Philippians 1:1-11

Philippians 1:11 and Acts 16:11-40


Welcome 

Beginning a series in the NT book of Philippians 

A letter written about 60AD by Paul (the great apostle to the Gentiles) and Timothy, ‘servants of Christ Jesus.’ To the fledgling christian church in Philippi which Paul had planted in the city 10 years earlier.. 


Paul’s church planting strategy always had an urban focus - Cities were and remain places of openness and influence. (the womb of culture). Philippi, though it is now a ruin in North Eastern Greece, in the ancient world was just such a stragegic city.

Its gold and silver mines - exhausted by the time of the Christian era, and it’s situation on the Egnatian way - the great highway which connected Rome with the East had made Philippi an important cultural and economic centre.  

The city’s name came from the father of Alexander the Great, Philip II of Macedon who founded the city in 356BC. 200 years later the whole region had come under the rule of the Roman empire. And in 42BC, following military victories of Caesar Augustus close by, the city became a Roman colony endowing it’s populace with Roman citizenship. Roman war veterans settled in Philippi. It was an outpost of Rome and Empire in Northern Greece. 


Philippians is a wonderful little letter. Many people’s favourite NT book. It is primarily a letter of Christ-centred encouragement. I encourage you to read it in one sitting this week. It’s so short but it includes some of the greatest lines in the Bible: ‘For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.’; ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice.’; Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation ..present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’


—- 

At heart the letter begs a question: 

Is there anything really worth living for? (and dying for?) 

What really counts in life? What’s the best way to live? The most worthwhile?


Scientists tell us that it might be possible to prolong average life expectancy to 115 years old but will it be a life worth living?


What are you giving your life, your time and energy to?



——

Now, Read between the lines and you get the sense that this 10 year old church plant to whom Paul writes - they’re feeling pressure. The hard work of building a church community has taken it’s toll. There’s pressure within and without. From the outside there’s opposition (1:28) they live as a christian minority in an unbelieving city… and on the inside there’s unrest (4:2):complaint and hurts and disagreements. It feels like it’s just costing too much - this church lark.


But Paul writes to encourage. 

To encourage them and any who would listen in that this IS the life worth living and rather than pulling away from God’s ways and God’s church .. to discover joy and to live for what really counts, the Philippians and we should press in to God’s ways and his church..



  1. vv3-6 Be confident in the power of God


I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,

Partnership in the gospel doesn’t refer to a shared love of a certain kind of music. The gospel is one of those rich bible expressions. It refers to the whole story of what God, in love, has done and is doing to repair this world and us through his son Jesus Christ who died for us and rose again. Paul and the Philippians and all Christians are partners in the gospel in the sense that we are called to share this story with others but also in the sense that we are recipients together of its blessings. We have come to know God through hearing the gospel, seeing its reality - the power of God. 

The church at Philippi (like any church) was founded by an extraordinary display of God’s power. You can read all about it in Acts 16. There we read that Paul and his companion Silas had arrived in Philippi in AD52 following the prompting of a vision. On the first saturday they were there they went down to the river where there was a group or women praying. (They were probably gathered there because there were not the necessary ten Jewish men in Philippi to form a synagogue (lack of committed men in the church was a problem even then!)) As Paul shared the gospel, someone called Lydia, a rich merchant woman, an Asian from Thyatira, a spiritual seeker, became a christian and persuaded Paul to come and stay in her home. While he was staying there, he was followed around town by a girl. a greek, a native of the town, she’s a slave, spiritually she is out of control - lit. it says she is a pythonist, she is possessed with some kind of spirit through her involvement in the occult - she can tell fortunes (for real, not horroscopes). She follows Paul and Silas around mocking and Paul finally has enough and in an encounter of spiritual power he commands the spirit to come out of her. This young girl set free by Jesus is added to the fledgling church. The problem is that this young girl was a slave and her owners were furious that she had lost her supernatural powers. They seized Paul and Silas start a riot and Paul and Silas are flogged and thrown into prison. 

In prison with their feet in stocks - which means they were being tortured - Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns to God. Tortured and singing! Some of us have trouble singing because we’re still trying to digest lunch. Tortured but singing? Because they had seen God’s power to change the direction of Lydia’s life and bring her whole family to faith. They had seen God’s power to set free a girl afflicted by an evil spirit. Now they saw God’s power at work in another miraculous way: an earthquake shook the prison and every door flew open. The prison officer in charge. He’s a Roman, ex-military, working class, spiritually he’s probably disinterested and hardened, he’s killed people, he tortures people. - he’s about to kill himself, thinking all the prisoners have escaped, knowing he will face court martial for this. But Paul shouts out ‘wait! nobody’s going anywhere!’ And through this whole experience, this rough military guy’s heart is won for Christ and later his whole family are baptised. 

This is how the church in Philipi was founded. It’s easy to forget the power of God so Paul reminds the Philippians.

It’s easy for us to forget God’s gracious power in the founding of our church - SBD.  We started out with 40 adults and a dozen kids. In 8 years over 200 adults and 50 children have been part of the SBD story. a dozen people have  come to faith one through the earthquake of terminal cancer one through a power encounter with Jesus; others through hearing the powerful message of the gospel week by week. It’s easy to forget the sacrificial generosity that has made this church possible. Remain and Be confident in the power of God. 

Paul writes 

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 

If God’s power can start a church in Philippi or Dalston, can kickstart faith in the souls of men and women then with Paul we can have confidence that what God has begun … he will complete.. 

‘The day of Christ Jesus’ refers to the day when Jesus will return. That’s the part of the story that is still to come: ’Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.’ Not this time as a baby come to save but as a King come to bring his eternal kingdom. The work God has begun in you, if you’re a Christian, is eternal life and He promises to complete that work. He will raise us to life, he will make all things well; We’re going to live forever.. Let it sink in. How then should we live? What counts? What’s worth living for? Live in the light of that day. In the light of an eternal future. Give yourself to the work of God’s gospel - God’s transforming power. 

Of course, It’s not always easy to just do that. It’s an act of faith. In a moment we’ll see what is fundamental to helping us live in the light of the day of Christ.. But there’s a hint in the text.. God will bring to completion the work he has begun in you… Be confident in the power of God. 

Second thing - if you want to give your life to what really matters..

2. Be joyful in Christian friendship

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

Paul writes this letter from prison in Rome. The imminent threat of execution hangs over him 1:20, 2:17. Paul is in chains… but his heart roams free. The apostle had probably only spent a matter of weeks or months establishing the church in Philippi, many of the newer Christians there he hasn’t even met - he knows them through others but the letter demonstrates this wonderful network of loving christian friendships..

Throughout the letter you have Paul praying for the Philippians, articulating his affection, They’re his joy and crown, he longs to see him. And we learn that the Philippians pray for Paul and have provided for his needs. Just turn to chapter 2 v19 and you see others who are part of this network of Christian friendship. 2:19 Paul wants to send Timothy to them soon so he, Paul, can get concrete news about them. v20 ‘I have no one else like him, who will show genuine care for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.” See all these relationships? Read on v25 here’s another guy: “I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger whom you sent to care for my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill and almost died but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. So then welcome him in the Lord with great joy…” 

Be joyful in Christian friendship. 

Our shared faith - as Paul says ‘all of you share God’s grace with me’                                             and our shared mission - defending and confirming the gospel can bring about the most profound love and friendship. Many of you tell me about dear Christian friends. These are friendships that are not known in other spheres of life.. 

Christian friendships can be profound but they are not not straightforward; they are not a given. All relationships need work. In part, Paul is having to write to the Philippians to remind them to think right about and work at their Christian friendships 1:27, 2:2 Be united - ‘Be of one mind’  Don’t let bad feeling, or disagreement or bitterness get in the way.. 

You know the church is a bit like a human family in many respects - we are brothers and sisters - we are brought together by something more than just shared interests something that unites very different people. they say don’t they: ’you can choose your friends you can’t choose your family.’ This means that just as in families you can take one another for granted and make more effort with people outside the family than within. So it is with God’s church. It’s more effort - so we don’t bother. But then we miss out on the joy that could be ours. 

Paul will urge us in this letter to put on our gospel glasses. Have a gospel perspective. sense the people sitting around you. That person you’re sitting next to is a child of God, their life purchased with the blood of Christ. There is no imagining what one day they will be. Honour one another. Give thanks for one another. Look to the interests of others before your own. 

Paul will urge us into gospel partnership. you philippians might be a roman colony an outpost of Rome in the city of Philippi. But the church of JC - are citizens of heaven; an outpost of heaven in the earthly city. Have you forgotten your missionary call that is at the heart of christian friendship?                                                    do hard things together. pray for healing, pray for holiness, pray for your friends and then go out and be good news together. 

But how?

brings us to third point..

how are we to be confident in God’s power? live for the day of Christ?                                             how are we to be joyful in Christian friendships? look to the interests of others before ourselves?


3. Be prayerful in pursuing what really counts 

Paul prays. So often we do not have because we do not ask. We find it hard to pray. 


What does Paul pray for the Philippians? We should pray it for ourselves and one another.. 

First verse x he prays that our love would abound more and more. That our love for God and for one another and for everyone would grow. Good thing to pray. But notice that it’s not any kind of love it’s a love that is shaped by the knowledge and moral insight that comes from the gospel. It’s a wise love that comes about through reading the bible and through wise counsel with one another. Because this love isn’t just a feeling it needs to show itself forth in action, in the best way of living and using our gifts - which is why Paul says v10 that we need to be brought to a place where we can ‘discern or ‘approve of’ what is best..’ That is - brought to a place where we can see what counts, what’s the best way for me to live .. and have the will to put that into practice.. 

Notice that Paul refuses to give blanket commands for what the best kind of Christian life looks like. How many hours should you give to church, care of your neighbour, sharing the gospel with your friends. No, life is far more complex than that. We have different lives and commitments and time and situation gifts and capacities and personalities and so Paul simply prays that your love would abound in knowledge and depth of insight so that you will be able to approve and pursue what is best. The life worth living. 


Do you see what this is saying? 

Do you want to be pure and blameless for the day of Christ? They’re words that refer to an inner consistency and and an outward goodness of life. Do you want that? Do you want to be v11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God? 

Do you want your life to be lived to the glory of God? 

If we want these things for ourselves, for one another, for our church then we have only to ask. 


Be prayerful in pursuing what really counts..

We don’t know what a life worth living is? But God does. We should ask him. 

We can’t manufacture love, wisdom, righteousness in our lives. But God can. We should ask him. 


he will change our hearts..


why not pray this prayer this week?






The Parable of the Shrewd Manager Luke 16:1-13

I moved to London in 1996 to start university, and after my first year in halls of residence I moved to rent somewhere with some friends in the east end. One of my other friends at the same time, aged 19, bought a house in Bow, ex-council house, not lovely but quite big and a good location, and he lived there for a few years with friends. I remember thinking ‘wow, that seems a bit of a headache, having to be a landlord’, boilers breaking, medical students spilling beer or vomiting on the carpets. 3 years later when he qualified as a doctor, he bought another house, this time a Victorian terrace. The first one had cost him 70k, and the second 140k. He held onto them for 10yrs or so, and made an absolute fortune when he sold them. Both of them had gone up 7-8x in value – he was a millionaire, aged 25. It had been a very shrewd investment. At that point, I was wishing I’d done the same.

 

Well, in this parable called the ‘shrewd manager’, Jesus looks at what is a shrewd investment.

 

So in this parable we’ve got this dishonest manager who works for a very rich man. His role would have been to manage all his affairs, to invest his money, make positive returns, to run his household, to organise his staff, to sort out his pension – a bit like a Carson from Downton Abbey or an Alfred to Bruce Wayne (Batman)… But it transpires that this man has been lazy and wasteful (v.1 – he was ‘accused of wasting his possessions’) and the master finds out about this. 

 

So v.2 the master calls him in, asks him to explain himself and gives him his marching orders, but with a 3-mth notice period ‘you cannot be my manager any longer’.

 

This is a very big deal in those days; it is likely that he would have lived with his master, so losing his job would also have made him homeless. There would have been no job seekers allowance, no benefits system. So the manager is clearly very anxious, v3. He says to himself 'what shall I do now?' I am in my 50s - I am not going to be able to dig for a living, I’ve got a bad back, and I certainly don’t want to start begging – that’d be way too humiliating, imagine my friends walking past – how awkward.

 

So he comes up with a cunning plan v.4 ‘I know what I’ll do so that when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses’. 

In Black Adder, Baldrick, would often say these words ‘I have a cunning plan’, which was always entertaining as the cunning plan was usually so stupid…

 

And similarly what this manager decides to do is so outrageous, he calls in some of the people who owe his master money.

The first man comes in – you can picture how they are feeling, queueing up outside the managers office, perhaps fearful that they’ll be demanded to pay the debt in full, maybe thrown in prison if they can’t do it.

 

The first man owes 800 gallons of olive oil - that makes a lot of salad dressing, and that amount is thought to have cost around 3y wages for an average man – but to his surprise, the manager slashes the debt by 50% v.6 ‘take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it 400’. You can imagine him stifling a shriek of delight, as he quickly gets his chequebook out before the offer is withdrawn.

 

The second man comes in, he owes even more: a thousand bushels of wheat, that would have cost the equivalent of 9y salary. And again this man is given a huge discount – this time 20% off.

 

But as each of these men leave, the manager hands them his business card, ‘by the way, I’m looking for a job…’

 

Can you see what the manager is doing? He is following through with his plan in v.4, he is acting to make friends for himself: so that ‘people will welcome me into their houses’.

 

Now perhaps the thing that makes this parable slightly quirky and hard to relate to is the rather unexpected response of the Master in v.8 'the master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly’ – really, commended him? We would have expected the Master to be outraged. His dishonest lazy manager in the last few days of his work for him has ripped him off and lost him a lot more money.

 

I recently been watching the American drama The House of Cards, and it’s about a politician named Francis Underwood rise to power. His strategies to make it to the top are not very commendable – they include bribery, corruption, murder, blackmail… He is successful and his methods are effective, but as you watch, he’s so unpleasant, you’re unsure if you want him to succeed or not.

 

Similarly here, the hero of the story, the person we are called to emulate and copy in some way, is also not likeable… so why is Jesus telling this parable, what are we to learn from it?

 

I have 3 points that I think Jesus makes in the passage: a better perspective, better stewards, a better master.

 

The first point: ‘A better perspective’ v.8-9

 

But what is he commended for? 

v.8: ‘The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly’ - what he is doing is using money in the present to secure his future after this job is finished. The parallel for us is to use our money and resources in this life to invest in our future; our eternal futures.

 

We get this from v.9 ‘I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings’

 

What he is commended for is that he puts money into something more valuable – friendships.

There are no investments, bonds, ISAs or money from property that will really last, Jesus spells this out in v.9: ‘when it is gone’, the only thing we can take with us into the new creation is people. Jesus is encouraging us to put our money towards things that will last forever, things might result in people coming to heaven. 

 

One man who did this was John Laing. He was in the construction industry and when he died in 1978, his firm was one of the largest in the country – you’ve probably seen the signs on new buildings: Laing O’Rourke (it merged after his death). His firm built the M1 motorway and Sizewell nuclear power station. 

 

When he was in his 20s, he made a vow that as his personal income increased, his standard of living would stay the same and it would be his giving which would increase.

He never talked about his giving but we know now that he helped to bankroll what we now call UCCF (a charity that works to make Jesus known in universities).  

He also built churches, theological colleges, pastors homes - all for free.

He would drop into the UCCF offices each week, asking the same question:

'How many students have become Christians this week?'

When John Laing died in 1978 his firm was worth millions and millions

But his own estate was worth a paltry £381

He was investing in something far more worthwhile – he was investing his money to help secure people many people’s eternal homes. 

 

So how are we to use our money and resources? Jesus is encouraging us to use them for things that will really last – that means using our money, our resources and our homes towards things that will develop relationships where we can share the good news of the gospel, maybe that involves opening up our homes to our friends, or eating out with people, being generous and kind with what we have, showing that we value them and time with them is important to us and worth investing in. It might also involve giving our money to organisations and charities that are working to make Jesus known in this country and around the world.

 

v.9: ‘use your worldly wealth to gain friends, so that when it is gone, you may be welcomed into eternal dwellings’

 

Can you imagine the welcome that John Laing received into heaven from all those he helped to bring to Christ through his generous giving. You probably wouldn’t hear many people talking about this sort of investment as ‘shrewd’ in today’s society, would you. 

 

Jim Elliott, was an American missionary to South America, and he was killed by a tribe there that he was working with, he said: ‘He is no fool to give up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose’ rpt

 

The Cambridge dictionary’s definition of shrewdness is ‘the ability to judge people and situations well and make good decisions’. Surely this is shrewd business, to use our resources to invest in the eternal futures of those around us. 

 

Have you ever tried to imagine the concept of eternity? I find it quite hard to get my head around – it will never end, everything we know here in this life is temporary and will come to an end. But imagine the new creation, eternity in paradise, a world of perfect friendships, love, never any sadness, crying or pain and we’ll be with our Lord, and this will continue for ever – would we consider this to be shrewd. When we are there, we will never for one moment regret giving generously of our time, resources and money to the eternal futures of other people.

 

What is the reason that we have this better perspective

 

Well, it is the Lord Jesus Christ -he embodies the message of verse 9

Here is the author of Creation, the eternal Son of God

All riches are his, all power belongs to him

And yet he gave up his home in heaven and lived and died among us. He clothed his power with weakness.

All so that we might become friends with God

And enjoy an eternal home with him

 

So that’s the first point, a better perspective – that’s the longest one.

 

-the second point, I’ve titled Better stewards v.10-12

So in this parable, the Master clearly represents God, and the manager represents people entrusted with God’s possessions. 

 

The word for manager here is the Greek word: oikanamos, which means manager or steward. So the point Jesus makes is a reminder that we are stewards of God’s possessions. 

 

I wonder whether we really believe this- if we really believe that everything we have is God’s, not ours.

If I’m honest, when there’s a sermon on money & giving, some of the emotions evoked would be those of guilt and discomfort, as I think about what more I can spare from my meagre bank balance?

 

I say to myself: ‘I earned this money, I worked very hard for it’ 

we need to remember…

Who gave us our jobs? Who gave us health so we can do our work? Who gave us our skills/intelligence? Who placed us in these circumstances? - you can be sure that you if we were born in S.Sudan, that we wouldn’t have the same level of wealth.

 

No, the point Jesus is making in this parable is that we are stewards of God’s possessions - everything we have belongs to god, and that he is entrusting these things to us for a time to see if we can be trustworthy and responsible with them.

see v.10 ‘whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, whoever is dishonest with little will be dishonest with much’

 

It’s almost as if this life is a test – can we be trusted to use well the things God has loaned us in the 70-80yrs that we have in this life (maybe less) – v.11 ‘if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches’ – true riches again is speaking about eternity in paradise.

 

So what does being trustworthy mean? 

Well I think this covers our use of money both in terms of honesty and also using it responsibly:

- our honesty – we are to pay people what we owe them, not to swindle people, to be honest with our tax returns – this is a good witness, remember we are managing our masters goods here – we want to give him a good name.

 

A couple of years ago I was paid a consultancy fee for a day’s work in a private firm who were developing gastroenterology services, and I received a small fee for my work. A few months later I was paid large lump sums on 2 consecutive months – each time I informed them and paid it back – it transpired that they had another R Palmer working there (she had also been paid). Then it happened again two months later… now they were a very big firm, very successful, I don’t think they’d have missed the money, it would have been a drop in the ocean for them, it was very tempting just to see if they noticed… a big test on my honesty. I did pay it back – of course, I was secretly hoping that they’d be so impressed with my integrity, that they’d tell me to keep the cash – they didn’t!

 

So trustworthiness involves honesty, but also our responsible use of money – we are not to be wasteful – in some circles Christians view money as something evil just to get rid of (asceticism) – well, that’s not right (the manager in the parable was fired for being wasteful)

 

We are to be wise with money.

It is ok for us to try to earn as much as we can (through honest means), so that we can use it well – money is hugely important for church work.

When this church began we fundraised and raised >100k to develop the church hall, which can be used to serve our local community and to make Jesus known. 

Many of you will know that this church is a second generation church plant from St Helens Bishopsgate, which is in the city of London, and has a number of very wealthy bankers in their congregation. Through their generosity, St Helens have planted 13 churches since 2001 to create vibrant bible-teaching churches all around London. 

Gospel work is hugely expensive, spending on building and staff and wouldn’t be possible without Christians earning money and using it for eternal purposes.

 

That’s our second point, we are called to be better stewards, but we do need to beware – always the danger is that money can become our Master, our god, and this brings us onto our final point – ‘A better Master’

 

Look at v.13: ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.’

 

Jesus speaks a lot about money in the NT, as it has such potential to tip over from being a good thing God gives us to use well, to something that controls and masters us. This is called idolatry.

 

Maybe you can recognise times when money can begin to master us.

 

Tim Keller writes about this in his book Counterfeit Gods:

He talks about there being ‘deep idols’ within our hearts, such as power, approval, comfort or control, which sit beneath the more concrete and visible ‘surface idols’, such as money, spouses, children, careers. He says ‘Some people want lots of money as a way to control their world and life. Such people usually don’t spend much money and live very modestly. They keep it all safely saved and invested, so they can feel completely secure in the world. Others want money for access to social circles and to make themselves beautiful and attractive. These people do spend money on themselves in lavish ways. Other people want money as it gives them so much power over others. In every case, money functions as an idol and yet, because of various deep idols, it results in very different patterns of behaviour’

 

Can you identify yourself in any of these patterns? I imagine all of us are prone to money becoming our idol at times.

 

Money is a terrible master – it dictates our status, our significance and our security.

It tells us our status is tied to our job

It tells us our significance is in our pay grade

It tells us our security is in our savings

- and we’ll for ever feel anxious as there will always be others in a better place than us

 

Steve Jobs was the CEO of Apple - one of the greatest innovators and businessmen of this age – he died in 2011 and some of his final words are quite striking:

“I reached the pinnacle of success in the business world. In others’ eyes, my life is an epitome of success.

However, aside from work, I have little joy. In the end, wealth is only a fact of life that I am accustomed to.

At this moment, lying on the sick bed and recalling my whole life, I realize that all the recognition and wealth that I took so much pride in, have paled and become meaningless in the face of impending death. 

In the darkness, I look at the green lights from the life supporting machines and hear the humming mechanical sounds, I can feel the breath of death drawing closer…

Now I know, when we have accumulated sufficient wealth to last our lifetime, we should pursue other matters that are unrelated to wealth…

Should be something that is more important:

Perhaps relationships, perhaps art, perhaps a dream from younger days

Non-stop pursuing of wealth will only turn a person into a twisted being, just like me.

God gave us the senses to let us feel the love in everyone’s heart, not the illusions brought about by wealth.

The wealth I have won in my life I cannot bring with me. 

 

Money is a terrible master.

 

But God is a good master. For those who are forgiven in Christ, he freely gives to us:

A status in his family: being loved children of God

A significance in his kingdom, being in relationship with our Maker and with one another

A security in heaven, which can never be lost

 

 

Prayer

Lord, we thank you that through the death of your son that you have made us your children and secured for us a wonderful eternal future. We ask for your help, that for the years that you give us here in this world, that we’d be responsible and faithful stewards with the money and resources that you’ve entrusted to us, and keep us from ever allowing it become our master. Help us to be free to give generously in order to help bring others with us to our eternal home with you.

Amen

 

Weekend Away 4. Hosea 2:14-23. The True Marriage

Introduction: the promise of happiness

A while ago I went to a wedding of a good friend. It was a lovely day – very musical day – he is musical and he sang a song at the reception – “Happiness, is just around corner.”  

 

Perhaps a little idealistic we might say. But – what we all want isn’t it – to be happy. To be fulfilled, secure, content. We’ve mentioned through our talks that lots of things around us offer that to us. It’s how most adverts work – you get a picture of a happy, fulfilled, contented life in some form – or a bit of it. If you only you get the right perfume, car, holiday. Same can go with jobs or possessions or pleasures.

 

But probably the most common place we look for that happiness and fulfilment are relationships. Marriage perhaps – or children – family – friends. 

 

God is making a similar promise to us in Hosea – he’s promising us something that will give us what we want – something will satisfy, fulfil and bring true happiness. And our instinct is right – it is about relationships – he is offering us a relationship that will give what we’re searching for. 

 

As we come to finish Hosea, the question for all of us – is who will we believe? Which promise will we trust, who will we be faithful to?

 

We saw earlier that despite Israel’s adultery, God still loved her, and in his love he promised to marry her again.  

 

Now we might think – but why marry her again, surely she’s going to do the same thing? What’s going to be different time?  

 

The point of this last talk is that as God remarries Israel – he acts to make it different. God changes things so it’s a true marriage – everything a marriage should be. First of all,

 

1) God will make his new bride faithful in relationship, Hosea 2v16-20, 14v4

2v16 READ – the day of the new marriage.  Look at footnote – ‘my Baal’. As Israel committed adultery – as she gave her trust and worship to Baal – she was still worshipping her God, Yahweh, as well. But she sometimes got them mixed up – and called Yahweh Baal. 

 

It’s a terrible thought – calling your spouse by the wrong name. Imagine an unfaithful husband saying to his wife - Do you want to go out Saturday night, Alison? I mean Susan. 

 

But that terrible state is going to change, v16 she’ll no longer call me baal. Why? What makes the difference? 

 

V17 READ – or no longer will their names be remembered. So God is going to act - and take away the name of Baal from Israel’s lips. He’ll even wipe their memory – so that they won’t remember his name. And then as a devoted lover, Israel will only have eyes for, or a name for, one God – her true husband. 

 

In other words God is going to make his bride faithful to him. 

 

We see the same thing in v19-20 READ. 

 

There are the qualities in perfect marriage – full of faithfulness and love. Now God has always been like that – but he’s going to act to make his marriage like this – Israel is faithful too. 

 

One last reference, 14:4 – having invited them to repent, God then says, READ. 

 

This is the heart of Israel’s problem in the old marriage – she has the disease of waywardness, of turning away from God. Another verse in Hosea says, “A spirit of prostitution is in their hearts” – Israel is ill in her spirit. She is addicted to adultery. It’s a habit she can’t kick.

