Saturday, April 30, 2011

April 2011 Review

This is my 38th blog posting for the month of April, bringing another month to a close. So what has been happening this month?

In terms of book reviews, my reading has picked up, with four review posted, as well as another one written up for Search, which will appear next month. The books read were Michael McIntyre's Life and Laughing, Derek Prime and Alistair Begg's On Being a Pastor, DA Carson's Commentary on The Gospel According to John, and Harry Thompson's Penguins Stopped Play.

My sermons this month were from Psalm 117, John 12, 2 Peter 3:1-10 (audio), 2 Peter 3:11-18 (audio), Matthew 28 and John 20. I also finished my devotional series The Way of the Cross.

Alongside all that, there was a McFlurry's McLinks, Dundonald Bible Week, Church of Ireland Twitter, and the breaking news of my Aghavea appointment.

The picture of the month was this one of the now dead bluebells in our garden, when they were just beginning to show:
Blooming Bluebells

Friday, April 29, 2011

Book Review: Penguins Stopped Play

Alongside plenty of theological reading, I have a particular fondness for humorous travel writing. Travel writers take you to places you can only ever visit through their pen, and if they're a good guide with plenty of wit and humour, so much the better. Penguins Stopped Play is such a book, only instead of just travelling, you're invited to go on tour with a village cricket team playing on every continent of the world.

Harry Thompson is a brilliant guide - the stories are hilarious as he relates his very amateur cricketing career over a quarter of a century; the pen portraits of his friends, colleagues and opposition are great, so with an economy of words you feel as if you've known his friends all your life; and the situations he finds himself in are unbelievably funny.

There were very definitely laugh out loud moments - to the extent that I had to stop reading it at points because I couldn't even see the words on the page! You'll be entertained as you read, and the three hundred pages seem to go far too quickly.

Along the way, there were a couple of interesting asides and stories which touched on religion, and Christianity in particular. The one I want to focus on for a moment or two concerned his visiting a Hindu temple with its vibrant colours and ornate decor:

Christianity, of course, presents a much more visually austere face to the world, but the faded murals of the early Church, and the scraps of faint terracotta plaster that adhere to the base of crumbling columns, would suggest that the West, too, began its spiritual life in a riot of kindergarten colours. our austerity, perhaps, is cyclical, feeding on a faded image of itself; maybe the Indians remain truer to the original concept of a place of worship as a dazzling, enticing entertainment for impressionable eyes.

Within that short paragraph there seems to be a number of assertions and assumptions that simply aren't true - that all religions (including Christianity) are basically the same, and all started out the same, as a visual riot of colour and entertainment; that the church is crumbling because it has turned away from its roots; and indeed that the church is crumbling.

For a start, we don't have places of worship - our temple is in heaven, where the Lord Jesus reigns; our meeting houses and 'churches' are places to gather together to hear the word - faith comes from hearing; plus, to devote attention to images and such life sails dangerously close to inviting idolatry.

The theological aside, this is a riot of a book, well worth reading - and don't worry if you don't understand cricket, you'll pick up enough to get by and enjoy the funny stories along the way!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Book Review: The Gospel According to John

Well, after an extraordinarily long period of time, I've finally finished reading through Don Carson's extensive and thorough commentary on John's Gospel. Over the past year or so, my practice has been to have lunch with Don Carson if home alone. Slowly but surely I've made it through, taking each section as it came.

034/365:2010 Lunch with Dr Don

As you would expect with a commentary by Carson, it is at times stretching, with much more detail than you would ever have imagined was contained in the text. The Old Testament allusions and quotations are helpfully highlighted and explained; the details of Jewish customs and festivals are included; the scholarly debate is fair but decisive; the exposition and application is heartwarming and challenging all at the same time; the humour and wit shines through; but most of all his faithfulness to the text.

Previously I had dipped in and out of the book, using it for the particular passages I was preaching on, but I'm glad that I've now been able to read through it and benefit from the big picture of John's Gospel, seeing how John displays that Jesus is indeed the Christ, the Son of God, and that through believing in him, we may have life, from the life-giver himself.

The most important detail of the book I've left until last - that this book is dedicated and committed to highlighting and displaying and celebrating the glory of the Lord Jesus on every page. And that's what makes it so useful and helpful.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Church of Ireland Twitter - April 2011

Slightly earlier than usual this month, but here is the latest rankings of clergy in the Church of Ireland using Twitter, according to Twitter Grader. The Bishop of Cork has extended his lead at the top, while Victor Fitzpatrick has finally wrestled clear of me to take third place in his own right. This is just the top twenty, out of 45 ministers now using Twitter (and listed on the Church of Ireland clerics list).

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Book Review: On Being A Pastor

As you'll know by now, I have recently been appointed as the new Rector of Aghavea in County Fermanagh. As I was preparing for my interview in front of the Board of Nomination (at which there were 11 people scrutinising me!), I thought it useful to return to a book I had previously read not long before starting at Theological College all those years ago.

On Being A Pastor is a joint work by Derek Prime and Alistair Begg, building on an earlier and shorter book by Derek Prime, entitled Pastors and Teachers. In fourteen chapters, they discuss various important aspects of life and ministry that impact on those involved in the regular pastor-teacher ministry (however defined or described). Topics covered include the call and calling; life and character; goals and priorities; prayer' devotional life; study; preaching; pastoral care; conduct of worship; leadership; delegation; family and leisure; and the perils of ministry.

In each chapter there is sound biblical teaching on the particular area in focus, illustrated and expanded through their extensive experience in their own ministries. While writing as a pair, on occasion there are sections written by one or other as they talk about how they have found things, and in sharing wise advice they have received.

While this may be particularly useful for those thinking about ministry or just starting out, perhaps as part of a one-to-one or small ministry group, there will be much of value for all involved in word ministry and the leadership in congregations. I've certainly found it useful in reminding me of the priorities and best practice to establish as I begin my new ministry in rural Fermanagh. Oh for the grace to carry it out, and learn from these godly pastors!

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Way of the Cross (41)

The very last in this Lenten series, The Way of the Cross, and a bonus one, because it's a brilliant reminder of what has happened to our sins through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Throughout, we've been seeing how the Old Testament prepares the way for the Lord's passion and death, the whole of the Old Testament is the road to the cross. Having reached the end of the road, can we be sure that our sins are gone?

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in steadfast love.
He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.
You will show faithfulness to Jacob
and steadfast love to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our fathers
from the days of old.
(Micah 7:18-20)

In the best sense of the phrase, and towards his chosen people, love wins. Our sins are gone - thrown into the sea. As one preacher remarked, they're in the sea, and God has set up a 'no fishing' sign.

For God's covenant people, there is the unending promise of faithfulness, steadfastness, love, compassion and forgiveness of sins. And it was all achieved through the precious death of our Lord Jesus Christ, who willing laid down his life for us, giving himself in service to save the unlovely.

As we conclude this series, we can be confident that the cross was no accident; that it reflected the eternal purpose and plan of the Trinity, to save a people for Jesus, who will praise him through all eternity.

To him be the glory and the praise, both now and ever. Amen!

Easter Sermon: John 20: 1-10 The Empty Tomb

Everyone is searching for life, and a bit more of it. Whether it is the TV programmes that want to make you ‘Ten Years Younger’, the home, fashion and lifestyle magazines with top tips for living, or the people having their bodies frozen in the hope of being revived when science catches up with science fiction. Even though most people refuse to admit to it and won’t talk about it, we are slowly but surely progressing towards our own death. The language might be moderated, so that funeral directors and undertakers become ‘bereavement centres’, but no matter what we call it, death is coming, and so we try to find life.

It could be the mid-life crisis that drives a man to buy a motorbike to convince himself that he’s still young; it may be the thousands spent on plastic surgery or cosmetic surgery to reverse the signs of ageing; whatever it is, people try to find life in all sorts of ways and pursuits. The tragedy, though, is that in trying to find life, they ignore the only source of real life, the life-giver, who offers real, true, eternal life. You see, John tells us how we can have life - it’s the reason he wrote his gospel. Look at the very end of chapter 20: ‘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.’ You can have life - and it comes through believing, through trusting that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by throwing all your weight on him, depending on him.

