All The Scriptures

'And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.' (Luke 24:25-27)

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

New sermon

You can find a sermon I preached before christmas here

Let me know what you think?

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

New Sermons on Elijah

Latest sermons on Elijah here:

1 Kings 19: Yahwehs whisper in History

1 Kings 19: When God comes calling

These are part of a series on the Life of Elijah and Elisha i might post earlier sermons from the series later.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Can the real God please step forward? (1 Kings 18: 1-46)

I don’t know if you have seen the movie “catch me if you can”? It’s about a man born in the USA called Frank Abagnale. He was a famous impostor. During five years in the 1960’s Abagnale forged checks in 26 different countries around the world to a value of $2.5 million.

But as he was doing this he also masqueraded as a teacher, airline pilot, Doctor and a lawyer. He forged university certificated from Harvard law school and nearly killed a baby when he was impersonating a doctor in a Georgia hospital, and all this from the age of 19-24.

He used his money to fund a lavish life style where he dated air hostesses, dined at expensive restaurants and worn expensive clothes. He looked like the real thing! But he was only an impostor! He wasn’t the genuine article, and he was caught eventually in France, and all 26 countries where he was wanted issued documentation for extradition!

It’s quite a story but Frank Abagnale is a bit like Baal in the Story of I Kings, he’s an impostor, not the real deal. Baal was said to be the one who controlled the rains and therefore gave fertility to the land and the crops.

But he really was a lump of rock masquerading as a god! An impostor who had no power what so ever. In this chapter of 1 Kings we have a God war in progress. The Question laid before the people is: Who is the real God.

And that’s the point of this whole passage, is Baal the one who has power over nature and the one who withhold the rain from the land at his command? Or is it the LORD who is sovereign over all?

So I want to look at this passage in terms of 4 main points

1. The servant of the real God (1-15)
2. The challenge of the real God (16-24)
3. The Provision of the real God (25-39)
4. The Promise of the real God (40-46)

So after 3 years of drought the LORD tells Elijah that its time to go and confront Ahab and the drought will be brought to an end. So of Elijah Goes and he meets Ahab’s palace official if you like Obadiah.

Now it seems a bit strange as to why we have this conversation with Obadiah here. But I think this is an example of the Believing remnant in the nation. Obadiah might have served Ahab as his palace official, but he still was a devoted servant of the LORD.

And we can see here just how committed to the LORD Obadiah was, he had taken 100 of the prophets of the LORD and hidden them in 2 caves so that Jezebel couldn't get her hands on them.

And more than this he had feed and watered them, can you imagine just how daring this was. Here was a royal official actively working against his queen and out of his own pocket feeding 100 men in a time of severe famine and drought in the land.

Obadiah was showing a lot of courage in serving the LORD this way. He seems to have been well thought of by Ahab as we see Ahab commends him to go and search for grass so the animals in the royal court would not die because of the famine.

But behind Ahab’s back Obadiah was working for the LORD. And we can notice a great contrast between Obadiah and Ahab here. Ahab was concerned with his animals, it did not seem to matter that most of the people were starving and had no water! All he could think about was his animals and keeping them alive!

His priorities were all wrong, Ahab as the King was the Shepard who was to look after his people! But he had a different kind of shepherding in mind! Indeed in looking after his own animals in this way he was really looking after his own prosperity! Ahab was not going to let this famine hit his wallet!

But Obadiah on the other hand feared the LORD greatly and at his own expense keeps alive 100 prophets of the LORD. You see where Obadiah’s priorities are? Even in the midst of a great famine when I’m sure he was suffering as well, he made provision for the prophets of God.

He feared the LORD and was willing to sacrifice his and his family’s provisions for the LORDS work. And sometimes Christians are called to serve in this way, to be salt and light by engaging in the political and social systems of this world and serving the LORD quietly and faithfully behind the scenes.

Not all Gods Servants must be like Elijah, confrontationilist. Sometimes we are called just to work within the system and serve the LORD Faithfully. Making sure like Obadiah our priorities are in the right place, they are in God and His Kingdom and not in our own interests.

Sometimes we by necessity may have to stand up and be confrontational even if it costs us our Jobs and our lively hoods in order to be faithful, that time may come. And there will always be the danger for people like Obadiah working away behind the scenes that we can begin to fear for our jobs or our popularity more than we fear the LORD.

Jesus was very clear on this we cannot serve two masters, and we can see here Obadiah maybe was in danger of fearing Ahab more than the LORD.

When he stumbles on Elijah and is told to go and get Ahab he is afraid that if God takes Elijah away, Ahab will kill him! And he was most likely right. Ahab would have killed him as he had looked everywhere for Elijah.

I think Obadiah here may well have just been in danger, he was running the risk of fearing the Wrath of Ahab more than the Wrath of God. And it’s a danger all who work like Obadiah have to face, be it in your work place or in school or where ever.

Are we prepared to make the sacrifice to serve the Lord of are we to afraid of not being popular or keeping our Job? Remember what Jesus told his disciples in Luke 12: 4-9

4"I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. 6Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies[a]? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

8"I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. 9But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God.

There is a cost to following Christ in this World. Obadiah experienced that as he sought to save the prophets of the LORD from Jezebel, yet maybe he had an unhealthy fear of Ahab which caused him to doubt here?

Yet he submits as Elijah gives him the assurance that he will indeed present himself to Ahab verse 15.

Which brings us to our second point in this passage: the Challenge of the real God.
Elijah and Ahab meet and exchange pleasantries! Ahab blames Elijah for all the trouble that had beset the northern Kingdom. How often the voice of those who speak up for the truth of God and His Word are derided or blamed in society!

But Elijah makes it plain the drought is here because of the Ahab’s unfaithfulness to the LORD and his commandments. Ahab has brought in a false religion and the LORD is bringing his judgement on the nation. And now there will be a final contest to see if this religion actually is true!

Here we have the great stand off, in the blue corner we have the challenger, Baal the Canaanite storm god and in the red corner we have the LORD the covenant God, who redeemed his people Israel out of slavery and brought them into the Promised Land.

But here then is the question, which one is the real God? The stage is set the people are gathered to Mount Carmel, right in the heart of Baal territory on the boarder between Israel and Sidon. The Prophets of Baal are gathered for this show down.

And in front of all the people Elijah says to the people verse 21

How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.

You see in Israel at this time its not that the worship of the LORD was completely taken away, but the people wanted the best of both worlds. They wanted the best of baalisim and Yahwehism! But here is the problem both cannot be right!

Either Yahweh is God and is the sovereign God, the one who brings the rain and the dew on the land or he is not! The people cannot waver between these two any longer. They cannot follow both, only one or the other.

Baalisim was in fact quite appealing, after all baalisim as a religion was thought to bring prosperity, Baal was the storm God who brought the rain and allowed the crops to grow and the animals to multiply! So it was good or the economy and peoples pockets! And what could be more relevant to an agricultural society!

Baalism had the royal sanction; remember Ahab built the temple of Baal in the northern Capital. And power tends to be persuasive, if you wonted to get on in society, you needed to be able to have the correct credentials with the establishment, that meant worshipping Baal!

And Baalisim also appealed to the peoples sensuality, sex and prostitution where built into the liturgical rites of the Baal cult. At the temples you could have sexual intercourse with a cult prostitute and it wasn’t denounced as wrong in fact it was a good thing in the Baal worship! How appealing would that have been!

But however good that sounded it does not answer the big question who is the real God, who is the one who send the rains and brings the blessing on the Land Baal or Yahweh?

