Christ's Rule and how to react

Text: Psalm 2:7-12 Time: 29/07/07 Place: Childs Hill Baptist ChurchWe have begun to look at Psalm 2 and we have said that whereas it speaks firstly of David who was Israel's King at this time, God's anointed one, it also has a clear application to the Messiah or Anointed One, Christ Jesus.
We spoke first of the world's opposition to God and its rebellion against Messiah. We should expect empty conspiracies and plots from the world. We should expect them to take a stand against God and against his Christ and expect them to be determined to rebel against God and to try to break free. We then looked at God's reaction to man's opposition and rebellion, noting his lack of fear, his angry rebuke and then his statement in 6 I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill. God the Father is confident in his Messiah, it is clear, and so the opposition of the world does not trouble him nor should it trouble us unduly.
Now this week I want us to go on with 7-12 where we firstly learn more of Christ's rule in 7-9 and are then called to react to this in the right way in the closing three verses, 10-12.
So two things again
1. Consider this proclamation of the Lord's decree to MessiahSo far in this psalm we have heard a lot about the nations and the peoples and their kings and rulers and their conspiring and plotting and so on but from verse 4 our attention is turned from earth and its people to heaven and to God. At the point we have reached all the focus is on the Messiah or Christ, the Son of God. He is the one who speaks here. As we have suggested, the words must be understood as speaking firstly of David but then more broadly of Messiah himself, of Jesus Christ. So we say three things
1. Consider the Father's Sonship decreeIn verse 7 David says I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, You are my Son; today I have become your Father. David could be simply declaring God's love for him here. God loves him as a Father and so all will be well. However, there seems to be something more going on. David is clearly referring back to what we read in 2 Samuel 7 and which we mentioned last time. You remember again how David wanted to build a house for God and Nathan agreed at first but was then sent back to David to say (11-16) it was going to be the other way round.
The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.The actual promise of sonship is applied to Solomon but clearly David saw it as applying to himself in the first instance as well. It was his Father-Son relationship with God that gave him the confidence to believe that despite all the opposition he has spoken of, all would be well for he was indeed the Son of God and his Father would not fail him.
Of course, what is true of David in more general terms is particularly true of Jesus the Messiah. As we know, he is the Son of God. He is the Son of God because God the Father said to him and said to no other - You are my Son; today I have become your Father. It was not something suddenly decided on but something established very deliberately by decree.
Of course, the question arises as to when the Father said this. On what today did the Father become his Father, the God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? When did the Son become his Son, God the Son?
When we come to the New Testament we notice that the verse is quoted at least twice and in two different ways and so we probably need to think chiefly of two days –
First, the day of the secret and eternal decree that was made before creation and then
Second, the public and historical declaration of that decree in the resurrection.
It is a little like fixing the time of a person's birth. There is the birthday, of course, but before that ever happens there has to be the conception that precedes it. So there is not only the day of resurrection but also the day of the secret decree beforehand.
1 So first there is the eternal decree
Before the world began, back in the mists of eternity, there was what we can best describe as an eternal covenant made between the Father and the Son in which the Father said to the Son You are my Son; today I have become your Father. This secret decree or promise or statute between Father and Son gave all power into the hands of the Son who would then come and do all that was intended and then reign until finally handing the kingdom over to the Father again at the end. This eternal decree is referred to in Heb 1:5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, You are my Son; today I have become your Father? Or again, I will be his Father, and he will be my Son. (The second text quoted is 2 Samuel 7:14). Jesus was referring to this when he spoke of (for example) the will of him who sent me (Jn 6:40) and the command he received from his Father (Jn 10:18, 14:31). He is the Son of God, not by adoption, but as the only-begotten Son of the Father, his one and only (Jn 1:14). He is the unique Son of God, and so
  • He has the same nature as the Father. Just as in him all the fullness of the godhead dwells (infinite wisdom, power, and holiness) so in his Son too. He was the craftsman at the Father's side, the one filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, (Prov 8:30).
  • He is God's dear Son, his beloved, and so we must all listen to him. The Father has put everything into the hands of his Son.
  • As the Son he is also the heir of all things. The Father governs everything through him. Matthew Henry helpfully says: "If God hath said unto him, Thou art my Son, it becomes each of us to say to him, Thou art my Lord, my sovereign."
Here is a reason to praise Christ then. He is the eternal Son of God. The throne and the kingdom are his and he is therefore worthy of all praise. Praise him!
Also be encouraged by all this because it is clear that if you look to him all will be well.
2 Second, there is the public declaration
The other place in the New Testament where this verse is quoted is Acts 13:32-35 32 We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: You are my Son; today I have become your Father. The fact that God raised him from the dead, never to decay, is stated in these words: I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David. So it is stated elsewhere: You will not let your Holy One see decay.
As Paul says (Rom 1:4) it is by the resurrection that he was declared with power to be the Son of God. It is following the resurrection that he enters on the administration of his mediatorial kingdom. At that point all power and authority in heaven on earth was given to him.
As we have said, here is reason to praise Christ. The resurrection proves that he truly is the Son of God. Oh what a vindication that was!
2. Consider the Father's promise of an inheritanceDavid goes on in verse 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. As the Son of God, Jesus has only to ask the Father and the nations will not be able to stand against him. They are his inheritance for the asking. It is like a father saying to his son – just ask me for this or that and I will give it to you.
Note
1 He must ask
He must be an intercessor. This presupposes a willingness to humble himself and to take on himself human nature in order to be an intercessor – one who prays to the Father. As God he is equal in power and glory and need never ask for anything but he is now an intercessor.
It also hints at his making satisfaction on the basis of which the intercession can be made. This reminds us of the cross and what Christ has done for his own.
2 God the Father will give
Even here it is clear then that the Messiah will have not only Jews as part of his inheritance but also Gentiles. We know that the people of God are made up of those from every tribe and tongue and nation. The promise of that is here. They are given in eternity as the elect and in time they are brought to Christ by the Holy Spirit to be his.
Again here is reason not only for praise but also for encouragement. Not only will the enemies of Christ not succeed but many who now are opposed to him will come to bow at his feet and accept his rule. They will be his.
3 Consider the Father's promise of victory9 You will rule them with an iron sceptre; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.Here we see a striking (!) picture of how powerful Christ is. The picture is of iron breaking pottery - an iron rod against clay pots 9not a pottery rod against iron pots). There is no contest here. Those who resist him he is able to break in pieces. How quickly and how easily he is able to destroy all those who will not repent. The verse is quoted in Rev 2:27 as something God's servants are able to do in Christ. When Christ is at work victory is certain. He cannot be defeated.
All resistance to him is futile. He will lead victory to victory. He will conquer. he goes conquering and to conquer.
2. Consider this exhortation to kings and rulers to be wiseWhat a powerful picture of Messiah and his rule we have here then. The picture is full of instruction and gives us every reason to praise God and to be encouraged in Christ.
In the closing verses we have some instructions on what should be done about this. We will be brief.
1. See the need to be wise and take warning if you oppose the Christ
10 Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Clearly then to simply go on opposing God's anointed one is a from of madness. It would not be wise to do such a thing. To oppose a mere earthly king could be foolish but to oppose the Son of God himself cannot be wise in any way.
If you were in a school and you enjoyed fighting with others you might fight with all sorts of boys though you would risk the prospect of either losing or being in trouble with the teachers. Now if one of the pupils was the teacher's son – would it be wise to fight him? Clearly not. To oppose Jesus Christ is to oppose God's own Son. It is crazy to even think about.
Are you opposing Christ? Realise just what you are doing. Is that wise?
2. Be reconciled to the Son before it is too late
Rather this is what must happen - 11
Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment.There needs to be a resolve now to serve Christ, not to oppose him. The way to serve is with reverence and yet joy, knowing you are under his protection. A kiss of homage and friendship and love and adoration needs to be employed as soon as possible.
We have already spoken about God's wrath and anger. The Son's anger is such that it can flare up in a moment we are told here. Don't leave it then. Don't risk it. Act. Turn to the Son now. Kiss him.
Be his friend. He is willing to be yours.
