Sunday, January 28, 2018

Sermon: Mark 1: 1-13 Good News about God's Son

Somewhere in my mum and dad’s house, there’s a book that is all about me. If we were to hoke it out of whichever cupboard it’s stored in, we would discover all sorts of fascinating facts about me - my date of birth; what weight I was when I was born; what I looked like when I was born; and so on. There were also pages for when my first tooth came; when I started walking; my first word, all those sorts of things. It’s all about me. And maybe baby Noah has a similar sort of book which is all about him.

This morning we find ourselves at the very start of a book which is all about Jesus. We’re told that in the very first verse: ‘The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ (1)

Mark sat down to write a book which is all about Jesus. And here at the start, he tells us that it is ‘the gospel about Jesus.’ Now that word ‘gospel’ means ‘good news’. So this is the beginning of the good news about Jesus. So often when we open a newspaper, or turn on the TV news, it’s only bad news that we hear. But Mark says that he has good news for us - good news about Jesus.

And just so that we’re absolutely sure who Jesus is, Mark tells us a bit more about him in that opening verse. He is ‘Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ Christ there isn’t Jesus’ surname - you know the way the spy introduces himself, ‘The name’s Bond, James Bond.’ (I have a minister friend who sometimes introduces himself The name’s Boyd, James Boyd!). So it’s not James Bond, Gary McMurray, Jesus Christ. Christ isn’t his name, it’s his title - it means the anointed one, the one who has been chosen and set apart for his job as King. You could also say this verse as ‘Jesus the Christ, the Son of God.’

Jesus is the Christ, and he is also the Son of God. He is in close relationship with God, his Father. He is one with the Father. Mark is writing down the good news about Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God.

So you might be a bit surprised to see what he doesn’t include. There are no details here about Jesus as a baby; no birth weight, or first tooth, or any of those sorts of things. He doesn’t deal with the first thirty years of Jesus’ life - Mark doesn’t have time for the story of the shepherds or the wise men. He starts in when Jesus is about thirty years old. But, did you notice, he doesn’t even start with Jesus at all!

This would be like the first bit of Noah’s baby book with pictures and details all about Sophie instead. So why does Mark include verses 2-8, which aren’t about Jesus, but are all about John?

It’s because John is the messenger sent to get people ready for Jesus. We see that in the Old Testament verses Mark quotes; we see it in what John does, and we see it in what John says.

Back in the Old Testament, God had promised to send a messenger ahead of the Lord. ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way - a voice of one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ (2-3)

Jesus had been promised from long before - but so had John. And for Jesus to come, John had to arrive first. That’s what verse 4 tells us: ‘And so John came.’ And how did he prepare the way for Jesus? He came baptising in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.’

People from all over Judea and from Jerusalem came to John. They confessed their sins to him, and were baptised in the River Jordan. To repent means to turn around - to stop going in one direction, and instead to go in a different direction. That’s what the parents and sponsors will declare later on in the service - turning away from the devil and all proud rebellion against God; renouncing the deceit and corruption of evil; repenting of sins. Then turning to Christ as Saviour and Lord.

In verse 6, Mark tells us what John looked like. He wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. I’m sure that no one is wearing camel’s hair today, and that you’re not going home to tuck into locusts and wild honey. But this tells us a bit more about who John is.

If you’re driving home later and someone in dark green clothing (and a hi-vis coat) is standing in the middle of the road holding their hand up, you’ll stop. Their clothing tells you that they are a police officer. Or because I’m wearing this big white surplice shows that I’m a Church of Ireland minister.

John’s clothing tells us that he’s a prophet. He’s wearing the same things as the prophet Elijah (2 Kgs 1:8). This is the messenger sent ahead of Jesus. Now, a messenger is sent with a message, so what was it? Mark tells us there in verse 7: ‘After me will come one more powerful than I, the things of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. I baptise you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’

Some people might have looked at John and thought that he was the Christ. He had big crowds coming to him. He was baptising people, giving them a fresh start. He was a prophet, sent from God. But John says that he’s just like the warm-up act before the main performer. That while he baptises with water, he will baptise with the Holy Spirit.

