We have seen the policeman in Minneapolis placing his knee on the neck of 46 year old George Floyd, for 9 minutes George cried out “I cant breath…” and eventually he breathed his last breath. It sparked an avalanche of protests and riots across the US, because that death cried out for justice, just like Abel's death cried out for justice

1. The Sin of Cain

In Genesis 3 Adam and Eve refused to take God at his word, they both ate of the tree of good and evil. Once naked with no shame but now they hide from God and from each other and are removed from paradise.

But God in his kindness allows Eve to give birth to 2 sons, her first born is Cain, the first man to have a belly button, a farmer by trade. Her second born Abel, a Cowboy-herder of sheep. Both were religious men, both willing to draw near to God but on very different terms

By faith Abel offers his best.

And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering. ~Genesis 4:4 (NIV)

For us fat is bad. In the Jewish sacrificial system, the fat portions and the first born where highly prized. The message is clear, Abel GAVE HIS BEST. Not so Cain. Cain offers some of the fruits of the soil, but not the first fruits as we would have expected from the first born. The result is...

The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. ~Genesis 4:4b-5 (NIV)

Cain's thankless heart gave God his left overs, God was not pleased.

We in Christ are told that in view of God’s mercies, to offer our bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God. We give our best because God gave his best in sending his Son.

The downward slide of Cain begins. If you break the first commandment you will end up breaking the rest. Cain begins where Adam left off. Cain's sin takes the next step as sin often does. Cain’s sin spills into pride, self pity, and jealously. If Envy wants what you’ve got then Jealously hates you for having it. Cain is jealous and very angry that his brother was favoured by God. His face was downcast, here is sin in all its blindness...

Should Cain not have been feeling remorse or guilt? Abel only offered a better sacrifice because it came by faith in God's gracious promises and that grace unleashed a generous heart.

In the words of one song…“Lord, You have given me everything, What can I do for you…”

Faith in God's gracious promises unleashed deep thankfulness. It opens the heart to love God, it opens the diary to make time for others, it opens the wallet to bless others. Cain is not the victim of random favouritism.

If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” ~Genesis 4:7 (NIV)

God offers Cain both forgiveness and warning. First the loving warning, if Cain does not treat God properly and deal with his jealous anger he will open himself to more sin. Sin is pictured like a wild animal about to pounce on him.

This is how temptation leads to sin and death.

"... but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." ~James 1:14-15 (NIV)

Notice, It begins with our own evil desires.

With Eve the temptation came from outside her by Satan. For Cain and us temptation comes from within us by our own evil desires. Once you admit the problem is with you and not God then you will not waste your time blaming everyone else, including God. Otherwise, like a fish on a hook you are dragged away and before you know it your jealousy becomes anger, becomes murder and full-blown resentfulness to God.

You know the story, you’re wounded in some way and it generates some hurt but you refuse to forgive. Then you avoid the person and you replay the wrongs in your mind and you then think the worst of them and it leads to resentment and rage and revenge.

Like Cain I grew up on a farm growing crops, when I was 6 and my brother was 11 we were pulling out weeds for a couple of hours throwing them onto the back of a trailer. It was hard work and when we were finished, my brother drove the tractor-trailer home without giving me a lift.

I was furious, my hurt led to anger and my anger led to revenge, I ran toward a patch of vegetables near the house that we both grew and I ripped them up. As I was exercising revenge, a shadow fell on me, it was my Dad and he was furious, he pulled out his belt and I ran. I let my hurt become anger and my anger become revenge. I did not master that sin, it mastered me.

Eve let Satan lead her to sin, now sin leads Cain to murder. Cain takes his brother to the field and then takes his life, the first murder happens inside the family. This is the first act of domestic violence and it won’t be the last.

Sin has now spread faster than COVID 19.

When God confronts Adam, it was about his individual sin. Where are you? But when God confronts Cain, the focus was on how it impacted others. Where is your brother? Cain’s answer is defiant, I don’t know and I don’t care.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” ~Genesis 4:9 (NIV)

The answer is, Yes, you are Cain, we all are our brother’s keeper, now more than ever.

There have been 432 black deaths in custody where no charge was laid. We can't be concerned for justice for ourselves and not for others.

The same attitude that was there in Cain's offering is in this sarcastic response. I don’t care about God becomes I don’t care about my brother. And all along the promise was there.

If you do what is right will you not be accepted. ~Genesis 4:7 (NIV)

Sin is still crouching at the door, your door, and you must master it.

What the law can’t do God did by sending his Son to forgive and his Spirit to transform. Don’t be like Cain who failed to deal with pride, self pity, jealousy, anger, violence and defiance to God. Don’t delay, deal with that issue, it will not go away, it won’t stay hidden and it will get worse,

2. God's judgment on Cain

Cain may not do what is right but God will, He is a just God who holds Cain responsible. When Cain offered a pathetic sacrifice and God named it for what is was. When Cain murders his brother God confronts Cain. God demands justice for the blood of Abel.

The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. ~Genesis 4:10 (NIV)

The same word is used in Genesis for the screams of a woman who is raped. Abel's murder screams for justice. Every rape victim screams for justice. Every abused child screams for justice. Every victim of domestic family violence screams for justice. That is what we are hearing from protestors in the US, messy as it is, the cry for justice. Don’t use the looting and violence to ignore the cry for justice for many.

When Israel cried out to God for freedom from oppression of Egypt she was far from perfect in how she behaved. Moses murdered an Egyptian.

Friends, it’s easy to demand justice when we have been mistreated but not so easy when it’s for others. We are our brother’s keeper. We can't pick and choose which injustice we should speak up for, whether its Abortion or entrenched Racial inequality.

Cain exceeds his father sin and so does the judgment. Adam could till the soil and it would produce food, Cain could sow whatever seed he likes and nothing, he will be forced to wander from the presence of God.

Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth. ~Genesis 4:11-12 (NIV)

Cain will be a fugitive on the run with no place to lay his head and at the mercy of whoever wants to exact revenge on Abel. The ground that drank the blood of Abel will curse him to his dying days.

But where sin increases grace abounds all the more.

3. God's grace to Cain

You see grace to this rebel in so many ways. Eve thanks God for allowing her to have 2 sons. The bible doesn’t end with Genesis 3. God promises if Cain would do the right thing he will be accepted, God will have Cain back. God's arms are willing to embrace him.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. ~1 John 1:9 (NIV)

No person is beyond forgiveness, no sin has ever created a debt that the Christ of the cross can’t pay. I remember talking a white supremacist, he hated anyone who wasn’t white until he accepted Christ and repented of his racism and loves his Indian pastor.

When Cain kills his brother he should have died. An eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth and a life for a life. But God hears this rebel's plea and places a mark of protection.

But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. ~Genesis 4:15 (NIV)

Cain had forsaken God but God had not forsaken him. He finds himself beyond God presence, East of Eden, but not beyond the protective hand of God. This is God's common grace, this is as good as it gets without Christ. But there is much more grace to enjoy.

If you find yourself wondering why God did not kill Cain on the spot then you may missed the point! Have you not forgotten that murder and anger spring from the same heart. Jesus said:

"I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. ~Matthew 5:22 (NIV)

And have you not forgotten, we too stand under the judgment of God and Hell is too much for us to bear. Ones death will never pay for the sins of Cain, the policemen in Minneapolis or any of us “Its appointed that a person die once and afterward face judgment.” That is a punishment unable to bear. There is a death that will provide justice and mercy.

You have come to ... Jesus ... and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. ~Hebrew 12:23b-24 (NIV)

The blood of Abel rightly demanded death and hell but the blood of Jesus speaks a better word, a word of mercy where justice is not ignored, a word of forgiveness where sins are taken seriously, a word of love where God's righteous anger is poured out and a word of hope where anyone who calls on the name of this Lord will be saved.

It’s too late to be sinless but it's not too late to turn and trust in our Lord and it’s not too late to stand with those who do speak of the racial injustices they have experienced.

Why not this week ask permission to listen to the story of those who have come from a different culture to your own. Ask them about experiences of racism inside and outside the church.

Heavenly Father
forgives for our pride, our jealousy, our anger and our defiance against you.
Forgive us for not being our brother's keeper.
Thank you, Lord Jesus for providing full forgiveness for any who turn and put their trust in you.
Thank you Lord that your blood offers us a word of justice and mercy.
Empower us to listen to, to speak up and stand with those who experience injustice.
In Jesus name.

Last Saturday I celebrated my 60th birthday with my family, my 3 beautiful kids asked a bunch of people to send in a video. It was very encouraging, it was like I was at my own funeral, it also felt quite unreal because I know me, I know this is not the whole truth.

Genesis 1 and 2 is so beautiful and true but it's not the whole truth, we need Genesis 3. It explains this life marked by sin and suffering, depression and death, wars and worries, boredom and broken relationship. Without Genesis 3 you will never understand life nor Gods plan for this world.

Adam and Eve are placed in Eden with no sin, no shame, no fear, right with God, right with each other and right with creation. They have no reason to doubt God. Enter Satan, we are not told why the serpent is in the garden.

Now the serpent was craftier than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. ~Genesis 3:1a (NIV)

From Revelation 12 we know that this serpent is Satan:

  1. He was part of the creation.
  2. He took animal form.
  3. He is wise.

When wisdom is in evil hands it becomes cunning. Satan cunningly sow’s seeds of doubt, these doubts lie behind every sin. The first doubt, that God is not good that he doesn’t want their good. The doubt that God is not good - Satan begins with a question.

He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” ~Genesis 3:1b (NIV)

That is not of course what God said. Adam and Eve could eat from every tree except one. God is put in a bad light, He is made to look mean. Eve should have said “Get behind me Satan!” But she allows herself to be led by another voice. A voice from a part of creation that she was to rule over.

Remember friends whoever is speaking they are just another created being.

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” ~Genesis 3:2-3 (NIV)

Eve corrects the Serpent but she starts to play his game. Eve said that she would die even if she touched the Tree of Good and Evil. Not true. Typical of religion - which adds to the word of God. She makes God seem harsh. Once you make God a kill joy it gives you permission to turn away from him.

One thing Eve did get right, eating of the tree will involve death, not because it was an evil tree, if they loved God they would obey him, which means, this one tree is off limits. Notice that Eve uses the same name that Satan uses for God, she does not use the personal name of the Lord God, she keeps God at a distance…Like people who talk of God but do not mention Jesus. Doubting Gods goodness now becomes doubting God's word. What started off as a question ends up as a straight up lie.

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. ~Genesis 3:4 (NIV)

In other words:

Think about the stupidity of sin. What has Satan ever done to deserve be listened to? Nothing!
What has God ever done that makes you want to reject him? Nothing!

Now Satan claims that God is holding Eve back from her experiencing her full potential.

“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” ~Genesis 3:5 (NIV)

"You see, lady, God is trying to rip you off. You eat of that tree and you will be like God, you get to decide for yourself what is good and evil, right and wrong, we now have 7 Billion humans playing god. Its god-like but it’s not godly."

Notice that Satan never once tells Eve to eat, he is not stupid.The power of suggestion, like movies, sitcoms and songs, they rarely preach, they just assume and suggest. These Satanic lies wrapped up in half-truths now rolling around in her head, Eve looks again at the tree and all of a sudden she feels like she is missing out, that God is withholding blessings. What advertisers do to us Satan does to Eve. He makes you dissatisfied with what you have, dissatisfied with your life, your choices, your spouse, your house, your car, your job, your faith.

You're missing out.

Single, wishing you were married. Married, wishing you were married to someone else. Poor man wants to be a rich man,rich man wants to be king, king ain't satisfied till he is ruling everything. Eve was missing out on so much.

The woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom. ~Genesis 3:6 (NIV)

Every part of her will miss out. Her appetite, its good for food, her imagination, its pleasing to the eye, her mind, it would make her wise.

Let’s imagine what went on in Eve's mind:

Eve now becomes wise in her own eyes, deciding for herself what is right and wrong. Eve grabs for equality with God, instead of letting God tell her what is good, she now decides for herself.

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. ~Genesis 3:6 (NIV)

She saw, she took and she gave, she is behaving like God. It was God who saw all that he had made, it was God who took Adam and placed him in the Garden, it was God who gave Woman to Adam. Eve then compounds her sin, and gives it to Adam, the one she was created to help is hindered, not that Adam was out riding horses when it all happened. The man who named the animals failed to name the sin of Satan. Adam says nothing, does nothing and just went along with Eve.

With the sin comes the fear and shame. God goes first to Adam.

But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so, I hid.” ~Genesis 3:9-10 (NIV)

Once Adam and Eve would have been excited to hear that God was walking in the garden, now they are dead scared, they hid among the trees, they hid behind fig leaves. They hide behind their excuses, they hide from each other, they hide from God. We have been hiding ever since. We know there is something deeply wrong with each of us. Can you see yourself here?

Adam hides behind excuses.

The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” ~Genesis 3:12 (NIV)

Man does what we men do best, BLAME. First the silence of Adam, then the hiding from God and finally, the blame shifting. Brothers, I see my sin in Adam and Adams sin in me. 

Imagine a different story.

As Eve was listening to the serpent Adam said “Eve please don't listen Satan is trying to rip you off.” but Adam remained passive and silent.

Imagine as Eve went to reach out for the tree, Adam gently held her and says ‘I beg you Eve don't do it -for our sake and for Gods sake.”

Imagine as Eve handed over the fruit to Adam he just said “Darling, I will not share in your sin, God has only ever been good to us.”

Imagine after he ate he led his wife by falling to his knees and cried out “Have mercy on us for we have sinned against you Lord”

NO, for Adam there is just the silence, hiding, excuses and then the blaming.

How many times has Sandy, my wife, asked me about something and I'm half listening but I say yes to end the conversation then it blows up and I blame her.

I remember my parents both laughing at me sliding in the back yard after heavy rain fall. When I hurt myself, my Dad turns to Mum and says “Why did you let him play in backyard?”

Blaming is not just a male problem.

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” ~Genesis 3:13 (NIV)

Eve’s deception is complete. Adam blames Eve and she blames the serpent. I was tricked again, it’s not my fault. The order of creation is turned upside down and we have been buck passing ever since.

Do you know the Christian version of this? 

When we blame Adam and Eve for the fall we blame God for putting Satan in the garden. We blame God for creating us knowing we would sin and we blame God for making Adam our representative. The story of Adam and Eve is the story of humanity, the blame is laid totally at the feet of humans. 

This is our story as well. 

The temptations to lust for more, the doubt that God will keep his word, the lie that God is ripping us of, the running away from God, the hiding from God, the blaming that its everyone's fault but mine. Its not the devil made me do it.

And now the judgment, God takes us and himself very seriously, understand this, when God reimposes his will over a rebel, it always comes with a quota of pain. The snake is cursed and the women will suffer child birth. I asked one mother ‘How was the birth?’ "It was horrendous" 

The battle of the sexes begins here.

Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” ~Genesis 2:16c (NIV)

Woman's temptation is to overrule her man and Man's temptation will be abuse his women. The ground is cursed and work scared with pain and frustration. Worst of all, we are all ejected from the garden and return to the dust of the earth. This is the great holocaust. This one sin introduces sin and death to every human.

But where sin increased Grace abounds all the more.

  1. God in his kindness lets Adam live for 930 years. God will not give up on us humans and Eve will be the mother of every living person.
  2. God in his kindness provides proper clothes to cover their naked shame. But not without the shedding of blood to garments of skin.
  3. But best of all God issues a word of hope.

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” ~Genesis 3:15 (NIV)

It speaks of a war to end all wars between a son of Adam and Satan. Its fought in another garden, The Garden of Gethsemane in which Jesus the Son of Man cries out, “Not my will but yours be done.”

And there on another tree of life our forgiveness is purchased by the obedience of Jesus

“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” ~1 Peter 2:24 (NIV)

There is a way back into a better garden. A paradise where there is no Satan and no sin. You may think it’s unfair that Adams sin impacts you. If you think it’s unfair that Adams sin made you a sinner, then it’s unfair that Jesus obedience can make you a forgiven saint.

Only 2 people have made a difference in this world, the rest of us are footnotes. You become a child of Adam by birth, you become a child of God by faith.

Dear Father,

We confess that we are like our first parents, Adam and Eve.
We have listened to the lies of Satan.
We have doubted your goodness Lord and rebelled.
We have doubted your word and sinned against you.
We have kept you at a distance.
Forgive us for hiding from you, and blaming others.
Today we own our sin, and throw ourselves upon your mercy.
Thank you, Lord Jesus for your obedience on the cross;
For bearing our sins and taking our blame.
Thank you, for letting us back into your presence.
Help us to resist the lies of Satan.
For you are good, and you are trustworthy.

In Jesus name, Amen

The pandemic has caused a worldwide financial crisis. No country is exempt. We are thankful for the government stimulus package and job keeper allowance, but we know unemployment is growing and many have lost their jobs. Then there are those who have never worked harder, especially our heroes in the essential services. 

Working from home has come as a blessing for many families. MBMers have told me they love having lunch with their kids and having no travel time. For other's the novelty is over and they feel they are in a pressure cooker ready to explode. Trying to run a zoom meeting for work with a 2 year old banging on the door needing their nappy changed. 

With each person on their own device for study or work, there is pressure at home for space and internet bandwidth   

There is no separation of work and home. We are in "groundhog day" - not sure which day it is. This season of Covid19 might just be the best time to do some thinking about work and rest. 

So let's go to the beginning. Genesis 1 gives the aerial shot 10,000 metres up in the air. Genesis 2 we fly down low and take a closer look at Adam and Eve. As God rests from his work of creation, so Man begins his work in creation

In Genesis 2 we begin with what is not there. The earth is vacant, no plant, no rain and no imager bearer. When Adam is mentioned, he is immediately connected with work

…and there was no one to work the ground ~Genesis 2:5c (NIV)

It's almost as if creation is waiting for humans. Adam is part of creation. He is not formed from the animals; he is from the dust of the earth. God gives him mouth to mouth resuscitation and breathes life into Adam. Adam is totally dependent on God's Spirit for life. While God introduces himself with the general name of  Elohim - Genesis 1

In Genesis 2 God gives his personal name, I think for two reasons:

  1. The God of Israel is the God who created the heavens and the earth
  2. God gives his personal name because he wants a personal relationship with humans, but on his terms. That is why Adam is on probation, he can access the tree of life if he refuses to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil or he will return to the dust of the earth. Adam is placed in the garden within creation

Eden is viewed as a real place in real time. Two of the four rivers are known to us, the Tigris and the Euphrates. This is not middle earth. It is not a religious picture, but the words used to describe the garden are similar to the temple that would come much later. The precious metals and jewels in Genesis 2 were used to decorate the temple and priest  

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. ~Genesis 2:15 (NIV)

The 2 words for Adam to work and take care of the garden are the same words used to describe the priests work in the tabernacle and temple.

They are to take care of all the furnishings of the Tent of Meeting, by doing the work of the tabernacle. ~Numbers 3:8 (NIV)

The point is that all of life is holy, work is holy and you worship God in your work. God placed man to work and care for the garden.

In question time last week someone asked about Christians attitude to the environment. 

Here are 4 principles

  1. God entrusted the earth to us to steward. We give an account for how we care for it. 
  2. We don’t know when Jesus is coming back. It could be in the next 10 minutes or next 1000 years.
  3. Which means if we are to love our neighbour as ourselves we must pass this planet on to the next generation better than we received it.
  4. Never forget creation is groaning and what its ultimately looking toward is resurrection of Christians who will spearhead the new creation. Work is more than taking care of our environment. We are to Work in this age, but work for the age to come.

God is both white collar and blue collar, He doesn’t just give the orders, He gets down and dirty.

The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. ~Psalm 95:5 (NIV)

God is pictured proudly working with his hands. When my farming cousin was told that my niece is a doctor he said, “Yes but can she grow spinach?” Farmers need doctors and doctors need farmers and both need garbage collectors. God honours all kinds of work and so should we. All work expresses the character of God.

Clean a wardrobe You reflect that God creates order out of chaos
Service a car You reflect Gods protection for people
Work at Pizza Hut You reflect that God is the great provider of food
Nurse a wound You reflect Gods desire to restore life
Mother an infant You reflect Gods love for his children

The challenge for you this week is this:
How does your work reflect Gods character and purpose?

God did not put man in the garden to sit on a banana chair by the side of a pool sucking on a Pina Colada. Adam tilled the soil, he named the animals, he subdued the earth.

As Genesis goes on. Cities are built, music is created and  technology is developed. Work is good. If your dream is to make $4 million by 40 and sit on a beach and do  nothing. Repent of that dream! Work is given as a gift to humans. This explains why when we cant work we are so unhappy. With growing unemployment we must take care of those who have lost their jobs   

By work I'm not just referring to paid work. 

