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Saturday, 26 December 2015

“Out of Egypt I called my Son.”

Matthew 2:13-23 

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’
So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’
When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.’
(cited from Jeremiah 31:15)

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.’
So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

Who really is the Son of God? There is much controversy concerning the title of Son of God. Some love to make mockery of the fact that God has a Son. They love to speculate as to how a Son might be born to God and who His mother might be giving rise to all sorts of blasphemous heresies. We do not need to investigate any of them, they are depressing and dangerous. I would not even recommend that you bother to research them, they will only feed your soul with dangerous doctrine.

Our quest this morning is to consider who God is referring to when through the prophet Jeremiah He speaks of calling His Son out of Egypt. There was clearly a very practical outworking of the prophesy as Joseph took his family for a while to Egypt for their safety. However our purpose this morning is to explore the theme of God's Son.
There are a number of times when individuals and also angels are referred to as God's sons but there is one important theme of sonship that runs through the bible that is our help today. The theme has three parts and so we will consider them very briefly.
The bible refers to:
  1. Israel as God's chosen son.
  2. Jesus as God's given Son.
  3. The church as God's adopted son.
Israel as God's chosen son:
Exodus 4:21-23 The Lord said to Moses, ‘When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. Then say to Pharaoh, “This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, ‘Let my son go, so that he may worship me.’ But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.’
Hosea 11:1 “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.”

That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’
But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’
The man asked him, ‘What is your name?’
Jacob,’ he answered.
Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.’
Jacob said, ‘Please tell me your name.’
But he replied, ‘Why do you ask my name?’ Then he blessed him there.
So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.’
The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.
A man came to Jacob and wrestled with him, he changed Jacob's name to Israel in recognition of the struggle that they had had that night the reason being that it was God who Jacob had wrestled! Jacob afterwards recognises that he had seen God face to face. But yet it was a man, that is the point it was the God man! Whenever God appears as a man it is Jesus who the writer to the Hebrews tells us is the same in the past, in the present and in the future.
Jacob was chosen by God to become the father of the nation of Israel. Abraham before him had become the father of the people of faith and also of a family set apart by God. Jacob was to go on and have 12 sons who would constitute a family nation that God had ordained to bring forth the Messiah.
When Jacob was an old man; due to a famine Joseph his firstborn son by Rachel brought all of Jacob's family into Egypt to save them from starvation. After 400 years in Egypt many of which were as slaves God brought His people out and eventually led them into a land of their own. Pharaoh king of Egypt did not want to let the Israelites go even though nine progressively difficult plagues had been brought upon his people. It required drastic measures to persuade Pharaoh that God meant business. Moses had to go to him a final time with the final demand:
This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, ‘Let my son go, so that he may worship me.’ But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.’
God says that Israel is God's firstborn son and as such Pharaoh will release them but only through the sacrifice of their own firstborn sons.
Can you see the pattern here, Israel comes into being through Jesus and are released from slavery by the death of the firstborn of Egypt. They were passed over from receiving the same judgement due to the sacrifice of an innocent victim. The spotless lamb that died on their behalf that night saved them from judgement.
God was pleased to call His chosen nation His son. They were chosen not because they were better than any other nation but because God had a purpose for them. In Exodus 19 God revealed that purpose to Moses as he was on Mount Sinai:
Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, ‘This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.’
Exodus 19:3-6
Israel as sons of God were to represent Him to the people of the world. They were to show a needy world that God expects His people to be holy but also to bring others to Him as priests do.
Jesus as God's given Son:
We are now back to our Christmas day message, God's gift to the world is His One and only Son. He is Immanuel which means God with us and He is Jesus which means Saviour of His people. Just as Joshua who followed Moses saved the children of God from their wandering in the desert so Jesus saves His people from wandering around in their sinful state. The name Joshua is an Old Testament name meaning saviour equally Yeshua or Jesus is the New Testament name with the same meaning. The angel told Joseph to call Him Jesus because like His name-sake in the Old Covenant His purpose was to save His people. It is as God's given Son that Jesus perfectly saves all who belong to God.
God Himself declared Jesus to be His Son at His baptism; the first 3 gospels record that as Jesus came up out of the Water the Holy Spirit descended upon Him and God the Father declared Jesus to be His own Son whom He loves and is well pleased. The following day John records John the Baptist's sight of Jesus again and prompting him to declare that He is the Lamb of God! It was by the sacrificed lamb on the Passover that Israel God's chosen son were rescued from slavery in Egypt, it is by Jesus God's given Son that His people will be saved from their sin.
This theme of son of God is massive and would take many weeks to do it justice but for our purposes this Christmastime it is sufficient for us to see that by God's given Son the Old Covenant nation was called to witness to Him and also that by His sacrifice:

The church is God's adopted son:
The Old Covenant nation was a signpost to the fulfilment of God's promises made through them. They never achieved God's declared intention of them. They never were holy, they never brought the nations to God as a priest ought to do. Israel failed in so many ways but Jesus calls a people to repentance for the forgiveness of their sins through faith that the sacrifice made by Jesus' death and resurrection is sufficient for forgiveness of sin. Christians we are forgiven all of our sins and they are never to be accounted for again. You see that Jesus took them as if they were His very own and so they were fully dealt with as He died on the cross. We can never take them up again and God will never give them back, Christians we are a free people. Free from the bondage of sin, we are a new creation, no more in condemnation. We are a chosen people. The Apostle Peter says this:
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
1 Peter 2:9-10
Peter is taking the words of Exodus 19 and is applying them to the church who are now the perfect sons of God. Each one of us has been adopted into the family of God where we are heirs with Jesus, we are brothers of the Saviour and as such are true children of God. Not by right of birth but by sacrifice made by the Given Son of God. Listen to the words of the Apostle Paul:
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Romans 8:14-17
Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
What I am saying is that as long as an heir is under age, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were under age, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.
Galatians 3:23-4:7
We have the great privilege of being children of God. The Apostle John urges us to see:
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!
And that is what we are!”
1 John 3:1
The popular song says “I wish it could be Christmas every day” that is foolishness if Christmas consists of:
When the snowman brings the snow
Well he just might like to know
He's put a great big smile on somebody's face
If you jump into your bed
Quickly cover up your head
Don't you lock the doors
You know that sweet Santa Claus in on the way
But Christmas is much more than a fairy tale be it in New York or anywhere else. It is all about the Son of God given that we might be sons of the living God. We celebrate the birth of Jesus every day but hopefully as we have been urged this Christmas never in isolation to the full gift which is the Son of God who is also the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!

The ministry over Christmas has been to encourage each one of us to see Jesus more clearly. God has been encouraging us to rest in Him and to seek Him for the future. It is for this purpose that I produced the little New Year motto card and accompanying letter. It was when the disciples had been particulary busy that Jesus told them to come aside and rest awhile. He led them into the boat as we recently heard, He was with them and it was whilst He seemed to be inactive that they learned what the storms of life were about. Jesus was, is and always will be with His people. He cares for us beyond what we can imagine. We have gone through much in recent days but the Lord instructs us to come and rest awhile. Do not be surprised that as we learn to rest in Him that the storm continues and intensifies:
Jesus is always with us!
He will neither leave us nor forsake us!
He is an ever present help in times of trouble!
Therefore we will not fear but we will boldly come before the throne of grace and rest in the everlasting arms of our God.
2015 is a new calendar year, it is a year which we begin by resting in Him and seeking His blessing for us as the church here in Callington.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

John 3:16 God's wonderful gift.

Christmas Day 2015

God's wonderful gift.

Prayer and welcome.
Think for a moment about a gift that you have received from somebody who truly loves you. In many respects it is not about the value but it is all about the giver and their love towards you and your relationship to them. I love Christmas, the highlight for me has always been to sacrifice our needs in order to buy that special gift for our loved ones. I love to see their faces as they open what has been chosen for them. What is it about the gift? It is evidence of love, it is the cost of love and it is the result of love. That is what that day in Bethlehem was all about. Let us worship the Lord our God for the greatest gift that the world has ever received. It is not about the decorations, it is not about the celebrations, it is not about us but it is all about you Lord Jesus. We are not here to celebrate a baby in a manger we are here to remember that God the Son condescended to be born as a man and to live amongst us in order to accomplish salvation!