This is what must be decided and the People cannot have it both ways, there is no sitting on the fence for Christians, true as it maybe that baalisim is not a big issue today in the modern world, but we still have our own idols which we devote ourselves to.

IF we broke up all our time this week and seen how much we devoted to the LORD and how much to our own pleasures, or material gain, or popularity, how devoted to the LORD are we?

An idol can be anything which prevents us from devoting ourselves completely to the LORD, and we all have them! What are yours? And how devoted to it are you? Because as far as God is concerned he demands total commitment to Christ!

There is no sitting on the fence, we can’t be religious on Sunday and forget about God on Monday! We can’t Lover our Neighbour on Monday and massacre him on Tuesday!

If we say we Trust in Jesus then we must follow him! What we believe must dictate the way we live our lives! There is no point in believing that the wall exists and then trying to walk through it! Our belief must correspond to reality, the same is true of our belief in God, if we believe in God then we must act on that believe and live our lives accordingly!

We can’t just have the good bits and leave the rest; we can have Jesus as our saviour and all that nice stuff and not have Jesus as our LORD, who demands our obedience! How long will we waver between two opinions says Elijah?

If Jesus is God then follow him, devote your life to him, not to the idols of wood and stone, or pleasure and prosperity, popularity and success! You can’t box God into a nice manageable size that fits your demands, Let God be God, for if we try and make God fit our ideas then we don’t have God at all, just another idol we have created for our benefit!

But see the people’s response, they said nothing, it was just apathy they did not seem to care. It was going to take something a lot more powerful to demonstrate that the LORD is God and cause them to turn away from their false Idols and worship the LORD whole heartily again.

Elijah makes the way for the final show down between himself, the LORDS prophet, and the prophets of Baal! The God who answers by Fire is the true God. Verses 22 -24

So of go the Prophets of Baal then and they make up there sacrifice and dance round it till there blue in the face! Then Elijah mocks them because nothing happens! There is no response from Baal. So they go into even more of a frenzy and start cutting themselves with swords and spears but still nothing happens.

Now if we look at baalisim for a moment here we can see just how telling this silence from Baal was. Firstly they were 450 prophets of Baal, Elijah was just one. So if numbers had anything to do with it surely Baal should have listened, but no Just because something has a lot of People following it does not necessarily make it correct.

Secondly Baal was the storm God, who was in control of lightning and thunder according to Canaanite mythology, so really sending fire from heaven to consume this sacrifice should not have been much of a problem to him, but still there was no response.

Thirdly the prophets were very very sincere in what they were doing, they were prepared to cut themselves and dance into a frenzy, but they were very sincerely wrong! Just because someone holds to some opinion sincerely and passionately does not make it true. Still nothing from Baal.

And finally this was all taking place in Baal’s on territory, he had home team advantage here. so surely you would expect him to be able to win this on his one turf? But no Baal has noting to say at all, there is no fire, nothing.

So now its time for the real God to step forward, Elijah rebuilds the alter that had been broken down with 12 stones. Each stone standing for each tribe of Israel. There may have been a political division between the northern and southern Kingdom at this time but before God Israel was still one people!

And Elijah prepares the sacrifice and loads up the alter. He heaps the odds even further in Baal’s favour by soaking the whole thing in water verse 33 -35

And then he just prays. There is no attempt at manipulation, no mass frenzy, just a simple prayer verses 36, 37:

"O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again."

Elijah Prays here that God would reveal himself and that the people who again worship and serve only Yahweh. His desire is for the Glory of God again to be shown in Israel. And that’s what happens in verse 38

The fire fell and consumed the sacrifice and the alter and the water! And the result was the people fell on their faces and cried out the LORD he is God! Baal had been seen for the pile of rubble he was! And the People has realised that it was the LORD who gives the rain and the blessing to Israel and it is the LORD who can withhold it!

The real God has stepped forward, and he is no impostor! But there is more happening here than just a display of the sovereign power of Yahweh, we also see in this a provision of the real God.

Israel was in an awful state; they were worshipping other gods, and therefore had broken the first commandment! And now Yahweh has preformed this great miracle before them to turn them back, but how was the LORD going to receive them back after they had broken his commandments.

Technically the LORD should have reigned down fire on the people of Israel because they should have been punished! After all they were his people and were meant to be a light to the nations a royal priest hood and people chosen by God. A people who were Holy and devoted exclusively to Yahweh.

So when they rejected God he should have punished them! But in this act of Yahweh’s power sending fire to consume the sacrifice we also see his grace.

For in accepting the sacrifice of Elijah he was in fact providing the way for the people to come back to him, by means of the alter. By means of a sacrifice where the animal was offered up rather than the people. God was providing atonement for the people so that they could again be in a right relationship with himself!

As God accepts the offering on the Alter with 12 stones standing for the 12 tribes. What he is doing is by his free grace making atonement for the sins of the people so that they could again be his people, so that he could again be their God!

Without this, Israel Gods people, would still be under his wrath as they are still guilty of breaking the commandments, but now there has been reconciliation through the sacrifice on the alter. Indeed on more than one occasion in Israel’s history God has already worked like this.

In Leviticus 9: 24 after the first service at the tabernacle where Aaron Moses brother was the priest the Fire consumed the sacrifice showing the LORD's acceptance of the sacrificial system. So here again Yahweh has made provision for his people.

And we don’t have to stretch our minds to far to see as new testament believers that God has indeed made the final provision of His people at the cross of Calvary where Jesus made atonement for the sin of His people. And God accepted him as he rose from the Grave victorious.

By Gods Grace again we to can be reconciled with God, even when we have run after our own false idols and broken the LORDs commandment he made a way for us to come back to him by sending Christ to die in our place on the Cross.

We no longer need alters or animals Jesus has paid the price and like the Israelites here in this story, we to can turn back to God in repentance and trust in his gracious provision for us in Christ! So that we can be in that new covenant relationship with him.

And finally we see the promise of the real God. The people has turned back to Yahweh, atonement had been made for the wrongs they had done and now Elijah prays on the top of mount Carmel and the LORD sends the Rains.

With repentance and Faith come the Blessing of God, the richest of his grace and mercy on his people. The drought was over and now the land would again bring a harvest and the animals would again multiply. For the LORD keeps his promises.

And for us we to can receive the blessing of God in Christ if we will turn from our idols and trust in him as he makes provision for us in Christ and we walk in obedience to our Lord Jesus the wrath of God is turned away and we are free from sin and death and condemnation.

This is what God has promised us in Christ, forgiveness and grace for sinful rebels who break his commandments and worship idols. And just imagine the hope this would have inspired in the lives of the exiled people of God.

Remember these things were written when Judah was in captivity in Babylon. Here were the people of God in a foreign land surrounded by false Gods and being squeezed into worshipping them.

Being tempted to compromise on there holiness and total devotion to the Lord by the pagans around them. But here was the story of Yahweh the covenant Lord who is the real God the only God even when they were in a foreign land, aliens and strangers they could trust Yahweh to make provision for them.

And it’s no different for us as New Testament believers today. With all the sophisticated Gods of 21 century Britain we to are tempted, pressed to give in and compromise our love for Jesus.

Church of Scotland people at this very moment are being pressed to compromise on sexuality and the bible. How often are we tempted to love money and not Yahweh in this nation build completely on it economy.

But we also know the Christ is the risen conquering son. Very God of very God. And we have been called to love him only, with heart, mind, soul and strength in this world knowing that he has made a way for us to be his people and for him to be our God.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

The Resurrection

All The Scriptures has been lying dormant for quite a while, but I'm pleased to announce that it's now being resurrected. When it was originally launched, the vision was for a site for preachers to share their insights and sermons, and provide some helpful constructive criticism. That is still the focus of All The Scriptures, and we're currently recruiting several more to the team of preacher-bloggers.

