Keeping connected to God - Being connected to our world

Home
Up
Sunday Services
Splash Kids
Messy Church
Pre-school
Midweek Services
Midweek Events
Church Diary
Calendar for 2017
Prayer Focus
Hall Hire
Contacts
How to Find Us
History
Links
Photographs
Vicar
Access & aids

 

Teaching series - Autumn 2011

 

This year is the four hundredth anniversary of the first publication of the Authorised Version of the Bible. To mark this anniversary the churches are encouraging more people to read the Bible more regularly.

Week 1:        Adam & Christ

Week 2:        The Faith of Abraham

Week 3:        Moses and the Old & New Covenants

Week 4:        David and the Resurrection

 

Experience shows that when people do this an issue they soon encounter is how to understand properly the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Here at St Barnabas we shall be having a mini series of sermons during September that will address this issue by looking at what the New Testament has to say about the four key Old Testament characters, Adam, Abraham, Moses and David. We shall start the series by looking at what Romans 5 has to teach us about Adam and Christ.

 

Adam & Christ

Romans Chapter 5 verses 12-21. 

When I was on holiday last month I watched a fascinating television programme about the attempt by the author J K Rowling to discover more about her mother's French ancestors. This programme was part of a BBC series about people finding about their ancestors and, significantly, the title of this series is 'Who do you think you are?' This title is significant because it highlights the fact that a key reason for wanting to know more about our ancestors is that they are the people who have made us who we are.

Each of us has been shaped fundamentally by our parents, not only genetically, but also in terms of our beliefs, behaviour and the opportunities in life that we have had or not had. It may not be obvious to us, but to any observant outsider it soon becomes clear that we are our parents' son or daughter. We are who we are because of them. They in turn were shaped by their parents who in turn were shaped by their parents and so on up the family tree.

This does not mean that there is no room for human freedom or responsibility. Each of us makes our own choices and is responsible for them before God. However, we make our choices and act as we do because of the people that we are, people shaped by our parents and their parents and their parents and so on down the line.

Given that the human race has not always existed, this process of parents shaping their children must have had its starting point when the human race began. The Bible tells us about this starting point and calls the first human being Adam. In our Bible reading this morning we hear about Adam and his impact on all subsequent human beings.

A moment's reflection makes it clear that there is something wrong with the human race. All human beings who have ever existed, and all human beings who exist today, are selfish, self-centred individuals who fail in their love towards God and in their love towards each other. The extent to which this failure manifests itself varies from one individual to another, but the existence of this failure, which is what the Bible means when it talks about sin, is universal.

Now, either this was how God intended the human race to be when he created it or something has gone wrong since. The Bible rules out the first option, which would make God a monster. God, it says, created the human race perfect. The fact that we are now so imperfect is not God's fault, but ours.

The story of what went wrong with the human race is recorded in the Old Testament and it is summed up by the Apostle Paul in the following words from today's reading: 'sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.' (v.12)

As recorded in chapter 3 of the Book of Genesis at the very start of the Bible, Adam, the first human being, rebelled against God through his own free choice and became a sinner and his sin then shaped his children so that they became sinners and so on down the family line, with each new generation being shaped by the sinfulness of the ones before it. Furthermore, because God is the one and only source of life, and because sin cuts people off from God, the result of the universal spread of sin was the universal spread of death, physical death which kills our bodies and spiritual death which kills out souls and can cut us off from God for ever.

It is like a drop of ink placed in a glass of water that gradually spreads throughout the water and gives it the colour of the ink. In the same way the effects of Adam's sin have spread throughout the whole human race, involving all human beings in sin and death.

If Paul had stopped at that point all he would have given us was bad news. However, he does not stop at that point. He goes on to say 'if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many.' (v15)

If the story of the Old Testament is about how the effects of the sin of Adam became universal, the story of the New Testament is about how God has provided a remedy for that situation. By sending his Son Jesus Christ into the world to die for our sins on the cross and to rise again on the third day, God has given the whole human race the undeserved gift of a completely new start. This means that each of us can become free from sin and the death that flows from it, a process which begins in this life and is completed in the world to come.

A helpful way to understand this is to think about what happens if a computer programme refuses to work. Eventually you have to switch the computer off and reboot. What God has done in Christ is to give a reboot to the human race.

The importance of baptism is that this is the point at which God's reboot applies to each individual. Through baptism we are given God's gift of a new start. When someone is baptised, whether they are nine days old or ninety years old, they are given by God through the Holy Spirit the gift of a new life free from sin and death. That is why the baptism service declares 'we are reborn through the Holy Spirit.' However, this gift has to be received. This new life has to be lived out. As they grow up, those who are baptised as infants have to decide for themselves whether they wants to accept what God has done for them in Jesus Christ. None of us can make that decision for them, but what we can do and what we promise to do every time a baptism takes place, is to help them to decide rightly by encouraging their growth in faith, by setting them a good example in our own lives and by praying for them.

