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.

How to die well 2: Lessons from the first Christian Martyr

Text Acts 7:54-60 Time 07 09 08 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church

John Calvin once said “We may positively state that nobody has made any progress in the school of Christ, unless he cheerfully looks forward towards the day of his death, and towards the day of the final resurrection.”
Negatively the notoriously wicked Cesar Borgia said near the end of his life "I have provided, in the course of my life, for everything except death; and now, alas! I am to die, although entirely unprepared!"
We began to look last week at this question of how to die well. I want us to explore it a little further this week. Death will come to us all. We can defy gravity but not the grave! We must always be ready. As J C Ryle once said “Nothing in the whole history of a man is so important as his end”.
We mentioned last week the medieval Ars moriendi or 'Craft of dying'. It consists of six chapters
1. The first explains that dying has a good side, and serves to console the dying man that death is not something to be afraid of.
2. The second outlines the five temptations that beset a dying man, and how to avoid them. These are lack of faith, despair, impatience, spiritual pride and avarice (greed).
3. The third lists the seven questions to ask a dying man, along with consolation available to him through the redemptive powers of Christ's love.
4. The fourth expresses the need to imitate Christ's life.
5. The fifth addresses the friends and family, outlining the general rules of behaviour at the deathbed.
6. The sixth includes appropriate prayers to be said for a dying man.
Books like that can be a help to us but we are best to go to the Bible itself for help on how to die well. Psalm 37:37 says Consider the blameless, observe the upright; there is a future for the man of peace. In that spirit we looked last week at the case of the dying thief. This week I want us to consider Stephen the first Christian martyr. Stephen, you may know, was an early Jewish believer who belonged to the church in Jerusalem. Early on there was a dispute over the distribution of food to the widows and it was decided to appoint 7 deacons to deal with it. In the list given in Acts 6:5 the first of these and the one who is singled out for comment is Stephen. In Chapter 6 Luke goes on to explain (6:8) how Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people and how a dispute arose with the Jews leading eventually to the Jews (6:11) secretly persuading some men to say, We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God. Stephen is then seized and dragged before the Sanhedrin or Ruling Council where he stands falsely accused. He then gives the wonderful sermon that takes up most of Chapter 7. 7:54 When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. They then drag him outside the city to stone him. He suffers a vicious and violent and undeserved death. He is the first in a long line of Christian martyrs, a line that continues to this day. It is a possibility for every believer, although it is more likely for some than for others.
It is a good question to ask ourselves whether we are willing to be martyred? Another good question is – If being a Christian was against the law – would there be enough evidence to convict you?
Stephen's death was an unusual one in many ways but I want us to consider it this morning as an example for us of how to die well, whether we die as martyrs or not.
1. Have a right relationship with the triune God
As you know God is a Trinity. Cf Shorter Catechism “There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.” Here in Acts 7 there is a reference to all three persons of the trinity.
See 55 - But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
It is a reminder of how we ought to know the doctrine and how we ought to be in a right relationship with all three.
1. Be filled with the Spirit
It was typical of Stephen to be filled with the Spirit as we learn back in 6:5 Stephen was a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. It should be a habit with all of us who are believers. Pray daily to be filled with the Spirit. The command in Ephesians 5:18 is Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. There can be some confusion over this. Every Christian has the Holy Spirit. They have all been baptised in the Spirit. Nevertheless the extent to which we are under the Spirit's control can vary and so we must seek to be filled with the Spirit. This does not involve seeking an experience but seeking to be controlled entirely by the Spirit. It is the complete opposite of being drunk. If you take too much alcohol into your blood stream it leads to acts of debauchery. If you are full of the Spirit on the other hand it will lead to acts of holiness. The parallel verse in Colossians 3:16 speaks about letting the word of Christ dwell in you richly – being controlled then by the Word of God. We should seek to be filled with the Spirit at all times but it will be necessary when we face the last enemy – death! Death is the real test.
Down in the west end, as you know, there are many shows and plays. Those who put them on are concerned about what the critics say regarding their shows. On the first night the critics come and decide whether a play is good or bad. It can't be easy to face your critics. There are critics not just for plays and shows but for books, restaurants, hotels, schools, etc. What the critics don't write about is how well people die. There are obituaries but no critiques of the actual dying. But your death and mine will be watched – and there will be critics and the critic who counts most is God himself. What will he think? It's no wonder that death can be a fearful thing. What is the answer to such fears. The answer is that the believer needs to be gripped not by fear but by the Spirit as he is filed with his good influence. There is strength and help for every believer in the Spirit.
What a tremendous comfort here. None of us needs to face death alone. The Spirit will bring you through if you look to him. Do you have the Spirit? No? Seek him in Christ. Yes? Seek to be filled with the Spirit daily.
2. Contemplate the glory of God
Stephen looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God. This was a spiritual revelation to a spiritual man no doubt but in a similar way we are to look to heaven at death. If we do we will see the glory of God. It is difficult to describe exactly what Stephen saw here but if we look to God in faith we will see something similar.
How often do you think of heaven? We ought to think of it more than we do. Do you love to learn of the glory of the place? Do you long to be there? If you ask the average person do they want to go to heaven they will say “yes” but strangely they seem to have little interest in it. If I know I'm going somewhere I like to get an idea of what it's going to be like – I get hold of the maps and the guide books. Some people are so earthly minded they will never be of any heavenly use.
In Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress Part 2 they are shown in the House of the Interpreter
“a room where was a man that could look no way but downwards, with a muck-rake in his hand. There stood also one over his head with a celestial crown in his hand, and proffered him that crown for his muck-rake; but the man did neither look up nor regard, but raked to himself the straws, the small sticks, and dust of the floor.” Don't be like that foolish man.
3. See Jesus at God's right hand
What particularly moved Stephen was the sight of the Lord Jesus. 56 Look, he said, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. He not only believed but he saw Jesus not only risen and ascended but there at God's right hand ruling. As Jesus told his disciples he has gone to heaven to prepare a place for them. And now Stephen sees him – not as usually described, sitting but standing ready to welcome him into heaven. The only hope that any of us have of entering into heaven is through Jesus. Are you trusting in him? Are you looking to him? That is the only way to be saved, the only way to know victory in death. Jesus will you help you then, when you die, if you will trust in him now in life.