Show love to him. He loves you.
Show your loyalty to him.
Adore him and worship him always.
3. Realise the blessedness of taking refuge in him
Negatively we have been told Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. The very last line of the psalm gives us the positive side. It is another beatitude. It takes us back to the very opening line of the Book, which is also a beatitude. Here it is Blessed are all who take refuge in him. The way to true happiness is in him.

Hide in him, take refuge in him, and all will be well. Don't make him the object of your opposition but find refuge in him. Our instinct is to fight against him but we must rather change sides, hand over our weapons, and find refuge in him.

More on Christian Discipleship

Text: Matthew 10:34-42 Time: 29/07/07 Place: Childs Hill Baptist Church
We have been looking at Matthew 10 and the sending out of the 12 disciples and we have said a number of things about discipleship. This morning I want us to look the final section of the chapter in 34-42 and I want to say three things to you.
1. Do not underestimate the difficulty of the Christian life
Jesus has already had a lot to say about the persecution and opposition that they're almost bound to face. As he draws to a close this theme and indeed the general theme of how discipleship involves suffering is still to the fore. And so we consider
1. A mistake to avoid
34 Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. If you ask many Jews why they don't believe that the Messiah has come they will tell you how can Messiah have come when there is so little peace in the world? But the Messiah says very plainly Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth.
If you ask many people about what Jesus was supposed to have come to do, they would say it was surely to bring about peace – to give people peace in their hearts and ultimately to bring peace in general to the world. Isn't 'peace on earth' the Christmas message? But look what he says here - Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. It is a mistake to think in simplistic terms of Jesus coming to this world to bring peace. And so if I say to you 'become a Christian and you will find peace' or 'the way to peace for this world is for more and more people to become Christians' I am not telling the whole truth. Yes, if you become a Christian you are at peace with God. The potential for peace with your fellow believers also clearly opens up. However, to simply say 'Jesus came to bring peace on earth' is to misunderstand his mission in practical terms. Jesus didn't come to give peace in the sentimental sense. He didn't come to make everything sweetness an light in a moment. The spirit of peace at any price was as far from Jesus's thinking as can be.
So, here is a warning. Are you thinking of becoming a Christian? Realise that it will not guarantee peace on earth. Indeed, quite the opposite - that might be the end of your peace on earth. Similarly, we can say to believers, do not be surprised at the lack of peace on earth you experience even though you are a Christian. Yes, there is peace within, or there should be but in other ways there is a distinct lack of peace. Yet that is just what Jesus says here - Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth.
2. The truth of the matter
That's the negative statement then and it is followed by a similar statement and then an explanation.
The statement - I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. Jesus is clearly not speaking literally but metaphorically here. You know how every organisation has to have its logo these days. Well, you can imagine a discussion about the logo for this new movement. The marketing men say 'Well, we see the logo as something like a dove with an olive branch in its beak or a rainbow. 'No' says Jesus, as it were, 'we'll use a sword, an unsheathed sword'. The sword here stands for trouble and suffering and even death. Jesus didn't come to bring peace for people but division and in some cases even death. We have to face the fact that many, many people have died and many more have suffered in many other ways simply because they were believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. We have to take seriously the words here in the explantion in 35, 36 For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother in law, a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.
Jesus is using words from Micah 7:6 For a son dishonours his father, a daughter rises up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law - a man's enemies are the members of his own household. There Micah describes how it was in his day and Jesus says this is prophetic. This is how it is going to be in the days to come. This is the sort of impact my coming will make. Isn't this what happened to Jesus himself? He knew opposition from his family, especially from his brothers. One of the very Twelve who stood before him at this point would in the end betray him he knew. Now as we have already established that A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. Jesus is simply warning us that just as he suffered opposition not only from without but also from within so we are likely to suffer the same sort of thing. And there are many examples of such things - Christians persecuted by those near to them, even members of their own families. This again is to be expected.
So again we call for sober assessment. 'Jesus breaks up families' is not a slogan likely to win much favour. Yet if you become a Christian it may well be that people will turn against you – not just obvious people but maybe even people who are very close to you and you would not expect it from. If an Orthodox Jew becomes a Christian his family will often hold a funeral for him. Those of us who are Christians – sometimes the biggest disappointments for us are the reactions we get from members of our own families. How unkind and heartless they can be towards us. How happy they are to trample on the things we love best. It is not easy to endure sometimes but such things are to be expected. Jesus has prepared us for such things
2. Know these vital principles for true disciples
Jesus then goes on to speak in a more general way about the demands of the Christian life, picking up first on the way family relationships are all radically altered in Christ. There are three important principles of discipleship here. They are a little like stairs going up. With each step we go a little higher. Or think of a thumb screw – each statement is a little tighter, a little more painful to the flesh.
1. Christ must be first
37 Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Now Jesus is again using stark language to bring home the point, very strong language. In the family there can be no stronger ties than those that bind parents and children and the Bibekl upholds this. Yet, says Jesus, if you love your parents more than me or your children more than me then you are not worthy of me. Instead of acknowledging me then you have disowned me.
Such words are clearly very radical indeed. Jesus is demanding a loyalty and devotion that is greater than that owed by parents to their children and children to their parents. He must be first in everything. No other concern, how ever legitimate, must be allowed to intrude between the disciple and his master, Jesus Christ.
The obvious question then is, is there anyone who I love more than Jesus Christ? Am I tempted to put my father or mother or my son or daughter or anyone else before him? If so then I am unworthy of him. No, if I want to be a Christian, he must be first. No-one else can come before him.
2. You must take up your cross and follow Christ
Then a little higher, a little tighter. 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. This was a phrase that Jesus often used. Sometimes he would add – and deny himself. Now again we immediately think of the student-teacher relationship. We know that Jesus went to the cross for his people. Now he says anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
People then knew about carrying your cross. The disciples had all seen someone carrying his cross to the place of execution. To be carrying a cross was to be condemned to death. It was to be on your way to the grave. 'Now' says Jesus that is how my disciples live. This is how they must conduct themselves. They must have so given up on themselves that they are willing to die for my sake.
If we are Christians then it is our daily task to take up the cross. Bearing the cross is often used to refer to coping with life's trials (it's a cross I have to bear) but that is not Jesus's point here. Rather he is saying that the daily pattern for the believer is to live his life willing to die, willing to suffer anything in order to follow in the footsteps of Christ. Is that you? Is that the nature of your discipleship and mine?
3. You must lose your life
Thirdly and finally we have the most radical statement of the three (39) Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. In other words, people who think they've found life - in what ever sphere that is – will eventually discover that they have in fact not found life, they have lost it. It is the person who apparently loses his life for the sake of Christ who in the end will in fact find it. Now this is most obvious in the case of martyrs. People like Stephen and the martyrs in Roman times and Latimer and Ridley and Jim Elliot and martyrs today appear to have lost their lives in a rather obvious way. And yet, says Jesus, because they did it for my sake they have in fact not lost at all. They have found life. And the same is true for people who in the world's eyes waste their time as missionaries and ministers, etc. It is true for all who give up anything that this life has to offer – its fame and fortune and what ever else - in order to be devoted to Christ. Such a loss is really no loss at all but a gain, an eternal gain.
O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow May richer, fuller be.
So what will you do? Seek to gain your life and keep it? That is the way to lose it forever. What will you do then? If you lose it in Christ. If you give it up for him. That is the way to eternal life. Oh give your life to Christ and find life in him.
3. The matter of rewards – an important principle to remember
The final brief section of the chapter moves on to the subject of rewards. If what is said before is very challenging then these final verses are equally full of comfort for us.
1. The principle itself
40 He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. These disciples were about to go out on a mission and here Jesus underlines to them what they were doing. They were going out not in their own names but in his name. They were like ambassadors representing the one who had sent them. Therefore he who receives you receives me. Wherever they received a good response, the people were in fact responding well to Christ. Further, Christ himself was a missionary. He had come in the name of the Father and so wherever he is received, the Father is received also. Indeed that is the only way to receive the Father. No-one comes to the Father except through him.
