Conditions of entry

I’m Dave Jensen and I’m so excited to be here today, especially as we’re digging into a topic that is close to my heart, the topic of relationships. I don’t know what your experience of relationships have been, in my time I’ve seen some great ones and some bad ones. 

Probably the most significant relationship in my childhood was that of my parents. My parent’s marriage was and is incredible, they’ve been married for 51 years. They met when they were kids, Mum was dropped off at church for cheap baby sitting and Dad was dropped off so his parents could play golf. 

My parent’s marriage has been the bedrock of my entire family, from it sprung most of my other relationships, certainly growing up. Cousins, family friends and church friends, when I think back to my childhood I don’t remember tv or video games, I remember people, wonderful, warm memories, my fondest memories are about people. 

But I’ve also been involved in some painful ones too. 

I became a Christian when I was 28 but before that I was married and divorced in my early 20s, a marriage which produced 2 amazing kids. Divorce hurts, it hurts everyone involved, the kids, my parents, not to mention my ex wife and I. It created a huge wound in me which I carried around within me for many years, so painful that I actually couldn’t talk about it for many years. 

I wonder if that’s been your experience. Think of your fondest memories, I bet they’re about times you’ve shared with people. But then, think of your most painful memories, again almost always involving people. Relationships are incredibly powerful aren’t they? They have the power to fill us with incredible joy but also the power to cause immense pain. 

The question is – why? What is it about how we relate to other people that is so powerful? Why do relationships have the ability for the highest of highs but also the lowest of lows? 

But even deeper than that, is it possible for us to relate in marriage, in friendship, in church community in a way where we don’t keep seeing things break down and cause havoc, but rather be a source of joy and happiness for us? 

God is not a silent God, He speaks and He speaks directly about this topic, and we have few better players to hear from than by observing the very first human relationship, between the very first people. 

What we see here are not just helpful guidelines for us in relating to one another, but also the idea that actually the power in relationships is not accidental, it’s intentional and it points us to a deeper purpose at play that God has in bringing us together. 

Genesis 1, which you looked at a few weeks ago talks all about Gods creation of all things. It’s this incredible aerial, birds-eye view of creation. Now, if you remember, at the end of most days of creation God would look back and assess his handiwork and say ‘this is good’. The last thing he creates is people and he takes it one step further and says ‘this is VERY good’. God has made everything and he’s pleased with it all. 

That is until now. The Bible reading we had given for us starts with something very different.

Up until verse 18 everything has still been good, good, very good but then: 

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone... ~Genesis 2:18 (NIV)

This is good, good, good, very good. But now this is NOT good. What is it? Man’s alone-ness, loneliness. And that shouldn’t surprise us because God, the creator, has never been alone. In chapter 1 you see that he is the trinity, in constant community within himself, never lonely or needy. All eternity past and future in community. 

And just as he is, so we are designed by him for relationships, in community. We are designed for relationships with one another. That is why loneliness is such a terrible thing. 

A death row documentary shows prisoners where the worst punishment was isolation. 23 hours a day alone with 1 hour for exercise in a cage. The state of Florida knew to really hurt a man you cut him off from people. It made them deranged, and was a path towards insanity. 

Covid19 in isolation. We’re designed to relate to each other and so that’s why God does something about it. 

…I will make a helper suitable for him. ~Genesis 2:18 (NIV)

And so, in verses 21 and 22 we read how God made a woman out of the rib of Adam. In the woman the suitable helper was created. 

So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. ~Genesis 2:21-22 (NIV)

In the woman, Eve, the suitable helper for Adam was created. I know to our 21st century ears, that sounds incredibly sexist and demeaning, like God is giving Adam a maid or a slave, but that’s not the meaning of the term. The phrase suitable helper is used 16 times in the Bible and 13 of those times it’s used for God himself, being a suitable helper for his people Israel. So, this is not an expression of superiority but rather of equal but different partnership. We see here Adams desire for relationship being completely fulfilled in Eve, his wife. 

So we have what is not good, loneliness and God reaching into the middle of that and giving us each other… other people. The illness is loneliness and the cure is each other! 

We were designed for relationships, to know and be known, to love and be loved in return. You were created to be fulfilled by others but also to fulfil others. 

And we don’t just get this concept in Genesis but all throughout the rest of the Bible. We see it here, in husband and wife. Later, with children, then with friends and ultimately, in the church. 

Why do relationships have so much power over us? Because God says the most important thing about your life is relationship. Not accomplishment or achievement, it’s people. That’s the heart of life. Relationships are what makes life mean anything. That’s why when it’s good it’s amazing. But when it’s bad it’s truly awful. 

So, the question is, how do we take that principle, that relationships are what matter most and apply it to our relationships in order to make them what God designed them to be: loving, caring, thoughtful? 

Is it possible that our lives don’t have to be defined by a lifetime of bitterness and anger and resentment but instead can be defined by mutually loving and caring relationships? 

The answer is - yes! That’s why God made you that way and He shows us how in the passage. 

The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman, for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. ~Genesis 2:23-25 (NIV)

How can they feel no shame? This is a picture of life with no sin. Living life the way it was designed, living life with God at the centre. 

You see, God has designed you to relate not just with each other but with Him. In fact, even more than that, He has designed you to best relate to one another when you’re in a relationship with him. 

It’s crucial that we don’t forget Gods presence here. This relationship is an incredible one, but not because of the two people involved but because they were in constant relationship with both each other, and with God. The vertical and the horizontal. This is a picture of a relationship with each other but with God at the centre. 

The meaning of life, this isn’t a small thing. In fact, let me say outright, I believe this concept, knowing and being known by God and by people is at the very centre of what it means to be alive. To be living life the way you were designed. I don’t think it’s possible to live a meaningful life without both of these things. 

A little bit later, Jesus addresses the same issue. In Matthew 22, a man approached Jesus and asked him straight, what does God want from us? 

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ ~Matthew 22:37-40 (NIV)

Love your neighbour as yourself, value relationships, put other people first, relate to other people in community. But don’t miss the other part. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 

Jesus says, among all the relationships in life, it’s relationship with God that matters the most. That’s what life is all about. That’s the main thing. That’s what God made you for.  

And yet it’s interesting, that whilst most of us would acknowledge that relating to other people is important, even though most people in this country say they believe in Gods existence, the truth is he hardly ever comes up on our radar. We just don’t think about him or acknowledge him. And it’s because of that that Jesus was sent to earth. 

Jesus was sent to earth not to teach religious people to be good, or to give you life tips, but for a far deeper purpose. To reconcile you to God. To bring you into relationship with God. He died on the cross taking the punishment we deserve so it could happen. 

Jesus is the best argument for the truthfulness of what he’s saying. Not only did he speak about it and offer it, He demonstrated it. 

You see – at the heart of the universe something truly incredible is going on. There is a God who made you, who loves you and who wants to know you, who has moved heaven and earth in order for that to happen. 

So, what do you need to do? 

All you need to do is say Yes to God. Accept his offer of a relationship and realise you need to apologise for the way you’ve treated him, realise you need forgiveness and put your faith in him. 

It is amazing what you can do when you know that you are not alone. When we are by ourselves we can often feel alone and vulnerable. But when you are with others it is amazing how in life you are able to be brave and stand up for what is right. There is safety in numbers, there is a fortitude about it and because of that, there is an absolute power of people being present in the lives of others.

One of the ways I have seen this operate most profoundly is with my family and in particular with my wife, Cath, with our children, particularly when they have been sick. Our eldest daughter Rebecca experienced a very significant broken arm when she was just 2 years old. While there was amazing medical care for Rebecca, one of the ways she got through was her mum Cathey just being with her in hospital. Cath spent most of the night either wheeling her around the wards in a wheelchair, post the operation, or sleeping with her beside the bed. She was with her and our daughter got through it. There is an absolute power of people being present in the lives of others.

Why begin this way? This section of John, chapters 13-16, Jesus gives his parting instructions to his followers. He knows that he is about to leave them and that he is sending them out on a world mission. And so, he keeps reminding them of the reality that he is about to leave. One of the first references Jesus makes is classic, John 13:33.

My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. (NIV)

And in verses 18 and 28 Jesus keeps on reminding them of this reality saying he is leaving them.

I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you. (NIV)

“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. (NIV)

So, Jesus is going to leave his disciples as they have to embark on their mission to the world. So the question that this next passage is answering is this: How would it be possible for the disciples to fulfil Jesus mission in the world if he is leaving them? They have literally lived with Him for three years, walking in his footsteps, following his teaching, doing what he commanded. And now he is about to leave. But they must go out into the world and preach the gospel, how will they be able to do that if he is gone!

The question is the same for us: How do we live for Jesus in this world when he is in heaven? Jesus gives us two very strong words of instruction in this passage that he repeats: with obedience guiding us and with the Holy Spirit enabling us.

1. Obedience Guiding us.

Jesus starts in verse 15 by saying this.

“If you love me, keep my commands.” (NIV)

It’s pretty simple really!

The current age is one that I describe as being an age of what is called Expressive Individualism. Expressive Individualism is where what is most important in life is having the ability and freedom to express yourself the way you want to. Individual rights are what are most important. The belief that you submit yourself to another by obeying them is seen as old fashioned and to be honest, obsolete. If you don’t believe me, just go and ask someone this question, "Who is it that you are willing to obey?" And see what answer that you get. I suspect that most people will probably just laugh at you because the notion that you will obey someone seems incredibly old and from a past era.

Our culture says: "I live for myself." "I do what I want." "I express myself how I see fit." "Please don’t tell me what to do or how to do it."

Against this back drop Jesus says that his followers are to be very different. They are to willingly and joyfully lead a life of obedience to God and to himself. He doesn’t just say it once – he repeats it again and again and again. Four times he calls them to keep his commands or obey his teaching. It is actually the same word on each occasion in verse 15, 21, and 23.

If you love me, keep my commands. (NIV)

Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. (NIV)

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” (NIV)

It is a very simple proposition–If you love Jesus you will obey Jesus by doing what he says. It is worth saying that Jesus is not saying that obedience to Him brings salvation. Rather, Obedience to Him is a result of knowing Him and experiencing salvation. You know Jesus, you are saved by Jesus and so you love Jesus. The result is that you obey Jesus.

The question that I think we need to ask is this: Why does he challenge the disciples this way? The answer is because he knows that there will be a cost to following him in the world. As followers of Jesus, we are sent into the world to serve him and make him known.

When you read through the book of Acts it describes the mission of these disciples, this is what you see.

We can expect all of the same if we are to follow him, and Jesus calls us to OBEY Him if we love Him, to Follow His Commands and Keep them. The obedience that we are called to is an obedience to what Jesus has revealed to us in His Word – the Scriptures.

This book is one that we are to read and we are to grapple with. We are to read and think about it and we are to marvel in it. But ultimately, we are to obey it, we are to do it and we are to carry Jesus words out.

And there will be commands that are hard personally:

There will be commands that seem so counter cultural that you will catch yourself thinking, "this can’t be right?" Or, "that seems so old fashioned?" Or, "surely we don’t need to follow that now?"

Jesus says "Trust me and obey my commands!"

To both challenge and encourage us, I want to give us a modern day example, but from a very different culture. In today’s 21st century Iran, the church is increasingly under intensifying persecution from both society and the state, as Christianity and anyone involved in spreading it is seen as a threat to the Republic’s Islamic identity.

The situation for 21st century Iranian Christians is that they are under constant threat of persecution from both society and the government, including discrimination, beatings, arrest, imprisonment, torture and killings. Christians are treated as second-class citizens in Iran and forced to worship in secret. When their faith is discovered, they face persecution from both society and the state. With this as the accepted viewpoint, brutal oppression awaits specific “offenders,” including any Christian who converts from Islam. Iran has made speaking the country’s official language of Farsi during church worship services illegal. And anyone leading or participating in a house church faces arrest and imprisonment.

Let me give you an example – a former Iranian House Church leader.

He knew that his work would one day result in prison. He used to be one of the leaders of a quickly growing house church movement. After receiving a probational sentence in 2009, he was imprisoned for three years in 2012. In 2015, he was released, when asked “Why didn’t I stop my work for the church after I was first arrested? I don’t really know,” he says. “There was no logical explanation, but we felt that the Lord wanted us to continue. We knew this would mean we could get arrested at any moment.” He loved Jesus, so he obeyed Him. He followed his commands. This is what it means to be a disciple in the world.

A leader of the Iranian underground church explained in a recent documentary film made about the rapid growth of their churches, that their goal is not planting churches but rather making disciples.

Disciples forsake the world and cling to Jesus 'till he comes. Converts don't, disciples aren't engaged in a culture war, converts are. Disciples cherish, obey, and share the word of God, converts don't. Disciples choose Jesus over anything and everything else, converts don't. Converts run when the fire comes, disciples don't.

2. The Holy Spirit Enabling us

The second word from Jesus in this passage is a word of comfort or encouragement: He says that for those who obey him, he will give them the Holy Spirit to be with them.

In John’s gospel, Jesus spoke a number of times prior to this about the coming of the Holy Spirit. In the Upper Room, he now says much more on this very important subject. Let’s look at verses 15-17 and 25-27 and see what Jesus says:

If you love me, keep my commands.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever -  the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you... (NIV)

All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (NIV)

What we learn about the Holy Spirit is as follows. He is an Advocate: In original language the word used here of the Holy Spirit meant legal assistant or advocate. The simplest and best way to understand what this means in our language is that he is saying that the Holy Spirit will be given to strengthen and help us. In other words, he is the presence of God in our life who will give us the strength to follow and obey Jesus, even when it is tough. Even when there are significant consequences. What is interesting to note, he is another advocate – 2nd to Jesus. "I’m going but He is coming".

He is the Spirit of Truth. And we need to read this description in the light of verse 25-26 where Jesus says that he would teach the disciples and remind the disciples of all that Jesus taught. This word from Jesus is incredibly important because what he is saying is that the Apostles would have the Holy spirit to effectively guide them to truth as the one who is the Spirit of Truth. And this is why we can have complete confidence that the New Testament, which is in effect the teaching of the Apostles, that is the truth. The Holy Spirit has inspired it.

The implication is that the Holy Spirit doesn’t just strengthen us, but also guides us by the teaching of the Apostles, through which we have access to the truth of Jesus. One of things that I am not going to touch on is the relationship between the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus and the Father, because of time. But I encourage you to read and ponder how Jesus describes the Holy Spirit. He is the one that the Father sends. He is the one who comes in Jesus name

There is this rich relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit such that you can say they have their individual personhood yet ultimately are one being. In other words, the Trinity. And if you want to ponder that more, then talk to your pastor!

Back to the gift of the Holy Spirit. What Jesus is saying here is that if you are a follower of the Lord Jesus then, He will give you his Holy Spirit such that you know that you belong to him and that he lives in you. He comes to us and He dwells in us. The Holy Spirit is given by Jesus and the Father because he wanted them to know and he wants us to know that they will be never alone in the world. That we have the Spirit of God dwelling within us to guide us by His Word.

We are to be His witnesses. We are to seek the Kingdom of God to come and Jesus will strengthen us so that we have the power to do this.

Let me return to the example of the church in modern Day Iran. What has happened as a result of their obedience?

Like the church of Acts shows us, the persecution these believers suffered as a group of obedient disciples became a catalyst for the multiplication of believers and churches. When the Iranian revolution of 1979 established a hardline Islamic regime, the next two decades ushered in a wave of persecution that continues today. And when this persecution came, they didn’t scatter. The church was inspired and ignited by the Holy Spirit as they sought to obey Jesus. Though all missionaries were kicked out, though all evangelism was outlawed, though all Bibles in the Persian or Farsi language were banned, though several pastors were killed, though many feared the small, fledgling Iranian church wouldn’t survive. Instead, the church, fueled by the devotion and passion for Jesus, has multiplied exponentially. Iranians have become the Muslim people most open to the gospel in the Middle East today. They love Jesus and so they obey Him and he strengthens and guides them by his wonderful Holy Spirit.

As a result, more Iranians have become Christians in the last 20 years than in the previous 13 centuries put together since Islam came to Iran. Let me finish with Jesus closing words in this chapter from verse 27

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (NIV)

Jesus calls us to go into this world, just like the disciples of the first Century. And he says if you love me you will obey me and my commands. And to enable us to do his work, he gives the power of his presence through the Holy Spirit to Guide us and protect. Friends, we are not alone in this world. The Spirit of God is with us, the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of Power, the Spirit of Comfort. And he dwells in us and with us. So be not afraid but live for Him who died for you and rose again.

A few years back I was out for dinner with Mike and Jon, mates I went to Bible college with. We had a magnificent steak at the Berrima Pub. It’s one of those places where you cook your own steak on a big open grill, and I love that! So it’s worth a visit if you get the chance. Anyway, it was cold and wet, the middle of winter. We had our dinner, got back in the cars, and headed to Mike’s place where we were staying the night. Mike got in his car and I jumped in Jon’s.

The road from Berrima back toward Mittagong has no street lights on it, so it was pitch black and pouring rain. It was as slippery as an eel covered in olive oil. Jon and I are yapping away trying to solve the problems of the world as you do. We’re doing a bit under 80 ks. Then this flippin’ enormous wombat waddles out into the middle of the road right in front of us. I don’t know if you know this. but God made wombats out of reinforced concrete. They are a bit like colossal furry speed humps. If you hit a wombat in your car, it will destroy your suspension, you will be upside down in a ditch, and the wombat will limp away, bruised and mildly annoyed but otherwise unmoved by the experience.

Jon and I know this, and since there’s no cars coming the other way, Jon swerved to the right. I grabbed hold of the bar on the A-pillar. We were headed for the ditch on the right side of the road, so Johnny swerved back to the left and of course the back of the car started to swing around. And time stood still—you know that feeling you get when something like this is happening—everything just slows down. We both had that feeling. It’s pelting down with rain. The car’s now sideways across the road. We seem to have increased our speed and Jon has no control over the car at all. We’re both passengers. The wombat is blissfully unaware of our situation and continues plodding along.

We’re heading for the edge of the road by now, still in slow motion. Looking at each other, mildly concerned, I said, “This’ll be close, mate”. He said, “Mmm, looks that way”

Now backwards, we left the road and headed into about 20 metres of gravel. It’s spraying everywhere, quite noisy as it is hitting the underneath of the car, but we started to slow down as the back wheels dug into the gravel. Still heading for the Armco rail, we braced ourselves. But just before we hit it, the car stopped. Then time went back to normal speed. We got out and had a look. We’d stopped about six inches from the Armco rail. We had a nervous chuckle, thanked Jesus, and looked up at the wombat, which was still waddling along, utterly disinterested. So we got in the car and drove home … slowly.  The whole slide from beginning to end probably only took ten seconds but it felt like half an hour: the ‘slo-mo’ was on.

I don’t know if that sort of thing’s ever happened to you, but have you had that feeling when something terrible is happening and everything feels like it’s in slow motion? It can happen if you get into a fight, or you get home to find that your house has been robbed, or if you witness a car accident or you’re involved in one. Something chaotic that hits you emotionally as well as physically, and it feels like you’re having an out of body experience. That’s what that slide felt like in my mate’s car. Most of us will be familiar with this feeling. This is what chapter 7 of Revelation feels like.

Revelation is a funny book. It all starts with a bang. We meet the risen and glorified Jesus in the first chapter. Then it calms down for a bit with the letters to the churches. This part in chapters 2 and 3 feels like some of the other letters in the New Testament, and most of us are probably familiar with them. It cranks up a notch in chapter 4 when we have this picture of God’s throne in heaven. Then it cranks up another notch in chapter 5 when God’s holding this scroll in his hand, and at first, no one in heaven can open it, This is very sad but then finally Jesus turns up. He’s called the triumphant ‘Lion of Judah’. Only when John turns around to look at this lion, he sees a lamb that looks like it’s been slaughtered, but is very much alive! This Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, who died but rose again conquering Satan, sin, and death. Only Jesus is able to open this scroll in God’s hand.

Now, the scroll doesn’t look like much. It’s sealed with seven seals. It turns out that this scroll is pretty much God’s master plan, with all the details of how he will save his people and judge sin. So, it’s basically the story of the world from beginning to end. The rest of Revelation is what’s written on this scroll.

When Jesus starts opening the seals in chapter 6, Revelation gets properly nuts. You may have heard the phrase ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’. It comes from Revelation 6. The first four seals on the scroll are these guys, and they are part of the way God passes judgement on sin in his world. They bring war, violence, hunger, poverty, greed, oppression, and death with them. Of course, God’s own people are caught up in all those things. So halfway through chapter 6, when the fifth seal is opened, they ask, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”

It’s a good question, isn’t it? What about the innocents? What about God’s people? I thought the whole point of being a Christian was that God is able to preserve our lives and bring us safely to heaven. So, what gives?

The hits keep coming and the question goes unanswered. The sixth seal is opened, and it’s natural disasters, things like earthquakes or tsunamis.

It’s an utterly chaotic scene and yet a quick glance at the news each night will tell you that Revelation 6 looks a lot like everyday life: wars, hunger, poverty, greed, destruction, and death. So listen to how Revelation chapter 6 ends, from verse 15:

Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?” (NIV)

That’s the question on everyone’s lips every day. When we get caught up in all the stuff that happens because we live in a world that’s stained by and feels the effects of God’s judgement on sin—everything from war to domestic violence, to famine and poverty, tsunamis and earthquakes, droughts and bushfires, sickness and death (all creation is groaning under the weight of sin)—the question has to be asked: who can stand up in it? The obvious answer seems to be ‘no one’—only that’s not the answer at all. The answer’s in Revelation chapter 7.

Revelation 7 is the ‘slow-mo’ button. Everything just slows down here. Look at the way it starts. Remember, this is in the middle of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse carving the place up, martyrs asking ‘how long’, and a litany of natural disasters. The first three verses of chapter 7 say this:

After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the Living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” (NIV)

That’s the ‘slow-mo’ button! The question at the end of chapter 6 (Who can stand?) is now answered, and the answer is those who are sealed by God, in other words, Christians.

The seal the angel is talking about is the Holy Spirit. And he’s busy. Part of his job is to make us more like Jesus—which as you can imagine is a full-time gig—but he does much more than that. He’s God’s stamp of approval on us, guaranteeing our eternal rest.

I am still learning about what the Holy Spirit does in my life. My guess is that most of us are the same. So you’ll be pleased to know that on two Tuesday nights in January, the 7th and the 14th, our very own Dr David Jackson is going to be giving us a couple of lectures on the Holy Spirit, which will be fantastic! What I do know, though, is that the Holy Spirit is my seal, my guarantee. He marks me out as belonging to God. It’s a bit of a lame illustration, but he’s like a stamp you get on your hand or wrist in a theme park or a concert or a night club. That stamp tells the guy at the door that you’ve paid your money and you can get in. The Holy Spirit is like that for us, only we didn’t pay the price, but Jesus did.

The Holy Spirit assures us that we will be eternally safe. We’ll all suffer various things here for certain, but Revelation 7 is telling us that regardless of that, God’s people are sealed with the Holy Spirit and assured that we will all make it to heaven.

But then, that begs the question: how many of us are there? Since we’re talking about all of God’s people throughout all history, how many are we talking about? It must be a big number! But it’s not. Look at verse 4.

Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. (NIV)

From there down to the end of verse 8, we read that there are 12,000 from each tribe in Old Testament Israel. And haven’t those few verses caused some arguments throughout history!

If you’re not all that familiar with the book of Revelation, it’s written in what was a popular style of writing back in the day known as ‘Apocalyptic literature’. One of the stand-out features of this gear is that there are numbers all the way through it, and the numbers aren’t meant to be taken as concrete figures. They’re symbolic of different things.

If chapter 7 finished at verse 8, and we were only told about the 12,000 people from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, it would be very confusing. We could easily think that there were only 144,000 people in heaven, which would be rather disappointing.

Mercifully, we aren’t supposed to imagine that there are literally only 144,000 people in heaven. It’s a symbolic number representing the full number of God’s people, from Old Testament times and New Testament times.

The number ‘a thousand’ in Revelation always represents completion. There were twelve tribes in Israel, and it’s no coincidence that Jesus had twelve main disciples. Over in Revelation 21, we see another picture of heaven. There are twelve gates. Each gate has a name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. And there are twelve foundation stones for the wall, and each stone has one of the apostles’ name on it. So here in Revelation 7, you’ve got 12,000 people from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, representing the full number of God’s people from both Old and New Testament times. If you’re not quite convinced, look at the next couple of verses. See, John only ‘hears’ the number 144,000 in verse 4, but he turns around and ‘sees’ the vast crowd in verse 9. Have a look there:

After this I looked, and before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.” (NIV)

144,000 people is a big crowd, but if they all stood still for a while, you could count them easily enough. But it’s a symbolic number. John says we’re not going to be able to count all the people in heaven! All of God’s people from Old Testament times and now are there. And they’re from every nation on earth. Heaven is multicultural, so being part of a church called ‘Multicultural Bible Ministries’ is good practice for eternity! They’re wearing white, which is symbolic again. It tells us they’ve all been made righteous by Jesus, and they are doing what Christians are meant to be doing: joyfully praising God and Jesus.

And the angels standing around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures we met back in chapter 4 and 5 all join in the worship as well, so verse 11:

Amen! Praise and glory, and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength – be to our God for ever and ever! Amen! (NIV)

The last section is really cool. I’m not sure John understands exactly what he’s seeing. It seems that he has a slightly confused look on his face. (At least that’s the way I read it.) So, one of the elders leans over and asks him a question in verse 13:

Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes – who are they, and where did they come from?” I answered, “Sir, you know.” (NIV)

I’m pretty sure that’s John saying, “Well, I hope you know because I sure as heck don’t!”

And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (NIV)

Here’s another word that has caused no end of arguments between Christians:tribulation. Honestly, all denominations are the same with this stuff. We argue about stuff that, plain and simple, doesn’t matter, instead of getting on with the Great Commission and making disciples of Jesus from all nations. In the church I grew up in, say there were 60 old blokes in church on a Sunday morning. There would have been 70 different opinions on what the Great Tribulation was. They’d quote all the old Southern American Baptist preachers who had written books and commentaries on Revelation—Darby, Warfield, Schofield—and they’d argue about this stuff for hours. I loved it back in the day, because like any teenager I was impressionable, passionate, and I thought I knew everything. But we majored on the minors. We spent ages talking about stuff that doesn’t matter that much, and not enough time on the stuff that does. This is a constant danger for Christians, and we need to make sure we spend most of our time on the stuff that matters.

Anyway, here’s what the Great Tribulation is: life. So, the people in heaven, dressed in white robes, washed clean from their sin and righteous, they’re just ordinary Christians like you and me who get through life with their faith in Jesus intact, and now they’re dancing with Jesus and singing His praises for all they’re worth! The basic message of Revelation is, ‘Don’t Worry: Jesus Wins’. It’s mostly pretty simple. As wacked as it sometimes sounds, most of Revelation just tells us not to worry because Jesus wins and so do we.

And then you get to the last part of Revelation 7. This is awesome! Red Bull might give you wings but whatever drug they put in that garbage wears off. This doesn’t. Listen to what this elder says to John about the Christians in heaven. No matter what part of history they’re from or where they’re born, this is what John saw. So this is reality if you are a Christian, reading from verse 15:

[T]hey are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (NIV)

So, here’s what Revelation 7 is saying to us today. The question we began with was: who can stand when God’s judgement is poured out? Our existence on this planet is difficult. Plenty of people live in standards way below our own: around 2 billion live in poverty. I can't speak for those people and we’re not them. You can only play the hand you’re dealt. So what’s this say to us in Sydney at the end of 2019? We were either born here or moved here. And this is by some margin the best place on earth to live. But even so, life is difficult enough here. We have the best standard of living, we enjoy peace, free and fair elections, we have beaches and the bush and the mountains and deserts and snow fields. Australia is an amazing place! We are safe and almost entirely secure.

And yet we have one of the highest rates of teenage suicide. And at least a couple of middle-aged men take their own lives each week. A lot more think about it. A whole heap of people self-harm. Around 30% of us struggle with mental illness. Our relationships with our families and our friends often give us joy but just as often make us cry ourselves to sleep at night. Many of us have issues with alcohol. Some of us struggle with weed and if it was legal plenty of us would be stoned fairly often. As you get older the only thing that changes is the degree to which your life and your family and your marriage is dysfunctional. Some of us are mildly dysfunctional, some of us are really in trouble. Being a Christian doesn’t prevent you from going through a divorce. My parents are divorced. Some of you are. Some of you might be one day. All of us know people who are divorced and we know it affects the whole family, kids especially.

And then there’s another bunch of people who’ve managed to negotiate most of life and so far, haven’t struggled that much with any of that stuff. If that’s you, you probably struggle to understand grace, and you’re probably quite proud of your achievements spiritually and relationally. And when you’re honest about yourself, you look down on other people who haven’t quite hit the high standards you’ve managed so far.

Some of us have been through significant illness. Others of us live with pain or discomfort. Most of us will get pretty sick at some point. For some of us it will be self-inflicted by lifestyle choices. For others, it’ll just be the hand we’re dealt. All of us have been to the funeral of someone we love, and all of us will one day attend our own funeral as well.

And you know, all of us are in one or more of those groups of people, trying to live the life we know we should be living, but often feeling like we’re fighting a battle we doubt we can win. and we’re just tired. We’re tired of pretending we’ve got it all together, tired of putting on the ‘church face’ in the car park every week. Sometimes life just seems too hard.

It might not be all of you. I could be way off, but I figure I’m a fairly normal sort of bloke and so most of the stuff I've just said applies to me as much as it applies to any of you. Life’s tough, and it shouldn’t surprise us. The Four Horsemen are running about the place. Christians are being martyred in many countries. Natural disasters are everywhere. The whole of creation is groaning as in the pains of childbirth waiting for the redemption that is coming. And you and I, along with all God’s people all around the world--and there are somewhere around 2.5 billion Christians on planet earth—all of us are caught up in it, doing our best to stay solid despite all the stuff that gets in our way.

So, let this last chunk of verses just wash over you for a bit, because no matter what life throws at us, if you know Jesus, if you’re a Christian, any sort of Christian, a messed-up one, a depressed one, an anxious one, a bitter, confused or angry one, a doubting Christian, or even, can you believe it, a self-righteous arrogant one, the day is coming when all the stuff that wears us down and hinders us from living for Jesus like we really want to will be forgotten. This is what we have to look forward to.

John sees this. He sees our future, and says we are before the throne of God and we serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter us with his presence. Never again will we hunger; never again will we thirst. The sun will not beat down on us, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the centre of the throne—the Lord Jesus himself—he will be our shepherd, he will lead us to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.”

There are lots of great love stories in our culture – "The Notebook" – great love story with Ryan Gosling and Rachael McAdams. From a while ago now, all the movies with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan: You’ve Got Mail - Joe Versus the Volcano – and of course, Sleepless in Seattle – great love story. The night I asked Nonie to marry me, we had a lovely dinner, watched Sleepless in Seattle then I proposed – she said ‘YES!’ – good times! Shrek was a great love story – Crazy Stupid Love – Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling (again), Emma Stone – it’s hilarious and romantic – and good fun.

Then there’s Terminator 2 – another great love story – it’s true! Arnold Schwarzenegger is a Terminator T-800 Model 101 – and if you think a machine can’t love – think again! As the movie rolls on – Arnie grows to love John Connor and his mother, Sarah – so much that he not only spends the whole movie saving their lives and getting shot about a thousand times in the process – but at the end he gives his life to save humanity – great love story! It just has lots of guns and explosions and car chases – the perfect date night movie – keeps husband and wife happy!

Anyway, as good as those love stories are, they’re not a patch on the Bible. The whole Bible is a giant love story. God made us and loves us so much that despite the fact that all humanity have turned their backs on God, and to varying degrees, done exactly the opposite of what God requires of us and yet God’s love for His creation remains. To the extent that God becomes a man, Jesus, so that we can see exactly how much God loves us by giving His life for ours. He takes our sin and replaces it with His righteousness so that we can be reunited with God and enjoy Him forever. The Bible is the perfect love story.

Ruth is a short book in the Old Testament, there are only 4 chapters but it’s a mini version of that giant love story and it’s one of the most beautiful things in the Bible, I love it!

In case you missed last week let me catch you up to speed. Like any love story you’ve got to meet the characters. We meet Naomi’s family, Naomi is the wife, her name means ‘pleasant’ – great name! Elimelech is the husband, his name means ‘My God is King’ – another great name! They had two sons, ‘Mahlon’ and ‘Chilion’ – not sure what happened there, but Mahlon’s name means ‘sick’; and Chilion’s name means ‘destruction’. Probably not the best names to give your kids…

Anyway, there’s a famine in Israel and Elimelech decides to move his family to Moab. In case you’re wondering, that’s a bad decision, Elimelech should have stayed in Israel and trusted that God would provide for his family. Anyway they move and stay in Moab for 10 years, the boys grow up and get married, only there aren’t any Hebrew women who know and love the God of Israel to marry, so they marry Moabite women, who worship a false god, called Chemosh. Things are going from bad to worse. But then Elimelech and both his sons, Mahlon and Kilion get sick and die. Not really a surprise if you name your kids ‘sick’ and ‘destruction’ – but there you go.

That leaves Naomi a widow with 2 daughters-in-law who are now also widows: Orpah and Ruth. Naomi decides to go back to Israel, its the first good decision in the story, Orpah decides to stay in Moab but Ruth…Ruth is different, her name means ‘Companion’, ‘Friend’ or ‘Vision of beauty’. She’s had a conversion experience somehow and she’s come to trust the God of Israel completely. Although Naomi urges Ruth to stay in Moab, Ruth’s having none of it. She says this beautiful line in Ruth 1:16-17

“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. 17 Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” (NIV)

You can only say something like that if you completely trust the God of Israel. So off they head 75 kilometres, on foot, which is the same as walking from here to a bit past Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, they get back to Israel and in Bethlehem. Naomi decides to change her name from Naomi, which remember means ‘Pleasant’ to Mara, which means ‘Bitter’ well she’s a widow, her daughter-in-law is a widow, her husband and both her sons are dead, so bitterness is reasonable. That brings us to Chapter 2 where we meet Boaz, he is the dude of dudes and his name means ‘Strong man’. When Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem it had two massive pillars holding it up, he named one of the pillars ‘Boaz’ after this bloke we meet in Ruth – it’s great name!