 

But in the new marriage God says, I will heal her - I will make her whole and healthy with faithfulness.

 

A while ago I read a book describing the current developments in biotechnology. Popular explanation of some of the amazing things that might become possible.  

 

How we might discover the cancer gene, the heart disease genes - and how we will have enormous power and ability to cure ourselves and put ourselves right. 

 

However the book had a real concern about all this as well – because in the history of humanity we have always abused that sort of power. Commercial exploitation, social inequality, ethical misdemeanours. 

 

Interesting conjunction – this enormous power to put ourselves right physically – yet at the same time a complete inability to do the right thing. We have if you like a spiritual gene – we have a spirit of prostitution. We treat other things as god and so do things wrong. And we are unable to eradicate or replace that gene.  

 

But God says, in this new marriage, I’m going to heal you. I’m going to do spiritual surgery on my new bride – I’m going to remove this addiction to adultery. I’m going to act in you so that you are faithful to me, and will only have my name on your lips.

 

God will make his new bride faithful in relationship.

 

2) God will give his new bride fabulous riches, Hosea 2v21-23, 14v5-8

Second difference is that in this new marriage, God will give his new bride fabulous riches.  

 

2v21-22 READ. 

 

The word ‘respond’ here means acting in response to a need. And Israel – as they face God’s judgement, are in great need. 

 

There is no rain, no food. They have been defeated by Assyria, people been killed and deported. The land, the nation, is dead. You could sum that up with the word Jezreel – that was the valley where Assyria defeated Israel – so is symbolic of this death.  

 

But God will respond to this need – first to the skies, sky will respond to the need of the earth for water by sending rain. Earth will respond to the need for grain and wine and oil, by producing crops.  

 

All this will respond to the need of Jezreel – because it will bring the nation back to life. God will plant Israel in the land – and she will grow – in crops, in wine, in oil, as a nation, she will grow and become all she was meant to be.

 

See similar thing back in chp 14v5-8 READ.

 

I don’t know if we’re a bit too urban to get this imagery.

 

V5 Israel will blossom like the lily – a beautiful nation.

 

V5 she will be like a cedar sending down roots. Idea is that she will be secure and strong.

 

V6 Splendour like an olive tree – she will be majestic, awesome as a nation.

 

V6 ‘fragrance like a cedar’ – Israel will be attractive and desirable.  

 

God is promising to make Israel – secure, strong, fruitful and prosperous, majestic and wonderful.  

 

Of course that what Israel wanted. She longed for good crops and wine and the rest of it – but she went to Baal and Assyria for them. 

 

But the truth is, all these riches belong to God – and as he makes her faithful to him – he then showers these riches on her. 

 

It’s like Indecent Proposal – last time – my adapted version. Demi Moore married to Robert Redford who is fabulously wealthy. The affair with Woody has been exposed – Redford has left her to Woody and she’s seen he has nothing to offer – and then he takes he back – she’s faithful to him – she can’t even remember Woody’s name – and so he showers her with riches. All she wanted before – all that Woody use to promise her – she is has from her true husband.

 

So too God will make his bride faithful – and then pour out all these fabulous riches on her – crops, oil, wine, people. He is going to lavish wedding gifts on her, and make her life so rich and abundant, she couldn’t even ask for more.  

 

Of course the most wonderful thing, at the heart of all this – is simply that this new bride will know God.

 

2v23 READ. These are lovers talking to each other – saying, you are mine, and I am yours. We belong to each other – we know each other – we are united in relationship together.

 

We said earlier – this return – this remarriage – happens through Jesus. He comes as a bridegroom to love us – to win us back – to die for us – and bring us into a relationship with God – which is the true marriage. Number 3, 

 

3) God makes us his new bride in Christ, Ephesians 5:25-27

Let’s look at Ephesians 5. Here Paul talks about marriage and how Christ is a model to follow – for instance v25 READ. V28 READ. 

 

Then he goes on to say v31 READ. Now that is a quote from Genesis 2 – and in Genesis 2 it describing Adam and Eve and their human marriage. 

 

Then Paul says v32 READ.

 

Paul is saying that this quote from Genesis 2 – that describes human marriage – what it’s really talking about is the divine marriage between Christ and his church.  

 

Now you may be familiar with this – I don’t know – but the Bible says human marriage is actually a picture of the true marriage – ultimate marriage. That is the relationship between Christ and his church. 

 

Here is the fulfilment of Hosea – God promises to come to marry his people again – God promises to act to make his bride faithful and to pour out his riches on her. That happens through Jesus. 

 

That happens in part now. 

 

V25-27 READ. We have been made faithful by Christ’s death. Not faithful in how we behave we still do things wrong, but he has taken away all our wrong and our sin in his death. So we are now holy, perfect – faithful. God can look at us and see us as a faithful, perfect bride. And he’s changing us to be more faithful – by his Spirit. He’s doing that spiritual surgery in us – taking out that spiritual gene of adultery – so we are faithful to him. 

 

And we see that Christ gives us fabulous riches too - v29 READ. Hosea said God would care for his bride – now we see Christ feeds and cares for us as his own body. And he does that as he feeds us spiritually and helps us to grow in knowledge of him and being like him. 

 

Yet of course, we are well aware, our marriage with Christ is far from perfect. In many ways we are still waiting for Hosea to be fulfilled – we’re still waiting for the wedding day God promises. And the Bible says it’s coming. 

 

4) God makes us fully his bride in the new creation, Revelation 21&22

21v1,2 READ. Christ will return and God will bring about a new creation, a whole new world. But it’s described as a wedding. God’s people are the bride. Christ is the groom. And they are going to married – it’s like now we’re just engaged. Here is the wedding day when we are united. And Hosea is completely fulfilled. So,

 

God’s bride is now completely faithful – 21v9-10 READ. The imagery changes a little – the bride is the city, which is the people of God. But v11 READ.  

 

This is a transformed bride – now perfectly pure, shining with God’s glory – reflecting his character and faithfulness. Later in 22v3 we read that the people of God serve him in the city – don’t serve anyone else, because they’ve been made perfectly faithful to him.

 

And so God gives his bride fabulous riches. First of all every that spoils has been banished from this city. 21v4 READ.

 

We can also see it positively – this city is everything a city could possibly be. V12 says it has a great high wall showing its security. It is made of every kind of precious stone – just look at v18, or v21 READ.  

 

The language is being stretched to try and describe just how majestic, how desirable, how fabulous this city is. 

 

You know this language of precious stones is also used of the prostitute in Revelation, the anti-God world – who seem to have all the riches of the world. But now we see – what the world wanted, and tried to get – actually comes from God. He is the source of all riches. And now he showers them on his bride.

 

Most of all – the heart of all this – is that we will know God. 21v3 READ. 22v4 READ. It’s the wedding day – the bride is finally with her husband, and they are united in intimate, profound, union with each other. It’s the perfect relationship – it’s what we always wanted. 

 

A while ago I read about a TV programme in the States called, who wants to marry a millionaire? A millionaire selected his bride from about 50 contestants – then they were married on TV.  

 

However, before all that happened – there was a prenuptial contract signed – stating that if the marriage broke up the bride wouldn’t be able to claim any of his money. 

 

That sums up the low point we can reach in our relationships – not really trusting each other.  Not really giving ourselves to each other – not really loving each other.  

 

Human marriage, at its best, points to this divine marriage. At its worst – makes us long for this divine marriage – because we are fed up with the disappointment, loneliness, the hurt and the pain of life here. We long for a perfect relationship – which gives us all we really want.  

 

On this wedding day, there will be no prenuptial contract – because this marriage will never end.  There will be no going off with other partners – because this marriage will be utterly faithful.  There will be no holding back – of possessions, or love – because Christ will give us all his riches – all of himself.

 

There will nothing left to do – but to enjoy the relationship. To enter an eternal honeymoon of perfect relationship. 

 

Application

 

I said at the start we all want happiness, fulfilment, meaning and security. 

 

And lots of things around us offer us something of that. Jobs, fashion, beauty, possessions, homes, pleasures and entertainment. 

 

They aren’t wrong things – just won’t give us all you want. Because they are not god. Not enough.

 

Our instinct is often that we will get it in relationships - friends, family, a partner. Because the heart of what we want is to love and be loved isn’t it. To know and be known. To be valued and enjoyed. And to have some to love and enjoy and know. 

 

 

 

 

But again while relationships are good - they only give us a taste of that fulfilment we want. And sometimes much less as we hurt and disappoint each other. 

 

But God – being married and united to God. Being loved by him – to death. Being made rich by him. Knowing him. Being known by him. See his face. That is it. That is what we want. That is what we were made for. That is what life is about. As we see that – as we believe that - we give ourselves to him – to knowing him and growing in him and serving him – and being faithful to him now. 

 

 

 

Sometimes people get married – and then for various reasons - down the track they renew their marriage vows. They remind themselves, and then recommit and reinforce their vows. 

 

In a few minutes we’re going to have the Lord’s supper. And this is a bit like renewing our marriage vows with Jesus. 

 

As we eat and drink it’s as though Jesus says to us:

 

All that I am I give to you – all that I have I share with you. 

 

He has given himself for us – that’s how much he loves us. And he shares with us all of his riches – his forgiveness, his righteousness, most of all he shares himself. 

 

And as we eat and drink it’s as though we say to him:

 

I receive your love – I receive you. And I give myself to you. All that I am is yours. Forsaking all others – all other gods, all other idols that promise so much - I’ll be faithful to you as long as I live. 

 

Let’s use communion to renew our vows with Jesus. 

The True Marriage

 

SBD Weekend July 2018

Hosea 2:14-23

 

Introduction: the promise of happiness

A while ago I went to a wedding of a good friend. It was a lovely day – very musical day – he is musical and he sang a song at the reception – “Happiness, is just around corner.”  

 

Perhaps a little idealistic we might say. But – what we all want isn’t it – to be happy. To be fulfilled, secure, content. We’ve mentioned through our talks that lots of things around us offer that to us. It’s how most adverts work – you get a picture of a happy, fulfilled, contented life in some form – or a bit of it. If you only you get the right perfume, car, holiday. Same can go with jobs or possessions or pleasures.

 

But probably the most common place we look for that happiness and fulfilment are relationships. Marriage perhaps – or children – family – friends. 

 

God is making a similar promise to us in Hosea – he’s promising us something that will give us what we want – something will satisfy, fulfil and bring true happiness. And our instinct is right – it is about relationships – he is offering us a relationship that will give what we’re searching for. 

 

As we come to finish Hosea, the question for all of us – is who will we believe? Which promise will we trust, who will we be faithful to?

 

We saw earlier that despite Israel’s adultery, God still loved her, and in his love he promised to marry her again.  

 

Now we might think – but why marry her again, surely she’s going to do the same thing? What’s going to be different time?  

 

The point of this last talk is that as God remarries Israel – he acts to make it different. God changes things so it’s a true marriage – everything a marriage should be. First of all,

 

1) God will make his new bride faithful in relationship, Hosea 2v16-20, 14v4

2v16 READ – the day of the new marriage.  Look at footnote – ‘my Baal’. As Israel committed adultery – as she gave her trust and worship to Baal – she was still worshipping her God, Yahweh, as well. But she sometimes got them mixed up – and called Yahweh Baal. 

 

It’s a terrible thought – calling your spouse by the wrong name. Imagine an unfaithful husband saying to his wife - Do you want to go out Saturday night, Alison? I mean Susan. 

 

But that terrible state is going to change, v16 she’ll no longer call me baal. Why? What makes the difference? 

 

V17 READ – or no longer will their names be remembered. So God is going to act - and take away the name of Baal from Israel’s lips. He’ll even wipe their memory – so that they won’t remember his name. And then as a devoted lover, Israel will only have eyes for, or a name for, one God – her true husband. 

 

In other words God is going to make his bride faithful to him. 

 

We see the same thing in v19-20 READ. 

 

There are the qualities in perfect marriage – full of faithfulness and love. Now God has always been like that – but he’s going to act to make his marriage like this – Israel is faithful too. 

 

One last reference, 14:4 – having invited them to repent, God then says, READ. 

 

This is the heart of Israel’s problem in the old marriage – she has the disease of waywardness, of turning away from God. Another verse in Hosea says, “A spirit of prostitution is in their hearts” – Israel is ill in her spirit. She is addicted to adultery. It’s a habit she can’t kick.

 

But in the new marriage God says, I will heal her - I will make her whole and healthy with faithfulness.

 

A while ago I read a book describing the current developments in biotechnology. Popular explanation of some of the amazing things that might become possible.  

 

How we might discover the cancer gene, the heart disease genes - and how we will have enormous power and ability to cure ourselves and put ourselves right. 

 

However the book had a real concern about all this as well – because in the history of humanity we have always abused that sort of power. Commercial exploitation, social inequality, ethical misdemeanours. 

 

Interesting conjunction – this enormous power to put ourselves right physically – yet at the same time a complete inability to do the right thing. We have if you like a spiritual gene – we have a spirit of prostitution. We treat other things as god and so do things wrong. And we are unable to eradicate or replace that gene.  

 

But God says, in this new marriage, I’m going to heal you. I’m going to do spiritual surgery on my new bride – I’m going to remove this addiction to adultery. I’m going to act in you so that you are faithful to me, and will only have my name on your lips.

 

God will make his new bride faithful in relationship.

 

2) God will give his new bride fabulous riches, Hosea 2v21-23, 14v5-8

Second difference is that in this new marriage, God will give his new bride fabulous riches.  

 

2v21-22 READ. 

 

The word ‘respond’ here means acting in response to a need. And Israel – as they face God’s judgement, are in great need. 

 

There is no rain, no food. They have been defeated by Assyria, people been killed and deported. The land, the nation, is dead. You could sum that up with the word Jezreel – that was the valley where Assyria defeated Israel – so is symbolic of this death.  

 

But God will respond to this need – first to the skies, sky will respond to the need of the earth for water by sending rain. Earth will respond to the need for grain and wine and oil, by producing crops.  

 

All this will respond to the need of Jezreel – because it will bring the nation back to life. God will plant Israel in the land – and she will grow – in crops, in wine, in oil, as a nation, she will grow and become all she was meant to be.

 

See similar thing back in chp 14v5-8 READ.

 

I don’t know if we’re a bit too urban to get this imagery.

 

V5 Israel will blossom like the lily – a beautiful nation.

 

V5 she will be like a cedar sending down roots. Idea is that she will be secure and strong.

 

V6 Splendour like an olive tree – she will be majestic, awesome as a nation.

 

V6 ‘fragrance like a cedar’ – Israel will be attractive and desirable.  

 

God is promising to make Israel – secure, strong, fruitful and prosperous, majestic and wonderful.  

 

Of course that what Israel wanted. She longed for good crops and wine and the rest of it – but she went to Baal and Assyria for them. 

 

But the truth is, all these riches belong to God – and as he makes her faithful to him – he then showers these riches on her. 

 

It’s like Indecent Proposal – last time – my adapted version. Demi Moore married to Robert Redford who is fabulously wealthy. The affair with Woody has been exposed – Redford has left her to Woody and she’s seen he has nothing to offer – and then he takes he back – she’s faithful to him – she can’t even remember Woody’s name – and so he showers her with riches. All she wanted before – all that Woody use to promise her – she is has from her true husband.

 

So too God will make his bride faithful – and then pour out all these fabulous riches on her – crops, oil, wine, people. He is going to lavish wedding gifts on her, and make her life so rich and abundant, she couldn’t even ask for more.  

 

Of course the most wonderful thing, at the heart of all this – is simply that this new bride will know God.

 

2v23 READ. These are lovers talking to each other – saying, you are mine, and I am yours. We belong to each other – we know each other – we are united in relationship together.

 

We said earlier – this return – this remarriage – happens through Jesus. He comes as a bridegroom to love us – to win us back – to die for us – and bring us into a relationship with God – which is the true marriage. Number 3, 

 

3) God makes us his new bride in Christ, Ephesians 5:25-27

Let’s look at Ephesians 5. Here Paul talks about marriage and how Christ is a model to follow – for instance v25 READ. V28 READ. 

 

Then he goes on to say v31 READ. Now that is a quote from Genesis 2 – and in Genesis 2 it describing Adam and Eve and their human marriage. 

 

Then Paul says v32 READ.

 

Paul is saying that this quote from Genesis 2 – that describes human marriage – what it’s really talking about is the divine marriage between Christ and his church.  

 

Now you may be familiar with this – I don’t know – but the Bible says human marriage is actually a picture of the true marriage – ultimate marriage. That is the relationship between Christ and his church. 

 

Here is the fulfilment of Hosea – God promises to come to marry his people again – God promises to act to make his bride faithful and to pour out his riches on her. That happens through Jesus. 

 

That happens in part now. 

 

V25-27 READ. We have been made faithful by Christ’s death. Not faithful in how we behave we still do things wrong, but he has taken away all our wrong and our sin in his death. So we are now holy, perfect – faithful. God can look at us and see us as a faithful, perfect bride. And he’s changing us to be more faithful – by his Spirit. He’s doing that spiritual surgery in us – taking out that spiritual gene of adultery – so we are faithful to him. 

 

And we see that Christ gives us fabulous riches too - v29 READ. Hosea said God would care for his bride – now we see Christ feeds and cares for us as his own body. And he does that as he feeds us spiritually and helps us to grow in knowledge of him and being like him. 

 

Yet of course, we are well aware, our marriage with Christ is far from perfect. In many ways we are still waiting for Hosea to be fulfilled – we’re still waiting for the wedding day God promises. And the Bible says it’s coming. 

 

4) God makes us fully his bride in the new creation, Revelation 21&22

21v1,2 READ. Christ will return and God will bring about a new creation, a whole new world. But it’s described as a wedding. God’s people are the bride. Christ is the groom. And they are going to married – it’s like now we’re just engaged. Here is the wedding day when we are united. And Hosea is completely fulfilled. So,

 

God’s bride is now completely faithful – 21v9-10 READ. The imagery changes a little – the bride is the city, which is the people of God. But v11 READ.  

 

This is a transformed bride – now perfectly pure, shining with God’s glory – reflecting his character and faithfulness. Later in 22v3 we read that the people of God serve him in the city – don’t serve anyone else, because they’ve been made perfectly faithful to him.

 

And so God gives his bride fabulous riches. First of all every that spoils has been banished from this city. 21v4 READ.

 

We can also see it positively – this city is everything a city could possibly be. V12 says it has a great high wall showing its security. It is made of every kind of precious stone – just look at v18, or v21 READ.  

 

The language is being stretched to try and describe just how majestic, how desirable, how fabulous this city is. 

 

You know this language of precious stones is also used of the prostitute in Revelation, the anti-God world – who seem to have all the riches of the world. But now we see – what the world wanted, and tried to get – actually comes from God. He is the source of all riches. And now he showers them on his bride.

 

Most of all – the heart of all this – is that we will know God. 21v3 READ. 22v4 READ. It’s the wedding day – the bride is finally with her husband, and they are united in intimate, profound, union with each other. It’s the perfect relationship – it’s what we always wanted. 

 

A while ago I read about a TV programme in the States called, who wants to marry a millionaire? A millionaire selected his bride from about 50 contestants – then they were married on TV.  

 

However, before all that happened – there was a prenuptial contract signed – stating that if the marriage broke up the bride wouldn’t be able to claim any of his money. 

 

That sums up the low point we can reach in our relationships – not really trusting each other.  Not really giving ourselves to each other – not really loving each other.  

 

Human marriage, at its best, points to this divine marriage. At its worst – makes us long for this divine marriage – because we are fed up with the disappointment, loneliness, the hurt and the pain of life here. We long for a perfect relationship – which gives us all we really want.  

 

On this wedding day, there will be no prenuptial contract – because this marriage will never end.  There will be no going off with other partners – because this marriage will be utterly faithful.  There will be no holding back – of possessions, or love – because Christ will give us all his riches – all of himself.

 

There will nothing left to do – but to enjoy the relationship. To enter an eternal honeymoon of perfect relationship. 

 

Application

 

I said at the start we all want happiness, fulfilment, meaning and security. 

 

And lots of things around us offer us something of that. Jobs, fashion, beauty, possessions, homes, pleasures and entertainment. 

 

They aren’t wrong things – just won’t give us all you want. Because they are not god. Not enough.

 

Our instinct is often that we will get it in relationships - friends, family, a partner. Because the heart of what we want is to love and be loved isn’t it. To know and be known. To be valued and enjoyed. And to have some to love and enjoy and know. 

 

 

 

 

But again while relationships are good - they only give us a taste of that fulfilment we want. And sometimes much less as we hurt and disappoint each other. 

 

But God – being married and united to God. Being loved by him – to death. Being made rich by him. Knowing him. Being known by him. See his face. That is it. That is what we want. That is what we were made for. That is what life is about. As we see that – as we believe that - we give ourselves to him – to knowing him and growing in him and serving him – and being faithful to him now. 

 

 

 

Sometimes people get married – and then for various reasons - down the track they renew their marriage vows. They remind themselves, and then recommit and reinforce their vows. 

 

In a few minutes we’re going to have the Lord’s supper. And this is a bit like renewing our marriage vows with Jesus. 

 

As we eat and drink it’s as though Jesus says to us:

 

All that I am I give to you – all that I have I share with you. 

 

He has given himself for us – that’s how much he loves us. And he shares with us all of his riches – his forgiveness, his righteousness, most of all he shares himself. 

 

And as we eat and drink it’s as though we say to him:

 

I receive your love – I receive you. And I give myself to you. All that I am is yours. Forsaking all others – all other gods, all other idols that promise so much - I’ll be faithful to you as long as I live. 

 

Let’s use communion to renew our vows with Jesus. 

 

Weekend Away 3. Hosea 11:8-11. The Lover

Introduction

I want us to see that God loves you with the most amazing, extraordinary, mad, counter intuitive, beyond belief, out of this world sort of love.

 

Let me tell you about another film – The Elephant man. It’s about a man called John Merrick. He was terribly deformed – had an enormous skull and facial disfigurement – hence called the elephant man. He was in a Victorian freak show – people paid money to see how horrible he was. 

 

The film is about how a doctor, Frederick Treves, befriends him, tries to help him. But at the same time when people see him they often find him horrible. At one point in the film he loses his covering over his face, and he gets chased by a crowd and cornered and he cries out, 

 

 "I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being! I ... am ... a ... man!"

 

  • We need love

He exemplifies two things. First – how we need to be loved. He receives very little love – he says he was such a disappointment to his mother. He’s constantly laughed at or abused. And consequently he barely functions as a human – he’s so scared and withdrawn – because he’s never been loved. When Treves and his wife are kind to him - we discover he’s actually a lovely person. Through knowing them he starts to come out of himself - and grow and flourish. 

 

He shows us how we need to be loved. We were made for loving relationships. And so to be secure in ourselves, to be happy with ourselves, to be fully ourselves – we need to be loved from outside ourselves. We need love.

 

  • We love what we find lovely

Secondly he highlights the rule that we love what we find lovely. He obviously gives us a negative example - he is far from lovely so he gets no love. But that’s the rule we work to – we love what is lovely. Often we love those who are physically lovely – a quick look at magazine covers shows how much we value appearance and beauty today. But it’s not just appearance, we love those who are interesting, or funny, successful, intelligent. We love what we find lovely.

 

That leads to a difficult place. We need love – but the way it works is – we love what we find lovely. So what if you’re not lovely? What if parts of your character are deformed and ugly? What happens then?

 

Like I said, I want us to see that God loves you with the most amazing, extraordinary, mad, counter intuitive, beyond belief, out of this world sort of love.

 

1) God loves the adulterous, Hosea 3v1-5, 11v8-11

We saw yesterday that Israel aren’t lovely in God’s sight. 11v1-2 READ. God had saved Israel from Egypt, made her his bride – but she sold her faith and trust to Baal. 

 

And consequently – God will punish them – 11v5-7 READ. 

 

It sounds like God is like us – he loves what he finds lovely. And Israel are horrible – monstrous in their love of other gods – and so he’s going to reject them. 

 

Then out of nowhere we get v8.

 

God says, I’m definitely going to reject you, end of v7 READ. 11:8 READ.  

 

He’s in the middle of rejecting them, when it’s as though his heart breaks, and his voice cracks – “that’s it, it’s over, and don’t bother coming back – oh, Israel, oh my people - how can I do that? How can I reject you?”

 

He says v8 - my heart is changed with me – literally it’s more, my heart is in turmoil – I’m in a complete state – because, end of v8, my compassion is aroused. I’m in the middle of rejecting you, but as I do that - my love is welling up in me – and so my heart is breaking at the thought of it. 

 

And so he says, v9 READ. My love is too great – I can’t do it – I can’t reject you as my people. 

 

He is like a parent – who says to a rebellious teenager, that’s it, I’m throwing you out – oh come here – you’re not going anywhere. He’s like a wife – who says to her promiscuous husband – it’s over, I’m divorcing you, get out – the next moment, breaks into tears and says ‘I want you to stay’.

 

It is an amazing revelation of God’s heart. To see - the thought of rejecting us, breaks God’s heart – because he loves us so.

 

  • Once again acted out by Hosea and Gomer: Hosea 3v1-2

Hosea himself has to embody and act out this truth about God’s love. We saw how Hosea had to marry an adulterous women – to illustrate how Israel have treated God. But in chp 3:1-2 READ.  

 

It seems Hosea’s wife is owned by someone else – she has gone off with her lover, even become someone’s slave. Hosea has been betrayed, spurned, hurt.  

 

But now God says to him – love her again. I want you to love that adulterous, unfaithful wife who has hurt you so terribly.  

 

It doesn’t take much to imagine what Hosea must have felt. But God, she’s really hurt me. She has abused my love. She’s made my marriage like a sick joke. God sometimes I hate her, for what she’s done to me. To love the adulterer – that is crazy. That is almost inhuman. 

 

Of course that is just what everyone else would think as well - Hosea’s friends, his family – “Hosea – what are you playing at – letting her back into your life. We told you not to start with her – but you wouldn’t listen – but to have her back, after all she’s done to you. You’re mad to have anything to do with her. 

 

Once again though, Hosea does it – and he does it to embody God’s message to Israel. 3v1b READ. Hosea is to reply to his friends – you’re right - it is unbelievable, it is mad, crazy – to love the adulterous. But I’m doing it because that is how God feels about you – that is the sort of love in God’s heart – he loves you, with this mad, almost in-human love. 

