God’s Repair Shop

Back in June this year, as our pastor was away on holiday, I preached at my home church of Becontree Avenue Baptist Church.

Mark 2;1 – 12

1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralysed man, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralysed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.

6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 ‘Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’

8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, ‘Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralysed man, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up, take your mat and walk”? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ So he said to the man, 11 ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’

I am not a great watcher of TV.

Some people will watch any and everything going, no matter how suitable or otherwise the content. I’ve known of people who love their sports channel so much they will even watch competitive chainsawing!

Lets be honest many programmes subtly or brazenly push an immoral and definitely anti-Christian agenda, trying to persuade the viewer that what they portray is normal life and perfectly acceptable.

However one of the few programmes I enjoy watching is “The Repair Shop”.

For those who are not familiar with the programme, people bring to the Repair Shop all sorts of battered, worn out, damaged, broken and mistreated items in the hope that the team of experts will somehow work their magic and restore the items to how they should be.

Some of the items are in so terrible a state you wonder if anything can be done at all. They look like a lost case.

In the Repair Shop you have toy repairers, leather workers, metal workers, wood workers, upholsterers, electronic engineers etc all involved in the dis assembling, cleaning, remaking, restoring, repairing and reassembling.

Often the results are astonishing.

A great deal of love and care are lavished on the items under repair, and of course the owners are so delighted with the results.

So, you may be asking what does a TV programme have to do with God?

Well, firstly lets get one thing straight. God loves everyone without exception. Even those who crucified Jesus. Even those who commit the most awful of crimes: murderers, rapists, child abusers, drug dealers, swindlers. He loves them all and longs for everyone to turn back to him through faith in Jesus.

God doesn’t turn a blind eye to their sinful actions. He doesn’t approve of the way people behave and live their lives. Oh no!

For each and everyone one of us there will be a day of reckoning.

Let’s put it this way. There will be a day when you and I reach the checkout in life’s supermarket and everything in our trolleys, our sins or misdeeds will be put through the till and we are presented with the bill. How are we going to pay? There is no celestial Tesco Clubcard to lower the bill. And nothing we have will pay for our sins.

If we have not come to faith in Jesus who has taken care of our bill, we have the certainty of judgement in front of God’s throne. The Bible tells us in Hebrews 4:13Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Also in Revelation 20:11 – 1511 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

Everyone’s deeds have been recorded and they are judged on what they have done. However we also read of the Book of Life where the names of believers in Jesus are written. If your name is in that book then you are saved and will be in heaven where you will be with God and with Jesus forever.

As I said God loves everybody and longs for everyone to repent and accept Jesus as their saviour.

To have that relationship with God restored to what God originally designed it to be, before the fall when sin came into the world, is the greatest healing of all. To know that we shall be with God for ever in Heaven when our days on this earth are over is the most wonderful gift we can ever aspire to.

Yet many of us have problems whilst we are on earth. Life is not as God designed it, because of sin. We all have problems and illnesses. Sin affects us physically, mentally and spiritually.

Many illnesses are as a result of our lifestyle choices, particularly in the “West”. People smoke, eat the wrong foods, drink too much alcohol. They don’t look after themselves or others.

A few years back at the funeral of a woman in her early 70’s, who had died of a smoking related lung disease and diabetes, her partner on leaving the chapel raged at God shaking his fist and threatening God because the woman had died. The fact that he was the one who kept her supplied with cigarettes and fed her McDonalds and KFC had nothing to do with her death in his eyes.

Many people wreck their bodies and their minds with alcohol or drugs. In the USA there are many people hopelessly addicted to pain medication pushed on to them by the pharmaceutical companies.

Dawn was only 59 when she died. Her final 13 years were spent in a nursing home. She had taken to drink. In fact she drank in a day more than twice the weekly recommended quantity of alcohol. She brought upon herself alcohol induced dementia.

Mental illness in another major problem which is not really understood and often there is little sympathy for the sufferer.

During the Covid pandemic many people’s mental health suffered, partly because of the isolation but also because of the fear of catching covid.

Sometimes mental illness is caused by demonic activity. I am careful how I say this as a few years ago a lady with mental health issues went absolutely ballistic when I said this. Perhaps I had hit a nerve.

The Bible warns us to have nothing to do with the occult, things like Ouija boards, tarot cards, fortune telling, witchcraft etc because God doesn’t want us to be hurt.

I do recall taking the funeral of a man in his 30’s who had lived rough for many years and suffered from mental issues as well as alcohol and drug abuse. Speaking to his family who were not Christians, I learnt that he was about 15 when he played with a Ouija board. What happened in that session is not known except the poor lad spent the next few months cowering with fright in his bedroom. And that was the beginning of his problems. His parents didn’t realise the terrible harm that can come from playing with the occult.

A lot of spiritual problems are down to demonic activity. Just look at the parable of the Sower and the seed.  Jesus says that the devil doesn’t want people to hear the word of God and be saved. The evil one is happy if people’s minds are full of religious nonsense that keeps them from receiving the gospel and being saved.

We have to be careful with giving the devil too much credit for the problems we encounter. I once heard of a church minister who tried to exorcise an evil spirit from the church’s projector as it failed to work!

So we come to our Bible reading from Mark’s gospel.

We don’t know what the man had done that he was now bedbound. Whilst it may be interesting to find out, it really is none of our business. After all, we would not like anyone else finding out our deepest and darkest secrets, the things we are most ashamed and guilty about.

Irrespective of what the man has done to get him in this condition, his friends not only stick with him but activity seek his healing. They go to great lengths to deliver their friend to Jesus, so convinced are they that Jesus is the answer to his problems. They are not put off trying by the huge crowd both in and around the building.

I see from Facebook people who post about their problems and illnesses . And some of the “friends” comments “sending healing thoughts” or sending you “positive vibes”. What good does that do apart from assure the person that their friends have thought about them? Why not assure the person that you will pray for them and then get on your knees?

Jesus looks at the man and knows that sin is the issue. He has a need to be forgiven, then what ever has paralysed his body will lose its power over him.

The religious leaders who seem to know more about religion than about God are outraged and accuse Jesus of blasphemy.

Jesus proves that he is the Son of God by telling the forgiven man to get up and walk.

The man is cured. He is restored. And people are astonished to see him get up and walk. This is what we read in v12He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!‘”

Jesus is still in the business of forgiving people’s sins, reconciling them to God, our Heavenly Father, and healing the physical, mental and spiritual wounds that each and everyone of us carry.

For those of us who know Jesus as our Lord and saviour, we have the job of bringing people to Jesus, just as the owners of the objects in the Repair Shop have brought them to the shop for repair.

Like the friends of the paralysed man we have to be faithful to those who need to come to Jesus and we have to do our utmost to bring that reconciliation about.

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Preach the word

On the 20th October this year I again preached at my home church, Becontree Avenue Baptist Church, on the subject of preaching the word even when people don’t want to hear what you have to say, even if they need to hear it.

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

Image result for open bible imagesSeveral years ago we were on holiday in Cornwall and we went to the local church which is very lively and attracts people from near and far to attend and become members. Sadly the preacher was the then local Methodist minister. After we had the Bible reading the minister got up to speak and the first words that came out of his mouth were “Everybody has their own ideas about Jesus and everybody is right” Maybe he didn’t realise the implications of what he had said, but it certainly didn’t line up with the Bible.

So according to this minister if you thought Jesus was just a prophet you were right. If you think Jesus was just a man you were right. If you hold another religion’s view on Jesus, you are right. Whatever you thought about Jesus you were right.

The Bible tells us exactly who Jesus is – the Son of God. To make him anything less than that is so wrong.

Recently I heard a local church minister telling a grieving family at their loved one’s funeral that the deceased is now an angel! Again, the Bible makes it clear that humans are humans and angels are angels. We do not magically become angels when we die. If we did I am 100% sure the Bible would tell us.

This same minster talks about “the circle of life” almost implying re incarnation. Well the Bible says in Hebrews 9:27Everyone must die once, and after that be judged by God.”

I am not sure if he thinks he is giving people comfort by telling what they want to hear, or he just doesn’t know the Bible. Or maybe he doesn’t believe that the Bible is God’s word as it has some difficult things to take onboard.

Our Bible reading talks about teachers who will give people what their itching ears want to hear. At a funeral many people want to hear that their loved one is safely in heaven, regardless of the fact the person was not a Christian and had never expressed any interest in God or Jesus.

Indeed, many will ask for a secular or non-religious service for their loved one and then read poems about God calling the person home to heaven.

None of us know what has gone on between someone and God in their last moments. After all we have that wonderful conversation between Jesus and a criminal as they are dying on crosses. Luke 23:42 & 43Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. ” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
But we really can’t assume that everyone gets to heaven; and it would be wrong of us to give people that false assurance. We can hope that someone has had a last minute conversion, but we can’t be definite about it, as we simply do not know.

Many years ago, when we were in the Church of England, we had Ken, a retired gentleman, come to our Home group. He told us that his father in law had just died and his grandson was asking questions about where great grandad was now. Ken told the young lad that great grandad could be that blackbird sitting in the tree. Ken was surprised when we asked him where he found that in the Bible. Yes, he had a Bible. His mum had given him one as he went off to war in 1939. But he really had never sat down and read it. So, when faced by one of life’s difficult questions he came up with the first answer he could think of.

So what does our Bible reading have to say about all this?

Paul wrote this letter to a young church leader, Timothy who had the advantage of growing up in the faith. We know from earlier in this letter that his mother and grandmother were believers: 2 Timothy 1:5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

Many people come to faith not having the benefit of growing up in a Christian home and not being aware of the Bible from an early age. Some may be the only believer in the family for many years, if not, ever.

Often when I visit people, I am told that mum or dad had a Bible but it was never opened. It was there almost like a talisman or good luck charm.

Some years ago, one of my brothers, who is a permanent deacon in the Catholic church, told me that an elderly lady in his church asked for help. There was, during Lent, an inter church house group and people were reading from the Bible. She didn’t know how to find her way round the Bible. Yes, she did have one, but years ago the Parish priest had told her she should have a Bible, but there was no need to read it as the priest would tell her what she needed to know!

