There’s a war on! Revelation 12

September 18th, 2017

Revelation 12 was not written to try to convince comfortable Christians that there is a spiritual war on. The Christians reading the Book of Revelation at the end of the first century didn’t need any persuading. Revelation 12 was written to persecuted Christians to explain to them why their brothers and sisters were being brutally persecuted, imprisoned and even martyred for their faith. The imagery of battle and warfare may seem remote or even irrelevant to us – but that’s just because our Christian lives are easy!
Actually we can glimpse signs of the spiritual battle even in North Springfield. So many of our neighbours are closed to the gospel. Behind closed doors there are social and financial and moral problems we are scarcely aware of. And the battle against the world and the flesh and the devil is real for everyone who seeks to follow Jesus in this world which is running away from God faster and faster.
Revelation 12 reveals what is going on behind the scenes of this fallen world. It reveals the battle between the Dragon, the Child, and the Woman.
Revelation 12:1 A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 4 Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who ‘will rule all the nations with an iron sceptre.’ And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.
This is all symbolic language, apocalyptic language and we need to interpret the symbols. Throughout the Bible and other Jewish literature of the period the Dragon is a picture of the devil or Satan. He will appear again, particularly in Revelation chapter 20. The dragon is the devil, Satan. Verses 3 and 4 and then 7 to 9 describe for us how the devil and one third of the angels rebelled against God and were cast out of heaven.
3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. 4 Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth
7 Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9 The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient snake called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
So the devil was exiled to earth. And those one third of the stars swept out of the sky were angelic beings who we know now as evil spirits or demons. The devil and the demons were hurled to the earth.
There are other parts of the Bible which are understood to say similar things about the origin of the devil. In particular there is a prophecy in Ezekiel 28 which talks about the King of Tyre but contains elements which clearly refer to more than a human king and instead to some kind of angelic being.
Ezekiel 28 11 The word of the LORD came to me: 12 ‘Son of man, take up a lament concerning the king of Tyre and say to him: “This is what the Sovereign LORD says:
‘ “You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: carnelian, chrysolite and emerald, topaz, onyx and jasper, lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl.
Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared.
14 You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you.
You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones.
15 You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created
till wickedness was found in you.
16 Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned.
So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, guardian cherub,
from among the fiery stones.
17 Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom
because of your splendour.So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings.

We find similar echoes in Isaiah chapter 14
12 How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!
13 You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon.
14 I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’
15 But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit.

So here in Ezekiel and in Isaiah we find the background to the idea in Revelation 12 that the devil was an angel who was cast out of heaven because of pride.
9 The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient snake called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. …
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. …
But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you!

Now they have been cast out of heaven and hurled to earth the devil and all his demons continue to wage war against the woman and the child. The woman could symbolise the nation of Israel, or the church, the community of faith. Or the woman could represent the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. But the child clearly has only one meaning. The child is a symbol for Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Revelation 12 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who ‘will rule all the nations with an iron sceptre.’ And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.
The child is the one who will rule all the nations. The woman’s other children are those who put their trust in Jesus. And the devil continues his war with the woman and all her children. That is the battle which is going on behind the scenes even today – the war against the dragon.
17 Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.

I wrote about this in our Newsletter this month. We enjoyed a lovely week staying a log cabin in the woods, but two things in South Wales caught my eye. The first was the dragons. Some were red, some were green: dragons on road signs, pottery dragons, carved dragons, slate dragons, the symbol of Celtic Wales is everywhere. We were staying very close to a Wildlife Park, a Dinosaur Park and an “activities park”. And the signposts you had to follow to these attractions were all marked with the logo of the dragon. I remember seeing years ago a disused church where the stained glass windows had been replaced by a striking mosaic of a dragon, `The Dragon Theatre’. The dragon had driven out the church.
And that was the second thing that struck me - the number of disused churches and chapels. Turned into an antiques shop, a “bargain basement” shop, a theatre and a couple of homes. Buildings sold off with no `live’ church among them. Everywhere church buildings have been converted to houses or flats or shops. It was a deeply depressing reminder of how far the churches have declined since the days of Methodism or of the Welsh Revival. Driving around London the picture is even more gloomy – church buildings which are now places of worship for Moslems or Hindus or Sikhs as well as other which have become temples to those great gods of Money and Entertainment.
This is the battle which `The great dragon …. that ancient serpent, called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray’ is waging against `those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus’ (see Revelation 12). In many places the enemy appears already to have won - the church has been extinguished.
So there’s a war on! The battle against the dragon, the devil and all his demons. But the Book of Revelation is all about the victory of the Lamb who was slain. The lamb has defeated the dragon! But what do Christians need to do to share in that victory? Three very challenging things – all in verse 11.
Revelation 12 11 They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.
Evelation 5:9 And they sang a new song, saying:
‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.’

We are victorious because of the lamb who was slain. The devil is a very powerful enemy. He has sneaky ways of attacking us: greed and pride and anger and lust and apathy and complacency. None of us can stand against the devil in our own strength. But the devil has been defeated by the blood of the Lamb. Jesus’s death on the cross did not only deal with the problem of our sin by making the way for us to be forgiven. By his sacrifice on the cross, Jesus the Lamb of God also completely defeated the devil and all the powers of evil.
1 John 3 8 The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.
Hebrews 2 14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
Colossians 2 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
The devil and all the powers of evil have been defeated by Christ’s death on the cross. Our task is to live out our lives depending on Christ’s victory and Christ’s strength.
The Book of Revelation was written to encourage Christians to stand firm in the face of fierce persecution, and be bold in their testimony about Jesus. Every time we bear witness to the victory of Christ on the cross and to the difference Jesus has made in our lives is a victory over the devil. Every time we tell people that we are Christians and that they need Jesus too, the devil is driven back. But every time we remain silent, the devil wins. It’s as simple as that. Thousands of people in North Springfield already belong to the devil – they are already doomed. The devil doesn’t need us to fail as Christians or for us to fall into great sins. The devil knows he can never get us back. All he wants is for us to stay silent about Jesus and he’s already won.
17 Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring—those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.
All we need to do is keep God’s commands and hold fast to our testimony about Jesus. There is the battleground. Speak out and we win and Jesus wins. Stay silent and we lose and the devil wins.

Nothing is won without sacrifice. People who say the Christian life is easy haven’t read their Bibles. Following Jesus Christ is costly. It costs our money and our possessions. It costs time and effort, in prayer and in witnessing and in loving other people. Living as a Christian means sacrifice and footwashing, taking up our cross daily and following Jesus. This is not an optional extra for super-keen Christians. This is the basic starting point for disciples of Jesus.Doing what God wants us to do instead of what we want to do.
And if God wants us to lay down our lives for Him, as Jesus did, then that is what we must do. That is our victory over the devil. I remember a discussion I had with clergy from other denominations. We were considering whether whether baptism is actually necessary for salvation? The Roman Catholic priest said it is. “Except of course for the Martyrs.” It doesn’t matter if the martyrs had been baptised in water or not. They were considered to have been baptised in their own blood. Are we ready and willing to be baptised in our own blood? They did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.
Remember the examples of the Christians in Smyrna.
Revelation 2 10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
Remember the example of Christians who are enduring persecution around the world even today. There’s a war on, a spiritual battle against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)
And we have our part to play. To live in the victory of the Lamb who was slain. To overcome by the blood of the lamb, by the word of our testimony. By being prepared to die!
Revelation 12 10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.
11 They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.

Holiness and joy - 2 Samuel 6

September 18th, 2017

Occasionally I wonder what I learned in 5 years studying theology. And the most important truth can be summed up in just 6 words. “NOT EITHER OR - BUT BOTH AND”

What I mean is that many important issues of faith and Christian living have two extremes. Should prayer and worship have structure or are they better when they are spontaneous? Which is more important – to love God or to love our neighbour?
Is everything in life predestined or do human beings genuinely have free will? Does Christian authority rest in the Bible as Protestants believe – or in the traditions of the church as Roman Catholics believe? Or more recently people have asked, does ultimate authority lie in the inspired word of God as fundamentalists believe or in the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit as some Pentecostals believe?

In these and many other issues Christians have so often become polarised. One group defends one extreme and another the opposite extreme. Congregations split. Denominations split.

I am convinced that, very often, the truth is not a matter of EITHER OR, but of BOTH AND. To be faithful to Scripture we have to learn not to take one extreme or the other in most issues, but rather to look for a middle way which holds both opposing points of view in tension. So in prayer and worship I have learned to value both structure and spontaneity. We must love BOTH God AND our neighbour. The question is not pre-destination OR free will, but how can we keep in tension BOTH divine sovereignty AND human responsibility? We need BOTH church traditions AND sacred scriptures. And it is not a choice between Word and Spirit, we need BOTH Word AND Spirit.

One area where very may Christians are polarised is concerned with the character of God and our attitudes to God. Some Christians emphasise just how holy God is. They realise that such a holy and righteous God demands a response of awe and humility and repentance and commitment. At the opposite extreme are Christians who focus on the love of God. They are overjoyed at God’s mercy and grace. They emphasise intimacy with God.

This single chapter 2 Samuel 6 has things to say to every one of us, whatever aspect of God’s character dominates our thinking about God and our response to God. Whether we naturally respond more strongly to God’s holiness or God’s love, this passage will challenge us to realise that the issue is “not either or but both and.” Our God expects a response, not of holiness OR joy, but of holiness AND joy.

