It will all end in tears

On 7 August I preached at my home church, Becontree Avenue Baptist Church in Dagenham.

I chose to preach from 1 Samuel 8: 3 – 22 which deals with the time when Israel wanted to have a king. Prior to that Israel had been led by the Judges who followed on from Moses and Joshua.

The passage I chose is rather long and can be found here.

I think that if we are honest at sometime we’ve all wanted what someone else has got.

As small children it may be a toy that a friend or a sibling has been playing with. Or you see another child with an ice cream and you think I’d really like that.

As we grow up it becomes “I’ve got to have a PlayStation or an Xbox.” “Mum can I buy Grand Theft Auto? I know its rated 18 but all the boys at school are playing it and they’re only 10”.

As a parent I know how mean I must have seen, saying no to numerous requests from my sons.

I am sure its  the same with girls and fashion and make up. “But mum all the girls are wearing it…..”

“Everyone’s going to the party. Why can’t I go?”

The trouble is, as children we do not always know what is good for us, or indeed what is bad for us. But that is also true for us adults.

I used to love a pizza. But since I became lactose intolerant I know that the brief enjoyment of pizza would be followed by hours of discomfort, to say the least.

Similarly since early childhood, I have had a nut allergy. And I know that I dare not go anywhere near brazil nuts or walnuts or pecan nuts. Carrot cake is absolutely wonderful except for me. I could land up in hospital seriously ill because of the walnuts it contains.

So what is ok for some people is not okay for me.

A wise loving parent will do whatever they can to keep their children safe from danger even if the children don’t appreciate it.

Sometimes we are persistent in our requests for certain things. And maybe the parent reluctantly gives in, though often with the comment “It will all end in tears”.

So lets have a look at what is happening in our Bible reading.

The Jews were God’s special people. They were a unique nation. They had made an  agreement with God. He will be their God and they would be his people, They would have no other god but him. He would lead them and they would follow.

However whilst God is faithful and kept his word, his people were not always  faithful. And if you read the book of Judges you will find how the Jews kept going their own way, till they got into serious trouble. Then they would come running back to God for help.

They really didn’t learn. In fact it took 70 years exile in Babylon to cure the Jews of their desire to go and follow false gods and idols.

The people of Israel didn’t have a king. They were led by God who spoke to them through the judges and the prophets. They were a theocracy.

However all the surrounding countries had kings and the Israelites didn’t. They didn’t like being different. They wanted to be like the other countries and have a king.  In my minds eye I have a picture of Israel being a little child whining and complaining “It’s not fair!” as children often do when they feel they are missing out on something everyone else has got.

The trouble was that most kings of that time were absolute rulers. Many were not nice people and some thought they should be worshipped as if they were gods. You can read through the book of Genesis to see examples of how kings treated their subjects, or you can read in Exodus about the Pharaoh who had to deal with Moses.

This is what Samuel told the Israelites would happen if they had a king, 1 Samuel 8:11 – 17:

11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plough his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.

In other words it will cost you dearly to have a king. We can see that today in many countries where the rulers claim the wealth of the country as their own and spend it on lavish projects or stash billions of pounds away into Swiss bank accounts whilst they people suffer and starve.

But the people don’t take on board the warning given by God. They want a king. In 1 Samuel 8:19 & 20 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

Finally God allows the people to have their king. Sometimes, the only way people learn is through their own mistakes. We can all be so stubborn that, we hear what we want to hear, and read what we want to read, and we insist on getting our way like some child with the “terrible twos”.

The first King of Israel was a man called Saul. He was to start with quite a good king and he listened to the prophet Samuel who told him what God was saying.

But the power of being king got to him. It has been said by 1st Baron Acton that “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” .

We read of Saul not wanting to wait for Samuel to arrive before a battle and offering the sacrifice to God himself, despite knowing that was wrong.

Saul and his army had to fight some really horrible people called the Amalekites and God had instructed that everything the Amalekites owned was to be destroyed. The Amalekites had been attacking Israel ever since the people came out of Egypt several hundred years previously. But Saul decided to save the best sheep and cattle for himself. He also had built a monument in his own honour, to commemorate his victory over the Amalekites. When Samuel catches up with Saul, he is assured that everything has been destroyed 1 Samuel 15: 13 & 14 “When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.”  But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”

God declared that he had had enough of Saul and later told Samuel to appoint another King. In due course David became king and we will talk about him next week.

To be honest David was the best king that Israel had.

Solomon, David’s son,  is described in the Bible as the wisest man who ever lived. Sadly in his later years he lost his way, marrying foreign wives who brought with them their foreign gods. Solomon even built temple to these false gods.

After Solomon, Israel split into two kingdoms, the northern kingdom was called Israel and the southern kingdom was known as Judah and comprised only two of the 12 tribes: Judah and Benjamin.

As time went on we read in the Bible that with a few exceptions the kings of both kingdoms got worse and worse. They worshipped false gods and idols and ignored God’s prophets. In fact they often killed the prophets because they didn’t want to hear what God had to say.

The kings made alliances with other countries who proved to be untrustworthy and the two kingdoms got into all sorts of troubles.

The Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians who took away all the people and sent them to other countries never to be seen again.

Judah was over run later by the Babylonians who destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem and took away many people to Babylon where they stayed for 70 years before being allowed back to their country by the Persian empire who had attacked and conquered the Babylonians.

God had warned the Israelites what would happen if they had a King. They only had themselves to blame.

How often do we ask for things that won’t be in our best interests?

A long time ago when I was in the Church of England our then organist had thrown a strop and had resigned. We needed another organist. So on the vicar’s instructions we prayed for an organist. And in due course a young man was appointed who was suitably qualified. This was just as the vicar left the parish. Sadly we hadn’t prayed for a Christian organist. During the time he was with us he caused all sorts of problems the greatest of which was that he was no longer entitled to stay in the country, his student visa having expired. Finally he just disappeared one night owning the church money.

We have to be careful what we ask for, or pray for. And certainly we should listen to God, particularly when he says “no” , otherwise we should be prepared for it all to end in tears.

Like a kind wise loving parent, our God truly knows what is good for us. So we should not only seek his guidance but then follow what he tells us to do.

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You are precious

This Sunday (5th June 2016) I preached at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church.

I chose to speak on Isaiah 43: 1- 13.

1 But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 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. 3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. 4 Since you are precious and honoured in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life. 5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. 6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth— 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” 8 Lead out those who have eyes but are blind, who have ears but are deaf. 9 All the nations gather together and the peoples assemble. Which of their gods foretold this and proclaimed to us the former things? Let them bring in their witnesses to prove they were right, so that others may hear and say, “It is true.” 10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. 11 I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no saviour. 12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed— I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “that I am God. 13 Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?”

We all need encouraging in life particularly when we are going through difficult times.

We all need to be reassured that we are special and of worth.

Years ago I had a boss who rarely thanked people for a job well done. He would say that we were employed to do the job properly. So why should he thank people for doing what they were paid to do? And yet, if people are thanked and praised for doing their job, they will often go beyond what is expected of them.

Our reading today fromTemple destroyed Isaiah 43 was written years Jerusalem to the Jews who were in exile in Babylon. They had been sent there when Judah had been conquered by the then super power of Babylonia. Jerusalem was a waste land and the Temple had been destroyed.

Here were the Jews in a pagan land feeling abandoned by God and wondering what the future held for them.

Having said that, the Jews had brought this on themselves.

For many years they had been disobedient to God and had began worshipping the false gods of the neighbouring countries. God portrays himself as a faithful husband, with the Jewish people being the unfaithful wife who has a series of affairs. Also they had gone against God’s wishes by making alliances with other countries who could not and should not have been trusted.

God had allowed the Babylonians to conquer the land of Judah because the people would not learn the lessons they need to learn any other way.

Sometimes we don’t or won’t learn the easy way. And so it proved with the Jews.

We read how awful the Jews felt in Psalm 137:1 – 4: By the rivers of Babyloenglish-by-the-waters-of-babylonn we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?

So what message does Isaiah bring the Jews from God?

God reminds them that he created them.

It is he who redeemed them from slavery in Egypt all those years ago.

He has summons them and called them by name. So he knows them intimately. This is the God whom Jesus assures us knows how many hairs are on our heads. He is not distant, uncaring and impersonal like the gods of the Babylonians. He knows each and every person.

No matter what trials they are going through God says he will be with them. We read in Isaiah 43:2When 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.” The Jews aren’t promised to be saved from troubles and hard times, but God says “I will be with you as you go through this”. And as we know today, followers of Jesus Christ go through all sorts of trials and tribulations. As God never changes and does not change his mind, we can rely of his promises for ourselves. In the New Testament we are reminded in 2 Corinthians 1:20 “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.

Isaiah foresees the release of the Jews when Babylon is conquered by the Persians. Cyrus the Persian King is elsewhere called “My shepherd” by God because of how he will see to the release of the captives. Isaiah 44:28who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.” God says that “I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead.” these are the countries that God allows the Persians to conquer when the Jews are allowed to return to Judah.

God reminds the Jews that he is with them and they are not to be afraid. He promises to bring all the scattered people from the four corners of the world back together.

Finally God reminds the Jews that he alone is God. He has done all this. Given the way the Jews had flirted with the idols and gods of surrounding countries and cultures, it is important that they realise it is only God who is real and who can save people. The other gods are not real and hence have no power over people. Isaiah 43:10 & 11 “Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no saviour.

The Jews had flirted with foreign gods and idol worship, despite what God had told them when they had come into the promised land many years before. Once they returned from exile they never committed spiritual adultery again. They learnt their lesson the hard way. God is the one true God and apart from him there is no saviour. No one else can save mankind from sin.

So what message does this passage have for us today in 2016?

We are precious and loved. If we have put our faith in Jesus Christ, then we are God’s . He has, through the blood of Jesus, redeemed us. He has called us and we have responded and we are his.

God loves us so much that he gave the most expensive and precious thing hJesus-Crucified-On-The-Cross-Picturee had in the whole universe to save us. He gave his one and only son Jesus to pay the price of our sins and set us free. That is how much God loves each and everyone one of us.

