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Sunday sermon 4 December 2016 – Prince of Peace

Readings: Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12;

MESSAGE

I wonder if you’ve figured out the difference between Lent and Advent?

Lent is a time of preparation in which we give up something to focus on our relationship with God (or more recently do something new that does the same thing). It involves cleansing I suppose – and purification. And doing things differently.

Lent ends at the cross.

Advent is about getting prepared for the arrival of someone very special and important. It also requires organisation of sorts – tidying up but in a more celebratory way. The outcome of Advent is not a death – but a birth.

Advent ends at a crib.

This explains the great choirs singing in Luke 2:14 – “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.” It’s certainly worth singing about!

We were in Wellington this past week – staying with friends. And the debate between them was interesting, with the one saying that none of this is in the Bible – Lent or Advent – while the other persisted in the view that God has given us these things through the Church. You can imagine a person raised in the Church of the Nazarene married to an Anglo-Catholic. The conversations are interesting to say the least.

On Friday night, they invited friends around for a kind of a party and carol singing event. With me on the piano. We did this years ago, and the carol sheets were still in the piano stool from the last time.

And afterwards I played German carols reading the music off another guest’s Ipad as we tried to translate them into English. Her husband was raised in oppressive Romania – although an ethnic German. There was one Samoan. Two South Africans. A Scot and his kiwi wife. The nations were represented there, that’s for sure.

Whatever you believe about these traditions like Lent or Advent, or whether you want to get rid of Christmas completely like some Christians do today, because they believe it is an infected economic swindle where Jesus gets buried under profits and presents, when you sing those carols – there is something that comes alive in people.

People across the world of every nation and tongue. From all the nations. We were able to sing from the same page about the birth of Jesus.

The same thing happened at a visit to a rest home in Tauranga. A lady was sitting alone in the lounge waiting for tea. I asked her if she played the piano that was there. She replied that she used to – but not much these days. She asked if I played – of course I said a bit. She asked me to play – I asked her for her favourite carol – and off we went.

My back was towards her has I played, and slowly the singing got louder and better as residents wandered in. It sounded pretty good. And most of those folk who probably forget a lot of things at their stage in life, could remember all the verses of the carols we sang.

The story and the songs – they ignite something. We ended up with an impromptu carol service. It brings people alive – and research tells us that all kinds of positive chemicals kick into action in our bodies when we sing together anyway – even if we don’t sing well.

The simple hope of Christmas – the peace that Christ brings – to Jews and Gentiles alike, is something to celebrate. For Americans, Romanian born Germans, kiwis, South Africans, Scots, Samoans, English and any others you may think of – this is a time for revisiting what God has done through Jesus.

So it’s good to really reflect through Advent about what God has done. We have to ask – if you want to get organised –

  • as you prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ first coming,
  • and the certainty of his second coming,  (either because the end will come for us in death, or he will come back first)
  • what is really important?

For John the baptiser as we heard – preparing the way for Jesus – there was an expectation that people should clean up their lives. Sounds a bit like Lent.

Repentance here is not the change of direction that the Hebrew Old Testament word indicates – but a transformed mind. A changed mind.

A refocusing of our thoughts on God. So let’s do that. Reflect on:

  • Who He is.
  • His promises that he will send someone to save the world.
  • His coming in Christ.
  • His work in us.

THE PROMISE OF A SAVIOUR

There are many prophecies that speak of Jesus. The one in Isaiah chapter 9 is probably the most beautiful: Isa 9:6  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

And then this one from Isa 7:14  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Immanuel – meaning God with us. This happens in the incarnation.

A child is born – a son is given. In the words of the Creed: Jesus was –

“… conceived by the Holy Spirit – born of the virgin Mary”

This really messes things up for us – especially if we are people who like to separate the spiritual from the physical and carnal world. Which the Bible does do – but not like we do. We are prone to thinking like Greeks of old who categorised this world as bad, and painted a picture of another spiritual perfect world as a standard or ideal.

God messes up that thinking by becoming a flesh person. In – car-nate. Carnivores? Carnivorous? Ring any bells?

  • Jesus who is our hope (for all nations as we see in Rom 15:12  And again, Isaiah says, “The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.”)
  • Jesus – who is also the prince of peace – He does this not by making war in his first coming – but by surrender on the cross.
  • This Jesus becomes a real human being. He brings both hope to the world and the promise of peace. He gets involved in a peace mission above all others.