What we see in Ruth 2 is godly people behaving in a godly way toward each other and honouring God in the process. Both Boaz and Ruth are faithful people and they love God and they love His people and we get to see that faithfulness lived out here. Gentlemen, we look at the way Boaz treats Ruth and we get to see how God expects believing men to treat women, all women and, no surprise, it’s the polar opposite of what our culture tells us, but my goodness, if only more men were like Boaz then all the women we know would be so much safer than they currently are in our world. And ladies, you get to see a demonstration of the way you should rightly expect to be treated by Christian men.

So, we already know from Chapter 1 that Ruth loves God and trusts Him, in Chapter 2 we see what that faith looks like in her life. She trusts that God will provide because she knows God’s character, so she puts her faith into action. It’s harvest time in Israel and the Old Testament Law had a provision for poor people that the harvesters would not collect the grain right to the edge of their fields and they wouldn’t pick up everything that fell onto the ground. Poor people were allowed to walk along behind the harvesters and collect the stalks of grain that fell out of their bags and they could harvest the standing grain that was left on the edges of all the fields. God provided this law to bless poor people and Ruth was poor but trusted God and put her faith into action by going out and collecting the grain to keep her and Naomi alive.

Now, it just so happens that the field Ruth went to belonged to Boaz, we see that in verse 3. That’s Jewish humour, in case you missed it! Whoever wrote Ruth is telling us that God knows exactly what’s going on and while it might look like Ruth just stumbled into this particular field the author wants us to see God’s hand at work in the background. God led Ruth to this field because she has an appointment there with Boaz it just so happens.

In verse 4 we meet Boaz, the dude of Dudes! And it turns out that he’s an Anglican minister! You mightn’t be familiar with the old Prayer Book Anglican church service but that’s OK, don’t feel bad, it was originally written in 1549…and revised in 1662 but the first words the minister says in the old Prayer Book service are: “The Lord be with you!” And the people are meant to respond, “And also with you!” Only difference here is that all the blokes who work for Boaz are Baptists, so they say, “The Lord bless you!” Which is close enough.

Anyway, Boaz is a single bloke. He’s wealthy and he owns a decent farm and has a heap of people working for him and you can see by the way he greets his workers that he’s a godly bloke with a strong and living faith in God. He asks God to bless his workers and the way they respond tells us that they know they’re working for a good guy and they ask God to bless their boss.

Imagine how cool it would be to work for a bloke like that! Imagine you’re working away and your boss walks in and says, “The Lord be with you!” Ray says this to all of us all the time because he’s a great boss! If you’re a manager or in some sort of leadership role at work maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing to somehow let your team or your staff know that you are the kind of person who wants God’s blessing to be on those around you. You mightn’t say it like Boaz does but you can say it in other ways and the way you treat your staff or your team can demonstrate it. My guess is that it would be quite a powerful thing in a secular workplace.

Anyway, in verse 5, Boaz asks his foreman, “Who does that young woman belong to?” If this was a movie, there’d be some strings playing in the background and maybe the cameras would be in soft-focus as they’d pan around to Ruth working away in the field collecting grain behind the harvesters. The foreman tells Boaz she’s the young woman who came back from Moab with Naomi, and it turns out she’s been working since early morning and it’s now later in the afternoon so she’s sweaty and dirty, her hair is a mess, she’s tired and if you asked her, she’d probably say she’s not looking her best. But notice that Boaz isn’t just looking at her outward appearance, he’s seen something more than her looks. He’s heard of this young woman, everyone has, you don’t turn up as a foreigner in Bethlehem with Naomi whom no one has seen for a decade and go unnoticed. People know that Ruth loves Naomi and cares for her and they also know she has come to trust in their God as well. Boaz sees Ruth’s character.

Our culture is almost the opposite, isn’t it? These days we’ve got Instagram and Facebook and all the other social media apps, all of which focus on the outward appearance of people and you can photoshop images of yourself to make you look the best you can, everything is about what you wear or what you’re not wearing more often. But God and God’s people should be paying much more attention to the heart to the character. This is what Boaz does and Ruth’s character is worth noticing.

Now listen to the way Boaz talks to Ruth. What I want you to hear as this conversation goes on is Boaz’s character. Remember, in this culture, a woman like Ruth was about as vulnerable as a woman can be. She’s a foreigner, she’s a widow so there’s no man to protect her, she’s alone and new in town. Moab and Israel were often at war with each other so even though people know she’s looking after Naomi there would have been some people who hated her just because she’s from Moab. And although she trusted God, there would have been some fear in her heart when she went out that morning because back then, as now, any terrible thing could have happened to a woman in this position. But listen to the godly example Boaz gives to men who love God and want to honour Him in their lives: Ruth 2:8-9

So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.” (NIV)

Imagine how this would have sounded to Ruth. She now knows she’s safe with this man. She probably would not be safe anywhere else. He’s told his workers that if any of them touch her that’ll be the last thing they touch. If she’s thirsty, his water is her water and the other women in the field they are now your community and Ruth will be safe with them. Ruth 2:10-12

At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, “Why have I found such favour in your eyes that you notice me, a foreigner?” Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.  May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (NIV)

He’s not only provided a safe place for Ruth to work and gather food for her and Naomi, now he’s praying for her, that God would bless her for the kindness she has shown to her mother-in-law. And for her part, Ruth knows that socially, she wouldn’t normally be on the receiving end of this honourable behaviour from Boaz. Ruth 2:13

“May I continue to find favour in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant though I do not have the standing of one of your servants.” (NIV)

Boaz isn’t finished, Verses 14-16

At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.” When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over. As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, “Let her gather among the sheaves and don’t reprimand her. Even pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.” (NIV)

Boaz isn’t just offering his protection to Ruth, he’s going over the top in making sure she is well fed and has plenty of grain to take home to Naomi so she can be well fed also.

At this point in the story, there’s no romance going on here. This isn’t love at first sight, it’s respect and honour at first sight, because that is Boaz’s character. We find out in Chapter 3 that Boaz is quite a bit older than Ruth and when it looks like there might be something going on between them, he’s genuinely shocked that Ruth hasn’t gone and chased one of the younger men in town. So, this is just a good and godly man, acting in a good and godly way toward a younger woman he’s treating as if she was his daughter. Gentlemen, this is how each of us is meant to treat all the women we know. This is how God expects us to treat women, all women. Respect. Honour. Care. Protection. Provision.

I very rarely feel vulnerable, physically. Most men I know are the same, you don’t have to be 6’2” and almost 100kg to feel safe, you just basically have to be male. But you talk to any of the women you know, of any age, and it turns out that most women rarely feel safe and very often feel quite vulnerable. I can’t image that, if I’m honest. The world is not a safe place for the vast majority of females.

One of my friends is a young woman I met through LiT and KYCK, she’s more like a daughter than a friend really. She was a strong Christian, crazy gifted in so many ways, and beautiful. She was travelling overseas and met a bloke who spiked her drink then sexually assaulted her on a beach. There was no one around to help her, there was no Boaz to make things right. When she told me what had happened to her, I cried, a lot. The world is not a safe place for most women, which means it is up to men, and particularly Christian men to make it safe. So, gentlemen, no matter where you are, if you see a woman in any sort of danger, it is your responsibility and mine, to stand between her and whatever or whoever is threatening her as quick as you can. This is exactly what Boaz is doing for Ruth, because he knows this is what God expects of him.

Ruth knows she is safe with Boaz, so in verse 17, after having something to eat, she goes back to work. As the chapter finishes, we learn that Ruth goes home to Naomi with about 13 kilos of Barley, that’s enough food for a week at least and Naomi is beside herself when Ruth comes home, and like many mothers-in-law, she has a bunch of questions! Where did you glean? Who’s field were you in?

Ruth tells Naomi she was in Boaz’s field and the penny drops for Naomi. Now, as I said before, there’s no love interest going on between Ruth and Boaz just yet but you can’t help feeling like Naomi is already thinking of how she might give Ruth a nudge so she might keep getting in Boaz’s way so he’ll notice her a bit more. And there’s a good reason for this. Look at Verses 20, 21

“The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers.” Then Ruth the Moabite said, “He even said to me, ‘Stay with my workers until they finish harvesting all my grain.’” (NIV)

One of the interesting provisions God made for His people was a law called ‘the Levirate Law’. Say you have a married couple and the husband died before they had any kids. The dead husband’s brother, or if he didn’t have a brother, another close relative, would marry the widow and provide her with children. This would do two things, it would keep the dead husband’s name alive so that it wouldn’t be lost plus it would provide the widow with children who would look after her as she got older. So while it might seem a weird law to our ears, it actually meant that widows would be cared for, it’s a lot like the law about not harvesting grain to the edge of your field so the poor could get some food, there was no government welfare back then, so God put several laws in place to provide for vulnerable people.

It just so happens that Boaz is closely related to Elimelech, which makes him what Naomi calls a ‘Guardian-redeemer’ that means it would be possible for Boaz to marry Ruth and provide children for her and grandchildren for Naomi, thus meaning they would be cared for as they got older and continuing the family line of Elimelech.

We’ll see how that plays out next week when Ray looks at the last 2 chapters of Ruth. But as we finish up Chapter 2, the glaringingly obvious message of this chapter is that even while life has taken several tragic turns for Naomi and Ruth, God is orchestrating one of the great comebacks for this family. He got them safely back to Bethlehem from Moab. He led Ruth to gather grain in a field that just so happened to belong to Boaz. Who just so happens to be a man of distinctly godly character. Because Boaz is God’s man in this situation, he provides for Ruth in so many ways: he gives her heaps of food; he gives her a community of women her age to do life with; he gives her absolute protection from anyone who would seek to do her harm; he prays for God’s blessing to be over her life. And on top of all that, it just so happens that Boaz is one of the few men capable of enacting this Levirate Law that God had put in place to provide for widows among His people and he can marry Ruth and provide a family for her.

One of the things I love about the Bible is that God tells us all these things about His people, warts and all. We read about their good times and their hard times, which, I don’t know about you, but I find heaps encouraging because I have good times and I have hard times as well.

What I find so encouraging about Ruth though, is that this is what good looks like. A mate of mine is a leadership coach, he spends time with ministers and church workers all over the place, training them in leadership and development and all that sort of thing. When he meets his clients, he has a series of questions for them, the best one, is this: ‘What does ‘good’ look like?’ All of us can ask this question of ourselves, our work life, our family life, our Christian life, our relationships. What does good look like? When you answer it, you figure out what you need to do to go from where you are to where you need to be as a husband, or a wife, as an employee or a manager or a boss, as a friend or a mentor, or just as a Christian.

Ruth 2 tells us what good looks like on so many levels. What does ‘good’ look like for Ruth? She’s got a strong faith in God, and she puts that faith into action by working hard and providing for Naomi. So for Ruth, good looks like trusting God in hard circumstances. She’s taking responsibility for herself and not expecting handouts or asking someone else to pay her bills. She receives kindness from Boaz and she accepts it joyfully, thanking Boaz for his kindness and also thanking God for His provision for her. Perfect.

What’s ‘good’ look like for Boaz? For Boaz, good looks like thinking, speaking and acting in a way that honours God in everything he does. He blesses his employees, he notices Ruth and speaks so kindly to her, praising her character and her hard work gathering grain for her and Naomi. He provides her with his protection and he makes her not just feel safe, but actually be safe. He provides way more food for her than she needs and places her in the community of women who work for him so that she will have an instant group of friends to share life with. Boaz provides everything Ruth will need to flourish in her new life in Israel, gentlemen, Boaz is one of the very best examples God has given us as we do our best to live in a way that honours God.

Ruth is a great love story, but it’s way more than just a love story. As I said in the beginning, Ruth is a mini-version of the enormous love story of the whole Bible. Boaz gives us a mini-version of the way God has provided for us in the Lord Jesus. Everything we need to flourish in this life, God has provided for us through Jesus. And more than that, everything we need for the life to come, God has also provided for us through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

In 1995 I was in my first year at SMBC, we had a volleyball court and a heap of us would play volleyball in breaks from lectures. I was playing in bare feet and I stepped on a bee and got stung in the toe! It hurt like crazy. Somehow, it got infected and I started to get sick.

After a couple of days I had a pretty high temperature and there was this weird red line going up my right leg. I didn’t think much of it, men don’t like going to the doctor, we think everything will be ok without medical attention.

A couple of days later I was worse, my temperature was higher and the weird red line had now gone down my left leg as well and had also spread up both of my arms. Plus I had this rather large lump in my groin, about the size of half a tennis ball, which was a weird thing!

One of my mates at college was a bloke named Sam Chan and he’s a doctor, and some of you have probably heard Sam preach and he’s amazing! Anyway, I got Sam to come and see me and he took one look at me and saw the red lines all up my legs and arms and had a feel of the lump in my groin and just shook his head. ‘What are you doing, Steve! Why haven’t you gone to the doctor yet? You’ve got a massive infection in your lymph system, bro! You have to go to a GP now!’

I couldn’t walk by this stage so a couple of my mates carried me to a car and gave me a lift to a doctor near college. I was carried into the waiting room and as you can imagine, that caused a bit of a fuss and after I told the receptionist what was wrong, she sent me into the doctor immediately.

The doctor took a look at me and said, ‘Crikey mate, you’re sick, aren’t you?’ I nodded. He took my temperature and I was over 40 degrees. He asked what happened, I told him and he examined me properly. He got to the lump and swore – which I figured was a bad sign. But then it got worse, there was a door adjoining the other doctors room next door and he walked over, opened it and said, “Hey John, you’ve gotta come and look at this clown!” The other doctor came in and after giving me a brief examination said something worse than the first doctor did.

I was rushed to hospital and by the time I got there my temperature was 41.9 degrees and I was dead-set hallucinating! They put me on the strongest intravenous antibiotic they had and it took a full week for the infection to go away.

Here’s the thing, unless you looked at me closely, you couldn’t tell I was sick. From a distance I looked fine. If you got closer and had a good look you’d have seen the big red lines up and down my arms and legs and you’d have known there was something wrong on the inside. And only if you were a doctor would you have known my whole lymph system was infected and if I’d left it much longer, I could have died. But from a distance, I looked OK.

When Malachi started speaking to God’s people they were a lot like me. From a distance they looked fine. They were still going to the Temple and making sacrifices. They were still married and had families and all that sort of thing. They were still putting money into the Temple offering. But if you got a bit closer you’d have noticed there were some serious problems. They were making sacrifices all right but the animals they were using were damaged, or blind, or had three legs! And they were married all right but just to women who weren’t Jewish, they were from foreign countries so they worshipped foreign gods who were not gods at all which means their kids were growing up confused and with divided allegiances. They were still putting some money into the Temple offering boxes all right but they weren’t putting in what they owed to God they were just putting in some loose change. And once you figured all that out you’d have realised that there was a serious problem on the inside, their hearts were far from God. They were sick, and like me, if Malachi would have left it any longer it would have been fatal.

We’re in the back end of Malachi 3 today and this is the turning point of the book. Up to now we’ve heard 5 conversations between God and His corrupt people, individually, those conversations are pretty bad but when you put them together you realise man, their hearts are about as far from God as they can possibly be.

So, when we get to verse 13 of Chapter 3 we hear God’s verdict on His wayward people.

“You have spoken arrogantly against me,” says the Lord. “Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’ “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly, evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.’” (NIV)

Now, it’s important we understand this, there’s nothing wrong with asking God questions. When things are hard in your life, for any reason be it illness, grief, betrayal, trauma, relationship breakdown, mental illness, whatever, there’s no problem crying out to God and telling Him your problems and asking Him to do something about it. The Psalms are full of God’s people doing exactly that over and over again. So, what’s the problem here? Well, it’s the heart, isn’t it? It’s always the heart!

See, in the Psalms, the people who are crying out to God are doing so because they trust God, they love God and they know God is good, they know God is on their side and that God is for them, because all of that is true, they just don’t understand why things have gone so bad so they’re asking God to intervene and help them. My guess is that nearly all of us have done exactly that at some point and that’s ok. God doesn’t mind our honest questions and blunt conversations with Him. He’s a big God!
But here in Malachi that isn’t what’s happening. Here are people speaking totally arrogantly to God, they’re accusing Him of wrongdoing and they’re criticising Him. They aren’t driven by a heart that’s devoted to God, they’re driven by their own pride and self-importance!

See what they say in verse 14

‘It’s futile to serve God! What do we gain by carrying out His requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty?’ (NIV)

Their hearts are in the wrong place. Listen to what they’re really saying: “It’s all about me!”

They’ve forgotten God’s character! They think God is the fun police! That He wants them to walk around looking depressed like they’re walking home from a funeral. These are the sort of people who think, ‘If it’s fun it must be wrong because God doesn’t want me to have fun!’ But knowing God is meant to give us joy! When Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians the second one he mentions is ‘joy’ the Christian life is meant to be something that puts a smile on our face.

Now, two things. Firstly, life isn’t always joyful of course. All of us have experienced really hard times, some of us are in the middle of them right now, there are times when joy isn’t really high on the agenda. Secondly, it must also be said that there is a time and a place for mourning. When we’ve fallen into some dreadful sin it’s appropriate to quieten ourselves and reflect on what we’ve done, or failed to do, as the case may be. But, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 7:

Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (NIV)

So Malachi isn’t telling us that God expects us to walk about grinning like lunatics all the time, but he is telling us that faking repentance and pretending you’re sorry for something isn’t going to fool God, that’s what Paul calls ‘worldly sorrow’ and it brings death. Real repentance that’s driven by the Holy Spirit takes us back to Jesus, who forgives our sin and restores our joy in the Christian life and that same Holy Spirit can and does give us joy, sometimes, miraculously, even in the middle of our suffering but He most certainly turns our sorrow back to joy when the hard part is over.

Come back to Malachi, because he isn’t finished with the hearts of the people. It gets a step worse again before it gets better. Verse 15

‘…they call the arrogant blessed; evildoers prosper – and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.’ (NIV)

They’re looking at their society, with all the problems Malachi has raised over the past 3 chapters, and it would seem that deep down, they know a heap of people are doing the wrong thing. But they think God isn’t doing anything about it so their diagnosis is that God is blessing the arrogant and when people do really evil things, their diagnosis is that God must be powerless to do anything about it. That’s about the worst diagnosis of a serious problem you’ll ever hear and it’s as dumb as me sitting in my room getting sicker and sicker and not going to the doctor!

I tell you the one thing that’s worse than God’s swift judgement on sin, both personal sin and national sin, the one thing worse than God’s swift judgement on sin is God’s silence. Think about this personally and nationally. Personally, if we did the wrong thing and God immediately judged us for it in some way and we knew that for certain, we’d be a lot slower to do the wrong thing again.

Nationally, imagine a nation that sinks into deep moral sin, pick any nation. Declining morality, sexualisation of females of any age, greed, social injustice, racism, whatever, all the stuff we know is just plain wrong with our culture. Imagine if God saw it and then sent His judgement on us straight away and we were totally certain of it, we’d change what we were doing on a national scale pretty quickly. But what happens when God doesn’t seem to notice or doesn’t seem to do anything about it. Personally, we do the wrong thing and nothing happens, so we do it again and nothing happens, so we do it again and again and again. God’s silence means that our hearts get harder and harder and we are less and less likely to recognise that we’re even sinning at all. That’s far more terrifying than God’s swift judgement.

On a national level it’s the same thing. We live in a fairly morally bankrupt society and yet we’re one of the richest countries on earth with one of the highest standards of living, one of the best health care and hospital systems in history and free public education, we’re livin’ the dream, baby! God’s poured out His blessings on us and yet as a culture, we’re doing our best to remove any thought or talk of God from the public square. And God seems silent on our moral decay and our multitude of sins of every imaginable description, but you mention the idea that maybe our country has gone off the rails and you get hammered.

Nonie found this through the week, listen to this:

First we overlook sin.
Then we permit sin.
Then we legalise sin.
Then we promote sin.
Then we celebrate sin.
Then we persecute those who still call it sin.

And that happens when God is silent about sin and doesn’t bring His swift judgement. I tell you the truth, God’s silence is far, far worse than His clear judgement because without quick judgement from God sin continues, hearts get harder, people get further away from God. That’s what’s happened to Israel in Malachi’s day. And, if I might, it’s also what’s happened to us as well, and yes, OK, to every other country on the planet as well! We desperately need God to intervene and soften our hearts! Because, it’s always about the heart.

All the issues Malachi raises with God’s people through his book are symptoms of the real problem: the state of their hearts. See, all the way through the Old Testament, God tells His people how they should live, what sort of sacrifices they should offer when they sin, what yearly festivals they need to keep, how they’re meant to live with each other, what they’re meant to do as His people, but He constantly warns them of the danger of doing all those things on the outside but having hearts that are a million miles from honouring Him. Isaiah says it best: Isaiah 29:13

“These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (NIV)

The heart of the human problem, is the human heart. Up to this point in Malachi there’s been almost no good news at all. But then you get to Malachi 3:16 and the picture changes. It’s amazing how many times this happens in the Bible, but sometime have a look at all the cool verses that turn up in Chapter 3 and verse 16 of so many books of the Bible. Max Lucado wrote a beautiful book on this a few years back and it’ll send shivers up your spine. Anyway look at Malachi 3:16, this is fantastic!

Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honoured his name. (NIV)

After all the doom and gloom of the people saying God doesn’t love them, offering dodgy sacrifices, robbing God, marrying people who worship other gods and all the rest, suddenly you realise that not everyone in Jerusalem had lost the plot. There were still a bunch of people who feared the Lord, that means they treated God with the respect and honour that is rightly His. They knew God loved them, they stayed faithful to the Jewish people they’d married, they were giving generously to God’s work, they were sacrificing their best animals to God when they’d sinned…and God noticed. They’d been talking together about the state of their nation, their hearts were broken because of the sin of their neighbours. They weren’t self-righteous about it, they weren’t judging other people, they were just so distressed at the widespread corruption, they couldn’t believe what was happening at the Temple. Israel was a mess.

Now, notice they aren’t isolated, they’re not trying to live as people who trust God on their own. They talked together, they met together, they encouraged each other to persevere in their devotion to God and living His way. Folks, it’s impossible to do the Christian life on your own, we need church. We need to be in a growth group. We need to meet together and talk together and encourage each other to persevere. The Bible knows nothing of solitary Christianity.

These Old Testament believers had been praying about what was going on and asking God to hear them and act. And, like He always does, God heard the cries of His people, He wrote their names in this Scroll of Remembrance, which is probably the same thing John refers to as ‘The Lamb’s Book of Life’ in Revelation, this is the list of people who have turned to God in repentance and faith and have trusted in Him for their salvation. If you’re a Christian here today, your name is in this scroll of Remembrance as well, your name is in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

And it gets better. Verse 17

 “On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not. (NIV)

There are two things here we need to see and we’ll look at them in reverse order, so we’ll start with verse 18.

On the Day when God acts, when He intervenes and rights all the wrongs, all the ambiguities and blurry lines of this life will be brought into sharp focus. The people in Malachi’s day couldn’t tell the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between those who trusted God and those who didn’t, we have the same problem most of the time, don’t we? It’s often so hard to see the difference between Christians and people who don’t yet know Jesus. Sometimes it’s easy, of course, but often it’s not. On the Day God acts and brings history to an end all that ambiguity vanishes.

In Matthew 25 Jesus phrased it as separating the Sheep from the Goats, the sheep being the people are saved by faith in Jesus and the goats being people who end their lives not trusting in Jesus. It’s the same idea as here in Malachi, there will be a clear distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not. The message for us is to make sure we are included in the first group who have been made righteous by God and who serve Him.

But let’s finish with what Malachi says in verse 17, this idea of being God’s treasured possession.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever thought of yourself as someone’s treasured possession, so let’s just pause a moment and let it sink in. Treasured possession.

You might be married or in a relationship and you would hope that you are the treasured possession of your wife, or husband, your boyfriend or girlfriend. Not in a forceful, stalker kind of way that means you need an AVO, but in a loving way where you feel cherished by your partner. All of us long for that feeling whether we are in a relationship or we’re single. It’s a fundamental human need. Sometimes we have it and it feels fantastic, doesn’t it? But sometimes, things go wrong, we hurt the ones we love or we are hurt by them and that feeling of being someone’s treasured possession disappears. Not every Christian marriage is a bed of roses, my Christian parents divorced when I was 26, so I know what that mess does to you. On a human level, being someone’s treasured possession can fade away to nothing.

But Malachi is telling us something vastly different. He’s telling us that those who fear God, those who trust Him, those who love Him, those who give Him the honour that rightfully His, this God calls those people His ‘Treasured Possession’. This is a declaration of God’s unending, unconditional, never-failing love for His people and you and I need to hear this, often. If you’re a Christian, you are God’s Treasured possession.

We’d all love to be more consistent as Christians, we’d love to be less hypocritical, we’d love to be more obedient and less prone to giving in to temptation and sinning but until we get to Heaven, you and I are going to be fighting a battle with our old sinful nature, some days we’ll win that fight but some days we’ll lose it.

Sometimes, life is just really hard. We all suffer, we’re all betrayed at some point, many of us have had traumatic experiences and we feel distant from God, as if He’s stopped caring for us.

The overwhelming tendency for all of us is to think that our circumstances or our sin means that God withdraws His love from us for a time. It’s a natural human thing because so many of us are so used to love being conditional. This is what’s so different about God, His love for us isn’t based on our performance or our obedience or our anything, it’s based on His character which never, ever, changes.

You don’t need to answer out loud, but, are you a Christian? Do you know that you’re a sinner who needs a Saviour? do you know that Saviour is Jesus? Have you trusted in His death and resurrection for the complete forgiveness of your sin? If you can say yes to those questions, even if that ‘yes’ is a bit hesitant at times, you need to hear that the God of Heaven and Earth, the Almighty God who formed you in your mother’s womb, that God, the only God says: “On the day when I act, they will be my treasured possession.”

Life throws all sorts of horrible stuff at us from time to time, sometimes it can feel more like a continuous barrage and that stuff can really undo our faith and unsettle our trust in Jesus and leave us feeling like God has turned away from us, it happens to all of us at some point and it’s one of the loneliest places on earth when it does.

If that’s you right now or if it is you at some point in the future you need Malachi 3:17, where the God who will one day gently and lovingly wipe every tear from our eyes, looks at us with all our brokenness, all our despair, that longing ache all of us have to find our true home, that God says, “Christian, you are my Treasured Possession.”

The letter to the Ephesians was written by the Apostle Paul to a largely Gentile church - and he writes to encourage this strong Christian community to keep building toward maturity together as a united family of believers in Christ.

It's in this second part of chapter 2 that Paul explains how Old Testament Israel were historically the only nation given a privileged relationship with the true and living God and the hope of an eternal relationship with God and each other under the rule of an eternal, rescuing King (Messiah).

It may seem foreign to us today but in the early 1st century the first Christians were Jewish. They saw Jesus as Israel’s promised Messiah. It took quite a while before they came to terms with the fact that Jesus was for gentiles too! It is with the coming of Jesus that Israel’s national exclusivity has become an international inclusivity that is offered to everyone in every tribe, tongue and nation.

I think this passage in Ephesians particularly resonates with me given that I have a Jewish/Gentile family background. Jewish on my mother’s side and Scottish on my father’s side. Most of my brothers and their families are Jewish - although we also had some Roman Catholic teachings during early childhood! (long story). We have some interesting family gatherings. Add this to growing up in South Africa and you can be sure I’ve seen a great deal of racial and religious prejudice - in and outside our churches.

In my early 20’s I came to faith in Christ and it has been something of a delight for me to learn more and more that Jesus is the Gentile and Jewish Messiah (King). I’m saved by Jesus on both sides! And both sides are saved in the same way, through faith in Jesus!

This great chapter in Ephesians explains both the vertical and horizontal aspects of the Gospel.

I believe this horizontal aspect is becoming all the more critical in a day and age where our world is becoming ever more polarized. In much of our social, political and economic world we are seeing more walls than bridges. Even the crusaders for ‘tolerance’ are proving to only be tolerant of those who believe and say the same as what they believe.

You have seen this in Australia particularly in the fallout over the Israel Folau saga - which has rippled around the world and has seen social media creating caricatures of Christianity depicting us as hateful and judgmental (and, ironically, showing much hate and judgmentalism in the process). The reality is, if you take the time to truly look at the gospel, you will discover that Christ is not a barrier builder, but rather the ultimate and eternal, barrier breaker.

From Exclusion to Inclusion (Verse 11-12)

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. (NIV)

Paul is using language common to the 1st century Jesus world. The great divide of the 1st century world was between Jew and Gentile. The Jews were so fanatical about their “separateness” that even the ruling Roman Empire made special allowances and exemptions for them, so that they could maintain their religious exclusivity. The language of verse 11 refers to the derogatory way Jews referred to Gentiles of that day: “Uncircumcised”.  Much like English Christendom referred to the unbelieving nations as “the great unwashed masses”. Paul reminds these Ephesian gentiles that before Christ came this Israelite ‘closed circle’ kept them from any chance of a relationship with the living God.

The Old Testament nation of Israel was God’s chosen people.

You will see in these verses 5 distinctives of our ‘exclusion’

  1. ‘separate from Christ,’ There was no possibility of a saviour for gentiles; no hope of a King to conquer their bondage to sin.
  2. ‘excluded from citizenship in Israel’ Many of these Gentiles were Roman citizens, this citizenship was considered to be a great honor and privilege, many people in the empire both slaves and foreigners didn't have it.  Yet even the Roman citizen, the prized status in that ancient world, was excluded from citizenship of God’s nation Israel.
  3. ‘foreigners to the covenants of the promise,’ Foreigners were excluded from the ‘citizenship rights and promises’ given to Israel. Referring to the Word of God to Israel that promised an eternal relationship with God who would dwell eternally with His chosen people.
  4. ‘without hope’ Referring to the eternal and certain hope that Israel had in the saving promises of God.
  5. ‘without God in the world.’  The Greek word here is ‘atheios’ where we get the word ‘Atheism’ technically Atheism is NOT “I don't believe in God” but rather - ‘to be without God’ which means more people are atheists than they realize!  To be ‘atheist’ is to be without a relationship with the true and living God.

In the Bible scholar William Hendriksen’s famous summary, the Gentiles were: ‘Christless, Stateless, Friendless, Hopeless and Godless’. But the gospel tells us that all those exclusions have all been overcome with the coming of Jesus in verse 13.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (NIV)

The language here of “Far - Near” has its roots in the Hebrew book of Isaiah 57:19.  It refers to Jew from Gentile.  Gentiles were “far away” from God.  Israelites were said to be “near” to God. Paul says that now that Jesus has come, ‘far away’ gentiles have been brought ‘near’ to God, just as Israel was. By the Blood of Christ (v.13) which refers to death of Christ on the cross as payment for our sin. Jesus’ saving death makes it possible for all Gentiles who come to faith in Christ to be brought near to God - to the same covenant relationship (binding / certain / promise) given to Israel through the death of Jesus for their sin. Being “in Jesus” (v.13) means we are “in” all the promises given to Old Testament Israel. An eternal King, Citizenship, Country, Hope, God.

There is much to love and be patriotic about living in this most magnificent country. But even here your citizenship is limited to this one country and to this one life. In Jesus, that privilege of citizenship extends into eternity as he makes you citizens of the Kingdom of God.

From Hostility to Peace

Few people in history have managed to attain the level of reconciliation and peace that Nelson Mandela achieved in our country in 1994. Those late 1990’s were years of great excitement and reconciliation, yet as great as it was – that time has passed. Tensions and divisions have grown again, everyone seems to be at odds with each other again. The reality is this is the same all over the world - brief periods of unity and peace - usually around sport or nationalism - till brewing prejudice and conflict takes over.

The UN and many other organizations are trying to do a noble task in achieving world peace. But it’s not going to happen because the fundamental problem is we look for PEACE in the wrong place. Look at verse 14.

For he himself is our peace (NIV),

“HE HIMSELF”

it’s NOT some Constitution or Political party or social movement
it's not an ideal or philosophy
it’s not even a religious system

It's a person, not a Statesman or a Guru, but a unique person. How has he achieved this peace? (Verse 14)

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. (NIV)

This language connects us to the Jerusalem temple.  The Jews knew what the “dividing wall of hostility” was.  It was the wall that stopped gentiles from entering the Temple precinct. The Temple was the visible dwelling place of God in the midst of Israel.  But only Jews could enter into the Temple courts - only Jews could “enter into God’s presence” in a sense. On the dividing wall the Jews had erected signs basically saying “Gentiles Keep Out” or, more precisely: “No Foreigners shall enter on pain of death”!

Paul tells us that in Jesus, this barrier is truly removed. Just as when Jesus died, at the moment of his death the Temple curtain was torn in two. So too the spiritual barrier that kept the nations from entering into God’s presence has been “destroyed” (v.13) Not a physical destruction because the wall was still there when Paul wrote this letter, but an ultimate destruction - the Law that stood behind the Wall. It’s the law that exposes our sin and excludes us from relationship with God and His people.  Jesus takes that punishment for sin “in his flesh” and so sets it aside, opening the door for us to enter a relationship with Him.

Together - Jew and Gentile believers together in Christ. (Verse 15)

His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. (NIV)

In Jesus, Jew and Gentile believers become one humanity, this is really the key verse to Ephesians. Both of them reconciled together to God IN THE SAME WAY! How are Gentiles able to be reconciled to God? Through the cross of Jesus! How are Jews able to be reconciled to God?  Through the cross of Jesus!

