Preachers’ Credit Crunch

November 26, 2008

On Sunday morning I’ll be preaching from John 16:5-15, with the emphasis on the v.8 and the work of the Spirit in convicting the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgement.  I’ve preached this passage before so I looked out my old notes (may I advice all young preachers to make and carefully file away their notes) and came across a short reference to James Buchanan’s “The Office and Work of the Holy Spirit.”  This is one of these references that doesn’t make it into the sermon which I’d like to share. 

 

Preachers are only human, and we enjoy receiving praise as much as anyone (though we try to hide it modestly).  Here Buchanan reminds us where the real credit goes for any ministry that does others good.  

 

Ministers are often used as instruments in enlightening and converting the soul; and hence they may be said, ministerially, to be the spiritual fathers of their converts.  Yet it is not by their own power but by the power of the Holy Ghost so that every successful minister might well say with the apostles, Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this sight? or why look ye so earnestly upon us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk? [Acts 3:12]

 

This great truth, if it shows the weakness of the minister will also prove the very strength of his ministry, for never will he feel so deeply impressed either with the greatness of his work or the dignity of his mission as when he is most thoroughly convinced that the efficacy of all his preaching depends on the power of the Spirit.  This will nerve him with new strength and inspire him with new hope when all outward appearances are most unpromising; and in the strength of this simple faith he will stand prepared to deliver his message before any audience, savage or civilized, assured that the same Spirit who has brought the truth home to his own soul can also bring it home with demonstration and power both to the obtuse and unlettered peasant and to the refined, perhaps the sceptical,  or the scornful man of science.  

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Barnabas Fund

November 25, 2008

Following Sunday’s sermon on the inevitability of persecution, I thought I would add a new link, to the Barnabas Fund.  This is an excellent Christian charity that seeks to support the suffering church throughout the world.  They provide up-to-date news on what is happening, and encourage prayer for specific situations.

When I was growing up our church regulalry had visitors who brought us news of the church behind the Iron Curtain: the Underground Church as it was known.  I think the first Christian book I read was “God’s Smuggler” by Brother Andrew.  Here was a James Bond for the church, smuggling Bibles in suit cases and in hidden compartments under the noses of East German border guards.  “Lord you made the blind to see, now make the seeing blind” was his prayer.  We saw film footage of Soviet Christians meeting in forests in defiance of the Kremilin.  We admired them but secretly wondered how we would fare under such oppression. 

With the exception of China, Communism has all but disappeared.  The great persecutor of Christians now is Islam.  It’s not that this is new, it’s just that we’re far more aware of it. 

As I say in my sermon, I truly believe that Christians now should be preparing for less tolerance and acceptance in the future.  We in the West can’t remain the exception for ever.

Stand your ground

November 24, 2008

 

STAND YOUR GROUND

Eph.6:10-13

 

INTRODUCTION

Some of the most thrilling stories in military history are of troops taking a stand against overwhelming odds.  Their orders are to hold their ground for as long as possible and at any cost.  Usually, in the end, the smaller force is over-run and annihilated.  Their fame lies not in victory but in glorious defeat. 

They stood their ground, they didn’t turn and run. 

 

One of the earliest examples of this is the Battle of Thermopylae when for three days 300 Spartans and their Greek allies prevented a Persian army hundreds of thousands strong from advancing through a mountain pass and on into the Greek mainland.  They were all slaughtered but ever since their bravery has been celebrated, most recently in the move “300”. 

 

So too the defenders of the Alamo who in 1836 held out for twelve days against the Mexican forces sent to quell the rebel Texans.  Though every single one of them died, their stand cost the Mexicans dear, and in the end Texas won its independence. 

 

More successful was the legendary Roman soldier Horatius who, with two companions, held the bridge over the Tiber to Rome against the invading Etruscans, while others chopped the bridge down.  And then when his friends ran back over the bridge just as it collapsed, Horatius remained to see them safely over before diving into the Tiber and escaping to the other side. 

 

BRIDGE

The Christian soldier’s orders are “to stand”.  Four times in this passage alone the Apostle Paul tells us to stand against the devil’s schemes.  Normally we think of standing as something quite passive.  We’re standing in a queue, we’re standing at the bus stop, we’re standing waiting for something to happen, waiting until we can move on.

 

But to take a stand, to stand your ground, is far from passive.  It requires great courage to stand and not run.  It requires great concentration, great watchfulness.  Paul says in v.13:

Therefore put on the full armour of God so that when the day of evil comes you may be able to stand your ground and after you have done everything, to stand.

 

After you have done everything—this is an active, deliberate standing. 

