Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Book Review: Waterloo

I've always been interested in history. It probably traces back to a leaflet produced by Banbridge District Council many years ago called 'Historic Dromore.' The sheer number of historical features in the wee town I lived in blew my mind - the cathedral, the high cross, the Norman motte and bailey (the best preserved example in Ulster), the stocks, the town hall, the gallows street, the castle; all these gave me an interest in the past. Yet for all my interest, there are some periods where I don't really know very much. I knew of Waterloo, but I couldn't have told you much about it, even having been driven on a bus near the battleground on the way from Charleroi airport into Brussels. I probably knew more about the Abba song than the battle.

I was vaguely aware of the Fermanagh connection to Waterloo, the Inniskilling Dragoons having fought there. So when the 200th anniversary of the battle came on 18th June 2015 and I spotted Bernard Cornwell's new book on Waterloo, I knew I had to read it and start to understand it. I'm so glad that I did.

Cornwell is probably best known for his fictional Sharpe books, which were adapted for television. His previous grounding in fiction helps him to tell a gripping factual tale, with lots of drama, excitement, and personal interest. An epic story of an epic battle, or rather three battles, as the subtitle summarises: 'The history of four days, three armies and three battles.'

Drawing on many firsthand accounts of private soldiers, official records, and observations, Cornwell weaves the material together to keep track of the Prussians, the French and the British through the phases of the battles, in a way that the very amateur historian can follow. Technical language is explained and the objectives of each section and force are described clearly. The full complement of maps (at the start of each chapter) helps to place the action and build up the entire battlefield.

For some, the story of Waterloo is the story of the mighty generals, the clash of Napolean Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington. While Cornwell keeps us up to date with their movements, he also provides enough detail of the experiences and difficulties of the ordinary solider in the armies.

I really enjoyed the book, as it helped to fill in a gap in my historical knowledge. The book managed to do it in a way that was accessible, exciting, and engaging, and for this reason I'd definitely recommend it. If you'd like to know what all the hype about Waterloo was, then this is the book to read.

Waterloo is available from Amazon and for the Kindle.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Book Review: A Meal With Jesus

If you know me at all, you'll know I like my food. This book sounds like a perfect one for me, and it really was. Tim Chester has written a great book on the theology and practice of hospitality - 'A Meal with Jesus: Discovering grace, community and mission around the table.'

Through the book, Chester follows the meals mentioned in Luke's gospel, echoing the complaint that the Son of Man came eating and drinking. And when you think of it, there are so many meals in Luke, and each adds to the story and mission of Jesus. There's the enacted grace of the party in Levi's house; the anointing of Jesus in Simon the Pharisee's house; the feeding of the five thousand; the rush to get the seats of honour at the banquet in Luke 14; the Lord's last supper and then the meals in Emmaus and Jerusalem on the first resurrection day.

The chapters follow the meals above (although, the astute may have realised that there are a few more as well - as Chester quotes someone saying, 'In Luke's Gospel Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal.') The circumstances and events of the meals are discovered and explained, and the practical meaning is examined and applied. Throughout, there's a focus on mission, with the challenge to come and receive from Christ and then to go and share that grace and hospitality with others.

All in all, this book is like a six course feast (with an aperitif to set the scene). Each course follows perfectly from the last, and grace is on every plate, with lashings of extra grace. Reading it is like reading a menu - the reader's hunger is stirred, the desire to enjoy these good things is intensified; except that in the reading, the 'eater' is also satisfied. Hungry souls will find fulfillment because Christ is served up in this fine feast.

A Meal with Jesus is available from The Good Book Company.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Book Review: Faker

The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector takes up just seven verses in our Bibles. It's a memorable short story with a sting in the tale - the two men are at prayer, but the end result is surprising. Only one is justified before God, and not the one you would have thought at the start. The parable forms the basis of a new book from the pen of Nicholas T McDonald, published by The Good Book Company: Faker - How to live for real when you're tempted to fake it.

Aimed at young people, I found this to be a great book for more than just the target age group. The writing is engaging, honest and refreshing, as Nicholas opens up about his own failings when trying to fake it. He explores the ways in which we all try to fake it, especially in our social media saturated world, by projecting the best image of ourselves to a watching world. His stories are hilarious (and also instantly recognisable), as the perils of projecting perfection are exposed.

False hopes are shown for what they are, and throughout, there's a clear passion to explain the good news of Jesus Christ in a way that is easily understood and applied to the life of teenagers. The substitutionary atonement is front and centre, and brilliantly explained. There's even a final chapter on prayer which opens up the Lord's Prayer in a fresh way.

I really enjoyed the book, and I reckon that young people definitely will. The chapters are short, accessible and engaging. The gospel is clearly explained. The truth is presented in a way that gently but helpfully confronts. It's well worth buying for your teenagers or youth group - but not just for them. Read it yourself, and appreciate afresh the glory of the gospel.

Faker is available from The Good Book Company, who supplied a review copy of the book.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sermon: John 9: 1-41 Was blind, but now I see

I wonder if you’ve ever heard yourself saying this: ‘I couldn’t see it for looking at it.’ You go into a room, you’re looking for something and you can’t see it. It mustn’t be there. It’s lost. And then someone else comes into the room and it’s right in front of you. You couldn’t see it for looking at it - you saw it, but you didn’t really see it. It’s as if you were blind, you just couldn’t see it.

That experience is a bit like what’s happening in our Bible reading this morning. Now, perhaps, you’re slightly puzzled, because you’re thinking, Gary, you’ve got it all wrong. John 9 is all about the healing of this man blind from birth; it’s all about someone who couldn’t see, and then he’s able to see - and he’s so excited about it, he tells just about everyone he meets. You’re right. The man’s journey from being blind to seeing is there. It shows the power and glory of Jesus, but at the same time, in the same events, there are people who can see yet are becoming blind. They can’t see Jesus for looking at him. They can’t see who he is, even though they can see what he has done.

Look with me at verse 39. You see, this verse is the key to the chapter, this is the point of it, this is what it’s all about. When we get this, then we can see how the story unfolds. ‘Jesus said, ‘For judgement I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.’

This morning is going to be like a sight test. It’s like the man who was asked had his eyes ever been checked, and he replied no, they’ve always been blue. Whether you should have gone to Specsavers or some other optician, they test your eyesight, and record if your eyesight is getting worse or better. Here in John 9, as you seeing Jesus more clearly, or are you becoming blind?

In verse 1, there’s no doubt where the man fits in. He is a man blind from birth. I’ve had two family members who lost their sight, both in their elderly years, but this man has never seen anything. Doesn’t know what his parents look like. Has never seen the sky, or trees, or flowers. His is a sad case, but the disciples aren’t interested in pity. Rather, they start the blame game. Whose fault is this? Some people reckon that health and wealth follows goodness, and that sickness is therefore punishment for some terrible disease. That’s what Job’s comforters are known for - they blamed Job for all his suffering. The disciples were of the same mould. ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’

Perhaps you find yourself asking the same question when something bad happens to you, or someone you love. What have I done, to deserve this? Why me? But the disciples are asking the wrong question, and seeing the situation in the wrong way. Look at Jesus’ answer: ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.’

This man has endured so many years of blindness so that the works of God might be displayed in him. The disciples saw blame, but Jesus sees the opportunity to work, to show his glory. Jesus says that he is the light of the world, and proves it by shining in this man’s life. In verses 6-7 the miracle is described - the spit, the mud, the sending, the washing, and the seeing.

Those who do not see may see. The man born blind can now see, and what he sees is a crowd of inquisitive people. They recognise him, or at least they think they do. They’ve seen him begging, that poor man, born blind, but this man sees. ‘I am the man’ he says. How? He tells the story of how he came to see. Jesus, mud, sent, wash, sight. Amazing, wonderful, so the crowd take him to the Pharisees.

Now when we hear of the Pharisees, we almost want to boo them, like the pantomime villain. But these guys took religion very seriously. They were the people who were supposed to know all about God, the people who saw things clearly. And they saw how the Sabbath law had been broken. You see, they were good at observing the law, and good at spotting when others broke it. They heard the story - mud, washed, see. And they’re not convinced. How could he be from God if he breaks the Sabbath by producing something, by working to make mud? Others seem to be more open, ‘How can a man who is a sinner do such things?’

The Pharisees are divided, so they ask the blind man (!) what he thinks about Jesus: ‘He is a prophet.’ For being blind (or at least used to be blind), he’s doing a good job of seeing. Better than the people who can see, anyway. The Pharisees don’t believe that he really was blind from birth, so they question his parents. They know he was born blind, but they’re afraid of answering any more questions - they fear the Jews. They don’t want to see the truth before them.