So Mark tells us that the good news of Jesus begins with the arrival of John, the messenger who comes before him. John did come, he did preach, and that paved the way for Jesus to arrive. In verse 9, Jesus is baptised by John. Not because he has any sins of his own. Jesus is perfectly sinless.

Back in verses 4-8 we were told what you could see and hear with John. Well here in verses 10-11, we find what Jesus saw and heard, as he came up out of the water at his baptism. Both point to who he is, so let’s look at them briefly in turn.

What Jesus saw: ‘He saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.’ On Black Friday there was a BBC news crew inside one of the stores on Oxford Street in London, ready to film the rush of people fighting to get the bargains on offer. They filmed as a security guard unlocked the doors to discover... just one man standing waiting, who calmly walked in and started browsing around. Contrast that to the scenes in French supermarkets this week where people were fighting over Nutella - it had been reduced by 70% and everyone wanted it!

Heaven was torn open, as if the Holy Spirit couldn’t wait, coming down on him like a dove. Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power (as Peter says in Acts 10:38). The Holy Spirit is the sign and seal that Jesus is the Christ. Jesus is God’s long promised King.

But Jesus also heard something that day. We hear it in verse 11: ‘And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”’ God the Father speaks to Jesus, confirming that he is his Son - but more than that, the Son he loves, and is well pleased with.

In a world of bad news, here is some good news. All the promises of the Old Testament have come true. The messenger came to prepare the way. And now Jesus is here. Jesus who is the Christ, the anointed King, who has the power of the Holy Spirit to save us from our sins. He’s the one who gives us more than a washing in water, he baptises us with the Holy Spirit, giving us the power to live.

And Jesus is the Son of God, the Father’s beloved Son, who has come to save us from our sins by living the perfect life that we could never live, and dying the death that we deserve. The good news is that Jesus has come... for you. Why not take the opportunity to discover more about this good news - read through Mark’s gospel. It would only take about an hour. Or come along this evening, when David will look at another section from Mark 1.

When we hear the news, we need to do something with it. Maybe you think this is fake news, that we’re getting excited about nothing. But it’s a bit like the urgent alert in Hawaii last week - when you hear the news you need to do something about it. We hear this good news, and so we need to do something about it - listen to it, receive it, welcome it. Accept Jesus for who he is: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. And this is good news.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday morning 28th January 2018.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Sermon: Ruth 1: 1-22 The Romance of Redemption (1) - Bitter and Empty

What’s in a name? Your name isn’t just the way that people call you; it can also say something about you. Perhaps you know what your name means, and you can decide if it’s accurate or not. Gary means strength, and I can see you all thinking that it’s spot on (or maybe not...). Names communicate something of who we are. But sometimes, people decide to change their name. In fact, in 2016, there were 85,000 who changed their name by deed poll in the UK.

Those name changes happen for a variety of reasons. For some, a name change will be a new start, a new identity, a clean break from an abusive partner. For others, though, it seems to be less serious, like the lady who changed her name to include Penelope Pitstop (from Wacky Races), or the person who is now known as Mr Bacon Double Cheeseburger.

In our reading tonight from Ruth chapter 1, we discover a requested name change, in verse 20. Now, for us, as we read that verse, we might not grasp what’s being said. ‘Don’t call me Naomi, she told them, call me Mara...’ So let me read it in translation, the way the people of Bethlehem would have heard it. Don’t call me pleasant. Call me bitter.

Naomi’s name seemed like a burden to her. It didn’t seem to fit her any more. She doesn’t want to be called pleasant, because she feels far from pleasant. Instead, she wants to be called Mara - bitter. That’s how she feels, and that’s what she wants everyone else to call her.

So how did this come about? How did the change from pleasant to bitter happen? What has gone on to bring about her bitterness? That’s what this opening chapter of Ruth tells us.

