Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace

Text Isaiah 9:6c Time 17 12 08 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
Some years ago now my mother died, which is a great loss. But I had her for many years and I still have my father, which is a great blessing. Not only that but like many of you I have lived through many years of peace. Such blessings are not to be taken for granted. To have a father who cares for you and to be in a peaceful environment are great blessings many do not know. I want to talk tonight about what it is to know Jesus caring for you and bringing you peace.
We are looking at Isaiah 9:6 a great prophecy of Messiah. We looked before at the first two titles or names given to Messiah here and tonight I want us to look at the second two. We looked last time at
1. Wonderful Counsellor 2. Mighty God
The Lord Jesus is full of both wisdom and power. He is the wisdom and power of God. This is because he is both man and God. He is the God man, the one Mediator between man and God. There is no greater wisdom than the supernatural wisdom found in him. There is not greater power than the Almighty power of God which he wields.
Now this evening I want us to concentrate on the second two phrases here delineating the character of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. Everlasting Father 2. Prince of Peace
The first two names really flow from the name he is given back in 7:14 Immanuel (God with us). These next two bring us to the matter of what this Child to be born, this Son to be given, this Wonderful Counsellor, this Mighty God will bring about when he comes. He not only preserves and liberates his people, he does much more.
1. Recognise Jesus Christ as the Everlasting Father
1. He is a father
To refer to the Son as Father seems strange indeed. The reference here is not to the First Person of the Trinity, however. The point here, rather, is that the Messiah will reign like a father. He does this as God because, of course, because he is Mighty God. Like the Father he is A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows (Psalm 68:5). Like God the Father he is one of whom it can be said As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him (Psalm 103:13). Like the LORD he also disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. Just as an earthly father deserves honour so Jesus Christ deserves honour too.
In other words, the Lord Jesus is marked by fatherly compassion and by tender care. This sometimes means hard discipline but it is always for the good of those who so suffer. Wasn’t the Lord Jesus like a father to this disciples? How he loved them, how he cared for them. In John 14:18 he says I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. So he deals with all who are his. When he said I am the good Shepherd he was expressing much the same thought. Remember too how he wept over Jerusalem saying he longed to gather them as a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings. Or think of how he speaks in the Sermon on the Mount like a wise father teaching his children.
Do you know the Lord Jesus as a father watching over you? Perhaps you have never thought of his tender and loving care – you ought to. It can be yours through faith in him. Believer, may be you have never thought of the Lord Jesus in this way. You ought to.
2. He is eternal
As before, in other places with the very human epithet of Father comes this clearly divine one of eternal or everlasting. Jesus had no beginning and he will have no end. The point, however, is that he is everlastingly a father to his children. He is ‘Father-Forever’. It is very sad when a parent dies, especially a good one (I can testify). But this Father never dies.
Warning: we all look with hope in one direction or another. If you are not looking to Christ, wherever you are looking cannot last. It will be removed.
Encouragement: if you are looking to the Lord Jesus he will never be taken from you.
2. Recognise Jesus Christ as the Prince of Peace
1. He is a prince
The title prince is a royal one. He is a leader, a valiant young leader. Here is David revived and all his promise fulfilled. Here is one who is victorious and who will rule. Cf Ezekiel 34:24, 25 I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken. They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children's children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever. He is a prince but he is superior to all kings. See Acts 5:31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. Rev 5:1 Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
Who is your prince? Look to Christ, the prince of glory, the prince of life. He has overcome the prince of this earth, the prince of demons.
2. He brings peace
He is not only David but Solomon too. This is the emphasis. His victories lead to peace. The triumphs he brings about lead to peace. He not only brings peace but the methods he uses to secure peace are peaceful means. Other princes gain victory through war, he does so through peace. John the Baptist’s father Zechariah picks this up (in Luke 1:78, 79). He speaks of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. We are very familiar with the words of the angels to the shepherds when Jesus was born too Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.
Jesus himself speaks in these terms
Luke 7:50 (woman who'd led a sinful life) Jesus said to the woman, Your faith has saved you; go in peace.
8:48 (woman with issue of blood) Then he said to her, Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.
John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
16:33 I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.
Often in John 20, 21 Peace be with you!
When weeping over Jerusalem (Luke 19:42) he said If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace - but now it is hidden from your eyes.
But how does Jesus actually bring peace about? In Isaiah 53:5 we read But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. By nature we are God’s enemies, we are at war with God but by his death on the cross the Lord Jesus has secured peace for all who trust in him.
The word for peace is a very full one. It does no mean merely the absence of war. It means well being, freedom from anxiety, wholeness, completeness. This is what Jesus Christ brings to his people – peace that transcends understanding, peace with God. The person who knows Messiah has a total peace that cannot be taken away. All his sins are forgiven and he at peace with God. He knows peace in his heart at last. He is then able to be a peacemaker and bring God’s peace to others.
As so often in Scripture, we end with peace (grace, mercy and peace). Verse 7 simply expands on this Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. It reminds us of Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Do you know peace with God? Possession of all who trust in Christ. As Isaiah often says there is no peace for the wicked but to those who look to Christ God says Peace, peace, to those far and near. Paul takes this up in Ephesians 4 (14-18) But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Peace is often spoken of, especially at Christmas. It can be yours in Christ. Warning: peace is not the same as complacency or warm feelings. Real peace comes through faith in Christ.
It is very important for believers to make every effort to continue in the peace the Prince of peace has brought. Colossians 3:15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. James 3:18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. 2 Peter 3:14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.

