Wednesday 29 December 2021

 

  Deuteronomy 11, v 1/18   

 A New Year always provides for a new beginning, and as we look back, we can reflect on the failures as well as the successes.

 The opening sentence in this Bible passage, which was made to the people of Israel so many hundreds of years ago, is one the Church should be proclaiming to-day.

You shall love the LORD your God and keep His charge, His statutes, His rules and His commandments always.’

 In the Old Testament Lesson, the people of Israel were facing a new beginning.  They had failed God by not obeying and trusting him, so they spent forty years in the wilderness.  Now as they stand on the banks of the Jordan, ready to cross into the land God had promised to give to them, their leader Moses called them all together. He has been warned of his death, and a new ;leader (Joshua) will be appointed.  He reminded the people of God’s gracious and mighty deliverance, and called on them to give obedience, and they will receive blessings of God.  He was giving to them words of encouragement, and telling them to place trust in God. Such a message is relevant to us today.

 Anyone who has gone out on a journey knows when you reach a certain point, it is that of no return; you have gone so far you just have to continue, the past behind you.  We face the challenge of a new year, one in which only God knows what the future holds.  We need to heed the words of Moses to trust in God to bless us.

 God was giving the Israelites a homeland for them to possess, which many want to take away from them now, some by blowing them up by explosives. Just as God provided for Israel, he is prepared to provide now for all who are ready to obey his commands and trust him. There are many blessings offered to us, but we have to take possession of them.

 Jesus said, ‘I have come that you may have life and have it to the full’.  Paul said, ‘eye has not seen nor ear heard the things which God has prepared for those who love him’. In our society so much can come so easily, that God does not figure in many people’s lives, they think of him as an irrelevance, having no part to play in their lives.

If you ask a lot of young people how we get our food, they will say something like Tesco; there is no understanding of the part God plays. They have never heard the words, ‘give us this day our daily bread’.

 God gave Israel and land of milk and honey, relating to the goodness of the land, and in addition, His faithfulness to the promise He had given to Abraham, a promise of incentives to Israel to enter, providing for all their needs after they had suffered so much in Egypt, where water was scarce and the Nile is the only river, and it is a barren land largely.

 People who live without Christ in their lives, resemble a barren land.  They live without him who said that those who trusted in him would never be thirsty, but would be given living water.  God was offering a land of mountains and valleys. Life for all of us is a tortuous road, with its twists and turns, its hills and valleys.  There will be times when all is going well, and we feel we have reached a mountain peak, but there will be times when we feel we are in a deep valley as things have been so hard.

 Life can become difficult. We may feel we are of little significance in the scheme of things, and as we look back on our life, we think if only I had done this or that, what difference. I wish so much that I had learned in my younger days, all I have learned from the vigorous American Church scene in later life.

 If you feel depression is setting in; remember God does not expect you to be any different, recall the words in verse 12, ‘the eyes of the Lord are upon you from the beginning to the end’. A study of the Bible shows God often uses little people to do mighty things; he chose a young Jewish village girl to be the Saviour of the World.  None of the Apostles had a degree, and if applying for Christian ministry today would probably be rejected, in view of their defined commitment to the words of Jesus.

 The new year brings a new opportunity. As we move forward, God’s eyes will be upon us looking after us from beginning until the end of the year, if we put our trust in Him. But if we are to receive the full blessing of God’s provision, we must remember the importance of loving God, and obeying his will which he has given us in the Bible. The New Testament calls on us to draw to God, to let Him be in control of your life, and not to be just someone you call upon when you are in trouble.

 There is also the command to be present at worship, not giving up as so many want to do.  There are cynical voices trying to turn people away from God. We find scorn on television, as the messengers of secularism are so prominent in those circles, and slide in anti-Christian thoughts in entertainment programmes.  Now we have the political parties of all persuasions, which support conduct and actions contrary to traditional Bible teaching, and then create laws which place State law against God’s law.

 We are living in an increasing anti-Christian environment, with so called Equality and Diversity laws making it hard for Christians to express themselves, as public servants strive to find ways of excluding Christian expression.  It would be more accurate to call it the Inequality and Diversity law, as some are allowed to be more equal and diverse than others.

 We live in two worlds.  We live in the earthly world, but we also live in the world of the Spirit, and there is always the danger we can forget about God, and become so involved in earthly activities.  

 As members of a human family we like to meet with brothers and sisters in our parents’ home, and as members of a Church family we should welcome the chance to meet with our Christian brothers and sisters with God.   A Church family is unique in that it consists of different ages, backgrounds, experiences and sexes.  It is where God provides for us to be come equipped to carry out His message to the world.  We sing praise together, pray for each other, and for the worlds needs, share bread and wine in Holy Communion, and remember what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. 

Coming to Church should be like sons and daughters coming to meet with their (heavenly) Father in complete harmony.  My sons regularly visit my wife and self, and I would be very concerned if they did not.  Our heavenly Father is also upset when His children neglect Him.  We need corporate fellowship, so neglecting to meet in Church with brothers and sisters in Christ is a serious weakness. 

 The Bible says, ‘let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another’.  We need to meet with others to have fellowship, to gain and give encouragement.  Each of us has to make an effort.  Most people believe in God, and many have a respect for the Church, but that is as far as it goes.  They don’t want God or the Church to intrude into their lives, unless of course they want a baptism or wedding, and then both can become useful. 

 It can be so easy to just give up and go with the flow, especially as Church leaders side with the State.  This is why the Bible urges Christians to be together, and contend for the faith. We join in prayer together and encourage one another; it is God’s way of providing for his people to be fully equipped for his service.  