If you would like to get involved, please leave a comment, or email me via my profile page. In the meantime, we welcome Bryan!

Monday, 18 August 2008

Sermon Audio

Over the coming months, we're hoping to be able to provide sermon audio from Dundonald. As a test run, here's the mp3 file of my first sermon (as curate) in the parish. Feedback on the sermon, as well as the format will be greatly appreciated.

The sermon was entitled 'A Promising Start' - an exposition of 1 Samuel 11:1-15, looking at the beginning of Saul's reign as King of Israel.

080810pm 1 Samuel 11 A Promising Start Gary McMurray.mp3

All The Scriptures is back again

After a lengthy break, we're back with this blog again. All the Scriptures will continue to provide sermon outlines, sermons, and in the near future, sermon audio as well.

Friday, 6 July 2007

A great witness with a great testimony about a great God - Luke 8:26-39

Sometimes it is necessary to tailor the message to the congregation and their expectations / needs. For example, if a congregation is not used to lengthy exposition, then perhaps a slightly shorter sermon will be received better than a longer one where they fail to take it in. The following was preached at an early morning Holy Communion service, where the normal expectation is under five minutes. It was a challenge to explain and apply the passage in the tighter constraints. How do you think I managed?

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Have you ever noticed the bumper stickers people put on their cars? Maybe I should have checked the cars outside before I mention these, but here’s some that I have noticed with a message – ‘Don’t follow me, follow Jesus’; ‘God wants spiritual fruits, not religious nuts’; or what about this – ‘Carpenter from Nazareth wants joiners.’

Given that Jesus wants people to follow him, we might be surprised then to find in our gospel reading that Jesus doesn’t take this man with him. Rather, in verse 39, Jesus says: ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ Why was this? In our passage, we see a great testimony; a great witness; and a great God.

First, the great testimony. It is obvious to see the change in the man, because of his encounter with Jesus. Before, he was afflicted by demons. The spiritual affliction had led to physical affliction too –‘for a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs’; kept under guard with chains and shackles. After, when Jesus had cast out the demons, he is sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. The demons are gone, he is clean and free, and wanting to serve Jesus.

What is your testimony? The change may not have been as dramatic as the demoniac, but if you’re a Christian, you will have some story of how you have been changed, and how you are being changed through your encounter with Jesus. Have you thought of it recently? Is it obvious to those around us that we have been changed?

Second, we see the great witness. The people of the region were afraid because of what Jesus had done. Was it the change in the man? Was it the loss of the pigs that made them afraid? Their fear led them to ask Jesus to leave the region. Can you imagine that? Jesus turns up, performs one miracle, and the people of the town ask him to leave!

Yet Jesus does not leave himself without a witness in the region. In not taking the man with him, Jesus commands him to return home and share with them what God has done for him. The man was a local, and would be accepted easier than Jesus, who was seen as a troublemaker from outside. The man knew these people; and the people would be able to see just what Jesus had done and changed in the man, long after Jesus had sailed away.

Now that we have thought of the man’s great witness, speaking in that region, we need to think of our own witness – have you recently told someone about your faith? Have you told anyone what God has done for you? Just as the man was in a unique position to witness about Jesus, so we too are in unique positions – in the places we live or work or socialise, in the friends we have and the people we meet. They may be people I will never meet or know, so you have that unique place of being a witness to them.

Third, we see the great God. Really, we have seen the great God from start to finish, as Jesus frees the man from the demon possession, and moves to advance his kingdom. But do you notice the subtle change in verse 39? Listen carefully – ‘”Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.’ Did you notice? Jesus tells the man to go and tell what God has done for him, and he goes away to tell what Jesus has done for him!

Here we have a subtle hint that Jesus is indeed God. It confirms the identity of Jesus from the lips of the demons in verse 28 – ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?’; and also the work of God that was done on the hillside that day.

As I was preparing, I was drawn to the opening verses of Psalm 103, as they speak of remembering what the great God has done for us, and in telling others: ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.’ (Psalm 103:1-5).

Jesus left the country of the Gerasenes in the boat that day. But he also left behind a great witness, with a great testimony of a great God. Will we also seek to share what God has done for us as we go from this place today?

Monday, 11 June 2007

Comparative preaching on Luke 24 - part two

I have used the structure of John Chapman in 'Setting Hearts on Fire'. I have preached this sermon with a different introduction and different illustrations... obviously football, and more especially Liverpool are not everyones cup of tea. Maybe this is something for discussion in the comments section.

2 Liverpool shirts… £90.
2 Champion League tickets… £120.
Flights to Istanbul… £350.
Watching Liverpool win the Champions League… Priceless!!!

But at half time things were far from priceless! Things looked terrible! 100-1 no hopers! Its was time to tear up your tickets and go home! That’s exactly what 2 fans did. They’d watched 3 goals go past Dudek - and it was painful! 3 nil down at half time! They could see no way back for the red team they loved so much. So they decided to head back to the hotel and drown their sorrows with a few pints.

Just as they were approaching the hotel, they heard the 2nd half commentary coming from a pub window… “Gerrard for Liverpool – Goal!” 54minutes, 3-1. Then “Smicer – Goal! 3-2, 56mins. “Alonso- Goal!” 3-3!!! “Could you believe it?! Liverpool had come back from the dead and were back in the hunt for the Champions League! The two fans turned right around and ran back towards the stadium! The dream was now alive again! Liverpool were on their way to becoming Kings of Europe!

What joy! What a turn around! They had moved being from disappointment to excitement! Disbelief to belief! Back to the match to cheer on the Pool!

It’s marvellous when situations are turned right around, when people are turned right around, isn’t it?!
This evening’s reading from Luke’s Gospel tells us of two peoples lives that are turned around. They had followed Jesus during his ministry, and just recently watched as he was put to death on the cross. On the day that Mary Magdalene had met Jesus risen from the dead, they were on their way back to Emmaus, away from Jerusalem. They were talking about the things that had happened. No doubt how Jesus was arrested, and unfairly sentenced to death. How he hung on the cross and died an horrible death. As they talked about these things, the risen Jesus came up and walked alongside them. To them he was a stranger. They didn’t recognise who he was. And as he asked them what they were talking about, we discover that the two disciples were disappointed with Jesus.

the scriptures

What are you discussing together as you walk along?" They stood still, their faces downcast. 18One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?" 19"What things?" he asked. "About Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23but didn't find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see."


Faces downcast. Disappointed with Jesus! Oh yes Jesus was definitely a prophet. There is no doubt about it. Everyone witnessed how he was powerful in word and deed. Ask anyone. They’ll tell you he spoke for God. The religious leaders rejected him and handed him over to be put to death. And die he did! They crucified him. Hung him on a cross with two criminals. Everything looked so promising. We had hoped he was the one! The promised king of the Old Testament, the Christ, the one to give people a relationship with God. But alas no! He’s dead and things haven’t changed one bit. It’s now the third day since his death. Some women amazed us. They had found the tomb empty and said that Jesus was alive. But no, our friends went to the tomb and they didn’t see him.

The 2 disciples were disappointed with Jesus. They believed he was a prophet. But he was nothing more. They had hoped he was the one to bring people into relationship with God but no. He was just like the other prophets who had spoken God’s word and then been killed. They didn’t believe Jesus was the Redeemer. They had heard reports that Mary had discovered the tomb empty and had met the risen Lord. But Mary was a woman. You didn’t believe a woman’s word in their day. And anyway the men had gone up to investigate and yes the tomb was empty but there was no sign of Jesus. Did they stop to think about why the tomb was empty? And wait around to see if Jesus turned up? No. They had had enough. They were on their way back to Emmaus. They had given up on the man Jesus.


