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Saturday, 17 September 2016

Nehemiah: Restore O Lord the honour of your name. Part 2




 A royal mission.

Nehemiah Chapter 2:1-8

In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, “Let the king live for ever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favour in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' graves, that I may rebuild it.” And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given to me for the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king's forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.




As we saw last time Nehemiah was cupbearer to the king. That was clearly and important and privileged role. He was in reality the protector of the king. It was often also a very precarious occupation. We remember the cupbearer to Pharaoh at the time of Joseph. He was imprisoned and in danger of execution for some wrongdoing. Also Ester who was Queen to a different king in Susa around the same time as Nehemiah could not even enter into the presence of the king with a sad persona. The job of cupbearer was privileged but wrought with danger.
With all of this in mind Nehemiah had to serve the king with wine even though he was broken hearted due to the problems in Jerusalem. Remember he had received news that the city was in disgrace because it's defences were broken down, to Nehemiah this news was akin to the death of a close relative. He mourned and prayed greatly over the situation because it was not only the protection of the people that was at stake but more importantly the honour of God who had chosen to make Jerusalem the place where His presence would be seen and known amongst His people. He was in effect their Emmanuel or God with them and now all and sundry could come and go into the place that was meant to be holy to Him.
That is why Nehemiah was so distraught.
Clearly he could not hide his feelings no matter how hard he tried. I am sure that he hid the fact that he had been fasting and praying constantly, he would have freshened up his face and made it shine with the best of cosmetic oils available to him but that did not hide from the king the matter of the heart. This was a new experience for both Nehemiah and the king, Nehemiah had always been happy to be in service to the king but this day was different and the king could tell immediately. We will consider from our passage:
  1. The King's commission.
  2. Nehemiah's faith.
The King's commission:
God was at work in bringing his people the Jews back into Judea. Zerubbabel had previously led a large number back to Jerusalem under the guidance of Cyrus king of Persia. 72 years later Ezra had been sent by King Artaxerxes in order to in his words “beautify the house of God.” What he meant there was to teach the people the law of Moses, Bible truth is the most beautiful adornment the people of God can have. But now there is still a great need, the temple had been re-built by Zerubbabel enabling worship to take place, the law had been put in place enabling worship and the knowledge of God to be true.
BUT
The walls of protection were broken down and the gates of correct entrance into the city of God were destroyed. The people were defenceless and this is the city where God had chosen to make His presence known amongst His people. That to Nehemiah and to all Godly people is a disgrace and that is why he was so sad. Clearly even though he tried to hide it from the king he could not.
BUT
God was working His purposes out through the king and so he was concerned for Nehemiah and more importantly for the reputation of God. It pleased the king to send Nehemiah and a large number of capable Jews to Jerusalem to build up the city's defences.
Artaxerxes was a man who was brought up as a heathen who did not know who God was until he came across folks like Ezra formerly and now Nehemiah. He had clearly seen their faith in God even though they were captive in a foreign land. They were excellent servants and so when the time was right in God's purposes they were respected by the king and sent away to perform mighty tasks for the glory of God.
Nehemiah was a missionary for God sent by the king of a foreign land for the purpose of “beautifying the house of the Lord: see Ezra 7:27.
God uses the most unlikely of people to further his kingdom and also the most unlikely of means of support. The king not only sent both Ezra and Nehemiah (as had Cyrus sent Zerubbabel before them) but they also paid the bill! Artaxerxes was a vital part of Nehemiah's mission but as yet Nehemiah did not know what the outcome would be. Artaxerxes was the sole supporter of the work but yet Nehemiah needed to discover that. The way of discovery is fascinating and centres around:
Nehemiah's faith:
We need to remember what we learned last week to fully understand what is happening here. Nehemiah is in grief because of bad news from home. His concern is not primarily the security of the people nor really of the city but the reputation of God is broken down as is demonstrated by the state of the city walls. For that reason Nehemiah fasted and prayed continually that he might be able to do something about it. He was being called of God to enter into a mission that only he could fulfil. He was being drawn to a situation that would be his great passion and god was about His business of motivating his man into action. At the same time the king was being moved in his spirit but all of this was in the background. God was working His purposes out you see!
Everything came to a head when Nehemiah could no longer hide from the king his broken heart. The king saw right through him and was concerned for his servant. At that point Nehemiah had a choice to make: Should he be faithful to his calling or would he wimp out for fear of his own reputation, comfort and security?
Enter the “arrow prayer” that is often made so much of. I have heard on many occasions how important an arrow prayer is that we can shoot up to God in times of great need. Of course that is true but that is not exactly as it was with Nehemiah, he had been constantly praying and fasting for this very opportunity. He desperately needed to go to Jerusalem and now was the fulfilment of all of those hours of prayer and hunger. It was here that the “rubber would hit the road” and make or break would be evident.
Nehemiah prayed to his God in heaven!
He needed boldness at that particular moment and so he prayed for it and then he boldly requested of the Lord. God not only calls His people into works of service for Him but He also gives them the boldness to go! What is it that God has laid on your heart? Have you fasted and prayed before Him that He might make it possible against all of the odds for you to go for Him? God is still calling His people to acts of service both young and old but are we like Nehemiah who was passionate or are we rebellious and happy to sit in our ease and comfort?
Nehemiah had faith in God because by his own testimony “the good hand of God was with him!” when the good hand of God is with you He then will make your calling both possible and as we shall see from our studies in Nehemiah you will also be successful in what God has called you to.
Support is always the difficult issue for any servant of the Lord. As we see from Nehemiah support comes in full and from the most surprising of places.
Where does support come from?
On this occasion it was from the king but he is not solely responsible for his own generosity. God had moved his heart to be disposed of towards Nehemiah, and it was God that opened up Artaxerxes cheque book. Nehemiah could not afford all that was necessary to “beautify the house of the Lord” but the king could.
It is exactly the same today: god is still calling men and women to service in “beautifying the house of the Lord” which is the church. The church is made more beautiful by the addition of more beautiful people who are the Christians! God's glory is made more evident by ever convert to Jesus and so He sends his people into mission whether it be Bolivia or Birmingham, Cornwall or Columbia! When He sends He also supports. It is true that Nehemiah had to go by faith and trust God for all things but it is equally true that God supplied his every need. God usually supplies the needs of His workers through the generosity of the church. He has gifted the church in many ways and often with finance and God expects us to release funds for the sending, training and support of those whom he has called into gospel service. It is often said that a church keeps it's pastor poor to keep him humble before God! If that is your mindset then take a lesson from Artaxerxes, let us release what we have for gospel purposes, there is no better investment that could be made.
Nehemiah was moved by faith to acts of righteousness, Artaxerxes was moved with compassion and support and together they made a difference for the glory of God.
How will we glorify God?
God is working his purpose out
as year succeeds to year:
God is working his purpose out,
and the time is drawing near;
nearer and nearer draws the time,
the time that shall surely be,
when the earth shall be filled
with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.