 We need to learn from preaching of his Word, provided that such teaching is consistent and faithful to the Bible.  This can be a problem when preachers challenge Scripture.   But there is one thing I feel needs to be stressed.  We should ensure the Church we attend is one faithful to God’s Word, and seeks to build each other up through the Scriptures, and where the true gospel is preached.

 We have to acknowledge however sadly, this is not always the case, so it serves no purpose going to a Church which fails to do these things.  Too many preachers have their own agenda, which is created around a morality not supported by Scripture, and where the teaching is given to subscribe to the culture of the day. 

 You must find a Bible based Church.  Research in America has shown that going to Church and meeting with fellow believers is good for your health.  A survey of 4,000 people, found that older people especially who attended Church, were less depressed and far healthier that their non-religious counterparts. 

 But just believing in God’s existence is not enough, we have to draw near to Him and the only way is through Jesus Christ.  There is one way, one Saviour, one way to eternal life.  One Cross, upon which Jesus gave His life in order to save ours so we can become righteous in God’s eyes.

 Jesus is described in the Bible as the great High priest of God.  The function of a priest is to be a bridge between God and man, so that we can come into God’s presence and Jesus makes that possible.  Jesus can take us into the very presence of His Father. 

There are many, far too many people in recent times, who have forsaken Church and it can be so very easy to give up, go with the flow and fall away.  Once this is done it is often hard to get back into the practice of coming to Church.  This is why the Bible urges the need for Christians to be with each other. 

 There are numerous reasons for people giving up worship.  There are the cynical voices pouring scorn making people feel doubtful.  There are forces of secularisation, now given so much attention and credence.   There are pressures from within families, where some members are anti-church, notably husbands regarding their wives.  The worry about taking a public stand, and indeed, from within the Church itself. 

 I know a lady who was a wonderful practising Christian, as practical as one might be.  Always the first to offer help when any member was unwell, or in difficulty.  Very active in the Church, taking a leading role in all activities, social and religious.  PCC Secretary, trained to be a Lay Reader, and then a new Vicar came to the Church with a wife who was one of the most unpleasant women I have ever met.  She was intensely jealous of anyone likely to overshadow herself or husband, and made the other lady’s life so difficult she gave up attending a Church she had attended for many years.  Perhaps the lady was wrong in not moving to another Church, but when you have been attending a Church for which you have become so attached, it can on a human scale be quite demoralising. 

 We should not be tempted to separate ourselves from those who are joined to us by a common faith. Meeting and following Christ can be costly, but mostly well rewarded.  We must always be aware of the fact that in many parts of the world Churches cannot exist, nor can Christians meet with other Christians for fear of imprisonment or even death.  Increasing hostility is being displayed in countries like Egypt, Pakistan, and Nigeria, where Churches are burned down and bombed.  Here we still have freedom to worship, but if not cherished and valued and fought for will be lost. 

 Jesus expected to be given priority, and if people can find time for all other things in life but not for him, the question arises as to how important our faith, Jesus and God.

The great American evangelist Dwight Moody, was once talking to a young man who had fallen away from Church as they sat by a coal fire. Moody knocked one of the coals from the fire into the hearth and it soon died out.  He picked it up and put if back on the fire and it glowed.  He said to the young man, that is how what happens when a Christian falls away from Church, they burn out. Coming to Church should be like sons and daughters visiting their father, their heavenly Father.

 Having said all this, it is fair to say we should make sure we attend a Church which is faithful to God’s Word. We have to acknowledge this is not, sadly, always the case.  I understand it comes hard when a number of preachers have to be heard, and you have a situation when a liberal minded anything goes preacher, is followed the following week by an evangelical Bible preacher. You are naturally left confused as to who to believe.

 There are few people who can say, all in my life is sunshine and roses. We all have some worry; health concern for the future, domestic problem, even a Church problem.  To all, Jesus says come unto me all you who are heavy laden and |I will give you rest, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.  Jesus is saying let him carry your burden.

 May the wonderful truth, that Jesus is deeply concerned about you, comfort you and ease your worries, and no matter what this new year may bring forth in world issues, it will be a memorable one for you; no doubt of hills and valleys, but one in which you draw near to God.

 Let us therefore draw near to God. holding firmly to your belief, and never give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us always give each other encouragement.  Don’t let unpleasant people, secularists, or anyone else hold you back.  Remember too, Jesus said if anyone rejected Him, He will one day reject them. Such a fate is too horrible to consider

Friday 24 December 2021

 

Matthew Chapter 1 v 18/25

The story we are looking at this morning is one of the greatest ever told, the birth of our Saviour. Jesus Christ. It is a most controversial story, for it is telling an extraordinary event, unique and once in all history. 

 To the non-worshipping person, it is beyond their ability to accept, because no other person has been born so. But no other person was, has been or will be, like Jesus. He was by nature human in that he became tired, hungry, thirsty and weary. And yet divine by his miraculous deed; he was in fact God in the flesh.

 There are in the Church many hypocrites, who cannot accept the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, but will readily stand up in Church and recite the Apostles Creed each Sunday.

 The Apostles’ Creed states: “I believe in Jesus Christ … who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.” Here we come face to face with the Virgin Birth of Christ.  Both Church and nonchurch members claim to be Christian and believers in God, but believing means more than just claiming, even the devil believes in God.

 The gospel of Matthew was written primarily for Jews, which explains the long line of descent in which the book opens, and many of those names would be to a Jew an historical one, and it also established the line of descent to Jesus through Joseph.

Jews were concerned for genealogies and in Palestine it was important to prove your Jewishness; and dependence on your line of descent was important in order to be allowed to enter parts of the Temple in Jerusalem.

David was so important in this lineage; the Old Testament said the Messiah would be born of David's line. The New Testament makes it clear that Jesus was believed to be the Messiah.