They were just like the two Liverpool supporters who had watched Liverpool be humiliated in the first half. The reds fans were so disappointed with the players and Benitez. They had such high hopes that Liverpool would win and be the toast of Europe. They could rub it in the face of the Red Devils, the Gunners and more importantly the Toffees! But no! Liverpool were down and out! They were a good team but they weren’t the Kings of Europe!


Maybe you see Jesus as just a prophet. A man who spoke from God and made an impact on the world. You might believe that Jesus did exist but that he was no more than a popular religious leader. He was put to death on a cross. But there is no way he rose from the dead! The tomb might have been empty but that doesn’t prove anything. Sure the disciples could have removed his body and made up the story of his resurrection. Or maybe the body was stolen by the religious leaders, or even the Romans. No Jesus isn’t who those Christians claim he his. He was just a man who caused a stir, nothing more. He’s not alive. He’s dead. What does Jesus say to you? Well lets look at what he said to the disciples as we reconsider Jesus from scripture.


25He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" 27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.


Jesus confronts their judgement on himself and their unbelief in the scriptures. It’s interesting that Jesus sees the prophets word, the Old Testament, as something that can be trusted. In his ministry he had claimed that the Old Testament was God’s written word. And he rebukes the disciples for not believing that written word. He asks them a question which is key to reconsidering Jesus. Did the Christ not have to suffer and rise again? This question is the key to understanding Jesus and the Old Testament scriptures. And as he asks that question he answers it by turning to the Old Testament. He starts with Moses and looks at all the prophets. And he does so he explains to the disciples how the scriptures speak of his death and resurrection. The need for his death to pay the price for sins. How his death on the cross would bring rebels back into relationship with God. How the Christ would rise in three days, conquering death, and bringing new life.
What a wonderful time that must have been, having Jesus explain the whole OLD TESTAMENT, explaining why he had to die and rise again.
I’m sure it was as good as the 2 Liverpool supporters, hearing the television commentator tell them that Garcia, Smicer, Alonso had scored 3 goals and Liverpool were back in business!
The Old Testament can be tough going at times. There are wonderful stories. Stories of betrayal
and deceit. Stories of war and peace. Stories of slavery and freedom. But what does it all mean. How does it affect you and me? Jesus tells us that it points to him. It speaks of how God’s promised King would die on the cross to rescue rebels. Its speaks of his resurrection from the dead. And Jesus had died on the cross and he had rose from the dead. The tomb was empty not because the disciples removed the body and made up the whole thing. Why would they have gone on and died for lie? It’s a pretty stupid thing to die for a lie. And the tomb was empty not because the religious leaders or Romans had stolen the body. If this had been the case then they could easily have produced the body to rubbish the early Christians claims. No, the reason why the tomb was empty was because the Old Testament promises had been fulfilled. The man Jesus was the Christ and he had died and rose from the dead just as the Old Testament prophets had predicted. How foolish it is to believe that Jesus didn’t rise from dead, and slow of heart to believe the Old Testament scriptures. What do you think? Are you convinced? Do you believe Jesus rose from the dead? Do you believe the Old Testament Scriptures?

How did the disciples respond to Jesus explanation of his death and the empty tomb? Listen to the end of this account. Seeing Jesus as the Risen Lord.
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. 29But they urged him strongly, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" 33They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem.
Stay with us! Don’t go! And as Jesus took bread, blessed it and broke it, the disciples recognised that the stranger was in fact the man they had given up on. The man who they were disappointed in. The man who had challenged their disbelief. The man who had asked them that all important question. The man who had started with Moses and worked his way through the Old Testament and explained what it says about himself. The man who had died on the cross and who now was risen from the dead. The man Jesus, the Christ! It was crystal clear to them now! Their eyes were opened! They could finally see it was Jesus, the risen Lord! That moment when he took bread, give thanks, and broke it, they recognized him. How did they recognise him? Was it the way he took the bread and give thanks? Did this trigger past memories of Jesus feeding the 5000 or instituting Lord’s supper? Or did they see the nail marks on his hands as he took the bread and broke it? Whatever it was, as soon it happened, he was gone! What would they do? They had discovered Jesus. And now he had left. Where would they look to in the future? The answer lay in their question to eachother. “Did our hearts not burn as he opened to us the scriptures?” Their minds being opened to the scriptures had helped them to see Jesus and their hearts were on fire. They had gone from blindness to sight. From unbelief to belief. From cold hearts to hearts on fire! And they turned back on themselves and returned at once to Jerusalem. Jesus had not disappointed them. They had disappointed Jesus. But it didn’t matter, because Jesus had opened the scriptures to them and in doing so had opened their eyes! It was now back to Jerusalem to tell the others that Jesus wasn’t dead but that he was alive, risen from the dead!
What a turn around! Just like the two Liverpool supporters, who had heard the good news that Liverpool has scored 3 goals and were back from the dead. They could see clearly that things had changed for the better. Things were looking up! Liverpool were on their way! They had to rush back to the stadium and watch Liverpool win the penalty shoot out, lift the Champions League and celebrate an amazing comeback!
Have your eyes been opened? Can you see who Jesus is? He’s not just a prophet. He’s the Christ. The one who died to rescue you from hell for heaven. The one of whom the scriptures speak of. The one who gives us new life and hope. The one who sets our hearts on fire! That’s why explaining the scriptures is ever so important. Its not enough just to know the stories and facts. We need teachers to explain to us what it all means. And that’s why we have sermons in our services – for the bible to be explained and applied to our lives. And that’s why we need Sunday school teachers, and bible study leaders. Our hearts can be set on fire if we show people Jesus in the scriptures!
If you’re disappointed with Jesus and you are walking away from Jesus, can I ask you to reconsider Jesus in the Bible. Find out who he is, why he died and how he rose from the dead. By doing this, you will find yourself turning right around and running towards the victory of Jesus. His death paid the price for our sins! He rose from the grave defeating death! No longer do we have to makes amends with God. Jesus has done it for us! No longer do we have to think that death is the end of the story. Jesus has defeated death and has a place in heaven for us. Please change your mind about Jesus. If you do, you’ll see that he’s the Risen Ruler who only wants the best for you.
Let us talk to God in prayer….

Heavenly Father,

Thank you that Jesus died for our sins and in three days rose from the dead. We thank you that he is the one who was promised by the prophets of old. We thank you that you have opened our eyes to see Jesus as our Rescuer and the Risen Lord. For those of us who are slow to believe help us to know Jesus through the Scriptures and set our hearts on fire.

In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Comparative preaching on Luke 24 - part one

As noted in the previous posting, Stan and me recently preached on the same passage at the same time in different parishes. Over the weekend, we'll hopefully get Stan's sermon here too! Mine was preached in Magheralin, and the text is Luke 24:13-35.

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Have you ever been disappointed with God? You thought things would all be great when you started out with Jesus. But then bad things happen. You have that meeting with the doctor as he gives you bad news. Or as you stand at the graveside of your loved one. Or perhaps other people seem to be getting on so much better than yourself. You’re disappointed with God. Annoyed that He doesn’t seem to be as close as you wish.

And yet, things can get worse as you dwell on your disappointment. It affects all that you do and think. It can also lead to disbelief. After all, if God has promised to be with us, then where is he? Why do we face these hard times? Is he not able to keep his promises, or does he not care?