From utmost east to utmost west,
wherever foot hath trod,
by the mouth of many messengers
goes forth the voice of God;
give ear to me, ye continents,
ye isles, give ear to me,
that earth may filled
with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.

What can we do to work God's work,
to prosper and increase
the brotherhood of all mankind--
the reign of the Prince of Peace?
What can we do to hasten the time--
the time that shall surely be,
when the earth shall be filled
with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.

March we forth in the strength of God,
with the banner of Christ unfurled,
that the light of the glorious gospel of truth
may shine throughout the world:
fight we the fight with sorrow and sin
to set their captives free,
that earth may filled
with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.

All we can do is nothing worth
unless God blessed the deed;
vainly we hope for the harvest-tide
till God gives life to the seed;
yet nearer and nearer draws the time,
the time that shall surely be,
when the earth shall be filled
with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.


Words: Arthur Campbell Aigner (1841-1919), 1894

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Nehemiah: Restore O Lord the honour of Your name. Part 1

P.A.Thatcher
Mustard Seed Evangelical Church
11th September 2016



Part 1: Bad news from home.

Nehemiah Chapter 1:
The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah.
Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the capital,that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”
As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father's house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”
Now I was cupbearer to the king.


Background: The Lord through Jeremiah had promised that the Jews would be released from Babylon and would return to Jerusalem. Isaiah promised that this would be through Cyrus who would also instruct that the temple and Jerusalem should be built. God had by now moved the heart of Cyrus and large numbers of Jews had returned home to Jerusalem.


The book of Nehemiah in the Hebrew scriptures is a continuation of Ezra which itself is related to Chronicles. The last verses of 2 Chronicles are used by the writer of Ezra to begin his work. Ezra and Nehemiah are almost certainly the works of an editor who may have been Ezra himself. It takes the form of narrative and tells the account of this important time in Jewish history. There are large portions of the text that are first person according to both Ezra and Nehemiah and are clearly verbatim from their diary records of the events as they unfolded. This is not a liberal fudge trying to explain away God's revealed word but it helps us to understand how the account is recorded. That having been said it makes absolutely no difference to what God teaches through this most important book but if you were to consult the commentaries you would be confronted with these issues, it is good to be aware of them.
The order of events so far:
  1. Cyrus released the Jews who wanted to go to Jerusalem in 536 BC. Zerubbabel was the leader of the Jews at that time.
  2. 78 years later in 458 BC Ezra goes to Jerusalem.
  3. 12 years after this in 446 BC Nehemiah hears of problems in Jerusalem and goes with the blessing of the then King Artaxerxes.
The purpose:
  1. Re-establishment of temple worship and practice and repairs to the temple: religious reforms.
  2. Re-establishment and teaching of the law: Ethical reforms.
  3. Re-establishment of the city: Civil reforms.
By these the honour of the Lord and His people has been affected; partially at least!


News from home:
Nehemiah just happened to be cupbearer to the king, it is almost a throwaway comment at the end of the chapter but it is in the grand scheme of things a vital point. He was highly respected by the king and was entrusted with the protection of the king.
It also just so happened that on one particular day Nehemiah's brother Hanani came to visit with friends from Jerusalem. Nehemiah was interested in the well being of his people and was horrified at the bad news that they brought.
The mandate from Cyrus to the people was to rebuild the temple and the city. God had stirred up a great many to go and Cyrus had supplied all of their needs. They had re-built the altar and the temple. There were a few problems on the way but the building was completed during the reign of a new King; Darius. The temple was dedicated and worship restored beginning with a celebration of the passover.
Under the reign of Artaxerxes Ezra was sent. Ezra was a scribe and an expert in the law of Moses, his desire was to teach the law to the people and to encourage them to obey it. Through prayer and teaching he established biblical practices and reformed the people to Godly ways.
But there was still something missing: Enter Nehemiah!
A building project was needed to be completed. The news that he had received was not good to the reformer. The walls of the city were broken down and the gates had been burned. The question to ask is “why did Nehemiah react as he did?” After all the temple was intact and the people were together.