Evangelicals are quick to point out that Jesus had to be a human being to pay the price for our sin – only a human could be a substitute for another human (in this case for all humans). We call that substitutionary atonement. The crib is made of wood – so is the cross. This prince of peace does makes peace through his blood on the cross. (Colossians 1:20).

The beauty of this first Advent is the way in which Jesus as a human being affirms our humanityWe see this God becoming human in a stable – in a feeding trough – with the feint or perhaps pungent smell of cattle dung.

The coming of Jesus as a real human being means God affirms the wonder of his creation. He pitches his tent with us (John 1:14). Through this incarnation he also affirms the wonder of creation and what it is to be human.

Have you noticed in the New Testament that Jesus was criticised for being a party enthusiast? Listen to this from Luke 7 to remind you: Luk 7:31  “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? Luk 7:32  They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’ Luk 7:33  For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ Luk 7:34  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”‘ Luk 7:35  But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

It’s okay to celebrate his coming with a real party. He certainly celebrated life fully.

My friends in Wellington were bemoaning the fact that their pastor won’t have a Christmas tree in church. I’m glad we do. It’s good to have some colour and sparkle.

Jesus was born to rescue us – and bring peace. We have a gospel to proclaim about this prince of peace. We have much to celebrate about this promised peace.

We also need to trust in Him that he will keep his promises to us – and that we will really have His peace. That it won’t just be a symbolic candle we light.

While we should party and rejoice, this is a serious matter too. Jesus doesn’t die for nothing. Our sins are not to be celebrated.

There is a warning in the words of John the baptiser who says that while he baptises with water, Jesus will baptise us with the Holy Spirit and with fire. This symbolises purification and judgement.

When you meet this baby grown up to be the prince of peace – he pays the price for peace with his death.

And he gives us his purifying Holy Spirit – who is not only different in the extreme from our evil ways (we are always judged by holiness – see Isaiah 6:5 ) but also indwells us and will change us to be more like Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The last verse of the reading from Romans today sums up my desire for you to know this purifying Jesus more. The outcomes are brilliant:

Rom 15:13  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope”  – how? “…by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Advent blessings.

The pink candle of joy is thrown in by Paul as well.

For today: receive His peace.

Amen.

god-of-ope

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Sunday sermon 29 November 2015 Advent 1 – Refiner’s fire

READINGS:   Malachi 3:1-6  Luke 3:1-6; Matthew 12:9-21

SERMON                                                                                                    

We have a local website and network called neighbourly. It’s a great tool. You can send out notices of events in specific areas around here, and people get a daily email with the key events.

Here’s an example recently – just before the last school holidays:

november29

If you can’t read that it says:

5 Top Posts

  • Mainly Music on Fridays at 10 am – come to BBP @ 45 Anzac Road, Browns Bay New
  • Browns Bay Family Home Cleaner Required New
  • Brown Chickens sighted on Browns Bay Road this morning 17Sep15 New
  • Update on Tsunami Warning New
  • National Warning issued by Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management- Tsunami: Marine and Beach Threat New

Do you see the odd thing about this email?

  • Mainly music – number one! All good really!
  • Then a cleaner needed – number two! Makes sense. They say cleanliness is close to godliness!
  • Then the lost brown chickens – number three! O dear. Sounds tragic really.
  • Then the last two are about the Tsunami coming! Bit late for mainly music, the cleaner and the chickens really – if the tsunami comes, well who cares. Unless you’re a duck, it’s all academic really.

Seriously – the last time there was a serious tsunami warning people went down to the beach front with picnic baskets for an afternoon’s entertainment!

It sounds just like the people in the time of Noah…. Or Lot. Have a look in Luke 17:

Luk 17:24  For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. Luk 17:25  But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. Luk 17:26  “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. Luk 17:27  People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.

Luk 17:28  “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. Luk 17:29  But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. Luk 17:30  “It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. Luk 17:31  On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. Luk 17:32  Remember Lot’s wife!

You know the story of the boy in Sunday school who had to answer the question: what happened to Lot’s wife? He wrote – “she was a pillar of salt by day and a ball of fire at night”.

ARE YOU SERIOUS?

Are WE serious?

When we talk about Advent and being prepared for a major event or happening, it reminds me of our days in Wellington before the Christchurch earthquakes.

We were not that serious about having food and water stored up. I don’t think we had more than one torch and certainly nothing to cook on in the event of a long term power failure.

And that was despite having a number of serious shakes via quakes.

And so we bought our emergency kits after the fact – and then moved to Auckland where you need a boat when you get 12 hours warning of a volcano.