 

In fact God says the reason he does love Israel is because of exactly that – because he isn’t human – back in chapter 11 - 11:9 READ.  

 

God being holy – means fundamentally that he is separate from us – in a different league from us. He is God, not man. That is true in many different ways – in his power, his purity - but in particular here – he is different from us in his love. Because he loves the adulterous. 

 

That’s not to say that humans can’t love someone unfaithful to us – but we rarely do it. Our love easily runs out, easily changes in the face of persistent, gross unfaithfulness.

 

But God isn’t human – he loves with a crazy, in-human love – he loves the adulterous.

 

2) God loves faithfully, Hosea 11v11

Secondly, we can add a little bit to this – God loves faithfully.

 

In 11v11 we read that God’s love will lead him to settle his children in their homes – back in the land.  

 

That is what God had promised to Abraham, I will be your God, and your descendants will be my people. I will give you the land of Canaan.

 

Now hundreds of years later – when Israel have been unfaithful to him and deserve his punishment – God says, I will give you the land - I will be faithful to you and will be faithful my promise.

 

Now, it’s not that this faithfulness is separate from his love. It’s not as though God is saying, “I really want to reject them but I did promise, so I suppose I’ll have to keep my word.” 

 

He chose to enter into relationship with Abraham and his descendants – in love. The promise was made in love. So when we say God is faithful to his promise, we are saying God is faithful in loving his partner, and giving her what he promised. He doesn’t stop loving – he is loves faithfully.

 

I read an interesting statistic a while ago - 50% of wives wouldn’t marry their husband again, if they had a second chance. You can just hear it, “If I had known it was going to be like this – if I had know you were going to be like this – I’d have never got into this. I don’t want to try and love you anymore, I don’t love you anymore”.  

 

That must have been said or thought so many times. Marriage reveals what we are really like. And faced with what we are really like, our love runs out. As we discover each other’s unloveliness, we so easily stop loving. 

 

But God is the Holy One, he is God and not man. He knows exactly what we are like, he sees all we do wrong – but he doesn’t stop loving. He doesn’t give up. He loves – faithfully. 

 

 

 

However – all this does raise a big question – what did God mean when he says – he can’t give up Israel? Because a few years after this Assyria do invade, and Israel is destroyed. His judgement does come. So – what is God promising not to do here? 

 

I think the places mentioned in v8 can help us. How can I make you like Admah or Zeboiim?  They were the sister cities of Sodom and Gomorrah - and like them were destroyed completely.  They were a byword for complete destruction.  

 

So God is saying – I won’t make you like them, I won’t destroy you completely. 

 

He will give them a taste of his punishment in the exile, but in his love he won’t give them all of it – he won’t pour out this ‘complete destruction’.

 

Or to put it another way – there will be a future for Israel. That is what v10, 11 describe READ – after exile – after the taste of punishment – God will bring his people back to himself.  

 

3) God loves us in Christ, Hosea 2v14

Another place this is described in Hosea is chapter 2 – let me read 2v14 READ.

 

Literally he says, “I’m going to seduce her” and ‘I will gently romance her’.  

 

And he goes on to describe how he will love her and marry her again. So God is depicting himself as a bridegroom, coming to win Israel back. There is going to be judgement – but beyond that – he will come love her again, and seduce her, and win her back. 

 

  • John 3v29 – Christ is the bridegroom come to win his bride

Well, the exile happens, Israel come back to the land, the years go by, and then we hear John the Baptist saying “the friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.” Complete because Jesus the bridegroom - he has now come. Come to an adulterous people – to love them and so win his bride. 

 

And so we read, 

 

  • Romans 5v8 – God loves us while we were adulterous sinners

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners – adulterous - Christ died for us.”  

 

  • 1John 4v10 - God loved us when we didn’t love him

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” We didn’t love God, we weren’t faithful to him. But in Christ, God loved us, and dealt with our sin.  

 

  • Ephesians 5v25 - Christ loved us to make us his bride

“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy … to present her to himself as a radiant church.” Christ loved us – to make us holy so we could be his bride.

 

In other words, this love of God described in Hosea – that love for the adulterous - we see that fulfilled in Christ. We see this love of God - as Christ comes as a bridegroom to make us his bride by dying for us. 

 

I don’t mean Christ’s death is nothing more than an expression of God’s love. His death deals with our sin. His death deals with that ‘complete destruction’ that we all deserve. And so means we can return to God.

 

But while Christ’s death achieves all that what Hosea really highlights is God’s love. This all happens because God loves the adulterous. 

 

And Christ’s death is the proof of that. Christ’s death is proof - that God’s heart does breaks over us, his voice does crack. 

 

Christ’s death is the demonstration – the thought of giving us up puts God in a complete state – because he loves us so. 

 

Christ’s death is the rock solid guarantee, undeniable evidence, immovable certainty – that God loves us. 

 

 

As I said at the start – we need to be loved. To be secure in ourselves, to be happy with ourselves, to be fully ourselves – we need to be loved from outside ourselves. We need love.

 

And yet we easily think – only the lovely get loved – but we’re not lovely. 

 

Might think that because of how others have treated us. Parents, siblings, teachers, friends, boss, colleagues. 

 

Might think we’re unlovely because of what we’ve done. Haven’t done. Feel guilty about that. 

 

Might feel we’re unlovely because we’re just little us. Not significant or important. 

 

Hosea says - God loves you. He’s God and not man, he’s not like those who haven’t loved us, or mistreated us. He loves faithfully. He doesn’t love those who deserve it – he loves the adulterous – the unlovely. He loves little you. 

 

The film “A Beautiful Mind” – is about a mathematician – John Nash – played by Russel Crowe. He’s a pretty quirky bloke – definitely on the spectrum. He really isn’t bothered about relationships – he’s doesn’t care what people think about him. Someone asks him once, you don’t care about people do you, he smiles and says ‘no’. He cared about numbers and theories and maths. 

 

The film goes on – he makes some great maths discoveries, he gets married – then you discover he’s schizophrenic – much of what you’ve watched has been him hallucinating. The film is really about his battle with mental illness. The enormous pressure and strain his wife is put under, the pain and grief she goes through. All she has to deal with and absorb. But she stays with him and keeps loving him. 

 

Towards the end of his life he received a Nobel Prize – and in the film he makes a speech – everyone is there in black tie – his wife. He says this,

 

“I’ve always believed in numbers. In the equations and logics that lead to reason. But after a lifetime of such pursuits I ask what truly is logic? Who decides reason? My quest has taken me to the physical, metaphysical, the delusional and back. I have made the most important discovery of my career. The most important discovery of my life. It is only in the mysterious equations of love that any logic or reasons can be found.  

 

Then he looks at his wife and says, “I’m only here tonight because of you. You are the reason I am. You are all my reasons.”

 

Now – it’s a bit Hollywood I know. But he has discovered love – is what really matters. And that is something beyond logic and reason. There is no reason for his wife to love him – not after what he put her through – but she does. Beyond reason.  

 

And yet it is every reason – it’s what he needs, it’s what has held him together, given him a life. Love – you are all my reasons.

 

Jesus’ love is like that.

 

Love beyond reason. Love for the adulterous – there’s not reason for that - it’s crazy, mad, unbelievable love. 

 

And yet Jesus’ love is all our reasons. I mean his love is the love we need for life. The reason for life. Knowing he loves us with this kind of love - gives us security and stability. His love allows us to be fully ourselves. His love allows us to be truly us because we’re secure, we’re free – we’re loved. A love that is all our reasons. 

 

So, as I finish I’ve just got one question for each of us – if we had time I’d ask you individually – look you in the eye – and ask, do you know God loves you? 

 

I don’t mean, have we heard God loves us. Or do we know abstractly that it is true God loves us. I don’t mean have we told other people God loves them. Or talked about how amazing God’s love is. I mean, do we know, for ourselves, deeply and personally, so that it’s a foundation for our lives, that God loves us? 

 

Because he does you know. 

 

Look at Christ and you see God loves you with the most amazing, extraordinary, mad, counter intuitive, beyond belief, out of this world sort of love.

 

 

Questions

 

Group discussion

Do I know and feel God loves me? 

 

“Love beyond reason” – why would God love me? How can I be sure that God loves me?

 

“Love that are all my reasons” – how does God’s love give you a foundation for life? Can you give examples of how God’s love makes a difference to you day to day?

 

Time by ourselves

 

Weekend Away 2. Hosea 2:2-13. The separation

Introduction: how does God respond to our spiritual adultery?

Years ago I met up with a bloke called Steve to talk about Christianity. One of the things he objected to was the idea that God would punish people for what they have done wrong.  

 

He put it like this – “when I was a kid I did things wrong, and my dad told me off. But now, if I meet up with dad, we go out for a beer and he says, do you remember the time you did this and that wrong – we’d look back and laugh.”

 

“Surely”, he said, “That’s how it will be with God when we meet him? Sure we’ve get things wrong now – but one day we’ll sit down and look back and laugh at how silly we were.”

 

Well he’s right that we’ve done things wrong – Hosea says we have committed spiritual adultery. By selling our trust to other gods.

 

Our question now is - how will God respond to that? How should he respond to spiritual adultery?  

 

I’ve got three answers that Hosea gives us – going to spend all our time on the first two, mention the last one at the end.  First of all Hosea tells us, 

 

1) Spiritual adultery leads to a reversal of riches, 2v5-13

By riches I mean all of the good things in life that Israel enjoyed - her food and wine, her families and children, her land and security. Those riches – are going to be taken away – and reversed into famine and barrenness and poverty and oppression.  

 

This comes throughout the book – listen to some verses, to get a sense of it. 

 

  • Food & family – 8v7; 9v2

8:7 “the stalk has no head; it will produce no flour. Were it to yield grain, foreigners would swallow it up.” 

 

9:2 “Threshing floors and winepresses will not feed the people; the new wine will fail them.” 

 

9:11,12 “Ephraim’s glory will fly away like a bird – no birth, no pregnancy, no conception. Even if they rear children, I will bereave them of everyone.”   

 

  • Protection & security, 10v5,6; 8v13,14; 9v3

And it’s not just food and family – the riches of protection and security as a nation, will be reversed into defeat and exile. 

 

So for instance 10:5,6 READ.  

 

Sometimes Hosea describes this metaphorically as going to Egypt – because for Israel Egypt was the supreme place of captivity. 

 

So for instance 8:13,14 READ.  Or 9:3 READ.

 

You get the picture. God is angry and he is going to punish Israel. The riches of prosperity and protection are going to be reversed into poverty and captivity. 

 

Now the idea of punishment isn’t popular today. I’m going to say some more a bit later about how we might think about this. For now I want us to see this isn’t an arbitrary punishment – there is a logic to it. Personally I’ve found it helpful to see this logic, it helps me understand what’s going on – what God is doing.

 

  • The logic of judgement – revealing the true God, 2v8-13

2v8-9 READ. Israel doesn’t acknowledge all these good things come from God, therefore he will take it away. 

 

More than that, 2v12-13 READ.  

 

We sad earlier on that Israel worshipped Baal thinking he paid her – that’s what was so appealing – he gave her the vines and fig trees – prosperity. So she thought. 

 

Actually they came from God. But Israel wouldn’t acknowledge that – so what was happening was - as God sent rain and made the grain ripen and the crops grow – Israel kept thanking Baal – kept saying, isn’t it good we worship Baal – look how he blesses us.  

 

Do you see what a terrible position this puts God in –– the more he provides for them, the more they thank Baal. It’s like he’s feeding their habit – he blesses them and they think worshipping Baal is working. 

 

So God says, they won’t acknowledge I give these things to her – so v9 - therefore – I will take it away. They say this prosperity comes from her lover - so I’m going to show them who it comes from – by taking it away and reversing these riches into poverty and captivity.

 

Earlier I mentioned the film Indecent Proposal, Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson – as a poor married couple – Demi sells herself to Robert Redford, a billionaire, for one million dollars.  

 

Let me rewrite that plot line – so that it actually gives a more accurate picture of Israel. Imagine if actually Demi was married to Robert Redford and his millions. He buys her a mansion and gives her everything she wants.  

 

But then Woody, who hasn’t got a penny, turns up, and says – come to bed with me and I’ll lavish my riches on you.  

 

And Demi falls for it - she goes off and sleeps with him. Then she comes back to the mansion, and sips some champagne, enjoys the caviar, gets into her luxurious bed – and she thinks to herself – my – that bloke Woody is certainly looking after me.  

 

After a while Redford catches on and confronts her – you’re sleeping around. But Demi pleads – I have to because he provides for me, he looks after me. No he doesn’t – I do – this is all from me. But Demi is in denial - says no, Woody gives me my allowance, my food, my home.  

 

What will Robert Redford do? The more he gives to her, the more she thinks Woody has come up trumps.  

 

Well in the end he’ll say, alright, I’ll take away what I give you. No allowance, no mansion, no champagne. If you want what Woody gives you – you can have it – you’ll discover too late he hasn’t got anything – it was all from me. 

 

Sounds ridiculous – I don’t suppose it would make a very good film. But that is the situation with Israel – she keeps going to Baal and Assyria – thanking them for everything that God has given her.  

 

So in the end God says, alright – I’ll take away what I give you – if want what Baal and Assyria give you – you can have it - but you will discover too late – they haven’t got anything give. And you will end up in poverty and captivity.  And you will realise – it all came from me. 

 

That’s the logic, the reasoning that lies behind judgement. 

 

2) Spiritual adultery leads to a reversal of relationship, 1v4-9

However, there is a more going on than just reversal of riches. Even worse – is that spiritual adultery leads to a reversal of relationship.  

 

Let’s turn back to chapter 1 – where Hosea has three children – and each time God tells him to give the child a particular name – which symbolises what is going to happen to his people.  

 

Lets start with the second child, v6 READ. Lo Ruhamah means not loved. Out of all the nations God had set his love on Israel – but now – they are not loved.

 

Third name is even worse. V8,9a READ – and Lo-Ammi means ‘not mine’.

 

Can you imagine the church notices that week – congratulations to Hosea and Gomer on the arrival of their third child – he weighed in at 7lb3oz, and Hosea – what do you want to call him. “Not mine”. Great - he’ll make a lovely brother for ‘Not loved’.  

 

You can imagine people saying, “Why have you called your baby such a terrible name?” Hosea would reply “I’ve called it not mine, because that is what God calls you”. v9 – READ. Or literally – you are not my people and I am not I am to you. 

 

If you know the OT – those words send a chill down your spine. When God was brought Israel out of Egypt, Moses asked his name. God said, I am who I am – which in Hebrew sounds like Yahweh.  

 

That was his personal name that he shared with Israel. It’s as though he said, I am God Almighty, but you can call me, I am, Yahweh, because I am your God and you are my people. 

 

But now God reverses that statement - you are not my people, and I am, not I am to you. 

 

Some years ago I knew a couple where the wife called her husband - bear. We all called him David. But she called him bear. That was her name for him. Imagine she is unfaithful – he is terribly hurt – says it’s over – we’re splitting up – she says – oh bear – no – don’t call me that. I’m not your bear. 

 

That is what God is saying – to Israel he was ‘I am’. Now he says - I’m not I am to you anymore. The relationship is over.

 

What that means in practice is not simply that they’re not talking to each other – but they are now against each other – they are now enemies. 

 

Let’s see some examples.

 

5:11,12 READ.  Literally I am like pus, or decay. 

 

5:14 READ.  Literally he says, “It is I like a lion”, “I, yes I, will tear them to pieces”. God used to be their provider and protector – but now he has become their predator, who will tear them apart.  

 

The point is – the relationship has been reversed – they have moved from God’s people, to God’s enemies, from having God as their provider and protector – to God being the one who will destroy them.  

 

This is no abstract idea – this happened – in 722BC Assyria defeated, destroyed and deported Israel – God came as a lion - and it was awful.  

 

Spiritual adultery leads to a reversal of riches and a reversal of relationship. 

 

  • If we persist in spiritual adultery and we face a reversal of riches and relationship, Revelation 18:1-22

Now what does this mean today? To put it simply – what we see here with Israel is a picture of God’s future judgement. It’s a warning – if anyone persists in spiritual adultery – if they reject God and make something else their god – then one day they will face a reversal of riches and relationship with God.

 

There are some ways in which this happens in this life – so someone who isn’t a Christian – doesn’t have a relationship with God now. But as I say – this is really a picture of future judgement on those who reject God and Jesus – and ultimately this happens at the end of life. 

 

So let’s turn to Revelation - where we hear the same sort of language. 

 

Rev 18:1-3 READ.

 

Babylon stands for rejecting God and treating other things as god. And the world has committed adultery with her – gone to her to get rich.

 

But God will judge her – and those who belong to her - listen to how it is described

 

Babylon is destroyed and - 18v11. 

 

18v14. 

 

8v21-22. READ.

 

In this life people who aren’t Christians can have many good things – that varies of course but to some degree they can enjoy the riches of food, family, relationships, education, homes, peace.  

 

But Revelation says one day there will be a judgement – and it means the reversal of riches – health and life reversed into death and mourning. Food into famine. Gold and precious stones, music and craft reversed into ruin and destruction. 

 

More than that – they will have no relationship with God. Elsewhere in the Bible we read, “God will punish those who do not know God. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord”. Being shut out from God, will be hell.

 

That is what adultery leads to – the reversal of all we made for – the riches of life – relationship with God. 

 

Embarrassed by the idea of judgement? 

Now as I said earlier this talk of punishment is far from popular today. We’re easily embarrassed about it – want to avoid it and not think about it. I certainly find that. 

 

So I thought I’d make a few comments on that – in the box. 

 

a) Judgement is integral to the whole Bible

By that I mean – if you take the idea that God punishes or judges out of the Bible the whole thing falls apart and makes no sense. What is the problem in the Bible if not our sin and God’s reaction to it? Why did Jesus die – if not to take our punishment in our place? What does forgiveness mean – if not – not being punished? 

 

To put it another way – the things I find it easier to believe and rejoice in – Jesus’ death, forgiveness, God’s love – they only make sense if God judges. And Jesus dies to rescue me from that, and forgiveness is freedom from that.

 

So it helps me to see that - if we take judgement out of Christianity – we haven’t got anything left.

 

b) Judgement vindicates God as God

Remember the logic we looked at earlier - God gives gifts and Israel thank Baal. And so what is he to do? More he gives, the more they thank Baal. Same today – people think their health, family, food and money and holidays – comes from themselves or their job, their abilities whatever. They are actually come from God – but they say, well done me, or thank their job or spouse or whatever.

 

And so God will judge – take away those riches – and when he does people will see who God really is. He will be vindicated – seen to be who he is – the provider of all. So judgement is about bringing reality and truth to someone. 

 

As someone is judged they will recognise - there is a God who made me, who I owe everything to, who I should worship and love. I see that now. 

 

c) Judgement is just and so is good and right.

God being angry and punishing isn’t like us being angry. When we get angry we get things out of perspective, we’re defensive, want to prove ourselves right, then can be vindictive, overreact. 

 

But God being angry and judging is an expression of his justice – of doing things rightly. 

 

And justice is something we want – we want things to get what they deserve. We want things to be right and just. Well that is God’s judgement. There is something terrible about it – but it is good and right. 

 

I think Hosea shows us this through the imagery of adultery. If we think of adultery – and brings feelings of hurt and pain and anger. That is right. We’re right to be angry at the adulterer – they should pay for how they abused someone’s love. 

 

Well if we rightly feel angry – how much more is God – the one who made us, gave us everything – right to be angry. Not out of control anger. Not vindictive anger. But just anger – that is right for how he has been treated. 

 

I started by mentioning my friend Steve - his idea that, like with his Dad, one day we’d laugh with God about what we’ve done wrong. Well that just doesn’t take what we’ve done seriously. Doesn’t take God seriously. 

 

Can you imagine a betrayed husband or wife sitting down and laughing with their errant partner and saying – do you remember how you use to sleep around – what a laugh.

 

Well that is just sick isn’t it? We don’t laugh at adultery. And God won’t laugh at spiritual adultery – he is right to be angry – right to punish.

 

3) The reversal leads to a reversal, 1v10-2v1

Let me read one more verse to finish. Having named Hosea’s three children, God then says this, 1v10-2v1 READ. 

 

God is saying there will be a reversal of the reversal. Those who were not God’s people, will become God’s people. Those who were not loved – will be loved.  

 

This judgement is real – but there is hope. There is a way back to knowing God again – being loved by him again. 

 

In a way I hope we’re thinking – how is that possible? We’ve had a story of marriage – then terrible adultery – right separation and it’s over. How do you recover from that? 

 

That is what we’ll look at tomorrow. Going to discover the most amazing love in the world. Which means we can become God’s people again. A reversal of the reversal.

 

I know this has been a bit dark and negative this morning. I hope it’s been helpful – we need to think about these things. But it has been dark – let me assure you the sun will shine tomorrow – we look at the lover and the true marriage. Good news is coming – wonderful news. But to hear it – and to see how good it is – to really get it - we need to hear this first. 

 

Pray

 

 

Questions and discussion together

 

Group questions

  • Am I embarrassed about God’s judgement? 
  • How does Hosea help me with that?
  • What is good about God’s judgement? 

 

Hymn – Rock of Ages – asked for us to sing this because it reflects what we deserve on our own – only hope is Jesus. 

 

 

Weekend Away 1. Hosea 1v2. The adultery

Introduction: taking the lid off adultery

A newspaper article a few years ago had the headline, 

 

Adultery is good for your marriage – if you don’t get caught, says infidelity website boss

 

That boss was Noel Biderman the founder of Ashley Madison – a website that will help you have an affair – he goes on in the article to claim that having an affair can actually help save your marriage. 

 

It’s a surprisingly common theme - relational experts, psychologists, maybe we see it most in Hollywood films – they suggest an affair can bring you good. Reviving your marriage, leading you to true love, enabling you to be the real you. It will be good for you in some way.

 

And yet, I think of a couple I knew at a previous church some years ago – the husband had an affair. I think the wife would say it’s the worst thing that has ever happened to her - destroyed her and her family. And her husband thought – it’s the worst thing I’ve ever done - I would give anything to turn the clock back and not have done it.

 

If you get behind the website to real people – if you lift the lid on the film and move to real lives - it’s a very different story. A story of the pain of broken trust and the hurt of betrayal and anger at unfaithfulness. 

 

Adultery might pretend to be acceptable – take the lid off and you find it is truly awful. 

 

Take other things - like working hard in your job. Being kind to friends. Enjoying a new home. Things which look normal and completely acceptable parts of life. 

 

What if we took the lid of those? What would we find underneath? 

 

That is what Hosea does – he takes the lid off things we can think are normal - and opens our eyes to what is really going on. He shows us the true nature of our behaviour and the true nature of our God. That’s where we’re going to start in this session.  

 

Layout of Hosea

Chapters 1-3: whole message portrayed in Hosea’s life (chapter 1&3), and a poem (chapter 2)

 

Chapters 4-14: the same message given detail and explanation.

 

Before we get into it let me say something about the layout of Hosea. In chapters 1-3 we get the whole message of Hosea stated – first of all acted out in Hosea’s own life, and then in chapter 2 in a poem. And that really tells us the whole story. Then rest of the book, chps 4-14, fills out that same message with some specifics – with detail and examples. 

 

Because of that in each talk we’re going to take a part of Hosea’s message we find in chap 1-3 – a theme or topic - then explore how it is filled out in the rest of book. That means we’re going to dot around quite a lot – probably easier to just listen as I read various verses out. Sometimes I’ll say – let’s turn to this bit – because it’s worth seeing it. 

 

The starting point of Hosea’s message – and the topic we’re going to explore in this talk is adultery. 1v2. READ.  

 

It’s a terrible thing to say isn’t it - Hosea I want you to marry an adulterer. I want your wife to be someone who will sleep around and be unfaithful to you. 

 

Can you image what Hosea would have felt when we heard that? But, God, I want a wife to love me and stay with me? Why do I have to do that, why put me though that? 

 

Because v2 – READ. Hosea I want you to do it, because I want your marriage to act out my relationship with my people. My people have been adulterous – they have been unfaithful to me.  

 

And I want you to bring that truth to them in the most vivid way. I want people to come and ask you, “Hosea why have you married her – why have you married a harlot, like that?” You will reply – because that is what you’ve been like with God. In your relationship with God you have committed adultery. 

 

Well, it’s a pretty full on way to start a book and to start our weekend. It feels like we’ve walked in on a couple having an argument. And you think - whoa - what’s happening here? What is this adultery – who is Israel’s lover – what’s been going on? That’s what we’re going to explore. 

 

Adultery language

Just before we get into that let me make a couple of comments about this adultery language because it raises some issues. 

 

  • If we’ve experience something of the pain of adultery

First of all – some of us may have experienced something of adultery – first or second hand. We might find talking in these terms hard – because it brings up strong feelings and hurts – and that could stop us hearing what God is saying.

 

Now if we’ve experienced something of the pain of adultery then that is an awful thing – and I’m not minimising that. However, it could be - in God’s grace he uses your experience for good. In his grace he could use that pain you rightly feel – to lead you to see something of the pain he feels at his people’s adultery. I know it’s a high price to pay – it was for Hosea – I know we’d prefer it to be otherwise, but you may be able to know God’s heart in a strangely special way.  

 

  • Remember adultery is only a picture – the real issue is spiritual unfaithfulness

Second comment – it would be easy to mishear what Hosea is saying and think that adultery is the big sin – and that’s what this is all about. But it’s not – physical adultery or human adultery is being used as a metaphor to talk about our relationship with God and how we behave towards him. So what he’s really talking about is what we could call spiritual adultery – being unfaithful to God. That is something true of all of us – so let’s not be distracted by physical adultery – that’s only the picture – the reality is how we’ve been unfaithful to God. 

    

  • Gomer gets no back story, nor particular condemnation

Last comment – I’m aware we are given no back story to Gomer, Hosea’s wife. We don’t know why or how she became adulterous – or a prostitute. Typically with prostitution there would be a story of abuse, of financial desperation, or sex trafficking. I just want to acknowledge we don’t get any personal narrative for her, she is simply presented as a symbol of the nation. 