 

A few weeks ago we looked at the story of King Jehoshaphat in 2Chron. 20:17, where Judah is being invaded by an alliance of their enemies.  The messengers bring the news that a vast army is coming against them.  Jehoshaphat leads the nation in prayer.  The Lord’s answer is (v.17): You will not have to fight this battle.  Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you.

 

The Lord would fight the battle for them.  But they weren’t to go home and put their feet up.  They were to take their positions and stand firm.  They weren’t to negotiate a peace with the enemy; they weren’t to concede any territory to them; still less were they to flee.  They were to stand firm.

 

This command remains constant throughout the New Testament.  How is the Christian to respond in the face of death, with all the heart-ache it causes and questions it raises.  Paul tells us in 1Cor.15:58.  Having explained that victory over death is ours through our Lord Jesus Christ he concludes: Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm.  Let nothing move you.

 

To the Galatians, enticed by certain teachers who were promulgating a perverted form of the faith, Paul cries out (Gal.5:1):

It was for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

 

Don’t give in to false doctrine, don’t make any concessions to heresy.  Stand firm against it. 

 

In Col.4:12 Paul tells the Colossians that Epaphras is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in the will of God, mature and fully assured.

 

When you pray for your loved ones, as well as asking the Lord to keep them safe, and provide them with their daily bread; do you pray that the Lord will enable them to stand firm in the will of God?  Surely it would break your heart if they strayed from the faith.  So pray that they won’t. 

 

The same burden lay heavy upon the hearts of James and Peter.

Jas.5:8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.

1Pet.5:12 With the help of Silas whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God.  Stand fast in it.

 

Could anything be clearer?  Our orders are to stand fast, to stand our ground.  The Lord is the one who will take ground from the enemy, he will disarm the strong man.  What we are called to do is to keep what has been won. 

 

I’ll never tire of saying this—it’s not starting the race that counts, but finishing.  Thousands of competitors line up to take part in these marathons in Glasgow and London and New York.  But far fewer cross the finishing line.  It’s not starting the Christian life that counts, it’s finishing, it’s persevering, it’s standing. 

 

One of the deepest disappointments to a minister is to witness people who start the Christian life full of enthusiasm, who testify to their lives being transformed by Jesus, who are full of joy; but who, when difficulties arise, or when their fledgling faith is challenged, seem to evaporate like the morning mist.  Even in the five years I have been here, there have been people like that. 

 

The only thing that prevents me from becoming cynical is that the Lord warned us this would happen.  In the Parable of the Sower he says there will be those who will hear the word with joy but because they have no roots they will last only a short time.  When trouble or persecution comes because of the word they quickly fall away.  (Mk.4:17)

 

They didn’t stand; couldn’t stand; because the roots of their faith weren’t deep enough.  At the first sign of trouble, they ran away. 

 

What I want to do for the rest of our time is to think through what it means to stand.  Why are we stand?  And what happens to us if we do give ground?  Does that mean all is lost?  And finally, what are the rewards of taking our stand?

 

REASON

First of all then, the reason we must put on the full armour of God is so that we can stand against the devil’s schemes.  Last week we gave some considerable thought to this enemy of ours, the devil, or Satan.  Be in no doubt, we have an enemy and his aim is to destroy God’s work.  Jn.10:10: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.

 

He was right there at the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, trying to destroy the harmony between God and humanity.  And he succeeded.  He sowed doubts in the mind of Adam and Eve about the love and goodness of God, and persuaded them to eat the forbidden fruit.  Immediately, there was a rift in the relationship between them and God. and the Lord had to expel them from the Garden.

 

One up to Satan, or so it seemed.  But God had a plan of salvation already in mind, a Saviour, who would crush Satan under his heel.

 

Therefore, Satan was ready at the birth of Jesus to try again.  The story is told in a straight forward way by Matthew—how Herod ordered the murder of all baby boys in the vicinity of Bethlehem under two years old.  The same story is told more graphically in Rev.12 where the red dragon attempts to swallow the male child at birth.

 

He failed, and therefore Satan turned his attention to the church.  That should come as no surprise to us.  Remember what we have read about the church in Ephesians already.  The church is the new creation, comprising of both Jew and Gentile.  Paul says in 3:10 that God’s intention is that through the church the manifold wisdom of God should  be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

God shows off the church to his demonic enemies.  Here is the infuriating proof that they have failed to destroy his work.  Dare I say, the Lord rubs Satan’s nose in the church.  “Here are the people you tried to poison against me, the people you did everything to lure, tempt, and entice away from me—and you failed.” 