Because in a single chapter we have two very significant events.


2 Samuel 6:6 ¶ When they came to the threshing-floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. 7 The LORD’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God. 8 Then David was angry because the LORD’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah. 9 David was afraid of the LORD that day and said, “How can the ark of the LORD ever come to me?”

Here we have a chilling reminder of the HOLINESS of God!

The ark of God was the covenant box which carried amongst other things the tablets of stone on which God had written the 10 Commandments. All through the wilderness it has represented God’s presence in the middle of his chosen people. It brought peace and prosperity and victory in battle and David was determined to bring it up to Jerusalem. No one was allowed to touch the covenant box. It was to be carried by hand on poles or here on a cart. But never touched by human hands! But for the best of motives Uzzah reached out and touched the ark, and even so God was angry. Very angry. Uzzah was struck dead!

Here is a solemn warning for us. God doesn’t just demand our love. He demands our obedience. Our faithfulness in small things as well as big things. Obedience. No wonder David was humbled and afraid of the Lord!

There are similar warning passages elsewhere in Scripture.

2 Kings 2:23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. “Go on up, you baldhead!” they said. “Go on up, you baldhead!” 24 He turned round, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled
forty-two of the youths.

Our God is a Holy God. Those who oppose or ridicule His messengers provoke God’s anger!

In the New Testament, Acts 5 tells us of the occasion when Ananias and Sapphira lie to the apostles about the money they are giving to the church.

Peter confronted Ananias, “You have not lied to men but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.
The Peter challenged Saphira. 9 Peter said to her, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.” 10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

We may find it difficult to believe in a God who strikes sinners dead in such a dramatic fashion. How true is it that the church today emphasises God’s love and neglects God’s holiness?

Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard! Not surprising! What is surprising is how few Christians feel that kind of fear towards the God who is still as holy now as he was when he struck down Uzzah and Ananaias and Sapphira! Some Christians are so casual in their approach to God. Some show an intimacy which treads a fine line with irreverence.

In particular I am troubled by those Christians who say that God is so loving that he would never punish sinners. God is so loving that there cannot be a hell. God is so loving that everybody will be saved. People can only say that by ignoring the whole of the Old Testament and huge chunks of the New Testament as well. Because the Bible tells us on almost every page that God is a Holy God. As C.S.Lewis puts it in his Narnia books, “Aslan is no tame Lion”. Yes God is a God of love – indeed God IS love. But God is also the holy God of justice righteousness. We should approach God with awe and reverence and indeed fear! If you are one of those people who is so overwhelmed by God’s love for you that you are in danger of forgetting his Holiness, read these passages again tonight.

Hebrews 12:28f
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, or our “God is a consuming fire.”

So 2 Samuel 6 warns us of God’s holiness. But in the very same chapter we read something which strikes me as amazing given the context.


12 .. David went down and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to
the City of David with rejoicing. 13 When those who were carrying the ark of the LORD had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 14 David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might, 15 while he and the entire house of
Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.
16 As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.

We might expect Uzzah’s experience to have left the whole nation of Israel terrified for the rest of their lives. Instead only three months later we find David once again bringing the Ark of the Covenant to his capital city, celebrating and full of joy, dancing before the Lord in a way which even his wife Michal found embarrassing David, King of all Israel, leaping and dancing! Scandalous!!

But then perhaps what is more scandalous is how little joy some Christians find in their faith. How few Christians know how to really let their hair down and dance before the Lord!” Now there IS a scandal.

You see even though he was living under the Old Covenant before Jesus Christ came and died and rose again, David could be full of the joy of salvation. So he danced before the Lord! This passage reminds us that it is alright for God’s chosen people to get carried away in worship sometimes. God expects that. God isn’t angry! God is pleased!

Like the scandalous adoration of the woman who wasted a whole jar of precious perfume anointing Jesus, even letting down her hair to dry his feet.
Matt 26:10 Jesus knew what they were saying, so he said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? It is a fine and beautiful thing that she has done for me. Wherever
this gospel is preached all over the world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

Like the widow who showed totally irresponsible generosity, yet was praised by Jesus.

Luke 21:1 As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

David was dancing a sacred dance. He danced before the Lord – and wouldn’t let anybody, even his wife, stop him!!

GNB 21 David answered, “I was dancing to honour the Lord, who chose me instead of your father and his family to make me the leader of his people Israel. And I will go on dancing to honour the Lord!”

Dancing. Joy. Celebration. Here is surely the opposite extreme from the reaction that we would expect David to have after Uzzah is struck dead. But it is a challenge to all of us who find it difficult to express ourselves in worship. It may be embarrassing to some of us to find more than 20 references in the Bible to dancing as a part of God’s people worshipping. But the verses are there – I counted them all!!

Ps 30:11 You have changed my sadness into a joyful dance; you have taken away my sorrow and surrounded me with joy.
Ps 87:7 They dance and sing, “In Zion is the source of all our blessings.”
Ps 149:3 Praise his name with dancing; play drums and harps in praise of him.
Ps 150:4 Praise him with drums and dancing. Praise him with harps and flutes.

You know of course that Elf and Safety would deem it too dangerous for me to dance before the Lord, or indeed anywhere else. We just can’t get the insurance! But still the principle is there. We should all feel free to express our joy in the Lord all the time. To celebrate the incredible amazing love which God has shown to us in Jesus Christ. Just because we recognise and respect and stand in awe of the holiness of God, we should still express the joy of our salvation! Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that we should rejoice and be glad, even in the midst of persecution. We should indeed “leap for joy.”
John Stott said that “the main mark of justified believers is joy.” Not gloominess!

God struck Uzzah dead. But David still danced before the Lord. Not either – or but both – and. Not holiness or love and joy. But BOTH holiness and love, holiness and joy!

David and Bathsheba - the Swamp of Sin

September 13th, 2017

I grew up rambling in the Peak District every week and then in the Lake District every summer. The great danger walking in those beautiful places is peat bogs. It is a danger like quicksand or a swamp. On the first step you are up to your ankle in mud. With the next step you can be in up to your knees. If you get in up to your waist there is a risk that you will never be able to get out without help. With a peat bog, or in quicksand, dip your toe in and in the end it can drag you under!

In this chapter, we read how David became trapped in the swamp of sin. A downward spiral leading to adultery and even murder. Just count how many of the 10 commandments the great King David breaks in this story. And the sadness is that at each step David could have turned back, he could have climbed out of the swamp of sin. But he didn’t. Instead he chose to sink even deeper. The great preacher Campbell Morgan wrote, “In the whole of the Old Testament literature there is no chapter more tragic or full of solemn and searching warning than this.”

It all started with
Neglect of his responsibilities

1 ¶ In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. … But David remained in Jerusalem.

David had responsibilities – he should have been commanding his armies at the battle front. Instead he was “bunking off!” Most of us have quite enough things in life that we should be doing. Plenty of good wholesome things we could be doing! Perhaps the best advice for anyone about how to avoid sin is to say that we should simply keep busy doing what we ought to be doing. Then we wouldn’t have nearly so much time to get tempted! The devil finds work for idle hands. Or as the hymn writer Isaac Watts puts it: Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.

Wrong place wrong time

2 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace.

David should have been away fighting. Instead he was at home, maybe feeling guilty, maybe just feeling bored. It may be true that the number one cause of sin is boredom. People look for excitement – and sin seems exciting. Mae West once said that when she was faced with a choice between two evils, she would always take the one she hadn’t tried yet. We all have this bias within us which drags us down to making the wrong choice. That’s what the Bible means by “original sin”.

Perhaps David was just on that roof to enjoy the view and saw more than he had bargained for. Perhaps he was out looking for excitement? Either way he should have been somewhere else! You know that line in the Lord’s prayer, “Lead us not into temptation.” We can’t pray, “lead us not into temptation,” if we deliberately put ourselves into a place where we know we are going to be tempted.
There are places that Christians should NEVER go! Things Christians should never watch on TV. Books and magazines Christians should never read. Internet sites Christians should never visit! The evangelist Billy Sunday said that the problem is that people think of sin like a cream cake instead of like a rattlesnake, We have to take sin seriously. We must treat sin like a rattlesnake that will kill us, not a cream cake to be enjoyed, “naughty but nice!” We cannot pray, “lead us not into temptation,” if we deliberately put ourselves into a place where we know we are going to be tempted.

David should never have been up on that roof. But he was. Then came
The first temptation

From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful,

As my friend the evangelist Ben Alexander puts it, David’s sin wasn’t in catching that first glimpse of a beautiful woman bathing. The sin came when he went back for his binoculars.

We live in a fallen world. We are surrounded by images and sounds which could lead a saint astray. Christians aren’t meant to hide ourselves away from the world. A famous speaker once said, “You don’t become holy by living in a hole.” We are meant to be the light of the world – salt and light in a corrupt and sinful generation.

There is not sin in catching a glimpse – as long as we were not out as a peeping tom looking for the glimpse. The sin comes in gluing our eyes on things we shouldn’t be looking like. The sin comes when we allow our imagination to dwell on things which aren’t helpful to us.

The Apostle Paul said to the Colossians 3:1 ¶ Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 5 ¶ Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

As Christians we belong to God. We are united with Christ. So we must fix our minds on things that will bring us closer to God, not things which will take us away from God.