Whenever we were growing up and suspected of doing something wrong, my granny had a phrase at the ready: ‘Tell the truth and shame the devil.’ The Pharisees have a similar phrase, which we see in verse 24. A second time they interview him and they say, ‘Give glory to God. We know this man is a sinner.’ And the man gives glory to God as he gives his simple testimony, a line that John Newton put in his hymn Amazing Grace: ‘One thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see.’

Again they ask how, and he’s getting annoyed, getting sarky, ‘I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?’ They’ve heard the testimony. They’ve seen the evidence of God’s work, power and glory, but they refuse to see. They can’t see it for looking at it. They revile him, they abuse him, they lecture him. But look at the man’s simple faith: ‘If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ (33)

And that’s the final straw. They cast him out, with those stinging words: ‘You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?’ They see, but they are becoming blind. At the same time, the one who started blind is seeing more clearly. Jesus finds him, and asks ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ Who’s that, the man replies. ‘You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.’ Do you see his response? ‘Lord, I believe’ and he worshipped him.

This is why Jesus came into the world ‘that those who do not see may see’ - this man was blind, but by the end of the day he could see. Imagine looking into his parents’ faces for the very first time. But he was also brought from spiritual blindness to spiritual sight - he saw Jesus for who he was, not just this miracle worker, not just this prophet, but the Son of Man, his Lord, who he believed and worshipped. John gives us this sight test today - have you noticed any improvement from earlier on? Are you seeing Jesus more clearly? His power, his glory, his grace? Are you moving from not seeing him at all to seeing and delighting in him? Are you better able to focus on him? Is your vision of him a bit less fuzzy than it used to be? Praise God - and keep looking at the light of the world.

But sometimes people get bad news when they have their eyes tested. Stronger glasses are needed as their sight worsens; macular degeneration is detected and blindness is approaching. Could that be some of us today? That’s like the Pharisees - they thought they could see so clearly, yet they were becoming blind. They couldn’t see Jesus for looking at him; they wouldn’t recognise him as Lord. They thought that his light was darkness. And they didn’t even realise. That’s where the passage ends. ‘Are we also blind?’ they ask. They thought they had 20-20 vision, but instead they are guilty, unable to see their sin; unable to recognise the Saviour right in front of their face.

The famous hymnwriter Fanny Crosby was only able to see for the first six weeks of her life. Despite being blind, she wrote many of the hymns we sing today - To God be the glory; Blessed assurance; and Safe in the arms of Jesus. A preacher once said to her, ‘I think it is a great pity that the Master did not give you sight when he showered so many other gifts upon you.’ She replied. ‘"Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I was born blind? Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Saviour."

She who was blind had the gift of sight - to see Jesus for who he was, her Saviour. And when she died and went to heaven, his would be the first face she ever saw. May we also be brought to see the Saviour, with our spiritual eyes, so that we too can share that same testimony: ‘Was blind, but now I see.’

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 22nd November 2015.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Sermon: John 11: 1-44 Resurrection and Life

On this Remembrance Sunday, we honour those who served and gave their lives for the cause of peace and freedom. It is estimated that 17 million people lost their lives in WW1, and around 60 million died through WW2. Yet we also remember those who have died since, through war and terrorism. The sheer scale of loss is unimaginable, yet behind those numbers lie the human stories - sons, husbands, fathers, daughters, wives, mothers, sisters and brothers.

Each death brings the pain of loss, the weight of sorrow, the sense of hopelessness in the face of death. And sometimes, death can even bring out some questions about God. Does he really love us - and if he does, why did he let this happen? Does he not care? Why did he not do something to prevent it?

Those are the questions that were spoken around the village of Bethany in our Bible reading. Does God love? Does God care? Is God powerless to help? The chapter opens with an ill man. Lazarus is ill, near death, and so his sisters send an urgent message to Jesus. ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ They remind Jesus that he loves Lazarus, and urge him to come. We’re told in verse 5 that Jesus loves the family, but his love leads him to do something very strange. Look at it with me. ‘Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.’

It’s because Jesus loves that he waits where he is. It doesn’t sound like the loving thing to do. Imagine the sisters, frantically watching Lazarus get sicker and still no sign of Jesus. Where is he? Why has he not come? Does he not love us? Jesus loves them, and he allows them to go through the grief, the sorrow, the heartbrokenness, the sadness - because through their pain, they will see God’s glory all the more. Does Jesus love us? Yes - even though we might not think it.

But does he really care? Jesus had waited two days, then travelled to Bethany, and by the time he arrives, Lazarus has been dead four days. His funeral has finished, and the days of mourning are in full swing. And did you notice that both Martha and Mary said the very same thing to Jesus when he arrived? Verse 21 and 32. ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ You could have helped, but you dillydallied. Don’t you care?

In verse 33, we see the care and compassion of Jesus up close and personal. When he sees Mary weeping, and the crowd weeping, then he is deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. So much so that we get the shortest verse in the whole Bible - John 11:35 ‘Jesus wept.’

Even though Jesus knows what he’s about to do, he cares for those in need. He is troubled by the things that trouble us. Some of the people watching recognise that care: ‘See how he loved him.’ Yet other people bring up the last of our questions - he might love us and he might care for us, but is he powerless to help?

Verse 37: ‘But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?’ Throughout the autumn we’ve been working through John’s Gospel, seeing the amazing things Jesus did, watching as he met with people and brought about change. He made water out of wine; made the lame walk; healed the official’s son by his word 25 miles away; and even made a blind man see (as we’ll see in two week’s time). Was Jesus powerless to help in this instance?

It’s the same question the two sisters asked. Don’t you care, can’t you help? Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Do you see what they’re saying? Before Lazarus died, you could have helped him, but you’re too late now.

He might have been able to stop Lazarus from dying, but is Jesus powerless against death itself? Can he give us sympathy but that’s about it? Is he all right to tackle some things, but others are too much even for him?

We’ve looked at how Jesus answered Mary, with compassion, his tears flowing with hers. But it’s with Martha that Jesus shows that he is the answer to the power of death. You see, Martha went a wee bit farther than Mary. She says the same, but then she goes on to say: ‘But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.’ Along with the accusation comes a little bit of faith, a mustard seed.

Jesus tells her that her brother will rise again. So she jumps on the Jewish hope of resurrection on the last day. She looks ahead to the end of time, to an event away in the future. It’s what the Jews believed, and it’s what we have affirmed as well - that on the last day there will be the resurrection of the body, the judgement, and eternal life.

But look at what Jesus says. She sees resurrection away in the future. Jesus says: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.’

Jesus is saying that he gives life, new life, resurrection life in the here and now. To receive Jesus is to receive life, and to have to promise of life eternal. Everyone thought that Jesus was powerless to help, but Jesus says that he has overcome the power of death, and he spells out what it means for all who believe in him. Even though he dies, yet shall he live. Death will come, but it does not have the final say; it is not the last word. Jesus brings resurrection, being raised in a new and perfect body, because he himself would rise from death.

But it’s one thing to say it. It’s another thing to demonstrate it. When Jesus gets to the tomb in verse 38, he tells them to roll the stone away. Practical Martha steps in - ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odour, for he has been dead four days.’ But look at how Jesus replies. It’s all about faith: ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’

The stone is rolled away. Jesus shouts with a loud voice ‘Lazarus, come out’, and (to make absolutely clear) John tells us ‘The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth.’ This was a dead man walking. Jesus has the power over death because he is the resurrection and the life.

When we’re faced with death, it brings all sorts of questions. Does God love me? Does God care? Is God powerless to help? The answer to each comes in the Lord Jesus, because he has demonstrated his love, his care and his power by surrendering to death, the death of the cross, dying for our sins, to bring us to God; and by rising from death, the firstfruits of resurrection life, to never die again.

Lazarus came out of the tomb that day, but Lazarus would one day die. Indeed, the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus (12:10) because of his witness to Jesus’ power. But Jesus will never die. As he says in Rev 1:19 ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.’ Jesus loves you. Jesus cares for you. And Jesus has power over death. Will you trust with your death, as well as your life? Jesus says: ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’

This sermon was preached on Remembrance Sunday 8th November 2015 in Aghavea Parish Church.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Sermon: John 8: 1-11 Without Sin?

Growing up, I was a member of the Boys’ Brigade, and looking back, it was the displays that really stand out. Having worked all year, the display was the night when family and friends attended - there was drill (marching), team games, the horse (which I couldn’t get over...), and a sketch of some kind. One sticks out (and hopefully, no pictures survived of this one) - the big idea was that we were members of The Spinster’s Club - all avowed spinsters, attending our regular meeting. A new member joined, and she had to give up all the items belonging to men in the audience. But then the minister came in, and the leader announced that some group member had shamed the group, by being seen with a man. So as the minister prayed, one by one, the guilty group members sneaked off... leaving just the leader and the minister - who were all set to head out on the town together!

It was a bit of fun, but the point behind it comes from our Bible reading today. I’m sure you’ve heard this phrase before, or maybe even used it yourself - let him who is without sin cast the first stone. But what does that mean? And where did it come from?