I hope that you check out what I am telling you, to make sure that I do not go off message. There is a good precedent for this. In Acts 17:10 – 12As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

Can you imagine going up to the Apostle Paul and telling him he’s got it wrong! The people from Berea were prepared to do that rather than simply believing everything he said. We also should be prepared to do that.

We should remember not to cherry pick from the Bible as Paul tells us: 2 Timothy 3: 16 – 17All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
I have had people say to me that the Bible doesn’t make sense and is confusing and contradictory. And yes, some parts are difficult to understand, but we should persevere and indeed ask God through the Holy Spirit to help us understand what we are reading.
I think it is useful to clarify that in saying “All scripture is God breathed” Paul is referring to what we know as the Bible not the books of other religions. We also have to be careful as some cults, particularly those that come knocking door to door, have edited and mistranslated the Bible to justify their own beliefs. A bit like taking a knife to the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to get them to fit how you think they should.

The famous missionary and great man of God, Hudson Taylor once said: There are three great truths,
First: That there is a God;
Second, That He has spoken to us in the Bible;
Third, That He means what He says.

So if we agree with Hudson Taylor we should take the Bible seriously and certainly not misquote it or take verses out of context.

Let’s look at Ephesians 4:28. In it we read: “Anyone who has been stealing must steal” That’s good news if you are a thief, you can continue to do so.
What it actually says is: “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.”
You see the danger of misquoting the Bible.

Paul commands Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.”

We have to bring the Word of God to people whenever its needed rather than whenever we feel like it. And we have to correct those who have got it wrong or have misunderstood, rebuke those that needed to be told off for their sinful behaviour and then encourage people who need to be encouraged and spurred on in their faith.

Paul goes on to say in 2 Timothy 4:3 & 4For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

You can see this to be true in some churches where no longer to do they promote Godly relationships but take the view that “anything goes”, or indeed you have some Christians saying “as Jesus didn’t say anything about this, it must be ok.” May be Jesus didn’t make a pronouncement about a particular sin because the Jews at the time were fully aware from the Bible that it was a sin, no matter how popular it may have been in other cultures.

Or we have churches which are happy to allow other faiths to worship and pray in their buildings, buildings that are dedicated to the one true God. They allow readings from these faiths’ texts even if the passage read out denies the truth of Jesus and who he is.

What about the cathedral that during the summer installed a helter skelter in the middle of the building? Another church had a crazy golf course.

You may recall from the gospels that Jesus was appalled at what he found going on in the Temple. We read in Matthew 21;13It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.

Sadly, people inside the church and outside want to have an easy gospel, something that makes them feel good and doesn’t compel them to change. A “no repentance needed” gospel. A “business as usual” gospel. And of course, they will be preachers and teachers who will happily go along with this, never mind that they should be correcting, rebuking and encouraging.

Another quote from Hudson Taylor “Carrying the cross does mean following in Jesus’ footsteps. And in His footsteps are rejection, brokenheartedness, persecution and death. There are not two Christs – an easy going one for easy going Christians, and a suffering one for exceptional believers. There is only one Christ. Are we willing to follow His lead?

In the final verse in our passage Paul gives a simple instruction: 5 “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry”.

So, although not all of us are called to be evangelists or preachers we all have our part to play in advancing the Kingdom of God. In our conversations with people we must not give them what their itching ears want to hear but should try to give them what they need to hear which is the Word of God.

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The Great Banquet

I gave this sermon at Elm Park Baptist Church on Sunday 20 November 2022.

15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, ‘Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.’ 16 Jesus replied: ‘A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.” 18 ‘But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, “I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.” 19 >Another said, AI have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I=m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.” 20 ‘Still another said, “I have just got married, so I can=t come.” 21 ‘The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” 22 ‘ “Sir,” the servant said, “what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.” 23 ‘Then the master told his servant, “Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.” ‘

What I like about the gospels is that they record how Jesus dealt with and talked to ordinary people, how he used the everyday things of first century Palestine to explain the things of God.

It makes it so much easier to understand.

Take today’s Bible reading, about the man who had a great banquet.

How many of you here like parties?

What do you need for a good party?

‚        Food

‚        Drink

‚        Music

‚        People

The Jews and other peoples in the Middle East loved parties, wedding feasts and other celebrations. Indeed it was felt by many Jews that heaven would be like a great feast, where all the righteous people would meet at God=s table. Isaiah 25 v.6 predicts a time when Gods people will be with him “On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine- the best of meats and the finest of wines“.

There again we read of a more intimate meeting in Song of Songs 2 v.4He has taken me to the banqueting hall and his banner over me is love.” What a wonderful picture this is, that our God wants to be in a personal intimate relationship with each believer.

The New Testament talks about those who believe in Jesus meeting with him and with God our heavenly father at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. Jesus is the Lamb of God and the meeting of his people with him in heaven is like a marriage, a joyful union which will never end. In Revelation 19 v.7-9 we read “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given to her to wear. (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) Then the angel said to me Write: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb! And he added, These are the true words of God.

For many people of Jesus’ time, the greatest event in the social calendar would be a wedding in the village or town in which they lived, or perhaps to be invited to a feast or banquet of a rich and powerful man. In a land where there was just enough to live on, the thought of a vast banquet of wonderful food would have been a great dream.

When Jesus told this story he was having a meal at the house of a prominent Pharisee after the Sabbath day synagogue service. It was rather like inviting someone to Sunday lunch. The Pharisees were the religious lawyers of the day those who interpreted the bible laws and tended to make them as complicated as possible. They were very important in the eyes of most people and so to be invited to have a meal with them was usually considered a great honour and no doubt most of the town’s people would be watching to see who had been invited.

Jesus, earlier in Luke 14, had already made several comments and observations about healing on the Sabbath as well as not exalting yourself by taking the best place at the table, but rather being invited by the host to come up higher.

Years ago, my theology lecturer at Pilgrims Hall told of when he was a young Methodist minister at his first church. He invited some of the congregation back to the manse after the evening service and as they enjoyed tea and biscuits and a chat, his wife who was expecting their first child sat there knitting. Certain worthy members of the congregation were horrified that she would be knitting on the Sabbath!

As usual with the stories that Jesus told, there is more than one meaning. Bible scholars think that Jesus based this parable on a Jewish story about a newly rich man, probably a tax collector, who tried to buy favour with the aristocracy by inviting them to a banquet. The man was probably anxious, like many who make large sums of money, to show off his possessions and his newly acquired status. However those who were invited made up excuses to avoid the man and his company. So no doubt to begin with Jesus= listeners liked the story until they looked at the true meaning of the story which we will come to shortly.

So to the story which Jesus told:

There was a great banquet being prepared and the man sent out the invitations to many people. He clearly wanted many guests to come and appreciate his hospitality. Normally, this was just the sort of occasion that people would be thrilled to attend, and be quite happy to be invited. He followed the custom of the time by sending two invitations.

The first was what we would call “Save the date”. We received one last Christmas stating that our eldest son and his fiancée will be getting married in 2023. So the date is in our diary and we are so looking forward to the wedding.

The second invitation was to remind the guests that the party was now ready and to make sure that they were still coming. I do not know what the correct way of replying was in First century Palestine, but I think today we reply fairly quickly to say whether we can come or not. However, none of the guests appear to have refused the first invitation.

So when all was ready, the jellies made, the balloons blown up or whatever they did in those days, the man sent out the second invitation which more or less said “Its ready, come on round.” This was the custom at the time.

Thinking up an excuse not to go to the banquet

Surprisingly, at this point all the people invited started to make excuses and they were rather lame ones at that. All of the excuses show that the people are either more concerned with other things or quite frankly didn’t want to go but could n’t come straight out with it!

You begin to wonder if they had wanted to come in the first place. To accept the invitation beforehand and then to refuse it when the day came was a grave insult.

I’ve just bought a field and I must go and see it” Does anyone really buy a plot of land or a field without looking it over? I doubt it. However, there was a story in the news recently of a young couple who accidentally put in a bid on the wrong property at a house auction and ended up with a real wreck of a house.

I’ve just bought five yoke of oxen, and I am on my way to try them out.” I don’t suppose anyone here has ever bought even one yoke of oxen, it’s a thing we don’t tend to do in this part of the world. But I suspect it is the equivalent to a farmer today buying a tractor out of Exchange and Mart or from a card in the Newsagent’s window without seeing it or giving it a test drive before parting with the readies.

I have just got married, so I can’t come.” There is no indication in the story that this was an event just for the men, so the man is not prevented from coming.

What is the host to do?

Clearly this banquet has cost a lot of money to get ready and it would be terrible to let it all waste. He had all the right ingredients for a good evening except the most vital, people. So he gave orders to his staff to “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame“.

Well his servant did all that, yet there was still room. The host replied “Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will me full. I tell you not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.

The people who came to the banquet were the sort of people that the rich and influential had no time for and would not be seen dead with them at an important social event. Yet here they are.

I am sure that those who actually came to the banquet will have enjoyed it and appreciated it more than all the fine people who were invited and made excuses to avoid it.

We now get to the question of what is the meaning of the story?

As I said earlier, the Jews liked to think of heaven as a great banquet where all the followers of God would meet with him. However, as we know the Jews rejected Jesus, God’s son, and have hence lost the chance to come to the banquet. After all Jesus said in John 14 v.6I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

So God like the man in the story has decided that as the original guests don’t want to accept the invitation he will extend his invitation to all sorts of people, the sort that the Jews call Gentiles. Just as many people in society today look down on the unemployed, the outcasts and the homeless, so the Jews looked with loathing and disdain on all other peoples. I can imagine that when the full meaning of the story was realised by Jesus’ hearers, the Pharisees, they would not have been pleased to think that God was inviting the gentiles to share in his kingdom.

The invitation is extended to all people in the world, as the original guests don’t want to accept. God sends his servants out to every corner of the world to bring his invitation to everyone no matter who they are, regardless of what society things of them. Indeed, as in the story, the people now invited including those on the edge of society are likely to appreciate God’s forgiveness and grace and mercy more than people who have lived “nice lives” and feel that they have earned their place in heaven.