Verse 1 gives us an idea of where this story fits into the bigger Old Testament story. ‘In the days when the judges ruled.’ Ruth can be hard to find, snuggled in between the big books of Judges and 1 Samuel, but this is where the story fits. The days of the judges - when God’s people would turn away from God, then they would face opposition, then they would cry out to God, and God would send a ‘judge’ - not someone in a robe and curly wig, but a rescuer, a saviour. And round and round that pattern goes in the book of Judges - you can probably think of the famous ones, Gideon, Deborah, and Samson, but there were 12 in total. Going round and round in this cycle of things getting worse, and each time God sending help.

Well, during this time, we’re told there was a famine in the land. The land is the promised land, the place God had given to the people of Israel, the land flowing with milk and honey. So for there to be famine was a bad sign. A sign that things weren’t well. Famine was one of the marks of the curse under the old covenant (Deut 28:38-42). And even worse, the famine is felt in Bethlehem, which means the house of bread. It’s a bit like the old advert - Fred, there’s no bread. Only this is serious.

This one family decide to move away from home, away from the promised land, to go to Moab. They leave their God-given inheritance to live in enemy territory. And again, names are important. We’ve already met Naomi, and her husband is called Elimelech - God is my king. Except, it doesn’t really look like it at this point.

So the family move to Moab, and it’s here that tragedy begins to strike. First of all, Elimelech dies. Naomi is left with her two sons. After her boys get married to Moabite women, they both die as well. Naomi has lost her husband and her sons within a few years. She’s in a strange place, without a breadwinner - in those days it was the men who went to work, so without a man, there was no pension or social security benefits.

But then Naomi hears (6) that the Lord had come to the aid of his people. He has provided food for them back in Bethlehem. So she decides to return home - to go back. As she sets out, she tells her daughters-in-law to go back. (There’s a lot of going back in these verses!). Naomi is going back to Bethlehem, but the two younger women should go back to their own families.

Naomi prays that the Lord will show kindness to them, as they showed kindness to their dead and to Naomi. She also prays that the Lord will grant them rest in the house of another husband. Immediately, they say that they’ll come back with her. But that leads to Naomi urging stronger for them to return home.

She’s honest that the prospects aren’t great. That, even if she had a husband today, and got married and had sons, were the women going to wait to marry them? And here in verse 13 we get the first hint of Naomi’s bitterness - ‘It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has gone out against me!’

At that, Orpah (not Oprah!) kisses her goodbye and walks away. But Ruth clings to her. Naomi tries to get her to go. Do you see what Orpah is returning to? ‘Look, your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.’

It’s not just her family that Orpah is going back to. She’s also returning to her gods. Back to the Moabite religion. Back to the false gods.

At this point we get the famous words of Ruth - words of commitment, loyalty and devotion. Words that are sometimes read at weddings, but are actually words of love from a daughter-in-law to a mother-in-law:

‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.’

Ruth pledges her loyalty and devotion to Naomi. Stuck like glue. But did you notice how Ruth and Orpah differ? Orpah goes back to her people and her gods. Ruth is going to Naomi’s people and Naomi’s God. While we might think that Naomi may not have been a great witness for God, Ruth has captured something of the greatness of Naomi’s God, and commits herself to this God. That’s seen when she prays ‘May the Lord deal with me...’ Even in this life of tragedy and bitterness, Naomi has brought Ruth to know the true and living God.

Now when the two women arrive in Bethlehem, ‘the whole town was stirred because of them.’ (19). Naomi has been away for at least 10 years. She has been beat down by the circumstances of her life, and the women exclaimed, ‘Can this be Naomi?’ She looks like her, but is this her? Is this the same woman who left here back then?

Well, it is her, but she doesn’t like that name any more. Can this be pleasant? Don’t call me pleasant, call me bitter. Now why does she want her name changed? Do you see the reason there in verse 20? ‘Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.’

Naomi knows exactly who’s to blame. It’s all God’s fault. He has made my life very bitter. He has emptied me. He has afflicted me. He has brought misfortune on me.