 Isaiah predicted 700years earlier, that a young woman of marriageable age, who is also a virgin would give birth to a son - and he would be "God with us" - Immanuel. Matthew is wanting to teach us that Jesus is the fulfilment of the promises of God in the Old Testament.

 God is directly concerned and involved throughout history. God is faithful and always keeps his word. God promised to raise up a Saviour from the line of Abraham and the line of David.

 Our passage opens at verse 18, where it is stated, ` now the birth of Jesus Christ took place this way.’ Such is the positive announcement, before it goes on to describe the betrothal of Mary and Joseph.

 Betrothal of the Jews was something equivalent to our engagement in theory if not in practice.  The bridegroom and bride made a pledge in the presence of two witnesses, which was really the first step in marriage; the man and woman became husband and wife. The couple were then separated from each other for a period up to a year, and if during that time either became unfaithful, they were under Old Testament law adulterers liable to be stoned to death. 

 If the marriage broke down, the couple were divorced, or if death occurred widower or widow. The marriage was consummated when they met again.  Often the parents caused the marriage by making arrangements, and same people think they do a better job.

 This was in the New Testament  where the true marriage was heterosexual as ordained by God, one man one woman.

 Before the couple lived together it was found that Mary was pregnant yet still a virgin. She knew she was pregnant, as an angel had foretold, she would be by the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 Joseph came to the natural conclusion that she had been unfaithful with another man, being unaware of the angel’s message.  He realized he could not live with her in such a case, but being a righteous man, he did not want to offend God, but was faced with the impression Mary had broken her pledge. He was however a compassionate man who loved Mary and did not want to expose her to public humiliation, so decided to divorce her or send her away quietly, which he did not really want to do because of his feelings for her. In addition, his place would be a stain in the line of David down to Jesus.

 Whilst he wrestled on what he should do, he fell asleep and began to dream. During his sleep he had a vision in which he was told that it was by the power of the Holy Spirit that Mary was with child, and he should not hesitate to accept Mary as his wife.

 Joseph was rewarded as he had turned to God in faith and his concern was ended.  The Bible states, ‘In all thy ways acknowledge God and he shall direct thy paths. This shows us that Joseph obeyed. He not only trusted God, he obeyed. As the hymn states, trust and obey.

 As so often happens when you honestly seek God's guidance and you plan to do things that seem right to you, but are in fact, wrong, God providentially corrects you.

The baby would be called Jesus for he would save his people from their sins.  Jesus is a name which helped many by giving inward peace and a rest for heavy heart; people have found Jesus has known their thoughts and hearts.

 This passage begins the New Testament and contains the very words of God, who we must thank for giving us the Bible.  The poorest man or woman who listens and understands the Bible is wiser than many so called intellectuals and academics. We shall be judged one day by the way we have responded to God.

 This means we should read the Bible honestly and reverently, and having done so, practice all it commands and pray the Holy Spirit will apply to our hearts.

 These verses tell us of the entrance into our world by Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour, and the doctrine of the Virgin Birth has been the doctrine of all denominations for centuries, and only in these liberal times has it been the subject of controversy. True, there were a few heretics, like some modern bishops and clergy who deny these accounts in pulpits; don't be seduced by them. but we treat such talk with the contempt they deserve.

 It is talk like that which does so much harm to the Church. Imagine you are on a jury and have to decide on evidence given. In such trial the Police will be represented by a prosecuting solicitor whose task is to lead the witness through their evidence.  The accused will be represented by their own solicitor, and his task is to get the accused off the charge. He will in a lot of cases put truth aside and make up all kinds of stories to refute evidence, which is par for the cause, such is the way 'justice' is defined.

 If the prosecuting solicitor begins to cast doubt on the police evidence and suggested the policeman was mistaken or not telling the truth, would you convict?  But this is what is happening in the Church when some of us are trying to follow our Lord’s commission and make disciples, bringing people to church, then we have clergy at all levels, challenging of all things, God’s Word. and we wonder why people are not attending.

 Matthew and Luke are trustworthy. The evidence that they are giving you are facts - not myths. That brings us to Mary.

 There are depths which are too deep for us to fully comprehend; be content to believe with reverent minds and not speculate that which we do not understand.  There are many things we do not understand, but fully accept without hesitation. How is it by holding a small plastic box without any outer connection, but by pressing a combination of numbers you can speak within seconds to someone on the other side of the world. Or by turning a switch on a television set in a room in any part of the world, and watch one of the most exciting and greatest football teams in the world in Liverpool. Very few people can explain, yet we all use.

 As we leave this passage, try to remember Jesus is both human and divine. He did the work God sent him to do, healing the sick and dying.

 You will go on to believe Jesus has experienced more pain and suffering than we can imagine.  He endured a most horrific death on the Cross, the cruellest punishment man has devised. Prior to that he was lashed 39 times with a leather belt with steel studs and made to carry his own Cross.  Don’t be a fake Christian who lays claim to be a Christian just on the basis of believing in God, or by listening to Songs of Praise every Sunday.  Even the devil believes in God.

If you want the privilege of being a Christian you will fully believe as the Bible, which was given by God, states in this story in Matthew, and is also in Luke.  It is sometimes suggested it not to be correct as Mark and John don’t mention it, but they write on a different part of our Lord’s life. Many people follow the Sermon on the Mount and are deeply moved by it, yet that was only in Matthew and Luke.

 They are drawing on different sources. It has been suggested that Matthew based his account information coming from Joseph, whilst with Luke was informed by Mary. But both agree about the central truth that Jesus was born of a virgin mother.  This information was before known by both Matthew and Luke. They did not make it up.

If Mary had not been a virgin and had a child by someone else, Luke who was a medical doctor, would not have suggested that she was a great example of obedience. He knew that in the moral climate of those days such an attempt would not have been well received.

