Wednesday 20 November 2019

Readings; Colossians 1  Matthew 28 v.18/20
I have come to you this morning as a visiting preacher, but also want to incorporate my other role as a speaker for the Bible Society.
     This morning I want to take you back to the time of the first Christian Church which set a model for all time. Without any of our wonderful technological discoveries, the gospel spread across the world.   
     The Church in Western nations, and especially in this country, is losing members almost weekly, and is failing to be of any interest or relevance to the under 50 age ranges. This should give all sincere Christians real concern.  You must have noticed how congregations are falling in attendances, and whilst deaths and illness are causes, it is factual that people are feeling there is little purpose in coming.
     In the Epistle from Colossians.  False teachers had infiltrated the Church just as we experience today, and when there is false teaching there is inevitably division and ill feeling.  We do not know what the trouble was in Colossae, but it was serious enough for Paul to write and admonish them.
     Paul describes Christ as the first born of all creation; pre-eminent over all creation; the One who holds all things together; and the head of the Church. All these statements are to emphasise the deity of Christ and His having Supremacy over all in heaven and earth.
It is in Jesus’ position as head of the Church which I am concentrating on this morning.   Jesus is the one that builds His church, so all His servants need to be careful to follow all He directed.
   The last words of Jesus before His ascension were to His Apostles:  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 observe all that I have commanded.   Here in the words of our Lord is the purpose for which He founded the Church.
     The first Church was founded on the teaching of the Apostles who took the gospel around the ancient world, and that church was a model from which we might do well to follow as the Bible states the people were devoted to such teaching.
     The Apostles taught the truth about Jesus Christ. They taught about the way in which he fulfilled the Old Testament Scriptures in order to bring people to salvation through His sacrificial death on the cross and His resurrection. They also taught how salvation in Jesus Christ was to be worked out in the life of the believer. They are not teaching something that they have made up in their own minds, but only things which have been revealed to them by Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Jesus had already made it clear to them that their teaching was to be consistent with His.
     What should occupy our minds is to consider if the Church is still preaching the message of the Apostles, and is it fit for the purpose Christ and His Apostles built it?  That is a hard question to answer; in places yes, especially the Pentecostal Churches; but in the main denominational Churches, only to a limited extent. In order to justify that let us reflect.
     Jesus gave strict commands on spiritual, moral, ethical and social matters.  Paul warned that there would be those who would not wish to here sound doctrine and would seek false teachers who would say what they wanted to hear and there are plenty of them in the Church today. Never forget, the church does not belong to men (or women) it is Christ’s church and he builds it through the teaching of the men who were His Apostles.
     When we hear their teaching on a regular basis, not only does our faith grow, but also our ability to defend and help others to understand, especially those most close and dearest to us who are not yet followers of our Lord.  We may not remember all we hear, but will be inspired by the power of what has been preached.  We will learn to be guided by the Scriptures and will come to know more about God and His Son and how we should live according to His commands.
     Charles Wesley taught that the value of a person’s life was to be measured by their faith, so we need to get our way of life in order to justify our faith.
     I am sure that many Church members do not realise the danger our faith and Church face.  There are forces out to annihilate Christianity from the public arena and silence biblical quotations on moral and ethical issues.
     Whereas in the United States they now have a President who has forcefully spoken out in defence of Christian belief, and assured the people of their freedom to express their beliefs as laid out in the country’s Constitution, which they did not have to the same extent previously, we had a Prime Minister who regularly tells us she is the daughter of a (late) Vicar and is proud of being a regular Church of England attendee, yet she still leant her support to opposite views to those we might have expected.
     If we are to be the witnesses for Jesus, we must first be sure we have experienced His presence, and secondly tell positively what Jesus stated and commanded. It is not enough to say we know about Him, even the devil could say that, we must have accepted Him as Saviour and believed in all He did and commanded. We cannot amend or put on an application which He obviously would not have approved. 
     The responsibility for teaching falls principally on the clergy, and the Bible states a preacher is given a solemn task to preach in the name of God and Jesus Christ, and will one day have to answer as to how faithfully we carried out that privilege.