Wonderful Counsellor and Mighty God

Text Isaiah 9:6b Time 10 12 08 Place Childs hill Baptist Church
Have you ever seen a strong man competition? Or perhaps weightlifting or something like that? It can be interesting for a while. More interesting is something like ‘Brain of Britain’ or 'Mastermind'. I’ve never seen a competition looking for both brains and brawn, wisdom and power. Not always, but it tends to be that those who are thick in the arms are also thick in the head.
I want us to consider tonight one who is both all wise and all powerful. We’re looking at Isaiah 9:6. We’ve already said that this text is clearly a prophecy about the Messiah or Christ. It is one of two famous texts found in the ‘Book of Immanuel’ (Isaiah 7-12). The other is 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. We made the point that the verse shows that the only hope for us is in a Child, a Son to be born and that one is the one Isaiah prophesies here – the Lord Jesus Christ, who was born in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago. He is both human – the child born to Mary, and divine – the Son given by God. He has come to his people – to all who are his by faith. We can be absolutely confident in him because, as Isaiah puts it here, The government shall be on his shoulders – the Lord Jesus is the great King of Kings and Lord of Lords – he is the Sovereign Lord whose kingdom can never fail. But more than that, Isaiah goes on to say And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, etc. Already in 7:14 we are told that the child to be born to the virgin will be called Immanuel. As here, this is not a personal name but simply a name that shows us his character. People today tend to choose names for their sound. They want a name that sounds masculine (Samuel, Joshua, Daniel or Jack) or feminine (Emma, Emily, Chloe or Sophie). If the name has a good meaning all the better but it is not the most important thing. In the Bible the meaning of a name is usually more important. Here certainly Isaiah’s concern is not over what the Messiah will be called but over his character, his nature. He was eventually called Jesus/Yeshua – he saves or the LORD saves. Here, however, we have a series of names or titles that sum up in a large measure the character or person of Messiah. So what I want us to do today is to look at these important titles given to Messiah through Isaiah.
Before we look at them there are two important things to sort out.
1. It is important to recognise that they are spoken of Messiah.
There have been Jewish commentators who have tried to understand the verse thus, ‘God who is called and who is Wonder, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, calls his name the Prince of Peace’ but the verse will not bear that and is clearly all about this Child who is born, this Son who is given.
2. Then there is the question of how many names are used of him. The answers vary greatly.
1 Just one name? It has been suggested that we render all the words as one. You know perhaps how some of the more eccentric Puritans sometimes gave their children names such as ‘Praise God’ or ‘Joy in trials’ or even ‘Repent from your sins’. Something similar was known among God’s ancient people. Isaiah himself had a son – Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil). The suggestion then is that the name here is ‘A wonderful thing is counselling he who is the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.’ There are many problems with this idea. One writer calls it ‘sesquipidalian’ (cumbersome and awkward) which it certainly is. Another calls it ‘an unparalleled monstrosity’.
2 Many go for five names. That's how the AV deals with it. John Newton in his sermon (a series on the texts of Handel’s ‘Messiah’) takes it that way as does Handel, of course – Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
3 Vulgate (1 higher) plumps for 6: Admirabilis, Consiliarus, Deus, Fortis, Pater futuri saeculi, Princeps pacis
4. It is more difficult to argue for 7 or 8 but I suppose one could go for – ‘Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty One, God, Everlasting One, Father, Prince of Peace’ or even ‘ … Prince, Peace.’
5. It seems most likely, however, that we have here four names as in the NIV. Why?
1. Despite what I have said the last two names stand in such close relation to each other that they must say Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. The other two pairs also appear to be related quite closely.
2. The way the Massoretic text (ie the main Jewish text) is accentuated suggests four names.
3. This gives the most likely symmetry.
4. By taking the names this way we preserve a further suggested symmetry in that there is an emphasis in the original on the divine and then the human in the first pair and then on the human followed by the divine in the second pair, ie WONDERFUL Counsellor, GOD Almighty, Father EVERLASTING, prince of PEACE.
So we will look this evening at the two phrases Wonderful Counsellor and Mighty God and then another time, God willing, at Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. In his commentary E J Young says ‘It is one of the saddest points in the entire history of exposition that in the entire history of exposition that so many have refused to see the true import of these glorious names.’ Let’s not make that mistake.
1. Recognise Jesus Christ as the Wonderful Counsellor1. He is a Wonder
The Word Isaiah uses is not actually wonderful but wonder – that is why the AV translates as it does. I rarely mention what a word is in Hebrew or Greek because to most it is meaningless. The word here though is Pele. I don’t know where the great Brazilian footballer go this nickname but he was often described as a wonder – an inexplicable bundle of talent who was delight to watch and the despair of his opponents on the football field. The Christ is a wonder not in that sense, of course, but his great wisdom, would cause similar astonishment and excitement when he came to this world. The word is used in Psalm 78:12 to refer to the wonderful miracles God did in saving his people out of Egypt. Think of the wonder of the miracle of crossing the Red Sea. Interestingly, in Judges 13:18 when Samson’s future father Manoah asks the visiting angel his name he says it is wonderful ie beyond understanding.
The words wonder and wonderful have become rather devalued in our day. Marvel or marvellous have suffered a similar fate. A wonderful/marvellous opportunity or a wonderful person/a marvel can sometimes be rather ordinary in reality. We should be in no doubt about the strength of the word here, however. The Messiah is clearly God – mysterious and amazing as it is – that is who he would be. Everything about him would be and was and is wonderful in the highest sense – truly amazing, supernatural. From his supernatural conception to his supernatural resurrection and ascension he was a great Wonder.
2. He is a Counsellor
A counsellor is someone who gives you advice, who helps by speaking to you about your needs and what to do. We hear a lot about counsellors these days. Whenever there is a disaster of some sort such as this terrible rail crash a few months ago we are now used to hearing that both the victims and those dealing with them, such as t he police and ambulance drivers. It is recognised that such disasters can be hard to cope with and some are not equipped to face it on their own. And so they are offered professional counselling by those who have been trained to various levels and in various techniques and schools of thought. Modern society recognises that good counselling can be very therapeutic and make the difference between surviving and going under. Now the Messiah will be Wonderful Counsellor.
When a king is on the throne people look to him for wisdom and guidance. The wisdom of Solomon, of course, is famous. Now Jesus was one greater than Solomon – what a wonderful counsellor he was and is. What ever our need we should go to him. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in him. In Isaiah 11:2 we are told The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him - the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD. Luke tells us (2:40) that the baby of Bethlehem grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him. When he came to his home town, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? they asked (Matthew 13:54).
The idea is perhaps that whereas a king normally surround themselves with many advisors to help them rule this one will not need such counsellors – he himself is the Wonderful Counsellor to whom we all may go in complete confidence. Of course, God’s wisdom is foolishness to men but once our eyes are open to see it what wisdom shines out.
So what we are saying here is that Jesus was both a supernatural counsellor and one who gave supernatural counsel. Think of some of the things he said. For example
Matthew 11:28-30 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. If we go to him all will be well despite our troubles.
13:24-26 If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?
Of course, Jesus’s wisdom not confined to his own words – all of Scripture is breathed out by the Spirit of Christ. It is all useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. It is the Scriptures that are able to make us wise to salvation.
Warning: Isaiah lived in days when many thought themselves wise but they were in fact very foolish. This is one of the biggest problems facing people today. We are convinced that we are wise and so we have become fools. Proverbs 26:12 Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him. Don’t make that mistake. It is only by going to the Wonderful Counsellor Jesus that we have any hope at all. Yet how few will go to him. There is no counsel if you refuse to go to him. Humble yourself and go to Jesus and to his Word for guidance, for wisdom.
Encouragement: Jesus is the wisdom of God. He came with a perfect plan for the salvation of his people. It cannot fail. Praise God. All wisdom found in him. Oh yes we are fools by nature – how many mistakes we make but if we go to him he will guide u and help us and make us wise. Believer are you seeking his counsel daily? Are you acting on it? We slide back when we rely on our own wisdom. 1 Corinthians 3:18, 19 Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a ‘fool’ so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight.2. Recognise Jesus Christ as the Mighty God1. He is God
As you know there are many who deny that Jesus the Messiah is God. When we come to this next phrase then these people have great problems. The title Wonder of a Counsellor suggests Godhead but it could possibly mean someone less than God. Even confronted by this next title some try to wriggle out of the idea that he is God. It is true that sometimes men are referred to in Scripture as being ‘like gods’ but there is no example of the title here El Gibbor being used for a man. The translation ‘Great hero’ then is not adequate. This is clear from 10:20, 21 for example - In that day the remnant of Israel, the survivors of the house of Jacob, will no longer rely on him who struck them down but will truly rely on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel. A remnant will return, a remnant of Jacob will return to El Gibbor.There can be no real question that this is what is being said here. It’s an amazing contrast – he is a child, says Isaiah, yet he is also God. Isaiah was moved by the Spirit to reveal this even in those far off days. Now Jesus has come we can see that he is God – God come in the flesh. If he was not God he could not save as he does. It is because he is both man and God that he is the Perfect Saviour. That is why we must go to him. ‘God of God, Light of light, Lo he abhors not the virgin’s womb, Very God, begotten not created’
2. He is Mighty
He is called here Mighty God. The word Gibbor really means ‘hero’. We could translate ‘God of a hero’ or ‘Heroic God’. In John 16:33 Jesus says In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. What a word of encouragement to those who trust in him. He is not only the wisdom of God but the power of God also. His power is without limit. Remember his words at the end of Matthew (28:18) All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. God is putting everything under his feet. When you go to a human counsellor than hopefully they will give you good advice but it is up to you to put it into practice – they cannot do it for you. Good counsellors are advised to give those they counsel ‘homework’ to do. But the Lord Jesus is Mighty God and he not only counsels perfectly but he gives the strength to his people to live for God’s glory. He not only has a perfect plan but he has brought it to completion and he continues to work it out in the lives of his people.
The most obvious example of his power is his resurrection. Death was not able to hold him down. He triumphed over it. How? Because he is Almighty God. The same power that raised him from the dead is now at work in believers.
Do you know that power at work in your life? Go to Christ and know it.
Warning: It is no good relying on our own power. It's easy to feel strong when all is going well but think of the future.
Encouragement: Are you aware of your own weakness – how easily you fall. But if you rely on him he will give you strength and enable you to stand.
Believer are you relying on his strength not your own? if you're slipping back may be it is because of that.
Jesus is a man – he is able to sympathise with us and draw alongside us like no other. Yet he is also Almighty God. He can transform us like no other. He is the Perfect Saviour. If we reject him what hope is there at the judgement?