And there is the work of the Lord and every Christian can and should be involved. But whatever joy we find in our job, Friday afternoons are still better than Monday mornings

After Adam sinned God said:

Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, ~Genesis 3:17b-19 (NIV)

Every time Adam works the soil it will cause him much pain and frustration, it will have its thorns and thistles, he will work by the sweat of his brow. Covid19 has added to the frustrations of work. I’m trying to redeem the time but it's like I'm working in a fog, like swimming in sludge, getting less done, but I just need to accept that. This pandemic has tuned us to the futility of work 

So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? ~Ecclesiastes 2:17-18 (NIV)

No matter how hard you work, all your efforts, all goods and services you produce they all have a use by date. Sooner or later, the work you do or the money you make from it will eventually come to nothing.

I was talking to one friend in the IT area. One moment his program was cutting edge and then 2 years later, no one was interested. That is why Jesus said don’t work for food that spoils.

We must work in this age, but we work for the age to come. The work itself doesn’t last. Doctors heal the body, but the body eventually dies. Carpenters build a house, but the house gets knocked down. Your work will not last, but the glory you gave God in your work will. 

Work for the glory of God.

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. ~Colossians 3:17 (NIV)

Your work will not last but the pleasure you gave God will endure forever.

I have worked in many jobs, on a farm, as a furniture removalist, for MacDonald’s, in a Nursery, at a Chicken abattoir, painting houses, being a student, working as a kitchen hand, a Clerk for the NSW Health commission, employed as a Social worker for Anglicare and now your minister. Very different wages, very different work conditions but:

Work is about relationships. Do you know why I know that? Because when someone says “I'm stressed at work” I always say “Who is it?” Behind stress is usually a person putting pressure, criticizing, undermining, gossiping, unrealistic deadlines, etc. It's not so much what you do but how you treat those at work.

When the New Testament speaks about work its often tied to relationships. Its about your boss, your workers, your workmates or your clients and customers or your government and of course your God. It's not so much what you do but how you do it. Your work wont last but your love will pass on into eternity. 

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. ~1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV)

Even the money you earn from your work is about relationships as you support your family, the poor, the spread of the gospel, your church staff, but most of all your work is tied to your relationship with God.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. ~Colossians 3:23 (NIV)

Work is one sphere in which you worship God. So, when you leave for work and they ask where are you going? Tell them, you’re off to worship God. But you wont worship God if you’re a workaholic. 

There is a Work/Rest rhythm in Genesis 1 and 2 we need to follow. We Work hard and rest well. We must rest from our labours because we are not God, we have bodies and minds that need to be refreshed. We rest because when we put down our tools, we are saying God will take care of my needs.

We rest from the pressure to perform, I am not my job, my identity is that I am a child of God and not how much I make and how much respect my job gives me. So, if I lose my job, it will disappoint me but it will not devastate me. We can rest from thinking my good works make me acceptable to God. 

There is a deep rest in knowing Christ who says, ‘your value comes from my work at the cross not your work during the week’ and with it a freedom to please God by doing the work of the Lord, to serve his people and the cause of Christ. 

Our Jobs have meaning but they are not the meaning of life.

During the 90s my wife Sandy was seriously sick and I thought I would have to leave the demands of being a pastor to care for her. It was then I found that my identity had shifted from being a Son of God to being a Pastor. I had to work again through who I was. Could I walk away from the role as Pastor? 

I was not walking away from giving myself fully to the work of the Lord but from my role as Pastor. I grasped afresh that Jesus is enough, I didn’t need to be the pastor of MBM. As it turned out I didn't need to resign as Sandy’s health improved. She felt loved and since then I have worked from a different place. I serve from a place where Jesus is enough! It was a lesson I would have to learn many times again. 

Dear Father,

Thank you that we can worship you in our work.That our work has meaning, but help us to know that it is not the meaning of life. Thank you Lord for offering us physical rest. Rest that refreshes our body. Rest that refreshes our soul. Rest in your work at the cross-where forgiveness is found.Praise you Lord that we are now free to give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord.

In Jesus name, Amen.

What kind of an animal is a human? Mark Twain once said that "Man is the only animal that blushes, man is the only animal that needs to blush". I remember hearing of 3 teenagers who set alight a homeless man in the city and watched him burn to death. What kind of animal is man? 

This Psalm wants to answer the question ‘what is a human?’

But it will do so in terms of God and it will do so as a means of praising God.

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens. ~Psalm 8:1 (NIV)

The Psalm opens and closes in a song of praise. It declares not of the magnificence of creation but the magnificence of the God of creation. A Psalm that comes from the lips of King David. What set us apart from the rest of creation is that we chose to praise or not praise our God. David celebrates how God's name, that is his character, is seen at work in the universe. Both the heavens and the earth wreak of the majesty of God. Its not just kings or galaxies that praise God, praise falls off the lips of the smallest infant.

Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. ~Psalm 8:2 (NIV)

As Spurgeon said, ‘Children have a way of reminding us of the God we forget’. 

Jesus quotes this verse in Matthew 21 and applies it to himself. The religious leaders see Jesus perform miracles in the temple, hear the children praise Jesus and they are angry. They say to Jesus "Do you hear what these children are saying" In other words shut them up, they are blaspheming. The praise of the insignificant kid - shut the mouths of the arrogant.

When my daughter was 5 years old, she was talking about how she loved Jesus who died on the cross for her. I said to her "Maddy, you know more than 90% of all the professors in all the Universities in all the world." She says, "Really Daddy?! Wow. What is a professor?" She may not know what a professor is but she praises the God who created the world and sent his Son to die for her.

But the wonder of creation became the backdrop for David to wonder at Gods favour on us.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? ~Psalm 8:3-4 (NIV)

With the universe being so big and we being so small, why do we matter so much to God? We are not the biggest species of creation, we don't live the longest, we are certainly not the fastest but we are the ones God has bestowed his care on. Jesus picks up the idea of our precious place

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. ~Matthew 6:26 (NIV)

Are you not as valuable than they? No
Are you not more valuable than they? No
Are you not much more valuable than they? YES

Notice the royal language? You don’t have to live in Buckingham palace to be royalty.

You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. ~Psalm 8:5 (NIV)

Just a little lower than the angels, a little lower for a little while. We not told that we will judge the angels. We not told that they are servants sent to serve us. We humans alone bear the title 'Made in the Image of God'

Friends, the only thing allowed to represent God on this earth is you. Both male and female are involved in ruling this creation as image bearers. We were made as the pinnacle of creation, to rule and care for this world under God. When an ancient ruler conquered a land, they would place an image of the king to indicate who now rules the land

You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: ~Psalm 8:6 (NIV)

Psalm 8 is a commentary on Genesis 1:26-27, we were not made side by side with the rest of creation, we were made to rule the world under God. Not only are we uniquely cared for by God, we are given that amazing privilege of ruling over it. With power comes responsibility and we will give an account for how we live our lives.

A pure evolutionary world view stole our uniqueness, a mindset that puts our existence solely as the result of time and chance. Where one species is ranked of equal value to another, so that more tears are shed over 5 beached whales than 80,000 human abortions which happen each year. Being an image bearer is a status that is given not earnt by our performance or ability.

Peter Singer, an ethics philosopher in Princeton said “Human babies are not born self-aware, or capable of grasping that they exist over time. They are not persons... therefore, the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.” How disrespectful to God and destructive to humans.

You will deny God his praise if you treat humans as no different to animals. You will deny God his praise if you view humans like they are gods. Only when humans are viewed as part of creation and ruling over it under God will you say “O, Lord our Lord how majestic is your name.” Of all creatures, He has given to us schmucks the right to rule.

You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. ~Psalm 8:6-8 (NIV)

It is quite comprehensive. The more we walk on this planet the more we seem to rule. We ride horses they don't ride us. We discovered penicillin and the fever goes. We invent refrigeration and enjoy fruit all year round. There seems to be nothing we can't do. But Hebrews 2:8 tells us that this seems overstated.

At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. (NIV)

We know that everything is not subject to us. Psalm 8 carries a partial truth, not the whole truth.

As Francis Schaeffer rightly put it, we are a glorious ruin—part glory and part ruin.

Our control of the world is not so complete after all. Earthquakes and floods wreak havoc, for every wave we ride, we get dumped by another. Sometimes we catch the fish and sometimes a white pointer takes a bite out of us. Not the least we cant keep ourselves alive. Right now we are shut in 4 walls with lives lost and an economy that is nose diving.

I remember one holiday where it all went wrong. Kiama-Holidays, I forgot the keys to my in laws who live in Kiama and they were away. I called my Father in law and he said if you gently slide the kitchen window you will get through. I slide the window and it collapsed into the kitchen, glass was everywhere and I didn’t realise that the soil of the plant fell into the drain.

The drain was blocked and we spent the rest of the next day. Unblocking it. While the drain was blocked it flooded the dishwasher, vomiting suds. While unblocking the drain the TV co-incidentally breaks down. That next afternoon we discovered that the hose to the washing machine down stairs was split and flooded the down stairs. At present we do not see everything subject to him. 

I decided to reclaim the holiday and show my son how to fly a kite. A good windy day is ideal on the Kiama Beach for flying a kite and I felt I could master the winds. Ten bronzed Aussie surfers with arms folded leaning on the surf club wall having a good laugh at this father trying to impress an embarrassed son.

My son finally said "can we go home." I was feeling sorry for myself but when I watched the news that night, I heard of a tragic family from Pakistan who were swept into the water near the blow hole. My friend had to go with the Father and help identify his drowned daughters.

At present we do not see everything subject to him. Even if we have managed to tame animals, we cant tame something as small as the tongue:

For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. ~James 3:7-9 (NIV)

One moment we sing, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name”; the next we tell our loved ones to shut up! Get out, get lost or I hate you! Rule the world? We can’t even rule the words that leave our mouths and destroy our relationships.

We can’t even keep ourselves alive. Sin and death mock us. They are now ruling. Death is the final declaration that we do not ultimately rule. The writer of Hebrews sees the hope of Psalm 8 fulfilled specifically in Jesus: He is the true image of God.

At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. ~Hebrews 2:8-9 (NIV)

Everything hoped for in humans is realized in Jesus. His rule was evident throughout his earthly life.

He could look people in the eye and say, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” (John 8:45). Jesus even has authority over death: “I lay down my life that I may take it up again” (John 10:17). Jesus came to earth for us to reclaim our true humanity.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. ~Hebrews 2:14-15 (NIV)

Before Christ shares death with us, he tastes death for us. At its core, Christ’s death on the cross is an act of liberation, freeing us humans to live life without the fear of death.

My daughter Amy once asked my wife, “Mum, can you say 'no' to dying?” It’s a good question. The answer, as we all know, is, “No”. That is why we are described in Hebrews as being enslaved to the fear of death. We are such a long way from our high calling to be crowned with glory and honour. The most profound paradoxes of the human condition. 

God placed eternity in our hearts, and yet we walk in the valley of the shadow of death. Our fear of death has many faces, from humour to despair. It’s captured in one comedian who said:

“I’m not afraid of dying. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” (Eric Lax, Conversations with Woody Allen, Knopf, New York, 2009, p. 84.)

Albert Camus wrote that “life is a sustained protest against death”

It's as if our whole life is compressed into the last 5 seconds before we drive the car into a brick wall at 100 km per hour, with his foot pressed hard on the brake…trying to stop the inevitable. As a result, many spend their lives fearing death or some refuse to go to funerals. Some develop health obsessions, trying to milk another five years out of life, while others try to cram ten lifetimes into one because one is all they have. 

Many are hopeful that they will live on in their children or in their dreams. These are all profoundly unsatisfying solutions. In Christ, death has been defeated in history. At the end of history, death, the last enemy, will be completely destroyed.

So, we who have been set free are no longer shamed by death and slavery to sin, we are liberated to praise God for our renewed humanity.

Not long after I joined the church staff team, Les Vitnell, the senor minister developed cancer. I went to visit him just before he died. As I stood at his bedside, I asked him this question: “Les, what is it like to know that within 24 hours you are going to be in the presence of God?” With a smile he said, “Ray, I have to tell you, I’m a little excited!” I was touch jealous, he knew his Saviour, who set him free from the fear of death.

Whatever reasons King David had for thanking God, we who live after the resurrection of Jesus Christ have so many more reasons. So, let us join David and declare:

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! ~Psalm 8:9 (NIV)

We are starting a new series on Genesis 1-12. It’s called The Blueprint, as it lays the foundations for God's great plan to save a people for himself. 

I was talking to someone who said “I don’t know why I am so afraid to open the bible and read it.” They then said “I think it’s because I don’t want to hand over control of my life.” But what is the alternative? We can’t keep ourselves alive. The world has been brought to it’s knees by one mutant virus.

So, let go to Genesis 1 for there we see an awesome God who creates an awesome universe, worthy of our worship, He can be trusted.

1. God is awesome because He alone is the creator.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. ~Genesis 1:1 (NIV)

Before its about us its about God. Not gods but God - Just one. Unlike the movie Thor who shares the heavens with a bunch of other gods fighting it out, God has no peer! He alone creates, He will not share his glory with another.

In the beginning God. There is no attempt to prove the existence of God. God's finger prints are all over his creation.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. ~Romans 1:20 (NIV)

2. God is awesome because he creates out of nothing.

The fancy word is Ex nihilo. God is not like a Do it Yourself mum or dad who goes to Bunnings, buys wood nails and glue and makes a chair. 'In the beginning' refers to a starting point, before which only God existed. Christianity has always taught there was a beginning to the universe. It took Science as recent as the 1960s and the Big Bang theory to catch up. All matter had a starting point.

3. God is awesome because he created everything.

"Heavens and Earth" is code for all things. God is not just the God of Israel, He is not just the God of this earth. He is the God of the known and unknown universe, all 100 trillion galaxies that make up our universe. That is why we should be impressed by creation, but we must only worship its creator. Although I do like to hug the odd tree.

God created the Heaven and the earth that includes the spiritual beings. That is why the right response is worship. Let’s join the chorus of praise and say together:

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” ~Revelation 4:11 (NIV)

As my wife Sandy walks each day, she thanks God for different parts of creation, she has noticed it helps her anxiety. God may have rested from his creating work but he has not rested from his sustaining work. “In him we live and move and have our being” That would include the 37 trillions cells that make up your body.

And as Bill Bryson said “each one operating in more or less perfect concert more or less all the time.” (Bill Bryson The Body p9) 

Many claim that the simple cell evolved by chance into complex life forms. The simple cell is not so simple, its more like a complex factory at work as seen in this image.

4. God is awesome because he creates by his powerful word.

Christians may differ on how long it took, but all agree that God created the universe by the power of his word, by just talking. We read again and again “and God said... and it was so”. 100% success rate.

I love to watch Grand Designs UK. Many plan to be build their dream house in 9 months and 2 years later the house is still not finished and they have blown their budget. 

God speaks and all matter, time, energy, and space came into being. Like Father like Son, in Mark 4, Jesus is woken up on a boat caught in a massive storm, half awake Jesus tells the storm to shut up! and immediately it collapses into ideal lake conditions. The disciples say to each other, “Who is this, even the winds and waves obey him” He calms raging storms with a simple word.

Notice how the process is so effortless with God. God doesn't strain, and he doesn't sweat, no resistance, very different from the other ancient creation stories, like Enuma Elish, where one god kills another god and slices it in two, the upper part is heaven and the lower part is earth. What we get "Let there be light” and the universe comes alive. Gods word never returns empty.

"So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." ~Isaiah 55:11 (NIV)

That is just as true when God's word leaves your mouth about Jesus, people are born again and become a new creation. Do you have any idea how powerful God's word is? Ponder the sheer size of creation. If you were travelling at the speed of light, at 300,000 kms per second, in one second you would circle the earth 7 times.  

At that speed it would take 100,000 light years to cross the galaxy and 20,000,000 light years to reach the next cluster of galaxies and you have only just begun to explore the universe. And all of it created by God's word. That’s is why God told his anxious people in Exile.

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? ~Isaiah 40:12 (NIV)

God really does have the whole world in his hands. 

Anyone having problems trusting in that God in COVID-19?

5. God is awesome because his creation is a sheer act of Grace

We did nothing to earn or deserve to be created. And then God stamped us humans with his image. We go from nothing to something to someone to sons of God. God could have created a world to glorify him and left us out of the picture and saved himself a lot of hurt. But he created it for us to rule and care and enjoy and to glorify him. Knowing we would break his heart. It wasn’t because he was lonely.

6. God is awesome because He is more than one person.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness. ~Genesis 1:26 (NIV)

Not my image, my likeness, our image, our likeness. God takes counsel not with the angels but with himself. Father, Son and Spirit. What is hinted at in Genesis 1 is made clear in gospels about Jesus the Word of God who becomes flesh, we read in John 1:3

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (NIV)

Jesus is not 'plan b', downloaded to fix up the problem of sin that God did not see coming. As Melito said in the 2nd century, ‘He who hung the earth in its place, hung there on the cross’ 

I'm always stunned when I realise that we humans crucified the creator. We killed author of life.

7. Our God is awesome because He creates with purpose and order.

Genesis 1 moves from chaos to order.

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. ~Genesis 1:2 (NIV)

And that is not good. But what is good is when the Spirit turns dark into light, when the formless is given shape, when empty becomes full of life. So, God creates the space then fills:

Day 1 he creates light and Day 4 he makes the Sun, Moon and stars.

Day 2 he separates the water below from the sky above and Day 5 he fills the sky with birds and fills the water with fish.

Day 3 he makes land and Day 6 he fills the land with animals and finally humans.

We are clearly not told everything. In my bible translation there are only 813 words which make up Genisis 1. My iphone instruction manual has over 73,000 words.

At MBM we hold with an open hand on the different views of the age of the universe. For some hold to a young earth and others hold to an old earth. For some, God directed form of evolution. Each with their problems but what is clear, no species of life exists without God's direct hand. This is a closed hand issue. Non negotiable.

It's worth remembering that Charles Darwin, who came up with Evolution remained a believer in God. In his autobiography he thought it impossible to conclude that ‘blind chance or necessity’ could account for ‘this immense and wonderful universe including man.’

Sir Fred Hoyle, English Astronomer, not a Christian, said that the idea of the origin of life by chance is absurd. Even a 15 billion year old universe is too short for the formation of complex higher life by chance. Once an atheist, he agreed that there was an external, intelligent designer.

The God of Genesis 1 is that external intelligent designer, He alone commands, speaks, names, creates, separates and blesses. God is the main character of this story. Genesis 1 reduces fear and makes science possible. The sun and moon that were worshipped as gods are not even given names just told to do their job and they can be studied. That is why when Christianity comes to town superstitions go and modern science is born. 

There is only one God and who created an ordered world. Its able to be studied by his image bearers for God's glory and our good.

8. Our God is awesome because his creation is so diverse and fruitful.

There is so much variety. The skies, like the seas, like the land are teeming with life. God blesses his creation and orders it to reproduce and fill the earth.

God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” ~Genesis 1:22 (NIV)

The life giver calls forth more life, each according to their kind. There are 20,000 types of butterflies. Do you know how many different types of moths? 160,000. 200 hundred would have been more than enough. Don't you think!? Such diversity reveals God's awesome wisdom and Glory.

Do you know how many types of humans there are? Just 2 - Male and Female. Matt Fuller helpfully writes, "All creatures are made 'according to their kinds'; there are different species within fish, birds, reptiles and mammals. Yet the only distinction in humanity is male and female.

Both made in God's image and both given pride of place in this creation

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. ~Genesis 1:27 (NIV)

How you understand the world came into being and how you see the place of humans has a massive flow on. Reject Genesis 1 and Lawrence Krauss (A Universe from Nothing) is right

“The lessons I want to give people, is you're more insignificant than you ever thought, and the future is miserable.”

Reject Genesis and the most basic human rights are lost. Yuval Harari (Noah Harari Sapiens 122) wrote in his book Sapiens:

“According to the science of biology, people were not ‘created’. They have evolved. And they certainly did not evolve to be ‘equal’. The idea of equality is inextricably intertwined with the idea of creation. The Americans got the idea of equality from Christianity, … ‘Created equal’ should therefore be translated into ‘evolved differently.’”

Harari states that human rights exist only in the imagination. You can see the problem, this world view leads to racism and chaos. Harari then quotes Voltaire:

“There is no God, but don’t tell that to my servant, lest he murder me at night”

But we have an Awesome creator who made an awesome universe and has graced every human male and female a special place. God alone is worthy to be worshipped. God is so adamant about doing you good that He will bring about a new heaven and earth and the rest promised on the 7th day will be yours for ever more. A new heaven and new earth where there is no more crying or grief or pain. 

Soon after Sandy and I were married, one of her school friends, Lorraine died in a car accident. Lorraine was recently married and living in Kurrajong and she was driving from the school where she taught. An oncoming truck crossed lanes and tragically killed her in a head on. It was a Thursday afternoon.

On the Monday night before she died her bible study group was studying Genesis 1. She shared how "If God went to all the trouble of making this wonderful world which he knew would come to an end, imagine what the next one will be like. Little did she know she was about to find out. Lorriane still speaks to us …. We have an awesome creator who made an awesome universe and is worthy of our worship.

Father God,

You are an awesome God and you made an awesome creation. Your power is breathtaking, bringing the universe into being by the power of your word. You are so worthy of our praise and thanksgiving. You are so deserving of our trust and obedience. 

