of them. (We ALL are.) At least SOME of the time.

That’s the situation IN THE WORLD. It’s NO WONDER God, JUSTLY, will JUDGE US.

In Chapter 2, Paul turns his attention to THE CHURCH in Rome. In particular, what God’s coming judgment means for HOW CHRISTIANS RELATE TO EACH OTHER. Specifically, how the JEWISH Christians get along with the GENTILE Christians. And his FIRST point is we shouldn’t judge one other, because we ALL deserve judgment. V1. You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment DO THE SAME THINGS.

It’s dangerous to judge others by a standard you can’t live up to YOURSELF. V3 So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

At the moment, God’s PATIENT. We deserve his judgment RIGHT NOW. ALL of us. But he’s DELAYING, waiting for people to repent. But whenever people take advantage of that. And dismiss and reject and judge others who are different. They’re abusing God’s kindness. And their hypocrisy and blindness is inviting his judgment. The reality is THE DAY OF JUDGMENT IS COMING. V5. But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.

I wonder if people think about “their individual freedom to choose” as STORING UP WRATH for themselves? It’s not building assets, or experiences, or qualifications. It’s storing up WRATH!

And then v6 describes what that day will be like. God will give to EACH PERSON according to what he has done

It will be INDIVIDUAL and COMPLETE. Each person. God will be impartial and thorough. There’ll be no special exemptions. No loopholes. No white privilege. No ethnic advantage. Jew and Gentile alike will be judged. And it will be CONSISTENT. According to what each has done. No one will bear the punishment for another’s sins. No one will have their behaviour overlooked.

V9 goes on. There’ll be ONE STANDARD. With no favouritism.

There will be trouble and distress for EVERY human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10but glory, honor and peace for EVERYONE who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11For God does not show favoritism.

Why does Paul emphasise Jew and Gentile so much? V12 makes it clear. Because the Jewish Christians thought they had an advantage over the Gentile Christians. They HAD THE OLD TESTAMENT LAW. They thought they had a head start. But, v12, they’re mistaken.

All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law (that’s the Gentiles), and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law (that’s the Jews). 13For it is not those who HEAR the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who OBEY the law who will be declared righteous.

You see HAVING the law isn’t enough. It’s not even enough to HEAR it. You’ve got to OBEY it. It doesn’t matter where you were born. Or what language you speak. Or how often you heard about Jesus. Or how educated you are. Or the colour of your skin. Or how many generations of Christians precede you in your family. The only thing God’s interested in is WHAT YOU DO/ with WHAT HE TELLS YOU.

You’ve sinned. You deserve judgment. But he’s showing you kindness, tolerance and patience. He’s leading you towards REPENTANCE. He calls you to TURN FROM YOUR SIN. To TRUST his Son. And then to LIVE FOR HIM, obeying and honouring him. And your fate on judgment day will depend on what you DO with that message. SO make sure you HEAR and OBEY.

 

Reasons to rejoice in God’s judgment

And that’s a good introduction into the NEXT section. Five reasons to REJOICE in God’s judgment.

  1. He offers us an escape

The FIRST reason to rejoice in God’s judgment is that he offers you an ESCAPE. We read in v4 of Romans 2. He’ll judge EVERYONE. But he’s showing patience and kindness, leading people to REPENTANCE.

And, v7, for those who repent. Who turn from SELF-seeking, and instead seek glory, honour and immortality – in other words they SEEK GOD HIMSELF- he promises ETERNAL LIFE. An escape from a guilty verdict on Judgment Day. All through the PERFECT life of Jesus, who stands in our place. Yes, God will JUDGE. But we can rejoice that he also offers us AN ESCAPE from it.

  1. It’s good news for the suffering

The SECOND reason to rejoice in God’s judgment is that it’s good news for those who suffer. 2 Thessalonians is written to a persecuted church. Paul writes, v4 of chapter 1, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.

And then, down in v6, there’s the comfort of this promise God is just: He will PAY BACK TROUBLE to those who trouble you 7and GIVE RELIEF to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

There’ll be RELIEF for the persecuted. And JUSTICE for those DOING the persecuting. Which is good news.

But not just good news for the PERSECUTED. There’ll be relief from ALL suffering. Everything in this world that’s been broken by sin. Relief from sickness and death and loneliness and fear and brokenness. In Revelation 21, following the judgment of God on his great white throne, we read about God joining himself with his people. And, v4, there’s the promise

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

Judgment will bring to an end everything causes suffering and death. And justice against the culprits. And that’s a real comfort and hope to suffering people.

  1. It’s DELAYED

(That’s the SECOND reason we can rejoice in God’s judgment. It’s good news for the suffering) The THIRD reason is that it’s DELAYED. Which, perhaps, seems a little contradictory to reason 2.

At the moment, according to Romans 1, God’s wrath is being revealed against all godlessness and wickedness. He hands people over to the consequences of their choices. He gives them a taste of where their choices will end up if they continue in them. He DOESN’T bring judgment. Which means that, at the moment, there’s SUFFERING.

But at the same time, (we saw in Romans 2:4) that he’s kind and tolerant and patient. He’s LEADING people to repentance.

In 2 Peter 3, Peter answers critics who scoff that God’s judgment ISN’T coming. They say everything’s been the same for thousands of years. And Peter says, God’s done it once before (destroyed the world with WATER – with Noah’s flood), and then he adds, v7

By the same word the PRESENT heavens and earth are reserved for FIRE, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

It’s definitely coming. And, just in case you thought he was a bit slow in bringing it. V9

The Lord is NOT slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

It’s not that he’s LAZY, or DISORGANISED, or DISINTERESTED. He’s PATIENT. His desire is for EVERYONE to repent. He wants NO ONE in hell. And so he’s keeping back the day of judgment. He’s giving time, and opportunities, for your friends and family and neighbours and workmates to HEAR about Jesus. For YOU to TELL them. So they can trust him, and repent, and be saved. So rejoice that God’s judgement is delayed. (That’s the THIRD reason to rejoice in God’s judgement.)

Which leads on to some practical applications. How we should live TODAY in light of God’s judgment IN THE FUTURE.

  1. Repent

And the first and most obvious application is to REPENT. We saw it in Romans 2. V4. We WON’T escape God’s judgment. At the moment, he’s being tolerant and patient. His kindness is leading you to repentance. We saw it in the verses from 2 Peter 3. God is PATIENT. His wrath is a slow burn, but unstoppable. He wants NO ONE to perish. He wants EVERYONE to come to repentance. If you haven’t done that. Then TODAY IS A GREAT DAY. Don’t keep PRESUMING on God’s patience.

If you HAVE done that, then God’s patience means he waiting for YOU to tell people about his coming judgment, and his offer of forgiveness. You may be the only Christian some of your non-Christian friends KNOW.

  1. Don’t judge others

The second application is DON’T JUDGE OTHERS. That’s on GOD’S job description, not yours. We saw it in Romans 2. V1, we have no excuse to judge others as guilty before God, because WE’RE JUST AS GUILTY. We’re not QUALIFIED to judge.

And WE DON’T HAVE TO. We can leave the judging up to GOD. He’ll do a much better job of it than WE will. Over in Romans 12 Paul returns to the theme of judging others. V17

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19Do not take revenge, my friends, but LEAVE ROOM FOR GOD’S WRATH, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

The reality of God’s judgment EMPOWERS victims of injustice. They can choose to LIVE AT PEACE. They can choose to respond to HATE with LOVE. They can leave space for GOD to deliver the wrath. Rather than them providing it all.

  1. Live godly lives

And the THIRD application of God’s judgment is it MOTIVATES US TO LIVE GODLY LIVES. Flip back over the 2 Peter 3. We looked earlier at how God is PATIENT with people, and won’t bring judgment HASTILY. And then v10 describes how the day of the Lord will come like a thief and everything will be destroyed. And then we see the application in v11.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?

We might expect the answer to be, “Well, do whatever you like. It doesn’t matter. There are no consequences. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” But no, Peter says the OPPOSITE.

What kind of people ought you to be? You OUGHT TO LIVE HOLY AND GODLY LIVES 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are LOOKING FORWARD TO A NEW HEAVEN AND A NEW EARTH, THE HOME OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. 14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him

Judgment is coming, and then there’ll be a NEW heaven and earth, where RIGHTEOUSNESS will be the standard behaviour. So work hard at being holy and godly NOW. So you’ll be FIT FOR PURPOSE. So you’ll be READY for eternity.

Notice how the focus isn’t being good, so you make it through judgment. Because we WILL. If we belong to JESUS, then our judgment verdict is already DECIDED. We’re INNOCENT. Instead our focus should be on WHAT COMES NEXT.

So look FORWARD to the new heaven and the new earth, the home of righteousness. And DO that, by making every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.

Isaiah 40:12-31: God is infinite

Researchers and medical professionals are reporting, in the last few months, huge increases in the number of people suffering depression and anxiety because of COVID.

The Royal Australian College of GP’s reported that in July there’s been a 31% increase in prescription of anti-anxiety medication, and a 22% increase in antidepressants, compared to the same period last year.[1]

And Mental Health America has compared recent data to six previous years of voluntary online mental health screening tests. The number of completed questionnaires in June was MORE THAN 400% HIGHER than January of this year. And among adults under 25, 90% recorded moderate to severe depression, and 80% recorded moderate to severe anxiety. Contributing factors were loneliness, isolation, grief, loss and financial concerns.[2]

And, anecdotally, I’ve spoken to A NUMBER of people who, normally, have very good mental health. And they’ve described feeling OFF BALANCE. And they can’t understand why. Despite being LESS busy, they’re just feeling WEARY and UNSETTLED. They’re operating at higher than normal levels of anxiety. Just coping with all the uncertainty can be DRAINING.

I don’t know whether that’s you, or not? Stressed, anxious, depressed, beaten? But if it is, then, in Isaiah 40, God himself has a word for you. See it there in v1? COMFORT. “Comfort, my people,” he says. Relax. You’re safe. Don’t stress.

And the key to that command is to focus on GOD HIMSELF. On his character and qualities. When we start counting our OWN resources, or we spend too long looking at THE THREATS AROUND US, we start to lose hope.

When we focus on our failures, our coping strategies, our connections, or our assets, we get ANXIOUS, rather than COMFORTED.

Instead, we need to focus our gaze on the infinitely powerful, wise, holy, loving, eternal God we meet in the Bible.