He has given the invitation to all of you, and many of you have clearly said “Yes, I would like to come to your banquet.” If you haven’t said yes, to be honest with you, you have up to your last breath to answer the reply. But I would urge you to accept it before then, because you never know when it might be too late. Please don=t make lame excuses now because they will affect your eternal future.

For those of us who have accepted the invitation, we, like the man’s servants in the story have to go out into the streets and alleys of the towns and the roads and country lanes to take the invitation to all people, so that God=s house will be full.

Lets end in prayer:

Lord God you are so gracious that you have invited us to join you in heaven at your banquet. Please help us to accept your invitation to eternal life, and then to take your invitation to others so that you house may be full. We ask this in the name of he who is the way, the life and the truth and the only way to you, our saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Get off the roof!

This is a talk I gave on 16 October 2022 at Elm Park Baptist Church.

The lady who would be reading our Bible passage asked me if it she had the correct passage as it seemed rather racy!

See for yourself:

2 Samuel 11:1 ‑ 5

1 In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem. 2 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, 3 and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “Isn’t this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” 4 Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (She had purified herself from her uncleanness.) Then she went back home. 5 The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”

Have you ever been somewhere you should not have been? And done something you shouldn’t have done?

A case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

You may regret it and say “if only I hadn’t been there, it wouldn’t have happened”.

If only one beautiful June morning in 1981 my nearly new car hadn’t suffered a cracked piston and nearly wrecked the engine, I would not have been driving my mum’s badly in need of a service Hillman Avenger on the A6 that afternoon. And I would not have over taken the annoying weaving car in front of me just as I clipped a double white line, and the keen member of the Leicestershire constabulary would not have pursued me and flagged me down in Market Harborough and have me charged for driving without due care and attention. I would not have ended up with a fine and a record! If only I hadn’t been there!

I am sure that we’ve all done things we shouldn’t have done and paid the consequences for our actions.

Let’s look this morning at a man who like us gave in to temptation. For him and the others involved it had disastrous consequences. It sounds like something out of the “soaps” but it is in the Bible. And in case you didn’t realise it, the Bible features ordinary sinful men and women. In fact, this is one of those stories that would have been featured on “Jeremy Kyle”.

David was king of Israel. Described in the Bible as a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel13:14). If you remember the story, this is the man who danced in his underwear before the Lord when the ark was brought into Jerusalem much to his wife’s horror. The writer of many of the Psalms. In Psalm 119:9 ‑ 11 he wrote “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” as well as v105Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”

A man mightily blessed by God and used by him. You could assume that such a man would know and obey God’s commands. And yet…

What went wrong?

Well, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

He should have been with his army. 2 Samuel 11:1 says “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army.” It was his job to be there even though Joab was a very capable commander. It was David as commander in chief who should have been there.

Incidentally, the last British monarch to lead his troops into battle was George II in 1743.

The army were doing what they were meant to do in the campaign, they were dealing with the Ammonites who had been trouble for many years.

 And what was their King doing? He was at home, in his palace in Jerusalem. We are not told why he was there, but we know that it didn’t seem to be anything strenuous or important that was keeping him there.

There is an old saying “The devil makes work for idle hands” but what about idle brains that are not engage as they should be?

David has clearly had a siesta and is now taking the night air, even perhaps wondering how his army is doing without him. “One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace.”

And now things take a turn for the worse. It’s bad enough that he has thrown a “sicky” or gone absent but worse is to come.

The distracted boyfriend

Some of you may have been taught the Sunday School song “Be careful little eyes what you see, be careful little feet where you tread, be careful little ears what you hear.” Its such a shame that King David didn’t know it because it could have saved a whole heap of trouble.

We read in v2From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful,” I am sure that in our lives we see people or things that are very attractive or pleasing to the eye. I believe the modern term is “eye candy”. It’s okay to admire someone or something and leave it at that. It’s when we take a second or third look and the old brain starts thinking and the imagination takes over that we can find ourselves on a very slippery slope.

Many years ago my mum Lily and her sister in law, my Aunty Doris were both widowed and went on holiday together. They passed a young man in shorts who apparently had very nice muscular legs. My Aunt turned to have a better look and promptly tripped and fell over.

It doesn’t have to just be people we look at and lust after. Some years ago one of our neighbours was a “shopaholic” and just couldn’t resist buying clothes, shoes etc. By the time the law caught up with her for obtaining money by deception and various other misdemeanours she was bankrupt owing some £38,000. Her desires had got out of control, and she paid the price for her lusting after material possessions.

So King David has seen this young woman. He could have thought “She’s nice” and left it at that.

But no!

He sends a messenger to find out about her and even the fact that she was married didn’t stop him. David himself had several wives and had inherited King Saul’s concubines and yet he wanted more. He lusted after Bathsheba, someone else’s wife. At this point any thought about God’s commandments goes out the window. After all David would have been familiar with the 10 commandments which include: Deuteronomy 5: 18 You shall not commit adultery.” and v21“You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife.

The next step is when David turns thoughts into action 2 Samuel 11:4Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her.” Before anyone thinks “Well Bathsheba should have said no to the King”. Its not that easy. Women in that culture were very much second class citizens and the king had great power and authority which the average person would not dispute. So if the king invited you to the palace you went.

It is told that Lavrentiy Beria who was head of Stalin’s secret police in Soviet Russia was at night driven around the street of Moscow looking for young women who would be brought back to his house and raped. Some survived but others were tortured, killed and buried in his wife’s rose garden. You could not and dare not resist him.

So David possibly thinks he has got away with it. But our sins, our misdeeds have a way of catching up with us or being revealed. 2 Samuel 11:5 The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.“”

Years ago I worked with Derek a young Geordie lad and like many Geordies he like a drink. When in his teens he was “home alone”, he decided to work his way through his parents’ drinks cupboard. He found he really liked his mum’s Pernod an aniseed flavoured drink. He panicked when he realised that he had drunk most of the bottle. What to do? His parents were due home shortly. He topped up the bottle with water. What he didn’t know was that Pernod a clear liquid turns cloudy when you add water. The game was up!

And indeed the game was up for David. If we read on in 2 Samuel 11 we find he tries desperate measures to hide what he had done, but Uriah the Hittite was an honourable man and would not give in to the tempting offers made by Kind David. So, in the end the King has Uriah put in the most dangerous place in the battlefield and he is killed in battle by the enemy. All to hush things up, and make them go away.

But brothers and sisters we can never get away from our sins. We can hide things from each other and try to lie and cheat our way out of trouble. We may succeed for a while but Hebrews 4:13 reminds us “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

The bottom line is whilst we think we have got away with our sins on this earth, on the day of judgement we will have to account for each and every one of them. There will be no excuses. We will know that in each and every situation we had the choice to do something or not.

All through the story of David and Bathsheba, David had choices to make. He could have said “no”. He could have got off the roof before anything happened. But no! He went with his thoughts and his feelings rather than follow God’s teachings and do what he knew was right. You could say he followed the 1960’s philosophy of “If it feels good, do it”. Or he could be following the modern day excuse for doing whatever you want with whoever you want “Love is love”

Eventually God sent the prophet Nathan to deal with David and you can read about that encounter in 2 Samuel 12. It can be difficult if God calls you to be his prophet, his spokesman and take his judgement to people. I don’t think that any of the Old testament prophets had an easy job; and today if God speaks to you to talk to someone about their life style, their sins, it is not easy.

David did repent and as he sorted his life out he wrote Psalm 51. In v2 “Wash away all my iniquity     and cleanse me from my sin.” and then v7 “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”

And for us when we sin the Bible assures us in 1 John 1 :8 & 9 “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Jesus understands about temptation but he is the only man in history not to have given in to it. Hebrews 4:14 ‑ 16 tells us “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are‑‑yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

So we can be forgiven when we sin, but it is better that when we find ourselves in a place of temptation we do what David should have done, we get off the roof.

Today lets ask God for the wisdom and the courage to not only listen to him and the Spirit’s prompting but also to obey him even when our desires and longings would have us stray into trouble. Amen.

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How do you smell?

I preached this sermon on 19 June 2022 at my home church, Becontree Avenue Baptist Church.

The Bible reading was Luke 7: 36 -50

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. 39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is–that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. 41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. 44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46s24  You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” 48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

So how do you smell?

You might be sitting saying to yourself “How dare he? I have a bath twice a year whether I need it or not!”

Or maybe you think this is not a suitable subject for a Sunday morning but the Bible talks about smells both the pleasant and the unpleasant.

Do you have a favourite smell?

For some its food being it freshly baked bread or walking past the take away. Other people love the smell of flowers or the outdoors.

It was popular some years ago for estate agents to suggest to people trying to sell their home, to have freshly baked bread in the kitchen together with a jug of freshly brewed coffee. The theory was that the prospective purchasers would feel at home as they walked around the house.

There again there are unpleasant smells and they seem to be associated with decay and death. Just think of opening the fridge having forgotten to empty it before you went on holiday! Mind you I remember that at my primary school the all-pervading smell from morning break time onwards was a strange mixture of over boiled cabbage and washing powder. Thank goodness I went home for lunch!

In parts of Asia the durian fruit is banded on public transport. Whilst it tastes really good, its smell is described as “…turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away.”

Many flowers have lovely smells such as lavender, lily of the valley, honey suckle and roses. However you certainly wouldn’t want to sniff the Corpse flower!  The flower spike is about 10 feet tall, but is smells like rotting meat and attracts flies and beetles to pollinate it.

When it comes to people have you noticed that some folk’s lives stink and they are the people who seem dishonest, corrupt, or just plain evil. 

Business and politics seem to have many questionable decisions made and actions taken, and we think “that stinks” when we hear about the dodgy deals.

Greg Venables, (a former colleague of mine who was until 2020 the Anglican Archbishop of South America) maintained that he could smell evil. He knew by the smell if someone was into the occult or witchcraft.

Let’s look at good smelling fragrances.