To us a Child is born

Text Isaiah 9:6a Time 03 12 08 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
Isaiah 9:6 is one of the great prophecies in the Old Testament concerning Messiah. It is one of two found quite close to each other in Isaiah 7-12 (what has been called the Book of Emmanuel) – the other is in 7:14 (Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel).
Perhaps you are familiar with the famous chorus from Handel’s Messiah. Handel’s Messiah was first performed in 1742, some 17 years before Handel died. It was revived again over 40 years after the first performance in John Newton’s time. Newton objected to it as it involves singing Scripture for entertainment. Rather than just be negative he preached a series of sermons on the texts used in that oratorio. His aim is summed up in something he says near the end of the series - “Permit me to hope and to pray, that the next time you hear the Messiah, God may bring something that you have heard in the course of these sermons, nearly connected with the peace and welfare of your souls, effectually to your remembrance.”
When he comes to this great Christmas text he says that every clause in the verse could provide us with a long sermon. That is certainly true and so I want us to just begin looking at it tonight and then return to it again. Tonight I just want to look at the opening words For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
Chapter 8 of Isaiah ends on a very sad and distressing note (8:21, 22) Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. Then they will look towards the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness. Isaiah prophesied in very dark and dreary days when there was much sin and many troubles. However, God enables him to look forward to better times ahead. Isaiah 9 begins with a strong Nevertheless …. Isaiah 9:1-7 is full of hope for the future. This hope is so strong and these better times are so certain that Isaiah writes in the past tense – the so called ‘prophetic past’.
One commentator divides 1-7 into 2 parts:
1. The hope described (1-3). There are three things
What God does – The reason that despite the desperate situation there will one day be no more gloom for those who were in distress is that though in the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali … in the future he will honour Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan.
What his people will enjoy – It is because God is determined to honour The people walking in darkness that they (past tense) have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
What follows – (3) You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.
2. The hope explained (4-7) Again there are three elements
What God does - 4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, (ie under Gideon) you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.
What his people will enjoy – Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
What follows this great victory is what we find in 6 and 7 and what we want to concentrate on now.
Notice the movement from
Nevertheless do not be afraid (1) to
For God will act (4)
to For (6) – how God will act.
There is no doubt at all that this a prophecy of Messiah. That is made clear in Matthew 4:12-17 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali - to fulfil what was said through the prophet Isaiah: Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles - the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
There are four things in particular I want us to concentrate on tonight.
1. The hope is a child and a son. Look nowhere else.
This great victory that is going to come for God’s people will be won through a person. Fundamentally, the truth is not abstract. It is not in the realm merely of ideas. It is to do with a person. Surprisingly, perhaps, this person is a child. The emphasis is not on the child when he grows up but on the mere fact of his birth. Once he comes all will be well. He is referred to as both a child and a son.
1. Child
This word relates him to his ancestry. He has a mother like us all.
2. Son
He will be a male, and, as is clear, of the Royal line. He is Son and heir. The word king is not used – perhaps because the idea had been greatly devalued by the fact that Judah’s kings had so often been reprehensible.
There can be no doubt that, as in 7:14, Isaiah has in mind the coming of Messiah – the Lord Jesus Christ. Some have implausibly tried, especially Mediaeval Jewish commentators, to deny it. Others can see it so clearly that they try to say it was written much later than it was – around 800 years BC. However, both earlier Jewish commentators and Christians see this must be about Messiah.
So here is the hope for Israel and for the world – not an army, not a political movement but a person. And not a world leader or a great hero but a baby. As one writer (Oswalt) puts it ‘How will God deliver from arrogance, war, oppression and coercion? By being more arrogant, more warlike, more oppressive and more coercive?’ Well, no. It is clear from Isaiah that God is powerful enough to destroy his enemies in a moment but ‘again and again, when the prophet comes to the heart of the means of deliverance, a childlike face peers out at us.’ God overcomes his enemies by becoming vulnerable and humble. On the face of it the idea seems faintly ridiculous and yet even to the worldly mind there is a charm to the idea that attracts. But this is not some form of romanticism but the cold fact that the only hope for any one of us is in the Lord Jesus Christ – the child who was born in Bethlehem and who Mary his mother placed in a manger there. Do you believe that? Do you believe it as a fact?
This fact ought to shape our approach to everything. For example
1 To salvation
Matthew 18:2-4 He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said, I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
2 To witness
2 Peter 3:15 Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect ....
3 To parenting
Colossians 3:21 Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged
4. To holy living
Colossians 3:12 Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
2. He will both be born and be given. He is both God and man.
You notice, secondly, that he says two parallel things about this child and son.
1. He will be born.
This brings out the human side. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. A real baby was born there. He had genes and blood cells, skin and bones just like us. Never underestimate the humanity of Jesus.
2. He will be given.
But also he would be given. God sent him into this world. He came from the glory of heaven to this world. John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. He did not spare his one and only Son. He gave – he did not lend. We must never forget that he is nothing less than God – he is God come in human form.
We must always keep this in mind about Jesus. He was one person, yes, but he had two natures – human and divine. He is the God man, the One Mediator between God and man. This is why he is the perfect Saviour – as man he fully sympathises with us in our weakness and sin but as God he is able to save us, nevertheless. This is what Newton calls ‘the central truth of revelation’ which like the sun casts its light on all else.
3. He will be born and given to those who believe. Is he yours?
The emphasis in the Hebrew is certainly on the child being born and the son being given but do notice the repeated to us. Isaiah is speaking of the people of God. To all who trust in him Jesus has been born. The angel spoke similarly to the shepherds at the birth of Christ (Luke 2:11) Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. It was a favourite theme at Christmas time with Luther – a Saviour has been born to you. He was not born, he did not come merely to please himself – it was for you, for all who look to him.
Did Christ die for you? He died for all who look to him and to him alone.
4. The government will be on his shoulders. Be confident in him.
The last thing I want us to look at tonight is the phrase and the government will be on his shoulders. This is not the only thing that Isaiah says, clearly, but it is the first. He uses a rare word for government. It is a word that basically means this child or son will be the epitome of princeliness, of executive authority. On his shoulders is symbolic of bearing rule (See 22:22 I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no-one can shut, and what he shuts no-one can open.) Think of a golden chain of authority. This is a common enough picture from the idea of carrying authority. In 7:14 we have already been told that the child is Immanuel (God with us). The statement here comes as no surprise then – the child is the Son of God and he will reign forever until all his enemies are put under his feet. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Of course, that kingship was veiled on earth. Many would have gladly made him an inferior earthly king but he refused it. He refused because he had a higher glory to come. Already his kingdom has advanced far but one day it will reach its zenith and it will be in every place.
Here is the great paradox again – a mere baby, yet Lord of all! Trust in gentle Jesus now before he comes in wrath and might and destroys you. Those who trust in him already share in his throne – and there is more to come. What blessings await those who have the King for their friend. Are you ready for glory?

Do Baptists believe the Pope is Antichrist?

Text 1 John/2 Thessalonians Time 10 04 05 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church

As you know there has been a great deal of coverage of the recent death in Rome of Mr Karol Wojtila, the man people called the Pope and who claimed to be the Head of God’s church on earth and who was happy to be addressed by people as Holy Father. Soon they will choose a new man to take on this role and though he may be different in some of his emphases he will make more or less the same claims as the others have. In view of this I thought it would be good to take a little look at the question of whether the Pope is, as many believe, the Antichrist prophesied in Scripture. Everybody is quick to say what a wonderful man the Pope was and I’m sure that he was very personable and full of many great human qualities. However, I want us to look beyond that this morning and consider what he stood for.

1. What have Baptists and others said about the Pope?
In 1689 a group of Baptist ministers published a Confession of Faith setting out their beliefs for all to see. For the most part they followed the famous Westminster Confession of Faith as they were keen to stress their unity with the Presbyterians. The Confession covers many doctrines. Chapter 26 talks about the church. There are 15 paragraphs, No 4 says
The Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. In Him, by the appointment of the Father, is vested in a supreme and sovereign manner all power for the calling, institution, order, or government of the Church. The Pope of Rome cannot in any sense be head of the Church, but he is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, who exalts himself in the church against Christ and all that is called God, who the Lord shall destroy with the brightness of His coming.
This is far from being an unusual statement for a Protestant group. All the Reformers took this view and many others before and since have agreed with them. In the past this view was held by St Brigitta of Sweden and other Roman Catholics and even today there are Catholics who suggest that Mr Wojtila was Antichrist because of his ecumenism and willingness to kiss the Muslim Koran, etc.

2. What does the word Antichrist suggest?
When most people hear the term Antichrist they think of a dark sinister dictator like Hitler or some horrific, obviously evil creature opposed to God. However, that’s not how the Bible portrays the Antichrist. The idea is much more of someone who sets himself up in opposition to God as a seemingly legitimate but false alternative to the true Christ or Messiah. Jesus of Nazareth is the true Christ. Antichrist is a false Christ. He claims to be anointed by God with the Spirit and qualified to work in God’s name to redeem God’s people and renew the creation. But he’s not. He is a liar. His claims are false. He is a false Christ. He is anti in at least two senses.
1. He is anti Christ, firstly in the sense of being against Christ, opposed to him. Cf anti-aircraft fire, antiseptic. Antichrist is against Christ, against his Word, his church and against God himself. The Antichrist pretends to be motivated by love, concern for mankind, pity for the oppressed, but what drives him is not love but hatred, hatred for Jesus Christ and all he stands for, and all who stand for him.
2. He is also anti in the sense of seeking to be a substitute for Christ, an alternative. Do you know the word antihero? Not a non-hero but an alternative, atypical one. An antithesis is the exact opposite of something. Antichrist is a supplanter. He wants to take Christ’s place. So for example in 1943 Pope Pius VI said of the church over which he was head Christ ‘so upholds the church and so, after a certain manner lives in the church that she may be said to be another Christ’. The claim is then that the Roman Catholic church, with the Pope as its head, is another Christ, an alternative Christ. This is why Roman Catholicism teaches that, apart from invincible ignorance, salvation is only possible through the Roman Catholic church. We are doomed, it teaches, simply because we won’t bow to its authority.