John 3:16
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
These words that we all love are John's record of Jesus' discussions with the Pharisee Nicodemus. This verse is often referred to as the “gospel in a nutshell!” In other words it is the gospel in crystallized or condensed form.
It is Christmas day today and we are focussing on the gift of God so very briefly we will consider:
  1. The reason for giving.
  2. The gift given.
  3. The purpose of the gift.

Sing: Angels from the realms of glory.

The reason for giving:
The text tells us directly that it is God's love for the world that caused Him to give. We are prompted to go to the very beginning of time to remind ourselves that it was God who created this world out of nothing by His word alone. His assessment of the newly created world was that it was good. He finally on the 6th day of creation made man out of the dust of the earth, observe that there is a difference from the rest of creation by making man from the dust but in His own image. That very fact tells us that God made man unique.
The world that is spoken of in John 3:16 is clearly the world of humanity.
In order for us to understand the enormity of the love spoken of in our verse we must also remember that Genesis chapter 3 happened. Man disbelieved God and sinned and from that moment for the rest of the time that this world exists man is naturally separated from fellowship with God. In fact scripture refers to man as enemies of God and dead to Him.
God due to His holiness and perfection cannot accept or ignore sin. It is diametrically opposed to His character and so for Him to love sinful mankind is an amazing feat of His grace.
But that is exactly what our verse tells us, God does love the world. In fact His for us is more than simple love it is compound love or unconditional love the theologian might say.
God SO loved the world is what John records!
The world does not deserve such love but God loves anyway.
What a marvellous thought for us on this day when we celebrate the the birth of the Lord Jesus. It is good for us to remind ourselves of the great Love that God has for us. Paul in his letter to the Romans chapter 5 verse 8 tells us that God demonstrates His own love to us and that the way that He does that is in the death of Christ.
Therefore as we consider the gift of God at Christmas God's love is more clearly seen on the cross than it is in the crib.
Of course the birth of Jesus is vital but it is of necessity the road to the cross.
As we look at the nativity we need to remember that inevitability it ends up at the cross. That is why myrrh was brought as a gift to the baby Jesus it was a sign of His sacrificial death which is the demonstration of God's own love for the world.

Sing: See Him lying on a bed of straw.

Arthur Tink:

The gift given:
God gave His one and only Son. The authorised version of the bible says that He gave His only begotten Son. If you recall our study of the genealogy in Matthew it was recorded that Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah etc. Until it came to Joseph who it says was the husband of Mary of whom Jesus was born. Joseph was the wife of Mary but not the father of Jesus. Joseph was His adopted father but Jesus was begotten of God by the Spirit's impregnation of Mary. Jesus was God's One and only Son, the firstborn of God! John tells us in his prologue to his gospel that Jesus was from before the creation of the world, that He was in fact the creator of all things. Graham Kendick puts it this way: “ Hands that flung stars into space to cruel nails surrendered.” John in his prologue clearly declares Jesus to be the second person of the Triune God! The amazing thing about the gift of God for the world that He so loved is that He is none other than God the Son become man!
He is God of God and Light of light.
Jesus born of Mary is God with us, He is our Immanuel! Jesus Christ born on that very morning over 2000 years ago was and always will be God with us. Of course a gift given must also be a gift received. It would be hopeless to give a gift to a loved one for them simply to say I love the wrapping so much that I will just simply adore the looks of the gift! But that is exactly what many do with Jesus. They love their pictures of Him, they love Him in a crib, they love His stories but they do not accept the true gift that He is. His name is Jesus because He saved and rescues His people from their sin. Have you received the gift of God or are you simply happy with the wrapping?

Sing: O come all you faithful.

The purpose of the gift:
The simple answer is eternal life but what does that mean? We are born in the image of God, sin has marred that image and we can no longer be united with God forever as it was intended. However the soul is eternal and will live forever. The sinful soul cannot come into the presence of God in His perfection and so will enter a place where God's wrath and judgement reign forever. We of course know that place to be hell but in our verse God offers heaven to all who will believe. The gift of God is given for this purpose.
This year two of our daughters requested tools for Christmas. They both wanted a gift with a purpose. They did not want useless trinkets but something that would be useful in their daily living.

God's gift to the world is the most useful gift ever given. It is priceless and is given simply by a loving Father to a very needy people.

God said that His gift of His Son for the world would be eternal life. All that you have to do is receive Him by faith.
Have you?
Will you?
Sing: Hark the herald angels sing.
Pray to close.