So John says that the things he has written down, the things that he witnessed, they point to Jesus the Christ. It’s helpful to remember this every time we read John’s Gospel - we’re told his purpose for writing. So if you’re stuck as you read a part of John, remember the purpose, and that could well help you understand the particular section. Now if that’s so for the whole of the gospel, then it’s true for the resurrection records as well. These resurrection records are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look at these events after Good Friday, the resurrection appearances John records for us - and ask, how can we be certain that Jesus is the Christ, so that we believe, and have life in his name?

Tonight, we begin with those first ten verses. Can we be certain that Jesus is the Christ from this passage? For the next few minutes, I want you to imagine that we are in St Elizabeth’s Court. Not the old rectory with sheltered accommodation, but that this is a court. We’re going to hear the eyewitness evidence from some key witnesses. As the passage was read, you might have noticed the repeated word: saw. We’re going to hear what Mary, John and Peter all saw; examine the evidence, and decide on your verdict.

First up, we have what Mary saw. Verse 1: ‘Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.’ The tomb was cut out of the rock, like a cave, and a big stone sat in front of the entrance, closing it over - but the stone wasn’t where it should be. We see from the next verse what Mary thought had happened: ‘So she ran... and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”’

You see, when Mary gets to the tomb and finds the stone rolled away, her first thought isn’t that Jesus is alive - it’s that his body has been stolen. Now you might ask yourself why she would think that, but you need to remember that you’ve heard this story many times, you know how it ends. If Tim will excuse me for using this illustration again, it’s a bit like the movie Sixth Sense. I’m very sorry if you’ve never seen it and I’m about to spoil it for you, but basically the film revolves around a little boy who can seemingly see dead people, going about their daily business. He befriends Bruce Willis, and they talk regularly. The twist comes at the end, when Bruce suddenly realises that he is actually dead. If you watch the film again, it all makes sense - you wonder how you missed that fact the first time round. In a similar way (but reversed), we can be like this with the Gospels. you read through the passion and crucifixion knowing all the time that Jesus is going to rise. It’s ok, you want to say, we know he’ll be alive on Sunday.

The diciples weren’t expecting it. Mary doesn’t immediately think that Jesus is alive. His body must have been stolen. All we know for certain is that there is no body. The tomb is empty.

Our second witness is the disciple whom Jesus loved. A lot of ink has been spilled on his identity, but it’s safe to say this is John himself - rather than writing his own name, he refers to himself in this way, because he has personally known and received Jesus’ love. He and Peter set off on the race to the tomb, having heard what Mary saw. John, the younger of the two, makes it to the tomb first, but he doesn’t go in - he just stoops at the entrance. And what is it he sees?

‘He saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.’ We call it the empty tomb, but John sees the linen cloths, prompting James Montgomery Boice to call it ‘the not-quite-empty tomb.’ What were these linen cloths? Look back to 19:40. After Jesus had died, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus come to bury Jesus in the tomb. They bring almost five and a half stone of spices, myrrh and aloes, and some linen cloths. ‘So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.’

The cloths are wrapped around the body, with the spices in between the layers of wrapping. But now, as John sees from outside, the linen cloths are there, but the body isn’t. It’s not that you could unwrap the cloths and they arrange them the same way - rather, it’s as if the body has just vanished, and the cloths remain as they were, collapsed under the weight of the spices.

So as John retires from the witness stand, we now know that the body has disappeared, but it’s not just that it has been removed - it has supernaturally passed through the graveclothes (and so it wasn’t as if the stone was rolled away to let Jesus out, but rather to let the witnesses in to see the empty tomb).

Peter is up next, the slower runner, but the more forward of the two, so characteristically, he blarges on into the tomb. What does he see? In a way, his testimony is similar to John’s, with one further detail provided - ‘He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.’

In the Jewish custom, the head was wrapped in a separate piece of cloth - in one sense the words in the ESV ‘face cloth’ makes you think of a hanky sized piece of material that you would use to wash yourself with. It was actually fairly big, wrapped like a turban around the head of the deceased. We find the same thing with Lazarus - ‘his face wrapped with a cloth.’ There in the tomb, Peter sees that it retains the shape of being wrapped, but is separate from the linen cloths.

It wasn’t that (as some people imagine), Jesus simply woke up and then unwrapped himself and stumbled outside; nor that someone else unwrapped his body and stole it - the cloths remain in position, but the body has gone.

As we review the evidence, let’s think carefully what it all means. The tomb is open, but the body hasn’t been stolen - the linen graveclothes remain. The body hasn’t simply been unwrapped - the linen clothes remain in position, and the face cloth is in its own place, still as it had been. The evidence points in only one direction - Jesus is alive. It’s the conclusion John reaches, as we come to the final ‘saw’.

‘Then the other disciple... also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.’ John saw and believed that Jesus must be alive. But the remarkable thing is that they really should have known all along. We mentioned earlier about Mary expecting to find a dead body, not a living Lord - Peter and John came with the same expectation.

It’s very honest of John here, isn’t it - repeatedly in his gospel we find him admitting that the disciples were a bit useless at understanding what Jesus was saying and about what was happening. So here, ‘as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.’ Jesus is the Christ, we can be certain of it, because God raised him from the dead, as he had promised beforehand in the Scriptures. There’s no hint as to which Scripture John actually has in mind, but it’s probably Psalm 16:10, which Peter preaches on the day of Pentecost: ‘For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.’

All this week at the Dundonald Bible Week, we’ve been focusing on the Saviour in the Psalms - seeing how the story of Jesus is promised and predicted and prophesied in the Psalms. The details are fulfilled to the letter - we can be certain therefore that Jesus is indeed the Christ. And as we believe him, we will have life in his name. It’s not just made up, it’s not just clever stories. The eye witness evidence is clear: Jesus is alive.

Albert Henry Ross set out to write a book showing that the resurrection was a myth, but as he examined the evidence, he wrote a quite different book - Who Moved The Stone? Jesus is alive - as we believe in him, we can be sure of having life - eternal life, better than just looking ten years younger.

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on the evening of Easter Sunday, 24th April 2011.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Sermon: Matthew 28: 1-10 No Fear

I wonder if you’re big into your labels. A few years ago, the clothing label was something that told you what size the jumper or the pair of trousers was, discreetly tucked away on the inside. Now, labels are much more noticeable, turning the wearer into a walking advertisement for the particular brand. Either you, or someone you know, is probably caught up in the serious world of having the ‘right’ label - the one that’s cool this week, not last week.

As you’ve been walking around this past week, you might have noticed some of the more famous labels - Adidas, Nike (however it’s pronounced!), Hollister, to name but a few. But there’s another label, another clothing brand, that I want to suggest would be a good one to think about this Easter: No Fear. The reason I think the name is so great (I’m not passing any judgement on their clothes themselves!) is found in this morning’s gospel reading.

As the reading begins, we’re shown the two Mary’s. Already there is much to fear. Remember that it’s just one week since Jesus entered Jerusalem, accompanied by cheering crowds. But now the two women are going to Jesus’ tomb. Crucified on Friday, dead and buried. What would happen next? Would the Jewish leaders or the Romans round up the rest of Jesus’ friends and followers? Were they in danger too?

As they arrive at the tomb, there is even more reason to be afraid. There’s a great earthquake - the ground shaking. There’s the appearance of this angel - like lightning - as he sits on top of the rolled back stone. The soldiers have never seen anything like this - and they are afraid, so afraid that they ‘trembled and became like dead men.’

Do you see the contrast in the passage? The soldiers trembled, ‘But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid.”’ In other words, no fear. Why? What’s the reason behind not being afraid, having no fear? It’s in what the angel says to them: ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.’

Sometimes as we read the Easter story again, we might think to themselves, well, we know how this goes, we’ve heard it all before. In a way, it’s like the reverse of the movie Sixth Sense. In the film (and sorry if you’ve never seen it and I’m about to spoil it), there’s a boy who can somehow see dead people seemingly going about their day to day business. The twist at the end is that Bruce Willis’ character is dead - if you know that and watch the film again, it’s so obvious. The reverse is true with the gospels - we know that Jesus is alive at the end, that he has risen, and so even as we read the passion and crucifixion, we know that he is going to rise. But Mary and Mary didn’t!

They came expecting a dead body, Jesus, who was crucified. The tomb was open, the body gone, an angel sitting on the stone - they’re obviously going to be afraid! The message of Easter is what the clothing brand proclaims: No Fear. No Fear, because Jesus who was crucified is alive, risen - just as he had told them beforehand.