 It is by faith that, what we cannot see or words which cannot prove, we become true followers of our Lord, and millions of very clever men and women who have truly believed, have been prepared to go to the uttermost parts of the world and live hard lives in order to take the gospel to those who have not heard

 People will sing carols, and over eat and drink and spend more money than they can afford; pop groups will sing of ‘chris.-ee-mus’ without ever giving a thought as to why it is Christ-mas. 

All very well Harry Belafonte telling us we shall live for ever more because of Christmas Day, when in fact we shall live for evermore because of what this baby Jesus went on to do on the Cross.

 What is it about doubting people? Why does Christianity strike such fear in their tiny minds?  Why do they not have the courage to attack other faiths?  Does a guilty conscience come into play when they consider the sort of lives they live?  Why is it that they have no reluctance to join in all the festivities, which only take place because Christmas is an essentially Christian celebration?   If you take Christ out of Christmas, all you have left is M & S

 The vociferous secularists and humanists, whose publicity is out of all proportion to their tiny numbers, see any religious ceremony as a threat to their unworthy cause.  Is it not amazing that when an American evangelist came over here and offered to enter into debate with them, they all went into hibernation refusing to take part?

 Christians will be attending Christmas services.  Some will be attending Midnight Mass, a glorious inspiring service of praise, as we herald in Christmas Day and celebrate the birth of our Lord.  Others will prefer to go to Church on Christmas morning, but at whichever service we will be thinking of God’s love in sending Jesus here, born of a young Jewish girl by the power of the Holy Spirit, in which we all glory.  I know that there will be difficulty for some in accepting the doctrine of the Virgin birth, which means of course they must explain how Jesus entered the world and then they could be on dangerous grounds. 

 We remember the lowly circumstances of His birth and the reason He came, namely to grow into manhood and be our Saviour.

 It is a matter of great sadness that now in the 21st century, the mass of people have forsaken the Christian commitment of previous years and chosen to ignore the religious significance of Christmas.  Some reject all religious belief with undisguised contempt, and just see it as an excuse for an orgy of drink and pleasure.

 I look in amazement as I see trolleys in supermarkets  overflowing with food and drink, especially drink, and then hear and read of how protests are made regarding cuts by the government and how people are finding it hard to exist, and certainly cannot afford to pay more for their gold plated pensions.

I accept everyone is entitled to have enjoyment, especially at this time of year, but let us keep it in proportion.  There will be many who just now see Christmas as a secular time for enjoyment. 

 But let us remember with much compassion those for whom Christmas is a time of great sadness, namely those who have just lost a married partner, a child, parent or loved family member.  This will be a very lonely time for them and we should remember them in prayers and intercessions.

 I wish all who read this posting a very happy and blessed Christmas; and in the name of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. May God Bless You

                                 

                                                     Christmas message

 I thank all who have turned to this site over the last year and read the words in the postings.

 I wish you all a very happy, peaceful and blessed Christmas, and hope you will join me again at the end of next week.

 The response from the United States has been over the years, an overwhelming factor and source of much encouragement, especially as often the content is often relating to the United Kingdom.  Well might I say therefore, God bless America!

I would very much like to hear from any of you in any of the countries who kindly look at the sermons, and so know the names and places at least of who is interested.

 I hope those of you who kindly read from the UK will tell your friends, especially members of your Churches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tuesday 21 December 2021

  Luke 2, v.21/40

The story in this passage begins just after the shepherds who had visited the baby Jesus left. It is essentially a Jewish story telling of three ancient Jewish ceremonies, and this relates to emphasise the close relationship we have (or should have) with Israel in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

The mother and father are Jews, so the baby is Jewish. We worship the same God, the God Israel, we have a holy book written by Jews, and worship a Jewish Saviour

Like every Jewish boy, Jesus was circumcised on his eighth day after a Jewish tradition carried out over thousands of years. This was a sign of a covenant God made with Abraham that every male child must have that operation or be rejected as a Jew, and in return God promised to care for Israel. If Jesus had not had that ceremony he would not have been accepted.

God commanded that the child would be called Jesus, which means Saviour, and he would be the One to deliver the world from sin and evil. The fact that he went through the ceremony when he was the Son of God, should encourage us to make sacrifices and readily perform tasks in the service of God.

Jesus being the first-born son made him sacred to God as every first son was as such. According to Jewish tradition the parents could buy back their son for five shekels, which had to be paid to the priest within 31 days after birth. This ritual was to remind the Jews of the night when the Israelites were in Egypt and all the Egyptian first sons were slain, and the Jewish children were spared. It also helps us all to remember God has the right to the first things in our lives.

There followed another ritual which meant Mary and Joseph going to Jerusalem to fulfil a duty, the rite of purification and the offering of a sacrifice. Until this was done, Mary could not worship in a Synagogue.

When a woman bore a child, she had to wait a period of 40 days if the child was a boy, and 80 days if a girl before being allowed to join in worship. When she returned, she was obliged to take to the Temple a lamb, or a pair of turtles. If a woman was poor, two pigeons were allowed. The fact that Mary took the poorer offer, suggests the home in which Jesus was brought up in was not a luxurious one. This dispels the belief that religion was not for poor people.

On arrival at the Temple they did not try to buy Jesus back, they just said they gave Jesus to God, who had chosen an ordinary Jewish village girl to be the mother of his Son.

For a period of 450 years in Jewish history God did not speak to his people. God had promised the prophet Malachi, that he would come into the world by a Messiah, who would bring salvation and judgement, and would be preceded by a messenger who would prepare the way for him. For all those years people of God waited for the promised Messiah who would destroy God’s enemies, and fulfil their dream and belief of a rightful place in the world as supreme, and this would be seen as a king who would be like David to obtain world supremacy.