In the Old Testament from the earliest days, people burnt incense to God as an offering.

Indeedthe Lord instructs Moses on the ingredients to be used and how it is to be used: Exodus 30 v34Then the LORD said to Moses, “Take fragrant spices–gum resin, onycha and galbanum–and pure frankincense, all in equal amounts, and make a fragrant blend of incense, the work of a perfumer. It is to be salted and pure and sacred. Grind some of it to powder and place it in front of the Testimony in the Tent of Meeting, where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you. Do not make any incense with this formula for yourselves; consider it holy to the LORD.

The smoke from the burning incense was thought to represent the prayers of the people raising up to God. In Psalm 141 David asks God: “O LORD, I call to you; come quickly to me. Hear my voice when I call to you. May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.”

In Revelation, incense is related to the prayers of the saints:

Revelation 5 v 8And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

Revelations 8 v3Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand.”

In Bible times frankincense the main ingredient of incense was very expensive. It comes from the sap of Boswellia tree grown in the south of Saudi Arabia. It was at one time worth more than its weight in gold.

As we know, Frankincense was one of the gifts given to Jesus by the Wisemen, an acknowledgement of Jesus’ divinity.

Some churches still use incense today. The church I grew up in, was a “smells and bells” Anglican church and at least for me as a young choir boy the ritual provided some amusement such as the time the incense burner or “thurible” had been cleaned but not all the inflammable metal polish removed. In the middle of the service, it became more like a flame thrower as three-foot-high flames came out of it and threatened to set light to the robes of the man carrying it!

But we can read in the Bible that offering the incense, making the sacrifices and going through the rituals is not necessarily pleasing to God. The prophets were constantly reminding people that if their attitudes stank no amount of ritual would put them right with God whatever they may think. In Isaiah 1 v 13 – 17Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me.” Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

Let’s be honest, if we don’t bother to wash or shower and just throw some “smellies” on, people will still notice that we smell! Back in Elizabethan days people didn’t wash or bathe very often or not at all. They thought that dousing themselves in perfume would do the trick.

Maybe you remember the old TV advert for Lifebouy soap with the strap line “What your best friend won’t tell you. B O!”

In the New Testament Paul realised the futility of ritual and religious observance. They could n’t get you clean from your sin. Only coming to Jesus would clean up your life and take away the smell of sin. In Romans 7 v24 we read “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” In one ancient civilisation, a murderer’s punishment was to have the body of his dead victim tied to him so where ever he went he was reminded of his crime by not only the weight of the corpse but also the smell!

Strangely enough our sins do don’t go away simply by the passage of time. They are not biodegradable like supermarket carrier bags. They are with us like Paul’s “body of death” until we either die and face our judgement or we come to Jesus to have them dealt with.

Sadly some people don’t realise that to God they don’t smell nice. They may be at every church meeting there is, do all sorts of good works, often making sure everyone knows it, do all sorts of religious things and yet they haven’t asked Jesus to be their saviour and clean them from their sins.

There is a wonderful passage in 1 Corinthians 6:9 – 11 which not only lists the condition that many of us were in but also, thank God, gives us the cure: “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God..”

As the woman in our passage from Luke discovered it is only in coming to Jesus in repentance that we can have our sins forgiven and our lives cleaned up so that we no longer stink. And as far as God is concerned our lives have a beautiful fragrance to them just as the woman in the story released the fragrant perfume from the flask.

We do however have to remember that to those who have not come to Jesus we as Christians proclaiming the good news remind them of how they smell. In  Corinthians 2 v15 we read in the Message: “Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation – an aroma redolent with life. But those on the way to destruction treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse.

So how do you smell today?

Do you live your life for Jesus as a beautiful fragrant sacrifice? or are you like Simon the Pharisee steeped in religious rules and regulations and full of self-righteousness at the sin of others?

Do your prayers rise to God like the smoke of this incense?

Jesus is still in the business of forgiving sins and giving new life to those who are dead in their sins.

Only he can change the stench of death into the aroma of life.

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When the party’s over

This the third in a series of sermons I gave at Elm Park Baptist Church based on the Book of Daniel.

Whilst I chose Daniel 5: 1 – 9  and 25 – 31 you may find it beneficial to read the whole chapter which you can do here: Daniel 5

Many people love a party.

Indeed, some people treat life as one long party.

It’s good to enjoy good things; to eat drink and be merry.

However, you can go too far. For those of us who spent our formative years in the 1960’s there is a saying “If you remember the 60’s you weren’t there!”

As we know a party cannot go on for ever. There comes a time when it has to come to an end.

The party’s over and there will be a reckoning. This can range from the washing up to be done or a vast quantity of empties to be disposed of, to pacifying the parents when they come home or having a chat with the local police, depending what sort of party it was!

 A few months ago, in Rainham someone hired a house on Air B n B and promptly invited over 300 people for a house party. Alas the police had to come and deal with the party as it got out of hand.

When there was a change of government in 2010 the incoming chief secretary to the treasury, David Laws, found a note on his desk from the outgoing minister that said “Dear chief secretary, I’m afraid to tell you there’s no money left.”

Austerity was with us and the country’s economy was in dire straits.

As we may know from personal experience we can’t keep on spending when we have nothing left to spend.

Years ago when I was in banking, we had a customer who explained to us that his only source of income was his overdraft! He was very surprised when we said to him enough is enough. The spending party is over.

Another customer tried to clear his overdraft by writing us a cheque from his overdrawn account!

Some parties get out of hand. People drink too much alcohol or take drugs, Morals get forgotten or loosened. Things happen that shouldn’t happen.

Maybe you’ve been at parties like that? I have; and I thank God that he kept me safe.

Drink and drugs have a price for their use and the pleasure you get from them. Lives are shortened, bodies wrecked, and minds destroyed.

That is the price many people end up paying.

So lets look at the party mentioned in Daniel 5.

Belshazzar was the King of Babylon which had been the superpower in the Middle East for many years. He had inherited the kingdom from his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar who had conquered Judah and destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. He had also taken many of the Jews into exile in Babylon.

Belshazzar’s father had the unusual name of Evil-Merodach.

As we read about this huge party that Belshazzar was throwing in his palace you should know that the up-and-coming empire of the Medes and the Persians was on the march. Not only that but their army was surrounding Babylon. Babylon was a city under siege, yet the King holds a party!

His attitude seems to be like that of the old Irvine Berlin song “There may be trouble ahead but while there’s music and moonlight (moonlight and music) and love and romance Let’s face the music and dance

If only Belshazzar had remembered the lessons his grandfather had learnt, Nebuchadnezzar had been humbled by God as we read in the earlier chapters of Daniel. He is recorded as saying, in Daniel 4:37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble. “

Belshazzar however did things his way. He seems to either not know about Daniel or forgotten him. No doubt Belshazzar surrounded himself with his own advisors, many of whom didn’t know God or indeed recall just what Nebuchadnezzar had been through and how he changed.

Just look at this lavish party. There were 1000 of his nobles there. No doubt their wives etc were there also. Its quite a bash!

Many people do daft things, actions they later come to regret when they have been drinking. Belshazzar is one of those people. But perhaps he is emboldened by the wine into thinking that as King of Babylon he can do exactly what he wants.

So, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his grandfather had taken from the Temple in Jerusalem” and that as he and his guests drank from these goblets they “…praised the gods of gold, silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.”

Here is the King of Babylon drinking from the sacred cups and goblets plundered from the Temple. Not only are they being used to drink from, but Belshazzar is toasting the false gods that he and the other Babylonians worshipped.

Our God is incredibly patient with us sinful people. The Bible constantly tells us that this is true. Psalm 103 for example tells us: “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” and “he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;  as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

However, there will come a time when God will say “enough is enough”.

A few years ago, my friend Paul was in hospital having broken his leg. As was his wont, he lay in bed and prayed for the other men in his section of the ward. But as he prayed for one particular young man, Paul distinctly felt God say to him not to pray for that the young man as he was beyond saving.

Belshazzar like many people since, thinks its fun to insult God. But be assured there is a time when we have to answer for what we have done. You can’t get away with it for ever. Hebrews 4:13 we read “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account”.

For Belshazzar the time has come. It’s like the parents coming home to a teenage party in full swing. They’ve opened the door and shouted, and everything comes to a stop!

Daniel 5: 5 & 6 “Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking.

I suspect that many of us would have reacted like that. The supernatural breaking through into the natural world.

So what does Belshazzar do about this mysterious writing on the wall?

He summons the “wise men” of Babylon, the enchanters, astrologers and diviners to hear what they have to say. He even promises them a great reward to encourage them to find the answer. But they are hopeless and indeed helpless in this situation.

But don’t you find that if face of many of life’s problems and disasters people seek help and advice from the wrong places? I am saddened at the number of bereaved people who consult mediums and spiritists to see if there is a message from their loved ones.

Similarly, I am astonished at the number of Christians who consult their horoscope or fortune tellers.

Daniel 5: 8 & 9Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant. So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled.”

Here the Queen mother, Nebuchadnezzar’s widow speaks up. She seems to be the only one who remembers Daniel and suggests that he is consulted.

Belshazzar offers the same amazing reward to Daniel as he had done to the “Wise men”. But Daniel is not interested in the wealth and the power on offer. He does however tell the king the meaning of the writing on the wall.

But first of all he gives a history lesson of how Nebuchadnezzar was humbled before God and came to acknowledge that God is the one in control. Daniel then takes Belshazzar to task for the way he rules his kingdom.

Daniel 5: 22 & 23 “But you, Belshazzar, his son, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honour the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.

Daniel then translates the writing on the wall.

 Daniel 5: 26 – 28  “Here is what these words mean: Mene : God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Tekel : You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

What was Belshazzar’s reaction? Did he like his father come to his senses and acknowledge that he was a sinful man who needed God’s forgiveness?

No he didn’t! Its as if by rewarding Daniel and dressing him in purple and putting the gold chain around his neck, Belshazzar is saying “Oh that’s all it is. It’s only God’s judgement on me. Let’s carry on as if nothing has happened.”