Merry Christmas


A Happy New Year

Saturday, 12 December 2015

The credentials of the King.

Matthew Chapter 1:1-17
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.
English Standard Version Anglicised
Traditionally believed that Matthew (Levi) the Apostle of Jesus was the author of the first gospel. From the text itself the gospel is anonymous, but ever since the end of the first century it has been attributed to Matthew.

Purpose of writing the gospel:
From early days it has been accepted that it was written for the Jews and by a Jew. It is a typically Jewish account of the life, death & resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew is writing to confirm to his people that the Old Testament scriptures anticipate a coming Messiah who finds complete fulfilment in Jesus of Nazareth. Matthew often makes comment concerning the events of Jesus' life and ministry as “ fulfilling what was said through the prophet.” (see ch.1:22-23; 2:17 etc.) Matthew's purpose of writing was to prove that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah who would rule as King over His people.

The main theme is the kingdom of God or of heaven and that Jesus is the King. The book might equally be called “the King and His kingdom.” When we understand this then the gospel is more easily understood by us as we read and study it.

Why is there such a long list of names in the first chapter?
After all they are not really inspiring are they? It is this list of names that is a major clue that this book was written primarily for a Jewish readership. Genealogies were at that time and still are an important part of Jewish culture and history. We have a surname that is our identifying mark which is traceable back in history. Some of the most interesting programmes on our televisions are those which trace the family tree of an individual. Some have discovered that they have royalty in their blood line and others come from less savoury stock. For the Jew their family line was vitally important in order to prove their family credentials and their place in society, it was important which tribe etc that they belonged to. In Jesus’ day they would be able to recite their complete family line just as Matthew does here concerning Jesus. The question that this provokes is “what is Matthew's purpose in recording the genealogy of Jesus?”

Surprising characters!
Matthew goes back as far as Abraham 32 generations earlier. Do you remember the television programme Roots where an old man who could remember a genealogy was able to prove the birth line of the main character of the story. Matthew is using this long list of names in order to prove that Jesus of Nazareth was qualified to be King. He came from the tribe of Judah and was a direct descendant of David.
Within the list are the names of 4 women and one other who is un-named but is referred to by her husband's name. It is somewhat unusual for women to be included in those days. This is even more shocking considering four of the women that are included. There is Tamar, Ruth, Rahab, Bathsheba and Mary. Tamar acted as a prostitute in order that her father-in-law Judah sleep with her and get her pregnant. The reason for this was the wickedness of Judah's two sons whom the Lord put to death leaving Tamar childless and the family line in jeopardy. Tamar ultimately gave birth to Perez You can read the whole sordid account in Genesis 38. It was by this act that the family line to Jesus was continued.
Rahab was a prostitute (harlot) and a Gentile who lived in Jericho. She protected (by lying) the 12 spies sent by Moses into Canaan to spy out the land before the Israelites plan to enter. You can read her story in Joshua 2.
Rahab was the mother of Boaz who went on to marry a Moabitess whose name was Ruth. Not only were the Moabites a Gentile nation they were actually barred by God from temple worship due to their previous deception of God’s people. Who would have thought that a woman from a nation that were enemies of God would be in the very bloodline of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus clearly had very human ancestry!
Then of course there is the infamous Bathsheba, she was the woman who had a fling with the king. David had been casting a lusty eye at this bathing beauty over his balcony. He sent for her, slept with her and got her pregnant. In order to cover up his affair he ended up ordering the “accidental” death of Bathsheba's husband Uriah! The child born very sadly died but Bathsheba went on to marry David and give birth to Solomon who succeeded David to the throne of Israel. This is the line of Joseph as recorded by Matthew.
These 4 ladies had dubious backgrounds but yet they are all a vital part of the genealogy of the Lord Jesus Christ. The final lady of course is Mary, she was virtuous and the mother of Jesus. Notice verse 16 she was the mother of Jesus and NOT the mother of God as some would make out! Even though she was virtuous in every way she would have been an outcast of society in that she became pregnant out of wedlock. This is not exactly the story line that we would dream up is writing a novel!
If we think this part of the list throws up some difficult characters then when we look at some of the men we will be equally amazed. Let us take just a cursory look at:
  • Jacob the twister.
  • Judah who willingly slept with a woman he believed to be a prostitute.
  • David the adulterous and murdering king.
  • Solomon the wise king who broke God’s law by worshipping foreign gods and amassing 700 wives.
  • Rehoboam who was responsible for the civil war that split the nation of Israel.
There are many more problems within the list that we do not have time to consider now but we can say that it is not really a very inspiring list. This is even more pertinent when we consider that Matthew’s purpose to prove that Jesus of Nazareth had the credentials to be the Messiah King. {Messiah simply means the Anointed One of God. It is a Hebrew word that in Greek is translated as Christ.} We might expect the credentials of the king to be impeccable especially for the One who is the King of heaven! After all who would ever go to Cruft’s dog show only to find the prize exhibit is Rover who was born by chance in a street liaison between Spot and Brutus who were also known as a “Heinz 57” variety dogs? It seems to me that this is the sort of thing that Matthew is presenting to his readers. It is certainly not a list that flatters Jesus!