No matter where we are, no matter what our status, each and every Christian is precious to God and he will bring us all together in heaven at the end of all things.

We are all going to face troubles and difficult times in our Christian life. But we are assured that they will not overwhelm us. God in fact promises to be with us as we go through hard times. We do not have to go through things on our own.

We read in the gospels that when Jesus called people he often said “Follow me”. And I think it is fair to say that he does not expect us to undergo things that he has not gone through. Jesus the Good Shepherd leads us, his flock, through this earthly life on to our eternal life in Heaven.

Jesus isn’t like a First World War general leading his troops from many miles behind the front line. No he is there in the thick of it with us as we go through life’s battles. He is intimately involved with each and every Christian’s struggles.

So today hold on to all the promises that we read in this passage:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you

When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned

Do not be afraid, for I am with you

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At just the right time

On Sunday 22 May I preached at Nelmes United Reformed Church in Hornchurch.

It was Trinity Sunday and I chose the “epistle reading” for that Sunday as given in the Revised Common Lectionary. The reading does show the Trinity, one God in three persons, in action in a believer’s life.

Romans 5: 1- 8

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Christianity is certainly a paradox. It just doesn’t make sense to many people. Paul in 1 Corinthians describes Jesus’ crucifixion as foolishness to the gentiles.

Why should an awesome Holy God send his son Jesus to die in such an awful manner to pay the price for our sins?

Some people I know, just cannot understand that, if God is who he says he is, why didn’t he destroy us or condemn us all to hell if we are such wicked evil people?

Many people, believers and unbelievers alike, over the years have struggled with the concept of God’s love and mercy. That great hymn writer Charles Wesley wrote:

“And can it be that I should gain

An interest in the Saviour’s blood?

Died He for me, who caused His pain—

For me, who Him to death pursued?

Amazing love! How can it be,

That Thou, my God, shoulds’t die for me?

Amazing love! How can it be,

That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”

Firstly who were the Christians in Rome?

Well, let’s look at what St Paul says about this in his letter to the early church in Rome.

They were a mix of Roman citizens and slaves some of whom worked in Caesar’s household.

It can’t have been easy being a Christian in Roman society with its worship of false gods, its love of violence and its lack of morality. At times the Roman Emperor was regarded as an embodiment of one of the gods. So to be a Christian and hence deny that the Emperor was a god was treason and could end in your death.

For slaves it was even worse. They had no rights at all. They could be assaulted and even killed by their owners. Their bodies were not their own. Both female and male slaves could be raped by their owners and there was nothing they could do about it.

In Rome the Emperor Nero when he began persecuting Christians was rumoured to have had captured Christians dipped in oil and set on fire in his garden at night as a source of light.

And yet, here is a church, a beacon of God’s light in the heart of a dark empire.

We see the same today in the underground churches in China and North Korea as well as in many muslim countries where you have the death penalty because of your faith in Jesus Christ. Just look at what has happened to Christians in Syria and Iraq in recent years. There was a report recently in the media of a 12 year old girl being burnt alive by muslim terrorists for holding to her faith.

The Holy Spirit has clearly been at work in these Roman Christians most of whom will have come out of a pagan background where you had to appease the many gods with offerings and sacrifices. You could never be sure if you were ok. or if the gods were still angry with you.

But putting your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ means that you are justified and so at peace with God. Many folk cannot understand that the simple act of faith of asking Jesus Christ to enter your life and of repenting of your sins puts you right with God. There must be more to it? It can’t be that simple and yet, it is.

Last week we celebrated Pentecost and one of the readings was Peter’s sermon to the crowd in Jerusalem. This is what we read in Acts 2: 37 – 39 “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Previously Peter had said in Acts 2:21And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

So we are put right with God through faith. We are no longer God’s enemies but his precious adopted sons and daughters. Through that faith we can enter God’s presence.

Throughout the New Testament we are told to not be surprised if we are persecuted or have to suffer for our faith. After all, now we are part of the Kingdom of God and friends with God we now have to struggle with the world, the flesh and the devil. We have effectively changed sides in the long hard fight between good and evil.

But Paul tells us in Romans 5: 3 &4 “but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” As we travel on our Christian life the sufferings we endure strengthen and encourage us.

Just as when we were at school we started off with simple maths problems. Once we mastered them we moved on to harder problems and develop more problem solving skills. We are, as we progress, more able to persevere with the problems that are set for us.

Put it another way, you may recall from school science lessons, graphite and diamonds are both made of carbon. Graphite is grey soft and relatively worthless. Whereas diamonds are virtually indestructible, beautiful and precious. Diamonds are produced by subjecting graphite to immense heat and pressure.

Many of you ladies have an engagement ring. How would you felt if your intended had ring-finger-engagementgiven you a ring with a large lump of carbon on it where the gem stone should have been? I am sure you would prefer the diamond to the lump of carbon.

Well, God is in the business of transforming our lives to become beautiful and precious and he does this by allowing us to suffer troubles and suffering.