 

That’s why Satan hates us so much; that’s why he spends so much of his energy against us.  To borrow the language of Eph.2 we are those who once followed the ways of this world and the ways of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  Like some cruel gang-master, Satan regarded us as his personal property.  But Christ has rescued us from his kingdom of darkness. 

 

Satan wants us back.  And if he can’t get us back he will do everything in his power to make us ineffective.  That’s why we must stand against him, that’s why we must resist him.  And he can be resisted.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you, James tells us (4:7).  The devil is a big bully.  Stand up to him, and he will run away. 

 

That’s why I can’t think of anything sadder, anything more pathetic than an ineffective Christian, a believer whose witness has been hamstrung by sin. 

 

The world is littered with Christians whom no one will take seriously because there was a time in their life when they surrendered to Satan.  You can’t take them on door-to-door evangelism around the village, because their neighbours all know what they did.  They can’t speak up at work against some dodgy deal, for they’ll be accused of hypocrisy; they can’t be trusted with responsibility in the church—because everyone knows they yielded.

 

Oh, the sin has been confessed; the sin has been forgiven.  The prodigal has returned and has been accepted back into the family; but you can’t put them on the front line. 

 

We must stand.  We must resist his temptations.  Repeatedly.  He doesn’t just come the once, and then, having got no where, slinks off with his tail between his legs.  Remember that he tempted our Lord three times in rapid succession.  He failed, but that didn’t stop him returning.  Luke tells us (4:13):

When the devil had finished all this tempting he left him until an opportune time.

 

An opportune time.  Let me tell you, the devil’s timing is immaculate.  He knows when to choose his moment.  I wonder if you ever noticed how he often attacks when we’re engaged in working for the Lord or immediately after we’ve enjoyed a special time of blessing.  Let me tell you when I am most vulnerable—right after a service, right after I’ve preached, especially after the evening service and I feel my work is done and I can relax a bit.  Learn to discern when you are most vulnerable to the devil’s attacks and be on your guard. 

 

Last week I spoke to you about the kind of temptations he fires at us.  He sows seeds of doubts in our mind.  Just as he said to Eve, he says to us, Did God really say?  It’s not a sin to doubt; it is a sin to believe the doubt, to disbelieve the veracity of God’s word. 

 

It’s a sin to act on the doubt.  Many have fallen for Satan’s lie that God is not a consuming fire, that he is not as serious about sin as the Bible makes out.  They have fallen for the lie that because God is slow to anger and quick to forgive he is very relaxed about sin. 

 

Equally many have fallen for the lie that God is not as merciful as the scripture describes him, and so despair of ever receiving forgiveness, burdening themselves with a load of guilt, condemning themselves to a lost eternity.

 

We mentioned fear last week as well.  Christians who are persecuted fear the loss of their homes, their livelihood, their liberty, their lives.  One of the most contentious debates in the early church was what to do with believers who had capitulated during times of persecution.  Should they be ostracised for ever, or should they be accepted back into the church on showing proper repentance? 

 

Praise God it’s not a debate we need to have.  But how easily we give way to fear when we face ridicule for our faith.  Nobody likes to be laughed at.  Nobody likes to be marginalised.  We fear being excluded from the team; we fear being overlooked for promotion; we fear not being asked to the party. 

 

Again, it’s not a sin to feel fear filling up in your chest.  It’s when we give way to fear that we have lost to Satan.  We try and hide our faith by swearing like a trooper, by telling the dirtiest jokes, by drinking everyone else under the table.  Or simply by saying nothing when something could be said. 

 

That’s how we give ground to Satan.  Listen, sometimes we stand our ground by running away.  We hold our ground spiritually by literally fleeing.  I’m thinking about Joseph when Potiphar’s wife tried to get him into bed with her.  (Gen.39:12)

Come to bed with me, she said.  But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. 

 

If Joseph had hesitated, even for a second, he would have given ground to Satan.  Physically, he had to get out of there.  And in doing so, he stood up to the devil.

 

You’re flicking through the TV channels and something very sexy appears on the screen: don’t linger. 

You catch someone of the opposite sex to whom you are not married staring at you longer than is appropriate, catching your eye, giving you a warm smile—don’t hang about. 

You’re at a party where things are going on and stuff is being passed about that you know is wrong—leave. 

You’re with a crowd having some fun, but the fun is turning nasty, destructive, violent—go home. 

 

Standing against Satan sometimes means making a quick exit.  2Tim.2:22:

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace along with those who call on the name of the Lord our of a pure heart. 

 

The question arises, What happens when we do concede ground to Satan?  What happens when we yield to temptation?  The truth is that none of us manage to live a day without to some extent capitulating to his wiles.  It may not be the kind of gross sin that destroys our reputation; indeed, most sinning is done in the mind, so only God, Satan and we ourselves know about it.