We acknowledge that our creation is an act of grace. We did not deserve it. 

We acknowledge that our status as image bearers is a greater act of grace.

So, we thank you and praise you for being good and for doing us so much good. May we live for your glory and take time to look at creation and praise you.

In Jesus name,

Amen.

"Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

That is the task of every sermon because the word of God is a double edge sword, it comforts those afflicted by guilt and suffering and it afflicts those comfortable with unconfessed sin and lukewarm Christianity.

Some days you walk out of church, when we had a church building to walk out of, thrilled over your assurance in Christ, over the moon that God will remember your sin no more and other days you walk out convicted of sin, broken and contrite, knowing you are presuming on the grace of God. 

Comfort those who are afflicted. Afflict those who are comfortable in their sin. That is what Isaiah is about, Chapter 1-39, God afflicted Israel who were comfortable in their sin, Chapter 40 opens with a word of comfort to a people who felt God had forgotten them.

“My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”? ~Isaiah 40:27b (NIV)

God had abandoned them in their suffering. Maybe that is where you’re at today…One journalist said that this is the year God forgot, with Bushfires, Drought and COVID-19. The word of Comfort verses 1-2, in a sense God recommissions Isaiah to comfort his people.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. ~Isaiah. 40:1-2 (NIV)

The God who engraved his peoples name on the palm of his hand had not forgotten her. Comfort, comfort my people. The word Comfort means God stands with his people to strengthen them. So important it is repeated, comfort, comfort. Notice God is saying you are still ‘My people’. I am still your God.” I'm going no where.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. ~Isaiah 40:1a (NIV)

The 70 years of exile was not permanent rejection, but temporary discipline. It is a word of comfort - spoken with tenderness, lit into the heart, to be felt. God did not wake up one morning in a good mood and said ‘I think I will change my mind and end the exile.’

Let’s take a step back, in exile Israel lost her land, her king, her temple, her wealth, her fame and for 70 years living under foreign rule. But now her sins were paid for she was coming home, the jail term was up, the sentence has been served.

We need to be careful here. It’s not that anyone can fully pay for their sin on earth. For example, a person can spend 20 years in jail for a murder and we may even say the criminal has paid his debt to society, he has served his sentence, he is free to go, but he has not paid his debt to God and neither have we.

Each of us accumulates a debt to God for a life lived in sin but that is ultimately only paid in one of two places, either at the cross by Jesus, once and for all or in hell by any who reject Jesus for ever. 

Friends from another angle, this exile was a time of discipline and the discipline is over. Don’t confuse the discipline for the Lord and the ultimate punishment of the Lord. Don’t confuse the pain of discipline with the idea that God is punishing or rejecting you. We must keep the same principle when we discipline our own kids or kids in our program.

Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death. ~Proverbs 19:18 (NIV)

If you don’t discipline you are telling your kids and that don’t matter. You set them up to suffer much more later in life. The first time some kids find out about consequence is when they are being crashed tackled by a policeman. 

But keep in mind that as parents:

If you discipline in anger then all it will do is produce resentment. 

Israel's time of discipline is over, it’s time to come home. We have three voices of Comfort. The first voice calls out, God is leading his people home. 

1. Glory of God

A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” ~Isaiah 40:3-5 (NIV)

God is bringing his people home, He is leading them back to the promised land, though the wilderness. So, the voice is saying get ready everybody - clear the decks - and God himself will do it. 

You take the highway up to the north coast, you appreciate the language of levelling mountains and raising up valleys. The world that laughed at the God of Israel when they were sent into Exile is the world that will SEE his splendor in saving his people. 

The voice here is ultimately that of John the Baptist, the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets, who came 400 years after the exile. Which reminds us that Israel returned from exile but she remained in a kind of spiritual exile, until John the Baptist turns up and he calls on Israel to prepare the way for Lord. By getting Israel to start again, confess her sins and welcome Jesus. It would be Jesus who would lead his people out of judgment and into comfort, into eternal life, where sins are forgiven and the Spirit given and the blessing of new creation.

Brothers and sisters, we need more voices of comfort to a world that is lost. With all the down side of Covid-19 we have never seen more people access the Christian online message.

2. Word of God

But words are cheap, there is too much over promising and under delivering. This 2nd word of comfort can look very limp in the face of the Babylonian empire, so Isaiah remind them that God's word is certain and all humans are fragile.

A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?” “All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever. ~Isaiah 40:6-8 (NIV)

It’s so easy to be intimidated in your time, whether you’re an Israelite in exile in Babylon or when you’re in a lock down with Covid-19 for 6 months. God's word stands forever just like God. Jesus is clear.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. ~Mark 13:31 (NIV)

And as surely as God's people went into exile so they will go home and so will you. This good news must not be kept to oneself. 

3. Arm of the Lord

You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” ~Isaiah 40:9 (NIV)

So, the 3rd voice of comfort calls on the good news (gospel) of the exiles return to be preached, not just to preach it but preach it loud, shout it out! Say to the towns of Judah who saw God's glory leave, say to them “Here is your God” This is such good news, the towns and city are no longer under judgment.

God is bringing his people back. What joy it must evoke. I think our Sudanese or Liberian brothers and sisters caught in bloody civil war, on the run from rebels. They find temporary peace at a UN refugee camp, only to wait for years and then you hear the news…There is a home waiting for you in Australia. The God who promises comes with power.

See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, is reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. ~Isaiah 40:10 (NIV)

Bruce Springsteen wrote in his biography that he believed in love of Jesus but not his power. Love without power are empty words. Power without love is oppression. Power and love together is a beautiful mix.

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. ~Isaiah 40:11 (NIV)

When God leads his people out of exile there will be no fall out, the weak will not be left behind in the dust of the strong and the sick will not be left behind in the wake of the healthy. Each one is carried close to God’s heart:

God doesn’t comfort the afflicted for themselves alone

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. ~2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NIV)

God comforts us in our troubles so that we can comfort others in their troubles. It’s not supposed to end with us, there is the overflow principle. Have you ever seen champagne glasses stacked high in the form of a pyramid? as the top cup is filled up it overflows to the others. 

God's comfort overflows from our cup of suffering into other cups. The reason: Gods comfort for us is always greater than the afflictions we suffer. Whether it’s the pain of persecution, broken relationships, the sickness the anxiety and depression.

God has voiced his comfort to us so that we can offer a voice of comfort to others. God wants to take us on a journey out of ourselves to bless others. It’s not supposed to end with us. 

We must reflect on how God’s grace meets us in our brokenness. For example, the comfort of knowing that Jesus weeps with those of us who weep, overflows so that we can weep with those who weep. 

It’s not supposed to stay with you. God who has forgiven us for everything overflows into us forgiving others for everything they have done to us.

It’s not supposed to stay with you. God who will not count our sins against us overflows in us telling others that God will not count their sins against them.

It’s not supposed to stay with you. Knowing God's tenderness with us in our anxiety or depression overflows to those whose souls carry splinters.

It’s not supposed to stay with you.

Oh, that MBM would be a community that not only is comforted but comforts others with the same comfort we have received.

Dear Father,

Thank you for comforting us at this time with the love of Christ who weeps with those who weep, who does not hold our sins against us, who promises to be with us during this journey.

May your comfort for us overflow to others, that we would weep with those who weep.

We would both forgive others and share the forgiveness that Jesus brings. That we would be there for others in Jesus name.

Amen

With floods and fires and now coronavirus. One ABC journalist said "2020 is the year that God forgot." It’s not true, but it can feel like it. It’s like we woke up in an apocalyptic movie. Panic buying, lockdowns, shutdowns, boarder control, travel restrictions, and empty streets.

Think back to November when we had Hong Kong protests, Brexit battles, Kim Jong-un firing missiles, the Roosters won 2nd straight grand final and it wasn’t so bad!

By January we prayed for relief from drought and fires and those prayers were answered, the rains came down and the fires went out. Dams were full, the air was clean and life was good.

We then heard of this new virus in Wuhan province in China, it strangely sounded like a beer, but this was not the first time for the Coronavirus, it gave birth to SARS in 2004 when it spread to 24 countries resulting in 774 deaths.

This new version is called COVID-19 and most of us assumed it was serious but manageable. Then in a short time it became a pandemic and spread to 185 countries with over 14,000 deaths as at today (March 23, 2020). 

The focus then became more and more local and the restrictions rapidly ramped up, we went from no touching and washing hands and keeping our distance to self-isolation, Quarantine, border control and shut downs. Some felt this was an overreaction and others thought it was a conspiracy by whoever for whatever reason. We were told that the World economy would nose dive and it has. Someone suggested we preach through Leviticus with is strong distinction of clean and unclean.

Friends we are living in a bizarro world! Panic set in with fights over toilet paper, hostile comments on social media over school closures, anxiety felt for loved ones who are old or sick, uncertainty over job losses and mental health for those self-isolating. There is no place on earth to escape. There is no economy untouched, there is no population that is safe and there is no quick solution.

I like quick solutions! If it went for a month, no problem; a dose of Netflix, a few good books to read and more time with the family, but the government speaks in terms of 6 to18 months.

We know that with self-isolation will come increased levels of anxiety and depression, a rise of domestic violence and the increase of addictive behavior like drugs, alcohol, online gambling, pornography and overeating.

I may be an optimist but I too have been caught off guard. I too am worried and concerned for my family, my MBM family, Australia and the world. Oh yes I'm 60 in May. I'm also grieving for not being with God's people, not gathering around his word, encouraging each other and praising his name, the more we gorge ourselves on Corona news the more anxious we get. 

So, we need to press the pause button and think God thoughts.

Why is this happening? What should be our response? Some say it is a judgment of God on the world because of gay marriage and abortion and a discipline on God's people who stopped being regular at church. Friends we just have no specific word from the Lord for why this has happened.

So, we go to God word and speak of what we do know.

1. Creation is groaning

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time ~ Romans 8:22 (NIV)

Creation is groaning and it is not just some of it. The whole of nature has been groaning right up to now. It’s not just creation in the 21th century where oil tankers are leaking poison on the barrier reef. Just as Israel groaned under slavery in Egypt looking for freedom.

The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. ~Romans 8:21 (NIV)

It is enslaved to decay, every cell, every tree, every animal cries out for freedom. The universe is locked in the neverending cycle of Decline, Death, Decay and Decomposition.

We must locate this pandemic in what God says about creation generally. We live after the fall of Adam and outside the garden, we live in a broken world, it’s not just seen in floods and fires or in lions eating lambs but with bacteria and virus wreaking havoc.

Remember this is not new, here are 3 examples of many:

Creation enslaved to death and decay and it wont stop until Jesus returns and with it the resurrection of Gods children. We will spear head a new creation where there is no more crying or grief or pain. I also don’t think COVID-19 is telling us that Jesus is coming back in two weeks but it is to make us hungry for his return. It’s why the bible ends Marantha. Come Lord Jesus. We are to live as if Jesus were coming in the next 5 minutes, we are to plan like he will return in 1000yrs. One thing we do know is that with each day we are one day closer.

2. In the mean time we push back on effects of the fall.

We relieve suffering, we combat disease. As those made in Gods image to rule the world, we seek to understand how viruses work and how they spread, we earnestly pray that scientists will find a vaccination to the virus. We listen to medical directives and stop thinking, because I believe in Jesus I have some force field protecting me from this virus. If that were the case then don’t take out insurance, don’t lock your house or wear a seat belt. But that is not the case because creation is groaning and so are you.

Pray earnestly, live wisely, follow medical directives, relax it’s not a conspiracy! Although those rednecks storing food for a crisis are ahead of the game.

3. Be thankful for a long season of health in Australia

We must pause and give thanks that we have not lived in a world of pandemics, although a family friend, Dorothy, who is 104. When people say “we have not seen a pandemic like this in our life time.” She says wait a minute, “I was alive in 1918 during the Spanish flu” That was 102 years ago.

Be thankful for God's common grace in having the world leaders work together on this pandemic and for those medics who daily risk their lives.

4. We rightly grieve but not without hope

You do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. ~1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NIV)

That is true whether we face death or unemployment. It’s right to feel the grief of losing a job, burying a grandparent, being forced to move house or a business going bankrupt. Christians grieve! We feel pain and we don’t deny pain, that is Buddhism.

We see Jesus weeping when he saw Mary and Martha crying because their brother had died. This is a very, very serious matter and its only just begun but we don’t grieve as ones without hope. 

Take time to mediate on gospel truths.

One clue we have turned a good thing into an idol? It’s how we respond when we lose possession, freedom, health. Are we grieving or are we devastated. If devastated then recalibrate your heart and set your mind on the things above.

5. God has the world's attention.

When I was battling anxiety over the last 3 years I came to realize that it’s a gift from God to get my attention and turn to him in prayer. Our prayer in this season is that the world will be moved to ask big questions. They will realize we cannot keep ourselves alive. Humanity has been humbled by one mutant virus. 

We had over 55 non Christians attending the Explaining Christianity course in Term 1. In the most recent course, 5 people accepted Christ and 11 want to be followed up. Pray that God will convince people that they need a savior. Pray that the gospel will spread faster than COVID-19.

Brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you. ~2 Thessalonians 3:1 (NIV)

Don’t waste this pandemic! Let's encourage those in our household who don’t yet know Jesus to watch MBM online next Sunday with us.

6. Don’t surrender to your anxiety

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. ~Philippians 4:6 (NIV)

The opposite to anxiety is, not so much, not anxiety but prayer. We can’t directly stop worrying. No button to press! But we can cast our cares before our Father in heaven. Why? because he cares for you. This is what glorifies God, don’t waste your panic, turn it into prayer. And Remember you are just a 3 year old kid whose Dad happens to be Sovereign creator of the universe. Your older brother is none other than Jesus – Lord of glory, who upholds the universe by the power of his word.

It's going to be OK! Don’t be anxious because your Father knows your needs before you ask. Jesus is clear, if our Father takes care of the birds of the air will he not take care of you. Are you not much more valuable than those birds? He has your back! It's going to be ok. And as Jesus reminds us, being anxious has a 100% failure rate. Jesus said, “You can’t add 1 day to your life by worry.” The only thing anxiety produces is ulcers and heart burn, its critical you meditate on this.

7. God is in total control and he is good

Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come? ~Lamentations 3:37-38 (NIV)

You can’t pick and choose where God is soverign. Not one Sparrow will fall to the ground apart from the will of my Father. No virus will mutate and spread apart from our Fathers directive, that is why we pray for a cure, He is in charge. That is why we don’t panic, He is in control. That is why we don’t despair, He is our dad. That is why..

8. We receive suffering as discipline not as rejection

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father… but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. ~Hebrews 10:7,11 (NIV)

For every believer, COVID 19, is a discipline form the Lord, not a punishment. When hardship comes we rightly ask

This is not the reason for COVID-19 but it tells us how we are to respond to COVID 19. But for every Christian, our Fathers discipline is to help us be more like Jesus.

Whether we come out of this looking more or less like Christ, that is our decision. 

9. Glorify God by Loving others

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. ~Galatians 6:10 (NIV)

In the early centuries of the church when plagues wiped out villages and towns, many left their sick families behind… beginning with the doctors. Often Christians stayed behind and took care of the sick, not just their own but others.

The pagan Emperor Julian was exasperated at Christian kindness as it made pagans look bad. "It is disgraceful that, when... the impious Galileans [Christians] support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us."

It was one of the reasons why Christianity spread. The Christians were prepared to die with the plague because they had the hope of the resurrection. They refused to be intimidated by death, since they were forgiven, they lived without fear, they were free to love others. 

The days before us are going to be very hard, have no doubt. This is not going away in a hurry. Let's look back on this time as our best days of MBM, where we took care of not only ourselves, but others, inside and outside the church. Let's not postpone living a life that glorifies God. Don’t waste this pandemic.

As one brother at MBM said, “I got too comfortable, bored with the ordinary Christian life. I needed a wake up. COVID-19 was that wake up call, so I called my extended family to see if they needed anything, I then called you to see if anyone at church needed anything.”

Let us know if you need help?
Let us know if you can offer help?

This battle has only just begun!

But if God is for us who can be against us!

We rightly have a confidence in science that it will find a vaccine for Covid-19. Science is doing what God calls humans to do; to understand and find answers to the worlds problems, like Covid19. Science is helping us avoid death, but we know once death has set in, science can't make a difference. Before death you want the doctor but after death Doctors are as useless as the rest of us, all they can do is write the death certificate.

When I visited a morgue in my early 20s, I noticed that no one was in rush, the time for making a difference has passed. COVID 19 has 0.8% death rate in Australia, the US has 3% and Italy has 12.5%. Death has a 100% success rate with every Australian and every human.

One comedian said the stats for death are overwhelming one out of one dies.

While I have confidence that science will find a vaccine for the Coronavirus, it can do nothing once a person has died.

I was talking to a very thoughtful man, he said ‘Ray, I believe in facts not faith, I base my life on Science not Religion. I only believe in what I can see with my eyes’. 

So, is it true that Science is only about facts and Christianity is only about faith? I want to say that Science and Christianity both require faith in a set of facts 2 times.

Let me explain, when I had my appendix operation, I didn't check the doctors degree and I didn't see that the scalpel was sterilized, I didn’t study the surgery techniques and I didn't even get a second opinion. But I had so much faith in both the doctors and medical science that I let strangers drug me to the point I was unconscious. I let them use a sharp scalpel to cut me open and I even paid him for the privilege. If that is not faith what is. But interestingly, I made sure that my wife took my wallet so that no one would steal it. 

If we only believe what we see and if that were true, we could not send people to jail. Every week judges and juries make verdicts based not on what they saw but on eye witness evidence. Christianity is faith in the eye witness facts of Jesus. The key fact is this for the first time in the history of the world a man has been raised from the dead, never to die again.

Let us now turn to the eye witness facts presented in John's Gospel, chapter 20. By this stage Jesus has been

On the first Easter Sunday evening Jesus appeared to 10 very scared apostles in a locked upper room. These men were handpicked apostles who were with Jesus for 3 years. Two of the 12 were missing, Judas, by now is dead and the other is Thomas. In this chapter we are taken into places we can’t go, the empty tomb where Jesus was buried and the upper room where Jesus appeared.

We can’t go there, not because it didn't happen but because we live in the 21st century and Jesus came in the 1st century, we live in Sydney and Jesus was crucified and buried in Jerusalem. With it our doubts and questions are forced to stare into the facts of the risen Lord Jesus. Jesus appears, it will be one of 10 appearances of the risen Jesus over a 40 day period.

In verse 21, Jesus says to the 10

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (NIV)

He empowers them with the Spirit and authorises them to forgive sin, but Thomas, 1 of the 12, wasn't there when Jesus appeared in the upper room, so in verse 25 they run to tell him.

So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” (NIV)

If you were Thomas you might be saying to yourself. “Darn it, I missed out.” “Late again, I’m always late for meetings.” This could have been the first and only time Jesus was going to appear before he ascended into heaven. But regret was the last thing on Thomas mind. His reaction was total and utter disbelief, there was not a shred of faith, he thought it was a whole lot of bull. Let's continue with verse 25.

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” (NIV)

This is hardcore doubt and, I have to tell you, I am kind of glad Thomas is like that. I am a modern man and I, like you, have doubts. I have real questions. But Thomas doesn't even say, unless I see I won’t believe. He needs to grab hold of Jesus before he believes in Jesus. He wants the full 3D experience.

Thomas is like my grandson, who is also called Thomas. If he can’t touch it, hold it, and put it in his mouth then it’s not real to him. So out of Thomas price range is a resurrection, nothing less than sticking his fingers in Jesus wounds where the nails were, putting his hands into Jesus guts where the spear went.

You don't say that if you think there is any chance of it going to happen. You only speak in such crude ways if you’re absolutely sure that Jesus won’t turn up and take you up on the offer.

Friends, it’s common for us to look down on people in the first century and to think they were gullible and ignorant and uneducated and filled with superstition. This guy is not gullible, he is a hardcore cynic. Even though Thomas knew that Jesus had healed everybody who came to him, that Jesus has raised at least 3 people from the dead and 3 times Jesus predicted that he would rise from the dead, Thomas will not believe unless he can see, touch and poke in the body of the living Jesus. That is not doubt, that is 100% disbelief.

Thomas had no expectation of a resurrection at all because like every other human who has ever lived when you die you stay dead. But what makes Thomas' disbelief less reasonable is that he had received the eye witness report of not 1,2,3,4 but all 10 apostles. The word of the 10 apostles should have been enough, Jesus expected it to be enough for Thomas because he will expect it to be enough for you.

So, when you hear about the resurrection and read the appearances by Jesus, just as you are doing now, you can be certain that it is trustworthy. Jesus loved doubting Thomas and so, verse 26 tells us, he appeared a 2nd time, not just for Thomas sake but for ours.

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” (NIV)

Notice that Thomas had a full week to change his mind and believe, 7 days of doubt and he is not budging one bit. So, Jesus appears again, Jesus first words to every one including Thomas are ‘Peace be with you… all of you…’

Jesus is a forgiving God. Please know friends, there is nothing Jesus won’t forgive, if only you come to him. It's why he died on the cross to offer a full pardon. Verse 27 and 28 says that Jesus then calls Thomas out by name. Awkward!