In Malachi 3:3 God is compared to a refiner of silver. “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.” In biblical times silver ore wrefined-goldas heated in a crucible and the impurities are either burnt off or skimmed off. The refiner knew when the silver was pure when he could see his reflection in the metal.

So God is at work transforming us so that we become more and more like Jesus.

Paul tells us that God has poured his love in to our hearts through the Holy Spirit who lives in us. This is truly the work of the Triune God. Our faith in Jesus’ sacrificial death puts us right with God who gives us his Holy Spirit to live in us and begin the work of transforming our lives to become more like Jesus.

Paul is very firm to make sure we know that it not of our doing, but is all of God. Romans 5:6 – 8You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

We can’t save ourselves and put ourselves right with God on our own.

We were all ungodly. We needed a saviour.

And the astonishing thing is that God loves us so much he sent Jesus to die for us to save us and put us right with God.

Jesus has done what we couldn’t do. He has put us right with God.

Whilst we were still God’s enemies Christ died for us. He didn’t wait until we came to faith. Because of God’s great love for us, Christ died for each and every human to give them all a chance of salvation.

We don’t have to understand it. We just have to believe it and Jesus will do the rest.

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I don’t believe it!

This morning I preached at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church in Dagenham.

As this we are still in the Easter Season I chose to speak about the Apostle Thomas, often referred to as “Doubting Thomas”.

John 20:19 – 29

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus ), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

I am sure that many of you are old enough to remember the TV comedy programme “One foot in the grave” featuring the grumpy Victor Meldrew whose catch phrase was “I don’t believe it!”

Maybe you’ve had Victor Meldrew moments when all you can say it “I don’t believe it” either in astonishment at something that has happened or in sheer bewilderment at what is going on.

I was like that at school with “A” level maths. The “O” level was easy so I thought the next step up would be okay. But I was wrong. 

To this day I have no clue about calculus despite my sons patiently trying to explain it.

I just didn’t get it and to be honest the teacher was more concerned about the lads who were destined for great things at Oxford or Cambridge. I just quietly sunk. Despite my failure to grasp quite a lot of mathematical ideas, I went on to work in banking.

People believe all sorts of things which are weird or wacky or just plain daft and yet when it comes to a known historical event such as the resurrection of Jesus Christ that first Easter Day, its beyond their understanding.

When I was in my teens, the books to read were by Erich von Däniken who said amongst other things that God was an alien who had visited earth in his spaceship and hence kick-started civilisation.

Or people happily go to spiritists or mediums to seek their guidance or to make sure that Granny is okay in heaven. Or slavishly follow their horoscopes in the newspapers or magazines.

Others quite happily apply feng shui to their house to improve the harmony in the home. Or they believe in the healing powers of crystals but they just cannot believe that Jesus has risen from the dead. It’s a fairy tale to them.

I conducted a funeral for a lady who turned her back on Christianity and put her faith in magic crystals and the power of pyramids to heal her breast cancer. Much to her husband’s despair, she even travelled to Brazil to meet someone who used special healing crystals.

There are many things we find hard to believe. Some we just accept and others we just can’t cope with.

I remember my physics teacher telling me how in the 1930’s he had built a radio in his parents’ home in the Welsh valleys. When he switched it on and there was this man talking to the family gathered in the parlour, grandma could not believe that the voice was coming out of that box and rushed in to the kitchen to see where the man was hiding.

And yet here we are in 2016 taking such things as radios, TV, mobile phones, computers and space travel in our stride.

We don’t have to understand something to believe it.

I’ve yet to meet anyone who refuses to switch on an electric light because they don’t understand the intricacies of power generation and transmission. We just go and flick the switch.

God calls us to believe that his mighty power has overcome death and that Jesus the son of God has risen from the dead. He doesn’t call us to understand the mechanism of how it happened.

So what about Thomas?

His name is Aramaic and means “twin”. In Greek the name was Didymus. It is thought by some scholars that he was actually Judas Thomas.

We know that he was one of the 12 disciples of Jesus.

He seems to be a man who was honest in his doubts or lack of understanding.

In John 14:1 – 6 we read: “ 1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 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. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.“

Perhaps the others were wondering about Jesus saying “you know the way to the place where I am going.” But only Thomas says “”Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?

Jesus’ words in reply are of course well known to many Christians  “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” 

Of course this is a saying of Jesus which is helpful when we are faced with people who claim that anyone can get to heaven no matter what faith they follow. Jesus is the way. No one else is the way.

We don’t know why Thomas was not with the other disciples on that first Easter evening when Jesus appeared to his followers. But we have to accept that he wasn’t there.

The disciples, according to Luke’s gospel had trouble believing that Jesus had risen from the dead.

This is what we find in Luke 24: 36 – 46While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” 40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence.

So it’s not surprising that Thomas had a problem when the other disciples told him  that Jesus is alive. John 20:25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

It is something to believe that someone you have seen killed in a most barbaric fashion has come back to life after three days in the grave.

But as we know the next time Jesus appears to the disciples, he deals with Thomas’ disbelief, by allowing him to see and feel the wounds in his hands made by the nails and the wound in his side where he had been speared by the centurion present at the crucifixion.