(Just to be clear, I’m NOT saying that anxiety or depression are simply spiritual problems. If you’re suffering from one of these problems then you need to get MEDICAL attention. That’s ONE of the ways God works.)

But there is genuine comfort and hope in the face of uncertainty, when we focus on God. On his INFINITE nature and qualities – his power and wisdom and goodness.

And God’s word of comfort goes to a people in a pretty similar situation to US. Isaiah 40 begins the second half of the book. Israel’s 70 year exile in Babylon is coming to an end. Seventy years of struggle, confusion, and feeling abandoned by God! They’ve come to the end of their own resources. Their tank is empty.

Seventy years! It makes our five MONTHS of COVID stress seem like NOTHING!

And it’s into THIS situation God speaks to his prophet, to pass on a message of COMFORT to his people. It’s comfort that comes in four big hugs.

First. You belong to God. (There in v1). “Comfort, comfort MY PEOPLE.” Despite appearances. Despite it LOOKING like God’s abandoned you. Despite being in a strange land, surrounded by strangers. Despite no temple or city or king. You still belong to God. Nothing’s changed. So take COMFORT.

Second. Your sins have been paid for. Verse 2.

2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.

Decades of exile had emphasised that God was punishing them. (That they’d rebelled, ignored, and disobeyed him). And they’d SUFFERED the CONSEQUENCES.

But now there was the incredible news that all was forgiven. Somehow, without explanation, God was willing to forgive generations of sin. The relationship’s been restored. The offence forgiven. And so, there’s COMFORT.

But, that’s only HALF comfort if they remain stuck in Babylon. And so the NEXT part of God’s comforting hug is there from v3. God’s coming to the Promised Land, and he’ll bring his people WITH him. Back to his land! V3.

3 A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.   4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

God’s on the way. And he’s coming to restore his people to their land, just like he’s restored their relationship with him. So get things READY!

And the FOURTH part of God’s comforting hug for them is there in v6. If it all seems too good to believe, then remember THIS. God’s PROMISED it, so you can COUNT on it. God’s word can be trusted. That’s where the comfort lies. Everything else is “here today and gone tomorrow”. Everything else is falling apart. But not God’s word! V8.

8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but THE WORD OF OUR GOD STANDS FOREVER.”

It’s something to pray for people in the midst of the chaos of the pandemic. That they might RECOGNISE THE TRUTH OF V8. That all the OTHER things they put their trust in – homes, jobs, families, health, investments, shopping – NONE of it’s reliable. NONE of it LASTS. The world, as we know it, IS BROKEN. The only thing that can be TRUSTED is God’s word. God HIMSELF is the only trustworthy, reliable, dependable thing in a world where you can’t be sure of ANYTHING.

So, how do you RESPOND to four comforting truths like that? (Whether it be Isaiah and Israel. Or you and I TODAY.)

Firstly, by telling people ABOUT that God. Not just PRAYING for people who are struggling with anxiety or loss, or loneliness. But TELLING THEM that God’s the only reliable one. Look there in v9. God commanding his messenger.

9 You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, DO NOT BE AFRAID; say to the towns of Judah, “HERE IS YOUR GOD!” 10 See, the Sovereign LORD comes with POWER, and his arm rules for him.

HERE IS YOUR GOD! What a phrase! Underline it in your Bible!

Here is your God! V10. He’s POWERFUL. He’s acted in history. He’s judged and saved. You thought he’d LEFT you. But you’re WRONG. You thought he didn’t CARE. But you’re WRONG. You thought he was DISINTERESTED, or POWERLESS. But you were wrong.

But not only that. V11. HERE is your God. He’s the gentle shepherd who forgives, protects, restores and leads his people. You thought he was cruel. But you’ll see he’s tender and gentle.

Or v12. HERE is your God. Nothing compares with God’s POWER.

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?

Or v13-14. HERE is your God. Nothing compares with God’s WISDOM.

13 Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor?

Or from v15, HERE is your God.

15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales;

Nothing compares to God. He CONTROLS HISTORY. He rules over nations and governments. The king over kings. And Lord over lords. They’re dust on the scales! A quick blow and they’re GONE! Assyria – GONE. Babylon – GONE! Global pandemics – GONE! They seem so huge to us. But to God – NOTHING!

Or from v18. HERE is your God. OTHER gods are NOTHING! Something to MAKE FUN OF! V20 A man making an idol carefully chooses wood that won’t rot! And then the craftsman makes sure he flattens the base properly so it won’t topple over. And then they bow down and worship what they’ve made. Making sure they don’t bump the table! Nonsense!

And TODAY, people worship crystals and follow astrology or Scientology, or meditate in teepees, or worship Gaia or Mother Nature. Or they worship sportsmen, or musicians or Instagram influencers.

But God is INCOMPARABLE! He’s the One who MADE the stars, and the crystals, and the forests, and the heroes that people worship. Down to v25. HERE is your God

25 “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One. 26 Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

Not ONE star forgotten, or unnamed. Just IMAGINE it! That’s the power and wisdom of God!

That’s the picture the Jews in exile need reminding of. When they’re tempted to think God’s forgotten them. (That they’re abandoned). V27.

27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God”?

It’s the impossible application of this passage. (God is INFINITE in power and wisdom. So, I’ll COMPLAIN that he’s forgotten me!) It’s ILLOGICAL. IT’s NONSENSE! How could the God who knows and counts off billions of stars forget his people? Or doesn’t notice them?

And yet we DO complain, don’t we? We complain about the way things turn out for us. About what we HAVE, or DON’T have. And we think we know better. And we grumble that we’d do things differently.

We believe this chapter with our HEADS. But we don’t it with our HEARTS.

What we need is to speak v28 to each other. HERE is your God.

28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the EVERLASTING God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.

He’s ETERNAL. The Ancient of Days. He stands outside of time, looking at the whole of history the same way we might watch a conveyor belt rolling past. He sees the end and the beginning. All at once.

Nothing tires him, nothing confuses him, nothing surprises him, nothing out-muscles him.

And no one can understand his understanding. His IQ is OFF THE CHARTS. Knowing the number of hairs on your head! Naming each STAR! We can’t FATHOM it.

And when you put it like THAT, the right response is OBVIOUS! When things are hope-LESS, when you lack strength and understanding and influence. You put your HOPE in a God LIKE THAT. V29.

29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. 30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31 but THOSE WHO HOPE IN THE LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Put your HOPE in him. That’s the application. (The OPPOSITE of GRUMBLE). You may get nothing else out of the talk today, but at least hold on to THAT. Put your HOPE in the LORD.

The word for HOPE is “Wait”. WAIT for the LORD. Hope is FORWARD LOOKING. There’s no guarantee that God’s help will be immediate. It took SEVENTY YEARS for Israel. But WAIT for him. Patient waiting is faith in action.

Because those who hope in the lord will RENEW THEIR STRENGTH. That word “renew” – it’s normally translated as change, or EXCHANGE. That’s what’s happening when we trust him. The infinitely STRONG One gives us HIS strength. We exchange our WEAKNESS for his STRENGTH.

Yes, there’s help in medication, and support groups, and counselling, and government assistance, and public health guidelines. But they’re not enough. It’s only as we look to GOD that we gain HIS strength.

The strength of patience and perseverance to cope with uncertainty and fear. To pray for a non-Christian family member, to cope with chronic illness, or a ministry that’s thankless, or raising kids who exhaust us. Because he’s the INFINITE, INCOMPARABLE God who gives HIS strength to those who hope in him.

And if it was clear for those Old Testament believers. How much clearer is it FOR US who’ve seen JESUS. The perfect man, the Word who was with God and who WAS God. Whose life was the light of men. The visible image of the invisible God. His strength and wisdom are incomparable TOO.

God is INFINITE. But in Jesus we see the INFINITE God in a FINITE package. If God’s the SUN, then he’s the RADIANCE around the Sun.

Jesus. God’s Zip file. He compresses all of the data of Godness into a manageable package. The incomprehensible shrunk down to human comprehension.

Jesus. God’s hyperlink. Just ONE WORD. But click on Jesus. And you go to a whole other website. FULL of all the characteristics and qualities of the eternal and infinite GOD.

Let me leave you with a COUPLE OF EXAMPLES. Mark ch 4 v35. Jesus and the disciples are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee at night. He’s been teaching all day, and he’s exhausted. The disciples are doing all the work. Perhaps they look at Jesus with mild irritation that they’re doing all the work, and Jesus is too tired to help.

But then a furious storm blows up. And the waves are breaking over the side of the boat. And it’s filling up quickly. And even these professional sailors are scared they’re going to drown. They stop bailing out the boat just long enough to wake Jesus. “Don’t you care if we drown?” they blurt.

And v39, he got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, Be Still. And they DID. Everything was CALM.  And he says to the disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you STILL have no faith?” HERE is your God!

And they were TERRIFIED and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Who is he? He’s your INCOMPARABLE God. So TRUST him.

Or let’s finish with one more. Matthew 28. Jesus has been raised from the dead. Because it’s impossible for THE AUTHOR OF LIFE to be conquered by DEATH. He tells Mary to tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee.

And, v16, the eleven are there. On the mountain where Jesus told them to go. And then Jesus arrives. HERE is your God! And when they SEE HIM, the WORSHIP him. Because he’s their GOD, the source of life.

And Jesus says to them, v18 All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

He’s got ALL THE AUTHORITY OF THE INFINITE GOD AT HIS DISPOSAL. The authority to control wind and waves. The authority over kings and governors. The authority over disease and disaster. He’s the Alpha and Omega – the beginning of everything, and its goal.

What’s our response to that authority? Jesus continues. V19.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

The authority of the infinite God over everything given to Jesus means that he deserves the loyalty and submission and obedience of everything. Everything bowing before him.

And the authority of the infinite God over everything given to Jesus means THAT POWER is available to US as we work to make that plan happen. (To make disciples of all nations.)

That’s a task it’s worth GIVING YOUR LIFE TO.

And, as we do, we’re not alone. Because, just like God who spoke to Israel, Comfort, my people. Jesus speaks to US

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

[1] https://www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/clinical/use-of-anxiety-and-depression-medication-spikes-as

[2] https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/934882#vp_1

John 14:15-31: Five Reasons the Trinity Gives Us Confidence

Today we’re thinking about the TRINITY. The Biblical idea that ONE God exists as THREE PERSONS. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Each person has different characteristics, but they all share, equally, the ESSENCE, or NATURE, of God-ness.