 

Nevertheless, it is a mark of the true child of God to be distressed by our sin.  Satan knows this.  When we’re down he will try to drag us down even further.  He does this by trying to convince us that we are in fact devoid of God’s grace.  Our sin is so loathsome, and we sin so often, that either we never were truly saved, or if we were, we’ve well and truly lost that salvation. 

 

Believe me when I tell you that there are many poor souls in the world today who have fallen for that lie.  They long to be able to pray like David—restore to me the joy of your salvation—but they don’t believe they can.

 

Tragically, Satan is assisted in promoting this lie by a way of thinking which is widespread within the church, the doctrine which states that is indeed possible to lose your salvation.  It’s sometimes called Arminianism, after the Dutchman James Arminius who was the most able advocate of this teaching back in the 1600s. 

 

It’s a doctrine which flatly contradicts the classic teaching of the Reformation and our own Westminster Confession of Faith.  More to the point, it’s a teaching which cannot be supported from scripture. 

 

In Eph.1:4 Paul tells us that God chose us in him [Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.  If God chose us in Christ before the creation of the world then this is a decision of God’s which was fixed even before we were born.  How then can this salvation be lost?  Paul says in Rom.11:29: for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.

Salvation is God’s gift to us.  What kind of person gives a gift and then demands it back?  And even if that did happen, say, when an engagement is broken off, and the young man asks for the ring back, that’s not what God is like.  His love is an everlasting love.  He has made a covenant with us and has sworn by himself on oath never to break it.  Whom God loves he loves to the end.

 

Taking about the sheep for whom he came to die, the Lord Jesus made says (Jn.10:28,29):

I give them eternal life and they shall never perish; no-one can snatch them out of my hand.  My Father who has given them to me is greater than all, no-one can snatch them our of my Father’s hand.  I and my Father are one.

 

What greater assurance could we want?  Sometimes young girls play a love-game with a daisy, pulling off its petals and saying as they do, He loves me, he loves me not.  The Christian needn’t play that game.  He loves me, he loves me, he loves me.  As the paraphrase puts it: He loved us from the first of time/He loves us to the last.

 

Gurnall has a marvellous illustration of this.  He goes to Josh.3, the story of the Israelites crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land.  The waters parted and the priests stood on the river bed with the ark of the covenant held aloft.  v.17 says:

The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.

 

Christ Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, guarantees safe passage to heaven for all the Lord’s elect. 

 

How can we tell the difference between a true member of God’s flock and wolf in sheep’s clothing?  If it’s not that one sins while the other never sins, what is it?  It’s that the believer, being filled with the Holy Spirit, will hate his sin, will mourn over his sin. 

I hate the sins that made thee mourn and drove thee from my breast.

 

Perhaps even more characteristic of the genuine child of God, is that no matter far how we have wandered, we will always find our way home.  Like the prodigal son, the time will always come when we will look at ourselves in disgust and say to ourselves, I will arise and go back to my Father.

 

I’ve always been struck by the contrast between Judas Iscariot and Peter.  Both betrayed their Lord.  One for money, the other for fear.  Both hated themselves for what they had done.  Judas tried to return the money, crying out, I have betrayed an innocent man.  Peter, when he heard the cock crow, burst into tears of shame.  Both failed to stand against the devil’s attack.

 

What distinguishes them?  There’s Peter, on the third day, running as fast as he can to see if the tomb is really empty.  There he is with the rest of the disciples in the upper room to receive Christ’s greeting: Peace be with you.  He’s with Jesus during the forty days before the ascension; he’s there to receive the Lord’s commission, Feed my sheep.

 

But what about Judas, distraught, remorseful Judas?  He couldn’t go back to Jesus.  So he hung himself. 

 

REWARD

Let me conclude with this encouragement.  We’ve seen how the Bible uses the idea of standing to convey our duty in relation to the devil’s assaults.  Like the Spartans at Thermopylae or the Texans at the Alamo, we’re to stand our ground, we’re to concede nothing to the enemy.

 

But there is another application for the concept of standing which runs through the Bible.

Ps.1:5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgement nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

Ps.130:3 If you O Lord kept a record of sins, O Lord who could stand?

Mal.3:2 But who can endure the day of his coming?  Who can stand when he appears?

 

To be able to stand in the presence of the Lord God Almighty is an indication of sins forgiven, the assurance that comes from being clothed in Christ’s righteousness.  Rev.7:9:
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language; standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.

 

If you would be there in heaven, standing before the throne, standing in the presence of the Lamb, then you must take your stand against Satan now, today. 