To return to where we began, the answer to the question 'Who do you think you are? ' is that I am someone who is a sinner because of the sin of Adam passed on to me through the succeeding generations, but, more importantly, I am someone who has been given the gift of freedom from sin and death through Jesus Christ. The challenge before those baptised as infants as they grow up is whether they will receive that gift given to them in their baptism and the challenge for all of us is to support them so that they choose rightly and also to reflect on our own lives and to ask whether we have accepted for ourselves what God has done for us in Christ and are living it out by rejecting sin and growing daily in holiness. God's free gift of eternal life is given to all of us, but it is not automatic. We have to receive it. 

 

Questions for further reflection

1. What examples would you give of ways in which parents shape the lives of their children?

2. How is it possible both to say that we are shaped fundamentally by our parents and ancestors and yet that we are responsible for our own decisions?

3. What do you think is the overall point that St. Paul is making in Romans chapter 5 verses 12-21?

4. Why would there be a problem with saying that human beings today are the way that God intended them to be? In the light of this why it is important to say that the human race fell into sin through an act of free choice at the beginning of its history?

5. How can you make sense of the idea that what Adam did has involved all subsequent human beings in and death?

6. How did Christ give a 'reboot' to the whole human race?

7. What are the ways in which can help those baptised as infants to receive God's gift of forgiveness and new life?

 

M B Davie 4.9.11

 

The Faith of Abraham 

Romans 4 v 16-25

This morning we are continuing our series on what the New Testament has to say about key characters from the Old Testament by looking at what St. Paul has to say in Romans 4 about Abraham. When we looked at Adam and Christ in Romans 5 v 12-21 last week we looked at the importance of the fact that we are all descended from Adam’s family line. Our reading this week invites us to consider a similar theme, what it means to be the children of Abraham

 When reading any of Paul’s letters we need to be aware that he is responding to a particular issue or set of issues in the church or churches to which he is writing. In the case of Romans the overarching issue is the tension that existed within the Roman church between those Christians who were of Jewish descent and those who were Gentiles.

What Paul wanted to happen in the church in Rome is set out in Romans 15 v 7 where he tells both Jewish and Gentile believers: ‘Accept one another then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.’

The way he seeks to persuade them to do this is by showing them that the Gospel puts both Jews and Gentiles on an equal footing by bringing salvation in the same way to both of them. Paul sketches out this argument at the beginning of his letter in Romans 1 v 17 where he declares: ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.’ In the subsequent chapters of Romans Paul develops what he says in this verse and in our reading from Romans chapter 4 he relates it to the story of Abraham.

The first thing you have to understand  about this reading is that in the first century it was a fundamental belief amongst Jewish people that to belong to God’s people you had to be a descendant of Abraham. This was because in Genesis 17 God promises that he will establish his covenant of blessing with Abraham and his descendants. It is they on whom God’s blessing will rest.

This fundamental belief raised the question of who qualified as a descendant of Abraham. The prevailing Jewish view was that to qualify you had to be ethnically Jewish or become Jewish by converting to Judaism, observing the Law of Moses and, if male, by being circumcised.

In Romans 4 Paul challenges this view. To see how he does this it is best to divide our reading into three sections

The first section is verses 16-17:

Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: ‘I have made you a father of many nations.’ He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.

Here Paul declares that the promise given to Abraham in Genesis 17 v 5        ‘I have made you a father of many nations’ is fulfilled in the fact that he is the spiritual father of a people that is made up of all those from every nation who share his faith. What is this faith? It is faith in the God who is capable of creating everything out of nothing at the beginning of time and as such can give life in the face of death. Those who believe this are Abraham’s spiritual children regardless of whether they are Jewish and observe the Mosaic Law and as such are the recipients of God’s promised blessing.

The second section is verses 18-21:

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.

Here Paul explains more precisely the nature of Abraham’s faith. God’s promise that he would have descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven (Genesis 15 v 5) seemed, humanly speaking, to be ruled out by the fact that Abraham was ancient and his wife Sarah was barren. However, Abraham did not doubt God’s promise but kept on believing, because he trusted that God had the power to do what he promised He would do.

The third section is verses 22-25:

This is why ‘it was credited to him as righteousness’  The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

Here Paul gives the practical application of the story of Abraham. According to Genesis 15 v 6, Abraham’s faith was ‘credited to him as righteousness.’ That is to say, Abraham was regarded by God as a righteous man, a man who was in a right relationship with God, because of his steadfast faith in God’s promise. Why this matters, says Paul, is because these words do not apply only to Abraham, but also to Christian believers. If Abraham was in a right relationship with God because he believed what God had promised, then we also will be in a right relationship with God if we believe what God has promised.