     We have to tell our faith is not something someone made up. There is testimony from people alive at the time of Jesus’ life on earth, and not only from His followers but from literary men of the time, and it has been recorded. 
     Our Gospel is that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures.  This, which was an early Christian confession, give us the heart of the gospel and show that the resurrection is an integral part of the gospel. The reality can be verified by the Scriptures and historical evidence as the empty tomb and the eye witnesses
     Only Christianity has a Cross at the centre of its faith. Only Jesus suffered an horrific death on the Cross, a death made for criminals who were made to parade through the streets with a crown on his head beaten 39 times with a leather belt fitted with metal studs to cut the skin, stripped of clothes and nailed through His hands and feet on the cross, and all for the sake of paying the penalty for the sins you and I commit.
     He could have refused to go there, but went willingly so we could be forgiven and put back in to a relationship with God and made us fit for heaven, where we will live on day with Him.  God said this is what man has shown and done to my Son; this is what I have done, and showed by raising Him to life again.
     Imagine a woman going to a shop for food for her family, and not having the money to pay for any, steals some and is detained for doing so. When she appears before the magistrate, states she can’t pay any fine. The magistrate then gives her the means to do so himself. This is what God has done; he has sentenced us for sinning, but then sent Jesus to provide the cost of our forgiveness. We then become acceptable to Him, having been made righteous and cleansed from sin.
     A new secular agenda has replaced biblical faith with an obsession on equality, sexuality and gender change, which creates irrational and unpleasant behavior. What exacerbates the situation is that there is not expected to be any challenge to that agenda, although they can vilify religion.
     We have come to this stage in the nation’s life since the Church cast aside the Bible, which is just to be noted in passing, and there has been therefore nothing to give credence or realism. It has long been the aim of secularism and an extreme political creed to break up the family and any firm basis of morality.
     There was a time when every church had a weekly Bible study group; bibles were in pews so people can follow both the readings and sermon. It is depressing to find the Church skimming the surface, misinterpreting the Bible to justify actions which would be condemned.
     One uplifting factor is in the black culture the Bible is taken seriously with devotion, and they are not ashamed to do. I have in recent years met numerous black ladies in the care business, and each one carried their bible, and used them.  Christianity is taken as it should be, seriously.
     We should never suggest the Bible has got things wrong; we must maintain the Bible is the inspired, authoritative, unbreakable, fully trustworthy account of divine revelation, and stop trying to please people in order to be accepted. 
     There are some parts of the Bible which are hard to understand, but to quote the greatest preacher of all time, (Billy Graham,) ‘there are some things I do not understand but by faith I accept them as the true Word of God’.  If he can accept, I find no problem.
     People tell me there are contradictions in the Bible, but there are not, just different ways of writing which do not diminish the truth one dot.  If I were to give each of you here today a piece of paper and told you to go home and write an account of what happened from the moment you came into the Church until you left, I am confident there would not be any two accounts the same, yet no one would deny you were here.
     In our technological age when so many devices can be used to reach a wide number of people, and sensation is the aim, and widely used by activists, feeble minds can so easily be filled with lies and distortions; which is why we need the strength of the Bible to act as a protective.
     With all our smartphones, ipads and computers; by numerous translations in simple language, we have the Bible more available than ever, yet less read, known or acted upon.  But there are so many eager minds dearly wanting one in their own language, and being made available to them.  Christians who face persecution, injury and sometimes death for just being Christian, but whose faith would put many in this country to shame.
     The Bible Society works tirelessly seeking to provide Bibles for those people, and so consider what God might be asking you to play in making the Bible a cherished gift to someone.
    Let me close with the words of John Wesley. I want to know one thing, the way to heaven: how to land safe on that happy shore. God Himself has condescended to teach the way; for this very end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book! O give me that book! At any price, give me the Book of God!  I have it: here is knowledge enough for me.
May God richly bless and help all who read his Holy Word.

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