So far as we’ve toured through John’s gospel, we’ve seen Jesus’ glory in lots of different situations, with lots of different people. And so far, they’ve all been positive. He called John and Andrew and Philip to come and see, to follow him, and they came. He produced gallons of the best wine at a wedding. He confronted religious Nicodemus and converted the (spiritually and physically) thirsty woman at the well. We’ve seen him heal the official’s son (from a distance), and the paralysed man at Bethesda. But not everyone rejoiced at the down to earth God.

The religious people are feeling the pressure, they’re not liking what Jesus is doing, and so they start confronting him, challenging him. And it seems that they don’t care who they hurt as they pursue Jesus. They’re a bit like the church in America which had the sign outside which said: ‘We love hurting people’. Hopefully, they mean that they love people who are hurting, but the Pharisees here look like they really do love to hurt people.

The setting is the temple, during one of the festivals. It’s a busy time of year, like a half term, when everyone has come to Jerusalem, and the city is heaving. Jesus is teaching in the temple, there’s a crowd around him, when suddenly, the scribes and Pharisees appear, bringing a woman caught in adultery. We’re not told, but it seems that she had been caught redhanded, perhaps in a state of undress, and dragged to the centre of the crowd in the temple.

Look at what they say: ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?’ (4-5) These religious men use this sinful woman for their own purposes. They accuse her, and condemn her - an easy target. The moral men look down on her immorality. They accuse and condemn her, but only because by using and abusing her, they can accuse and condemn Jesus.

They look as if they’re concerned for moral purity, for keeping the Law, but actually, they’re concerned with nailing Jesus. Look at verse 6: ‘This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him.’ You see, if he says, don’t stone her, then he has spoken against the Law. If he says to stone her, then he’ll run foul of the Roman government, who had banned Jewish executions.

So they press him for an answer. Which will it be? Which side of the trap will he fall for? Why isn’t he answering? Why is he stooped over, writing on the ground? So they ask, and ask... and then Jesus stands and says that famous line: ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.’ (7)

Jesus doesn’t fall into their trap. Instead, he tells them to consider their own conscience, to reflect on their own life. Yes, at this stage in redemption history, adultery was punishable by death - but had they also done anything deserving death? Were they a perfectly righteous judge, without sin themselves? Plus (as you might have noticed), just as it takes two to tango, it also takes two to commit adultery, yet only the woman had been dragged in.

The woman had been caught redhanded, in order to catch Jesus. But they themselves had been caught out - their own hearts exposed; their own guilt condemned; their own sin revealed. One by one, they slip away. As Psalm 130 puts it, ‘Lord, if you marked our transgressions, O Lord, who could stand?’ As you might have taught your own children, when you point a finger at someone else, there are three fingers pointing back at you.

The supposedly moral people might look down on this woman, but they are also immoral at heart. We like to imagine that there is a league table of sin, and that, so long as we’re higher than some other people, then we’ll be all right. Well, ok, I’ve told the odd lie, but at least I haven’t done ... (fill in the blank). I’m a decent person, never do anyone any harm, and well, I’m better than her at number 23... But the Pharisees that day were confronted by their own sin. James, the brother of Jesus says in his letter that to break just one commandment is to shatter the whole law. As Paul says, the wages of sin is death - all sin, any sin, not just some sins, or other peoples’ sins.

Jesus had been stooping, continuing to write with his finger. But now he stands, looks around, and sees just the woman standing there. ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ Everyone has left. No one is left to condemn. Yet there is one who is sinless, one who could condemn her. The one who is without sin is the one who still stands there. What will he say?

Notice what he says in verse 11. Do you see how the two things go together? ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.’ He doesn’t condemn her - he gives forgiveness. He removes the penalty of death from her, and allows her to live. It’s why Jesus came into the world (3:17) ‘For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’ He forgives, he doesn’t condemn - but that doesn’t mean that anything goes; that there’s cheap grace for you to exploit, for you to go out from here and do whatever you feel like and that God will forgive because that’s his job. If Jesus had only said ‘neither do I condemn you’ then you might have thought that.

But he also says: ‘go, and from now on sin no more.’ You’re forgiven, but don’t continue in sin. You’ve been set free, don’t go back to the same slavery. Mercy and grace fit together to forgive us and change us, whoever we are.

Perhaps today, you see yourself in the role of the Pharisee. You see your religion as a way to beat people up and feel superior to them. You measure yourself against other people and always come out on top. You look down on people who sin in different ways to yourself, whose sins might be more obvious. In the words of the insurance advert - go compare - yourself to Jesus. In the light and perfect purity of he who is without sin, you’ll find that you are sinful, that you can’t make the grade by yourself, that you are more sinful than you ever imagined - but that you are more loved than you could ever dare. Flee to Jesus. Find in him the mercy to deal with your sins. As you realise that you deserve the wages of sin - death - marvel that the sinless one died for you to give you the free gift of God - eternal life.

Or maybe you find yourself like this woman. Your sins are obvious, and religious people have seen you as an easy target. You know you don’t deserve anything. You’re waiting for the stones to rain down on you. Don’t run from the sinless one - find in him your forgiveness and your freedom. The sinless one died for your sins to bring you to God, to wash you clean, to give you his life in place of your death. In this moment, confess your sins, receive his forgiveness, and strengthened by his feast, move out resolved to change by his grace, to go and sin no more.

So let’s pause, in silence, before we join in the confession. Be deliberate in your confession, the things that accuse you, that things you want to stop doing, Let’s pray.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 1st November 2015.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sermon: John 4: 1-42 The Woman at the Well

If you’re looking at job adverts in the newspaper, one of the things that you’ll notice is the statement ‘So and So is an equal opportunities employer.‘ So it doesn’t matter who you are, or what your background is, you are welcome to apply; it’ll not affect your application. This morning as we continue with John’s Gospel, we find that Jesus is an equal opportunities Saviour. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what your background is, Jesus is interested in you, and will save you. It’s the outworking of what we saw in ch 1 - He came to his own, but his own people did not receive him; but to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.’ (1:11-12).

So think back to before the harvest, when Jesus met Nicodemus, and look at the person who meets Jesus today - they couldn’t be more different. Let’s play a little spot the difference. Nicodemus was a man, a religious man, and a Jew. Today, Jesus meets a woman, a morally questionable woman, who’s a Samaritan. Very different, yet both needed to meet with Jesus; both needed to be saved by Jesus, but the conversation goes very differently. You see, there’s more than one way to introduce people to Jesus. So let’s see what happens here.

Look at verse 4. You’ve heard of a man on a mission - there was no one more on a mission than Jesus. Everything was done perfectly. He could have gone by another route to avoid Samaria entirely, but Jesus ‘had to pass through Samaria.’ He had this woman in his sights. He had a divine appointment with her, even if she didn’t know it yet.

So he arrives at the well. He’s weary from the journey. He’s thirsty. And it’s noon. The sun is at its highest and hottest. You’ve heard the saying that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun. Well, there were no mad dogs, and no Englishmen around. But there was this woman, coming out to the well to draw water.

Now think about it. Why is she coming when it’s really hot? Surely you would come when it’s cool, at morning or evening when everyone else came? Why come now? It’d be harder to do. She’s avoiding people. Yet Jesus knows, and Jesus is there to meet her. As they chat, they talk about three topics - water, husbands and worship, but watch how the woman’s view of Jesus shifts.

Jesus starts off with a basic need. ‘Give me a drink’ (7). Now even this is surprising. She can’t believe that he has even spoken to her. Normally Jewish men wouldn’t have looked near her. She was unclean, lesser, inferior. Yet here Jesus meets her, and speaks to her. Give me a drink. But then Jesus talks about living water - ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ (20)

She’s lost - you haven’t a bucket, how could you get water? But Jesus isn’t talking about the water from the well. He’s talking about living water - a spring of water welling up to eternal life. Water that satisfies and means you’ll not be thirsty any more. This is what Jesus is offering. Satisfaction for thirst.

But the woman reckons it would be great not having to come to the well any more. Is it just internal plumbing, hot and cold running water Jesus is offering? Do you see what she calls him? ‘Sir, give me this water...’ (15). But she doesn’t get it yet.

It’s at this point that Jesus says something that sounds to us completely random, and a wee bit personal. ‘Go, call your husband, and come here.’ (17). But Jesus is putting his finger on her own thirst, her own longing for satisfaction, and the ways she has tried to find it. The story goes of a wedding reception, and a person couldn’t make it, so they phoned in a telegram to be read out. They wanted 1 John 5:18 read out ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear’, but the 1 of 1 John was missing and instead this was read out: ‘for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband.’ Five and six times, she had tried to find satisfaction, only to find disappointment, and heartbreak, and even greater thirst.