We move on to meet two older people. The first is a man named Simeon who is described as a devout man with the Holy Spirit upon him, but otherwise we know nothing about him. He didn’t have the same kind of guidance as others had, but he had the Holy Spirit in his hear, indicating the powerful anointing and manifest presence of the Holy Spirit. All who have Jesus in their hearts, Jews or Gentiles, will receive the same kind of guidance, which will guide them to Jesus Christ.

Simeon was in the Temple when Mary and Joseph took Jesus there, and he took the child in his arms, and said the words which have been used in every Anglican Church Evening service since its inception, known as the Nunc Dimmittus.

Simeon believed things had to be left in the hands of God, who had given him assurance that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah, God’s appointed one. There was therefore excitement in Simeon’s voice when he heard that he would actually see this great coming. He knew that whilst others had waited years wondering when how and when, he knew then that the promise had come true.

When he saw Jesus, he knew the time had come and was ready to die in peace, and foresaw Jesus to be the light of the world. He prayed from his heart when he saw the little boy. This is faith, the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen by the great names of old like Abraham, Moses, Elijah who all played a part in this story but never lived to see.

The kingdom brought by this baby is not just for Israel, but for the whole world. God was unveiling a plan of salvation for the world without distinction. This will be the true glory of Israel, the nation in and from whom came the Saviour and ruler of the world.

Now Simeon is ready to die, and his face changes from gladness to sadness. He tells the parents that Jesus would cause division, as some would accept him but others would reject him, and it has been so and still is.

Whenever Jesus is mentioned people either rise or fall, but many stay the same. Simeone knew a sword would pierce Mary’s heart, for there was a shadow of the Cross, and 33 years later Mary would see her son die on that Cross in a cruel and horrifying death.

In an age of early deaths, there came a woman on the scene, a woman of 84, who had been married for only 7 years; her name was Anna, which means grace. She spent much of her time in the Temple worshipping and praying night and day, and when she saw the holy family, at that very moment she gave thanks to God who reveals His secret purposes in history to humble servants who continually live in His presence.  Anna spoke to all about the child, who many were looking forward to be the redemption of Jerusalem

Luke shows us there is a plan for everyone in God’s Kingdom, older people able to wait on the Lord; a young woman having a baby to dedicate to God; a husband going to Church with his wife, (that not seen often) all having a role to play. How wonderful it is when men put aside their macho image and go with their wives to Church.

All Christians should be comforted by the fact God never leaves the world without a witness. Where there is a hard core of believers, God will be with them to support them who are faithful, and grace can flourish even when men and women in the Church, who have been given the privilege of serving God in His Church, become betrayers and traitors to the One they vowed to serve. We witness them instituting, endorsing and accepting false doctrine and trying to force it on those in their charge.

The words of Simeon in which he saw the light of Jesus, will one day shine bright on our nation if those who love the Lord work and pray. Christ has spoken and had many darts aimed at him; he has been despised and rejected, but has proved to be the Saviour of many who at one time forsook him.

Simeon and Anna were aged saints who kept the faith and run the course. Will we be able to say the same; can we say Lord dismiss our servant in peace for my eyes have seen your salvation? Is there any doubt, scepticism, or are you truly godly in believing and trusting.

 

The passage closes telling that Jesus grew and became strong, filled with wisdom the favour of God.  He experienced physical and intellectual growth as any child would, but He also experienced the favour of God in an unusual  and increasing way.

Thursday 16 December 2021

 

Luke 1 v 26/56

 

This Sunday on the week of Christmas, all our thoughts and prayers of thanksgiving are on, and for, the birth of Jesus.

 If this Gospel message was told as a story in one of our daily newspapers, and so posted on their website, it would receive numerous scornful mocking comments, questioning as to why anyone would believe it.  In fairness, if a daughter or friend came and told you she was pregnant, but had not been intimate with a man, you would reasonably think she was mad or trying to cover up a moral lapse.

 This week let us think of the young Jewish woman Mary, who was honoured by God to be the mother of His Son, and whose name would live on in all history. This was the fulfilment of the prophet Isaiah, who many years earlier in the Old Testament had said, ‘behold a young girl shall conceive and bear a child’. 

 Such was the situation experienced by this young Jewish girl in a remote Israeli village, risking disgrace and shame, and also the loss of her fiancĂ©e. It has to be accepted that the birth of Jesus was unique. God took the initiative, and Jesus was born of a virgin, such is a basic doctrine of the Church.   One day she was visited by the angel Gabriel when she was engaged to Joseph, a descendant in the line of the famous King David.  She was betrothed, which in Jewish law meant the engagement could only be broken by divorce.

 In the past, the Roman Catholic Church has perhaps made too much of Mary’s position, whilst the Protestant Church has made too little. We should keep in mind that until the 20th century, in all the years prior, perhaps even more so when Mary was called on by to accept this call, that it would have been looked upon in society as scandalous. Women were expected to be married before having children, something these days seems unbelievable by many today.

 Mary is at the sixth month of her pregnancy, and Luke was specifying Nazareth was a city of Galilee, which suggests he was writing for people who were not from Palestine.

 The angel Gabriel greeted Mary to create an atmosphere of tranquillity, and telling her she was highly favoured by the Lord who was with her.  Mary was startled. We can assume from this she was a moral woman, who could not understand why had been chosen.  The angel tells her not be afraid, for she had found favour from God.

 She is told she will have a son whom she will call Jesus, and He will be great and be called a son of the Most High God, not the son of Joseph.  All this was fulfilment of an Old Testament prophecy, and that Jesus would rein over a Kingdom of grace and truth, and there would be no end to that Kingdom.