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (NIV)

Jesus confronts Thomas' doubts. You had the facts but you had no faith. You heard the truth but you refuse to trust. You listened to the eye witness reports and still won’t believe. Then the rebuke, stop doubting and believe! Can you see Jesus turning to you right now and telling you it’s time to stop doubting and trust me. 

When Jesus turns his attention to us: 

Jesus says in verse 29 ‘Tom, lucky them for they will believe without seeing.’

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (NIV)

Blessed or happy are those who have not seen and yet have believed, faith is taking God at his word. Believe what? Believe that Jesus is alive. Believe that for the first time, death has been defeated. Believe that you too will rise from the dead. And because Jesus rose from the dead, that what Jesus said about himself is true, He is Lord and God

From the greatest doubter, the biggest sceptic, from the man who had more doubts than you will ever have, comes the biggest claim of Jesus. Jesus is not just Saviour, King or Christ. He is not just Son of God–Jesus is Lord and God. More than that, Jesus is My Lord and My God.

Thomas shared your doubts, you now need to share his faith in the facts presented.Jesus is alive and He is God and forgiveness is only found in him and him alone. Jesus is God whether you say so or not. The question for you is will you say that Jesus is My Lord and My God, that is why the evidence is before you.

John 20.30-31

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (NIV)

As far as God is concerned, these miraculous signs of Jesus are enough facts to produce faith. These signs are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Son of God and have life. You can be certain of that, not only did Jesus rise again but so can you. 

We are all born enslaved to the fear of death. That fear takes many forms. Fear of knowing that Death is coming, fear of not knowing when it will come, fear of not knowing how it will come, fear that Death wipes our footprint from this earth. Jesus resurrection is the great game changer, it means we no longer need to be enslaved to the fear of death. Death has been defeated. As surely as Christ rose from the dead so will you because Jesus said in verse 25 and 26.

“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (NIV)

Dear Jesus,

I finally and fully accept that you rose form the dead.
You are my Lord, and you are my God.
I confess that I have lived apart from you all my life.
Please forgive me Lord.
Thank you for giving me life, and forgiveness.
Thank you for setting me free to serve you.
In Jesus powerful name,

Amen.

The whole world is in crisis, we are all free falling, with our anxiety levels up, with jobs being lost and with everyone feeling vulnerable. Coronavirus has put a big dent in our collective confidence. Every day we have new directives based on the best wisdom and we have never been more hungry for the truth. 

For a long time many of us were happy to live life as if there is no absolute truth. All there are, are just opinions, you’re right from your side and I’m right from mine. But truth now seems to matter more than ever.

It’s why the early cover up of the Coronavirus was so dangerous.

On the first Good Friday there was a commitment to cover up the truth about Jesus, and nothing has changed! Jesus has been betrayed, arrested and tried by the Jewish leaders and the high priest. They wanted him DEAD, but they couldn't make it happen because Israel in the 1st century was under the rule of Rome. Only the Roman Governor, Pilate, could authorise his execution. What is clear is that no one was interested in truth. Turn back a chapter to 18, verse 37. 

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered,  “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (NIV)

Jesus makes  the most radical if not the most arrogant statement. Everyone on the side of truth listens to who? Jesus. Jesus is the benchmark for what is true and what is false. Jesus. Not your parents, not your priests, not your professor                nor your present instagram hero, He the measurement for truth.

It was only 3-4 weeks ago that we heard of those saying, “I don’t believe that the Coronavirus is true.”’ They believed that COVID19 was made up by the media and that it was a conspiracy by the government. But now that they have seen the news, there are:

The same folk are finally admitting that maybe the Coronavirus is true. Isn’t it good they were not running government policy. In a world where everyone wants to decide for themselves what is truth, Jesus says: Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.

Truth is a person and that person is Jesus.

Notice how in verse 38 Pilate avoids the truth of Jesus, he uses one of the oldest trick in the trade. The philosopher’s question. 

“What is truth?” Pilate asked. (NIV)

Philosophy can ask ultimate questions but it struggles with the ultimate answer. Most philosophy courses teach that there is no absolute truth, but we all live like truth exists. Pilate knew one truth, that Jesus is innocent. Verse 38

“What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. (NIV)

Three times Pilate says “I find no basis for a charge against him. You want me to kill an innocent man? Never is truth more precious than when you’re falsely accused.

Years ago my friend got married in Coogee and the car park meter was broken. So I phoned the number on the meter and asked ‘Is it alright if I park?’ She said 'Yes' and I got a number to confirm the conversation. A month later I got a fine of $68 and I couldn’t believe it. I phoned up and explained. The lady said no problem just write up your story and that should be ok.

A month later the appeal was knocked back. Apparently I did not fit within the terms of leniency. But I didn’t want leniency, I wanted justice. Now, I was so upset that I phoned a shock jock on 2GB to have my grievance heard and the manager asked me to fax the details. I got no response and it’s still a cold case. 

It feels so wrong when you’re falsely accused. I wanted the truth to come out! Then I remembered all the times I did the wrong thing but was never penalised. I didn’t go to the police and ask to be booked for speeding. Really, I might have been innocent of that case but I was guilty of a lot more.

Jesus alone stands as the truly sinless one. Jesus’ innocence was an inconvenient truth for Pilate, for he had the Jewish leaders wanting Jesus dead and a crowd crying out for blood. To keep them happy, as a concession, he sent an innocent man to be flogged. Verse 1. Such a simple sentence.

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged (NIV)

That is what happens when truth doesn’t matter, you can punish the innocent and sleep at night. This Roman flogging was so bad that it was called the death before death. They would have tied Jesus’ arms around a stone  to stretch the skin on his back. The whip had sharp pieces of bones and metal sewed into strips of leather and each of the 39 lashes would rip the flesh off his back, exposing veins and organs. The one who made the world, being whipped by the hands he created. But it continues in verse 2 and 3.

The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face. (NIV)

Bored soldiers deciding to have some fun with Jesus. He was the butt of their jokes and the butt of their fists. A pretend crown, dressed up in purple and laughing at this pathetic looking king. This would not be the last time Jesus was the butt of jokes.

We live in a world that acts like everything is funny. Stand up comedians will laugh their way through the big issues of life. Don’t get me wrong! I love the medicine of laughter and I’m a laugh out loud sort of guy and laughter helps us get through self isolation. One former member of MBM on a Facebook feed said, “My kids woke up calling from the bedroom “Mum what did Gladys (The premier of NSW) say? “Gladys said, you’re going to school, so get your butts out of bed.” I can’t find the meaning of life in laughter and I’ve realised my laughter covers a lot of pain and it also covers up a lot of truth.

You can't laugh your way through a job loss when you have to feed your kids, you can’t laugh at the death of a grandparent you love. We need to stop laughing long enough to see that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. God's judgment on sin will pass over us not on us. Jesus is our passover lamb taking the judgment our sins deserve. And one day as followers of Christ death will be destroyed and we can laugh at death for eternity. Only this servant king can do that. In verse 6 and 7 Pilate brings Jesus out hoping for a change of mind.

As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.” The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” (NIV)

Now it’s religion’s turn to suppress the truth of Jesus. You would think religion is a sincere attempt at finding God but the moment the truth came in person to earth it was religion that was on a mission to take Jesus out. Jesus exposes the lies of man made religion. Every religion has to re-position itself against Jesus. Jesus who said, “Everyone on the side of truth, listen to me”.

Jesus who said “I am the way, the truth, and life” then said it in reverse “No one comes to the Father except through me” In one sentence he has shut the door on every religion that denies that truth, Jesus is God’s way to God. “I am the son of God” you can see why they wanted to kill him. So they pull out the old blasphemy rule. We know that Judas, out of greed, hands Jesus to the Jewish Leaders. The Jewish leader, out of envy, hands Jesus over to Pilate. Pilate, out of fear, hands Jesus over to the Soldiers to be killed. Pilate was now more afraid. Verses 8-10.

 When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” (NIV)

Pilate demands answers to his question, Jesus is choosing to be silent as He has already answered Pilate’s Questions, “I am king, my kingdom is not of this world” “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” Pilate didn’t like those answers. Notice Pilate’s response to Jesus' silence, “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Sounds familiar?! How many of us have tested God? “Prove to me that you are Lord!” or, “Show me a sign!” or, “Perform this miracle or answer my prayers" or "Respond to my questions" or "Fulfil my expectations" or "For I have power to accept you Jesus, I have power to reject you" Jesus replied in verse 11.

Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore, the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” (NIV)

Jesus is reminding us that whatever power we think we have either great or small, it is both given and will be taken away. Pilate wanted more evidence when the evidence was staring him in his face, and they are staring in our face right now. The resurrection will prove Jesus' case. 

They say that the Coronavirus, like the bushfires in January, brought out the best and worst of humanity. But in the death of Jesus, we only see the worst of humanity. In verse 14 to 16 Pilate brings Jesus out again.

“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews. But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered. Finally, Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. (NIV)

Did these Jewish leaders really say “We have no king but Caesar”? Think about it, they accuse Jesus of blasphemy but in the process, they blaspheme God by saying, “We have no king but Caesar”. I thought God was their king. They would prefer to side with Rome who has enslaved them rather than side with a Saviour who wants to set them free. 

Be careful who you want to be friends with, for within a few decades the Roman emperor will authorise the death of 1 million Jews. Can you see a little of Pilate in you? Pilate is a weak, insecure little boy who fears losing his power, who avoids taking responsibility, who caves to the pressure of people, who ignores the truth before him and who sacrifices the innocent and fears humans more than God. 

The difference between a boy and a man is that boys only care about themselves and men take care of others. Coronavirus will expose whether we have men or boys in our families. 

Pilate was no more than a boy with lots of power who was interested in taking care of himself, and fearing people more than God. Jesus was the True man and the True king, having total power and then giving up that power so that he may die for us and provide full forgiveness.

At age 20 I became a follower of Jesus Christ. I went from knowing about Jesus to personally knowing Jesus. I did that by reading the Bible for myself, with an open mind, as an adult, to see if Jesus truly was the Son of God. I was overwhelmed by the truthfulness of Jesus. It truly has the ring of truth. It was then that I realised how much my soul ached for truth in a world of lies. There was someone I could fully trust. It was like from the moment I was born, I was free falling until I landed on the truth of Jesus. 

Let me put it another way, Jesus is the only person who will never lie to you. Truth is such a precious commodity. It can seem inconvenient because a relationship with Jesus is on his terms. He is King and he is Servant King. That is the truth that will set you free. 

Can I invite you to accept Jesus as your King. 

Dear God,
Lord my soul aches for your truth
Forgive me for ignoring the truth all my life
The truth that your one and only Son, the Lord Jesus, is truly the King of kings
Thank you Jesus for carrying my sins at the cross
Thank you for providing full forgiveness
I want to side with you
I want to  take your view of the world and make it mine.
I pray this in Jesus name.
Amen

 

If Jesus were to pray one thing for you what would you want? I’m guessing: Find a vaccine for Covid-19, get me a job, let my Nunna live. Let's find out what Jesus prayed for you 2000 years ago, maybe we can pray the same thing for each other.

Things are moving rapidly with Coronavirus now and things were moving rapidly for the apostles then. Our Lord is preparing them for his death and it’s just hours away. He ends with a prayer to his Father, the same Father he is returning to. There are three sections to this prayer.

Point 1. Jesus prays for himself.

Let's look at John 17:1

After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. (NIV)

The hour has come. God’s clock was counting down to this one moment in history. At the cross God's light will shine brightest. Jesus wants to return to the splendor that he once had with the Father. "Take me home Dad." This is Jesus’ version of "Beam me up scotty."

But notice, Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. Even when Jesus is asking for himself he is still focused on the glory of the Father. He lives solely for his Father's pleasure. His whole ministry can be described that way. Verse 4

I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do (NIV)

Jesus glorifies his Father by speaking His words, doing His works and obeying His will. And guess what? It’s no different for you.

Are you wondering, like me, how you’re going to cope with self isolation for 6 months? Especially you extraverts out there. You glorify the Father by doing the work he has given you. Yes, you may be shut out of your workplace and be locked in your house or unit, but that space is where you give honour to God.

Don’t waste this pandemic. Don’t postpone your godliness during this season. Finish the work God has given you on this earth. Love him and love others. The unique work given to Jesus is to give eternal life to all those the Father has given him For we read the word Eternal life and we think ETERNITY.

Arthur Stace who for 35 years wrote down the word “Eternity” on the streets and sidewalks of Sydney to help people find God. But eternal life is not the same as eternity. See verse 3

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (NIV)

You don’t have to go to heaven to live forever, Hell is as much eternal as Heaven.

You don’t have to wait for heaven to have eternal life. Eternal life begins now as you enter a relationship with the Father and the Son and because the Father/Son are eternal that relationship will never end.

Why does Jesus want to be glorified? So that others may treat his Father with the honour he deserves. Victory for Jesus is victory for the Father.

Get that and you get the meaning of life. You can endure a boring job, a difficult marriage and or 6 months in isolation.

Point 2. Jesus prays for the 11 Apostles

Jesus now prayers for 11 apostles because Judas has gone to betray Jesus. It’s worth noting as Jesus faces his own certain death, He is totally concerned for others:

He now, in verse 9, prays for his apostles but surprise, surprise, He does not prayer for the world.

I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours (NIV)

There is the infinite chasm between those who belong to the world and those who belong to the Father. It’s true, God loved the world that he gave his only Son. He will send his disciples to witness to the world that hates him. His prayer is for those whom the Father has chosen out of the world. He will not pray for the world just like he will not pray for Satan.

Friends, please accept Jesus and leave the world in its rebellion against God; there is no future and there is no hope for those who remain in the world. To love the world is to hate Jesus. So, what does Jesus prayer for the 11 apostles? Verse 15 tells us

My prayer is … that you protect them from the evil one (NIV)

Jesus doesn't want them to fall away. Satan’s mission is to destroy Christ’s church. Friends, there is nothing more important than remaining with Jesus to the end. Satan has successfully used self isolation to weaken and destroy Christians for 2000 years. Those who got out of the habit of meeting and those who refuse to forgive someone so they stopped attending church and then slowly died.

With most churches going online, I fear Christians are looking for the best church show on TV and Church shopping has never been easier. Constantly flicking but never landing. It’s deadly. Friends, we have been trained to hunger and thirst for entertainment and novelty, not God and His word. Never has a generation like ours been more distracted and less able to concentrate. But Jesus has no interest in putting Christians in a Monastery. In fact, as we look at verse 15 again he will not pray for them to be taken out of the world.

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one (NIV)

We are to be in the world and not of it. The boat is in the water but the water must not be in the boat.

It’s every Christian parent’s desire to keep the world from their children but you can’t completely shut the world out of Christian homes or Christian schools. The average age for a child to access porn is now 11yrs. What we have to learn is to teach one another to see through the lies of the world and the temptations of the flesh and the schemes of the devil.

Verse 12 tells us how successful was Jesus in protecting his own?

While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. (NIV)

Jesus has a 100% success rate against Satan. Judas never belonged to the Father.

What comfort it is to be told by a doctor he has not lost one patient on his operating table. It's why many people fly Qantas, because there has not been one death since they started flying jets.

People who call themselves Christians may have fallen away, but not one chosen by the Father has fallen away, they may have drifted like Peter but they come back every time. Jesus also prayers in verse 17 that he may set them apart by the truth.

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. (NIV)

These 11 have been chosen out of the world. they were chosen to be sent into the world with the truth. The ancient heroes of the church who pursued holiness were often found withdrawing: Anthony in the desert; Simeon Stylite up a pole for 36 yrs. But the 11 apostles are found in the world witnessing to the truth of Jesus Christ.

I wonder if there anyone in your household you can invite to sit down to hear next Sunday's message?

Point 3. Jesus prayers for you!

Turn to verse 20

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, (NIV)

I told you that Jesus was praying for you! Not just you! The Christians of the 2nd, 10th, 19th and 21st centuries. His eye was on those in Spain, Liberia, Indonesia, Uruguay and the Western Suburbs of Sydney. As Jesus pondered the cross he was thinking of you.

When my kids were young they loved going through my wallet. For 2 reasons: looking for money and they loved to put their photo in the front of the other brother or sister. For Jesus the photo of every child of God is at the front of his mind.

He is found praying for you, with his death just hours away. Our awesome Saviour has got his eye on the Father's glory,
the protection of his 11 apostle and the unity of believers 2000 years down the track and the witnesses to the world. What is the Son of God found praying for you? Verse 23 tell us:

... I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (NIV)

Jesus may not pray for the world but he prays for us who are in the world. He wants complete unity. That the unity of the Father and the Son is played out in the unity of believers. Praying we will get our act together and be like God - one in love and truth.

A lot is at stake. So that the world may know that the Father sent the Son – Jesus, is who he claims to be, that the Father loves us just as he loves his Son. That is why what you believe about Jesus matters. That is why how you treat others in the church family matters.

You can't afford to not forgive your brother and sister. The witness of the church is destroyed when love stops and truth doesn’t matter. The salvation of the lost is at stake and we make Jesus look bad and it gets in the way of the world believing.

Now that we don’t gather in person it is much harder. You must do what you can to stay connected. Gather online and encourage each other with the word. Ask how each other is doing? Discuss the question after this message.

Jesus prays for unity in love and truth. And His final prayer point: Verse 24 tells us He wants us to be with him:

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have
given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. (NIV)

We live in a world of self isolation,we are creating physical distance and we are strict on who comes to visit and how many. Remember before the days of Covid 19, when you had people over for a meal or remember as a kid you would say to a friend. “Do you want to come to my place and see my bike or sound system? Come and see!”

Jesus wants you to come and see.

Jesus is not into self isolation, He has got no quarantine rules, He wants you with him for eternity, He has dealt with the virus of sin that has spread to all humanity, at the cross. It can’t hinder you from being with Jesus.

We now know what to pray for each other so let's pray.

Father we thank you for choosing us out of the world and giving us to your Son. We thank you Lord Jesus for praying for us such a long time ago. We praise Lord Jesus for living for the Father's glory by completing his work on earth.Help us during this trying season to glorify you in our self isolating space. Though scattered, help us to be united both in the truth of Christ and love for each other. Lord many of us are struggling, unable to gather, filled with anxiety. Help us to stay connected with each other online and around God's word. We want the world to know that Jesus is heaven sent. We thank you Lord that you want us to be with you. You want us to share the love and glory you have with the Father. In Jesus name.

I hate you! Hate is such a strong word isn’t it? Have you ever told someone that you hate them? Have you ever been told that someone hates you? I remember telling my mum when I was kid and I couldn’t get what I wanted - "I hate you!!" Or friend groups telling someone in school "I hate you." That feeling of being on the outer, being the unaccepted person, is horrible. It’s the opposite of love.

In the passage just before this, Jesus was telling his disciples, this is the big thing I want you to do, love each other as the father loves me, so I have loved you, love one another and you’ll remain in that love. Then, the very next thing he says is: "you’re going to be hated." Jesus has been preparing his disciples for his departure. He’s just been telling them, all the love Jesus has with his father, all the joy, all the benefits of being in a perfect relationship with God will be theirs. Everything that’s true of Jesus, in his relationship with his Father, is true of those who trust Jesus, but not only is it true that we get what Jesus gets from the Father-LOVE, but, John 15:18 tells us that we also get what He got from the world–hate!

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first…” (NIV)

From the beginning of John’s Gospel, way back in John 1:3 we have been shown that the world is against God. 

Though the world was made by him and through Him, when he came into the world the world didn’t want him.. it didn’t accept him.. it wouldn’t receive him"

John 1:4 says - "Jesus was the life and light of the world." Then verse 5 says "That light shines in the darkness" referring to the world as darkness and yet the darkness, the world, didn’t understand it. The world had no place for its maker. Then in chapter 3:19-20 John summarises the reason the world hates Jesus 

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. (NIV) 

My sister has this bird who haunts her at her back door every day! She can’t go outside to hang the washing out, or feed the cat, without this bird flying in and swooping her head! She keeps a broom and a hat by the back door now to protect herself when she goes outside, she keeps saying "I have no idea why this bird keeps coming at me but it’s so annoying!" It’s gotten so bad that her husband, who’s an illustrator, made a comic story out of it!

But why do birds swoop? They swoop to protect their nests because they think every other moving thing is out to get them! They attack out of protection. People hate Jesus, because his very reality and presence causes people to realise they’re guilty! And they don’t like that! The truth hurts. Like a bird who swoops and attacks people in order to protect their nest, people hate and attack Jesus and his followers in order to protect their own sinfulness and brokenness. A horrible sad reality, which was my reality until I was willing to see it.

You might say, OK I get why people would feel like that towards Jesus, but I’m not Jesus, I’m just like everyone else so why would they hate me? John 15:19 gives us the answer

If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. (NIV)

If you belonged to the world, they’d love you, but He says - you don’t! That’s why they hate you! 