It’s a DIFFICULT doctrine. Hard to understand, and explain. It’s awkward and slightly embarrassing. And so, we mostly don’t talk about it. You won’t hear many sermons on it. We hope it never comes up in conversations with non-Christians. But instead of ignoring and overlooking it, today I want to HIGHLIGHT and CELEBRATE it. And, in particular, in how it gives us CONFIDENCE BEFORE GOD. That’s something many people LACK.

OTHER RELIGIONS lack confidence before God. Because it’s often all about how well they can keep their rules. There’s UNCERTAINTY. And any confidence is seen as PRIDE or PRESUMPTION.

And many Christians lack confidence before God, TOO. It might be a fear of death and judgment. It might be a guilty conscience that makes them doubt God’s forgiveness. Or they compare themselves to other people, and they feel UNWORTHY. Or maybe they struggle TO PRAY. They lack CONFIDENCE. Is that YOU? Do you lack CONFIDENCE in your relationship with God? If it is, then listen up. Because I want to give you five reasons why THE TRINITY gives you confidence.

Five reasons why the Trinity gives you confidence.

  1. You can be confident that Jesus has brought you to the Father

Firstly, the Trinity means you can be confident that Jesus has brought you to the Father. As Christians, we take it for granted we can KNOW God. (LOVE him. That he’s our HEAVENLY FATHER we can speak to, and have a relationship with.)

But that’s a foreign concept for most religious people. For Muslims, Allah is basically UNKNOWABLE. He’s completely SEPARATE. They hope he’ll be MERCIFUL to them. Their experience is all about SERVING him, not KNOWING him. There’s little sense of his LOVE. Or of having a RELATIONSHIP with him.

And for many Australians, if they believe in God at all, he’s Distant, and at BEST UNINTERESTED. At WORST, an impersonal FORCE. An INFLUENCE. It’s no wonder they don’t want anything to do with him!

But that’s not the God WE know. He WANTS TO KNOW US. John’s gospel begins by describing the eternal God.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.

The WORD (that’s the SON), and GOD (that’s the FATHER). In some sense, the SAME. And in some sense, DIFFERENT.

But God isn’t just God-in-himself. He’s GOD-FOR-US. (God who MOVES OUTSIDE himself). John ch 1 continues, describing Jesus, the Word. V4 4In him was life, and that life was THE LIGHT OF MEN… And v9 9The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world… And again, in v11. 11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Jesus the SON comes to us. Becomes ONE of us. And GIVES US THE RIGHT to become like HIM. To become children of God TOO. Born of God. Only God HIMSELF (God the SON) can bridge the gap between US and HIM. WE certainly can’t. It’s like trying to jump to the moon. It’s like a dead person giving herself CPR.

Our problem is our sin. All of us are guilty before God. We’re DEAD and HELPLESS.

And so the loving plan of the TRINITARIAN God was to offer HIMSELF as a substitute. The Son, in obedience to his Father, dies in the place of sinners, satisfying the wrath of the Father against us. The infinitely perfect life of the God-man providing an infinite amount of mercy for all humanity.

It’s a transaction that takes place WITHIN THE TRINITY. The Trinitarian God JUDGES sin/ and IS JUDGED.

Only the truth of the Trinity offers us solid hope and confidence that our sin’s been dealt with. Only GOD HIMSELF can pay for sin, ONCE. For ALL. The Trinity means that God is the OPPOSITE of an impersonal force. The opposite of the distant, unknowable Allah of Islam. God IS relationship. God IS LOVE. From all eternity, he’s been rejoicing in relationship of Father, Son and Spirit.

But not only that, he bridged the gap between us and him by SENDING THE SON. To SWEEP US UP INTO THAT RELATIONSHIP. Into the FAMILY relationship of the Trinity. Tim Chester, in his book Delighting in the Trinity, says “The Trinity is a missionary community. The Father sent his Son and His Spirit into the world to redeem his people. So the Trinity is good news.” (p173)

God is INWARD-LOOKING. Father, Son and Holy Spirit loving each other. But he’s also OUTWARD-looking, reaching to make US children of God TOO. The Trinitarian God is a missionary community.

  1. We can be confident God is with/in us

That’s the FIRST reason the Trinity gives us confidence. (we can be confident Jesus has brought us to the Father). The second reason is we can be confident that God is WITH us. Once Jesus has BROUGHT us, we can be confident that God will STAY.

From John ch 13 to 17, Jesus prepares his disciples for his departure. He’ll PHYSICALLY leave them, but he won’t PERSONALLY leave them.  Chapter 14 begins with Jesus telling the disciples he’s going away to prepare a place. But then, v3, he’ll come back and TAKE HIS DISCIPLES TO HIMSELF. (Describing the Holy Spirit coming.)

Phillip asks him about THE FATHER. And Jesus answers, v9 “Don’t you know ME, Phillip, even after I’ve been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen ME has seen THE FATHER.” V10 “I am in the Father, and the Father is in me.” Very simple words, but describing the complex relationship within the Trinity.

And then a bit further down, from v15, Jesus makes the extraordinary invitation TO BRING HIS DISCIPLES INTO THAT RELATIONSHIP.

“If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16And I will ask THE FATHER, and he will give you ANOTHER Counselor to BE WITH YOU FOREVER– 17the Spirit of truth.

Can you see the Trinity there? Jesus, the Father, and ANOTHER COUNSELLOR, the Spirit of truth. And Jesus promises that this Spirit of truth will be WITH us forever. He continues

The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he LIVES WITH YOU and WILL BE IN you.

Which probably means that, for the disciples, IN THE PRESENT, the Spirit is with them PHYSICALLY, (in the person of JESUS). But IN THE FUTURE, he’ll be IN them, SPIRITUALLY, in the person of the Holy Spirit.

Ok so far? But Jesus continues stretching our minds even MORE. V18. I will not leave you as orphans; I WILL COME TO YOU.

He could be talking about the RESURRECTION, when Jesus comes back them PHYSICALLY. But I think he’s talking about coming to them IN THE PERSON OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, at Pentecost, in Acts Ch 2. Listen to how he continues. (v19)

Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.

The day the disciples realised that JESUS was in them was the day they received THE HOLY SPIRIT. The disciples will SEE Jesus in their experience of him living in them.

Jesus continues, down in v23. Now including THE FATHER.

If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. MY FATHER will love him, and WE will come to him and make our home with him.

In the person of the Holy Spirit, the whole Trinity makes their home in the believer!

And notice it’s RELATIONAL and PERSONAL. It’s not like subconscious POSSESSION. (Like you see in the movies when someone possessed by an evil spirit.) When the three-person GOD lives in you, it’s about LOVE. “If anyone LOVES ME, MY FATHER will love HIM.”

To be filled with God – to have the Trinitarian God living in you – is about participating in the relationship that God himself enjoys, within himself. Of LOVE. V21, that we just jumped over, fills out that idea some more.

Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”

Love expressed in obedience. God loving God loving us loving God. That’s the everyday experience of the Christian. CS Lewis, in MERE CHRISTIANITY, describe it like A DANCE.

The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way round) each one of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in that dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made… If you want joy, power, peace, eternal life, you must get close to, or even into, the thing that has them…

Being joined in a dance with the Trinitarian God. It’s what LIFE’S ALL ABOUT. But it’s what other religions don’t know. It’s the SECOND reason why the Trinity gives you confidence.

  1. We can be confident we are God’s children

The THIRD reason is/ we can be confident WE’RE GOD’S CHILDREN. Romans 8 describes what life is like when God’s Holy Spirit lives in you. And there are all sorts of good things. (We’ll look at Romans 8 in more detail in the last week of this series). But the blessing I want to focus on is down in v14.

those who are led by the Spirit of God are SONS OF GOD. 15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received THE SPIRIT OF SONSHIP (or ADOPTION). And by him we cry, “Abba, FATHER.” 16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that WE ARE GOD’S CHILDREN. 17Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and CO-HEIRS WITH CHRIST,

God’s Spirit lives in us. That means we belong to him. But more specifically WE’RE PART OF HIS FAMILY. We’re his sons and daughters. IT’S A TRUTH THAT FLOWS FROM THE FACT THAT GOD IS TRINITY. We’re SONS and DAUGHTERS/ because we’re connected to Jesus, God the SON.

Let me show you. V1 of Ch 8 describes Christians as those who ARE IN Christ JESUS. (Who are UNITED TO HIM.) Another way of describing that is that CHRIST IS IN US. By the Holy Spirit. V9 says

And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.

And one more relevant verse is down in v17. If we children, then we heirs – CO-HEIRS WITH CHRIST. The benefits that Christ has as God the Son come to US because we’re joined to HIM. We’ve received the Spirit of SONSHIP.

We’re sons (and daughters), so we’re confident to call God “FATHER”. It’s the Spirit of his Son within us who calls, “Father”.

That’s the THIRD reason the Trinity gives us confidence. We can be confident WE’RE GOD’S CHILDREN.

  1. We can be confident when we pray

The FOURTH reason is we can be confident when we PRAY. No one I know prays as consistently as they’d like to. We all struggle. But remembering that we approach a TRINITARIAN God will give us CONFIDENCE.

Ephesians 5:20 commands us to always give thanks TO GOD THE FATHER for everything IN THE NAME of our Lord Jesus Christ. We approach God, confidently, through THE WORK OF HIS SON.

Hebrews 10 describes the CONFIDENCE we can have because of what Jesus has done. V19.

Therefore, brothers, since we have CONFIDENCE to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in FULL ASSURANCE of faith

(We pray TO the Father, THROUGH the Son). And thirdly, it’s God’s Spirit IN us who HELPS us to pray. Romans 8 again. V26

the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because THE SPIRIT INTERCEDES FOR THE SAINTS in accordance with God’s will.

Guiding, energising, and going before our prayers. We pray TO God the Father THROUGH God the Son BY God the Spirit.

Remembering that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are INVOLVED with us in prayer changes it from being like reading out a shopping list. To a powerful expression of a genuine relationship.

CS Lewis puts it like this in Mere Christianity.

An ordinary simple Christian… is trying to get into touch with GOD. He knows that what is prompting him to pray is ALSO God: God, so to speak, inside him. But he also knows that all his real knowledge of God comes THROUGH Christ… God is the thing to which he is praying—the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing inside him which is pushing him on—the motive power. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal. So that the whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary little bedroom where an ordinary man is saying his prayers.