Jesus got to her heart. He showed he knew her longings. And so she shifts in her opinion of Jesus. ‘Sir, I perceive you are a prophet.’ So then she changes the topic (!) and talks about worship. If you’re ever in danger of personal matters, it’s far easier to debate theology, and so she asks who is right - the Jew in Jerusalem, or the Samaritan on the mountain? Where do we need to go to worship God properly?

But Jesus says you don’t need to go here or there, you can do it anywhere: ‘But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ Forget about personal background, or religious heritage, or even a life of immorality - God wants worshippers who worship in spirit and truth. Will you do it? Will you worship in this way? Is this you?

But again, he’s getting a bit personal, a bit in your face, and so she again tries to change the subject. ‘I know that Messiah (Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will tell us all things.’ Yeah, all this chat is well and good, but if only the Messiah was here. He would sort it all out.

‘I who speak to you am he.’ I’m here. I’m telling you. And then the disciples come back. And she goes. She leaves her water jar. And what does she say in the town, to all the people she normally avoided? No more head down, cross the street moves. No more fear of what the people think of her as they gossip about her latest fling. Now she’s banging the doors down. The shift is complete. Jesus has gone from stranger, to Sir, to Prophet, to, well, look at verse 29. ‘Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?’

The disciples are fussing about Jesus eating, but Jesus’ eyes are focused on the food of doing God’s will - this is what sustains him. And in this season of harvest services, the picture of the Samaritans coming out of the town to hear him is of ‘see that the fields are white for harvest.’ There’s a harvest, people to be gathered in, even among the Samaritans. You see, Jesus is an equal opportunities Saviour. You don’t have to be Jewish. You don’t have to be born into the Church of Ireland. You don’t have to come from our group. All can come, and be found by Jesus.

That’s what the Samaritans found when they met with him, listening first to the woman’s story, but then meeting with Jesus for themselves. The evidence of Jesus’ teaching is met by their belief, which leads to life - that living water welling up to eternal life. The Samaritans know it for themselves: ‘we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.’

So perhaps you didn’t identify with religious Nicodemus. Perhaps you sneak in to church, hoping no one will notice you, fearing what people say about you. You’ve been thirsty for a while. You’ve tried to satisfy that thirst for living water by drinking from broken cisterns - sex, or drink, or drugs, and nothing satisfies. You’ve been searching for Jesus, for his living water. So come to him, drink, and be satisfied.

But this isn’t just for the people who make it inside the church building. All around us, your neighbours, friends, family members, work colleagues, people you bump into in the street. Everyone is thirsty. Everyone is trying to satisfy their longing in different ways, but only Jesus can do that. Only Jesus is the Saviour of the world. Only Jesus can give this living water, because he is the Christ, the one who shows us how to worship right, and live right.

So who will you bump into this week? Who will God bring across your path, in a divine appointment, a God-incidence? Will you be ready to let that living water flow through you, spring up in your heart, to let a thirsty soul drink? Could you share a word about how Jesus has satisfied you? There is a harvest to be gathered, and you are sent to share in the labour, to reap for God’s glory. God calls all sorts of people to be Christians, people like you and me, and people very unlike you and me. But whether it’s Nicodemus, or the woman at the well, or the person you chat to tomorrow, all who believe Jesus will become children of God. May we see it more and more, as we have the courage to speak out and share, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 11th October 2015.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Children's Talk: Ireland's Call

There's something happening in England at the minute, with lots of countries involved. Does anyone know what it is? It's the rugby world cup. I've brought along a rugby ball. So which team are you supporting? England? Wales? Scotland? Ireland?

Lots of support for Ireland - I've brought along my Ireland shirt to show who I'm supporting. Now does anyone know the song that they sing before they play their matches? It's Ireland's Call. Can anyone sing it?

Here's how the chorus goes:

Ireland, Ireland, together standing tall;
shoulder to shoulder we'll answer Ireland's call.

And here's the video of them singing is before the match against Canada:

There's a line in it that sounds a little bit strange. Shoulder to shoulder? When the cameraman pans along the team, their shoulders aren't all beside each other. Some are big and tall, others are lean and short. They're beside each other, but their shoulders aren't all at the same level. Now why is that?

It's because a rugby team needs different sorts of players. You need hefty, strong players to go into the scrum, to push forward and beat the other team's scrum. But if everyone was the same size as your front row, they might not be very good at playing in the backs. In the same way, you need small, fast runners to play at the back. But if everyone was like that, your scrum wouldn't be very strong.

Each position needs something different. Each player is different, but they all work together to make a good rugby team. It's the same in your school teams, whether it's hockey or netball or football - everyone works together with different roles. It's also the same as your body - you have eyes, ears, hands, toes, heart, lungs and lots more besides. They're all different, but they all work together to give you life.

In the Bible we see the same thing: 'Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.' (Romans 12:4-6)

You might be different to other people in your class or in church, but God has made you for a special job, something that only you can do, as you join with people who are different to make up the one team, the one body. We can be shoulder to shoulder as we answer God's call.

This Children's Talk was shared at a School Assembly in Maguiresbridge Primary School last week.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Harvest Sermon: John 12: 20-33 Unless a grain of wheat...

Are you a morning person? When the alarm goes off, do you jump out of bed, wide awake, ready to start the day, full of chat? Some of you might be, but I’m not like that. It takes me a little bit of time to waken up, and in the meantime, I don’t like noise, or chat, or anything really. If I’ve to be up at a particular time, then I have to set a couple of alarms on my phone to make sure that I really do waken and really do get up!

Now if you’re like me, and you find it hard to waken, maybe you need a stronger alarm than just your phone (or your mum shouting at you for the tenth time to get up...). Here are some very effective alarm clocks that you can’t ignore.

So here’s the first - the carpet alarm. It wont shut up until you’re out of bed, with both feet firmly on the floor.

Or what about this one - the sub morning. It keeps going until it’s fully under water, so you have to take it with you to the bathroom. And once you’re there, then you’re up, and you might as well jump into the shower. (Although, if I had this one, I might be tempted to properly put it under water by throwing it into the toilet...).

Here’s Clocky - when the alarm goes off, he jumps off the bedside table and runs round the room, so you have to go chasing him.

Now this one makes you think - the alarm goes off and throws four jigsaw pieces out - to stop the alarm you have to get the four pieces in the right place.

Maybe you know what to buy someone for Christmas now! Each of these effective alarm clocks are hard to ignore. When the right time comes, then they let you know, you know about it.

And that’s what’s going on in our reading tonight. In verse 23 Jesus says ‘The hour has come.’ His alarm has sounded, he knows that it is the right time - but he’s not talking about the time to get up; it’s not morning time he’s talking about. It’s his time: ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’

Now how did he know that his time had come? There were no fancy alarm clocks. Instead, it was a group of people with a special request. When the Greeks, the people who weren’t Jews, came wanting to see Jesus, it’s as if the alarm has sounded. Jesus knows that it’s now time for him to be glorified.

Now when you hear of glory, and being glorified, what do you think of? Maybe the glory of the Welsh rugby team, having beaten the English last night. Or loads of fans shouting out your name. Or having thousands of followers on Twitter or Facebook. But Jesus talks about something that might sound strange.

In fact, you might think that the time has come for a lecture at Greenmount Agricultural College, because of what Jesus says. Let’s look at it together. ‘Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.’

On the way in, you hopefully received a seed. One seed of corn. Have a look at it now, up close and personal. It’s not very big. There wouldn’t be much eating in it. As my granny would have said, ‘it wouldn’t fill a hole in your tooth.’ Even if you took your seed home and made popcorn from it, you wouldn’t have much.

But if you were to take it home and plant it, then eventually, you would have an ear of corn. One seed, kept by itself, remains just a single seed. But a seed that dies, planted in the ground, produces many seeds.

This is the basis of how food production works. One apple seed grows into a tree producing loads of apples. Or one cocoa bean grows into a Wispa.

Now why does Jesus say this? What has this to do with the Son of Man (Jesus) being glorified? Jesus is saying that he is the grain of wheat. If he stays as he is, then he’s just on his own. But if Jesus dies, then he will produce many seeds. As Jesus dies on the cross, he makes it possible for the harvest, for lots of seeds to be born through his death. Jesus’ death produces life. Jesus’ death brings multiplication of life.

Jesus is the seed the produces many seeds. As we come to Jesus and believe in Jesus, so we are one of his seeds. We too have this same choice in front of us - do we keep it to ourselves? Or will we follow the way of Jesus, as we serve him and follow him? That’s the choice that Jesus puts before each of us tonight, whether we’re young or old.

Jesus says: ‘Anyone who loves their life will lose it’ - that is, if you keep you for yourself, and do your own thing, and only care about yourself, then you’ll ultimately lose out. But, ‘anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life’ - Jesus is using the opposites of love and hate to show priority. To hate your life is to live for the good of others; to love and care and serve and share. To follow the pattern and example of Jesus.

