A selection of articles from the past

Hope in Uncertain Days (2 Peter)

“Everything you need” 2 Peter 1:1-4.

“Growing in faith and assurance” 2 Peter 1:5-11

Some posts to read (March 2020)

Thankless – How do we respond when our efforts and gifts go unappreciated?

I don’t just want you to survive … we want to get through the Coronavirus but God calls us to more than just surviving

Uncertainty – From the Enigma Sermons – how do we live and trust God in uncertain times?

I don’t want you to panic … I want you to think – The title is self explanatory for this one!

#SummerIsComing The Stark family in Game of Thrones have a saying that “Winter is Coming” warning of dark and difficult days ahead. Christians believe that Summer is Coming. Finding Hope in dark days.

Food for the long haul How long term Bible teaching has been preparing us for this present season.

The lies we believe about God This is one from the freezer. If we believe lies about God the we will struggle to cope with the trials of difficult days ahead

Isolation and Communion (Part 1) Can we take communion without gathering as a local church to answer this, we need to think carefully about the underpinning beliefs that affect the decision. We begin with a bit of church history.

Isolation and Communion (Part 2) What does the Bible say about Communion -the key bible passages

Isolation and Communion (Part 3) The Big Story. How Biblical Theology affects our decision

Isolation and Communion (Part 4) Truth and Lies. How Systematic Theology shapes our decision

Isolation and Communion (Part 5) Coming to some conclusions

False Accusation: Psalm 109 and our response to slander

A different kind of leader: Isaiah 42, Jesus and the bruised reed

Only the young from our Enigma Sermons series, Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:7.

Plugged In Review of Dan Strange’s book on how we engage the culture

Abuse and Bullying in the Church

Abuse and Bullying in the Church: 2020 started with some seriously disturbing reports about high profile abuse cases but are we dealing with a few rotten apples or is there a culture we need to challenge with God’s Word?

The problem of co-dependency How unhealthy relationships can lead to abuse.

Links to past articles

I trace the rainbow through the rain … article on living with depression

On listening to experts and having your say – Discussing coronavirus, how can people with different gifts and expertise contribute to a conversation?

There is more than one way to die: We are rightly being asked to “socially distance” to help reduce the risk of death from Coronavirus but we need to be aware of other dangers. This article traces what the Bible says about exile and isolation.

For Such a Time as This: How Queen Esther’s testimony of being ready to serve God in her time speaks to us today.

Worthy: A book review of Elyse Fitpatrick and Ed Schumacher’s brilliant book looking at the worth and identity of women. One for dad’s and daughters to read together

Body and Spirit: Does it really matter whether or not we gather physically to worship. If it does what are the implications for a period of isolation?

The Enigma Sermons: Introducing Ecclesiastes

Irony Continuing our look at “Enigma Sermons” Solomon at times appears to have an ironic, cynical even, outlook on life.

Isaiah 53 – a paraphrase

1We’ve been proclaiming a message, God’s mighty power is revealed. Did you see it? Have you heard it? Do you believe?  2He (the one the revelation is all about) grew up like a young plant before God. His coming was like a root springing up unexpectedly from dry, arid land.  However, physically speaking you wouldn’t have though he was much to look at.  3We despised and rejected him. We considered him a man to be pitied. Carrying great sorrow on his shoulders, he knew suffering only too well. We were so embarrassed of him, we looked the other way when we saw him, we could not even maintain eye contact.  We felt he had nothing of value to offer. 

4Come on, let’s be honest. It was our troubles and suffering that he willingly took upon himself but we thought that it was his fault that God was punishing him. 5He was defiled, violated, wounded because of our sins. He took on the crushing weight of our guilt.  He was punished so we could know peace and stand complete in him, reconciled to God. He was mocked, whipped, beaten so that we could know true healing.  6We were like wandering sheep, all over the place and lost. We were like men choosing their own path, trespassing onto land where we were not meant to go.  Yet, God chose to declare him guilty instead of us.

7Oppressed and attacked like a lamb driven to the slaughter, he suffered silently without complaint, like a ewe quietly and patiently allowing itself to be sheared. 8His enemies used coercion disguised as justice to remove him. He could not rely on his friends and contemporaries. They just were not interested.  He was cut off, he died for the evil deeds of his people, those who actually deserved the death penalty.  9He was innocent both of wicked actions and treacherous words but they gave him a criminal’s burial, his tomb was borrowed from a rich man.