But as the Bible tells us, and historic records confirm, the Persian army captured the city that very evening and Belshazzar died. In fact the Persians had diverted the Euphrates river away from the city and marched into the city on the river bed that went under the city walls.

The fall of Babylon was foretold 200 years before in Isaiah 44:28 – 45:7 and Jeremiah 51:57-58.

Belshazzar’s death confirmed what we read in Proverbs 6A troublemaker and a villain … who plots evil with deceit in his heart … disaster will overtake him in an instant; he will suddenly be destroyed — without remedy.

I do wonder what would have happened if Belshazzar had acted differently. Had he come to his senses and realised that he needed God’s forgiveness and mercy. Who knows?

It does us good to remember one of the fundamental laws of the universe as stated by Isaac Newton: “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”

Put it another way everything we do has a result. Every wrong action or sin has to be accounted for.

God knows our every action, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. The Bible tells us that he records our actions in his book and that is what we are judged on, unless of course we have come to faith in Jesus and our sins have been paid for by the blood of Jesus. In which case our names are in the Book of life. This is what we read in Revelation 20: 11 & 12Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.”

I am often amazed by people who think that what they have done in the past is of no consequence. After all its history, it’s in the past. But I have to tell you sin doesn’t dissolve away like a recyclable Tesco’s carrier bag with the mere passage of time. If we haven’t dealt with it, its there for all eternity. We either deal with it now or we answer for it in the court of eternity when the books are opened.

So the message for us here and indeed for everyone is that God’s mercy and forgiveness are available for everyone who acknowledges that they need it. However, for those who reject God there will surely come a time when they like Belshazzar will be weighed on the scales and found wanting. At that point there is no hope for their eternal destiny.

If you haven’t come to God through faith in Jesus, don’t leave it, because none of us know the day when the writing on the wall could be for us.

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I had a dream

This is the second of three sermons based on the Book of Daniel which i preached recently at Elm Park Baptist Church.

The Bible passage we are looking at today is Daniel 4:1 – 19.

Last time I was here we looked at Daniel 3 and how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego took a stand for God and refused to bow down to the golden statue of Nebuchadnezzar.

Today we are looking at a dream that Nebuchadnezzar had and how it came true and taught the King he needed to learn to be humble.

Nebuchadnezzar was king of Babylon. As far as the Middle East of the time was concerned, he was Number One. Babylon was the Superpower of the Age. They may not have had Weapons of Mass Destruction, but the army was virtually unstoppable. You either played the game their way or else……

Babylon had featured in history for a long time. Originally, we find it mentioned in the Bible as Babel a city founded by Nimrod who it appears was the first tyrannical ruler of the area. Due to the oppressive nature of Babylon under kings such as Nebuchadnezzar, it has come to be synonymous with despotic evil and godlessness.

Indeed, today many militant Muslims regard the USA as a modern day Babylon.

Nebuchadnezzar’s father was a man called Nabopolassar who lead a rebellion against the Assyrian empire and destroyed its capital Nineveh. The destruction of Nineveh was foretold by the prophet Nahum and just listen to the words he says about it “Everyone who hears the news about you claps their hands at your fall, for who has not felt your endless cruelty?”

Assyria had destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and deported its 10 tribes. They had gone into history and disappeared. Sadly, if the Jews thought they were free of oppression with the end of Assyria they had not counted on the new empire of Babylon.

Nebuchadnezzar continued where his father left off and conquered the former Assyrian empire. His influence extended down into Egypt. It is said amongst other things that the city of Tyre was besieged for 13 years by Nebuchadnezzar before it fell to him.

Jewish historians said of Nebuchadnezzar “He was so greatly feared that as long as he was alive no one dared laugh; and when he went down to hell the inmates trembled, asking themselves whether he would rule them also.”

The psalms record the sorrow and anguish of the exiles. Many of you will know Psalm 137 “By the rivers of Babylon we sat down; there we wept when we remembered Zion.”

Nebuchadnezzar was also interested in building up the infrastructure of his empire. Excavations in the ruins of Babylon and various other cities have found that at least 90% of the bricks and tiles recovered have the stamp of Nebuchadnezzar on them. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote in about 450BC “In addition to its size Babylon surpasses in splendour any city in the known world”. Herodotus claimed the outer walls were 56 miles in length, 80 feet thick and 320 feet high. Wide enough, he said, to allow a four-horse chariot to turn. The inner walls were “not so thick as the first, but hardly less strong.” Inside the walls were fortresses and temples containing immense statues of solid gold. Rising above the city was the famous Tower of Babel, a temple to the god Marduk, that seemed to reach to the heavens.”

Also in Babylon was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – The Hanging Gardens.

According to accounts, the gardens were built to cheer up Nebuchadnezzar’s homesick wife, Amyitis. Amyitis, daughter of the king of the Medes, was married to Nebuchadnezzar to create an alliance between the nations. The l and she came from, though, was green, rugged and mountainous, and she found the flat, sun-baked terrain of Mesopotamia depressing.  The king decided to recreate her homeland by building an artificial mountain with rooftop gardens.

It must have been a wonderful site – all these lush trees and plants in a land where it rarely rained.

You could say that Nebuchadnezzar was a self-made man who had built up the inherited family business, and like most self-made people deep down he worshipped himself. He has his own trinity: “I, myself and me”. Perhaps you know people like that. Their attitude seems to be that of the famous Frank Sinatra song “I did it my way”.

Nebuchadnezzar has had a dream and it worried him. Yet again he sends for his magicians, astrologers etc to tell him what’s what. It’s strange that throughout history rulers have consulted such people in the vain hope of keeping one step ahead of the game. In Exodus we read of Moses and Aaron confronting the court magicians and priests of Egypt. Coming into the promised land the people of Israel were warned to have nothing to do with fortune telling astrology etc; yet of course in due course they turned to all this stuff. In recent times it was known that Hitler consulted mediums, spiritists and occultic practitioners. Such people infested the White House when Ronald Regan was president, as his wife had daily horoscope readings. I understand that even Princess Diana regularly consulted such people.

Yet, Nebuchadnezzar’s advisors were useless. So, he had to send for Daniel to unravel the mystery of the dream.

What was the dream?

Nebuchadnezzar saw a huge tree which was so big it could be seen by everyone in the world. It provides shelter for birds and animals as well as food for them.

An angel proclaimed that the tree was to be cut down but the stump was to left in the field with a band of iron and bronze round it.

The angel then talks about a man who is to be left in the wild without his right mind for seven years.

Daniel has the unenviable job of explaining the dream to the king. Its not always pleasant being God’s messenger as sometimes the message is not what people want to hear even though its what they need to hear.

What does the dream mean?

The tree represents Nebuchadnezzar v22Your majesty, you are the tree, tall and strong. You have grown so great that you reach the sky and your power extends over the whole world.” No doubt at this point the king was feeling pretty pleased with himself, but here comes the sting:

v24This, then is what it means, Your Majesty, and this is what the supreme God has declared will happen to you. You will be driven away from human society and will live with wild animals. For seven years you will eat grass like an ox, and sleep in the open air, where the dew will fall on you. Then you will admit that the Supreme God controls all human kingdoms, and that he can give them to anyone he chooses. The angel ordered the stump to be left in the ground. This means that you will become king again when you acknowledge that God rules all the world. So then, Your Majesty, follow my advice. Stop sinning do what is right and be merciful to the poor. Then you will continue to be prosperous.

There was no doubt about it. Nebuchadnezzar thought he was the big cheese. But God said as far as he is concerned Nebuchadnezzar was just like the crumbs on the deli counter and could be swept away. Just like that.

Put it another way we may be big in our own eyes or even those of other people, but God can cut us down to our true size any time he wants.

It would seem that what two words come out of this story:

Pride and Rebellion.

Nebuchadnezzar thought he had done it all by himself. God had no part in it. It was his and no one else’s. When God through Daniel tells him to repent, he continues in his rebellion by completely ignoring God.

Did you know if you are not obeying God, you are in rebellion?

Do you know how seriously God takes rebellion? In 1 Samuel 15 v23 we read what the prophet Samuel had to tell another proud King, Saul: “Rebellion against him is as bad as witchcraft and arrogance is as sinful as idolatry. Because you rejected the Lord’s command, he has rejected you as King.”

Does Nebuchadnezzar take the warning and change his ways?

No; and we read from Daniel 4 v29Only twelve months later, while he was walking about on the roof of his royal palace in Babylon, he said ‘Look how great Babylon is! I built it as my capital city to display my power and might, my glory and majesty.’ Before the words were out of his mouth, a voice spoke from Heaven, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, listen to what I say! Your royal power is now taken away from you. You will be driven away from human society, live with wild animals and eat grass like an ox for seven years. Then you will acknowledge that the Supreme God has power over human kingdoms and that he can give them to anyone he chooses.’ The words came true immediately. Nebuchadnezzar was driven out of human society and ate grass like an ox. The dew fell on his body, and his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails as long as birds’ claws.”

It seems amazing that a transformation like this can happen to a person yet there is independent evidence from court records of the time preserved in the British Museum that Nebuchadnezzar did have a period of mental illness.

There is a happy ending to this story as Nebuchadnezzar comes to his senses and repents of his pride and his arrogance and is fully restored. “34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes towards heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honoured and glorified him who lives for ever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35 All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven    and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’ 36 At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honour and splendour were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisors and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before.”

In v37 he is recorded as saying “And now, I Nebuchadnezzar, praise, honour and glorify the King of Heaven. Everything he does is right and just, and he can humble anyone who acts proudly.”

What is the message for us today?

How many of us have had warnings from God and ignored them?  We think we can go on in our own sweet way, paying lip service to God, doing church on a Sunday, when all the while we are building our own little empires, our own power bases. Then suddenly we’re struck down by accident or illness. I’ve known this happen to people and they’ve got better, sometimes amazingly, and just carried on with their schemes and plots. They don’t heed the warning and eventually they will pay the price for their pride and rebellion.

Many of you will be familiar with the words of the Magnificat or the Song of Mary in Luke 1 “He has stretched out his mighty arm and scattered the proud with all their plans. He has brought down mighty kings from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands.