Therefore put on the full armour of God so that when the day of evil comes you may be able to stand your ground and after you have done everything, to stand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When kingdom’s clash

November 24, 2008

John 15:18-16:4

 

INTRODUCTION

How would you feel if you woke up tomorrow morning to discover that you were no longer a British citizen; that you no longer had the right of free speech or freedom of movement.  The very thought horrifies us.  We can’t imagine it.

 

Yet this is the situation that Christians in the paradise islands of the Maldives find themselves in.  On 7th August the Maldives government enacted a new constitution that guarantees democratic rights for all citizens.  The rub is that a non-Moslem cannot be a citizen of the Maldives and as a result 3000 Christians were stripped of their rights over night. 

 

As shocking as that might sound to us, those of us who get the Barnabas Fund prayer letter and magazine are well aware that this is mild compared to how many Christians are treated around the world.  In Iraq, for example, since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the number of Christians has been halved as they have fled murder, kidnapping and beatings. 

 

We tend to think of martyrdom as a thing of the past.   We think of Christians being fed to the lions, or burned at the stake.  The truth is, however, that martyrdom for Christ’s sake is very much a thing of the present. 

 

If this surprises you, it shouldn’t.  The Lord Jesus said If the world hates you keep in mind that it hated me first.

 

RECAP

Last week we were considering the Lord’s commission to his disciples: they are to go and bear fruit.  In other words, their mission is to spread the good news of who Jesus is and what he has done. 

 

Now, in the second half of the chapter the Lord wants to prepare them for what awaits them in the world as they go.  The world will not embrace them and their message with open arms.  If no servant is greater than his master, if no messenger is greater than the one sending him, then as Christians we should not be surprised if the unbelieving world treats us with the same contempt as it treats our Lord Jesus.  Remember, they crucified Jesus.  Why should they treat us any better?

 

Friends, the context of mission is opposition.  We pray for times of revival, when the Holy Spirit seems to flood the hearts of men and women, who, under an intense conviction of sin, come flocking to Jesus.  But revivals like that are the exception.  The norm is doors slammed in your face.  The norm is cruel mockery.  Indeed, in many parts of the world today the norm is a beating from the mob, your church burned down, opposition wherever you turn. 

 

PLAN

To help us think this issue through, I’ll divide my sermon into four parts:

1. the reality of persecution

2. the reason for persecution

3. the relevance of persecution

4. the reward of persecution

 

REALITY

First of all, the reality of persecution.  One thing about the Lord Jesus, he certainly lays it on the line.  None of this, Come to me and watch your problems disappear; come to me and say good-bye to your troubles.”  There’s many a saint who will testify that it they never had any trouble in their life until they came to Christ.

 

This is not the first time the Lord had raised the inevitability of persecution.  The last of the Beatitudes, delivered at the beginning of his ministry, says (Mt.5:10):

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of God.

 

Isn’t it interesting that this is the only Beatitude which Jesus expands on (v.11):

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  

 

Think of Elijah, pursued by Ahab and Jezebel; or Michiah thrown into jail for telling the truth, fed only on bread and water; or of Jeremiah, tossed down a well and left to die. 

 

Of Daniel who refused to stop praying to the Lord despite the threat of being feed to the lions.  And his three friends who remained standing while everyone else bowed down to the golden idol, and therefore had to face the fiery furnace.  We’re so familiar with these stories.  We forget that while we know the ending, Daniel and his friends didn’t. 

 

The writer to the Hebrews captures the experience of so many of God’s people when he says:

Some faced jeers and floggings, while still others were chained and put in prison.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were put to death by the sword.  They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and ill-treated—the world was not worthy of them. (Heb.11:36-38)

 

You can’t accuse Jesus of gaining disciples under false pretences.  There’s no small print with the Lord; no hidden charges.  He’s upfront about the cost. 

 

And it wasn’t long before the disciples discovered the reality of persecution for themselves.  As soon as they started preaching the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, as soon as they started declaring Jesus is Lord, the authorities were down on them like a ton of bricks.  But they were prepared; they were ready.  They expected it. 

 

So when they were arrested and flogged, rather than being caught off guard, we read in Acts 5:41: The apostles left the Sanhedrin rejoining because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 

 

As they travelled throughout the Roman empire, preaching the gospel, the apostles wanted those converted under their preaching to know the truth.  So, for example, in Acts 14:22 we find Paul and Barnabas strengthening and encouraging the new Christians at Lystra, Iconium and Antioch. We must go though many hardships to enter the kingdom of God. 