We have to consider what the walls represented, they were the defences of the city, they were the security of the city and they were the glory of the city. The walls kept the people inside secure and barred intruders from entering. The gates were the way of entrance into the city, they were closed to intruders but open for those who belonged and both walls and gates were broken down which meant that anybody could and did enter at will. The walls were also impressive and spoke of the glory of the city. The glory of Jerusalem had always been God who chose to make it the place where He dwelt. Now the walls were a disgrace and so they dishonoured Him.
It would be logical at this point to compare the situation in Jerusalem with the Mustard Seed we have gone through great difficulties and have been re-establishing good biblical practice.
But there is still something missing!
To discover this let us consider:
Nehemiah's response:
To Nehemiah it was disastrous news that was akin to bereavement. He grieved over their situation. God had put it into the heart of this official in Susa to be passionate about the glory of His God and the security of His people. The first sight of Jerusalem instead of a glorious city would have been a ruin. We once went to the temple of Apollos in Turkey and saw a glorious ruin. The buildings you could see once were spectacular but they were now a ruin and to me they represented what their god was; a complete and utter fraud who could only offer ruin. But that should not be true of our heavenly Father who is glorious in very way. The city should speak of the Lord but sadly it did not and that grieved Nehemiah. He heard the news and he took it seriously. He knew at that point that he needed to go and help.
So what did he do?
For days on end he:
  • Stopped everything.
  • Wept.
  • Mourned.
  • Fasted.
  • Prayed constantly.
He embarked on a period of being still before God, he took the situation seriously and came seriously to God in prayer. Do we pray for the glory of God here in our church as did Nehemiah?
Let us learn how to pray from his prayer:
In verses 5-11 Nehemiah:
  • Reminded God of His covenant promises.
  • Requested that God hear his prayer.
  • Confessed his personal sins and the corporate sins of the people.
  • He recognised that they were suffering in captivity under the covenant curses of God for their sin and rebellion.
  • He appealed to God who had promised that if the people were to repent then they would be restored to Jerusalem. This was slowly but surely happening.
  • He reminded God that they were His redeemed people.
  • He requested that he have success before the king and be allowed to leave for the restoration of Jerusalem.
What a prayer!
Nehemiah needed to go and rebuild the walls and the gates. What do they represent for us here in the Mustard Seed? Just as they were the safety and security for the people of Jerusalem we have our own walls to keep in tact. The walls and the gates were a signpost to outsiders to the God who lived there. There was only one way in and all inside were protected.
I would dearly love to apply this to our own building and make a case for prettying it up but that would be a gross miss-representation of the passage. Just as the city was evidence of God's glory so is the church which as we all know is the people and not the building.
The gates of entry is the gospel, this has been under attack for many years. It is therefore necessary for us to ensure that the way in is barred from those who are not born again of the Spirit of God through the sanctifying work of Jesus' death upon the cross. There are many even here in Callington that are trying to break down this gate, we cannot and will not enter into partnership with those that preach anything but Christ and Him crucified! We ought to weep, fast and pray that the glory of the gospel is so readily dispensed with even by those who refer to themselves as Christian.
The wall are the defence and protection of the people of God. They repel the attacks of error and wrong and keep God's people secure. The bible is our wall of defence and we unashamedly stand upon it's authority. If it is not true to this word then we do not need it and that is not open to interpretation.
We have in effect our own Zerubbabel's, Ezra's and Nehemiah's! They are the Elders who are appointed by God to keep our worship and practice biblical and accurate. This is our defence and we need to maintain it constantly! It is by knowing, understanding and obeying the scriptures that the church is kept pure and honouring to the Saviour, pray that we who are called to this work may be true to our calling.
But for all of us there is the need as we shall see to be involved with the building of the walls and not the breaking down of them, we are all in this together for the glory of our Saviour, Lord give us the grace that we so much need.


Amen.



Saturday, 14 May 2016

The Lord’s Supper




1 Corinthians 11:17-34


In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said,‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgement on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and ill, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgement. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.
So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgement.
And when I come I will give further instructions.


New International Version.
**********

Church basis of faith:

The Lord’s Supper has been given to the churches by Christ as a visible sign of the gospel. It is a commemoration of Christ’s sacrifice offered once for all and involves no change in the bread and wine. All of its blessings are received by faith.




Terms used for the Lord's supper:

The Lord’s Supper is often known as the Eucharist or Holy Communion. Some refer to it as the Blessed Sacrament or even Sacrament on the Table. It is also known as an ordinance of the Lord. So what do these terms mean and are they accurate or useful descriptions of the celebration that we know?
It is largely the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches which would use the Blessed Sacrament and Sacrament at the Table terms.

  • A sacrament is simply a symbolic religious ceremony.

  • An ordinance is a decree or an order which on this occasion was given by The Lord Jesus.

  • Eucharist is derived from the Greek word  (eucharisto) which simply means “thanksgiving.” In 1 Corinthians 11:24 is the word Paul used for “when he had given thanks.”

  • Communion is derived from  (koinonia) which simply means fellowship, sharing or as in the AV: communion. In 1 Corinthians 10:16 “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”

  • The Lord’s Supper is the term that I am most comfortable with. This comes from 1 Corinthians 11:20-21. Paul in this passage, by way of rebuking the Corinthian for drunkenness and greed at the Lord’s Supper tells them that it is not the Lord’s Supper that they are celebrating.

Due to an abuse of these terms we have understandably reacted against some of them. We should however not be afraid of them; they are all good biblical terms. Perhaps it is time that we claimed them back for the use for which they were intended.

The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament around a table. It is an ordinance of the Lord Jesus in which we give thanks together in fellowship as we eat together.

Our basis of faith states that the Lord's Supper is a “commemoration of Christ’s sacrifice offered once for all and involves no change in the bread and wine. All of its benefits are received by faith.” The Elders of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis where John Piper is the pastor say more fully:

We believe that the Lord’s Supper is an ordinance of the Lord in which gathered believers eat bread, signifying Christ’s body given for His people, and drink the cup of the Lord, signifying the New Covenant in Christ’s blood. We do this in remembrance of the Lord, and thus proclaim His death until He comes. Those who eat and drink in a worthy manner partake of Christ’s body and blood, not physically, but spiritually, in that, by faith, they are nourished with the benefits He obtained through His death, and thus grow in grace.”

This concise statement is clear and helpful and is probably something that we should consider adopting for ourselves.