PREPARATION is a big deal.

So John the Baptist arrives. There is a serious pronouncement of an event here. And this is the announcement of the arrival of the one who would do the major announcement to follow. It’s the pre-alert if you like.

Luk 3:1  In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— Luk 3:2  during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.

There had been a silence for a long time. Nothing – heaven had been silent since the time of Malachi which was written so many hundreds of years before this (in about 430BC). God speaks to John – and through John to people about Jesus – and through Jesus the Word of God – to the world. Malachi warns us:

Malachi 3:1-4

Mal 3:1  “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.

THE LORD WILL COME SUDDENLY

The passage quickly turns to the actual event:

“Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. Mal 3:2  But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. Mal 3:3  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, Mal 3:4  and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.”  

Advent is the event before the event. It’s about being ready for the celebration of the coming of Jesus. For us it’s the pre-Christmas bit.

I’ve been reading some of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s advent sermons. The one was preached in 1930 in Cuba. Listen to what he says:  “But Advent is a serious matter too, and indeed a terribly serious matter. We are a strange people. As Advent comes around again, we will probably sing a few Christmas carols at home with our children, rush around to by all our gifts, write a few Christmas cards, and the when all the office parties are over, we shall enter the land of fun and laughter, the land of Christmas.”

He goes on to his sermon text from Deuteronomy 32: 48-52 about Moses dying before he reaches the Promised Land. Moses whose life’s journey and mission was to lead the people to that land. What a terrible unfulfilled hope and wish. God speaks to His man – to Moses, and tells him to go up to the Abarim mountain range, to die on the mountain, within sight of the promised land. Because of disobedience, unholiness and sin. Bonhoeffer says simply: Before the promise, the sinner must die. He puts it like this:

“He comes. Are you ready? There lies the shattering question with which the New Testament begins and ends, the only decisive question for the whole world and for the whole of our life. Are you ready for God?” (Christmas Sermons, 2005:p36).

John comes before Jesus. Repentance comes before good news. Advent before Christmas.

At Advent with all the horrible things happening around the world, our hope has to be realistic and not decorated with tinsel.

We need some cleaning up in our lives.

The Malachi reading is the powerful one. It features in Handel’s Messiah. I was listening to it again. I always marvel at the power of the human voices who sing the solo parts.

Would you like to listen to some of it? Of course they repeat the lines from Malachi again and again. Like a preacher repeating herself a lot – maybe because people are slow to hear or hear only what their itching ears want to hear! (Verse: 2Ti 4:2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 2Ti 4:3  For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.)

Here it is. What amazing singing. Look out for the visuals about cleansing.

(The singers and musicians: Contralto: Hillary Summers; Bass: Alastair Miles; Orchestra: The Brandenburg Consort; Choir: Kings College Choir Cambridge).

The words are straight from Scripture – staring from Haggai 2:

  1. Accompagnato

Bass: Thus saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts: Yet once a little while and I will shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations; and the desire of all nations shall come. (Haggai 2: 6-7)

The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the messenger of the Covenant, whom you delight in; behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3: 1)

  1. Air

Alto or soprano: But who may abide the day of His coming, and who shall stand when He appeareth? For He is like a refiner’s fire. (Malachi 3: 2)

  1. Chorus

And He shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. (Malachi 3: 3)

Lovely that they simply sing scripture!

So what about the Levites?

The priests.

Earlier in Malachi 1 we read: Mal 1:6  “A son honours his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honour due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the LORD Almighty. “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name.

 And then: Mal 1:10  “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands. Mal 1:11  My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD Almighty.

Malachi was obviously concerned about their shoddy work – their second rate offerings. ABout worship.

In chapter 2 he spells out how they had broken His covenant with Levi (2:8).

They offered him second best, and did not keep the covenant. (By grace – later in the NT when the deacons are elected so that the apostles can focus on preaching the word in Acts 6 we read: Act 6:7  So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.)

If there is anything that we are to be judged on – it’s our worship. And judgment begins with the household of God for us too (1 Peter 4:17).

Our offerings. Our passion for worship. Our total love for God. Or lack of it.And how we express it here especially – is this our very best?

Our hearts that become hardened – or indifferent – or locked onto other things.

Again and again Jesus reminds us. Again and again in Deuteronomy it comes up. It’s about all our heart. One quote from the gospels will do: Mar 12:30  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

  • All this preparation at Advent.
  • All these activities.
  • All the preparation for Christmas too.
  • But are we really ready for his coming?