Presented with this evidence, Thomas believes that Jesus has indeed risen from the dead.

Jesus then makes this statement in John 20:29Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

There are countless millions who like us, have believed with out seeing him.

Although it is not recorded in the Bible, church history tells us that Thomas eventually travelled to India where he preached the gospel The church he founded in 52AD is still present in modern day Karelia in India.

I doubt that any of us have physically seen the risen Jesus although many of us here know him and love him and follow him. So our job is to present Jesus to people, so that they too can believe in him.

All of us know and meet people that perhaps no on else here can reach. So we each have a responsibility to take the good news of Jesus wherever we go and through the power of the Holy Spirit help people turn their “I don’t believe it” into “I believe!”

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The year of the Lord’s favour

This morning I preached at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church and we looked at the start of Isaiah 61.

Isaiah 61:1 – 7
1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion– to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendour. 4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. 5 Aliens will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards. 6 And you will be called priests of the LORD, you will be named ministers of our God. You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast. 7 Instead of their shame my people will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance; and so they will inherit a double portion in their land, and everlasting joy will be theirs.

Life can be unfair. We all suffer misfortune at times. Some are bad managers of our finances. Some folk just are in the wrong place at the wrong time. But for whatever reason people fall on hard times, get into debt and other troubles.

When the Jewish people were preparing to come into the promised land, God through the prophet Moses gave them instructions on how to live.

One of the things God put into the plan was the Year of Jubilee which would happen every 50 years when outstanding debts would be cancelled and slaves would be set free and land returned to its original owner. You can read about it in Leviticus 25:8-55 . The idea was to restore equality amongst the people. But you could imagine that if this happened nowadays, bankers and other lenders would be very reluctant to lend money if they knew the jubilee was coming and their loans would have to be written off.

I am not sure if there are any records to prove that the Jewish people actually kept to the Year of Jubilee as it would be of more advantage to the poor and oppressed than to the rich and the powerful.

In our reading from Isaiah comes a prophecy about what God will do for his people. In fact when Jesus started his ministry he is recorded in Luke 4:16 – 21 as reading this passage from Isaiah when he visited the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth. When he finished the reading Jesus added in Luke 4:21Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

You could say that this passage is Jesus’ mission statement and as followers of Jesus commissioned to do what he did, it should be our mission as well.

It seems to me that there are two main groups of people to whom we are to minister:

■    The broken hearted and those who mourn
■    The captives and the prisoners.

People can be broken hearted over many things, not just the end of a love affair as the famous soul singer Jimmy Ruffin sang many years ago:

“What becomes of the brokenhearted,

Who has love that’s now departed,

I know I’ve got to find, Some kind of peace of mind, help me, please”

People can be broken hearted when their football team doesn’t win the game. Last night on Facebook someone had written about our local team Dagenham and Redbridge: “Heartbreak for the Daggers as a late Kemar Roofe free kick earns Oxford the three points”.

Or when that project you’ve invested so much time, effort and money in comes to nothing.

Or maybe the political party you’ve worked so hard for in the elections gets thrown out of office.

Being broken hearted is very much like mourning.

We can mourn over many things. Usually we think it is about the loss of a loved one, be it spouse, parent, brother or sister, child, grandchild or good friend and so on.

But what about the sensation of loss we feel when we are made redundant? Some people’s sense of who they are is given by what they do. So to loose your job is a major trauma.

I was in that place in 1996 when after nearly 23 years with Barclays Bank I was made redundant. Aged 42 with Gaynor and four young sons to support. Its not only the pay packet that’s gone but your sense of who you are, the camaraderie of the work place and your sense of fulfilment.

We can mourn the loss of our health.

I realise that I was in mourning after I was told in July 2013 that I had prostate cancer. Suddenly I am ill, even though I didn’t have any symptoms at that point.

If I wasn’t a Christian I do not know what I would have done. But, thank God, I had many people who supported me in pray and upheld me as I went through the treatment and indeed I knew that God was with me as I went through this particular “valley of the shadow of death”.

How people cope with these sorts of problems without God in their lives, I do not know. They do get desperate and clutch at straws to save them. Anything from wacky pseudo scientific cures to faith healers and witchcraft.

You can mourn over your loss of independence whether that was through illness, accident or advancing age. This can be particularly hard if you have always been a doer. We saw this with my mum when over a period of just a few months she became housebound and then bedbound and finally went into a nursing home. She was not a happy bunny.

People can mourn over the loss of possessions. Often it will be items of sentimental value ie family jewellery or something given as a special gift or present. The loss of these items can effect some people seriously.

When we talk about prisoners we normally think of people who are incarcerated for having committed a crime and been through the court system. Of course is certain countries you can find yourself in prison for being a Christian or for wanting a democratic government.

Our passage refers to “release from darkness for the prisoners”. Often prisoners were kept below ground level where it was cold, damp and dark.

But I think our passage refers to other types of prisoners.