Some useful points for us to understand what we are doing when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper:

  1. It is the Lord’s Supper. It was given by the Lord for a set purpose. It is not our supper and therefore we cannot do as we please. Even though there are very few instructions concerning the process we are not at liberty to make more or even less of the ordinance than is prescribed in scripture. The rules are to be obeyed, the Corinthian church were guilty of abusing the celebration and were rebuked by the Apostle Paul who declared their ritual to not be the Lord’s Supper, it may have looked like it but it was false and therefore unacceptable to God. 1 Corinthians 10:14-17

  1. It is the Lord’s Supper. It is a meal with all of the benefits that a meal has but due to its abuse in the Corinthian church it has become a token or symbolic meal. Because the meaning of it is spiritual rather than physical, it was never intended to be a feast but a memorial! We therefore break one loaf signifying Christ’s body given to us and drink of one wine signifying the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood. The Old Covenant was ratified through sacrifice and the sprinkling of blood, see Exodus 24:8. This Covenant required the death of an innocent victim (an animal) which pointed forward to a more perfect sacrifice. A New covenant was to come. Jeremiah speaks of this in chapter 31:31-34:

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbour, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
This New Covenant finds perfect fulfillment in Jesus, it is His death and resurrection that brings about all that Jeremiah foresaw. This Lord’s Supper that we celebrate states this most clearly. It is our Passover meal.
  1. It is a Remembrance. The Lord said to do this in remembrance of him! Whenever we eat and drink we must remember Jesus; it was He who came from the glory into this world as a baby with the set purpose of accomplishing salvation for His people. But who is He? He is Immanuel which means “God with us.” Matthew 1:23. He is the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” John 1:29 He is the Son of God whom the Father loves: Mark 1:11 He is the Creator: John 1:3 He is God come into the world, made flesh: John 1:14.
This same Jesus died as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. We are made right with God through His death and resurrection. This is what we remember when we celebrate this supper. It is not a morbid occasion as some make it out to be. It is not about our feelings or sentimentality it is a celebration of all that our God has done for us in Christ Jesus.


  1. It is a Declaration. 1 Corinthians 11:26 tells us that whenever we celebrate this supper we are declaring that Jesus will come again. The great promise of the New Testament is that Jesus is building His church. Matthew 16:18 and that there is coming a day when all that are to be saved will be completed. At this time Jesus promised that He will return from glory and gather His saints to be with Him forever: 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. Whenever we have this communion we declare this truth to each other. This serves as an encouragement. Paul in 1 Thessalonians concludes the promise of Jesus’ return with the instruction that believers are to encourage each other with this great promise. The celebration of Lord's Supper for this reason is an encouragement to the church.

  1. It is a Recognition. By the taking of the bread and wine we are saying that we recognise him. In 1 Corinthians 11:29 Paul warns those who do not recognise the body of the Lord are bringing judgement upon themselves. If we eat and drink in a way that takes Christ from being the focal point; then the blessings dry up and the church becomes weak and sickly. That is exactly what had happened in Corinth. They were guilty of eating and drinking wrongly the result being that the church had become backslidden. The evidence being immorality amongst the leaders! This is a salutary warning to us as a church. It is clearly important that we celebrate the Lord’s Supper correctly; the consequences of not doing so are serious!

  1. It is a Communion. In 1 Corinthians 10:16 Paul tells us that not only do we give thanks and that we remember but we also take part. As we take the bread we have a participation (NIV) or communion (AV) with Christ. The letter that Paul writes is to the church at Corinth and in this he is saying that when the church eats together then they are in communion with the Lord Jesus.
    John Stott said: “Jesus did not only break the bread; he gave it to the disciples to eat. He did not only pour out the wine; He gave it to them to drink. He was not content that they should watch and listen; they must eat and drink. So the service is a communion as well as a commemoration.”
    This leads me to the conviction that the Lord’s Supper is intended for the gathered church and is not really meant for individuals or for small group participation.
    The church of Rome teaches that the mass must be celebrated for entrance into heaven this has certainly left an unhelpful mark within the church. The Lord's Supper is a special “means of grace” by which God imparts blessing to the gathered church. It is not a “means of special grace” as Rome believes, by which special and more important blessings (usually expected just prior to death) are given by God through the hand of the participating priest. The very fact that these leaders claim to be priests is a good hint at what they believe. The mass is a regular sacrifice of Jesus made for sin on behalf of the people by the priest in charge. The truth is that Jesus Christ is our great High Priest who sacrificed Himself once for all. His shed blood is sufficient for the forgiveness of sin for all who believe on Him. He is the only Priest that we need.

This Lord’s Supper is so much more than a ritual that we do regularly. If we add anything to it, then we are guilty of devaluing its true meaning. It is all about Jesus and nothing else. Equally if we take away from it then we are also guilty of depriving ourselves of its true meaning. We in effect devalue the purpose for which Christ instituted it and are guilty of celebrating something other than the Lord’s Supper. It might look the same but if celebrated wrongly then we are guilty before God. Our celebration is a sham:

We should therefore examine ourselves and our motives and recognise who it is that is symbolised in the bread and wine: 1 Corinthians 11:28-29

By not celebrating the Lord's Supper the church becomes weak and falls into spiritual slumber. It becomes a dead and formal church with no life and power! We must guard against such a thing; we need our church to be full of life for the Lord’s sake, for our spiritual health and for the gospel benefit of those with whom we are involved!




What is happening?

More to the point we ought to ask “what is not happening” when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Certain groupings believe in a miraculous changing of the bread and wine upon the blessing by the officiating priest (transubstantiation). They believe the bread to miraculously become the actual body of the Lord and the wine to become His blood. They then feast upon His body and drink His blood in a literal fashion. This they believe to be the true food and drink that Jesus spoke of in John 6:53-59 But is this what Jesus meant when He instituted the Lord’s Supper?