It is important to remember this chain then – when we speak in Jesus's Name we are like his ambassadors - it is Jesus who is speaking. And when Jesus speaks, God speaks. That is why people must listen. As I have said to you before – you must listen to me, not because of who I am as such but because I speak to you in Christ's name and so in God's name. When ever anyone of us speaks a word for Christ it is the same. We are representing Jesus himself.
2. Its application
Jesus then goes on to make a very broad application of this principle. He says (41) Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward. When it comes to rewards, it doesn't matter whether you are the preacher or the hearer. If you receive a prophet because he is a prophet, you will receive a prophet's reward; if you receive a righteous man because he is a righteous man, you will receive a righteous man's reward.
Jesus develops this even further and says (42) And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward. Even if you do the smallest thing for the most insignificant believer because he is a disciple of Jesus, there will certainly be a reward.
What an encouragement to good deeds in the cause of the gospel these verses are. We may not be able to do much but even the smallest thing we do, if it is done for his own and so for him it will be rewarded. Let us take courage from that and be active in serving the Lord.

Opposition: how God deals with it

Text: Psalm 2:1-6 Time: 15/07/07 Place: Childs Hill Baptist Church
We have been looking recently on Sunday evenings at Psalm 1 and I want us to turn now to Psalm 2. Like the first psalm, there is no heading for this psalm but it clearly sounds like a Psalm of David and this is confirmed for us in Acts 4, where part of the psalm is quoted.
This week I want us just to look at the first six verses. Here we see two main things – man's opposition and how God reacts.
Things are put in terms of the Kingdom of David and so are very earthly and physical and we should try and understand the psalm first in these terms. However, this is a prophecy and points forward to a future time when the Messiah himself, great David's greater son, would come and fulfil what we see only in embryo here. Certainly NT Christians were quick to see its relevance to their situation.
Acts 4:24-31 under early persecution they raise their voices together in prayer to God saying Sovereign Lord ... you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One. Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.Now we should do the same sort of thing.
1. Recognise the world's opposition to God and its rebellion against MessiahThe psalm begins with a description of the opposition to David and to the kingdom of God there was at that time, an opposition that has continued down the years in different forms and that is with us to this day. Then it was chiefly physical and involved kings and armies and horses and chariots. Now it is sometimes physical but much more intellectual and social. We can say three things
1. Expect empty conspiracies and plots from the worldThe psalm begins with a question Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? David is thinking of the surrounding nations who opposed him and his kingdom. They conspire (or rage, they stir up agitation) and plot. Today opposition comes from many quarters. Sometimes it is state organised. More often it is in the form of false religions and philosophies, false teaching in churches and universities and other places. Books and magazines and internet articles promote these ideas. Various conspiracies go on and various plots are hatched.
Bu they are all in vain – why, we will see in a moment, but they do go on. It is important for us to recognise that this is the case. On and on to the end people will conspire; they will make plans and come up with schemes all designed to undermine the kingdom of God and, if it were possible, to destroy it. It won't do them any good, of course, but that is what happens. They make a deliberate effort to oppose God.
Here is a useful tool for us then. When we read about various movements and philosophies, when we hear of certain anti-Christian things going on we need to realise that this is the opposition plotting and planning against God's Kingdom.
People sometimes talk about conspiracy theories – the idea that some evil conspiracy is afoot that leads not just to the death of President Kennedy or Princess Diana but is the explanation for the wealth of the Jews or the Arabs or something that is going to lead to a new world order. Such ideas are grasping for some sort of truth but they fall short. There is a conspiracy, be sure of that, there are many indeed. It is Satan-inspired and it is against God and half the people you'll meet are in on it, whether they know it or not. It is a conspiracy against God himself. All such plans will fail, however, it's all in vain, but this is what they do.
Have you ever laid plans against God and his kingdom? It's surprising what goes on in these heads of ours. Repent from all your wicked schemes. You'll utterly fail anyway as this psalm shows and by such plotting you are only increasing your guilt before God.
2. Expect the world to stand against God and his ChristWell all this plotting and conspiracy what is its focus? It's here in 2 What do the kings of the earth take their stand against and what do the rulers (presidents and princes and governors and judges, wheelers and dealers, businessmen and showmen) gather together to oppose? They gather, we read here, against the LORD and against his Anointed One. So here is not only deliberate but determined and sustained and united opposition.
They deliberately, determinedly, continually and unitedly oppose the true God, the one who created the world and who redeemed Israel from Egypt, the God of the Jews and they oppose his Anointed One. At that time the anointed one was David. He was anointed with oil to be king over Israel. It is to David that God promised a successor, a son of his who would be the Anointed One, the Messiah or Christ (the word used is Mashiyach). This all comes out in 2 Samuel 7. You remember how David wanted to build a house for God and Nathan agreed at first but was then sent back to David to say (11-16) it was going to be the other way round.
The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.We now know, of course, that the Promised Messiah is Jesus of Nazareth. He has come and he has died and risen again and is now seated at God's right hand. One day every knee will bow to hi but at present there is stern opposition.
It comes out sometimes. The late author Kingsley Amis once met the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko 'You atheist?' the poet asked him. 'Well, yes,' Amis replied, 'but it's more that I hate him.' Perhaps Amis surprised himself when he said that but it is the truth in case after case.
To properly understand this world we must recognise these facts then. In politics and in diplomacy and in the academic world and in the worlds of science and sport and entertainment and everywhere else there is this implacable opposition towards God and in particular towards his Son Jesus Christ. Great efforts are made in various ways to take the glory from him, to undermine him, to oppose him. And if we are Christians (Messiah ones) we are bound to suffer too.
3. Understand the world's determination to rebel against God and try to break freeIn 3 they speak Let us break their chains, they say, and throw off their fetters. They feel chained down and fettered by God and by Christ. They want to break free. They want to throw off such restraints a God's Law and Christ's rule. They don't want to be trammelled and hemmed in by such rules.
Isn't that what disobeying your parents is about? Isn't that the root of teenage rebellion? That's what anti-authoritarianism is about. Much of the talk we here about freedom is in fact about getting rid of God and resisting Jesus Christ. Nietzsche's famous idea that God is dead was supposed to lead to a new freedom for mankind. It did not.
Perhaps you can identify. Is that you? Trying to break free from God, trying to throw off his constraints? Perhaps you haven't realised that is what you are doing but it is what you are doing. Well, realise what is happening and cease your striving. Meanwhile when those of us who believe see such things happening let's understand, let's realise what is happening.
2. How God reacts to man's opposition and rebellionAs we come to verses 4-6 we move from the stormy 1-3 to something much calmer as we learn of God's reaction to all this opposition and rebellion. These words are there to encourage us and to help us to see that no matter how much opposition there is, God's Kingdom cannot fail. He will triumph in the end. There are again three things to note.
1. Recognise God's lack of fearFirst we read in 4 that The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. The very title One enthroned in heaven gives it away. God is in heaven, they are on the earth. No contest really. It's like putting a featherweight in against a heavyweight. It's like little boys who wan tot fight against their fathers. They come in fists flailing but there relay is not fight. The father just laughs at the little boy's antics. Well, that is how God feels about all these efforts made to oppose him.
A medal was struck by Emperor Diocletian bearing the inscription, “The name of Christians being extinguished.” In Spain, two monumental pillars were raised, on which were written: "Diocletian Jovian. Maximian Herculeus C├Žsares Augusti"
"... for having extended the Roman Empire in the east and the west, and for having extinguished the name of Christians, who brought the Republic to ruin." And
"for having adopted Galerius in the east, for having everywhere abolished the superstition of Christ, for having extended the worship of the gods."
Doesn't that make you want to chuckle?
A man writes a book called The God delusion or God is not great. And how does God react? Well the same way I'd react, I suppose, if someone wrote a book called The Gary Brady delusion or Gary is not surnamed Brady. I'd simply laugh – and so does God.
A philosopher says God is dead, a country says it wants to get rid of God or even declares itself the first atheist state (as Albania once did) – is God bothered? Why would he be? No, he laughs. HE scoffs.