Jesus has chosen us from the world, rescued us out of the world, out of that darkness, out of our hopeless state, brought us into a relationship with himself, chosen us that we might be different from the world, united us to Himself that we might be his representatives in the world and for that reason, the world hates us! The very fact that we’ve been shifted from being a part of the world to being a partner with God is why the world hates us! 

Here is Julia’s story: "I lived a pretty messy life before I turned to Jesus. When I first became a Christian, I started posting things on facebook about God’s forgiveness and how glad I was to be a Christian. I thought people I knew would really want what I had found in God. That they’d want to know more, that they’d be happy for me. But a friend who used to see me at parties and clubs and knew what I was like - she got really angry with me and sent me some messages saying: “How can you think you can just change and be someone else…?” She shared how she wanted to change her life, she wanted to turn back to God, but felt like she couldn’t and she saw that I had and it made her angry that I was claiming to be able to give up on that old life and live a new one. She was angry that I was claiming I could be forgiven for my old life and she hated me for nothing that I had done to her, only what I was claiming to be.

That’s how it is for every one of us who trust in Jesus and live our lives for Him. The world around us hates us because it leaves them feeling guilty… If you honestly and courageously live for Jesus, the world will hate you. It’s just as the Apostle Paul told young Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:12.

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (NIV)

Wow, that’s hard to hear, but friends, let me tell you, it’s actually freeing to hear that! Let go of the desire to be loved by the world. It is a burden, God never asked us to carry. If and when we are able to grasp this truth, it’s a mind-shift and it’s liberating! 

This is often where our stress in evangelism comes from. It’s why we worry so much about how we’re connecting with our friends and family and work friends and school friends because we wrongly think that our task is to get them to love us! Of course, we want to represent Jesus well, we don’t want to upset people, just for the sake of it. We want to be good examples. We want people to know and love God. But we too often live with this idea that people will only really want to know God, when they love me! We believe that lie and when we live with that lie, we constantly compromise our faith.

It’s not about God’s truth anymore, but about becoming like other people so they accept me. It becomes about impressing people with my abilities, with my morals, with my wisdom, with my...[fill in the blank].

Let me give you a personal example: When the whole same sex marriage debate was going on and the voting thing came out, my wife Sally and I were living in Newtown and Sally was a member of the Newtown Community facebook group. Someone thought they’d try to be civil and post on the group saying: “It’s ok to vote no” And that person got absolutely slammed by every other person on the group.The group admin ended up saying, if you disagree at all with same sex marriage, you’re not welcome in this group and no one even wants you in the Newtown community! It was nuts! Around that time, I had a friend post on facebook, saying - “If anyone has a good argument, that’s not religious, as to why she should vote "NO" she’d love to hear it” So I thought, OK I have to say something here because there are good arguments! 

That day I was having lunch with an old minister and he’s a super smart guy, I was telling him he needs to write a piece for the rest of us, outlining all the scientific and social reasons why marriage should remain between a man and a woman because he knows all the data and knows how to write things well. And he stopped me and said "hang on, you’re looking for a worldly argument to win them over to your worldly view, but our argument is a God argument! They don’t like what we say precisely because it’s what God says. And they’re never going to like it, unless they agree with God." He was absolutely right, I wanted to have a nice argument for my friend to see that us Christians are ok, that we’ve got great wisdom to share, but I was compromising my faith for love from the world, I wanted to win them over to me, to an argument, not to God.

Jesus says here "you don’t belong to them anymore. You belong to me. But because of that, they won’t love you--they’ll hate you! Just as they hated me! Not because of anything particular you’ve done, but who you’ve become!" Free yourself from the pursuit of being accepted by the world, from being loved by the world, it’s not your reality! You have a better reality! A better love, a better cause, a better future. 

How would this week look different for you if you were less concerned with people loving and accepting you, but were content in God’s love and knew representing Jesus would stir people? If you remove the need to be loved by others, how different does your witness look to people at work? In your family, at school, at the shops?

Have you ever heard someone say - or said it yourself - “don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger?” Jesus says, in our case, there’s no separating the messenger from the message sender. John 15:20-21 

Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. (NIV)

If you’re a new Christian or checking out Jesus for the first time, this is a really important thing for you to get your head around. You need to be clear on what a relationship with Jesus will mean for your relationship with our world. Christianity has been the most persecuted and hated community in history from its very beginning! Different countries express their hate in different ways, in some parts of the world it’s physical harm, torture, death, imprisonment and laws made against Christians.

Open Doors is an organisation committed to supporting persecuted Christians around the world. Here are some of what’s on the home page of their website: 

They’re all in completely different places, but they hold one thing in common, their faith in Jesus! And because of that, they’re hated and persecuted and treated like animals. In Australia we don’t cop it as harshly at the moment, some do, but generally we don’t, but for us it’s in the way our communities try to silence us and isolate us from bringing God into their view.

It’s what happened to a guy in one of our morning services here, when his boss wanted him to commit fraud for their company and if he didn’t, he said he might as well quit, his wife was pregnant with their second child, they had bills to pay. What would you do? Compromise? Or be faithful and be hated. He quit! And it doesn’t always happen, but God graciously provided him a job soon after, that was much better than the one he had. 

A guy in my last church works for Sydney trains, Sam. They do big 12hr shifts in their job and no one likes doing the night shift. So, what they do is the day shift guys get all their stuff done during the day so the others can all go in at night and just sleep through the shift. They all agree to do it together, even the managers, and so they don’t bother sleeping during the day because they know they can sleep at night while they’re on shift. 

Now Sam got asked to do the night shift, but he didn’t want to do the wrong thing with them. So, he was going in at night and getting all this stuff done and the other guys were getting mad at him because they were starting to look bad. People higher up started asking questions.

Now they know Sam’s a Christian as he often talked to them about God. So one of the managers came and said to him “Mate, why are you doing this? You’re upsetting people. Why can’t you just shut up about it. You’re not making any friends this way” And he said "I’m just trying to do the right thing! I’m trying to be honest!" And the boss said - “Well you better find another word for what you’re doing, because honesty’s not helping anyone!” 

He had a choice, be loved by his work mates, or be loved by God. He reflected "It’s hard, but what does it tell them about God if I’m willing to keep doing it even though they’re mad at me? It shows them that my God is worth it! I just want to please God, not to try to get myself into heaven, but because of what Jesus did for me!"

Persecution and hate coming our way is inevitable if we’re living a life of holiness and faithfulness to God. But, losing the lie that the world was ever going to love us, is the only way to be content in God’s love in the midst of persecution.

Only when we realise the world’s love is partial, it’s demanding, it’s flippant, it’s fleeting, 

Only when we realise God’s love is eternal, it’s forgiving, it’s constant, it’s amazing, 

Only when we realise what God has given, for us to have that love, that he was willing to give himself, to be hated for us, to be persecuted for us, to be put to death for us… 

Only when we realise no one has greater love than this, that they lay down their life for their friends… 

Only when we grasp, God’s undying love for us will we have the courage to stand in the face of opposition and not be swayed by the hate this world pours out on us. 

We don’t need to compromise our faithfulness for others to accept God. Look at verse 20.

If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. (NIV)

What the world needs from us is God’s truth, not our compromise, faithfulness is what makes Jesus’ word seem trustworthy. The reality is, God knows the heart, and only he can move a person out of their darkness. Nothing impressive we do can move a person’s heart, it relies on them coming face-to-face with the truth about Jesus and us praying and trusting that the same message that changed our hearts from hating God to loving Him will do its powerful work in others too.

Now I want to give the Apostle Peter the last word here. He was there when Jesus said this, then he saw Jesus persecuted for him, and he himself faced intense persecution through his life, even to the point of death. Listen to how he reflects in 1 Peter 4 on persecution in the life of a believer as he writes to a bunch of people facing persecution for their faith. Verses 12-16

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (NIV) 

Our Vision is to see lives transformed through Jesus Christ to the glory of God. It’s beautifully seen in John 15, so I'm going to use the vision statement to structure this talk. Every vision speaks to a problem and a challenge. To understand that we need to see the context. Jesus is giving his final instruction as he is about to die. Verse 1

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. (NIV)

Now in the Old Testament, Israel was often called a vine that God planted, the problem with Israel is that they didn't produce fruit. When Jesus says I am the true vine, that is I am the true Israel. When every Israelite was getting baptized, they were confessing sins. When Jesus was getting baptized there were no sins to confess and the Father gave his stamp of approval. “This is my son in whom I am well pleased.” Finally, someone who obeys me and pleases me. If Jesus is the true vine and we are the branches, then we can only live and bear fruit by staying with Jesus.

1. Our vision is to see lives transformed.

The people of God are not just to bear fruit, but much fruit and fruit that lasts. What does it mean to bear fruit? What is the transformation that Jesus is looking? Bearing fruit includes the following

But verses 1-2 show us that this transformation comes at a cost

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful…” (NIV)

Judas was a dead branch that was cut off and thrown away, but branches that do produce fruit are not cut off but cut back so to produce even more fruit. Anything worthwhile comes at a cost. It’s a painful process to be cut back but it’s what brings fruit. Any gardener knows if you want fruit next season then cut back the branches at the end of this season. Verse 16 tells us why this is so important

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit— fruit that will last— (NIV)

None of us like it when we see an athlete chosen for our country and that athlete fails to give their best. How much more when one - chosen by our Lord

God chose you to bear fruit that will last. But it can't happen without Christ.

2. Our Vision is to see lives transformed through Jesus Christ

All change begins with where we are, not where we are pretending to be. Verse 4-5 tells us the only way to bear fruit is by remaining in Jesus.

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (NIV)

Eleven times we are told to remain or stay with Jesus. We are totally dependent on Jesus "Apart from me you can do nothing."

Richard Branson, of Virgin companies, has built 7, billion dollar companies from the ground up and he did it without Jesus. Michael Phelps, won 22 Olympic medals in swimming and he did it without Jesus. So how can Jesus say, "Apart from me you can do nothing"? Because none of what these guys achieved will last into eternity. Compare them to the Christian pensioner who praises her God, loves the saints, witnesses to her neighbor, and is generous with her income, that is fruit that will endure forever.

We celebrated 29 years of MBM last week. We also prayed for those who walked away from Christ these last 29 years, asking God to bring them back.

So how do we remain in Christ to the end?

2.1 To remain in Christ grasp His love for you

Look at John 15:9

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. (NIV)

You will stay with the one who loves you. How much does Jesus love you? As much as the Father loves Jesus is how much Jesus loves you? You are loved as much by Jesus as Jesus is loved by his father. You cannot be more loved. It is impossible to have more love than the love of Jesus. Jesus bathed in the Father's love for him, we must bathe in Jesus' loves for us. So, it’s no surprise that Jesus calls us friend.

2.2 To remain in Christ, understand you’re his friend

Who would you love to be friends with? Bill Gates, or Taylor Swift or Cameron Smith. Do you understand that you’re friends with the most powerful and loving being in the universe. As friends, Christ gave up his life for us, verse 13

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (NIV)

We may not know why suffering comes to us the way it does. We may wrestle with God when things are not fair, but what we cant deny is this - He so loves you. A friendship forged by the blood soaked cross. And verse 15 tell us that friends share secrets.

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (NIV)

The mark of a friend is that you’re in the know. I'm an open book, sometimes I overshare too much information, but I don't share everything with everyone. I share my deep secrets with those that I have a special close relationship of trust with but, as in the rest of verse 15

…for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. (NIV)

Jesus has kept nothing from the apostles and the apostles have kept nothing from us. That is why there are no surprises on judgment day. It’s why the bible is sufficient for every good work.

But because our friendship is with King Jesus, it is marked by obedience,

2.3 To remain in Christ you will obey Him (John 15:10)

Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. (NIV)

What is true for Jesus is true for us. Jesus remains in his Father’s love by obeying him. We remain in Jesus’ love by obeying him. I remember talking to a guy, he understood grace and put his trust in Christ, Praise the Lord! He loved Ephesians 2 that says “We are saved by grace through faith and not by works” Praise the Lord! But he kept smoking dope to the glory of God. Praise the Lord! Eventually we had the talk, he said “But Ray I love Jesus” I said “Yes, but Jesus said ‘If you love me, you will obey my commands.’” The penny dropped for him. I love Jesus by obeying him and my obedience is how I remain in Jesus love.

Part of that obedience involves loving one another.

2.4 To remain in Christ you will love others (John 15:12)

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (NIV)

I remain in Christ’s love by loving others, to the extent that Christ loved us is how we are to love others. That is fruit that lasts.

The 2 great commandments are: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. God could have kept all the love for himself, but he gives a 2nd command: Love your neighbour as yourself. I love God by obeying him. I love God by loving others. I'm to Love his people, love the world, love the enemies. This is what a transformed life looks like. We value biblical truth but only to the extent it leads to transformation. You’re harming your relationship with Jesus by not loving others.

In Don Carson book ‘Jesus and his Friends’ he says

“It is not easy. The unlovely ones in the brotherhood bring out the worst in me. The whiners get on my nerves. The gossips and the arrogant, the immature and the silly, conspire to drain my resolve. But the answer is to remember that the branch can do nothing apart from the vine. And that Jesus himself loved his friends, his unlovely, whining, gossipy, arrogant, immature and silly friends enough to die for them.”

That is why I think we are given 2 big open-ended promises of prayer

2.5 To remain in Christ you will pray big in Jesus' name (John 15:16)

…I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (NIV)

You read these verses out of context and it sounds like this is a blank cheque, promising anything, get everything. If you believe that why not ask God to make you walk on the moon while you’re at it. Friends, learn to read bible promises in context. What does Jesus want us to pray about? Fruit that lasts; Obedience to Jesus commands; Love one another.

If you want to pray in Jesus name, then pray Jesus will ask God that you will produce fruit that lasts. Don’t give up changing some area of your life! contentment, jealousy, back biting, gossip, porn, bursts of rage, lack of courage, poor self control.
Ask anything in any area of growth and Jesus will answer.

I'm in an Anger Management course with 2 other guys at church. It’s very humbling, you call up and the questions are asked me were:

So why go? I want to keep bearing fruit that lasts. I can't love others if my frustration slips to some anger. I want people to feel safe. I want my family to feel safe. I want my staff to feel safe. And yes, the course gives me insight, but apart from Jesus I have no motivation to change. Apart from the Spirit of Jesus I have no power to change. Apart from Jesus blood I stand condemned. Because of Jesus I want to bear fruit that lasts for the Fathers glory

3. Our Vision is to see lives transformed through Jesus Christ to the glory of God (John 15:8)

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (NIV)

Our lives are lived for the Father’s pleasure. Our obedience puts a smile on the face of God. Our good works make God look good. And what I love is that, as verse 11 tells us, as we remain in Christ, God's glory becomes our greatest joy.

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete (NIV)

Oh, to taste the Joy that my ordinary life marked by obedience lifts up the Father. Oh, the deep satisfaction of knowing that my good works give pleasure to my Father. There is nothing sweeter to the soul than saying yes to Jesus. To come to the end of every day not only enjoying forgiveness for sins committed that day, but the joy of thanking God for those simple and imperfect good works Jesus enabled you to do. Fruit that lasts for those who stay with Jesus, for apart from Jesus we really can do nothing. Every physical pleasure has a short lived life span, but the pleasure of pleasing God is so long lasting. Have you ever thought what it’s like to be Jesus? Verse 11 gives us some insight.

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you. (NIV)

If you know the joy of obedience you have a sense of the joy Jesus has with his Father for all eternity. When this joy comes say to yourself “So this is what it’s like to be Jesus.”

Do you find it hard to ask for help? I do! I remember having to move house in Nth Wollongong The landlord wanted us out of one house and into another. The houses were one block away. It nearly killed me to ask the youth group leaders to help. And when I did they were more than willing.

Why do we find it hard to ask for help? We fear they might say ‘no’. And that hurts. So its better to pay or do it yourself. Sometimes it’s a fear of being in someones else debt; They will come calling in the future. Sometimes if you’re a caring person you’re comfortable being the own who helps, not the one who needs help. I often see many people in the caring professionals burn out because they won’t ask for help.

But behind it all, lurks pride. Why don’t more people ask for help with porn or marriage problems or anger or depression? Pride. I can do it on my own. The same pride can keep you out of heaven. Following Jesus is not about first serving Jesus but about being served by him. It’s about letting Jesus be your servant.

By John 13 we are now in the upper room, it is the night before Jesus death. From chapters 13-17 we have Jesus final instructions to the 12 disciples. Turn to verse 1.

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (NIV)

Already the shadow of the cross has been cast. It’s the Passover feast. The ‘hour’ had come. Jesus was leaving this world and He was showing the full extent of his love. Everything speaks of Jesus planned death at the cross. Before he goes we are told in verses 2 and 3 several things about Jesus

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God (NIV)

Jesus is in a class of his own. We are all told at our funeral “from dust you are and dust you shall return.” But Jesus comes from God and is returning to God. Jesus home address is heaven and that is where he is about to return. He makes it clear in verse 3 that absolutely all authority is his

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power (NIV)

He said he is “Lord” and he was not joking. Jesus is the most powerful person that has ever walked the face of this earth. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is not pretending to be great. He is great! And he will shows what true greatness looks like. At this point Jesus gets to his feet, rips of his shirt, jumps on the table, flexes his muscles and screams out at the top of his lungs “I am the greatest!” Not even close. Jesus, unlike your trash talking boxers, verse 4-5.

So he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (NIV)

The one who had everything placed at his feet places himself at the feet of 12 men whom he had created. We have seen forgiven sinners at the feet of Jesus. Now Jesus is at the feet of his 12 apostles. Jesus had already taught the 12 not to be like the rulers of the world who abuse their authority. Jesus said: “you want to be great, really great in my eyes, then become a servant” For Jesus came “not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many” Mark 10:45

Peter, one of the 12, was part of a honour–shame culture. Everyone knows their place. Like the military where lower ranks always salute first to higher ranks.Those in power were expected to do and not do certain things. And being a servant is not one of them.

Jesus keeps re-writing the job description for God's King; he keep re-writing the definition of greatness. I love how our own Grant Dibden was a Colonel in the Australian Army then decides to become Chaplain. But in the Army, chaplains can’t be ranked higher than a captain. So he went from Colonel to Captain. From manning 150 people down to manning 50 people. And with a big salary drop too. How Christ like! Why would he do this? So he could preach Christ.

Peter who is a product of his culture has a problem and won’t allow Jesus to wash him. Verse 8

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” (NIV)

“There is no way you are going to serve me.” The complete opposite to my son James. When he was 5 yrs. He loved me tying his shoes. I knew he could do it. He knew he could do it. But he loved me showing him that I loved him; he had no problem with being served. Peter refuses to have his Lord and Teacher on his knee. He expects to serve Jesus. He is emphatic; He will not let Jesus serve him. Peter wants Jesus to be king but not a servant king. Then Jesus' stinging warning to Peter comes in verse 8 for us all to hear

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” (NIV)

Jesus is saying – “Unless you let me serve you, you cannot have friendship with me; You can’t be cleansed of your sins”

At one level it’s not to hard to wash the feet of 12 men. I've worked in a chicken abbitoir so I'll take washing 12 dirty pairs of feet any day to hanging live chickens on a conveyer belt scratching and urinating on you. The ‘washing’ is code for the death of Christ which alone washes away of sins. We know that because we are told that the hour has come (and the hour is code for his death). And we know that Jesus said that he was returning to the Father and that exit point is the cross. Jesus is about to show the full extent of his love as he will say in John 15:13

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (NIV)

Jesus is pointing out to Peter that unless you let me die for you, Peter, your sins will remain with you; they will be used as evidence against you. Faith clings to the cross and allows Jesus to come to your aid. Verse 8 is clear, there is no other way of being with Christ.

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” (NIV)

Jesus says “Unless I wash you…” No one else can do it, the church can’t do it, you can’t to it. Jesus says “You need me. You need to let me save you.”

When I was 19 I remember swimming down the south coast with a couple of friends. We found ourselves a long way out. My friends were better swimmers than I. I was struggling. I really felt I was out of my depth. I did not want to let them know it. But I was in trouble. A life guard came out to us on the board and I remember him looking at me and seeing that I was in trouble and saying “Do you need help?” Do you know what I said? “NO! NO!” What is that–if not stupid pride.

That is what Peter is saying Jesus is saying, “I have come to serve you. By dying in your place and making you clean.” Peter is saying “No. You will never serve me that way.” That is the good news we have been preaching for the last 29 years at MBM. If you want Jesus to be your King, you must first let him be your servant King.

If by chance you still havent got it, it’s not to late to get it now.Will you let Jesus serve you? Will you let Jesus wash away your sins by his blood?

People have said to me “I don’t want to come to Jesus because I need him…I want to come to Jesus because I love him.” That is pride. You need him before you love him. You don't come as an equal. You come because you need to be rescued. You can’t save yourself.

As Tim Chester once put it: “Here is the deal Jesus offers us every day. And it’s the best deal in town. Jesus says “I will take your failures, sin, guilt, bitterness, curse, wrath and death, and in return, I will give you joy life love, righteousness and peace. So, accept the deal, hand over your sin and receive Christ's love.”