The one of whom it is said as we heard in Luke 3: “All mankind will see God’s salvation.” And in Matthew 11 today: “In his name the nations will put their hope.”

We also have a covenant – through our baptism. We are also committed to put God first.

But there is so much rubbish in our lives.

The refiner’s fire will cleanse us too. Renewal comes through testing and cleansing. And the word for ‘soap’ (borit) sounds quite similar to the word for “covenant” (berit). Ironically.

So in chapter 3 he says that God will come:

(Mal 3:1 …. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. Mal 3:2  But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. Mal 3:3  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, al 3:4  and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years. 

One writer put it like this:

“Like a refiner’s fire and cleansing soap, the arrival of Christ in our midst calls us to reverent obedience and faithful praise. The good news is indeed that we will not be left unchanged but will be reformed and refined to become like Christ. The prophet raises a challenge for each of us. As we proclaim Christ’s coming with Advent expectation, the promise of Christ’s arrival should prompt us to self-reflection and even make us uncomfortable. Are we ready?”   (Anne Stewart. Workingpreacher.org)

There is a danger that we are not ready. That we are chasing brown chickens on Browns Bay road when a tsunami is coming.

Amen.

 

 

 

Sunday sermon 14th June – Paul to the Galatians (2)

Readings: Acts 22:1-22; Galatians 1: 11-24

INTRODUCTION

Persecution in the early church was particularly bad during the time of the Roman Emperor Diocletian towards the end of the 3rd Century AD. Not all Christians were courageous enough to face torture or death. There were those who renounced their faith and made offerings to Roman state gods or the Roman Emperor, and often burned their Christian texts.

Those who refused to submit to the Roman Empire and were found with Christian texts were often killed. This meant that the clergy were very vulnerable because they were most likely to have the Bible in some form or another. Many of those who renounced their faith and burned their books were clergy, although there were also lay people.

Later on when the church was restored (in the early 4th C) and persecution died down – it created an issue. Diocletian’s successor Constantine declared tolerance of Christianity in 313 AD (The Edict of Milan).

So what do you think happened? Those who had denounced their Christian faith carried on as priests. One of them was nominated as a bishop. People were less than thrilled about that, and a split, a schism, took place. The church was divided for a long time – hundreds of years – on this issue, and eventually other issues too.

The movement to exclude Christians who had denied their faith, particularly in North Africa, was led by the Donatists. They were one of the earlier charismatic groups – one of the interesting things they did was in confession – the Catholics heard confessions privately. The Donatists heard confession publically in front of the whole congregations. Sundays must have been interesting! (You can read about the Donatist controversy if you are interested in this period of church history.)

HOW WOULD YOU RESPOND?

How people respond to persecution or other threats such as invading conquering armies is always a challenge. What happens afterwards is the key issue. It’s no different from post-war conflicts in Europe – those who collaborated with the Nazis were not regarded as traitors.

Who knows what you and I would if our lives were on the line. Would you own Christ with a gun pointing at you?

So think about Paul then.

This time it’s not about accepting someone back into the fold who was persecuted and renounced their faith. Paul was the primary persecutor of Christians. He was the one hunting Christians down!

You can imagine how tough that was for Christians to swallow. This very committed Jewish, Pharisaical, scholarly and ruthless man, this zealous oppressor who travelled around looking for Christians to lock up, starts showing up at church, so to speak. Walking into Christian meetings. Actually on his mission trips he went around preaching in Synagogues, or in homes or at river sides – wherever he could.

It has been suggested that his role model could well have been the prophet Elijah – Saul the Pharisee would have been determined to keep Israel from idolatry. Like Elijah and the prophets of Baal!

Tom Wright says this about him: He saw himself, it seems, as a latter-day Elijah, cleansing Israel of the horrible nonsense about Jesus of Nazareth, who couldn’t have been the Messiah because he was crucified, and who certainly couldn’t be worshipped because in any case the Messiah wouldn’t be divine.

GRACE – BRILLIANT GRACE

If there is ever an example of grace, it is the conversion of Saul who becomes the Apostle Paul.

And so  the text: In his defense of the Gospel, he writes this to the Galatian churches in chapter one, verse thirteen: Gal 1:13  For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. Gal 1:14  And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. Gal 1:15  But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, Gal 1:16  was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; Gal 1:17  nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

What a remarkable change in this man.