That’s what Jesus did. He ‘hated’ his life, by following God, and doing what the Father wanted. in doing so, Jesus went to the cross. He died. But by doing that, ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ The Greeks were the first to come, wanting to see Jesus. The alarm had sounded. The hour has come for Jesus to be glorified, by his death on the cross. The death which brings multiplication. The seed buried to produce an abundance of seeds.

We are the seeds Jesus has produced. Before us is the same choice that Jesus faced. Will we live for ourselves, or for God’s glory? To help you think it through, here’s a simple question - now, maybe it was thinking about grain which makes bread, which makes toast, and that made me think about breakfast, but here’s the question: Eggs or bacon?

I’m not asking which you would prefer? (The answer is probably both!). but when it comes to following Jesus, are you eggs or bacon? You see, a hen pops out an egg, and it goes on unconcerned. It’ll probably lay another one tomorrow.

But for you to eat bacon, the pig has to give its all. Total commitment. You can’t just take a slice of bacon from the side of the pig.

Jesus died for us - the seed that produced many seeds. Are you eggs or bacon? With your little seed, will you protect it and keep it; or will you die to self and give yourself for Jesus and others? The alarm clock is sounding. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

Pray: Lord, take each of us, and use us for your glory, as we give ourselves to serve you, and follow you. Amen.

This sermon was preached at the harvest in Colebrooke Parish Church on Sunday 27th September 2015.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Sermon Audio: John 3: 1-21

Yesterday morning I was preaching from John 3, when Nicodemus comes to see Jesus by night. What would Jesus say to this very religious man? The answer is very surprising, yet it's the answer that religious people still need to hear today - 'You Must Be Born Again'. Listen in, and discover this fresh start for yourself.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sermon: John 3: 1-21 Hard Truth for the Religious: You Must Be Born Again

From as far back as I can remember, I’ve been going to church. Our Sunday School was before the service, and I was at that too. Mum and dad realised that they could get some peace, so I also went to holiday clubs and Bible clubs in the local Presbyterian, Methodist and Elim churches as well. It seems as if I’ve known that Bible verse for my whole life - and that might be the case for you as well. With a little prompt, ‘For God so...’ you could say it off without thinking. Children in Sunday Schools know it from an early age. It’s a great promise to hold on to, and yet, when it was first spoken, it was shocking for the one who heard it.

As chapter three opens, we’re introduced to a very religious man. ‘Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.’ Nicodemus was at the top of the tree when it came to religion. He’s a Pharisee, the strictest group of Jews, and he’s a ruler of the Jews. He’s part of the ruling council. Later on, Jesus also calls him ‘the teacher of Israel’. So imagine a bishop coming to Jesus. Someone very religious, one who you think Jesus is going to be very impressed by. One who strives to live a good life and to obey God’s law. One who carefully tries to be good. And Nicodemus comes to Jesus - by night - and he says what he knows: ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one could do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’

There’s probably a wee bit of flattery there - but perhaps also an earnest searching. Jesus, are you really from God? So what would Jesus have to say to Nicodemus? Or what would Jesus say to a decent member of the Church of Ireland who tries very hard, and turns up, and pays in? What does Jesus say to this very religious man?

Do you notice how Jesus says in v3, 5, 11 ‘Truly, truly, I say to you...’? Jesus (who John tells us in 1:14 is full of grace and truth) tells this religious man the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It’s the truth this religious man needed to hear - and the truth that we who may have a tendency towards religion also need to hear. The truth is this: that religion will not save you. [If you take nothing else from today, or if you stop listening in a rage, or decide to fall asleep, remember this truth - religion will not save.]

Jesus tells us this in his first hard truth: ‘unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ (3) Nic said what he knows, from what he has seen, but Jesus says that to see the kingdom of God, you have to be born again.

Sometimes these words have been used as a slur against what some people see as the ‘serious’ Christians, maybe from small independent churches. Ah, they’re just the born againers. But Jesus says that you can’t see the kingdom of God without being born again Every Christian is a born again Christian, or else they’re not a Christian at all.

But what does Jesus mean? Nicodemus begins to wonder about the mechanics of entering into his mother’s womb and revisiting the maternity ward and delivery room. his question is: How? But he just doesn’t get it. Being born again is about starting over, a fresh start, a whole new way of life - not just improving the old way of living. As Paul puts it in 2 Cor 5:17 ‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.’

And, as Jesus goes on with his second hard truth, being born again means being born of the Spirit. V5: ‘unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’ You see, flesh gives birth to flesh - every so often the zoo shows off its new baby animals - the mummy giraffe gives birth to a baby giraffe; a mummy tiger gives birth to a baby tiger. Flesh gives birth to flesh - humans give birth to humans; but only the Spirit can give birth to those born again by God. The new start doesn’t come by effort or religion, but only by being born of the Spirit. That’s the only way to get into the kingdom of God.

Just as you can’t see the wind, you can only see the effects of the wind, when the trees sway about or are blown over, or the slates come off your roof - in the same way, you can’t see that someone has the Spirit of God in them - but you do see the effects.

Again, Nicodemus is baffled. Again comes his question - and maybe it’s the question you’re asking as well. ‘How can these things be?’ How do you get this fresh start of being born again? How can you be sure of entering the kingdom of God if it isn’t of your own efforts and good works? How do you make sure you don’t end up knock, knock. knocking on heaven’s door only to be kept out?

Jesus gives Nicodemus the third and final hard truth. And it’s the truth that links in to what we’ve already seen in John’s gospel. Listen for the familiar words in v11: ‘we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.’ So far we’ve seen how John the Baptist and then Andrew and Philip bore witness. Here, Jesus is the witness, speaking what he knows, bearing witness - but ‘you do not receive our testimony.’ [The ‘you’ is plural - youse-ins]

So what is the testimony Jesus shares, which they don’t receive? It’s what he knows, having come from heaven, the testimony of God’s saving purposes. Jesus has come to earth to bear witness by his life - and by his death. Will we receive it?

The testimony comes in verse 14 onwards. ‘And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.’ When Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt at the Exodus, they spent forty years wandering in the wilderness, always on the journey, never reaching their final destination. And they grumbled - not the ‘are we there yet’ or ‘I’m hungry {or the new hangry - angry because of hunger}’ or ‘I need a wee’. They moaned about Moses. About God. About the wilderness. So God sent serpents to kill some of them. But then the people repented. God didn’t take away the problem, but he gave a new solution - this bronze serpent. A representation of the problem, which became the solution. If you were bitten, all you had to do was look to the serpent, believe that God would heal, and you would be healed. If you turned your back, there was no hope. You had to look to live.

In the same way, Jesus would be lifted up on the cross. A representation of the problem - a sinner’s death. Yet he is lifted up so that all who look to him will live. The curse of sin is on him - the curse you are cursed with - so don’t die on your own; look to him, and be saved, and have eternal life.

This is the truth - religion will not save. The only thing that will save is faith in Jesus. As our famous verse tells us: ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.’ God loved the world, he gave his Son, to be our Saviour. Anyone, whoever believes in him, whoever you are, whatever you’ve done - believe, and you will not perish. You’ll have eternal life. This testimony leads to belief, leads to life. (John 20 all over again!).

You see, Jesus didn’t come to condemn. He didn’t come to wag a finger and give off and make you feel bad. He came in order that the world might be saved through him. He came that you might be saved through him - not through religion.

Attending all those Sunday schools and bible clubs, I was a proper little Pharisee. I thought that God loved me because of all that I did for him. I won the BB scripture cup every year. I tried really hard, but in the end, the verse I knew so well was what I actually needed - a new start, being born again by the God who loved me in spite of my efforts, and in spite of my sin, and who sent Jesus to be my Saviour.

But this is a hard truth for religious people to hear. It’s like going into your garage or your basement on a dark winter’s night. You turn on the light, and the wee furries and creepies dash to get back into the darkness. Jesus, the light of the world has come, but we prefer darkness, so that our evil deeds aren’t seen. Nicodemus came by night, under cover of darkness. Will he step into the light?

As you follow John’s gospel through, Nic makes two more appearances - (7:50 where he speaks up to ask for a fair hearing for Jesus in the council, and 19:39 where he asks for Jesus’ body, to aid with the burial). Eventually, he comes into the light. He identifies with Jesus, and follows.

What about you? Will you step into the light? Will you hear and receive these hard truths from the one who is grace and truth? You can’t see the kingdom of God without being born again, a new start. You can’t enter the kingdom of God without being born of the Spirit, as he brings about the newness of life. You have to accept the testimony of Jesus, about his saving purpose rooted in God’s love.

You know the verse so well, but today, make it your own. Put yourself in the verse. Personalise it, so that you know it for yourself, receiving God’s love, and his free gift of grace.