Therefore what is the purpose of such a list?

The first clue is found in the first part of verse 1: “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ.”
Matthew is so convinced of the credentials of Jesus that he immediately nails his colours to the mast by claiming him to be the Christ. From the very beginning of his writing he is setting about to prove this point. Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One the long awaited Messiah. He goes on from this statement to prove this by beginning with Jesus’ pedigree.

Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham
David was the king to whom God promised an everlasting kingdom to come from his descendants. The Jews expected that the kingdom spoken of would be the nation of Israel and that a Saviour sent by God especially for them would rise up be a conqueror who would rid the land of all occupiers. They did not understand that what God had promised was greater than the earthly kingdom of Israel but that it would be a heavenly kingdom which Messiah would build. Abraham was the father of the earthly nation, David was the king of the earthly kingdom, both of which were mere signposts to the eternal kingdom of God which is the church that the Lord Jesus Christ continues to build as promised by the prophets.

Matthew with his Jewish mindset begins by proving that Jesus has the right credentials to be the King.
For Jesus to be King he had to be a descendant of David, therefore chapter1:6-16 records Jesus’ family tree “warts and all.” One difficulty that the discerning reader will spot is that there is a difference between Matthew’s account of Jesus’ genealogy and that which is recorded by Luke (Luke 3:23-38). It is believed that Luke traces Jesus’ family line through Mary whereas Matthew follows Joseph’s line. Both trace Jesus' ancestry to David. This means that through both sets of earthly parents Jesus had the correct credentials. Matthew’s purpose however is to prove through the paternal line (which was important to the Jew of his day) that Jesus had a right claim to be called the Son of David. As we know Joseph was not Jesus’ actual father but he was his adoptive father which in Jewish law gave Jesus the legal right to be called the son of Joseph which means that He was perfectly entitled to the family inheritance. In conclusion there can be no dispute from either genealogy that Jesus is directly descended from David. Jesus had the credentials required for Kingly authority.
A blessing to the world.
But there is also another aspect in this verse: Matthew states that Jesus is the son of Abraham. Abraham had been promised by God that not only would a great nation come from him but also that one of his descendants would be a blessing to the whole world. This was a great promise from God that a Messiah would come who would bless beyond the borders of Israel! This is why Matthew goes back to Abraham. The One who is Messiah must be a direct descendant of Abraham in order to fulfil God’s promises to His people. So in the genealogy we see the foundation for the rest of the book, Matthew is boldly pronouncing Jesus as Christ!
The Jewish reader would immediately understand this, whereas  our Gentile thinking needs it to be explained.
Matthew’s readers would react immediately to these words, some would go no further and others would be fascinated by the argument. What seems to be like a dry list of names to us would have been vitally important facts to the Jew. Many people stumble when they come to the “begats” of the bible and go no further. In this Christmas period it is important that we can at least explain the reason why these lists are there and even through them we may be able to declare that Jesus is Lord!

And finally!
One final thought: Matthew also speaks of God’s ordered plan. In verse 17 he recounts 14 generations from Abraham to David; 14 generations from David to the exile and 14 generations from the exile to Jesus. God has a plan things do not come by some divine accident. Our God is ordered in His dealing with this world. In His set time Jesus came as Messiah. Just as Matthew witnessed in his time planned by God then so do we.
We are not here by accident but by God’s appointment to be effective witnesses to our people in our day!