That should encourage us. Should we laugh too? I suppose we do sometimes but the important thing is that God is laughing. He is not afraid nor should we be. When a child sees his mum and dad laughing he knows he needn't be afraid.
2. Hear his rebukeBut then things get serious. 5 Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath. There is such a thing as the wrath and anger of God and the sooner we wake up to that fact the better for us. When people conspire and plot against the LORD and against his Anointed One. When they say Let us break their chains ... and throw off their fetters then it will not be too long before God descends on such people in wrath. And indeed very soon the the day of his wrath will come and there will be no more conspiring and plotting and resenting of fetters. They will be bound in chains that it is clear are never going to come off. Resistance, it will be clear, is going to be to no avail.
Again think of a father with his children. They think it's a great joke to be rude and call him names or even to play tricks on their father and try to hurt him. At first he may laugh but then then he says 'Enough! The game's over'. If they don't listen what happens next? He stands up and they know they've overstepped the mark. They feel pain in the behind or they are told' Right, off to bed'.
We all need to take seriously the wrath of God. It is a reality. If we try to pretend it does not exist, we will regret it indeed. Hat a dreadful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God.
3. Think about his confidence in MessiahThen notice finally what he says at this point (6) Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill. That I is emphatic. The kings and other rulers they make their plans but God says I will do this.
At this point God had in fact established David as king and his throne was there in Zion, in Jerusalem. For the first seven years of David's reign the Jebusites had continued to hold the city of Jerusalem and they had been very dismissive of David's attempts to take the city but in the end he did take it and there he established his throne and from there continued to know victories and to subdue his enemies.
It all points forward to Jesus Christ who has come in fulfilment of what was prefigured in that. We can make a series of points
1. We are reminded that Jesus Christ is a King, and is invested by God with dignity and authority as a sovereign prince over the kingdoms of God's providence and God's grace.
2. God is pleased to call him his King, because God appointed him and entrusted to him the sole responsibility to govern and to judge in the kingdom.
3. Christ did not take this honour on himself, but was called to it, and God who called him owns him. He is the one commissioned by the Father. Being called to this honour, he was confirmed in it. He is installed as King.
4. He is set up on Zion, which reminds us of the church. Christ's throne is set up in his church, that is, in the hearts of all believers and in the societies they form.
Christ has already brought about salvation for his people by his death and resurrection. Soon he will come again and then every knee will bow to him and he will hand over the kingdom to his Father once again.
Oh be thankful, believer, that the day is fast approaching.
If you are not a believer realise that God has installed his King on Zion, his holy hill. He is the one you must look to. Look to Jesus Christ and trust in him.

Comforts and Challenges

Text: Matthew 10:24-33 Time: 22/07/07 Place: Childs Hill Baptist Church
We've begun to look at Matthew 10 and Jesus commissioning his disciples to go out as apostles (sent ones) in his name, preaching the kingdom of God and healing and casting out demons. We have said that what Jesus says here firstly concerns this specific mission but that there are indications that wider concerns are in mind – the subsequent apostolic period and beyond that even to our own day. It's like an extendable telescope – as you open out the verses you see their relevance to later periods.
We began by speaking of the Christian ministry and how Jesus prepares ministers for the task to which he calls them then gives them authority to go out in his name. Ministers greatly vary. Sadly some (like Judas) prove false. They go out preaching, freely giving to others what they have freely received. It is our responsibility to receive them and their message. If we don't the consequences will be dire.
Last week we began with the verse about going out as sheep among wolves and the need to be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. We then considered the almost inevitable persecution from one direction or other that is likely when we go out in Jesus' name. We must do what we can to escape persecution but we need to stand firm and keep preaching the good news. God will give us just the words to say at such times.
This week I want us to look at Jesus' words in 24-33 where he continues to talk about persecution but especially bringing words of comfort to his disciples and then giving a powerful challenge to all at the end. So three things
1. Consider worldly opposition and its virtual inevitability
As we've already said, persecution is almost inevitable for the Christian somewhere along the line. We quoted 2 Tim 3:12 Anyone who wants to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. To drive this point home Jesus uses an obvious illustration. These men were his disciples, his pupils, his students. He is their Lord and Master and they are his servants. He is head of the household and they his tenants. So think about this student/teacher, servant/master, landlord/tenant relationship. There is a principle here.
1. Recognise the rule for students and teachers or servants and masters
24, 25 A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. When a teacher in a school sets a piece of work for a pupil he or she does not expect them to do something better than they could do themselves. When someone is learning a craft – painting or sculpture, cooking or playing football. The master, the expert shows them what to do and they copy. They are not expected to be better than the master, the expert, only to do the thing in a similar way.
So here is a simple principle for us. We are not called to be better than Jesus – that would be unthinkable. But we are called to be like him, to resemble him. If we are his students, his servants, his disciples, that must be our aim – to be like him. He is firstly our Saviour but he is also our role model.
2. See that opposition is inevitable therefore for true disciples
Now if we are to seek to be like him, it would be foolish to think that we will not get the same reaction as he got. And so he says If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, that is 'Prince of demons' and that's just one of the unpleasant things they called him, how much more the members of his household! We know, of course, that eventually they pursued Jesus to death on the cross. Now it would be a form of madness to suppose that we will be more warmly received than he was. No, we must expect opposition. Persecution is virtually inevitable.
Every Christian or every person who contemplates becoming a Christian must face up to that sobering fact. As Horatius Bonar put it in the hymn
This is the way the Master went,
Should not the servant tread it still?'
2. Hear these words of comfort – arguments against being afraid
This is rather sobering news and potentially discouraging. What Jesus then goes on to do is to urge the disciples nevertheless not to be afraid. Three times he repeats the phrase Don't be afraid. See
26 So do not be afraid of them
28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul
And then at the end of this little section tying it all together - 31 So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows
Jesus often had the phrase Don't be afraid (Fear not) on his lips and it appears many, many times in the Bible. This is because there are things that would naturally make us frightened and because the most natural thing in the world is to be afraid when we see danger. The Lord does not want us to be controlled by fear, however. He has not given us a spirit of fear. Here he not only tells his disciples not to be afraid but gives good arguments as to why they should not be afraid. These are arguments we ought to consider and know.
1. Don't be afraid – the secrets argument
26 So do not be afraid of them. Why? Well, firstly because There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. They were going out as obscure and unknown men. There they were in an obscure and unimportant part of the Roman world, obeying the command of a person who no-one with political power was desperately interested in. People could persecute them and no-one would know.
Often persecution proceeds on that assumption and very dark things are sometimes done on the basis that no-one can see and no-one will know. That fact alone may make us fearful but in fact, says Jesus, it should deliver us from fear because there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. One day the truth will out. There will be vindication for the people of God.
We often see it even before the end. Who remembers the largely nameless persecutors of the disciples now? But their names – Peter, John, James, Andrew, etc – are still held in reverence to this day. It's the same when it comes to the church's subsequent history. It has been remarked that today we call our child Paul and use the name Nero for a dog. Think how highly regarded Tyndale and Latimer and Ridley and other martyrs are now. Who has a good word to say for the Spanish inquisition or any of the other persecutors?
On the great day it will be the names of the persecuted children of God that will be honoured, not the names of those who persecuted them. Any suffering we have to face will not be hushed up forever. It will not be forgotten – the beating up in the police station, the rejection of the candidate who would not offer a bribe, the pain we suffered when the so-called comedian made his joke, the quick punch in the playground, the cruel comment in the office, the unkind comments of a husband or wife. None of it will be forgotten – however secret it was. It will all be remembered and no-one will lose his reward.
On the basis of this fact then Jesus says (27) What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. This was only the beginning of the apostolic era and the NT era that extends down to the present day. Jesus had to tell them many things in secret but now they were nearing the time when they could speak openly.
For us, we are free to speak entirely open about it all. There is nothing secret about our meetings, nothing clandestine – no cloak and dagger here. We are not like the Free masons or other secretive organisations. I urge you to steer well clear of any such group. It is all open and well above board here. Anything whispered from this pulpit is to be proclaimed from the housetops. Let the whole world know! Listen carefully first and then go our and share it. Pass it on.