2. Commit everything to God
Stephen's vision clearly prepared him for his death. His accusers were so enraged with him that they felt there was no time for the due process of law. They simply dragged him off and had him stoned. Despite their rage Stephen remains calm throughout it all. He is calm and composed – serene. It is strikingly impressive. It is no wonder that it had the impact on Saul of Tarsus that it did, leading eventually to his conversion. How could Stephen maintain his composure in the face of death? In a word – Stephen simply committed it all to God. He is a model for us.
1. Commit your soul to God
He says Lord Jesus receive my Spirit. Death is the separation of the body and the invisible part of you, your soul or spirit. Stephen realises what is about to happen. They are going to kill his body which will remain here on earth. As for his soul – that is going to soar to heaven and so he commits it to God. In life he had committed himself to God and now at death he does the same thing. He does not pray 'Let me die' as the prophets Jonah and Elijah once did in very low moments. We are not to seek death but when it comes we are to follow the example of Stephen who is following the example of Christ and commit our souls to God. Now and at death, this is how we must proceed.
2. Commit those you leave behind to God
In Stephen's case those nearest to him at death were those who were actually killing him. Here he echoes Luke 23:34 (Father forgive them, etc) when he prays Lord, do not hold this sin against them. His great longing at death was not for vengeance on his enemies but that they might also know the Lord. It must be a great relief at death to be able to die with a forgiving spirit. It is likely only if we cultivate that spirit throughout our lives. Do you have a forgiving spirit? When you have been forgiven by God it is possible to have such a spirit.
3. Commit yourself to God
Finally, we read how Stephen fell asleep. This phrase points to the perfect peace and calm he knew even in the midst of that very violent scene. How did he get that sense of calm? He had a right relationship to God and he had committed it all to him. Whether your death is violent or calm, sudden or by degrees, can you face it confidently? You can by the grace of God. Follow Stephen's example.