‘For God so loved _ _ _ _ _ _ that he gave his only Son, that [as _ _ _ _ _ _] believe in him, I should not perish, but have eternal life.’

Let’s take a moment to let that sink in. And as we close our eyes, I’ll give an opportunity for you to raise your hand as a sign that you are believing this for the very first time, or coming back to it. No one will see. Let’s pray.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 27th September 2015.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Sermon: John 2: 13-22 Destroy this temple

In the Church of Ireland, we have a particular attachment to buildings. So much of life happens within the walls of the parish church - baptisms, confirmations, marriages, funerals, as well as the weekly worship. Even when people have moved away from where they grew up, there can be a special fondness for their home parish church. And even a building like this, the Brooke Memorial Hall, approaching its 125th anniversary, has special memories for many.

Those feelings we have are just a small part of what the Jews felt towards their temple. This was the one and only, the special place in Jerusalem where God’s presence was promised. To meet with God, you went up to the temple, and that’s what the Jews did, three times a year for the festivals of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. These were special times, when they went to meet with God, to go to God’s dwelling place.

In our reading tonight, we’re told that the feast of Passover was at hand, so Jesus went up to Jerusalem. When he gets to the temple, what does he find? A devout and praying people, meeting with their Maker? A crowd of awe-struck worshippers? Verse 14 tells us what he found. And as I read it, I was reminded of the sound of my childhood. You see, from the top of our street came a sound I might just be able to recreate... “twohundred,twoten,twotwenty,twothirty,alldoneattwothirty...’ The livestock mart was up from our house, so we heard the cattle sales going on when we played outside. We also smelt the cattle sales, as the lorries drove past.

And that’s what Jesus finds in the temple. ‘those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there.’ In the place of prayer, he finds a market. Now, you know what comes next, but imagine that you’re there. You just happen to have arrived in Jerusalem, and you see what takes place.

Jesus makes a whip of cords, and drives the sellers out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. Hear the jingle jangle of the coins being poured out and rattling on the ground, as the tables are overturned. The pigeon sellers are told to get out, to take them away. It’s not quite the picture we have of Jesus, is it?

Why does Jesus do this? He says himself, ‘Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.’ Jesus cleanses the temple because it had been corrupted. What was God’s house had become a marketplace, a house of trade. The place of prayer had become the place of money-making. The place where you sought God, had become the place where people were seeking their own profit.

Jesus takes action to restore the purity and holiness of the temple. And as he does so, the disciples remember a portion of tonight’s Psalm 69 - ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ They see the actions of Jesus promised centuries beforehand in David’s Psalm.

Now so far in John’s gospel, we’ve seen how everyone has responded well to Jesus. The first disciples are introduced to him by John the Baptist, and they follow him. They see Jesus’ glory at the wedding at Cana where he turned the water into wine. But now, Jesus has opponents. Look at verse 18.

‘So the Jews said to him, ‘What sign do you show us for doing these things?’ What right have you to come and drive out the sellers? Who are you to come and upset the traders? Who do you think you are?

Jesus answers them in a way that makes them laugh. ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ So Jesus is standing in the temple, and they think he has gone mad. In fact, the scaffolding was probably still up in bits of the building. Look at what they say: ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’

Forty-six years of building works, and Jesus thinks he can knock it down and build it again in three days? It would be impressive, but is that what Jesus means?

Look at what John tells us: ‘But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.’

Jesus says ‘destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ He’s not talking about the building he’s standing in. He’s talking about his body. Now, sometimes you hear fitness fanatics talking about how your body is a temple, so you have to look after it, eat the right things etc. Or, as I heard someone say one time - my body is a temple, and here’s the dome (the belly)... But what does Jesus mean?

Jesus is saying that he is the temple. Just as the Jerusalem temple was the place where God dwells, the place where you meet with God, so now Jesus is where God dwells, Jesus is the place where you meet with God. He’s saying what John summarised in chapter one: ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.’

To meet with God, you don’t have to be in a special building. You don’t have to be in any building. Our temple is the Lord Jesus. To be ‘in him’ is to meet with God. Just think of the new Jerusalem, that John tells us about in Revelation. He gives us the grand tour of the city, telling us what he sees in it in chapter 21 and 22, but then he tells us what he does not see. ‘And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.’ (Rev 21:22)

The temple Jesus visited that day was the second version that had stood on the site. The first, built by Solomon, had been destroyed by the Babylonians. After the exile, another, smaller temple was built, which was being repaired and enlarged in Jesus’ day. The old temple had fallen because of corruption, and Jesus highlights the corruption of the second temple. Just forty years later, that temple too would be destroyed, so that just the Wailing Wall remains. The Jews continue to flock to that one last portion of the temple.

Our temple stands forever - destroyed, yes on the cross, but raised on the third day, to stand forever. We can draw near at any time to meet with God, because God came near. He templed with us in Jesus. Through his death and resurrection, we can dwell with God forever. What a privilege we have as we come to this temple to meet with the living God.

This sermon was preached in the Brooke Memorial Hall, Brookeborough on Sunday 20th September 2015.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sermon: John 2: 1-11 Water into Wine

Has anyone ever held a party? What types of things do you need?
party hats
party bags
food and drink!

Jesus was going to a party, but it wasn’t just a birthday party. Let’s look at see what it was:

1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.

This was a wedding party. So what might you need for a wedding? Have you ever seen Family Fortunes? Here’s the question:

Name something you buy or hire for a wedding
Answers (showing by point)
1. Wedding dress
2. Suit / top hat and tails
3. Car
4. Flowers
5. Cake

So those are the top things you need for a wedding. But you need lots of other things for a wedding as well. After the service, there’s normally a dinner, and then a party, and it’s all finished by about 1am (although we normally go home earlier!)

But in the time of the New Testament, weddings went on for seven days. The groom’s family had to make sure they had enough for everyone to enjoy a whole week long party. Can you imagine it?

but there was a problem at this wedding.

The wine has run out. The bottles are all dry. There’s none left.

3 When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine."
4 "Dear woman, why do you involve me?" Jesus replied. "My time has not yet come."
5 His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."

Mary comes to Jesus and says what the problem is. And at the start, it looks as if Jesus doesn’t want to help out. He says his time hasn’t yet come. Yet Mary knows that Jesus is able to help. She tells the servants to do whatever he says.

Let’s see what happens...

6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
7 Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim.

Here they are. Six stone water jars. They’re used for ceremonial washing - to wash your hands before the start of dinner. Each of them holds between 20 - 30 gallons. That’s between 90 and 136 litres. Each!

They’re filled with water. Then:

8 Then he told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet."
They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.

Imagine being the servant. You put the water into the jar. You take the water out of the jar in a cup. You take the water to the master of the banquet. Do you think he’s going to want water when we really wants wine? The master of the banquet was in charge, he sampled everything first to make sure it was ok. But as he drinks * the water has been turned into wine. He didn’t know where it came from. But the servants knew. *
And look, he says to the bridegroom that normally people serve the best wine first, and then the cheap stuff later on when people can’t taste the difference. But the best wine has been saved to the last.

Jesus takes the water of the Jewish washing rituals, and changes it into the wine of his kingdom.

Jesus takes a bad situation where the bridegroom would have been embarrassed at not having enough, and provides between 540 and 818 litres of the best wine.

But that leaves us asking: * What’s the point?

Why does John tell us this story? Years ago on It’ll be all right on the night, there was a clip shown where a little girl was asked what her favourite bible story was. Listen to this...

If you run out of wine, get down on your knees and pray. Is that what John is telling us? (Maybe some people think that would be a great thing!)

But let’s think about it. *Who knew what had happened?
The master of the banquet - * no
The servants - *yes
The bridegroom - *no
The guests - *no
The disciples - *yes

11 This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.

Only the disciples saw what Jesus did. John tells us what he saw that day - that this was the first of his ‘miraculous signs.’ Signs point you to where you’re going.
So here’s a sign out on the main road - it shows you where Aghavea is. It points you to what this bit of land is called.

The miracle of Jesus changing water into wine is a sign. And what does it point to?

‘He thus revealed his glory’ - the sign points to who Jesus is. He shows his glory, he shows his power. He shows that he is God - as the one who gives wine (just as our opening Psalm verses told us).

When Jesus revealed his glory, ‘his disciples put their faith in him.’ They see who Jesus is. They trust him. They believe in him.

Jesus brings change in all sorts of situations. His power is able to turn things around. As we hear what John saw that day, we’re given the evidence, and we’re asked to believe for ourselves. Will you believe in him?

After the Sunday School lead us in singing about our great big God, Hollye is going to come and share about how Jesus brought change in her life. So let’s pray, then sing...