The two followers of Jesus we find in our reading are disappointed. Watch them trudge along the road, gloomily talking to each other. It is the afternoon of that first Easter Day, and they’re on their way back to Emmaus. The journey is seven miles or so – a good walk that will take them a couple of hours. Roughly the distance of Magheralin to … (Portadown?) Plenty of time to think and talk.

But notice – even though it’s that first Easter Day, the day of Jesus’ resurrection, they don’t seem to have the joy of knowing that Jesus is alive as they journey. Instead, they are disappointed and disbelieving.

They’re disappointed with the way things have happened over the past week. You can see it in their body language and in what they say as they encounter the stranger on the road. Look at verse 17. ‘They stood still, their faces downcast.’ Their hearts ache, and their faces show their pain and sorrow as the stranger asks what they’re talking about.

And in their sorrow, there’s also room for some surprise. How can the stranger not know about what had happened? As Cleopas says to him, ‘Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?’ (18). The force of his question is even stronger in the ESV. ‘Are you the only visitor … who does not know?’ The things that had been so important to them seemed to have passed others by. As the stranger asks what things, hear the disappointment in their voice, as the story of Jesus is told.

“He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”

They had followed this Jesus, the teacher, the prophet. He had shown his power in both his teaching, and in his miracles. They were convinced that the kingdom of God was here. The Christ had come. And then it all seemed to go wrong. The religious leaders had decided he should die. They crucified him. And hear the disappointment coming out in this sentence – ‘but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.’

All their hopes had been pinned on this Jesus. Their hope had seemed to be well placed, because of the powerful ministry of Jesus. But then he had died on the cross. It had all gone wrong. So much for the redemption of Israel. We had hoped. But not now.

Are there things that we hope for, but circumstances (or God’s purposes) turn out to be very different? You started out on a relationship, with big plans for the future. It seemed to be the right thing. Then it all went wrong. We had hoped…

But notice, that as well as the tremendous disappointment these two are facing, they are also caught in the trap of disbelief. On that day of resurrection, they were stuck in the depths of despair. In verse 22, they tell the stranger about the experience of the disciples that day. “In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning, but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women said, but him they did not see.” (22-24).

Into the middle of the sadness came the reports of the women who had visited the tomb and seen the angels, and of the other companions who had went to the tomb to check it out. Confusion reigns. But has their disappointment lifted? No, rather, they move from disappointment further down, to disbelief. Rather than staying to check out what they’ve heard from the others, or waiting to think about what they’ve heard and what it might mean; they have begun their long journey home. Perhaps this was even part of their disappointment – that other people seemed to be getting on much better, or other people had had these experiences of angels. They had none of that. They only had their disappointment, and then their disbelief – finding it hard to believe what their friends had said.

Could it be, though, that in not believing their friends, they were ultimately not believing God and his word? We’ll see in a minute or two.

So the two people travel along the road, speaking with the stranger. Verse 16 tells us they were kept from recognising him. Yet we know who this stranger is – none other than the Risen Jesus himself. Why does he not reveal himself straight away – stopping them immediately and telling them that they’ve no reason to be sad or confused, because he is alive?

Well, had that happened, they would have been encouraged, no doubt about that. But would they have grown in the way that they could, by going through the learning curve?

Notice that the Risen Christ is journeying with them – even though they don’t realise it, he is with them in their pain and sadness and confusion. At times we also seem to forget that Jesus is with us, especially at those times when he seems farthest away.

Notice next, that the Risen Christ teaches them from God’s word. They were ultimately disappointed and disbelieving because they had failed to understand God’s purpose in the world and failed to understand God’s word.

Hear the rebuke he had for them: ‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ (25-26).

They had been disappointed because they had though Jesus was going to redeem Israel. Then it seemed to have gone wrong with his death on the cross. But according to Jesus, it was in this death and resurrection that he did indeed redeem Israel, and all God’s people. Far from the cross being a tragic accident, rather, it was the means of accomplishing the rescue mission, according to God’s plan revealed in Scripture.

As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians (and as we echo him in the words of the Nicene Creed), ‘For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.’ (1 Cor 15:3-4). Far from being purposeless, the cross had been written and spoken about before it had ever happened.

Jesus then launches into what I imagine was the ultimate Bible study. ‘And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.’ (27) Jesus explaining his life and death and resurrection from the Hebrew Scriptures.

No wonder the disciples felt their hearts burn within them! (32). Jesus was opening up the Scriptures to them, helping them to understand what they were ultimately all about.

Do we encounter the same thrilling experience of encountering God in his word? As we read and hear the Bible read and explained, do we feel that burning? The words we hear and speak are not lifeless words – they’re not just interesting accounts of ancient life. These are the very words of God – the words of life and salvation. Living and active, and powerful words.

The travellers arrived at Emmaus, and the stranger seemed to be going on, yet he was persuaded to stay with the two. It was getting late, and he shouldn’t be travelling. Much better to stay with them for the evening. And as they came to the table, it was the stranger who took the bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.

Was this unusual, for the guest to serve the meal? Perhaps. Yet in the unusual act, there was also something very familiar about it. Those actions – the taking, thanking, breaking and giving are the same as in the feeding of the 5000 (Luke 9:16 – ‘Taking the five loaves of bread and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people.’) and in the Last Supper (Luke 22:19 – ‘And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”’). Or was it as they saw the nail prints in his hands – those ‘wounds of love yet visible above in beauty glorified’?

Either way, they instantly recognised Jesus, and knew that he was alive! In that moment of recognition, he disappeared from their sight, yet they weren’t sad at their loss. Rather, through their encounter with the Risen Lord – through his word spoken, and through his presence with them, and ultimately, through remembering his sacrifice and recognising him in the breaking of the bread – they were changed and transformed!

Gone was the disappointment of Good Friday. Gone was the disbelief of their friends and of God. Gone, even was their tiredness. Now, these disciples are transformed. How can we see that?

Well, remember how they had trudged along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, feeling every step of the 7 miles? Now, despite the lateness of the hour, they set out back to the city. Their sadness has been transformed into joy. They must tell others about it!

So off they go, back to Jerusalem. There they find the Eleven and the others with them. There they find the transforming power of the risen Christ in the Eleven too. Notice that verse 34 is the testimony of the disciples who had stayed in Jerusalem: “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” They too had encountered Jesus, and had been changed.

The it is the turn of the two from Emmaus to tell their story, ‘and how Jesus was recognised by them when he broke the bread.’ (35). Together, the disciples share in the joy of the risen Lord. Nothing will be the same again.

Are there situations in which you are disappointed at how things are going? You feel that all hope is gone. Nothing can change. Your faith in God is being stretched to the limit. You think God is far away and is not interested. Take heart tonight from the experience of those disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Jesus was not far from them. He was journeying with them in their sadness. He was with them in their pain. But more than that, Jesus brought God’s word to clarify and explain; to encourage and show God’s purposes. And then, they came to recognise Jesus with them. They were transformed through their encounter with the Risen Christ.

Jesus is with you, too, in your pain. His power is sufficient for you. And as we break bread tonight, we remember his death on the cross, and his mighty resurrection – defeating sin and death, and giving us life and hope. Jesus is with us. Will you be transformed by his presence in your life?

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Comparative Preaching

It's always interesting to see how different people approach and preach the same text. Perhaps using a different introduction sets the direction and aim of the sermon in completely different ways. Or the use of illustrations helps aid the understanding.

On All The Scriptures we're going to see this in action. Both Stanley and myself are preaching this Sunday night. The passage is Luke 24:13-35 - the road to Emmaus. Watch this space for the two sermons!