2. Don't be afraid – the hell argument
We have another argument in 28. First the negative point is made - Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Naturally we are afraid of a person who can kill us, who can take our life. It is natural to be afraid of such a person. It is not often that drastic but the most they can do to us is to take our lives – kill us - and, of course, many have lost their lives for Christ. But what we must remember always is that, how ever serious it gets, though they may kill our bodies, they cannot touch our souls. This is the Christian's trump card in any such situation. Think of Daniel's three friends or of the martyrs in the time of Mary.
Positively then Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Be afraid of God – he is the one we ought to fear, surely. It's obvious once you only stop and think about it. God has the power not simply to bring about the death of our bodies but also the eternal death of our souls and so our focus must be on him and his unlimited power rather than on potential persecutors and their rather limited powers. To quote another hymn
Fear him, ye saints, and you will then
Have nothing else to fear;
Make you his service your delight,
He'll make your wants his care.
In his Book of Martyrs John Foxe writes of martyrs in Bohemia killed by the Jesuits in the 15th Century. He writes of 56 year old Dionysius Servius who when on the scaffold knelt down and said "They may destroy my body, but cannot injure my soul, that I commend to my Redeemer". We need that spirit too. Pray for it.
3. Don't be afraid – the sparrow argument
The third argument is a famous one that Jesus used more than once. We can call it the 'sparrow' argument because it begins like this (29) Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Elsewhere he talks about five being sold for two pennies. They were so cheap an extra one would be thrown in if you bought more! They are very insignificant creatures indeed. Yet says Jesus not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. It is important that we remember not only that God created the world but also that he sustains it and is in control of every event large or small, including the falling of a little bird from the sky. And so even when persecution comes and is very bitter – we must not think for a moment that God has forgotten us or that things are out of control.
Don't miss that word Father. I like the story of the little Dutch boy who lived in a windmill and whose father warned him not to get close to the revolving sails. One day he forgot the warning and suddenly he felt himself yanked from behind and lifted high into the air. You can imagine his fear at what seemed to have happened. But when he looked down he saw that it was actually his father who had grabbed him and lifted him up out of safety. That is the experience of the Christian when things seem to have gone out of control. It's not some mechanical force at work but your Father who has you.
Jesus goes on (30) And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. I saw a sign for a hairdressers the other day - “God gave you hair but we can give you style”. Even they had to admit they could only give you style not hair. The average human head apparently has around 140,000 hairs although there is variety according to type and colour and, of course, if you're bald like me, you'll have less than others. The point is though that not one hair falls to the ground without God knowing it. We don't even notice one hair fall – but he does. He knows all about it.
The conclusion (31) is So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. How many sparrows? To ask the question is to miss the answer. God knows your situation and he cares about you. He will not forget you. You can face your oppressors with confidence. He will be watching over you and keeping you.
3. Consider this challenge to be a brave and faithful witness
So, yes, there may be trouble ahead but there are many comforts to be found in the sovereignty of God. He is King. He rules. Don't forget it. But finally there is also a challenge here in 32, 33. Once again it is put both in positive and negative terms.
1. Positively
32 Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. So this is what Jesus wants from us – that we acknowledge him before people. If you really trust in him then let it show. Do not hide the fact. Do not deny him. Yes, it may lead you into troubles. You may suffer many things for speaking up in Jesus' name but don't forget the reward at the end. Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.
Some of you are reluctant to confess Jesus openly, like Nicodemus was at first. You can't be a secret disciple for long. Acknowledging Jesus now may cost you. It may lead to all sorts of trouble. But in the end your reward will be great. Do not doubt it. To hear his 'Well done good and faithful servant' will surpass everything.
2. Negatively
33 But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. This is the opposite scenario. You deny that Jesus is Lord and Saviour, you reject him before men.
The great day of judgement is fast approaching and what will you say then if Jesus speaks those solemn words to you 'Depart form me, I never knew you'? But if we acknowledge him here we can be sure that he will acknowledge us then? Some things are just now worth trading and to deny Jesus here and end up in hell is the worst deal anyone could ever make.
Let me quote Horatius Bonar again to close
Go, labour on! 'tis not for naught
Thine earthly loss is heavenly gain;
Men heed thee, love thee, praise thee not;
The Master praises: what are men?

Wicked Righteous Contrasted

Text: Psalm 1:3-6 Time: 15/07/07 Place: Childs Hill BaptistLast week we began to look at Psalm 1. We just concentrated on the first two verses then and what it says about the happy man. He is a man, we said, who negatively - does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers and positively (2) - His delight is in the law of the LORD, the Bible and on his law he meditates day and night.Now in 3-6 the writer has something more to say about the blessed man. He also contrasts him with the wicked who he has mentioned back in verse 1. In 3, 4 he uses two pictures to contrast them then in 5, 6 he considers their end and how the coming judgement will make the great difference even greater forever. It will be helpful for us to look at this contrast to see, firstly, just how truly great Jesus Christ is but then also how we should be living today.
1. Recognise the difference between the righteous and the wicked in terms of these pictures
1. The righteous man is like a sturdy treeSo of the blessed man we read (3) He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. In plain language Whatever he does prospers. So that's a wonderful picture – a great spreading tree, an evergreen with abundant fruit. What does it speak to us of? A number of things come to mind.
Deep roots
The tree is by the streams of water and so has a constant supply of the life giving nutrients it needs. The root system of a tree is very important. We know from 2 that the secret source of strength for the righteous man is the Word of God. He is often in private drawing on the Law of God which is his delight and what he meditates on day and night.
To be godly we must get our roots deep into God's Word. We must find regular refreshment in it. Are we doing that?
Solid, stable
A tree planted by streams of water speaks of solidity and stability. The righteous man is upright and he is not swayed by fads and fashions. The godly person, the righteous man is not blown here and there by every change that comes – now all up for this fad and the next chasing some other craze. Rather there is something stable and dependable about him.
Again is there something of that quality about us in Christ? This was Christ's nature, is it what we aspire to?
Not adversely affected by change
This tree is an evergreen. Its leaf does not wither. No matter what troubles come he remains true to the Lord and the Lord remains true to him. He doesn't blow hot and cold but is constant in his devotion to Christ. When times are good he rejoices, when times are bad he considers but in it all he remains devoted to the Lord. In season and out of season he declares God's unchanging Word.
We must be the same.
Productive
There is also mention of the tree yielding its fruit in season. Fruit trees are not evergreens usually but this one is. Fruit speaks of good deeds and there is plenty of that in the life of the righteous man. It doesn't come all at once – only in it season – but it is there nevertheless.
Is there fruit in our lives? Are we doing any good? Jesus went about doing good, do we?
Attractive
I don't think we are wrong to say that this is an attractive picture. A painting of a tree planted by streams of water, yielding its fruit in season and with an unfading leaf would be an attractive one. Christians who are truly godly will be attractive to some extent. Think of Joseph or Daniel or Paul.
Again we must test ourselves against this Scripture.
Long lasting
I suppose the other thing implied here is longevity. Such a tree is long lived. It grows year after year. I don't know what tree the psalmist had in his mind's eye – perhaps a cedar or something similar. If you live in Britain you're mind immediately goes to something like an oak. Britain's oldest tree is the Fortingall yew, in Tayside, Scotland, which is over 2000 years old. In other words, it was growing when Jesus was on earth! There are trees in the world, especially in America, that are much older still.
2. The wicked man is like chaff blowing in the wind
Then in 4 comes the contrast Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. When Israelite farmers wanted to prepare their wheat harvest for use they would remove the husks (the bran, the chaff) by spreading the grain on a flat rock or a prepared earth threshing-floor. Animals would walk over the floor, often dragging threshing sledges, so separating grain and stalk – sometimes it was done with sticks. The chaff and grain were also detached at this time, but are more difficult to separate by hand and so the grain would be tossed into the air with a fan or fork in what is called the winnowing process. The chaff would be blown away in the wind.
The illustration used for the wicked then is the very opposite of the one used for the righteous. Think about it.
No rootedness
Unlike the tree, the chaff has no source to sustain it – it soon dies away. It is a mere husk. So the wicked are rootless and without real strength.