I wonder have you ever considered changing your name? Have you ever felt the same as Naomi - bitter, and empty. Perhaps you’ve been through a period of time when it seems that everyone is against you - even God. Maybe that’s your experience right now. Don’t call me by my own name, call me bitter.

Names matter - we’ve seen that with Elimelech, and we’ve more than seen that with Naomi / Mara. But look at the names Naomi uses for God. Twice she calls him the Almighty (Shaddai) - the God who is all powerful, who can do anything. That speaks of God’s power and strength, but to her it feels as if that power has been used against her. And yet she still recognises that God is the Almighty. That’s who he is.

But more than that, he is also the LORD. The capital letter LORD is the covenant name of God - the I am who I am - the pledge and seal of the promise making, promise keeping God. So what if this God hasn’t been afflicting her, but is at work in her circumstances to fulfil his purposes? What if this Almighty God is working to keep his promise and bring about his covenant through her?

Well, we’ll have to see. but already there’s more than a hint that actually, Naomi’s perspective is skewed - that she isn’t seeing things clearly. How does she describe herself? Bitter, afflicted, but also empty. She claims to have nothing, to be empty.

Has she forgotten? Or does she not care? What does she have? She has Ruth, who has pledged her loyalty and devotion. Naomi, despite what she might think, is not entirely empty. She has her daughter-in-law, stuck like glue. Sometimes it can be helpful to take time and think - what do I have? What do I have to be thankful for? And we realise that we have more than we first realised. As the song puts it, count your blessings... And the story is only really starting. But there’s another hint of what’s to come in the last words of the chapter.

When do they arrive in Bethlehem? ‘As the barley harvest was beginning.’ As we finish, it’s like those dum-dum-dum-dum-dums in Eastenders. We’re at a cliffhanger. Naomi may feel bitter and empty, but the harvest time is coming, and God has not abandoned her. There’s more to come. And more discover of how the Almighty LORD is at work in her life.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday 21st January 2018.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Sermon: Psalm 90 Gaining a heart of wisdom

So how has the first week of 2018 been for you? Have you got used to writing January 2018 yet? When I was preparing the service sheet for tonight I had to make doubly sure that I got the right year! We’ve already made it through one week of the new year - and in another 51 of those, it’ll be 2019 before we know it.

Time seems to be flying. It seems to pass so quickly. And, as I’ve been told, the older you are, the quicker it seems to go. We might think that time is passing so quickly because of all the technological advances of the last century. Is the quick passing of time because we’re in the modern (or post-modern) era?

Our Bible reading tonight, Psalm 90, shows us that it has always been the same. The superscription, the little title before the first verse, tells us that this is a Prayer of Moses, who lived about 1500 years BC. This Psalm is over 3500 years old, and yet in verse 10, speaking of a lifetime of seventy or eighty years, ‘for they quickly pass, as we fly away.’ (10).

So this is a human experience, not just a modern experience. Moses says that time flies. So how do we respond to that fact? Some might go the ‘let’s eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die appraoch.’ (Maybe we need to change that in the new year to let’s eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we diet...) Or perhaps you’ve heard someone say, I’m here for a good time, not a long time... As time passes, as our life whizzes by, as we begin this new year not knowing what will come of it, how should we respond?

Moses, the man of God, wants us to get things in proper perspective. He wants us to see things the way God sees them. Because the meaning and purpose of life is vastly different depending on our perspective. And that’s brought out by a series of contrasts throughout the Psalm.

In the opening six verses, we see the contrast between God’s eternity, and our mortality; God’s power, and our frailty.

In our almost ten years of married life, we’re now into our third home. Hopefully we won’t need any more removers for a very long time. My family moved into the house I grew up in about a week after I was born, so it had been the only home I had known, but it was just built, so it was all new for my mum and dad. But sometimes, you hear of families that have lived in the same house not just for one person’s whole life, but for generation after generation. In Fermanagh they talked about the homeplace, the family homestead for many generations.

Or to think of it another way, last September we celebrated 180 years of St Matthew’s. Just think of the generations who have worshipped here. The generations have come and gone, but St Matthew’s remains.