 Mary asks how that can be as she has no husband, but does have faith and believes the angel although she cannot understand.  She is told the Holy Spirit would come upon her, therefore he would be called the Son of God. Mary knew that becoming pregnant would not be easy, for it would expose her to ridicule and criticism, maybe even something much worse, but she depended totally upon God, body and soul.

 The angel told Mary that her relative Elizabeth, who had been barren was then six months pregnant. This was in a sense a miracle, for Elizabeth and Zechariah were of such an age that it was not usual for such to be able to have children. But for God, nothing is impossible, He is able to do all He wishes, and so grants Elizabeth and Zechariah a child after they had given up hope of ever being able to do so.

 Mary decided to visit the home of Elizabeth in the hill country of Judah, where she stayed for three months.

 On arrival the two women greeted each other, and Elizabeth in a loud voice proclaimed how blessed Mary was. Until that time Elizabeth thought this was just a family visit, but now she realised how unique the situation is, and feels she should have been the one visiting Mary.   At the same time Elizabeth felt movement of her own baby.

Elizabeth’s joy inspired Mary to fully recognise she is to be the mother of the Saviour of the world, and spontaneously sings a song, which has been sung at every Evensong in Churches all over the world for centuries since, one of the great hymns of the Church, the Magnificat.  The Lord God is magnified in this song of praise, which is filled with Scripture.

 Mary expressed her glory and rejoiced in being blessed, and how gracious God has been to her in her humility. She readily obeyed God.  There is a significant point made by her, in that she recognises she needs a Saviour, which implies she recognises that only a sinner needs a Saviour, which tends rather to negate some Roman statements about her.  This reflects the words of John  Newton in that wonderful hymn which he wrote, that God saves us by grace.

 Mary knows that all future generations will speak of her, and indeed throughout the ages she has rightfully been praised, and she has brought honour to her sex. 

 Mary told of how God is merciful to those who fear Him, and we should be mindful that whilst God is a God of love and mercy, He is also a God of wrath.  In that respect we should take note of Mary’s words,  ‘He has brought down rulers from their thrones’.   She has a profound view of God, who disputes the worldly values of status and misunderstanding of what it means to be equal.

 She ends her song by singing praise of how God has remained faithful to His chosen people, the Jews, by keeping His promise to Abraham.  Every Jewish boy and girl would know the history of Israel and how God has blessed them.

 Mary then left Elizabeth to return home.

 Mary has raised being a mother to the highest of professions, although now some feminine politicians are anxious to downgrade motherhood and their sex, by trying to equate women on all levels with men.  In the process, some women have demeaned their sex by not only copying men’s excesses, but furthering them.

 When God created the world men were intended to care and provide for the family, and women to be mothers, (primarily but not exclusively)and for that role were endowed with a more tender and caring nature. Now for their own selfish purposes, politicians and social workers want to meddle with gender identities..  We are all equal under God, but are meant to have different roles in life.

 Pope Benedict wisely stated that the future of mankind is at stake, when the understanding of what a family means is challenged through same sex marriage.  He said ‘In the fight for the family, the very notion of what being human really means is being called into question. He spoke of the falseness of gender theories, and of the current attack on the structure of the family made up of father, mother and child.

Mary did not doubt what the angel told her, she was just puzzled, as she might be, as to how this would happen.  It was as if the angel was saying ‘Mary you are thinking as a human being, and humanly you are right, but this is God at work and He shall come upon you with the power of the Holy Spirit, for nothing is impossible for God’. 

 This is why we should have concern for the nation of Israel from which all our teaching emanates.  We worship the God of Israel; we worship a Jewish Saviour; born of a Jewish woman; and are taught from a book written (under the inspiration of God) by Jewish writers.  One day Jesus will return to Jerusalem, the capital city of His chosen people.

 The Israelites constantly sinned, and strayed away from God, but He still looked after them, fed and clothed them, protected and revealed Himself to them.  The Old Testament is the history of the Israelites resisting God’s will, and the New Testament shows God cannot be limited.  

It was|God who sent His Son to prepare the great salvation after His prophets were rejected; it was God who raised His Son from the dead; God who gave teaching on how we should live, and respond to Him.If our Lord was to return now would He be happy about the religious teaching. Would He wonder why we Christians treat our faith in such casual manner rather than the aggressive evangelism of other faiths?

Would He wonder why His Church is being downgraded as its leaders bow meekly to the social activists?  Would He not feel the Church had betrayed Him, by not following the example of Mary, who so readily responded to His call even though she knew she would face all manner of abuse and disdain from those who knew her. Such is the commitment and devotion to God that we find missing in places where it should be readily seen.

As we remember Mary at this season, let us think of the young women of to-day, who so bravely will be having babies, and pray that their maternal experiences will be safe and bring them the joy which the birth of our Lord brought to Mary.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have in these verses the announcement of the most momentous event that ever happened in the world, the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is a passage for all Christians to read with wonder, love and praise.

 

The event took place in an unassuming manner in an obscure town of Galilee with a woman in a humble position, in a dwelling place without what the world calls greatness.  God could have chosen for it to be in Jerusalem to the daughter of some local dignity, but chose otherwise.  This should teach us not to favour or treat better someone from a rich family and look down on any person from a poor background.

 

I was often displeased at the way local politicians or prominent people, who normally were not seen in Church, were given welcome more grandly than to regular men and women, when attending a special service to recognise a funeral or notable occasion. It is well to remember our Lord coming to earth in the most humble circumstances.

There is a relationship to Christ within the reach of all of us, which is available to all who repent and believe.  Jesus said, ’whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother or sister’.