It’s a complete turn around. Death to life - not just for Jesus, but for all who trust in him. As Paul proclaimed in the synagogue years later, forgiveness of sins through the crucified and risen Jesus. Because we have no fear, we are transformed people - we see it here in the two Mary’s, as they have great joy (and still some fear) as they go from the tomb. It is on the way that they meet the risen Jesus, who has the same message for them: ‘Do not be afraid.’

How differently would you live if you knew there was nothing to fear? How would your attitude to life, death, suffering, opposition, sin, change, if you know no fear?

The message of ‘no fear’ isn’t just to be lived out, though. It is for sharing as well. The two women are sent to tell the disciples the good news that Jesus is risen, to share the message that we don’t need to be afraid of death. The disciples meet with Jesus, and they are sent out with the same gospel message, where they face hostile crowds, governors and kings, prison and flogging, but nothing will stop them. Why? Because the Christian has no fear - Jesus is alive, and that changes everything!

This sermon was preached at the Easter Early Communion service in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 24th April 2011.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Way of the Cross (40)

It's the last day of Lent, forty days since Ash Wednesday (not counting Sundays, which are Feast Days), and Easter Eve. It should really be the end of our series, but we'll continue another couple of days to include another couple of great prophecies of what the Lord Jesus would do when he came.

It's the day after Good Friday, the day before Easter Sunday. An in between kind of day. Neither one thing nor the other. Having been laid in the tomb before sundown on Friday (the beginning of the Sabbath), Jesus remains in the tomb on Saturday. Three days he is in the tomb, before being raised on Sunday. What should we think of today? What else, but the sign of Jonah?

And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:17)

An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:39-40)

The Lord Jesus not only regarded Jonah as a historical figure, but also as a sign pointing to his own work of dying and being buried before being raised from the dead. Even as Jesus is buried, his work continues, charted out in advance through the predictions of the prophets, and in this case the prophetic action of the pathetic prophet.

In contrast with the first disciples, who spent that first Easter Eve in fear, wondering how things had turned around completely within a week, we know how the story ends. It's hard to 'unremember' it, but we don't have to - we can celebrate every day as Easter people.

At the same time, Jesus so fully identifies with us that he even goes to the grave, lying in the tomb for us, and our salvation. He has passed through the valley of the shadow of death - we need not fear the grave. It cannot hold us.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Way of the Cross (39)

The prophet Zechariah, guided by the Holy Spirit, points us toward a very important day in the calendar. Much more important than a royal wedding, bigger than cup final day, or someone's birthday, the day was in the future for Zechariah.

It all centred on some events that would happen in Jerusalem, the very events that we recall on this day, Good Friday, as we look back to the first Good Friday. As we've seen throughout our series, the passion was predicted centuries beforehand by the prophets.

And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn...

On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.
(Zechariah 12:10; 13:1)

The pierced one is the one from whom mercy and grace flow; the fount of every blessing and the fountain for the cleansing of sin. We cannot now journey to see the Lord Jesus on the cross, and yet we can still stand at the cross, seeing in our heart what he has done for us, to offer salvation and freedom.

You may know your need of cleansing, but have you been cleansed? There's a world of difference between knowing that you're stinking when you come back from playing sport or working in the garden, and actually having a shower. The shower is needed - and you naturally want to be clean, so you go and wash.

What of your soul? What of your heart? Do you see your need? Have you been cleansed by this free-flowing fountain for forgiveness? Come, and be clean, through the pierced one, from whose side flowed the blood and water.

Sermon Audio: 2 Peter 3: 11-18

On Sunday evening, I was preaching on
Growing in Grace as we finished the series in 2 Peter. Here's how it sounded.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Way of the Cross (38)

The events of Maundy Thursday, the washing of feet, the Lord's Supper, the prayer in Gethsemane, come so quickly that it's hard to keep up with what is happening at times. You can imagine the 24 hour news crews dashing to get their cameras rolling, live reports coming in, minute by minute updates on the trial. You could be tempted to think that it all kicked off, taking Jesus by surprise. He was in control up until the soldiers arrived, led by the chief priests and Judas, but then it turned out differently to how he had expected.

Not so, says the person who has read their Bible! Even as Jesus is arrested, he continues to fulfill Scripture, his enemies playing their part unawares. None more so than in Gethsemane, where the prophet Zechariah helps us to understand what is happening.

Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered. (Zechariah 13:7)

This is exactly how it turns out as Jesus is arrested, and the Eleven are scattered in fear. Alone, the Saviour continues, the shepherd of the Lord, stricken for the flock, giving his life to save them and gather them from their separation.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Way of the Cross (37)

Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Look and see
if there is any sorrow like my sorrow,
which was brought upon me,
which the LORD inflicted
on the day of his fierce anger
(Lamentations 1:12)

Those words are uttered by one on the receiving end of the judgment of God, the punishment of the Almighty. The judgement has fallen, yet many continue on their day-to-day life, unconcerned, unaffected, unmoved.

The words were first uttered by the devastated inhabitants of Jerusalem, when that city finally fell to the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. The Lamentations (which we probably don't think enough about - it probably doesn't fit into our happy-clappy always high Christianity) are an extended meditation and cry of lament; pouring out pain to God. Jerusalem fell, and the surrounding nations were glad - Edom threw a party. The people of God, however, turn to lament.

These very words could be on the lips of the Lord Jesus as he dies on the cross (indeed, they are used with powerful effect in Stainer's Crucifixion). We're told that the place where Jesus was crucified was on the highway, many people were passing by and could see what happened to rebels and criminals. Yet they regard it as a spectacle, something to enjoy and revel at, rather than something precious, amazing, powerful.

No wonder that the lights were dimmed, the sky turned black and there was darkness for those three hours of intense suffering on the cross, as the LORD inflicted his fierce anger, his wrath towards sin, on the sinless substitute.

The same question rings out today - is it nothing to you? Think of the many people who care nothing about the cross, or the one who suffered on it for our sake. Perhaps a cross is used as a piece of jewellery, but with no thought to what it meant.

Can we make nothing of it as Christians? Do we imagine that once we've been a Christian for a while we don't need to think about the cross any more? That we're somehow making ourselves worthy and can earn our place in heaven once we've been given a jump start? Forbid it that we should ever think nothing of the cross. Rather, as Paul writes:

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Way of the Cross (36)

What can you do when a covenant is completely broken? Whether it's the marriage covenant which no longer binds two people together, or a business partnership which has gone sour; things are painful, uncertain, sad.

The prophet Jeremiah lived in the days of a painful divorce. The people of God in Judah had forsaken their God; turned their back on his covenant; renounced their marriage vows. Jerusalem was falling down around them, the besiegers coming over the horizon. The covenant had failed, not because of God, but because of the people.

Jeremiah has words of hope, words of comfort, and words of a new covenant - a covenant that would not be broken:

Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbour and each one his brother, saying 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

As Jesus dies on the cross, he fulfills the old law, the old covenant, and institutes the new. He has perfectly obeyed the Law that condemns us, and so the law is written on our hearts, so that we are able to obey it. As we draw near in faith, God is our God, and we his people.

And when we live in the new Jerusalem, there will be no need of ministers, teachers or elders - all of us will perfectly know the Lord. How wonderful that will be - our dull hearts no longer dull, living by sight and not by faith.

And to cap it all, the glorious promise of sins forgiven and forgotten - through the blood of Jesus. Remember those words of Jesus as he shared the Last Supper and instituted the Holy Communion?

Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matt 26:27-28)

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Way of the Cross (35)

The very last section of Isaiah 53 contains a few more surprises, as we'll see as we reflect on it today.

The first one comes in verse 10. Despite the servant of the LORD having done no violence and having no deceit in his mouth, the reason for his death is surprising. On his death certificate, what would be recorded as cause of death?

Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
(Isaiah 53:10)

The LORD crushes his servant, his Son. It was his plan and purpose, foretold for so long beforehand, and yet isn't it still shocking? The only one who perfectly pleased the LORD suffers at his hands, dying for guilty, filthy rebels who deserved the punishment.