People can be held captive by their sins or misdeeds. Whilst the Bible tells us that we all will face judgement for what we have done: 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.”, some people seems to suffer for their sins in this life.

We can think of alcoholics and drug abusers who have ruined their bodies because of their addictions. Or what about the man or woman who has an affair wrecking their own marriage and the lives of other people in the process.

Being involved in witchcraft and black magic can imprison us, as can consulting mediums and spiritists. Which is why the Bible tells us to not do these things.

Sometime ago I conduct the funeral for a man in his early thirties. His problems started at age 14 when he played with a ouija board. Whatever he got in contact with so frightened him and affected his mind that he stayed in his bedroom for the next three months. He had long term mental health issues and eventually he took to the streets, living rough and taking drugs.

Addictions can hold us prisoner. Anything can be addictive, not just drink, drugs, gambling and pornography. What about shopping? We hear about shopaholics. We have someone in our street who had been a shopaholic. She lied, cheated and stole from her friends and neighbours and even obtained a bank loan by impersonating one of her neighbours.

The words we say can imprison us. People swear that they will never forgive that person for what they have done. Unforgiveness can be a terrible gaoler keeping you locked in for years and years, torturing you with constant reminders as to what they did and why you can’t forgive them.

Someone once said that unforgiveness is letting your enemy live rent free in your head!

We can chain ourselves up by words such as “I will never forgive myself” or “I’ll never be any good”, “I can never do that”.

Words have a great power over us for good or evil.

So what are we to do?

We are to do what Jesus did. We have the power of the Holy Spirit in us, if we are believers, and so we can act with Jesus’ authority to bring forgiveness and healing as well as love and grace to people.

We are to quote Isaiah 61:3to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. “

Some we have to set free from the powers of darkness, by casting out demons. For others we have to break the power of curses that are over them to set them free.

We should certainly pray for people and support them.

When someone is set free by the power of the Holy Spirit the transformation is truly amazing.

Our passage from Isaiah talks about people being restored “ They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendour. “

Lives are transformed so that people who were restricted in their spiritual growth as if they were bonsai trees, now grow tall and strong and beautiful.

So I think that it is a challenge for us all to take this on board as our job description as disciples of Jesus, to bring good news to the poor, to comfort those who mourn and to set the prisoners free.

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Rules and Regulations

Today I not only preached at Trinity United Reformed Church in Upminster but also at Nelmes United Reformed Church in Hornchurch.

Although the style of worship differed, the message was the same.

The Bible reading is the gospel reading for today as taken from The Revised Common Lectionary.

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

7:1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 7:2 they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 7:3 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 7:4 and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 7:5 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 7:6 He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;
7:7 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ 7:8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” 7:14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 7:15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” 7:21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder,
7:22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.
7:23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

We all need rules and regulations in our lives. Think how chaotic life would be if everyone did their own thing without regard to anyone else.

Just imagine what would happen if we chose to ignore red traffic lights and come zooming down Corbets Tey Road at 70 mph. Anyone get in the way and we mount the pavement. Want to shop in M &S ? No problem. Park where you want, never mind the yellow lines.

See something you want? Just take it.

Someone annoy you? Kill them.

We need order in our lives.

God knew this and it is why have gave the Jews, his chosen people, a set of rules to live by.

Some of the rules were about safe living in a hot country, to keep physically well and avoid infection. Hence the rules about eating pork or sea food. As we know you get all sorts of stomach bugs from eating badly prepared food. I suspect many of us here have had a dodgy takeaway at sometime and bitterly regretted it.

Other rules were about morality, our relationships with other people. Just look at the misery and pain there is when relationships fail, when people cheat on their spouse, when they get into relationships that God says are wrong.

Regardless if people say they love each other if they step out the safe zone that God has given them, then they enter an uncharted mine field often with disastrous results.

Society now tells us that any relationship is ok as long its loving. The website Ashley Madison has been in the news recently. Its strap line is “Life’s short, have an affair”.

But the Bible tells us otherwise.

I heard a report on the news a few years back of a priest who had finally been prosecuted. In his defence he said that he had been taught that adultery was a sin, but he didn’t know that having sex with children was wrong!

Finally there are rules about our relationship with God. These are for our spiritual well being.

If we are Christians then God is our Number 1 and him only. You cannot have a pick and mix approach to your faith. Many will remember the sweet counter at the long gone Woolworths with its pick and mix selection. It will do you no good to take bits out of the Bible and then mix in some buddhism, islam, hinduism and new age thinking. You just end up lost and confused. And if you are not careful you stray completely away from God and are lost for all eternity.

God says to us not to do certain things, because he loves us and wants us to be safe. How many parents here have ever prevented their children from sticking fingers or metal objects  into electric sockets? You did it because you love them, not because you want to spoil their fun or stop them exploring the home.

So when God says “don’t go there”, he is saying for our safety and well being.

The easiest way to check these things out is to see what the Bible says and then see if they fulfil this simple test in John 5:23He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him.”

If a religion does not  recognize and honour Jesus as the Son of God, then it is not something a Christian should be involved in. Never mind if they are nice sincere people, they are not teaching that Jesus is the one and only way to the Father.