And so the same message is preached to both: (Verse 17)

He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. (NIV)

The message preached to Jews is the same message preached to Gentiles.  Christ by His death on the cross has made it possible for us to have peace with God - and with each other.  (Verse 18)

For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (NIV)

I’m conscious of a trend in some Christian circles to say there is a separate way to God for Jews.  There is nothing in the Bible to support that and its actually quite dangerous to teach that there is a Jewish way to salvation and a Gentile way to Salvation. Jesus is the one way for both Jew and Gentile.

From Foreigners to Family (Verse 19-22)

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (NIV)

We have here 3 pictures of the “blended family” of heaven.

  1. Fellow Citizens - Gentiles are made fellow citizens with Israel of the Kingdom of God - so much greater than being citizens of the Roman empire.
  2. God’s Household - part of the royal family
  3. Holy Temple - the true Temple is way beyond a stone structure in Jerusalem.  It’s a growing, living dwelling in Jesus of which all believing Jews and Gentiles are a part

Now I’ve realized that this magnificent picture is often more talked about than witnessed. The reality is demonstrating this united relationship in practice is hard work and many Christian communities take the easier route of keeping church to their own culture or tribe. But that’s not the picture the Gospel gives us. More importantly, we miss something of the power of the Gospel at work in our diverse unity in Christ.

I recently had the privilege of seeing a quite dramatic example of our ‘new humanity’ in Christ during my visit to Israel. As you know a long standing and violent barrier exists between Israel and the Palestinians with no solution in sight. I was curious to learn more and a helpful young Arabic speaking missionary from USA took me into the West Bank to meet a Palestinian family living in a village near Bethlehem. So I met with my Palestinian family and learned that the father “Abdul” was an ex-Hamas fighter who joined the movement as a teenager and was caught and jailed by the Israelis.  In jail, this angry young man cried out to God with much despair and doubt.  “Who is right?” was his cry.  And God answered him, he shared about a dream he had. After his release he went back to his village and some time later a Christian worker happened to be walking through the village and wandered into the shop where Abdul was working.  As soon as he saw this ‘foreigner’ he asked him ‘are you going to tell me about Jesus?’  and so the surprised Christian worker did exactly that and Abdul came to faith in Christ.

We spent the day sharing our stories with each other - including me having an opportunity to share the message of salvation and reconciliation in Jesus with some of his Muslim family. The most memorable statement I remember from that day was Abdul telling me how he grew up learning to hate the Jews and being full of violent anger against them. “Then I came to know Jesus” he said, “and now I love them, and I love their Book.”

So we sat and enjoyed a meal together, a Jewish Anglican Evangelical Bishop from South Africa and a young American Missionary from the Mid-West and an ex-Muslim Palestinian terrorist - and truly it felt more like family than even my blood relatives back home.  There was a depth of relationship between us that only exists because of Jesus.

That’s the power of the Gospel.  That brings peace with a Holy God – and true, lasting and eternal peace between the most diverse groups of people on the planet.

Sometimes people challenge me on this point and say ‘but there are groups that unite across the barriers using music or sport.  You don’t need Jesus.’ It’s true that some unity does come through other means for a time. But its only in Jesus that both reconciliation with God and with each other is possible into eternity.  If only for this life we pursue reconciliation it’s an incomplete, at best, and even futile exercise.

So, my brothers and sisters, the task and challenge for us is to continue to flesh out that gospel truth for the world to see. This means demonstrating the reconciliation we have with God in Christ AND with each other. It's all too easy to ‘stick with your own kind’ and even justify it with some Scripture twisting. It's remarkably easy to let grudges and divisions become a part of your church life.  You can be members of the same church and share communion together and yet not be speaking to each other.  That’s not just a personal issue, for Christians, that’s a gospel issue.

If God can change the heart of a Palestinian believer towards Israelis. Can he not also change your heart toward a fellow church member? Community member? Family member even? Perhaps even the lack of reconciliation with others has exposed the deeper reality that you lack reconciliation with God?  It's only when you have come to Christ and truly turned to him by faith that the Spirit of God can work and convict us of the reconciliation we must seek with others.

Maybe that relationship is where some of you need to start today?

I am a car guy. I always have been. Some of my earliest memories are of steering our family car while sitting on my dad’s lap—which today would get you in trouble, but back in the seventies in the Blue Mountains, it was pretty normal! I often tell Nonie about different cars and point them out on the road. I tell her all sorts of things about cars: how much power and torque they have, or what they drive like. You’d think I’d know after 23 years of marriage, but she’s totally uninterested in cars. She goes to sleep.

 

I know it’s a bit embarrassing, but I memorised power outputs of V8 Falcons and Commodores when I was younger. Then I got interested in fast European cars. I’m obsessed with Porsche 911s. Normal people think I’m quite mad, and they’re probably right. But I can’t help it. I love cars.

 

I have two cars, which I know sounds a bit much, but they’re both old, so don’t get too excited! I have a little Golf that’s about ten years old and falling apart. The headlining is all saggy, and when I’m driving, it rests on my head, which is incredibly annoying! And I have a 27 year old Land Cruiser that I use for camping and 4WDing. I use the Golf nearly every day, but only use the truck when I get away for a camping trip or something like that.

 

When I’m driving the Golf, I’m like everyone else in Sydney traffic. It’s a small car, so no one lets me in. I have to wait at intersections like everyone else. I have to dodge other cars driven by people who are texting or looking out the window or whatever else they’re doing apart from concentrating on driving. Like everyone else, I get to where I’m going, and I’m stressed and giving thanks to God that I made it through another slog to work or wherever through Sydney’s chaotic traffic.

 

But then the Golf goes in for a service and I use my truck for a day or two. All of a sudden, driving in Sydney traffic is different. The Golf is small and no one cares about it. No one lets me in. No one’s terrified of a Golf. But the ‘Cruiser is a massive thing. It weighs nearly 3 tonnes and is pretty imposing. It’s got a big steel bull bar. I’ve lifted the suspension and put huge tyres on it. Small children point at it and go, “Oooohhh! Look at that big truck, mum!” That makes me feel good! Parking is a nightmare, of course, and it has the turning circle of an oil tanker. But it’s heaps of fun in traffic, because everyone gets out of my way. Merging is easy. I just indicate and move over, and the rest of the traffic stops! People see me coming and they think, “I’m not pulling out in front of that thing! I’ll get squashed!” So they let me through. It’s awesome!

 

When I’m driving it, I feel like Psalm 2 is about my ‘Cruiser.

 

‘Why do the Camrys merge and the Corollas indicate in vain? The Daihatsus of the earth rise up and the Astras band together against the Land Cruiser and against its driver, saying, “Let us break their bull bar and throw off their lifted suspension!” The One enthroned behind the wheel laughs, the driver scoffs at them. He rebukes them in his merriment and terrifies them in his joy, saying, “I have installed 35” tyres on my ‘Cruiser, my politically incorrect Land Cruiser!”

 

OK, so I’m hamming it up a fair bit, but you get the point, hopefully.

 

Psalm 2 isn’t about a lifted Land Cruiser. It’s about something, or rather someone, much more impressive. On first reading, it’s about what God has done for Israel’s greatest king, David, but as you read it a bit closer, you realise that what it’s saying has to be about someone much more powerful than just a normal human King, however great David may have been. Psalm 2 is ultimately about what God has done for and through the Lord Jesus.

 

I’ve split this Psalm up into 3 sections: First, verses 1-6 are about the challenge to God’s king. Second, verses 7-9 are about the coronation of God’s king. Third, verses 10-12 are about the celebration of God’s king. We’ll see what this psalm is saying about David in its immediate context. But as we go through it we’ll also see how the New Testament writers use it as they apply it to the Lord Jesus. So let’s get into it the first section.

 

(1) The Challenge to God’s King (vv. 1-6)

 

1 Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together
against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
3 “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.”
4 The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.
5 He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
6 “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.” (NIV)

 

The immediate context is that David has been crowned king of Israel. It would be around 960 BC. Saul was the first king of Israel, but he was unfaithful to God, so God took him out and replaced him with David, a man after God’s own heart most of the time. David’s journey to the throne was pretty rough. Saul tried to kill him a few times, the Philistines had a crack at him, and a bunch of other people tried to make another bloke king, but ultimately, God’s will prevailed like it always does, and David was anointed by the High Priest of Israel as God’s king.

 

That word ‘anointed’ is key to this psalm. You know the word, ‘Messiah’? Well, it’s the same as the word, ‘Christ’. Messiah is Hebrew, Christ is Greek, and they both mean the same thing, ‘the anointed one’, literally, ‘the one smeared with oil’.

 

In the Old Testament, three types of people were anointed with oil: prophets, priests, and kings. They all had oil poured on their heads. This symbolised God’s ‘seal of approval’, if you like. The prophets spoke God’s word to God’s people. The priests mediated between God and his people at the temple. And the king led God’s people. So here Psalm 2 is telling us that David has been anointed as God’s messiah, the man responsible to lead God’s people as their king.

 

That helps us realise that the question in verse 1, “Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain?” isn’t a request for information. It’s really an exclamation of astonishment! If David is God’s anointed king and God has installed David on his holy mountain, then why on earth would anyone challenge this king? It’s crazy! It’s like a little Honda Jazz thinking it’s going to pull out of an intersection in front of my ‘Cruiser. What are you doing, you maniac?? You’re going to get destroyed. You’ll be like a little speed hump!

 

God has put David on the throne of Israel. The nations around Israel are mad if they think they have any chance of defeating David in battle. They challenge God’s king, and God laughs at them first, so verse 4, “the One enthroned in heaven laughs, the LORD scoffs at them”. But then it gets serious in verse 5: “He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath. I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain!” The challenge to God’s king is serious, but in the end, it is sheer lunacy and it amounts to nothing.

 

Now, look at how Jesus’ disciples use these verses in Acts 4. The context is that Peter and John were going to the temple to pray. They met a bloke out the front of the temple who was paralysed and so was begging people for food or money. The risen and glorified Jesus enabled Peter to speak words of healing to this man and up he gets! He runs through the temple jumping and dancing and leaping about like I did when Tottenham scored the winning goal in the last second of the game against Ajax to get into the Champion’s League Final last Thursday morning. I was going completely berserk, but you guys just know I had to get it this sermon somehow!

 

Anyway, in Acts 4, Peter and John get dragged in front of the Jewish religious leaders to explain themselves, which they do. Then they’re threatened by those same religious leaders that they are not to speak ever again about the Lord Jesus. Then you get to Acts 4 verse 23-30, and notice how Jesus’ followers use Psalm 2:

 

23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:
“‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together
against the Lord and against his anointed one.'
27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (NIV)

 

Jesus’ followers know this psalm is originally about king David and that David wrote it, but they also know that it points forward in history to the Lord Jesus himself, God’s ultimate great king and messiah. They know Herod and Pilate and most of Israel conspired and plotted against Jesus, but they also know Jesus’ death wasn’t a shock to God. The cross was always God’s plan, and so was the resurrection!

 

So the nations around Israel were a challenge to king David when he wrote Psalm 2, but ultimately that challenge amounted to nothing. In the same way, Herod and Pilate and most of Israel were a challenge to Jesus, but ultimately, that challenge also amounted to nothing! God scoffs at his enemies. He laughs at them. Then he rebukes them and terrifies them in his wrath. And Jesus walks out of the tomb!

 

We see the same thing happening all around us today. In the 1960s in the Cultural Revolution in China, Chairman Mao tried to wipe Christianity out of China altogether.

 

“Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The Kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the LORD and against His Anointed One, saying, ‘Let us break their chains and throw off their fetters.’ The One enthroned in Heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.

 

God says, “There are now more than 130 million Chinese Christians, Chairman Mao. Your challenge to me is arrogant lunacy and you will spend eternity in hell understanding the consequences of it.”

 

Today, you and I see immense injustice in our world. We see governments opposed to God oppressing and persecuting God’s people. Closer to home, each of us experience similar things, even if not on that sort of scale. Psalm 2 reminds us that opposition to God is lunacy and that ultimately, God and therefore God’s people will have the last laugh. God’s justice will prevail.

 

(2) The Coronation of God’s King (vv. 7-9)

 

7 I will proclaim the Lord’s decree: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.8 Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” (NIV)

 

So in the first section, it’s David speaking. Now here in the second section, it’s God speaking, and it’s God speaking to David, but only in a limited way. There’s a sense in which at David’s coronation, God becomes his father. The king of Israel was often referred to as ‘God’s son’. But the nations aren’t David’s inheritance. The ends of the earth aren’t David’s possession. He’s the king of Israel, not the king of the world. That’s why this can only be about David in a limited way. So we have to go to the New Testament to figure out what this is really talking about.

 

So here’s a few parts of the New Testament, and listen to the echo of Psalm 2 in these verses. The first is Matthew 3 when Jesus is baptised:

 

As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; I am well pleased with Him.” (NIV)

 

We hear that, and we’re reminded of Psalm 2:7: “You are my Son, today I have become your Father.”

 

Then you’ve got Matthew 17, when Jesus goes up this mountain with Peter, James, and John, and is transfigured. That’s not a word we normally use or are familiar with, but it means that for a moment, Jesus peeled back his human body, as it were, and allowed his disciples to catch a glimpse of what he really looks like. Have a go at this:

 

After six days, Jesus took with Him Peter, James and John, the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.
While he (Peter) was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” (Matt 17:1-2, 5 NIV)

 

Again, we’re back in Psalm 2:7, “You are my Son.”

 

Then you’ve got Acts 13. This time it’s Paul preaching in a synagogue in Antioch. Here’s verses 32-33:

 

“We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors, He has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’” (NIV)

 

So, yes, Psalm 2 is about David’s coronation but only partly. These words of Psalm 2 are totally fulfilled in the Lord Jesus, God’s true Son.

 

OK, so we’ve got a challenge to God’s anointed king that’s ultimately completely pointless. We’ve got the coronation of God’s king, and God calls the king his Son. Then lastly, we’ve got the celebration of the king.

 

(3) The Celebration of the King (vv. 10-12)

 

The last few verses of Psalm 2 are where we are invited to take refuge in God’s great king.

 

10 Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.
12 Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (NIV)

 

This really is an Old Testament version of Phillip Jensen’s ‘Two Ways to Live’. At first this sounds like a warning and sure, there’s a fairly blunt warning here, but I think that the overall tone of these last few verses is a gracious offer of mercy. The whole earth is invited to seek refuge in God’s king.

 

In king David’s time, God had made a covenant with his people. A covenant is like an agreement. He rescued his people, adopted them as his children, he promised them that as long as they kept their side of the agreement they made with him, he would protect them from their enemies and bless everything they put their hands to.

 

Unfortunately, as you read through the Old Testament, it quickly becomes clear that Israel didn’t often keep their side of the covenant they made with God. They kept doing the wrong thing. They worshipped false gods. They treated the poor and vulnerable in their society miserably instead of looking after them as they were meant to. They ignored all the people God sent their way to call them back to being faithful to him. And after a few hundred years of God being patient, his patience ran out and he punished them for their rejection of him.

 

We need to look at the end of Psalm 2 through everything God did through the Lord Jesus. See, we’re not living in Jerusalem under the Old Agreement God made with his people. We’re not Old Testament Jews who go to the temple to make sacrifices to God when we sin.

 

No, it’s different for us. It’s different for everyone now. “God shows His love for us in this: it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us.” Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

 

Jesus is God’s ultimate great king and messiah. He lived the life we haven’t lived, and died the death we deserved to die. Then God raised Jesus from death to prove that everything he did and said was true.

 

Therefore, let us be wise, let us be warned. We can choose to joyfully serve the Lord Jesus with reverent fear. We can choose to kiss him. That means we can choose to honour and worship Jesus as he deserves. Or, we can choose to continue in our own way. But we need to know that in the end that way leads to destruction, because at some point, his wrath will flare up in an instant against all those who reject him. The wise choice is to take refuge in Jesus as the only safe place available to us.

 

In the late 1700s and early 1800s as people moved to the West away from the East Coast cities in the United States, they got to the vast flat prairies in the middle of the USA. There were many dangers facing these people, one of which was that the flat ground was covered in long grass. When lightening hit the ground, the grass would burn up and be pushed along by strong winds. Their covered wagons were often just burned up and lots of people died.

 

After a while they figured out the only way they could be safe as they travelled west. They’d see and smell smoke coming their way and they knew they had to act fast. They’d crouch down in the grass with their backs to the wind, and light the grass in front of them. The wind would push the fire away from them and burn up all the grass. Then they’d move their wagons onto the burnt grass and wait. Soon enough the fire approaching them would hit the already burnt grass and the fire went out because there was nothing left to burn. The only safe place to stand was somewhere the fire had already been.

 

It’s the same with us. Psalm 2 tells us that God’s wrath can flare up in an instant and I promise you it will burn up anything in its path. The only safe place to stand is somewhere God’s anger has already been. That safe place is the Lord Jesus. He took God’s anger on himself when he was crucified, and only in him are we safe, because God’s anger isn’t going to burn the same place twice.

 

Blessed are all who take refuge in Jesus, the only one who God has anointed and installed as his ultimate king.

 

Let’s pray.

Happy Mothers Day! I thank God for all you mums and grandmums out there! And I also thank all the women who are like mums to us. Fittingly we are looking at Psalm 8 today so lets thank God now as we come to Psalm 8. This Psalm will show us that God made humans with a very special purpose. And we will come to see that it is in Jesus that we find our true humanity.

 

Right now, I’m in the middle of the fortieth birthday season. Many of you may be, too. Many of you remember wedding season: another weekend, another wedding. It is time to dress up all over again.

 

I know one couple here at church who got married on the Saturday, and the very next week, they were in the bridal party for a friend’s wedding. After wedding season came the ‘thirtieths’ season. Been there, done that. Then there’s the kids’ birthday parties season. That’s still going. Maybe some of you aren’t there yet. Or some of you, you’re about to come out of or about to go into school formal season at the end of year 12. Everyone’s going to one another’s formals. There’s this school on this date, and another school a few weeks later. Then there’s the ‘twenty-firsts’ season, where each weekend it feels like another birthday and another trip to the shops.

 

Having been at a few fortieths so far, here’s what I’ve noticed: there’s something about turning forty that causes people to take stock on their life. One birthday girl in the lead up to her fortieth shared with Teresa and me, “Is this it? I’m about to turn 40. What have I done with my life? What have I accomplished? I’m just a mum. My identity is so caught up in my kids.” In fact, she put it as bluntly as this: “If I died tomorrow, the only people who would miss me are my kids. There would be no one to take them to school, cook them dinner, and wash their clothes.”

 

Then there was another fortieth I was at. The speech began like this: “I reckon by the time you turn forty, you want to know the answers to the big questions in life.”

 

Well, one of the biggest questions in life, the question on everyone’s lips, is this: “What’s my purpose in life? What does it mean to be human?” Well here in Psalm 8, the answer loud and clear is this: whether you’re a beggar or a billionaire, a mum or a managing director, you matter to God, because not only were you made special by God, but in Jesus, you can also be remade by God.

 

Let’s look at the first and last verses of Psalm 8, verses 1 and 9:

 

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens. (v. 1, NIV)

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (v. 9 NIV)

 

Do you notice that the first part of the first verse and the last verse of this psalm are the same? This is a psalm that begins and ends with God. This psalm sets and defines humanity not on human terms, but places humanity in relationship to God, and under God. It defines humanity on God’s terms.

 

In the phrase, “LORD, our Lord”, the first ‘LORD’, the all-capital-letters ‘LORD’, is not David shouting, as it is when we use ‘all-caps’—although David does shout praises in this psalm. The capital ‘LORD’ represents God’s personal name, ‘Yahweh’. David’s God is ‘Yahweh’. God’s special personal name is represented in our English Bibles by ‘LORD’ being in capitals. And the lower case ‘Lord’ is his job title. David’s God is Lord. He’s the one who rules. ‘The LORD’ is who God is (his name), and ‘the Lord’ is what God is (his job title).

 

Now, what is the mood of this words? What is the vibe? I think overall that this is a song of praise, gratitude, and wonder. David could’ve said, “LORD, our Lord, your name is majestic”, but he didn’t. Instead he says “How majestic is your name.” God’s name is majestic alright, but it’s also more than that. It’s as if David can’t quite take it in. He can’t contain himself! David is trying to get his head around why such a big God even bothers with a tiny species called human who happen to live on one tiny planet in one average-sized solar system, in a relatively unspectacular galaxy.

 

If by the end of this sermon, we collectively don’t have a sense of just how amazing God is, and if we can’t join the chorus of verses 1 and 9, and declare ‘the LORD’ is also our Lord, and if we can’t see how majestic is his name in all the earth, and if praise doesn’t fall from our lips in song, in our prayers, in our conversations, and if it doesn’t take root deep down in our hearts and in our souls, then we’ve failed to fully grasp the wonder of this psalm and I’ve failed as a preacher to convey that to you!

 

Here’s an idea for this week. Why not try, in your next prayer, to just spend time praising God. Just let the praise flow from your lips.

 

In verse 2, look at how God shuts the mouths of his enemies and his avengers.

 

Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. (NIV)

 

Who are God’s enemies and avengers? They are not Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, and the rest of the Marvel superheroes. Instead, for David, “the enemy and the avenger” are those who don’t want anything to do with God whatsoever!

 

Notice there how God chooses to take them on. We’re talking about God who has the entire cosmos at his disposal! Yet his weapon of choice is not to wipe them out with fire, or call down a meteor from another galaxy. Rather, God’s preferred weapon of choice in verse 2 is what comes out of the mouth of a child. The “guurrrs” and “gaaahs” of a child, the most vulnerable, dependent, and weakest members of the human family, stopping the arrogant and powerful dead in their tracks.

 

In a world of Israel Folau controversies, where Christians have become public enemies and we’re now being silenced, our children might end up being the best evangelists! One of my friends’ kids would, whenever he met an adult—it could have been the postman, the random stranger at the shops, a visitor or neighbour--without hesitation would ask them: “Do you believe in Jesus?” No shame, no shyness. Wouldn’t it be great if we had that too? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if ‘God-talk’ just naturally flowed from our lips.

 

Look it’s a side point, but one worth mentioning here. As adults we all have a part to play in helping our young folk praise God. It is not just the mums in the room. Whether it’s discipling kids and youth at church, in Scripture, in the home, at school, in whatever environment, be assured that every prayer that’ll be prayed at kids church today or every song sung by our youth on Friday nights is a declaration that there is a God and how majestic is his name! What an incredible privilege each and every one of us has to shape the soul of another human being, such that they would praise God. Sure it may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a church family to raise a child of God. Why not after church today aim to have a conversation with a kid or youth, and ask them what they learned about God today, or how you can pray for them?

 

Let’s move on. In verses 3-4, we get a glimpse at just how insignificant we humans are compared to other aspects of the creation we can see. Look with me at verse 3:

 

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, […]

 

Picture David looking up at the stars which God himself flung into space. We humans do paintings with our fingers, but God paints planets and entire galaxies with his fingers. Last month, humans finally managed to take the first photo of the black hole. This is something that God created simply with a word. The entire history of humanity has had to wait for this up until now. In the words of one astronomer, “We have seen what we thought was unseeable.” The more science opens up to us new horizons, the more insignificant we seem. We’re shown to be just a speck of dust.

 

Verse 4 opens with a question:

 

What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? (NIV)

 

David asks the God who created the black hole, “What is mankind?” The answer is in verse 5:

 

You have made them a little lower than the angels […] (NIV)

 

What makes us special is that we’ve been made by God. God has made us, and that is what makes us special. Be amazed at how special God made you to be. And not only that, but verse 5 again, you and I have been made “A little lower than the angels”. Notice how it doesn’t say, “a little higher than an ape” or “just a bit more advanced than a chimpanzee”. I just love how the Bible has got a higher view of humanity than scientists.

 

Then, as if it couldn’t any better. Along comes the next part of verse 5:

 

[…] and crowned them with glory and honor. (NIV)

 

We humans have been “crowned with glory and honour”. We’re royals! You don’t have to be born into the royal family like Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor. It’s not just Archie who’s royalty: you are too! The God who, back in verse 1, set his glory in the heavens, has crowned us and only us with that glory. What a good and generous God!

 

There was a study done a few years back, where scientists tried to work out the answer to this question: How much are the elements and chemicals worth that are found in and go to make up the human body. We’re talking things like carbon, hydrogen, and calcium, etc. I’m not talking about selling of kidneys on the black market. They are not worth $580,000, or $58,000, or even $580, but believe it or not, your body, based on the current market value, is only $5.80.

 

Then there is how our world and our culture assigns worth and value to humans. Our culture would say that what makes people significant are things like their status, standing, or the number printed on the waistline of your jeans. Society says you’re dignified based on your looks, athleticism, or intellect. You are despised for your failures, if you can’t do certain things, if you look a certain way or if you don’t have a job.

 

That’s why it’s so crucial that we tune in to what God says about us, because the God of the Bible says that, regardless of physical ability, mental capacity, skin colour, we’re all image-bearers of the God who made us. That applies to every member of the human family, whether it’s the baby in the womb, the person in jail, or the pensioner with dementia. At the end of the day, our dignity and worth as humans is received not achieved. That means that every human you meet, whether a believer or an unbeliever, is to be treated as a fellow image-bearer. If you’re a Christian here today, know that you reflect the character of God in the way you speak to your work colleague who’s slacking off, the way you discipline your kids, relate to your parents, include someone who’s on the outer. Adopt the posture that God has towards all humanity! That’s what verse 4 picks up on too.

 

What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? (NIV)

 

Get this: God both thinks of you and cares for you. Now you might be here today as someone who’s not yet taken the hand of Jesus. We are so glad you’re here. Maybe today is the first time you’ve invested some serious time thinking about the things of God. Well know this, that God thought of you before you thought of checking him out. In fact, that’s true for every single person here! You can be sure that God thinks of you way more than you think of him. In fact, he thought of you before you were even being formed inside your mum’s womb!

 

And what a relief that is! You might feel alone as you battle with anxiety or depression, but take comfort in the fact that the God who made us knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows you inside out, and stands with you in the fog. You might be hurting from a mum you wish you’d have, or grieving a mum you’ve said goodbye to, or wishing you were a mum. God knows and draws near to you in that pain and grief too.

 

David’s not done. There’s one more thing that makes humans special, verse 6:

 

You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet (NIV)

 

Pretend we double-clicked on the word “everything”. Out would pop verses 7 and 8, where David says, “Everything” means all the flocks, herds, all the animals, be they birds, or fish or land creatures. Humans were created to be over creation but under God. It’s as if God gives us the keys not to the car but to creation and says, “You look after it.” This job is just for humans. That’s why we ride horses, horses don’t ride us. That’s why humans have managed to build some impressive architecture, discovered things like black holes, and come up with cures and medical advancements.

 

But notice here also that there’s not even a hint of reincarnation. Us and the animals are very distinct categories. We don’t come back in another life as an animal, a dog or a cockroach. No, we rule over the animals. We’re the pinnacle of God’s creation. This is the dignity of the human race!
Compared to the bigness of God, we are mere dust, but because we’re unlike anything else in all creation, we’re glorious dust!

 

Now I want you to think about this question: to what extent could you say that Psalm 8 is a reality, as you look around at our world today. To what extent do we see that humans are “rulers over the works of [God’s] hands” and that God has “put everything under their feet”? And we must say that as we exist now, the rule we experience is partial and incomplete. We fall short in our rule of the earth. We are glorious dust, or in the words of Francis Schaeffer, we are a “glorious ruin”. We don’t rule the world, and creation does not submit to our rule all the time. Sometimes creation controls us: a tsunami here, an earthquake there. Sure, we humans can tame lions, but I can’t even tame my tongue. And rather than ruling the world together, we fight one another for the right to rule.

 

The best illustration of how Psalm 8 is only partially true is the fact that humans pick up dog poo! Now I’m a dog guy. I love dogs. But you think about it: whenever you see someone taking their dog out for a walk, they stand by and wait for the dog to do it’s business, and then they crouch down, scoop it up with a plastic bag, and carry it to the next bin. That doesn’t sound like humans calling the shots in the way that Psalm 8 envisages! So you dog-owners out there, the next time you pick up dog poo—and trust me, I’m thankful that you do do it—let that remind you of Psalm 8.

 

But our problem is more than just having to pick up dog poo. We fail to rule God’s world properly and perfectly. We have broken, messed up relationships, full of regrets. Sure, we can try and exercise control, but more often than not it feels as though we’re out of control. We can’t even rule over death. Death rules over each and every single one of us! We’re made from dust. We’ll also return to dust. Things aren’t what they’re meant to be! We are broken! We need fixing!

 

Now the author of Hebrews pick up on this disconnect and frustration, and a thousand years after David penned this Psalm, the author of Hebrews wrote, in Hebrews 2:8 concening Psalm 8, “Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them.” Humans don’t yet fully rule the earth, but in Hebrews 2:9, Hebrews says, “But we see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death.”

 

Jesus, being the perfect human, is crowned with the glory and honour that Psalm 8 tells us about. He was the truest human, being sinless. He was God in the flesh, being born as a weak infant and placed in an animal feeding trough in a little-known town called Bethlehem. He grew from a vulnerable child to manhood, going around doing good and healing people because God was with him, only to be unjustly condemned and executed, and then rise again. He is the one under whose feet God places all things. Everything and everyone is subject to him! Jesus is now crowned? And he was crowned, according to Hebrews 2:9, “because he suffered death”. Remember that Jesus wore a crown of thorns on his head as he hung there on that cross. For Jesus, the pathway to glory was suffering: death first, then glory and honour after.

 

You think about it: the very thing that puts a one giant full stop on all human life—death—is the exact the same thing God uses to install Jesus as the true, perfect, ruling human, the very human that Psalm 8 is talking about. And notice about Jesus’ death, that it wasn’t a death just for him. Take a look at how verse 9 finishes: “Jesus tastes death for everyone”. Jesus tastes death not just for some people, or for those who are good enough, but for every single one of us.

 

Hebrews 2 can be summarized as “be amazed at how special God remade you to be.” Not only are we made special in our mother’s womb, but now thanks to Jesus, we can be re-made by him. Whereas at birth you were made a little lower than the angels, now in your second birth you will be made higher than the angels, for you will be with Jesus around his throne forever. That happens the moment we take the hand of Jesus.

 

Now I’ve got these babushka dolls. They are a doll within a doll within a doll. These are actually measuring cups. I grabbed them out of my kitchen. But I reckon they help us understand what it means to be remade by Jesus. I know that this is not the perfect illustration, but I found it helpful. Maybe you will too. This smallest cup or babushka doll is you and I, made by God. And this is Jesus, a larger cup or babushka doll. Now your life, my life, and all human life are precious to God, because every human is made special by God. But what gives us even more significance is when we actually surrender and take the hand of Jesus, so as to side with him. Another part of the Bible, Colossians 3, describes this process as having our lives hidden with Christ, just as one of these babushka dolls fits in the larger one. When our lives are hidden in Christ, we’re letting God transform us from the inside out. We’re letting him call the shots so that what happens to him, happens to me. Where he is, I am. Where he’ll be, I’ll be. That’s what it means to be remeade: that what happens to him, happens to me. It’s a day by day, moment by moment journey.

 

There’s a clear decision to be made here. I want to invite you to be remade by Jesus. Do you realise that to say no to Jesus and his offer of being remade is to accept that $5.80 is as good it gets. That’s all you’re worth. But even if we were worth $580,000, that still wouldn’t compare to being remade by Jesus, the worth that he gives you, and the identity you receive in him.

 

Let’s wrap up. I’m so thankful for the three mums I have in my life. First is my own mum, whose a real do-er and can’t sit still, so that the way she loves me is by acts of service. Last Sunday when she visited, she ironed this shirt! It had only just came in off the clothesline the day before! Second is mum number 2, my mother-in-law. The thing that I’ve come to appreciate about my mother-in-law is that she’s a woman of prayer. Prayer is part of her DNA in a way I wish it was in mine. It is her constantly coming before her heavenly Father that has sustained her through some horrible times. She has had to bury her husband, her own son, and last year, a granddaughter. Third there’s my wife Teresa, mum of four, a stay-at-home mum, she shows again and again that there is glory in the ordinary, whether it’s comforting a kid who’s just had tough day at school, searching for the other kid’s missing tracky dacks, consoling a kid who doesn’t want to go to school, or cheering another one who’s running cross country. She models Jesus to our kids in so many ways! I said to one of my kids this week—who shall remain nameless because this was after they had just chucked a tantrum—“You know what? There’s only one person in the entire world you get to call “mum”. And not only that, but God knew that she’d be the perfect mum just for you.

 

And so as thankful as I am for each of these mums, I’m even more thankful for the God who gave them to me.

 

Mark Twain said that the two most important days of your life is the day you're born and the day you know why. You don’t have to wait until you turn forty or fifty or seventy to work out the answers to the big questions in life. You’ve got the answer today! What’d you learn at church today? Be in awe of the one who made you. Be in astonishment of the one who’s remade you.

 

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name!

 

Let’s pray!

 

Lord, our Lord,

How amazing it is that you have not only created each and every one of us, but that you’ve also given us purpose, meaning, dignity, worth, and value. We particularly want to thank you for the special role mums have in our world. But even more than this, we want to praise you for giving us Jesus, the true and perfect human, the one who died the death we deserve, and now offers us the chance to be remade by him from the inside out.

All glory and honour be to you.
Lord our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.
And all God’s people said Amen.

 

Imagine you’re the director of music for king David. David comes in one day and says, “I’ve written a good one”, and he gives you Psalm 139. What tune do you put it to? So you read through it, and in your mind you think that beautiful strings would be apt, with the triumphant, “you know me Lord” and “you made me Lord”. But then you get to verses 19 to 22: “If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!  They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name. Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.” (NIV) That sounds like it needs to be growled out over heavy metal electric guitars, doesn’t it? So what tune would we put the words to? And what should we do with final verses?