His testimony is very much like that of some of the prophets. Especially verse 15: But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace…

Listen to Isaiah on this sense of being chosen by God: Isa 49:1  Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the LORD called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name. Isa 49:2  He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver.

And also Jeremiah: Jer 1:4  The word of the LORD came to me, saying, Jer 1:5  “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

And so back to Galatians 1 – we read from verse 15 again: Gal 1:15  But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, Gal 1:16  was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; Gal 1:17  nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. 

God revealed his Son to Paul – and everything changed. It’s the trip to Arabia that intrigues me. These are the hidden years in Paul’s life.

And there is this angle – Mnt Sinai (also know as Mnt Horeb) was in Arabia. Moses encountered God there. Elijah encountered God there – especially when he was fleeing from Jezebel. There’s that brilliant passage there which has made its way into hymns and songs:

1Ki 19:11  The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 1Ki 19:12  After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 1Ki 19:13  When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 1Ki 19:14  He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” 1Ki 19:15  The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.

There’s this fascinating parallel between Elijah and Paul – going to the mountain of God – and being sent off to Damascus.

They each had their own issues.

Can you imagine what was going on in Paul’s head? Tom Wright also says this:

But then – and here he slips into talking about himself as an Old Testament prophet – Paul was stopped in his tracks, just as Elijah had been. Elijah, dejected and depressed, went off to Mount Sinai to meet his God afresh, to learn about the still small voice as well as the earthquake, wind and fire. Saul of Tarsus went off, probably to Sinai (he says ‘Arabia’, which is where Sinai was), most likely for a similar private wrestling with the God whom he worshipped. This God, to Saul’s horror and amazement, had now revealed his son, and had done so in order that he, Saul, an ultra-orthodox Jew, might tell the pagan nations that Israel’s God loved them just as much as he loved Israel. (Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 9). SPCK. Kindle Edition.)

GRACE – ABUNDANT GRACE, UNLIMITED PATIENCE

We were praying this week about prisoners. How ironic that we so often want people locked up for the longest time possible. You hear it on TV so often – when people are sentenced for their crimes.

Yet we have this murderer who writes so much of our New Testament.

It is Paul who says this of himself: 1Ti 1:15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 1Ti 1:16  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.

I reckon that Paul wrestled about this grace in those three years in Arabia.

Tom Wright again says this: But it is a central strand of most Christian living that everybody needs, from time to time, to wrestle privately with God and his will. It is necessary, too, that Christian leaders should be seen to be telling their own story truly.

…everybody needs, from time to time, to wrestle privately with God and his will.

We all do. We need time with God – especially alone – where we seriously reflect on his grace in our lives too. And what he may be saying to us.

In Paul’s case it seems that the Gospel was revealed to Paul directly from Jesus – as we saw last week.

Who knows what He will say to us if we take the time to wrestle with his will. Or just to be in His presence. It’s part of the shift that we talked about last week as we looked at Galatians 1:3-4 – Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.

Paul understood the shift he had to make. His zeal was shifted to his new task to share the gospel with non-Jews – with gentiles like us. Galatians 1:23-4 again: They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”  And they praised God because of me.

As do we!

Amen.

AMAZING GRACE

Closer to our time Amazing Grace worked in the writer of the hymn – the slave trader, John Newton. Let’s see an extract about him and his conversion. In the movie William Wilberforce visits his old preacher Newton more than once.

(Video “Amazing Grace” – the wrestling of John Newton.)

Note: I am indebted to Tom Wright again.

References:

Wright, Tom (2002-03-22). Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (New Testament for Everyone) (pp. 8-9). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

https://www.udemy.com/courses/ Here I have been influenced by Wright’s lectures “Paul and his letter to the Galatians”. This is from the course  NTWRIGHT ON LINE through the Wisconsin Centre for Christian studies.

Sunday Sermon 3 November – Zacchaeus son of Abraham

Preacher: Bill Davey

Reading:  Luke 19:1-10

The Gospel Reading

 

Luke 19: 1 – 10    New International Version

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.

A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.

 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd.

 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him,            since Jesus was coming that way.

 5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him,           “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at yourhouse today.”

 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

 7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone   to be the guest of a ′sinner’.”

 8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor,and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

 9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.

 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

If we read verse 10 in isolation:  “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”   we may think we can dump responsibility for our personal salvation on the Lord and    just wait for Him to fix everything for us!  This is neither responsible, or Christian behaviour ― It is pure error.