This sermon was preached at the Family Service in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 20th September 2015

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sermon: John 1: 35-51 Come and See

First impressions can have a lasting impact. Whether you’re going for an interview, or meeting a blind date, or being introduced to a friend of a friend, those first moments will long stick in the memory. For some of you, the first time you met your husband or wife stays with you - seeing them across the room at a dance, or the night you were introduced by mutual friends. You remember exactly where you were, what you were doing, what they were wearing. First impressions have a lasting impact.

As John sits down to write his gospel, he tells us about the first time he met Jesus. He remembers it so clearly. He knows where he was, and what happened. He writes it down, not to boast, not to say, look how great I was that it happened to me. He tells us, so that we can meet Jesus as well. If you were with us last week, you’ll remember that John gives us the ‘key’ to his gospel right at the end - evidence about Jesus leads to belief in Jesus leads to life through Jesus.

In our reading this morning, we see how these things fit together as John and others meet Jesus for the first time. It happens over two days, and there’s a bit of a pattern in how it all works out - as followers bring other people to meet Jesus, and as they discover just who Jesus is for themselves. But let’s launch in at verse 35.

It’s early days in Jesus’ ministry. He has just appeared on the scene. At this moment, he has no disciples, no followers. But John the Baptist does. He’s standing with two of his disciples, when Jesus walks past. [The way I imagine this is thinking about my dad. Every morning, him and a group of men gather on a summer seat in the square. They chat about all sorts of things. They maybe chat about people walking past.] Jesus walks past, and John says: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ Look - he is the Lamb of God.

Suddenly, John’s two disciples walk off. They leave John and start following Jesus. How do you think John felt? Annoyed? Angry? It’d be like if two of dad’s friends saw someone going by and went for a chat with him, leaving dad behind. Or is it? Already in the gospel (1:7), we’ve been told that John the Baptist came to be a witness, to bear witness about the light. That’s what he’s done. He has told people about Jesus. He has done what he was made to do - tell people about Jesus.

The sight of two men walking along, following you, might be a scary thing. After all, stalking is a crime these days. Jesus turns around and, in my Norn Irish version says: What do you want? Verse 38: ‘What are you seeking?’ Why are you following me? So they say that they want to know where he is staying. Are they nosy about his house? I think it’s more than that. They want to find out about this Lamb of God, to get to know him. So Jesus says that’s ok - ‘Come and you will see.’

Come and see. It’s an open invitation to see him, get to know him, offered to people who are curious, people who are searching, people who have heard something about Jesus but want to see for themselves. That offer was for John and Andrew that day, but through John’s gospel, Jesus is still saying to you, ‘Come and see.’ If you’re searching, come and see.

So they came, and they saw, but it was Jesus who conquered. Look at verse 40. Andrew was one of the two, and he went to get his own brother Simon. And what does he say: ‘We have found the Messiah’ - the Christ, the anointed promised King. So he brought Simon to Jesus - Simon who we know better as Peter, rocky, the name given to him by Jesus.

John the Baptist bore witness about Jesus the Lamb of God. John and Andrew heard the witness, and believed it, by going and following Jesus. Personal introduction is really important. Friends introducing friends to Jesus. Word of mouth about the Word of God.

And maybe you think to yourself, well, that would be wonderful, but my friends aren’t like that. If I were to mention Jesus to them, they’re not going to like it. Easier to keep quiet, and keep my friendship with them. They don’t want to know. What do I do then? You need to hear about Philip and his friend, Nathanael.

It’s day two in v43. Jesus finds Philip and tells him to ‘follow me.’ Just as Andrew encounters Jesus and then goes and tells a friend (or a brother) who he has found, Philip goes and tells Nathanael. ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ This Jesus is the one the whole Old Testament is pointing to. It’s all about him, this Jesus of Nazareth.

Nazareth? Huh. You can almost hear Nathanael splutter. ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Every place seems to have another local town that they don’t think much of. And in the new supercouncils, those places seem to have been lumped together... Nathanael refuses to believe that anything good would come from Nazareth. He doesn’t want to know. He’s sceptical. He thinks Philip is mad. So how does Philip respond? ‘Come and see.’ The same phrase Jesus used, only this time it’s more, even though you don’t believe, just give it a try. At least come and prove me wrong. Make sure that you’re right.

Somehow, it works, and Nathanael comes along. As Jesus talks to him, and calls him ‘an Israelite in whom there is no deceit’, Nathanael wants to know how Jesus knows him, or anything about him. Jesus’ answer shows his divine power and knowledge: ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’ The fact that Jesus knew all about him was enough for him. Look at his response - this sceptic, Nathanael, the one who thought the only thing good in Nazareth was the road out of it - ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’

In his very first minute with Jesus, Nathanael is brought to know who Jesus is - the Christ, the Son of God of 20:31. Already he believes. Already he has been turned around from scepticism to certainty; from doubt decision. Yet Jesus says he will see even greater things than these. Look at verse 31: ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’

Jesus is pointing back to our first reading, to Genesis 28, where Jacob dreams of a ladder between earth and heaven, the angels ascending and descending. Led Zeppelin might have sung about a lady buying a stairway to heaven, and Neil Sedaka about building a stairway to heaven, but Jesus is saying that he is the only way from earth to heaven. He is the only route to heaven.

When we really get this, when we realise that Jesus is the only way, then we’ll be moved to tell people about Jesus, and introduce them to him. When we know that Jesus is the Lamb of God, the Son of God, the King of Israel, the Messiah, the one the Old Testament is about, we’ll want to get other people to meet him and know him too. So who could you speak to this week? You don’t have to cross the world to tell someone about Jesus - you can cross the street, or cross the room. John the Baptist told his followers, the people he worked with. Andrew told his brother, his family. Philip even told someone who was hostile. It’s not always easy, but it’s the right thing to do. So who could you speak to this week? Take a moment. Think of one person - at work, in the your family, among your friends - and resolve to tell them something about Jesus. You can even mention Christianity Explored to them, and say that you’ll come along with them. It might be scary, it might be costly, but wouldn’t it be worth it to introduce them to Jesus?

But maybe you’re sitting thinking to yourself that you don’t know Jesus. You might have come to church all your life, you know about Jesus, but you don’t know Jesus. You’ve never taken that opportunity to get to know him. You’ve never been introduced. I’d love to do that with you. Come along on Wednesday night to Christianity Explored. Or grab me and ask me for a chat sometime We could go through CE one to one.

Whatever you do after this morning, don’t do nothing. Don’t walk away without resolving to speak about Jesus, or get to know Jesus. First impressions can have a lasting impact. Perhaps even today could be the day you meet with Jesus for the very first time, or introduce sometime to Jesus for the very first time. Whether you’re searching and open, or sceptical and hostile, take those three words in, and follow it up - ‘Come and see’.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 13th September 2015.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Sermon: John 1: 1-18 Receiving the Word

How do you summarise a person? If I were to ask you to describe your best friend, how would you do it? What would you say? What would you focus on? How would you decide what to share? You might talk about their strengths, their wit, humour, dependability. You might talk about how they have been such a good friend to you.

In lots of different situations, we describe people all the time. Perhaps you’ve been asked to write a reference when someone is applying for a job. Or you’ve tried to matchmake two of your friends. Or you introduce a friend to someone else. Those are all hopefully happy occasions. But we also try to summarise a person in the event of a bereavement. As we prepare for a funeral, and write the tribute, I have a series of questions I’ll ask - the person’s hobbies, work life, family, special memories, and their early years - where they were born, grew up, went to school.

As the apostle John sits down to write his Gospel, he doesn’t start with Jesus’ beginning to preach (as Mark does). He doesn’t even go back as far as Jesus’ birth (as Matthew and Luke do). John goes back even further, right back to the very beginning. Not the beginning of Jesus’ life, but the beginning of everything. You remember how Genesis starts? ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth...’ (Gen 1:1) John goes to that very same moment, and gives us the same opening words: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ (1:1)

John begins at the beginning, with the Word who already existed, who was with God, and who was God. This Word, this logos is God’s self-expression, his wisdom, his speaking out. Now, sometimes it might feel as if you’re speaking, but no one is listening. Your words have no power at all. It’s not like that with God. Genesis tells us that God spoke creation into being - let there be light, there was light. ‘All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.’ It was by the word of the Lord all things were made. As God spoke, the Word made them. How powerful this word is! Life, and light are in him. The light of the Word shines.

Just as you’re taking in the wonder of this Word, John shifts the focus for a moment. It’s as if you’re transported in time from creation to about 2000 years ago. He tells us about this man, sent by God, whose name was John. Not the writer of the gospel, but John the Baptist. Now, why does he do that? Well, look at what he says about this John: ‘He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.’ (1:7-8)

Twice we’re told that John came ‘to bear witness.’ That’s a courtroom word. A witness tells the court what they have heard and seen. No speculation, no surmising, just the facts. So imagine you saw a robbery happening on your way home from church today. You would be asked what you saw, not why you think the person did it. Your evidence would be used to bring a verdict, a decision.