Four Great Comforts in Evil Days

Text Psalm 94:12-23 Time 24 08 08/03 09 08 Place Capel Y Fron, Penrhyndeudraeth Childs Hill Baptist Church
I'd like us to look this evening at the second part of Psalm 94. We looked at the earlier part of the Psalm last week beginning with verse 3, where the psalmist asks How long will the wicked, O LORD, how long will the wicked be jubilant? He was writing at a time when the wicked were jubilant, exultant, triumphal. They were full of themselves. We live, I think it is fair to say, in similar times.
Sinners exist in all ages but there are times when their deeds are done largely in secret, behind closed doors, hidden from view. At other times sinners are brazen. Little attempt is made to excuse sin or to cover it up. Sin flaunts itself in provocative ways, parading itself. We live, by and large in a day like that, a day when the wicked are jubilant in their wickedness.
The wicked are described in 4-7 – They are proud (They pour out arrogant words; all the evildoers are full of boasting) anti-Christian (They crush your people, O LORD; they oppress your inheritance) oppressive (They slay the widow and the alien; they murder the fatherless) godless (They say, The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob pays no heed). At such times, like the psalmist, we must pray. Pray O LORD, the God who avenges, O God who avenges, shine forth. Rise up, O Judge of the earth; pay back to the proud what they deserve.We must also reason with people. Look at how he speaks in 8-11 Take heed, you senseless ones among the people; you fools, when will you become wise? Does he who implanted the ear not hear? Does he who formed the eye not see? Does he who disciplines nations not punish? Does he who teaches man lack knowledge? The LORD knows the thoughts of man; he knows that they are futile.I came across this quotation from B B Warfield recently (post-Penrhyn) that puts it well
"It is the distinction of Christianity that it has come into the world clothed with the mission to reason its way to dominion. Other religions may appeal to the sword, or seek some other way to propagate themselves. Christianity makes its appeal to right reason, and stands out among all religions, therefore, as distinctively, 'the Apologetic religion.'"
(Introductory Note, Francis R Beattie, Apologetics, or the Rational Vindication of Christianity, Vol I: Fundamental Apologetics [1903])
Praying and putting arguments before people is not easy but we must do this and not give into the temptation to stop because we feel prayer will make no difference or are afraid to speak out.
To encourage us I want to focus on verses 12-23 where we find four encouragements to press on in these things. If we can understand and take to heart these things, it will be of tremendous help to us. And so I say to you
1. Remember the comfort that the Lord's discipline givesSometimes we feel ourselves thinking 'Why doesn't God do something?' Why is evil allowed to advance to such a degree? Such questions are not easily answered but part of the answer lies in the fact that God often uses such means to discipline his people. Cf Prov 3:11, 12 My son, do not despise the LORD's discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. The psalmist understands this and we should too. We should see that
1. Far from being a curse, days of trouble can be a means of blessing
12 Blessed is the man you discipline, O LORD, the man you teach from your law. But how can discipline be a blessing? As the writer to the Hebrews says no discipline is going to be pleasant at the time but if we have a handle on what lies behind it we can take it better. By means of discipline much good is done in the lives of believers. Indwelling or remaining sin in us is weakened. We are driven to God himself. Such things enable us to become more conformed to Christ, the man of sorrows. Pride is brought down and humility is encouraged. Our love for this world is weakened. It is vital to remember Rom 8:28 and the promise that God is working all things together for the good of believers, according to his purposes.
2. Discipline is effective only in conjunction with God's Word
There is an idea about called 'learning from experience' and there is something in it but we must not suppose that mere experience will teach us anything. Rather it is our experiences seen in the light of God's Word that leads to learning. Blessed is the man you discipline, O LORD, says the psalmist - the man you teach from your law. Discipline will only be effective if we see it in the light of God's Word. Similarly, sometimes the Word is not enough for us, we need the experience to reinforce what is plainly taught in Scripture. In days gone by children would be punished if they got their sums wrong. What ever we think of that it is clear that no matter how many punishments were given, without some teaching the children would learn nothing. The answer to all our troubles is in the Word of God. Look there in trouble. The great thing about troubles is that they can concentrate our minds on the Word.
3. Such a realisation can be a great relief to a believer
In 13 we read you grant him relief from days of trouble, till a pit is dug for the wicked. He can see that even his troubles are working for his good. Our natural bent is to want relief from our troubles immediately. Augustine says “You wish to bury him at once: the pit is as yet being dug for him: do not be in haste to bury him.” Picture a man running from a wild beast. He looks to be in fear. He is not really. He knows a pit has been dug for the creature and once he reaches a certain point the animal will fall into it. That is our position as believers.