3. What does the Bible say about the Antichrist?
What we are interested in here, of course, is what the Bible says about these things. I thought it would be good for us to look at the passages that speak about the Antichrist and similar matters this morning.
The word Antichrist is used only five times in the Bible. It occurs only in 1 John and 2 John. Cf
1 John 2:18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 2:22 Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist - he denies the Father and the Son. 4:3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.2 John 7 Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.From these verses we can conclude four things
1. The Antichrist is coming at the end of time. Before Christ comes the Antichrist will be manifested. The Bible seems to be speaking about one person, one individual but we cannot be 100% sure about that.
2. The Antichrist is preceded by many antichrists. The spirit of Antichrist has been around some time. There is development then. This reminds us of the danger of saying ‘This is the Antichrist’ (‘an’ is wiser).
3. The Antichrist is a liar. He denies Jesus is the Christ and that he is from God. Some people say this proves that the Pope cannot be Antichrist as he would be quite orthodox in his view of the Trinity. We need to bear in mind the next point, however, and see that the Antichrist is not going to make a simple denial of the fundamental truths of Christianity. That would make it too obvious.
4. The Antichrist is a deceiver. Like Satan himself who makes himself seem an angel of light so the Antichrist uses all sorts of subterfuge and trickery to deceive people.

4. What are the other key Bible passages about Antichrist?
People tend to link these verses about Antichrist with others in four places
Dan 7, 8, 11 (little horn); Matt 24 etc (false Christs); 2 Thessalonians 2 and Revelation 13, 17, 18.
Revelation speaks of the Beast from the Land and the Sea and especially reminds us of the political and religious machinations of Catholicism in its attempts to grab power. It is important to remember that the Vatican City is a country with ambassadors and embassies, a bank, a secret service like the CIA or Mi5, etc. We can’t look at that or at most of these passages today but we will look at 2 Thessalonians 2, which speaks of the man of lawlessness/sin. This is where the Baptist Confession gets its language, speaking of the Pope not only as Antichrist but also that man of sin, and son of perdition, who exalts himself in the church against Christ and all that is called God. So let’s look briefly at 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12.
A rumour had got around in Thessalonica that Paul was teaching that Christ had come. Paul replies that that can’t be the case as certain things that will precede Christ’s coming have not happened.
3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.He is the man of lawlessness/sin – A totally evil man, with nor respect for God’s law. He is ‘the son of perdition’ that is lostness. The NIV puts it well – he’s doomed to destruction. 4-12 goes on He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.
Now you know what is holding him back
. They certainly knew as Paul had spoken about it. We’re not sure what Paul means but it’s most likely that he’s thinking of the Roman power or civil government in general. This proves a bulwark against the man of lawlessness. It will at least for a time as it does today.
What do we learn here then? Here we especially see how Antichrist seeks to be an alternative Christ.
1. The man of lawlessness comes before the end but his secret power was already at work in Paul’s day. This ties in with the way John speaks of Antichrist – coming but already at work. There is certainly a direct line between Paul and the power of Rome to the Popes of today. The last Pope may not be the Antichrist but he had an antichristian spirit and the papacy is marked by this spirit.
2. The man of lawlessness is part of a great rebellion against God. Although Antichrist is one man, he is supported by many others. It is right that we see the Roman Catholic movement with all its blasphemous teachings – that the Bible is not the sole Word of God, that they have the power to make Jesus’s body appear on earth in the Mass, that they have the authority to send a man to heaven or hell, that a man can be saved by what he does, etc, as a great rebellion against God.
3. The man of lawlessness opposes God and proudly exalts himself over God or anything worshipped, setting himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. This ties in, of course, with the way the Pope takes titles that belong only to God and acts as though he were God. Do you remember how when he was here in Britain they sang about him ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’? He accepted this worship. Of course, there are also claims that when the Pope speaks ex cathedra from his throne, he is infallible. What arrogance and folly. For any man to call himself Holy Father, Supreme Pontiff and Vicar of Christ (a vicar is a substitute) is the supreme arrogance and blasphemy. Cf
New York Catholic Catechism ‘The Pope takes the place of Jesus Christ on earth ... by divine right the pope has supreme and full power in faith and morals over each and every pastor and his flock. He is the true Vicar of Christ, the head of the entire church, the father and teacher of all Christians. He is the infallible ruler, the founder of dogmas, the author of and the judge of councils; the universal ruler of truth, the arbiter of the world, the supreme judge of heaven and earth, the judge of all, being judged by one, God himself on earth.’
Innocent III ‘The Pope holdeth place on earth, not simply of a man but of the true God.’
Leo XIII (1885) Pope holds ‘upon this earth the place of God Almighty.’
Pius IX ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’
When crowned they said to Pius XII (1939) ‘Receive this tiara adorned with three crowns that thou mayst know that thou art the father of princes and of kings, the ruler of the world, the Vicar on earth of our Saviour Jesus Christ.’
4. The man of lawlessness will perform all sorts of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders. This is a feature of Roman Catholic teaching. Lourdes is the most famous center for this but there are claims of visions and revelations and healings and miracles in many places. Every time the Mass is celebrated they claim to turn bread into the body of Christ. Most of it is straightforward lies and trickery but some things are inexplicable.
5. The man of lawlessness will perpetrate all sorts of evil and deceive many into unbelief and eternal destruction. We have only a small idea of the scandalous sin connected with Rome. Exposes are regularly written and we have some idea of the evils that go on but we do not know the half of it. How many millions are being deceived by this false religion.
6. The man of lawlessness is doomed to destruction and will be overthrown at Christ’s coming. Here is the final great word of comfort. The Antichrist will not last. Christ is going to come again and the judgement will follow. The Antichrist will not be able to stand then. By his powerful presence the Lord will overcome him and there will be justice for those who have rejected Antichrist and trusted in the true Christ the one Saviour Jesus.
5. What then does the Confession say and not say about the Pope?
1. What is it saying? The Confession is saying three things
1 The Pope is not the head of the Church. This is surely undeniable. Christ is its one true Head.
2 He exalts himself as if he were. What else can we make of the titles he uses?
3 This proves he is activated by the anti-Christian spirit that seeks religious veneration (Matthew 21:8,9), persecutes the godly (Revelation 13:6) and illustrates the predicted apostasy in the church (2 Thessalonians 2:3,4,8,9)
2. What is it not necessarily saying? It is not necessarily saying
1 That there is no other application of the Antichrist idea
2 That the man of sin passage that refers to apostasy in the church is totally exhausted in the papacy
3 Or committing to any detailed understanding of unfulfilled prophecy. The main point rather is that Christ is the Head of the church not the Pope.
A statement from churches in the Southern States of USA issued 1939 perhaps states things better:
"The Lord Jesus Christ is the only Head of the church, and the claim of any man to be the vicar of Christ and the head of the church, is without warrant in fact or in Scripture, even anti-Christian, an usurpation dishonouring to the Lord Jesus Christ."
6. What should I do about all this?
1. Accept that the Bible speaks about an Antichrist and a spirit of Antichrist that is active now.
2. Seek by God’s grace to identify this antichristian spirit. We need to be careful. In the past people have thought they have identified the Antichrist but must have been wrong. It is best seek to identify an antichristian spirit. The characteristics are clearly set out for us.
3. Pray not to be deceived about this. The mark of Antichrist is that he deceives many. Take great care then over this.
4. Pray to be delivered from an antichristian spirit in yourself – from rebelliousness, pride, all taint of evil
5. Rejoice that Antichrist will be defeated. He cannot survive.
6. Prepare for Christ’s return by repenting from sin and trusting only in Christ and rejecting all others.

Harvest past, Summer ended but are you saved?

Text Jeremiah 8:20 Time 30 09 08 Place Childs Hill Baptist ChurchWe are very much in an urban setting here and it's easy to forget our dependence on the rain and the sunshine from heaven. I think it's good, however, around this time of the year to sing some harvest hymns and to consider God's goodness to us.
As you know August and the early part of September were quite wet and a week or two back a reporter in The Times was saying that Britain was “facing its worst harvest for at least 40 years as 30 per cent of the country’s grain lies in waterlogged or sodden ground.” Things have been worst in the north of the country. On some farms by mid-September only half the crop had been harvested.
We live in a global economy, of course, and so we are not immediately or directly affected by such things but we cannot forget that they affect us all in the long term. A run of bad harvests would eventually have its impact just as recent happenings in the financial markets are beginning to have their effect in the High Street today.
Something similar can be said about spiritual realities. These too can sometimes seem remote and it is possible to feel as though you are in a hermetically sealed bubble unaffected by the decisions you make and the way you lead your life. But again that is not so. The return of Jesus Christ and the day of judgement is coming and soon we will all face a day of reckoning before God.
In the light of that fact then I want you to draw your attention to a verse found in Jeremiah 8:20. The verse says The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved. I've obviously chosen it because it has the word harvest in it but I'm also just as much interested in the word saved. By nature we are all lost and we need to be saved - from sin, from Satan, from death, from hell. Such talk may seem as remote to us as a farmer talking about the relative merits of wheat, barley, oats or some other crop but the truth is that we need to know about such things – spiritual sowing and reaping, spiritual growth and harvest.
So let's consider this verse together then. Perhaps we are best to begin by saying something about Jeremiah and his times and about the subject of this chapter then look at the verse itself.