 

“You know me” (vv. 1-6)

 

Yet the psalm is clearly meant to be read as one psalm as a unified whole. Verses 1 and 23 both pick up the language of “search” and “know.” And that is the prayer of this psalm. That’s reason David says everything else. So verse 1, “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.” Again, verse 23, “Search me, God, and know my heart”. These statements raise another question: do you want to be searched? Do you want someone to know everything in your heart and to know all your thoughts?

 

I have been watching the drama series, “The Crown”. Season 1 was fantastic. John Lithgow’s portrayal of the aging Churchill was unbelievably good. And the episode where Graham Sutherland was commissioned to paint the great man was a stand out. That episode portrayed the great exchanges between the artist and the subject as Churchill sits for the portrait to be painted. And what became clear was that Churchill was petty and vain as well as being a genius. And finally when the painting is revealed in front of parliament, Churchill hates it. The artist has discerned a streak of cruelty in Churchill and captured it in the painting. And the result was that Clemmie Churchill burns the painting—this was true to history—because she sees that Winston cannot bear to have his nasty, petty, and cruel streak exposed.

 

Do you want someone to search every area of your thoughts and desires? Does that sound like a positive thing to you? But that is the prayer here, in verse 23, “Search me”. The whole psalm is heading to verses 23-24: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (NIV)

 

Perhaps that’s why some phrases are ambiguous. So in verse 5, David says to God: “You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.” You hem me in and lay your hand upon me. Is that a good or a bad thing? Do you want to be hemmed in? It depends really if the person doing the “hemming” is a mugger or a lover! Again, the phrase “search me” might be positive or negative. God is a searcher of the human heart, and because we are sinful, we instinctively all want to withdraw and hide from him for fear of being exposed.

 

As we begin looking at this Psalm, I’m thankful that this psalm is “of David”. I am thankful that before I say the Psalm, it is a song of the Lord Jesus, David’s great descendent. Jesus is the ultimate messianic king that David foreshadowed. When Jesus sings this Psalm, it is true of him, and Jesus gives us this song to sing. Psalm 139 gives us the LORD, who is either frightening or reassuring. If we are Christians, we can sing this song joyfully, inviting God to “search me, O Lord”. We recognize that our hearts are a mixture of nobility and depravity. But legally, all that is wrong with us is taken by Jesus and replaced by his perfection. So Lord, I can be exposed before you and I know that you love me still.

 

The first six verses are deeply personal. In every verse, David is accutely aware of himself before God. Notice the personal pronouns, “you” and “me” in each verse. And notice the “knowledge” words. David confesses that God knows him again and again. In verses 1, 2, and 4, David says that God’s “knows” him. In verse 3, God “discerns” him and is “familiar” with all his ways. This is not an abstract knowledge but a relational knowledge, the same sort of intimate knowledge that the Old Testament says that a man has of his wife, meaning sexual relations. God knows what we do (v. 2), what we think (v. 2), where we go (v. 3), what we say (v. 4), and what we need (v. 5).

 

Do you swaddle babies in Australia? The advice varies, of course, but in the UK, we’re told to swaddle a baby, that is, to wrap it up really tight in a blanket or cloth. Apparently it makes them feel safe and secure, like they were in the womb. A believer has no fear of being hemmed in by the LORD. Rather, it’s a source of enormous comfort to us.

 

As I went to take our son off to play cricket last week, my wife said to him, “Do you want to take a sandwich?” “No I’m fine”, came the surly reply. “Have you got a jumper? It might get cold when you are fielding.” “I’ll be fine”, he said in dismissive tones. My wife of course still gave them both to me, and off we went to the cricket match. And sure enough, while he was waiting to bat, he says, “I’m starving”. And I hand him the sandwich his mother gave me for him. And as the temperature dropped into afternoon as he was fielding, he became cold. “Do you want a jumper?”, I ask. “Yep.” His mother knows him. She hems him in.

 

And so verse 6 expresses that being hemmed in is “wonderful”: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” It is too extraordinary for me, thinks David. And of course it is indeed wonderful to be both known and loved, isn’t it? To be known only might be good, or it might lead people to be wary around you. There is a saying that “No man is a hero to his butler”—we all have them in England—meaning that the butler sees what you are really like. To be known but not loved is not really that good.

 

And to be loved is great, but not if there’s a wretched secret you want to keep, that the one who loves you doesn’t know, and puts the love of that person for you at risk. Suppose you are a drug dealer, or on the run from the FBI, and the one who loves you doesn’t know this. What a terrible thing to have to keep such secrets out of fear of losing that person’s love! But to be both known and loved as well, that is a special combination. It is for this reason that long marriages can be special—for then we are both known by our spouse, and loved at the same time despite our sin. Knowing that we’re both known and loved gives real confidence in life.

 

“You are with me” (vv. 7-12)

 

Verse 7 is another ambiguous verse: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?”

 

Why would you flee from God’s presence? You would presumably flee from God if you have something to hide, or if your conscience is guilty before him. Who flees from God’s presence in the Bible? Adam and Eve flee from God after they have sinned, and pathetically hide behind fig leaves. The prophet Jonah impotently tries to flee from God when he doesn’t wish to go to Nineveh to preach to them. These are almost comical attempts to hide from God, and David knows it’s not possible to run away or hide from God.

 

In verses 8-10, there is no distance that David can run to escape God: “If I go up to the heavens, you are there; If I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, If I settle on the far side of the sea, Even there your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.” (NIV)

 

And in verses 11-12, David knows that no darkness can cover him from God’s sight: “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me And the light become night around me,’ Even the darkness will not be dark to you; The night will shine like the day, For darkness is as light to you.” (NIV)

 

When does darkness descend upon the worst of shame? It is when God judges the guilty in Jesus upon the cross. As darkness descended upon Jesus as he hung on the cross, he bore the judgement of God on our sin and bore God’s wrath for us. How wonderful that Jesus said at that point to his Father, “Into your hands I commit my Spirit.”

 

When the Christian asks the question of verse 7, “Where can I go from your Spirit, where can I flee from your presence”, it is because the Christian doesn’t want to go from God’s presence. “Your Spirit” here is placed in parallel with “your presence”, literally, “your face”. This reminds us that God indeed is present with us to bless us by his Spirit. We are never alone. The Christian believer knows that no matter what we’ve done, no matter how guilty our consciences are before God, this does not mean we have to hide from God. Rather, we return to God with our guilt and say to him, “Father, I praise you for the Lord Jesus. I am ashamed at what I’ve done, but I know that Jesus has taken my shame, so that I can stand before you as an unembarrassed child.”

 

I was with a young family the other day, and the mum had just fed a young baby of five months. The mother burped her, lifted her up, and said, “Have you got a smile for mummy?” And as the young mum opened her mouth, at that very moment the baby had reflux and vomited straight into mum’s mouth. It was one of the most disgusting things that I’ve ever seen. But here’s what mum didn’t do. She didn’t say, “That’s it. You’ve crossed a line. I can feed you, change your nappy, and wash you, but that is unforgiveable!” No, she said nothing of the sort, for nothing can stop mum from loving baby. And there is nothing that can stop your heavenly Father from loving you, because the very worst sin that you have or will commit is paid for by Jesus. God your Father will always be with you. He will never let you go.

 

“You made me” (vv. 13-18)

 

David confesses that God has made him, verse 13: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” In verse13, the “inmost being” is the “inward parts”, literally the kidneys, and stands for the emotions and the emotional life. It is God’s work to create each of us in the wombs of our mothers. This of course is why Christians place such a high value on life in the womb.

 

David can’t help but have a little burst of praise about in verse 14, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” How the Lord shapes us in the womb determines so much about us: how clever or strong we might be, what weaknesses we may have, and what diseases we are susceptible to. All of this is God’s work! You did this Lord, you gave me all that I have.

 

In verses 15-16, David returns to contemplate God’s creation and plan for his life: “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (NIV) What does David do with this truth that God has ordained everything that will occur in David’s life? He doesn’t say, “So then everything I do is pointless”, because the Bible also insists that humans have responsibility for their choices. Neither does he say, “so then life will be easy and without any humps in the road now that God has planned out my life”, because in verse 19, David clearly is having a difficult time with enemies: “If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!”

 

Rather, the knowledge that all David’s days were written for him by God before one of them came to be causes David to praise God in verse 17: “How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them!” Your thoughts are splendid, O God! What a God you are!

 

That does make a massive difference! Think of the Marvel superhero films, one of the more recent ones being “Avengers: Infinity War”. In this blockbuster, half of the heroes die, including Spiderman, my favourite. It’s sad, sort of. Because you know there’s a sequel, and also a trailer out for a new Spiderman movie, so you know before you see it that “Avengers: End Game” will have a pretty happy ending.

 

The book of your life has a happy ending if you’re a Christian. The plot may have many twists and turns. There’ll be sad moments and tragic moments. But know that the last page has you standing before Jesus in glory. So verse 18, “when I awake, I am still with you.” Those words, “When I awake” are true every morning, and they will be true when you wake from the sleep of death.

 

In the week before Easter three people I knew at church died. The resurrection of Jesus meant more to me this year than a long time as a result. Easter Sunday was wonderful. One day you will close your eyes in death, and then you will wake up, and the living God will be there.

 

“You can test me” (vv. 19-24)

 

What is David’s chief cause of anger? It is not that he has been wronged. We’re quick to get angry when someone does something against us. But the reason David is angry is given in verses 19-20: "If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty! They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name." (NIV)

 

David is angered because his enemies speak against God and take God’s name in vain. And so, in verses 21-22, David expresses his hatred for them: “Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.” Hatred is fine if it’s hatred of evil. If you don’t rejoice in the overthrow of evil, there’s something wrong with you. If wickedness is replaced with goodness, that is a wonderful thing.

 

David says in verse 23, “Search me, God, and know my heart” (NIV). Search me and see if my thoughts are aligned with your thoughts. Try me out and see if I love what you love and hate what you hate. At points in his life, David was indeed a “man after God’s own heart”. But we know that if God searched David, he would find sin, because we see it in Scripture.

 

Do we really want everything about us searched by the all-seeing God? A friend of mine recently visited some Palestinian friends in Israel. At Tel Aviv airport, he was asked who he had visited. He did not receive a positive response when he told them who he visited, so he was searched. It was the “taken to a room and strip off everything” type of search. He felt unbelievably exposed.

 

Given that this is the sort of search God can do, it is only Jesus Christ who can pray “search me” in verses 23-24 and expect Father to reply, “Yes my precious Son! You love what I love. Your thoughts are my thoughts!”

 

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

 

For you and me, we can’t pray “search me” as a sinful man or woman, because God will of course find our many sins. But we can say, “Jesus, thank you that you sang this song perfectly and have given it to me to sing as I trust in you.” For the “way everlasting” is open for us, and God knowing us is wonderful news. He knows us and loves us and will hold us fast until glory.

Sport is a huge thing in Aussie culture. Not everyone is a sports fan, though. I’m married to Nonie, and she’s about as interested in sport as I am in making macramé wall hangings. I was still playing soccer every weekend when we got married, and I just couldn’t get her to come along to games. But then we had three sons who all played soccer when they were younger, and she didn’t miss a game! Standing on the sidelines, cheering away, she even put her hand up to manage their teams for a couple of seasons: unbelievable! So it turns out that anyone can be a sports fan!

 

In the NRL, I’m a Bulldogs fan. I sense we are going to have a pretty poor year. We could be in a battle to avoid the wooden spoon, if I’m honest. But most years, it’s good to be a Bulldogs fan. We usually make the finals, and we win a premiership every now and then. There’s lots of banter here between fans of different teams, and that’s a good thing. When the Dogs get up I feel vindicated and I let everyone know about it! But when the Dragons win, for example, it’s painful. No sense of vindication, just misery and a very happy Ray Galea.

 

In the English Premier League, I’m a Spurs fan. I’m a mad Spurs fan actually! We’ve been pretty average for about 40 years if I’m honest, but the past few years have been fantastic: brand new stadium, one of the best in the world, high quality team, one of the best coaches in world football, nowhere near as much money as Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, or Arsenal, but more heart than all of them! Glorious! When we win games, the sense of vindication is immense. It is such a euphoric feeling. I feel fantastic for days!

 

The problem is that I have good mates here and elsewhere who love those other teams, and when they beat Spurs, I never hear the end of it, because they are vindicated not me. Scott Lavender is a mad Liverpool fan. We share an office here at church, so I’m quite glad he’s moving to Castle Hill, and I don’t have to hear about how great Liverpool are anymore every day at work. Still, perhaps Arsenal won’t make the top four this season, and that my friends, is glorious vindication!

 

For most of the past 20 years, the Aussie men’s cricket team have been almost unbeatable. We won just about everything there is to win and all Aussie cricket fans felt vindicated. But now pretty much everyone beats us. So if you’re South African, Indian, English, and possibly even Canadian or Bangladeshi, you feel vindicated, because you can beat us without tampering with the ball. So perhaps we should all be fans of the Australian Women’s Cricket Team, because they almost never lose a game, and have never had any major scandals like ball tampering, and they are the most successful women’s cricket team in history! We’d all feel vindicated all the time if we followed them!

 

Sport is like that, isn’t it? If your team wins, you feel vindicated. If your team loses, someone else feels vindicated. But there’s always next week, or next season, or the next series. There’s always another chance for vindication. I reckon one of the great things about sport is the emotional roller coaster of glorious highs and heart-breaking lows. Most days it’s good to be a Spurs fan. Most days it’s good to be a Bulldogs fan. But when they lose that glorious vindication is gone.

 

Being a Christian is quite different, because every day is a good day to be a Christian. But it is especially good today, Easter Sunday. That’s the best day to be a Christian! Why? Vindication. Jesus won. Our sporting teams win some and lose some. Jesus is different. He won the most decisive victory of all time almost 2,000 years ago, and he remains undefeated!

 

The Jewish religious leaders wanted Jesus dead because he kept claiming to be God in the flesh. The Romans obliged by nailing Jesus to a cross, and he died. He was put in a tomb. A huge stone was rolled across the entrance of the tomb. All seemed lost.

 

But that was Friday. Sunday’s coming, and what a comeback! On that first Easter Sunday morning, when some of Jesus’ friends went to the tomb to prepare his body for a more decent burial, he just wasn’t there! Gone. Disappeared. An angel was sitting on the stone that had been over the entrance to the tomb, and he gets to say one of the best lines in the whole Bible. He asks Jesus’ friends: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” That is what vindication sounds like!

 

Pretty much every book in the New Testament talks about Jesus’ resurrection, but 1 Corinthians 15 is the most comprehensive. It’s Paul’s response to a group of people in a church in Corinth who had been saying that there’s no such thing as someone rising from the dead. Have a look at verses 1-8:

 

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [that’s Peter], and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (NIV)

 

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is one of ancient history’s most comprehensively documented and independently corroborated events. So many people saw Jesus after he rose again individuals: small groups of people, and on one occasion, Jesus was seen by a crowd of five hundred people. It’s impossible to fake that sort of thing. When Paul wrote this, most of that crowd of five hundred people were still alive, which means that his readers could have gone and asked the eyewitnesses themselves to check the story out. The resurrection isn’t just a matter of faith, it’s a matter of evidence.

 

And yet there have always been people who didn’t believe. They know the evidence is there, but they just reject it.

 

Go back to the day it happened. The Jews had asked the Romans to put a guard in front of Jesus’ tomb, because they thought Jesus’ disciples would come and steal his body, and then claim Jesus was alive again like He said He would be.

 

The Romans weren’t taking any chances. Jerusalem had a long history of rebellious attitudes toward Rome, plus it was the Passover festival. So Jerusalem was full of people from all over the place. It was pretty tense. So they weren’t about to send only a few soldiers to guard the tomb. A regular number for this sort of thing was four soldiers, but with all that was going on, they’d have sent heaps more. Most historians reckon about forty. Fair enough. The problem was that on that first Easter Sunday morning, the guards were all still there, but Jesus wasn’t.

 

So they came up with a plan. Near the end of Matthew 28, we read that the Jewish religious leaders gave the Roman soldiers a heap of money and told them to tell Pilate that the disciples had snuck in during the night, while all forty or so guards were asleep all at the same time mind you, crept through the sleeping soldiers without waking any of them up, silently rolled the huge stone away from the tomb, stole Jesus’ body, and silently carried him back through the sleeping soldiers. So these would be the same disciples who fled in fear when Jesus was arrested, and the same disciples who hid in an upper room and locked the doors on Easter Sunday for fear of the Jews. We’re meant to believe this fearful bunch of sissies suddenly had the courage of an SAS commando unit and took on forty armed guards and stole the most heavily guarded body of the most famous person to have ever been executed in Jerusalem. I don’t think so. It’s rubbish that takes more faith to believe than to believe Jesus rose from the dead! And yet some people still believe it today!

 

That isn’t what happened, of course. Jesus really did walk out of that tomb a couple of thousand years ago and is still very much alive today.

 

But you have to ask the question, “What if he didn’t? What if the resurrection never happened? Have a look at verses 12-18:

 

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. (NIV)

 

If there’s no resurrection, preaching is useless, Christian faith is useless, we tell lies about God, Christians are stuck with their sins, there’s no forgiveness, and the Christians who have died aren’t in heaven but they’re lost forever. The bottom line is in verse 19, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than anyone” (NIV).

 

That’s pretty bleak, isn’t it? Hypothetically, if there’s no resurrection, if Jesus is still dead, then Christians are deluded nutters.

 

The resurrection is the one event on which Christianity stands and falls. If there’s no resurrection there’s no Christianity. Paul knows it, so from here to the end of the chapter he cracks into the reality of the resurrection and what it means for all of us. You could spend weeks preaching through it, but we’re going to take ten minutes! Have a look at verses 20-22:

 

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (NIV)

 

Let’s pick up just two things out of that. First, Jesus’ resurrection is different to others who were raised in the New Testament. His resurrection body changes everything. Second, there are only two options for us: we are either dead in Adam, or alive in Christ.

 

About our first point—that Jesus’ resurrection body changes everything—in the New Testament, we read about four people who were raised from the dead. Three were raised by Jesus: Lazarus in John 11; the widow’s son in Luke 7; and a young girl in Mark 5. Then in Acts 20, a young man named Eutychus was raised by God, through Paul after he fell out of a window while Paul preached for about five hours—which is reasonable. We’d probably all fall out the window as well! Each of these people were most certainly dead: Lazarus, for example had been in a tomb for four days! But here’s the thing: they were raised in the same earthly body they died in, which means that they all had to go through death again later. Just imagine how disappointing that would have been for each of them.

 

So how is Jesus’ resurrection body different? Well, while those four people still had the same physical limitations after they were raised, Jesus did not. When Neo got shot and killed in ‘The Matrix’, then came back to life and could stop bullets just by raising his hand and could walk through walls and all that, the Cohen brothers weren’t working with an original thought. They just nicked it straight out of the Bible actually. They nicked most of ‘the Matrix’ out of the Bible!

 

After Jesus was raised everything was different! Locked doors were no obstacle for the risen Lord Jesus. He appeared in one place, disappeared then turned up somewhere else. Jesus was raised with a resurrection body and that changes everything. That is what Paul is talking about when he says “first fruits”. Jesus was the first one to be raised with a new resurrection body. It was still recognizably him, but he was different. He explains this a bit more down in verses 42-44:

 

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. (NIV)

 

When we are raised from the dead, we will still have our own body, we will all recognize and know each other in heaven, but we won’t have the same limitations as we do now. It will be a resurrection body. This body that is getting weaker with age will be changed, from perishable to imperishable, from dishonourable to glorious, from weak to powerful, from natural to spiritual, just like Jesus’ body was changed. He is the “first fruits”, the prototype, if you like, and we will be like him after this body dies. I will be raised with a resurrection body, a body that’s fit for heaven. But in the meantime, I’m stuck with this.

 

You know, nothing in this world works the way it was meant to in the beginning. After sin came into God’s good creation, everything went downhill. That means that in this life, some of us are going to suffer physically pretty badly. It might come early in life, or it might come later in life, but plenty of us are going to go through some pretty terrible physical suffering. If we live long enough, this body we have, even if it’s young and strong now, will deteriorate at some point. We’ll get old. Things will stop working the way they’re meant to. This body will let us down. And all of us will one day be at our own funeral.

 

But the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead on that first Easter Sunday tells us that our suffering and on our last day, our own death will not be the end of our story. For those of us who have faith in Jesus, this body will be raised and all the imperfections. All the things that went wrong, all the pain, the cancer, the dementia, the heart disease, the tumours, all the suffering, all of that will be long-forgotten and not even a distant memory, just dismissed and replaced with a glorious, vindicated, resurrection body, one that cannot get sick, cannot suffer, cannot deteriorate, and cannot die. That’s the first thing we learn from the resurrection.

 

The second point is that Paul says there are two options for us, in verse 22, that we are either in Adam or in Christ. So what does he mean by that?

 

Well, he says in verse 21 that since death entered the world through one man, Adam, so also resurrection from the dead enters the world through another man, Jesus. What he means is that when Adam sinned right back near the start, one of the consequences of his sin was that death entered God’s good creation. Now, it is vital that we understand that we were not created to die. God made us to live with him forever. Sin brought death, and death is an unwelcome guest. Think of any funeral you have been to, even a funeral where death seemed a relief, because the person had been in immense pain, or even a funeral for a solid Christian you knew was now home with the Lord. Do you think for even a second, that the people gathered are happy that death has come knocking on the door of someone they loved? Emphatically, no way! As much as we all know we will die, we grieve and mourn, because deep down we know that death is not natural. It is not what God intended.

 

But see, the resurrection of Jesus tells us that God has intervened and destroyed the power of death. Certainly, these physical bodies will die, but the resurrection says, “That is not the end!” This body is sown perishable. That means it’s put in the ground, like a seed dies in the ground, so that new life can come. That’s what will happen to every single one of us unless Jesus returns within the next hundred years. We will be put in the ground dead, but will rise again totally imperishable, and more alive than we have ever been!

 

And here’s where we have a choice. Paul says in verse 22, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (NIV). This might sound confusing, but it’s really quite simple: everyone who has ever been born is a descendant of Adam. If you trace anyone’s family tree back far enough, you will get to one man: Adam. A Christian is someone who has been born once in the normal way, but then at some point later down the track has been “born again”, not in some weird hippie re-birthing ceremony at Stone Henge, but a spiritual birth. Jesus talks about it in John 3. He says that no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. It just means beginning again, starting over, pressing the re-set button, a fresh start at life with Jesus at the centre. The thing is, we can’t do this by ourselves.

 

We’re like those kids in that cave in Thailand a year or so ago. They absolutely could not save themselves. A team of people from outside the cave had to figure out a way to get in there and rescue those boys, and they had to go to extraordinary lengths to do it, risking their lives in the process, and tragically, one of them died, but all the boys were rescued in the end.

 

We can solve a lot of problems and invent all sorts of things. We can land people on the moon supposedly, we can fly from one side of the world to the other in only a few hours, I can chat to my mate in Vietnam on my mobile phone, and press a button on it and we can see each other. He can do it while he’s riding his scooter in seven lanes of crazy traffic in Saigon for goodness sake! But we can't fix the problem of sin, we can't beat death, we can’t get home to God by ourselves. We need to be rescued, and the only way we can be rescued is if we are in Christ. In Adam, all die. In Jesus all are raised again. Jesus is our only hope of rescue.

 

Paul says this is the choice that faces all people because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. You can choose to remain in Adam in your natural state, separated from God, or you can press the re-set button, and start again with Jesus, and get home to God where you belong.

Jesus’ resurrection changes everything the way you live and the way you die. Someone once asked John Wesley why his church was growing so rapidly in the mid 1700s. He replied, “Look at the way our people die.” The Christians in Wesley’s church simply didn’t fear death. They knew that to live is Christ, but to die is gain. The way they faced their own death showed their friends they knew there was something indescribably wonderful waiting for them after they went through death. That made their friends look more closely at Jesus, and many thousands turned to Jesus and became Christians.

 

The resurrection of Jesus tells us why Christians who are persecuted for their faith steadfastly refuse to deny Christ. A few years back, twelve Christian pastors in Sudan were kidnapped by Muslim soldiers, and put in a cell. They were told that they would only be given food or water if they converted to Islam. One by one, as the days and weeks went by, they all died. Not one of them denied Christ. Why? They knew Jesus conquered death and so would they. There was something better waiting for them, so they didn’t lose hope.

 

This is the power of the resurrection. It changes everything. Nothing can undo the resurrection of Jesus, and that means that nothing we go through can undo our own resurrection. Just as Jesus rose, so too will we, the ultimate vindication. The choice is ours. As in Adam all die, but in Christ all will be made alive.

 

Let’s pray.

There aren’t many situations in life where we’re completely in the dark. Even in the middle of the night we’re not completely in the dark: there’s a street light on outside; or a bit of light pollution from the city; or maybe you leave a bathroom light on so you can see where you’re going if you get up in the night. Complete darkness is elusive. Where can you go to get away from light?

 

A few years back a mate and I took our kids driving through the Simpson Desert. In the middle of the night there is absolutely no man-made light. On the horizon in every direction there’s no sign of civilization. But if there’s no cloud cover, the moon and the stars are so bright it’s hard to get to sleep! So even in the middle of the desert there’s still light.

 

I can only think of two places I’ve been where there’s no light. Once was when I was chasing a young bloke up those big drain pipes in Lethbridge Park just off Luxford Rd. I was running flat out, bent over heaps. I wasn’t far behind him at the start, but he was doing his best impersonation of Usain Bolt, and after about 50 metres I’d lost him. Everything was completely black and I couldn’t see a thing. There’s only so far you want to run flat out in the dark. At some point you realize it’s pretty stupid, so I turned around and walked back along the pipe. It was OK though, because I knew where he lived, so I went and woke him up the next morning at 10 past 7 and arrested him!

 

Then there are caves. I’ve been caving a bunch of times, abseiling through a hole in the ground, and crawling along through rock squeezes, and all that sort of thing. It’s probably quite dangerous—as we saw in Thailand last year when all those kids got stuck in that cave—but it’s also really cool.

 

But the best thing about caving is stopping to have a rest where there’s a bit of space and everyone turning their head torches off. It’s incredible. There is absolutely no light once you get past about 10 metres into a cave. If we turn off the lights here, it would be dark, but we could still see each other a bit. When you’re in a cave 100 metres underground, you literally cannot see your hand if you hold it against your nose. It’s completely disorientating—but at the same time, it’s amazing. Then one by one, you turn your head torches back on, and little by little light creeps in, and the darkness creeps back.

 

If you go up to Jenolan Caves you can experience this quite safely in some of the big caves, and I reckon it’s worth doing because for nearly all of us. There’s always some light we can see by, even in the middle of the night.

 

All the way through his Gospel, John uses light and darkness to help us understand what Jesus is doing through his ministry. In chapter 1, John talks about Jesus as the light that came into the dark world: the light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. In chapter 3, Nicodemus comes to visit Jesus at night. John’s not just telling us what time it was: he’s telling us that Nicodemus was spiritually in the dark. In chapter 9, Jesus says that he’s the light of the world, and then he gives sight to a man who was born blind, turning his darkness into light. Light and dark are big themes in John’s Gospel.

 

We’re in the back half of John chapter 7. I reckon a good way for us to think about this passage is to think of it as a dimmer switch that most of us have on our lights at home. You turn it one way and the light reduces, and you turn it the other way and light increases. In the back half of John 7, we meet four sets of people—the crowds, the temple guards, the religious leaders, and Nicodemus— and we see the responses they make to what Jesus says and does.

 

Like everything John does through his Gospel, he’s providing us with enough information to make the right response to Jesus. John wants us to look at the evidence and come to the conclusion that Jesus really is the Son of God, to believe in him, and to have life in his name. So let’s have a look at these four groups of people and the responses they make to Jesus. We’ll figure out where the dimmer switch is for them. I don’t know where all of you guys stand with Jesus, but I reckon we’ll see a reflection of ourselves here, so we’ll also see where the dimmer switch is for us.

 

John 7 takes place at the feast of tabernacles. This festival was about being refreshed by God, physically and spiritually. It was autumn, so there hadn’t been much rain. As the seasons changed, the land needed new rain to water the crops, plus it was a reminder to the people of Israel of their time in the desert after they escaped from slavery in Egypt. They needed God to provide water from the rock, and they needed spiritual refreshment as well. In the desert they lived in tents—another word for ‘tent’ is ‘tabernacle’—so it’s the feast of tabernacles.

 

The priests would lead a procession from the temple in Jerusalem to the pool of Siloam. They’d fill a big water jar and carry it back to the temple, and then pour the water over the altar. They’d do this once a day for six days, then on the last and greatest day of the festival, they’d do it seven times. All the while, the people would be singing psalms and rejoicing. Jerusalem is full of Israelites who’ve come from all over the place to worship God. And in the middle of all that’s going on, Jesus says, verses 37-38:

 

Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. (NIV)

 

He’s claiming to be the one through whom God would spiritually refresh his people! John confirms this in verse 38, by telling us that Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit. In just a couple of years, Jesus would be crucified. He’d die then three days later be raised to new life, and then and only then would he give the Holy Spirit to all who believed in him for the forgiveness of their sin. It’s a massive claim from Jesus, so let’s look at how these groups of people respond.

 

The crowd are first. Where’s their dimmer switch? Verse 40: "On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” Dimmer switch turned to the right just a fraction. Yes, they are right. Jesus is a prophet. But he’s much more than that. It’s a bit like saying that Tiger Woods is a golfer. It’s true, but he’s more than just a golfer. I’m a golfer, but I’m not Tiger Woods! It’s like saying that we’re mammals. That’s true as well, but it’s nowhere near the full story. So, dimmer switch is on, but there’s not much light happening.

 

We all know people like this. I have plenty of friends who think Jesus was a great moral teacher. I met a Seikh fella at the gym last week. We started talking and after a bit, I asked him what he thought of Jesus. He said Jesus was a great prophet, like Mohammad and the Buddha. See, Sikhs believe there’s only one God and that all religions lead us to God, that they’re all the same and they’re all valid. That’s not too different to the way some of the crowd respond to Jesus: he is a prophet but nothing more.

 

Others go a bit further, in verse 41: “Others said, “He is the Messiah.” The dimmer switch is turned to the right a bit more here. Jesus is the Messiah. He’s the saviour that the Old Testament had been talking about for roughly 1,500 years! Thing is that for many people in the crowd, their definition of the Messiah is different to God’s. And that’s a big problem.

 

We all know people who think something like this as well. There are plenty of folks in Australia who would say that Jesus was the Son of God. They’d tick the box marked ‘Christian’ in the census every five years. They’d come to church at Easter and Christmas. But their definition of ‘Messiah’ and God’s definition of ‘Messiah’ are different, and Jesus doesn’t really make much of an impact on their lives. So, yes, the dimmer switch is turned to the right a bit more, but it’s still pretty dark.

 

There are others in the crowd who are far from convinced, verses 41-44:

 

Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him. (NIV)

 

Their dimmer switch is turned to the left a fair bit. You know how people say that a little bit of knowledge is dangerous? Do you remember when you started driving—and I reckon this is particularly true for the men among us—but when you get your ‘Ps’, you are convinced that you have the same ability to drive as Craig Lowndes (or for us it was Peter Brock back then, the ‘king of the mountain’). Maybe it was just the blokes I grew up with in the mountains, but when we got our licences, we all through we were completely indestructible. So we drove like lunatics. We only had a small amount of knowledge as far as car control went, but we thought we were amazing. The first day I drove by myself, I crashed into a mate’s car while I was trying to park my car! What a muppet! A small amount of knowledge tricks you into thinking you’re better than you are.

 

Most of the crowd is like this. They know from their Scriptures—what we call the Old Testament—that the Messiah is going to be related to king David. This is why those genealogies in Matthew and Luke are so important. At first glance they’re just a long list of unpronounceable names, but they’re vital! Jewish people have OCD when it comes to family records—they did back then and they still do now. Jesus’ family tree proves that Jesus is related to King David, but the crowd don’t know that. They just think he’s Mary’s son, his dad was Joseph, and there was something a bit dodgy about his birth.

 

They also know that the Messiah is going to be born in Bethlehem, but they all think Jesus is from Nazareth. That’s what he was known as, wasn’t he? He was Jesus of where? Nazareth. Only he wasn’t. He was born in some sort of stable outside a pub in Bethlehem, where the Messiah was meant to be born. Only the crowds don’t know that. Can you see how a little bit of knowledge is dangerous?

 

These folks are all around us today. We all know people like this. I spoke at a flash girl’s school a couple of years ago, and one of the teachers asked me to stay for a while and lead her year 10 scripture class. I love doing that sort of thing so we had heaps of fun. It was an Anglican school, and most of the girls in the class thought they were Christians. So I started talking about God’s intention for human sexuality. Game on! I could say stuff the teacher just couldn’t, and it was brilliant!

 

The most outspoken girl was Claire. She was really confident and articulate. So I asked her if she was a Christian. She said, ‘Yes.’ I asked her what she thought of the Bible’s take on human sexuality. She said it was rubbish, out-dated, and offensive. I said, “Cool. Now, the thing is, Claire, if you’re a Christian, at some point you need to agree with God, because although you’re obviously intelligent, neither you or I are wiser than God. So I reckon what you’ve done is this: there’s heaps of stuff about Jesus that you really love, but there are things in the Bible that you hate. So you’ve taken the stuff you love and mixed it with your own thoughts on other issues, and you’ve created a whole new religion—let’s call it ‘Clair-ianity’—and you’re the archbishop of your new religion.”

 

It wasn’t an offensive convo. Neither of us was angry and she started smiling. “Yeah”, she said. “That’s right. I’m the first female archbishop!” Everyone fell about laughing. It was excellent. The first step in becoming a Christian is often realizing you aren’t one. A little bit of knowledge can often be really dangerous—it was for Claire in that school a couple of years ago and it was for some of the folks in the crowd in John 7 a couple of thousand years ago.