The only difference between Abraham and us is that we live the other side of the coming of Christ. That means that for us trusting in the God of Abraham means believing in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. This is because the God who gave a promise to Abraham has given us a further promise through Jesus’ resurrection. This promise is that Jesus has died and risen to defeat sin and to give us a new life with God for ever and that what Jesus has done will reach its fulfilment when he comes in glory at the end of time to bring in God’s eternal kingdom. Having a right relationship with God like that of Abraham means believing in this promise and that is true regardless of whether you are a Jew or a Gentile.

Given that this is Paul’s argument in Romans 4, what does it mean for us today? It means four things

First, it makes clear what it means for someone to be a Christian. Being a Christian is not a matter of ethnic identity, or coming from a Christian family, or going to church or taking part in church activities. Being a Christian means being part of the one family of God made up of the children of Abraham by doing what Abraham did, that is to say, believing in the promise giving God. Specifically, this means believing in the God who has promised us eternal life by raising Jesus from the dead. If you believe in this God and live accordingly then you are a Christian. If you don’t then you are not.

Secondly, believing in this God means believing in Him despite our outward circumstances just like Abraham did. The sixteenth century theologian John Calvin makes this point well in his commentary on Romans.

 ‘Our circumstances are all in opposition to the promises of God. He promises us immortality: yet we are surrounded by mortality and corruption. He declares that He accounts us just: yet we are covered with sins. He testifies that he is propitious to us and benevolent to us: yet outward signs threaten his wrath. What then are we to do? We must close our eyes, disregard ourselves and all things connected with us, so that nothing may hinder us from believing that God is true.’

The importance of looking away from our outward circumstances and trusting in God is illustrated for us in the Gospels in the story of Peter’s attempt to walk on the Sea of Galilee . According to the account in Matthew 14 Peter was doing fine as long as he obeyed Jesus’ command to come to him. However, when he took his eyes off Jesus and looked at the storm he began to sink and Jesus had to reach out and save him. We are like Peter. All will be well if we trust in Jesus’ word. Where we will go wrong is if look away from Jesus and start considering the storms of life instead.

Receiving Holy Communion, is also all about disregarding outward circumstances and trusting in God’s word. When we receive communion all we get outwardly is a piece of ordinary bread and a sip of ordinary wine. It is only as we trust in Jesus’ words ‘this is my body, this is my blood’ (Matthew 26v 26-29) and his promise ‘whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life’ (John 6 v 54) that we are fed by God as we receive the sacrament. Like Abraham, like Peter, we have to disregard outward circumstances and trust in what God has said. 

Thirdly, believing in the power of God to fulfil His promises by giving us eternal life makes perfect sense if God really is the creator who called all things into being out of nothing in the first place. If He could do that then there is no limit to his power, not even death. As the worship song puts it, ‘my God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing that he cannot do.’

Finally, if we truly believe in God’s promises and in his unlimited power then we will show this by turning to Him constantly in prayer, individually and together. The extent to which we really believe in God is shown precisely by the extent to which we look away from ourselves and to God  because we take seriously Jesus’ promise ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you’ (Matthew 7 v 7).  Our willingness to engage in believing and persistent prayer is the true measure of our faith.

 

Questions for further reflection  

1. What was the issue to which Paul was responding in his letter to the church in Rome and how do Romans 1 v 17 and Romans 15 v 5 sum up Paul’s response to this issue?

2. How do Romans 4 v16-25 fit into Paul’s overall argument in Romans?

3. In what ways should our faith be (a) similar to and (b) different from the faith of Abraham?

4.  If someone asked you to summarise what God has promised to you as a Christian what answer would you give?

5. Why does knowing that God is the creator help to make sense of believing in his promises?

6. What examples would you give of ways in which you have had to trust in God in spite of your outward circumstances?

7. Why is it that we are so slow to turn to God in prayer even though we believe in God and in God’s promises?

 

M B Davie 11.9.11

 

 

Moses and the Old & New Covenants 

 

2 Corinthians chapter 3 verses 4-18

Verses 4-6  The competence that Paul has to act as an apostle comes from the fact that God has appointed him as a minister of the new covenant. The old covenant given to God though Moses at the time of the Exodus was an external written code of law and brought death because people were unable to keep it (see Romans chapter 7). The new covenant given by God through Christ is an internal relationship with God, a law written on the heart by the Spirit, which brings life by enabling us to become the people God wants us to be.