 

Now we might object to a woman, a fallen woman, being chosen to symbolise Israel. Why can’t it be a man? Is this sexist? Well I think it could have been a man. But throughout the Bible God is presented as bridegroom and God’s people as his bride so the roles are consistent with that. And I’d also comment that Gomer isn’t actually condemned for being adulterous. It’s just stated she’s adulterous – but there is no judgement given on her. It’s the nation – men and women – who are condemned. If we think this feels sexist or misogynistic - I hope that helps.

 

1) Spiritual adultery, 1v2

Having said that, let’s get back to what God is saying. Through Hosea marrying Gomer God is saying to his people – you’ve been spiritually adulterous. Now what does that mean? How has that happened? 

 

Well it’s got two sides – first of all - on your sheet - it means spurning your true husband – God. 

 

  • Israel spurned her true husband, God. Exodus 20v1-3, Hosea 1v2

You can only commit adultery of course - if you are already married to someone.

 

And that was true for Israel and God. Hundreds of years before this God rescued Israel from Egypt, brought them to Mt. Sinai and entered a relationship with them – he basically married them. 

 

God said to them - “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, you shall have no other gods besides me”. In other words – I’ve rescued you – so you now belong to me – in an exclusive relationship as my bride and I’m your husband.

 

But Hosea 1v2, Israel has departed from the Lord. She has spurned, she has left her husband, gone outside that exclusive relationship.

 

How has she done that? Well secondly on the sheet – 

 

  • By selling herself to other gods/idols

The second half of this book, chapters 4-14, describes how Israel has worshipped idols. So she’s been unfaithful to her God – by treating other things as god. 

 

In fact Israel had two other lovers. 

 

First of all there was Baal. Baal was one of the Canaanite gods – the god of nature, or fertility. Let me read some examples:   

 

  • Baal: 4v12-14; 13v1-2

4:12-14 READ. Wooden idols and sacrifices on the mountaintops is talking about worshipping Baal. 

 

Or 13:1,2 READ.  

 

They were meant to worship God - Yahweh – but they had a god on the side – Baal. 

 

  • Assyria & Egypt: 7v11; 12v1

However, it wasn’t just Baal in the area of nature and fertility. Israel had also been unfaithful in the world of politics. She’d got into bed with Assyria and Egypt. 

 

Assyria was the superpower in the area, and Israel was scared of being invaded. So to protect herself Israel formed an alliance with Egypt – so Egypt would protect her. At the same time she paid tributes to Assyria so she wouldn’t invade.  

 

For instance; 7:11 READ.  12:1 READ.  

 

  • This adultery is actually prostitution, 8v9; 9v1; 2v5

However there is more going on here than just adultery. Let me read 8:9 READ.

 

Now selling yourself to a lover – isn’t just adultery – that’s prostitution. 

 

Even more explicit is 9:1 READ.  

 

The threshing floor is where they sorted the harvest. And Israel thought she got paid there in some way. 

 

Have a look at chapter 2:5 – this makes it clearer. READ. 

 

I said Baal was a fertility God – he was an early version of the health and wealth gospel. Come to Baal and he’ll make you rich and prosperous – large family, good crops, glowing health. That’s what he promised. And so that’s why Israel worshipped him – she wanted prosperity – so went to Baal. 

 

But God says that makes you like a prostitute. You’re selling your worship to Baal – because you think he pays you in grain and wine and oil. 

 

Similarly give Egypt some gifts – sell yourself to her – and she’ll pay you in protection and security. 

 

That is what made these lovers so attractive. It wasn’t that Baal was a really impressive god, or that Egypt was a great nation – and they couldn’t resist falling for them. They were attractive because they offered something – they offered to pay you. And Israel found what they offered irresistible.  

 

I don’t know if you’ve seen the film “Indecent Proposal”. Pretty old – early 90s. It stars Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson. They are a young couple, rich in love but short of cash when recession hits. So they head for Las Vegas to gamble their last $5000.  

 

There they meet Robert Redford – he’s enormously wealthy, throwing around his millions, but looking for love. And so he makes a proposal – one million dollars, for one night with Demi Moore.  

 

Now they refuse of course. But as money gets shorter and shorter, they begin to think – it’s only one night. It won’t affect our marriage. It’s only my body, she says, he’ll never have my soul. And one million dollars – just think what we could do with that. And in the end they agree – and she leaves to spend the night with him.  

 

As soon as she goes Woody knows it was a mistake, he runs after her but it’s too late, the helicopter has just taken off. She returns the next morning, but it’s not the same. They carry on together for a while but in the end his jealousy explodes – they argue – they split up.

 

It was an indecent proposal – obviously wrong – but in the end it was just too attractive – because of what he offered to pay.

 

Israel find Egypt and Baal just too tempting because of what they offer to pay. The promise of prosperity from Baal, and protection from Egypt - just too attractive to resist. 

 

Just to complete the picture – how did Israel sell herself to these lovers? Demi Moore gave her body – what did Israel give to Baal, or Egypt?  

 

What they actually did was to bow down in front of an idol, or to sign a treaty – but the point is they did that believing Baal or Egypt would give them what they wanted. In other words they put their trust in Baal – to provide for them. They put their confidence in Egypt – to protect them. That’s how they made love to them – that was the unfaithfulness – they sold them their faith. 

 

The faith that belonged to God. 

 

He had promised to provide for them and to protect them. 

 

But instead of trusting him Israel thought, food, crops, international politics. They aren’t really God’s thing. You need a specialist god to help you with that. Look what Baal offers – look what Egypt could do for us. 

 

So they sold their faith – they gave what belonged to their God to another – for what they thought they would be paid.

 

In that film ‘Indecent Proposal’, Demi Moore and Woody – they convince themselves this one night won’t really matter. It will be harmless. But then as soon as they’ve done it – it’s like their eyes have been opened – see the true nature of what they have done – see it wasn’t harmless or normal – but that it was prostitution. It was giving what belongs to your husband – to another – and it is horrific. It is painful, damaging betrayal.  

 

Israel thought what she did – didn’t really matter. Worshipping Baal, going to Egypt – it was harmless. It was easy for them to think that – because all they were doing was copying the people around them, just did what everyone else was doing. It looked normal. 

 

And so the start of Hosea’s message is to take the lid of their actions – to take the lid of their hearts – and open their eyes to what they are really doing. Show them that what looked so normal – was actually horrible unfaithfulness. They are spurning their true husband. Prostituting themselves – to another god. 

 

Let’s finish by thinking about us today. 

 

We could talk about all people today. The Bible talks about everyone being made for an exclusive relationship with God – where they worship him alone. And yet everyone treats other things as God. So you could say everyone is spiritually adulterous – unfaithful to the God who made them. 

 

But this language of adultery is used particularly of Christians. 

 

Christians can be adulterous, James 4v4-5

Because as Christians – we’ve come back into relationship with God through Jesus. And the Bible describes that as a marriage relationship. We’ll think about this more tomorrow – but that means as Christians, we can be adulterous.

 

So for instance James 4:4,5 READ. 

 

By ‘the world’ he means all of life with God excluded. Could be money, career, possessions, relationships, popularity, pleasures. Things that aren’t wrong in themselves. But, if we exclude God, they are ‘the world’. 

 

When he says friendship with the world he’s talking about putting our faith in those things for what they will pay. 

 

The promotion – promises success. The relationship – promises fulfilment. Money promises security. The new home or possessions promises happiness. 

 

We should trust God for those things. Yes we can enjoy things in the world that he gives us, he can use those gifts as the way he gives us pleasures and fulfilments. But ultimately he is the one who gives security and meaning and fulfilment. 

 

James is talking about putting our trust in the world – things without God - putting our faith in them – instead of God. Because of what they seem to offer – what they will pay us. 

 

It’s easy to do. It looks normal. Everyone around us does it. To get your meaning from your job. To seek identity in your relationships. To look for fulfilment in your comforts and holidays. Everyone does that – so it looks normal. But like with Israel God is taking the lid of our lives and showing what is really going on. 

 

Trust those things in the world – instead of God – make them your god – and you are being unfaithful, adulterous to God.

 

That’s the big picture – but to give a bit more detail – we need to see the true nature of sin, and the true nature of God. 

 

  • True nature of sin

I think it’s easy to think that sin – doing something wrong – is a matter of breaking the rules. Or disobeying God’s law. But if you keep the rules – if you do things right – then you haven’t sinned. That misses the true nature of sin. 

 

God is saying sin is profoundly personal. It’s about unfaithfulness to him. 

 

Let’s say you do break a rule - you tell a lie – exaggerate the truth. You do it to look good. That isn’t just breaking a rule. That is worshipping the god of popularity. You’re giving that your trust to that god thinking it will pay you with stronger friends and a better reputation. And that will fulfil you. Rather than trusting God for fulfilment and the friendships he gives me. So it’s much more than breaking a rule – the heart of it is unfaithfulness to our God. 

 

And even if you keep the rules you can still sin. Say you work hard at your job – doesn’t look like you’re doing anything wrong – not breaking any rules. Only you do it because you find your security and significance in your career. That is where you identity lies. So you give your faith to your job to provide you with meaning. The faith that should be in God. 

 

Hosea is showing us the heart of sin is about faithfulness or unfaithfulness to God. 

 

  • True nature of God

Secondly we should see the true nature of God. It’s easy to think that God isn’t really affected by our sin. I do something wrong – God is so big, awesome – it’s easy to think he’s immune to what I do.

 

But God is showing us here how our sin affects him. We tell a lie to be more popular – that is worshipping another god - and that breaks his heart. He is showing here, our unfaithfulness makes him a wounded lover. He is great and awesome. But he’s also personal – and loves – and so is wounded by us. 

 

That is what Hosea is brought to experience in his own marriage. As his wife betrays him, he is brought to feel how God feels for his people – the wounded, broken heart, of a spurned husband. 

 

That is how God feels about what we do wrong. We’re in relationship with him, so sin is personal, it wounds him and breaks his heart. 

 

Now we’re going to go on from this to see how God reacts to this – see what answers there are – so this is just the start. But we need to start by seeing true nature of sin and God. 

 

Groups

What are the most common ‘rival lovers’ to God that are around today? What do they offer to pay for our worship? Which lovers do we find most tempting?

 

How does Hosea change how you think and feel about sin? 

 

How does Hosea change your view of God and what he thinks of what we do wrong? 

 

How is that a helpful way of thinking and feeling?

 

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Joshua 10

This is our last outing into the book of Joshua. And i’m going to speak on this chapter for 15-20 mins and then give some time at the end for any of your questions or observations about the book as a whole - what has most struck you. So have a think as i’m speaking.  

My real hope is that we’ll each return to these great stories to meditate on them from time to time because this is a vital and essential biblical book modelling for us as christians our discipleship; our taking hold of the eternal life and relationship with God that we both already have and await the full realisation of. 

As we watch Israel struggle to overcome, by faith in God, their obstacles and opposition and enemies … as they step out in faith to take possession of their promised land … so we have a model for how we are to fight in our christian lives. the christian life is not a walk in the park, a holiday on the beach or mountaintop bliss…it’s a battle, a journey, a marathon, a war. Trusting in Jesus’ all sufficiency we grow up to be like him, we move forward to take hold of that which is ours. 

 

In our passage this week, we encounter again the Gibeonites. We saw these guys last week - they were Canaanites, they were the enemy, and by deception BUT also because they had come to believe in and revere the God of Israel - they managed to broker a covenant with Israel - whereby Israel would protect them. This whole people group - the gibeonites- have been grafted by a covenant pledge and promise into the people of God. The King of Jerusalams that the Gibeonites have made peace with Israel - that’s actually a really good description actually of what it means to become a christian. It is to make peace with God and his people. Make peace by Repentance and Faith. Faith means you come to believe that you’re loved by God - that you were his enemy and destined to be crushed but Jesus came and was crushed for you. Faith in God’s love. But also repentance: turning around - you lay down your arms and permanently change your allegiance, you live your life now in obedience and worship of God. You make peace! 

 

That’s what the Gibeonites had done. They are new christians brought in by God’s grace under the shadow of his wings but now here’s the thing … immediately they face persecution

immediately they must cry out to God 

inorder to receive his help 

 

Let’s look at those 3 things 

  1. you will face persecution

 

The Gibeonites have been Christians a matter of days and immediately they learn the reality of Jesus’ promise to his disciples in John 15v18 "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19If 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. 20Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.

 

you will face persecution. 

 

Let’s look at what happened. 

v1 Adoni Zedek, Canaanite King of Jerusalem is rattled. The conquests of Jericho and Ai and now the treaty with Gibeon which more than a great city was in fact - 9v17 - a confederation of cities - 4 cities - all of this means that a whole swathe of Canaan - a band through the middle separating North from South - has now come under the control of Israel. And so the Canaaan King of Jerusalem feared greatly v2

But this is not a godly fear that leads to repentance and peace. This is a rebellious fear that leads to persecution. v3 he seeks to build a coalition. 4 other Kings to strike not Israel but Gibeon because they’ve made peace with Israel and Israel’s God. Then v5 the five kings of the Amorites—the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish and Eglon—joined forces. They moved up with all their troops and took up positions against Gibeon and attacked it.

 

[Manchester Univ CU – week of events – present the gospel. One of the halls – tiny group of Christians – we decided we put up some posters to publicise the events – torn down. We did a rather naff piece of theatre in the canteen to advertise the events. Most people looked quite disinterested. But after we’d done it one young man came storming after us – his face was bright red, absolutely furious. ‘Who was responsible for that?” Me? I asked him what had offended him. He found it difficult to articulate. He ranted at me. He hated what we were doing. All I remember was his anger.. Turned out to be from the Church of England Chaplaincy.] 

 

I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced that. Perhaps in the past you’ve experienced it in yourself? It’s not nice to be disliked, sidelined, looked upon with disdain, dealt with unjustly. I reckon we’d do anything to avoid it.  maybe it might make us think we’ve done something wrong - and certainly there’s no merit in being persecuted for being judgemental or rude. more likely we are tempted to keep quiet about our faith because we don’t want to suffer the heat. But anyone who lives a godly life will be persecuted. 

 

opposition towards Christians is often – inordinate – i mean they weren’t tearing down the posters of the chess club or the Islamic society. 

Opposition towards Christians is often irrational – modern people often say Christianity it’s disproved and outdated. We now know such and such. And so we can ignore Christianity. But in practice opposition to Christians is far more heated and aggressive, scornful and in many many places around the globe it is violent. Being a christian can cost you your livelihood and in some circumstances your life. 

 

If Christianity is so irrelevant – why oppose it so violently? Why bother? 

 

And what is at the root of persecution and opposition to faith in our God?The answer I think that our text hints at is that faith in God is a threat that needs to be crushed because it itself is an assault on human pride. Pride is the reason that we hate Christ and his gospel. 

 

Look again at the enemies of the Gibeonites. 

They are their near neighbours, fellow canaanites, wider family. ready to kill them now they’ve become believers in God.

They were, v6 tells us the King’s of the hills, the mountains - a subtle reference not just to geography but also to character. Their elevated position. Kings of the high ground. Their made up names speak volumes about their self perception: Adoni zedek means Lord of Righteousness. Hoham - the God who protects; Piram - wild, fierce; Japhia - high and elevated; Debir - Speech, The speaker. 

Near neighbours, Puffed up pride 

It’s very sad to say that it is often those who have come to hold elevated positions in religious realms - our near neighbours - who are least friendly to God’s little ones. (My friend in the Manchester Univ chaplaincy) Desiring to have the pre-eminence religious people within our own christian wider community can be merciless towards any who refuse to be subject to them. Remember how Jesus’ greatest opponents were the religious authorities. They hounded him to death and they sought to silence his ambassdors, the apostles because he and they threatened their authority - their pride 

Puffed up pride hates the gospel of God because the gospel is all about GRACE and grace completely undermines all human pride and human power. 

 

Every religion and philosophy, apart from Christianity, says that getting  to God is something You can do. You have problems but there are things you can do to sort it out. 

Christianity says. You can never make it. Without help You are lost. Christianity says All you deserve, all you can achieve is God’s eternal rejection. Because of your sin. And there’s nothing you can do to save yourself. 

So it is has to be done for you. Jesus Christ came down. He stood in your shoes and suffered for you the rejection of God which you deserve. So that you could step into his shoes and enjoy the welcome with God that he deserves. He does it all. It’s all about Jesus. It’s all done by him. Grace. There’s nothing you or I can do except receive it, trust him. 

 

And of course that is an offence to our pride. 

If you’re proud of your performance - the idea that grace is the only way is utterly offensive. Our whole way of life, based around ourselves, is threatened by Grace. That’s the reason for hostility. We either fight against God or we are given the humility to lay down our pride and receive the grace of his love. 

 

You will face persecution. 

 

2. You must cry for help 

We’ve learnt much about prayer from the book of Joshua. God wants us to know the joy, peace, security of knowing him. he wants to draw us into a life of relationship, a life of prayer. 

We’ve said from this book, that when the sun is shining in our lives we don’t tend to pray. We are proud people. We like to cope on our own. Do it ourselves. We miss out on the grace and joy that could be ours.  And so God allows the rain. God allows hardships. God uses the opposition of the world and our struggles to cause us to have to turn to him.Often he has to bring us to the end of ourselves inorder that we might finally look to him and cry out to him. 

God shapes the difficulties of life to fall upon our lives inorder that we might prove our faith, find our faith to be genuine. How do i know that i am really God’s child? i know because when the trouble really hits i don’t turn from him i do turn to him and  he shows himself to be present and real. 

See the Gibeonites - we might have thought that they were just chancers. They’d seen the threat of Israel and so they’d sought a treaty with them. Now the big threat was the combined forces of the 5 hill top Kings. Might  you not expect Gibeon to just bow the knee apologise to Adoni - Zedek and turn coat again, throw in their lot with the strongest team still in thr tournament? Perhaps that’s what Adoni - Zedek assumed Gibeon would do. 

 

But Gibeon does not change allegiance. Gibeon does not crumble in the face of violent pressure. Gibeon remains faithful to her new God. 

Gibeon cries out for help v6 “Do not abandon your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us! Help us, because all the Amorite kings from the hill country have joined forces against us.”

One of the greatest evidences for myself that i really do love God, that he has me. Is that when under serious pressure to buckle and walk away from God to another place that is very attractive - i choose God, i choose God. Don’t you. Because deep down you believe. Your faith is proved. You cry for help. 

 

Notice also that Gibeon which was a strong coalition in itself, with mighty warriors does not trust in her own strength. Gibeon does not get proud and think that they can do this alone. We can be so like that. Do everything but pray. Try everything else first. Our pride. 

But this battle is not one that we can fight. We must cry out for help always. Quickly.  

Cry for help. honestly, openly. God hears. And he knows exactly the timing of the response that is needed. 

In this case with his Gibeonite children the response is immediate and dramatic. 

 

Joshua takes the entire army v7 

Joshua is reassured by God v8 

Joshua marches through the entire night and immediately enters the battle v9 

There’s no reservations. There’s no, oh this is just the Gibeonites, the new boys, why bother with them, they’re not the real deal, they deceived us into helping them, and here they are are again asking for help. 

Ever feel you’re a Gibeonite? Just a slightly annoying Christian, not a very good Christian, not very deserving of help, not the real deal, perhaps i’m not a christian. Perhaps i can’t ask for help. God’s not interested in me. 

Look at this. Look at this. Look at what Gibeonites get 

Immediately. Joshua takes the whole army, commissioned by God, marches through the night, straight into your battle. This is Jesus towards you. 

You must cry out for help

 

3. Surely the Lord himself fights for us! 

God is our refuge and our strength. A very present help in times of trouble. Therefore we shall not fear. Psalm 46.   

Look at how it is God who miraculously fights for us. fights our battles. The Lord our warrior. 

 10 The Lord threw [his enemies]  into confusion before Israel, so Joshua and the Israelites defeated them completely at Gibeon. Israel pursued them along the road going up to Beth Horon and cut them down all the way to Azekah and Makkedah. 11 As they fled before Israel on the road down from Beth Horon to Azekah, the Lord hurled large hailstones down on them, and more of them died from the hail than were killed by the swords of the Israelites.

12 On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel:

“Sun, stand still over Gibeon,

    and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”

13 So the sun stood still,

    and the moon stopped,

    till the nation avenged itself on[b] its enemies,

as it is written in the Book of Jashar.

The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. 14 There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!

 

I think this is hugely reassuring. God doesn’t hear our prayers and then out source his response to other agencies. He doesn’t commission G4S to organise his people’s security. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel. Surely the Lord is fighting for Gabriel. Surely The Lord himself fights for us. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you ever been persecuted for being a Christian? What form did it take? How did it feel? What did it make you think? 

 

Would it be a good thing if you had never been persecuted for your fath? 

 

Why according to Joshua 10 might it be that God’s people are persecuted?

 

What might stop you crying out for help to God? 

 

Why must you cry for help immediately?

 

Where do you need the Lord to fight your battles for you at the moment?

 

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Joshua 9

Joshua 9

 

Intro

I read a link on social media recently which asked the question....

 

Which scenes do you always fast forward through when rewatching a movie?

  • First 10 minutes and the last 5 of taken. Tight gritty dramas sandwiched between family schmudtz 
  • Knife fight scene from Saving Private Ryan.
  • The Scene in Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug where they're tripping balls in the woods until the spiders show up
  • Return of the Jedi where Luke Skywalker talks to Leah about the Force...
  • More recently for me it would be the tube scene in the darkest hour when winston churchil goes rogue and chats to everyone on the underground – nice and all but a bit eye rolling.

 

And let me be honest, if a film were made of Joshua,, chapter 9 may be those same scenes you would fast forward through when rewatching.

 

Context of Joshua – God had promised to give them the land, they needed to clear the land of their enemies and start again. They were given God's promises, the assurance of His presence and 'I will not leave you, I will not give up on you.  I have given you this land, you will inherit all the promises I swore to your forefathers. Don't be frightened, don't be dismayed, don't let the word of God depart from your mouth, meditate on it night and day.  The Lord your God is with you wherever you go. 

 

Up until now, great battles, great victories, some dramatic tension of purging a thief from their number – some with war waged, others with marches, but it's been an action packed warring narrative. It's super adventure filled, God with them, action action.

 

And then we get to this chapter.  Does it not feel to you like 'really? We've got a whole chapter on a weird deception? Like, old school copies of this book were made, scribes have painstakingly hand carve this chapter, word for word, handed down all to tell us, what?' Did it not seem weird or random or a bit of a non-event?

 

Do you not think, I'd fast forward through that another time round? I do

 

The story in a nutshell is that after Israel's victory, surrounding nations get twitchy and plan to counter attack. One nation, the Gibeonites, decide that they'll trick the Israelites into making peace with them by pretending to come from a far off land and therefore not pose a threat.

It works. But then the Gibeonites get found out, the people are annoyed with the leaders but a covenant was a serious thing in those days, which couldn't be broken. So the Gibeonites come before Joshua, hold their hands up saying 'yup, our bad' and they get to stay but have jobs as household servants in the temple.

 

I know, right, you'd definitely fast forward it when you read it again. Since this is God's word and since he has the remote and I don't, let have a look.

 

As we look at this chapter I think it tells us a couple of things – firstly about the lack of Faith in God's people, the presence of faith of the outsider and the Joshua who protects the faithful.

 

  1. The Faithlessness of God's people – don't be complacent 

 

The chapter opens with a whole group of nations conspiring to come together to wage war on the people of God.  

But in their number were the Gibeonites – they saw the situation, heard what God had done through Joshua in Jericho and Ai and didn't want to fight, as we'll see.  So, a very simple deception was planned.  Nothing hugely complicated, just a simple sleight of hand, an ego massage and a plea for peace. They come to Israel pretending to be from a far off, insignificant land wanting to make peace because they've heard great things. And initially, Israel was suspicious v7, guessed it by accident saying “ But perhaps you live near us, so how can we make a treaty with you?’”

 

And the people replied not with a denial, not with a surrender, but with flattering plea

    'We are your servants'

 

The reply of the Gibeonites was classic distraction through answering a different question.  Verbal games.  They were crafty – a sleight of hand followed by an ego massage.

 

Have you've ever noticed how much a compliment can throw you off guard?  How flattery can be pretty intoxicating and bewitching? Don't know if you've waited to see friend or family member to have it out with them and they start the conversation with a 'you look great' or 'look it's my favourite person' – compliments have a way of ultimately distracting us – even and perhaps especially when the compliment is spiritual. 

Listen to what the Gibeonites said

'We've heard of the fame of your God, we know of all he's done for you in all of your many incredible victories and we've made huge efforts to come to you, to make a covenant with you

They quoted what every Israelite would have wanted to here....

We love your church, we've heard about your community, we see that God is with you, it's obvious to us.  We have come to make peace.

 

We'll come to whether this was genuine or not in a moment, but the point being that it seemed to distract them.  It seemed to put them off pursuing their original enquiry, seemed to embolden them somehow.

Until finally they made peace.

 

Yet the narrator gives us the real reason.  You see, in hindsight they may have concluded that it was a simple ruse and they should set up systems in place so this would never happen again.  You could imagine all sorts of new policies of covenant making, a think tank group set aside to develop better ways of avoiding deceit, better ways to spot old sandals/bread/wineskins, lie detecting machinery....all of it. In retrospect that could've been the resolution – the moral of the story.

 

Yet the narrator wants it to be very clear what the real mistake was.  

Do you see it, v 14 – 'they did not enquire of the Lord' 

That was it – they did not enquire of the Lord.

They didn't seek him, they didn't talk to Him, they didn't ask Him, nothing. 

 

When I was little I remember playing in my Nana's house in Birmingham. I learned later that it was on the market and she was in the process of selling it, so you can imagine the pristine nature of a house with frequent viewings.  Anyway, me and my older bother were in the front room doing a jigsaw before children's tv was scheduled to come on at 3.30pm.  And it got a bit cold, so we went over to the old gas fire and saw there was only one panel in the middle lit, so we tried to the get the other two panels to fire.  In our 4 & 6 year old way, we reasoned, we had ideas and the best we came up with was that we roll up a piece of paper and light it through the grate and then put it against the panels that weren't lit in the hope they'd ignite.  And to add extra protection to our hands, since we were getting near the fire, we wrapped them in paper towels.  The inevitable happened and both pieces of paper and the towels set alight and me and my brother ran with a flaming torch on our hands through the living room to get help.  You can imagine we were in big trouble.  But once the burns were treated and we were sat down for the telling off, my Nana just said 'if you were cold,  why didn't you ask me to turn the fire up?'  – I remember sitting there, utterly floored by the question.  We literally had no answer.  The common sense of a small child prevailed. But Why didn't we just ask?