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Strewth! Aussies can preach!

This month saw the visit of the world renowned Anglican Evangelist John Chapman to Dublin. Chapo is passionate about helping preachers preach the scriptures so that peoples hearts are set on fire. His book on preaching evangelistic sermons, Setting Hearts on Fire can be found here. One his evangelistic sermons can be found at the Crinken Church of Ireland website.

There you will also find sermons by another top preacher and Aussie - Ed Vaughan. Both men originate from the Diocese of Sydney. Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport!

Sunday, 11 March 2007

The Fiery Furnace: Daniel 3:13-30

My other sermon from Daniel so far. This was originally preached on 19th November 2006.

Idols are all around us. The cult of the celebrity is everywhere – on tv, in newspapers, and on the internet. Just think of the X-factor, or Pop Idol. What about the crowds that flocked yesterday to get a glimpse of Tom Cruise at his wedding?

However, it’s not just celebrities who claim our allegiance and worship. Our society is obsessed with money and wealth; getting and spending. The expectation is for us to join in the worship of wealth – so how do we react in the situation? Our friends, colleagues, families expect us to bow down and worship money, just like them. What will we do?

Our Old Testament reading tonight brings us to Babylon, during the time of the exile. The leading citizens of Jersualem had been carried off to Babylon, and the temple destroyed. What would the Jews do then? These people of God – without a temple, and so far from home – what would they do?

Would they merge into the surrounding culture, make themselves comfortable in Babylon, and start worshipping the Babylonian gods? Or would they maintain their faith and trust in God, despite being so far away?

Especially since the king, Nebuchadnezzar, had unveiled a new statue to be worshipped. The status was rather impressive – ninety feet high, nine feet wide, and made of gold. At the dedication ceremony, all the chief officials, rulers and civil servants were present.

The order came from the king that when the orchestra played – that whole big list of instruments – ‘the horn, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music’, then the people were to fall down and worship. If they decided not to worship, then they would be thrown into a blazing furnace (6).

Can you imagine a big crowd of people standing around the image? All waiting on the music? Think of some of the big gatherings of people we have seen recently - the Live Aid concerts, or …

And so, the music started, and the people fell down to worship. Right across the plain, people are prostrate… except for those three people still standing – so noticeable on the landscape. Who are the three? And what are they doing, still standing?

The three men are Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – friends of Daniel, and fellow exiles. Already in the book of Daniel we have met them – in chapter one they also refused to eat the king’s meat which had been sacrificed to idols. And there they stand, in disobedience to the king’s command.

Straight away, some of the astrologers come up to the king to report what had happened. Ever since the Jews had come to Babylon, the astrologers weren’t keen on them – already, the astrologers had failed to interpret the dream of Nebuchadnezzar in chapter two, while the Jew Daniel had done it. Later, they would fail Nebuchadnezzar with another dream, and also Belshazzar’s writing on the wall. So when they had this chance to get the Jews thrown into the furnace, they would take it. In doing so, they would also prove their own loyalty.

But notice, in verse 12 that the astrologers say ‘there are some Jews… who pay not attention to you’ – does this mean that other Jews were going along with the flow and worshipping? Were they encouraging the three to also bow down?

It’s here that our reading began tonight – with Nebuchadnezzar in a furious rage. Who were these people to not be worshipping him and his gods? Did they not know that if they were in his culture, they should do as he did? So he has them brought before him, and gives them another chance. If they fall down and worship, well and good, But if not, then they will be thrown into a blazing furnace.

Notice the challenge he sets – ‘Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?’ To Nebuchadnezzar, his image was obviously the most powerful god, because he was ruling. It seems to be a power play – if I’m king of this vast empire, then my gods must be more powerful than all the other gods.

For Nebuchadnezzar and his loyal followers, the question was obviously meant to be rhetorical – needing no answer… the answer was obviously no. No other god could rescue them from his hand.

What would you do, if you were in that situation? Facing a hostile, angry king who threatens death – horrible death in a furnace – if you don’t bow down. After all, how hard would it be to lie down on the ground for a minute or two? He wouldn’t know what you were thinking. And it would mean you could continue to serve God in the king’s service.

What did Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego do? They answered the king: ‘we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O King. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.’

To Nebuchadnezzar’s challenge, they show their faith in God, believing God is able to rescue them and save them. The confrontation is set up. Nebuchadnezzar’s gods against God. But even more than that – the three go further. Even if our God doesn’t save us, we still won’t serve your gods.

This is no fair weather faith – which only lasts as long as things are going well. Here, in front of the king, the one who transported them so far from home and who wants to force them to worship other gods, they defy him, and declare their total trust in God. Even if God won’t save them miraculously – that’s his choice – they will still serve and worship only him.

You can see the blood vessels standing out on the head and neck of Nebuchadnezzar – he’s raging with these men. And so he acts out of his rage – the furnace is made seven times hotter, and the three will be thrown in.

To make sure they can’t escape, they are tied up – wearing all their clothes and blankets around them for good measure – to make sure there’s plenty of stuff to burn. The commentators seem to suggest that the furnace had one opening at the top, and another at the bottom. Into the top opening they are thrown, by the strongest, best soldiers in Babylon. Yet it is the soldiers who perish from the heat and the flames.

The three men find themselves in the furnace. Nebuchadnezzar watches to make sure they are burned up. And as he watches intently, suddenly he gets a fright. The three men had been tied up, thrown in as if in a sleeping bag, yet now he can see them walking about freely, unharmed, and not only three – but a fourth as well!

The fourth looked like ‘a son of the gods.’ Who could this be? The son of the gods – later, in verse 28, Nebuchadnezzar refers to him as an angel – the angel of the Lord. But some would see this as a pre-birth appearance of Christ, being present with his people in their trouble.

Nebuchadnezzar had set the challenge – what god will be able to rescue you from my hand? The three had answered that their God was able. Nebuchadnezzar now saw with his own eyes that this was so – their God had rescued them, but not only that, had been present with them in their trials.

As the king says himself, in paying tribute to God, ‘Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.’

So how does this apply for us today? Do you face pressures to conform to other people’s expectations – or to join with other people’s worship of celebrity or money or false idols? These idols which threaten to take the place of God.

How will you respond? Will you go with the flow, or will you go against it and stand your ground? We may not face the furnace – yet there are still consequences to our actions – maybe being isolated in work, or being thought of as eccentric…

In the midst of these trials, we find that God is with us – his angel was present with the three; his presence is with us. Maybe not saving us out of the trial immediately, but being with us in the trial.

And let’s pray that as we live for God, showing our faith by our actions, others will see, and give the praise to God, as Nebuchadnezzar also praised the Most High God.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Love, sex, and marriage

In today's confused world, love, sex and marriage are understood in radically different ways. Is there any guidance from God on these important issues? The team at the Irish Church Missions believe that there is, and its found in the Bible. At the following link, you will find clear and edifying talks from Eddie Coulter, Dave Martin and Sean Martin.

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Falling from grace: Galatians 5:2-10

In these days of celebrity exposure on tv and magazines, we’re all too familiar with the fall from grace. Someone who was popular, or important, or influential does something or says something, and suddenly, they are dropped, ignored and forgotten. Think of Kate Moss, after the drugs scandal, or Jade Goody after her alleged racism on Big Brother. They’re out in the wilderness, and their position is lost.

As we come to our passage in Galatians 5, Paul warns his readers in verse 4: ‘you have fallen away from grace.’ So what does Paul mean when he says that they have fallen from grace? How did they get into that position, and what were the alternatives? And what will it mean for us? Is there a danger that we could fall away from grace?