Again, to be godly we must get our roots deep into God's Word. We must find regular refreshment in it. Otherwise we will simply drift.
Light and superficial
The wicked can be swayed by every fad and fashion that comes along. The wicked are blown here and there by every change that comes – first it's this craze then the next. There is nothing stable or dependable about them. Remember Mr Toad in The Wind in the Willows. Many are like that – they flit from one thing to another. First it was punting, then house boating, then horse-drawn caravans, I think, then, famously, motor cars. So many in the world are like that. If they stick to one general subject there is often a series of leaps within the chosen area. Sometimes even talking to such people is difficult as they will not stick to one subject at a time.
Again, what are we like? The righteous or the wicked? Jesus set his face as a flint to go to Jerusalem. He was unflinching in his willingness to go to the cross.
At the mercy of change
Troubles greatly affect the wicked and they can make great changes sometimes for fairly flimsy reasons. They blow hot and cold as far as Christian things are concerned. You often don't know quite where you are with them. Like flotsam and jetsam they are tossed about by every passing wave.
We must not be like this
Useless
Far from being productive, the world is as a productive as a husk from a grain of wheat – useless! They are fit only to be cast away. People complain today about so much packaging on things. It's amazing what we throw away. The chaff is like the packaging - so much waste, of no real and lasting use.
Unattractive
There is nothing truly attractive about such people either. Oh yes, there might be something superficially attractive as they dance in the wind but there is nothing of weight or of real interest there. They lack nobility. There is nothing truly heroic in them. Everything centres on self or on this-worldly desires. There is no honouring of God, no looking to the world to come.
Ephemeral and passing
The other obvious thing is that the wicked do not last. They are here today but will be gone tomorrow. They soon blow away.
That should encourage us. It is also a warning to the wicked, those who will not trust in Christ, the eternal God.
2. Recognise the difference between the righteous and the wicked in terms of the coming judgementIn 5 we have a therefore or a 'moreover'. What follows is an observation of what will happen to the wicked in the judgement and, by implication, the state of the righteous and an explanation of why this should be so. So we say
1. Understand the difference between the righteous and the wicked at the judgement
The righteous
Verse 5 talks about the assembly of the righteous. One day the righteous are all going to be gathered together into one place. There is going to be a great gathering together of all who are righteous in Christ. What a glorious gathering that will be. It is anticipated now in gatherings like this one.
Will you be among them? Can you say as the old hymn put it
'When the roll is called up yonder I'll be there'?
When the saints go marching in - are you going to be in that number?
You will be if you are the sort of Bible-feeding, solid, attractive and lasting person we have already spoken about - if you are full of good deeds, real fruit, you will.
The wicked
As for the wicked, they will not stand in the judgement, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. There will be no place for them. These distinctions are not seen so clearly today but a day is coming when God will separate the sheep from the goats, the righteous from the wicked. Now the wheat and the weeds grow together but when all is safely gathered into the barn, the wheat will be kept and the weeds and the chaff will all be burnt up. The people of God will gather in the New Jerusalem and outside will be the dirty scavenger dogs, shut out. Again it is anticipated in the way churches are regulated. Some do not join, some are excluded for their sins, which manifest a lack of faith.
Again what a warning for the wicked – for all who reject Christ and who go their own way. It gives hope to the righteous too. One day all will be well in heaven.
2. Understand why there is going to be this difference between the righteous and the wicked
it isn't anything to do with the righteous themselves
Rather it is to do with the LORD, the sovereign God.
The LORD watches over the way of the righteousLiterally, 'the LORD knows the way that the righteous take'; he sees it and takes note. He acknowledges it and is careful over it. His interest is bound up with it. Wherever we go, if we are believers we can be sure that God is watching over us and keeping us. When children are a little older you begin to let them do things on their own. You still watch them though to see that they are okay. So God watches over us all the way home. That is how we can be sure of a safe arrival in heaven. He will see us safely home.
This verse is here to assure us of God's watchful eye.
But the way of the wicked will perishFor the wicked it is quite otherwise, their way will perish. They have their route, their road but it is a road that leads to death. They are on the broad road that leads to destruction. What a fearful thing to be on that road.
If you are on it, turn from it. I plead with you to get on to the Lord's highway now. look to Jesus Christ the Righteous One and be saved.

Christian living in a hostile world

Text: Matthew 10:16-23 Time: 15/07/07 Place: Childs Hill Baptist
We began last week to look at this very interesting chapter in Matthew's Gospel, Chapter 10, about the sending out of the Twelve as Apostles. We looked then at the first 15 verses and we said a number of things
1. Recognise that Christ has his different ministers though not all prove true. We talked about how God prepares men for the task and who he calls and gives authority to. We spoke of their work and of the great variety among them including the fact some are well know and some not. Finally we spoke of Judas and how he, like others who have followed, proved false.
2. Their work - understand that Christ sends out his ministers to do good.
They aim at reaching certain people. They preach the nearness of God's kingdom and they live by the support of God's people.
3. Our response - realise the major difference between acceptance and rejection.
We spoke of the peace of acceptance and the hell of rejection.
Now this week I want us to look at verses 16-23 where Jesus goes on to instruct his disciples about how they should conduct themselves. You will find similar instructions elsewhere in the Gospels in other contexts because although Jesus has in mind firstly this particular mission he is also giving general principles applicable to the rest of the New Testament period and beyond that to our own day. One can think of a collapsible telescope – the first application is there and then, further ones are revealed with the coming of Pentecost and still more principles for today can be found in this text. Each Scripture has only one meaning but the applications are many. So I want to say two main things to you today
1. Recognise that believers are sheep among wolves so they must be like snakes and like doves
In 16 Jesus mentions four different creatures in quick succession – sheep, wolves, snakes and doves. We are not as familiar with such creatures as Jesus and his disciples were but we have at least some idea of the animals he mentions and can picture them in our minds. So we say
1. Recognise that those sent out in Jesus' name are like sheep
Already Jesus has said that he is sending the disciples to lost sheep and we have mentioned how we are all like straying sheep. It is important to remember that then – we are trying to reach lost sheep but, as Jesus underlines here, even believers are still sheep – vulnerable sheep. 'Look' he says literally or 'note this' I am sending you out like sheep. We do not go out as great strong wolves or lions or bears but as sheep, weak and prone to wander by nature.
We don't know much about sheep here in London but you have seen them close up at some time no doubt. One writer calls them 'perhaps the most dependent, helpless, and stupid of all domesticated animals'. They are liable to all sorts of dangers and diseases and yet have very little in the way of defence. Similarly, those who go out in Jesus' name go out like sheep among wolves. We are like unarmed men surrounded by an angry mob armed to the teeth.
We must soberly reckon with that fact and not run away with romantic ideas of what we might do for the Lord as missionaries or ministers or witnesses for him.
2. Recognise that they find themselves, however, among wolves
Although the people they go to are in some respects like them they are also, or at least many of them are, like wolves. As Jesus put it on another occasion – they are like wolves in sheep's clothing. Now wolves are very different to sheep – they are bloodthirsty creatures who like nothing better than to get in among the sheep to maul and maim and devour. And yet that is how it is. Jesus, Good Shepherd though he is, sends his sheep among the wolves – he sends believers out into the midst of people who rebel against God and who persecute believers in many instances. What hatred there is for God and for true Christians in this world. They are often like a pack of baying wolves surrounding the sheep.
So again sober assessment is necessary. When we think of telling others about Jesus we really are talking about stepping into danger, facing what can often be a hostile reception. Jesus has just spoken about rejection and all too often that is what we meet with when we tell people about Jesus. Usually today it is quite polite and dismissive rejection. Sometimes it can be something worse than that. And for that we need to be prepared. Remember those words in 2 Tim 3:12 Anyone who wants to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted
3. Recognise the need, therefore to be as shrewd as snakes
Well, it all sounds rather daunting. Here are these poor sheep surrounded by baying wolves .What hope is there? How can believers survive in a hostile world like this one?
You go to school or college – they oppose Christ there.
You go to work – there are unbelievers everywhere there. Even at home, some have to share with unbelievers.