The privilege of prayer is something we take for granted. It’s the fifth reason the Trinity gives us confidence.

  1. Christian unity is based on it, and modelled on it

And lastly, the FIFTH reason is because we can be confident in CHRISTIAN UNITY. All the PREVIOUS reasons were individual. (PERSONAL). But this one affects us AS A CHURCH.

In John 17 Jesus prays for the unity of his followers, the church. It’s a unity whose FOUNDATION is the Trinity, and which is MODELLED on the Trinity. And, thirdly, it ILLUSTRATES the Trinity to the world. V21

(I pray that) all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

Firstly, notice that our unity is MODELLED on the unity of the Trinity. “May they be one JUST AS you are in me and I am in you.” Our unity should be like that of the Trinity.

For example, John’s Gospel shows THE FULL EQUALITY of Father and Son. (Different ROLES, but of equal worth and dignity). That’s what Christian unity should be like. It shows THE GLAD SUBMISSION of Father and Son. (The Father delegating to the Son, and the Son obeying the Father.) That’s what Christian unity should be like. And it shows THE JOYFUL INTIMACY of Father and Son. Each one loving and enjoying the other. That’s what Christian unity should be like.

But how can we DO that, when we’re all naturally selfish and self-centred? The secret to being joined to EACH OTHER is by being JOINED TO GOD. “May they BE IN US.” Jesus prays that we would experience and know and love God by his powerful, transforming Spirit living in us.

That’s the only way we’ll show unity. God in us is the FOUNDATION of our unity. Unity won’t simply come through agreed goals, or common projects, or a commitment to inclusion and love, or even correct theology.True Unity – unity modelled on the Tri-unity of God himself – only comes when we are IN the Triune God.

And, thirdly, when we do that, the world will believe that the FATHER sent the SON. “(May they be in us) SO THAT THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE THAT YOU HAVE SENT ME.”

The unity of the church is a LIVING APOLOGETIC. An EXPLANATION of God. But more than that, Jesus says it shows something of the TRINITARIAN God. Our diverse unity reflects, and models, and explains the TRI-UNITY of God. “(May they be in us so the world might believe) That YOU, the Father, have sent ME, the Son.”

Let’s not worry too much about whether we can EXPLAIN the Trinity. The REAL challenge is to LIVE it. In the way we’re confident of our standing before God. In the way we pray. In our UNITY. SO THE WORLD MIGHT KNOW that the Father has sent the Son, and loved him.

Hebrews 1:1-4; Psalm 19: God speaks

In every age and every culture, down through history, the overwhelming majority of people have believed in God. And even in Australia, where it’s less common than it used to be, most people believe that God exists. (Somewhere between 60% and 70%, depending on which survey you look at). But what is God LIKE? That’s the question we’ll be considering over the next eight weeks.

People may agree he exists, but they DISAGREE about what he’s LIKE. So how can we know who’s RIGHT? What we need to do is listen to what GOD HIMSELF says. The Bible says that the eternal creator, sustainer and judge of the Universe is more than a force, or an influence. And he’s not watching us from a distance, as Bette Midler sang.

He’s SPOKEN to us. He’s bridged the gap between Creator and creature. He’s TOLD us what he’s like, and what he requires of us. He’s PERSONAL. RELATIONAL. He KNOWS, and CAN BE KNOWN. That’s what we’re looking at today. God SPEAKS. The question is… are you LISTENING?

God speaks in creation

Let’s start by looking at Psalm 19. It’s a poem of two halves. The FIRST half describes how God speaks in CREATION.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. 3 There is no speech or language

where their voice is not heard. 4 Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

People from all sorts of cultures and backgrounds and languages look at CREATION, and it speaks to them about its CREATOR. We can see clues about God himself from what he’s MADE. Romans 1:20 puts it like this.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made,

And Psalm 19 says that it’s as if CREATION ITSELF is speaking to us about God.

V2, It’s a message that’s communicated ALL THE TIME. Day or night. It doesn’t stop transmission outside business hours.

And, v3, it communicates to us WHATEVER HUMAN LANGUAGE WE UNDERSTAND.

There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. It’s a message that’s GREATER than language.

And, v4, it’s a message that can be received EVERYWHERE. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. On mountain tops, or outer space, or the bottom of the ocean. North pole to south pole.

We look into the enormity of space. We see millions of stars that stretch on for thousands of light years. And we understand a little of God’s POWER. And we catch a glimpse of ETERNITY – what it means for God to have ALWAYS EXISTED.

But it’s not just THE HEAVENS that speak about God. There’s all sorts of evidence in creation that God exists. For example, measurements tell us the Universe is EXPANDING FROM A SINGLE POINT. Which makes us wonder, “If that’s how the Universe BEGAN, what, or WHO, was BEFORE that single point? Who BEGAN the Universe?

The geneticist Francis Collins, in his book “The Language of God” says

“I can’t imagine how the universe could have created itself. And the very fact that the universe had a beginning implies that SOMEONE was able to begin it.”

Here’s ANOTHER piece of evidence. The universe is FINELY TUNED to make life possible. A hundred different variables that are set exactly right so we can live. The size of the sun. The distance of the earth from the sun. (Any closer and we’d BURN. Any further away and we’d FREEZE. And water would be VAPOUR or ICE, rather than LIQUID). The place of our solar system in the Milky Way, and the earth’s magnetic field protect us from deadly radiation.

Francis Collins says,

When you look from the perspective of a scientist at the universe, it looks as if it knew we were coming. There are 15 constants — the gravitational constant, various constants about the strong and weak nuclear force, etc. — that have precise values. If any one of those constants was off by even one part in a million, or in some cases, by one part in a million million, … matter would not have been able to coalesce, there would have been no galaxy, stars, planets or people.

And there’s lots of evidence in creation for DESIGN rather than CHANCE. From the human brain, or eye, to flowers, to bacteria. We see the INTELLIGENCE of God’s design.

And there’s BEAUTY in creation that we can recognise and appreciate. Because GOD enjoyed it TOO.

And the very fact that we APPRECIATE beauty. In music or art or nature or dance. Or that we feel LOVE. Or that we have an inbuilt sense of justice – of what’s right and wrong – even when it doesn’t benefit us personally. All these things point to the fact that God MADE us.

The heavens, and everything ELSE he’s made, declare the glory of God.

But it’s not ENOUGH. People see creation, and come to all sorts of different conclusions about what God’s like. It’s communication that’s not SPECIFIC. Or INTELLIGENT. It’s not communicating anything PERSONAL. Creation doesn’t tell us how we can KNOW our Creator.

God speaks to us in his written word

And that’s what we learn about in the SECOND half of Psalm 19. It describes ANOTHER way God speaks to us. In his WRITTEN WORD. (From v7)

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

God chose a group of people, out of all humanity, and he spoke to them. To their leaders and prophets. They wrote down his words so they could be preserved and collected and passed on. And those words are PERFECT, because they come from God, who’s perfect in every aspect. And they give LIFE because God himself is the SOURCE of life. And they’re TRUSTWORTHY, because the One who spoke them is infinitely trustworthy. They tell us how to live. How to please the God who made us. Like an instruction manual. Or a map. Or a torch. But also like a mirror that shows our faults. Our sin. Our rebellion and disobedience. Where we fall short of God’s standard.

And you can see from v11 the right response.

By them is your servant WARNED; in keeping them there is great reward. 12 Who can discern his errors? FORGIVE my hidden faults. 13 Keep your servant also from WILLFUL SINS; may they not rule over me. Then will I be BLAMELESS, INNOCENT of great transgression.

When God WARNS you, the right response is TO LISTEN. To REPENT, and ASK FORGIVENESS. And God will declare you INNOCENT.

Two types of speaking. One goes to EVERYONE. (That’s verses 1 to 6). But it’s not enough to give life. (To know God.) We sometimes call it GENERAL revelation. The OTHER type of speaking goes to those with ears to hear, v7 to 13). It’s called SPECIAL revelation. And it’s PRECIOUS and LIFE GIVING.

And the Psalm finishes with a request. V14. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

That’s the desire of someone who’s HEARD God speak. And who wants his life to conform to those words. To PLEASE God. A life of speaking and thinking in ways that PLEASE him. Protected and saved by him.

It’s PERSONAL, in a way we don’t see in the first half of the Psalm. It finishes “MY rock, MY redeemer.” We see the contrast even in the NAME of God that’s used. In the FIRST half of the Psalm, he’s just GOD. EL – the general word for ANY god. But from v7 on, again and again, it’s “the LORD”, in capitals, which translates Jehovah, or Yahweh, which is God’s personal name. The name he reveals to his family. It’s like the President of the United States. Everyone else has to call him Mr President. But his family get to call him Dad, or by his first name.

 

God speaks through his Son

But as good as it was for God to speak through his law, IT WAS ONLY THE BEGINNING. The shadow of the real thing. Because God spoke in one MORE way. Even CLEARER and MORE PERSONAL. FINALLY. Listen to Hebrews ch 1

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

Can you see the contrast? Previously God spoke to our forefathers in different ways. Just open your Old Testament and you’ll see some. God spoke through the prophets IN DREAMS. One time, God spoke by making A HAND APPEAR AND WRITE ON A WALL. Another time he made a DONKEY speak his message. Other times he’d grab a prophet and say “Tell the people this”. With Moses on the Mountain, God gave him Israel’s law WRITTEN ON SLABS OF STONE. Apparently hand-delivered by an angel. All of those examples must have been AMAZING. But here’s the point. They’re NOTHING – BORING – compared to what God’s done in these last days. He’s spoken to us in his SON.

He’s the one who INHERITS all things. This is the son THROUGH WHOM GOD MADE THE UNIVERSE. (The instrument that carved out creation. The son is the WORD that commanded everything into being.)

But not only CREATED everything, v3 he SUSTAINS everything by his powerful word. Everything continues to function because the Son SPEAKS to it. “Sun, keep burning! Gravity, keep working! David’s heart, keep beating! Lungs, keep breathing! And one day, he’ll STOP commanding everything to continue. And it WON’T. Everything will END.

THIS is the one God has spoken through. He sent him to earth. 100% human, like us. He emptied himself, limited himself. Experiencing everything WE do. But still the exact representation of God. When you looked at Jesus, you were looking at GOD HIMSELF.