The first thing that we must remember is that it was the Passover that Jesus was celebrating. The synagogue celebrated the Passover by the ceremonial breaking and sharing of bread and the drinking of wine together in remembrance of God’s deliverance of His people from slavery in Egypt. The cost of their freedom was the death of the firstborn son in each family. God graciously accepted the sacrifice of an innocent victim on behalf of the firstborn son in any faithful family. That victim was to be a male lamb without any blemish. The parallel to Jesus is plain for all to see! The firstborn did not have to pay the price but an innocent victim did. It is no coincidence that it was on the night of the celebration of the Passover that Jesus was betrayed and would be arrested and made ready for execution. The head of the household would take unleavened bread and as they broke it would liken it to the bread of affliction that their forefathers had eaten on their exodus from Egypt: Exodus 12:17ff. Jesus with this in mind as He broke the bread declared that He fulfilled all that it spoke of. He said this bread speaks of my body given for you. Now when you do this do it in remembrance of me! Luke 22:19. In other words the Passover takes on a whole new meaning. The lamb of the Passover is perfectly fulfilled in Jesus who is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Then when He drank the Passover wine He declared it to be the New Covenant in His blood which is poured out for you: Luke 22:20

There is however a danger that we over simplify what is happening in our communion with God. There is much made in scripture of this being food for our nourishment, but the Lord makes it plain that this is dependent upon our remembrance of Him.

C.H. Spurgeon said: “we not only eat of His bread, but symbolically we feast upon Him.”

Vaughan Roberts in his book True Worship says:“In this there is a real presence of Christ at the Lord’s Supper but it is located in the heart of the believer and not in the elements themselves. Communion occurs by faith.”

Article 28 of the Church of England helpfully states: “The body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the supper only after a heavenly and spiritual manner. And the means whereby the body of Christ is received and eaten in the supper is faith.”

Therefore as we eat in remembrance and faith our souls are fed by Christ. This is so much more than a lesser miracle of bread and wine changing their substance could ever be.


Who is it for?

The Lord’s Supper is a celebration of all that the New Covenant achieves. The New Covenant in Christ’s blood brings freedom from sin. The Passover meal of the Old Covenant was a celebration of freedom from human slavery in Egypt. The meal was for those who had benefited from God’s gracious deliverance. Anybody could enjoy the meal and the spectacle of it but only those who were truly grateful for what God had done really took part in its true purpose. Therefore it is logical to say that it is for the children of Israel only. It is exactly the same with the Lord’s Supper, many can eat bread and wine but only those who have benefited from the forgiveness of sin through Christ’s sacrifice achieved on the cross really commune with God in the partaking of the memorial meal. The Lord’s Supper therefore is for believers alone. It is a glorious reminder to them as to the grace of our God, who through the sacrificial death of His Son Jesus Christ accomplished salvation for us. This is our own personal Exodus from sin to righteousness.



Sadly due to wrong thinking there has become a sentimental element attached to the celebration. Comment concerning the communion can often be heard as to the beauty or the wonder of the celebration. It can so easily become an emotional occasion that almost fosters pity for what Jesus went through. Hebrews 12:2 tells us that Jesus endured the cross due to the pleasure that would result from its indignity and curse. Tears of pity are not required as we partake but it should cause heartfelt praise, worship and thanksgiving to God for the sacrifice made. It is not a solemn occasion but a celebration of deep joy in the same way as the Passover was to Israel. That is why the Lord Himself said that he had eagerly awaited to eat that Passover meal with His disciples: Luke 22:14. His imminent suffering was about to accomplish all for which He had come. As we gather for our regular Communion we must come as the Lord came: Eagerly!



Helpful Hints.

The signpost found at a crossroads can be a helpful reminder as we celebrate communion. The signpost has 4 different instructions upon it. It points from one focal point to 4 different destinations. The Lord’s Supper can be likened to a crossroads. The signpost there reminds us to:

  • Look back: Remembrance. When we see a signpost to Plymouth we do not stop there content that we have seen evidence of Plymouth. It spurs us on to travel to Plymouth and enjoy the pleasures found within. The bread and wine are a signpost pointing to Calvary. Do not stop and admire the sign but remember the place of ultimate sacrifice made on your behalf.

  • Look up: Communion. Not only do we look back on what has been achieved but we are to look up to the One who achieved full and free salvation. It is Him we are communing with and are being fed by. As we eat and drink we are reminded of the cost but we are declaring once again that our trust is in Him alone.

  • Look around: Fellowship. We are eating and drinking with like minded people; look around and appreciate them because they too are part of this great church gathered by the Lord Jesus. As we look around we should see that the even greater fellowship is found in God Himself. We are part of the family of God.
  • Look forward: Hope. We are declaring Christ’s death until He comes. Until that time we have hope for the future but when that day comes then the church will be gathered in fullness; in perfect communion; in the presence of God Almighty.

Conclusion:

Our church constitution tells us that the Lord's Supper is so important that our very church membership is dependent upon us regular;y celebrating it. To miss without acceptable reason for 6 consecutive months brings into question our continued membership. In reality anyone missing for the wrong reasons is guilty of putting themselves out of fellowship.

But for all who regularly celebrate there is blessing both personally and corporately as the church.
The Lord Jesus on the night he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” The apostle Paul adds: “For whenever you eat of this bread and drink of this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes!”


We believe that the Lord’s Supper is an ordinance of the Lord in which gathered believers eat bread, signifying Christ’s body given for His people, and drink the cup of the Lord, signifying the New Covenant in Christ’s blood. We do this in remembrance of the Lord, and thus proclaim His death until He comes. Those who eat and drink in a worthy manner partake of Christ’s body and blood, not physically, but spiritually, in that, by faith, they are nourished with the benefits He obtained through His death, and thus grow in grace.”

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Fasting



Matthew 6:16-18

Jesus said: “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”


We are embarking on a subject that brings all sorts of terrors to the preacher. If you are anything like me then you have rarely heard a sermon on fasting. There seems to be two schools of thought in the modern church concerning fasting. The one school tends to give the impression that fasting is not really relevant and so they largely ignore the subject hoping that it might disappear. The other school believes that fasting ought to be a regular part of the church diet??? and that we ought to be fasting as often as possible. This school usually has the powerful preacher who with great passion leaves the average Christian squirming in his seat because we could never match up to his wonderful example.