Well that’s getting on to the idea of verses 1-2. ‘Lord, you have been our dwelling-place’ for how long? ‘throughout all generations.’ God has always been around. God is the eternal one, the one all generations have been able to dwell with. Moses expands that thought in verse 2: ‘Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.’

Before the world existed. God was. God is eternal, from everlasting. And that is beyond our thinking. Beyond our comprehension. And to this everlasting God, time is nothing. If we think time is flying, to God, who is outside of time, well, ‘a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch of the night.’ Have you ever had one of those nights where you sit and think - where did that day go? It went by in a blink. That’s what it’s like with God - a thousand years just like a day, as Peter says in our second reading.

It reminds me of the old story. Someone read this verse once and so they say to God, God, is it right that a thousand of our years are just like a second to you; and a million pounds would be to you like just a penny? And God says, yes. So the person says, God, would you give me a penny? And God says, yes, just a second...

It’s just a joke, but it helps us to try to get our heads around God’s eternity, his power. And we need all the help we can get, because, as Moses also says in these verses, we aren’t around for ever, like God. It’s God who returns us to dust - recalling the words of Genesis, and the words of our funeral service - dust to dust...

Compared to God, we’re so finite, so weak. ‘You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning - though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered.’ Here today, gone tomorrow.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, well isn’t this a cheerful message to start the new year with? And it might seem as if it’s going to get worse before it gets better. But remember we’re seeing things from God’s perspective.

If the first section shows us God’s eternity and power, compared to our mortality and weakness, the second section (7-12) shows us God’s holiness contrasted with our sinfulness. And the aspect of God’s holiness in view is his wrath, his anger.

‘We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation.’ And why is God angry? ‘You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.’

Those secret sins that no one else knows about - God knows, God sees, God shines his light on them. God knows all about all our sins, even if no one else does. A preacher once said that if you knew my heart (and all that it desires), then you wouldn’t want to listen to me... but if I knew your heart, then I wouldn’t want to talk to you either.

God is angry at our sin. And whether we make it to the three score and ten, or even four score, 70 or 80, ‘yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.’

This isn’t the quickly kindled anger that you sometimes find in people - you might know the sort of person, you’ll never know how you’ll find them; you’re afraid of saying anything in case they erupt; it depends on what side of the bed they got out of... But God’s anger is not unpredictable like that. God’s anger and wrath is a settled, continuous opposition to anything that mars or spoils his creation; a slow burning consistent anger.

The question is asked in verse 11: ‘Who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.’ The answer to God’s anger is to fear him, to take refuge in him, to properly respect him. To see things from God’s perspective.

And that’s where verse 12 comes in. ‘Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.’ It’s when we realise that some day will be our last; that we can’t go on forever; that we won’t know when our end will come - then we have a heart of wisdom, we live rightly in the world, numbering our days, as God sees them.

As we live in the light of eternity, as we realise that we are frail, and mortal, and sinful - then we are moved to flee to God; to take refuge in him. That’s what’s happening in the final section of the Psalm - recognising that the eternal, powerful, holy, wrathful God is also the God who hears and answers prayer.

In these final verses, we see a series of prayers, one per verse, as Moses cries out to the God who will hear and answer.

V13: ‘Relent, O Lord! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants!’ Relent means to stop the pursuit, to ease off, to provide relief. The prayer is asking for compassion, for God to suffer alongside, to have mercy.

V14: ‘Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.’ To have ended at verse 10 or 11 would have been really bleak. Yeah, life’s hard, God’s wrathful, end of story. But here, the prayer asks God to satisfy us with his love - so that we know joy and gladness, even in the midst of the difficulties. It’s only the knowledge of God’s unfailing love can give us this joy. (Notice, it’s not happiness - which depends on happenings. It’s joy, which flourishes whatever is happening.)