People say I’m a lot like my Dad. Who’s ALSO a Presbyterian minister. There’s TWO Rev Balzers around the place. People say I sound like Dad, or even LOOK like him. Which is a little annoying, since Dad’s nearly 80!

Well, Jesus is like that. Just like his Father. You want to know what God’s like? Then just look at Jesus. And there are two pictures for what it’s like. Firstly, v3. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory

Which means that if God’s the sun, then Jesus is like the light shining out from the sun.

Turn your face towards the sun. You can’t look at it. But if you cover it with your hand, you can look at the radiance that surrounds it. The brilliance of the sun is dialed back a bit so we can see it. That’s Jesus – the invisible God made visible.

And the second picture is in v3 too, he’s the EXACT REPRESENTATION of God’s being. The Greek word is KARAKTER, which is the shape of a coin that’s stamped out of the die. It’s the exact likeness. In the case of Jesus and God, not in appearance, but in his NATURE and QUALITIES.

To top it off, verse 3 says, “After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” This incredibly great one, the greatest human of all time; but also God himself, he willingly died on a cross as a sacrifice. To bring forgiveness of sins. And bring us to God. And then went into heaven to rule beside his father. He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in Heaven. Where he rules over everything.

He’s not only the SOURCE of Creation. And it’s HEIR. And its SUSTAINER. He’s its CLIMAX and GOAL. Its KING, and SAVIOUR. THAT’S who’s speaking to you! How special do ANGELS, or DREAMS, or HEAVENLY HANDS WRITING on WALLS seem NOW!?

So what do you DO if someone like THAT is speaking to you? It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? You make sure you’re LISTENING. Which is just what it says in Hebrews. Jump down to Ch 2 v1. After a few more verses comparing Jesus to angels. We come to the APPLICATION.

We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away

Jesus the Son is telling you what GOD is like. He’s providing purification for sin so you can approach God. He’s speaking SALVATION and LIFE to you. He’s your Creator, and King, and Sustainer, commanding you how to live. So LISTEN TO HIM. Are you listening?

Why? Because if you don’t, you’ll DRIFT AWAY. Slowly, steadily. Take your eyes off Jesus, listen to other voices instead. And, little by little, he’ll become less important. His opinion will matter less and less. His voice will be quieter. He’ll seem less relevant. It probably won’t be a conscious decision. But, one day you’ll look around for him, and he won’t be there. Because you’ve DRIFTED AWAY.

So LISTEN to him. Yes, he’s seated at God’s right hand. But he’s given us his WORD to read. And his SPIRIT to be with us. Let’s PAY MORE CAREFUL ATTENTION to his word. MEDITATE on it. Slow down, and read it a sentence at a time. Download an audio Bible and listen to it while you exercise or garden. Read a different translation that makes you notice things in a fresh way. Give Jesus the BEST part of your day. Not the dregs. Top priority. When you’re FRESH. Read with this prayer always before you, “What are YOU saying to me? What command to obey? What sin to avoid? What can I praise you for?”

And don’t forget it’s a GROUP TASK. “WE must pay more careful attention, so WE don’t drift away.” Help OTHERS to listen to Jesus. Point them to him. Those who know him. AND those who don’t YET know him. (To those who are ignoring him at the moment.) V2 continues

For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?

Ignoring the Old Testament message, delivered by angels, was punished. HOW MUCH MORE will ignoring the message of God’s SON be punished!? YOUR friends who are ignoring Jesus won’t escape. So point them to him.

I want to finish with a practical challenge for you. Many of the church activities we’d planned won’t be able to happen this year. But it’s an opportunity for each of you to step up. To take some individual responsibility to help people to pay careful attention to Jesus speaking to them. For the rest of this year, set yourself the target.

ONE: One good friend to pray for. One significant conversation each week. One person to disciple. Which non-Christian friend do you want to meet Jesus? Write down their name somewhere obvious. Pray for them regularly. Look for opportunities to introduce them to your Christian friends. Invite them to dinner. Talk about Jesus with them.

Aim to have one significant conversation with someone each week. A Christian brother or sister. It might be after church. It might be making a phone call during the week. Ask what you can pray for them. It doesn’t have to be about Christian things. Great, if it IS. But it’s a conversation that gets below the surface.

(One good friend to pray for. One significant conversation each week. And finally, one person to disciple.) Begin to pray that God would show you someone you could meet regularly to read the Bible and pray with. Someone to encourage, someone you can be transparent and honest with. I’d love it if EVERYONE in our church was involved in one relationship like THAT.

It might be someone YOUNGER, the same age, or even older. It might be weekly, fortnightly or monthly. You might choose to meet for a term, and then re-evaluate. But the goal is to help each other to pay more careful attention to the One who has spoken words of life to us.

God has spoken to us in his Son. Are you listening?

 

 

Psalm 104: Science

One of the things that surprises kids in my Scripture classes is that I used to be a SCIENCE TEACHER, and now I’m A MINISTER.

They’re surprised because most people today assume that science and believing in God don’t go together. (They’re incompatible). That ONE is about EVIDENCE and REASON. And the OTHER one is about believing WITHOUT evidence. ONE is about the PHYSICAL, MATERIAL world. And the OTHER is about the SPIRITUAL world.

It’s a pretty common opinion in the world today. But it’s really only been around for the last three hundred years or so. Since the Age of Enlightenment. Scientists and philosophers, from the late 1600’s, valued human reasoning, and focussed on measurement and the scientific method.

The Enlightenment produced the Industrial Revolution and constitutional government and lots of other great things. But philosophers like David Hume focussed SO MUCH on the value of human reasoning, they proudly decided that if the human mind couldn’t understand, or explain, or measure or observe something, then it WASN’T REAL. And so, they decided that since you couldn’t prove a miracle, or reproduce it, then miracles weren’t POSSIBLE. Miracles, by definition, broke the laws of nature, and since the laws of nature were always kept, then miracles couldn’t happen.

And since you couldn’t prove the existence of GOD, then HE mustn’t exist EITHER. There was no spiritual realm. There was only the physical, measurable, observable world.

And that’s probably been the dominant belief in University science and philosophy departments ever since. And it’s dribbled down into popular culture so most people today believe religious faith has no part to play in public life. In schools, or Universities, or political decisions or scientific enquiry or business.

The compatibility of the Bible and science

But it wasn’t the ONLY belief to come out of the Enlightenment. There were plenty of Christians at that time whose faith in the God of the Bible encouraged them to investigate HIS CREATION.

They believed God was intelligent and consistent in creating the world. So that meant the world was designed and consistent, and that order could be IDENTIFIED. He made it GOOD, so it was WORTH investigating. And he gave us the task of ruling and subduing the earth, so STUDYING it helped us do that better.

Rather than thinking that the spiritual and the physical were SEPARATE, they thought the physical world provided EVIDENCE of the spiritual. God had left his fingerprints all over his creation.

Scientists such as Robert Doyle, the founder of modern chemistry in the 1600’s, who wrote “God [is] the author of the universe, and the free establisher of the laws of motion.” Or Sir Isaac Newton, probably the most well-known scientist.  “In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.”

Or Louis Pasteur, the founder of microbiology and immunology in 1800’s “The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the Creator. Science brings men nearer to God.” –.

Or Lord William Kelvin, who worked on thermodynamics, the concept of absolute zero and the Kelvin temperature scale. He said, “If you study science deep enough and long enough, it will force you to believe in God.”

In fact, Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution explaining the origin of species has been used as a weapon AGAINST belief in God, wrote “The question of whether there exists a Creator and Ruler of the Universe has been answered in the AFFIRMATIVE by some of the highest intellects that have ever existed.”

To that list of scientists who recognise the Creator in his creation, we can add the writer of Psalm 104. Let’s spend a few minutes looking at it together. The more he looks at nature, the more he sees GOD. Studying the PHYSICAL world teaches him more about the SPIRITUAL. He begins with a faith statement, or if you’re a scientist – a THEORY based on EVIDENCE.

Praise the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, YOU ARE VERY GREAT; you are clothed with splendor and majesty.

A great and majestic God he can talk to. What’s his EVIDENCE for that? He begins by looking to the SKY. 2 He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent 3 and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind.

I think we’ve all looked up at the sky, and imagined what was beyond what we can see. And then beyond THAT. And SO on. We’ve got a much greater understanding of the size of the Universe than the Psalmist did! And God is BIGGER than all of that. And MADE it all.  THAT’S evidence that God’s great and majestic!

Then, v5, the writer turns his attention to the EARTH. 5 He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved. The sky, stretching on and on, says something of God’s SIZE. The solidness of the earth says something of God’s STABILITY AND STRENGTH.

And when you add the way the OCEANS cover the earth, v6, and how uncontrollable they are, we see something of God’s POWER. 6 You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. 7 But at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight; 8 they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, to the place you assigned for them. YOU set a boundary they cannot cross.

Hydraulic engineers and plumbers and builders will tell you how difficult it is to keep water where you want it. And out of where you DON’T want it. But God sets the place for water to stay. And it stays there.

But that’s not all. The Psalmist turns his attention from CREATION to PROVIDENCE. From God’s MAKING of the world in the beginning/ to his CARING for it, day by day. More evidence for his theory that God is great and majestic.

From v10, he thinks about the way water moves around the planet via the water cycle. From salt to fresh. From liquid to vapour to ice. From depths to mountain tops. From earth to clouds. And all the way, providing life for plants and animals and fish. And God’s commanding and controlling it all. V10.

10 He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains. 11 They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. 12 The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches. 13 He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work.

We can build dams, and set irrigation quotas, and restrict water usage. We can design water saving devices – flow inhibitors on taps and half-flush toilets. We can change our plans for harvesting, and breed genetically-modified drought-resistant crops.  But we can’t make it rain.

There are LIMITS to what science can do. There are questions science can’t answer. And problems science can’t fix. And studying God’s world -using the TOOLS of science – teaches us THAT LESSON.

When there’s drought, and farmers and weather-forecasters and government policy-makers run out of ideas. And despair and hopelessness grow. EVEN THE UNBELIEVER TURNS TO PRAYER. Because, no matter how much he doesn’t want to believe it, he knows deep down the truth of v13. That GOD waters the mountains from his upper chambers, the earth is satisfied by the fruit of HIS work. And, just perhaps, one of the reasons we’re in drought is that God wants Australia to HUMBLY ACKNOWLEDGE him. And turn from pride and independence.

