Tuesday, September 29, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 28, 2015

Sermon Audio: John 3: 1-21

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

Sunday, September 27, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Sermon: John 2: 13-22 Destroy this temple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sermon: John 2: 1-11 Water into Wine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

but there was a problem at this wedding.

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

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

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

Let’s see what happens...

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

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

They’re filled with water. Then:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sermon: John 1: 35-51 Come and See

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Sermon: John 1: 1-18 Receiving the Word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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