You buy a newspaper or watch TV – again it's full of anti-Christian sentiment.
The civil government often opposes the truth and even supposed friends like bishops and others can be our worst enemies. What are we to do?
Well, basically Jesus says forget about being sheep for a moment and start acting like snakes. Now you hear about confused animals from time time – cats that think they're dogs and dogs that think they're cats, etc. Now, Jesus says that although we need to remember our vulnerability and weakness nevertheless there is a sense in which we need to act like snakes. Snakes are known for their shrewdness, their subtlety or craftiness. We too must employ some wisdom of that sort if we are going to survive and make any progress at all. We must not do foolish things. I heard of a journalist parking a car covered with England flags in Glasgow, near Celtic's ground. It didn't remain untouched for long. If you were going to reach Muslims in Saudi Arabia you wouldn't begin with an open air or some tracting. Some years ago someone paid to have all the mail franked with a Christian message. It made little impact and was probably a waste of money. We need to think about what we are doing and consider the best ways to win people to Christ. Paul says it very plainly in Col 4:5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. We need to think things through and consider what is going to be the best way to win people to Christ. How can we best persuade them.
Are we thinking like that? Are we acting wisely?
4. Recognise too, however, the need to to be as gentle as doves
At the same time, however, we must be as innocent as doves. Our shrewdness must never lead us into anything dishonest or unfair or that is less than pure. We must be simple, (literally) 'unmixed', straightforward. There has to be an integrity to our approach. The BBC is in trouble again at the moment for publishing a trailer that gave the false impression that the Queen walked out in a huff during a photo session. This is just one example of the way the media constantly twists things around and pays fast and loose. Another example would be the picture of the polar bear apparently stranded on an ice flow used to promote the idea of global warming. We cannot for a moment engage in anything of that sort. We must be upfront, open and full of love even for our enemies.
Again, this is the challenge – to be wise yet innocent, cunning but gentle, shrewd but straightforward.
2. Realise that believers should expect persecution and learn how to face it
In 17-23 Jesus goes on to say something more about these wolves and what they will do and how we are to face this.
1. Recognise the likelihood of persecution
17 Be on your guard against men. These wolves are actually people, of course, and so we need to be on guard regarding them. Jesus gives examples of the sort of thing they will do. He speaks first of persecution from religious people then from secular government. Until this point the disciples had not experienced direct persecution. Jesus had suffered it but now it would now come on them.
By religious people They will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. We should not forget that it was religious people who had Jesus put to death and down the years some of the fiercest opposition believers have known has been from such people. Some are pretended Christians, some follow other religions. I have been reading a book by an Anglican minister, a good man, and it is clear that he has suffered a great deal of opposition from within the Church of England. Of the worst 10 countries for persecuting Christians six are motivated by religion – five are Muslim (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Somalia, etc) and 1 Buddhist (Bhutan).
When religious people oppose us we should not be surprised.
By secular government 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. Of course, the others involved in putting Jesus to death were the secular Roman powers. The other top 10 persecuting countries are Communist regimes like N Korea (the worst) and China. In these places governments claiming nor religion at all oppose Christians, as so often they have down the years. Such things have happened, do happen and will happen, as Jesus puts it, on my account. You remember how, when Jesus confronted Paul on the road to Damascus he spoke of him persecuting me. That is the heart of persecution – opposition to Jesus.
Opposition from government is for us in this country today at a low level, although it does happen and could worsen. We need to be aware of that.
2. Hear this word of comfort for times of distress
Now we know very little about the worst sort of persecution but we know that many Christians do suffer greatly today and we do not know when we might be called upon to face similar things. Here in 19, 20 we have words of comfort and encouragement for those facing such situations. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
The very thought of such persecution is disturbing and one could easily get very worried about it but the disciples are reassured that when arrested they will be given just the words to say at the time. In their case, they received words directly inspired by the Holy Spirit. We can read them in Acts. For believers in post-apostolic times the promise is of the Spirit's help in such situations. We have great examples from the Marian martyrs. Eg Latimer "So be of good comfort master Ridley and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, that will never be put out."
Be assured of this – when any one of us has to face persecution for Jesus' sake, we can be certain that God will draw near at such a time and give us all the help we need.
3. Understand that persecution may come from any direction
We have spoken about religious persecution and government-led persecution but persecution may come from any direction, even from members of one's own family. In 21 Jesus speaks of how Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. He sums up in 22 All men will hate you because of me. Now when you see the word all in the Bible you know it has to be qualified. The all here clearly means all sorts – religious people, secular people, strangers and apparent friends and even members of your own family. Because of Jesus an their opposition to him, they will also oppose you if you are devoted to Jesus. It varies, of course, some know a lot of opposition, some only a little. But it will be there if we are living for Christ.
Be in no doubt about this. It has been granted to you on behalf of Christ (as Paul puts it in Phil 1:29) not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him and that suffering will often include persecution of one sort or another.
4. Be resolved to stand firm
Here is another great promise, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. This is what we must be resolved to do – to stand firm and to go on standing firm. Persecution often sorts the wheat from the chaff, the genuine from the false. One way God has of purging his army is to allow them to be persecuted. If we persevere it shows that we are still trusting in the Lord. Keep on to the end, therefore, despite what opposition there may be.
5. Be willing to do what you can legitimately do to avoid persecution
23 is important When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. We must not deny the Lord but then we must not go looking for persecution either. Avoid it if you can. No sheep should let a wolf near him if he can. Slip off like a snake in the grass to live another day. You see the pattern in Paul's ministry. So there is nothing perverse about being a Christian. Believers do not seek trouble. Rather we should seek to avoid it if we can with integrity.
6. Keep on preaching the truth
I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. The disciples might have been tempted to think that if they kept going from city to city they would run out of places. No, says Jesus, you won't finish the work before I come – that is, I myself come, I come in judgement on Jerusalem in 70 AD or I come at the very end. Whichever, the point is that there will always be plenty of work to do. Okay, we can't work in this country or in this city but we can work elsewhere – and there is a great need there too. A housewife's work is never done – nor ours. If one person refuses to listen to you – then speak to someone who will. There is always someone willing to listen. The important thing is to keep preaching the truth. Don't give up because of laziness or opposition. Keep at it. Don't give in.

Ministers: Their work Our response

Text: Matt 15:1-10 Date: 08/07/07 Place: Childs Hill Baptist
Today I want us to turn to Matthew’s Gospel. As you may know, Matthew contains a number of sections where chiefly we find Jesus’ teaching. The most famous is the Sermon on the Mount in Chapters 5-7. The next teaching section is found in Chapter 10. There we find what has been described as the very first missions or ordination sermon. It was my privilege yesterday to preach at Ian’s ordination in South Wales. I looked then at Acts 26. Now here we have an ordination sermon, if you will, from Jesus himself It is at this point that he sends the 12 disciples out as apostles and before he does so, he preaches to them.
Today I want us to look at 1-15. God willing, we’ll look at the rest later. As you know, chapter divisions and verse divisions have been added to the Bible later. It is important that we don’t let them make us miss the context. The context for Matthew 10:1-15 is what we call 9:35-38 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. So first Jesus himself travelled about preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. We are told that When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, The harvest is plentiful hut the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. He could see the great need and knew that he himself as a man could not do all that needed to be done. Therefore he urges his disciples to pray for the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. In other words for God to thrust out workers who would preach to the people and care for them.
That command still stands. We also ought to pray that God will raise up ministers to do the work that so vitally needs to be done. Pray for preachers and evangelists and other workers.
Now how much the disciples prayed I don’t know but as it turned out they were the answer to their own prayers because it is at this point that Jesus calls them to himself and sends them out as apostles to preach in his name.
Of course, the miracle working apostles were unique. They alone form the foundation of the church. However, God continues to raise up Christian ministers, men who preach the Word of God and who live to serve him. There are things then that we can learn about their work and about how we should respond to it from this passage. So I want to say three things from this passage.