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable- if anything is excellent or
praiseworthy- think about such things.
There are so many good and beautiful things to think about – don’t get dragged down to the world’s level. “Don’t let the world around squeeze you into its own mould.”

Romans 12:1 ¶ Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God- this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- his good, pleasing and perfect will.

David saw Bathsheba. He was tempted for a moment. He should have repented and turned back from sin there and then! But he didn’t. Instead he did what we sinful people so often do.
David pursued the temptation

3 and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “Isn’t this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?”

There goes the 10th Commandment!
17 “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to
your neighbour.”

Coveting. Wanting what isn’t ours! We sin in our hearts long before we sin with our bodies. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, Matt 5:27 ¶ “You have heard that it was said, `Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Here David allowed his heart to dwell on Bathsheba. He finds out who she is. He begins to plot how to seduce her. He should have stopped there but he didn’t. He could have turned back. But instead,
David made an opportunity for sin.

4 Then David sent messengers to get her.

David did not have to do that. Until then, the sin had been in his mind and heart. Now he is actively seeking a way to bring his fantasies to reality. So many times we only fall into sin because we actively make and opportunity for the sin to happen. We are tempted. We could resist the temptation but instead we plot and plan until we have made a way for us to break any of the 10 commandments, just as long as we don’t break the 11th commandment of course, “Thou shalt not get caught.” But as soon as we think we can get away with it …..

“David sent messengers.” A word of warning to us men. Young men, old men. Women, girls and older women, enjoy attention. If we pay them attention they will often respond. Men, we have an absolute responsibility not to pay women inappropriate attention. But of course the same applies to women. Women, don’t pay inappropriate attention to men either. Because we are all, male and female, so easy to lead astray.

Back in the days when I was at London Bible College it was known to many as London Bridal College, because of the number of lady students there who had chosen to study there primarily because it was the perfect place to find a husband who was called to become a minister or a missionary. The then principal Michael Griffiths had a very important rule he insisted on regarding relationships between students of different genders.

1 Timothy 5:2 Treat older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with
absolute purity.

Here is a rule which applies to ALL Christian men and women of any age. Unless that other person is your wife (or husband) or fiancé, treat them with the same love and affection as a sister or a mother (or brother or father) and no more! No inappropriate attention.

The world around is obsessed with dating and having affairs. Newspapers and soaps may centre around who is dating who and who is doing all kinds of other things with who! As just one example, there is apparently a so-called “reality” television show called “Love Island” where a bunch of strangers are put together on a tropical island to see who pairs up with who. I have never watched even a minute of Love Island and I never will. One of the things which tells me that it is not the kind of programme which Christians should be watching is a newspaper article I saw which reported that the producers of the show had instructed the contestants to have more sex, on camera, because the viewers were losing interest. That is the world in which we live. But as Christians God calls us to be different!

1 Timothy 5:2 Treat older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with
absolute purity.

“Don’t let the world around squeeze you into its own mould.”!!!

Of course David wasn’t the only guilty party! Of course Bathsheba would be likely to go to David if he sent messengers for her. She was flattered! And she was bored too with her husband away at war. She was probably feeling neglected. She wasn’t forced to go – she chose to go. David invited, but she chose to say yes. Men are simple creatures – we are very easily led. Men can easily be tempted by what women wear and things woman say. Bathsheba should have known better than to be bathing on her rooftop in full view of the palace. She should have run inside as soon as she saw David admiring her. But instead she stayed because she enjoyed being admired. As a married woman Bathsheba should never have accepted that invitation to the palace for tea – she knew very well where it was leading!

So women, and men, DON’T lead each other into temptation!! In this story as in so many wrecked lives, the results were predictable and tragic.
Sexual Immorality

4. She came to him, and he slept with her.

Adultery – sex with somebody else’s wife or husband. Breaking the Seventh Commandment. “You shall not commit adultery.” Both David and Bathsheba were already married. The significant thing is they weren’t married to each other! Adultery is any form of sex with a person you aren’t married to! David and Bathsheba were just as guilty as each other!

But they got caught out! Bathsheba became pregnant. She knew David was the father and once he came back from war her husband Uriah would know he was not the father! So Bathsheba calls on David for help.

5 The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”

Well she would wouldn’t she! And I suppose some people would think it’s to his credit that David didn’t just do what so many unintending fathers do and deny everything, leaving Bathsheba holding the baby. No, what he does is much worse.
David tries to cover their tracks

8 Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. 9 But Uriah slept at the entrance
to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house.

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive.” One sin leads to another, and another, and another, deeper and deeper into the swamp of sin. His first try doesn’t work so then
David tried to get Uriah drunk

13 At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go

David thought that if he could get him drunk, Uriah would forget his responsibilities. I don’t believe that drinking alcohol is necessarily wrong. But the Bible makes very clear that getting drunk is ALWAYS wrong.

Galatians 5:19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; … drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

The danger and the sin in getting drunk is that the person loses self-control. And once they lose self-control, the opportunities for sin increase and their resistance to temptation vanishes. Eph 5:18 Do not get drunk on wine which leads to debauchery.

There are two churches I know well where teenage girls, under-age girls, got pregnant. Christian girls, from Christian homes, younger than sixteen years old, who were already mothers when they took their GCSEs. In each case because they got drunk and did what they should not have done!
But David’s scheming doesn’t work. So he plots to murder Uriah.

14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 In it he wrote, “Put Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so that he will be struck down and die.

Notice how David gets his minions to do his dirty work. All power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. And David sinks here as low as anyone can get.

16 So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. 17 When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died.

The sixth commandment – you shall not kill. All because David caught a glimpse of a beautiful woman having a bath. He ends up dragged deeper and deeper under the swamp of sin. Will you notice how at the end,
David pretends to be the good guy!

26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him.
27 After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son.

There’s no reason to suppose Bathsheba ever knew about the plot to kill Uriah. I believe she just accepted David’s kindness without realising it was David who had taken her husband from her in the first place.

And I bet David breathed a sigh of relief. His adultery remained hidden from the world. He had got away with adultery and even murder. But of course, none of us can get away with anything. God the judge of all is watching over us all! God isn’t mentioned at all in the whole story of David and Bathsheba, until the last verse where we read this.

But the thing David had done displeased the LORD.

No surprise there! We will see what God will do about David’s sin next week. But for today this whole chapter serves as a warning for us all. David gave in to sexual temptation. That might not be a problem we grapple with. But there are so many other areas of temptation we face. Greed. Selfishness. Pride. The temptation to do whatever we like and just ignore God. As with so many stories in the Old Testament,

1 Corinthians 10:11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfilment of the ages has come.
12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!
13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

Steer clear of the swamp of sin. Dip your toes in and it WILL drag you under!

The Saints in Glory Revelation 7:9-17

September 4th, 2017

C.S.Lewis once said, “Aim at heaven and you get the earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you will get neither.”

Christians don’t think enough about heaven. Revelation gives us a number of glorious pictures of heaven.

Last week be began by looking at the Lamb of God who is at the centre of the throne of God in heaven, and

‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!’ (Revelation 5:12)

The Lamb is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, the only being in the whole of heaven and earth who is worthy to open the scroll and pronounce God’s judgment. The Lamb who is worthy for who He is, God the Son, the Word, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the one who holds the keys of death and hell, the Firstborn over all Creation, the visible image of the invisible God, the radiance of God’s glory, the heir of all things. The one who is before all things and in whom all things hold together. The one in whom all the fulness of God dwells in bodily form.

Then the Lamb is also worthy because He is Creator of Heaven and Earth.

Revelation 4 11 ‘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.’

And the Lamb is worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise because He is the Lamb, looking as if it had been slain. He is worthy as the Saviour of those He has redeemed.

Revelation 5 9 … ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.’

Jesus Christ is the Lamb who was slain, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the World, who brings us victory over sin, victory over death which is the consequence of sin, victory over the devil and all the powers of evil. The Lamb has triumphed!
Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain.

Rev 5:13 ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!’
The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world has triumphed! Right now He is standing at the centre of the throne of God. And He shares that victory with all of us who put our trust in Him. When this mortal life is over we will share completely in that triumph. Until then we are living life in the overlap – in the tension between the already and the not yet of the Kingdom of God. For now we are torn between the pull of this world and the pull of the next, the battle between what already exists and the glory which is yet to come. But in the middle of the suffering and temptations of the present we can look forward to the promise of the future. Because God has promised that one day we all will all share


Revelation Chapter 7 gives us three wonderful pictures of what heaven will be like.

Life in God’s presence

Revelation 7 15 Therefore, ‘they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.

They are before the throne of God. Now we see in a mirror darkly. Then we will see face to face. This prospect of being in God’s presence and of seeing Jesus face to face is at the heart of the Christian hope of eternal life. If it doesn’t fill us with joy and hope, we have missed completely missed the point of salvation.

‘they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple;

The word for Temple there is actually naos, the word for the Holy of Holies. We will still be serving God. Heaven will be filled with all kinds of purposeful activities we cannot imagine. But sometimes in this life we can find ourselves frustrated at how far we fall short of God’s glory. In heaven our worship and service of God will be made perfect.

and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.