 

It makes you wonder how the church ever survived the first century.  Once it became apparent that Christians would not call the emperor “Lord” and would not offer sacrifices to him, they began to feel the full force of the Roman empire fall down upon them.

You may know that the Emperor Nero tried to blame the Great Fire of Rome on the Christians.  He rounded up the Christians in Rome, covered them in pitch and set them alight, using them as living torches to light up his garden.  He sowed the skins of wild animals onto them and then set his hunting dogs on them to rip them to death.

 

Nero simply set the pattern for what has followed over the succeeding 19th centuries.  Here in Scotland our Presbyterian ancestors were persecuted by King Charles II who wanted to make the Church of Scotland into a version of the Church of England, with the monarch at its head and all the powers of control which that entailed. 

 

Do you know the story of the Solway Martyrs, Margaret MacLachlan and Margaret Wilson of Wigtown?  They were drowned in the Solway Firth for their faith.  They were tied to posts in the sand to await the in-coming tide.  Mgt McLachalan was 80 years old so they place her out in front of the 18 year old Mgt Wilson. 

 

As the older Mgt struggled in the cold and choking water, the soldiers said to the younger Mgt: What do you think of her now?  To which she replied: Think!  I see Christ wrestling there.  Think ye that we are sufferers.  No, it is Christ in us. 

 

That’s the reality of persecution.  It is a historic reality and it is also a present reality. 

 

REASON

Why?  Why have Christians been on the receiving end of so much violence and hatred?  The Lord gives us the answer is v.19:

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

 

Following Jesus means being at odds with the world; irreconcilably at odds with the world.  There is a clash of kingdoms, a clash of loyalties, a clash of priorities; a battle not of the wills, but for the will, for the hearts of men and women. 

 

The Roman emperors demanded to be honoured as “Lord”; King Charles II wanted to be head of the church.  Islam, which means submission, demands absolute obedience.  Communism calls for the individual to be submerged within the community.  Capitalism swears allegiance to the market.

 

But the Christian says “Jesus is Lord”.  His Word is the supreme ruler over my faith and conscience.  To him I give my absolute obedience.  I will not surrender what I believe to any government.  I owe allegiance to one greater than market-forces.  I cannot sell my soul to the company, for my soul belongs to Jesus. 

 

In v.22 the Lord says something that sounds rather strange.  He says:

If I had not come and spoken to them they would not be guilty of sin.  Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin.

 

Again, in v.24 he says:

If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin.  But now they have seen these miracles, yet they have hated both me and my Father.

 

It sounds as if Jesus is saying that if he had not come into the world, people would not be guilty of sin; provoking the natural response from us, Then why did he come?  Why not leave us alone?  That, of course, is not what he means.  That would be to write off the whole of the Old Testament.  The commandments exist to show us our sin; and the sacrificial system existed to provide a means of forgiveness of sin.  People were guilty of sin, and well aware of it, before Jesus came.

 

What Jesus is saying is that his coming into the world brought about a crisis point in peoples’ lives; it brought them to the central, fundamental decision we all must make, namely, acceptance or rejection of God in Christ.  Rejection of Christ is the sin that will keep us out of heaven. 

 

For their talk of respecting Christ as a great religious and moral teacher, when people refuse to acknowledge the lordship of Christ, they are in effect hating him.  He doesn’t want our respect or our admiration.  He wants our worship. 

 

Back in 3:19,20 John makes this assessment of our different responses to Jesus:

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

 

We, who carry Jesus with us wherever we go, will inevitably provoke the same response.

People feel uncomfortable in our presence.  Indeed, they feel condemned, when we refuse to laugh at their dirty jokes; or when we befriend the colleague whom everyone else has ostracised; or when we raise awkward issues of honesty and integrity.

 

We don’t have to talk about holiness, we just have to live it.  That’s enough to put us in the firing line.  It is the kingdom of God, the rule of God in our lives, challenging the godless ways of this world.    That’s the reason for persecution. 

 

RELEVANCE

What’s the relevance for us today?  After all, we’re not persecuted for our faith.  We have no fear of the police dragging us out of our church, no fear of angry mobs torching our homes.  The Christian is not discriminated against at school or in the work-place.  So, is this sermon merely academic? 

 

I don’t think so.  It’s true that we don’t face the violence other Christians throughout the world face.  Largely that’s due to the fact that our nation has already gone through times of terrible persecution.  It’s not that persecution by-passed Scotland, or Britain. 

 

Our country has enjoyed hundreds of years where, without saying that were truly a Christian nation, Christianity was the dominant religion, and Christian values were broadly respected and accepted.  We haven’t had the clash of religions or philosophies.  At least, not until now. 