 

And Joshua in his narration is saying the same thing, almost as if the LORD is asking the same question – why didn't you just ask me? Now we don't know the answer but it could be  they  just thought they had this, it seemed reasonable thing, just common sense.  We showed due diligence, we checked the food & it was mouldy, we examined the wine skins and they were battered, their shoes and saw the holes.  Maybe it just wasn't a big thing – maybe they just thought 'we've got this'.

 

It wasn't a big, weighty, spiritual question, right? – it wasn't 'who shall I marry, what job shall I do, where shall I live, should I take this promotion, where shall we send our kids to school' –  these are the biggies  that we know we should enquire of the Lord– but the Gibeonites, well - it just didn't seem to need prayer. It didn't seem to need asking the LORD.  

 

Now I don't think the point here is that we have to enquire of the LORD which flavour crips we buy when we're in the shops and can't choose.  But somewhere between 'what flavour crisps' and 'what shall I do with my life' lies a vast array of decisions. And God's people must enquire of Him.  He longs for us to.  Like my Nana, she was confused that we didn't just ask, she felt hurt that we didn't, she was annoyed that it led to burn marks on the carpet, she was deeply upset that it led to burns on our hands.  

 

And so we see the faithlessness of God's people exposed, making peace with the very people God had told them to drive out.  Why? They were deceived, they had their ego's massaged, but

They did not enquire of the Lord

 

Secondly we see the 'faith of the unbeliever which gives us reason for humility'

  1. The Faith of the Outsider – be humbled

 

Now hear me out on this one, because I admit I'm drawing conclusions on things that we don't know for sure.  

The chapter opens with all the kings of West of the Jordan hearing of the victories of God's people in battle.  Naturally they decide on a counter attack, on vengeance, on war.

 

But not the Gibeonites. The last thing they wanted to do was go to war.  Why? Well, maybe because the things they spoke about were true - 

‘Your servants have come from a very distant country because of the fame of the Lord your God v9

v24:

‘Your servants were clearly told how the Lord your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you the whole land and to wipe out all its inhabitants from before you. So we feared for our lives because of you, and that is why we did this. 25 We are now in your hands. Do to us whatever seems good and right to you.’

 

It sounds a bit like Rahab – do you remember her? She was the one who hid the spies in Jericho at the risk to her own life. She said this to the spies in chapter 2

 ‘I know that the Lord has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the Lord ….

 

I've heard about Him and I want in. 

The Gibeonites had heard what God had done, they believed His word.  They sought peace rather than war, they appealed to the Word of the Lord – and even though they were deceitful, they sought covenant. They even went adrift from all their other kings and sought peace rather than war.  Had they been found out, this could have been seen as treacherous. And we read in chapter 10 that Gibeon was a great city, of men who were amazing fighters, so it wasn't like they couldn't have really wounded Israel or put up a decent fight. 

 

And did you notice that when Joshua confronted them and they were 'cursed' and assigned to be woodcutters and servants – basically manual labourers for the temple – they didn't object, they accepted what was deemed to be a right punishment – simply repeating 'we are your servants v.25 – 'now we are in your hands, do whatever is good and right to you'

 

You see, who can say what the genuine response of their hearts was, but I think they're supposed to really contrast with the faithlessness of Israel by showing a faithfulness of the Gibeonites.  

 

Whilst Israel was enjoying the spoils of the victory, basking in the special privilege of knowing God, here comes a group of people devoted to, yes, trickery and deception, but with the desire to be under God's shelter too.  And In the LORD's peculiar sovereignty, their deception worked, the oath was sworn and upheld.  

 

It is humbling to see faith in the God we think we know by those we don't know about.

It is humbling when others take our faith more seriously than we do.

It is humbling when people hear the word of God and act on it – when we live in the spoils of His blessing and go it alone in our walk with Him.

 

So the faithlessness of God's People,  The faithfulness of the Gibeonites

And 

  1. The Joshua who protects the faithful

So as we've seen in reading through the book of Joshua, Joshua – who's name, like Jesus, means 'One who Saves' lays down the pattern of what the champion of God's people looks like. Now, Joshua being human, also shows us what being human is like but we pay careful attention to the role Joshua plays that's distinct from the people. Let's have a look at v.26 - 

But do you see what happens when the Gibeonites are found out?

v.26 So Joshua saved them from the Israelites, and they did not kill them. 27 That day he made the Gibeonites woodcutters and water-carriers for the assembly, to provide for the needs of the altar of the Lord at the place the Lord would choose. And that is what they are to this day.

 

The oath was made, the people grumbled wishing for it to be reversed, but it was upheld. For despite their not enquiring of the Lord, they knew the binding nature of an oath before him. And so strongly did they feel about this that when Joshua affirms the oath of protection to the Gibeonites, he's  described as v. 26 – as saving them from being killed by Israel.... - killed in battle, or killed from anger at their deception....either or both!

He saved their lives, he spared them. Ironically here, he spares the lives of the outsider from death & hatred of the insider! 

 

I mean, can you imagine what church was like the following week?  There's the people of Israel, widows perhaps who've lost their husbands in battle, then the  warriors who fought against Ai, leaders of the people, maybe looking bashful for having been tricked so easily. And then there's the Gibeonites, the ones ministering in the house of God!  The 'curse' is an interesting one – your punishment is to be close to God, to serve him, to be employed in the altar of the Lord at the place the lord would choose.   Joshua has saved your life and now you're completely in.

 

It's like playing for one country in the world cup one week, then bribing your way with false passports to convince another country to sign you and find yourself in the dressing room of the new country by the weekend!

 

It's outrageous grace.  It's ridiculous grace, It's risky grace. But It's the only kind of grace there is.  Well might the people of Israel grumble – sitting there saying 'but my family are descendants of Abraham, I've grown up in the church, I've given a lot of money to the work of the gospel, and there they are – they just lied and here's how they get rewarded. 

 

There's no reward for good behaviour as a christian – grace gets us in and grace leads us home.  We're no more worthy now that when God first saved us.  I love the line in the hymn – grace has brought us safe thus far and GRACE will lead us home.  THE WAY IN IS THE WAY HOME.

 

So as we conclude on what may have felt like the chapter you'd fast forward, we have two groups of people that we may identify with

 

There's the group of God's people who, being flattered and independent, did not enquire of the LORD.  Perhaps we identify with them, perhaps we feel the independence from Him that has been a struggle and decisions we've made proven to be the wrong ones.  Don't lose heart, do not fear, Jesus has got you – Jesus, the One who Saves – is able to make good on them, able to rescue in the big and the small.

 

But perhaps we feel more like the Gibeonites – feeling like as we sit here, we're only just in by the skin of our teeth, our moral reputation nothing to be proud of, our track record feels a bit dog-eared, our emotions frayed and we sit looking around us wondering how we manage to be here.

It's the same Jesus who meets you, who saves your life and welcomes you in.  You're all good.

 

Let's take time before we sing to praise our Jesus

    The one who longs for us to talk to him

    The one who is able to redeem our past mistakes

    The one who saves our lives and brings us to himself

 

  

 

 

 

 

Joshua 8

Joshua 8 

 

We’re over half way through our series of sermons in the OT book of Joshua and it’s a chance for us to recap again the way that this ancient book, this ancient story operates for us here in 21st C London. 

 

Does this seemingly distant primitive story have anything to say to me about my life and my God? 

Well we’ve said that the OT is not as distant as we might think. 

 

Jesus tells us in the gospel of Luke 24:27 what the OT Scriptures are really all about.. The are are about Him, Every story; Institutions in the OT - like the temple and sacrifices - they teach us about Jesus. People in the OT particularly prophets, priests, leaders and Kings in so far as they are good, they point us to Jesus, in so far as they are bad- they point us to our need for Jesus the perfect prophet, priest and king. So Joshua the man foreshadows Jesus  we really see that in Today’s passage. Remeber Joshua and Jeshua Jesus are the same name. So this ancient book is all about Jesus. 

 

And this ancient story is also all about us. The apostle Paul says in a  couple of places in the NT - Romans 15, 1 Corinthians 10 - that the history of Israel occured and was written down to teach, warn and encourage us, Christians. I remember a few years ago when we were making plans to renovate our church hall - leaky roof, rotten windows, no heating, poxy kitchen and the worst toilets in England - and Pete and Dave drew up architects plans for developing the kitchen with a mezzanine and new toilets and they built this little scale model of the hall as it would be in the future complete with little people inside. It wasn’t the reality, it was a model. But it helped us to understand for the future, the ultimate fulfiment of the plans for the hall. That’s the OT.  The OT story of a nation, Israel rescued through sacrifice (the exodus) from slavery for a promised land. That story is the prototype, the model in miniature, in anticipation of the fulfilment of the ultimate plan of God which is A world rescued through sacrifice from sin and death for a promised eternal rest.

 

So the ancient book of Joshua is about Jesus - he is there foreshadowed Our Jeshua. And it’s about us. Israel’s entry into and claiming of, conquering, the promised land pictures for us OUR entering into eternal life with God which has both now and not yet aspects to it. We both have eternal life with God now AND we await the full consumation of that life beyond our death or when Jesus returns to establish a new creation. In the meantime, in the now and the not yet, just as Israel, entering their promised land needed to claim it, conquer their enemies. So we, having entered life with God need to take hold of that which is already ours. We need to fight our enemies to enjoy the life and rest God has for us. And our struggle to quote Ephesians 5:12  is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Spiritual war. against sin, temptation, godlessness. Are you aware that you’re in a warzone? If you’re oblivious you’re very vulnerable. you’re a sitting duck. Perhaps you’re weary, afraid and hiding from the conflict. Or perhaps you’re surrendering, throwing in the towel? you’ve given up and there’s not getting back in as far as you can see.. 

 

I hope this passage will give you encouragement and hope to not be naive, to not give up, to not be afraid but to keep fighting with the help that God provides. 

 

Israel in Joshua 8 were not in a good place. They’d just lost a battle, chapter 7, taken by surprise by a seemingky weak enemy - the tiny stronghold of Ai - means ruin! 3000 soldiers would be more than enough they’d thought. Wrong they got their buts whipped, there are casualties, 36 dead, presumably many wounded and worst of all morale is completely lost. If we can’t defeat little Ai we’re doomed - what hope do we have surrounded by enemies?

It’s often happens in life that it’s the small things that trip us up and ruin us. We make great strides and then fall to the most innocuous temptation. One small problem that breaks us having withstood so much difficulty and that failure can lead to great discouragement and despair. How am i ever gonna do this?

 

But don’t lose heart. Don’t give up. Hope is coming…

 

I said last week that Israel’s defeat at Ai wasn’t because of their prayelessness - they hadn’t prayed beforehand. And it wasn’t becuase of their pride. They only thiught they needed a small force to win this battle and so they left the majority of the army behind. I said that because the passge Joshua 7 makes plain that God withheld victory from Israel because there is sin in the camp. Achan’s disobedience. 

 

But reading chapter 8, it does seem that Achan’s sin - his self centredness in taking for himself things that God had said should not be taken. His self inflated view that he could get away with it. Achan’s sin is perhaps characteristic of all Israelits hearts after the crossing of the Jordan and the victory at Jericho. They had it seems  become complacent, self dependent and proud because God, in chapter 7 and her in chapter 8 gets Joshua back on his knees, back to prayerful dependence. AND. They had it seems become over confident and proud because God, here in chapter sends the whole army with a detailed stragegy to attack little Ai. 

 

so 3 things we’re going to consider

  1. Our prayerfulness 
  2. Our obedience 
  3. Our Jeshua - Our joshua, Our Jesus 

 

 

  1. Our prayerfulness 

At the beginning of chapter 8 Joshua has been on his face again in prayer. When things are going well - as they had been so far from Israel crossing the Jordan, defeating Jericho - when things are going swimmingly we pray less. Ai looked easy - well within their grasp, so you don’t pray, you just act…

 

If Joshua had prayed, had sought the Lord would be not have received God’s revelation about Achan’s sin BEFORE having to learn of it the hard way - the failure of Ai, the loss of 36 lives. The discouragement and despair. Wasn’t prayerlessness in part to blame? 

When things are going well we begin not to pray. We revert to independence, self confidence and a fall and failure is inevitable. 

One of my favourite songs at the moment, I have made mistakes by Texan brother sister, rock folk duo The Oh Hellos - has these words. 

The sun it does not cause us.. The sun is does not cause us to grow

It is the rain that will strengthen… The rain that will strengthen your soul. It will make your whole. 

 

After the failure of Ai, Joshua is on his face. And he waits for God. On his face til evening. Having poured out his heart to God - his pain, his confession, his complaint, his cries for help. He waits for God. He waits for God’s response. 

Because prayer is not a one way thing. It’s not submitting a complaint form or shopping list to some impersonal faceless beauracracy. Prayer is a child coming to her heavenly Father. Prayer is expectation. Prayer is the beginning of a conversation.  

Prayer cannot be just us speaking. It must involve listening because God is a speaking God. he has things to say! AND His words, unlike ours are Wisdom and Truth and Life. 

 

We’re always told that the way God speaks to us is through the words of Scripture and that is entirely true. But we moderns we have a problem with reading and listening. In the ancient world you read for wisdom, you read slowly. With the founding of universities in the 13th C and the consequent age of enlightenment the purpose of reading changed from the learning of wisdom to the speedy acquisition of information. Reading became the very functional activity that it is today. 

 

We’re in danger of not hearing God in prayer. 

We need to rediscover a prayerful waiting before God that holds before him and ourselves the truths of Scripture in such a way that we can receive his particular word to us and wisdom for us deep into our hearts and minds. God speaks in our prayers but are we really listening? 

i love and am challenged by this quote from James Ussher - the Puritan Archbishop of Armagh who said that: “Every sermon is but a preparation for meditation,” and, one hour spent in meditation is “worth more than a thousand sermons.” 

 

God’s direct words to you, to you - that is your food, that is a the feast for your soul - says Isaiah 55 where God invites us to come and listen to him to come feast. Here is joshua hungry and waiting on God. And he receives food 

After the earthquake of Achan’s sin. God restores a troubled and shaken heart with strengthening word and renewed promise, a generous gift, and a wise strategy.

v1 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. an unmistakeable, strengthening word from God.. God proving his presence and involvement. We need that when we’re in trouble, we need to know God is with us and he is for us. Wait upon the Lord Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For listen to the promise renewed I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land. God is going to do this. In fact it’s already as good as done. It doesn’t depend on you. Listen to the generous gift 2 You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king, except that this time you may carry off their plunder and livestock for yourselves. Wow, if only Achan had waited. God is not a spoilsport he doesn’t withold gifts from us. Then finally there’s wise strategy for the way forward Set an ambush behind the city.”

 

How different Joshua must have been when he finally arose from waiting on God’s living word in prayer. The work of prayer is totally where it’s at. Wait on God. Allow him to truly speak to you. You will be transformed. Our prayerfulness 

 

2. Our obedience 

God’s strategy for Ai is almost the polar opposite to Israel’s original failed strategy.

 

Israel had thought that Ai could be handled with just a small force of men, give the rest of the army the day off. 

But God sends the whole army into battle v3. All God’s people are required. That’s instructive for us - whether it’s the global church or the local church - the battles of God are not won by just one subsection or group. Everyone is needed. 

 

Israel had thought that they could just march up to the gates of Ai and walk straight in - how wrong they were as the nutters of Ai came running out straight at them causing them to leg it in the opposite direction. 

God’s strategy is not boastful and proud - marching up to the city. 

God’s strategy is humble and seemingly weak. Part of the army hides behind the city! The rest of the army with Joshua march towards the city gates and the thugs of Ai can’t believe Israel’s stupidity. They’re back for another kick in. They rush out from the city and true to form Israel turn and run away! At which point the Israelite forces hidden behind the city slip into an empty stronghold set everything on fire and then march out to surround the men of Ai and defeat them. 

 

God has a strategy that Israel are required to follow to the letter> God is the commander of the army. He wins the victory. 

Obedience can seem like a dirty word in our self obsessed culture. Obedience to another is considered weak and weird. Be your own person, actualise your freedom, don’t be constrained. But freedom to live as you please is not freedom if you don’t have the wisdom to know how to live well! 

True freedom, True life is found in focussed obedience to God  who is the source of all life. 

When it comes to the battles we face. God instructs us in Ephesians chapter 6v10 

be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes…. 14 with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 …take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.

 

God’s instructions for our obedience 

be strong IN the Lord 

 

brings us to our final point because left to oursleves we won’t pray, left to ourselves we won’t obey but we are no left to ourselves. We have one who prays for us and with us, we have one who who obeyed for us - 

 

3. Our Jeshua

All of the Scriptures are about Jesus 

and i was looking at this passage and thinking where’s Jesus here and of course he’s staring you in the face because Joshua in this passage is foreshadowing Jesus - our perfect leader, our captain, our Lord, our substitute - where we had not prayed, he prays on our behalf, where we had not obeyed he obeys, where we deserved death he died, where we needed life he rose to victory 

 

Look at Joshua’s journey in the story

Following his prayers - he enters into obedience to this humble, seemingly weak plan of God. 

he sets the ambush and end of v9  he spent that night with the people. Literally he dwelt with the people. 

There are only 2 places in the gospels where Jesus is said to have dwelt with his people. One is speaking the incarnation. God becoming a human being. He came down, became what we are inorder that we might become what he is. He comes to our humaity to the heights of his throne. The second place that it talks about Jesus lodging with his people as opposed to sleeping rough which seems to have been his usual practice - was on the night before the night before he died. when he lodged with his friends in bethany. The night before the night before his great battle. 

 

The next day Joshua takes his troops to camp as a lure in front of the city of Ai. but that night v13 Joshua went [alone] into the valley. 

Jesus too entered the city. And on the night before he died he went into the valley - the darkness of gethsemane, the trials before his opponents, the abandonment of his friends. 

 

Joshua’s battle is one of seeming weakness. The Israelites flee in the face of the hooligans of Ai. But the tables will be turned when the ambush is sprung. Jesus’s battle on the cross is one of seeming weakness. All seems to be lost as Jesus hangs on a wooden cross. But the ambush on evil is sprung. By killing him they are killing sin and Jesus rises from the dead victorious. 

 

Joshua stands with his spear aloft until the victory is finally won. 

Jesus, raised and exalted stands at his Father’s right hand praying for us. Victory is won and shall be won.   

 

Our Jeshua. 

How incredible he is. He has done it all. All of our prayers and all of our obedience are a privileged entering into his prayers and his obedience. We don’t pray and obey because we have to. becaus we have to ingratiate ourselves to God, earn our way. No it’s all been done for us. Jesus has already walked that road on our behalf and secured our eternal life - so that we can now pray and obey ..

 

Let’s pray together..

 

 

Joshua 7 Wrapped up in one another

We’re back in the OT book of Joshua after a few weeks away from it. And here we come to this passage in chapter 7. Where there is war, the anger of God, judgement and the stoning or a family. It’s a hugely difficult passage for our modern sensibilities. It seems primitive and barbaric. Is God going to be like this towards us?

It’s enough to makes us give up on the OT altogether. Some Christians do that, Except that there is a remarkably similar, parallel story in the NT to this one. Acts 5. Just following the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, as the early church begins its work of taking the message of Jesus out, One family in the church, a couple called Ananias and Sapphira drop dead infront of the Apostles because they lied about a gift of money they were making to the church! They’d sold a property and said they were giving all the proceeds to the church when actually they’d kept a proportion for themselves. And they dropped down dead for it!  I remember preaching that passage on our penultimate Sunday at GCH before we started SBD. We were preaching through the book of Acts and that passage was where we’d got up to and it just so happened that on that very sunday we were having a gift day for people to give money for our new church plant! What a passage to preach on on a gift day. Is God going to be like this towards us??

 

To which the answer, I think is, no…. and yes 

No.. because these 2 incidences were both crucial moments in salvation history. The tiny, fledging church which carried the first single flickering torch of the truth about Jesus couldn’t afford for that precious flame to be compromised by dishonesty. Ananias and Sapphira needed to be taken to heaven early. 

Israel under Joshua have been taken into enemy territory. The nations of Canaan were brutal and pagan, engaging in practices like child sacrifice. The time had come for God to judge those nations he tells us very clearly in the Scripture. On a physical level if Israel do not destroy the Canaanites, they will be destroyed. This is what their world looks like. It’s kill or be killed. But also on a Spiritual level it’s even more crucial. This repetition of this phrase ‘the devoted things’is really important. Look back if you would at chapter 6 v17, God’s instructios to Israel about the conquest of the city of Jericho  17 The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the Lord. …. v18  keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. 19 All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the Lord and must go into his treasury…..So v21 They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.

Everything in enemy Jericho is either destroyed or if it’s precious metals put into the treasury of the Lord. And there’s a spiritual reason for it. This language of devotion/devoted things is the language of worship. If Israel preserve Canaanite people or property for themselves, God had warned them, they will be corrupted by Canaanite idolatry. This must not be toyed with. The contagion must be removed. They must kill it or it will kill them - and at a deeper more serious level than the physical. Their spiritual, eternal well being is at stake. 

 

Remember we’ve said that these OT accounts of the Exodus - rescue from slavery in Egypt and the entering and conquest of the promised land. These happened and are recorded in the Scriptures as prototypes, models of the real story of God’s global salvation - Jesus rescuing the world from slavery to sin and death. Our entry into life with God. And our need to fight in the here and now - not against flesh and blood but our spiritual enemies of sin and fear inorder to take hold of the eternal life that God has for us ..while we wait for the day when God will act in final judgement to completely remove all sin and all evil from this world. 

So Joshua’s time is a foretaste of that. An intrusion of the future into history for our instruction. 

 

Achan and Ananias and Sapphira - they are people just like us. Covetous. A bit dishonest. They were unfortunate to mess up at crucial points in salvation history. Where crucial action had to be taken! 

But even though, NO God may not be like this towards us in our day

Nevertheless, Reality does not change and God does not change and we need to understand 1. how serious sin is - our selfish independence, our actions that disregard God and others. Affect others! And we need to understand how seriously God takes sin and is committed to exposing it and removing it. This passage challenges us and comforts us. 

 

So let’s look at it 

First thing to see is that. You are connected to others. We are not islands. We are not isolated individuals. We are wrapped up in each other. When it comes to sin, and when it comes to life our actions and their consequences are not limited to ourselves.  You are connected to others. 

 

Look at the passage. 

It was all going so well for Israel. God had said step into the raging Jordan river. Obey me and I wil be with and you’ll see my greatness. I will fight for you. And Israel does obey God and they find it to be true! They dare to step into the raging torrents of the Jordan and the river stops flowing. It piles up in a great heap a mile away and they cross on dry ground. They obey God’s bizarre instructions and startegy for the “battle” of jericho. Marching around, blowing trumpets, giving a big shout and the walls come tumbling down! They discover God is faithful to his promises. If they obey him he will be with them, he will fight for them, they will know life and rest. The principle is absolutely true today. 

But just when it’s all going so so well. A violent shock to the system. 

Spies have brought report that the stronghold of Ai is small and will need a force much smaller than Jericho. 3000 is plenty and the other men given a day off ….but  v4 the 3000  were routed by the men of Ai, 5 who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water.

What is this? This isn’t meant to happen. This isn’t meant to happen. Where is God? Suddenly Israel feel very very vulnerable. 

v6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. 

And Joshua pours out his heart to God in fear and despair and self pity  “Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! 8 Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? 9 The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?”

Why has this happened? 

Was it overconfidence? - we only need a small force to overcome Ai 

Was it prayerlessness? they didn’t commit their way to God

Was God faithless? God doesn’t keep his promises. Earlier was just a coincidence when things were going well. God doesn’t care.. If he’s even there.. Ever feel like that a bit when things aren’t going your way? Well listen to what God says: 

10 The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? 11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.

It wasn’t over confidence. It wasn’t prayerlessness. It wasn’t God’s faithlessness. It’s sin, trangression. Let me just say - not all seeming failures in our lives with God are the result of sin could be something else but where there is sin there is failure. 

 

But now here’s the thing that we are learning. You are connected to others. When it comes to sin (as well as life) We are wrapped up in each other. 

v1 told us the reason for the failure right at the start of the passage 

the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things

it’s repeated here in God’s explanation to Joshua: Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions.

But the slightly weird thing is. It’s only one guy who’s done wrong. Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. One man does wrong but the Lord’s anger burned against Israel.

 

What we have here is the reality of corporate solidarity. The Bible is big on this. We are blind to it in our individualistic self obessed culture but it’s always been the case. We are wrapped up in each other. 

We do have some ways that we express it that can serve as an illustration. So for example - nationality. When Germany win the world cup in 4 weeks time. Any German you meet will be able to say ‘We won the world cup or even I’ve won. And of course it’s highly unlikely that the particular German you’re talking to actually won it - unless you’re interviewing Thomas Muller who’s injury time tap in sealed the victory. But the German who sat in a pub in Friebourg with one of those huge beers watching the final, she can still say we won the cup simply by virtue of the corporate solidarity of being German. 

It’s the same with being in a family. Did you notice Achan’s family references in v1? Your parents, grandparents, great grandparents.. their lives have a bearing on your life. You are wrapped up in each other

And it’s the same actuall with being human. The bible says that we are all impliated in our human parents Adam and Eve and when they chose to sin. All humanity fell. We unavoidably sin because we are in Adam. We bear te family likeness. Which seems unfair but that is they way corporate solidarity works. It was the case with Israel. In the case of Achan it led to the deaths of 36 people and risk to the whole nation. 

And while our place in salvation history is not the same as Achan’s, it is still true in the people of God the church that we are wrapped up in each other. We are one body, says the NT of the local church. Different parts of a single body joined together by joints and ligaments. The same blood flows in our veins. And so, again to quote the NT, when one part suffers, every part suffers. Whenone part rejoices every part rejoices. And when one part is sinning - the whole body is affected. What a sobering reproach towards our easy sinful independence and selfish gratification. We are not private individuals who can do as we damn well please. We are in community. Our private hidden decisions affect one another. 