1. Recognise that Christ has his different ministers though not all prove true
1. Christ has his ministers — who he prepares for their task
This call to Jesus was not something sudden. By this time his disciples had been with him for some time and so were ready for this mission. We are told in 1 Tim 5:22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands. When we are looking for ministers we can’t just grab anyone. We need men who have come to some sort of maturity in the faith and who are ready for the work. There was an order with Jesus —
First, he called these men to be with him as disciples (learners)
Then he sent them out as apostles (those sent).
First preparation, then ministry. That always has to be the order.
It is like so much else — prepare the walls first then paint them; prepare the meal then serve it; prepare the sermon then preach it.
Do pray then for the preparation of ministers and for the sending out of ministers to preach. Pray for LTS and other institutions preparing men for the ministry. Pray to Christ that he will prepare ministers. They are often prepared in times of revival or of awakening — pray for that.
2. Christ has his ministers — who he calls and gives authority to
There is an idea about today that people can just volunteer for the ministry. If you’re bright and keen that’s enough. But here we read that Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority. If they had attempted to go out without Jesus’s call then the mission would have been a disaster. Sadly, what is happening today is that some men are preparing for or entering the ministry without a real sense of call and so often after a few years or so they fade away when we can ill afford to lose any ministers. There must be a sense of call.
There is a general call from God to all to trust in Jesus Christ. It goes out to you all today – repent and trust in Jesus Christ.
There is an effective call that is not resisted. All who are Christians here today have been called in that sense.
There is also such a thing as vocation or calling — the specific task or task that you carry out in God’s service. Now some are called to the Christian ministry. That is their vocation or calling. Such people are given authority to go out in Jesus’s name. When I speak to you now then I am not speaking in my own name but in Christ’s name and on his authority. That is why you must listen.
Do you have any sense that God might be calling you to be a minister? Obviously such people will have certain abilities, certain characteristics but chiefly they will have a sense of God’s call to the work. Let’s pray about this — for ourselves, for others.
3. Christ has his ministers - the work they do
Now as we’ve said the Apostle are unique. These 12 (12 is the number of the tribes of Israel) were chosen to form the foundation for Christ’s church, the new Israel of God. When John describes the New Jerusalem he says that the names of the 12 tribes were on the gates but it is the names of the 12 apostles that are on the foundations. (God's 12s are different to our 12s - by our reckoning they are probably 13!). At this point they are given a commission to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. At this time there were many cases of demon possession and much incurable sickness. The apostles were sent out to subdue the Devil and make well all sorts of people. Now such gifts are not given to God’s servants today in general. Nevertheless they are still to do this work of subduing the Devil and making people well today. Whether demon possession exists today is doubtful and many diseases that were once a great curse are so no longer. Nevertheless the need has never been greater and we need men to go out called by God, with Christ’s authority to do this work
Again I am saying pray for such to be raised and for those who have been raised to do that work.
4. Christ has his ministers - they greatly vary; some are well known, some not
In 2 we have a list of the names of the twelve apostles. I don’t want to say much about this except to observe how different they all were. We often wonder quite how Matthew the tax collector, who had been a collaborator with the Roman power and Simon the Zealot who must have been opposed to Roman rule tooth and nail, got on. Peter and Thomas, say, were clearly quite different temperamentally. Some of these apostles are quite well known to us — Simon Peter, James and John. Others we know almost nothing of - James son of Alphaeus and Thaddaens. And so today there are all sorts of ministers tall and short, fat and thin, old and young, loud and quiet, jolly or dour, etc. Some become well known through their preaching and writing, some remain very obscure. Such differences are not important. What matters is that Christ has called them and empowered them and they are going about his work.
Be thankful for that and pray that they will be sustained in this work.
5. Christ has his ministers - but some prove false
Of course, the list ends with and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. Now it is clear that Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. It was not a mistake. In his own inscrutable purposes he included Judas the one who would eventually betray him in his Twelve. None of the other disciples, no doubt not even Judas himself, realised where things were going to end up. Only Jesus knew. And we have to recognise that there are situations where although it appears a man ha been called to be a minister he may prove false. He may not be called at all, as we have suggested. He may not even be a Christian. He may prove to be someone who far from building up God’s people will drag them down. It does happen. This is why misters and people must be very careful over this very thing. We will not prevent every disaster, we cannot but we ought to seek to and e ought to bear in mind the story of Judas and what can happen even to those who appear to be model ministers, as no doubt Judas once appeared to be. Jesus says (Mt 7) Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
2. Their work - understand that Christ sends out his ministers to do good
In 5 we read then that These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions. The instructions are very specific to those particular circumstances but there are principles here for us.
1. What to aim at
They were told Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. At this particular time this was the mission field. Now today the work is still going to lost sheep — that’s what we all are by nature — but it includes both Jews and Gentiles. Nevertheless, each particular ministry must have a specific aim or target. Later in the NT Paul speaks of how he went especially to the Gentiles and Peter more to the Jews.
Usually the defintion is a local one. One man will seek to minister in one particular locality. Sometimes it is more specialised — children or students or Jewish people or something similar. This idea can be abused but clearly to keep one' s aim in view is important.
2. What to preach and do
The apostles main work was to preach. 7 As you go, preach this message. The kingdom of heaven is near. That was their message. God’s eternal kingdom is here. It is a new era, the Jubilee. God is at work and now is the time to come to God through Jesus the Christ. This is the message we declare today — the end of the world is here. God is calling people to himself, gathering them into his eternal kingdom.
They were also told (8) Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Such deeds not only helped the people but confirmed that these really were God’s messengers. We are in a different era now when God is not healing people and raising the dead in that way, nevertheless the work of doing good must accompany the preaching. Our motto is to be the same as theirs - Freely you have received, freely give.
Obviously someone who really has the ability to raise the dead and cleanse lepers, even someone who only claims such powers, has the ability to make himself a lot of money. That was not to be the apostles approach, however, They had freely received these powers and they were to use them for free. Again that principle is in force today. Just as many believe medical treatment should be free at the point of use so we believe that preaching the gospel should be the same. We want to put nothing in the way of anyone freely receiving the truth.
3. How to live
Jesus goes on to give further instructions to them in 9-12. Again these clearly pertain to this specific mission but the principles are for all mission. We see Paul putting at least some of them into practice on his missionary journeys.
First, they were not to (9) take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts. They were not to finance this mission then. Further, he says 10 take no bag for the journey (ie probably for food) or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff. Everything was to be provided by others. Their other motto was to be for the worker is worth his keep. Others would provide for them because they were doing the work and so deserved to be paid for it.
The plan was to be this - 11, 12 Whatever town or village you enter, search for sonic worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. There was to be no flitting about looking for better accommodation. They were to accept the hospitality they received.
Things are different today but the principles apply. When I came as pastor to Childs Hill all those years ago I had very little. This church has provided practically I have — a house, the food that I and my family eat, money to buy books and furniture or for holidays. I didn't choose the house you did. Similar things happen in many other places.
Churches can be tempted to neglect their ministers but they must not. Ministers can be tempted to want a better house or more money but they also must resist.
3. Our response - realise the major difference between acceptance and rejection
Finally I want to speak about our response.
1. The peace of acceptance
Jesus says that having entered a home (13) if it is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. A deserving home would be one that accepts them and their message. The promise for such a home is peace. Ah, what wonderful blessings are reserved for those who receive God’s servants and their message.
The story of Jonah is a strange one. Though God’s prophet he ran away. His presence on that ship led to it being storm tossed. The sea was not calm until he was thrown overboard. Now normally it should be the other way round — the presence of one of God’s servants is a great blessing. It is a boon to a community.
More specifically if you accept his message it will mean everlasting peace to you. Do you accept my message? I tell you by Christ’s authority that God’s kingdom is near and if you trust in him all your sins are forgiven. By nature you are at war with God and God is at war with you but there can be peace through Christ and what he has done. O come to him today.
2. The hell of rejection
What solemn words we end with (14, 15) If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your fret when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement than for that town. Paul did this on occasions. I have felt like doing it myself at times. You know what happened to Sodom adn Gomorrah for their sins. They did not have the opportunity you have. What a solemn thing to reject such a message. What hope is there for such a person? None.