For the rest of us this passage is a warning to remember who should be on the throne of our lives. If we do not let Jesus rule in our lives, we are in rebellion against the Lord and must expect the consequences. If we repent and give up control of our lives to Jesus, we can have peace with God and the promise of eternal life.

The choice is yours:

You can do a Frank Sinatra and “do it my way” or you can repent and seek to obey God and do it his way.

Who is on your throne?




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Into the fire

I recently preached at Elm Park Baptist Church a series of three sermons based on the Book of Daniel.

This is the first in the series and deals with an incident in Daniel 3. You may wish to read the chapter before you read my thoughts below:

Nebuchadnezzar was a powerful man. He was the second ruler of the Babylonian empire which he inherited from his father Nabopolassar who died in 605BC. He ruled for 43 years.

Babylon was the world power of its day. The empire had swallowed up many of the surrounding countries including the previously mighty Assyrian empire as well as parts of Egypt.

Assyria had previously conquered Israel which comprised 10 of the 12 tribes of the Jewish people. They were taken away into exile and never seen again. God through his prophets warned the Jews in Israel what would happen if they carried on ignoring him and worshipping false gods. They ignored the warnings and brought judgement upon themselves.

The little country of Judah which was made up of the other two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, had been attacked and overwhelmed by the Babylonians. Its capital city Jerusalem had been sacked and the temple wrecked. Many of Judah’s richest and brightest people had been taken into Babylon. The Babylonian empire was into asset stripping in a big way. They had even stripped out all the treasures of the temple and brought them back to Babylon. We will be mentioning this in a later talk.

The kings of Judah had repeatedly failed to listen to God who spoke to them through the prophets. They were warned again and again what would happen but they wouldn’t listen to God and chose to go their own way and brought the ruin of the country on themselves.

Daniel was one of the bright young men who was brought into the Babylonian civil service to help run the empire.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were friends and colleagues of Daniel and worked in administering the vast empire. They were like Daniel devout Jews, And this would be the cause of a major problem.

In Daniel 1 we read that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had refused to eat the meat given to them because it had been offered to the false gods of the Babylonians. So they became vegetarians and were fitter and healthier than the local lads and even brighter than .

As I said earlier Nebuchadnezzar was a powerful man and he seems to have been vain as well. Many tyrants adopt a cult of personality or have it suggested to them by their advisors / supporters.

Just look at the adulation and adoration given to many rulers. In North Korea the Kim dynasty are revered as if they were gods despite what they have actually done to the country. Anyone who dissents, especially Christians are punished most severely. In the North Korean capital there are huge bronze statues of the Kims which are photographed with adoring Korean’s kneeling before them.

So Nebuchadnezzar has built an enormous 90 foot high statue of himself. It must have cost a fortune as we are told it was made of gold. In all probability, it had a wooden core and was covered in gold. Even so it would have been very expensive.

All the leaders and dignitaries of the empire are summonsed to stand in front of the statue, and this is what we are told happened: Daniel 3:4 – 6Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”“

So the music plays and everyone bows down in worship.

Well, not everyone. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego just stand there.

You get the feeling that Jews were not popular people. After all they are a conquered race, they are immigrants (even though they had been forcibly brought to the country) and they do not worship the gods of the Babylonians.

And, just as there was always that one kid in primary school who tried to ingratiate themselves with the teacher by telling tales, here are the astrologers telling on our heroes. Possibly they are jealous of the men’s ability and success. Maybe it was racial prejudice, we are Babylonians they are Jews!  For whatever reason the astrologers decide this matter must be brought to the emperor’s attention.

Daniel 3:12there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Understandably the great man is furious. He has been disrespected. He has not been worshipped as he wanted. His pride has been hurt. He wants and demands to be treated as a god. However he does interview the three men to make sure it is true and not just the astrologers telling tales and making up stories to get the Jews into trouble.

Daniel 3:13 – 15Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, ‘Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?’”

Faced with such a threat many may have said “It’s only a statue, I can bow to that and then get on with my life”. Or, “I had better bow to the statue as I want to keep my job”. However Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, cannot compromise. They would have known the commandments given to the Jews through Moses when they were on the way to the Promised land:

Exodus 20:2 – 6 2 ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3 ‘You shall have no other gods besides me. 4 ‘You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

We get faced in our lives with who do we bow down to?  Who do we worship? Who do we obey?

The recent decision in the US Supreme Court in “Rowe v Wade” has launched a virulent tirade of threats and abuse not only against those judges who made the decision but also anyone who dares to agree with it. Never mind the sanctity of human life or mourning over the 64 million babies in the USA who have had life taken from them. It seems that people who will not bow down to the god of abortion are threatened with dire consequences for daring to follow what God says in the Bible.

Well, our heroes decide that they are not going to bow down to an idol. This is what we read “16 …., “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

The King feels he has no choice but to throw the men into the furnace which we are told was heated up seven times hotter than usual. The furnace was no doubt still in use following the making of the huge statue. Gold melts at 1064̊C so it must have been quite an undertaking using only wood or charcoal to get that furnace hot enough. So maybe the seven times hotter is an exaggeration and means as hot as you can get it.

In any case it was so hot that the soldiers who bound Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and threw them into the furnace died from the heat.

And so we expect to see our heroes quickly consumed by the fire. But God has other plans and we read: “24 Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” They replied, “Certainly, Your Majesty.” 25 He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” 26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!””.

How amazing Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are walking around in the furnace unharmed. The fire has not touched them. And there is someone else with them!

They come out of the furnace and Nebuchadnezzar recognises that this is a miracle and that God has saved them.

The three men are unharmed and completely untouched by the fire. They don’t even smell of smoke!

Nebuchadnezzar even praises God and promises protection to the Jews: Daniel 3:28 & 29Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. 29 Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.’

And our three heroes get promoted by Nebuchadnezzar.

So what about us?

We are all faced with situations where we have to make that uncomfortable decision. “Do I stand for God, or do I go with the flow?”

Many years ago, when I was in banking, my branch manager suggested that my career would go much better if only I joined the a certain organisation. I told him that as far as I was concerned, as a Christian, I could not join that organisation. He was a church goer but I don’t think he was a Christian even though he was a church treasurer. My career came to a dead halt. I would get sideways moves but never again was I promoted. I recall talking this through with one of the ministers at my church who simply said that I may never know what God has saved me from by not being promoted.

It can be costly taking a stand for God, but we have God’s promises and reassurances throughout the Bible that he will never leave us or forsake us.

You make recall I read out some words from Isaiah at the start of the service which reinforces God’s love and support for us as we go through difficult and trying times:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour;

So when we are in a place of trial like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego found themselves all those years ago, lets hold on to God with whatever strength we have, confident that we are precious to him and he will save us.

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Who writes in your diary?

Today for the first time since the global pandemic struck, I was able to accept an invitation to preach at another church.

I was at Elm Park Baptist Church which is in a “Pastoral Vacancy”, in other words their pastor has moved on and they are in the process of looking for a new minister to lead them.

I preached on the subject of “Who writes in your diary?” and we looked at the interaction that Phillip had with an Ethiopian on the desert road to Gaza.

The reading came from Acts 8: 26 – 40:

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road–the desert road–that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” 30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. 31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.” 34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and travelled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

Before I begin to unpack this passage I would just ask if you are the sort of people who check out what the preacher says or do you just go with whatever is said? I always invite people to talk to me if they disagree with what I say. However in the fourteen years I was a Church of England lay preacher, I only had two people respond to my challenge. One non believing church goer couldn’t understand why Christians and Muslims have nothing spiritually in common. The other lady demanded to know why different words had been used for her favourite carol at the previous week’s carol service!

I contrast these people with young Daryl at Becontree Avenue. He is eight years old. As I preach you see him looking up the various Bible references to make sure I am telling it how it is.

Let me ask you a question: “Who writes in your diary?” “Who sets your agenda?”

When we are at school we have a timetable which tells us what lessons we will be having and when. When our sons were in secondary school they had a school diary in which amongst other things they would write when homework is due to be handed in.

For us adults we often have appointments and meetings made for us, say hospital visits or a check up at the dentist and so on.

As a self employed man I make most of the appointments in my diary as people need my services.
But in all our busyness and our meetings and schedules, does God get a chance to put his arrangements in your diary?

Lets have a look at a man who let God have his diary and organise his agenda. This man was called Phillip.

Firstly some background. Phillip was one of the seven men chosen by the early church to take on some of the administrative and pastoral work that had been overwhelming the apostles. Acts 6 v 3 – 7 says: “ Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

Sadly as we know soon after this came the arrest and stoning of Stephen followed by a great persecution of the church. Many fled Jerusalem and of course they spread the gospel wherever they went. I just wonder if these folk would have gone out of Jerusalem if the Lord had not allowed this persecution to take place? After all we all like our comfort zones.

I have to say that had the awful events not occurred in our church some 16 years ago, we would not have moved on. But the Lord called us out of that terrible situation to a place where he had already prepared a welcome for us. Initially at Wood Lane Baptist Church and then Becontree Avenue Baptist Church.

Phillip ends up in a city in Samaria. Some translations state it is the old city of Samaria which was originally known as Shechem but is now known as Nablus. It is of course often in the news as the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians continues.

However Phillip proclaims the good news of Jesus as we find at the start of Acts 8 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city. Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is the divine power known as the Great Power.” They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.

So the gospel was being preached and accompanied by signs and wonders and many were being saved. I don’t know how you would feel if that was you in Samaria and God was using you like that to bring salvation to so many people. I once heard a Chinese pastor, Brother Yun whose story you can read in the book “The Heavenly Man”, speaking about how 375,000 came to faith in one city in China. Just imagine the logistics of baptising that many people and then teaching and discipling them! We rejoice when we have one person come to faith, but how would we cope with that many?

In the middle of all this work, Phillip hears from God. Its probably not what he wanted to hear, given that he had fled Jerusalem and had now settled in Samaria where he was doing very nicely. But here is this command from God “Go south to the road–the desert road–that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.”