 

Now, we might want to take God to task on his creation of corporate solidarity in church and humanity. Why should i bear the consequences of another person’s sin? whether it’s my yours or Adam’s sin. It’s just not fair. It’s not just. But here’s the thing…. There has to be corporate solidarity if there is to be salvation. If i truly was an isolated individual. If there was no way that i could be joined, hooked up to something better, some better humanity some better human. then i would be lost. I couldn’t be saved. But thanks be to God that he has sent a second Adam a new Adam. A perfectly obedient man. Who has created a new humanity. Jesus Christ. And i jpined to Adam by birth in sin, I can leave Adam’s doomed humanity and be connected by faith to Jesus’ death to sin and resurrection to life! 

While it was Jesus who conquered sin and death and rose to life I can say, along with all those connected to him. We’ve won. I’ve won. We died, We rose. We are alive forever. We’ve won simply by virtue of the corporate solidarity of being a Christian. In Christ. 

We are wrapped up in each other. Be challenged. Be comforted.. But get rid of your sin. You’ve died to sin, you’re alive in Christ. Obey him and know life 

 

2. Your sin will find you out. Your sin will find you out 

God takes sin seriously because he is holy and because sin is deathly. he will not be soft on it. he will not let it fester in our lives and in our community. because he cannot live with it. Look at v12 which comes right at the centre of the story. 

I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.

God will not abide sin 

And he roots it out. He exposes it 

Your sins will find you out. Achan thought his sin was well hidden under the ground in his tent. he’d smuggled the belongings out and no one had seen. He’d done it. But there is no such thing as hidden and secret and safe sin. Everyone is affected. Your wrapped up in one another. And God knows and he will root it out for everyone’s good. 

A whole night of preparation is given for the Israelites to come clean before the sin is exposed v13-15. But Achan does not come forward.  

The following morning Achan’s tribe are chosen from the 12 who present themselves. But Achan does not come forward. Achans clan is chosen among all Judah, and then his own family v17. But still Achan does not hold up his hand. When Achan is finally outed he freely admits his sin. I wonder if all along he was thinking - is this about me? i know i took a little bit of loot, just a bit of silver, a bar of gold.. just a nest egg a portion .. and that beautiful robe from babylonia. who could resist that. I wonder if all along he felt that his sin wasn’t such a big deal? He deserved something from the battle. I wonder if we rationalise things in the same kind of way? 

Achan lived at a crucial time. He really had no excuses. Israel needed God, holy and almighty close to them as they made this momentous step into enemy territory. The instructions about devotion and holiness had been very clear and Achan had violated them and he needed to be taken out. And he was. 

And for us. God won’t allow the death of sin to ruin our lives and our communities. For God to contemplate sin in a Christian is like a father seeing sickness in his beloved child - his hatred goes out towards the sickness his love and compassion towards his child. He’ll do anything to take us past those enemies to help us take hold of the life that is ours. Sometimes it’s only the exposure of sin that brings us to our senses and helps us overcome our addiction to sin. We need one another in that fight. 

 

 

The Parables of the Lost Things Luke 15:1-24

We’re looking at Parables of Jesus in the gospel of Luke and here Jesus speaks 3 parables to: some people who knew they’d messed up who suspected God would never want them and to other people who were confident in their righteousness - the Pharisees, the community leaders. 

 

3 parables back to back. 3 stories, similarly themed. In each parable 3 things happen 1) something is lost 2) the loss leads to a search, 3) retrieval brings rejoicing 

 

  1. something is lost 

here’s the shepherd in his field caring for 100 sheep, it’s very unlikey that they all belong to him maybe 4 or 5 of them do. The flock is the combined ownership of his village his community and his job and responsibilty is to care for them all.  How regularly do you do a head count? Must be difficult.. they keep moving..

Except perhaps this shepherd doesn’t have to count - he knows his sheep -which means  hang on where’s fluffy? Haven’t seen him… fluffy? fluffy!? He’s wandered off again. 

Sheep are nototriously stupid and rebellious they get themselves into trouble, they need the Shepherd. A lost sheep

 

Then here’s the woman counting her valuable coins. My mum would always say If you count your money you’re going to lose it. One of this woman’s coins is lost! She counts again that sinking feeling of realisaton grows ….A lost coin 

 

Then a son comes to his father - says the unthinkable in that culture where you lived with your father until he died; where you’d bury your Father and only then would you leave. He says give me my share of the inheritance now, i’m leaving now. It’s a horrifying insult. It equates to saying ‘Dad i wish you were dead.’ Incredibly, the Father rather than punishing his wayward son, beating the living daylights out of him. This father …he grants his son the freedom even to reject his Fatherhood and love. The son takes the money, leaves his Father, squanders the wealth, winds up destitute.  A lost Son 

 

Jesus makes clear that in each case the lost things equate to people. ordinary people. people like us.  That we are in some way lost. And you don’t have to look lost to be lost. You don’t have to feel lost to be lost. 

The Bible says that Our true human home is in God; to be with God our Maker, the source of our existence. But perversely we know that instead of enjoying God, we largely ignore Him. Instead of discovering our true purpose living his way. We say with Frank Sinatra, ‘I’ll do it my way” 

Like a sheep wandering away from the Shepherd. 

Or like a Son saying to his Father -  I’ll take the gifts thanks - life, pleasure.. but i don’t want you. leave me alone God. Ill do it my way. 

This, we know, is the bias of our hearts. And you don’t even have to be a so called immoral or particularly dysfunctional person for this to be the case. The admired, well to do person who has given their life to charitable causes but has done so completely on her own terms with no reference to God is just as rebellious and just as Lost. 

We have wrenched ourselves from God who is the only life giver. And unchecked that lostness continues into eternity. 

 

But thank God is not the end of the story.  

 

 

Because the 2nd thing in the parables is that  

Each loss results in a search. Loss results in a SEARCH 

 

The shepherd leaves the 99 sheep and goes in search of the 1. Isn’t that extraordinary? If I was looking after a hundred sheep and only one went missing id think - well i haven’t done too badly. But not this shepherd. He’s not a generalist. He cares about the one. He embarks on a search and rescue expedition. 

 

The woman …turns the house upside down in search of the coin. 

 

And The father  ….. - implicit in the fact that He sees his returning son from a great distance and runs to him - is the reality that this Father was a horizon gazer. Every day this Father’s eyes never strayed for long from the horizon; from the road, longing for his son to come back. He’d put his office in that room and positioned his desk so that whatever work he was doing, regularly he’d break off to look out for his son. I bet people noticed him doing it. Perhaps some tried to dissuade him, perhaps you would have: “Give it up, do yourself a favour forget him, he’s never coming home. And anyway he did a disgraceful thing.”. He looks at you with tears in his eyes and says, ‘He’s my son - he’ll always be my son.” And his eyes return to the horizon. 

 

I think it might be a sign of getting on a bit .. but i’m always misplacing things and occasionally losing things. ‘Where are my keys! Has anyone seen my keys??” And when you lose something you can tell the value of that thing to you by the manner of your search. If you turn over a few cushions and shrug your shoulders and turn back to watching Strictly come dancing  - it obviously wasn’t that valuable. But if you’re missing Strictly! Urgently turning the house upside down because you can’t relax until you’ve found it, retracing your steps, you can’t sleep for racking your brains - then the thing that is lost must be of tremendous value to you! the value of the thing to you is revealed in the manner of the search. 

 

Humanity was lost and the Bible tells us that Jesus Christ did not merely shrug his shoulders, sadly shake his head and return to creating new worlds… No, he got up , he crossed the great divide from heaven to earth to come and find us. We had ignored and offended God and yet Jesus, eternally God humbled himself to share our broken humanity. He became human. He went from Glory to a stable floor. From the company of angels to the friendship of sinners. From the throne of Creation to the agony of the cross. To pay for our offences and to reconcile us to God. 

 

 

The value of the thing to you is revealed in the manner of the search. You and I have never clapped eyes on a human being who isn’t of absolute value to God. We might not know them, they may mean nothing to us. But God… he would die for them if they were the one person on earth. He would die for you if you were the one person on earth. You are infinitely valuable to God. he loves you. he came in search for you. 

 

 

 

The three parables end on similar notes 

Retrievals bring rejoicing. Retrievals bring rejoicing. 

 

It’s Classic  stuff. 

When the man finds his lost sheep, when the woman finds her lost coin, when the Father finds his lost son - the pattern is the same they call their friends and neighbours, come and celebrate with me! We’re killing the fatted calf, party of the century.  Come on!

Why? - what are we celebrating? It’s not your birthday? No. an anniversary? No. You’re getting married!!? No! You’ve got a job promotion? No!! What then? 

 

I’ve found fluffy! 

Fluffy? 

my lost sheep! 

Oh OK… what do you wear to a lost sheep party?

 

Come and celebrate with me. I’ve found my lost sheep, my lost coin, my lost son 

 

Just as we reserve the fullest searches for the things we think are the most valuable so we reserve the biggest celebrations don’t we for the times that we think are most important. Depending on whatever big story is governing our lives. If I’m living for material success and career achievement then the biggest celebrations in my life will be to celebrate promotions, contracts, awards. If it’s human relationships and families (probably a much healthier story) then it will be weddings and anniversaries. 

 

But according to Jesus - look at what gets the champagne flowing in heaven - in God’s dimension - look at what is deemed the reason for rejoicing v7, v10 rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. One lost person who comes home. To be eternally found, eternally secure. This is the story that governs all reality. What really matters. That which energises heaven.

 

Actually did you notice the joy of the finder begins before the party? The party is just 

the corporate expression of the finder’s already joy. The finder’s suffering joy. 

Because the Shepherd’s joy doesn’t begin when he finally gets the sheep home. the shepherd rejoices when he finds the sheep - even though the sheep is still not restored and lost sheep normally need lifting out of some trouble they’ve got themselves into and lost sheep are normaly so parlaysed with fear that they don’t want to be found. Look at what the Shepherd has to do he has to carry the sheep on his shoulders all the way home. But he bear this burden willingly and with joy. The Bible says that for the joy set before him Jesus willingly endured the cross for us to carry us home. He did so joyfully. 

And the Father … he knows that the returning disgraced son may not even make it into the village if he is identified by others before the Father finds him. He will be humiliated, lynched he will suffer. So the Father when he sees the Son.. he runs that gauntlet so that his child will not have to. He literally runs. At the best of time men in late middle age look ridiculous running. In this culture it was humiliating for a man of stature to run. But this Father runs to intercept his son. To interrupt his words of apology, to publicly reconcile with his son, to protect him with his robe of righteousness and ring of sonship. No lectures, no reprimands. Acceptance and joy. 

It wouldn’t have been just the Father’s other son who thought the Father was foolish, outrageous, weak for just taking back the prodigal younger son. Most of the  village would have thought it. what a pushover. what an idiot. They probably only went to the party because of the free food and drink. 

But I don’t think that those people would affect the Father’s joy in his returning child one jot. And others would have been there saying, what a Father he is… What a Father! He suffers joyfully to bring his child home. 

 

I wonder, How do you imagine God? how do you picture him? Do you picture a distant thundering figure, who prefers fear and respect to love. Who forgives yes but reluctantly and after making the penitent person squirm? That is not the picture Jesus gives. Jesus tells of a crazy caring shepherd; of a housewife turning the house upside down so valuable is her lost coin; of a Father humiliating himself by running to embrace a son who has squandered half the family fortune.

 

This is who God is. This is how much he loves us. How much he wants to know us an bring us home eternally to himself. For we were lost but that loss led to an all out search and retrievals bring rejoicing. So come home. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Parable of the Mustard seed and Yeast Luke 13:18-21

 

There's a video going viral on youtube - plays a sound and some people hear yanni and some people hear laurel. People hear the exact same thing but hear something completely different. Apparently it’s something to do with the shape of your ear. I personally hear ‘lobster…lobster’

Another thing that’s split opinion this last week is THAT sermon. Bishop Michael Curry’s passionate sermon at last weekend's Royal Wedding. The most heard piece of Christian communication in history with an estimated 2 billion people watching. Social media tells us that many loved it. Footage of facial expressions at the actual wedding tell us that others hated. Some Christians loved it. Some hated it. 

Set aside the fact that the leader of the Episcopal church of the USA, which is currently out of fellowship with the Anglican communion over the issue of marriage, probably shouldn’t have been given this platform. Set that aside and I think it was a GREAT sermon of how love can transform the world. Yes, the sermon could have told more of the gospel - about how our love is corrupted and fallen and needs the redeeming love of God to save us. Yes it could be misconstrued that Michael Curry was saying that human love changes the world. But i don;t think he did say that. he said that all love flows from the God who is love. the God of the cross. And that’s true and wonderful. 

I loved his passage where he said this 

 

Think and imagine a world where love is the way.”

Imagine our homes and families where love is the way. 

Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way.

Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. 

Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way. 

Imagine this tired old world where love is the way. 

When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again.

When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.

When love is the way, poverty will become history. 

When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.

When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more.

When love is the way, there's plenty good room - plenty good room - for all of God's children.

"Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well... like we are actually family.

When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters, children of God.

My brothers and sisters, that's a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family.

 

He’s describing the plans and purposes of God through Jesus to renew this world completely and eternally by love. To restore what the Bible calls the Kingdom of God. This was God’s promised from the very start to Abraham - all the nations of the world will be blessed. And it’s the promise that is affirmed through Jesus. 

 

But of course there are big questions that this raise: like for a start:  

when? when are you gonna do this God? the disciples often asked Jesus this. Before he went back to heaven after his resurrection, the disciples said ‘are you now going to establish the Kingdom in Israel - are you now going to bring justice and perfection and equality and life like God has promised. When are you gonna do it? The Jews always expected that God’s kingdom would come in one mighty moment. But Jesus has been around and it hasn’t happened yet. 

Yes there have been glimpses - like what happens directly before our reading today when Jesus heals a woman. But Jesus always seems to take a step forward and then immediately two steps back! he draws huge crowds to him and then he speaks in unintelligible parables and issues such hard challenges that everybody leaves! he enters jerusalem as a king but then dies on a cross! he rises from the dead but then leaves everything to a fearful, uneducated, slow to believe, small bunch of disciples! 

So It’s not so much a question of when will the kingdom come but will it really come? 

global peace, environmental balance, inclusion and well being …?

I remember a woman once saying to me it feels like there are forces of good and forces of evil in this world.. and good is not winning. 

The kingdom of God seems a pipe dream.. 

 

it seemed that way to the disciples it can seem that way to us. 

the church takes a step forward and two steps back. in some parts of the world there is great interest in the things of God. In the west we are in terminal decline. peace comes in one part of the world war breaks out in three others. agreements on climate change get made then torn up. aid comes to the poor and hungry while the gap between the haves and the havenots grows larger than ever. 

Is it all just a pipe dream. Where is this promised Kingdom of God? How will it ever come?

 

Well this is the question Jesus is answering with these two simple parables. 

 

He wants to address our feelings of fear and confusion and potential despair about the Kingdom. 

By assuring us that the Kingdom will not fail but will prosper and grow. It will happen. Love wins. But you have to see how love wins 

 

v16 this grand oratoical question “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? 

The Kingdom of God - to what shal i compare it?

Hold your breath.. What answer will come

It is like …. a mustard seed 

 

See i told you, say the disciples, this thing is doomed 

A mustard seed. The tiniest seed in the garden. 

A cosmic mustard seed?

A special mustard seed?

 

No just a regular one that you plant..

 

If you think that the Kingdom of God can look unimpressive - infact you can’t even really see it. Jesus says yeah that’s right the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed which a man took and planted in his garden.

 

The kingdom of God has terribly small and unimpressive beginnings 

 

Well that’s true of Jesus himself 

He came from the glory of heaven to poverty, humility, 

his cradle was a manger 

his nursery was a stable surrounded by beasts 

his home was a judea a backwater kind of place 

Nazareth to be specific - one of those disappointing from which nothing good comes 

 

a mustard seed 

a mustard seed planted 

the kingdom of God is quite literally an underground movement. It begins hidden. A seed hidden in a heart, hidden in a life that is hidden in God. 

When you think about the Kingdom of God don’t think region but reign, not location but lordship. The Kingdom of God is not a place it’s his loving rule over human hearts and the influence of that rule in the beginnings of obedient lives to him. It’s an underground movement 

 

and it begins with death 

unless the seed is buried in the ground, into death there can be no life

unless Jesus die for us and be buried for us there can be no life, no forgiveness, no resurrection for us. 

and unless a person dies to themselves their own hold on their lives, their own self rule and relinquishes lordship to Jesus - there can be no life with them 

 

the kingdom of God has terribly small and unimpressive beginnings - hidden from view, hidden in a heart 

but the kingdom will grow ..gradually ..imperceptibly but ultimately disproportionatley from its beginnings. Just as a mustard seed grows into these tree like extensive bushes 10 feet tall providing protection and shade for birds so the Kingdom will grow way way way beyond its initial signs of promise. It will happen 

 

In the OT time and again the Kingdom of God is pictured as a tree - a giant Cedar tree - where birds come and shelter and nest. The birds are the peoples of the earth. The gentile nations drawn in under God’s branches. A haven. A place where people of all races can comfortably reside. 

The Kingdom grows global and unites the world but Jesus hints that there will always be surprises about the way that the Kingdom comes. Not in ways anticipated, not instantly and mightily but gradually and through weakness. A mustard bush not a cedar tree. 

 

 

2nd parable - equally familiar and ordinary. jesus moves from the garden into the kitchen. 

Again the great oratorical question. ‘What shall i compare the kingdom of God to?’ 

Will it be a bigger thing now? The KINGDOM OF GOD! 

Hold your breath.. What answer will come?

It is like …. yeast 

 

yeast? yeast? 

 

Cosmic yeast? 

Special yeast?

No. Just yeast. the kind you mix into flour to make bread rise. 

 

yeast - tiny, microscopic. 

there are 20billion yeast cells in just one gram of baker’s yeast 

and here it is a tiny proportion in comparison to the large amount of flour. 3 measures - a measure was 13L so nearly 40 L of flour here a large pot

a tiny invisible organism but an incredible influence 

 

Jesus’ emphasis here is not the extensive nature of the kingdom as with the mustard seed 

The emphasis here is the transforming power of the kingdom 

 

The kingdom will be extended universally 

AND the kingdom will transform powerfully.

 

The Kingdom does not just grow it’s hidden power changes the world radically 

 

Note that the yeast only has influence because of where it is placed. It is mixed into the flour and it is worked through all the dough. You have to do that mixing and kneading don’t you? mixed in. worked through. 

The yeast cannot influence if it is on the side, left on the margins.  

Far from its influence being diminished by it being hidden, buried, overwhelmed, UNLESS it is hidden it has no influence at all. 

 

Let’s think about the implications of these 2 parables 

  1. The Kingdom though seemingly small and insignificant will eventually grow universally and globally and will transform the whole earth. We can so often feel that renewal and change can never happen we can become disheartened but we are to take heart. This world has a future. God is committed to it. 
  2. We ought not to think that our part in Kingdom business however lowly and unsee will ever be insignificant. Influence in the kingdom is through the small and the hidden. small unseen moments of prayer, love, action, kindness multiplied and blessed by God a billion fold 
  3. You don’t have to be a famous entertainer, sport’s personality or celebrity to influence the world truly for the Kingdom of God. The kingdom of God doesn’t work in the same way as the Kingdom of the world. In fact they are opposites. In the Kingdom of God the last are first and greatness is service. We make a grave mistake if we ape the world’s methods. If we try and impress the world by size - big groups, influential names being powerful in our impact. Actually the Kingdom of the world is doomed. Human strength and power fails. [BBCMusic Big music weekend from Belfast - and the piece that the band Public Services Broadcasting commissioned to write about the sinking of the Titanic. This great symbol of human triumph and strength and power. So self confident. Sunk to the bottom of the sea. Promising to bring life it brought death. Inevitable the ways of the Kingdom of the world is the opposite of the way the Kingdom of God works.  Jesus says: I’ll take a mustard seed. I’ll take a yeast cell. I’ll take small. I’ll take the hidden, The obscure, I’ll take seeming uninfluential, i’ll take what seems ridiculous in it’s weakness. I’ll take hardship and i’ll take death and with these things I will change the world. It is always fatal to our spiritual health if we think in any way that we get to God or do things for God by our stengths, by our power and persuasion and ingenuity. Such an approach results in pride if we’re doing well or despair when we fail. God will not allow that. He wants humility and peace and security for us - birds sheltering in his abundat tree. So he never uses human strength for his purposes. He always uses human weakness, smallness, the unimpressive, the hidden. So we’d trust in Him and not in the Kingdom of the world. He uses mustard seeds and yeast cells and so must we. 
  4. It is only as we are mixed in and worked through that we under God’s hand have an impact. A mustard seed left in the packet has no effect. It must be buried, hidden, it must die to bring life. A yeast cell left on the side, on the margin has no impact it must be mixed in and worked through. In the history of christian impact in the world, it’s as Christians have drawn close to the needs of others, issues of the day - not always with wise words or great arguments but with love and selflessness and compassion. small seeds planted that brought great change - the suffragetes, the abolition of slavery, the ragged school movement, the hospice movement. How mixed in are you in your local area? How worked through are you in your community? Salt - another image Jesus uses for his kingdom and his people. Salt, if it is to bring it’s savour and preservative - has to get out of the saltshaker. Many of you are amazing at this. We’re not a ghetto church - a holy huddle - we’re out there. sometimes i wish some of you were here at church more because out there in friendships and professions that I want to see you strengthened and resourced with love from God. But i’m so glad that you are out there. 
  5. This is not a call to political, social and public reform but rather to an application of the gospel that has political and social implications. That’s important. The Kingdom of God work through Christ’s influence on the hearts of people not in ways that are at first external and visible but internal and spiritual. Therefore we don’t seek to effect political change inorder that moral and spiritual good may follow. We seek to preach the gospel inorder that moral and spiritual good will result thereby bringing political change. The message we bring is not economic freedom or political democracy. the message we take is Christ crucified and Christ exalted. we are not called to be a powerful political movement. But as we come to Jesus in prayer and worship and keep going into the world to live lives of love mustard seed and yeast seemingly insignificant, small and weak and hidden - their relentless power begins to grow and pervade all things 

 

This is the message to those disciples who think when is the Kingdom. where is the kingdom. It’s never gonna happen. Jesus says - the Kingdom is near, the Kingdom is among you - hidden but growing and will one day encompass all things. 

 

Joshua 3-4 Step into the Jordan

 

The book of Joshua is all about how WE, the people God has made, are to TAKE HOLD of the promises of God our creator to us. 

 

Take Hold. 

I could give you this £10 note. I promise on my word that it’s yours. It’s yours now. Freely given. But in order to begin to benefit from the inheritance that is fully yours you need to take some steps, not inorder to deserve it or earn it (it’s already yours) just to take hold of it. Perhaps it begins with feelings of happiness and well being as you first register in your mind that the promised £10 is really yours, you are now £10 better off, you can begin to think what you might do with your £10, then the reality becomes more concrete as you get out of your seat and begin to cross the room to take your money.  

The promise is fully yours but to own and enjoy and take hold of the promise you need to take steps. 

 

The people of Israel here in the OT are God’s model, blue print, prototype to teach humanity what all this means. The promise they had received and now must take steps to take hold of is the promise of a homeland of fruitfulness rest and security. They must enter and take possession of the land of Canaan. 

 

The promise for all of US to which this model points is the promise from God of eternal life! Eternal life - A life that begins now and continues through death to a FULNESS of life on the other side. It’s difficult to get your head round what eternal life even means. It means to be truly home, truly at rest, deeply fulfilled in a renewed and creative world. But supremely eternal life is about knowing God, Father, Son and Holy spririt now and increasingly fully and completely. 

That promise and inheritance is offered to all and it’s yours completely as soon as you say Yes please to God (and we’ll talk about that) but then the promise - thoughout our Christian life -  must be taken hold of, progressively received.. We don’t stand still - we step forward through the Jordan into the land of promise..

 

 

 

So let’s learn about this from Israel our prototype. 

 

 

  1. God brings us to the end of ourselves so we would depend on Jesus  

 

At the end of Joshua chapter 2 Israelite spies have returned from Jericho in the land of Canaan with reports that the people are melting with fear.  So you can perhaps imagine the enthusiasm as 3v1 Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. 

 

But i think that that initially self confidence very quickly would have ebbed away. It was probably easy to feel quite good about your prospects in Shittim which sounds like an awful place but actually it was a beautiful campsite the name means Oasis of Acacia trees. But now God brings them to camp for 3 days looking at the Jordan. The Jordan was a steep river valley with tangled trees and a mile wide fast moving river which was at its worst around the time of harvest when the river was in flood. Oh look v15 - the river was in flood! Nice one God. 

 

How on earth are we gonna cross that? 

 

The God who made us, wants us to know him. He is the fulfilment of all promises. He is who we were made for. Without him we cannot know rest. We cannot know fulness of joy. We will not know life. 

For it to be possible for us to come into relationship with God we need to trust him. Trust him with our lives, trust that his ways are best. That he is God and not us. 

The problem is that we all have a deep independent streak within us. We can handle our lives we say. We hold on stubbornly. Keeping God and life out. 

 

Friends of mine who work with people with serious addictions and even those of us who are parents are familiar with the idea of tough love. Sometimes the most loving and kind thing is not to give another person what they want but to deny them , get hard on them, be tough with them. It hurts to do it but you’re doing it because you really care about what they’re missing out on in their own self destructiveness. 

 

With stubborn independent humanity God has to bring us to places in our lives that we just can’t handle. Obstacles to bring us to the end of ourselves that we might start relying on him and come to know him and know life. he brings us to camp on the banks of the Jordan. 

 

He sometimes does this when he wants to bring us to know him in the first place. I can get to God my own way we say but then he shows us the obstacle of our sin of our deathliness. Like a great Jordan. How are you going to overcome that? How are you?

 

As we go on in the Christian life such is his love that he will bring us to impossible Jordans to keep on breaking our destructive self reliance that keeps us miserably stuck. He wants us to take hold of our inheritance. For some of us that will mean getting to absolute rock bottom - never a nice place to be - before we will relinquish our grip on our own solutions and start looking for help..

 

2 After three days the officers went throughout the camp, 3 giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. 4 Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits between you and the ark; do not go near it.”