But the crushing wasn't the end of the will of the LORD - Jesus' death isn't the end. Rather, it's a new beginning - the verse continues to talk of him seeing his offspring, having prolonging days, and prospering the will of the LORD. This isn't a Da Vinci Code type Jesus and his children by marriage. The offspring are all his children, his brothers and sisters who are given birth in the gospel, who live in the benefits and blessings of his sacrifice.

Ultimately, by the knowledge of the servant, the righteous one, many will be made righteous. His sacrifice is satisfying, the will of the LORD has been fulfilled, as God takes on the punishment God inflicts, to let us go free and be righteous in his sight. His death was not the end, and so our death is not the end either, as we trust in Christ. Hallelujah! What a Saviour!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sermon: 2 Peter 3: 1-18 What Sort of People?

All over the country, men and women are following a strict regime. Rising at unearthly hours, they hop in a boat and cover miles upon miles as they row; they spend hours in the pool; they practice their technique over and over again. They carefully watch their diet; they don’t overindulge. It sounds terrible, if you like the warmth and comfort of your bed; if you prefer to eat lots of chocolate and sweets; and would rather watch others play sport than get involved.

But stop one of those men or women (if you can!), and ask them why they’re putting themselves through this, and you’ll see their eyes mist over. They’ll travel in their mind’s eye to a day about 450 days away, when they stand on a podium, and the National Anthem is played, and a gold medal is hung on their neck. To win that gold in London 2012, they live every day between now and then in preparation for it. They will order their life now to reflect the glory of that day.

The apostle Peter is urging us to live in the same way, as he finishes his second letter, but don’t worry, he’s not calling us to get our trainers on and get running for the Olympics (thankfully!). Rather, he’s calling us to live in the light of the day of the Lord, the day of God, as he puts it in verse 12. Last week, you might remember, we were considering the return of the Lord Jesus - while some people may mock and scoff, we can trust God’s promise, we can be certain that Jesus will return - and with it the heavens will pass away, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up.

But given that’s going to happen, it leaves us with a big question to ask: ‘Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be?’ If this is what’s going to happen to the earth and sky, then how should we live? Will it change how we do things, and what we do? As we’ll see, Peter calls us to live in the light of eternity, in other words, doing now what we’ll be doing then.

Let’s look first at what we’ll be doing then. We’ve already looked at verse 10, at what will happen to the heavens and the heavenly bodies, and Peter virtually repeats himself in verse 12. Given that we’re told that all this is going to happen, then you might be tempted to think that it doesn’t matter what you do, think or say. If everything is going to be burned up, then what difference would it make to how I treat Mrs Jones up the street or whether I change?

But the day of the Lord isn’t the end of the world - do you see how Peter continues? ‘But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.’ After the day of the Lord, these new heavens and new earth will be formed, and we will live with God forever - if we’re trusting in him and his promise.

Sometimes as I visit people, and particularly when discussing funerals with the bereaved, we get to talking about what heaven will be like. Sometimes peoples’ notions can seem very unheavenly - a place where you go fishing all the time, or whatever (that would be horrible!), but what does Peter tell us? Heaven, the new heavens and the new earth is ‘in which righteousness dwells.’ It’s a place where there is perfect righteousness, people in perfect relationship with God and each other, where there is no sin, no sorrow, and we can perfectly please the Lord.

This is what we’re aiming for - taking our place in the new heavens and the new earth, rather than being on the podium receiving a gold medal. After all, one day those gold medal winners will be too old to take part, someone else will break their record, win their medals, and take their place. The new heavens and the new earth are permanent, they can’t be taken away from you when you arrive there! But if that is where we are aiming for, if this is how we will be, then how should we be living now? To ask again, ‘what sort of people ought you to be?’

In verse 11, we see the big picture of what it will look like. Peter talks of lives of holiness and godliness - being separated, set apart for God, and reflecting God’s goodness in our life, becoming more like God. It might be obvious to some, but remember that we can’t live lives of holiness and godliness by ourselves - Peter isn’t calling us to just do it ourselves, try harder to be better. Remember that he’s writing to Christians, to those who have that faith of equal standing with the apostles (1:1) - holiness and godliness will only come after we’ve been justified/saved, not before.

So if holiness and godliness is the big picture, Peter gives us some of the particular details of what that will look like. Look with me at verse 14. Here we see the doing now what we’ll be doing then perhaps most clearly: ‘Therefore beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.’ It’s the contrast with the false teachers we met in chapter 2 - ‘blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you...’ (2:13). If we’re going to spend eternity living where righteousness dwells, then we need to be living that way (as best we can) now.

Imagine you decided to move to France. You would spend lots of time learning the language, learning the culture, so that when you move, you’ll be able to settle in and live in the new place. We’re on our way to a new place as well. Are you speaking the language of heaven? Are you living according to its culture and practices? Are you at peace with God and your brothers and sisters?

One of the ways to help prepare for moving to a new culture is to have a guidebook. If you are planning to move to France, Amazon have 91 different books that could help - ‘Living and Working in France: A Survival Handbook’; ‘The French Property Buyer’s Handbook’; ‘Moving to France with your Children’; or ‘Retiring in France’ to name but a few. As we prepare for our new home, Peter says that we have a guidebook as well - the Scriptures.

These verses are really significant as we seek to understand the Scriptures. ‘And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also write to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.’

Isn’t it reassuring to see that Peter thought that some parts of Paul’s letters were hard to understand? Yet nevertheless, Peter regards Paul’s letters as Scripture, on a par with the other writings (which we’ve already seen in 1:21) of the Old Testament. They may be hard to understand sometimes, but keep working at them, keep studying them, as they help us prepare for the day of the Lord and heaven.

You see, false teachers are a constant danger, ignorant and unstable people are going to twist the scriptures. But you know they’re going to do it, Peter warns us of this, so that his final two verses are a great summary of how to use the Scriptures as we live now in light of eternity:

‘You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.’

Don’t follow the errors of the false teachers, the lawless people - if will make you lose your stability, and prevent you from increasing in those qualities from chapter 1. Instead, grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus - through holding to his promises, trusting his word, and learning it so that it changes how you live and prepares you for the new heavens and the new earth.

Perhaps you realise that you’re not ready to live where righteousness dwells - it would seem like hell to you. Before trying to change how you live, you first need to be changed yourself - the invitation is open tonight, to come, and trust God’s promise that when you have faith in Jesus, you will live with him in the new heavens and the new earth.

But maybe you are a Christian, and yet the thought of heaven doesn’t fill you with joy. Are your affections tied up with this earth? Are you only concerned with this life, its pleasures and worries? It’s all going to pass away - so set your minds on the new earth, not this old one. Take some time to consider where your heart really is; where your treasure is.

And ask, am I becoming more ready for heaven as each year passes? Am I growing in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus, or am I wasting my remaining time on earth? How terrible if those Olympic athletes give their whole lives chasing a gold medal, and put us, who are assured of heaven, to shame with our miserly and weak efforts to be ready for the day.

The athlete seeks glory for himself or herself through swimming, or running, or cycling, or shooting - all eyes are on the person standing in the gold medal position. Our motivation to live now in the light of eternity isn’t for our own pride, our own glory. Rather, as Peter’s final words in the Bible declare, it’s all for Jesus - ‘To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.’

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 17th April 2011.

Aghavea Appointment

This afternoon I'm pleased to announce that I've been appointed as the new Rector of Aghavea Parish in the Diocese of Clogher.

St Lasair's Church, Aghavea Parish , County Fermanagh (1813)

Agha-where? The parish is centred on the village of Brookeborough, in County Fermanagh, and we'll be moving westwards in August from my Curacy in St Elizabeth's, Dundonald. No date has been set for the Institution service, but I'll update the blog when it's all arranged.

View Larger Map

We're very excited about the move, and getting to know our new parish, with the big step from Curate to Rector, from big parish to smaller parish, and from city to rural setting. Our desire is to see the Lord Jesus glorified in the church and in the world, as we proclaim the good news and become more like Jesus.

We would appreciate your prayers over these coming months as we say farewell to our friends and church family in Dundonald and move to Fermanagh.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Way of the Cross (34)

As Isaiah 53 continues, we keep on seeing the intricate details writ large so many centuries before Jesus fulfilled them exactly. In the next stanza, we see the details of his trial, his burial, and the declaration of his innocence.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
(Isaiah 53:7-10)

Behold the Lamb of God, silent before his judge; committing himself to God, the just judge (1 Pet 2). In this he gives us the example to follow as we trace his steps and suffer wrong for the sake of the gospel. How quick we can be to protest at unfair treatment - and from so young an age.