 

What about the Temple Guards. Have a look at verses 45-46:

 

Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?” “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied. (NIV)

 

There’s a bit more light here, isn’t there? The dimmer switch turns up a bit more. I’ve said this often, but Christianity is a simple thing made difficult by religious people. You probably all know the KISS theory: Keep It SIMPLE, STUPID! The temple guards know the KISS Theory. They don’t understand Jesus fully just yet, but they know he’s worth listening to. These guys are like cops—and we have a few here—and you guys know I was one. After a while, cops get quite good at making fast and usually accurate assessments of people. And you have to, because if you get it wrong you usually get a smack in the head or much worse. Like our police officers and prison wardens, these temple guards have seen their fair share of trouble makers and blokes who should be locked up. They know for sure that Jesus is neither of those. Listen to what they said: “No one ever spoke the way this man does.”

 

Up until this time in history, no one had ever claimed to be the one through whom God would pour out spiritual refreshment on his people. It’s a ridiculous thing to say, unless it’s true. These temple guards have met plenty of liars and lunatics, but they’d never met the Lord before. They know Jesus isn’t a liar. They’re positive he’s not a lunatic. Now, they don’t come out and say it, but you get the feeling that these guys sense that Jesus might just be the Lord.

 

Maybe this is you. You’ve never heard anyone say the stuff Jesus says. You’ve never heard of anyone doing the things Jesus did. So you’ve come to church to find out what’s going on, because you know there’s much more to this Jesus than meets the eye. You’re in the right place. If you haven’t come to ‘Explaining Christianity’ yet, we’re starting another one just after Easter in a month or so, so come along!

 

And what about the Pharisees. Oh, man, you can always leave it to the religious people to stuff things up, and get it all the wrong way ‘round! With breath-taking arrogance they dismiss the cops by saying, verse 47: “You mean he has deceived you also?” The Pharisees retorted in verses 48 and 49: “Have any of the rulers or any of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”

 

The dimmer switch just went down again. They are so arrogant. We don’t believe in Jesus, therefore neither should anyone else. In fact, you lot must be as dumb as a box of hammers. You know nothing about the law, and we know it inside out. Therefore, you lot are cursed by God! Have a look at how they finish up in verse 52:

 

They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.” (NIV)

 

Again with the Galilee thing! You know, for a bunch of blokes who claim to know the law so well, they seem to have forgotten that both Jonah and Nahum came from Galilee, and last I checked, both those blokes were prophets!

 

Now, don’t miss this: in the New Testament, the harshest things Jesus says are always directed at the religious leaders, and this is exactly why. See, these religious leaders claim to speak for God, but nothing could be further from the truth. Not only do they prevent people from trusting Jesus; they persecute people who follow Jesus; and with their oppressive rules, they make it incredibly hard for anyone else to even hear about Jesus.

 

And don’t for a second think that people like this were only around in the first century. No way! Church hierarchies are chock-a-block full of their descendants. It doesn’t matter what denomination you care to think about: they all have one thing in common, they all claim to be God’s mouthpiece. And at one time or another, they’ve all got it desperately wrong. They’ve all led their people into awful sin, and they’ve all hidden Jesus behind so many layers of religion that make it so hard to see the real Jesus.

 

I reckon this is why all of us need to really watch our hearts and ask ourselves tough questions often. “Am I becoming religious? Do I think Christianity is about rules I need to keep?” Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s the relationship we have with God by the power of the Holy Spirit because of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. The biggest errors and the most horrible of sins Christians have gotten themselves into over the past 2,000 years have nearly always happened when we’ve turned the whole thing into a religion.

 

Before we get miserable and think there’s no hope, one man speaks up. It’s Nicodemus. Have a look at verses 50-51:

 

Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?” (NIV)

 

I can’t wait to meet this bloke. If we had Nicodemus here and we interviewed him at church, his testimony would be that saying ‘Yes’ to Jesus took a few years. Come back to John 3 for a minute. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, he doesn’t want any of his religious mates to know he’s talking to Jesus, and he’s in the dark spiritually speaking. But he has that fantastic convo with Jesus about having to be born again if you want to see God’s Kingdom. And that convo made a massive impact on him. Here in chapter 7, you can see that Jesus has turned up Nico’s dimmer switch just a bit. While all his religious mates are so quick to condemn Jesus, Nicodemus reminds them that God tells his people that before anyone is condemned, they must have a fair hearing.

 

Nicodemus knows there’s something massive about Jesus. He’s not sure what it is just yet, but he knows enough to be certain that he wants to give Jesus a chance to speak. He wants to hear more of Jesus!

 

By the time we get to the end of John’s Gospel, the dimmer switch has been fully lit up for Nicodemus. He’s one of two men who get Jesus’ body and cover Him with spices to prepare Him for a proper burial. It was a public declaration from Nicodemus that he sides with Jesus. Remember this guy was one of, if not the leading, Pharisee of his day, so that first Good Friday when Nicodemus went with his mate Joseph to take Jesus’ body down, that was the end of his life as a respected Pharisee. But it was also the beginning of his walk with Jesus, which is better by so far it’s almost indescribable. Any of us who are Christians will meet Nicodemus in heaven, and that’ll be cool!

 

What response have you made to Jesus? Where’s your dimmer switch? Is Jesus just a prophet to you? Your dimmer switch is turned just a tiny bit to the right. Do you realize, like the temple guards, that no one has ever spoken like Jesus? Your dimmer switch is turned to the right a bit more, but it’s still pretty dark. Do you reject Jesus like the religious leaders? The dimmer switch is turned all the way to the left, the light switch is turned off and the bulb has been taken out!

 

Or are you someone who takes Jesus at his word? Do you realize that like me you’re a sinner who needs a saviour? Do you know that Jesus’ death and resurrection takes away our sin and brings us back to God, that it’s only through Jesus that all our spiritual needs can be met?

 

Where is your dimmer switch? Jesus said in verses 37-38: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (NIV)

 

Let’s pray.

They say that questions are powerful. Questions can establish friendship: “How are you? What’s your name?” Questions can build trust: “Have you done this before?” Questions can unlock important information: “Do you know the way?” Some people ask questions for a living, like lawyers, doctors, and journalists. And sometimes their questions can be uncomfortable. The current affairs programs like to say that they ask the tough questions, and the ABC has a program where the audience get to ask the questions.

 

Now you’ve been spending the last couple of weeks looking at one of the famous episodes in the life of Jesus from John chapter 6, and today we come to the last act. It began with a question in verse 5: Jesus asked Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for all these people to eat?” As usual, Jesus is in charge of the whole thing. John says with all the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, that Jesus only asked this to test him, for he already knew what he was going to do.

 

Jesus knows what he’s going to do, and he knows why he’s doing it. So he feeds more than 5000 people in the desert from just a few loaves of bread and two fish. Where we pick up the story, it’s the next day, and Jesus has been teaching the meaning of what he has done: don’t work for bread that goes moldy; instead, search for the food that lasts to eternal life. I haven’t come to feed your tummy; I’ve come to feed your soul. I’m not the bread guy; I’m the bread.

 

And at the end of the chapter we get to the question that the Bible wants to ask us. The Bible is a dangerous book to read, because we think we are reading it, but it is reading us. And this long chapter ends with the question that Jesus asks the twelve disciples. He’s fed thousands of people from a few bits of bread and fish, he’s walked on the water, he has been teaching the crowds by the sea, and the scholars in the synagogue. And now he says to his closest friends, his inner circle of followers in verse 67: “Jesus asked the Twelve, ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’”

 

We listen in on this conversation and we hear this question. But God has kept this part of the Bible for us for two thousand years so that on the 28th anniversary of MBM, you and I would be here and we would hear Jesus ask this question in our presence today: “You do not want to leave too, do you?” You’ve read the story, you’ve heard the teaching, what are you going to do with Jesus?

 

And as this long chapter comes to an end, there’s division. In verse 60, many of the disciples said, “Who can accept this teaching?” In verse 61, the disciples were grumbling about this. In verse 64, Jesus says to his disciples, “There are some of you who do not believe.” In verse 66, John tells us, “From this time many of his disciples tuned back and no longer followed him.” There’s division!

 

I have not always followed Jesus. I did not grow up with Christian parents. My parents were Sri Lankan and my mother brought up me and my two sisters as Buddhists. But I read John’s Gospel for the first time in my life in 1986. I was 21 years old, and God was so kind to me. God opened my eyes to see that Jesus was a person who divided people. Some people agreed with him, some people disagreed with him. Some people were amazed at what he said, some people were angry about what he said. Some people believed, and some people went away. When I read John’s gospel, I noticed that people were divided about Jesus. It was very kind of God to let me see that. Sometimes you can read the Bible and not see what is right in front of you—but God let me see it. When I saw that Jesus divides people, it made me ask, “Am I for Jesus or against him?” I was a Buddhist, so I knew I was against Jesus. But I didn’t know why. And when I saw that Jesus divided people, I began to ask myself this question: “Why am I against Jesus?”

 

And that’s the question that Jesus asks his twelve disciples, and all of us, at the end of this chapter. “Are you for me or against me? Are you going on with me or are you going away without me?” Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”

 

John tells us why it would be foolish, and tragic, to leave Jesus. Maybe you have been following Jesus for many years. Maybe you are still deciding whether to follow Jesus or not. Today is a great to be in church, because in John 6, we find out why it so good to be with Jesus, and how we do that.

 

First, why stick with Jesus? The answer is, who he is and what he’s done. He’s the bread of life, who gives life and is real food, verse 49:

 

Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. (NIV)

 

Jesus compares the ancient times of the ancestors in the past, and his own day. In the past, Moses led his people through the wilderness, and God fed the people with bread from heaven, called ‘manna’, every morning and every evening for forty years. But Jesus says, “Guess what? Everyone who ate the manna that came down from heaven died.” They all died.

 

Now it’s the day after Jesus fed five thousand men, and perhaps another ten thousand women and children, from just five loaves of bread and two fish. And in a display of overcatering that would have made my mother proud, there were twelve baskets of leftovers—plenty to give everyone a take away container to take home.

 

But the point of the miracle is not that Jesus is a new Moses who can give them bread. The point of the miracle is that Jesus is new bread: bread that gives eternal life. Jesus says, in verse 51:

 

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world. (NIV)

 

Now what does Jesus mean when he says that he will give his flesh for the life of the world? He is speaking about his death. He will give his flesh ‘for’ the life of the world. Such a little word, you hardly notice it, but such a wonderful word! Jesus gives his life on the cross for the world, on behalf of the world, for anyone.

 

At the very beginning of chapter 6, we’re told that everything that happens—the feeding of the thousands of people, and all the teaching that Jesus gives the next day—is happening during the feast of the passover. At the feast of the passover, lambs were sacrificed to remind the people that in ancient times, God rescued them from his judgement by giving them a sign that would save them: the blood of a lamb on their doorposts and window frames. So when God sent his judgement, death ‘passed over’ the houses that were painted with the blood of a lamb. The lamb was sacrificed instead of the firstborn in every household. The lamb took the place of the firstborn. The feast of passover reminded them each year, that they were rescued from God’s judgement by the sacrifice of a lamb.

 

Now at the passover, Jesus says, that he will give his flesh for the life of the world. His death on the cross will be a new passover. God’s judgement on the sin of the world, fell on Jesus when he died on the cross. Jesus is our passover lamb, just as John the Baptist said when he saw his cousin: behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. When Jesus gives his life for the world, when he dies for us, for anyone and whoever eats, when he dies in our place and on our behalf, he dies so that we may live. Notice what Jesus says about the life that he brings. In verse 53, without Jesus, we don’t have life at all:

 

Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you. (NIV)

 

Now Jesus has just fed thousands of people. They were all living people, and the next day they are alive enough and hungry enough to come after him for more bread. So he doesn’t mean that they are literally dead, but he does mean that they are spiritually dead. Without Jesus, there is no life with God.

 

It’s the passover, Jesus is speaking in the synagogue, he is talking to his own people, but he’s saying to them, “Without me, you have no spiritual life, you have no connection with God, you are spiritually dead.” Having made his point negatively, Jesus then states the same thing positively in the next verse, verse 54:

 

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise them up at the last day. (NIV)

 

Whoever eats and drinks has eternal life. Whoever does not, has no life. Jesus leaves no room for many pathways, no room for the old religion of his own people, no room either for any other spirituality, because only Jesus dies for the life of the world. The world has many teachers but it has only one saviour. The world has many wise men but it has only one lamb of God who sacrificed his flesh for the life of the world. The world has many prophets but only one risen Lord who can raise others at the last day because he is victor over death.

 

Some people like to say, “I’m spiritual but not religious”, but Jesus says, “No, you’re not. You’re not spiritual. Without me, you’re spiritually dead, there’s no life in you!” The life that Jesus gives is rescue from the judgement we deserve, forgiveness from God, life that goes on into eternity, and most of all it is life with the Father and the Son, verse 55:

 

For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. (NIV)

 

Jesus says that his flesh is real food and his blood is real drink. And then he explains what that means: I in them, them in me; as I am with the Father, so they are with me.

 

Can you see how Jesus is talking about relationship with God? It is a relationship based on the forgiveness that reconciles us to God, relationship that will not be interrupted by death but will continue into eternity, relationship that is personal and close and privileged. It involves the same closeness that there is between the Father and the Son, between Jesus and his followers. It’s so good, it’s so amazing, it’s so wonderful, knowing God the Father, knowing God the Son, in the freedom and fullness of forgiveness and reconciliation, in this life and the next. It is real food and real drink.

 

Jesus mentions the Father here, but later in the Gospel of John, when he speaks of living in his followers, he will speak of the Spirit. Jesus lives in us by his Spirit. The Spirit of Jesus lives in those who belong to Jesus. No wonder Jesus uses the language of eating and drinking, because his Spirit lives in us. The Spirit enables us to pray to our Father, to receive and understand and obey his word, the Spirit assures us of the Father’s Iove. The Spirit of Jesus lives in us. And we are in Christ so that we know the Father’s love the way the Son knows the Father’s love. The indwelling Spirit unites us to Christ. This is real food and real drink.

 

It’s like Jesus knows how quickly we turn to fake food, to satisfy our deepest needs. Scott Bedbury is the advertising guru behind brands like ‘Nike’ and ‘Starbucks’. He says that advertisers try to tap into our deep psychological needs, like our desire to belong, the need to feel connected, to experience joy and fulfillment. Bedbury says that successful companies tap into our search for meaning. So ‘Apple’ don’t flog computers, they’re offering cool. And ‘Nike’ don’t sell joggers, they promise health and youth and long life.

 

And we fall into the advertisers trap of seeking to satisfy the deep hunger and thirst of our souls with food that cannot satisfy. This is why there are probably more people shopping right now, than in churches around Sydney. So we devote ever increasing amounts of time and energy and money into satisfying our appetites: food, drink, music, sex, relationships, travel, sport, experiences, sensations. And we never stop because we’re never satisfied. We’re always hungry for more fake food. But Jesus says he is that food that is real, which gives forgiveness, peace with God, and life with God now and forever.

 

We’ve thought about why we should stick with Jesus—because he gives life to the world and is real food (forgiveness and fellowship), so second, let’s think about how to stick with Jesus.

 

All the way through John chapter 6, Jesus is speaking symbolically. He uses the image of bread to speak of the life that he gives. He uses the image of flesh and blood to speak of the death that he dies. He gives life, he is essential for life, he satisfies our deep hunger, and he does it all by his death on the cross.

 

Then, throughout the chapter, Jesus teaches his listeners how to respond to him. So the chapter uses several different words to say the same thing: believe, come, listen, learn, eat, drink. Each word tells us something about what is involved in coming to trust and follow Jesus. ‘Believe’ tells us that we need to know Jesus, who he is and what he does. He is the living bread who comes down from heaven and gives his life for the life of the world. But we need not only to believe, but to act on what we know. We must ‘come’. We must hear Jesus’ invitation and respond to it. We are commanded to come. But Jesus says in verse 65 that no one can come to me unless the Father draws them. He says the same in verse 44.

 

John 6:44 was a key verse in my coming to trust in Jesus as my saviour. A friend had given me John’s Gospel to read. About the third time I was reading my way through John’s Gospel. I got to 6:44 where Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me and I will raise them up on the last day.”

 

I got to that verse and it challenged me. It puzzled me. It even irritated me. As a Buddhist I didn’t believe in a last day. I believed that there was no last day, there was just day after day after day into eternity, the definition of suffering that went on and on until you escaped to the non-existence of nirvana. It took the Buddha five hundred lives to achieve that.

 

But even more than that, I looked at the words and wondered what it meant when Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me.” I thought to myself, “How does God draw people to Jesus?” And then I thought, “Perhaps he is doing it now, as I read the Gospel. And that is just what Jesus says, in verse 45:

 

It is written in the prophets: “They will all be taught by God. Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me.” (NIV)

 

The Father draws his people to come to Jesus by his word. so we must listen and learn from the Father. And Jesus says in today’s passage, the Father draws his people by his word and Spirit, verse 63:

 

The words I have spoken to you are full of the Spirit and life (NIV)

 

The words of Jesus the Son of God are full of the Spirit of God and full of the offer of life. I am the bread of life, so eat. I am the water of eternal life, so drink. I am the gate, so enter. I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me. God draws people to Jesus by the words of Jesus in the Gospel, which are breathed out by his Spirit.

 

Who does the Father draw by the words of Jesus? Jesus says, “Anyone may eat of the bread that comes down from heaven” (v. 50), and Jesus says, “Whoever eats this bread will live forever” (v. 51). The invitation is open to all. How wonderful to be here with you at MBM in your 28th year and to look out across this room and see people from every tribe and language and nation. Of course! Because ‘anyone’ may eat and ‘whoever’ eats of this bread will live forever. The Father is drawing people from every tribe and language and race to know him and to follow his Son. He drew this Buddhist by the gospel and he draws Jews and Hindus and Atheists and Communists and Muslims and Secularists and Catholics and Orthodox and Anglicans by the words of Jesus in the gospel of Jesus breathed out by the Spirit of Jesus. Believe, come, look, listen, and eat. Seven times in nine verses, Jesus says those who believe in him must eat his flesh and drink his blood.

 

Now the disciples are confused. They say that it is a hard saying. Of course, if they were thinking that Jesus meant they had to actually eat his body and drink his blood, then that was a hard saying! It was forbidden for Jews to eat meat that had the blood in it. The idea of eating human flesh was impossible. The disciples would not have thought that Jesus was talking about the Lord’s Supper or communion, and we shouldn’t think of that either, for at least two reasons.

 

Here are two reasons why Jesus isn’t talking about the Lord’s Supper. First because he says in verse 61, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before?” Jesus is going to ascend to heaven via the cross. His body is going to heaven. If Jesus’ body is in heaven at the right hand of the Father then it is not on the communion table. Jesus is in heaven so his flesh and blood is not in the Lord’s Supper.

 

And the second reason Jesus cannot mean that eating his flesh and blood means taking communion is in verse 63: “The Spirit gives life, the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you, they are full of the Spirit and life.”

 

In other words, it’s not Jesus’ flesh that they need to eat, it’s his words, especially his words about his death on the cross. His Spirit-breathed words give life. we need to hear the gospel word and take it in. Faith comes by hearing, the apostle Paul says in another place. We feed on Jesus by hearing his gospel and believing it, listening, learning, and coming to the Father. And when we have the Lord’s Supper, that is what we do: we feed on Jesus in our hearts with thanksgiving as we hear his words, “this is my body given for you, this is my blood shed for the forgiveness of sins.”

 

We’ve thought about why we should stick with Jesus. He is the bread of life who gives his life for the life of the world: forgiveness, life with God, life eternal, no accusation, no isolation, no condemnation, rescued from judgement, relationship with God, rejoicing forever. Here’s how we stick with Jesus: believe, come, listen, learn, eat. Hear the Spirit-filled, life-giving gospel words of Jesus about himself, about his death and resurrection, his offer of forgiveness, his victory over death, his coming kingdom, his perfect reign—hear and take it in. Welcome the words of Jesus, let them be your food and drink, your health and hope, your light and life, your goal and glory, your journey and your joy.

 

John says, “Many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” Did they want food for their bellies more than their souls? Did they fear men more than God? Were they anxious about tomorrow, distracted by worry, or seduced by gold? Were they bored that there were no more miracles? Was it too simple to ‘believe’ or too hard to take up their cross? Was it too narrow for Jesus to be the only path to life or too broad that anyone should come? Were they just looking for an excuse or did they think they would come back to it later?

 

Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”, in verses 68-69: "Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God." (NIV)

 

It is Jesus who does the work that God requires. He is bread, that we may feed on him. He gives his life for the world, that we may have life in his name. He gives his flesh that death may be put to death. He comes from heaven that we might know God. He has the Father’s seal of approval that God’s favour may rest on us. He is the Son who is sent, that we may be adopted as children. He does the will of his Father that none of those who the Father gives will be lost.

 

To whom shall we go? There is only one who has the words of eternal life.There is no one like him. There is only one, Jesus.

 

Before I became a pastor, I was a police officer here in Mount Druitt for about 5 years. Most of the time, I loved it! Sometimes it was pretty awful of course, but most of the time, it was awesome! One of the best things about being a cop was that every day was different. I never knew what would happen or what sort of situations I would find myself in. Work was nearly always exciting and often dangerous. It was like playing cops and robbers with a uniform, a fast car, and a handgun, and I got paid for it. What’s not to love?

 

I was on night shift one night. It was winter so it was pretty cold. It was around 2:30am. Everything was pretty quiet, so we were all playing cards in the station. There was a pizza shop just across the road from Uncle Bucks. Back then, there were only a handful of shops and they’d just opened. We used to get pizzas from these two blokes every now and then, and they weren’t bad. Anyway, at about 2:30am there was this almighty explosion. It shook the windows of the police station. We all bolted outside and saw this huge fireball going up in the sky. My mate and I ran out the back to grab a car and got over there in half a minute. What a scene! Three of the five shops were flattened and on fire. As we got closer, we saw the two blokes who owned the shop. They were lying on the ground in the car park. They were both alive, but their clothes were all burnt, their hair was gone, and they were in shock.

 

It turns out that the shop wasn’t going all that well, so they decided to set the place on fire and claim the insurance. We had a chat to these blokes when they were able to talk. They had overestimated the amount of fuel they’d need for the task. The shop was about five meters wide and about 20 meters deep, but they had poured five 20 liter jerry cans of petrol into the shop, ran a trail of it out into the car park (but only went about 15 meters) and then lit it. About 3 seconds later, ‘ka-boom’! Luckily the blokes weren’t hurt, so it was actually pretty funny, and completely unexpected! But that’s what being a cop was like. It was a massive adrenaline rush, and we never knew what would happen next. Work was always full of surprises!

 

Now, one of the things I love about Jesus is that he constantly surprises me. I’ve been a Christian for a while—which means I’ve known Jesus for a while—and yet he still constantly surprises me in so many ways. So one of the few things I’ve learned about being a Christian and following Jesus is that you’ve always got to expect the unexpected.

 

I want Jesus to be predictable, because predictable is safe. I can come up with all sorts of fancy philosophical reasons for this. But when you strip them all away and get real, the fact is that I like predictability, because it gives me the feeling that I’m in control. Control is a deeply human desire, isn’t it? How often do we all love saying, “Oh, yes, I knew that would happen!”? Or, “Of course I knew you were going to say that!”? We love that stuff because it tricks us into believing that we’re in control of whatever situation we’re in. But it’s a complete nonsense. All it takes is a restructure at work so that you lose your job, a car accident, a bad medical test result out of the blue, a failed exam you expected to pass, the unexpected death of someone close to you, or an exploding pizza shop in the middle of the night, and we realize that we’re not in control of anything.

 

All through the Gospels people want to control Jesus. They think they know what Jesus will say and do, but he constantly surprises, because Jesus has a different agenda. People expect him to do one thing, but he so often does something else. John 6 is a great example of this. This is a long chapter, so we’ve broken it up into three sermons, that you’ll hear this week and the next two weeks, Lord willing. I think the two main questions this first section answers are first, “What does God ask of us?”, and second, “What does it mean to be fed by God?”

 

I love John’s Gospel. The way he writes is just fantastic. John tells us about seven of Jesus’ miracles, though he calls them ‘signs’. With each sign, there is a corresponding sermon preached by Jesus. So for example, Jesus says that he is “the light of the world”, and he opens the eyes of a man born blind. Jesus says that he is “the resurrection and the life”, and he raises Lazarus from the dead. Here in John 6, Jesus feeds 5,000 men, and then tells people that he is the bread of life. The crowds of people and Jesus’ own disciples really aren’t expecting any of this stuff to happen, and when they see it, they consistently misunderstand what Jesus is saying.

 

Jesus is by Lake Galilee and he’s been doing miracles for a while now, so people are turning up from everywhere to be healed. It’s around April, our Easter and the Jewish Passover, a couple of years before Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead. There are hills just on the shore of Lake Galilee, John tells us its Roman name as well, ‘the Sea of Tiberias’, named after the Roman Emperor. There’s also a small city called Tiberias still there. Anyway, Jesus wandered up one of the hills and sat down with his disciples, but this massive crowd of people followed him. There were about 5,000 men. The other Gospel writers tell us that there were women and children with them, so we’re looking at a crowd of 12 or 15 thousand people.

 

Jesus would have been heaps of fun to hang around, I reckon. Have a look at verses 5 and 6:

 

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”  He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. (NIV)

 

He’s having a laugh. It’s almost cheeky. “Now, where on earth are we going to find enough food for all these people?” Poor old Philip doesn’t know what’s going on and doesn’t care about where they’d find enough food. All he can think about is the cost of catering! He says, “It’d cost roughly 30 grand in our money, and that’s just for entrée!” Keeping the laughs flowing is Peter’s brother, Andrew, in verse 9:

 

Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many? (NIV)

 

Well, you asked, Jesus! There are 12,000 people or so, and I’ve stolen a poor kid’s lunch. What have you got? If this happened now, Jesus would say, “Challenge accepted!”

 

Jesus gets everyone to sit down, prays to give thanks for what they’ve got, and then turns a ‘happy meal’ into a feast where there’s so much food left over that the disciples get a basket each and fill them with the remains. It seems that Christians have always over-catered. I mean, seriously, how many church events have you ever been to where there’s not enough food? That’s right, none!

 

Anyway, the crowd are impressed, as anyone would be. They all knew they didn’t bring any food, but their tummies were now full. So they know for certain that Jesus can’t only heal the sick: he can do anything. But here’s the kicker: they totally misunderstand the reality that this sign points to. Have a look at verses 14-15:

 

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. (NIV)

 

To understand what this means, you have to know what Jews thought in the first century AD. Jewish people were expecting a prophet like no other who had come before. They were waiting for a Messiah, a Saviour. Their Scriptures, what we call the ‘Old Testament’, are full of these promises that God makes about the one who would come and rescue God’s people. The thing is that by the first century AD, Israel had been occupied territory for about 600 years. They had been invaded first by the Babylonians, then by the Greeks, and then the Romans had control over Israel. So when Jews thought about this promised Saviour, they all thought it meant a military leader who would galvanize Israel and lead a successful rebellion against the might of the Roman Empire and restore Israel’s independence.

 

So when they realize Jesus can do these fantastic miracles, such as healing people or feeding thousands of people with next to nothing, they think back to Deuteronomy 18. In that part of the Old Testament, God tells Moses that someone like Moses himself (only better) would turn up. When that happens, God’s people had to follow him. The first century Jews added this genuine promise to some of their incorrect assumptions about the Messiah to come, and they figure that Jesus must be ‘the one’ they’re waiting for, and they want to make him their king by force. Jesus knows all this, so he takes off. Jesus is in fact their king, and one day everyone will see it, but his coronation won’t happen like this. Jesus will be made king through his death in our place on the cross and by being raised by God back to new life for our salvation. But Jesus has much to do before his coronation.

 

In the next section, John 6:16-24, John tells us about the time that Jesus walked on water in the middle of a freak storm. These sorts of storms still happen on Lake Galilee from time to time. Cold wind from the north hits the hot air from the south-east coming in from the desert. When that happens, the usually calm Lake Galilee turns into a place at which you could hold a surfing contest. I think John includes this partly because it’s just another example of Jesus doing stuff only God can do. This tells us that Jesus is not just your average punter but he is actually God. The other reason I think he gives us this story is because John is setting up the next day for us.

 

The crowd saw the disciples leave, but they knew that Jesus wasn’t with them. So the next morning they head north and go around the lake to find him. Lake Galilee is a decent size, but since just about everyone travelled by walking back then, no one was fazed by it. We would all complain and want a cab or an Uber Camel. Anyway, off they go, and by the time we get to verse 25, they’ve found Jesus again and ask when he got there.

 

His answer is vintage Jesus. No mucking around, no small talk, just this totally unexpected answer that leaves these guys floundering. Have a look at verses 26 to 29:

 

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (NIV)

 

Do you notice their first question is small talk: “Ah, Jesus, how’d you get here mate?” You’d expect Jesus to say, “Oh, I ducked over last night after the BBQ”. Only he doesn’t. This is one of the many Ron Burgandy moments in the Bible. The crowd ask a simple question and they get this complex answer about the meaning of life. So their second question is the one just about everyone asks at some point or other: “What must we do to do the work God requires?”

 

Jesus contrasts what they want with what they need. They want more food. They need their sin forgiven. The last meal they had was yesterday afternoon. It’s now mid-morning the next day and they’re hungry. They want Jesus to do the magic catering thing again! Instead they get confronted with their deepest need: eternal life with God. That promise God holds out to anyone who believes in Jesus: sin forgiven; life redeemed; washed clean; ready to meet God as friends and adopted children.

 

Notice that Jesus speaks about what they need as ‘work’. I’ve always found this interesting. He’s doing that on purpose, of course. See, we all desperately want to contribute something to our salvation. We naturally feel as if there’s something we can do that will make God happy with us. So when Jesus says, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life”, they are hanging on the edge of their seats as if the greatest secret of the universe is about to be revealed. And you can hear that in their question in verse 28, “What must we do to do the work God requires?”

 

Again, you’d expect Jesus to launch into a long and exhausting list of all the stuff we all suspect God wants of us: strict obedience, no bacon, no prawns or lobster, perfect thoughts, perfect words, perfect actions, and some great quest or other. Instead, Jesus just says, “The work of God is this: believe in the one He has sent.” In other words, God just wants us to believe in Jesus. That’s it: no special task, no exhausting program of rigid obedience to earn God’s favour, just believe in Jesus and he takes care of everything. His death pays for your sin and mine. He gives us his Spirit who chips away at our old sinful nature and slowly but surely makes us more like Jesus.

 

And yes, it takes determination to persevere, because it can be quite easy to get side-tracked or disappointed with a church or with other Christians and so give up on Jesus. It can be easy to get side-tracked by suffering or sickness. It can be easy to get side-tracked by being single when you want to be married or by being married when you suspect you’d be better off single. It’s easy to get side-tracked if you’re picked on at school or bullied. It is easy to get side-tracked by mental illness that just drains away your joy in knowing Jesus. Any number of things can knock us off course. But I think when that stuff happens, the key to persevering is to keep your eyes and your heart on Jesus, because people will fail us from time to time, but Jesus never does.

 

That’s why Jesus can say that when you boil it all down, the only thing God wants from us is trust. That’s it. Believe in Jesus, and everything else slots into place once you get that sorted out. It won’t be perfect, but it works.

 

And again, the crowd just miss it by miles. And before we get all proud of ourselves, we all know that we’ve missed this point a fair few times over the years. Look at what the crowd say in response, verses 30 to 31:

 

So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” (NIV)

 

One of my good mates is an atheist. He’s an excellent bloke and we have lots of great conversations about Jesus. He’s one of these people who say, “Look, I’d believe if Jesus turned up here and started doing a few miracles.” You’ve probably got a few friends who say that sort of things. And if you don’t, you probably need to get out a bit more and find some! I want to believe people who say that sort of thing, but my guess is that they could see Jesus do miracles and still not believe. They’d find some other excuse for rejecting him. Think about the vast number of people who actually did see Jesus do more miracles than you can poke a stick at over the course of three years. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of people: Jews, Romans, all sorts of visitors to Israel over that time. Yet by the beginning of Acts, there are only about 120 Christians in the world. Why? Because Jesus didn’t follow other people’s agenda. He always did the unexpected and it ticked people off.

 

See, this crowd is a perfect example. They followed Jesus because they knew he could make sick people well. Then they saw him feed roughly 12,000 people with a ‘happy meal’. They’ve no idea how he got to the other side of the lake in the middle of the night, but there he is. But then they have the hide to ask for another sign. They even dare to compare Jesus to Moses. They think Moses fed the people of Israel with manna for 40 years while they wandered about in the desert between leaving Egypt and getting into the Promised Land. They’re saying, “Hey you only did the food thing once. Moses did it for 40 years mate!”