1. Consider Jeremiah and the relevance of his warning ministry
Jeremiah is a major Old Testament prophet. He lived in the 7th and 6th Centuries BC. A priest by birth, he grew up in the priestly city of Anathoth. While still young, however, God called him to be a prophet so he left Anathoth for Jerusalem, where he was a great help in good King Josiah's reformation. Josiah's death was a great disappointment to the godly. Jeremiah wrote a lament in response. The kings of Judah who succeeded Josiah were all evil.
There is no mention of Jeremiah during the three year reign of Jehoahaz but in the reign of Jehoiakim we know he was fiercely persecuted. Resentment against him no doubt sprang from his continual warnings that the people were under God's judgement for their sins and would be conquered by the Babylonians. Not all supposed prophets said what Jeremiah said.
Jeremiah lived to see Nebuchadnezzar's invasion in BC 589. Although the invasion was interrupted, Jeremiah warned that the Babylonians would return. For this he was imprisoned. He was still there when the city was taken the following year. The Babylonians released him and showed him kindness, letting him live where he wished. He was later taken to Egypt against his will by the Governor of Judea Johanan. There is no record of his death. Presumably he died at a good age down in Egypt or possibly in Babylon.
Daryl Sensenig is a 24 year old living in Pennsylvania who reads his Bible daily and sometimes posts his thoughts in a blog. Early this year reading about Jeremiah he was stirred to write this
“Jeremiah was an amazing person. He suffered greatly with the Jews because of all their sin even though he was doing what God wanted him to do. He tirelessly told them God's Word even though they continually rejected what he said. He was put in prison, he was cast into a miry dungeon, and some people even wanted to kill him. Yet, he faithfully warned the people of coming judgement. He refused to stop preaching even when it seems he was almost the only person in Jerusalem that was standing for truth.”
How willing are we to stand for truth even when it is unpopular? How easy is it for us to make exceptions to our beliefs or compromise God's truth to make it easier on our life or the lives of others. We need to stand firm on the Bible and never change our biblical position no matter how unpopular it becomes. May God give us the strength and courage to do that.
Jeremiah is a prophet with great relevance to our day as he was a faithful, uncompromising man in days of wickedness and decline. We also live in days when things are bad and, generally speaking, getting worse. As in Jeremiah's day there are plenty of false prophets who will tell us that things are not so bad and that God is about to bless us. We fervently hope it may be so but all the sings are that things are more likely to get worse and so we need to hear that warning note found in Jeremiah and be reminded of the coming judgement.

2. Consider Jeremiah 8 and its warnings
In Jeremiah 8, Jeremiah is typically speaking about the destruction that God is going to bring on his people because of their sins. The section really begins in 7:34 where Jeremiah speaks about the people's idolatry and the coming disaster. Jeremiah wants to show them that these judgements will be terrible but fair.
He begins by describing the bones of the kings and officials of Judah, ... the priests and prophets and of all the people of Jerusalem being removed from their graves. As for the survivors Wherever I banish them, says God they will prefer death to life. That is how bad it would be.
In 4-12 he speaks of the people's sinfulness and their unwillingness to repent – the reason for their judgement. They cling to deceit; they refuse to return. ... No one repents of his wickedness, saying, What have I done? Each pursues his own course like a horse charging into battle. They are wilful and senseless in their sin. Like our own generation those living in Jeremiah's day thought themselves very wise but, as he says, they had rejected God's Word. As today the false prophets (11) dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. Peace, peace, they say, when there is no peace. Because of such shameless sin, says the Lord, judgement is coming.
In 13-17 he describes the judgement to come. I will take away their harvest, he says. There will be no grapes, no figs. What I have given them God says will be taken from them. The God who gives can also take away. They have sinned against God so judgement will follow. They will say (15) We hoped for peace but no good has come, for a time of healing but there was only terror. Very graphically he says God will send venomous snakes among them, vipers that cannot be charmed, and they will bite you. Imagine that poisonous snakes everywhere.
Jeremiah himself is often called the weeping prophet and he is clearly very moved by this prophecy. In the chapter's closing verses (18-22) he turns to God and says O my Comforter in sorrow, my heart is faint within me. He imagines his people in exile in the far country devastated and lamenting over what they have lost and asking questions. But God asks questions too - Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their worthless foreign idols? The exile is most just. In 21 Jeremiah says in God's name Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me. Finally, he asks, almost in despair, (22) Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people? If you go on into Chapter 9 you will see how full of grief Jeremiah was.
Again it is highly relevant. I am not a prophet and so I can't tell you whether we are in danger of imminent economic collapse or if we're going to be invaded sometime in the near future. What I can tell you though is that a final judgement is coming, a day of reckoning, and you need to be ready for it. I am not going to pretend that a little mend here and a little mend there will put things right. I'm not saying Peace, peace, ... when there is no peace. No, I am saying that some of you are clinging to sin like a favourite toy and unless you let go and repent from your wickedness, owning up to your sin and waking up to your true situation then the venomous snakes described here are going to bite you and kill you. It's no good thinking, as these people did, but I'm religious – I come to church, I try to pray. That will save no-one. As Jeremiah says here (7) the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons, and the dove, the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration.Like me you may not have noticed but at this time of year innumerable small birds are on their way to the Mediterranean or Africa. “Along southern coasts, there have been flocks of swallows and house martins having a last feed in the air before heading for the Continent” I read. Apparently bird watchers have been seeing uncommon birds such as hoopoes, wrynecks, black terns and honey buzzards coming into Britain from north and east. We can certainly all feel winter drawing in and we know why the birds are flying south. But what about us? Are we like God's people in Jeremiah's day who were ignorant of the requirements of the LORD?

3. Consider this specific verse and the questions it raises
This is the context then for 8:20 The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved. Let's focus on the specific verse then.
Perhaps you know the verse and sometimes when we are familiar with a thing we don't look at it properly. I've tended to think of the verse as saying "The summer has ended, the harvest is past, and we are not saved". I'm importing into the verse my own cultural context where the order of events is the summer months of June, July and into August, then the harvest period from the end of August to the beginning of October. We would say something like “The summer has gone, the harvest is nearly past, and still people are not saved.”. In Israel, however, where Jeremiah lived things are different. In Israel there were two harvests – the Spring harvest and the Summer harvest. In Spring barley and wheat and other cereals were harvested. Then later came the harvest of the grapes, figs and olives. That is why we have this order The harvest is past, then the summer has ended, and we are not saved. Literally it is “The harvest is past, the time of summer harvest has ended, and we are not saved”. The point then is that one season of hope after another has passed but the looked-for deliverance has not come, and now it seems as though all hope is gone. It is like a proverb. The grain harvest has failed; the fruit-gathering has also proved unproductive. What hope is there?
Another matter to deal with here is who is saying this and in what way or why. The older commentators tend to assume it is God who is speaking. He is saying that the opportunities for repentance are going by but still there is no change and so no salvation. More modern commentators often tend to see it as a statement from the people in their sin and complacency The summer has ended, the harvest is past, and still we are not saved – God still hasn't done anything about our salvation. The verse surely reflects what is in 15 We hoped for peace but no good has come, for a time of healing but there was only terror and so is probably what the people are saying.
Which ever way we take it, however, there are two elements here. Firstly, the passage of time with efforts being made to no avail and then, secondly, the observation that the people are not saved. I think that many here can think of their own situations in these same terms.
1. Are you conscious of much time having passed and all your efforts having accomplished little?
Some of you are older in age. You have been alive for many years. You have done many things. But when you look back over your life you may feel time has escaped you and you have accomplished little. The older we get the greater danger of such feelings. Now the Bible never countenances vain regrets but we must make a sober assessment of where our lives are going and where they have been. Are you at the point where summer has ended and the harvest is past? Time is running out. You cannot assume much more time. Your winter is coming. Now is the time to act. Look to Jesus Christ now. Find strength in him today. Don't leave it any longer.
Some of you are perhaps not so old in years but when you think about it there have been many missed opportunities. Think of how many sermons you've listened to, books you've read perhaps, good conversations you've had and you have been resolved perhaps to live for God and yet it has never come to pass. You too can see summer ... ended and the harvest ... past. How many more opportunities will there be? Now is the time to act. You too must look to Jesus Christ today. Find strength in him right now. Don't leave it any longer.
Some of you are young people. Let's just think about this past year of 2008. It is the last Sunday of the ninth month, just three months before the year's end. Now think what some of you have experienced in this last nine months. You've heard sermons calling you to Christ – over 25 in some cases, over 50 for some may be. On a Friday night many of you have heard similar exhortations to repent and come to Christ. Some have been to camp and heard messages every day or to other things where there have been earnest calls to trust the Lord. And now summer has ended and indeed the harvest is past. Will there be any more opportunities? Winter is coming. Now is the time to act. You must look to Jesus Christ. Find strength in him. Don't leave it any longer.
2. Are you one who is still not saved? That is the question we are left with. If you are saved give thanks to God. Rejoice! Pray for others to be saved too. Listen to them crying out The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved. If you are not saved, if you are one who has to say The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved then wake up to the situation. I know that God often works very slowly. Harvest passes, summer goes and still no-one is saved and then in the deep of winter someone finally comes to salvation. However, we must not make this an excuse. We must not say God will save me when he chooses, there is nothing I can do. You have a duty to act, to repent. Come to the Lord today. Be saved. Why will you die? Be saved. Be delivered. Look to Jesus Christ. Amen.