If a sibling or friend got one more sweet than you, you were quick to protest. Even as adults, we can be quick to defend our own rights, but slow to consider the needs of others. As Christians, we are not guaranteed an easy life - persecution will come when we stand for Jesus, because if they hated him, they will hate you.

Can you follow the example of Jesus and endure when you do good and suffer for it? How much we need his grace, to follow in his steps, the grace that flows through his gracious sacrifice on the cross. It's a witness to a watching world, who may ask the reason for the hope that is in us, even when enduring trials.

O let me see thy footprints,
and in them plant mine own.

Dundonald Bible Week

Dundonald Bible Week

Dundonald Bible Week kicks off on Monday night, and you're very welcome to join us for any or all of the events:

Monday 18th April, 7.30pm at Dundonald Baptist Church (Youth Night) - Psalm 23 - How to have everything
Tuesday 19th April, 8.00pm at Dundonald Presbyterian Church - Psalm 2 - The Big Picture
Wednesday 20th April, 8.00pm at Dundonald Baptist Church - Psalm 40 - His First Coming
Thursday 21st April, 8.00pm at St Elizabeth's Church - Psalm 45 - His Second Coming
Friday 22nd April, 8.00pm at Dundonald Presbyterian Church - Psalm 22 - The Heart of the Matter

The speaker is Jonathan Stephen, Principal of WEST, and there will be music, interviews, Bible talk, bookstall, food and friendship each evening. Hopefully we'll see you there!

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Way of the Cross (33)

Behold the man upon the cross, and what do you see? For many, as they think of Jesus on the cross, they see a tragic ending to an interesting life. Jesus, the teacher, cut short because he was offending people.

Others may think of Jesus as being under the curse. That's how some of those watching that day were thinking - if God wants him, let God save him. After all, he's dying the death of a criminal - and there's no smoke without fire.

But when we become a Christian, our perspective on the cross changes, so that we can echo the words written so long before the cross, in the prophecy of Isaiah 53. That death, that agony, wasn't purposeless - it was for us; for me. In a wonderful way explained only by penal substitution, Jesus is dying in our place, for our sins, for our healing.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned - every one - to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
(Isaiah 53:4-6)

Ours is the guilt, his the righteousness.

Ours is the sin, his the remedy.

Ours is the death, his the rescue.

As Paul would later write, 'the Son of God, who loved ME and gave himself for ME. (Galatians 2:20, emphasis added).

As we journey towards the cross, may we never forget the reason Christ died - for us, for me, for you. How marvellous, how wonderful is my Saviour's love for me.

Sermon Audio: 2 Peter 3: 1-10

Last Sunday evening I was continuing the series in 2 Peter, looking specifically at The Promise of His Coming. While many may scoff at the thought of the Lord Jesus Christ returning, Peter outlines the reasons we can trust his promise.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Way of the Cross (32)

As we continue to ponder the Servant of the LORD, we find more astonishing and amazing descriptions of his person and work in Isaiah 53. Given who this is, it's remarkable how 'ordinary' and unremarkable his life was:

For he grew up before him life a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
(Isaiah 53:2)

In contrast with the great and the good, the beautiful people we see all the time in marketing and advertising, the Lord Jesus was plain, nothing special to look at. But as if that were not enough:

He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
(Isaiah 53:3)

We often fear rejection, and so try to please people, to be liked and accepted by them. How lonely the mission of the Son of God, who knew what it is to be rejected and despised. How amazing, that the very God who created the world, when he came to the world, was rejected by the world.

We turned our back on him, refused to listen, and thought he had something wrong with him? The man of sorrows identifies with our sorrows, because he has known them, and bore them. That agony of the cross was the ultimate sorrow, yet he did not turn away; he endured the cross for the joy that was set before him.

Hallelujah! What a Saviour.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Way of the Cross (31)

The servant of the LORD is described in various passages towards the end of Isaiah, and we're going to slow right down over the next few days as we think about one of the most famous prophecies of the cross and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.

Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up,
and shall be exalted.
As many were astonished at you -
his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind -
so shall he sprinkle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which has not been told them they see,
and that which they have not heard they understand.
(Isaiah 52:13-15)

This last and greatest of the servant songs portrays the servant of the LORD in surprising ways - high and lifted up, but marred in appearance; his form so deformed as to hardly be considered human. So surprising, that kings shut their mouths because of him; so shocking that this should be one so highly favoured.

And in this first stanza, the mention of sprinkling many nations - for cleansing, purifying. In some way the work of the servant of the LORD, while marring him, will cleanse and heal others. That's all we're told in the first section of this amazing prophecy - so tune in tomorrow for another portion, and a further revealing of the mystery of the passion of the Son of God.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Way of the Cross (30)

Is God forgetful? That's the question that Zion, the city of God was asking. To all intents and purposes, it looked as if God had forgotten them. When the prophet Isaiah writes chapter 49, he is looking ahead to the time of the exile and return from exile. Jersualem, his city, could soon be destroyed. It would look as if God had forsaken and forgotten.

So how does the LORD reply? What is the answer to this charge of forgetfulness on God's part?

Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are continually before me.
(Isaiah 49:15-16)

The Lord had them inscribed or engraved on his hands. Similarly, when we ask if the Lord Jesus could ever forget us or forsake us, we're brought to the same reassurance - the palms of his hands bear the engraving of his love for us. Those wounds of love are a permanent sign of his unchanging love for us.

Amazingly and wonderfully, the resurrection body of Jesus continues to bear those scars. Those marks of sacrifice are our comfort; the wounds of the cross are for our joy and peace. I will never leave you nor forsake you, declares the Lord (Heb 13:5)

Book Review: Life and Laughing

Michael McIntyre is a funny man. His comedy has the ability to make you laugh at his stories of everyday life, and probably at your own folly and foibles too! As with many famous comedians, he has recently published an autobiography, telling the story of his rise to fame, and so when it came into our house as a present, I was able to read it.

His humour shines through every line, and each chapter will have you laughing out loud at some point. However there are also touching moments and sad moments, as he recalls the difficult situation of his home life breaking down, having two dads in the school sports day father's race (with them finishing first and last!), and the pain of separation. If you're wanting some advice on dating, then you'll do nothing better than reading his story, and then doing the opposite of everything. Particularly hiding in bushes - a hilarious story!

At several points, though, I was interested in how he dealt with the question of religion and God. In his critique of fortune-tellers, mediums and psychics, he was spot-on: 'If the medium could talk to the dead, why are the dead only giving him the first letter of their name? This is an amazing opportunity for the dead. They must have a lot to talk about, and some pretty major information like: what happens when you die? Is there a God? What's the meaning of life? No, apparently they would rather play some kind of afterlife version of 'Guess Who?'

Yet even with this healthy skepticism, he seems to buy into the story of his mum visiting a Tarot card reader who insisted that his mum was pregnant, would have a son and will be world famous.' As his story unfolds, he keeps returning to it to point out how it all happened, just as was said.

Another interesting incident, and one that perhaps most definitely concerns those who are involved in education or childrens ministry was his recollection of school: 'Every morning we gathered in the gym for assembly and recited the Lord's Prayer... At the end, we'd all very loudly say, 'Amen.' Every day I said this, for six years. I didn't have a clue what it meant and nobody explained it. I remember thinking, 'What daily bread? I had cereal this morning', 'Does this mean I'm allowed to trespass?... There was a grassed area in front of the junior school that had a 'No Trespassing' sign. I used to walk across is safe in the knowledge that God would forgive me.'

Michael also writes about receiving a letter from his dad, 'seemingly from beyond the grave.' It had been written in case of anything happening, and had been found after his father had died. He concludes: 'I had experienced a terrible loss. There were things left unsaid, but my dad addressed them and left nothing unresolved between us and me in no doubt of his love for me, allowing me, in his words, to 'go get 'em'.'

As with most of the comedians around today, there is some choice language, so reader discretion is advised. However I enjoyed the book, and the insight it gives into the joker behind the jokes. A funny read, and well recommended.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Way of the Cross (29)

It has often been said that the prophet Isaiah could be counted as the fifth evangelist - his prophecy is, in places, so very clear in describing the person and work of the Lord Jesus that it's as if it's another Gospel account. As we've already seen, and will continue to see for a few more days, the foretelling of the passion is fairly detailed. But it's not just the passion we're focusing on in these days of Lent, leading up to Easter. We're also seeing the prediction of new life, the promise of resurrection in Jesus.