God has a purpose for all of His people, we come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Our backgrounds are as diverse as are the clothes that we wear. All of those mentioned were vital to the Lord's plan and so are we. They certainly did not get everything right and neither do we but God still by His grace used weak and sinful humanity for the ultimate blessing of the world.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Acts part 18: Saul in exile.

Building the right foundation part 18

Acts 9:23-26 “Saul in exile.”

When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.
And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.

English Standard Version Anglicised
From a straightforward reading of this passage we might conclude that Saul immediately after his conversion was not only immediately began to preach the gospel of Jesus but that he went immediately to Jerusalem where he was met with great fear, suspicion and doubt by the church.
The problem is that the actual time-scale is much greater. There are at least 17 years between verse 23 and verse 26. We cannot deduce this from Luke's account but Paul later explains more fully in his letter to the Galatians.
Galatians 1:11-2:1
For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him for fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me. Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me.
Today we will simply observe from this account that God's purposes are not always immediate. Even the great Apostle Paul experienced many years in isolation before he was fully accepted by the church. God's timing is not always our timing, His delays are for a purpose.
Last time we considered Saul being accepted by the fellowship in Damascus. In doing this they were displaying their trust not only in Saul who was changed but also in God who changes even the worst of people.
It seems that very soon after his conversion Saul was contending for the faith in and around the synagogues of Damascus. This of course brought about amazement and confusion amongst his hearers. The result of which was that Saul became a powerful preacher. Many days having passed by and the Jews were conspiring to kill him. There is no surprise in this, the preached gospel will always be met with opposition. If we think for one moment that when we preach the gospel in our community that it will be met with acceptance then we are delusional. Saul's life was under threat as soon as he was preaching Jesus and so his friends helped him to escape his persecutors.
According to his own testimony Saul went to Arabia and later he returned to Damascus. After 3 years he then went to Jerusalem and met with Peter and James the brother of Jesus. He was there for 15 days when he tried to join the church but Peter and James were afraid of him and did not believe his testimony. Therefore Saul left and went to Syria and Cilicia where the churches did not know him personally but they were aware of his reputation. These churches believed Saul's testimony and accepted him and praised God for the work of salvation in a converted young radicalised man. It was a further 14 years before verse 27 takes place.
There is so much for us in this passage and we have so little time this morning therefore we will concentrate on one vital point that comes from our readings:
God is patient:
We live in a credit card generation where time is all important. When Pam and I were recently in India and also previously in Romania we were often frustrated by the desperate lack of punctuality. Cornwall itself can be a frustrating place to be with its “ 'ish” timing. I am not used to “dreckly” and all of that! But procrastination, laziness or a lack of commitment are very different to what we have here in Saul's experience. This amazingly long period of apparent activity was for an important purpose.
Let us just consider for a moment Saul himself, he was a very clever and powerful young man who was rapidly heading for the top. He was formerly a theologian of great understanding but yet he did not know God.
He knew of God but he did not know Him.
He had had an amazing experience on the road to Damascus and now he needed to learn how all of his theology fitted in with the reality that Jesus is the promised Messiah. Saul was also a very proud young man that needed to be humbled in order that he could be the Apostle that God had called him to be. As well as this he really needed to get to know his Lord personally and intimately and relationship takes time. When you read his letters you will observe how this period of time shaped his theology, his thinking and his relationship with the Lord and with His church.
17 years is a long time but not a day of it was wasted; by the end of those years the great Apostle Paul emerged and then he was finally accepted by the whole church.
Let us go back for a moment to the great commission of Jesus where He instructed His disciples to make disciples of others. That is exactly what was happening to Saul during those years; the church in Damascus was a vital part in Saul becoming a true disciple of Jesus.
The Lord accomplished the work of salvation but the church made the disciple.
I love the fact that the church in Damascus saved Saul's life when they let him out of the city in a basket. An amazing work for a small and seemingly insignificant church. It was also the un-named churches in Asia and Cilicia that accepted him and praised God for him whilst at the same time the big church rejected him out of fear.
This passage is for us this morning in the Mustard Seed. We are only a very small and insignificant church here in East Cornwall but:
God has a purpose for us!
We are not useless! It is true to say that we have gone through major difficulties and that we are still struggling with issues but we do have a purpose. God has brought us to where we are today in order that we might be about the business of making disciples. We never know who it is that comes through our doors, do we accept them in the way that the churches in Damascus, Asia and Cilicia did with Saul? Or will we be like the church in Jerusalem with the great preachers who were afraid and unbelieving that Saul was now really God's man. They knew the rumour just as did the other churches that Saul had been converted but they did not believe it. I am glad that this is the case because it is one of the most encouraging passages of the New Testament for the small church.
We can do great things for God even though we are small!
Do we believe that? Those faithful small fellowships in Damascus, Asia and Syria were instrumental in Saul's development as a Christian preacher, teacher, pastor and apostle. What a great work that God had entrusted to a bunch of small insignificant churches!
What is it that we are called to do?
Will we be faithful in whatever it is that God has called us to do?
Time to God is unimportant, but our being prepared for service is vital!
Being prepared takes time, we are currently being prepared for service, let us move forward but only in God's timing!
What to some seems to be inactivity is in reality God working in our hearts and lives and Him making us to be the church that we will be.
This is primarily a message to the church but it equally works out in our individual lives therefore each point must also be true of each one of us.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The Gospel according to the Old Testament.