Here is a wonderful echo of the Old Testament promise of Psalm 91

Psa 91 1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
5 You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.
So we have this wonderful promise of everlasting life in God’s presence. Richard Baxter expresses the thought in these lines which I often quote at a funeral.
My knowledge of that life is small, The eye of faith is dim,
But it’s enough that Christ knows all, And I shall be with him.

Life in God’s presence – PAUSE AND REFLECT

Then we have a second picture of heaven
God will meet all our needs

Revelation 7 16 Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat.

One 17th century author put it like this: “I am assured that though I want here, I have riches there; though I hunger here, I shall have fullness there; though I faint here, I shall be refreshed there; and though I be counted here as a dead man, I shall there live in perpetual glory.”

We have so many needs in this life. Physical needs. Mental needs. Emotional needs. Social needs. Spiritual needs. God will meet all those needs in heaven. What do you need in life? Not – what do you want? Not – what would you like? Not – what do you desire? But what do you need? God will meet all those needs! In heaven we will have reached the end of our journey.

Light after darkness, gain after loss; Strength after weakness, crown after cross;
Sweet after bitter, hope after fears; Home after wandering, praise after tears;
Sheaves after sowing, sun after rain; Sight after mystery, peace after pain;
Joy after sorrow, calm after blast; Rest after weariness, sweet rest at last;
Near after distant, gleam after gloom; Love after loneliness, life after tomb;
After long agony, rapture of bliss; Follow the pathway, leading to this.

So we look forward with eager anticipation to the end of the journey where God will meet all our needs.


And then we have this third wonderful picture of heaven as

A place of everlasting joy

Revelation 7 17 For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

The Good Shepherd who leads the flock and cares for the flock and protects the flock will lead them to springs of living water. Too often Christians are satisfied with the riches of this world and are not thirsty enough for the living waters of God’s Holy Spirit.

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Whatever sorrows we may face in this life, God will wipe all those tears away. Bereavements, illnesses, disappointments, hurts, fears. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. We will be in a place of everlasting joy. In his book Mere Christianity, C.S.Lewis said this. “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

A place of everlasting joy – PAUSE AND REFLECT


One day each of us will be there in the multitude, wearing the white robes and waving the palm branches and singing in a loud voice,
‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’
We will be there listening to all the angels and the elders and the four living creatures praising God, singing,
‘Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!’
But we aren’t in heaven yet! Things will get harder before they get easier. Much, much harder!
Revelation 7 13 Then one of the elders asked me, ‘These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?’
14 I answered, ‘Sir, you know.’
And he said, ‘These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15 Therefore, ‘they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple;

The blessings of heaven are only for those who have come through the times of tribulation. The blessings of heaven are for those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Their joy comes from sharing the victory of the Lamb who was slain, and for some that victory will only come through martyrdom.

The apostle Paul knew exactly what it meant to suffer for Christ. And he wrote in Romans 8:18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. (Message)

Life in God’s Presence. All Our Needs Met. A Place of Everlasting Joy. This is our Christian happy certainty of heaven. We should definitely think about heaven much more than we do!

In his classic devotional book titled The Saint’s Everlasting Rest, English Puritan pastor and author Richard Baxter (1615-1691) wrote:
“Why are not our hearts continually set on heaven? Why dwell we not there in constant comtemplation?…Bend thy soul to study eternity, busy thyself about the life to come, habituate thyself to such contemplations, and let not those thoughts be seldom and cursory, but bathe thyself in heaven’s delights.”

Life in God’s Presence. All Our Needs Met. A Place of Everlasting Joy. This is our hope!

The Victory of the Lamb - Revelation 5

August 30th, 2017

Power. Wealth. Wisdom. Strength. Honour. Glory. Praise.

These are all thing which very many people spend their lives chasing. And there is nothing wrong with any of them in themselves. As long as they are ascribed to a person who is truly worthy to receive them. The problem with human beings chasing after power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise is that no human being deserves these things. We are not worthy! The truth is that there is only one person worthy of these things and that is God Himself. So it is that in this glimpse of heaven in Revelation chapter 5 we see ten thousand times ten thousand angels, more than one for every inhabitant of the United Kingdom, raising their voices in praise in verse 12.
‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!’

The Book of Revelation has moved beyond the Letters to the Seven Churches to give visions of heaven. Visions of the things which will be fulfilled at the end of time when Christ has returned in glory and at the same time are visions of what is already true in God’s eternal Kingdom. Visions of the one who is so great and so beautiful and so marvellous that they are worthy of all the things we aspire to but fall so far short of. Visions of the exalted victorious Jesus Christ, who is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The Lamb who is worthy.
Revelation 5 Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?’ 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 4 I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’
The scroll holds the announcement of God’s righteous judgment on the earth. But no human being is worthy to open the scroll and pronounce God’s judgment. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. No human being who has ever lived, no saint in heaven, not even the highest arkangels in glory are worthy to open the scroll. But there is one who is. The Lion of Judah. The Root of David, the heir to all God’s promises to David, the Messiah, Jesus Christ the Lord is worthy to open the scroll and to act as Judge of All.
In our sermons on John’s Gospel in chapter 5 we looked at the little parable of The Son, God’s Apprentice. Jesus said this. 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. 22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.
Jesus knew that God had entrusted all judgment to Him. And here in Revelation we are reminded why that is the case and why the Lamb of God is worthy to open the scroll.

Sometimes we think so much about the wonderful things the Lord Jesus Christ has accomplished for us by his death and resurrection that we forget to praise Him for Who He Is. The Son of God. The Word of God. The Creator and Sustainer of everything that exists. The Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. The One who holds the Keys of Death and Hades. King of Kings and Lord of Lord. The Risen Christ who appeared to John as One Like A Son of Man in Revelation chapter 1. Christ is worthy because of who He is, as Colossians 1 and Hebrews 1 describe Him. The firstborn over all Creation, the visible image of the invisible God, the radiance of God’s glory, the heir of all things. The one who is before all things and in whom all things hold together. The one in whom all the fulness of God dwells in bodily form. This is why Jesus is indeed worthy of power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honour and glory and praise!’

Revelation 4 9 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honour and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
11 ‘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.’

God the Creator of Heaven and Earth is indeed worthy of all glory and honour and praise! This is how Colossians 1 describes this wonderful truth.
Colossians 1 15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Colossians 1:19 tells us For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,
And chapter 2 verse 9 repeats it. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,
So Colossians tells us that the Son of God is indeed God. And this is even more clear in Revelation 5. Let me emphasise this point as strongly as I can, in case it has slipped past you. The praise which is being offering in heaven is praise for the Lamb of God, the Lamb who was slain.
Revelation 5 6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.
The Lamb is at the centre of the throne of God. So although the Lamb takes the scroll from the one sitting on the throne, the fact that the Lamb is at the centre of the throne of God tells us beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Lamb is Himself also God. The Lamb is God and God is the Lamb, Creator of Heaven and Earth.
This is assumed throughout the Book of Revelation, but made absolutely explicit in Revelation 22 1:
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.
The throne in heaven is the throne of God and of the Lamb. There in verse 1 and verse 2. This Lamb at the centre of the throne of God is indeed God! He is worthy to open the scroll because of Who He Is, and also because of His mighty acts of Creation. But even more than that, the Lamb looking as though it was slain is

Revelation 5 9 And they sang a new song, saying:
‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.’

Jesus Christ, the Lamb who was slain, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the World, accomplished so much for us when He died on the cross for us. He brings us victory over sin, victory over death which is the consequence of sin, victory over the devil and all the powers of evil. The Lamb has triumphed!
5 Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’
6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.
The Lamb is victorious! So He is worthy to open the scroll, because he has died. He was slain. It is so comforting to know that the future of the universe and the eternal destiny of each one of us, rests safe in the hands of Almighty God. But it is even more reassuring to remember that God is not some callous merciless tyrant but a loving heavenly Father. And the one who will be responsible for bringing God’s judgment on the world is none other than Jesus, the Lamb of God who was slain. The Lamb who gave His life to be a sin offering. The one who is completely worthy of all power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise all because of his suffering and his weakness and his death.
‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
1 Corinthians 6:19 You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price.
We belong to God now. He has redeemed us. We owe him absolutely everything!
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.’
Persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
Let’s not forget – God is not a 21st Century Middle-Class Englishman. The Church is made up of people from every place and every class and every race and every time. And Christ died for us all – not just for you and me!

10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.’

The true church is much more than a club or a society or an organisation. The true church is more even than just a family. The church is a kingdom of priests and our destiny is to serve God forever.
So the Lamb who was slain is indeed worthy! Worthy because of who He is. Worthy as Creator of Heaven and Earth. Worthy as Saviour of those who He has redeemed.
All heaven praises the Lamb seated on the throne.
11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying:
‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!’

And the earth and every single living creature in the whole of Creation echoes that praise!
v.13 ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!’
And that is how we should respond to the Lamb who was slain for us. Bow down and worship – for this is your God!

Great David’s Greatest Son 2 Samuel 7:1-17

July 31st, 2017

Pick the ten most important chapters in the whole of the Old Testament and 2 Samuel chapter 7 would be up there with the best of them. As far as the history of Israel is concerned, and indeed for the whole story of God’s cosmic masterplan of salvation, these promises which God made to David are more important than anything else which happened in David’s life. Afterwards, these verses are quoted and referred to more than almost any others, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. They tell us how God made a covenant with David the King which would shape history from that point forwards and forevermore.