 

If all of your knowledge of the ark of the covenant comes from Indiana Jones - a radio for talking to God - I might need to put you straight. 

The ark was a Gold plated box with a seat on the top flanked by gold plated angel figures. It would be carried a bit like a sedan chair with long poles. This was God’s chair. God’s throne - symbolising his presence. He is with us. Inside the box were the stone tablets of the 10 commandments and some other items that represented the way that God had provided for Israel - like a jar of the manna bread he had given to them everyday. So the ark was the ark of THE COVENANT - the pledged relationship between God and his people. God’s loving presence. The ark was a picture of what Jesus is to us. Pledged relationship, God present …WITH US. 

 

The Israelites are being told to fix their eyes on the ark and follow it. The ark will be their Sat Nav v4 and they should keep their distance to about a kilometre - perhaps because the ark is holy but more so so that all of them can SEE the amazing things v5 that God is going to do among them. 

They must consecrate themselves v5 wash their clothes, abstain from sex the reason: to inculcate in yourself a spiritual posture towards God of openness, dependence, obedience. 

 

God brings us to the end of ourselves that we might put our eyes on Jesus and become open to, dependent on, submitted to him. He promises you life. Take hold of his promise. 

 

 

2. God calls us to Step into the water 

6 Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.” So they took it up and went ahead of them.

7 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. 8 Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’”

 

Sorry … scramble down that slope toward that raging torrent and … start wading?

 

9 Joshua said to the Israelites, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God. 10 This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. 11 See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you. 12 Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13 And …..AS SOON AS  the priests who carry the ark of the Lord—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, [then] its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.”

 

As soon as …

Im guessing the Priests must have been pretty nervous, maybe even terrified. But they needed to get their feet wet before God was going to work the miracle of faith.  

 

14 So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. 15 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.

 

 

God holds out his promise of life to us. It’s there… but until we actually take a step to receive it we won’t know his life, his goodness, his trustworthiness his power. 

 

Often in our independent spiritual lives we want everything worked out ourselves before we’ll do anything. 

 

For those of us seeking God. Of course it’s not wrong to investigate faith. Weigh things up. seek evidence. But there comes a point where God says ‘Now, step into the Jordan’  

Step out beyond the known. Take the risk. Because then you will know me. I can’t show you my trustworthiness until you trust me. I can’t show you my power until you let me. If you want to walk on water you have to get out of the boat. 

Your sin and death How are you going to overcome that? You can’t But I can. I have. I will send my son ahead of you into that watery grave so you can walk across on dry land to life on the other side. 

Step into the jordan. 

 

It’s like any committed relationship isn’t it? A marriage or a deepening friendship. You can never understand everything there is to understand about another person. there’ll always be another question. Relationships demand a step of faith. To give/entrust yourself to another. So it is with God. 

 

  

What about those of us who have gotten stuck? But God is bringing us to the end of ourselves. The oasis of acacia trees is a distant memory we’ve been camped on the miserable jordan for years, wandering in the wilderness. Well there comes a point when God says, Now step into the Jordan. To grow - you have to seek help outside of yourself. You have to tell the truth. It’s a terrifying step. But until you do it you cannot know God’s transforming power and grace. The Lord longs to be gracious to you.  Instead of wandering in the wilderness he wants to take you through the Jordan. He wants you to take hold of your inheritance, to know resurrection LIFE. Step out. 

 

 

What about the thing perhaps that God is calling you to do? The work he has for you. It’s there in your heart. Has been for years. But it’s like a massive Jordan. It’s impossible. You don’t have what it takes. It can’t be a real thing. It terrifies you to even contemplate beginning. But you can’t shake it off. You know that life lies there. The time comes when God says “Now, step into the Jordan” 

You’re right in one sense, you don’t have what it takes, not on your own. But God says, i’ve given you this vision because I want to do it through you. I am with you. Now step in the Jordan and see what I can do through you. Take the risk. Get your feet wet! 

 

Look at the completeness of God’s salvation through the Jordan. 

v16 the water flowing down to the Sea …was completely cut off. 

v17 all Israel passed by

the whole nation completed the crossing

on dry ground. !

 

do you see - it’s utterly secure and safe - no one is left behind. they don’t even get their feet wet or their sandles muddy! 

so it is with Jesus’ salvation work for us. there are no doubts about whether it will hold. Like a bit more might be needed to be done. No it’s complete. Finished. Once for all time. We will never be disappointed. 

 

And notice that really and truly it IS ALL GOD’S WORK 

The people do not achieve this rescue do they? They’re obedient. They have to do something to recieve it. But there’s this emphasis in the passage that as long as the ark is in place the waters are held back and 4v18 as soon the ark leaves the river bed the waters return and run in flood again. There are no natural coincidences here. Neither was this a feat of human engineering. This was an amazing thing of God. He dried up the Jordan v23. That v24 all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”

 

It’s all God’s work: salvation, sanctification, service. It doesn’t depend on us - our stength our consistency. Just take hold of your inheritance. Step out. He wants to do amazing things among us. 

 

 

3. Never forget what God has done. 

Every year in dunbar scotland European stone stacking competition. Different categories such as ‘most stones balanced one on top of the other’. The stacks are beautiful - look it up 

 

But stone stacking starts here at the beginning of Joshua 4 on the banks of the Jordan. 12 stones, 1 for each tribe taken from the river bed where the ark had been and stacked on the western bank. As a lasting sign v6 for them and for their childen. A memorial of what God did here. 

 

Notice the repetition 

v1-3 Where God tells Joshua  to find 12 strapping lads, one from each tribe, to heft a stone each from the bed of the Jordan to stack on the bank of the promised land. 

then v4-7 where joshua tells the 12 hunks exactly the same thing 

lug a stone each from the bed of the Jordan and stack them on the bank of the promised land.

And then v8-9 where we’re told that the Israelites did exactly that 

They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, to stack em on the banks of the promised land. 

 

Why do we need to be told 3 times? 

For precisely the same reason that God gets Israel into stone stacking - because we so easily forget. 

 

Don’t forget the amazing things God has done among you. 

 

Why did Jesus give us baptism and the Lord’s Supper? so that we’d  remember and not forget Jesus leading us into the watery death of Jordan (baptism) where he died for us (lord’s supper) so that we might walk through on dry ground to resurrection life where we shall never die. 

 

 

  1. God brings us to the end of ourselves so we would depend on Jesus 
  2. God calls us to step into the waters that he might prove his love and all sufficiency to us
  3. God calls us to remember his works as a spur for the future.  

 

 

Joshua 2 Your enemies are terrified

We’re in the book of Joshua 

and we’ve said that the Bible gives us lines of application that make this ancient book, the OT, potently relevant to us. 

 

For a start the Bible is of course about God who doesn’t change, He’s the same yesterday, today and forever. And more specifically, Jesus Christ, the author and perfector of our faith, says that the OT is about him. So we’re always asking where is Jesus in this text? where’s he being predicted and foreshadowed. He’s always there. The OT is about him. And in this passage we see that Jesus is mighty God and merciful refuge. 

 

The OT is also about us. written for us, the New Testament says. It’s story is Fulfilled in us! 

The OT is about God rescuing a people by sacrifice from slavery for a promised land. Israel were slaves in Egypt.. God rescued them and here in the book of Joshua we see God giving them their land/home/rest - it’s theirs but they have to fight and overcome enemies to take possesion of it. 

 

And that story is like a blue print, a prototype, a rehearsal in anticipation of THE GREAT overarching story of human history. God rescuing a people (his worldwide church) by the sacrifice of Jesus from slavery (to sin and death) for a promised land (eternal life). And so we learn things about Us and God from the OT prototype. Here in Joshua we learn that just like Israel God gives us our full promised inheritance - he gives us eternal life - the moment we turn to him, the moment we became Christians BUT in this life - our Christian life - we have to fight and overcome enemies - all that is godless in our world and in our hearts - to take possession of that promised inheritance. The promise of God is received by the activity of faith. 

 

We’re in a FIGHT 

We have to get this.. Are you fighting? 

Don’t think that you can just cruise. God’ll forgive me that’s his job. The promise of God is received by the activity of faith. 

You know I think many of us give up fighting because we feel weak, fearful and overwhelmed by the battles or we just get despondent. It’s too hard and we feel like God is hard on us. We feel like he’s let us down, like he doesn’t love me. 

 

Well I think Joshua 2 might help us if we feel like any of that. 

Cos it says 2 things 

  1. (to the weak and overwhelmed it says) Know that Your enemies are terrified because Jesus is mighty  
  2. (to the despondent and angry it says) Remember that Your God is SO merciful. because Jesus is our refuge.

 

  1. Know that Your enemies are terrified. jesus is mighty!

 

 

v1 Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” 

 

Joshua is not being faithless, sending out spies instead of immediately crossing the Jordan. Having the promises of God doesn’t release us from acting wisely. There was precedent for sending spies into enemy lands. Moses, under God’s instruction, had sent 12 spies into Canaan 40 years earlier. Joshua had been one of those spies. One of only two who argued for entering the land - the other ten sowed fear among the Israelites with tales of giants and vast walled citadels and their hearts melted with fear, they refused to enter the land. 

 

So Joshua must have chosen well for this reconnaisance mission.  2 spies. 

Go look over the land - especially Jericho. Why Jericho? Jericho was the entry point to the rest of the land. The first obstacle. But as we will see, God had another reason why he wanted an advance party in Jericho.

So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.

 

Why did they stay in a brothel - these were godly men? Anonymity? Lots of men coming and going - No questions asked? Some commentators try to protect the spies’ reputations by claiming that Rahab was in fact an inkeeper. But the text does call her ‘Rahab the Prostitute’. Others claim that she used to be a prostitute but the name had stuck. I think there’s evidence that we’ll see in the text that that could well be the case. Maybe she’d found them in the city and welcomed them in? Certainly God had brought them to her door. 

 

v2 The king of Jericho was told, “Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” The spies have been spotted! They’ve been seen entering Rahab’s house. And pretty soon armed police are knocking at her door. These guys are toast. Their cover blown. They’re on the wrong side of town. In the house of a woman of questionable morals. The police are at the door and spies don’t get treated well in Jericho. they’ll be tortured for information and executed. 

 

But then something remarkable happens. 

4 the woman had taken the two men and hidden them.

At great personal risk Rahab the prostitiute spins out a yarn about how ‘the spies were here, yes, but they’re long gone.. almost certainly no longer in the city. you better get a move on if you want to catch them.’ 

You can’t believe that the police didn’t search the house. If they’d found the spies she would have been doubly guilty - a traitor. 

 

It makes me think of the Opening scene of Quentin Tarantino’s movie Inglourious Basterds - which drawn out masterclass in tension and building suspense. It begins with Nazis approaching and entering an Idyllic farmhouse and - following Hitchcock’s decree that you tell the audience there’s a bomb under the table long before it goes off - Tarantino pans down to reveal that there are Jewish refugees hiding beneath the farmhouse’s floorboards. Centimetres from the Nazi jackboots. The scene builds and builds.. 

Was that what it was like for Rahab and the spies?

The spies are well hidden (v6) and the gestapo finally leave. 

 

Why does Rahab do this? Why does she take such a risk for people she doesn’t even know? 

Well she tells them. She gives the spies the priceless military intelligence that they have come for. 

8 Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof 9 and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 

The morale and confidence of an army is as, if not more important than the resources at their disposal. When Moses’s 12 spies 40 years earlier returned with news of the strength of the Canaanite armies it was the Israelites who’s courage failed and who’s hearts melted with fear. But here - the tables are turned. It is the powerful Canaanites who are crumbling at the Israelite threat. But why? The Israelites are not numerous, they’re poorly armed and inexperienced at war. 

v10 Here’s why the Canaanites melt like icecreams on a hot day. 

10 We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. 11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.

 

You have a massively unfair advantage, says Rahab to the spies. The reason we are afraid of you is because you have a Mighty God on your side. It’s plain to see - WE are toast. 

Skip to the end of the passage v24 and when the 2 spies came back to Joshua They said to [Him], “The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.

 

Be strong and courageous. Your enemies are terrified because the Lord is mighty 

 

So often we feel desperately weak and fearful in the face of our battles. Speaking up for what is right in our workplaces we feel isolated. Working for justice in our communities we feel overwhelmed. Sharing the gospel with our friends we feel foolish. Fighting our apathy and addictions in order to grow we feel powerless. The church feels fragile, we feel weak. We melt.

 

But look look- Your enemies are terrified….terrified .. that you might speak, that you might start that project that beats in your heart.. terrified that you might share the gospel with a friend, or read your bible, or start getting praying friends around you to kick start your spiritual growth. terrified because they have seen how Jesus opened up a way through the sea, by his death and resurrection for all who believe in him to be forgiven and have life, they have seen how HE has thoroughly defeated our greatest enemies sin and death who he has completely destroyed. Their hearts melt and courage fails because Jesus our God IS God in heaven above and on earth below. He is mighty. 

 

Be strong and very courageous says Jesus to you. Because I am with you and I will never leave you nor forsake you. Enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you. Fight the battles that you must fight to inherit your Rest. 

 

Know that Your enemies are terrified 

 

2. Remember that Your God is rich in mercy - Jesus our refuge .

‘Go look over the land, especially Jericho’

Joshua didn’t send the spies especially to Jericho just because this was the strategic entry point to the land, OR because it was the place where they would glean the crucial intelligence that their enemies were melting with fear. There was a deeper reason for the spies being sent to Jericho that even Joshua was not aware of. The spies didn’t get spotted just because of their sloppiness or because of canaanite vigilance - there was a deeper reason for the spies being spotted. The spies didn’t enter the house of Rahab the prostitute just because a brothel was the perfect cover for strangers or because it was the first place they found a welcome. There was a deeper reason for them coming to that house. God is at work here.. 

The reason for it all was Rahab. God sends the spies to Jericho; allows the spies to be hunted down; leads the spies to stay in that house for the sake of Rahab for the sake of her refuge. 

 

 

Let’s ask the question again: Why does Rahab, at great personal risk, hide the spies and deceive the police? Is it just because she’s weighed things up, knows that Jericho doesn’t stand a chance against the LORD and is tactically changing sides? Well, the rest of Jericho have heard of God’s might and are melting with fear. But they make no effort to make peace with this God. There’s no delegation sent out to surrender to the Israelites. Fear alone doesn’t break defiance. 

But Rahab, in contrast seems to have gone much further than her fellow Canaanites. She, like them has heard of his might, but she goes further and recognises his majesty and appeals to his mercy. 

She recognises God’s majesty. At the end of v11 in what sounds like a declaration of faith she says ‘It’s because the Lord your God IS God in heaven above and on the earth below’

There is no other god, she says. 

Is this true faith, true belief? - well faith shows itself in action - a changed life and changed allegiance. 

 

Remember I said earlier that there’s an indication in this passage that Rahab the prostitute is no longer a prostitute. v6 tells us that she had hidden the spies under the stalks of flax that she had laid out on the roof. Flax was a plant that was industriously harvested, dried in sunshine and used for spinning and weaving cloth. In the last chapter of the book of proverbs  - The woman of godly character - works with wool and flax. Has God’s grace been at work in Rahab’s life to make a prostititue a woman of character?

The passage makes no judgement on whether she was right or wrong to lie to the police at her door. Did necessity make it legitimate? Certainly the courage and conviction that she shows in defying her own government and nation for the greater good of protecting God’s spies is further evidence of a change of allegiance. 

And her appeal for her whole family to receive God’s mercy needn’t be seen as presumptious but as further evidence that she had perceived the infinite mercy and willing grace of God. And she wasn’t disappointed. 

 

Rahab miraculously had become a christian. In the NT in Hebrews 11 and James 2 Rahab is commended for her actions rooted in her faith.

It’s amazing that  with no church, no Bibles, no believers around her - out of a pagan cuture and an immoral life Jesus has sought this woman out - not because of anything in her, not because she is inherently good, but out of his sheer kindness. She hears of God’s might and by grace she bows to his majesty and appeals to his mercy. 

And having become his child she now receives God’s refuge. The spies are in Jericho for Rahab. To make the covenant with her in vv17-21 which will guarantee her family’s safety . 

 

She must tie a red cord in the window of her house - which is in the city walls. It’s the sign that this house is covered, protected, a refuge. She must bring her family into the refuge and they are only safe inside. They mustn’t venture out. 

It’s vivid language that unmistakably takes us back to Noah and his ark - the refuge through the flood. And more so takes us back to the passover - when the Israelites in Egypt had to paint a line of red blood from a sacrificed lamb on their door frame and shelter in the house so that they wouldn’t die when the angel of death passed over. The lamb died in their place. The lamb was their refuge. 

An incredible picture pointing forward to it’s fulfilment in Jesus. the lamb of God who sheds his blood to defeat our enemies who were against us - sin and death. He dies in our place and we take refuge in HIM! 

 

are you angry with him in the face of your battles. It’s too hard and he’s too hard on you. you feel like he doesn’t love you. 

 

Just Remember the kindness and mercy of Jesus your refuge. 

Jesus first came for me - when i was 12 years old - he called me to be his. He showed me that he’d died for me that i could be forgiven. And he has been my refuge ever since. In his kindness he has pursued me in all my wilful wanderings - to protect me and bring me back. And as Psalm 23 says: Surely his goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joshua 1 Taking hold of God's promises

 

 

Welcome to the OT book of Joshua. 

This is the narrative account of how the nation of Israel, having been miraculously sprung out of slavery in Egypt, having wandered in the desert for 40 years. Now under the leadership of Joshua, enter into, conquer and take possession of the land of Canaan that had been promised to them by God. 

 

It’s an ancient story, 3000 years old. another time and another place. It’s not without it’s difficulties. Not least the God ordained genocide of the Canaanite nations which i will cautiously try and make some sense of in these coming weeks ..  

 

Why would we study this ancient seemingly primitive book? 

Well because it is not as distant as we might think. 

 

Jesus says in Luke 24:27 that all the OT Scriptures are about Him, So, Institutions in the OT - like the temple and sacrifices - they teach us about Jesus. People in the OT particularly prophets, priests, leaders and Kings in so far as they are good, they point us to the character of Jesus, in so far as they are bad- they point us to our need for Jesus who is the perfect prophet, priest and king. So Joshua the man foreshadows Jesus (actually Joshua and Jeshua are the same name). Joshua the leader points us to the ultimate leader - Jesus. So the story is about him. 

 

And the story is also about us. The apostle Paul says in a  couple of places - Romans 15, 1 Corinthians 10 - that the history of Israel occured and was written down to teach, warn and encourage us. Christians.  This OT story of a nation rescued through sacrifice from slavery for a promised land is kind of like the prototype, the model, the mini-trailer in anticipation of the fulfilment of the ultimate plan of God:  A world rescued through sacrifice from sin and death for a promised eternal rest.

 

You can see this link made in the NT. Hebrews chapter 4 verse 8 says 

if Joshua had given [the people of God] rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.

 

The Israelites entry into their  promised land teaches us about OUR ultimate entering into God’s eternal land/rest to which all of this points.

 

So let’s begin there with the promise of rest. 

1. Our promise 

 

 

Do you long for a place called home? Your own bit of land that is your possession? Perhaps you own a home but that experience of settledness? .. It feels like something so fundamental doesn’t it? A human right. A heritage. Do you long for a home?

 

Do you long for rest? Rest from all your enemies. Security. Rest on every side. Rest from your restlessness. Peace for your mind and soul?

 

God had long promised a land, a rest, a home for his people. It had started with Abraham nearly 600 years before Joshua when the nation of Israel were then but a twinkle in Father Abraham’s eye. And now here the time has come for God it seems to make good on all his promises up to this point: 

 

1 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. 3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 5 No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

 

 

Here was the promise - the land of Canaan, A land ‘flowing with milk and honey’ as God described it to them. (A land also full of enemy squatter nations that will need to be removed - but we’ll come to that). This was good land that God who is owner and ruler of all the earth has pledged to these people to be their inheritance at this time.

 

Notice that the inheritance of this land is a gift from beginning to end. It’s the land I am giving you, says God. 

It’s not a portion to which they were entitled. not some birthright. 

nor had they or their ancestors done anything to merit such a heritage 

and nor would their subsequent conquering of the canaanites suggest that they had earned it. It is a gift from beginning to end. 

 

And so it is with our entry into the eternal rest of God. It’s never something that we deserve or that we have warranted or that we have earned. It is from beginning to end a gift of grace and mercy to be received by simple faith. 

 

It’s a gift 

and it is also a certain gift. 

God has sworn (v6) to give it. 

And as we read the book we will see Israel enter and conquer and settle in the land just as God has promised. Joshua 21v43 towards the end of the book sums it ll up. So the Lord gave Israel all the Land he had sworn to their fore-fathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord handed all their enemies over to them. Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed, everyone was fulfilled. 

 

This week’s News - a soldier in the american reserves lost her job after attempting to make a viral youtube video to impress her kids. She had a colleague video her taking her oath of allegiance with her commanding office with a dinosaur head puppet on her raised right hand mouthing the words of the oath as she repeated them. The commanding officer was also forced to stand down for colluding with the stunt and failing to raise his right hand. 

The swearing of oaths is a serious business. 

 

God promises on oath - his right hand raised - an eternal rest for his people. Peace and justice. Land and home. He swears on his life that he will bring it about. He did so for the children of Israel. Not one of his promises failed. Neither will he let us down. he is faithful and he will do it. Our promise 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Our battle 

v10 (we’ll come back to verses 6-9 in a bit) 

10 So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: 11 “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God IS giving you for your own.’”

 

notice that present tense there? It’s the land - not that God has given you - so that you just can wander in when you’re ready when  you fancy. No, it’s more dynamic. It’s the land that God is giving you that now you have to cross the precipitous Jordan gorge while the river is in flood and face formidable obstacles - armies and walled cities in order to take possession of what is yours. the promise is assured but must be claimed. The land is God’s free gift and yet there is a command to lay hold of that gift. It is as the Israelites go in and take possession of it that God will progressively give the land to them. THE PROMISE OF GOD IS RECEIVED BY THE ACTIVITY OF FAITH. 

 

it was actually part of God’s compassion that Israel should inherit their rest progressively - as they moved forward. Back in Exodus 23 God had said this about entering the promised land. “[I will] drive [your enemies] the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites out of your way. 29 But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. 30 Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.

 

Israel will enter into their land, their rest. But there’s a now and a not yet dimension to it. The land is theirs now but battles must be fought, obstacles overcome before they can enter into possession of and enjoy their inheritance. 

 

And it’s exactly the same for us in Christ in whom all these promises are being fulfilled. 

So, Hebrews 4v3 says ‘We who believe enter God’s promised rest.’ As soon as you believe in Jesus - the burden of your sins are rolled away, peace of conscience, rest of soul, assurance and acceptance by God are now yours…

BUT you are not there and then taken straight to heaven. No, you have to: fight a fight, run a race, keep the faith before you can fully enter your eternal rest. Become a Christian, cross the jordan, alive in Christ and suddenly you’re facing foes both within and without of which previously you knew nothing. Foes that God wants to rid you of that you might flourish. Now let’s be clear OUR foes are not fellow human beings; enemy nations that need to be defeated just as our inheritance isn’t a plot of land in the middle east. No Christians love their human enemies and pray for those who persecute them precisely because our real enemies are injustice and apathy and the evil desires that war against our souls - our anger, our hate our lust. God wants to lead us to overcome all that is godless in our world and in us to prepare us for our eternal rest. That’s the battle that you enter into inorder to take possession of your inheritance. It’s the battle for justice, the battle for our church, God’s kingdom, the battle for the restoration of our souls in the midst of the hardships of life. It’s the fight for the formation of christlike character within us. Our healing. That’s our battle. 

 

and so 6 verses after telling us that we who believe have entered God’s rest Hebrews 4v9 says ‘There remains, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; …11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest.’ Rest is now and rest is not yet. And the promise of God is received by the activity of faith. 

It is when we step out in faith - ceasing from fighting God, instead trusting and obeying Him that we find progressively the rest for our souls that we are promised. It is in losing our lives for Christ that we find life. 

 

I wonder where you are at in all of this?

 

I guess there would have been some Israelites back then who were very hesitant to enter the promised land at all. And perhaps you’re in that place with Jesus. I just want you to encourage you that his promise of rest and his love is real. Rest is found nowhere else. Step out in faith and you will find him unrelentingly faithful. 

 

perhaps other Israelites were deeply discouraged by the presence of so many enemies in the land. and we can become discouraged in the fight of our faith. cut off one temptation and three more appear in its place and nothing changes very fast. well, remember that it is a battle. If you’re struggling on that’s a good sign. And remember God doesn’t give victory over all our enemies all at once it wouldn’t be good for us if he did. God is patient and his timing is perfect. He waits to be gracious to you. He has many victories to give us that we are not yet quite fitted for. But we shall be. Gradually progresively he will do it. so don’t lose heart. Keep on. 

 

I bet there were some Israelites who were over confident. A bit like some Christians who use the promises of God like a couch to relax on rather than a spur to action. God has promised us eternal rest, they say, God has promised never to leave or forsake us and therefore it’s not then end of the world if i make peace with my weakness and sin. I’m not saved by what I do or don’t do but by God’s grace. But this of course is a cheap grace a non grace that releases us from the following of Jesus Christ! Don’t give up and rest on cheap grace. Don’t do it. There is no true rest there. 

 

I wonder finally if some of the Israelites felt weak, isolated and alone. I can’t do this. Is anyone watching my back? Do you ever feel that? Well, our passage answers this need for community wonderfully. See we’re to fight the good fight together. We’re to fight for one another. 

 

12 … to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua said, 13 “Remember the command that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you after he said, ‘The Lord your God will give you rest by giving you this land.’ 14 Your wives, your children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan, but all your fighting men, ready for battle, must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites. You are to help them 15 until the Lord gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the Lord your God is giving them. After that, you may go back and occupy your own land, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you east of the Jordan toward the sunrise.”

16 Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 

 

These 2 and a half tribes - the reubenites, gaddites and half Manasseh had already been given their inheritance of land and rest on the east side of the jordan river. But they could not be at rest until all their brothers and sisters were at rest as well. And so they are called to the frontline to selflessness and sacrifice for the sake of their fellow Israelites’ rest. And they agree to it!

In the same way Hebrews 4v1 says to us. since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us (plural) be careful that none of you (singular) be found to have fallen short of it.