There is a vital role for us to play ― to do our part. Remember the Greatest Commandment (Matt. 22: 37 ― 40):  37 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

38 This is the first and greatest commandment.

39 And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.

40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

 Earlier this week I received a copy of an article published recently in the New York Times:

The church, as we know it in America, is dying. Fewer and fewer people are participating in weekly services. Younger generations are staying away in record numbers.

“After researching the attitudes of the “unchurched” and the “de-churched” – we’ve identified four frequently cited reasons people avoid church:

1. “You judge me — even before you know me.”

2. “You’re not interested in my thoughts or questions. You
only want to lecture me.”

3. “The church is filled with posers and know-it-alls.”

4. “I don’t experience God at church.”

This morning′s Scripture reading relates the account of Zacchaeus ― a businessman from Jericho, who was determined to see the young rabbli ― Jesus of Nazareth ― for himself!

“What can I do to see, or be close to, (or even encounter) the young rabbi named Jesus?”

Our Biblical account begins in a place called Jericho ― What do we know of this place?

 It involves Zacchaeus and a rabbi called Jesus ― What do we know about these two men?

 And other on-lookers make a significant contribution to the meeting ― What part did they play?

Let us reflect on what the words tell us as we read of this historic event.

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.

 

2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.

Jericho was on the main trade route between Trans-Jordon and Jerusalem.

Refer: Joshua chapter 2    Rahab saves the Israelite spies during their reconnaissance.

Refer: Joshua chapters 5 and 6  Divine support, from the Captain of the Host, takes the City.

 

Note: 

Divine intervention and support made this the first successful conquest by the Israelites in the Promised Land. (The Lord together with His People can do exploits beyond comprehension).

 

Zacchaeus was a resident in Jericho, a chief tax collector and a wealthy man! He is a publican (public servant), a contractor working for the Roman  authorities. As such he is probably disliked, even despised by other residents asa traitor or collaborator with the army authorities of the day. He is purposeful,  prosperous, dignified and resourceful man, allbeit a little short in stature.

Jesus is reputed to bless people with his words, heal some of them,including women, and lepers, and the blind. He is also reported as havingraised Lazarus from the dead. And today he is just passing through town. The onlookers just made it difficult for Zacchaeus to see this young rabbi.

3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd.

 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

 

Zacchaeus wanted to see, to identify (or even encounter) for himself the young rabbi Jesus. However he could not see Jesus because of the crowd. Being resourceful, he abandoned his dignity and ran ahead of the crowd and  climbed up a big tree ― Nothing was going to stop him seeing the young rabbi.

5   When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at  your house today.”

 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

We now know this young rabbi as our Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, the all-knowing Son of Man (Son of God). Re-read verse 10: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Jesus not only speaks with Zacchaeus, but also offers to accept his hospitality and visit the home of this chief tax collector.

Zacchaeus almost falls out of the tree, when Jesus calls him by name.  Zacchaeus is elated and immediately (with alacrity – immediately) comes down from the tree and welcomes the young rabbi.

7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a ′sinner’.”

Please take notice of the response of the onlookers ― All the people began to mutter and complain about the wisdom of the rabbi ― what an attitude ― no further comment!

8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

 By comparison, check out the effect this encounter had on Zacchaeus. He is a changed man, changed from the inside out. He is a transformed new-man ― joyous, repentant and ready to put any past wrongs right ― and even to do that with generosity.     

This encounter leaves Zacchaeus personally full of the Holy Spirit of Jesus and of God the Father

 “Look Lord! Here and now (Behold) ….. I will give ….. I will pay back.”

9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.

 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

 

In summary

 Zacchaeus wants to see this young rabbi, (i.e. to meet, to know or to encounter Jesus).

 We read how this young rabbi Jesus (now known as our Messiah) demonstrates loving acceptance of Zacchaeus and gives him back his Jewish identity. (Verse 9).

 Zacchaeus is transformed, from within, by meeting with our Lord personally.

 Finally ― Is this really sound Bible teaching?

 We close with these two quotes, from the Living Word: one from each Testament ― B.C.E. and C.E.(i.e. for us oldies they are the Old and New Testaments respectively).

Proverbs 8: 17 “I love those who love me, and those who seek mefind me.”

John 14: 21 “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.”

The same truth is open to each one of us every day of our lives ― May I ask when you last enjoyed a personal encounter with Jesus?

For anyone who feels challenged by these words ― please trust the Lord,
as Zacchaeus did, and allow someone to pray with you immediately. Talk to somone and allow Jesus
into your home and heart.

Amen.