2. Remember the comfort that the Lord's faithfulness givesAnother great comfort in times of trouble is to remember who we are. Back in 5 he says of the wicked They crush your people, O LORD; they oppress your inheritance. In 14 we have For the LORD will not reject his people;he will never forsake his inheritance. It is unthinkable to suppose that God would reject or forsake his people. However strong the wicked may become, how ever low we may go – God will never forget his own inheritance. We are too dear to him. He has invested too much in us. See Deuteronomy 31:6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.This leads to the conclusion (15) Judgement will again be founded on righteousness, and all the upright in heart will follow it. At times justice seems to lose its moorings. Everything is up in the air. But do not be afraid Judgement will again be founded on righteousness. We can expect such days – if not in this life then certainly in the one to come. Then the upright in heart will not only follow it but triumph in it. Today we see righteousness and judgement being slowly but surely separated out. It is frightening to see. The upright in heart are experiencing a time when all that is good is dragged down and ridiculed – with the connivance sometimes of the law itself. For example, acts of parliament have been passed supporting abortion, homosexuality, gambling, etc. We see corruption in the courts, the police, etc. We must not be afraid though. Better days will come one day. Set your hope on that.

3. Remember the comfort that the Lord's help givesJust because we know that all will be well in the end does not mean to say that we should just sit back and wait. Like the psalmist, again, we should be looking to others for help and seeking to encourage them to oppose the wicked. The psalmist asks (16) Who will rise up for me against the wicked? Who will take a stand for me against evildoers? Our experience will often be like the psalmist's, however, it will chiefly be the Lord who proves our help. Notice here how he shows us
1. How to respond to the stridency of the wicked
He was desperately looking for help; his foot was slipping and he was tempted to unbelief; his anxiety was great – how he feared, tossed to and fro by his worries and concerns.

We can identify with him in these similarly desperate times.
2. Where to find help in all this
So where did he find help?

He says
1 The Lord gave him help (17) Unless the LORD had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death. Full help came from the Lord. We are always dependent on the Lord, of course, whether we realise it or not. We become especially aware of it, however, when all other hope is gone. The Lord can and will help you.
2 The Lord's love supported him
(18) When I said, "My foot is slipping," your love, O LORD, supported me. It will support all who turn to him. There is nothing like God's love. While looking at this verse up in Penrhyndeudraeth in the home of a walker I came across a pair of crampons. The owner explained to me how, amongst other things, they are used to give a secure footing when on packed snow. It's not the most obvious illustration, perhaps, but the love of God is like wearing crampons! That is the import of what he says here. Never forget the love of God. Underneath are the loving and everlasting arms of God.
3 He knew joy even in the midst of anxiety
(19) When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul. What an amazing thing – joy in the midst of anxiety. Yet the believer can know this sort of thing. Many of you have experienced it no doubt. Such joy is God given. This joy comes when we think of God's unchanging purposes, his covenant faithfulness, his complete redemption, the Saviour – risen, interceding in heaven for us, our union with him, etc.
4. Remember the comfort that the Lord's justice givesFinally, remember something that we have already touched on a little – God's justice. The description in 20, 21 reminds us again perhaps of some aspects of our own day where the psalmist asks Can a corrupt throne be allied with you - one that brings on misery by its decrees? then says They band together against the righteous and condemn the innocent to death. There is certainly a lot of opposition to the gospel from various, sometimes powerful, quarters, these days. People band together against the righteous. They condemn the innocent - such as unborn babies and the elderly – to death.
The psalmist feels safe despite all this, however. 22 But the LORD has become my fortress, he says and my God the rock in whom I take refuge.Has the Lord become your fortress? Is God your God, the rock in whom you take refuge? The only safe place to hide in times of trouble is in Jesus Christ.
The ultimate answer to such opposition is to remember that the wicked will be paid back. 23 He will repay them for their sins and destroy them for their wickedness; the LORD our God will destroy them. One writer (Greenall) puts it this way “They make fetters for their own feet and build houses to fall on their own heads”
Here are four great comforts then for believers living in evil days - God's discipline, God's faithfulness, God's help and God's justice, which will surely triumph. Let's take all the comfort we can from these truths.

