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Archive for tag The gospel

Esther - relevance and resonance

Heard a couple of sermons from Esther recently. God's doing his stuff all over the shop - moving players and set pieces: it's abundantly clear that although Ahasuerus has the throne, Haman has access to the King's ear, Esther has access to the King's heart and Mordecai has access to Esther, God is calling the shots.

But is there more than sex, scheming and sovereignty? Is Esther a book about Jesus? Or is it just about how God provided for his people in order that one Jesus might be able to come, as the seed of Abraham, and save?

According to the preacher, Esther is primarily about understanding the purposes of God in human history and seeing the interplay of divine sovereignty and human responsibility working without any seeming conflict.

Which is true. (And it seems that divine sovereignty and human responsibility actually work better together in the courtroom that many people think they will from the classroom).

But it's not the whole truth: because the gospel echoes throughout Esther.

Who is it that wins the favour of the King, but then shares the benefit of their relationship with their people? Esther - but she points the way to Jesus who says that the Father will love us because we love Jesus (John 14:21).

Who is it that triumphs against all odds and sees the enemy slain with his own gallows? Esther - but she points the way to the one who "through death" destroyed "the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil." (Heb 2:14)

Who lays down their life on behalf of their people in order to spare them from the judgment of the King? Esther - but she points the way to the one who doesn't merely risk his life, but lays it down for his people (John 15:13-14).

Esther does provide a fantastic, gutsy example to follow - but, were we part of the story, we'd be numbered amongst the helpless hordes who sit under threat of execution with no hope of saving themselves. And, if rather than just trying to highlight its relevance, we listen for it's gospel resonance, the book of Esther won't just point us to a great example: it'll point us to a great Saviour.

Mark 5 - The Liberation Of The Man Formerly Known As Legion

I preached the following at Alverstoke Evangelical Church back in June - and noticed recently that they've posted it online: The Liberation of the Man Formerly Known as Legion. For more sermons preached at Alverstoke Evangelical Church, see their sermons page

The Consequence of the Cross

17For Christ did not send me to baptise but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
18For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
1 Corinthians 1:17-18 (ESV)

The idea that our creator loves us and demonstrates that love sounds amazing – but what does it mean now?

It means we get to choose. What will you do with Jesus? Will you look at the demonstration of his love and goodness towards you and choose him? Or will you reject it; reject him?

Because choosing him means accepting your inability to fix yourself. The message of the cross is that you are more depraved and sinful than you ever feared, but - in Jesus – you are more loved and accepted than you ever dreamed possible. And having accepted that, you must allow the cross the redefine your relationship to the world.

Choosing Christ means accepting that everything you ever thought you knew is wrong. Not the minor facts, but your most fundamental view of the universe. You thought your life was about you, but now it is about God. You thought freedom was being able to do exactly what you wanted to do – but now you find freedom is being able to serve the one you love. You thought the world was ruled by karma or by chance – but now you find the defining principle is grace; God’s unmerited favour towards you.

The Centrality of the Cross

17For Christ did not send me to baptise but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
18For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
1 Corinthians 1:17-18 (ESV)

So what’s the big deal about the cross? Why does Paul talk about the word or the message of the cross?
The cross is how we treated God. We must appreciate that. God turned up in our world and we murdered him. Which is a depressing thing to think about – and hardly “good news.”

But more importantly, the cross is something done for us, by God. Jesus entered our world, became like us, identified with us – living with us, eating, sleeping, crying with us. The only substantive difference about Jesus was that he didn’t sin. Not even once. Not even slightly. Yet on the cross, Jesus is not merely the victim of our sin – he took the guilt of it on himself. He suffered the punishment, the penalty we deserved, as our substitute. He bore our sins in his body on the cross. God poured out his anger against sin on Jesus, who willingly took our place. At the same time, Jesus took on death and hell and evil and won; he triumphed over them. He died and rose again to set us from from our addiction to sin. He died and rose again to restore our relationship with the God who made us. He died and rose again in order that we might share in his new life. He died and rose again in order that God would not have to punish us, but could bless us. He died and rose again in order to make us holy, fit for the presence of God. He died and rose again in order that salvation would be his gift to his loved ones, not something that we earn. He was rejected in order that we might be accepted. He was forsaken, separated from God as he suffered our punishment on the cross, in order that we might never be.