Jesus was showing the full extent of his love. He knows that Satan is on the prowl, Judas is about to betray him and that Peter is going to deny him. Jesus is clearly troubled in spirit. But With all this enormous stress, what is Jesus found doing? He is found washing the feet of 12 men. He is Warning Judas to not betray him. He is Lovingly preparing Peter for his denial, thoughtfully getting the disciples ready and then humbly serving them by washing their feet.

You notice he washes the feet of them all. Including Judas the betrayer and Peter the denier. What kind of love is this?! Having loved his own who were in the world he now showed them the full extent of his love.

From here on greatness is redefined by Jesus death. The foot washing at one level was to model of what the followers of Jesus were to do. The path for Jesus is the path for Jesus followers.

Let me give a poor example of the great example. This is Russel whose feet I will briefly wash. Jesus took his outer garments, wrapped a towel around his waist, filled bowl with water and with his own bare hands Jesus washed and then dried the feet of 12 men. The difference being Jesus is the creator of the universe getting down on his knees before his creation. Verse 12

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you (NIV)

True Greatness is redefined by going low, by laying aside, by humbling ourselves and serving each other; putting other first. There is nothing more beautiful than when you see someone with so much power come down and serving others. Can you imagine a country, a business, a church, a school, a home where leaders bless others, verse 16.

Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (NIV)

Followers of the servant king serve others. I think one of the reasons why Peter did not want Jesus to serve him was that If Jesus serves him, then Peter will need to serve others. But that is where happiness is found. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. Who would have thought? Being great and finding happiness are found in serving others like Jesus.

Why don’t we go to your death bed for a moment. Picture yourself surrounded by your family, friends, people from church, work and study. What will they be thinking about you life? What do you want them to be thinking? Will that see a wasted life of selfish ambition and self indulgent pleasures. Or life marked by sacrificial love who gave their all for others?

The Salvo's did a great work in recent fires. Their founder, William Booth, was a man who loved others. He preached Christ and loved the poor. He went to the US for a conference. All the Salvos were excited to see their leader but he was too sick to speak. So he wrote a note in his hotel to have read. The note said one Word “Others”

Jesus said “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” Let Jesus serve you and then serve others.

Unanswered prayer—it’s the elephant in the room for every church. It is a source of doubt for many believers. It is why some don’t come to Christ. It’s why some stop believing in Christ. It is why some stop praying big prayers. But let’s be clear about some things.

First, all prayers are answered The answer may be, “yes”, the answer may be “not yet”, the answer may be “no”, but God answers every prayer. We have no problem with the “yes”. I went to a conference and bumped into a friend who could not have children. God put a burden on my heart to pray for them. -Within the year a child was born. Some prayers are answered, “yes, but not yet”. God is not in a rush. I prayed 18 years for my sister Liz before she became a Christian. Some of you have been praying much longer. Don’t give up. The big problem is when God gives us the answer “no”.

Second, hearing “no” is hard to hear because God is our heavenly dad and we are his children. He loves us. We have direct access to him. Our Father has given us big open-ended promises. Jesus said in John 14:14, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” That is not a formulae, it’s a relationship. These unqualified promises make you want to trust God with everything—the big and small, the possible and impossible, for the believer and the unbeliever, with sadness, sickness, or salvation. As Ephesians 3:20-21 says:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (NIV)

These are big promises. Now to him who is able to do what we ask … no, more than we ask … no, more than all we ask … no, immeasurably more than all we ask … no, immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. Now we are talking. Fantastic. This is our God who unapologetically says I operate beyond your puny expectations. That is why when I get a “no” to my prayers, it is a problem, because God raised my expectation.

Third are the reasons why God doesn’t say “no”. The reason is not that God can’t do it, because nothing is impossible with God. It is not that God doesn’t care: God bends his ear to us and invites us to cast all our cares on him. It’s not that you don’t have enough faith in prayer, for Jesus did not say that faith the size of an elephant moves mountains, but faith the size of a mustard seed moves mountains. Mustard seeds are very tiny. When we read that Jesus could not do many miracle in Nazareth because of lack of faith, it’s not that people came with their sick to Jesus and he said, “I can’t heal you because you don’t believe hard enough in me”. This is ridiculous. They were not healed because they did not come to Jesus. In Matthew 8:16, Jesus healed all the sick. Jesus could heal for those with great faith like the Centurion—“Only say the word and my servant shall be healed.” Jesus could heal those with little faith, like the man who said, “I believe, help my unbelief.” Jesus could heal those with no faith, such as the dead at their own funerals.

I think of the 15 year old dying at Westmead Hospital. His family would not prepare the teenager for death, because that would be to lack faith that healing could happen. He still died, but without the comfort of assurance.

Fourth, we should expect that God will say, “no” as well as “yes”. Here are three case studies from bible.

Case study number one is Moses, the appointed mediator between Israel and God. He prayed successfully for Israel many times, But on one occasion Moses was angry with the people and dishonored God in public, and he hit the rock twice to draw water. God would not let Moses enter the promised land. We read in Deuteronomy 3:23, 26:

At that time I [Moses] pleaded with the LORD: […] Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan […] “That is enough,” the LORD said. “Do not speak to me anymore about this matter. (NIV)

The answer Moses got was “No, and don’t keep asking.” My version is, “What part of ‘no’ don’t you get? Is it the ‘n’ or the ‘o’. Moses was the most humble man in the world, and still God said “no”.

Case study number 2 is King David. He was a man whose prayers were answered many times. Even after committing murder and adultery, David cried out to him. He was forgiven. He was allowed to live. He was even allowed to stay as king. When his child fell sick, we read in 2 Samuel 12:16,18:

David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground […] On the seventh day the child died. (NIV)

The prayer for forgiveness received the answer “yes”. The prayer for his son’s healing received the answer “no”—and he was David, the man after God’s own heart.

Case study number 3 is Paul the apostle. He was given a thorn in his side to keep him humble after being taken into heaven itself. His begs God to have the thorn removed. That request was denied, and we read in 2 Corinthians 12:8-9:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (NIV)

Moses, David, and Paul: all were men of God, and all were told no. Paul was told that God’s power is completed in weakness. We see God`s power in the miraculous but what we fail to see is God’s power in weakness. It takes enormous faith to endure a broken neck or a bad marriage with contentment.

Fifth, we must consider why some wrongly expect God to answer “yes” all the time. I believe God heals. We have seen miracles at MBM. But we do not live in an era of “signs and wonders”.

“Signs and wonders” is a technical phrase in the Bible. It is used when God performs a large cluster of miracles for either salvation or judgment at key turning points in God’s plan in history. God uses “signs and wonders” in the period of the Exodus of Israel from Egypt: the miraculous plagues, the parting of the sea, water from the rock, giving manna from heaven, the earth opening and snakes biting the people. “Signs and wonders” also describe the ministry of Jesus and the apostles: everyone who came to Jesus was healed, demons were bound, crowds of four and five thousand were fed with a happy meal, six hundred litres of water turned into wine, three people were raised from the dead. He walked on water, calmed the raging sea, and directed Peter to find money in the mouth of a fish. The apostles escaped from jail by angels, and Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead for lying to the apostles and the Spirit.

We are not in that era anymore, and no one anywhere in any church and at any time in the history of the church was or is in that era. You may have heard of the large ‘Bethel’ church in the United States. They prayed believing that a two year old child who had tragically died would rise from the dead. It only extended the pain and continued the sad reminder, for after seven days praying the child did not rise from dead.

The glut of “signs and wonders” were given during the time of Jesus and the apostles so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Others wrongly expect “yes” all the time by turning wishful thoughts into the promises of God. I got a phone call one day, “Why, Ray, Why?” “John is that you?” His pastor’s 19 year old son had died. The church was told that God had given a prophecy that he would live, if they prayed and kept believing. So for weeks the whole church met every day at 5am, praying and claiming healing. The young man died and the faith of God’s people was damaged. Why? They trusted a promise that God had never made. The young man is in heaven, but they didn’t prepare him well. They were not prepared for God to say “no.”

Sometimes the problem is because some people hold to a part of God’s word but ignore others. So, yes, James says that if someone is sick, get the elders, anoint the sick with oil and pray for them, and they will be healed. We do just that at MBM. But it is not a guarantee.

Sickness did not go away in the New Testament church. Apostles like Paul got sick, as he says in Galatians 4:13,

“As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you [...]” (NIV).

Timothy was in Paul’s inner circle, and he got sick alot, according to 1 Timothy 5:23, where Paul says to him,

“Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (NIV).

Paul’s other co-workers got sick, so we read in 2 Timothy 4:20,

“I left Trophimus sick in Miletus” (NIV).

Sometimes we wrongly trust promises out of context. I think of the young man who came to me distraught. He said, “I prayed, believing that God will give me the desires of my heart, quoting Psalm 37:4,

“Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart” (NIV).

The desire of his heart was for a particular girl. She dumped him. What he didn’t understand is that God knew his desires better than he did. He is now married to someone he now calls the love of his life. He is not complaining. Father knows best. Plus imagine if three girls are praying for the same guy.

Sixth, aren’t you glad that God has sometimes said, “no”? Remember that job you wanted but didn’t get, and then three months later that company went bankrupt. Remember that person you wanted to marry more than life, and now you realize you dodged a bullet. Don’t you wish sometimes that God did say “no” to our prayers. Don’t you wish God didn’t say “yes” to every prayer you prayed. In fact, you are going to heaven because there was one prayer to which God would never say, “yes”, when Jesus asked, “Abba Father, let this cup pass me by.”

Seventh, there are hindrances to prayer. You are warned that God will not listen to your prayers if you treat people badly. 1 Peter 3:7 says,

“Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers” (NIV).

In other words, God is saying Why do you expect me to listen to you when you won’t listen to your wives?

To a nation that ignored the needs of the powerless, Isaiah said “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen” (Isaiah 1:15).They did not defend the cause of the fatherless, nor plead the case of the widow. God is saying, “I will not step in when you cry out to me if you won’t step in when others cry out to you.”

Prayers are hindered by self-centred motives, so James 4:2b-3 says,

“You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (NIV).

If you ask God to bless you with no regard to bless others, don’t bother asking. You pray for a job, a promotion, success in business, but refuse to be generous. Know this, friends, God is not an idiot!

Eighth, God has answered some big prayers, so keep praying. Albania was the most atheistic country in the world. My first mentor John prayed for Albania for 30 years. That country now allows Christian missionaries. Pray kingdom prayers, not just personal prayers.

Thirty years ago three of us in 1990 prayed every Thursday night for the planting of MBM. God keeps answering those imperfect prayers. As we went from six to 1100 adults and kids, meeting on two sites and soon to be three, from seventy cultures and seeing 80 new disciples saved each year, ten home grown missionaries , and sponsoring a number of church plants. Friends we have seen at MBM many people saved from every background, faith, sexuality, and culture. We’ve seen the sick healed, lives mended, marriages restored. Those enslaved to sin have been set free. Injustices in court cases have been overturned. And yes, we have also seen others die, stay sick, not be saved, and end up divorced. Don’t let the “nos” stops you from praying big. God is still saying “yes, yes, yes” to those requests prayed back in 1990. So pray for our church goals. Ask God to establish five congregations by 2025. And it was not at my timing. I prayed that the Lord would give us a hundred in the first year of MBM. It took four years before we were a hundred.

If you don’t pray you don’t share in the joy of answered pray. Pray big. Ask the impossible. Start 2020 with a list of ten impossible prayer points, and get ready to be surprised. Don’t let the “nos” stop you from praying big kingdom prayers.

Lastly, most times you just don’t know how God will answer your prayers, but some prayers you are guaranteed, “yes”. Jesus said, “Any one who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”. So call on him, right here and right now! A broken and contrite heart God will not despise, so humble yourself. Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will open.

We today start our ‘Ask anything’ series this January. These questions have been raised by you or your friends. Today’s question is, “If God is good, why do bad things happen?”

For some of you, this is an interesting problem, but it has not touched you personally… not yet anyway.

For others of you, this question is as close to the bone as you can get. For you, 2020 couldn't come soon enough. You have experienced a death or a divorce or a long bout of depression. It has left you at the very least disappointed by God. Others of you live in chronic pain. Or you have watched a loved one suffering long and hard. You naturally wonder why God did not answer our prayers (we look at that question next week). Others of you have been victims of pure evil. You have been abused, and that trauma has never left you. You wonder why God did not step in, why he has abandoned you.

Still others of you watch the news feeds, and are confronted with a thousand images of suffering and evil: floods that wipe out thousands in Bangladesh; an earthquake that decimates towns; the White Island Volcano that recently killed holiday makers; droughts that have devasted farming communities; unquenchable bushfires that destroy five million hectares, 1200 houses, and many lives, including two firemen from Horsley Park.

So the question naturally follows, “If God is good, why do bad things happen?”

This is only a problem if God is both all good and all powerful. If God is all good but not all powerful, he can’t stop bad things. But the bible is clear that God is both all good and all powerful. That is the problem

It’s a complex problem and you can’t put the answer on a bumper sticker. We need to say that the bible does not have all the answers to this problem.

For example, why is suffering so unevenly distribute in this world? Right now at MBM we have three women—two in their twenties and one in her thirties—who are living with life-threatening conditions. This one is a mystery for everyone.

If you believe there is no God and death is the end, then it is just bad luck. There is no point whinging because there is no God to hear your pain. It’s just a cruel and cold universe

But for many religions, the answer comes in the form of ‘karma’. You reap in this life what you sowed in a past life. What goes round comes round. But the problem with ‘karma’ and reincarnation is that every person who is in pain is getting payback from bad karma in a past life.

Another version is when some Christians say, “You are sick because you don’t have enough faith. Some sin in your life has caused this.” The whole book of Job in the Old Testament stomps on that idea.

So what does biblical Christianity offer to the question of why bad things happen if God is good? The bible does not have all the answers, but it has the best answers.

Here are some of them.

First, Jesus doesn't want us to pretend about suffering. Lots of people in the Bible have cried out to God: “Why, Why, Why? How long, O Lord, before you step in and fix this mess?” On the first Good Friday, Jesus himself cried out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” It's a legitimate question to come to God with.

Second, Jesus rejects ‘karma’. Jesus was asked about a man born blind. Was he blind because of his sins or his parents’ sins? Jesus said, neither! So why doesn’t God stop the pain? He will, but on his terms.

Third, suffering is better understood within God’s big plan. Let me explain it this way: you came into the world, like people who come into a movie half-way through. The story of the world is like one long movie that started before we were born and will end after we die. To make sense of the pain, you need to know what has already happened and what will happen.

Nothing drives my wife nuts more than when I come into a movie twenty minutes before it ends. I can’t understand what is going on so I’m asking questions: “Sandy, who is that person? Sandy, why would she have said that?” Trying to understand the question, “If God is good, why do bad things happen?”, you must think big picture.

Our movie began in Genesis 1, with an all good and all powerful God creating a good world with good people having a really good time with God and each other. Six times we are told there that God said, “It is good, it is good, it is very good!” Even the devil was made as a good angel who turned bad.

A good God made it, and then we humans broke it, starting with our first parents, Adam and Eve. They decided that God was not good and going to rip them off. They decided to reject God in the garden of Eden, and we all have been doing it ever since. That decision to rebel against God caused all humans to be kicked out of paradise and into this broken world. We all now live in a broken world where we all end up dead with broken bodies and broken relationships. That is why we suffer and why we die, for the wages of sin is death, just as God promised would happen. We live outside the garden and after the fall. The bible says that creation is groaning, enslaved to death and decay. With it comes flood and fire. We ourselves are groaning, enslaved to the fear of death. When God reimposes his will on his rebel humanity, it comes with pain.

Part of the pain is that God is giving us what we want. We want freedom to do our own thing. When seven billion humans exercise their free will and play God, then expect a lot of suffering.

Why do so many million starve? Because there is not enough food? No one thinks that. There is enough to go round. It’s due to greed and politics.

One solution is that God could just get right of the terrorist and warmonger. It would be a better place, but not perfect. He could get rid of paedophiles. Better still but not perfect. Let’s get rid of liars, gossips, and bullies. Better, but eventually he will be getting rid of the lot of us. It is God’s goodness that lets anyone live. Be clear that we have each contributed a quota of suffering in this world. God made it, we broke it, but Jesus fixed it.

Someone asked an excellent question: “What does it feel like to be God? What existed before the universe was created?” They are profound questions.

For all eternity there was God—Father, Son, and Spirit—living in love and pure happiness. He creates us knowing what it would do to him. This is the price he paid for not making us robots. Like every parent who has children knowing that they will hurt them, so God made us knowing we would hurt him.

We tend to only think of the pain we experience. We forget the pain our rebellion causes God.

If God is good, why did he make a world where bad things happen to him? Genesis 6:5-6 tells us:

The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and he was grieved in his heart. (NIV)

Our rebellion broke God's own heart. His heart was filled with grief, and even though he could have walked away and shut the whole thing down, out of sheer love for us he came to us in person. Unlike any other religion, the God of the Bible came up close and personal on that first Christmas day. He shared in the blood, sweat, and tears of what it means to be fully human in a broken world. Not once did he ever add to the pain of humanity. He sat where you sit, in a broken body and broken world, a man familiar with sorrows, beaten and battered and abused, and then he took your special quota of the pain of hell which you deserved, not him.

A question was raised, “How can a loving God send people to hell?” But God is not just a good God; he is a just God. Do we want him to ignore the evil in this world? What kind of a God is that?

We have no idea what we are asking. We blame God for not being fair or good when we are the ones who are neither fair nor good. We want God to stop other people from doing bad but we don’t want God to stop us from doing bad. We talk as if we are wiser than God, with puny minds shaking our puny fists against the very God who is keeping us alive minute by minute while we rebel against him. We blame God for not doing it another way, like his way only cost us and as if his way didn’t cost him. We forget that before we blame God, but God decided to take the blame for all of us, Isaiah 53:4-5:

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (NIV)

We often say, “Why does God let the innocent suffer?” Friends, there is only one truly innocent one, suffering for us at the cross. We don’t have all the answers to suffering in this world, but we have the best answer.

I remember when one of our missionaries, Leaf, spoke about her friend who was raped and beaten in India. The man who did it was set free. It traumatized her. She thought to herself, “If this European woman could not get justice, what about those poor Indian women who are part of the untouchable class—known as ‘dalits’—how would they get justice? The weight of this question hung over her. She battled with God. For months she stopped reading the Bible. But in her pain she said that the Bible started reading itself back to her, how Jesus was familiar with suffering as a man with sorrow. More than that, when Jesus faced the tears of two women whose brother Lazarus had died. Jesus sees their tears and Jesus wept. He did what he calls us to do, “Weep with those who weep.”

The God of the Bible is not some detached being with a heart of stone. Our suffering matters to him. And more than that, Jesus then rose from the dead never to die again. For the first time in the history of the world, God raised a human never to die again. Our biggest enemy is death. Jesus not only pinned death to the wall, but he defeated it at the resurrection. And a day is coming when he will destroy it.

To make sure you didn't think that Jesus’ resurrection was like the Easter bunny, after Jesus rose from the dead he appeared many times to many people who were eye witnesses.

God made it. We broke it. And Jesus fixed it.

This movie you are in is not over friends. My daughter Maddy and I were watching the Hugh Jackman film, ‘Prisoner’. It was a great movie, but I had to leave before the end of the movie to pick up my wife at the airport. I was desperate to know how the movie ends.

Jesus has told us how the movie ends. He is coming back to put everything right. Listen carefully. For some, he will put an end to suffering. For others, he will add to them suffering upon suffering, Revelation 20:10:

And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. (NIV)

This is the absolute end of evil as we know it. The beast and the false prophet are now joined by their leader, Satan. All member of this unholy trinity locked up forever, never again to surface, never again to be released. We will never have to worry that what happened in Eden will be revisited in the future. It will be the end of death, but for those who rebelled against Christ, Revelation 20:15:

If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (NIV)

Hitler has not escaped. Stalin died peaceably in his sleep, but he will not rest in peace. God knows who are his, and if your name is not there, then you will be there in the fiery lake.

Please, please, please don't leave here apart from Christ. Jesus is not now a baby in a manger. He is not now a dead saviour on a cross. He is a living warrior who determines who goes where. For those who are his, he will put an end to the suffering. Jesus is coming back to make all things new, Revelation 21:3-4:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (NIV)

What is new about the new creation? Jesus says he will give us new bodies, God will be with us, and there will be no more tears and no more death. No more broken hearts and broken relationships.

God made it. We broke it. And Jesus fixed it.

In the meantime, how will you journey with the quota of pain that God has assigned to you?

First, stop thinking that you are more wise, and more merciful than God. Stop hiding behind this question by not believing in him and refusing to count it pure joy when trials come.

Second, you are allowed to push back on the effects of the fall. God has given humans wisdom to reduce pain—from insulin to anti-depressants—so use them. We can push back on the fall.

Third, our responsibility is to relieve suffering. John Piper said this: “We are committed to relieving suffering in this world, and even more so in the world to come.” We don’t want our loved ones suffering now nor in hell.