Lessons from a repenting tax collector

Text Luke 18:13 Time 31 08 08 Place Childs Hill Baptist ChurchI want us to look this evening at a text that is found in Luke 18:13 But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, God, have mercy on me, a sinner. The words are spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ as he gives the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.
At the time the Pharisees, of course, were the strictest sect in Judaism. Basically orthodox in their beliefs, they were against compromise with the Romans and were generally admired by people. Where they went wrong was in raising human tradition to the same level and sometimes higher than Scripture. They were also marred by self-righteousness and hypocrisy. We get a very good idea of the Pharisee in this very parable. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself says Jesus. He prays God, I thank you that I am not like other men - robbers, evildoers, adulterers - or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.The tax collectors, on the other hand, were the very opposite. Compromisers with the Romans, they were not admired by the Pharisees or by the people in general. To add to their reputation for compromise with the enemy there was the fact that they often unfairly made themselves rich at other people's expense. They also tended to hang out with the more disreputable members of society anyway.
You see then why Jesus chooses these characters for his parable. On the one hand we have a very religious person, a churchgoer as it would be today, and on the other, someone who has turned from all that and who has been living a life that is marked by compromise and sin.
There is a contrast in who these men were then but also a contrast in the way they prayed when they went to the Temple to pray. As we have noted
The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: God, I thank you that I am not like other men - robbers, evildoers, adulterers - or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.
The tax collector, on the other hand, our text tells us, stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, God, have mercy on me, a sinner.Now what I want us to do this evening is to ask some questions and see what we can learn here about the way to pray and to come to God.
1. What sin did Jesus give this parable to warn people against?You will often find when you come to Jesus's parables that just before or just after or sometimes at both points there is a little explanation of when and why Jesus gave the parable. It is always a good idea to take note of these as they really help us to understand what is being said. So in 9 we read that it was To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable. He has particular people in mind then here, people who were confident of their own righteousness – they thought they were good enough for God – and who looked down on everybody else – they thought other people weren't good enough for God. These two attitudes often go together and we need to watch out that we don't fall into them.
What about you? Do you tend to think of yourself as good enough for God? Not perfect, perhaps, but good enough? And what about others? Do you find yourself looking down on them and thinking they are not good enough for God? It is another warning sign that all is not well.
A good test is how you react to newspaper stories of wrongdoing – do you react 'I'm glad I'd never do anything like that' or do you see that but for God's kindness you could well be doing the very same things?

2. What do we learn negatively from the Pharisee tax described here?Jesus begins his parable by saying (10) that Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The temple included not just the Holy of Holies and the Holy place and the place for sacrifices but various courts around it where people would pray in public. Jesus speaks about the Pharisee first (11, 12). He says The Pharisee stood up that was the usual posture and prayed about himself (notice that phrase). He prayed like this - God, I thank you that I am not like other men - robbers, evildoers, adulterers - or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get. So in his prayer he begins by looking down on others and then boasts about his own righteousness – the very things that the parable is intended to oppose.
Now we must be very careful here. Wouldn't it be the easiest thing in the world to say (at least to ourselves) “Well, I'm glad I don't pray like that man. I'm glad I don't pray about myself”. We might even be tempted to pray something like this “God, I thank you that I am not like other men – proud, a hypocritical, self-righteous - or even like this Pharisee. I pray every day and I give to the church and to charity, etc”. Rather, we ought to see that there is at least a bit of the Pharisee in all of us and it is so easy to see the faults of others and look down on them but much more difficult, at times, to see our own faults and to realise that we have no righteousness of our own.
May be you are not very much like the Pharisee – I hope you are not - but it is worth asking yourself – do I resemble him even just a little bit? If I do at all I have good reason to be sorry and to repent from my sin and seek God's forgiveness.