Mustard Seed Evangelical church
2nd December 2015

Traditionally at Christmastime we tend to focus on the prophesies concerning the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. That of course is a vitally important thing to do but there are many other prophesies fulfilled by His birth that often are looked over. Tonight we will consider the way that the gospel is preached through the words of the prophets. It is important at Christmas to remember that our faith is more than the birth of a baby, Jesus was promised to come for a purpose which was to die for the forgiveness for the sins of His people. Jesus was born, He lived a perfectly sinless life, He died and was raised from the dead as was promised in the scriptures; 1 Corinthians 15: 1-4.

It is therefore important at Christmas for us to consider the full ministry of the Lord Jesus. As somebody prayed on Sunday it is not all about trees and tinsel which is what Christmas has been relegated to in Britain today. It is also more than simply about the miraculous birth of a son to an unmarried mother. Christmas is all about God's grace being remarkably extended to His people in sending His Son to be an atoning sacrifice for them.

In the light of this let us therefore consider a few prophesies:

  1. Micah 5:2 “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel,whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”
A simple look at the meaning of the place names is helpful here. Bethlehem means house of bread and Ephrathah means fruitful. Bethlehem was of course the city where David was born and where he was anointed to be king of Israel. Micah prophesies that even though it be a small city that had already produced Israel's great king David it was ordained to be the birthplace of One who is infinitely greater than David. Bethlehem is the place that the Bread of life would be born. The fruit of His ministry is eternal life for all who will believe on Him!

What does it say of the one to be born?

  • One shall come forth for God! This King is doing a work for God, sent by Him to work for Him.
  • He will be King in Israel; that is the King of the Jews but even greater He is King of kings.
  • He is from before time: Consider John 1:1-4 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” The promised One of God is none other than the eternal God the Son who is co-equal with God the Father.
  • He is from ancient days: Daniel 7:9: “As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire.” Daniel 7:13 I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.” The Ancient of days is clearly God the Father, Jesus the Son of Man who will one day return with the clouds from heaven!

2. Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
Isaiah 8:1-4 Often in scripture there are 2 fulfilments to prophesy, the one will always be incomplete and the other total in accuracy. Isaiah's wife or maiden as the word for virgin could be translated conceived and gave birth to a son, his name was significant in that it spoke of what the Assyrians would do when they invaded Israel. They took Syria, Israel and Judah into exile. They were quick to plunder and swift to spoil which is what Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz means. What a name to give a baby!

The greater fulfilment was realised many years later in a stable in Bethlehem where Immanuel was born. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. He was, is and always will be Immanuel which means: God with us.
Many today discount the virgin birth on account of the linguistics of this verse and the possibility that the word translated as virgin can mean either maiden/wife or virgin. From the context of the passage it is obvious that the prophet was speaking of someone infinitely greater than his own son. The signpost of which would be a virgin being pregnant which could be nothing less than a miracle of God's good grace. The baby born will be a Son who is God with us. How important this is at our Christmas season when He is devalued to a doll in a crib and worse still a man in a false beard and a ridiculous red outfit who we are led to believe loves his children more than Immanuel does!