Fourth, suffering has meaning and purpose, Romans 5:3-5:

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame. (NIV)

Suffering has eternal meaning. Suffering is an unwelcome but good friend. I said to one young women who is suffering right now—she nearly died on Christmas day—“God has entrusted a quota of suffering to you as a compliment to you. He is entrusting you with this gift to glorify him.”

Fifth, do not misread suffering as punishment. God disciplines us but he does not punish us. Suffering is not a form of punishment.

Sixth, in your suffering, know Jesus as your sympathetic high priest. I told one sister who has been suffering all last year, “Jesus is your human high priest who knows your pain in real time. He feels your suffering as if it were his own. Your tears are his tears.”

For some of you, you need to tell God how hurt, disappointed, and abandoned you feel in your suffering. Talk to him as one who fully knows you and is totally for you.

Dear Father,

You made this wonderful world and we praise you for it. Please forgive us for breaking your heart. Thank you Jesus for entering our broken world and sharing its pain and wearing my blame at the cross. Thank you for the promise of no more pain and death. Help us to live for you in Jesus’ powerful name.

Amen.

Do you remember the movie Titanic? Rose, when in her 80s looks back on her relationship with young Jack and said “he saved me. In every way that a person can be saved.“ Ruth and Naomi were 2 women in need of being saved. Naomi was a women who had lost it all. Her husband led her and her two sons out of the promised land because of a famine. The sons then married two foreign wives one was Ruth. Within 10 years father and 2 sons were dead. 

Naomi became a women in need. She was as empty as a person gets. She was in need of food and safety, she had a need to be loved and belong, she had so much shame. She lost her family name and inheritance, so bad, Naomi wanted a change of name. Worst of all, she lost all hope. She was filled with despair and bitterness and then into this bleak situation comes a saviour. That saviour was called The Guardian-redeemer.

God the original feminist. God provides a law that protects women, women who have lost their husbands and had no children to carry the name. The Guardian-redeemer is the next of kin and he would buy the land back for the widow without children. This guardian was to protect those who could not protect themselves.

A few years ago I phoned up my brother to see what kind of a next of kin he was... I asked “Tom would you give me $50,000 if I really needed it to get me out of trouble.” He laughed and then said yes! He is my next of kin, willing to redeem me from trouble. 

That is not where it ended....In Deuteronomy 25:5-6, the Guardian-redeemer was to marry his dead brothers widow, relax gentlemen, it's Old Testament law. He was to buy her land, but the first born son would take your brothers name and with him would go the land. Just as God promised Abraham land, descendants and family name. If you have no brother it then goes to the cousins.

Now enter Boaz a cousin to Naomi's dead husband. Naomi knew that Boaz was kind to Ruth. So Naomi wants Ruth to make it clear to Boaz that she is interested. It's an interesting solution to a modern problem, how do you let the guy know that you’re interested? If you’re nice they will think you’re just interested or when you’re interested they will think you’re only nice. But there is no guessing here, Ruth comes to Boaz washed, dressed up and perfumed. Ruth is one modern woman. Boaz is full and asleep. At night but out in the open, while asleep on a bean bag of barley grain, she lays at his feet. Let's look at Ruth 3:7-9 

When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down. In the middle of the night something startled the man; he turned—and there was a woman lying at his feet! “Who are you?” he asked. “I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.” (NIV)

Ruth came under the wings of the God of Israel, she now asks if she could come under the wings of Boaz garment. She wants him to be her Guardian-redeemer, so she proposes to him.

I have heard of some interesting proposals.

1. One student minister took his girlfriend to Botany and then went on one knee and recited the whole of Genesis 2. Then he proposed and she said “Yes”

2. I heard of one guy who got up unannounced in the church service and proposed to a women in the congregation. I said "What did she say?" "She said No" I thought: that serves him right for putting her under pressure.

Today's generation are much smarter, the guy gets the ok first and then proposes.

Both Ruth and Boaz are deeply thankful for each other, a great basis for a marriage. Sandy and I just celebrated 35yrs of marriage, I'm still praising God for giving me my wife Sandy. Ruth 3:10-11  

“The Lord bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character. (NIV)

They were so different, Ruth was a young widow Moabite and Boaz was older, wealthy and Jewish. It was no problem. Ruths reputation had preceded her. It quite interesting to me that Ruths attraction is never physical in this book. It`s her character that keeps impressing us about Ruth and that is what impresses Boaz. 

We fell in love with Ruth when she said to her mother in law, your God will be my God and your people will be my people. She is known for her loving loyalty and hard work. Boaz rightly considers it a privilege that he would stand a chance but Ruth sees the same quality in him. Take note those going out, be more impressed by the beauty on the inside, train your kids to see beauty in character before looks. Ask, do they love Jesus and put him first? Do they tell the truth in small things? Do they love people who are different from them? Do they forgive those who hurt them? Do they apologise?

This is a great love story but there is something stopping these lovers coming together. Boaz is not first in line, there is another redeemer who is closer and he must have first option. And being in love will not stop Boaz from doing the right thing, even if he would lose his chance at love. Look at verses 12 and 13

Although it is true that I am a guardian-redeemer of our family, there is another who is more closely related than I. Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to do his duty as your guardian-redeemer, good; let him redeem you. But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives I will do it. Lie here until morning.” (NIV)

Boaz takes the offer to the man who is first in line, remember this could be his last chance at love, in public and with witnesses, Boaz goes to the town gate where all things are made legal. Naomi`s land is offered to the closest Guardian-redeemer. Quick as a flash the next of kin says yes I`ll take it, but Boaz has a hunch, this man is not interested in protecting Ruth and Naomi, he wants the land not the lady, he wants the property, not to protect the powerless. 

Not even the righteous laws can guarantee a right outcome. Then Boaz tells him, if you take the real estate you have to take Ruth. He is not  interested in Ruth, if he buys the land, the land will go with the son who wont carry his name. The answer is No way! what a relief. Boaz is now free to bless Ruth, remember what he said to Ruth when she came at night? “I will do for you all you ask.” 

So the blessing flows, now married and with a child. We read in verse 14 and 15:

The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.” (NIV)

Notice how the blessings flow from this redeemer whom God sent. Boaz marries Ruth, she is no longer a widow, the land remains in the family so they are no longer poor, they have a son, she is no longer childless, Naomi's becomes a grand mother and is no longer bitter. They now belong, they are now at rest. You see the kindness of God in the face of Boaz.

Boaz never stopped doing good to Ruth. He is simply reflecting the God he serves. Let's move to Jeremiah 32:40

I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, (NIV)

God can do nothing but good to you, even if it doesn’t feel good. God's love for you is not a job description its a joy.

Last year I read Jimmy Barnes biography. He was born into an abusive family with alcoholic parents who were desperately poor and there was constant violence. His mum had 5 kids by the time she was 21, his father would work all week and then spend all the money on grog. His parents eventually divorced but his mum had no way to feed her kids and welfare was threatening to take her kids. 

One day Jimmy's mum was sitting in a friend's house crying about the situation when a stranger, Reg Barnes, walks in. He asked her, “What's the trouble love?” She said, “I need to find myself a husband then I need to find a home for me and my 6 kids and I need to do it quickly or they will put the kids in a home” Reg says, “No worries love, I`ll marry you.” “Why would you do that?” she asked him. Someone has to save those poor kids. Reg loved his new family.

One day, Jimmy Barnes came home from school and he saw his step dad Reg in the back yard knee high in sewerage. "What are you doing Reg?" "I'm cleaning out the sewerage tank." "Why are you doing that?" "Because I love you son?" Reg saved Jimmy Barnes family and not surprising, Jimmy took his name. Jimmy Swan is known to you as Jimmy Barnes. 

Boaz would be the redeemer who would save Ruth and Naomi.

What do we take out of this story? We don't want men marrying their dead brothers widows. We don't want young women spending the night camping with their boyfriend or going alone on holidays. That is about as uselful as handing over your thong to buy a house. This story is linked with a bigger story. The blessing to Ruth and Naomi are fulfilling promises to Abraham, God is faithful to his promises. If we look forward we see the son born to Ruth and Boaz is the great grandparent of King David, who is the ancestor of Jesus son of David. 

A redeemer who would do much more for us then even what Boaz did for Ruth. One Lord Jesus who is our guardian redeemer. Who could save us from every thing a person can be saved from? In 2 Corinthians 5:21 it is said of Jesus, who

…had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (NIV)

It was Jesus who stood in the sewerage of our sin. And when you ask why. He looks straight at you from the cross and says because I love you! Boaz said to Ruth “I will do for you all you ask.” Lord Jesus says to you “I will do for you more than you can ask or imagine. I will not stop doing good to you.” It will not all be in this age, He will SAVE you from every thing a person can be saved from.Whatever it cost Boaz, it cost Jesus his life to set us free. Look at Mark 10:45 

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (NIV)

I don't know where you stand now as single or married, with or without children, feeling like you belong or don't belong, more empty than full, more bitter than thankful. Once you know that God is working in all things to do you good through his Son, we live differently. 

We learn not to be passive

Learn from Ruth who trusted God, she didn’t just sit at home and cry hoping food would fall from heaven, or some guy would fall through the roof. She gets to work so she doesn’t starve to death. She plans and she is proactive. 

We don’t just pray for our loved ones to be saved. We act, we invite, we speak. "Come to this Christmas service with me." It's why at MBM we believe that God is sovereign. We pray, we plan and then we act for the cause of Christ.

We learn not to cut corners

If God is kind and he is in charge then live with integrity, in love and in work. Boaz did not cut corners even if it meant losing the love of his life. Someone at MBM ended relationship with a person they loved because he did not loved Jesus. Don’t cut corners and compromise your conscience. 

We learn not to stay Bitter

Life may not have turned out the way you wanted it. You may be the victim of the foolish decision of others, like Naomi. There is a season of anger and a season of bitterness, just don’t stay bitter. Kids not saved, job promotion doesn’t come, spouse doesn’t let you flourish. You have no right to stay bitter. Not after God did not withhold his son from you. 

Ruth was a foreigner to Gods salvation and so were we. We got included through Christ. 

Growing up I went to a church where we would say "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again." I got that Christ has died. I got that Christ has risen but I didn’t think much about Christ is coming again. Which is surprising because there are more references, in the Bible, to the second coming of Christ than the cross. This is the one bible truth the Chinese government forbids churches in China to teach. You can see why, if Jesus is not coming back then Christianity is dead in the water, it's just a fairy tale.

Today's passage focuses on the Day of the Lord when Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead. This section of Malachi has 5 references to the Day of the Lord. But the elephant in the room is this: It's been 2000 years and Christ has not come back. But know 3 things (1) Christ didn’t tell us how long he would he would take (2) He did promise that every nation must hear the gospel before he comes back and (3) His delay means another generation can be saved.

It's not like those carpet stores. Every week the sign says "Closing Down Sale, ALL Stock must go!" Then years later it is still open. Friends, be assured Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

In todays passage the Day of the Lord refers to the second coming of the Lord Jesus. To make sense of the reading I need to cover some of last week passage. Here are 5 big things to say on the Day of the Lord.

1. A Day of Distinction - Malachi 3:18

And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not. (NIV)

For now the faithful and faithless live together. Together they sit at the same table for a meal, side by side on buses and trains, together they laugh cry and cough, even at church. But a day is coming, when there is a parting of the waves. Jesus speaks of that separation in Luke 17:34-35

I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left. (NIV)

You don't want to be the one left behind. This eternal separation, will turn on whether you have turned to the Lord Jesus.

2. The Day exposes two hearts to God

Those who fear the Lord                 Those who don’t fear the Lord
Those who serve the Lord               Those who don’t serve the Lord
Those who honour the Lord             Those who are arrogant & evil doers
Those who are righteous                 Those who are wicked

Friend, which one are you?
God says in Malachi “return to me and I will return to you.” For those who return, it’s a day we look forward to. For those who will not it’s a day to be feared. As one man said "I pray that I never lose the fear of the Lord. "Please don’t put your head the sand like Mick Manson, author of the famous book, “The subtle art of not giving a Fig” (F word) G rating. Manson wrote:

I've never worried about the afterlife. To me, what happens after we die is an unanswerable question, so why worry about it? I'm a big proponent of the "cross that bridge when we come to it" philosophy of life. And in the case of the afterlife, I'll worry about being dead when I get there.

Tragic, there are no second chances. But so important is this Day of Judgment that God gives his people every opportunity to not miss out.

3. The Judgment Day is forewarned - Malachi 4:5-6

“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” (NIV)

God won't bring that judgment before he brings his prophet. The prophet Elijah is a picture of John the Baptist. John who called on Israel to repent, preparing God's people for God's king. it was time to start again. John preached, see Matthew 3:11-12

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (NIV)

John points out that the Lord Jesus is more worthy, and more powerful than he, Jesus is the giver of the Spirit and bringer of judgment. The Lord Jesus will sift those who are for God and those against him. The image is of pitch fork sifting wheat from chaff, Jesus announced when he returns how the separation will go in Matthew 25:34

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. (NIV)

Friends we have been lovingly warned.

When I spoke at an evangelistic dinner, one response was "too much heaven promising and hell threatening." But there can’t be too much, if these are Jesus words who will judge the living and the dead. He is lovingly warning us! The charge is these are scare tactics. If Jesus did rise from the dead they are NOT scare tactics, if there is a hell then they are NOT scare tactics, they are love tactics.

When you see sign of a shark with its jaws open on a beach. Is that scare tactics or love tactics?
When you see pictures of mouth cancer on cigarette packages? Is that scare tactics or love tactics?

They are expressions of love, because they tell us the truth, and nothing but the truth. Here is the loving truth!

4. Those who do not fear God should fear Judgment Day - Malachi 4:1

Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. (NIV)

God's word is clear and certain. The day of Judgment is coming. It's a great and dreadful day. The images here are overwhelming, the enemies of God are set on fire. That destruction will reach every person who does not fear the Lord. It's so complete that no root or branch will escape. Jesus picks up these word pictures and their job is simple: To scare the hell out of us; To scare you out of hell.

I will defend Israel Falou's right to speak. But he was wrong when he linked the bush fires to God's judgment on Australia because of same sex marriage. He has no word from the Lord on these fires. He would have done better to quote Jesus in Luke 13. Those who die in disasters are not worse and we who survive are no better, but unless we repent something worse will happen and that something is Judgment Day and Hell.

To those who say, "I am not worried about going to Hell because I’ve experience hell on earth" We gently say “I know you have suffered a lot but you have not seen anything yet...”

Jesus picks up these images, He adds weeping and gnashing of teeth. Weeping because of the pain, Gnashing because of ongoing rebellion. Jesus speaks of being bound hand and foot, of utter darkness, of eternal destruction where the worm does not die out. Worst of all is being shut out from the presence of God forever. Jesus takes us to the edge of the cliff and points out those who went over. Don't end up that way. Heed the warning.

I once went to Kangaroo Island off South Australia. We stayed near the light house, next to it was a grass paddock on a headland with a steep cliff face. There was a sign which read "beware of snakes!" I thought it was a sign discouraging people from going near the cliff and falling off. The National Parks Ranger said, "I thought so too but I have been picking up a brown snake from your back yard every month.”

Take heed of Jesus warning, He is not joking. Judgment day is coming. Are you ready to meet Jesus?

5. God's people look forward to Judgment Day

In Malachi we are told - "Those who fear the Lord are spared." They are treated as God's special possession. He will remember his people but he will not remember their sin. That is why we in Christ really look forward to that Day. Look at Malachi 4:2

But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in it's rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. (NIV)

The sun of righteousness will rise. If Jesus is your Lord. The day of the Lord will not only declare you righteous, friends, you will be righteous. You will be given a body that will not, NO, cannot sin ever again. No self denial, No more temptation, No more war between the flesh and the spirit.

The sun's rays will not burn us they will heal us. We are given a body that cannot suffer ever again. No more anxiety and depression. No more crying or grief or pain or death. Jesus will wipe away every tear.

We will be Free at last. Like calves leaving stalls after a long winter. Freedom, its what people of Hong Kong are so desperate to not lose.

I am the son of goat herder. My mum told me that the working animals back in her village in Malta lived in her house penned up during cold winters. When spring came and they felt the sun on their back and the taste of freedom they kicked their heels

Friends we have been penned up in a broken body, and in a broken world all our life. A bit like a bad winter full of sickness and shut indoors. With the sun of righteousness on our back. And being made right with God. On the day of the Lord we will cut loose and be set free. And for those who did not fear the Lord, We will leave those we once envied in our dust. Their judgment will not intrude on our joy of heaven. That is why the Bible ends with “COME LORD JESUS!

Friends, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

I heard this week that humans spend 30% of their time thinking about the past, 15% thinking about the present and 55 % thinking about the future. Often, we think of the PAST with regrets and shame, we think about the FUTURE with anxiety and fear and we are distracted in the PRESENT

But the Christian looks back to the cross of Christ who made full payment for all our rebellion. The Christian looks forward to the Day of the Lord where God will set us free from sinful nature and suffering. That is why we can enjoy the now, we can endure the present and we must pass on the good news. The day of the Lord is coming. This world is facing God's judgment. We must warn our family and friends. We must not remain silent. We must not think we are wiser or more merciful than God.

Are you ready to meet Jesus?
Will He know you when He sees you or will He say, "Depart from Me"?

Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

There were 3 Christians talking about how they give to God. The first Christian said “I draw a circle on the ground, then I throw my money in the air and what falls inside the circle I keep and what falls out of the circle I give to God” The second Christians said “I do the same but I throw my money in the air but what falls outside the circle I keep and what falls inside the circle I give to God” The third Christian said “I also throw my money in the air and what stays up in the air I leave with God and what falls to the ground I keep.”

So here we are in Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament. It’s been a challenging book, where God confronts his people then and now:

God's people have drifted from God. Their only hope is that the Lord does not change. Malachi 3:6

I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. (NIV)

I can't tell you how precious is this truth, the Lord does not change.

In a world of change, He is the only person you can perfectly rely on. And the Lord Jesus is no different, He is the same ‘yesterday today and tomorrow’. You don't have to be afraid that God is going to wake up in a bad mood and throw everyone out of heaven into hell. God hasn’t changed and neither have his people, God is consistently faithful and his people are consistently unfaithful. Verse 7

Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. (NIV)

God heard the cries of his people and He led them out of slavery in Egypt, He brings them to Mt. Sinai and enters into a covenant and He promises that I will be your God and you will be my people. Then weeks later they are worshipping the golden calf, getting drunk and sleeping around.

God then led them into the promised land. He blessed them with land, a temple and a king. They were called to be a light to the nations. Instead of trusting God they trusted the nations. Instead of fearing God they would fear the nations. Instead of loving God they would love the gods of the nations.

They became worse than the other nations and yet God did not give up on them. This was the reason they were not destroyed, because I the Lord do not change. After 800 years of rebellion : God says “I have remained faithful to you even when you have remained faithless to me.” Looks look at the rest of verse 7

Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty. (NIV)

If you come back to me, I will come to you. Friends, I want to say the ultimate proof that God is for you. We have a God - Father, Son and Spirit saying “No matter what you have done, no matter what you have become, it’s time to come home and come to me.” Return to me and I will return to you.

The issue at hand here in verses 8 and 9. They were stealing from God.

“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’ “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. (NIV)

This is one of the hardest statements on money in the bible. God says a lot about giving to God's work in the local church and wider mission. Most is positive.

By giving we are investing our treasures in heaven with never ending dividends. “Any temporal possession can be turned into everlasting wealth. Whatever is given to Christ is immediately touched with immortality.” (A.W.Tozer)

By giving, we are partners with God in the work of the local church. If you gave this year those 66 people who said yes to Jesus are part of your work. We are partners in work of the gospel around the world, we have 10 missionary families to feed. Our giving makes friends for eternity, we will meet many people in heaven and who will say “I praise God for your supporting that person who shared Jesus with me. “Im here because of you…” Giving releases the hold that greed has on us. It's more blessed or happy to give than to receive.

2 Corinthians 8:9 tells us that all driven by the generosity of our Lord Jesus.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (NIV)

There is no one richer than the owner of the universe.
There is no one poorer than a man stripped naked on a cross, that’s Jesus
There is no one more desperate than a person who deserved to go to hell yesterday
There is no one more thankful than a person who is co heir with Christ, that’s you

Lots of positive reasons to give but in Malachi 3 we are hit with a hard word. When you refuse to financially give you are stealing from God. The notion of giving a tithe of 10% goes back to Abraham, where Abraham gives 10% of his war booty to the priest king Melchizedek. God repeatedly instructs his Israel to Tithe. The tithe was to support the operation of the temple and priests. The same percentage meant those who had more should give more and those who had less would give less.

Proverbs 3:9-10 tells us that point was to give God your first and your best portion

Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. (NIV)

Give God the first portion of your income, whether it came from a wage, inheritance, investments, capital gain, social security, shares or pocket money.

Jesus himself says to the Pharisees to pursue justice without neglecting tithing. If the Jews who lived before Jesus were expected to at least tithe, then how could we who live after the death and resurrection give less.  Knowing the harvest plentiful and workers few, Jesus commanded that those who preach the gospel should be supported

Notice that the failure to give is viewed as theft. Why theft? Everything belongs to God and God has first claim of your income. It was always his.