That thought of gladness continues into v15. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us... Do you see what he’s asking. If I’ve been afflicted for ten years, then let me be glad for ten years. He’s asking God to restore us, and bless us, for at least as long as we’ve suffered. It’s what Paul says in 2 Cor 4:17, only even more abundantly: ‘For our light and momentary afflictions are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.’ It’s not that God will bless us in heaven for the same length of time as we suffered. No, his everlasting glory continues forever!

V16: ‘May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendour to their children.’ Here Moses is asking that the next generations will see God’s works and his glory - as God worked in the exodus to rescue his people...

V17: ‘May the favour of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us - yes, establish the work of our hands.’ The Psalm ends with a prayer for grace - God’s favour, God’s grace. The grace that will establish the work of our hands - so that whatever we do in this life, it will be worthwhile, established, that it will echo into eternity.

This morning we thought about growing in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and people. I hadn’t planned it this way, but God has been at work to tie these two messages together at the start of the new year. Here’s how we gain a heart of wisdom - seeing ourselves in the light of God. We might be mortal, frail, sinful, while God is eternal, powerful, and holy (and wrathful). Yet he is also the God who hears our prayer, who acts on our behalf, who answers his prayers according to his grace. This is the way of wisdom, to recognise God as God, to bow before him.

So let’s be wise in this new year, whatever it might hold. Let’s look to God, our dwelling-place, our refuge, our rescuer.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday evening 7th January 2018.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Sermon: Luke 2: 41-52 Home but not alone

Every family seems to have some sort of traditions and customs. So maybe when it’s someone’s birthday, they get to choose what’s for dinner, or where you go to celebrate. You might take the day after New Year’s Day to take down the tree and do a spring clean. Or you always take a certain week or fortnight on holiday, every year, without fail.

Family traditions are usually seen at Christmas. Whether it’s who hosts the dinner, or there’s a pattern of which ‘side’ you go to on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, or when you open your presents - there’s a way you tend to do things. Family traditions that help make Christmas what it is. One of our family traditions (although, I’m realising we didn’t do it this year...) is that at some point in the run-up to Christmas, we’ll watch a movie. Not just any movie, though, the same movie, every year.

Some of our friends watch It’s a Wonderful Life. Maybe for you it’s The Great Escape. In our house, almost every year since we’ve been married, we’ve watched Home Alone. Or else Home Alone 2: lost in New York.

If you’ve never seen Home Alone, then perhaps the name helps you to grasp the idea. A little boy called Kevin is, well, home alone. Through a series of mishaps, Kevin gets left behind while his family head off on holiday. As the movie progresses, you follow Kevin overcoming his fears, enjoying having the house to himself, and finally defeating the wet bandits as they try to break in to steal from the house. While Kevin is having a great time, the camera keeps cutting back to his frantic parents as they try to get back home to find their son.

In our Bible reading this morning, we find a situation a bit like the Home Alone story. Every year, Joseph and Mary went up to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. It’s one of the big Jewish festivals, recalling the escape from slavery in Egypt. It was a requirement for everyone who could to go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the festival.

And so this particular year, Jesus was twelve years old. When they’re travelling back to Nazareth, they were likely in a big group, everyone walking and talking together. But after a day’s travel, they discover that Jesus is not with them. He’s nowhere to be found.

Now, imagine that you’re Mary. You’ve given birth to this special son, announced by an angel, witnessed to by more angels and visited by shepherds and wise men. And he has... disappeared. Aged 12. Imagine the agony, the sense of blame, the panic as you begin to search for him. Where is he? Where could he be? What’s going on?

Before we discover where Jesus was, I’ve a question for you. Why are we told about this incident? This is the only record we have of Jesus between the visit of the wise men in Matthew 2 (when he was under 2), and the moment when Jesus begins his public ministry around the age of 30. This is the only detail we have of his childhood. Why?

Back at the start of Luke’s gospel he tells us his purpose and method in writing this book. He talks about eyewitnesses and servants of the word. He talks about carefully investigating everything from the beginning. and he does that careful historical work ‘so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.’