 

Let us always regard with holiness and faith, all contained in this Scripture, and cast away all doubt and unbelief.  It should be enough to know that the Son of God came into this world by a woman, and we should honour and acknowledge those women who now bear the task of giving birth of children.

 

Is it not amazing how peoples’ minds reason. Thousands say they will not believe what they cannot understand.  If I should go out on to the car park of this Church and take out a little plastic box, and press a combination of 13 numbers, within seconds I would be speaking to my son in Hong Kong. Yet if I wished to speak face to face, it would take a journey of 13 hours to do so.

 

I can’t explain how this can happen, and I doubt there is anyone I know who could explain, we take mobile phones for granted.  We watch events as they happen from across the world in a box in our homes and take it for granted. Who can explain how a brown cow, which eats green grass, produces white milk, and yellow butter, yet we eat and drink both. Why on earth if we can accept all the marvels of man, we cannot accept the miracles of God. 

 

Verse 37 of this morning’s passage, ‘for nothing is impossible with God’. Our minds are not meant to understand all the miracles and mighty deeds of the Lord; the Cross and atonement; the resurrection; the power of the Holy Spirit.  We may not understand the virginal conception, but we accept all these by faith.

Wednesday 8 December 2021

 Luke 15

 This chapter contains three parables told by Jesus, and in each parable there is a story of something lost, but then found.  There is a relevant message for the Church ministry to follow in the three examples.

 First, there is the shepherd who loses one of his sheep, so  he leaves the other ninety nine whilst he searches for the lost one.  He finds, and is so delighted he carries the sheep with joy, back to his friends and neighbours, and has a celebration in finding the one who went astray.

 Secondly, there is the woman who loses one of ten coins from her head-dress, so sweeps the home until she finds the coin, and after finding the lost, calls in her friends to rejoice with her.

 Thirdly, there is the well-known story of the prodigal son, who went to his father and asked to claim the inheritance that would be his on the father’s death, which by Jewish law he was not entitled until his father died.  His father pleads with him not to leave, but the son is determined to go and live in the big city with all its attractions. Forsaking his father and brother.

 Life started well for him, he gained many friends, living the high life until he money ran out, and then his friends ran out just as quickly. Left bereft, he found a job feeding pigs, an animal which was an affront to a Jew, and was forced to eat their food.  Eventually he gave up and decided to return to his father and beg forgiveness.

 The father had never given up hope of his son returning, and each day would look up the road leading to his home, constantly hoping to see his son walking back. Then when the day came, he rushed out to greet the boy with loving arms and compassion, and he dismissed all the son’s apologies.  He created a lavish feast, which upset the faithful son who had not been treated with such attention as his wayward brother.  The father assures that son of the love he had for him who had always been appreciated.

 The message we should see in this passage, are that God is like the forgiving father in the story, who rejoices when a person falls away from Church is found and welcomed back.  The Bible tells that all heaven rejoices when one lost sinner repents and returns.  God is always ready to welcome and forgive.

 Jesus came down to earth to give His life on a Cross, to pay the price for forgiveness for all who return to Him.  He did so to be the ‘good shepherd’. Always searching for the lost. Jesus always showed concern, He never just wrote a person off.

 But what are the Lord’s representatives on earth doing to search for the lost?  How many Ministers when they notice a person missing from the Church seek to find out why?  I would think not many, they just accept the loss.  How many members do anything to seek lost friends from the fellowship?  Jesus sent His Apostles to seek and heal, as He did Himself.

 I know  a Vicar who retired from full-time ministry, and helped out at his local parish Church by taking services when a vacancy occurred. He never took any fee or expenses as he was entitled to do, and when the pandemic came and he was forced by law not to attend, he  did not return again, as a new Vicar was appointed. He has never been visited or even called by phone, to enquire his state of health at any time. I do know Churches where they have a telephone check on people are noticed missing.

 But apparently it is not only in the United Kingdom such happens. I was a follower of a leading American evangelical preacher, famous across the United States, whose preaching was recognized by full Church attendance, in a Church of great beauty, which he created.  I had an account there, and followed his strong Biblical teaching. For some reason my password to the account was one day not accepted, and there is no provision whatsoever on the website of the Church to create a new one.

 I still follow the streaming of services on the internet, and have sent three emails to the Church seeking assistance in creating a new account, one to the new pastor, and one to the CEO of the Church Ministries, all without any acknowledgement or response. Sadly the man I admired died.  The irony is they claim to be evangelical and fervent in the pursuit of spreading the gospel,, yet quite dismissive or practicing it.  I feel certain the former Pastor would have acted differently.

 I have been told that the clergy do not have time to do much visiting, having to visit the ill and attend meetings.  No one visited me when I was in hospital, and all the meetings are largely,  waste of time as little results from them. A meeting need only be called when something important has to be discussed, not as an alternative to doing something relative to parish duty.

 I would be quite pleased if someone sought my help, and feel thrilled I was able to help, as when two American Christians wrote to me seeking an explanation of Scripture.  I was always under the impression it was an essential part of Christian ministry to search and seek the lost.

 I do not have a Church of my own now, so I am essentially an itinerant preacher. This has taken me to a lot of Churches of different denominations. I return to most of them and find the congregation noticeably smaller than previously.  Age and illness obviously are a reason, but people also fall away out of boredom, frustration or just disappointment, and even disgust.  There is a sense of spiritual hunger, for the Bible has become for too many in the Church as just a handy accessory. The sermon is seen as a tedious necessity to fill in a few minutes.  I have actually been told that by a Vicar, when it should be the centrepiece.

When certain Archbishops and bishops are seen on television making remarks which cause so much concern, they have to apologize, that does not help, nor when calls are made for the Bible teaching on morality be abandoned because some minority faction might be upset at the teaching, which comes from God.  I know members of the Methodist Church were shocked to find their Church was allowing same sex partners to be allowed to have services of marriage, and have left for another Church.