He did it in order to display the depth and the wonder of his love towards us.

The Context of the Cross

17For Christ did not send me to baptise but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
18For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
1 Corinthians 1:17-18 (ESV)

The “gospel” of verse 17 is the “word of the cross” of verse 18. The gospel is, simply put, the message of the cross. But it’s a message in context. Until we understand who Jesus is, the cross will make no sense.

Jesus is the Son of God. Not by creation, nor by adoption - rather he is co-eternal, equal with God. He was, as John 1:1 puts it, “in the beginning with God” and “was God.” He is the creator of the universe. He is God.

And yet the universe he created has rebelled against his rule. He made each of us in his image and yet we have marred that image with sin. We have rejected his authority and asserted our own right to create our own morality, rather than accept his. We have spurned his love and tried to make him surplus to requirements by trying to make ourselves like God.

As we sin, we elevate good things that God made and put them in his place. We treat them as God. We make them idols, which we then proceed to worship them, breaking God’s law, offending God’s nature, damaging God’s creation.

God could not be both good and indifferent to the evil that we visit on him, each other and his creation - so he cursed us. He pronounced judgement on sin and declared the penalty for sin would be death. Death is the judgement for sin for two reasons (1) because God himself is the source of life and in rejecting him we reject life and also (2) because God has decreed it.

But God is a good God. He is a merciful, kind, patient, loving God. And he is a saviour God.

Rather than sit at a distance as we condemned ourselves, he came near in order to save us. And he put into action a plan to save us – a plan in which he became human. He was born into this world as man. We call it the incarnation. God with flesh. Jesus.

God picked a teenage girl in northern Israel, in the middle east. A girl named Mary who was engaged to be married, but was still a virgin. He was then brought up by her and her working class husband, a guy named Joseph, in a small town named Nazareth. He grew up in obscurity, with a weight of prejudice against him: his home town was a place with a reputation like Scunthorpe.

At the age of 30, he started travelling round Israel, preaching the gospel to people, healing, caring – and urging them to repent. To turn away from their sin and turn to God.

After about 3 years, in which he became exceedingly controversial, he was betrayed by one of his closest friends. Arrested, tried on jumped up charges, beaten and then crucified – which meant he was nailed to a wooden cross – on the instructions of a mob. He died.

Three days later, he came back to life. Appeared to his disciples to prove it and then returned to heaven. His followers then went out into world and, empowered by God’s Holy Spirit, they started telling everyone about Jesus. And the fact that he has promised to return.

Disciples & evangelism

Luke 10:1-12

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. 2 And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ 6 And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. 7 And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. 9 Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

A few points that hit me:

  1. We’re servants, not entrepreneurs for the Kingdom - the requirement is that we are faithful to our call, not that we do incredible things.
  2. We share the gospel, but we do it humbly (relying on God’s provision v3-4, accepting other people’s hospitality v7-8, not trying to prove we’re self-sufficient)
  3. Compassion is not an optional bolt-on (v9) People are people and we should care about their bodies as well as their souls.
  4. Announcing the gospel is the aim - which is not to say that the we feign interest in people in order to share the gospel with them, but rather that this is the most authentic way to share the gospel: humbly, compassionately and explicitly. Not a superstitious “I hope they’ll tell by the way I hold my knife and fork that I’m a Christian and then they’ll ask me about Jesus and I’ll be able to tell” approach: we have a message that everyone needs to hear but the people who need to know don’t realise they need to, because they don’t know what the message is. If they did, they wouldn’t need to know, because they’d already know. So we need to be prepared to volunteer the gospel.
  5. We’re not always going to be “successful.”

The contemporary church usually fails in one of three ways:

  1. We don’t go. We just sit in church and pray that God will honour our disobedience by sending people in to make our church bigger, so that we look successful and people think our church is a cool, hip place to be.
  2. We go like the “liberals.” We do humility, we do compassion. We are generous. But we never actually explain that Jesus has the answer.
  3. We go like the “fundamentalists.” We preach the gospel. We wag our fingers. We shout through megaphones, but we never get close enough to show compassion, or to demonstrate that we’re talking about good news.