As we come to Isaiah 25, the prophet portrays a great feast on 'this mountain.' The mountain he's talking about is Jerusalem, the city on the mountain. There's mention of rich food and well-aged wine, but of particular interest is what the LORD himself swallows at the feast:

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever;
and the LORD God will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the LORD has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
"Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
This is the LORD; we have waited for him;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation."
(Isaiah 25:6-9)

The Lord swallows up the covering, the veil that covers all people - the covering of death. Death is swallowed up in victory, as the immortal one dies - the grave cannot hold him, death cannot swallow him.

So on that mountain of the Lord, the hill of Jerusalem, death is swallowed up and defeated. Jesus has won the victory, life is his to give, so that all tears are dried up and wiped away. Here's another reason to join in another of Isaiah's salvation songs - let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sermon: 2 Peter 3: 1-10 The Promise of His Coming

The End Is Nigh. Maybe you’ve seen the wee man with the sandwich board proclaiming his message while down in Belfast. He’s sincere, but how is his message received? A fairly common reaction is probably one of mockery - does he really believe that? Why not just get on and enjoy life rather than worrying about something that may never happen.

It’s one thing when it’s the wee man you don’t know seen on the street. But what about when friends or colleagues ask you if you think the same. Do you really believe that Jesus is going to return some day? Do you really think that the world will end in an apocalyptic fashion?

Now perhaps with all the events in New Zealand, Japan, and other places, people are slightly more willing to imagine that the end could be near. But even then, they’re not going to connect it to Jesus returning - just that the world is affected by global warming and nuclear danger and we destroy it by ourselves.

So how do you answer? What do you really believe? What will you say? Thankfully, the apostle Peter can help us out with this very question. Remember that he’s near the end of his life, he’s writing to the churches to help them to hold firm to God’s word when the apostles are no longer on the earth; and he’s giving them the reasons for trusting God’s word.

Do you see the question there in verse 4? ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’ Ever since creation, it’s business as usual, they’re saying - it’s as if God just wound up the world like a watch, and then hasn’t been seen or involved since. And as for this Jesus bloke returning, well, we haven’t seen him since he was crucified. He’s not coming back.

Have you ever encountered this kind of scoffing? It might be those outside the church; but it could be those inside as well - false teachers who don’t believe that Jesus is coming, and therefore you can live how you like. Peter helps us to see why they scoff and mock - ‘following their own sinful desires.’ Jesus isn’t coming, there’s no judgement, so you can do what you want.

So how do we respond to such people? Do we give up believing what Peter has said, what Jesus taught? As we’ve seen before, Peter urges us to remember (v2), he’s writing as a reminder (v1) - we already know what has been taught, but he wants us to remember it, to hold firm to it. And there are two things in particular he wants us to remember: the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Saviour through your apostles. As we consider these in turn, we’ll see that the Lord’s return is sure (not slow) and displays his patience.

So we’ve seen the objections, the scoffing; let’s turn to Peter’s answer, which comes in reverse order. The scoffers have said that things are continuing as they always have, ever since the creation. But they’ve ignored one important event - let’s see what Peter says of it. ‘For they deliberately overlook this fact... that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.’

As we remember the predictions of the holy prophets, as well as pointing forward to the great day of the Lord, they also testify to the flood in Noah’s day. One time before, God intervened in judgement and the world perished (except for the eight who were saved). Things haven’t always been going on as normal. And just as God promised never to destroy the world by flood, so the world is stored up for fire on that day of judgement.

So you see, Noah isn’t just a nice wee story to tell the Sunday School children about a floating zoo - it’s a sign that God takes sin seriously and will act in judgement. To deliberately overlook this is to blind yourself to what God has already done, and what he will do on that great day of the Lord.

The prophets testify to the day - it is sure. As Peter reminds us of what Jesus has said, we’ll see that the day is sure, and displays his patience. Have you ever noticed that time can seem very slow or very fast, depending on what you’re doing? It can go very quickly if you’re on a rollercoaster, enjoying the ride; or very slowly if you’re waiting on a bus or in the dentist’s chair.

Moses declared that ‘a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past.’ (Ps 90:4) - God’s timing is different to the way we view time. So if we’re going to think about when Jesus will return, we need to see it from God’s perspective. Let’s look at verse 9: ‘The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness’. Peter is writing within 40 years of Jesus’ ascension, and already some people think that he’s been gone too long. Is that (as Elijah had laughed at Baal) he’s sleeping? Why is he so slow? Is it like the scene in many households that the husband is sitting waiting, ready to go, waiting on his wife to choose her clothes, do her make up etc, He thinks she’s slow?

Actually, as Peter goes on, the delay isn’t because God is slow; it’s to display God’s patience. ‘The Lord is not slow... but is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.’ We must trust that the Lord’s timing is right, and use the delay to reach out, to ensure people hear the good news and repent, in order to escape the coming judgement.

It’s not what we expect is it? Perhaps you, like me, wish that Jesus would come now, or last year, or the minute after you had become a Christian. You’re tired of waiting, living with the miseries of this sinful life (as the funeral service puts it), and impatient to get to heaven. You’re all right and want to go now. But in the Lord’s patience, we are given the opportunity to bring others to share in the joys of repentance and the hope of eternal life. How gracious, then, that the Lord tarries, to give time for others to repent.

Perhaps you’re wondering over that wording - that all should reach repentance. Will every person who ever existed repent before death? In context, Peter himself says no - as near as verse 7 he speaks of the destruction of the ungodly. All may have the opportunity to repent, but not all will.

Maybe as you join us this evening, you realise that you are the scoffer; you can’t believe that Jesus is returning; you haven’t repented of your sins. What a great opportunity this evening to come in repentance. As Paul writes, ‘Behold, now is the favourable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.’ (2 Cor 6:2)

Very often you hear people say, it’s too early, I’ve plenty of time, I’ll repent on my death bed. But life is short, life is fragile, illness and death can come on us very suddenly and unexpectedly. And as Peter goes on, while Jesus’ coming is certain, we don’t know when it will be. He echoes Jesus’ words as he says in verse 10: ‘But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.’ You don’t know when he will return - this could be the day; tomorrow might be that day. It’s not marked in your diary, you’re not told when it will be; but it is certain.

And what a surprising day it will be. Look at what Peter says: ‘and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved.’ Sometimes our mics don’t work here in St Elizabeth’s; suddenly there’ll be a loud noise or a bang. Those noises are nothing to the sound of the heavens passing away - with a ROAR! Imagine that you’re in church, and suddenly a helicopter hovers overhead and then the roof is lifted clean off - that would still only be a very small and poor reflection of that day and the roar.

As the heavenly bodies, the sun, moon, stars, sky; everything that God made and said was good; as they all burn and dissolve, what a fearful and wonderful day! It’s as if the background scenery is all removed, and the earth is exposed. Face to face with Jesus the judge.

I like to explore old graveyards, reading the inscriptions, finding out about the people buried. One day in Rathmullan, near Tyrella, I came across a strange inscription: ‘This grave never to be opened.’ There may have been good reason for it - perhaps the lady had some infectious disease; maybe it was a condition of her will. But what Peter is saying here is that Jane Archer of Downpatrick’s grave will one day be opened, as the sky melts and burns, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed, and Jane Archer will face Jesus to be delivered or condemned.

Jesus’ return is sure (not slow) and displays his patience. How do we apply our passage? We’ve already thought about the need for repentance, to take the opportunity grace affords now. But what if you’re a Christian?

Do you truly believe the Lord’s promise about his return? It’s been nearly two thousand years now, will we still trust his word? Peter is urging us to trust the Lord’s promise - this world is not all there is; this world will not always exist. So why are you so tied to it? So in love with it?

Are you helping others be ready for the day of the Lord? When someone asks if you really think Jesus is going to return, will you share the promise?

And are you truly thankful for the Lord’s patience towards you? So often we think that application is only go and do - but stop and think, and thank the Lord for his salvation.