The words of Jesus were clear,  'I will build my Church, and he gates of hell willnot prevail against it.'   One may be confused, as there are those within the Church who seem to be doing there best to destroy.

Saturday 4 December 2021

 

John the Baptist.  Matthew 11/  Luke 3

 If you study your Bible you will find there is a gap of four hundred years between the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, and the first book of the New Testament Matthew.  There was no one outstanding figure, no one to prophesy to the people.

 Then all of a sudden there comes on the scene a man called John the Baptist.  He was referred to in the Scriptures as one chosen to prepare the way for the Lord, and in Luke we read that he was chosen before his birth.  He proved to be a very special person.

 Jesus made special mention of him describing him as a burning and shining light with no other man comparable to him.  He lived out in the wilderness close to wild beasts alongside the river Jordan, wearing clothes of camel hair tied with a leather belt.  He ate honey and locusts.

 John was a fearless preacher who attacked the religious leaders of his day, calling them a brood of vipers, he even attacked the king for immoral living which caused him to be arrested and subsequently beheaded, yet crowds of people flocked to hear him preaching his call for them to repent of their sins.

 Those who listened to him wondered who he was as he spoke so authoritatively.  They thought he might be one of the great prophets returned.  But he was a humble man who never sought public acclaim and was never willing to compromise or seek greatness.  He referred to himself as one not even fit to untie the sandals of the One was to come.

 In every Bible story there is inevitably a lesson for us today.  John was a holy man who tried to live a worthy and good life and a Christians that should be our aim.

 There is a lesson for preachers in that there was a man who was prepared to speak the truth and was not afraid to be criticised, and he didn’t seek to modify his message to please those around him.  How many would be prepared to speak forthrightly in our Cathedrals, indeed how many would be allowed to. 

 John said what he believed God wanted him to say, what people needed to hear rather than consider what they wanted to hear.  People went to hear him because whether they agreed with him or not there was substance in what he said, and that is a difference in many Churches to day.

 I listen to sermons today and sometimes I pray that no stranger was in Church that day or they would be put off for life.  We must not be afraid of upsetting people, but as long as a preacher is not offensive, for which there would be no justification, it should be remembered that a sermon should stimulate thinking and most reasonable people would welcome that however much they disagreed with content.

 As John was near the end of his life he was kept in a dungeon at a place in the North East corner of the Dead Sea, an extremely hot and oppressive spot.  He had criticised Herod for his immoral lifestyle and this was the punishment.

 He was a sad and disillusioned man for his ministry was over and he feels alienated as people appeared to have forgotten him especially when Jesus was the focus of attention and he himself faces death.

 John had always spoken strongly and faithfully about Jesus and he felt Jesus was doing nothing to help him and wonders if in fact Jesus was the promised Messiah.  Doubt had entered his mind, which probably affects most people at times, for one senior cleric once stated that if you never had any doubts you had never done any serious thinking.

 In order to clear his mind, John asked his disciples to see Jesus and ask Him if he really was the One they were expecting.  Jesus told those disciples to go and tell John of what Jesus had actually done in answering prayer and that things happen in God’s own time. 

 However hard to accept, God has His own plans and Jesus will return one day to pronounce judgement.

 We know ultimately John offended the king's wife and when she got the opportunity took revenge.  Her daughter danced erotically before the king and was promised anything she asked for, and at her mother's insistence asked for the head of John the Baptist.  The king regretful but unwilling to be humiliated agreed

Jesus knew people could fall away and give in when things appeared to be going wrong for them. It still happens and we can be very cruel within the Church sometimes by careless talk but on other occasions deliberately. I had a lady in my Church who worked very hard for the Church and demonstrated her faith in a very practical way. She trained to be a Reader, was PCC Secretary, and if anyone fell ill was the first to offer practical assistance to help them through their illness. What you might say ‘an ideal Christian’.

 Sadly, a new Vicar had a wife who was intensely jealous that some other woman could be more popular than her, that she made life intolerable for her, causing my friend to leave the Church and fall away for a time. I am delighted to hear she has now returned. There can be no justification for animosity within a Church,.

If you have felt disappointed, or feel no one cares for you remember this passage, knowing there will be judgment one day and all who do goodness will be welcomed into His Kingdom.

There comes times of suffering and weakness in all our lives. We may suffer loss, or have some seemingly impossible matter to deal with. It is so easy to give in, but if you do give in, it can be so hard to get back.

There are so many ill minded people who long to destroy our faith, some within positions of influence in society, and too many politicians who want to take Christianity out of the public domain; their words may appear attractive when you are downcast. If you have trusted God and for some reason nothing has happened, your faith will be under severe attack.

John acts as a warning to us, but he came out of his difficulty. You too can. Think of that great hymn by Ray Palmer, ‘my faith looks up to thee.’ Above all, never let doubt lead you to a spiritual desert. It is sad when someone loses their faith, and like many Ministers I have seen it too often. You may think it can’t happen to you, but it can.


My faith looks up to Thee,
Thou Lamb of Calvary, Saviour divine!
Now hear me while I pray, take all my guilt away,
O let me from this day be wholly Thine!

May Thy rich grace impart
Strength to my fainting heart, my zeal inspire!
As Thou hast died for me, O may my love to Thee,
Pure warm, and changeless be, a living fire!

While life’s dark maze I tread,
And griefs around me spread, be Thou my guide;
Bid darkness turn to day, wipe sorrow’s tears away,
Nor let me ever stray from Thee aside.

When ends life’s transient dream,
When death’s cold sullen stream over me roll;
Blest Savior, then in love, fear and distrust remove;
O bear me safe above, a ransomed soul!