 

We fight for one another. 

 

But finally we never fight alone because of Our Joshua. 3rd point. Our promise, Our Battle, Our Joshua. 

 

Look at the way the leader is prepared. His high calling. 

Taking over from the greatest of all the prophets Moses and Joshua is called to strength and courage v6 and 7, commanded to it v9!

He’s called v7 to complete, unswerving obedience to God’s word 

that will spring v8 from constant careful meditation on God’s words 

and God end of v9 will be with him and will never forsake him.  

 

Courage, faithfulness, bearing the presence of God. It’s an extraordinarily high calling for the leader of God’s people. And while Joshua is a wonderful leader we know that we are being pointed forward here to the true Joshua, the author and perfecter of our faith - Jesus. 

He is the one who with extraordinary strength and courage, in perfect unswerving obedience to his Father’s word which he had internalised from his youth, he lays down his life that he might lead us into an eternal future. he enters the battle with us and he has promised to never leave us nor forsake us.

 

He is our strength in the battle. 

 

Our response to Jesus could be none better than those tribes to Joshua in v16 

‘Whatever you command us we will do and wherever you send us we will go’

 

In christ we are called to strength, courage, obedience, internalising his words, living on his presence.. that we might be fruitful in the battles of our faith. 

Resurrection. Luke 24:1-11

Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here. He has risen! Just as he told you he would.  

 

Read the gospel texts and you will see that Jesus had told his disciples again and again that he would suffer and die but then after 3 days he would be raised from death to LIFE. 

Perhaps he put it like this: Christ will die, Christ will RISE, Christ will come again 

 

He had told them that he would be raised from death to life but here are the women rushing to the garden tomb early in the morning on the day after the sabbath and they are here not to witness a resurrection but to embalm Jesus’ dead body. They are shocked to find the stone rolled away and the body gone! 

When the women bring the news of resurrection to the 11 and all the other disciples the news is not met with joy it is discarded as nonsense. 

Peter ran to witness the empty tomb and grave clothes and he went away wondering what had happened. 

 

Jesus had told them THIS would happen!! 

 

Christ will die, Christ WILL RISE, Christ will come again 

 

Perhaps it’s a bit like when my wife, Fiona was pregnant for the first time and various dads offered this ‘dad to be’ advice about babies and fatherhood and nappies and i listened and i heard but i didn’t really hear, i couldn’t really hear. You can never be prepared for all that. I still couldn’t get my head around the fact that there really were twin babies growing inside Fiona who would one day be in our arms and in the world - let alone taking nappies on board. I heard but i didn’t really hear

 

Is that what it was like with the disciples? they believed in Jesus, they had followed him, they had listened to him. But the words about his resurrection had not really …entered  them; had not captured them, had not affected their hearts and their hopes. The words.. they had heard them but they hadn’t actually heard them. The words didn’t change their lives. 

 

And It’s only when the shining angels graciously visit the perplexed women and say, “What are you doing here looking for Jesus? He told you he’s not gonna be here.” It’s only then that they begin to re-member - put together - his words. 

 

I wonder if it’s the same for us when it comes to Easter? 

[Some of us struggle to believe this stuff at all and i’ll come to that in a moment]

But many of us do believe in Jesus, we have followed him, we have listened to him. And we’re told by God in his word again and again that Jesus suffered and died and then after 3 days he was raised from death to life. Christ has died, CHRIST is RISEN, Christ will come again. We remind ourselves sunday after sunday. BUT these words about his resurrection .. they haven’t really entered  us; haven’t captured us, haven’t affected our hearts and our hopes. We’ve heard the words but we haven’t actually heard them. The words haven’t changed our lives. And we end up looking for the living among the dead and he is not there. HE IS RISEN 

 

We need a shining angel, the Holy Spirit of God - to redirect us and open our eyes to the significance of what we are being told!

 

 

What about those of us who have real difficulty believing that these events could even have happened. dead men simply do not rise. it’s impossible. and therefore this text must be a fabrication presumably intended to promote a religion after it’s leader had died. it might have some universal themes but is not to be taken literally.. 

Well. look. I agree that dead men do not rise .. normally. But if there is a God who governs reality we cannot rule out the fact that God could raise a dead person. 

Furthermore. If these texts as you suppose were fabrications written a generation after the events to promote Christianity then not only would it’s author not have had women going first to the tomb (women were not considered credible witnesses in the ancient world, as this story itself bears out); but also the author would surely have had the 11 disciples believing in the resurrection gospel at once, ready to be models of faith to lead the church into God’s future. The only real explanation for why these events are written in such a real way is the same explanation for why from this feeble few the church exploded across the roman world: something really happened. there really was a resurrection. Jesus Christ really is Alive. 

 

And so what does it mean? 

O spirit open our hearts to hear 

 

 

Luke tells us that it was in the very early morning of the first day of the week that the stone was found to be rolled away and the body gone. In other words - Because of the resurrection of JC there is a new dawn, a new day, a new start, a new week, a new world. 

 

the overturning of our greatest and most pervasive enemy - death. 

 

When Adam - the father of humanity - sinned; when he pushed God aside - the consequence was death. Death came… to all : All Adam’s race (the human race) who sin just like him; and even to our planet - the earth was subjected to decay. Death. Death.

 

Until Good Friday when ‘Christ died for our sins.’ 

Astonishingly while we were the sinners, while we deserved our death penalty… 

Christ died…. For our sins.

 

Like the little boy who with his magnifying glass on a sunny day concentrates all the suns rays into one laser beam of light that can incinerate dry grass or small creatures or his sister’s hair…

 

So when Jesus hung on that cross it was as if some cosmic magnifying glass redirected and concentrated all of the destructive consequences of our sins and all God’s holy anger against sin onto him - bringing him death for the wages of sin is death and there dying on his cross jesus paid off the debt of sin once for all time. And Sin and death were stripped of their power. And now here on the first Easter day we begin to see the results.. 

 

The day that death died. Like the first green shoot of spring forcing its way up through the frozen ground of an eternal winter. Like the golden light of the dawn ending the longest and darkest night. So Jesus bursts from the tomb of death. Not a ghost having entered some new mode of existence, no, notice the emphasis that Jesus’ body was gone. His body is raised. This is  life returning to this world. Jesus - bodily alive and strong, complete forever. The resurrection marked the greatest turnaround in history. Death has lost its sting. Death has been swallowed up in victory. Death has been defeated!!!!

 

in another place in the NT the apostle Paul describes the risen Jesus as the firstfruits of those who have died

 

We are to Imagine a farmer toward the end of the growing season daily, anxiously looking over his crop. Watching the skies for sun and rain. His very life depends on the success of the crop. If it fails.. his family will die. 

And then.. early one morning… the thing he’s been watching for: in one corner of the field which receives the first sunlight of the day tiny ears of corn have begun to form and appear in the stalks of the crop. The first fruits!! The first fruits means the whole crop is successful! He tears it out of the ground and runs home to his wife.. Just a tiny part of the crop but proof that a harvest will follow.. 

 

Jesus is not raised alone. His resurrection is the firstfruits - the guarantee of a great harvest of people raised from the dead. Jesus is like a needle, he has pierced through the great shroud of death to life on the other side and those who are joined to Jesus by faith, as the thread is connected to the needle, shall surely follow him through. 

 

 

Christ is risen from the dead and we and all this broken world will follow. 

 

 

THEREFORE 

 

2 things 

 

1. We do not grieve as those who have no hope

 

Death. it’s horrible, it’s unnatural. Have you had a loved one close to you who has died? Do you fear your own death? Are you stuck in grief? Whether untimely or at  ripe old age. Death is not the way the world is meant to be. To lose our lives. To lose the presence of a loved one is always agonizing.. 

 

But Easter says that death has ultimately been defeated. Where o death is your victory? Where O death is your sting. Jesus is RISEN from the grave. 

Many people reach out to Jesus as death approaches and we should long for all to know him because Jesus says ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

 

ill. We’re going to live forever. 

 

Do you hear this? Can you take it deep into your soul for yourself and your loved ones. 

 

Through Christ death is now merely a gardener and we are the seeds .

We will be raised and united eternally bodily with our loved ones. We will embrace. 

 

Our popular culture’s view of the afterlife is one, if any, of vague immateriality. Occasionally Harry Potter catches a glimpse of his deceased parents or Luke Skywalker glimpses a shimmering Obi Wan Kenobi. But these silent, transparent ghostly holograms what comfort do they provide - you can’t hug them. I want to hug. And the resurrection says - you will.

Jesus will wipe away every tear. he will reunite us on the day when death is no more.

 

In the face of defeated death we do not grieve as those who have no hope

 

 

and 

second thing 

 

We do not live as those who have no hope 

 

If Christ is not raised from the dead then the Bible tells us (1 corinthians 15) we should eat and drink for tomorrow we die. If this is all there is then maximise your happiness now! What are you doing here?? See the world, realise your dreams. You only live ONCE. Make a list - a thousand things i need to do before I DIE. 

 

The problem of course is we don’t even know how to live well with the one chance we have and time like sand is running through our fingers. If Christ is not raised from the dead we should eat and drink for tomorrow we die. But even this brief life does not go as we plan - i haven’t seen the world, i haven’t used my gifts, i haven’t realised my dreams…

 

But….. Christ has been raised from the dead. The tomb was empty. His Body was gone. His body was raised. The first fruits of the renewal of this world. This reality. The future is not some abstract ethereal heavenly existence. The future is this world restored forever. A new dawn, a new day, a new start a new ….CREATION.

 

And therefore - we do not despair 

 

see, listen.. take it to heart 

 

You don’t have to explore the world now 

the world’s not going anywhere ..

You don’t have to realise all your dreams now 

plenty of time to develop your gifts 

You don’t have to maximise your happiness actually 

You have an eternity when all things shall be made new 

 

So how then should we live in the light of this glorious resurrection hope for this world? 

Trust Jesus and tell people about him? Yes, absolutely. 

But also, if the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ means that this world, every part of it that is good, has a future. Then everything matters. Everything

whether you eat or drink or whatever you do - work, play, rest, love, nurture, rebuke, study, create, comfort, learn, teach, pray, weep, laugh - whatever you do. do it all to the glory of God. 

 

Do it all for others. cos you don’t have to cling to this life like it’s the only one you’ve got. 

 

Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here. He has risen! Just as he told you he would.

 

 

 

Maundy Thursday reflection. John 13:1-17, 34-35

Last Sunday, Palm Sunday around midnight a 26 year old man was murdered on my street. Shot dead in cold blood as he got out the car in front of his mum’s house. Shocking, appalling… challenging. 

Where is the love of God that comes in to redeem our lives, our communities, our world? The love that really makes a difference. The love that enables us to love with courage? 

The problem is that there is something about THAT LOVE that also shocks and appalls and challenges us..

This is Maundy Thursday. There’s something about Maundy Thursday that makes you squirm. One of the ancient practices of the church on this day is to submit to having your feet washed. We’ve often talked about whether we should adopt that practice here - does it culturally translate? maybe it would make people feel too embarassed, too awkward. But you see - that’s the whole point! There’s something about the love of God that makes us uncomfortable but until we move beyond that discomfort and accept his love and our utter need to be served by it we can never become agents of real change in his world.. 

The term maundy in Maundy Thursday comes to us from the Latin root maundatum, or commandment, from Jesus’s words in John 13:34:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

 

The command to love of course was nothing new. But the command to love in the manner that Jesus has loved - that is new. And the command to love, having been loved first by Jesus - that is new. 

 

How is it that Jesus has loved us ‘to the end’ - that we might then love? 

 

v3 “Jesus, knowing that the father had given all things into his hands, that he had come from God and was going back to God, got up from the meal … and began to wash his disciples feet..”

 

—-

For the sandal-wearing disciples, washing your filthy feet was a common cultural practice, as common in their day as brushing teeth is for us. When you arrived at a home a basin of water was provided for you to do the necessary… Now it could happen that in a very well to do household a servant would wash your feet. But this would only be the lowest gentile slave. Jewish slaves were exempted from such a low task. Everybody knows washing dirty feet is nasty. It’s base.

It’s difficult to find a contemporary cultural equivalent for the washing of another’s feet in Jesus’s day. A number of years ago i travelled by train from Mumbai to Delhi.  Travelling by train in India, it is the lowest caste people - often those with disabilities - who clean the trains. They do it by crawling on their bellies across the floor and gathering up rubbish and food which has been dropped there with their clothes. And they are largely ignored because their work is so humiliating.

Do you get, then.. Do you get ..something of the utter, raw, appalling sigificance of what Jesus does here when HE takes off his outer garment and drops to his knees to wash feet?!!!  We hear the shock in the voices of the disciples who are SO embarassed by his actions.. Jesus, their master, their LORD - is crawling on his belly gathering their filth. 

The Creator on his knees. 

And this.. is only the beginning, this is nothing….

incredibly, He will go even lower still -- for contained in John’s account are allusions everywhere to Jesus’ imminent humiliating death.

The verbs John uses for Jesus laying aside his outer clothing and then putting his clothing on again are not usual. They are the verbs John uses elsewhere in his gospel for Jesus saying he will lay down his life only to take it up again at the resurrection. The footwashing, this whole scene, is a picture, a parable of the greater humiliation of God - mocked, spat on, stripped, bruised, bleeding, stretched out, naked, nailed to a cross. A slave’s death. The cross - where the righteous and pure son of God became sin .. so that sinners like you and me could be made righteous and pure..

‘You do not realise now what i am doing,’ Jesus says to Peter v7 as he washes his feet.. ‘But later you will understand.’ 

Understand the breathtaking servant love of our God.                 Who serves us  right at the point of our need - for cleansing, for forgiveness.                                             Who loves in humility. He gives up His rights and privileges.          Who loves in an utterly  costly way.                                  Who loves even under pressure – the cross was just hours away!             Who loves unconditionally – these men would, by the end of the night, betray Him, desert Him or deny Him.  Yet He lovingly washes all their feet, even Judas’s.  And He loves in self-forgetfulness – He doesn’t care that He loses face. He is not concerned for His own self-image. 

Here is the God who stoops, who serves, who gives everything, who gives his life that we might live. 

And Jesus says A new commandment I give to YOU: love one another. As I have loved you so you must love one another.

How? I mean I’m an incredibly loving person … until it means inconvenience, or a loss of face, or until my love is not returned in kind.  And how often does my love evaporate when i’m under pressure from other quarters? As i have loved you, you must love one another??!! Are you kidding me???

But Jesus doesn’t just give us the manner in which we are to love. He also gives us the means by which we are to love. As I have loved you ..so you must love ..

See the order? First be loved.  Then love.  First know, realise, appreciate – then do. First receive Jesus’ love.  Then pass it on.

But receiving is hard for us. It humbles us. We like to provide for ourselves. You can’t love me, God. I haven’t had the chance to prove my own worth yet. And so we resist ‘You shall never wash my feet’ says Peter.But Jesus answers ‘unless i wash you, you have no part in me.’ 

It reminds me of those extraordinary moments I’ve witnessed where one cares for the physical needs of an infirm loved one.. maybe helping feed them or wash them when they cannot do it for themselves. For those of us who are able bodied, the idea of submitting to that would be startling, humiliating, weird.. 

But the truth is, spiritually we are infirm, utterly dependent. We can only serve like Christ if we are first served by Christ. We can only love as he has loved if we are first loved by him.. We must overcome that aversion, lay down our pride and let him serve us. Apart from me you can do nothing… nothing 

 

—- 

God knows about the murder of young men. Maundy Thursday reminds us that God the Father sent his only Son who willingly came as a lowly slave, to serve us, to be crushed for us, to free us from the sin slavery that leads to eternal death. 

Sisters and brothers, we are in receipt of incredible love.We have gathered here on this special night to experience that Love again. We are here to be fed so that we might go out and feed others.

 Tonight, let us remember to claim the love that Jesus gives, and to receive the command that comes through Christ’s self-giving spirit to share that love with a hungry, love-starved world. Amen

The Cross - Reconciled to God, each other, the world

LENT 5

Reconciliation. Colossians 1:19-20

 

Welcome to SBD.  Through the sundays of Lent leading up to Easter we’re focussing on one of the central events in the Christian faith, the cross of Jesus Christ. In these last weeks we have seen how the cross deals with our guilt (justification), our slavery (Redemption) and our shame (cleansing/expiation). This week we’re going to focus on how the cross deals with our alienation. We’re going to think about how the cross reconciles. We’re going to do that by looking at some verses from our reading in Colossians 1 on page … vv19-20.

 

What do I mean by alienation? Here’s an ancient story. 

Once a man and a woman lived in an unimaginable paradise. They had everything they could possibly want. They enjoyed an intimate relationship with God, with one another and with the world in which they lived. They had a freedom to know and to explore. 

But, they chose to betray the trust God had given them… Soon, instead of rushing to meet him, they hid from him; instead of selflessly loving one another, they began to blame and accuse; instead of developing the richness of their home, they experienced it as a place of frustrating labour. The story ends with an eviction. The couple are exiled to the east, from where no good thing can come. They are alienated from God, from one another and from home. 

The Jewish Intellectual Edward Said, begins his essay Reflections on Exile with these words: “Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted.”

 

Now, I am sure many of you are familiar with that story from the opening chapters of the Hebrew Bible. It’s a story which has been told by Jews and Christians for thousands of years. It gives an account of our experience of tense sadness in the world.  

See on the one hand we’re aware that the world is a place of great beauty and goodness. It is full of endless riches and feels like home. [Science museum - Testament to the work of human discovery and ingenuity for the common good - you can watch IMAX 3D film about life under the oceans ..extraordinary - coral reef, touch it.  - miracle: on a precise day once a year the coral spawns - new life… ] endless riches. 

 

But, we are also aware that the world is a hard place in which to make our home.  often something is wrong. We feel displaced. Something is wrong. [Our work in the world, without which we feel less than human, often feels nothing like discovery for the common good. And more like slog and frustration. It can easily become selfish. Those same coral reefs that regenerate every year cannot do so fast enough to counter their destruction caused by human greed.  Great beauty and goodness in the world but…something is deeply wrong

 

We’re aware too that human beings are extraordinary creatures with an intense ability to create and to love. This last week i cam across another amazing growing charity operating in Hackney. The happy baby community provides support for women who are pregnant or have small children and are survivors of trafficking. But, we are also aware that human beings struggle to get on. We argue, we fight, we wage war, we retreat from one another. [Syria: 450k dead in 7 years/national, racial, class pride - we flock with those like us, we love those who love us. Roots of Bitterness can set in. 

 

Finally, many people are aware that there is more to the world than meets the eye. There is a sense of something, maybe somebody, which is transcendent. [Walk the city. encounter churches, temples, synagogues, meetings in homes where - something transcendent is being sought] But, we’re also aware that the transcendent is elusive. We often ignore it or struggle to find it. When we encounter it we often recoil from it or reject it or hate it. [Last week have you found even yourself withdrawing from God?]. 

 

All this is what it means to be alienated from the world, from each other, from God. We live east of Eden.  

 

Now the story says that When alienation sets in there is need for reconciliation. Parties who are set against each other need to be brought back together. Severed relationships need to be mended and restored. The ancient Jewish prophets imagined humanity reconciled to God, to each other and to the world. They called it, Shalom, Peace. [Extraordinary set of images to imagine what that will be like Wolf/lamb; child/snakes nest] All things will be reconciled

 

Colossians 1:19-20 tells us that God has already done that comprehensive work of reconciliation through the blood of Christ shed on the cross. Have a look at it. 

 

Notice first God’s passionate desire for reconciliation. God takes the initiative. ‘God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Christ’ [Many of us when we fall out with each other. We specialise in the silent sulking approach, you don’t say anything but you let the other person know that they have deeply wounded you and you wait for them to come and talk to you] Colossians 1 says God does not sulk in a corner brooding over how mean human beings have been to him. Rather, he draws close. He holds nothing back. He is pleased to allow all his fullness to dwell in Christ who dwells with us in order that he might reconcile all things to himself. 

 

Notice too that reconciliation is costly. The God who draws close in Christ does so to shed his blood on the cross.  It’s about violent death. At one level we know that reconciliation is costly. If you have ever fallen out with someone then it will often take a lot out of you emotionally, spiritually and physically to restore the relationship. Have you ever felt that? And the greater the offence, the greater the cost particularly if you are the innocent party.

[Marilyn Robinson’s novel Home is the sister novel to her acclaimed Gilead. It tells the story of Glory Boughton - a teacher in her 40s who has never married and returns home to care for her dying Father. At the same time her youngest brother, Jack, the prodigal son, who has been gone twenty years, returns home seeking refuge and to make peace with the past. He is welcomed with love.. But reconciliation is costly. Old wounds are opened. Deep hurts and regret. And the fear of a repeat performance looms..

Reconcilation is costly. The greater the offence the greater the cost particularly if you are the innocent party. 

 

God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in Christ, and through him to reconcile to himself all things… by making peace through his blood  shed on the cross. 

God draws close as the rejected creator and lover in order to make peace with his creatures who have chosen to be… his enemies

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of[g] your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—

Enemies? Now you might say.. hang on a minute. Isn’t that overstating the case? I might not be that interested in God but I am not his enemy. We may not be on speaking terms but I don’t wish him any ill. 

 

Maybe it’s only when we get up close to the God of the Bible that we realise we might be his enemy after all. See, what if I said to you that this God says that He alone is the way to spiritual life and you can contribute nothing, you must come to him. What if I said to you that this God demands that you serve him with every part of your life that he has given you? What if I said to you that this God says you can hold nothing back from him? He wants everything. 

Maybe you don’t feel quite so neutral towards him then. Maybe we say ‘no’ and we fight him for control of our life. Maybe it’s not so far fetched to say that we are his enemies in need of reconciliation. 

 

Neither is it simply a one sided affair. As if we don’t like God and that hostility on our part just needs to be overcome by some good PR.  We just need to see how great God actually is. No, the enmity is on both sides. Our human rejection of God, our taking of the gifts but rejecting the giver. Our human self-love. Living like we are God. All this that the Bible calls sin - has provoked God’s righteous, holy anger. 

We have rejected God in his world and he is perfectly within his rights to reject us. It’s a punishment we perversely welcome and deserve. 

 

But still he comes after us in love. Even while we are still his enemies he loves us and he gives himself for us. In the shedding of his blood he does the costly work of reconciliation. In Christ, God takes upon himself his anger against our sin so that we will never have to bear it. He takes our place. This is an incredible discovery.  

Once when i was at university and a foolish young man, I inadvertently had managed to offend this guy who was a bit of a nutter. Apparently he was on his way round to my house to ‘kill me’ some friends of mine waited outside my house to bar his way incase he came. All the time i was totally unaware that this was happening - I was sleeping in my bed (suffice to say the misunderstanding was cleared up). But look, we were in terrible danger, having rejected God, perhaps we weren’t even aware of it. But while we were sleeping soundly in our beds, Jesus met that danger in our place and dealt with it. In paying for our sins Jesus absorbs the deep brokenness and alienation which have invaded reality and he mends it. He makes possible a new relationship between God and humanity, within humanity and between humanity and the world. In all the circles of our alienation He creates and brokers peace.

 

The Apostle Paul says an extraordinary thing in Ephesians 2 – he says, “Christ is our peace”. That’s unique. All the prophets of the world’s religions in one way or another call their followers to live lives of peace; all the people of good will who do the hard work of reconciliation from marriage counselling to inter-community relations to international diplomacy invite people to make peace. But, here we are promised that there is a man in whom dwells all the fullness of God and he is our peace!

This is an extraordinary claim. 

[Imagine: Tony Blair – UN Envoy for Middle East – Jerusalem “I am your peace!” unimaginable. (actually maybe you could imagine it but would be ridiculous. no mere human being would make that claim.] Christ is our peace. An extraordinary claim.

 

Let me end by working that out in the three circles of alienation where Jesus reconciles all things to God. First of all he turns us from being God’s enemies to being God’s friends as we trust in him. Access to God! He allows us to draw near to God the Father with confidence. Important to hear that because Maybe some of us are fearful of drawing near to God. We think that we’re not good enough. Maybe some of us are working hard to try and get close to God. Maybe some of us have allowed ourselves to grow distant from God. Listen: Jesus is our peace. Rest in Him. There is hope. [This is the great reality of adoption. Through union with Christ the Son, we now have the same Father. Jesus taught his disciples to pray Our Abba. More intimate word than Father.. more respectful than Daddy. Dad. Pray to your Dad in heaven. This is who he is to you. You who were once God’s enemies as you rest in Christ’s reconciling work - you now are able to call him Abba]

 

But, secondly Jesus our peace restores us to relationship with one another. If you put two or more human beings together for any length of time then conflict will emerge. There are no exceptions. Our default is to  quickly blame each other.  Or retreat into our comfortable tribes. The good news of the Gospel is that Christ is our peace. If we rest in him and see the cost of our reconciliation then maybe we stop blaming the other and are open to forgive. Christ our peace can and does restore broken human relationships.  [CTC Europe. Prague, Urban church plants 50 different cities, 20 European countries. Our best friends - the Germans. Berlin and Hamburg guys.. Communion - moving because 100 years ago.. and again 75 years ago our ancestors were killing one another. And now we break bread together because Christ is our peace.]  

In the church of Jesus Christ,  God is creating a new humanity - a disparate people, enemies, people who are chalk and cheese - he makes us One in Christ. Jesus says doesn’t he: ‘Don’t just love those who love you (who are like you) - everyone does that. Love your enemies.. Love the different. Love those who are difficult to love. Then you’ll be true children of your Father in heaven.’ In our church, in your workplace, at the schoolgates - move beyond your comfort zone - talk to people you’ve never talked to before. Find out about them. Christ is our peace. We commit ourselves to the peace of our church and our communities and our world because of Christ.

 

Finally, Jesus our peace ultimately reconciles the whole created order to God – all things whether on heaven or on earth. His body in which God’s fullness dwells, is raised from the dead. He promises that in and through this body the whole material created order will be renewed. We will one day no longer be alienated in this world. It will once again be our home. So, in and through Christ our peace we anticipate that life now. We seek the good of the earth. We pursue shalom. Because we know in Christ who is our peace there is hope.

 

Christ is our peace. Through him God has reconciled to himself all things in heaven and on earth by making peace through his blood shed on the cross.