2 Samuel 7 8 ‘Now then, tell my servant David, “This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. 9 I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth.
From his humble beginnings as a shepherd boy, David would indeed become one of the most significant figures in human history. His name would become great. But even here there is a hint that these promises may be pointing beyond David himself, the one who would have the greatest name of all, the name above all names. To the one who is truly King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
God had made covenants before, especially with the Patriarchs Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. And then came the covenant with the nation of Israel through Moses at Mount Sinai, the Jewish Law. Very many of God’s promises had been wrapped up in the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey, a land of safety and peace. And these promises were renewed to David.

10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people shall not oppress them any more, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.
This promise of a place for God’s chosen people simply repeats the promises that God had made to Abraham and also to the Israelites through Moses. It will be a place of security and freedom with no more conflict with wicked people. There will be no more battles with enemies. It will be place of and undisturbed rest and perfect peace. Home, sweet home. However this promise was not to be fulfilled in David’s lifetime, which would be full of battles and wars. The promise looks beyond David to one of his descendants who one day would bring that perfect peace to the Land and to the people of God. More than three centuries later the great prophets were still looking forward to that day of peace.
Jeremiah 33 14 ‘ “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will fulfil the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah. 15 ‘ “In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The LORD Our Righteous Saviour.”
And Isaiah even more was putting all his hopes in the coming of God’s chosen one, the Messiah.
Isaiah 9 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

These promises of the Messiah all built on God’s covenant with David which was God’s guarantee that one day a righteous king would come and bring God’s peace to a troubled world.
And the blessings God brings to His people are even greater than David could have imagined. The enemies attacking Israel were the surrounding nations. But in time God would bring rest from the greater enemies. The devil and all the powers of evil would be defeated. And the last enemy, death, would be vanquished forever. And God would give more wonderful peace than David could imagine, the peace of God which passes understanding. The peace which comes through a personal relationship with God. All these were part of God’s plan of salvation which would come to the world, not through David, but through

2 Samuel 7 11 …. ‘ “The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: 12 when your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom.
From this moment in history forwards, all God’s promises are centred on an offspring of David. Some of the promises were fulfilled in his son Solomon who would build the great Temple in Jerusalem where God would be worshipped for centuries to come. But other promises would not be fulfilled until the Messiah came, God’s anointed, Great David’s Greatest Son. In his Kingdom, in his reign as King, He would bring

2 Samuel 7 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever.
This descendant of David would build a house which would not be material or physical but spiritual. And this descendant’s throne would not be limited by time but it would be eternal – he would reign for ever and ever!

PSALM 89 3 You said, ‘I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant, 4 “I will establish your line for ever and make your throne firm through all generations.”
PSALM 45 6 Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a sceptre of justice will be the sceptre of your kingdom.
All these prophecies point to the truth that this eternal Kingdom would come not through David but through a descendant of David’s. John the Baptist’s father Zechariah prophesied this about Jesus:
“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.
The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,
and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever;
his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:32-33)
The crowds all recognized that Jesus was fulfilling all these promises as they welcomed him to Jerusalem.
Matthew 21 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
But the Messiah would be even more than just a human descendant of David! He would be

2 Samuel 7 14 I will be his father, and he shall be my son.
The relationship which Great David’s Greatest Son would be more special and more intimate than ever before. He would be God’s Son. And God would be His Father.
There are ten of the Psalms which together are described as the Royal Psalms because they focus on God’s chosen King. They are based on this covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7 and talk about David’s dynasty and his royal descendant who reigns over God’s people and inherits God’s promises. Together these Royal Psalms point forward to the Messiah. The first and the most obvious is Psalm 2.
Psalm 2 6 He says to them, “I have placed my king on my holy mountain of Zion.” 7I will announce what the Lord has promised. He said to me, “You are my son. Today I have become your father.
8 Ask me, and I will give the nations to you. All nations on earth will belong to you. ….
10 Kings, be wise! Rulers of the earth, be warned!
11 Serve the LORD and have respect for him. Serve him with joy and trembling.

Jews knew that Psalm 2 and the other Royal Psalms were looking beyond any earthly king and pointing forward to the Messiah. And the first Christians realised that all these promises were actually fulfilled in Jesus and proved by his glorious resurrection from the dead.
Acts 13: 32 ‘We tell you the good news: what God promised our ancestors 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm:
‘ “You are my son; today I have become your father.”
34 God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay. As God has said,
‘ “I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.”
The whole nation of Israel had been described as God’s son. But this descendent of David would have a relationship with God which was far beyond the relationship which any human being had ever had with the Almighty and Eternal God. The Messiah would be the Son of God and God would be His Father, and he would inherit all the blessings promised to David.

2 Samuel 7 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you.
You may have noticed that this covenant God makes with David is unconditional. Nothing in these promises God makes depends on the actions of David or of his descendants. The covenant rests entirely on God’s faithfulness and on the certainty that God will always keep His promises. God will never take his love away from this descendant of David’s. This reminds us that there is absolutely nothing we can ever do to earn or deserve God’s love and his grace and his forgiveness. But at the same time it is important to recognise that God’s faithfulness and loving-kindness deserve and demand a response from us. Because God loves us unconditionally, it is entirely right that we should love God unconditionally in return. We should respond with gratitude and obedience, dedicating our lives to worshipping and serving the God who has loved us so very much.
David’s son Solomon was the one God chose to build his Temple in Jerusalem, And Solomon understood the kind of response which God’s love and mercy deserve. In his prayer dedicating the Temple to God, this is how Solomon prayed.
2 Chronicles 6 16 ‘Now, LORD, the God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him when you said, “You shall never fail to have a successor to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your descendants are careful in all they do to walk before me according to my law, as you have done.” 17 And now, LORD, the God of Israel, let your word that you promised your servant David come true.
Solomon recognised that the right and proper way to respond to all God’s unconditional love for us is to be careful in all we do to walk before God according to His Law.
16 Your house and your kingdom shall endure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.” ’
God’s covenant with David is eternal. It will last for ever and ever.
The blessings God promised would not just last for a generation or a lifetime or even just a century. God’s blessings would last far beyond the 3,000 years which have passed since God made these promises to David. They are indeed eternal, lasting longer than this world will endure and into the next world where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” God gives his people every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. For ever. And ever. And ever!
With the benefit of hindsight we can see how all these wonderful promises were ultimately fulfilled in the birth, life, death, resurrection and exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is how the angel announced the birth of Jesus to his mother Mary.
Luke 1 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants for ever; his kingdom will never end.’
All the wonderful blessings promised to David, and much much more, come to us through the Lord Jesus Christ. A great name – the name which is above all names. A land of safety and freedom and peace. All brought by David’s offspring, Great David’s Greatest Son reigning on an eternal throne. God’s Son, completely secure in God’s love, bringing all the blessings of an eternal kingdom to all who trust and follow Him.
Bow down and worship – for this is your God!