It’s the very same with John. Why was he sent, to bear witness? ‘That all might believe through him.’ John tells us about the light, about this Word, so that all might believe. Evidence leads to a decision, to belief, to faith. Yet sometimes, people refuse to believe, no matter how much evidence they’re given.

Look at verse 9. ‘The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.’ The Word who made the world wasn’t known by them. What a tragedy. The one who gave them everything they had, yet they didn’t even recognise him, like a child who wants to take everything a parent gives, without spending any time with the parent, not wanting to be seen with them.

That’s all the more so in verse 11: ‘He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.’ Like the child who disowns their parent. Or a town that doesn’t turn up for the open top bus welcome home party for a cup winner. What a tragedy.

And yet there’s this wonderful promise. ‘But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born... of God.’ The only way to become a child of God is to be born of God - it’s not about blood (your family is Christian), or the will of the flesh (you work really hard to achieve it), or the will of man (you decide to be a child of God by yourself). You become a child of God by being born of God. You have the right to become a child of God by believing in the Word, this true light.
If you were listening closely to our readings today, you’ll have noticed that the passage from the end of John’s gospel matches this one from the start. John says he could have written about lots of things that Jesus did, but ‘these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’

Evidence leads to believing, and believing leads to life. It’s the patten we see in this first chapter. We hear John the Baptist’s witness, we believe in Jesus, and we become children of God. It’s the pattern John has for this whole gospel.

Look at verse 14, perhaps the best known verse from our passage today. ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.’

This is John’s summary of Jesus Christ. The Word, God in the beginning, who made everything, this Word became flesh. The everlasting word took on our flesh - God with skin on, as the Sunday school child once said - stepped into time, into the universe he made and sustains. This Word dwelt among us. He moved into the neighbourhood.

But do you know what, that sounds a bit too posh. The word John uses is tabernacled. It’s the word used for the tent of God in the Old Testament as the Israelites moved out of Egypt at the Passover, traipsed through the wilderness and eventually made it to the promised land. The ark of the covenant, God’s presence with them, was in this tent, this tabernacle. John says that the Word pitched his tent among us. Imagine the President of France moved into one of the tents in the Calais refugee camp. Even that doesn’t show the scale of the difference.

The Word dwelt among us, John says, ‘and we have seen his glory.’ Over the autumn, we’ll be listening to John’s eyewitness testimony. He wrote it down for you, the words Jesus said, the things Jesus did. He has already told us his aim - so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

How do you summarise a person? John’s word is glory - the glory of God in our human flesh. The Word become one of us. My prayer is that we too will see Jesus’ glory, and meet him, perhaps for the first time, to believe in him, and experience that fullness of life. Will you receive him? Will you welcome him in as you believe in him? It’s the only way to find life, to be welcomed in to be a child of God, to share what Jesus had before the creation of the world. Receive him today, and find life in his name.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 6th September 2015.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sermon: Psalm 63 You are my Strength

When was the last time you were really thirsty? Perhaps you were caught up in your work, out in the fields on a hot day, and you suddenly realised you needed a drink. Maybe it was after playing sport, having run around a pitch or court. Maybe you were inside - a hot oven or stirring a big pot of something bubbling on the hob. Or perhaps you were in a nursing home or hospital, where the heat is always high, and you realised you were parched. When were you thirsty?

In our Psalm today, the reason for David’s thirst seems obvious. He is (title) in the wilderness of Judah. He’s in the desert, having fled from Absalom his rebellious son. In the desert there’s lots of rocks and sand, but not much else - no iced water dispensers, no bottles of Evian or Ballygowan, no rivers or streams. Just heat. And sand.

But did you notice, David isn’t thirsting for water. He’s thirsty, but it’s not for water. Verse 1: ‘O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.’ The lack of water isn’t bothering David. The lack of God is. David’s desire is for God. Did you catch the intensity of his words? Earnestly I seek you; thirsts, faints. His physical surroundings reflect his spiritual state. He is spiritually thirsty. David’s desire is for God.

All the more so, because he remembers what he has lost. You see, when David was king in Jersualem, the sanctuary was right beside him. David was beside the tabernacle (before the temple was built). He remembers in verse 2: ‘So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.’ He’s not there any more, he remembers his special times in worship. Yet even now, he holds on to what he knows about God: ‘Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up your hands.’ David desires God, the God of steadfast love, the God who deserves our praise.

David is open about his desperate desire for God - that desperate longing for God. This isn’t just duty, this isn’t just something he feels he has to do. This is intense longing, a passionate desire for God. Would that describe you today? When we gather, are we here because we’re thirsty for God, desperate to meet with him and hear from him?

Perhaps you feel like you’re in a desert right now. Things just aren’t going right at all. You feel far away from God. You miss that intimacy you once had. You desperately want him. Cry out to him. A wee baby doesn’t hold back when she’s hungry. She instinctively cries out to be fed. So cry out - say to God, you are my God. Look to him, and see his power and glory. Desperately desire him.

Because, as David shows us, when we earnestly seek for God, we are found by him. When we desire God, he does indeed give us the desires of our heart. We see that in this one long sentence of verses 5-7. Let’s take it in bits, as we see that David delights in God.

Now, anyone who was at the BBQ on Friday night can relate to verse 5. After the steak and all the rest, and the desserts, we were all well satisfied. We couldn’t have eaten any more. Full up, full to bursting, and maybe too full for the ceilidh dancing. That’s a picture of the satisfaction David feels in his soul - my soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food. Also, my mouth will praise you with joyful lips.

So when will this happen? When will David be satisfied and praising? He’s not in church. He’s not with friends. He’s actually on his own, in the middle of the night. One of my minister mentors called this the hospital psalm, because of verse 6. David will be satisfied and singing ‘when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night.’

A couple of weeks ago, we heard about David’s great night’s sleep, because God was his shield. Well here, David isn’t sleeping so well. He’s seeing every hour pass. He’s lying on his bed - but he doesn’t have a phone to tell him the time. There isn’t an alarm clock with a luminous display counting the passing minutes of sleeplessness. but there are soldiers changing the guard, as one watch takes over from the last. Every few hours, David hears the soldiers relieve their comrades, and he knows time is passing. But do you see what he is doing - remembering, meditating. He’s thinking about God, reflecting on who God is and what he has done.

And as he thinks about God, as he cries out to God, he is satisfied and sings, because of verse 7. ‘For you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.’ David looks back, he remembers what God has done for him. He thinks about how God has been his help. The times God has delivered him. How God protected him against lions and bears and Goliaths. How God kept him safe when fighting enemies. How God had forgiven him when he had gone astray. You have been my help.

When you’re going through the desert, when you’re wandering in the wilderness, when you’re feeling far from God, looking back at God’s faithfulness in the past helps us to trust him for the present and the future. Being surrounded by his wings causes us to sing for joy. Have you know that satisfaction and joy, as you remember the Lord?

David’s delight is crowned in verse 8. Just like a child with their mummy or daddy, it’s one thing for the child to hold their parent’s hand. Far better for the parent to hold their hand. ‘My soul clings to you.’ - It’s a desperate holding, clinging, fearful of letting go. But as we hold on to God, we find that he is holding on to us: ‘your right hand upholds me.’ God holds us up.

And that brings the contrast of the last verses. God is not only David’s desire and delight, but also his defence. God will uphold David, ‘but those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth.’ It’s like getting into a lift and the attendant asks up or down? God’s people are upheld, but God’s enemies go down - given over to the power of the sword; a portion for jackals (so that the jackals are also satisfied).

This isn’t David expressing a personal hatred of his enemies. You see, those who are against David as God’s king, are setting themselves against God. An attack on God’s king is an attack on God. God will act justly, for truth, against every false claim, and every lie.

In defending the truth, God defends David, his king. The mouths of liars will be stopped. The king will rejoice, and all who swear by him will also exult and praise. Just as David was in the wilderness, so his greater son, King Jesus spent time in the wilderness as well. His battle was with the Satan, the accuser, the father of lies. His temptations? To be satisfied by turning stones into bread; to demand protection by jumping off the temple; to bow down and worship the devil and bypass the cross. Jesus answered each of those with scripture, from Deuteronomy but each has an answer in this Psalm also - desire: earnestly seeking God to worship only him; delight: finding satisfaction in God alone; defence: knowing that God upholds his people and gives over the liar. Jesus triumphed over the father of lies in the desert place. That triumph was completed in the cross and resurrection. The enemy of the king is overthrown, and we can share in that victory.

You might not be in that desert place today; things are going well for you. Praise God, but store up this word in your heart. You never know when you might need it. It’s better to be prepared in advance for the hard times when they come. But if you are in that desert place, then look to God, and find in him your desire, your delight, and your defence.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 30th August 2015.