If you want to know which school I belong to then I confess to being in the first one, but is that where I should remain? That has been the challenge to me and hopefully by the end of our time together we might find ourselves thinking biblically about the point of fasting.

The three points of our passage are:

Jesus' expectation:

Jesus at the beginning of His ministry in this passage which we call the sermon on the mount approaches the subject of fasting. The first thing that we notice is that Jesus was not in the school that I belong to because He began by assuming that His followers did fast. He said “when you fast!” Surely that means that Jesus expected His followers to fast.

Jesus' rules:

Jesus not only expected His followers to fast, He gave rules as to how they should fast. He continued in the sermon to say that they should not fast in order to draw attention to themselves and to gain spiritual “Brownie points” for their piety!

God's blessing:

Jesus also taught that there is a blessing from God the Father for those who truly fast.

Background:

These are the three points that I find in the passage set before me and I suppose that in this there is little more to add to them. In saying that there is something that is missing from our understanding of what is going on here. We have a problem in that we are not first century followers of Jesus as were His hearers on that day. That is stating the obvious really but it is nonetheless vitally important in order that we begin to understand what Jesus is really teaching. To most people in Britain outside of religious circles fasting is something that we do before we go for hospital tests, operations or for detoxing our abused bodies, but to the Jew of Jesus' day fasting was a concept that they were well acquainted with.

Fasting is spoken of many times in the Old Testament. In fact it was expected of the people of God for the celebration of the Day of Atonement . The purpose of which was that God would see their earnest desire that He make His presence once again in the temple of Jerusalem for the year to come. Of course Jesus fulfils the Day of Atonement which was why the Angel called Him Immanuel when he announced His coming birth to Joseph. Jesus is God with His people ALWAYS and He dwells permanently in the church. We do not need to fast in order to bring His presence amongst us, He has guaranteed His permanent presence by His Spirit. We cannot therefore use the Day of Atonement as our guidance for fasting. Fasting is not a way of guaranteeing God's presence to be with us.

Nevertheless the Old Testament does speak much about fasting but for various reasons. We do not have time to go through them all but I would urge you to pick up a concordance and check them out, it really is a fascinating topic to study and as we shall see it is worthwhile for our understanding.

In typical preaching mode I have chosen three examples for our consideration.

David fasted in desperate days:

I suppose that the most famous passage concerning fasting is found in 2 Samuel 12:15-17. It concerns King David after his wife Bathsheba had given birth to the son conceived through their adulterous affair.

And the Lord afflicted the child that Uriah's wife bore to David, and he became sick. David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground, but he would not, nor did he eat food with them.”

Firstly we notice that fasting for David was much more than abstaining from food, he put everything aside at this time of fasting even his royal duties!

It is clear from the passage that David was distraught at seeing the child so unwell and dying and so all of the time that the child suffered then David pleaded with God that somehow God's judgement upon David might be averted from the child. David was inconsolable, nobody could help him. Food was the last thing on his mind. In reality it was David being completely reliant upon God. This was the most natural thing for a father to do. This is what happened next:

On the seventh day the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, “Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to us. How then can we say to him the child is dead? He may do himself some harm.” But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David understood that the child was dead. And David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” They said, “He is dead.” Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the Lord and worshipped. He then went to his own house. And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate. Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”

Do you see what was happening, David fasted and wept for the child in the hope that God would allow the child to live but that did not happen. Incidentally we may find this a difficult concept in 2016 but look at David's faith in this. He believed that to die was to be in God's presence. He recognised that once the child had died then that was final here on earth and that even the king could do nothing about it. David believed that the child would not return to him but he had every confidence that one day he would go to be with the child. Do you have that kind of faith? David had a belief in God that assured him that the child would go to heaven and that is far better than life on earth.

Fasting on this occasion was the most natural thing for a believing father to do. David was desperate and so weeping and fasting before God in the hope that God might just bring about a different outcome was exactly what was needed. David's dilemma came due to his sin and so we can be assured that the weeping was remorse and repentance. This was not a show of piety or even of self pity as we often see at times of great sadness, it was David doing the most natural thing in difficult days.
Fasting comes natural at the point of need!

There will be times in our lives and also in the life of the church when we will need to come before the Lord in tears of repentance pleading with Him to remove the consequences of our guilt and to bless us. It is interesting that David and Bathsheba were eventually blessed with the birth of another son Solomon who went on to be the successor to David's throne even though he was not next in line. Jesus many years later said that when we fast rightly then our Father who sees that done in secret will reward us. That was clearly the experience of David.

Nehemiah fasted in repentance on behalf of Israel:

Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the capital, that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”
As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father's house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”
Now I was cupbearer to the king.
Nehemiah even though a Jewish captive in Persia was the official cupbearer of King Artaxerxes. He heard the news that his people back in Jerusalem were in great trouble. They were shamed because the city was in ruins and the walls were broken down. He knew that this was due to their former sin. They had not kept God's commandments and in accordance with the law given to Israel through Moses the nation had been overpowered and taken into captivity by foreign forces. Nehemiah knew that he had to repent on their behalf and ask God's forgiveness and also His enabling in order that he might approach his boss the king. He wanted leave of absence to organise the repairs that Jerusalem needed. How on earth can a mere foreign cupbearer gain favour from the most powerful man on the earth? He needed to be released to build a city up in foreign territory. Nehemiah knew enough about the character of God to realise that God's anger and wrath are turned by true repentance and so he sat down before God. He wept, he mourned, he fasted and he prayed. As he prayed Nehemiah reminded God of His character. Nehemiah had confessed his own and also the sins of his people and he subsequently appealed to God for mercy in accordance with His character and in accordance with His word as recorded by Moses.
Often when we hear of Nehemiah we are usually reminded of what the preacher loves to call his “arrow prayer” recorded in chapter 2 verse 4. When he king had asked Nehemiah what his request was he quickly prayed to God for success but the real work had gone before. He had spent many hours in anguish before God. He had wept and mourned over the difficulties of his people, he had fasted and prayed and now was the time when all of that came into focus.
There are times when like Nehemiah we need to be serious before the Lord on behalf of God's sinful people. Just consider the church today. Look at how it is, the foundations have crumbled, it is a mess. We seem to be grubbing around with little blessing when in reality we are the jewel in the crown of our Saviour, we will one day be presented to God as the bride of Christ but yet we seem to be in rags.
When is the church going to sit before God and weep over our sinfulness? When are we going to mourn over our dead state? When are we going to put aside the luxuries of life for a season whilst we come humbly before God in true repentance? When do we in prayer speak honestly about our sinfulness and appeal to God in heaven to restore the honour of His name through us His church?
It seems to me from Nehemiah's example that fasting is much more than simply deciding that we will go without our lunch. True fasting is putting aside everything as we sit before God pleading with Him for forgiveness and a restoration of blessing. Our social media and varying entertainments are put aside as an act of fasting. When somebody is truly grieving food, entertainment and the superficial things of life are no longer important. That is how it should be with us if we are to fast.