3. What do we learn positively from what the tax collector did and said?There's the negative lesson then but what we want to focus on is the positive example of the tax collector. I think we can learn something both from what he did – what people today would call his body language – and then from his actual words.
1. Learn from what he didLearn from his body language. We are told three things about what the tax collector did. Each is instructive (13)
1 But the tax collector stood at a distance. He hardly felt worthy to be in this place – the temple of God. It was not that he did not want to meet with God, rather there was a sense that he was not worthy to be with other worshippers. It's a little like people sitting in the back at church. Some do it for bad reasons, some for good. Wherever we sit a sense of unworthiness ought to be there somewhere.
2 He would not even look up to heaven. He remembered that God was in heaven and who was he to look up to God? His lowering of his eyes speaks both of humility and of shame. Without these we cannot come to God. Do you humble yourself before God? Are you ashamed before God for what you have done? That is how to come to him.
3 But beat his breast. He was not only ashamed he was very sorry. He remembered his sins and how it hurt him and exasperated him to do so. How about you? Are you genuinely sorry for sin?
2. Learn from what he saidHis actual lip language. His prayer was God, have mercy on me, a sinner. He wanted God to be propitiate some how. He wanted God to deal with him in way that was favourable even though he didn't deserve it. He was seeking God's mercy, God's pity. He describes himself as a sinner, the sinner. God, have mercy on me, sinner that I am. That is why he need mercy. There was nothing he could do to win God's favour. He looked only to the mercy of God.
This is what we all need to do – to go to God and to confess “I am a sinner”, to plead for mercy – say, not just "have mercy" but have "mercy on me, a sinner". Each individual needs to come to God and to find mercy from him through Jesus Christ and what he has done on the cross. Are you looking to him for mercy like this tax collector? I urge you to it.

4. What did Jesus have to say about this tax collector?
See 14. Jesus says I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. To be justified means to be "counted righteous". There was no justification for the Pharisee? Why? He never thought he needed it. I was reading a report recently about unclaimed pensioners benefits in the UK. Something like £4.2 billion a year is going unclaimed. A spokesman from Age Concern has said “Millions of older people across the UK are missing out on money that is rightfully theirs and could make a huge difference to their quality of life.” Now I don't know if these Senior Citizens feel they don't need the money or if they just don't know how to get it but as the man from Age Concern says “There is nothing to lose and everything to gain by making a claim”.
Do you see your need of justification and do you see that you can be justified simply by making a claim - by applying to God. Don't rely on your own righteousness. Look to him for righteousness. As Jesus says here everyone who exalts himself will be humbled. The Pharisee exalted himself and he would soon be humbled. So for all who exalt themselves.
How different the case of the tax collector. He sought mercy and found it. He was justified. Why? Because he sought mercy. As Jesus says he who humbles himself will be exalted. That is true for all who humble themselves before God. So humble yourself before God tonight.