 

I tell you the truth, you and I aren’t all that dissimilar to this. How many of us have experienced God do outrageous things in front of our eyes in years past, and yet how often do we complain that he’s not doing what we want him to do now? How many of us have seen the most unlikely of people become Christians? How many of us have seen God intervene in all sorts of ways: serious illness healed, a job provided from out of nowhere, a seemingly chance meeting with someone that proves to be a massive blessing but one that only God could organize, a baby born when there seemed little hope, or a family provided through fostering when hope was gone, a son or daughter off the rails who comes home to Jesus like the prodigal, a high school teen who is anxious and cutting and looks headed for real trouble. But then Jesus turns up and it’s like a new dawn: a mended heart and a smile and passion to help other teens who are in the same mess, addictions that are overcome that give you real freedom, or missionary work that continues despite serious persecution where thousands are saved—the list could go on and on. There are plenty of times when we pray for those things and God gives us a negative answer. But our problem is the same as this crowd in John 6. We focus on the negative so much. We focus on just what we want so much that we fail to remember all the amazing things we’ve seen God do time and time again with our own eyes—let alone all the stuff we can read about over 2,000 years of church history and what we know God did with his own people in the Bible. We close our eyes and harden our hearts, and like this crowd, we forget that Jesus is standing right in front of us, saying, “Don’t worry; don’t be afraid, just believe in me. I’ve got this. Trust me!” Look at how this first part of John 6 ends, in verses 32-34:

 

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.” (NIV)

 

Over the rest of John chapter 6 Jesus will expand on what this means. But for now we just need to understand that it wasn’t Moses who fed God’s people. It was God. And that food back in the desert in the Old Testament got stale and rotten. It didn’t last long, and as soon as they made it to the Promised Land, God stopped giving it to them. But the true bread of God that comes down from heaven to feed and give life to the whole world doesn’t come in a packet, or get stale or rotten—it is Jesus.

 

Remember those questions we started with? What does God ask of us? And the answer is simply to believe in Jesus, to trust in him. That’s it.

 

What does it mean to be fed by God? Well, the crowd misunderstand. By the end of chapter 6, they all walk away from Jesus, because he’s not what they expected.

 

Someone much smarter than me said it like this: “He who is already king has come to open his kingdom to people, but in their blindness people try to force him to be the kind of king they want. Thus they fail to get the king they need and also lose the kingdom he offers.”

 

For you and me, what it means to be fed by God is really pretty simple. We need to strip away our agendas, all our religious assumptions, our pride and self-righteousness, our health and career, our house, a boyfriend or girlfriend, a husband or wife, a fantastic HSC result or early admission into uni—anything like that or that’s our agenda. That stuff won’t ever satisfy us for more than a moment. For us to be fed by God means that we need to be completely and eternally satisfied with Jesus. He is enough. “Sir, always give us this bread.” Just give us Jesus.

 

Let’s pray.

Like a lot of youth group kids who grew up in the Blue Mountains, after church on a Sunday night nearly every week we all ended up at Blaxland Maccas. There were no Maccas in the Mountains until I was about fifteen, but as soon as it was built, it was packed with church kids on a Sunday night. There were usually 4 youth groups or more there which was helpful for some cross-pollination. It was like having a combined youth event every week. I think several marriages had their beginnings over a dodgy Big Mac.

 

One week a mate of mine decided he’d do a bit of a prank on the kitchen staff and test out how well they made Big Macs. So he ordered one and it came out falling apart, lettuce all over the place, and nothing like the picture over the counter. So he sent it back. They made another one, and it was better but still not like the picture. So he put on his best straight face and sent that one back as well. The third time they got it right: it was perfect. We all knew what Dave was doing, and we were all falling about laughing. He’s a Baptist pastor now that bloke.

 

It must be hard to get food to look right all the time. Those cooking shows on TV—‘Master Chef’ or ‘My Kitchen Rules’—put so much emphasis on presentation. Jamie Oliver is the exception: he just seems to chuck food on a plate and dish it up, and somehow it still looks good. But everyone else presents their food as almost perfect.

 

A while ago, I was sitting in a chiropractor’s waiting room. I was flicking through a ‘Who’ magazine. There was a story in it about a bloke who was on Master Chef and he was spilling the beans about the show. Turns out that it’s all scripted. The food that’s served to the judges is usually cold because they’ve had to wait ‘til everyone was ready. There are professional chefs around the place to make sure everything is ‘plated-up’ perfectly. These chefs were teaching the contestants step by step how to cook whatever was on for that night, then demonstrating it for the contestants, and then the contestants would have a go, all the while being coached and helped by the professionals. So it nearly always looked like one of those cooking shows where the mess was put aside near the end and the chef would say, ‘Here’s one I prepared earlier’, and then would bring out the perfect example of what they were trying to make.

 

I reckon this is a good way to approach this part of Philippians. The first couple of verses are like the chef explaining to the contestants what they are about to make and giving them their ingredients. We’d call it the ‘theology section’. That’s verses 12-13. God is at work in us while we are at work in him. Then you’ve got the bit where they demonstrate what’s going to happen: that’s the ‘here’s what it looks like in practice’ bit. That’s verses 14-18, which basically says, ‘don’t grumble’. Then lastly you’ve got two examples: the ‘here’s one I prepared earlier’ part. That’s verses 19-30, where Paul puts the spotlight on Timothy and Epaphroditus to show us what’s possible as God works in us by his Spirit and we work hard at doing what God says. Let’s kick off with the theology section, verses 12-13:

 

12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose. (NIV)

 

OK, hands up if you do the right thing when someone is watching? Most of us find that pretty easy. But what if no one is around? What if no one is watching? It’s not so easy then, is it?

 

You will be shocked to hear that I got into a bit of trouble at school. I wasn’t a bad naughty kid. I was just always up for a laugh. In year ten we went through a phase of joining rubber bands together, folding bits of paper up, and firing them at each other. Our teacher had left the room one day and I was sitting next to an open window and took the opportunity to line up a good shot at a mate who was sitting about five or six metres away. It was a good shot. I got him in the rib cage! Everyone was laughing. But then it all went wrong. Our Senior Master, Mr Craig, had been watching me through the window. I had no idea. I felt this hand grab my shoulder through the window and a stern voice say, “Mr Wakeford! My office, now!” This was back when teachers had some authority. When you were in trouble, you were really in trouble. I got four cuts of the cane for that one.

 

If people are watching, it’s not too hard to do the right thing. But when you think no one is watching, it’s not so easy. In church, we’re nearly always on our best behaviour, aren’t we? We all get our ‘church face’ on just after we park the car. It’s called ‘The Car Park Miracle’ we looked at the other week in James 3. We walk in and usually manage to hold it all together. When we’re with friends for dinner or something like that, we do our best to behave like a Christian should. But what if we’re just with our family? Or what about when we’re at school or uni or work? How do we speak? What do we do? Do we have a few too many drinks? Do we let our guard down a bit? What do we look at on the computer or the TV when no one is around? What music do we listen to? What do we get up to with a boyfriend or girlfriend? What are the things we do when no one is around that we would never even think about doing if we were with other people? It’s worth thinking about, I reckon. I suspect that for most of us, there are things we do and say at home or work or school or uni or TAFE that we’d never do or say here at church.

 

Paul starts this section by saying that the Philippians were living like Christians while Paul was with them. But guess what—and this is pretty cool—Paul’s now heard from Epaphroditus that even when Paul is absent, they’re still doing the same thing. Their lifestyle still matches their faith. That’s impressive, and you’ve got to ask how they’ve managed it?   The answer is in verses 12 and 13. They are working out their salvation with fear and trembling. That is, they’re figuring out what it means to live as a Christian day by day, knowing that even if there are no people are around, God is. And they know that God is at work in them at the same time that they are making an effort to display true Christian character in their daily lives.

 

That’s what Paul means when he says at the same time that they are working out their salvation—working out what it means to live like a Christian—God is also at work in them by his Spirit to change their will and their actions—what they think and what they do—so that their thinking and their lifestyle is conformed more and more to God’s good purposes for them.

 

This is really important for us. We sometimes wonder how on earth we’re meant to put our old ways behind us. We find it difficult from time to time. Our old sinful ways creep back into our thoughts and actions, and we hate it. But this says, ‘Don’t be discouraged! While we’re hard at work trying to make our lives match our faith in Jesus, God is hard at work in us by his Spirit, transforming our thoughts and our actions so we are able to live out our faith.’ God is at work in us day by day to make us more like Jesus. He’s the Master Chef if you like, and with God at work in us, what we dish up can be just about spot on. So what might this look like in practice? Have a look at the next bit from verse 14:

 

14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. (NIV)

 

One of the issues in the church in Philippi was pride. Pride makes people argue and grumble. So in practice, “working out your salvation” will mean that you get on with life without arguing with each other or grumbling about everything. Imagine what life would be like if we didn’t argue or grumble?

 

A mate of mine is a Welsh bloke, David Jones. He’s a great preacher. I remember hearing him preach on this ages ago, and it has stuck with me ever since. He said that people end up looking like the thing they do most. People who were joyful looked like joy, smiling and generally in good spirits. People who were content looked like it, peaceful. People who were angry looked it: hard faced and bitter. And people who grumbled just end up looking like a grumble. And it’s true, isn’t it? Think of someone you know who’s always grumbling about something. What do they look like? A grumble. What do you always expect to hear coming out of their mouths? A grumble. Our character traits show up in our faces. So Paul says, ‘Do everything without arguing or grumbling.’ That’s what it looks like to work out your salvation. And as you do that, God is at work in you by his Spirit to produce the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Those are the characteristics that should mark our lives as we follow Jesus. Arguing and grumbling are not the fruit of the Spirit!

 

If we put away arguing and grumbling and instead put on the fruit of the Spirit, we’d be blameless and pure. We’d stand out as being completely different to the world around us, like stars shining in a dark universe. That’s the idea.

 

So the question is, ‘Who are we when we’re not here? What sort of things do we do? Are we whinging and complaining? Are we gossiping? Do we talk about other people behind their backs? Are we slandering other people when they aren’t around? Do we tear people down? Are we argumentative and divisive? Are we grumbling about this and that? What kind of people are we? Do you complain about everything to your neighbours and friends? Or because we know Jesus and are filled with his Spirit, are we so different that we stand out like stars in the universe compared to the rest of the dark world around us? Or are we lazy? Have we stopped working on our character and behaviour? Are we frustrating the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives? Do we look like a grumble? Or do we look like joy?

 

That makes me ask the obvious question: What would it look like if we were getting it right? And Paul’s answered that by pointing us to Timothy and Epaphroditus. This is like the chef on the cooking show pulling out the perfectly plated up dish and saying, ‘Here’s one I prepared earlier!’ Have a look at verses 19-24. Here’s Timothy:

 

19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. 20 I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. 21 For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. 23 I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. 24 And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon. (NIV)

 

And then from verse 25 to verse 30, Epaphroditus:

 

25 But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. 26 For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill.27 Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety.29 So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honour people like him,30 because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me. (NIV)

 

It’s interesting to look at the way Paul speaks about Timothy and Epaphroditus. You can tell Paul wasn’t an Aussie. He’s so genuine and open in his love for these blokes. His praise is heart-felt and warm. He’s not embarrassed to say exactly what he thinks. If Paul was an Aussie he’d still think the same stuff about these two blokes, but he’d never say it. He’d be bagging them out. He’d say Epaphroditus was a bit soft—had the man-flu, tore a heart muscle—that’s why he wanted to go home! He’d say Timothy was good at pretending to work hard for the gospel but really was a bit of a bludger, and that he hoped to send him away quickly because he’d be glad to be rid of him! I’m so glad Paul was not an Aussie!

 

I don’t know if you’ve spent much time with Americans, but they are much better at praising each other with real affection than we are. So I think the way Paul speaks here is instructive for us. There’s some room for growth here in the way we speak to each other. We also saw this the other week in James 3 about ‘taming the tongue’. So let’s not be a bunch of people who bag each other out when we really appreciate each other. I think MBM has a reputation as a church that really seeks to honour those who work hard for the Lord. So let’s keep doing that more and more – it’s such a great thing to do!

 

But here’s the thing: how Paul speaks is just as important as what he says. If we want to know what it looks like to continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling while God is hard at work in you by his Spirit, if you want to know what doing everything without arguing or grumbling looks like, if you want to know what shining like bright stars in a dark world looks like, Paul says: look at these two blokes.

 

They genuinely put other people before themselves. They work hard with all their energy. They suffer and don’t whinge. They aren’t afraid to be vulnerable, showing genuine concern for other people’s welfare. They carry on their work despite illness. They can’t wait to get back in the fight 100% once they are healthy again. They worry that others worry about them! They are Paul’s brothers, co-workers, fellow-soldiers. The bottom line is that we should honour people who have this character, because this is what it looks like to work out your salvation; this is what it looks like to put off arguing and grumbling and instead put on the fruit of the Spirit.

 

So I reckon the way we can pull this off is by looking at the example Paul gives us of Timothy and Epaphroditus, and have a go at imitating them. Timothy’s key characteristic is described in verses 21-22.

 

For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. (NIV)

 

Timothy looks out not for his own interests but for those of Jesus Christ. This was obviously a big thing for Timothy. Paul says that he’d proved himself in this regard as he served with Paul in the work of the Gospel. Timothy had put Jesus first in everything.

 

And what is Epaphroditus’ defining characteristic? There’s a lot of great things about him, but it’s his selflessness that hits me. Have a look at verses 26-27:

 

26 For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill.27 Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow.  (NIV)

 

So Epaphroditus was a member of the church in Philippi. He’d been sent to Paul with a gift of money so Paul would be able to provide for his rent and food. But either on the way to Paul in Rome or while he was there, Epaphroditus got really sick, so sick that he almost died. Notice that Epaphroditus was distressed not because he was sick but because his friends back in Philippi heard he was sick, and they were worried!

 

This is amazing selflessness, but what a great example of the whole ‘It’s not about me!’ thing that we need to hear. Our culture has become incredibly individualistic, and that’s not a biblical or Christian thing. It’s a 21st century Western thing, and it’s the exact opposite of biblical Christianity. Nearly all the advertising we are bombarded with tells us that we are entitled; we have a right to do what we want to do when we want to do it; that it’s all about my instant satisfaction and my happiness, because hey, it’s all about me!

 

This stuff seeps into our hearts, and because it’s in our hearts, it’s crept into the church and into 21st century Western Christianity in general, and we have to fight it. It isn’t all about us. I am not the centre of the universe and neither are you. Our rights and our entitlements must take a back seat so that we can put Jesus first, because it’s all about him, not all about us.

 

Epaphroditus gets it. He knows it’s not all about him. He doesn’t want his friends to worry. He wants them to press on doing what they can to spread the gospel in Philippi. And if they’re spending too much time worrying about him, that’s going to take their focus off serving Jesus. That is a massively counter-cultural thing for us to hear. But we need to hear it. And notice what Paul says about Epaphroditus: ‘Honour people like him.’

 

You know as a church, we can make all the plans we like. We can put more staff on and expand the programmes we already have going. We can increase the number of people who are serving in different ministries. We can make any change we like. But I tell you what: if we just look out for our own interests, if we’re selfish, if we think it’s all about us not all about Jesus, we will get precisely nowhere.

 

With us and by ourselves, this is impossible. But this part of Philippians tells us that we are not alone. God is at work in us, changing our minds and transforming our actions. His Spirit is doing his work in us day by day so we look more like Jesus, so we’re marked not by arguing or grumbling, but by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. That’s how we shine out like stars, and that’s partly how we change the world.

Let’s pray.

My granny, my mum’s mum, lived a long life. She died when she was 95 years old, so she had a good knock. She was a solid Christian woman, but was also fairly old fashioned in her attitudes to certain things. For example, when I left the police force, I rebelled against short hair, so I didn’t have a hair cut for a couple of years. I thought I looked like Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam! Granny would often say to me, “1 Corinthians 11 says that long hair on a man is a disgrace!”

 

Nonie and I got married in 1997 and I still had long hair, so at our reception, Granny produced a photo of me from when I was in the police force and had short hair. She showed it to just about everyone at our wedding, saying, “I know he looks ridiculous now, but he really is a lovely boy!” Interestingly, I look back at the photos of our wedding and granny was right: I didn’t look like Eddie Vedder: I looked ridiculous!

 

Anyway, years before this, she’d done a heap of research on both sides of our family tree. She went way back to about the year AD 900, which is pretty cool. Both sides of my family came out here from England. On my dad’s side of the family, his dad came out in 1922; his mother’s side a bit earlier. Her great grandfather got sick of living in England, so he built a big boat, put his whole family and all their possessions on it and sailed it out here in about 1870, which is a great effort! Tough stock. His son had the same adventurous spirit as well. He was an electrician who worked on the Harbour Bridge. He was up on the very top of the arch. The higher up you went, the more money you earned because it was so dangerous. That was dad’s side: adventurous, tough people.

 

Mum’s side all came out from England in the mid 1800s. But they didn’t build a boat. They were even tougher: they swam out (that’s a joke, by the way).

 

But, like all families, there are a few skeletons in our closet. “Where’s auntie?” “She’s having a holiday in the countryside.” “What kind of holiday?” “The kind of holiday that lasts for about nine or ten months.” And when auntie came back, what do you know? She’d adopted a little baby, who looks surprisingly like her neighbour from up the road. These days no one bats an eyelid at that sort of thing, but go back 80 years and it was a very different story. That sort of thing was incredibly scandalous!

 

There was at least one mysterious death. There were one or two drunks who managed to squander vast amounts of money. On a brighter note, there were also a heap of Christians and several of the men were preachers and pastors. I’m not the first Rev. Wakeford, which is cool.

 

You go back a bit further on my mum’s side, and one of my ancestors was the king of the southern half of England: lots of castles, vast tracts of land, servants, the whole nine yards. Now, I know that’s about 1,000 years ago, so it’s a fairly tenuous link to royalty, but don’t let that stop you from calling me ‘Sir’ from here on in, or perhaps, ‘your majesty’.

 

That’s my family tree. I figure it’s pretty normal: lots of branches and plenty of nuts! Yours probably doesn’t look that different. Go back far enough and you find all sorts of people. Family trees are fascinating things

 

It’s Christmas in a couple of days, so I thought we’d look at Jesus’ family tree: Jesus’ pedigree, if you like, not because it’s so much better than ours, but because, apart from having so many unpronounceable names, it’s probably not that different from yours or mine. I’ll show you what I mean from Matthew 1:1-16.

 

Apart from Jesus right at the end of our Bible reading, these are regular people. Some were deeply religious; some were total shockers; some were faithful people who had some epic brain snaps, just like us; and all of them, except the last one, Jesus, were sinners. They all rebelled against God in some way. Either they did what they weren't meant to do, or they didn’t do what they were meant to do. They’re just plain old sinners like you and me. So Jesus’ family tree is a bit like a mirror. As we look at this we see bits and pieces of ourselves.

 

Some of us are a bit religious. We come to church a few times a year: maybe Christmas and Easter and a few other times. And we do this because we think that by ticking that box a couple of times a year, we’re doing enough to keep God happy. Religious people know they aren’t perfect, but generally they hope their good deeds outweigh their bad deeds, and that God will be OK with them at the end.

 

Some of us are total shockers. Sure, we turn up regularly, but there are times when we’re having ourselves on. We give in to sin early and often, and our lives are a bit of a mess. Some of us keep our sin hidden a bit better, so we look pretty good. But under the façade lurks pride and arrogance: a feeling that we’re better than others. Christians who are like that are one of the main reasons so many folks stay away from Church. They’re sick of being judged.

 

Jesus’ family tree has all this, which means it’s both confronting and encouraging. It’s confronting because we see ourselves here. But it’s also encouraging because if God can save and bless and use this catalogue of muppets and wack-jobs then maybe he can do the same with me.

 

There are 42 men in this list and five women. I’ll mention a few of the blokes but we’ll spend more time looking at these five women, because a Jewish family tree with women in it is pretty unusual. Normally it’s just the men who are mentioned, so Matthew has included these women for a very specific reason.

 

The five women are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. These women were just like us: some made bad decisions; some grew up without knowing God; some were abused by others; some were just faithful and obedient. But all of them are included in Jesus’ family tree. These are the kind of people God rescues, redeems, forgives, blesses, and then works through. And it doesn’t matter that all five are women. Their stories apply to men as well. So, let’s get into it.

 

The first one is Tamar, verse 3. You can read her story back in the first book of the Bible, Genesis chapter 38, but briefly this is it. Tamar was married to a bloke named Er. His parents couldn’t figure out what to call him: “Er, Er”, and the name stuck. Anyway, he was wicked in God’s sight, so God killed him. There was no welfare back then, different to our culture. Back then, if a married bloke died without leaving any children, his nearest male relative had to marry the widow, take her into his home, and give her children to keep the dead husband’s family line going, and to ensure that the widow had someone to take care of her when she got old. It sounds kind of weird to us, but with no welfare, a widow was in real trouble. So this is a pretty good law that God gave his people.

 

Anyway, Er—Tamar’s wicked and now dead husband—had a brother. His name was Onan. It was his responsibility to give Tamar a child. But he was also wicked. He slept with Tamar but didn’t want the responsibility of having a child with her: so he didn’t finish the deed and instead spilled his seed on the ground, as it were. His sin was that he used Tamar for sex, showed her no respect or honour, and did not fulfil his responsibilities to her and provide her with a child. So God killed him as well.

 

Things aren’t looking too good for Tamar. Her father-in-law had another son, but since the first two sons died while married to Tamar, he was scared the same thing would happen to son number three. So he didn’t let him marry her. So Tamar took matters into her own hands and disguised herself as a prostitute, waited for her father-in-law to turn up, and seduced him. His name was Judah, verse 3. Tamar was desperate. She had sex with her father-in-law and got pregnant. She had twins, Perez and Zerah. Their mum was their dad’s daughter-in-law. Weird? Absolutely! So why mention this hill-billy freak show? Because Tamar’s story is not unlike some of ours. She was one of God’s people, but her life was a total mess. Maybe that describes you. You’re one of God’s people but your life’s a mess. You’ve been used and abused; and maybe you’ve tried to fix it yourself and only made matters worse.

 

It is hard to imagine the shame and violation Tamar would have felt, sinking to the level of pretending to be a prostitute and sleeping with the very man who should have been taking care of her. This woman is totally abandoned. Tamar’s story tells us that even in the darkest of circumstances, God is somehow still at work. He doesn’t pick the most respectable people or the most religious people. He often picks people whose lives are totally messed up, people who’ve been sinned against terribly, and he rescues them and provides for them. He mends their brokenness and blesses them. These people end up being a blessing to others. Tamar did. She is Jesus’ great-great-great-great-however-many-more-times-great-granny. That makes her story part of our story. God worked through her to bring Jesus to us.

 

The second and third women are both in verse 5. Rahab is first. You can read about her in the book of Joshua. Rahab didn’t disguise herself as a prostitute. She didn’t need to because she was a prostitute! Briefly, her story is this: after forty years of wandering around the desert for their disobedience to God, the people of Israel were again at the Jordan River, about to cross over into the Promised Land. Joshua sent two spies in to have a squiz. Where did they go? A brothel! That’s not what I learnt in Sunday School when I was a kid. I was told they went to an inn and had a nice hot cup of cocoa. They didn’t. They went to a brothel where they met Rahab, a prostitute. Rahab had heard of God’s people and she had heard of God. She knew her city was toast. The long and the short of it is this: the spies promise Rahab that if she hides them from the blokes who are looking for them, then she and her family will be spared when Israel invade. That is what ends up happening.

 

Rahab is included in Jesus’ family tree for the benefit of anyone who thinks they are out of God’s reach. If that’s you, listen to Rahab’s story and let her tell you that there is no such thing as being out of God’s reach.

 

It’s hard to imagine anyone further away from God than a prostitute from a godless town like Jericho. Yet, here she is, in Jesus’ family tree: and she’s in Hebrews 11 as well, the chapter about the heroes of faith in the Old Testament. How did all that happen? Well, God met her where she was. He saved her and he changed her. She started making decisions that brought her closer to God. She started to trust God instead of pretending he wasn’t there. She quit her job as a prostitute. She met and married a faithful, godly Israelite bloke. No one is too far from the God, who can turn the prostitute from Jericho into the great-great-great-great granny of God’s own Son!

 

Ruth is next. The book of Ruth in the Old Testament is all about her. She’s different to Tamar and Rahab. Her story is one of the most beautiful things in the Bible. She was an extraordinary woman. But, even so, what on earth is she doing in Jesus’ family tree? She wasn’t even Jewish! She was from Moab! Moab and Israel were sworn enemies! Ruth grew up worshipping false gods and had never even heard of the one true God. But she married a Jewish dude who’d moved to Moab with his parents for all the wrong reasons. He ended up dying. So did his brother and then their dad, leaving Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, abandoned and without hope. After a while, Naomi decided to go back to Israel, and Ruth, her daughter-in-law, went with her.

 

It would have made much more sense for her to stay in her own county and get married to one of her own people. But she had come to know and trust God with an unshakable faith. Ruth loved God and totally trusted him. She stepped into harm’s way to take care of her mother-in-law, and God honoured Ruth for that choice. He protected her and provided her with more than enough food to survive. And after a short time he gave her a godly husband, Boaz. How cool is God! Boaz was Rahab’s son, the son of a former prostitute! Boaz was a man who also loved God and was completely honourable toward Ruth. A little while later they had a baby son, named Obed. He grew up and had a son named Jesse. Jesse grew up and had seven sons, the youngest of whom was named David. So, Ruth, the girl from Moab, a sworn enemy of God’s people, was the great grandmother of Israel’s greatest king. Only God can pull that sort of thing off. He’s awesome!

 

So why is Ruth here? Ruth shows us that Jesus is for all people, and that gives you and me great hope! We weren’t part of God’s people when we were born. Neither was Ruth. But the gospel isn’t limited to one nation of people: it’s for everyone. If you aren’t yet a Christian, this tells you that the gospel is for you, that Jesus is for you. And get this: there’s also a good chance that this church is for you. There are people from over 70 different nationalities who call MBM their spiritual home. Maybe you’re not a Christian just yet. Maybe you are not part of God’s big family just yet, but you can be. You are invited to join God’s family through believing in Jesus and giving your life to him.

 

Then you’ve got Bathsheba. Matthew doesn’t even say her name. He just says in verse 6, “David, the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife” (NIV).

 

You can read about David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11. It is absolutely clear that David’s sin is the focus. He sees Bathsheba having a bath on her roof next door to the palace. She was a very beautiful woman. David should have been at war with his troops but he stayed at home. That was his first sin. Having seen his beautiful next-door neighbour in the bath—who was also married to one of his most famous, loyal, and brave soldiers—he should have just though that his mate Uriah was a very fortunate bloke, and left it at that. Instead, David sins again by sending one of his servants to bring her to the palace. They end up having sex and Bathsheba gets pregnant. David needs to hide his sin so David sends for Uriah. David has him brought back from the war, has dinner with him, and gets him drunk. Then David sends him home, hoping that he will sleep with his wife, and that everyone will assume that the baby is Uriah’s. However, Uriah is a far more honourable bloke than David, so he sleeps on the front steps of the palace instead of enjoying a night with his wife. Why? Because all his men are away from their wives fighting a war, so he’s not about do something they can’t do. The next day David does the same thing. He has dinner with Uriah, gets him drunk, and sends him home to be with his wife. Uriah sleeps on the steps of the palace again. Then David sends Uriah back to the war with a sealed letter to the commander. The letter tells the commander to put Uriah where the fighting is fiercest and then leave him high and dry in the hope that he will be killed. That is exactly what happened. Uriah, loyal, brave, and unbelievably honourable, is killed so that David’s sin remains hidden.

 

If you were going to do a family tree, this would be the thing you’d leave out: a king, an adulterous affair, an unplanned pregnancy, and a murder. So why does Matthew include it? It’s here because these are the people Jesus came to save. People like David, a faithful bloke most of his life but also a man who had some epic brain snaps; and people like Bathsheba, who’ve had terrible things done to them. It would seem that Bathsheba didn’t really have much choice in anything that happened. It all happened to her. Yet even this doesn’t put her out of Jesus’ reach.

 

Time and again Jesus meets people who had fallen into epic sins. He never ignores their sin. Instead, he put his finger right on it and points it out, but always so that he could then show them grace, mercy, forgiveness, and give them a fresh start. That’s what God did for David. A short while after it all happened, God confronted David with his sin. David repented. God gave him mercy, grace, and forgiveness. God looked at Bathsheba’s life that was now a train wreck, and over the next few years, he put her life back together as well. This is what God does: he redeems and repairs broken people.

 

I don’t know where you are at. For all I know, this might be exactly what you’re up to. I’ve preached to congregations within which there were adulterous relationships going on. It’s terrible, of course, but Christians aren’t immune from this sort of thing. So maybe this is you. It might be something else. But whatever it is, Jesus is pointing his finger at our sin so that we can’t ignore it. But he’s only doing that so that we will repent, so that he can show us mercy and grace, so that he can forgive us and restore us. That’s what Jesus does. He can take us from that dirty darkness of sin and bring us to the clean light of grace and forgiveness. That’s why Bathsheba is in Jesus’ family tree.

 

And lastly we’ve got Mary, down in verse 16. She was a teenager, engaged to be married to Joseph. Mary was a virgin, and rightly so. God came to her one day and told her that she was about to get pregnant. She knew this would be hard to explain to her fiancée, but that didn’t stop her from trusting God and obeying him.

 

She saw Joseph a while later and told him she was pregnant. Joseph knows full well it wasn’t him! “So who was it?”, he asks. “God”, she says. “Yeah, right!” She was right but, understandably, Joseph didn’t believe her. Next thing you know, God tells Joe to pull his head in and listen to his fiancée and get married. They would have a son and he was to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. That’s what Jesus’ name means: the LORD saves.

 

So Mary was faithful and obedient. But that doesn’t mean she was perfect. When Jesus grew up, he started telling everyone that he was the saviour of God’s people, the Son of God, and that he and God were one. Mary thought her son was mad. She didn’t believe him. She heard him speak, saw him do miracles, but she thought he was out of his mind. It wasn’t until after Jesus was crucified and raised back to life that Mary finally figured out that Jesus wasn’t just her son, but that he was also her saviour.

 

Maybe this is you. You know about Jesus; you've heard about some of the things He said; you know about the miracles, but you haven’t yet crossed over from knowing about Jesus to believing in Jesus.

 

Well, Jesus came here to save his mum. And he came here to save you as well. You mightn’t be in the same boat as Tamar or Rahab or Ruth or Bathsheba. Maybe you’re like Mary. On the surface, things look good and respectable. You put up with Jesus but keep him at arm’s length. If that’s you, it’s time for you to stop messing about with Jesus. Sop resisting him and start making him your saviour and king.

 

Matthew’s family tree of Jesus really is a mirror. It gives us a long list of sinners who look just like us, except most of them have weird names. Apart from that, we’re just the same. None of them were so bad or so far away from God that they couldn’t be saved. And none of them were so close to God or so good that they didn’t need to be saved. That’s us. None of us are so bad or so far away from God that we can't be saved. And none of us are so good or so close to God that we don’t need to be saved. Jesus is the only one who is able to change your heart, save you from your sin, and give you a new life. That is why he came. That is why we’re here. That’s what Christmas is all about.

 

Let’s pray.

 

In our family, we have a custard recipe that we love and is delicious! My nan was taught the recipe by her mum and they enjoyed many years of eating the custard together. My nan then taught my mum the recipe and they enjoyed many years of eating it together. My mum now makes the custard in our household and we have enjoyed many years of eating it together, with our apple pie or fruit. If us kids are to know the recipe, not only do we need to enjoy eating it, but mum needs to teach us how to make it. My older sister Elyssa has already been taught the recipe. The custard recipe will continue on in the family. It has been passed on down the generations and if it is to continue, we have to keep teaching and enjoying the custard to our children and their children.

 

Our whole world actually works like this. It depends on the now generation teaching and modelling to the next generation. The whole schooling system is made to achieve this, so that society continues to flourish and develop. If we don’t teach and model things to the next generation, there won’t be a next generation. Or they will be useless and potentially destructive.

 

Family cultures work like this. We need to teach the next generation how to do the dishes, how to mow the lawn, whether we eat at the dinner at the table or not, why it’s important to say hello and goodbye and model spending time with family. A family culture can quickly collapse if the now generation don’t teach and model to the next generation.

 

My dad’s father used to sing all the time. And because he used to sing all the time, my dad now sings all the time. My sister sings all the time. I now have the urge to sing all the time. It’s a part of our family culture because it has been modeled and taught through the generations.

 

What the next generation will know and do is dependent upon the now generation teaching them and showing them.

 

In Judges 2, Israel is in a generational crisis. Although they haven’t been perfect in their obedience to God, they have had generations of knowing and worshiping the Almighty God of heaven and earth. God had promised them that they would be in an everlasting covenant relationship with him through a man named Abraham. They had been delivered out of slavery in Egypt. Led by Moses, they wandered in the desert for 40 years because of their disobedience. But God still provided for them and was still faithful. Now Moses had handed over the leadership baton to a new leader named Joshua. He had led the people into the land of Canaan, the land promised by God, and they had half-successfully driven out the previous inhabitants of the land. The generations of Israelites since Abraham had until this point been fairly successful in coming into what God has promised them. But the question that hits us as we read this powerful narrative is, “Will the next generation know? Will they love, serve, and worship the Lord? Will they trust, follow, and know Yahweh?”

 

The question is the same for us today. Will the next generation know?

 

It is crucial that they do! It’s not just that our society and families are at stake. This is a matter of people’s eternal destinies.

 

Three generations of Israelites are described in this passage of Scripture. We are going to engage with each of them, so that we might be fully equipped and convinced to invest in the next generation. We need to impact the generations to come.

 

The First Generation

 

After Joshua had dismissed the Israelites, they went to take possession of the land, each to their own inheritance. (Judges 2:6 NIV)

 

Joshua is the leader. He has just spoken to the Israelite community and then they have gone into each of their sections of land given to them. This part of Judges overlaps with the end of Joshua (Josh 24:28-31). This is so important! Israel have been delivered into the land God had promised them. We know from chapter 1, the rest of Judges, and from the book of Joshua, that the complete move into Canaan for Israel doesn’t actually happen. There are still Canaanites lived among them and owning parts of the land. The point here though is that life is good for Israel.