Since the age of enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, we’ve slowly forgotten that we’re CREATURES, not CREATORS. That we’re DEPENDENT, not SOVEREIGN. Science and technology have, one after another, solved our big problems: mechanisation, immunisation, antibiotics, electricity, computers, organ transplants and joint replacements. We’ve travelled to the moon, and captured images from the millions of light years away. And we’ve mapped the human DNA genome.

But we can’t cure a cold, or control the weather, or the tides, or bushfires. We can’t cure Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s or cystic fibrosis. We can’t stop wars, or gun massacres, or racism. We watch on helplessly as earthquakes, floods and tsunamis rage. GOD is Creator. And we’re simply his CREATURES. And humbly studying his world helps us REMEMBER that.

But as well as HUMILITY, we should ALSO be GRATEFUL and JOYFUL. Because God PROVIDES for his creatures. V14 He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate– bringing forth food from the earth: 15 wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.

We can plant the seed, or the grape vines. But we’re dependent on GOD to make the crops GROW. We can squeeze the grapes, or grind the grain. But it takes YEAST that God created to turn the juice into WINE. Or the flour into BREAD.

The Psalmist continues. Not just HUMANITY. V16, God provides for the REST of his creatures. For trees and birds and goats. Even the LIONS, down in v21, so powerful and independent. Even THEY seek their food from God.

Verse 24, there’s the summary statement. The natural scientist proposing the conclusion to his investigation. 24 How many are your works, O LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

V25, including the SEA. VAT. Teeming with life. V27. 27 These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. 28 When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. 29 When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. 30 When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.

God is the one who PROVIDES and WITHHOLDS. Who GIVES LIFE and TAKES IT AWAY. It’s a very different way of looking at the world to a David Attenborough nature documentary. That’s all about chance, and survival of the fittest. And death.

There’s one last conclusion about God, v31 and 32. About his connection to his creation. Giving us a hint about why God made us in the first place. “May the LORD REJOICE in his works.” The joyful relationship between the CREATOR and his CREATION.

And then the Psalmist turns to HIMSELF. The practical application of his investigation. V33

33 I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. 34 May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD. 35 But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more. Praise the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD. 

Just as the Creator rejoices in his creation. So the right response is for creation to humbly rejoice in the Creator. That what God requires from his creatures.

Investigating creation drives him CLOSER to God. The truth is/ the material and Spiritual worlds ARE connected.

But the Psalmist wasn’t alive at the right time to see the GREATEST connection between God and the physical world. When the Creator BECAME a creature. When the Word became FLESH, and made his dwelling among us. When Jesus, the eternal second person of the Trinity, didn’t hold onto equality with God, but made himself nothing. And took on human flesh.

People MAY find God in creation. But they’ll see him much more clearly in JESUS. God in the flesh.

And when your scientific or rationalistic friends question how you can believe in God and be a modern, thinking person. By all means point them to CREATION. To the evidence for intelligent design in the Universe. But, even BETTER, point them to JESUS. Give them a Bible. Offer to READ it with them. Take them to a course like Christianity Explored.

Because the historic documents about Jesus are evidence that can be studied. People saw and heard and touched Jesus, and they were convinced that he was God in the flesh. And that he died and came back to life.

One of those eyewitnesses wrote this, in 1 John 1.

1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched-this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete.

And Jesus himself ENCOURAGED that same investigation. When people worried about life (Luke 12), he didn’t say, just TRUST me. He said, Consider the ravens. Look at the lilies. If God looks after THEM, he’ll look after YOU.

INVESTIGATE God’s CREATION! IT will POINT you to your CARING CREATOR.

When a lame man was lowered through the roof for Jesus to heal (Mark 2), and Jesus said his sins were forgiven. He didn’t just say, Trust me, I’ve got the authority to forgive sins. He said, Which is easier to say – your sins are forgiven, or get up and walk? And then he HEALED him. AS EVIDENCE that he could forgive sins.

And when Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection (John 20), Thomas wasn’t there, and he didn’t believe them. He said “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” But Jesus didn’t rebuke his scepticism. He didn’t cast him aside because of his unbelief. When he appeared to him too, he invited him, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” And Thomas DID, and the evidence supported his belief, and he WORSHIPPED Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”

We have nothing to fear from investigating, and reason, and examining the evidence, and searching for the truth. You can be confident that science will never discover something that disproves the Bible.

Good science and Christianity are in agreement. They both encourage A SEARCH FOR TRUTH. Science can do lots of great things. And we should REJOICE in them. Christians should study science, and discover better ways for us to cultivate and care for and rule the earth. But science can’t stop a war, or forgive your sins, or cure a broken marriage, or resurrect the dead, or locate the human soul, or analyse LOVE. It can’t explain why we weep while listening to an opera or symphony, or gaze at a sunset or painting, or laugh at a joke. And it can’t measure the immeasurable. Or see the unseeable. Or understand what’s beyond human understanding. Or know tomorrow. So don’t place your ultimate trust in Science. Place it in the One who CREATED us. And who, from beyond eternity, sent his Son into time and space to SAVE us.

God influences his physical world every day. All the time. And he calls US to DO THE SAME. To be incarnational TOO. To infect our world with Jesus. To imitate him. To be his hands and feet. To live out, by the power of his Spirit, truth and love and forgiveness and acceptance and joy and purpose and peace. So that people might see the eternal, spiritual, Trinitarian God in US. That’s why God MADE you!

I want to finish with ONE LAST QUOTE. It’s from Richard Smalley, winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of a new form of carbon (buckminsterfullerene or “buckyballs”).

“Recently I have gone back to church regularly with a new focus to understand as best I can what it is that makes Christianity so vital and powerful in the lives of billions of people today, even though almost 2000 years have passed since the death and resurrection of Christ. Although I suspect I will never fully understand, I now think the answer is very simple: it’s true. God did create the universe … and of necessity has involved Himself with His creation ever since.

The purpose of this universe is something that only God knows for sure, but it is increasingly clear to modern science that the universe was exquisitely fine-tuned to enable human life. We are somehow critically involved in His purpose. Our job is to sense that purpose as best we can, love one another, and help Him get that job done.”

1 Chronicles 29:1-20: Work and wealth

“How’s work?” we ask each other. And the answer is often something like, “So busy! And it’s only Tuesday! I can’t wait until the weekend! The boss is a slave-driver! I’m hanging out for a holiday!” We almost say these things without thinking.

We often COMPLAIN about work. And yet, God MADE us to work. And work has lots of benefits. Including EARNING MONEY. And MONEY can be used to DO GOOD. It pays for food, clothing and housing for us and our families. But it can also help the people AROUND us.

That’s our topic today. Work and wealth. And how can we generously USE our wealth.

  1. God works (Gen 2:2), and made us, in his image, to work.

First thing to say is that God built WORK into the fabric of creation. To begin with, GOD works. At the start of Genesis 2, we read

2 By the seventh day God had FINISHED THE WORK he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his WORK. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

God’s ACT OF CREATING is work. And when he creates PEOPLE in his image. He gives THEM work to do, TOO. Genesis 1:27, God creates people, male and female. And

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and SUBDUE it. RULE over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature”

And then God declares everything VERY GOOD. God’s good design is people WORKING to fill, rule and subdue the earth.

And in chapter 2 God puts Adam in the Garden of Eden, v15, to WORK it and TAKE CARE of it. The word for WORK has the idea of CULTIVATING. Of working so that MORE WILL BE PRODUCED. Being CREATIVE, like God HIMSELF.

And the word for TAKE CARE has the idea of STEWARDSHIP, or KEEPING WATCH OVER. To MAKE THE MOST of what we’ve been given. We’ve got a responsibility to KEEP the world, so it CONTINUES to thrive and produce.

But as well as a RESPONSIBILITY, God also gives PARADISE. The Garden of Eden. Full of wonderful things to enjoy. Beautiful things to look at. Delicious things to EAT. Everything in balance. With enough for everyone. Fullness and abundance from a GENEROUS God.

  1. Good stewards of God’s generosity

And even though everything changes after the Fall. And work becomes DIFFICULT. God’s world is still GOOD, and his command to be GOOD STEWARDS in our work CONTINUES. And the people we see in the Bible who do that BEST are those who understand God’s GENEROSITY.

For example, King David and the construction of the Temple. David wanted to build the temple. But God told him that it would be his son, Solomon, who’d build it instead. So David decides to spend the last few years of his life getting everything ready.

1 Chronicles 22, he stores up stone and logs and iron for the nails, and so much bronze it couldn’t be weighed. He organises the work men. Then in chapter 28, he summons all the leaders of Israel together, and makes sure they’re on side. And he gives Solomon the pep talk, and hands over the plans, right down to the designs for the lampstands and bowls.

And that’s a great example for US. He didn’t just donate his wealth. He gave his time and energy and wisdom to do all the ORGANISING, as well. And, often, that’s the GREATER cost. For most of us, it’s easy to give money. But sometimes what’s needed is our ATTENTION, our TIME, our SKILLS, our ENERGY. Perhaps a charity or ministry needs your professional advice, or to be on THEIR BOARD, or to BE A VOLUNTEER. Sometimes that’s the best way to MULTIPLY your influence. How willing are you to give up THOSE things for God’s kingdom?

Back to King David, though. In ch 29, he continues his speech, talking about MONEY. V2.

2 With all my resources I have provided for the temple of my God-gold for the gold work, silver for the silver, bronze for the bronze, iron for the iron etc… 3 Besides, in my devotion to the temple of my God I now give my PERSONAL treasures of gold and silver for the temple of my God, over and above everything I have provided for this holy temple:

Giving not only the wealth of ISRAEL. But his PERSONAL wealth TOO. Which sounds a lot like BOASTING. Except for what he says NEXT. V5. Now, who is willing to consecrate himself today to the LORD?”

In other words, what are YOU LOT willing to contribute? He describes all HE gave as an encouragement for OTHERS to give. And look at what happened.

6 Then the leaders of families, the officers of the tribes of Israel, the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds, and the officials in charge of the king’s work gave willingly. 7 They gave toward the work on the temple of God five thousand talents and ten thousand darics of gold, ten thousand talents of silver, eighteen thousand talents of bronze etc….