Neither Hot Not Cold Revelation 3:14-22

July 31st, 2017

The city of Laodicea was prominent and wealthy, famed for its banks and its merchants, and for the manufacture of linen and the production of healing eye ointments. And the church in Laodicea was similarly prosperous, wealthy and successful – on the outside.
Revelation 3 14 ‘To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.
We do well to remember who it is who is speaking to the Seven Churches. It is the Risen Lord Jesus Christ, the ruler of all creation, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.
15 I know your deeds,
The Lord Jesus knows everything there is to know about every church and every individual. And his message to the church in Laodicea is this.
15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
Straight to the point. No words of praise. Not even a glimmer of encouragement. Just straight down to business. You are neither hot not cold. You are lukewarm. In other words – you are just playing at following Jesus. You are just pussyfooting around. You are half-hearted. Following Jesus is just a hobby for you – not the whole of your life. Neither hot nor cold.
Many people are wholehearted in many areas of life. Totally committed to their families, or to their careers. Some are totally committed to playing their sport and other just to watching sport or following their team. Others are totally committed to their hobbies or their favourite entertainments. The Laodicean Christians should have been on fire for God. But they weren’t. They were just lukewarm.
And because they were half-hearted in their faith, judgment was coming on the church at Laodicea.
16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
This is a very serious warning. I want to say two things about it. The first is that it is addressed to the church at Laodicea. It is not obvious what it means when Christ says he will spit them out of His mouth. But it is clear that these words are to the church as a whole. So it may mean that God was going to withdraw His blessing from this church, so that the church would shrivel and die. I guess we all know of churches where this has happened. Churches which once were thriving but may not even exist any more. That can be the result when a church becomes lukewarm and half-hearted and apathetic.
However we need to be clear that this verse does not tell us anything about how the Living Christ will treat individual Christians who are lukewarm. It is not legitimate to read this as a warning that Christ could “spit an individual Christian from his mouth”, whatever that would mean. And it does not tell us anything about whether an individual Christian can lose or choose to reject his or her salvation. This verse does not answer that question. The warning is addressed to the whole Church of Laodicea.
But the second thing I want to emphasise about this warning is just how serious it is. Because on the face of it what the church at Laodicea were doing wrong does not seem so serious. They weren’t worshipping idols. They weren’t compromising with pagan religions. They weren’t distorting the gospel with lies. They weren’t indulging in immoral acts. They are not accused of committing any of the terrible sins some of the other churches were. But they were still singled out for judgment. Why? Because they were neither hot nor cold. They were just pussyfooting around. They were half-hearted. They were complacent and resting on their laurels.
This is why it seems to me that in some ways this warning is more serious than any given to the other churches in Revelation. Because it reminds us a church does not have to fall into dreadful sins to come under the judgment of God. Judgment can come just because we are lukewarm. God loves us so much and Jesus is so wonderful that we should be on fire for God – anything less is inadequate. Lukewarm and half-hearted just isn’t good enough! A hot drink is warming. A cold drink is refreshing. But a lukewarm drink is neither one nor the other. It is just insipid. A hot shower is stimulating. A cold shower wakes us up. But a lukewarm shower is just unpleasant. Lukewarm just isn’t good enough.
Some scholars think that the Risen Christ is alluding here to two famous springs near Laodicea. Hot mineral springs at Hierapolis were thought to give healing. On the other hand, the cold water springs in Colossae provided refreshment. But the Christians in the church at Laodicea were not bringing healing to the spiritually ill. Nor were they offering refreshment to the weary. They were neither hot nor cold and that was no use to anybody.
So, just to be clear, what might a lukewarm church look like? A lukewarm church is not cold and dead. But neither is it on fire for God as it should be! It may prefer to call its lukewarmness charity, or meekness, or moderation, or tolerance. But the Bible says that such lukewarmness literally makes God sick! A lukewarm church is a comfortable Christian club built on shallow relationships. Shallow relationships with each other because their relationship with God is shallow. A lukewarm church doesn’t care about neighbours who are doomed to a lost eternity without Christ. It is satisfied and comfortable, thank you very much. But it just lacks enthusiasm. It is half-hearted, apathetic and indifferent, especially towards the things of God like prayer and worship.
Some sentences from Vernon McGee sum up what a lukewarm church looks like. “I wonder what God would say to us today as He sees all of our so-called Christian organizations in ceaseless activity but no action—motion but no movement. We are not standing on the promises; we are just sitting on the premises! We are not stalwart soldiers of the faith. We are seeking entertainment, not instruction or inspiration. We are paper dolls playing church.” Lukewarm and half-hearted. Just playing at church.
The story is told of a competition among the demons to find the best way of keeping people from being saved. Third prize went for the suggestion, “Tell people there’s no heaven.” Second prize was for the masterplan, “Tell people there’s no hell.” But the first prize went to the strategy which the powers of evil are using to this day. “Tell people it doesn’t really matter.”
C.S. Lewis wrote that “The devil will always see to it that there are bad people. The job of the demons is to produce people who don’t care, who just can’t be bothered!” A lukewarm church is simply a church full of people who just can’t be bothered.
The Laodiceans were neither hot nor cold. And they were putting their trust in the wrong things.
17 You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
Like everybody else in their prosperous city, the Laodiceans were putting their trust in material possessions, in wealth and success. They thought they were rich – but in fact they were poor. In God’s eyes they were wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. They were chasing after treasures on earth instead of treasures in heaven. They were serving the false god of Money. Remember what Jesus said to the Rich Young Ruler.
Luke 18 22 …. ‘You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’
23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. 24 Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’

The Laodiceans would have failed that same test as the Rich Young Ruler did. They were putting their trust in wealth instead of in God. God was not their master – Money was! They thought they were so rich and that they didn’t need a thing, but the reality was that they were spiritually bankrupt. Oswald Chambers wrote “Complacency and spiritual pride are always the beginning of degeneration. When I begin to be satisfied with where I am spiritually, I begin to degenerate.”
But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so that you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so that you can see.
Here is God’s prescription for this lukewarm church. Refined gold for the bankers – treasures in heaven not treasures on earth. White clothes to wear for the manufacturers of fine linen – the white robes which the redeemed of the Lord will wear in glory, described in a number of places in the Book of Revelation. And ointment for your eyes for those who sold that ointment. They were spiritually blind to their desperate situation. Only God could open their eyes so they could see the spiritual mess they were in. They needed things which only God could give them – gold, white clothes and ointment for their blindness.
They thought they were rich and that they didn’t need anything. Instead of trusting in the wrong things, the church of Laodicea needed to put their trust in God. They have to come to repentance.
19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.
There is the good news! God doesn’t give up on people and God doesn’t give up on churches. Not even on churches like Laodicea. The warning is deadly serious – but so is the offer of a second chance. Be earnest. Be zealous. Take God seriously. And repent! Have a change of mind. See things as God sees them. Stop going your own way. Turn round and go God’s way. Repent.
20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

The church at Laodicea had shut God out. And Jesus was knocking to get back in. We obviously think of the painting “Light of the world” by Holman Hunt. I have written an article about this in the Summer issue of Haven News. The painting of the Risen Christ knocking on the door which only has a handle on the inside. This is often taken as an invitation to individuals who have been shutting God out of their lives – an invitation to open the door and receive the mercy and grace of God by letting Christ into their lives to be their Saviour. And that invitation is there. But in context, this is actually an invitation to churches that have shut God out – an invitation to open the door and invite God in again, to return to God and recommit themselves to Him. To put their trust in God instead of in human wealth. To repent of being lukewarm and become red hot for God again.
As Paul wrote to Timothy Fan into flame the gift of God (2 Timothy 1:6). Or to the Romans,
Romans 12:11 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord.

Message translation: Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame.

20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. Of course, some people just don’t hear Jesus knocking! They are too busy, their lives are too full of noise, they are distracted by the world, just caught up in being entertained. There are even some Christians who have become deaf to the Lord.
Other people do hear Jesus knocking on the door of their lives, and won’t open the door. Some are houseproud! They aren’t willing to let Jesus into their lives because they know “the house isn’t clean”. But that’s silly! We cannot wait until our lives are spotless before we let Jesus in. That day will never come. Jesus is the only one who can clean up our mess! We can’t do it for ourselves. We need to let Jesus in so that HE can do what needs doing!
Then there are many people who do not open the door and let Jesus into their lives because they are simply too scared. Maybe scared because Jesus is a stranger and we should never open our door to strangers. Such people just don’t know Jesus. It is our job as Christians to reveal Jesus to our neighbours and friends, and to tell them about Jesus, so they can come to trust him for themselves. Then they won’t be scared to open the door and let Him in and get to know Him!
Some people won’t open the door because they are only prepared for Jesus to visit them for a while and then leave them alone, but they know He will wants to come in to stay and move in and make his home in their lives. Perhaps they are afraid he will want to make changes in our lives which they don’t want to make.
Some people are scared of what they might stand to lose. But Jesus is not some kind of thief who forces his way in to TAKE from us! The only things that Jesus wants to take from us are our sin, our worry, our hopelessness, our disappointments, our failures, our wasted years, our weakness and our pain!
Jesus isn’t knocking on the door of our lives to TAKE from us – but to GIVE to us! To give us eternal life, life in all its fullness. To give us love and joy and peace. So He can “eat with us and us with him” He doesn’t want to come in to rob us of our food and drink, but to feed us with the bread of life and the new wine of the Kingdom. Jesus longs for us to open the door of our lives so he can come in to be with us, to give us the pleasure of His company and the immense privilege of his presence. Jesus is knocking because He simply wants to give Himself to us.
20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

If we will only open the door – He WILL come in! That’s a promise! And there are so many wonderful blessings waiting for any person and any church who open the door of their lives and welcome Jesus in to eat with them.
21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.
22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

Straining on tiptoe Romans 8:14-28

July 25th, 2017

The last couple of months have been among the toughest I can remember in the life of any church. Folk seriously ill and in great pain, waiting for tests and for operations. Folk facing all kinds of challenges in their own lives or in the lives of family members. Sudden bereavements, mourning and grieving. Many worn out and desperately needing a holiday. For a church of our size to have so many people suffering so much all at the same time is very unusual. It’s stretching our reserves and our faith almost to breaking point. This morning we all need refreshment and encouragement and we turn to one of the most inspiring verses in Scripture.
Romans 8:19 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.
J.B.Phillips lovely translation puts it this way. “The whole of creation is straining on tiptoe just to see the wonderful sight of the children of God coming into their own.”
What is it that keeps Christians going when the battle against sin and the world and the flesh and the devil seems too hard? When this life seems so full of pain and suffering and discouragement. When it seems as if everybody is against us in the world around and sometimes even in church – and it seems as though nobody is on our side? What keeps us going? It is the hope of heaven. The trustworthy promise of God that however grim this world may get, the next world will be literally “out of this world!”
God has put His Holy Spirit inside us to make us His children. The Spirit who makes God’s love real to us and assures us that we are Sons and Daughters of the Living God.
Romans 8 14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’
The Holy Spirit inside us helps us to pray, Abba, Father. The Spirit brings us peace with God, and the Spirit also brings us “the peace of God” which passes all understanding. The Spirit brings us inexpressible joy in the midst of our sufferings. But these blessings are only the start of the wonderful things God is going to do for us.
We are also HEIRS OF GOD
16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Heirs with God and co-heirs with Christ. Inheritance usually works when some good things come to us when somebody else dies. Only the Christian inherits when we ourselves die! But there are so many blessings waiting for us to inherit beyond the grave. This is how much God loves us!
1 John 3: How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
So much is waiting for us in heaven, hidden with Christ in God! Of course the blessings of being identified with Christ in heaven are only for those who have been united with Christ on earth. “if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” If you do not bear the cross you cannot wear a crown. But for those who have followed Christ in this life, listen to the glorious promises.
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
There is a foretaste of this promise back in Romans 5.
And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
We have this marvellous hope of sharing in God’s glory. The glory which is yet to be revealed. In the light of that amazing hope, our present sufferings are just not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. “Not worth comparing.”
The founder of the Protestant Reformation Martin Luther wrote this. “If we consider the greatness and the glory of the life we shall have when we have risen from the dead, it would not be difficult at all for us to bear the concerns of this world. If I believe the Word, I shall on the Last Day, after the sentence has been pronounced, not only gladly have suffered ordinary temptations, insults, and imprisonment, but I shall also say: “O, that I did not throw myself under the feet of all the godless for the sake of the great glory which I now see revealed and which has come to me through the merit of Christ!”
The sufferings of this life are not worth comparing with the glory which is to be revealed in us! The best is yet to come! As Thomas Moore said, “Earth has no sorrow which heaven cannot heal.” In 1 Corinthians 2:9 Paul quotes Isaiah 64:4. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”
The apostle John was granted a marvelous vision of what heaven will be like.
Revelation 22: Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