 

The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel. (Judges 2:7 NIV)

 

Not only have they been taken into the land, but they were serving the Lord and walking with him. They served the Lord though while Joshua was alive and while the leaders and elders who outlived Joshua were alive. Why? Joshua was anointed to be Israel’s leader by God through Moses by the laying on of hands (Joshua 27). When godly leadership is installed, God’s people flourish. Joshua had also called all of the leaders and elders of Israel before he died together (Joshua 23), and inspired them to keep walking in obedience with God by following all that the law says, warning them of the consequences if they didn’t, and urged them in remembering all the great works of God they had seen with their own eyes! This is the key to a generation of believers: knowing the greatness of God!

 

This first generation of Israelites under Joshua and the other elders leadership served the Lord because, in verse 7, “they had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel”. They had witnessed God’s mighty hand at work—maybe delivering them out of Egypt, providing for them in the desert, speaking to them from Mt Sinai, then taking them into the land, crossing the Jordon River, driving out powerful nations before them. For this generation and the next generation to know and worship God they must know of the greatness of God! Joshua handed over the baton as well as Moses.

 

Godly and God-anointed leadership is a must if God’s people are to flourish. We are so blessed to have great and godly and gifted Pastors and spouses at this church. We are also so blessed to have a heap of godly elders, deacons, and leaders in various ministry doing a range of things for this church. They help us make godly, wise choices and urge God’s people to be gospel driven, kingdom minded, and to model gospel-centered leadership to us. They are here because God has placed them here. We look to leaders to help us look to God.

 

Do you pray for our pastors, elders, deacons and leaders? Do you pray for more to be raised up? Are you praying that the leadership batten will be handed over well?

 

If we are not investing into the next generation, there will be no future leaders, pastors, and elders to whom we can hand over the baton! The key is that we need to know the greatness of God! For the now generation to impact greatly the next generation, we must know the greatness of God and we must model a life of worship and service to God!

 

How are you doing these things? How do you know about the greatness of God? Open your Bibles, pray for more understanding as you listen to him, exercise faith in your life as you see God’s greatness at work in your life. Turn up to Church. Have your children and other children look up to you as you worship God in song, as you pay attention and respond in sermons. Have them see that corporate Sunday worship is important to you.

 

Worship God with your life. Paul says in Romans 12, “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God: this is your true and proper worship”, in other words, “Love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul and with all your strength”. Are the decisions you make full of integrity? Are the words you use godly? Is the time you spend given to kingdom work? Are you using the gifts you have?

 

Teach the young. It’s implied here in story of this first generation, that they were taught not just by their leaders, but by their parents or other older people of influence in their lives. There is a solid generational connection. This probably means there was effective teaching to the next generation by the older generation.

 

When God gives the greatest commandment in Deuteronomy chapter 6, he says this in verses 6-9:

 

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (NIV)

 

The law was to be taught to the children of Israel, and to be written over all their lives, and made visible in its very words in their households.

 

I’m so thankful I had a childhood where the Bible was open and present at our dinner table and in other areas of my life. I’m so thankful that I was taught to pray at night before bed. Although I had a period of severe rebellion, I was grounded in knowledge and experience of the greatness of God.

 

Do you teach your children? Is God’s Word shown or open in your home? If the next generation are to know and worship the Lord, it’s a must. Some of you need to begin to do this. Some of you need to start to do this again. Some of you need to know God first yourself and stop worshipping false God’s before you do this.

 

We have a great leader. His name is Jesus. The Bible says he came and he led us out of slavery to sin. He is our good shepherd who leads us and who laid down his life for us. Jesus is a greater Moses. He’s a greater Joshua and he’s the greatest leader in all of history. He enables us to be able to lead and invest and teach the next generation through the Holy Spirit and by the power of the gospel. He does all the heavy lifting. He is in us today. Paul says in Romans 8 that the Spirit of Christ is in those who belong to Christ. We are empowered to lead, to worship, and to teach.

 

The first generation of Israel after it entered the promised land is a flourishing generation that know the greatness of God. But the second generation is not so good.

 

The Second Generation

 

After Israel enters the promised land, Joshua died, and verses 8 to 9 says that he was buried in the land God gave his tribe. Then all of the first generation died off, and another generation rose up, verse 10:

 

After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. (NIV)

Okay, something happened here. The first generation knew God, but the second generation don’t know God. After Joshua handed the baton over to the elders and leaders, the leadership pipeline ends there. The bible doesn’t say that those leaders and elders commissioned others, or that God raised up and appointed another leader. When no leadership is installed, God’s people don’t flourish. There was no one leading and directing and guiding the people of God or proclaiming God’s greatness. The second generation hadn’t witnessed the great acts of the mighty God like the first generation. We can only assume that the second generation wasn’t taught by the first generation either. There was a disconnect, and the outcome was devastating. Judges chapter 2 verses 11 to 15:

 

Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress. (NIV)

 

 

Israel has completely back flipped. They have moved from a generation of God worshipers to a generation of false god idolaters. The first generation swore to Joshua in Joshua 24:24 that they would serve the Lord. There was no voice of the second generation that promised this. They followed the gods of the pagan Canaanites, the Baals and the Ashtoreths, which were said to provide agricultural success.

 

But God was angry because his people broke the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod 20:3). So God judged them and gave them over to the hands of their enemies. The Lord’s hand that was with them was now against them. They would experience great and terrible distress. This was a very different people of God. God then raised up Judges who would save God’s people from their enemies. But if the second generation was bad, the third generation was even worse.

 

The Third Generation

 

Judges 2:19 tells us about this third generation.

 

But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways. (NIV)

 

The third generation of Israel in the land were even more corrupt than the second generation! Verse 17 says that they “prostituted themselves to false gods”. They were God’s people and they sold themselves over to other gods. The hearts of Israel had been turned away from the One True Living God and had been given over to the petty, false gods of the pagan world that have no power and aren’t true, hence their name, ‘false gods’.

 

Do you want the next generation to look like this third generation? I don’t. We must know God, worship God and teach God to the next generation to impact generations to come! If your children don’t know or worship the Lord, don’t give up on them. I was once in the same boat as the second and third generations. I remember when I came back to church that I had found out that a whole bunch of the church family that my dad was pastoring at the time had been praying for me. That blew me away. “Always pray and never give up”, Jesus says.

 

How you live your life and what you show and teach the young has eternal consequences!

 

I love that MBM is a multi-generational Church. Our kids’ ministry is phenomenal. We start to teach kids from a very young age about Jesus. We have always seen the importance of investing in teenagers and youth. It is a crucial stage of their growth and development. Most people come to faith under 18. The 6pm service (which used to meet at 5pm) was started to reach the young adults of western Sydney. It’s now one our most vibrant, pumping, and largest services. We have the morning and traditional services to build up and reach the adults and oldies age group.

All these ministries and services create opportunities for different generations to invest into different generations.

Now a word to each of the generations we have here. To the ‘Baby Boomers’ and ‘Gen X’, you have a whole lifetime of knowledge and experience. Please pass it on. The world will tell you that you are now of no use. That is so far from the truth. You have so much to give, so much to teach, so much to offer. Be patient with the young though. We are often slow to learn. Let the young flourish. Don’t hold them back too much. They have a lot to offer: time, willingness, passion, creativity and gifts.

Picture your children. How do you want them to be living in 20 years? What do you want them to look like?

 

To ‘Gen Y’ and ‘Millennials’, don’t allow the culture voice that says, “The young generation is the most important” to dominate. We are important, but so is every generation. Take more time out to listen to those who are older. I struggle with this at times. We can be really arrogant at times. Ask the older ones to invest in you. Have lots of mentors. Try new things, you’re in a good season!

 

‘Gen Z’, you need to listen to your parents and grandparents and leaders. They want to teach you, they want to show you. They can’t if you aren’t playing ball.

 

Here are some closing words for everyone. Generations come and generations go, the only generation that will stand is the eternal kingdom generation. There is one thing that every generation has in common, and that is that Jesus is God and he is to be worshipped, loved, followed, and taught. Are you a part of the kingdom generation? This is the generation that “take up their cross and follow him”, who “worship in Spirit and truth”, who take the call to “make disciples of all nations” seriously, to make disciples of all generations in every nation!

 

Every generation has been given a clear warning by the Son of God that “whoever is ashamed of him in the adulterous and sinful generation, he will be ashamed of them when he returns with the holy angels in his Father’s glory.” Let us be the kingdom generational church who knows God, worships God, and teaches God to the next generation to impact generations to come!

The Bible isn’t just one book. It’s a mini-library. Through the 66 books of the Bible God tells us his story of how and why he saves his people. Because God is creative, he tells his story using different styles of writing. So there is poetry like Song of Songs, history like Samuel and Kings, prophecy like Isaiah, commandments and law like Leviticus, there are songs like the Psalms, there are the Gospels at the start of the New Testament and all those letters to early churches like Ephesians or Colossians. And for the most part, that stuff is pretty easy to understand. Then there is the Apocalyptic literature, which isn’t.

 

Some of us might be familiar with Apocalyptic literature. Some of us aren’t. But don’t panic, because ‘Apocalyptic’ is just a fancy theological word for the kind of writing that sounds like a cross between the surrealist art of Salvador Dali and the bloodthirsty mayhem of a Quentin Tarantino film with a soundtrack by Rage Against the Machine.

 

There is plenty of weird stuff in Apocalyptic writing: beasts that come out of the sea and have teeth of iron and horns all over their heads; stars that fall from the sky; the moon turns to blood; dragons make the odd appearance; some animals have ten heads; and there are all these strange numbers that pop up all over the place. These beasts and numbers are meant to be symbolic.

 

There are a few examples of Apocalyptic literature in the Bible. In the New Testament there are a couple of chapters in the Gospels that are Apocalyptic. Most of the book of Revelation is Apocalyptic. In the Old Testament there are parts of Zechariah and Ezekiel that are Apocalyptic, and there is also the back half of Daniel, from chapters 7 to 12.

 

Now, it must be said that Apocalyptic can be difficult to understand. Because of that, all sorts of strange things are written or said about it. If you Google ‘Daniel 7’ you get over 1.3 billion hits in 0.4 of a second and honestly, most of it is fairly dodgy.

 

So one thing I read the other week said that the fourth beast in Daniel 7 was clearly a Tyrannosaurus Rex that had 10 horns like a Mohawk. Another writer wanted to interpret Daniel 7 through Revelation 13 and said that the little blasphemous horn in Daniel 7 was the anti-Christ making an early appearance—which is possible—but then he went on to say that the anti-Christ was obviously Prince Charles. Now, people have varying opinions of Prince Charles but I reckon calling him the anti-Christ is bit much.

 

Then there are other folks who say we can’t interpret any of it for certain. Some of these also say that God can’t predict the future. So these people take any kind of prophetic element out of it. When they’ve finished, you’ve got nothing but a bunch of weird stories that offer no comfort to God’s people at all.

 

Like a lot of things, the truth lies somewhere between those two extremes. God willing, that’s what we’ll be hearing today. Our God is a speaking God. He reveals himself to us through his word so that we will know his character. He does this so we will grasp his holiness and bend our knees in worship to him. God also loves us like a perfect father loves his children. Because of that, he gives us the odd glimpse into the future so we will know without doubt that he has all things completely under his sovereign control. God’s people have always needed this reassurance through all ages and in every place. Whether Christians are being persecuted or their lives are just a mess for some other reason, Christians always need to be reminded that our God is sovereign and has all things under his control. Daniel 7 is one such glimpse into the future.

 

Seeing something that’s going to happen in the future, when it is something that you don’t fully understand, would be pretty overwhelming. That was Daniel’s experience. In Daniel 7 verse 1, he tells us that he was only able to write down the substance of this dream. This tells us that he saw more than he could describe. In the last verse, verse 28, he tells us that he was deeply troubled by his thoughts and his face turned pale. This is a heavy chapter but God has preserved it for our benefit so let’s hear what He has to say.

 

Daniel’s vision is from verses 2 to 14. It is explained to him from verse 16 down to the end of the chapter. I want us to have a quick look at the vision and the explanation, but then spend most of our time in verses 13 to 14.

 

The vision itself is quite similar in lots of ways to the vision Nebuchadnezzar had in Daniel chapter 2—only here, instead of a statue with four sections, there are four beasts. But like the statue, these beasts represent four kingdoms. So have a look at verse 4, and the first beast, which represents Babylon.

 

The first was like a lion, and it had the wings of an eagle. I watched until its wings were torn off and it was lifted from the ground so that it stood on two feet like a human being, and the mind of a human was given to it. (NIV)

 

You will remember that Nebuchadnezzar went mad for a while back in chapter 4, and that his hair became like an eagle’s feathers, and then he repented and he restored to sanity, so that he stood back up like a man. This first beast is Babylon.

 

The second beast stands for the Medo-Persian empire which followed Babylon, verse 5:

 

And there before me was a second beast, which looked like a bear. It was raised up on one of its sides, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. It was told, ‘Get up and eat your fill of flesh!’

 

The bear represents the Medo-Persian Empire. The Persians were much more powerful that the Medes, which is why the bear is raised up on one side. It had a big appetite for destruction. It’s been down to the RSL for some ribs and there’s three still stuck in its teeth, but a voice tells it to keep eating, which it does until the leopard comes along.

 

The third beast in verse 6, the leopard, is Greece under Alexander the Great.

 

After that, I looked, and there before me was another beast, one that looked like a leopard. And on its back it had four wings like those of a bird. This beast had four heads, and it was given authority to rule. (NIV)

 

The leopard is one of the quickest animals around, and likewise the Greek Empire expanded incredibly rapidly under Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC. The four wings and the four heads refers to what happened to the Greek Empire after Alexander the Great died. His empire was divided between his four most powerful Generals: Ptolemy, Seleucus, Antigonus, and Cassander.

 

The fourth beast in verse 7 represents Rome.

 

After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast—terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left. It was different from all the former beasts, and it had ten horns. (NIV)

 

This one is too weird and terrifying for Daniel to describe. But it’s probably not a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Whatever it is, it freaks Daniel out. It is immensely powerful. With large iron teeth, it crushes and eats it’s victims. In the Bible, a horn generally symbolizes power. This beast has 10 horns at first, but in verse 8, three of the horns are dislodged by another little horn that had the eyes of a man and spoke boastfully. Terrific!

 

At least on one level, we can identify this beast with the Roman Empire. It was by far the most powerful of the four empires, and was pretty much unstoppable for the best part of 400 years.

 

But notice where these beasts come from, back in verses 2 to 3:

 

Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea. (NIV)

 

In the Bible, the sea often represents chaos and evil. Here it represents an almost uncontrollable opposition to God and his people. This wild churning sea keeps throwing up empire after empire. Most are bad, others are worse. That’s why these beasts come out of the sea, the metaphorical home of all that is chaotic and evil and opposed to God and his people. It’s also why at the end of the Bible, in Revelation 22, John the Apostle tells us that there is no more sea. He is saying that the days of uncontrolled opposition to God are over. (He is not necessarily saying that there is no surfing in heaven.)

 

Anyway, when Daniel gets to the heavenly courtroom from verse 9, he sees the Lord Jesus being given dominion and power and victory over these four empires. We need to understand that Jesus’ victory and dominion is not limited to just these empires. Jesus is Lord and King over all empires, across all creation, and for all time. Christians through the ages—who have lived, or are living, under empires or in countries where they are persecuted, arrested, jailed, tortured, and murdered—have been able to read Daniel 7 and be comforted by the assurance that their king, king Jesus, is ultimately in control of what they are going through. In the end, they will win because Jesus has already won. That is why so many of our brothers and sisters in those places face death with such courage. They know they will reign with Christ no matter what.

 

This is summed up in verses 16 to 18. Have a look there, because Daniel is given an explanation of his vision:

 

So he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: “The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth. But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.” (NIV)

 

This idea is repeated again in verses 26 and 27.

 

But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of all the kingdoms under heaven will be handed over to the holy people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him. (NIV)

 

There’s no doubt that God’s people will cop all sorts of terrible things from earthly kingdoms, but the eternal kingdom of God, of which every Christian is a part, is the only everlasting one, and when it comes in all its glory, God’s people will have rest and peace.

 

This is one of the central themes of all Apocalyptic writing in the Bible. It is written to God’s people who are suffering persecution to remind them that despite their present circumstances, in the end their victory is assured because God’s victory is assured.

 

At the moment, you and I don’t face much physical persecution. The insults and discrimination are ramping up against Christians. We saw that in the video Ray played last week about that university student who got kicked off his campus because he prayed for a fellow student. But physical persecution is coming. In many parts of the world, it’s a daily reality. Over the first 1,900 years of Christianity, around 14 million Christians were killed for their faith in Jesus. In the 118 years since then well over 30 million Christians were killed because of their faith in Jesus. Persecution is increasing rapidly. If you’re a Christian you need to understand that what we experience of life in Australia is different to virtually every other Christian throughout history. My question is, “What are we doing with this freedom?” The answer is, “Not all that much!” Most of us are pretty lukewarm. When was the last time you spoke to someone about Jesus?

 

The great irony is that when being a Christian is easy, churches decline. When Christians are persecuted, churches grow. I think we recognize this in our own Christian lives as well. When we are under pressure, our faith in Jesus deepens, and we grow spiritually. When we are under very little pressure, we get spiritually lazy and our faith gets shallow. If you’re not experiencing some heat for being a Christian, you’re probably not standing out for Jesus enough.

 

Come back to Daniel 7. This whole vision happens in the heavenly court room. God here, called the Ancient of Days, takes his seat as the great judge of all kingdoms and powers and authorities. Daniel describes God, in verses 9 to 10, as having clothes and hair that are as white as wool, symbolizing God’s purity. His throne is flaming with fire, symbolizing the power of his judgement.

 

Daniel tells us at the end of verse 10, that the court was seated and the books were opened. This is a scene of ultimate judgement, authority, and power. Forget your supreme court or your high court—this is where final judgement is handed down. All the beasts that Daniel saw eating ribs and terrifying people and whatever else are completely silenced in the face of the great judge. The court is now in session and we are about to meet the Lord Jesus, verses 13 to 14:

 

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (NIV)

 

We know that this Son of Man is Jesus, because 81 times in the Gospels, Jesus called himself the ‘Son of Man’, and every time he said it, he was thinking of Daniel 7. And every time he said it, everyone who heard him thought, “Hey, this bloke thinks he’s the fella from Daniel 7!”

 

Well, yes, he did think that. Sometime between his crucifixion, and when he walked out of the tomb, Jesus was led into God’s presence. He did everything he was sent here to do, and because of that, he was given all power and authority and glory because it belongs to him. This is what Daniel saw in his vision: something that would happen over 500 years later. This is why, when you get to the end of Matthew 28, in verses 18 to 20, Jesus can say:

 

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (NIV)

 

That is Jesus sending all his disciples out, including you and me, to make more disciples of all nations. The ‘Great Commission’ is given to us because Jesus is The Great King.

 

There are many who do not worship Jesus yet. But they will. On the Day Jesus comes back every eye will see, every knee will bow, every tongue will confess in heaven and on earth and under the earth, that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

 

Some will do this with unspeakable joy and delight they will fall at His feet gladly. For example Queen Victoria, who reigned over Great Britain from 1837 to 1901, said she wanted desperately to be alive when Jesus returned so that she could come to him, take off her royal crown, lay it at Jesus’ feet, and worship him who she called ‘the true Monarch’. That’s fantastic, isn’t it! Queen Elizabeth shares that same conviction. Some will worship Jesus joyfully.

 

But others will do it fearfully with the dreadful realization that they were wrong about Jesus. But either way all will worship Jesus as King.

 

That is the reality. Jesus is the risen king of God’s kingdom. That is how he sees himself. The question for us is this: “How do we see Jesus? How do you see Jesus?”

 

There are a few options. Sometimes people choose ‘baby Jesus’. He’s cute, but he’s weak and helpless. ‘Wussy Jesus’ does not confront anyone and there is no need to fear him. ‘Aussie Jesus’ is a ‘no-worries-mate’ Jesus who approves of all our lifestyle and our choices. But it’s inappropriate to think of Jesus as a baby; or a teenager; or as a gentle teacher; or as a beaten up, weak, nails-through-his-hands-and-feet, spear-through-his-side, dying, crucified servant. He was all those things. But he grew up. He died and then rose again victorious. He conquered Satan, sin, and death. He was crowned with all authority, glory, and sovereign power. He doesn’t look weak and gentle anymore. Listen to this. This is Revelation 19 verses 11 to 16. This is what Jesus looks like now:

 

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron sceptre.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. (NIV)

 

When we meet him, that is who we’ll see. That is why every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord. No one will be bowing down to a baby or a beat-up man who’s been crucified. But if you meet a bloke wearing a robe dipped in blood with the armies of heaven following him, riding a horse with a sword coming out of His mouth and a big tattoo on his legs, no one will be arguing with that guy! The only appropriate thing to do is bow down and worship him.

 

This is the picture of the Lord Jesus Daniel leaves us with: one who is crowned Lord of All, with absolute authority, glory, and sovereign power.

 

If you are not yet a Christian, is it because you have never been introduced to this Jesus? The time to stop rebelling against Jesus is now. All of us were once far away from God. All of us were sinners in need of a saviour. Those of us who are Christians have come to Jesus knowing we aren’t perfect and knowing we need forgiveness. If you don’t yet know Jesus as your king, you need to let go of your pride and humble yourself at his feet. He was a baby. He grew up and became a man. He suffered and died in your place to pay for your sin. He rose again and you will meet him at some point. It is perfectly clear that you want to meet him as your friend, brother, and saviour, and that you most certainly do not want to meet him as your enemy. If you’re not a Christian just yet but you know it’s time you were, please come and see me after church, and we can talk some more about Jesus and we can pray. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or what you’re doing, it just matters that you’re forgiven, and for that you need Jesus.

 

If you are already a Christian, there’s so much to say. I wonder if we had this image of Jesus in our heads and hearts. I wonder how different our lives would look? I reckon we’d be much more determined to live a life that honours him. I reckon we’d be really intolerant of our own sin. We’d find less excuses for our sin. I reckon we’d talk about Jesus much more than we do. I reckon we’d be asking heaps of our friends to come to church with us and come to ‘Explaining Christianity’ with us. I reckon we’d find visitors and people we don’t know at church and talk to them and make sure they’re feeling welcome so they stick around and either become Christians or grow as Christians. I reckon we’d be really generous with our giving because we’d want to see his kingdom grow heaps!

 

I wonder if the main reason we—and please notice that I am saying we—because Daniel 7 hits me too. I wonder if the main reason we are so lukewarm at times is because our picture of Jesus is out of date. He was a baby. He is now the king of God’s universe. This Jesus is worth serving. He is worth loving. He is worth talking about. He’s not just worth dying for. He’s worth living for.

 

Let’s pray.

 

Are you someone who has lots of dreams and remembers them all? Or maybe you’re someone who doesn’t remember hardly any of your dreams? Or maybe you’re like me. I know that I have dreams. Sometimes I remember bits and pieces of them. Occasionally I’ll remember all of a dream. But sometimes I don’t remember if I had any dreams at all. Dreams are weird things, aren’t they?

 

Sometimes dreams are romantic. I remember a dream I had when I was in year five. There was this girl at school I liked but she didn’t seem interested in me, Then one night I had this dream of rescuing her from being attacked by a shark at school camp! Naturally, she fell in love with me. Life’s pretty simple when you’re eleven.

 

Then there are dreams that are just really fun. Whatever puts a smile on your face is the thing you’re dreaming about. For me, those sort of dreams usually involve a 911 GT3 RS. It’s probably different for most of you. But some of you probably also dream about 911 GT3 RS like me. But whatever floats your boat, the dream starts, and you’ve got a smile on your face. You’re having a great time, but then you wake up because you’ve got to go to the toilet! And you’re so disappointed because the dream was so cool. So you go as quickly as you can, you don’t turn the lights on, and you rush back to bed. But it’s dark so you trip over a shoe or something on your floor. You’re still trying to not wake up properly. Then you do your best to get back into the dream. And you can’t. It’s gone. That’s so frustrating!

 

Then there are those dreams you don’t understand. They’re so weird that you wake up and think about explaining it to someone, but decide not to because it would sound like you took acid before you went to sleep.

 

Then there are dreams we don’t like that much. Those dreams are usually related to what’s going on in life, so if there’s something really stressful going on, it’s hard to sleep anyway. But when we do get to sleep, our dreams are really tense. So we wake up feeling anxious instead of refreshed. In times of high-level, long-term stress, our anxiety affects our sleep and our dreams, and we just wake up drained. I don’t know if that’s happened to you but I’ve experienced that a bunch of times, and it’s horrible. That’s usually when you have that dream where you’re falling and you can’t grab hold of anything? You want to yell out for help, but nothing comes out of your mouth. You can feel your heart beating faster and faster. Then you wake up with a jolt. You’re panicking. Your eyes dart around your bedroom looking for danger. Then you lie back down with your eyes wide open. You want to go back to sleep because you’re tired. But you’re almost afraid to go back to sleep because you don’t want to get back to that dream.

 

I reckon that’s probably how Nebuchadnezzar felt after he woke up in Daniel 2. I reckon he completely freaked out. Verse 1 tells us that his mind was troubled and he couldn’t go back to sleep. This dream has him spooked. Now, at the time, Nebuchadnezzar was the most powerful man on the planet. What is it that powerful people fear most? Losing power. He’s not sure what the dream means, but he’s scared.

 

So he calls in his wise men: enchanters, astrologers, diviners, and magicians. These guys advise him about all sorts of stuff: from foreign policy to civil law to interpreting dreams. One of the resources the wise men have is their dream de-coding book. Back in the day, people thought that dreams were the gods’ way of telling you things. So over the years, the wise men had built up a library of reference books. It was a pretty simple system. The dreamer would tell the wise men their dream. The wise men would look up that that particular type of dream in their book. Then they would tell the dreamer what the dream meant. Easy.

 

In the past, Nebuchadnezzar has done this plenty of times. But this time is different. This dream isn’t normal, and he knows it. He doesn’t want an answer out of a book. He wants the truth. But deep down, I think he knows his wise men are fakes. He thinks he’s never going to know the real meaning of the dream. That’s scaring him more than he wants to admit. Sometimes when people are scared they get angry and irrational.

 

In verse 5 and again in verse 9, Nebuchadnezzar tells them that he wants one of them to not only interpret the dream but tell him what it was first! They’re stuffed and they know it. The wise men don’t actually have any power. All the stuff they do is smoke and mirrors. In verse 11, they admit it.

 

What the King asks is too difficult. No one can reveal the dream to the King except the gods and they do not live among humans! (NIV)

 

I don’t know if you’ve ever been into horoscopes, but they’re in the back of every magazine and newspaper. If you Google ‘horoscopes’, you get 130 million results in .3 of a second. It’s human nature for us to want to know the future. That’s why people read horoscopes. But they’re absolute rot.

 

Before she was a Christian, a friend of mine used to write horoscopes. She wasn’t an astrologer and she didn’t know much about star signs. But she was, and still is, a really good writer. So she wrote a horoscope that was in a bunch of magazines and newspapers. She just made the whole thing up. I reckon Nebuchadnezzar knows his astrologers and enchanters and wise men are like that. They’re just making stuff up. And Nebuchadnezzar is right.

 

He’s so angry with them that he orders to be executed every wise man, enchanter, and magician in Babylon. But the trouble is that Daniel and his three friends are in that group. They’re part of the wise men of Babylon. From verse 14, Daniel hears that he’s to be put to death. So he carefully asks why. Then once he hears what’s going on, he goes in to see Nebuchadnezzar and asks for time to interpret the dream. And when he gets home, have a look at verse 17:

 

Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. (NIV)

 

Let’s just have a think about this for a moment. When we’re faced with a crisis, what do we do? We could panic. If you’re a bloke, you usually try to fix it yourself, or just hope that the problem goes away. If you’re a woman, maybe you talk about it over with friends. Maybe you freak out or cry or get angry. We all have different ways of dealing with a crisis. But look at what Daniel does. In a crisis, he finds his mates and they pray. They plead for mercy from the God of heaven that they might be saved.

 

It seems to me that if you want to get anything done you have to pray. All the way through the Bible, God’s people are people of prayer. When they’re not people of prayer they’re usually in trouble! Ezra 9, Nehemiah 9, and Daniel 9 are all prayers that each of those blokes prayed. Every letter Paul writes in the NT starts with him praying for the people to whom he’s writing. Jesus prayed heaps, and you’d think that he’d be the one bloke who probably didn’t need to pray!

 

You can go to Martin Luther’s house in Germany and walk through it in the top room is his study his desk is against a wall under a window that looks out over the city. There are two grooves worn into the floorboards where he would kneel and pray. The last 500 years of church history were shaped by a bloke who prayed so much he wore grooves in his floorboards. I’m not convinced I could wear a dent in my carpet! John Wesley once said that he had so much to do each day, he simply had to get up at 4am so that he had enough time to pray about all the stuff he had to do.

 

Pray first, then act. This is what Daniel and his friends do. They pray, hear from God, then act. I need to hear this because I get the order messed up. I encounter a problem. Sometimes I think then I act. Sometimes I act first and then think later. Either way, I so often pray last! Which is a bit like saying to God, “Are you OK with what I’ve decided to do after I’ve done it.” We’ve probably all done that! Daniel shows us the order it’s meant to be: a crisis, so pray, and get your friends to pray with you. Being a Christian is a team sport. We’re not in this alone. Hear from God then act.

 

God answers this prayer immediately and positively. He reveals the dream and its meaning to Daniel in a vision that night. In verse 29, Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar what he saw in his dream. He saw a huge statue of four parts: a head of gold; arms and chest of silver; a belly and thighs of bronze; and legs and feet of iron mixed with clay. Then there’s this rock, cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands. The rock strikes the statue, which crumbles to dust and is blown away by the wind. The rock remains and grows. It gets massive and eventually fills the whole world.

 

Nebuchadnezzar wants to know what part of the dream represents him. Does the whole statue, or part of the statue, or the rock, represent him? So from verse 36, Daniel gives Nebuchadnezzar the interpretation of the dream.

 

The four parts of the statue represent four kingdoms. Babylon is the head of gold. You can see that in verse 38. Daniel says to Nebuchadnezzar, “You, King Nebuchadnezzar, are that head of gold”. Three other kingdoms will follow the Medo-Persian empire. Then comes the Greek empire. And lastly, the Roman empire is represented here by the legs and feet of iron and clay. Daniel doesn’t identify the kingdoms here in chapter 2. But he does identify them later in the book of Daniel, so we know these are the kingdoms to which the dream refers.

 

Then, from verse 44, Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar the meaning of the rock. At some point in the future, God is going to break into history in a massive, earth shattering way. His kingdom will expand and fill the earth and will endure forever. As Daniel says in verse 45, the dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy. Daniel didn’t know how this was going to happen. He just knew it would.

 

We are a bit different to Daniel. From where we stand in history, we know how God did this and we know when. During the Roman empire, Jesus turned up. He’s the rock that was cut out of the mountain, but not by human hands. Jesus brought God’s kingdom to earth not by military might but by love. He did not come with the pride and arrogance of an earthly king, but with humility. Although Jesus is the king, he came to serve. He came to live the life we haven’t lived and die the death we deserve to die. From our vantage point, we know about the cross. We know that Jesus died. We know that Jesus didn’t stay dead. We know about the empty tomb. We know Jesus won the victory over Satan, sin, and death. We know that one day every eye will see and every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Daniel said it like this to Nebuchadnezzar in verse 45:

 

“The great God has shown the King what will take place in the future.” (NIV)

 

Daniel spoke not about what might happen in the future, or what Daniel wants to happen in the future, but what will happen in the future. You and I would say, “What has happened in the past.”

 

Well, Nebuchadnezzar is pretty shocked. He knows his own wise men couldn’t have done what Daniel just did. So he promotes Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. And the rest of the book is now set up for us.

 

I want us to notice a couple of things as we wrap this chapter up. One of the things Daniel teaches us really well is how we live in a culture that is opposed to God. I think it’s easy to forget this, but Daniel worked for a ruler who had destroyed his home and his city after a siege that lasted around two years. We don’t read anything about Daniel’s family so there is a good chance that Nebuchadnezzar’s soldiers had killed Daniel’s parents, brothers, and sisters. He was taken from Jerusalem when he was a young teenager, and he never made it back home. I think it’s easy for us to forget the tears Daniel cried when he thought about his home and his family and his friends who didn’t make it to Babylon. He would have cried when he remembered the temple in Jerusalem where God met with his people.

 

And yet Daniel treats Nebuchadnezzar with great respect. In verse 36 he calls him ‘the king of kings’. He calls him ‘your majesty’. He says that the kingdoms following Nebuchadnezzar’s are inferior. He respects the king, while at the same time he never shrinks back from his primary allegiance to the God of Israel.

 

Someone wiser than me says it like this: Daniel cooperated but didn’t compromise. I think that helps us figure out how we interact with our culture as it becomes harder and harder for us to be outspoken for our faith. We can still cooperate with our government and our workplaces and our employers and so on, but we need to make sure we don’t compromise. Exactly where we draw that line will be different in each circumstance. It’ll take a great deal of prayer and wisdom to know where to draw the line. But this is one of the things that stand out. Daniel and his friends draw the line clearly and early. And they don’t cross it for anything. It’s cooperation without compromise.

 

Daniel 2 also tells us something that all of God’s people need to hear from time to time. Kingdoms rise and fall. Empires come and go. Human history is littered with tyrannical rulers who rise up, one after the other, but in the end they all amount to precisely nothing. God’s kingdom is different. It turned up about 2,000 years ago when Jesus conquered Satan, sin, and death. It will outlast every king, ruler, dictator, kingdom, and empire. The Roman empire was knocked over by the Visigoths and Vandals, who were knocked over by the Byzantines, who were knocked over by Muslim expansion, who were knocked over by the Crusaders, who were knocked over by Muslims again. Then the Portuguese were the world superpower, then the Spanish, then the French, the Turks, the British. Hitler had shot at it. So did Stalin. Chairman Mao revolutionized China and right now, we’re all holding our breath waiting to see if militant Islam, China, Russia or a revitalized USA will come out on top. I’ve left a few out but you get the idea.