The leaders of Israel follow the example of their king, and give GENEROUSLY. And, v9, that made EVERYONE rejoice. Including DAVID. (From v10)

10 David praised the LORD in the presence of the whole assembly, saying, “Praise be to YOU, O LORD, God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. 11 Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,

But look at what David praises God FOR.

for EVERYTHING IN HEAVEN AND EARTH IS YOURS. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. 12 WEALTH AND HONOR COME FROM YOU; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. 13 Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name. 14 “But WHO AM I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? EVERYTHING COMES FROM YOU, AND WE HAVE GIVEN YOU ONLY WHAT COMES FROM YOUR HAND.

David’s not PROUD. He doesn’t expect to be praised for his donations. It’s GOD who deserves the praise. Everything comes from his generous hand ANYWAY.

So, in a way, it’s not even DONATING when you give wealth away. It’s hardly even yours to BEGIN with. It’s more like PASSING IT FORWARD. Passing on what God’s generously given YOU.

And Jesus understood that view of God and his world. Flip over to Luke 12. In v22, he teaches, “DON’T WORRY about your life – what you’ll eat or what you’ll wear. Why? V24. Because if God feeds the ravens, then he’ll feed YOU, who are more valuable than ravens. And, v27, if he clothes the grass of the field, then he’ll clothe YOU, who are more valuable that grass. O YOU OF LITTLE FAITH.

In other words, God is generously providing for all his creatures. And to worry, or to fear, is to DOUBT GOD. It doubts his goodness, and his generosity.

It’s like you’ve been invited to an extravagant party at someone’s mansion. There’s food and drink for everyone. It’s piled up on tables. The drink fridges are FULL. The waiters keep coming around with trays of food. And they swap your drink for a full one before you’ve even finished.

But SOME people aren’t convinced. And so, they grab trays of food for themselves. And crates of drinks. And they head off to a corner of the house. And jealously guard what they’ve got. And worry about whether they have enough. That’s what we all do in this world.

But Jesus says, take a look around at the party. Look at what the host has provided. It doesn’t make SENSE to stockpile and accumulate. It’s an insult to the HOST.

Jesus says to CONSIDER the ravens. And CONSIDER how the lilies grow. MEDITATE on God’s world. And see God’s generous fingerprints all over it.

And as you DO that, v31, Jesus says, “Seek God’s kingdom– make GOD your top priority- and he’ll GIVE YOU ALL THESE THINGS. Because he’s GENEROUS. And he’s made his world ABUNDANT and FULL. That’s the way to TRUST him. And not to worry or fear.

And when you seek God’s kingdom. And DON’T seek EARTHLY things, you’ll give them away.V33. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

When you understand God’s generosity, it overflows in generosity to OTHERS. When you make GOD your treasure, then your HEART will be set on him. Your life, your priorities, your purpose, your identity. They’re all about God and his kingdom, rather than clothes or food or money. Or influence or pleasure or reputation or control.

Of course, the GREATEST gift God’s given us is JESUS HIMSELF. John 3:16 – God so loved the world that he GAVE his only Son. Romans 8:32

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?

And it’s THE GIFT OF JESUS that motivates US to be generous. He’s the GREATEST gift of all, so CHRISTIANS have the greatest MOTIVATION to be generous.

That’s the logic Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 8-9. He’s encouraging the Corinthian church to give to help the Jewish Christians suffering famine in Jerusalem. He could COMMAND them to give, but instead he reminds them of God’s grace to THEM. 2 Corinthians 8 v8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.

(He’s just told them how the Macedonians have been generous, even though they’re POOR). 9 For you know the GRACE of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

That’s why we’re to be generous, because God was generous to US. He goes on to give practical instructions about HOW to give. But he finishes Ch 9 with these words, reminding them, once again, of God’s generosity to them.

13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of THE SURPASSING GRACE GOD HAS GIVEN YOU. 15 Thanks be to GOD for HIS indescribable gift!

And we find lots of Biblical examples of people who’ve DONE this. People who trusted their generous God, and then generously gave to see his kingdom GROW. Whose OBEDIENCE in GIVING accompanied their confession. Like in Luke 8:1-3. The Twelve are following Jesus around as he proclaims the good news of the Kingdom of God.

2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

In the book of Acts, we read about the first Christians, (2:44) 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.

Or at the end of ch 4, we read (v34) 34 There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. 36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

In fact, Luke HIMSELF, who wrote Luke and Acts, was almost certainly financially supported by a patron, Theophilus. Both books begin with a dedication to him, Luke 1:3:

since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

Luke’s in Rome, waiting for Paul’s trial. Theophilus is probably a Roman Christian who pays Luke to write the history of how the gospel of Jesus got to Rome. And what an amazing investment in the kingdom Theophilus made! How many MILLIONS of people have come into the kingdom through Luke’s writing?!

Or there’s PAUL himself. In Romans 16, he introduces Phoebe, who’s probably the courier for the letter. 16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. 2 I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been A GREAT HELP to many people, including ME.

That word for help is the word for PATRON. She’s been a great PATRON. Not just helping the church in Corinth as a DEACON, but even helping PAUL.

I could talk about plenty more gospel patrons down through history. People who GENEROUSLY supported gospel ministry. People who saw the world the way Jesus did. Generously provided by a good God. And who took Jesus’ command seriously. But I want to finish by looking at ONE IN PARTICULAR. Colonel John Hay Goodlet. Around the end of the 19th century, he was one of Australia’s wealthiest men, and shrewdest businessmen. And he was a member of this church for nearly 30 years. His contributions helped build this building in 1886. And the manse as well. He did the same in 1910 when the hall next door was built – named the Goodlet Sunday School and Institute after he died. Much like King David, he encouraged OTHERS to donate by matching, pound for pound, donations from the congregation. It’s estimated that between 1883 and 1910 he contributed at least 8000 pounds out of a total cost of 14500 pounds for the three buildings. And that’s in addition to his normal Sunday giving.

And ALSO like King David, he didn’t just give his MONEY. He gave his TIME and ENERGY. Robert McGowan, the minister here at the time of his death, said this about him, “The most outstanding feature of his life was the fact he gave himself to Christian work. There are men who subscribe money, but Colonel Goodlet gave his best subscription when he GAVE HIMSELF.”

He became an elder at Ashfield in 1878 and was faithful in attendance and performing his duties until his death in 1914. He was an assembly elder from 1870 until his death – 44 years. And was on lots of its committee, giving valuable business and financial advice.

But it wasn’t just impressive and important affairs. He taught Sunday School and was Sunday School Superintendent from 1876 to 1891. And, although they were childless, in 1876 they unofficially adopted the four children of the Copelands, missionaries in New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) after Elizabeth, their mother died of tuberculosis.

And there are too many other charities to mention that Goodlet, together with his wife Ann, donated to, or were involved in organising. A consumptive home for poor tuberculosis sufferers. Homes for pregnant abandoned single women, Ragged schools that aimed to reform, educate and improve the lot of destitute children. The Deaf, Dumb and Blind Institution, YMCA, Sydney City Mission, Bush Missionary Society, and many more.

The Goodlets were well-known and widely-appreciated by people in Sydney. But that wasn’t what motivated them. Paul Cooper, his biographer, suggests that his generosity flowed from his genuine sympathy and tenderness towards others. And that these were “enhanced, guided and nurtured by his consistent faith. His Christian faith was earnest, humble-minded and consistent for ‘he was as much a Christian in business as in the church and philanthropic work’” (p259)

Here’s what John Goodlet himself said in a speech to a group of Presbyterians. It explains a lot about what motivated his extraordinary life.

“Let them (fellow Christians) never be unmindful that they could only succeed as God blessed their labours. Let one and all have A SINGLE EYE TO HIS GLORY, and then their Lord would honour their Church by using it to ADD LIVING STONES TO HIS TEMPLE. God forbid that they should ever be satisfied with MERE OUTWARD PROSPERITY.” (p260)

He recognised God’s generous hand in the world. And, like Jesus said, he considered the ravens and the grass of the field – how God fed and clothed them. And he PRAISED him for it, like King David. And he was HUMBLED by it.

And, like Jesus said, it led him to seek God’s kingdom, rather than building earthly treasures. And his passion was to see God’s kingdom grow.

And so he gave generously to those who needed it. And, for all his EARTHLY wealth, he built for himself a far more valuable treasure in heaven, where no thief can steal and no moth can destroy. And he’d encourage us to DO THE SAME.

 

 

Matthew 20:20-28: Leadership

I’m no movie expert. But it seems to me that movies have THREE BASIC PLOTS. There are LOVE stories. There are JOURNEY stories, where people travel, or change in some way.

And then there are HERO STORIES. It might be a Western, or a War movie, a Science Fiction, or – the popular one at the moment – a Superhero movie. The hero will ACHIEVE A GREAT VICTORY – win a war, destroy the Death Star, win the Hunger Games, find the treasure, or ride across the mountain range.

But one thing hero movies ALL have in common, as far as I can tell, is some sort of SELF-SACRIFICIAL RESCUE. Often it’s the CLIMAX of the movie. The hero risks his life, or loses something, to save someone. And the greater the SACRIFICE, the better the story.

We LOVE that sort of story, because we love that sort of HERO. We love the ANZACS. We love our surf lifesavers, or our firefighters. Who risk their lives, or GIVE their lives, to save people.

We love the LEADER who puts his FOLLOWERS BEFORE HIMSELF. We love the sports hero who stands out ON the field, but then in the interview afterwards is HUMBLE. And talks about the REST OF THE TEAM, or their OPPONENT, rather than themselves.

And we’re APPALLED at the company CEO or earns $20 million a year plus bonuses, while re-trenching half his workforce. Or the developer who gets elected to his local council for the sole purpose of pushing through his own developments.

But how did we GET to that place? The place where we value the HUMBLE leader more than the PROUD and ARROGANT? The self-sacrificing hero, rather than the all-conquering victor?

How did we get to the place where politicians are expected to SERVE the people they represent, rather than EXPLOIT them? Or where the world super-power, America, is expected to PROTECT weak nations, rather than CONQUER them?

It’s certainly not the NORMAL picture of a leader or a hero we see from HISTORY. The Ancient GREEK view of a hero was someone who ruthlessly conquered and ruled. Like Alexander the Great. You were expected to WORSHIP a leader like that. And humility was seen as a weakness, not a virtue. Something FORCED on you, not that you CHOOSE.