And so to our reading from John 7. I picture the Pharisees circling round Jesus like a pack of wolves seeking a moment to over whelm him. They were always trying to prove him  wrong, and throughout the gospels we read about their attempts to trip him up with their questions.

The Pharisees knew the law very well. In fact in their attempts to understand it they made it even more onerous. For example when it came to washing their hands they didn’t stop with the hands but kept amending the law until you were washing all the way up to the elbow.

They were well meaning men who were afraid that they may offend God by not trying hard enough to keep to the rules. Indeed at the time of Jesus it was thought that if there was someone who could keep all the rules just for one day, God would then send the promised Messiah. One man did lead that perfect sinless life, and they missed him. His name was Jesus and he lived right amongst them.

So the Pharisees thought they had come up with a good one this time.

“Why don’t your disciples wash their hands?” they say to Jesus.

But they have confused the purpose of the some of the rules. Remember some are about hygiene and others about our spiritual well being.

These Pharisees think that what God wants is for everyone to obey all the rules all the time. And so they get into an argument with Jesus about how important it is for his disciples to wash their hands.

The Pharisees thought the rules were what made you holy, never mind what was going on in your mind. But Jesus was quite harsh in his criticism of them. Throughout the gospels we read that he treated the ordinary people with compassion and empathy but not the Pharisees. This verse is taken from The Message translation, Matthew 23:27 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh.

Of course hygiene is important but that doesn’t necessarily affect your eternal life.

Anybody can follow the rules, What really matters is what goes on inside of you. What goes on in your heart. The heart has been thought to be the centre of one’s thoughts and emotions.

As Jesus said in our reading Mark 7:21 – 23For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

The rules can’t save us from what comes out of our heart. That was a problem that the Pharisees didn’t or couldn’t see.

At a previous church we had a man who thought it was all about the rules, many of which were man made. He got so angry when he thought the rules had been broken. It was really surprising that his typewriter didn’t catch fire from the angry furious letters he wrote to the church council and the minister.

Many years King David recognised this problem when he was challenged by the prophet Nathan about his adulterous affair with Bathsheba which had resulted in the death of Uriah the Hittite. He wrote in Psalm 51:10Create a clean heart in me, O God, and renew a faithful spirit within me.”

Clearly something has to be done as the keeping the rules does not heal the human heart.

Jesus came not only to pay the price of our sins and put us right with God but also to fulfil God’s promises made in the Bible. This is just one of them and we read it in Jeremiah 24:7I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.”

When you come to faith in Jesus, God gives you his Holy Spirit to live in you as your guide and counsellor and he does renew your heart so that you begin to become more like Jesus, although we all still struggle with our old broken human nature.

However when we do trip up and sin we have the assurance in 1 John 1:9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

So to sum up. When looking at the rules for living that God gave us in the Bible, some are for our physical well being, some for our moral welfare and the rest for our spiritual health.
And whilst some of the rules for living in a hot climate are not relevant to us now, the rules about morality and spiritual well being are still to be observed despite what many is society may tell us.

If you have been trying to live solely by the rules, maybe its time for you to accept the offer that Jesus makes to every man woman and child, that through faith in him you can be forgiven and given a new heart and the promise of eternal life.

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The name of Jesus

This morning I had the privilege of leading morning worship and preaching at Elm Park Baptist Church.

Map picture

The pastor, Colin Phillips, has started on a    series of talks studying the “Names of God” and suggested I could speak on the names of Jesus. And this is what I did, although in the time allowed I actually only talked about Jesus.

As usual we start with our Bible passages:

Luke 1:26 – 34

26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. 31 You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Acts 4:12

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

I understand that Colin has started as series of talks on the names of God.

So I thought it would be appropriate to look at the name of Jesus.

As we established earlier in our children’s talk everyone has a name.

In Hebrew society often the eldest son would be named after the father or another significant male relative. Just listen to this from Luke 1:57 – 63 “ When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son.  Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy.  On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, 60 but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.”  They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.” Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child.  He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.”

John means “God is gracious”.

Jesus which means “God saves” or “God is salvation” was a fairly common name at the time of Jesus. But as we heard the angel Gabriel tells Mary her son is going to be very special.

You may say to yourself, as many people do, “I don’t need saving from anything.”

“I’m a good person. I go to work, pay my taxes look after my family and I’m kind to animals. So what do I need saving from?”

What about all the wrong things you’ve said and done?

Or perhaps the good and kind things you just didn’t do?

Or what about all the evil things people get involved with, which look so innocent? Ouija boards, seances, fortune telling, tarot cards and the Charlie, Charlie challenge. All of which are very dangerous. The Bible makes it very clear that God’s people are to have nothing to do with any of this stuff.

Maybe you think “Oh that’s all in the past. It doesn’t count anymore” “I was younger then and a bit wild. You know how it is?”

Sadly the Bible tells us God doesn’t see it that way. In 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.

In English law there is something called the Statute of Limitations which basically says that you have 12 years to go after someone for a debt they owe you. After that you can’t do anything. However with God there is no such get out. You are answerable for every misdeed; every wrong thought you ever had.