 

Daniel would tell us that it doesn’t really matter. Kingdoms come and go. They rise and fall. But God’s kingdom just marches on. What does that mean?

 

Every day people become Christians. Every day God’s Kingdom expands and is filling the whole earth. A while ago a few mission agencies got together and crunched the numbers. They wanted to see what was happening across the world and how effective Christian mission work was. In the end they came up with what they said was a fairly conservative figure. Every day roughly 53,000 people are saved. They are transferred from death to life from all sorts of different religions and countries, many of them in places where Christians are horribly persecuted. 53,000 people every day! Most of us are surprised and delighted by that. But I’m not sure our friend Daniel would be surprised. Daniel didn’t know what that rock was that struck the statue and reduced it to dust. He didn’t know who it might have been. But Daniel has been in heaven for a fair while now, and he’s known Jesus for at least a couple of thousand years. He’s seen history play out exactly as God said it would. In that dream, God’s kingdom grows bigger and bigger. There isn’t a country on earth where there are no Christians.

 

Kingdoms come and go. Some are more powerful than others. Some are more evil than others, but in the end, all of them bend the knee to Jesus.

 

That brings me to the last thing that Daniel 2 gives us: it gives us an antidote for doubt. Remember what Daniel went through. His home and country were destroyed. God’s temple had been flattened. His parents and family were almost certainly dead. He was living in exile. How often would doubts over God’s goodness and power and sovereignty have gone through Daniel’s mind? I reckon doubt would have been a constant companion for Daniel. I think that’s why the message of the whole book of Daniel is that God is resolutely, absolutely, 100% in control of all that happens. Here in Daniel chapter 2, that theme would have been the one thing Daniel needed to hear more than anything else: kingdoms rise and fall, but God’s kingdom goes on for all eternity.

 

All of us have moments of doubt. They can be caused by our own sin from time to time. But more often our doubts come when we’re really suffering through something: relationship breakdown, mental illness; emotional, physical, or psychological abuse; separation or divorce; serious illness; the death of someone we love; betrayal by someone we trusted. All of those things and more can cause us to doubt God’s goodness to us and his sovereignty over everything. I’m not sure Christians talk about this enough. So let’s go. Doubt is quite a normal thing in the Christian life. And there is an eternity of difference between doubt and disbelief. Disbelief cuts us off from Jesus. Doubt doesn’t.

 

Doubts among Christians are quite normal. Just in case you doubt that, here’s the end of Matthew 28, and a verse that I think gets almost no attention. Look at this:

 

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted. (NIV)

 

Now, normally when you hear those verses read, whoever is reading them just keeps on going and gets to the bit where Jesus tells his disciples and us that our job is to tell the world about him and baptise the ones who believe! And that’s great. But what about the bit where some of the disciples are still doubting? They’ve just hung out with Jesus for the past month and a half after he died and rose again! He’s got nail marks in his hands and feet and a decent stab wound in his side. He can walk through doors and just randomly appear here or there, and some of the disciples are still doubting! I don’t feel so bad about my doubts now!

 

If those guys had doubts, I should probably expect to have doubts as well. They believed though, didn’t they? All the apostles died for their faith. These guys believed in Jesus with all their hearts. So we have to know that there’s an eternity of difference between doubt and disbelief. I think that’s another reason why Daniel is here in the OT. Remember verse 45:

 

The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future. The dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy. (NIV)

 

God wants us to know that he knows what he is doing. He told Daniel this stuff almost 600 years before Jesus turned up and brought God’s kingdom in. Jesus was always God’s ‘Plan A’. There was no ‘Plan B’. It might look a mess to us at times. But from God’s perspective it all fits together exactly the way he designed it to.

 

It’s a bit like a tapestry. From the back it just looks messy and chaotic. But from the front it’s beautiful. Our problem is that most of the time, when we’re looking at life, it’s like we are looking at the back of the tapestry, not the front. I think Daniel gives us a glimpse at the front of the tapestry. It reminds us that yes, kingdoms rise and fall, empires come and go, but God’s kingdom is eternal. And that is the kingdom of which every Christian is a part. We will still doubt from time to time, but as long as we keep our eyes on Jesus and what he has already done for us, those doubts will fade into the background as quickly as they surface.

 

Let’s pray.

When we meet new people, we all do this thing—we want to get them in a box with a label as quickly as possible. To do this, we try to quickly figure out who they are and what they’re like. Of course, we know that most people hate being labelled or put in a box. So we try and be as sneaky as we can be in our labeling activities. The weird thing is that the new person that we’ve just met is sneakily trying to put us in a box as well. It’s human nature and we all do it.

 

So when we meet new people, we each have a series of questions that we ask to try and figure out who they are. The first one is often, “Where are you from?” That question might mean, “Which country are you from?” In that case, it’s a “What’s your heritage?” question. People have always asked me where I’m from. When I tell them that both sides of my family came to Australia from England over 100 years ago, I can tell that they’re really disappointed. I know this because they then tell me, “Oh, that’s a surprise, I thought you were Greek, or Italian, or Lebanese, or Spanish, or Israeli, or whatever else. Now that I work at MBM, Ray and Grant both reckon that I should be Maltese! I was called a ‘wog’ all the way through school, and most people still think I’m some sort of Mediterranean!

 

But the question might mean, “Where are you from?” might actually be a, “What suburb are you from?” question. We have a whole list of assumptions that we make about different suburbs in Sydney. If someone says that they are from the Eastern Suburbs, we might think, “Oh well, you’re rich and you’re a bit of a snob!” If we find out someone is from the North Shore, we might think, “Well, you’re pretentious and very well educated.” If someone is from the Shire, we might assume, “Well, you’re a tradie or in finance, you have at least three tattoos and aren’t aware of any other suburbs in Sydney.” If someone is from the West, we might think, “Well, you’re probably a pretty hard worker, you’re practical, you like Triple M, and everyone else in Sydney is secretly a little frightened of you, but you’re quite ok with that.” If someone is from the Blue Mountains, we might then think, “Well, you’re not planning on moving anywhere, your parents live around the corner, and you married someone you went to school with, and they’re possibly a distant relation.” Those stereotypes aren’t always true of course, but we all know each different part of Sydney has a reputation.

 

We might also ask where people went to school. We’re trying to figure out if they’re from a private school, a public school, or a parent controlled Christian school. And we also have a list of assumptions that we plug into each answer.

 

Then we ask what work they do. Is the person blue collar, white collar, no collar, dog collar? And we have another heap of assumptions we make. We’re trying to put people in a box with a label so that we’re comfortable with them.

 

Now, all the way through John’s Gospel, people are trying to do this to Jesus. When Jesus meets people, whether they are regular folks or religious leaders, they all ask him questions. They are trying to figure out what sort of box to put him in. The religious leaders are especially uncomfortable with Jesus because they don’t know him. They can’t control him. They’re also used to religious ritual, that everything is ordered the way that they are used to, and anything out of the ordinary freaks them out!

 

But the trouble is that there’s no box for Jesus. Every time they think they’ve got him figured out, Jesus says something that smashes their stupid box to pieces. It frustrates them, it makes them angry, and ultimately, it makes them want to kill Jesus—which, in the end, is exactly what they do.

 

While the religious leaders are busy trying to put Jesus in a human box, Jesus is busy putting himself into the box that says, ‘God’. Jesus is saying, “I’m God in the flesh”. That’s what is happening here in John 7, and it’s fascinating stuff.

 

As often happens in the Gospels, here in John 7 we find a crowd of people talking to Jesus. Some of them are religious leaders, but others are just regular folks. And there are three questions that they ask here, but Jesus doesn’t give them the answers they’re expecting, so it’s confusing for them, but fun for us!

 

So here are the three questions Jesus is asked in John 7: First, “Where did you go to school?”, verse 15. Second, “Where are you from?”, verses 25-27. Third, “Where are you going?”, verses 33-39.

 

(1) "Jesus, where did you go to school?"

 

The context of John 7 is one of the big festivals in the Jewish calendar, the Feast of Tabernacles. There were three major festivals throughout the year—Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles—and Jewish people were meant to go up to Jerusalem and worship God at each of these festivals. I’ll tell you more about the Feast of Tabernacles in a bit.

 

John 7 starts in Galilee, up in the north of Israel, with a conversation between Jesus and a few of his brothers. Mary and Joseph had plenty more kids after Jesus was born, and they turn up in a few places in the Gospels. But at this point, they don’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah. They just think Jesus is full of himself.

 

Jesus’ brothers were about to go up to Jerusalem for this Festival of Tabernacles, but Jesus tells them that he’s not going, and so they have a crack at him. Jesus was always planning on going to the festival, but he was just going to do it quietly. See, he knows that the Jewish religious leaders want to kill him, so he doesn’t march into Jerusalem with any fanfare. He just slips in through the back door. The triumphal entry into Jerusalem will happen, but that’s still about 6 months away.

 

So Jesus gets to Jerusalem in verse 11, and there are whispers among the crowds when they see him that they know who he is and that they know he does miracles and teaches with amazing authority. But opinion is divided in verse 12. Some think that Jesus is a good man, some think that he is a deceiver, but no one says anything publicly, because they were afraid of the Jewish religious leaders. The Jewish religious leaders haven’t given their verdict yet on who Jesus is—and that’s what people are waiting for. But no one is sure what to make of Jesus just yet. No one has been able to put him in a box, and that’s what they’re trying to do. So here’s their first question. Have a look at verse 14:

 

Not until halfway through the Festival did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. The Jews there were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?” (NIV)

 

Where did you go to school? Jesus is preaching like no one they’ve ever heard, but they don’t know where he studied. Jesus didn’t go to any of the places they studied! So they ask, “Where did you go to school, Jesus?” Did he go to Moore College? Did He go to SMBC? Did he go to Dallas Seminary? Did he go to Hillsong College? What box can we put you in? The answer is, “None of the above.” Have a look at verse 16:

 

“My teaching is not my own. It comes from the One who sent me! Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” (NIV)

 

Jesus went to ‘The Bible College of Heaven’, or BCH for short!

 

There are all these assumptions behind this question. Where did you go to school? It’s quite arrogant really. The Jewish religious leaders want to see Jesus’ degree, they wanted a piece of paper to tell them that he was legit! But Jesus doesn’t have a piece of paper, he just has his word, and in quite a confronting way, he says that anyone who chooses to do the will of God will know that Jesus speaks with God’s authority!

 

Jesus isn’t the establishment. The Jewish religious leaders are. They have authority. Jesus doesn’t. They look the part with all their long flowing robes and big hats. Jesus just looks like a regular bloke. He’s a tradie, and that’s not enough for religious people.

 

When we moved back to Sydney from Tassie to work at Menai, we met this large group of youth leaders, aged from say 19-23. They mostly didn’t look like they should be leading anything. Tassie was high Anglican. It was very religious and quiet, with beautiful old stone buildings, all kinds of colourful robes, and ornate pews that were empty. But the guys at Menai were surfers and skaters and footy players. They had long hair. They were grotty. They didn’t look right. But they led right. These young men and women were on fire for Jesus. They were passionate and they led with integrity and they were zealous to see people saved. They were outstanding. But they didn’t look right and it upset a few of the more conservative parents at church.

 

That’s what’s going on here. Jesus doesn’t look right. Jesus doesn’t look ‘religious’ enough to be legit. So that’s their first question. They judge Jesus, and they think “You don’t look right, Jesus!” So they ask him, “Where did you go to school?”  And the answer was “heaven”.

 

(2) “Jesus, where did you come from?”

 

The second question was, “Jesus, where did you come from?” Have a look at verse 25:

 

At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Messiah? But we know where this man is from; when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.’” (NIV)

 

So here’s what’s happening. In the Old Testament, Micah 5 tells us that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem. But by the time Jesus turned up, a few Rabbis had said that no one will know where the Messiah comes from, and somehow this idea had been widely believed. But everyone knows where Jesus was from. He’s Jesus of Nazareth, isn’t he? Only, Jesus wasn’t born in Nazareth—that was just where he grew up. Where does Micah 5 say that the Messiah will be born? Bethlehem. Where was Jesus born? Bethlehem!

 

Now, I really don’t know what the crowd expected Jesus to say. Maybe they just thought that he’d say, “Nazareth”, or some other town, but I can guarantee you they weren’t expecting him to say this, in verse 28:

 

“Yes, you know me and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own authority, but He who sent me is true. You do not know Him, but I know Him, because I am from Him and He sent me!” (NIV)

 

Where are you from Jesus? The answer is heaven, the same as the answer to the first question.

 

From time to time you’ll hear people say that Jesus never claimed to be God. You can only think that if you’ve never read the Bible. He does it a bunch of times in John’s Gospel. He does it in John 5 when he says that God is his Father. He’ll do it again in John 10 when he says that, “I and the Father are one.” He does it again in John 8 and a few other places, and John 7 is one of them, for there he says that he was from God and that God sent him. In that culture a messenger had the authority of the one who sent him. That’s just how it worked. So when Jesus says that he’s from God and has been sent by God, the Jewish religious leaders understand exactly what he’s saying, that he is claiming equality with God.

 

That’s why some of them want to kill Jesus in verse 30. If they just thought Jesus was saying that he was a messenger or a courier or that he worked for ‘Startrack’, they wouldn’t care. But they know exactly what Jesus meant. Jesus claimed to be equal with God and so they wanted to kill him for blasphemy.

 

But there were others in the crowd who reacted differently. In verse 31, many in the crowd believed in him. Jesus just made logical sense. Everyone in Jerusalem knew Jesus was doing miracles. Everyone also knew the Messiah would do miracles when he came. Therefore, Jesus must be the Messiah! You see this all the way through John’s Gospel, that people are polarized by Jesus. Some believe him and love him, while others reject him and want to kill him.

 

We see the same thing here today in the conversations we have with people about Jesus. People either believe Jesus, worship him, love him, and trust him, or reject him. Some folks say they’re not sure, so they’re sitting on the fence. The bad news is that Satan owns the fence, and so if you’re unsure about Jesus, then you’re still rejecting him. But the good news is that Jesus is still calling you to change sides, to worship him and trust him and find mercy and forgiveness and a new life. That’s what Jesus is like: merciful and gracious, and he loves you.

 

So Jesus has been asked where he went to school, and the answer is heaven. He’s been asked where he’s from, and the answer is heaven.

 

(3) "Jesus, where are you going?"

 

They ask him where he’s going. And you might guess what his answer will be: heaven. From verse 33-36, this conversation happens between the Jewish religious leaders and Jesus, and they ask where Jesus is going. Jesus tells them that he is going back to the one who sent him, and they aren’t going to be able to follow him. That’s interesting, of course, but it’s verse 37 that grabs our attention. Jesus is heading back to heaven for a reason.

 

Now, we need to understand the Feast of Tabernacles if we want to understand what Jesus is saying here. It’s autumn, it’s dry in Israel at this time of year. Wells are drying up. Cisterns are low. Springs aren’t flowing like they normally do. The grass has died off on the hills, so everything’s brown. The grass isn’t going to grow back without water. Their next crops aren’t growing without God sending rain on their dry land. The wells aren’t going to fill back up, and the springs won’t flow properly without new rain. Part of the Feast of Tabernacles was corporate prayer for God to send rain to refresh the dry land.

 

But another part of the Feast of Tabernacles was spiritual. God’s people weren’t just praying for rain to refresh the dry land, but they were also asking God to refresh them spiritually when they got spiritually dry. They would sing some of the Psalms that spoke about spiritual refreshment at this Feast of Tabernacles. Psalm 42, “As the deer pants for the water so my soul longs for you, O God! My soul thirsts for God, for the living God, where can I go and meet with God? Or Psalm 63, “You, God, are my God; earnestly I seek you, my whole being longs for you, as in a dry and parched land where there is no water.”

 

The Feast went for seven days. On the first six days, the priests would walk out of the city along with the people, and go to a spring. One of the priests carried a golden pitcher. They would fill the pitcher with water and walk back to the temple. The priests would climb the steps to the outside altar and pour the water over the altar while the crowd of people sang some of the Psalms. They’d do this each morning for the first six days, and then on the seventh day, “the last and greatest day of the Feast”, they would do this seven times.

 

Partly, this ceremony was a plea to God to water the dry land with new rain so that their crops would grow. Partly it was symbolic. Back when God’s people were wandering in the desert in Numbers 20, they were thirsty and God brought water out of a rock. Also, both Zechariah and Ezekiel saw visions of rivers flowing out of the temple, symbolizing God’s blessing over His people.

 

Notice what Jesus does and says in verse 37:

 

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. (NIV)

 

Understand that Jesus is using what is going on around him as a visual aid, but he’s reinterpreting it. He’s saying to the crowds of people who have come there to worship God and ask for Spiritual refreshment that they do not need religion or ritual or ceremony. Rather, they need him. They need the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit!

 

That’s what John tells us in verse 39. Jesus is talking about the time that will come only seven or eight months after this day, after Jesus has been crucified and raised back to life, after he has returned to heaven. That is the time when he will pour out his Spirit, and those who believe in him will be filled with the Holy Spirit in a way that God’s people have never experienced before.

 

With this festival going on all around him, with water being carried to the temple and poured on the altar over and over again, Jesus promises the fulfilment of all those Psalms they’d been singing and praying. Their souls will be refreshed. Their longing for God will be met with perfect intimacy. God himself will take up residence in their hearts by his Spirit. This is wonderful stuff.

 

But have you forgotten that feeling? Have you forgotten the joy that comes with knowing Jesus? Is that feeling of rivers of living water flowing through you only a distant memory? Sometimes, those rivers dry up a bit. Illness, problems within your family, persistent sin, laziness, relationship breakdown, separation or divorce, mental illness, there’s any number of causes, but from time to time, all of us forget the relationship we have with Jesus and we turn it into a religion. We just go through the motions and it gets dry and stale, restrictive, predictable.

 

That’s what religion is, isn’t it? Predictable. You know what’s going to happen and when, you know what’s going to be said and how. It’s a very controlled environment. A relationship with Jesus is none of those things.

 

Some folks in the crowd have just figured that out. It’s like they’ve been living in a black and white movie and someone just turned the colour on.

 

See if you can picture them. There’s the long line of priests carrying water from the spring, they are pouring it over the altar. There are crowds of people singing Psalms, yearning for God to refresh them, and you hear the commotion in the middle of the temple grounds. It’s Jesus. He’s speaking loudly. It’s awkward and uncomfortable. But you can’t not listen, because he’s offering that spiritual refreshing for which you’ve come to Jerusalem. For years and years you’ve sought it but never received it. And this Jesus is saying that all you have to do is come to him and believe in him, and rivers of living water will flow from within you. You just can’t ignore that, because that’s what you’ve longed for your whole life! Everyone does, we just look for it so often in all the wrong places.

 

It’s so easy to forget the difference Jesus makes. It’s so easy to slip into religion and forget relationship. We’re so used to reading the Gospels that we just miss the seismic shift that happens every time Jesus opens His mouth. This festival had been happening for hundreds of years and Jesus just turned it upside down. Most of us have read John 7 and maybe never noticed it.

 

In a world of people just ticking the religious box week by week, Jesus offers us something completely different.

 

Psalm 42: “As the deer pants for the water so my soul longs for you, O God! My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go and meet with God?”

 

Psalm 63: “You, God, are my God; earnestly I seek you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.”

 

Friends, religion can’t fix that longing. It’s not designed to. Only Jesus can satisfy our spiritual thirst, when we come to him trusting in him, he takes our sin away. He changes our heart and he gives us his Spirit, and that changes everything.

 

Let’s pray.

I wonder what the Christian life would look like if we thought the Bible told us to really enjoy the life God’s given us? What would the Christian like look like if God said something like, “Life is short, have a great time!”? I reckon that would make evangelism much easier!

 

I don’t know what sort of Christianity you’ve grown up with or have been used to, but I didn’t grow up thinking that was what being a Christian is all about. Most of us have come to MBM from pretty diverse backgrounds—different denominations, religions, or no religion at all—but I grew up in a couple of pretty conservative Baptist churches up in the Blue Mountains. I had great pastors growing up. They were faithful and godly men who loved Jesus and preached well. Maybe it was the way I understood it, or maybe it was the culture in which I grew up, but the version of Christianity I grew up with wasn’t all that joyful. So while I believed in Jesus and was saved, as I look back at it, being a Christian wasn’t relaxed or fun. I didn’t think of God like my loving heavenly Father. He was more like a stern school headmaster who was ready to punish me whenever I did something wrong. Being a Christian was like a white-knuckle ride at Luna Park: I somehow knew I’d make it to the end, but I had to hang on for dear life in the meantime, and instead of having a smile on my face, there was some fear.

 

Being a Christian wasn’t really about what you did, it was about what you didn’t do or didn’t say or didn’t think. We were Baptists, right, so no one we knew drank alcohol. I remember being told that Jesus turned water into grape juice at the wedding at Cana in John 2 (that’s not true, by the way—it was wine, and lots of it, around 700 litres, and it would have been good stuff, something like a Penfold’s Grange!) but every Sunday on our way home from church for lunch we’d buy apple cider from the fruit shop (not alcoholic cider but fizzy apple drink) and we did this so often that the bloke who owned the fruit shop called it ‘Baptist Water’.

 

No one we knew smoked, yet every preacher I knew quoted Spurgeon who loved smoking his pipe! Someone once asked Spurgeon when he would stop smoking, and Spurgeon replied, “When I am smoking too much.” The bloke then said, “Oh, and when will that be, Mr Spurgeon?” The great man said, “When I have a lit pipe in each hand my dear brother!” Baptists don’t tell that Spurgeon story!

 

We were discouraged from listening to modern music, and no one ever talked about sex, because it might lead to dancing! We were Baptists, remember and you know the old joke? “Why don’t Baptists believe in sex before marriage? Because it might lead to dancing.”

 

I grew up thinking that what made you a Christian was all the stuff you didn’t do or didn’t say. That wasn’t what was preached—at least I’m pretty sure that wasn’t preached—it’s just the way I heard it. It was just the way the culture around me lived and I was part of that culture.

 

I don’t remember hearing a sermon on Ecclesiastes until I was about 30. I’ve often thought that was such a shame, because Ecclesiastes is a pretty cool part of the Bible. It’s real and honest, and I reckon it puts the joy back into being a Christian. It helps us make sense of what can be a pretty confusing life at times. We’ve been going through it in the holidays this year and we’re up to Ecclesiastes chapter 9 this week.

 

The big idea of Ecclesiastes chapter 9 is this: everyone dies, but not everyone truly lives. That was what I really needed to hear growing up. Instead, I got a long list of dos and don’ts, which just made me think God was always a bit angry with me. Everyone dies, not everyone truly lives. We’ll look at the depressing part first, that everyone dies, and then we’ll get cheered up as we figure out what a life truly lived looks like.

 

The guy who wrote Ecclesiastes wants us to face reality. He isn’t pretending everything’s ok, because it’s not.

 

So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands, but no one knows whether love or hate awaits them. All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not. As it is with the good, so with the sinful; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them. This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. (Ecclesiastes 9:1-3 NIV)

 

It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter what sort of person you are or how much money you have or don’t have. It doesn’t matter what sort of car you drive or how you drive it. It doesn’t matter what you do or don’t do, what you believe, or don’t believe, what you love or hate, whether you are a decent person or a terrible person—you and I are going to die. Unless Jesus comes back within the next 100 years or so, not a single one of us will still be alive. We’ll all be six foot under in a box or a small pile of ash on a mantelpiece somewhere. He’s a heaps cheerful fella, the bloke who wrote this. But it’s reality, isn’t it?

 

And worse, in chapter 9 verse 12, he tells us we have no idea when this is going to happen:

 

Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so people are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.

 

I reckon we all grasp the fact that we have a limited time here on God’s green earth. But I reckon most of us believe we’ll live for longer than we will. I have sat with dozens of people as they’ve died—and I’ve known hundreds more—and I can think of about six who thought they were ready. But nearly everyone else wanted more time with their family and friends. That’s totally normal, even for solid Christians who know exactly where they are going and who are really looking forward to meeting Jesus in person. Death breaks relationships, and we all hate that.

 

We worked at Menai for about 8 years. Within the first 18 months we buried five people who died way before their time. One was a young epileptic bloke who had a fit in his sleep and swallowed his tongue. One bloke was in his 60s who got crook with something vague. He went to hospital and never made it home. One was a fit bloke in his early 40s who just dropped dead out of the blue. There were also two people in their 30s, both were married with little kids, and both were lost to cancer in a very short space of time. All of them were Christians, all were loved, all important to a great many people. None of it made any sense at all, and it still doesn’t 11 years later. I have no doubt that many of you will be thinking of people you knew and loved who were called home way before you were ready to say goodbye. Death is nearly always an unwelcome guest.

 

And yet, the guy who wrote this book isn’t finished with the depressing stuff just yet. There are two more miserable things, and the first is in verse 3b:

 

The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead. (Ecclesiastes 9:3b NIV)

 

So it’s not just that we all die, but that while we’re alive our hearts are plagued by evil and madness. Sometimes we do terrible things, but sometimes, terrible things are done to us. All of us have experienced both. No one gets through life without some scars.

 

Oh, and one more thing—while we’re reaching for the Zoloft or Lexapro—just in case we aren’t depressed enough already, we read in verse 5:

 

For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten. (Ecclesiastes 9:5 NIV)

 

Here’s what he means: Do you guys remember Alfred Alberts? He’s the famous American chemist and researcher who discovered the drug that lowers cholesterol. He saved countless lives over the years. No? Oh, OK, what about Henry Butler. He is the blind jazz pianist from New Orleans whose music changed a generation of jazz players. You know about him, don’t you? He was so good people said he sounded like he had 3 or 4 hands instead of 2! No? Oh, far out? What about Constance Adams. Surely you know her? She’s famous, working for NASA, and she designed all the living quarters for astronauts aboard the International Space Station. No, you don’t know her?

 

Those three people were all in the paper this week. They were in the New York Times—in the obituary section. They all died over the past week. Very famous people in their own fields: high caliber, high capacity, hugely talented. But we’ve never heard of them, and apart from their immediate family, neither has anyone else. Within 60 years, only their children will remember them.

 

So not only is death certain; we also don’t know when it will happen; our lives in the meantime are also marked by misery and misfortune; and on top of that, no one will remember us when we’re gone. And right about now, if this is your first week in church, or maybe you’ve been here for about a month, you’re probably thinking, “I’m in the wrong place, this sucks!”

 

And that’s the point the writer is making. One of the things this guy is doing is that he’s making us think about what life looks like without any reference to God. He’s trying to figure out the meaning of life without asking the God who made everything and everyone what he says is the meaning of life. And this is the answer he comes up with: there is no point to life if you’re going to do it without God. It just won’t make any sense. And he’s right, isn’t he? Plenty of us have tried it without God, and at some point we have all come to the same conclusion: life without God in it is pointless; it’s not fulfilling; there isn’t any meaningful purpose. You live, make a bit of money, maybe have a family, get old, die, and that’s the end.

 

Why do you think shows like ‘The Biggest Loser’, ‘Better Homes and Gardens’, ‘Masterchef’, and ‘My Kitchen Rules’ are so popular? Sure, they can be interesting to watch, but really, they’re about people trying desperately to find meaning in better food, a better house, or a better body. But is that really what life is all about?

 

Remember the big idea of this chapter: Everyone dies, not everyone truly lives.

 

But some people do truly live. So what does that look like? If I want to get the most out of this life, what should my life look like? It should look like verses 7-10:

 

Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. (NIV)

 

I remember trying to read Ecclesiastes a few times when I was a teenager. I’d get about half way through the first chapter and hear the writer telling me that life was totally meaningless, and there’s no point to anything. At the time I was listening to Joy Division and The Cure and The Smiths—all of whom were pretty depressing—and I figured that Ecclesiastes wasn’t going to cheer me up any, so I gave it a miss.

 

I reckon the problem was that I didn’t really understand what the word ‘meaningless’ meant. I just took it to mean what I mean when I say something is meaningless. For example, there’s no point watching the Bulldogs play this season because we’re not going to win. Even the week when we have the bye, I’m not sure we’re going to get the two points. It’s meaningless.

 

But here’s the thing: you don’t have to know much about the Bible to know that God’s at pains to make sure we know that life has a huge purpose and that life is important, indeed, that you and I are eternally valuable to Him. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. He knows every hair on our heads. He knows when we sit and rise. He knows every word before it is on our lips. God says life is full of meaning.

 

Now, I’m convinced that the Bible doesn’t contradict itself, so when I read something that seems to be contradictory, I need to do some work and figure out what’s going on.

 

The word that’s translated ‘meaningless’ turns up in a few other places in the Old Testament and the Greek version of it turns up in the NT as well. These all help us get what he’s on about. It’s in Psalm 39 three times: "You have made my days a mere handbreadth. The span of my years is nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath. Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro. He bustles about, but only in vain.” And again it’s in verse 11, “Each man is but a breath.”

 

It’s in Psalm 144, “Man is like a breath, His days are like a fleeting shadow.” It’s in Proverbs 31, “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting. But a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” It’s also in James 4, when he says, “Now listen you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money. Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.’“

 

So maybe a better way to understand ‘meaningless’ in Ecclesiastes is that life is like a fleeting mist. You can’t really grasp it. It’s here one moment and gone the next. It’s like walking outside on cold mornings this week and there’s that lovely winter fog all around. You can see it but you can’t hold onto it. It slips through your fingers. All of a sudden the whole feel of Ecclesiastes changes. It has a different tone. Life isn’t dead-set meaningless in the way we normally use the word. Life isn’t pointless, but it’s hard to understand. It’s so fleeting, and it passes by so quickly. It’s the merest of breaths, like your warm breath turning to vapour on a cold morning: as quickly as it appears, it slips through your fingers and vanishes. That’s when the message of Ecclesiastes clicks into place. Look at verses 7 to 9 again:

 

Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do.  Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this fleeting life that God has given you under the sun—all your fleeting days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. (NIV)

 

When I was growing up, God was always the fun police. I’d never heard anything remotely like this from the front of church. The world is full of fantastic and fun things to do and see: art, music, golf, scuba diving, opera, UFC, race tracks and fast cars, fishing, camping, 4WDing, cooking lessons, travel to far away places, skiing, single malt whisky. For most of us, we’ve lived our lives with this idea that God made all this cool stuff for us, but then he looks down at us waving an angry finger saying, “Now, don’t you lot enjoy yourselves down there!”

 

I think that’s the opposite of what God is like. Ecclesiastes tells us what God is saying here: “Life is short. Eternity is really long, but life is short. So eat great food. Drink great wine. Enjoy sex with your wife or your husband. I made all three of those things. They’re my ideas and they’re excellent! Have a Coke and a smile!”

 

Now this is really important. It’s easy to hear this and then just think that we can do what we want. But that’s not what the rest of the Bible says. So we still need to understand a bit more. The guy who wrote this is assuming we are living within the boundaries God has set. See where he says that God already approves of what you do? That’s a key idea here. God has given us very clear boundaries. Enjoy alcohol, but don’t get drunk; don’t drink too much. Enjoy food, but eat healthy stuff, do some exercise, and if you’re piling on a few too many kilos you’re probably eating too much. Enjoy sex. It’s fantastic when you experience it within the boundaries God set for it, within a lifelong mutually respectful loving commitment called marriage between a man and a woman. Anything outside of that, and sex ends up being really destructive.

 

In verse 8 the writer says that we should be always clothed in white and have oil on our heads. That doesn’t make heaps of sense in our culture. White clothes are seriously hard to keep clean and oil on our heads all the time would be socially really awkward and lead to a great many bad hair days. But if you’re an Old Testament Israelite, that stuff means something totally different.

 

Clothed in white and oil on your head meant that you’re in party mode: you’re celebrating, and more than that, you’re doing it God’s way. Who in the Bible is usually wearing white? Righteous people, people who are living life God’s way. So this part of the Bible isn’t telling us to just cut loose and do what we want to do as far as food, alcohol, and sex are concerned. It’s telling us that God created so much good stuff for us to enjoy, but we need to enjoy this stuff within the boundaries God has set, so that we’re doing life God’s way.

 

We’ve all failed at that from time to time. We’ve all abused food, alcohol, or sex at some point. We’ve all crossed the boundaries God set. And when we do, life feels pretty pointless, like we’re out of step with reality. It just doesn’t work like we sense it’s meant to. If you’re not a Christian just yet, I reckon you resonate with that feeling. You might resist it for a while and you might try to pretend it’s all ok, but deep down, you sense there must be more to life.

 

The guy who wrote this didn’t know Jesus. He was around a long time before Jesus was born in that shed in Bethlehem. He didn’t know what Jesus would do. He didn’t know anything about the cross or the empty tomb. But he made the most of what he knew about God. You and I live after Jesus . We know something about his death and resurrection. We know something about the things Jesus said and did.

 

And yet, even if we just had Ecclesiastes to go on, I reckon we’d know life without reference to God makes no sense at all. I reckon we’d be able to figure out that life lived within the boundaries God sets is brilliant. That would mean we would enjoying the stuff God gave us to enjoy without abusing any of it or stepping outside God’s clear boundaries.

 

If you’re a Christian, you understand this. You might realise that you’ve overstepped those boundaries and you need to put a few things right with God. You can pray about those things.

 

You might not be a Christian just yet, but you know you’ve been doing life without God., You know you’ve overstepped the boundaries often enough, and not just with food or wine or sex, but with a whole heap of other things: greed, jealousy, pride, selfishness, the way you talk about people behind their backs, the way you lash out at people on social media or in person, whatever it might be. We’ve all been there. But more than that, you know something’s missing and you’re here because you suspect that maybe Jesus might have the answer you’re looking for. Every Christian you know was not a Christian at some point, and we’ve been where you are. How you start your life is nowhere near as important as how you finish it. You can pray about these things now, to come home to God through Jesus.

 

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