How to die well 4: Lessons from the Master

Text John 19:17-30, etc Time 21 09 08 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
John Wesley once remarked about the early Methodists that 'our people die well'. Over the last few weeks we have been looking at this subject of how to die well. We have been trying to pray “Teach me to live, that I may dread The grave as little as my bed; Teach me to die, that so I may Triumphing rise at the last day” (Tallis). We don't know just when the day of our death will come and so we need to be prepared always. It is good for us to think like this anyway. The New England Puritan Cotton Mather once wrote “Live mindful of death - it will have a mighty tendency to make you serious, discreet and industrious.” We quoted J C Ryle the other week “Nothing in the whole history of a man is as important as his death”.
As we have said before there is some help for us out there in various books but chiefly we need to go to the Scriptures. And so already we have looked at three New Testament examples of dying well - the dying thief, the martyr Stephen and the Apostle Paul as he expresses himself in 2 Timothy.
This week, finally, I want us to look at the supreme example, the example of the Lord Jesus Christ himself. It is very important that in all our thinking about death that we focus there. There are two important things to think about from the outset.
1. Christ's sympathy
A 19th Century writer has said “There is nothing in the fact of death, nothing in the consequences of death, which Christ has not endured for us” (Westcott). Part of the purpose of his death was to set his people free from the fear of death. Apart from him there is no hope for us at death. We could not even contemplate talking about death in this calm and resigned manner if not for him. What a terror it would be otherwise! By his death he has swallowed up death! See Hebrews 2:14, 15 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil - and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. Paul calls him (2 Timothy 1:10) the one who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. According to Thomas Kelly the cross “takes the terror from the grave And gilds the bed of death with light”. Because Christ has died in the place of his people they can face death with confidence. We need be in no doubt about Christ's sympathy and understanding when we consider death and when we finally face it. He understands.
2. Christ's example
It is important to remember that Jesus is not just a great example but our glorious Saviour. However, we must not forget that he is our great example in death as much as in life. See 1 Peter 2:21 Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. Perhaps you have never given much thought to this. You ought to. If the thief on the cross and Stephen and Paul are great examples how much more the example of the master himself? Not only does his death save all who trust in him but all who trust in him should think about his death and learn from his example how to die well. As Gregory said "Every doing of Christ is our instruction and teaching; therefore such things as Christ did, dying on the Cross the same should every man do at his last end, after his knowledge and power.”
There are many things to learn here. Let's look at some of these things.

1. Never forget death yet do not obsessively seek it either
1. Never forget death There is a famous pre-Raphaelite painting of Jesus by Ford Maddox Brown. Jesus is depicted as a young man in the workshop. As he stretches he casts a shadow on the wall behind him and it looks like his crucifixion. It is a little fanciful but it makes a good point. Jesus's death was always central throughout his life. It comes out for example in Luke 9:22 And he said, The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 31 (Moses and Elijah) appeared in glorious splendour, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem. 41 O unbelieving and perverse generation, Jesus replied, how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here. 18:31-33 Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again. 20:15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 22:15 And he said to them, I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.
In Luke 9:23, 24 Jesus says If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. See also Philippians 3:10, 11 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
D'Aubigne quotes Luther somewhere at the time he was summoned to come to Augsburg saying
“I am like Jeremiah ... a man of strife and contention; but the more their threats increase, the more my joy is multiplied. My wife and my children are well provided for; my fields, my houses, and my goods are in order. They have already destroyed my honour and my reputation. One single thing remains; it is my wretched body: let them take it; they will thus shorten my life by a few hours. But as for my soul, they cannot take that. He who desires to proclaim the Word of Christ to the world must expect death at every moment; for our husband is a bloody husband to us.”
Or think of Richard Baxter, who was often at death's door, saying that he preached as a dying man to dying men.
2. Yet do not obsessively seek it either On the other hand, we must not seek death or become obsessed by it. Adoniram Judson the missionary to Burma at one point dug his own grave and lived in sight of it. But this was a time of depression and sorrow. It was a mistake. We are not called to morbid introspection. We need a right balance. Archibald Alexander brings it out well in his book on Christian Experience
“I recollect a sickly but pious lady who, with a profusion of tears, expressed her anxiety and fear in the view of her approaching end. There seemed to be ground for her foreboding apprehensions because, from the beginning of her profession, she had enjoyed no comfortable assurance - but was of the number of those who, though they "fear God, and obey the voice of his servant, yet walk in darkness and have no light" (Isa 50:10) of comfort. But mark the goodness of God and the fidelity of the Great Shepherd. Some months afterwards I saw this lady on her deathbed - and was astonished to find that Christ had delivered her entirely from her bondage. She was now near to her end and knew it - but she shed no tears now but those of joy and gratitude. All her darkness and sorrow were gone. Her heart glowed with love to the Redeemer, and all her anxiety now was to depart and be with Jesus. There was, as it were, a beaming of heaven in her countenance. I had before tried to comfort her - but now I sat down by her bedside to listen to the gracious words which proceeded from her mouth, and could not but send up the fervent aspiration, "O let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like hers!" (Num 23:10) Then I knew that there was one who had conquered death, and him who has the power of death; for Satan, to the last moment, was not permitted to molest her.”
2. Seek to obey God's word
In death as in life Jesus Christ was determined to follow Scripture – to be totally obedient to it. It is the same in death 28 Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, I am thirsty. (See also 24, 36). Even there on the cross his great concern was to fulfil God's Word. He is like a man following a map.
Is that what drives you – conformity to God's Word? That is what ought to drive us in life and in death. Remember Scriptures like these John 14:1 (Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me), Proverbs 3:5, 6 (Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.)

3. Be practical and selfless
1. Commit others to God We have already considered this when we looked at the death of Stephen. See verse Luke 23:34 Jesus said Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. No doubt not all were forgiven but some were. When we die we must commit those we leave behind to the Lord. There is always hope for those who remain alive. Think of the thief who repented at the last minute too. It is said of George Muller that great man of prayer that after his conversion he began praying for five of his friends. He prayed five years before the first one was converted; for the next one he prayed 10 years and for the third 25. The fourth was not converted until nearly 50 years later. The last one was converted after 52 years - at Muller's own funeral!
2. Do not be falsely romantic about death Sometimes the cross is romanticise in paintings and in other ways. There is nothing romantic about a man dying on a cross. Notice especially how concerned Jesus was with very practical matters. 25-27 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved (John himself) standing nearby, he said to his mother, Dear woman, here is your son, and to the disciple, Here is your mother. From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. Obviously there had been some previous discussion about this. Interestingly though Jesus, even in the midst of all he is doing, makes sure this very practical arrangement regarding his mother. It is a reminder of the need to deal with practical things like life insurance and a will and a funeral, etc. We need to be practically minded as well as heavenly minded.
3. Realise that death is cruel Jesus says I thirst not just to fulfil Scripture but because he is thirsty, painfully thirsty. We must not forget how he suffered on the cross and his willingness to make clear he was suffering. Crucifixion is a particularly painful death but no death is without this element. Death is cruel and there is nothing wrong with admitting it.