And the Bible tells us that the marvellous salvation which God has prepared for his children even has cosmic dimensions! The glorious freedom of the children of God!
Romans 8 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
The Bible tells us that when Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden, the whole of creation shared in the curse.
Genesis 3 17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground.

God’s curse on creation was part of his plan of salvation.
Romans 822 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

We find this longing that creation be restored again even in the Old Testament.
Jeremiah 12 4How long will the land lie parched and the grass in every field be withered? Because those who live in it are wicked, the animals and birds have perished. Moreover, the people are saying, “He will not see what happens to us.”
The whole of Creation is longing to be set free and to share in
Romans 8:21 the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
At last in Heaven, all created things will be free. Free from sin, free from death, free from decay, free from suffering, free from pain.
Revelation 21:3 And I heard a great voice from the throne, saying: Behold the tabernacle of God with men: and he will dwell with them. And they shall be his people: and God himself with them shall be their God. 4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more. Nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away. 5 And he that sat on the throne, said: Behold, I make all things new.
The glorious liberty of the children of God. Freed from distractions and trivia and temptations. Freed from our own failings and weaknesses. Free to serve God and worship God and love God. Free from the bondage to decay and and the inevitability of death. Since this is what God has prepared in store for us,
23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.
We are already God’s children, God’s beloved sons and daughters. But we won’t really know what we are until our bodies are redeemed and transformed to be like Christ’s glorious body. There is that marvelous passage we often read at a funeral from 1 Corinthians 15.
49 And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.
50 I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.
So, says Paul, we wait eagerly for that transformation! And we wait patiently.
24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
This is our Christian hope. Not some vague optimism but a happy certainty. Hope is a combination of expectation and desire. I would love one day to walk on the moon. But since I have no expectation of that ever happening I can’t say “I hope to walk on the moon.” On the other hand one day I am sure I will have to visit the dentist. But since I have no desire ever to visit the dentist again it would be wrong to say, “I hope to visit the dentist.”
But my greatest desire is to spend eternity with Christ. And the promises of God make it absolutely certain that I will spend eternity with Christ. So it is correct to say, I hope to spend eternity with Christ. I hope to share in His glory. This is not wishful thinking. This is the happy certainty of our Christian hope.
And as a first instalment of all the good things God has prepared for those who love Jesus, we have
23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.
The Holy Spirit inside us gives us a foretaste of heaven, a first instalment if you like.
2 Corinthians 5:1 Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
All the activity of God the Holy Spirit in our lives is a deposit, guaranteeing our inheritance. So indeed throughout this life we are groaning with anticipation, longing to be with Jesus! And the Spirit not only maintains our Christian hope within us, but also helps us in our limitations, giving us a foretaste of what it is like to meet with God face to face by helping us in our prayers.
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
The Spirit gives us a foretaste of heaven, not least in helping us when we pray. So when this life seems too hard to bear, we should lift our eyes and look to the future. Look beyond death and the grave. Look at what God is doing preparing us to share in his glory forever.
With all these wonderful promises in mind, we can put our trust God whatever this life may throw at us.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Whatever we or those we care about may be suffering in this life, we trust that God is at work behind the scenes to fulfil his promises! Those are waiting for us in His eternal presence in glory.
The story is told of an elderly couple who returned home from a lifetime of service on the mission field. Their ship was welcomed into port by bands and speeches but all that was for the President who was aboard – not for them. Nobody came to welcome them ashore. As they settled into their retirement flat nobody came to visit. The husband became resentful. In his prayers he poured out his heart to God. “I thought at least one person would come to welcome us home.” But God quietly spoke to him. “You aren’t home yet!”
Whatever hard times we are going through at the moment, whatever we may be suffering, we can find hope and strength and encouragement and comfort and peace in God’s promises. This is what we need to hear. The whole of creation is straining on tiptoe just to see the children of God come into their own. Every one of us can look forward to that day!

The Open Door which no one can shut Revelation 3:7-13

July 25th, 2017

Philadelphia is the smallest and the least significant of the seven towns and cities receiving letters from the Risen Christ in the book of Revelation. The church too was weak and struggling. But there is no criticism for the fact that they have little strength. Instead this letter is full of reassurance that our weakness counts for nothing and God’s strength counts for everything. God is on the throne. God is in control. For that reason this is the letter which perhaps has the most to say to us here in North Springfield Baptist Church. We may feel we have little strength. But that doesn’t matter! Because whatever challenges we may face, God is on the throne! Jesus Christ is Lord! And whenever we feel weak we should remember that He is strong!
v.7 These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David.
We can depend on the one who is holy and true and totally trustworthy! Jesus is
Here is a title from the promises of the Old Testament, especially from the prophet Isaiah.
Isaiah 20 20 ‘In that day I will summon my servant, Eliakim son of Hilkiah. 21 I will clothe him with your robe and fasten your sash around him and hand your authority over to him. He will be a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the people of Judah. 22 I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. 23 I will drive him like a peg into a firm place; he will become a seat of honour for the house of his father. 24 All the glory of his family will hang on him ..
The key to the house of David – a figure of authority and power. What he opens no one can shut and what he shuts no one can open.
Isaiah 26 1 In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
We have a strong city; God makes salvation its walls and ramparts.
2 Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, the nation that keeps faith.
3 You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.
4 Trust in the LORD for ever, for the LORD, the LORD himself, is the Rock eternal.

The one who holds the Key of David is the one who opens the door to the Holy City and to God’s salvation. And this is fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah who opens the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers and holds the keys of Death and Hades, the key to eternal life.
Revelation 1 17 ….. ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
Jesus is the one who holds all authority and power. And He is always with us.
Matthew 28 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. ,,,, And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’
Jesus is the One who holds the Key of David. And more than that,
What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.
It is the Lord Jesus Christ who opens the door to heaven and the door to eternal life. And NO ONE can close the door He has opened. God has opened the door to heaven for His children and NO ONE can keep us out!
But there is another door which the New Testament speaks about, and which this Letter may be pointing to. The open door for the gospel – the door which Jesus opens and which no one can shut. Paul talks about that door in 1 Corinthians 16 8 But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.
And again in 2 Corinthians 2 12 Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me,
And Pauls prays for such a door for the gospel in Colossians 4 2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.
Paul is praying for opportunities to preach the gospel – an open door which no one can shut! We need to keep on praying that God will open doors for the gospel in North Springfield. As we reach out to the community with Christ’s love and the message of Jesus. Through Toddlers and Café and Drop In. Through our services and special events. Through the conversations we have with friends and neighbours as we gossip the gospel. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ. … 4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.
This idea of an open door for the gospel may have been in John’s mind as he described the vision of Christ he had experiences to the church at Philadelphia.
8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.
When Christ opens a door for the gospel nobody and nothing can close it! The church was struggling. They felt that they were weak. But they were still remaining faithful to God. Unlike some of the other churches we have read about, they weren’t giving in to the pressures to compromise their faith. Despite persecution they were standing firm and hanging on in there.
I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.
They remained faithful because they trusted that God was in control. God’s people in every age are called to be His witnesses to an unbelieving world.
Isaiah 43 10 ‘You are my witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me.
11 I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no saviour.
12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed – I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘that I am God.
13 Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?’
Whatever may happen in our lives, God is in control. Jesus Christ is Lord of all. And he has opened the door which no one can shut! The call is to remain faithful to God, even in
The Church in Philadelphia were called to be witnesses for Christ even as persecution was coming.
9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.
As we endure patiently whatever may come our way, God will give the victory. God will defend and protect us in times of trial and adversity and testing and even persecution. We may have little strength, but His grace will always be sufficient for our weaknesses.
2 Corinthians 12:7 I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
We can too easily put our trust in the wrong things. In our hard work. In our lovely premises. In our riches. In our warm fellowship. The church in Philadelphia were putting their trust in God. They expressed that faith through keeping God’s word and not denying the name of Christ and enduring patiently and holding firmly on to what God had given them. When we put our trust in Him, God’s grace will always be sufficient for our weaknesses. And Christ will open doors for the gospel as we acknowledge our weaknesses and put our trust in His strength. And as ever this Letter has wonderful promises for Christians who are victorious because hold tightly on to God to the end,.
11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.