The words of Psalm 42 come to mind:


As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
These things I remember, as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.

Do we really desire God like this?
Do we really want Him to restore the honour of His name?
If we do then we need to fast and pray for forgiveness for His people for what we have done in His name.

The Jews fasted in the face of persecution:

In the time of Ester, bad man Haman was plotting to exterminate the Jewish nation but Mordecai discovered his plans. King Ahasuerus was being manoeuvred into wiping out the nation and something needed to be done. Ester the wife of the king was a Jewess and Mordecai who was her uncle needed to be persuaded to help her people. In Ester chapter 4:1-3 we find:

When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and he cried out with a loud and bitter cry. He went up to the entrance of the king's gate, for no one was allowed to enter the king's gate clothed in sackcloth. And in every province, wherever the king's command and his decree reached, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.

Ester had been persuaded to help and so eventually through hers and Mordecai's efforts God saved the nation. Notice it was when the nation mourned, prayed and fasted that God blessed them.

When God's people are under attack they need to take Him seriously and to be serious as we approach Him to intercede on behalf of those being persecuted. It was whilst the church in the UK was praying for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Eastern Europe that the Berlin wall came down. Radstock Ministries had called Christians to pray all night for their suffering brethren and it was during that time of depriving ourselves of sleep and food in order to plead for His intervention that He acted!
There are so many such examples throughout scripture and history that we might think that the lesson is obvious.
Why then are we so reticent to fast in the modern church?
Do we really take our faith seriously?

Fasting has nothing to do with self glorification as it did with the Pharisees of Jesus' day, they received the accolade that they desired as they presented themselves emaciated on street corners! Jesus said that we are not to be like that! When we fast we are to look perfectly normal, it is a secret between us and the Lord or between the church and the Lord if it is a corporate effort. If we tell it abroad then we are not really fasting but are in reality feasting on the accolade afforded to us!

When asked if we fast our standard answer should be “what has that got to do with you?” Fasting is private, it is serious and it is between us and God alone. We are doing serious business with Him

There will be times when we need to fast and to pray but as we have seen from these three examples god will only bless us in accordance with His word the bible. There is no point in us fasting in order to twist God's hand into giving us something that is contrary to God's revealed will and so like David, Nehemiah and Mordecai we need to be scholars of the scriptures in order for us to be serious with God for the things that He is serious about.

It was whilst the church in Antioch were praying and fasting that God by His Spirit instructed them to set apart Saul and Barnabas for ministry. The church needs to pray and fast as we make serious decisions for our future, we need to be just as serious for our past sins in order that we have a heart for the lost which will then cause us to fast and pray that God might revive our sad nation.





Saturday, 9 April 2016

“We believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to God.” John 14:1-14



Building the right foundation part 23

John 14:1-14
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 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? 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. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.’
Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’
Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.








New International Version - UK (NIVUK)
The church constitution or official rule book by which we adhere contains two other documents which are foundational to what our identity is. We have as part of this series of “Building the right foundation” considered our church covenant to which all who become members of the church promise to adhere. The covenant governs how we operate and how we relate to God and to each other and also the importance of reaching out with the gospel into the surrounding community and further afield.

The second document known as the “Basis of faith” is an outline of the basic principles of faith that we believe in. We are by conviction an evangelical Baptist church which means that we believe that the gospel is the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. Jesus' final command to the church was that we should be evangelical which simply means that we should take the gospel to all that it is within our power to do so. In order to be the church and to fulfil the command of Jesus it is important that our theology (knowledge of who God is) is clear and true. The founders of our church thankfully adopted a clear statement of what our foundation of belief is. We are currently considering each of the points in sermon form in order that we might continue to establish the foundation that the church stands upon.



THE LORD JESUS CHRIST

The Lord Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin, and lived a sinless life in obedience to the Father. He taught with authority and all his words are true. On the cross he died in the place of sinners, bearing God’s punishment for their sin, redeeming them by his blood. He rose from the dead and in his resurrection body ascended into heaven where he is exalted as Lord of all. He intercedes for his people in the presence of the Father.


Our text for this morning is John 14:6 in which Jesus simply says that He is the one and only way to God. For us to begin to understand what He meant when He declared that we need to first consider the context. John records in chapter 13 that Jesus had just been telling His disciples that he was about to die. It was the night before His crucifixion and He had already washed the feet of the disciples in readiness to eat the Passover Supper, they had eaten and Judas had left them to betray Jesus. In fact after Judas' departure Jesus announced that He was now glorified for the work of salvation. He gave the disciples the command to love one another, reminding them that it is by the evidence of their love one to another that others will know that they are disciples of Jesus.
Peter was told the devastating news that he would not stand up for Christ but that he would publicly deny Him three time before the next day begins.
Chapter 14 begins with Jesus comforting His people. These are His words of departure to them. He was about to die the most horrendous of deaths and yet His main concern is their comfort:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 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? 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.’