4. Commit your soul to God
We have again covered this looking at Stephen but it is a point that bears repeating. Jesus it appears was constantly in prayer while he was on the cross and no doubt throughout his life time too. We need to cultivate that sort of attitude. We need to pray while we are alive and especially as death approaches. Jesus not only prayed but he cried out to God. He is an example to us.
Of course, there is no point in imagining that you will suddenly begin to want to pray as death approaches. We must give ourselves now to prayer and to crying out to God however near or far away death may be. Then more specifically when we feel death is drawing nearer then we ought to pray committing our souls to God our Father. What a comfort the Fatherhood of God should be to a believer. I know that Jesus was able to act as he did here because he was perfect in every way and that is why he was acceptable to God. We are not in that position – but if we are in Christ that is trusting in him) then we will be acceptable too. We can only realistically commit our souls to God in death if we have done so in life. We only have the right to call him Father if we have received him, if we have believed in his name (John 1:12). There is mercy for every person who commits himself to God in Christ.
5. Be filled with triumphant faith
Perhaps the chef thing to stress is that in death, as in life, the greatest need is for faith. There is no dying well without a total trust in the Lord. It comes out in two ways in Jesus's dying words.
1. Faith of a more unusual sort Jesus said on the cross (Matthew 27:46) My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? At first sight that might seem to be a sentence lacking in faith. But Bishop Daniel Wilson once rightly said “Never perhaps was stronger faith exhibited, even by our Saviour himself, than when he uttered those piercing words My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me”. This is the point where the sins of the world are being placed upon the sinless Saviour, yet still he speaks in faith. It is not 'O God' but 'My God'. Whatever circumstances we face at death – however much the suffering, the temptations, the loneliness perhaps – we must face it with faith, we must enter on it believing. Keep the faith!
2. Faith of a more obvious sort Jesus also spoke a triumphal It is finished! (30). Though the circumstances will no doubt be different an although thee is more in Jesus's words than can ever be in ours, this should be the cry of the dying believer also. The fight has been fought, the race has been run, the faith has been kept and now comes the crown. By faith it can be so. Remember these words (Heb 12:1-3) Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

How to die well 3: Lessons from an Apostle

Text 2 Timothy 4:6-8 Time 14 09 08 Place Childs Hill Baptist ChurchA woman once asked John Wesley "Supposing that you knew you were to die at 12 o’clock tomorrow night, how would you spend the intervening time?"
Wesley replied, "How Madam? Why just as I intend to spend it now. I should preach this evening at Gloucester and again at five tomorrow morning; after that I should ride to Tewkesbury, preach in the afternoon and meet the society in the evening; I should then repair to friend Martin’s house, who expects to entertain me, converse and pray with the family as usual, retire at 10 o’clock, commend myself to my heavenly Father; lie down to rest and wake up in glory."
Wesley was clearly a man who could face death with some God given composure. We have begun to look at the subject of death and how to die well. We need to be prepared for death and the best way to do that is to be prepared for life. Spurgeon once said that “to be ready for eternity is in the best sense to be ready for time”. He was right.
But where do we get help on this subject? I mentioned last time the medieval ars moriendi (craft of dying). In the 17th Century there was a popular book by Drelincourt translated from the French and called The Christian's Defence Against The Fears Of Death. In it believers are reminded of certain consolations in death. It says helpful things such as
1. Remember that God will not forsake you in your grievous agonies
2. Remember that God is a merciful Father to his children. Trust in his infinite goodness.
3. Meditate often on Christ's death and trust only in his merits
4. Meditate also on Christ in the tomb and on his resurrection and ascension to God's right hand.
5. Meditate on the unbreakable union between Christ and his people. Etc.
There is help to be got from such books but the best help is to be found in the Bible. Already we have looked at the dying thief and the first Christian martyr.
The dying thief feared God, confessed his sin, recognised Christ's innocence and power and trusted humbly in him. He heard those wonderful words from Jesus Today you will be with me in Paradise.The martyr Stephen was in a right relationship with the triune God – filled with the Spirit, contemplating God;s glory and his mind on Christ at God's right hand. He committed everything to God including his own soul and the people who were murdering him.
Today I want to focus on the Apostle Paul and particularly what he has to say in 2 Timothy 4:6-8. It is a little bit different because these are not Paul's actual dying words as in the previous two cases but they are among the very last written words and certainly give us Paul's dying thoughts. Having solemnly charged Timothy as his successor with the need to preach the Word he turns to the reason why this is so important – his own imminent death. Hendriksen says "In one of the most sublime and moving passages, which with respect to grandeur of thought and stateliness of rhythm is probably unsurpassed anywhere in Paul's epistles, the apostle lifts this letter - and his apostolic career - to its wonderful finale," Here we see Paul considering his present – the nearness of death at the hands of the Roman authorities who at this time held him in prison. This leads him too to think of his past service and his glorious future. His approach to death is full of instruction for us. We want to say three main things from what he says

1. Have faith in Christ in the face of deathPaul is clearly coming to the time of his death full of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The very way he speaks here shows this. He is an example to us of how to approach death.
1. Pour yourself out for God For I am already being poured out like a drink offering
Paul is using a picture here one he had used back in Philippians 2:16 where the subject is again his imminent death (though it did not come at that point). There he says But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.What is the picture he is using? Under the Old Testament law there were many different sacrifices including the drink offering of wine. The drink offering would be poured out onto an animal sacrifice in certain instances as a climax to the whole affair – a final sacrifice. Such sacrifices are no longer necessary under the new covenant as Christ has made the supreme sacrifice of himself to save his people forever. Paul takes up the imagery of the drink offering being poured out at the end, however, and applies it to himself and his own sacrifices on behalf of God's people. He will soon die and this will be the final sacrifice that he makes to God. As his life ebbs away he gives it all in sacrifice to God. Paul does not see death as an intrusion but as the final part of a life of sacrifice.
In Romans 15:16 he speaks of being a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles and his life of proclaiming the gospel of God as a priestly duty. He pictures himself preparing a sacrifice an offering acceptable to God. Now at the end of his life he himself is being poured out as the final part of the sacrifice.
Do you ever think of your life in these terms? Saints in the past would speak about burning out for God – this is sometimes confused with overdoing it and not looking after yourself and burning out in the psychological sense but what they actually mean is being living sacrifices – living their whole lives as sacrifices in God's service. There is no call in Scripture to neglect our health but we are called upon to be living sacrifices – that is our spiritual or reasonable worship. This must goon to the very point of death, whenever it may come.
2. Correctly understand death and the time has come for my departure
So Paul's one picture of death is a cup of wine being poured out in sacrifice to God. It is an unusual way to speak of it. The other picture he uses is more common. He speaks of his departure. The very word he uses is instructive. It basically means to loose and it reminds us of various pictures.
Think of a ship being loosed from its moorings. Lorraine Boettner quotes the Dutch American Henry Van Dyke (sometimes attributed to Victor Hugo) who once put it this way
"I am standing upon the foreshore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength, and I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come down to meet each other. Then someone at my side says, 'There, she is gone.' Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side, and just as able to bear her load of living weights to its place of destination. Her diminished size is in me, not in her; and just at the moment when someone at my side says, 'There, she is gone,' on that distant shore there are other eyes watching for her coming and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, 'Here she comes - and such is dying."
It is also the phrase used for striking camp – taking a tent down. See 2 Cor 5:4 where Paul speaks about our bodies being like tents in which we camp - For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.Or think of releasing a prisoner from his shackles
What about unyoking an ox?
In Wales pit ponies were regularly used underground in the mines from the 18th Century on. The ponies lived below ground but then when the mine holidays came round they were given a precious opportunity to go up to ground level. Imagine it.
Do you correctly understand what death involves for the Christian? Are you thinking about it in the right way?

2. Have faith in Christ in looking at the pastPaul was able to look at his life with some complacency. He says (7) I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Are you able to do the same? Will you be able to when it comes your time to die?
The only way to do so is by the grace of God. Paul is not boasting here. He does not say I have fought the good fight but rather The good fight I have fought.
If you have known God's grace in your life then are you continuing in that grace to his glory? The questions we will be asked at the end are these
1. The good fight – have you fought it?
The picture here is of a soldier or of a wrestler. It is a favourite NT image. See 1 Timothy 6:12 and here 2:3, 4 (Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs -he wants to please his commanding officer). If you are a Christian then you have great enemies – the world, the flesh and the devil. To overcome them, you must fight. It is a daily struggle. The temptation is to run and hide but we must stand firm. Don't give in. We must wear the whole armour of God. See Ephesians 6.
What a comfort at death to know you have fought the good fight.
2. The race – have you finished it?
The picture here is of an athlete, someone running a race. This is another favourite NT picture. See 2:5 (Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor's crown unless he competes according to the rules.) Also see Acts 20:24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me - the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace. Endurance is a vital Christian virtue. Without it we cannot be successful.
What a comfort at death to know you have run the race
3. The faith - have you kept it?
The picture here is of a treasurer or a steward or it could be the idea of a soldier on guard. See 1:14 (Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.) He is talking about preserving the gospel treasure. He means not so much the gospel doctrines but maintaining one's personal faith. Go on believing. Don't give in to doubts. Keep trusting in Christ to the very end. See 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of. Also see John 14:1-4, 6.

3. Have faith in Christ in looking to the futurePaul was able to look to the future with complacency. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. Perhaps Paul is still thinking of the soldier coming home in triumph from the wars after victory and being greeted by rejoicing people. Or the athlete winning the race and being given the acclaim of the crowds and a crown of laurels or, as it would be to today – the gold medal. Of course, the reality for Paul is the unfading crown of righteousness and glory from God himself. Paul is not for a moment suggesting that he has earned this. See 1:9 (who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.) and Titus 3:5, 6. Rather, in faith Paul is looking forward to his reward knowing that by God's grace he has fought and run and kept hold of the faith. What confidence this gives him. That same confidence should belong to all who long for Jesus to come again.
Are you longing for your reward? Is your mind set on that glorious day when Christ comes again and brings in the new heavens and the new earth? "The best moment of a Christian's life is his last one, because it is the one that is nearest heaven." (Spurgeon). You know that phrase “in the land of the living” as in “Still in the land of the living then”. It is said that among John Newton's last words were these – when someone made reference to him still being in the land of the living - "I am still in the land of the dying. I shall be in the land of the living soon." Quite right. Pray that you may see it that way.