 

For Christianity is no longer the dominant world-view in our society; it’s values are no longer taken for granted.  You’ll see this with Christmas coming up.  The public decorations all say “Happy Holiday” or “Happy Winter Fest”—not “Merry Christmas”. 

 

Secular humanism is the prevailing philosophy.  It’s not out-and-out atheism, but it might as well be, because God doesn’t figure in this was of thinking.  No matter what people might claim to believe, the way they live, the way they act, the basis on which they make their decisions all deny that there is a God, a God to whom we are accountable. 

 

This has all sorts of ramifications for us, but primarily it has implications for our ethics, for our morals.  Humanism says that ethics are autonomous and situational.  In other words, we create our own ethics, our own morals, depending on where we are and who we’re with.  It’s summed up in the catch phrase “It’s all relative.” 

 

So, what’s good for you might not be good for me.  And what was wrong yesterday, might be right today.  That’s why there can be serious calls for Parliament to relax the law on euthanasia and assisted suicide. 

 

Now, if secular humanism were capable of being consistent (which it isn’t) it would tolerate other points of views, and for a short while that has been the case.  We went through the stage, as Christianity began to decline, where people would tell us that they could see how our faith did us good, but that it wouldn’t work for them.  There was some respect for our other point of view. 

 

That’s changing.  That tolerance is coming to an end.  And you will find that our society is going to become less and less tolerant of those who beg to differ.  Ironically, all in the name of tolerance. 

 

The time is coming when we will no longer able to assert the uniqueness of Christ as the only Saviour.  That’s discriminating against other religions. 

Restrictions will we be placed on how we evangelise.  To call men and women to repentance is to assume that there is something wrong with them they need to repent of.  And that’s intolerant.

 

Dare say a word against the practice of homosexuality and see where it gets you. 

Dare say that you believe homosexuality is a sin.  Dare to point out that “gay” as an emotion is about as far away as is imaginable from how many, many homosexuals feel.  Dare to talk with compassion about the horrendous physical effects homosexual practice has on the human body.  And you are shouted down.  You are a homophobe.  You’re the Christian Taliban.   

 

Paul’s words to Timothy (2Tim.3:12,13) are as true today as they were when he first penned them:

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 

 

He was only echoing the Lord Jesus (16:4):

I have told you this so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. 

 

Don’t imagine that a sermon on persecution isn’t relevant in Kirkmuirhill today. 

 

REWARDS

In view of this, how can we even talk about the rewards of persecution?  It sounds rather perverse.  But the Lord did include persecution as one of the Beatitudes.  Where is the blessing in persecution?  Let me suggest three.

 

First, when we are persecuted for our faith, we are identified with Christ.  v.20:

Remember the words I spoke to you: No servant is greater than his master.  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.

 

I’m reminded of the words of the ascended Lord Jesus when he stopped Saul of Tarsus on his way to Damascus to arrest the Christians there.  (Acts 9:4): Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? 

The Lord Jesus so identifies with his people that to harm them is to harm him. 

Persecution is the hall mark that confirms we genuinely belong to Jesus. 

 

Secondly, persecution identifies us with the suffering church, both in the past and in the present.  It links us to the apostles, and to the first Christians, and to the martyrs of the Reformation, and to the courageous Covenanters, and to the soil of many a land, soaked in the blood of missionaries who gave their lives to carry the gospel to unreached peoples. 

 

It links us to our brothers and sisters throughout the world today who live in fear of attack, imprisonment, death, simply for being Christians. 

 

Thirdly, it strengthens our assurance of salvation.  If you are getting a hard time at school, or at work, or from the family, simply because of your faith, it show that unbelievers recognize that you are different from them.  Martyn Lloyd Jones says:

By thus persecuting you the world is telling you that you do not belong to it, that you are a man apart, you belong to another realm, thus proving the fact that you are going to heaven. 

 

These are the blessings that can emerge from persecution in this world.  But just as we finish let me draw your attention again to what the Lord says at the end of the Beatitudes (Mt.5:12):

Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.

 

Friends, persecution causes a church to think more of heaven.  Perhaps that’s why we don’t think about heaven enough.  Perhaps that will be one of the blessed results if fiercer persecution comes to our door. 

 

Rev.7 gives us a wonderful vision of heaven.  John sees a great multitude dressed in pure white.  Who are they? (v.14):

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.

 

And therefore (v.15):

they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. 

 

That’s the reward for those who are persecuted because of righteousness—God spreading his tent over you, including you as one of his, as one of his family.

 

 


CONCLUSION

Dear friends, if it is true that no servant is greater than his master, then let me ask you:

What have you suffered for Christ?

Does following Jesus cost you anything? 