It seems that Luke has interviewed Mary, and got this story from her. Back on Christmas morning we looked at the unforgettable Christmas, as she ‘treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.’ So in v51 ‘his mother treasured all these things in her heart’ - even though she didn’t understand what Jesus said to her. (50). Time and again, she would return to this day, think about this day, run over the words her son said, trying to work it out.

So we’re given this bonus DVD material only in Luke’s gospel, because he thinks it’s an important step along the journey. It adds something to the gospel, it helps us to see Jesus more clearly. So what does it show us about Jesus? We’ll see, as we return to Mary and Joseph in verse 45.

They return to Jerusalem to look for him. There wasn’t any Twitter or Facebook to put out a missing persons appeal. They just keep searching... for three whole days. And where was he?

‘After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at this understanding and his answers.’

He’s in the temple, talking to, asking and answering questions with the religious leaders. Just a twelve-year old boy, yet with great understanding. It would be like one of our Sunday School members attending a meeting of the House of Bishops and holding their own with them in theological debate. Everyone is amazed at his understanding.

Everyone, that is, apart from Mary and Joseph. We’re told in verse 48 they were astonished. They were also probably annoyed. Look closely at verse 48. How is Joseph described there?

‘When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”’

And look how Jesus replies: ‘Where were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ At the time, they didn’t understand what he said, but Mary remembered those words. Do you see what Jesus is saying about who he is?

Mary says, ‘Your father and I’ meaning Joseph, but Jesus says, ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ While it’s a bit like Home Alone, Jesus is saying that he’s home, but he’s not alone. He is in his Father’s house, the temple, the place where God is at home.

Back in Luke 1 we’re told that Mary conceives Jesus as a result of the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. Joseph was not Jesus’ father. Yet Joseph adopts Jesus as his own, he becomes his earthly father by adoption. But Jesus reminds Mary and Joseph that he belongs to another family, that Joseph isn’t really his father - that God is his Father. Jesus is growing in the awareness that he is the Son of God, not the son of Joseph.

At the tender age of 12, Jesus already knows who he is - his real identity, and with it, his mission. For Jesus, his primary loyalty is to his heavenly Father, in recognition of the fact that he is the Son of God. This is then confirmed in the next chapter, at the age of 30, at his baptism: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ (3:22). Nothing will sway him from his primary identity, yet he willingly submits to them in obedience as he grows up. (51)

Boys and girls - there’s a challenge here for you. The Lord Jesus was perfect, sinless, and yet he submitted to sinful parents, who didn’t always get it right.

As he did so, ‘Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.’ What about taking that verse as an aim for this new year? In 2018, seeking to grow in wisdom - godly wisdom, knowing God better through his word; seeking to grow in stature - maybe for the boys and girls to grow up taller, but for each of us to grow in reputation, to be known for our Christian witness; and to grow in favour with God and people.

These things won’t happen by themselves. We don’t drift into godliness - we need to work at it, need to make an effort. Whether that’s by taking some extra time each day to read and pray; or by taking up a good Christian book; or committing to be regular at worship; or starting to come along to the Bible study fellowship. What steps will you take this year to grow in wisdom, stature and grace?

How do you see Jesus? Is he just a man, the son of Joseph? That’s how some of the crowds saw him in Nazareth, in Luke 4:22 - ‘Isn’t this Joseph’s son?’ Or again in John 6:42 - ‘Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I came down from heaven?”’ The son of Joseph would be just a man, unable to save us, mired in sins like the rest of us.

But Jesus is the Son of God, in his Father’s house, about his Father’s business, even knowing that from the age of 12. He knows who he is, and why he is here, and nothing will sway him from his mission. Do you know Jesus as the Son of God, as God come down to save us?

Jesus, God’s Son, was home, but not alone, fulfilling his mission to save his people and make us children of God. It’s through Jesus that we can grasp the promise that ‘In my Father’s house are many rooms’ - as he welcomes us into his house. It’s through Jesus that we are welcome today, to share his table, to celebrate his love and sacrifice, and to wait for our heavenly home with him.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday morning 7th January 2018.