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 10th April 2011.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

The Way of the Cross (28)

In the very first verse of Isaiah's prophecy, we're given the list of kings who were reigning while he was prophesying. Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. Some good, some bad, none great. Throughout, he looks forward to the coming of a new king, the promised king. A new king in David's line who will be different:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit...
In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples - of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.
(Isaiah 11:1,10)

This coming king will be the signal, and all God's people will come to him. Those in exile, those from the four corners of the earth, those who are far off; all will come near and dwell in safety. Never more will there be hurt or harm on all God's holy mountain. And on that day, there will be a new song:

You will say in that day:
I will give thank to you, O LORD,
for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
that you might comfort me.
Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the LORD God is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation.
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day:
Give thanks to the LORD,
call upon his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples,
proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously;
let this be made known in all the earth.
Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.
(Isaiah 12:1-6)

This salvation has been won for us, we can sing this great song through the Lord Jesus, the root of David, lifted high as the signal of salvation. Through him, the exiles are returning, and God's people are being gathered together from all the nations, to live in the new heavens and the new earth where righteousness dwells.

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Way of the Cross (27)

The first chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah is fairly shocking the first time you read it. The LORD God of Israel addresses his people, and tells them what he thinks of them and their religious observance. And it's not at all complimentary.

Israel is worse than an ox or a donkey, because those 'dumb' animals know their owner, but Israel doesn't know nor understand their God. Like a doctor, God diagnoses the problem: 'the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint', there's no soundness in the whole body, top to bottom. Israel are even called by the names Sodom and Gomorrah - an insult in anyone's book, those places being renowned for their sinful behaviour.

On the Ship of Fools website they have a section called Mystery Worshipper. Unannounced, a stranger will visit a church service, and then give fairly detailed feedback on what they thought of it - the welcome, music, sermon, tea, and a lot else besides. Isaiah 1 gives a not-so mystery worshipper's opinion on the Jerusalem temple. It couldn't be worse, as he describes 'this trampling of my courts... my soul hates... I will not listen...'

Their sin is obvious, getting in the way of their worship. Their sin must be dealt with. But how?

Some now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
(Isaiah 1:18)

Later in the book, Isaiah will declare that Israel's self-righteousness is like filthy rags in God's sight. They simply can't do it themselves - and neither can we. Instead, the Lord himself takes our crimson stains and gives us his purity. He cleanses, so that we are clean.

How precious is the flow
that makes me white as snow
No other fount I know,
nothing by the blood of Jesus.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Way of the Cross (26)

Recently I was watching Lesser Spotted Ulster on TV. For those outside the province who haven't a clue what I'm talking about, it's a programme where presenter Joe Mahon travels around the townlands of the nine county province of Ulster seeing the sights, meeting the locals, and giving a flavour of a particular corner of the country.

Joe was helping to build a dry stone wall somewhere in rural Donegal. The wee man who was teaching him must have been in his seventies or eighties, but worked like a good one! The secret, he said, was to use whatever stone you lifted wherever you could - not wasting time looking for the perfect stone to fit the hole, but by using what came to hand - it would all fit together somehow.

Yet there's an incident in Scripture that shows much more fussy builders. They had came across a particular stone and got rid of it. It was oddly shaped, didn't fit into their plans, and so it was discarded. The ironic and surprising thing, though, is that the rejected stone was actually the most important - the cornerstone - the one that holds the whole building together.

The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This is the LORD's doing;
it is marvellous in our eyes.
This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
(Psalm 118:22-24)

These verses aren't about the literal building of a house, but rather they point to what was happening when Jesus was crucified. He was the stone rejected, the one who didn't fit with the expectations of Israel. He was the Messiah, the Christ, but not as the people of Israel expected, and so was rejected. When standing before Pilate on trial, the voices cried out 'Crucify, crucify.'

As Jesus died on the cross, it was the ultimate rejection; condemned as a common criminal, cursed by God, mocked by the people. But Good Friday was not the end of the story. The rejected Messiah is the cornerstone Messiah, the one in whom the plans and purposes of God have been fulfilled and finished.

As Jesus rises from the tomb, the rejected Messiah is vindicated by the Father; Jesus is raised, ascended and glorified to the right hand of the Father, the place of honour and glory, from where he rules the universe, and from where he will return to judge every person who has ever lived. That's why it is marvellous in our eyes - because God has done it; we can therefore rejoice in the day of deliverance and salvation.

Little wonder, then, that this very passage is quoted by Jesus to describe his mission (Matt 21:42, Mark 12:10-11, Luke 20:17) as well as Paul (Eph 2:20) and Peter (1 Pet 2:4-7), including his defence in front of the rulers of Israel:

This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:11-12)

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

The Way of the Cross (25)

To be attacked by an enemy is one thing; to be betrayed by a friend is altogether more painful. When a close friend suddenly turns, it can be very distressing; the confidence gone, the closeness lost, the relationship soured.

When Jesus was choosing his twelve disciples, we're told in the gospel accounts from the outset that Judas Iscariot was the one who betrayed Jesus by bringing the temple guard and imperial soldiers to Gethsemane. In one sense, by the time you come to read of it, it's no surprise - we know long before it happens that Judas is the betrayer.

[Interestingly, the disciples weren't so confident that Judas was the betrayer. Remember when Jesus reveals at the Last Supper that one of them will betray him? They eleven don't all turn round and look and point at Judas, knowing it's him. Instead they ask the question, "Is it I?"]

There's a sense in which even before coming to the Gospels, we know that one of Jesus' closest friends will betray him, turning against him. It's another detail of Messiah's life that is told plainly centuries before it happens through the prophetic writings of the Old Testament. Through an unknown incident of David's life, the Holy Spirit points towards the experience of the Messiah, as he drives David to write:

Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.
(Psalm 41:9)

Opposition is nothing new - the rest of the Psalm shows how many people are plotting against God's King. The new and startling feature is that even the King's friend has turned against the King. I've previously discussed the rights and wrongs of Judas, but suffice it to say here that Judas' betrayal was known long before it happened.

Despite the appearance of being on the inside, respectable, one of the twelve, Judas was not one of God's people. In his own free activity, he fulfilled this portion of the prophecy, which led to the crucifixion and glorification of Jesus.

Sermon: John 12: 20-26 Jesus Glorified

Look back over your life for a moment, and think about this - at what point did you have the most glory? When were you at your peak? What day, or week, or year could you point to and say that you were recognised and on form?

Perhaps it was when you won a promotion, after a long battle with colleagues. Maybe it was your wedding day, looking beautiful as you walked down the aisle. You could remember a sporting achievement, your retirement, your grandchildren being placed in your arms for the first time.

For all of us it will be something different, the high point of your life, the thing you look back to time and time again. So as we think about Jesus being glorified, we might be surprised that it wasn’t one of his miracles; wasn’t one of this teaching sessions; it was his death.

As we come to John 12, Jesus has recently raised Lazarus from the dead. It’s now Passover time, and Jesus has ridden into Jerusalem on the donkey. Jerusalem is full of people from all over the world, gathered for the feast, and among the crowd, there are some Greeks. They would have been Jewish converts, but they’re not native-born Jews. Do you see their question in verse 21? ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’

They’ve obviously heard about him; they want to see him for themselves. We wish to see Jesus. It’s a question we would love to be asked, isn’t it? When a friend or relative or neighbour says to you - we want to know more about Jesus, tell me about him. Who is Jesus?

The question, and who it comes from is the signal for Jesus, the indication that his time has come. It’s a bit like the alarm clock ringing to say that it’s time to get up. Verse 23, Jesus says, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’

Do you remember what happened at the start of John’s Gospel? Jesus is at the wedding in Cana, and the wedding runs out of wine. it would be terribly embarrassing, and Jesus’ mother comes to him and says, ‘they have no wine.’ How does Jesus reply? ‘Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’

All the way through John’s gospel, we’re moving steadily towards this hour, and now, with the Greeks coming to see Jesus, the alarm has sounded, the hour has come. And yet it’s still very surprising how Jesus will be glorified.

We might have thought that because foreign people were coming to see Jesus and talk to him that this was his glorification; that he was being recognised by all peoples. Actually, Jesus makes it clear what his glorification involves: ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’

I don’t know very much about gardening, but I do know that it’s the time of the year to be planting for your summer flowers. So you go along to the garden centre, and you buy the packets of seeds, but rather than planting them in the ground, imagine you left them sitting on the shelf in the garage. There wouldn’t be any flowers to show - the seeds wouldn’t do anything.