13 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Best Friends – David and Jonathan 1 Samuel 20:1-42

July 20th, 2017

Eleanor Rigby – picks up the rice in the church where a wedding had been, lives in a dream. Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door. Who is it for?
All the lonely people – where do they all come from? All the lonely people – where do they all belong?
Eleanor Rigby – died in the church and was buried along with her name. Nobody came. Father McKenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave. No-one was saved. All the lonely people – where do they all come from? All the lonely people – where do they all belong?
We live in a world of lonely people. It is partly down to the growth of towns and cities. People move to new places. We don’t live out our lives in the families and communities where we were born. We are all just anonymous members of “society”. Then there’s television and the internet and smartphones which encourage us to relax by ourselves being entertained instead of mixing with and talking to other people. Sociologists call these problems privatization. Family used to be defined as a group of people linked by biological relationships. Fifty years ago family was becoming a collection of individuals gathered around a television set. Twenty years ago family was turning into a set of bedrooms arranged around a fridge-freezer. Now for many people family means the group of people who share the same wifi. It was fifty years ago that Lennon and McCartney pointed to the problems of “All the lonely people – where do they all come from? All the lonely people – where do they all belong?”
Our theme this morning is friendship. In the Bible there is no finer example of friendship than David and Jonathan – best of friends.
David and Jonathan could have been enemies and rivals. Jonathan was the son of King Saul, the logical heir to the Kingdom of Israel. David was the shepherd boy who God had chosen and the prophet Samuel had anointed to actually become the next King of Israel. But they weren’t rivals. Instead they were best of friends. We can learn so much about friendship from the story we just read.
1 Then David fled from Naioth at Ramah and went to Jonathan and asked, ‘What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wronged your father, that he is trying to kill me?’

4 Jonathan said to David, ‘Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you.’

FRIENDS LOOK OUT FOR FRIENDS AND PROTECT FRIENDS like Jonathan protected David even though he was on the run from Saul.
12 Then Jonathan said to David, ‘I swear by the LORD, the God of Israel, that I will surely sound out my father by this time the day after tomorrow! If he is favourably disposed towards you, will I not send you word and let you know? 13 But if my father intends to harm you, may the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if I do not let you know and send you away in peace.
30 Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “(insult, insult) …. Now send someone to bring (David) to me, for he must die!’
32 ‘Why should he be put to death? What has he done?’ Jonathan asked his father. 33 But Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him. Then Jonathan knew that his father intended to kill David. … he was grieved at his father’s shameful treatment of David.

42 Jonathan said to David, ‘Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the LORD, saying, “The LORD is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants for ever.”’

Everybody needs best friends like David and Jonathan. Everybody needs friends. Friends do things together and have fun together. Friends share with each other and help each other. Friends laugh together and cry together. Friends trust each other. A friend is someone that you can talk to and who listens to you. Friends are honest with each other and loyal to each other and keep confidences. Friends accept us for who we are. Friendship demands openness and honesty and authenticity. No masks, no cover ups, no facades. A friend is somebody with whom you dare to be yourself. Friends understand us and challenge us and stick by us in the good times and the bad times. Friends stick with you when all the world is against you.
Somebody has said, “Friends make the ordinary-running errands or eating lunch, for example-extraordinarily fun. And good friends ease our pain and lighten our heavy load …. Not only are friends good for the soul but for the body as well. Friends help us ward off depression, boost our immune system, lower our cholesterol, increase the odds of surviving with coronary disease, and keep stress hormones in check. A half dozen top medical studies now bear this out. … You can extend your life expectancy by having the right kind of friends.”
Friendships can arise from common interests. Jobs or hobbies or sports or other pastimes. Friendships can also arise from common experiences. Just by living next door, or sharing holidays, or even by going through the same crisis together. No matter how a friendship begins, all friendships need effort and commitment and time. Friendships need trust and loyalty. Deep and lasting friendships can take years to build. The heart of friendship is communication. Talking about anything and everything and nothing. Even the most private of people need company sometimes – friends to talk to. No man, or woman, is an island.
God does not want people to be lonely. We were designed to have friends. Some people are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges. Friends need to be prepared to be open with each other and willing to be vulnerable to each other. Christians should be good at making friendships because we are already completely secure in the love God has for us. Sadly not all are. Indeed, sometimes we can be so busy doing “Christian things” that we don’t have time to make friends. Alexander McLaren once said, “Few of us have reached middle life who do not, looking back, see our track strewn with the gaunt skeletons of dead friendships.” Everybody needs friends. No man is an island.

1 Samuel 20:17 Jonathan made David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.
1 Samuel 20:42 Jonathan said to David, ‘Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the LORD, saying, “The LORD is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants for ever.”
David and Jonathan’s friendship was rooted in God. It had a spiritual dimension which brought them even closer than human friendships. That was why Jonathan was prepared to disobey his father Saul in order to help David when he needed help. We all need help sometimes and that is when we find out who our real friends are. John Lennon wrote “I’ll get by with a little help from my friends.” Friends help each other. Sometimes we need help with practical things – DIY or mending the car or help with a lift or some babysitting. Sometimes we may need some advice or encouragement. Sometimes we need help with spiritual things. Somebody to explain something to us or pray for us. Somebody to support us and stand with us in the difficult times, in depression or in grief or in illness. Often all that most people need to cope in life is good friends. Most people welcome a helping hand and a listening ear and all of us need those kinds of friends.
A lot of my first book Making Disciples One-to-One was about “spiritual friendships” or “soul friends.” The wonderful Christians can support and encourage one another in their faith just by being friends. Here are some of the things I said in Part 2 of that book.
Christian friends help each other to understand the Bible and help us to make good choices in life. Friends are there to support each other and pray for each other in the difficult times. Friends help us keep going when we feel like giving up. Friends pray for one another and with one another.
“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20)
There are even greater blessings when friends pray together than when they pray separately.
In our friendships we can open up our lives to each other and in doing so we open ourselves up to God. Many Christians are afraid of doing this. I am afraid of letting other people see “the real me” because then they would realise (in the words of Michael Caine’s character in the film Educating Rita) “there is less to me than meets the eye”. But I really do need to let somebody else in on “the real me” because only then, when I am truly being myself, only then can God really begin to change me. Sharing emotions, sadness, anger, disappointment or discouragement with each other is the same as sharing these feelings with God. Because when we have poured out our heart to our friend, and we know our friend understands, then we can be assured that God also has heard and understood us.
In the battle against the world, the flesh and the devil, having a good Christian friend standing with us can make all the difference. Confessing our sins can help us deal with our temptations. James 5:16 makes this invitation. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. In the process of Christian holiness, turning away from sin and being transformed into the image of Christ, every Christian would benefit from having a friend to confess to. That friend can offer the blessing of declaring those sins forgiven.
God means us to live out our Christian lives with friends. Richard Foster has written, “None of us is supposed to live the Christian life alone. We gain help and strength from others.”
It is good to have committed friendships, and even covenants of friendship like David and Jonathan made. So we dedicate ourselves to our friends, make ourselves accountable to our friends, and “watch over” our friends to help each other follow Jesus better. As we do these things we can see Jesus in each other. The best way to learn to see Christ in others is to develop a close relationship with a Christian friend. Meeting with Christ in that friend is a wonderful way of experiencing the presence of Christ in ordinary everyday life. God gives us other Christians so that we can practise showing His kind of love. We can practise being Jesus with other people by being Jesus to our friends. We learn to forgive and accept strangers by learning to forgive and accept our friends.
For all these reasons it is good for Christians to have spiritual friendships – other Christians who help and support and encourage us in our faith.
One more question. Which is your most important friendship? We might think of our wives and husbands or children or dear friends we have known all our lives. But surely for Christians there is a friendship which is even more important than any of these. God called Abraham His Friend and the Bible tells us that God spoke to Moses as a man speaks to his friend. Jesus said that His disciples are His friends.
Our most important friendship will be our relationship with God. And because we enjoy all the blessings of being God’s friends, we will want all our other friends to come to enjoy those blessings as well. More than that, God calls us to help other people to become his friends.
2 Corinthians 5 18 …. (God) through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also. 19Our message is that God was making the whole human race his friends through Christ. God did not keep an account of their sins, and he has given us the message which tells how he makes them his friends.
This is the job that God has given all Christians to do, to help other people to become God’s friends.
20 Here we are, then, speaking for Christ, as though God himself were making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf: let God change you from enemies into his friends!
God wants us to share the good news of Jesus with everybody we know. Friends at work. Friends along our street. Friends we meet through our hobbies and interests. Since Jesus is our most important friend, we will want to share Him with all our other friends. We can do this lovingly and sensitively, perhaps by sharing books and DVDs, By giving invitations to special events at church or passing them a copy of our outward-facing newsletter Haven News. By gossiping the gospel and simply chatting about Jesus. By praying for our friends that God will reveal Himself in their lives. Always talk to God about your friend before you talk to your friend about God. Then, one of the most important ways we can share our faith with our friends is what I call “linking the chain”. In other words, by introducing your not yet Christian friends to your Christian friends. Maybe even introduce your friend to your minister!
Christians have the best friend anybody could ever have in the Lord Jesus Christ. We should be able to show the world good examples of what it means to be true friends. We all need friends. And we should show God’s kind of love to our friends – that is our witness to the world.