How to die well 1: Lessons from a thief

Text Luke 23:39-43 Time 31 08 08 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
John Wesley once famously commented on his early Methodist brothers "Our people die well". A doctor once remarked to Charles Wesley “Most people die for fear of dying: but I never met with such people as yours. They are none of them afraid of death; but calm and patient and resigned to the last.”
We all need to know how to die well but where can we get help in this. There are plenty of how to books around these days – how to be healthy, wealthy and wise, etc, but you probably have to go back to 1651 for a substantial book on how to die well when Jeremy Taylor followed up his Rule and exercise of holy living with a companion volume Rule and exercise of holy dying. There he says rightly “it is a great art to die well, and to be learnt by men in health, by them that can discourse and consider, by those whose understanding and acts of reason are not abated with fear or pains”. Now is the time to learn to die – while we are alive and well.
C H Spurgeon once said that he who does not prepare for death is madman. However, we often feel it is something we don't need to look into just yet – we're not planning to die any time soon. But that is part of the problem. Just as there is nothing more certain than my death so there is nothing more uncertain than the time of my death. The only answer therefore is to be prepared at all times. Matthew Henry says “it ought to be the business of every day to prepare for our last day.”
I thought it would be good then for us to look at the subject this morning – how to die well. There are plenty of reasons for doing so.
1. We are all going to die some time. The sooner we face up to that fact the better. It is never too soon to start making friends with death.
2. Some of you are elderly. The closer we come to 70 and especially once we are beyond it then death cannot be very far away.
3. Children and young people sometimes die too. When I Googled the phrase “Death of 5 year old” I got 936 hits. I got 9,460 for "Death of a 10 year old" (and so on: 15 yo – 56,700; 20 yo – 32,200; 25 yo – 10,700; 30 yo – 565; 49 yo – 1,920, etc). In Janeway's 17th Century Token for children he speaks of a four year old being asked "Are you ready to die" and their answering "'God has pardoned my sins through the blood of Christ". oh that all little children could answer like that.
4. There are some here perhaps who are nowhere near ready to die. You are not ready to meet with God. You need to be made ready.
5. The last battle that we all have to face is death. We need to be ready for it.
6. Thinking about death is not morbid or unhelpful. It helps us set our minds on eternity and on heaven where Christ is at God's right hand.
7. A book from the medieval period called ars moriendi (the art of dying) says rightly “Learn to die and you shall live, for there shall be none who learn to truly live who have not learned to die.” J A Alexander wrote “If men are prepared to die they are ready for anything.”
The ars moriendi was written specifically to help people in the task of dying. The best place we can go on this matter, however, is to the Bible. And so with this in mind I want us to consider the dying thief as presented to us in the Gospel of Luke. J C Ryle says of the words here in Luke 23:39-43 that they “deserve to be printed in letters of gold”. This is the only “death bed conversion” in the Bible – not one of many so that we do not become presumptuous but only one so that we do not think this is common. To emphasise his unworthiness Jesus's enemies deliberately had him crucified between two criminals. It seems that at first they both joined in the mocking of Jesus but later. Luke tells us, one changed his mind, rebuking the other criminal and then speaking to Jesus as he does here. Let's consider this man then and first let's

1. Learn lessons from what this man correctly assumed
1. Your soul will never die
This man was about to die. It is clear that he did not take the view that once he died that would be the end of the story. Men are not like cats and dogs. When they die that is the end of them. But when a human being dies his soul lives on. Indeed death is only the separation of body and soul. The body remains here until the resurrection and the soul goes to God to be kept in heaven or in hell until Christ comes again and our bodies and souls are reunited forever.
It is obvious from the way that Jesus speaks to the man here I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise Jesus accepted that idea. It comes out too in his story of the rich man and Lazarus. Both men die but they continue – one in heaven, one in hell. The fact that Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration points in the same direction as does that telling phrase the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as Jesus points out God is the God of the living not the dead!
When we think of death then we ought to think of it not as an end but a beginning. It is a separation – separation of body and soul, a parting from all we have known, from those we love. We said goodbye to our friend Sibyl before she left for Vietnam the other week. Such partings are inevitably sad but when we part with the prospect of meeting again the parting is not nearly so bad.
2. There are rewards and punishments in the world to come
It is clear that this was in the man's mind too. This is clearly what the Bible teaches. Every one of is goes at death either to heaven or to hell. This is part of what makes death so momentous. When we die we go to our eternal reward or punishment. That is why it is so important to be ready. If you were facing an examination you would want to be ready. How much more so for death itself!
3. Christ is our only hope in death
The Lord Jesus Christ is at his weakest point and yet still he is the only hope for this man. And this dying thief saw that this was the case. He realised that his one and only hope in death was Jesus Christ. We must see that too.