So let’s first see what Paul means when he says that the Galatians have fallen away from grace. It is certainly a serious situation – to fall away, or remove yourself from grace – from God’s favour. Are we right to think that it is a position of being removed from God’s favour? Yes – look at verse 4 again. Not only does Paul describe it is falling away from grace, he also sees them as being ‘alienated from Christ.’

Remember, these are Christians Paul is writing to. This is a terribly serious situation – no wonder Paul uses such strong language right through the letter. If you know Galatians at all, you’ll have come across his outbursts, cursing those who try to preach a different gospel (1:8-9), his confrontation with Peter (2:11-14), his words in 3:1 (‘You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?’). Then just after our passage ends, he exclaims that he wishes that ‘those agitators… would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!’ (5:12).

So how did the Galatians get into this position? Why does Paul say they have fallen from grace? Look to verse 4 again – ‘You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.’ (5:4). The foolish Galatians were trying to be justified by law. So what does that mean? Quite simply, they were trying to be right with God by keeping the law. Verses 2 and 3 point us towards circumcision – as symbolising the law.

It seems that after Paul had visited Galatia and preached the gospel there (and moved on), other teachers came in to the church who were teaching something different. No longer was it salvation by faith alone, as Paul had taught. They were teaching that to be right with God, the Gentiles had to first become Jews before becoming Christians. And so, they insisted on circumcision for the Galatians, in order to be right with God.

Imagine you were a Christian in Galatia. Paul had taught them the basics of the faith and moved on. Then the other teachers arrived – maybe even claiming to have connections to the church in Jerusalem – who say that you have to submit to the Jewish customs and law in order to be fully right with God. Well, what do you do? You’ve no idea where Paul is now – he could be in Philippi or Thessalonica or Corinth… And you want to make sure you’re doing it right. So the Galatians bought into the new teachers.

But now Paul has heard of it, and he’s furious! Cue the curses and outbursts. Why is he so furious? Well, it’s simply the case that the Galatians were putting their hope and confidence in something other than Jesus. Their focus and attention was shifting from Christ alone, to Christ plus circumcision.

If they were hoping to be made right with God through the law (and through circumcision), then they weren’t looking to Jesus alone for their salvation. Call it an insurance package or whatever – you know, just to make sure, we’ll cover all bases and all possibilities for salvation – but really, it was to their condemnation and shame.

Why was this? Well, because if they are circumcised, then Christ is of no value to them. Christ won’t make any difference to them, because their confidence is in their circumcision. And yet, they’re not in a good position – verse 3 says that ‘every man who lets himself be circumcised … is required to obey the whole law.’ By submitting to the law, they were required to obey all of it, if they aimed to be right with God through it.

Yet they could never achieve this. No one (except for Jesus), could keep the whole law. So if they were trusting in their law-keeping, then they were condemned already. Remember what James said – ‘For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it’ (James 2:10).

The Galatians were tempted by the Jesus plus circumcision package of the false teachers. Perhaps they were looking for that extra security or assurance. But in reality, they had exchanged freedom in Christ for the slavery of the Law. Isn’t that the point of 5:1, which we didn’t read tonight, but provides a key to the passage: ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.’

The Galatians had been under the slavery of sin. Jesus then freed them through his death on the cross for them, and by their coming to faith in him. But now they were exchanging their freedom in Christ for a new slavery under the law.

How does this affect us today? After all, we don’t have teachers going about saying that we need to submit to circumcision and the Jewish law and customs to be saved. That particular testing isn’t a problem to the modern church. I’m not sure it would gain much popularity anyway, if teachers came today preaching the need for circumcision.

Yet we face similar problems. For the Galatians, the teaching was implying that to be saved, they had to trust in Jesus and be circumcised. It was ‘Gospel Plus’. Trust in Jesus, yes, but you also have to fulfil all these other criteria too. What do we see around us in churches and denominations? Fill in the sentence – to be saved, you must trust in Jesus and …… - abstain from alcohol, or vote unionist, or whatever.

Are there problems with this approach? Yes, absolutely! The offer of free salvation in Christ becomes perverted and distorted to fit the other agendas of the individuals concerned. Suddenly, the gospel isn’t a free offer, when the other conditions (which may not be biblical) are added to it. And so easily, the focus can shift from faith in Jesus to that external thing which is noticeable.

But there’s another issue that arises as we seek to apply this passage today. The Galatians had been confused and led astray by the teaching they had received. Look at verse 7: ‘You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?’ It was their teachers who had cut in on them – that image of the athlete running, and someone getting in their way, diverting them. Paul is rightly harsh on the false teachers – affirming that they will pay the penalty (10).

And yet the Galatians were partly to blame for being led astray. I’m not saying that there’s a possibility of being led astray by those who teach here – not even when your new curate arrives – but how careful are you to check what you are being taught? Do you accept what is said from the pulpit without thinking, or do you check that it is what the passage is saying, and in line with the Scriptures?

Having looked at the position the Galatians were in – that of having fallen from grace; and considered how they had ended up in that situation – we should ask – was there an alternative? What was Paul urging on the Galatians?

Look again at verse 4, and read on into 5. In 4, we see ‘you’ and ‘you’, whereas in 5 we see ‘we’ and ‘we’. There’s a change and a contrast there, ushered in by the first word of verse 5: ‘but’. Let’s read it – ‘You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love’ (4-6).

What is the alternative Paul urges? Rather than being alienated from Christ, the true believer is ‘in Christ Jesus’. Rather than trying to be justified, there is the hope and eager expectation for the true righteousness. Rather than working for justification by the law, their righteousness comes from faith. Rather than being right with God through something done to the flesh, the true believer is right with God through the Spirit.

So what is the position we should be aiming for? ‘For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love’ (6).

Paul has already been arguing that circumcision has no value – but he goes further here to say that being uncircumcised is no better. Just as those who were circumcised had nothing to boast about, so those who hadn’t been circumcised had nothing to boast about. Tom Wright suggests that the word for ‘value’ can also mean power – there’s no power in being circumcised or not being circumcised.

So to return to our earlier application of seeing other churches where we might see ‘Gospel Plus’ in operation – it won’t do us any good to boast that we aren’t like that, or that we don’t make additional demands.

The only thing that counts, Paul tells us is this: ‘faith expressing itself through love.’ How are we made right with God? Through faith. But it isn’t a dry intellectualism – in simply assenting to a series of beliefs. No, the faith is living and active – expressing itself in love. Being seen by what it does.

We don’t do the works to be saved. But the works we do show that we have been saved by faith. This is, for Paul, the key to Christian living – as he will go on in the rest of the chapter to write of the fruit of our faith – the fruit of the Spirit, those things that can be seen and are evidences of our faith – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.

So having seen the options available to the Galatians, we have to ask – what way are we going? Are we, like the Galatians running well? Will we continue to run well, not allowing anyone to cut in on us? How do we keep it going? Let’s pray that we will continue to have faith expressing itself through love, rather than trusting in any sort of Gospel-plus system.

If you’re still in slavery to your sins, and have never known freedom, then Christ offers freedom to you tonight, as verse one reminds us. Come to him, and be set free! And if you do know Christ, and have been freed by him, then I urge you to continue to run well, in freedom.

Thursday, 21 December 2006

The Foolish Man: Luke 12:13-21

I wonder if we have any fools here today? You may not like to admit it – no one likes to be called a fool, after all. And yet, the Bible talks about fools quite a lot – especially in the Psalms and Proverbs. In Psalm 14, we read ‘The fool says in his heart, “There is no God”’ (Ps 14:1).