They need to be planted - buried, if you will - because out of death comes life. The grain of wheat is buried and dies, but through the death of the grain comes the producing of much fruit. In the same way, Jesus dies on the cross, buried in the tomb, but produces much fruit and much life through that death. That’s why Jesus is glorified in his death; the cross is the place of exaltation - his being lifted up to draw all men to himself later in the chapter.

Jesus was glorified in his one-off, unrepeatable sacrifice of himself for us and our sins; in his death we have life. And yet, as we consider Jesus glorified, he calls us to follow the path he trod. To hate your life - to give it up for the sake of Jesus by following him, taking up your cross, and giving your all for him. ‘If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will be my servant also.’

It’s costly, to give up your life and comfort and security for the sake of Jesus and others, but at the end of the day, just as Jesus was glorified in his service and through his service, so the Father will honour the one who serves Jesus.

What was your greatest day? My prayer is that it was the day you decided to follow Jesus, whatever the cost, and give your life to serve him.

This sermon was preached at the Midweek Holy Communion service in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Wednesday 6th April 2011.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Way of the Cross (24)

As we saw yesterday, none of us can fulfil God's standards or keep God's law. Even our righteous deeds can't help us, because they're so caught up in sinful motives.

Our next Psalm (40) is attributed to Jesus by the writer to the Hebrews, as the witness to what he would do when he came:

In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,
but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.
Then I said, "Behold, I have come;
in the scroll of the book it is written of me:
I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart."
(Psalm 40:6-8)

Here we see prophecied the perfect obedience of the Son to the Father, the only one who truly delighted in the Father's will, the one who willingly went to the cross in obedience. Temple sacrifices would not and could not make us right with God - but they pointed to the one perfect, sufficient sacrifice of perfect obedience, the life lived, the death died, in perfect trust.

Lawbreakers become lawkeepers, not through moral effort; not through trying harder. In Jesus' obedience we are credited with obedience, and his grace transforms us, gives us a 'heart transplant' to love and keep God's law, just as Jesus did. It doesn't happen immediately, we still fail and fall; but God's grace empowers us to get up, repent, and keep going. And all through the obedience of the Son to death, even death on a cross!

Monday, April 04, 2011

The Way of the Cross (23)

Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
(Psalm 24:3)

It's the question all of us must answer at some point in our lives. What kind of standard does God expect for us to dwell with him? How good is good enough?

When it comes to our standards, how would you answer if you're good? Maybe you give to charity and buy a Big Issue. Maybe you try not to swear, slander or speed. You avoid drink, drugs, and dreadlocks. Even if you're not perfect, well, at least you're better than that woman down the road. How good is good enough?

He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
He will receive blessing from the LORD
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
(Psalm 24:4-6)

So is this psalm just a bit of a checklist? Pass the test and receive God's blessing, and dwell with him on his holy hill? Let's try it. Does not swear deceitfully - maybe not. Lift up your soul to what is false - pass. Clean hands - after every toilet stop and before preparing food. A Pure heart? Never. Not me. If having a pure heart is God's standard, then I know I'm in trouble. And you are too.

As Jesus taught in Mark 7, the heart is the centre of the person, and the seat of our rebellion against God. All those evil deeds come from evil desires which come from the heart. The heart of the problem is a problem of the heart. We can't even imagine what a pure heart would look like, because we're so caught up in sin.

If God's standard is the way to dwell with him, then we must all be considered out; we don't qualify; we don't deserve. Yet just when things look impossible - every human from Adam and Eve on have failed in the same way - David looks forward and sees a day coming when one will be qualified to enter God's presence; when the gates will swing wide open to welcome the hero - the one who will have fulfilled God's standards and won the victory, so that his people can join his triumph and give him the glory.

Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty,
the LORD, mighty in battle!
Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of flory?
The LORD of hosts,
he is the King of glory!
(Psalm 24:7-10)

The Jesus who satisfied the Law, who obeyed the Father, who went to the cross, is risen, ascended, glorified - by his stripes we are healed; by his righteousness, we are counted righteous in God's sight.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Sermon: Psalm 117 The Soundbite Psalm

Soundbites reign supreme. Not only does that seem like a good soundbite in its own right, it’s a reflection of where things are these days. With 24 hour news channels, instant messaging, an explosion of information, there seems to be less time for a lengthy, well-reasoned argument to be developed. The message has to be short, snappy, and special.

Just last week, the Chancellor George Osborne came under fire for his ‘Britain will be held aloft by the march of the makers.’ Or who could forget Tony Blair on the day the Good Friday Agreement was signed saying “A day like today is not a day for soundbites, really. But I feel the hand of history upon our shoulders. I really do.”

It might almost seem as if Psalm 117 is a soundbite psalm. When you turned it up in your Bible, or when Val read it, you might have thought to yourself, “Is that it?” While it’s the shortest psalm in the Bible, we’re see that it has a big command, and a big reason.

As the psalm opens, the command is there: ‘Praise the LORD” - but notice that the command to praise isn’t just for Israel, isn’t just for the people living in the promised land; it’s for everyone. ‘Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol him, all peoples!’ Every person on the planet is called to praise.

Now, when we hear the word praise, we maybe think of singing praise; but there are lots of different ways to praise. We can of course sing, but we can also pray, be silent, obey, love, serve. To praise is to acknowledge and confess that God is God and I am not. To give him what he deserves.

So that’s the big command - to praise the LORD. But you might be thinking to yourself, why would I do that? The rest of the psalm, well, verse 2, gives us the reason for praising the Lord. And it’s all because of who God is - it’s rooted in his character. ‘For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.’

We pour out our praise because of the LORD’s steadfast love and faithfulness towards us. Our praise is a reflection of who God is and how he has revealed himself to us in the Bible through the prophets, and through his Son, the Lord Jesus. We praise because God loved us so much that he sent Jesus to die for us; we praise because the Lord is faithful towards us both now and for ever more.

As we meet for our prayer and praise evening, this is a great reminder of why we can meet together in this way; the confidence we have in coming before the throne of grace; and the proper response to what God has done for us - not just for an hour on a Sunday, but for the rest of our life - to praise because of who God is and what he has done.

Let’s say the Psalm together, and then I’ll pray.

This short reflection was shared at the Prayer and Praise night in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 3rd April 2011.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

The Way of the Cross (22)

It's perhaps the best known chapter in the Bible. It's probably one of the most requested hymns at funerals. It is, of course, the Twenty-Third Psalm.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
(Psalm 23:1-6)

The Lord is my shepherd. It's how the Lord Jesus describes himself; the good shepherd. In the care of the good shepherd, we will never be in want, because he provides and is present with us at all times.

Even when dark and difficult days come, as they will and do come, there is nothing to fear. The Lord Jesus has passed through death for us; he leads the way through death to the glory of the Lord. As we pass along the way, in the care of the shepherd, we look forward to dwell in the Lord's house forever, part of the family, settled and secure.

All the blessings on offer, highlighted in the psalm, come because of what the Good Shepherd did for the sheep. He laid down his life for the sake of the sheep. He willingly sacrificed himself for our sake.

That's how we can know peace and not fear any evil - the shepherd is my Lord.

Friday, April 01, 2011

The Way of the Cross (21)

As you continue to read Psalm 22, you can't fail to be struck by the change that comes in verse 22. Up until then, the horrors of the crucifixion are spelled out in terrible detail. Here, the mood changes, so dramatically, that you could nearly be thinking it's an entirely different psalm with a different theme.

Actually, it fits together perfectly, because the crucifixion is not the end of the story. As Jesus was laid in the tomb, he was not finished. Of that we can be certain because of how Psalm 22 ends:

I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of his, all your offspring of Israel!...

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the LORD,
and he rules over the nations.
(Psalm 22:22-23, 27-28)

Gone are the agonies, present are the praises. Having passed through the cross, through death, the end of the Psalm is the glorious victory and celebration of the Messiah. The image is of the great congregation, all God's people, gathered together because of the work of the anointed one, who has delivered them through his sacrifice.

But more than just the people of Israel, people from all the ends of the earth, all the families of the nations shall worship before the LORD as a result of the work of the anointed one. It's no surprise then, that the song of heaven declares:

Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
for every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.
(Revelation 5:9-10)