Phillip does as he is told. It would appear he didn’t argue with God or even query as to who was going to lead the church in his absence. Being a busy church leader his diary would have been full of meetings, committees and everything else that seems to fill our days.

Or perhaps Philip might have used the argument I heard once say “God called me to minister here and that’s where I am staying.” This of course doesn’t leave room for the thought that things change and that God not only appoints people but he dismisses them, and moves them on to minister elsewhere.

But all we are told is that Philip just goes. We don’t know what he thought as he trudged along that desert road. It was probably about 30 miles from Samaria to Jerusalem and then about another 50 to Gaza. It’s a bit like God telling you to go to Chelmsford as he wants you on the A12 going to Ipswich. You may agree as long as you can go by car, but walking in that heat?

Its not even evident what he is to do on the desert road. No mission plan, no support team with him maybe not even time to get the usual prayer letter and press release out. Just him and God and no idea why he is going there. How many of us are willing to step out in faith like that?

So Philip discovers why he was on that lonely desert road when along comes the Ethiopian finance minister in his official chariot. What an opportunity! The man is reading scripture, the prophet Isaiah, and is struggling to understand it, and here suddenly is someone who can help him. Phillip seizes the initiative and presents the Ethiopian with the gospel. It seems that this man is thirsty for God and he readily accepts what Phillip has to say.

At this point I want to ask: How well do you know your Bible? Could you have answered the Ethiopian’s questions? I am often surprised at people’s lack of Bible knowledge. Some years ago a fellow counsellor was telling me that she had had a series of clients from a locally well known church which had a reputation for teaching and Bible study. Yet her clients, supposedly mature Christians needed to be taught the basics of the faith before she could counsel them.

Towards the end of my time in the Church of England, I ran a daytime Bible study group. One of the members was an elderly lady who had been in the church for many years and was head of the Mothers Union. We were talking about knowing Bible verses by heart and various members contributed. When it came to her turn, she said the only verse she knew from the Bible was “They say you are nearer to God in a garden”! Which i understand is actually a quote from a Victorian poem.

Incidentally knowing your bible inside out just proves you know your bible. It doesn’t prove that you have been born again and have a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Just remember that the Gospels tell us that the devil quoted scripture at Jesus to lead him astray.

Philip however knows his stuff and the Ethiopian is convinced and wants to do something about it. He says “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” Incidentally, some Bible scholars think that the place where this baptism took place was at the brook where David picked up the stones used to defeat Goliath. Fortunately Phillip was a man of the Word and the Spirit and baptised the man. There are unfortunately people who would have to apply “man made” rules and regulations to the situation. I can’t baptise you straight away as you need to go on an “Alpha course”, or “Christianity explained” or you need to come to church for the next six months and then we will think about it! Or we have to make sure you can behave properly before we let you in the club.

Phillip isn’t phased by the fact this man is not a Jew but a foreigner and as a eunuch he could never have been a Jew as he was physically imperfect. But we know that the good news of Jesus is for all men and women irrespective of racial origin or any imperfections.

So the Ethiopian is baptised and goes home rejoicing. Tradition has it that this man started the Coptic church in Ethiopia which is still flourishing 2000 years later.

Philip however is directed by the Holy Spirit to move on as his work here has finished. He goes to Azotus and then onto Caesarea where incidently according to Acts he stays for the next 20 years.

As we can see our actions can have far reaching consequences. Through the obedience of Phillip, the gospel is taken to Ethiopia and many people are brought to salvation.

So who sets your agenda?

If God speaks to you do you listen and obey? Or is your life so full of stuff that you can’t possible reschedule your life to include God in the agenda? Paul reminds us in 2 Timothy 4:2 that we should “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.”

Maybe God has big important appointments for us as he had for Philip. Or maybe its something smaller even to stopping to chat with the girl who serves you coffee in the Motorway services as she is obviously having a very bad day. Perhaps no one has said a kind word to her all day.

Or often there are old folk no one has spoken at all that day, unless you do it! Many older folk have not met with Jesus and don’t know him, and let’s be honest here, none of us know if we have a tomorrow. So for the unsaved every second is vital. If they are going to be saved it’s down to us. I conducted some 370 funeral services last year and only in a handful could I feel that they had a faith in Jesus. So I had arrived too late for them, but I always pray that I can plant seeds in the lives of those who attend the funeral.

When we were in Cornwall several years ago, I preached at TubeStation one of my favourite churches, on a similar theme and after the service Tim came and talked with me. He had been out to Zimbabwe on business and had met amongst other folk a pastor. A few months later he flew into Zimbabwe again and as he came out of the airport, he felt that God told him to go and see the pastor. His driver agreed to take him on the three hour journey through the bush. When Tim arrived, the pastor threw his arms around Tim and wept. He had been in such a state of despair that morning he had prayed that the Lord would send a Christian brother to pray with him. And there was Tim!

It’s about being in tune with the Holy Spirit’s prompting and going when and where he says.

So lets pray that the Holy Spirit will give us the sensitively to listen to his prompting and the courage to step out in faith when he asks us. Amen.

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Its been a long time since I have been invited to preach, mainly due to the restrictions placed on places of worship because of the Covid-19 pandemic. However back in May I did produce one short online service for my home church – Becontree Avenue Baptist Church, as our pastor was dealing with a pastoral emergency which tied her up for several days. I may well publish that talk on this blog in due course.

So this Sunday I preached at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church but sadly had to announce that our church building would be closing in accordance with the latest lockdown coming into force on Thursday 5th November.

Sunday was All Saints Day so I talked about Heaven and of course about saints.

Revelation 7:9 – 17

9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” 11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, 12 saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” 13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?” I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. 16 ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,’ nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’

This time of year we get bombarded with Halloween. In previous years I have had children either unaccompanied or with their parents, dressed as witches, orges, zombies and all sorts of evil looking creatures knock at my door. They seem amazed that I don’t do “trick or treat”.

The shops are full of evil masks, witches outfits, etc and of course pumpkins to make into lanterns.

People delight in telling scary stories about ghosts and demons and the like.
Many people have a fascination about the occult and the spiritually bad.

Frankly I have had to deal with all this stuff before and help people who have got caught up with it.

So I’m not going to talk about that stuff because as Christians we should be more concerned about Heaven than Hell.

Lots of people have strange ideas about heaven.

You know the sort of thing:

Sitting around on a cloud playing a harp and wearing a white dress.

Other folk believe the myth that when you die you become an angel. Angels are quite different. They are God’s servants. Some are messengers like Gabriel who spoke to Mary


and told her she was to have a baby called Jesus. Other angels are God’s warriors. In Revelation12:7 & 8 we read: “And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven.” and Matthew 26:53Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?

Or people tell me that all their favourite relatives and friends will naturally be there no matter how villainous they were, and irrespectiive of their lack of faith in Jesus.

Rowan Atkinson’s character Blackadder in one episode, when he had been appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, described heaven as being for those who liked talking to God and watering pot plants.

So what will heaven be like?

Very quickly lets look at a few verses in John14:1 -6In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Jesus described heaven as his Father’s house. It’s home for those who are in God’s family. And you know how good it is to get home after a bad day at school or work or a long tiring journey or after a stay in hospital. The old Victorian song used to say “there’s no place like home” And Jesus says to us, he is the way home so we are to follow him as he has got our room ready and waiting for us.

Jewish tradition said it would be like a never ending banquet – an amazing feast which you never have to leave. A bit like the “all you eat buffet” at the Chinaman restaurant or Pizza Hut but so much better and you don’t have to pay!

Here in the Book of the Revelation its likened to a wedding feast. Weddings are normally happy occasions and people celebrate as we read in Revelation 19: 6 – 8Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)

Who are the saints?

Are they just those special people the church has recognised as being of special note? If you like, holy celebrities.

The Bible tells us that if we believe and trust in Jesus then we are saints. This is how Paul addresses the believers in Rome: Romans 1:7 says “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

There are some 42 references to saints in the New Testament and each time they refer to all believers not just special ones. Though it is right to remember and thank God for those men and women who give us good examples to follow in our walk of faith. We naturally think of the disciples and men like St Francis of Assisi, a man of peace, or England’s first recorded martyr St Alban. But how about more recent examples such as Maximilian Kolbe a Polish monk who died in a Nazi concentration camp to save a young Jewish man’s life?

We may not all be called to die for our faith or face persecution and we may think that no one notices what we do but God sees how we live our lives. He knows.

So how many people will there be in heaven? The Jehovah Witnesses will tell you only 144,000 but in truth the Bible says it’s many more. Revelation 7:9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.


There are some very dark goings on in the world and some folk seem to enjoy the dark side of things and so celebrate Halloween and the sinister side of life. The only way to get rid of the dark is to bring light. Jesus called himself the light of the world and as his followers we are called to bring the light of Jesus into every situation we face.

Philippians 2:15 says: “so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.”

So a chorus I would have liked to have sung this morning would have reminded us that even if we are what we think is only a little light we can push the darkness away as we live our lives for Jesus.

Jesus bids us shine, With a pure, clear light, Like a little candle, Burning in the night In this world of darkness, So let us shine– You in your small corner, And I in mine.

As a little reminder of being a light for Jesus you should find in your pew a glowstick. Take it home and light it up after dark. Some of them may well shine all night.

In many parts of the church throughout the world, today is known as All Saints Day and is a day when we give thanks to God for all Christians. So if you are a Christian, today is your day!!

There is a very special book mention in Revelation. Its called the “Lamb’s book of life”.

God's Plan Of Salvation » Godsgrazingfield - Jesus Is My ...

It’s Jesus’ address book with the names of all the believers in it. So if you have turned your back on your old life (that’s called repentance) and asked forgiveness for what you’ve done wrong and Jesus has wiped the slate clean, then you’re in his book. Not only that but you’re on the invitation list to the amazing feast in heaven.

This is what it says in Revelation 21:27Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”

So entry into heaven is strictly invitation only and if you have chosen not to be on the list you don’t get in.

To summarise:
Heaven is an amazing place where there is plenty of room for all who accept Jesus’ invitation and we have the assurance that not only does he show us the way home but he’s got everything ready for when we arrive. Amen.