10However, get this! It was actually Yahweh’s will and good pleasure to crush him and cause him grief. This was the plan all along.  He became a sacrifice for our sin and because of this he will live to see many descendants. Yahweh will bless and prosper all that he does. 11More than that, he will be satisfied when he sees what his suffering has achieved. Through his experience, the righteous servant enables many more to be declared righteous. He will bear their sin for them.  12Therefore he will receive a tremendous and bountiful inheritance. It will be a reward that demonstrates his strength, valour and greatness.  This is his reward because he poured out his life to death and willingly allowed himself to be counted with sinners. In doing this he bore the sin of many and made intercession for them.

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When Jesus Came Isaiah 53:4-6

I love Christmas. I love Christmas Trees and fairy lights, I love Turkey with all the trimmings and I love Christmas pudding. I could eat that all the year round. I love getting presents and giving presents. I love carols.

Christmas is great but may I let you into a secret? Easter is so much better. One of the songs we sing at Christmas was written by our very own Jonathan Girling. Actually Jon has written a few songs over the years (I know, that’s an understatement) and he is going to be coming an talking about the next part of Isaiah and linking it to another of his songs in two weeks’ time.

This week we are talking about “When Jesus came.” Although we have sung this song frequently at carol services it really is about the events of this time of year. We know that Jesus came as a little baby and was born in Bethlehem but why did he come and what was so special about him? After all, we saw last week that there didn’t seem to be anything special about Jesus to draw our attention. So why are we making  big deal about him all these years later?

The answer is that Jesus came to die. We don’t like talking about death do we? Someone tweeted this week.

“Christians should pray that God will spare everyone else from coronavirus and take them instead.”

I don’t know how you feel about that. Most of us given the chance will try and avoid our own death.   That’s why we are washing our hands regularly and preparing to self-isolate. That’s why we are stockpiling on tinned food and toilet rolls.

But Jonathan’s song says “Jesus came to die.”  Why would someone make their life mission to die?  Well, Jonathan goes on to say that “Jesus came to die for me.”

Jesus came to die for me? For you? What’s that all about? Well the next bit of our Bible passage explains more. Remember Isaiah 53 is a prophecy made about Jesus 700 years before his birth. This part of the passage tells us that

Jesus came to deal with our problem of guilt and shame

A Look at the Text

V4. This is poetry! Often the prophets sang.[1] So what Isaiah does is to put two phrases in parallel with each other. They repeat the same thought but by using different words and imagery, God slows us down causing us to chew over the idea, to think about it, to meditate on it.

Jesus is the one who takes up, bears, carries my sorrows and afflictions.  Why does he do this? Go back to creation and God makes a good and beautiful world. Sin brings curse. The curse is to do with death, we are spiritual dead and all creation is dying. Then God pronounces blessing instead of curse to Abraham.[2]  This promise is made again to Israel when they enter the promised land. This is what Deuteronomy is all about. However, they are called to choose between life and death, between blessing and curse.  Sadly, God’s people choose sin and rebellion. The curse comes bringing, famine, plague, war and the death of exile from the land.  In fact, this is the image at this point. Isaiah has prophesied judgement. He warns that the people will be taken into exile but God’s servant will come and restore blessing. The people will be returned and the curse ended. At the point Jesus arrives on the scene, they are physically back in the land but still under the curse of foreign rule.

That’s why Jesus came. We sing that:

He came a helpless babe,

His bed, a manger lined with straw,

In strips of cloth, was laid.

BUT .. don’t miss that first line “Jesus came to die for me.” It was God’s plan.

Now Isaiah’s early readers may have thought that the focus was on what God would do for the nation of Israel but John the Baptist announces that Jesus is the lamb of God who comes to take away the sins of the World. Not just one nation but everyone, young and old, male and female, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, you and me.

So Jesus bears our curse, suffers for us but what did we think was going on. Well last Sunday, we saw that the Jews of Jesus day completely misjudged him. Not only that but we, spiritually before our conversation did that too. Jesus was and is seen as unworthy of praise, lacking in beauty or majesty, a man of sorrows. Those words specifically draw us in to the events of Calvary.