It’s like going round the supermarket putting goods in your trolley. You can pile it high, buttrolley there comes that awful moment when you arrive at the checkout, and the reckoning begins. Every item has to be paid for. There is no putting stuff back on the shelves or telling the cashier you’ve changed your mind and don’t want certain items.

Each and every item goes through the scanner and you are told the price.

How much!

I can’t pay that!

So how do we deal with all this sin?

Many people ignore it and hope it will be alright on the night.

Others try and argue their way out of the corner. If God is loving then he wouldn’t punish us. He’ll let us off and we’ll be okay.

You’d be amazed the number of folk who assure me that their loved ones are in heaven because they were good people. Oh he wasn’t a Christian but he was a good man and led a Christian life style.

You can only live a Christian life by being a Christian – acknowledging that you cannot save yourself, and that you accept that Jesus has paid for your sins.

One man once told me that he lived a Christian lifestyle. He ran a cycle shop. So I asked him if I lived a Cyclist’s lifestyle, dressed in spandex, wore a cycle helmet, carried a water bottle and talked about different designs of bike and gear sets would that make me a cyclist. No it would not. I am not a cyclist until I get on my bike and pedal!

Other folk assure me that all religions are the same as they all worship the same God. Jesus gave as a yardstick to see if that was true. See John 5:23He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him.” So if people merely say Jesus was a good man, or a teacher or a prophet or even an archangel, they have got it wrong. Unless you acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God, you have got it wrong.

It’s a bit like standing out by the bus stop in Rosewood Avenue. near to the church.  If you want to go to Rainham, then the 165 is the bus for you. Its no good hoping for the No 5 to take a diversion on its way from Canning Town to Romford to pick you up and take you to Rainham. Its just not going to happen. Not all buses go to Rainham and not all religions take you to God. Jesus is the only way.

So how does Jesus bring salvation?

tabernacle-priestly-dutiesThe Bible tells us that there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood. The old Jewish system of sacrifices may bring God’s forgiveness for the wrong things we have done, but straight away we sin again. There was a never ending cycle of: sin, sacrifice and forgiveness. Jesus’ death on the cross was the one perfect sacrifice that could bring lasting forgiveness for all the sins of the world and bring us peace with God.

Jesus is the only human in history who has led a perfect sinless life.

Jesus’ last words on the cross as recorded in John 19:30When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” Then bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.”

I understand that the original Greek for “it is finished” meant “Paid in full”, what you may write across a paid invoice or statement of account.paid-in-full

And that offer is available to anybody who wishes to accept it.

Getting back to our supermarket trolley full of sin, it is as if Jesus walks up to the customer at the check out and says “Would you like me to take care of that for you?” If you say yes to Jesus, then the bill is paid and you can go free.

Jesus also came to save us from the Devil who has been at work deceiving and misleading people since the days of Adam and Eve.

A family I visited this week told me that the now deceased lady was very spiritual and had been into “healing”. Sadly she had been a Christian but had gone the way of eastern spirituality, and she sought out healers from all over the world to heal her cancer. She was a firm believer in the healing power of magic crystals.

Jesus’ name also conveys God’s authority. We read in Philippians 2:8 -11 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

And as Christians we can have Jesus’ authority and the power of the Holy Spirit to help us in each and every situation we face.

Jesus said that his followers will do the things he did whilst on earth. At the end of Mark’s gospel, Jesus commands his disciples” 15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.

So we are to act under his authority, the highest power in the entire universe and to expect to see things happen.. Whilst sadly many men and women do not acknowledge Jesus’ authority here and now, there will be a day when they do, either joyfully because they are believers or because on that day it is obvious who Jesus really is and they no longer have a choice..

However the demons recognise Jesus’ authority and you can read in the gospels how Jesus set people free from demons. There are similar occasions in the Acts of the Apostles. There is a salutary tale in Acts 19 when non believers try to tackle demons. We read “ 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 [One day] the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.”

I once talked to a lady who some years before had been fascinated by “automatic writing” where a demonic spirit gets into a person and they start writing prose, verse, essays etc. She allowed the spirit into her and started writing. The lady said eventually she could not stop it. Her husband told the spirit that he was the householder and that the spirit was not welcome there and had to go. Of course it did not. Fortunately a local Christian minister was called and he commanded the spirit to go in the name of Jesus and it went straight away.

There is no other way to get rid of evil spirits. We do hear of silly people who think that you have to assault the possessed person, pour boiling water on them or rub chilli peppers in their eyes and then shout loudly at the demon. What dangerous nonsense. You follow the model you will find in the Bible which is to command it to go in the name of Jesus.

Just as an ambassador acts on behalf of his or her country, under the authority of the government, so we Jesus’ followers can act under his authority as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Finally, to summarise I think that the worship song “There is power in the name of Jesus” does capture for us the significance of the name that is above all names:

There is power in the name of Jesus;

We believe in His name.

We have called on the name of Jesus;

We are saved! We are saved!

At His name the demons flee.

At His name captives are freed.

For there is no other name that is higher

Than Jesus!

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