2. Learn lessons from what this man correctly understood
Besides these assumptions there were certain clear understandings too. Again they are instructive when it comes to facing death.
1. You must fear God
Don't you fear God, this man says to the other thief who continued to hurl insults at Christ. Here was a man who suddenly realised that he was about to meet with God and so whoever the man to his side was, hurling insults at him was not the thing to be doing. Rather, he needed to be getting ready for what was to come. In Hebrews 10 we are reminded that it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Have you ever seen those old cartoons of men with sandwich boards announcing the end of the world? Usually they have the text Prepare to meet your God on them, which is from Amos. People like to make jokes about such things but when you die that is exactly what happens, you come face to face with God. You have man appointment with God that you cannot miss. You need to be ready. The way to be ready is to fear God – to have reverence and awe before him.
2. You must recognise your guilt
The man goes on Don't you fear God ... since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. We don't know exactly what this man had done but he knew and he knew that he was guilty before God. You may say, "well of course he felt guilty he was a criminal, a thief" – but he hadn't felt any guilt, it seems, up until then. It is amazing how sometimes people can do terrible things and still not feel guilty. There is a lot of guilt out there, however. Someone pointed out to me the Apology Line that now exists. Their advert says “Feeling guilty? Something weighing on your mind? Need to just get something out? Call - 0800 970 93 94. This is a freephone number. You will not be charged. This is a chance for you to anonymously offload any guilt that has been burdening you. No comeback. No confrontation. No judgements. Just call and apologise and maybe feel a little bit better.”
Many of the worst deaths, the most horrible, have been those who have died riddled with guilt. Sometimes words of despair are foisted on unbelievers so we have to be careful but certainly Cardinal Wolsey said “Had I but served God as diligently as I have served the King, He would not have given me over, in my grey hairs” and just before his death Gandhi wrote “My days are numbered. I am not likely to live very long-perhaps a year or a little more. For the first time in 50 years I find myself in the slough of despond. All about me is darkness; I am praying for light.”
What about you? Do you feel guilty about certain things? You've broken God's Law. You deserve his wrath. It is impossible to die well if you don't first acknowledge your guilt to him. You don't need to ring Apology Line, simply go to God and confess all your sins.
3. You must trust in Christ
Here is the chief thing and the thing I want to focus on today. Without trust in Christ none of us will die well or live well for that matter. There are four things here
1 Recognise the innocence of Christ who died
The man says We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong. Just from looking at him he could see that. Indeed, Scripture testifies to us that Jesus is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners. The Catechism for Boys and Girls asks "Did our Lord Jesus Christ ever sin?" The answer is: "No. He was holy, blameless and undefiled." That is why he was able to die as a substitute in the place of sinners and why looking to him makes all the difference in the world at death.
2 Recognise the power of Christ to deliver you
In 42 the thief prays Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. We could debate exactly what he meant by that but clearly he sees that Jesus has a kingdom and that he rules over it. Of course, that kingdom is the greatest of all kingdoms as it is an eternal kingdom. Look to the King of Kings then we say – now and at death – and all will be well. He has the power to deliver.
3 Recognise that it is vital to be humble
Remember me he says - that is favourably. If someone says they will remember me in their will I assume they will not just write 'I remember Gary Brady" but they will give me something - and that is his meaning here. He asked for no more than that. What right had he to expect anything? We need to humble ourselves before God recognising we deserve nothing but humbly asking that he will remember us in the glory.
4 Recognise the need to pray
Perhaps this is so obvious we miss it. There were all sorts of reasons why the man perhaps felt he couldn't pray but he did nevertheless and we must too however many reasons we have for not doing so. We must pray when we die but we must pray now too – ask God to save you through Jesus Christ. There are people who nearly never pray. Don't be like them. Go to God in Jesus's name and pray to him for mercy.
4. You can be sure
In 43 we read Jesus answered him, I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise. What wonderful words! How wonderful they must have sounded to the thief and what wonderful words they are for all who have trusted in him. It is interesting to note that the thief seems to have been thinking of some far future blessing but Jesus says today you will be with me in paradise. Ryle says “That word today contains a body of divinity” (a whole systematic theology!). By faith the believer can look forward to an immediate entrance into paradise the moment he dies. What an amazing fact. What a comfort it is.
None of us knows how near death is. But we must be ready. If you haven't already begun to prepare, begin now. Fear God. Confess your sins. Trust in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. Humble yourself in prayer before him. Be confident of paradise through him.