When I look into His face that day,

Seeing blood and tears streak down,

 it is the man with the mock crown, beaten, bloodied, bruised, attempting to carry his cross, failing even to defend himself in court, putting up with mocking taunts who has no majesty and beauty.[3]

Our Isaiah says that response is to believe that God is punishing him. We assume he is a weak, guilty, failure.  How wrong we are.

V5 Builds the idea and imagery of what Christ endured and reinforces the point that it was for us. Here we have the imagery of piercing and crushing or bruising. The words also have the idea that Jesus is in some way defiled, violated and that he is defeated. 

And so I am tempted:

turn my face and walk away

To fade into the crowd

Defiled and violated? We have seen throughout Deuteronomy that sin makes us unclear, it defiles us, it brings shame and exclusion. Jesus self-isolates. He is sent to a criminal’s death, he is stripped and shamed. 

The imagery is of defeat. Jesus’ enemies thought they had won. It looked like a victory for evil. Had the devil won? The disciples certainly thought that Jesus had lost.  But the imagery is also of punishment – he is chastised.  It is not just our grief and suffering he carries. Isaiah tells us that he is being punished for our sin. This is sometimes called Penal Substitution. It is the idea that I am the one who deserves shame, I am the guilty one but Jesus chooses to step into my place and receive the punishment of death that I deserve.

Then there is the promise that we are cured, healed by Jesus’ wounds. The New Testament word “saviour” can also be translated “healer.” It also has the idea of being made whole, restored, rehabilitated, a new creation.  Now, we are not meant to separate salvation out from healing. It is not that he gets beaten so that we can be healed from physical sickness and then dies so that we can be forgiven for sin. No, it is about Jesus dealing with the problem of sin. By taking the punishment, he takes the curse away. This means the whole of creation will one day be renewed. It means that we look forward to a day when all sickness will be gone. We of course see little foretastes of that today whenever someone is healed by medicine or surgery and whenever we pray for someone and they get better. But we also look forward to a day of full restoration when Jesus comes back.

When Jesus rose again that day,

Defeating sin and death,

Alive once more, exalted God

Worthy the Lamb of praise.

He stands at God’s right hand on high

And he will come again

In Glory, He will lead us home

To the New Jerusalem:

V6 To help push the point home, Isaiah employs a different picture. He returns to the imagery of sheep. Now, we are the ones like sheep. Sheep have a habit of wandering all over the place. That’s why the need shepherds. They get out, away from the flock and are lost, vulnerable to falls, the cold of night and wolves. Isaiah says we are like that, like men wandering all over the place, we try to make our own plans and follow our own path in life but we end up off course, trespassing in dangerous territory.

That’s what sin is like. Sin is about wandering away from God’s plan, purpose and care. Sin leads us into danger. And so Jesus is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the flock.  God places the consequences of my wandering onto him.

A Look at ourselves

So what is our response to this?  Jonathan’s song asked the question

“Can I turn my face and walk away

To fade into the crowd?”

Many people did that when Jesus was betrayed and killed. Some came to watch, to jeer and mock, some of his followers watched nervously from a distance but many fled, seeking to slip away and hide in the crowd.

I couldn’t do that could I?  I am not the sort of person to see Jesus as weak, a failure, judged by God,, unworthy of praise am I? After all, I am here in church, singing songs, listening to the Bible. And yet the Bible is clear that not just the Jews and the Romans but you and I living 2000 years later are guilty of this.

How can we end up being guilty of that? Well, quite simply:

  • Every time I act as though it is up to me to try hard sand do my best in order to live a good life, I turn my face, I refuse to value and honour Jesus.
  • Every time I try to excuse my sin, to minimise it and pretend it wasn’t that bad. Every time I  cannot find it in myself to confess and say sorry, I turn my face.
  • Every time I refuse to forgive and be reconciled to someone else, I turn my face.

Don’t turn your face, come gaze and see what Jesus has done for you. He died in your place. He weas punished so that you could be forgiven, he was stripped and shamed so that you could be free from shame, he died so that you can live.

He is not just an example to follow. Jesus is the saviour who offers you life.  Will you turn and walk away or will you respond in trust and praise.

And there we’ll praise His name always,

Singing “Glory to our King!”

For the Lamb was slain, alive again,

Our Saviour and our God.

[1] Ezekiel 33:22.

[2] Genesis 12:1-3.

[3] The King of Creation had majesty. The Jesus who drew cheering crowds clearly had beauty, charisma and majesty.

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