In 1992. MBM was in its 2nd year and we had maybe 30-35 adults on a very good day. Our giving container was a small letter box. Two homeless teenagers came to church. The prayer that Sunday went long and as I got up to preach the two teenagers moved to the front of the church. I thought “Isn’t that beautiful they are so eager to hear the word of God” I didn’t know that they had just stolen $250 from our unlocked and unchained letter box.

The next day one of our middle eastern brothers went to youth refuge and told them he knew that they stole the money. He then said “if I wasn’t a Christian this is what I would have done to you both” But then he said “…now that Christ has saved me, I won’t do that.” Then he shared the gospel and said they needed to repay it. It was best $250 we lost. But we did put locks and built deep boxes to prevent that happening again.

Friends, God is saying, if you withhold your giving to your local church you are like those teenagers. As if you’re reaching into the giving container and stealing God's money.

I know one man who was so convicted of this that he paid back 8 years of giving to clear his conscience. He knew he had benefited from a ministry he rarely contributed to. I don’t think that it's necessary to do back pay. Christ gives us fresh start.

Don’t let another year go by where you’re stealing from the God who lovingly chose you and has given you every good gift. Taking from the God who did not withhold his one and only Son, and has prepared for you a resurrected body. Keep from a God who has a new creation waiting for you.

Why is God so interested in our money? God wants us to trust him in all areas of life, not just salvation. Kanye West was asked, are you now a Christian music artist?He said, I am a Christian everything! Jesus wants to be Lord of everything including our finances. It's why I say this pledging season is not about budget. Sure, if we don't hit budget I will have to let go of staff. But the bigger issue is this: It's about you and God. It's about your heart and who is truly first. It's about believing that your life is in God's hands. It's about grasping that everything you have belongs to Him. And that God has first claim on your finances.

What stops us giving is important, FEAR - will God take care of me? It can be scary.

When Sandy and I were in Bible college in 1987-90, we lived off savings, we had college fees with no fee help and no student allowance. We had 2 kids under 3 and for 3 years our only income was $3,000 per year. I said to Sandy, I don't think we need to tithe, she was adamant, we always give God our best. I’m so glad I listened to her because otherwise I would have missed out on how God graciously took care of us.

Why don’t people give? FOMO, fear of missing out. Fear of missing out on a pleasure that last for hours, days and weeks but not for eternity. Look at your credit card details and see where your heart is. But let FOMO work for you. How about fear of wasting my money? Fear of getting to the end of my life and storing so few treasures in heaven. Fear of never knowing how exciting it is to see God come through when you put him first.

Just on that, I find it amazing that God is telling Israel to stop stealing and give to the priests, this is the same half hearted and hopeless priests. You don’t give based on the quality of ministry. You give because God wants to work on your heart. I remember John Maxwell, a former pastor and leadership guru, he tells the story of how a man in his church who was a big giver said to him, “Pastor John, I'm withholding my tithe because I disagree with the decisions of the elders” So John said, “Well, let's go on our knees right now and I want you to let God know why you are about to steal from him.”

Speaking of missing out. God says in verses 10 and 11.

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. (NIV)

God invites Israel to test him, to trust him, to not hold back. To give God the full tithe and God promises that they will drown in a sea of blessings. Give and God will give you even more. Sounds like a ponzie scheme or pyramid business, the closest example of this in the New Testament is in 2 Corinthians 9:6-8

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (NIV)

That sounds a little like a prosperity gospel, except he says "Having all that you need not all that you want." Trust me and I will entrust you with what you need to give to others. There are no Ferraris promised nor ocean views in Manly. Trust me, test me, I have your back so give what I have given you. For some it may be a lot for others a little.

God says: "Use what I give you so that you keep blessing others for the gospel."

Here are some ideas:

Re-invest. We Christians are the ultimate re-gifters. We get these financial gifts from our Lord and we re-gift to the poor and those who work for the gospel.

Yes, we have those who did what is right and went bankrupt. They still had what they needed and still gave. Don’t let Gods generosity end with you. He doesn’t want your leftovers after you spent it on whatever you want. That is not giving God your best. He wants you to trust him.

Based on a church survey, 32% of MBM tithe, 25% of MBM give 5-9%. Everyone of us in these categories have had to take that jump, and we all have a story of how God had our back. The good news is this, unlike praying or witnessing or being patient, you can put this right in a moment. Every day I have to decide to pray, every day I have to decide to forgive. But with Online banking you can lock in your giving for the whole year with the press of a button or the filling out of the form.

We don’t give more or less in a big church than in a small one. We are to give our first portion and best portion, whether we are a 16 year old teenager, a 25 year old young single worker, a 40 year old married with 2 kids, a 60 year old facing retirement or a 70 year old pensioner.

I'm so thankful for MBM and I join King David who said in 1 Chronicles 29:14

But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. (NIV)

Up until 20 years ago there were holiday sex packages to SE Asia. They were not advertising sex with prostitutes, but sex with 8-9 year old children. Children from slums were sold to pimps. Pure evil!

At a meeting of the State Attorney Generals they decided that they would not only ban the advertisement of such tour packages but they also made it a criminal offence for any Australian who went on one even though it was not on our soil. That is justice. That is a righteous and just decision.

We crave righteous laws and righteous leaders but most of all a righteous and just God.

Abraham himself raised the question "Will not the God of all the earth do right." Yes!

You can live in a world where people are not fully just. But can we live in a world where God himself fails his own standards? In this section of Malachi, God is accused of the following, that He is not Holy and that He takes pleasure in evil. He is not just and that He does not do what is right.

Here is Israel accusing God of not being just! Verse 17

You have wearied the Lord with your words. “How have we wearied him?” you ask. By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them” or “Where is the God of justice?” (NIV)

Claim No.1

God has no standards. All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord.
Wrong is right.
Bad is good.
Evil is honourable.
In other words, God is not holy.

The prophet was not joking when he said of God in Habakkuk 1:13

Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. (NIV)

The people were not saying that God has failed his own standards. They were saying that God has no standards, good is evil and evil is good. Theft and rape, lying and adultery, sorcery and exploiting foreigners are as pleasing to him as a saying your prayers and feeding the poor.

Claim No.2

So where is the God of justice? God does nothing about evil and sin, He is allowing the guilty to go unpunished - the very thing he said he would never do. All because God doesn't act here and now, is tolerating evil?

We ourselves ask, why did God allow that mongrel dictator Mugabe to rule so long in Zimbabwe and then have him replaced by someone just as bad.

Years ago, when my wife Sandy was in hospital with appendicitis, she got talking to a woman who had rejected God, her reason was that her 3 grandsons had died. Twins were still born and one died soon after birth. That awful tragedy had made her lose her way and she gave up on God - who did not save her grandchildren. God did not do what was right.

It is right to bring questions to God. Such as “How long O lord?” and “My God my God, why have you forsaken me.” These come from those wanting God to punish guilty sinners.

What as wearied the Lord, is not the complaint is made to God but about God. He is fed up in hearing this constant assault of his character back to verse 17

You have wearied the Lord with your words. (NIV)

Who hates gossip? When people talk behind your back but not to your face. Guess what so does God! They were dragging God's name in front of others but never talking directly to God in prayer.

God answers the challenge “You want justice? I am coming to bring justice.” Chapter 3, verse 1

“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. (NIV)

God is coming and he comes with his own MC. Jesus did not turn up unannounced, John the Baptist is that messenger, he is the last prophet who introduced Jesus to the world.

“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

We continue with verse 1

Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking (will come) to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, (will come),” says the Lord Almighty. (NIV)

The people are desperate for God to come and step in. They want justice and they want it now. The Lord does come to his Temple and that Lord is Jesus. Jesus is furious at the corruption of the temple. Jesus zeal for his Father house burns in him like a fire, He overturned tables, He chased out animals and He confronted the money changers for turning the house of prayer into a house of business.

If John the Baptist is the one who prepared the way for the Lord then Jesus is the LORD himself, the messenger of the Covenant. He will come, in fact Jesus will come twice to judge his enemies and save his people.

To the challenge of where is God's justice? We must go to both the 1st and 2nd coming of Christ. Do you want to see how seriously God takes sin? Then go to the cross of Christ. Before Christ ever had to die for your sins he had to die to prove that God is justice when he forgives sins. Romans 3:25-26

God presented him (Jesus) as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, (NIV)

God never forgives a sin without someone having to pay for it. That someone was God's one and only son Jesus. When God forgives, there were no backroom deals, no turning a blind eye and no bribes to let you into heaven. God had his own son publicly executed so that you would know that God is just.

If you have turned and put your trust in Christ then know this: Every one of your sins were already punished in the body of Gods own son - God has to forgive you and He can't punish sins twice.

A minister I knew in Mittagong was fighting a fire and he found himself isolated. He tried to escape but got cornered by flames and then he found a burnt out shack, he went inside the barn and covered himself in the burnt ashes. He completely escaped the fire by going to where the judgment of the fire had already fallen.

Go to the cross of Christ to where the judgment of God has already fallen and you will be safe on judgment day. Once God's anger fell on his Son it can’t fall again on his people. That is why when God forgives he is not just merciful he is just. God does not delight in sin. And the proof of that is His Son comes to die and pay for our sin and His Holy Spirit comes to cleanse and renew us. Look at 3:2c-4

For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years. (NIV)

With the first coming of the Lord we can now for the first time say “No” to sin. With the Spirit real change can take place. The image is one of purifying, and cleansing. When you purify silver in fire your aim is not to destroy it but to remove the impurities. The job of soap is to clean, that is what God has come to do. Not only to forgive us but to change us by his Spirit.

You may have heard about the well know rapper Kanye West, sometimes known as husband to Kim Kardashian. His new album is titled Jesus is King! It’s right to be cautious when a celebrity claims to be a Christian, we went through the same with Bob Dylan. But we do need to celebrate and take up the opportunity to share Christ. Kanye, until a year ago behaved nothing like a Christian, he was openly addicted and pro-porn.

A year ago, Jimmy Kimmel on US TV asked Kanye about how his daughter changed the way he thinks about women. He said it didn’t and then came out with a horrendous pro-porn statement. Then recently, since that conversion, he went back to Jimmy Kimmel and said he was wrong. We are seeing public repentance.

In one of his Song called Selah he writes…

Everybody wanted Yandhi
Then Jesus Christ did the laundry
They say the week start on Monday
But the strong start on Sunday
Wont be in bondage to any man
John 8:33
We the descendants of Abraham
Ye should be made free
John 8:36
To whom the son set free is free indeed
He saved a wretch like me

Everyone wanted a new album from Kanye West, but what we need was for Jesus to do the laundry, to wash away Kanye Wests sins and mine, to wash his soul by the Spirit with new desires.

Malachi looked to when the Lord would come and change hearts, where people would bring offerings in righteousness, acceptable to the Lord. It's why we started our groups for porn users at MBM, next year we will start groups for women who are either victims of porn or users of porn.

Last week, I was talking to a one of the guys who is in the porn accountability group and he talked about the joy of his new found freedom from this dreaded porn. He then quoted another guy in the group who said “I really thought I would go to the grave with this sin.”

Jesus has done the laundry on our souls. Does this sound like the God who thinks that evil is good? Jesus first coming is clear, God is just and he is very serious about sin. He wants us to take sin seriously. He has given us time to turn from our sins and trust Jesus. When he comes a 2nd time there will be no time to say I’m sorry, no time to repent, no second chances.

We will see God's justice in his final judgment, verse 5

“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty. (NIV)

At Jesus second coming, He will come like a thief in the night. He will bring in the great day of judgment when he will expose the secrets of human hearts. God is saying are you sure you want me to come? When I come who could stand it. Look back at Verse 2

But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? (NIV)

I will tell you who stand, every person who has repented, every person who has put their trust in Christ, every person who hid in the ashes of Christ death. Let's be clear, God is just which means your sins will be punished. The question for you is, do you want God to punish them in your body in hell or in the body of the one hung on the cross.

Let Jesus serve you.

Know this, at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, willingly or unwillingly, from the heights of heaven or the pit of hell, everyone will acknowledge that Jesus is King. Even if Kanye fell away tomorrow these words from the last song on his album would still be true.

Every knee shall bow
Every tongue confess
Jesus is Lord
Jesus is Lord
Every knee shall bow
Every tongue confess
Jesus is Lord
Jesus is Lord

In Malachi, God reminded this half-hearted nation that they are loved and chosen by God. But rather than whole hearted worship, they treated God with contempt. They offered God their worst when he gave his best. They were breaking faith with their faithful God, when you break faith with God you end up breaking faith with everybody else. Turn to verse 10

Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our ancestors by being unfaithful to one another? (NIV)

Why is it that if you pray regularly with your spouse you have a 1 in 1000 chance of divorce? Which are much better odds than 1 in 3. Why? because as you come together before your Father in heaven it impacts how you approach each other. For us Christians, in every relationship there is always 3 of us, you, the other person and Jesus.

We all have one God, creator and father whom we both will give an account. Blood may be thicker than water, but it’s the blood of Jesus that binds us together. If God is faithful to us he expects us to be faithful with others in all our dealings. Israel didn’t get that.

1. Marriage is a covenant.

Malachi 2 is one of the few places where marriage is referred to as a covenant, look at verse 14

You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner the wife of your marriage covenant. (NIV)

The marriage covenant speaks of promises made and kept. They are promises between equals, she is your partner or companion. They are promises made between one man and one woman. In a world of never ending options, God only give us one option for sexual expression and that is marriage. These promises are for an exclusive relationship that is life long. These promises are built on faithfulness. Which means, being trusthworthy is more important than being in love

What caught my eye when I chose my future wife Sandy.She was committed to serving Lord Jesus.

I could trust her! Why? Because I knew she would love Jesus more than me. Oh yes and she was very very cute.

Covenants are also promises that are formalised. This is the problem with de facto relationships; this social experiment that has been happening since the 60’s has caused so much grief. Marriage covenant stops the ambiguity. Each person is making clear promises before God and before human witnesses. And God says “I am a witness to those promises.” Everyone knows where they stand.

I remember one friend asking a couple who were living together "How long do you think you will be together?" At the same time, she said forever and he said 3 years. Defacto relationships are not clear on what is expected, that is why they break up more often and the children and, often the woman, also pay the price. Defacto relationships are more likely to break up in the first 4 years than a married one.

So Israel was half hearted with God which led to being hard hearted to their wives. They were breaking faith and marrying foreign women.

2. Marrying foreign women

Turn now to Malachi 2:11-12

Judah has been unfaithful. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the Lord loves by marrying women who worship a foreign god.  As for the man who does this, whoever he may be, may the Lord remove him from the tents of Jacob - even though he brings an offering to the Lord Almighty. (NIV)

The sin of marrying foreign wives is viewed as a destestable thing, it brings explusion from God's people, making the holy unholy. This is not a racist statement. It's not saying ethnically mixed marriages are evil. I’m in one, Sandy and I have no genetic overlap at all. Some of the great women of faith in the Old Testament were foreign women, like Ruth the moabitess who said to her Jewish mother in law “Your God will be my God, and your people my people”

But these foreign women in Malachi were daughters of foreign gods, the Jewish husbands were tempted to worship their wives gods. It was so serious that Ezra, the priest, directed the husbands to divorce their unbelieving foreign wives. Now in the New Testament the same principle operates but its applied differently. The principle is we are not to be bound with unbelievers, 2 Corinthians 6:14-15

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? …Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? (NIV)

This principle applies in marriage. That is why 1 Corinthians 7:39

A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. (NIV)

Notice the freedom for the widow or widower, they can marry a person who is 15 years older or 15 years younger. You can marry any person from any nation language or tribe, but he/she must belong to the Lord. It is why at MBM we don’t marry believers to unbelievers. It’s why we don’t let anyone who is dating an unbeliever teach God's word to children, youth or adults. The one big difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament is this - In the Old Testament if you marry an unbeliever you must divorce them. In the New Testament if you’re married to an unbeliever you must NOT divorce them. See 1 Corinthians 7:12-13

To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her she must not divorce him. (NIV)

The marriage covenant remains intact, don’t leave your unbeliever partner in the hope that your partner might be saved. All of this means dating a non Christian is off limits. "Missionary dating" is out of bounds.

To be honest, when I became a Christian I didn’t need a bible verse to tell me it was foolish.

  1. You’re dating someone who probably wants to sleep with you before you get married.
  2. Many who do marry non-Christians often lose their faith.
  3. How can you choose to share the intimate love of a spouse with a person who does not love your saviour
  4. You will have conflict from everything, from where your kids to go to school to how you spend your time, talents and treasures.
  5. Most of all - How can you choose to bring a man or women into your family to bring up your kids, who rejects Christ.

Seriously, it’s hard enough to be a Christian in the world than to have the world at home.

Don’t be naive to think: "I can change them"

One woman Julie said “I asked my mum, when I was young, why she had married my dad knowing that he was not a Christian and she said she had hoped that he would become one because he had been to Sunday school and knew a bit of the bible.”You marry a non-Christian you not only have to explain yourself to God but to your kids.

Don’t be naïve to think: "I’ll date them but I won't marry them."

I remember one lady from my first church, she dated an unbeliver for years but made it clear “I won't marry him unless he becomes a Christian” and to be fair, he always went to church and bible study with her. Of course she eventually did marry him and on their honeymoon she said “Darling, it's time to get ready for church” He said “Oh, I’m not going to church anymore.” When asked why? He said, “because for as long as you said no to marrying me, I thought there must be something in this Christianty, but now that you’ve said yes, it couldn’t be all that important.”

If you want to help a person take Jesus seriously then hold your ground and teach your kids the same. There are those of you who came to faith after you’re married, you have done nothing wrong.

There are those who choose to marry an unbeliever like my sister. Don’t justify your decision, just confess this as sin and know you’re forgiven.I wasn’t sure if I would attend my sisters wedding, I knew it was a sin and so did she. I decided I would attend but not participate. I also made it clear to my brother in law Michael that the moment they were married I will back this marriage 1000%.

Fast forward 18 years, I receive an email from sister:

“Hi Ray, I just want to let you know that 3 weeks ago on Easter Sunday I recommited my life to Christ. I now confess that when I married Michael, I sinned against God and I was wrong. Though I am thankful that even in my disobedience God gave me a loving non-Christian man.”

Clear ownership of sin. God’s grace means she is fully forgiven

I am aware this limits who you can date. So we need a healthy dating cutlure at MBM. Personally, I would not encourage dating until you hit 18. It will mostly lead to either broken hearts or sexual sin. You’re free to ask anyone who is an adult Christian but you are not free to manipulate and guilt people into dating you.

Please don't say “the Lord has told me you should go out with me”. Friends, if God told you he will tell them as well. If you’re asked out, you’re free to say ‘yes’ and you’re free to say ‘no’. If you decline just be gracious when you say 'no'. Thank them for considering you. If your invitation is rejected. Don’t be so precious and sulk or bag out the person who said ‘no’ to you.

If you use online dating, and many do here at MBM do:

Back to the text, verse 13-15

Another thing you do: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer looks with favor on your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth. (NIV)

They failed to see the obvious, God would treat these men with contempt if they kept treating their wives with contempt. They were abandoning the wives of their youth. Wives they promised to love and cherish for better or worse for as long as they both shall live. It was easy to divorce. The result was that their wife would fall into poverty, while they managed their pathetic midlife crisis in the arms of a brand new young wife who worshipped other gods.

When I think of marriage I now have 3 words - Safe, love and flourish

Our spouses have a right to:

Feel Safe

That is a God given mandate to treat all humans especially our spouses. Safe not only from physical abuse but the threat of it. Safe emotionally psychologically, financially and spiritually, verse 16

The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the Lord Almighty. (NIV)

So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful. To divorce is to hate and to hate is tantamount to being violent. There is God given permission for divorce and re-marriage: When your spouse is unfaithful or when your spouse deserts you. You’re free to divorce and remarry, and functional desertion can take place in cases of abuse. Husband are to protect their wives, not make them feel unsafe.

Loved

Not just safe but loved. That is a Christian's responsiblity to their spouse. To love ones wife as Christ loved the church or to love and respect ones husband as to the Lord. But more than that.

Flourish

My spouse is part of God's people so I am to help foster her God given gifts and not just mine.

Sandy does a lot of training around Australia. On a lot of Saturday nights I’m picking her up from the airport. I need to remember this is my privilege. I'm called to foster her gifts and not just mine.

There are 3 types of married relationships.

  1. Those who are in healthy relationships,
  2. Those in unhealthy relationships and
  3. Those in toxic relaitonships.

The first and second thrive in counselling - when people want to grow. The toxic relationship marked by abuse need more than counselling. I honour those who are working hard on their marriage. I plead with those who are struggling in marriage to seek help. One bad marriage is one too many.

I honour those who refuse to date non Christians or break up with the one you love because they don’t yet love Jesus.

Let's not break faith with our God by breaking faith in our relationships generally and in our marriage specifically.

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