Or for the ROMANS. Caesar Augustus killed three hundred senators and two hundred warriors, conquered the world, and made himself a GOD.

The European Feudal system through the Middle Ages wasn’t much different. It viewed heroes as nobly born, and skilful in battle. They pursued PERSONAL GLORY above anything else. Leaders ruled with an iron fist, and exploited their subjects. SOMETIMES the lords looked after the peasants. But it was very clear who was helping who. And the lords always expected gratitude, respect and obedience in return.

And the Crusades, in the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries. They may have been established by the church, But they were more about GREED AND PRIDE, and PERSONAL agendas, than any genuine Christian conviction.

And we can say the same for THE SPANISH INQUISITION, and the conquistadors. And the British colonialization of India and various countries in Africa during the fifteen and sixteenth century.

In fact, it probably wasn’t until THE REFORMATION, during the 1500’s, when the Bible’s teaching was rediscovered, that A NEW TYPE OF HERO emerged. Or RE-emerged.

Martin Luther read his Bible, re-discovered grace, and went on to risk his life, again and again, to make sure the message of salvation by faith alone was proclaimed to everyone. THAT’S what mattered, and his life was irrelevant. When he was asked to appear before a trial on charges of heresy, he wrote

You ask me what I shall do if I am called by the emperor. I will go even if I am too sick to stand on my feet. If Caesar calls me, God calls me. If violence is used, as well it may be, I commend my cause to God. He lives and reigns who saved the three youths from the fiery furnace of the king of Babylon, and if He will not save me, my head is worth nothing compared with Christ. This is no time to think of safety I must take care that the gospel is not brought into contempt by our fear to confess, and seal our teaching with our blood.

The leader willing to sacrifice himself for the people. And during the Reformation there were many more who lay down their lives for the cause of the gospel of grace.

The Reformation produced the Puritans. Who founded America. And inspired the push for the abolition of slavery. And softened the harsh control of England, and the East India Company in India.

And where did all this self-sacrifice for the people come from? This humility of service by those in power? It came from JESUS. Who didn’t just TEACH about servant leadership. He LIVED it. And DIED it. And he commands US to do the same.

In Matthew 20, he takes the twelve disciples aside, and tells them again about what’s in front of them as they head to Jerusalem. It’s almost a repeat of conversations in Ch 16 and Ch 17.

In v18, Jesus warns he’ll be betrayed, condemned to death, flogged, and crucified. On the third day, he’ll be raised to life.

Then, in a somewhat surprising case of selective hearing, James and John’s mum comes to Jesus with a request. And her two boys are right there too. She’s forgotten all about the SUFFERING and DEATH bit, and only heard the bit about HEADING TO JERUSALEM. Because that’s where the military revolution will begin. V21. “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

She’s saying to Jesus, “I like the idea that you’re going to be a KING. When the victory happens, since I asked FIRST, can my two boys get best spots in the new regime?” And we thought “tiger mums” were only a RECENT thing!

Jesus turns to the sons. Because it’s really about THEM. “You don’t understand what you’re asking,” Jesus says. They still haven’t understood. He’s spent so long talking about a kingdom of SERVICE and SACRIFICE and SUFFERING. And REJECTION IN THIS WORLD. But they’re asking for HONOUR AND RECOGNITION AND POWER. To even ASK it means they haven’t UNDERSTOOD HIM AT ALL. Can you drink the cup I’m going to drink? He says. Can you endure the suffering that’s planned for me.

Like MOST males, apparently, interviewing for a job, the brothers are OVER confident in their abilities. “We CAN,” they answered.

Jesus said, “That’s true. You WILL suffer like me. But it’s not up to me to hand out the leadership roles. The FATHER’S prepared those places.

It’s only a minor comment from Jesus. But it says something significant about HIS HUMILITY. And his attitude to power. He’s CONTENT with his place. He willingly submits to the Father. And defers authority to him.

He’s rebuking their ambition and pride. But at the same time he models the RIGHT attitude to worldly ambition. Humble servant leaders are CONTENT. They look DOWN, not UP. They look down, to SERVE those they lead, rather than looking up to DRAG DOWN those ABOVE them.

But back to James and John. The brothers were asking for power and glory. But the irony was that when Jesus came in his kingdom, the people on his right and left didn’t have any power, or receive any glory.

By the end of these verses, we see what that LOOKS LIKE. When the Son of Man gives his life as a ransom for many. When he’s raised on the cross. THAT’S when he brings in his KINGDOM. And who are those on his left and right? Two CRIMINALS. Who die WITH him. THAT’S what it means to be first. To be GREAT. I bet James and John didn’t have THAT in mind when they asked!

At this point the OTHER disciples notice. And their reaction is FASCINATING. It would be FUNNY if it wasn’t so SAD. V24, They’re INDIGNANT with the two brothers. But this is no RIGHTEOUS indignation. They’re not rebuking James and John because they’ve misunderstood the kingdom. They’re JEALOUS! They wished they’d thought of it first!

So close to the end, and still Jesus’ closest followers have no idea. He must have been tempted to give up. But he calls them together. AGAIN. V25. And gives them A LEADERSHIP LESSON.

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.

The way of the world is that rulers RULE. Their decisions are based on what will further THEIR cause. What will bring THEM glory and wealth and recognition.

It wasn’t meant as an insult. It was just a DESCRIPTION. A known FACT. The reality of leadership in the Greco-Roman world. If Gentile rulers had been listening, they would have nodded their heads in agreement. “Yep! That’s what a leader SHOULD do!”

In many parts of the non-Western world, it’s STILL the way leaders rule. If someone has ANY sort of authority or hold over people, they EXPLOIT it for their own advantage. A check point guard, a building inspector, a visa processing official, an election official, a librarian, a parking officer, a policeman, someone who receives tenders for jobs. All the way up to Presidents and army generals. David Lim says there are still places today, not too far from Australia, where you need to bribe a doctor just to go on the waiting list at a hospital.

It’s just accepted that corruption and bribery is the way to do business. It’s the way you grease the wheels of industry. Rulers LORD IT OVER the people they RULE.

But Jesus REDEFINES leadership. In CONTRAST to the way the WORLD leads. Look at what he says next. V26. Once again, he turns things upside down. He’s just taught how the kingdom belongs to little children rather than the powerful. And, conversely, that the RICH find it almost impossible to enter the kingdom. V26 he adds.

26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave-

Jesus is REDEFINING the great leader. It’s not the person who conquers and accumulates and builds his own empire. And demands praise and gratitude. The great leader SERVES.

India’s first prime minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, understood it. He declared, in a speech, “Fellow citizens, I have come to you as your first servant, because that is what prime minister literally means.” That’s the sort of attitude we appreciate in our leaders.

Like Tim Fischer. He may not have been the most talented politician we’ve ever seen. But people appreciated his humility and his attitude of SERVICE.

It’s perhaps a bit surprising, but Jesus doesn’t actually discourage us from wanting to be GREAT. To be AMBITIOUS. He just encourages the RIGHT sort of AMBITION. GODLY ambition, rather than WORLDLY ambition. It’s a good thing to want to become GREAT. To want to be FIRST.  After all, 1 Timothy 3:1 says Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he DESIRES A NOBLE TASK.

In other words, IT’S A GOOD THING to want to be in Christian leadership. GODLY, not WORLDY ambition. The difference is all about YOUR MOTIVATION. The motivation ISN’T because it looks good on the resume. Or it’s good for your ego. Or because the PAY is good. Or because people notice and appreciate you. Your motivation to lead people should be because you’re better able to SERVE them.

People with WORLDLY ambition are first to get in the queue. They undermine others, and drag them back. Their agenda is about furthering their cause. Whereas GODLY ambition looks like this. It’s first to volunteer to BE A SERVANT. It’s going to the BACK of the queue. It’s being first to volunteer for the job nobody else wants. And it’s being content when nobody else notices.

Godly ambition is joyfully spending hours preparing your Sunday School lesson. Or weeks practicing the piano. Or years doing a theological degree. Or a decade raising kids, or leading Youth Group or Home Group. Because you’re SERVING the people you lead. THEY come first, you come SECOND. The servant leader is first to arrive and last to leave. The servant leader never asks anyone to do anything she’s not willing to do herself.

THAT’S what godly ambition look like. A SERVANT LEADER. And here’s what ELSE godly ambition looks like. V28. The ULTIMATE servant leader. The ultimate self-sacrificing hero.

28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to GIVE HIS LIFE AS A RANSOM FOR MANY.”

He didn’t come to lord it over people. To impose his rule. He came to SERVE. He put aside his eternal glory. His privilege. His position. And made himself NOTHING. FINITE. LIMITED.

And offered his life in self-sacrificing rescue. For a world who rejected and despised him.

The cross is the greatest symbol of humility and leadership. Of self-sacrificial heroics. Our leader hung there. Our leader calls US to follow him, and to take up OUR CROSSES. Daily.

THAT’S the type of leader Jesus calls you to be. That’s the type of HUSBAND he calls you to be. And FATHER. That’s the type of boss, the sports captain, the Sunday School teacher, the mother, the roster organiser.

Whatever area of leading you’re involved in. Put OTHERS first. And sacrificially SERVE them.

Attitude as well as actions

And it’s not just about ACTIONS. ATTITUDE matters TOO. It’s no good obeying Jesus and serving others. But doing it RESENTFULLY, or SPITEFULLY. Or out of PRIDE or JUDGMENTALISM.

Our attitude is to be one of HUMILITY. Before the time of Jesus, humility was seen as a character FAILING. A WEAKNESS. It wasn’t something you chose yourself. It was something done TO you. You were HUMBLED. But Jesus came along and CHOSE self-sacrifice. He CHOSE humility and servanthood. And he did it for the sake of OTHERS.

Paul described the attitude of humility, and what it looks like. Philippians 2.

2:1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

In HUMILITY, consider others more than you consider yourself. Humility shows itself in putting OTHERS first. And thinking of THEM first. And listening to THEIR opinions. CS Lewis defines humility like this. It’s not thinking less of yourself. It’s thinking of yourself less.

Humility shows itself in UNITY. Because you’re opinion doesn’t matter that much.

And our example in humility is our servant king. V5. Who makes himself NOTHING, and makes much of US.

5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

7 but made himself nothing,

taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

8 And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to death-

even death on a cross!

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

 

Trust Jesus. Follow his example. In humility, SERVE one another. He’s WORTH it.