He was telling them that He was about to die for their benefit; He was about to go to heaven where He would be preparing a home for the church. He was not going to stay there but He would return to take them there to be with Him. He added the words that left them confused: “You know the way to the place where I am going.”
Thomas begged to differ and told Him that they did not understand what He was saying to them. How could they know the way?
It is this that caused Jesus to reply:
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.’
The first sentence of our basis of faith article says: The Lord Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. Throughout his gospel John makes a great deal of Jesus saying “I am”, there are 7 statements from Jesus who claimed to be:
  1. The Bread of life: John 6:35
  2. The Light of the world: 8:12
  3. The Gate to security: 10:9
  4. The Good Shepherd: 10:11
  5. The Resurrection and the Life: 11:25-26
  6. The way the Truth and the Life: 14:6
  7. The Vine which supports life: 15:5
A general reading of all of these claims causes us to wonder at how any man could possible fulfil such qualities. It is for this reason critics often say that Jesus was a madman. He is actually claiming that He is the food that keeps us alive, the Light that causes us to see truth, the Way of entry into security, the only Shepherd that looks after his people as if they were precious sheep. He is the One that raises His people to eternal life, the only way in which we can come to God with a clear conscience, He is the life support system as a vine is to it's grafted branches. When we put that together it is not hard to see what Jesus is claiming of Himself. The logical conclusion is that He is claiming to be God. But even that in our modern day is not enough for many even though these same statements enraged the religious leaders in Jesus' hearing so much that they wanted to stone Him for blasphemy. They certainly understood Him to be saying through these statements that He was equal to God in heaven.
But there is one more significant I Am statement that caused the leaders of the Jews to pick up stones immediately. It is found in John 8:48-59.
The Jews answered him, ‘Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?’
I am not possessed by a demon,’ said Jesus, ‘but I honour my Father and you dishonour me. I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.’
At this they exclaimed, ‘Now we know that you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, yet you say that whoever obeys your word will never taste death. Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?’
Jesus replied, ‘If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me. Though you do not know him, I know him. If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and obey his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.’
You are not yet fifty years old,’ they said to him, ‘and you have seen Abraham!’
Very truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’ At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.
It was the statement that Jesus made saying that “before Abraham was I AM” which caused them to want to kill Him. It might just pass us by as we read it but the words I Am in this context are really important. Some years after Abraham died; Moses was being commissioned by God in the wilderness. A voice came from within a burning bush that drew Moses forward. The voice was God speaking and instructing Moses to go to Pharaoh and to demand that he let free the children of Israel (who are Abraham's descendants.) Moses needed an authority to use and so God in Exodus 3:14 gave Him His name which is simply “I AM WHO I AM” which in Hebrew is Yahweh.
The Jews listening to Jesus on that day fully understood what he was claiming of Himself and so did the authors of our basis of faith when they wrote the article we are considering.
The Lord Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man.
There is no doubt from this and many other scriptures which we do not have time to consider today that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. We only need to consider the declaration made to Joseph by the Angel of the Lord concerning Mary being pregnant: “she will have a son and they will call His name Immanuel.” Immanuel means God with us, the son to be born is God with us, Jesus by all that He said and did was living proof that He was fully divine but yet He was fully Human. In all of His life He did not sin which was the whole purpose of His becoming man. He was to do what no other could do. The passage we have before us happened just hours before His execution. He died on the cross bearing the sins of all of His people.
That is gospel truth but what does it mean for us?
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Is the answer.
It is all about the way to God. Ever since sin entered the world through Adam then there has been no way to God. Sin is an abomination to God, He cannot have sin or sinners in His direct presence which means that all of humanity is barred from heaven but yet Jesus said on the night before he died that he was going to prepare a place for His friends in heaven where they will be at one with God. The impossible needs to happen.
We had surprise visitors in the week and due to circumstance they needed to stay overnight. Whilst drinking their coffee Pam told them that she needed to go and prepare a place for them to stay. That involved clearing out the room we had used to store the contents of the study which we were renovating. It was an arduous task for which she was pleased to do, after all it was for her sister's benefit.
The preparation that Jesus spoke of was much greater than that and far more costly. It involved the ultimate sacrifice on his behalf. As I have said sin bars us from entry into heaven because it is punishable by death. It carries the death sentence which cannot be commuted, there is no remission for sin. The sinner must die.
It is here that we find the grace of God to be amazing. Due to His love for us He does not want any to experience punishment and so He sent His Son Jesus (who as we know is the God-Man) to be the substitute of repentant sinners. Jesus said on that day to His disciples that they knew the way that He was going, He had already told them on a number of occasions that it was a sacrificial death that was His destination and that He would rise on the third day. This was His preparation and He made it just a few hours later.
He is the only Way to God, He is the only Truth of God and He is the only One who gives eternal life!
This is what we believe as the church:
The Lord Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin, and lived a sinless life in obedience to the Father. He taught with authority and all his words are true. On the cross he died in the place of sinners, bearing God’s punishment for their sin, redeeming them by his blood. He rose from the dead and in his resurrection body ascended into heaven where he is exalted as Lord of all. He intercedes for his people in the presence of the Father.
Our Jesus has accomplished salvation by His sacrifice on the cross thus making way for all who believe in Him to one day be with Him eternally. He is now in heaven interceding with His Father on our behalf. We have a man in heaven who understands us and cares for us, our place is secured and we will one day be with Him forever.
That is the promise for all who have been born again of the Holy Spirit, is it true of you? Why not pray that God will give you the faith to see your own need and the faith to believe Him and to repent and trust Him as the Way, the Truth and the Life for you also.


Apply:

Jesus Christ is the foundation of the church, it is He who we believe in. e is the only way to God. He is the One True God-Man and we worship Him and we declare Him to be the only Saviour that is necessary for salvation.