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Escape to Egypt

This morning I was at Nelmes United Reformed Church in Hornchurch where they use the Revised Common Lectionary which sets out Bible readings on a weekly basis over the course of the church’s year starting on Advent Sunday. The readings for this week can be found here.

The passage I used today was Matthew 2:13 – 23:

13 After they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph and said, “Herod will be looking for the child in order to kill him. So get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you to leave.” 14 Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and left during the night for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until Herod died. This was done to make come true what the Lord had said through the prophet, “I called my Son out of Egypt.”
16 When Herod realized that the visitors from the East had tricked him, he was furious. He gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its neighbourhood who were two years old and younger – this was done in accordance with what he had learned from the visitors about the time when the star had appeared. 17 In this way what the prophet Jeremiah had said came true:
18 “A sound is heard in Ramah, the sound of bitter weeping. Rachel is crying for her children; she refuses to be comforted, for they are dead.” 19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go back to the land of Israel, because those who tried to kill the child are dead.” 21 So Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went back to Israel. 22 But when Joseph heard that Archelaus had succeeded his father Herod as king of Judea, he was afraid to go there. He was given more instructions in a dream, so he went to the province of Galilee 23 and made his home in a town named Nazareth. And so what the prophets had said came true: “He will be called a Nazarene.”

This time of year, many people enjoy going to the pantomime, with its mixture of heroes and villains and audience participation with shouts of “behind you” and “Oh no his not”.

We love to cheer the heroes and boo the villains. With a pantomime, no matter how bad things seem the hero always wins and the villain is always vanquished.

Well, our Bible passage has its own heroes and a villain. Its also packed full of references to the old testament prophets as Matthew’s gospel was written to convince his Jewish readers that Jesus was the Messiah and he fulfilled all the prophecies about his coming.

Although the we can all “boo” and “hiss” at Herod, the real villain behind it all is Satan, the devil who is desperate for the baby Jesus to be killed.

Herod is really a nasty piece of work.

Herod, who liked to be titled “Herod the Great”,  was King of the Jews, but was not a Jew. Neither was he a particularly nice man.

His family had come from Idumea in the south and had been forcibly converted to Judaism when the area was conquered by the Jews in about 125 BC. He was nominally of the Jewish faith, as some modern day politicians are seen to go to church and then promote and vote for obviously non biblical laws.

It suited his purposes to be thought of as a Jew, which is probably why he had the temple rebuilt on such a lavish scale.

He was king only because he enjoyed the support of the Roman Emperor. It was with the support of Roman troops that he had conquered Judea in 37 BC. He was a puppet king allowed to rule on the understanding that there was no trouble.

He was ruthless, having murdered his wife, three sons, mother in law, brother in law, uncle and many others. He had a network of spies through out the land to keep him informed of possible trouble. His troops were foreign mercenaries and his advisers mainly Greeks.

The first century Jewish historian Josephus wrote an extensive portrayal of Herod whom he describes as both an astute politician and an oppressive tyrant. Whilst Josephus doesn’t mention the murder of the children in Bethlehem, it is probably because in size it was one of Herod’s less spectacular crimes.

He was unpopular with the traditional Jews, as they upheld the law and remembered the warning in Deuteronomy 17 v.14 & 15When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say ‘Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us’, be sure to appoint over you the king the LORD your God chooses. He must be from among your own brothers. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite.

So what about the heroes?

Joseph is an unlikely hero.

A young man, although we don’t know his age. In fact we don’t know a lot about him, apart from the fact that he is a carpenter. As trades used to be passed down from Father to son it is likely that his father had been a carpenter.

However what we do know is his ancestry all the way back to Abraham as detailed in Matthew 1. The Jews were very keen on genealogy hence throughout the Bible we are given information about a person’s parents, grand parents etc.

So we know that Joseph was a genuine descendant of Abraham as well as being descended from King David.

Not only is Joseph a Jew by inheritance but he is also a man of God. A man who listens to God’s prompting and obeys him.

Life had been fairly simple for Jospeh. He had a steady job and was betrothed to Mary. They had been looking forward to getting married to her and setting up their new home.
But life never goes to plan, at least not to our plans.

Mary is our other hero. A young girl who had been looking forward to marrying Joseph and when, no doubt, the time was right having a family.

However God had other plans for this young couple.

We read in Luke 1 how Mary was visited by the Angel Gabriel to tell her that she is to by the mother of a special baby, no other than Jesus, the son of God. Mary accepts this even though she wonders how this going to happen as she was not as people say nowadays “sexually active”. Gabriel says that this will be through the power of the Holy Spirit and is a parallel to how the Holy Spirit brought life to the earth in Genesis 1:1 & 2.

Joseph and Mary marry and then with the baby due anytime they had to travel south from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census which happened when Quirinius was governor of Syria. The province of Syria included all of Palestine and a vast area to the North East of Palestine.

Thus Joseph and Mary arrive in Bethlehem which as the Old testament prophets predicted would be where the Messiah would be born.

And Jesus was born, we are told, in a stable as there was no room in the inn.

His first visitors were the local shepherds who had been alerted to the birth of Jesus by a choir of angels.

Joseph and Mary stay in Bethlehem although 40 days after the birth of Jesus they make a trip to the Temple in Jerusalem so that Jesus can be presented before the Lord as the law required. Here they are greeted by two prophets Simeon and Anna, who were overjoyed to meet the baby Jesus. You would have thought that news of the Messiah would have spread from the Temple but it appears not because when the wisemen arrive in Jerusalem no one in authority has a clue about the baby they are seeking.

Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus return to Bethlehem and stay there for some time. We are not told why, when their actual home is in Nazareth.

Three KingsHowever the wisemen arrive, having first stopped at Jerusalem. After all the royal palace is where you would expect to find a new born prince.

Wily King Herod sends the wisemen to Bethlehem and asks them to come back and tell him where to find the baby so that he also may go and “worship the Messiah”.

Isn’t it interesting that none of the scribes or the priests want to go with the wisemen? They have been waiting for God to send the Messiah for hundreds of years and yet not one of them says “I’ll go with you to check this out”. Did they really want the Messiah to come, or were they hopeful that they could continue with “business as usual”?

The wisemen arrive at Bethlehem and bow before Jesus and present him with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The gifts were probably worth a king’s ransom. Frankincense was said to cost more than gold. We do not know the quantities involved but in 2 kings 5:5 we read that Naaman the Leper took with him as a gift to Elisha the prophet: “So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing.” the 6000 shekels of gold would weigh about 68 kilograms or 10 ½ stone!

But what we can be sure of is that the wisemen’s gifts helped the family stay financially afloat, let along the thought that myrrh can be used as an antiseptic and an analgesic, a useful medicine to have.

The wisemen warned by God in a dream leave Bethlehem and return home avoiding Jerusalem. They have played their part and leave the stage. Whether they spread the good news of the birth of Jesus in their home country we do not know.

What we do know is that when Herod realises the wisemen have done a runner he is not at all happy. He is angry, he is frightened, he is also threatened by this child, a claimant for his throne. And so he decides to take drastic action. He will kill the child and just to make sure he will kill every boy child of two years and under in the Bethlehem district. He sends out his soldiers to carry out the grizzly task. I do wonder how the soldiers felt carry out these executions? Or were they just obeying orders? Perhaps they knew if they didn’t do it, they would be killed.

It’s not know how many children died. Some commentators think less than 50, and given the violence inflicted on the population by Herod its hardly surprising that this massacre is not specifically recorded.

Fortunately Joseph also has a dream from God and flees with Mary and Jesus into Egypt and safety. These weren’t economic migrants as some folk will tell us, but they were genuine refugees fleeing for their lives. They were in grave danger.

At our church we were recently supporting a young couple who had fled Iran. He had been in prison for a year and she had spent a month in prison. Their crime: being Christians in a muslim country. Sadly the Home Office found it hard to believe their story, thinking they were economic migrants.

The family stay in Egypt until Herod is dead and the danger is over.

One hundred miles in a direct line from Bethlehem would carry Joseph well over the border of Egypt. Two hundred miles would bring him to the river Nile. In Egypt he would find friends, possibly acquaintances. There were at that time about one million Jews in the Nile valley. In Alexandria, a city of 300,000,from one-fifth to two-fifths of the population were Jews, two of the five wards being given over to them; and the Talmud describes how, in its great synagogue, all the men of like craft or trade sat together. Thus Joseph might there find fellow-craftsmen, as did Paul in Corinth ( Acts 18:3 ).

Some commentators state that the family was not in Egypt for long before Herod died at age 70 in the 37th year of his reign. Joseph again hears from God, this time that it is safe to return to Israel.

However, when Joseph heard that Archelaus had succeeded his father Herod as king of Judea, Joseph was afraid to go there. By his last will and testament Herod divided his kingdom among three of his sons, Archelaus, Antipas and Philip. The Roman emperor Augustus Caesar consented to the provision of this will. Each of these sons bore the name of Herod, like their father.

But in the very beginning of his reign Archelaus massacred three thousand Jews at once, in the temple, at the time of the Passover, because they called for justice upon the agents who performed the barbarities of his father’s reign. Not long after this a solemn embassy of the Jews went to Rome, and petitioned Augustus to remove Archelaus, and make his kingdom a Roman province. After a reign of nine years, Archelaus was banished to Vienne, in Gaul, where he died in A.D. 6. After him Judea had no more native kings, and as prophesied in Scripture the sceptre departed from Judah. The land became a Roman province. Perhaps the governor who we know most about was Pontius Pilate.

Joseph, Mary and Jesus returned to Nazareth where Jesus was to spend his formative years. So Jesus became a resident of Nazareth, a Nazarene. Nazareth was a despised place as we read in John 1: 46:“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.”

So we can see in this passage God’s wonderful provision for Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus. We see how God uses people who believe in him, as well as those who don’t believe, to fulfil his purposes.

Let us pray that God will speak to us and we will listen to his voice and allow ourselves to be used to fulfil his purposes and spread the good news of Jesus Christ wherever we go. Amen.



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