What response does your faith provoke in those who sit beside you in class, in those you work beside, or work for, in friends and family who do not accept Jesus as Lord?

 

Has it cost you nothing, nothing at all? 

No response, no teasing, no jibes? 

 

As we prepare to bow in prayer, listen to these words from Amy Carmichael and ponder their significance for you.

Hast thou no scar?

No hidden scar on foot or side or hand?

I hear thee sung as mighty in the land

I hear them hail thy bright ascendant star, Hast thou no scar?

 

Hast thou no wound?

Yet I was wounded by the archers, spent,

Leaned me against a tree to die, and rent

By ravening beasts that compassed me, I swooned.

Hast thou no scar?

 

No wound? No scar?

Yet as the Master shall the servant be,

And pierced are the feet that follow me,

But thine are whole: can he have followed far

Who has nor wound nor scar? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Show me the scars

November 21, 2008

This Sunday is one of those days which happen from time to time when the theme of the two sermons (morning and evening) converge.  It’s not intentional but it’s interesting when it happens.  In the morning we’re looking at the second half of John 15, where Jesus says, “If the world hates you keep in mind that it hated me first.”  Jesus warns us to expect persecution.  In the evening we are thinking about what Paul says in Eph 6 “Therefore put on the full armour of God so that when the day of evil comes you may be able to stand your ground and after you have done everything to stand.”  Our orders are not to advance or to take ground from the enemy, but to stand, not to give way to Satan.  Persecution is one of the tactics Satan uses to make Christians give up.

 

I came across this searingly challenging poem from Amy Carmichael many years ago.  It seems quite appropriate.  I’ll be quoting it in the morning. 

Hast thou no scar?

No hidden scar on foot or side or hand?

I hear thee sung as mighty in the land

I hear them hail thy bright ascendant star, Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound?

Yet I was wounded by the archers, spent,,

Leaned me against a tree to die, and rent

By ravening beasts that compassed me, I swooned.

Hast thou no scar?

 

No wound? No scar?

Yet as the Master shall the servant be,

And pierced are the feet that follow me,

But thine are whole: can he have followed far

Who has nor wound nor scar? 

 

Hammering home

November 19, 2008

As well as deciding what to include in a sermon a preacher also has to decided what to exclude.  That can be quite difficult.  The temptation is to show off just how much reading you’ve done.  The sooner one learns that more can be less, the better.  This is the problem all of us who read Lloyd-Jones have.  Lloyd-Jones was so detailed in his expositions that he could spend several weeks on one verse.  The Puritans were exactly the same.  No stone was left unturned.  But this is not the mid-twentieth century, still less the mid-seventeenth century.  More to the point, I’m not Lloyd-Jones and I don’t preach at Westminster Chapel to a gathered congregation.  

 

So when it comes to preaching Eph.6, as much as I would like to linger over some idea suggested by the text, I have to be mindful of the congregation I am preaching to, as well as my own limitations as an expositor.  

 

One such idea raised in Gurnall is that of the importance of repetition, because Paul repeats his exhortation to put on the full armour of God, and to stand against the devil’s schemes.  Gurnall devotes some space to this which I wont.  But I’ll do it here.

 

His point is that there is no shame in a preacher repeating certain themes over and over again.  They arise in scripture repeatedly, and therefore they must be brought to a congregation repeatedly.  We, as ministers, may think the point should have been grasped long ago, but this isn’t necessarily the case.  

 

Fundamental truths must be repeated often.  It’s like the practice in some towns of taking youths around the boundaries of the district on an annual basis, so that they are never forgotten.  Gurnall is right to say that there is no fundamental truth that does not have some neighbour (a heresy) trying to encroach upon it.  

 

We should also keep coming back to those truths which Satan constantly tries to undermine.  “Who will blame the dog for continuing to bark when the thief is all the while in the yard?” Such themes may be particular to certain areas and congregations.  

 

So too doctrines which are the bread and butter of Christianity, like faith and repentance.  

 

In the mornings we have been preaching through John’s Gospel, which is deliberately repetitious: faith, truth, light, the Son/Father relationship are constantly appearing.  I had to make the conscious decision not to avoid these subjects every time they came up just because I had dealt with them before.  The result, I hope, is like securing something with several nails rather than just one or two.  My hope is that these truths will be better fixed to our congregation.  

English Country Garden

November 18, 2008

One of the few things Jordan and I do together these days is piano practice. We’re learning a much simplified version of this but it’s still great fun. I’ve downloaded this to inspire us on to greater things. These guys are fantastic. I defy anyone to listen to this and not feel happier afterwards. It’s also a wee nod in the direction of our Aussie friends.