Now you might be thinking that that can’t apply to you – you know there’s a God. But do you always remember there is a God? Is he the highest thing in your thoughts? Does the way you live show that you believe in God?

In our New Testament reading today, we heard a parable that Jesus taught. Someone in the crowd had come up to him and asked him to make his brother divide the inheritance with him. The man was acting out of self-interest – he only had his eyes on the money.

Jesus’ reply sets up the parable, and gives us the key to understanding it. ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’ Even at the outset, Jesus is saying that your life isn’t about what you earn or own. That there’s more to life than getting all you can. But even more than that – you have to take care and be on your guard – covetousness can creep up on you. Isn’t it so easy to see what your neighbour has and to want it? Yet Jesus calls us to be watchful against it.

He then goes on to tell the parable. It’s probably a familiar one, but let’s hear it again.

"The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' 18And he said, 'I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' 20But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' 21So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God."

At the start of the parable, we are introduced to the rich man, a farmer, whose land produced plentifully. He had been working hard that year, and was pleased to see that he had harvested a bumper crop. And yet there was a problem. The barns he had used in the past suddenly weren’t big enough for all he had produced. He couldn’t store away all he had – what would he do?

So he thought to himself and eventually came up with his plan. Pull down the old barns which were too small, and instead, build new ones. Bigger ones that would hold all his grain and goods. That way, all his goods would be safely stored. Nothing would go to waste. What could possibly go wrong?

Indeed, as he continued to think to himself, I have so much here now that there’s no point in working again. He considered himself so rich that he would never work again. Instead, he would retire early, and take things easy. As he told himself, ‘I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink and be merry.’ Eat, drink and be merry. What more is there to life than getting enough money and goods so you can retire and take things easy? So you can enjoy the good things of life.

And watch him as he rings the builders and arranges the contract for demolishing the old barns and building the new barns. All seems to be working out well – the builders even promised to come the next day! And yet, he’ll never see them come. Because God said to him that very day, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’

After all his plans for the rest of his life, he would see none of them, because God took him that night. And the things he had worked hard for, all his possessions and the grain and goods – he would never see the benefit of them.

Notice how God addressed the man. ‘Fool!’ God called the man a fool. And why was that? The fool says in his heart, there is no God. The man had forgotten God. Firstly, he forgot God who provides all the good things he had – the bumper crop came only because of God’s care and provision. As we heard from Psalm 65 earlier, ‘You provide their grain… You crown the year with your bounty’ (Ps 65:9,11).

Yet the man doesn’t thank God. He doesn’t acknowledge God. He only cares about getting the crops and then storing them up for himself.

He forgets that anything he has comes from God – he views himself as the owner of what he has, rather than a steward, given a trust to manage for a short time. So when he has so much, he only thinks of himself.

Notice also that as he forgot about God, he remembered his soul – or rather, his body. As Jesus summarises at the end of the parable ‘So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.’ The man had been so concerned about his own welfare, and taking things easy, that he had forgotten about God, and had taken no steps to be rich toward God. The man remembered he had a soul, but hadn’t put things right with God – he was rich materially, but was spiritually bankrupt.

The man also forgot about God in terms of the future. As the book of James reminds us, we can’t make plans of our own – it is God who holds the future. ‘Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”’ (James 4:13-15).

And in terms of the ultimate future, the man had forgotten about God, who will sit in judgement on each person. And so, when the man would stand in front of the judgement throne, what would he have to show? His wealth counted for nothing, and he was not rich towards God. As Proverbs 11:28 tells us, ‘whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.’

The man had totally forgotten and ignored the first and great commandment – to love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. Notice that when he came upon his storage problem, he only thought about it himself, he didn’t involved God in it by praying.

But the man also ignored the second commandment – to love his neighbour as himself. Certainly, he was loving himself, as he planned out his life of wealth and ease, making sure he would have nothing but the best. But was he loving his neighbour? Was he thinking of those around him who were less fortunate, who were facing a bleak winter?

Even a quick glance at his thoughts show how selfish he was: ‘what shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops? I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul…’ I, my, I my…

He was so concerned with laying up treasure for himself – material wealth, and yet ignored his soul. Did you notice that he thought he was addressing his soul when he told it to eat, drink and be merry? Yet he was mixing up the physical and the spiritual, and was actually neglecting his soul.

So what can we learn from the Lord’s parable? What is God’s word to us today, in Quilly? Jesus’ warning still stands today: ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’ And we need to hear these words today, as materialism seems to be out of control.

Someone has summarised our society as thinking ‘the one with the most toys wins’. What is our response to issues of money, wealth and possessions?

Jesus calls us to be on our guard against covetousness. Yet how often do we compare ourselves to those around us – both looking to see if we have more possessions or the better car, or looking at what others possess and envying them? Have you ever caught yourself wishing it was you had that latest gadget, or the bigger house?

Jesus calls us instead to have a proper perspective on matters of wealth. How do you manage the money God has entrusted to you? Will you worship it, or will you use it for good?

Let’s learn from the man in the parable – firstly in recognising that God provides us with all we need. He had thought the bumper harvest was his alone – but we should remember that all we have comes from God and still belongs to him. So our attitude to money should first be that of thankfulness to God. Today in this harvest service, do we truly mean the thanks we offer?

Which leads us into the next attitude – if the money has been given to us by God, then we should ask how he wants us to use it. We should be using the money for God’s purposes – investing in gospel work. And remembering the needs of those around us.

Our reading isn’t telling us though, that it is wrong to seek to improve your circumstances through hard work – the man was condemned because he wanted to store up all he had earned and only use it for his own desires. He was worshipping money, and ultimately worshipping himself by putting himself at the centre of the universe.

But the key question for us is this – how can we avoid being seen as a ‘fool’ by God? The man was called ‘fool’ because he had stored up treasure for himself, but was not rich toward God.

As Jesus said in Matthew 16, ‘For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?’ (Matt 16:26). These words could have been spoken of the man in the parable – he gained so much, yet forfeited his life, because he was not rich toward God.

You see, we focus so much on this world with its wealth and riches, that we forget about the world to come, and we fail to store up riches for it. How can we shift our focus to the heavenly? How can we be rich toward God?

You see, our pursuit of wealth is setting up idols in God’s rightful place. And our promotion of self as the object of our desires is a rebellion against God – it is removing God from the throne and putting ourselves in his place. Both our idolatry and our rebellion are sin. Sin is so terrible that it demands and deserves the wrath of the Holy God, who cannot abide evil or sin.

But thankfully Jesus came as the sacrifice for our sin, dying in our place as our substitute. By his death, we are made right with God, we are reconciled, forgiven, ransomed, redeemed, liberated and revived. And we receive all these benefits by trusting in Jesus, by putting our faith in him. By trusting in Jesus, we can store up treasure in heaven.

Paul tells us in Ephesians that all these blessings from ‘the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us’ (Eph 1:7-8). Later they are described as the ‘immeasurable riches of the grace’ (Eph 2:7) and the ‘unsearchable riches of Christ’ (Eph 3:8). By ourselves, we cannot store up treasure in heaven – we are poor and bankrupt when it comes to the Bank of Heaven. But Jesus offers us the riches of his grace, and provides the means for us to have treasure in heaven.

If you have never trusted in Jesus before, I invite you today to begin trusting in him. Recognise and confess your sin, and God will indeed forgive you, give you new life, and grant you the riches of Christ.

And if you are a Christian, but know that you have disobeyed Christ in worshipping the money God has given you, then confess your sins and return God to the throne of your heart, ruling over all of your life.

And please, don’t be a fool as you leave this hall today.