3: Jeremiah 31:15 Thus says the Lord: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children,because they are no more.”
This prophesy is recorded by Matthew as being fulfilled when Herod murdered the boys under the age of 2 years in the region of Bethlehem.
But where is Ramah?

  • Ramah is the place where Rachel died whilst giving birth on her way to Bethlehem Ephrathah. She died whilst giving birth to her second son Benjamin. Even the best attempts of the midwives to console her by telling her that she had a son failed. Benjamin was the cause of her weeping but prophetically his birth was also a pointer that the through suffering of another son there would be hope for the future.
  • Ramah was also the place where Samuel went after he had anointed David to be king in Bethlehem.
  • In Jeremiah's day it was from Ramah that captive Jews were being deported into exile by the Babylonian occupiers.
  • In Matthew's day Rachel is found weeping once more this time over the slaughter of the children in Bethlehem. There is no comfort found until the death of Herod when Jesus and His family returned to Judea. The nation did not realise it but the Hope of the nations was alive and was growing up.
  • Ramah was a place of disappointment and a place of grief and yet it is a place that is fruitful because the King was anointed from there through tears.

The Christmas story must always be balanced by gospel truth. If we remain at the birth narratives then we are in danger of falling into sentimentality. Christ's purpose for coming was always about sacrifice. No matter how remarkable His birth is and no matter how grateful we are to His condescending to become human there is no room for a baby Saviour! Jesus was born to die a sacrificial death and so we unashamedly move on to the fulfilment of another prophecy which was made concerning a descendant of Eve.

In Genesis 3:15 God tells Satan that one day the offspring of another woman will be injured by a son of Satan but that through Him Satan will be finally dealt with by Him. That son of Satan referred to was Judas Iscariot spoken of in Psalm 41:9 “Even a close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.” John 13:18 records this as being fulfilled by Judas who betrayed Jesus.

Judas is further spoken of by the prophet Zechariah chapter 11:12-13. Then I said to them, “If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, keep them.” And they weighed out as my wages thirty pieces of silver. Then the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—the lordly price at which I was priced by them. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord, to the potter. This was fulfilled when Judas returned his “blood money” to the priests who bought a potters land with it! Matthew 27:9-10. Jesus was arrested after Judas led the Chief Priests etc to Him, he was tried in their kangaroo court, convicted and crucified. For his efforts Judas was paid the PRINCELY sum of thirty pieces of silver which after the trial of Jesus He returned to the chief priests. They refused it and so Judas threw it down in the temple. The chief priests ironically saw keeping the money as unlawful and so they bought a field from a potter which would be a burial ground. Prophecy is even accurate down to the minute detail. The gospel can be found through the words of the Old Testament prophets because that is the point of God's revelation ever since the fall. There has always been hope for repentant sinners by faith in the gracious gift of God who is Immanuel or God with us!

Psalm 22 is a prophesy about Jesus' crucifixion and death which he took to Himself as he was dying alone and separated from God the Father. The Psalm begins with “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” of which many interpret to mean that Jesus was doubting God on the cross and wondering why He was left alone in His darkest hour. There could be nothing further from the truth. Jesus was using the opening statement of Psalm 22 to declare to all around Him that the Psalm was being acted out in front of their very eyes. He was the One who was so graphically described within the Psalm. The sin which He took to Himself had separated Him from God. The creator God was now guilty of the most gross sins and yet He had done no wrong. He suffered and died alone, how marvellous, how wonderful is my Saviours love for me! The baby born in Bethlehem is the same Jesus who died a sacrificial death on the cross and the two must never be separated, to do so either causes us to be sentimental or morbid. It is a lovely story that a bay is born, we must never leave Jesus in a crib. To only have a Jesus who suffered is morbid and gives us the impression that He was specially equipped as God the Son to suffer as He did. At Christmas we need to keep the cross in view in order to keep a true perspective as to the mission that Jesus willingly and happily came into the world to accomplish. In the manger He was God the Son let us not be sentimental about the truth. On the other hand when it comes to Easter we need to keep an eye on His birth otherwise it is tempting to forget that He was fully Human.

The purpose?

See Zechariah 12:10 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.”

Jesus, God with us had to die in order that a spirit of grace and mercy might be poured out from God to His people who despite being guilty of killing Him can come to Him for salvation!