How to consider the gospel message

Text Acts 17:11 Time 07 09 08 Place Childs Hill Baptist ChurchI would like us to consider this evening how we should listen to the gospel message – to faithful preaching. This is useful if we are not used to it, of course, but I think it will also be a help to all of us who are used to listening to sermons telling us the gospel. The verse I want to focus on is Acts 17:11 Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.Acts 17 deals with part of Paul's second missionary journey and how Paul and his companions came first to the city of Thessalonica, today in Greece but then in Macedonia. It is a still a city today but then was even more important. Paul founded a church there and later wrote the two New Testament letters known as 1 and 2 Thessalonians to them. Paul had come into Macedonia following a vision he had in Troas in which he saw a man from Macedonia saying 'come over and help us'. Paul had worked first in Philippi (Acts 16) where he also founded a church and later wrote a letter that is again in the New Testament (Philippians). He then went on to Thessalonica. In each place although some come to faith in Jesus Christ there was opposition.
That is a reminder to expect that sort of thing if we are going to serve the Lord.
In Philippi, Paul and Silas were put in prison and in Thessalonica the Jews rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They tried to find Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd but failed. That night the believers secretly helped Paul and Silas to get away and they went on to Berea, where the reception was quite different to what they had had in Philippi and Thesalonica. As our text says Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.So let's look at this verse. I want to say two things – one more briefly and one at greater length.
1. Consider the contrasting ways in which people can listen to the gospel message
There is the statement Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians. The word Luke uses was originally a word meaning 'better born' but it came to stand for noble character as it is translated here. $ It is a little like the history of the word 'gentleman' in English. On the one hand, gentleman originally referred to a man's noble birth or superior social position. It has come, however, to mean anyone well-mannered or considerate, with high standards of proper behaviour.
That is a reminder perhaps that it is not enough simply to have the name Christian – we need to act as Christians too. We should all be more concerned about acting nobly than about having mere honours and titles.
Luke is saying here then not that the Jews of Berea were better born than the Thessalonians but that they showed a superior nobility in the way they acted when the gospel message came to them.
This is a reminder that when the gospel message is preached different people are likely to react in different ways. In Thessalonica, although many believed, many did not and they showed it by their animosity towards Paul and Silas. This animosity was driven by jealousy (see 5 the Jews were jealous) and led to them bringing in these bad characters from the marketplace to form a mob – not something noble at all.
The question forces itself upon us – what about us? Are we most like the Thessalonians, driven by jealousy and other bad motives into stirring up trouble and opposing Paul and his companions or most like the Bereans who reacted in quite a different way. Paul preached the same gospel in the two synagogues but in the two places there were contrasting reactions. Which is yours most like?
2. Consider the right way for people to listen to the gospel messageNow let's examine the detail here. In what way could it be said that the Bereans were more noble than the Thessalonians? What characteristics led to Luke making this distinction? Both has the same message preached by the same man but there were two distinctive things about the nobler Bereans and all who are like them.
1. They receive the message with great eagerness
1 What they do They receive the message (for they received the message). We know from 2 and 3 what the message was. It says there
Paul ... reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ, he said.
So his approach was based on Scripture, the Bible – it was what we call expository ministry, expounding the Bible. From the Bible he reasoned with people. He wanted them to accept two things – first, that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead and then, second, that the Messiah is Jesus.
We endeavour to do something similar today. From the Bible I want you to see that the Jews are God's chosen people and that God promised them that Messiah would come and that he would suffer and die in this world and then rise again. I want you to see that the Messiah has come and suffered and died and risen again and that the Messiah is Jesus of Nazareth.
Are you willing to accept that message, to receive it. Are you willing to believe it?
2 How they do it We read that the Bereans didn't just receive the message, they received the message with great eagerness. They were marked by a readiness of mind and a real desire to know the truth. They were not narrow-minded and prejudiced against the truth but open to receive it, indeed eager to receive it. This is the noble attitude. This is the attitude that God likes to see. Sadly the Berean attitude is uncommon today. There is a narrow, bigoted and unreasonable spirit abroad that is unwilling even to listen to what Christians have to say.
The philosopher Antony Flew, now in his eighties and once a leading atheist, announced a change of mind in 2004 and published a book at the end of last year called There is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed his Mind.Flew is very critical of The God Delusion by the atheist writer Richard Dawkins. He says, it is "remarkable in the first place for having achieved some sort of record by selling over a million copies. But what is much more remarkable than that economic achievement is that the contents – or rather lack of contents – of this book show Dawkins himself to have become what he and his fellow secularists typically believe to be an impossibility: namely, a secularist bigot. The fault of Dawkins as an academic (which he still was during the period in which he composed this book although he has since announced his intention to retire) was his scandalous and apparently deliberate refusal to present the doctrine which he appears to think he has refuted in its strongest form."
We need to watch our for such bias – not just in others but in ourselves. If we are unwilling to eagerly receive the message then it betrays an ignoble spirit. Let's not be like that.
I can see how there might easily be an objection to this line of reasoning. It is felt to be naïve and unthinking. But there are two sides to this coin. What made the Bereans so noble in character was not just their openness and readiness to accept but also their scepticism and eagerness to examine whether these things really were so. Luke goes on and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

2. They examine the Scriptures daily to see if it is true

1 What they do The Bereans didn't simply take Paul's word for it. They did the hard work necessary to be sure that what he said was according to the teaching of the Bible. John 5:39 famously talks about searching the Scriptures but there it is the searching of the minutiae. Here it is the idea of following the argument. Like lawyers looking trying to establish a case and so looking for possible loopholes in the law so they examined and investigated the Bible. It was not like in our day when you can just get hold of a Bible from Smith's or read it on the Internet. They had to go to the synagogue and arrange with the Synagogue ruler to be allowed to look at the scrolls kept there. They didn't let things like that put them off though. They were eager to know the truth and so they made the effort.
This is how we must be if we are serious about knowing whether the gospel message is true. Are you like that?
2 When they do it We are told that the Bereans examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. They were taking time out form other things to be there at the synagogue and to examine the Scriptures to see if Paul was speaking the truth. Each day they would hear Paul saying something from the word and each day they would check up on him to see if what he said was true. @ That is how it should be with us. Find time daily to examine the Bible. Check out what the preacher says and see if it is really true.
3 Why they do it They did it we are told to see if what Paul said was true. Paul said that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead and that the Messiah is Jesus. These people wanted to know whether it was true or not and so they examined the Bible to see if it was true.
This reminds us of just how much is in the Old Testament and how if we study it properly there are wonderful things to see there. It also teaches us to have that right sort of scepticism towards those we hear speaking. Test it out. Is what they say really true?
Sadly this attitude is not common today. Antony Flew again complains about the way in which Dawkins dismisses Flew's belief in God in a footnote in The God Delusion. Flew says
"What is important about this passage is not what Dawkins is saying about Flew but what he is showing here about Dawkins. For if he had had any interest in the truth of the matter of which he was making so much he would surely have brought himself to write me a letter of enquiry. (When I received a torrent of enquiries after an account of my conversion to Deism had been published in the quarterly of the Royal Institute of Philosophy I managed – I believe – eventually to reply to every letter.)
This whole business makes all too clear that Dawkins is not interested in the truth as such but is primarily concerned to discredit an ideological opponent by any available means. That would itself constitute sufficient reason for suspecting that the whole enterprise of The God Delusion was not, as it at least pretended to be, an attempt to discover and spread knowledge of the existence or non-existence of God but rather an attempt – an extremely successful one – to spread the author’s own convictions in this area."
Some people think Christians are afraid of scrutiny. No, our complaint is that there is not enough scrutiny. Not enough careful examination goes on. When people do that they often come to faith. I believe the writer and pastor Lee Strobel, a former journalist and lawyer, came to faith as a result of a two year examination of the subject of just who Jesus was. There are other examples of similar things. God wants people to think for themselves. He wants them to read the Bible. That is why in his providence we have our own translations and our own Bibles. He wants people to be able to test whether preachers are telling the truth. I want you to receive my message but I don't want you to be like a zombie. I want you to think about it. Test it. Weigh it up for yourself. As Protestants we believe in the right of private judgement. Yes, we ought to listen to what the church has to say but in the end each man must decide for himself what he believes. Think carefully then. Be noble. See what the Messiah is like and that Jesus is the Messiah and in believe in him. Weigh up these things – that is the way to nobility.