Verses 7-11 In Exodus chapter 34 verses 29-35 there is a description of how Moses face shone with the glory of God when he received the old covenant law to the extent that he had to wear a veil. Paul makes the point that if the covenant which in the end brought only death and was transitory shone with the glory of God how much more glorious must the new and permanent covenant be.

Verses  12-18 Paul emphasises that unlike Moses who concealed the glory of God behind a veil he fully reveals God’s glory. That is to say, by his preaching Paul fully reveals what God is like. Furthermore just as the people of Israel were prevented by Moses’ veil from seeing God’s glory, so the spiritual sight of non-Christian Jews is veiled when they read the Old Testament so they cannot see the glory of God. It is only in Christ that the veil is taken away, so that people are free to see the glory of God, who God truly is, and through the work of the Spirit be changed into God’s likeness.

 

The points which arise from these verses are:

  • There are two covenants, one temporary, one permanent. 
  • The old covenant revealed to Moses was given by God and so reflected God’s glory 
  • However, it only revealed God partially (see John  chapter 1 verses 17-18) and in the end it only brought death because of the human inability to fulfill it. 
  • The new covenant reveals God fully and because it is fulfilled by the Spirit it brings eternal life. By enabling us to fully see what God is like makes it possible for us to become transformed into the people God who wants us to be.

 

Questions for further reflection  

1. What aspects of the glory of God are revealed in the Old Covenant?

2. What other aspects of the glory of God are revealed in the New Covenant?

3. As our relationship with God is based on the New Covenant, what aspects of the Old Covenant give us guidelines for our lives today?

4. How do we reconcile Paul’s teaching that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law with Christ’s words “I have not come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfill them”. (Matthew chapter 5 v 17)

5. If the Exodus is the model of salvation by grace, why was the law given to Israel after they had become the people of God by grace?

 

J Sunley 18.9.11

 

David and the Resurrection 

 

Acts 2 v 22-36  

 This morning we conclude our short series about what the New Testament has to say about key characters from the Old Testament by looking at what Acts chapter 2 has to say about David the shepherd boy who became a king.  

Ask the average person in the pew what they know about this David, and the chances are that most will know that he was the person who slew the Philistine giant Goliath using his shepherd’s sling. Those who know a little more may also be able to tell you that David was a successful King of Israel, that he wrote many of the Psalms we have in our Bible and that he had an affair with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.

It is likely, however, that almost no one will correctly identify the two characteristics of David which are highlighted in our reading from Acts chapter 2. These characteristics are set out in verses 30-31 which say the following about David:

But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay.

In these verses we see that David was a prophet and that he was someone to whom God had given a solemn promise.

The promise that God gave to David is recorded in 2 Samuel chapter 7 verses 12-13 where the prophet Nathan tells David on behalf of God:

When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

Because David was a prophet, he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to declare how God’s promise through Nathan would be fulfilled.

In Acts chapter 2 Peter explains to the crowd on the day of Pentecost about the new thing that God has done that has resulted in the disciples preaching about Jesus in a variety of different languages. As he does this he notes two passages from the Psalms in which David declared how the promise given to him by Nathan would come to pass.

What God has done, says Peter, is to raise Jesus from the dead after he was crucified.  David announced that God was going to do this in Psalm 16 verses 8-11 in which he says:

I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest in hope,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
you will not let your holy one see decay.
You have made known to me the paths of life;

you will fill me with joy in your presence.’

As Peter points out, David cannot be talking about himself in these verses because ‘David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day’ (Acts chapter 2 verse 29). The person David is talking about is Jesus. He is the holy one of God who was not abandoned in the realm of the dead and whose body did not decay because God raised him up on the third day as the disciples are able to testify because they have met with the resurrected Jesus and have been to his tomb and found it empty.

Peter then goes on to note that in Psalm 110 verse 1 David says

The Lord said to my Lord:
Sit at my right hand
 until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.

This verse uses pictorial language drawn from the practice of ancient royal courts. To sit at someone’s right hand means to receive authority from them. We still have an echo of this in modern English when we talk about someone being somebody’s ‘right hand man.’ This means that are trusted by someone to act with authority on their behalf. For your enemies to become your footstool meant their accepting defeat and becoming subject to your authority. If you go to the British Museum , for example, there are inscriptions which show kings with their feet on the necks of their defeated enemies as a visible sign that these enemies are now subject to them. In the Bible itself you find the same practice in the Old Testament in Joshua chapter 10 verse 26 where the leaders of Israel put their feet on the necks of the defeated kings of the Amorites.

As Peter notes, once again David is not talking here about himself because he did not ascend to heaven to receive authority from God. He died and remained in his tomb. He is talking about Jesus who ascended to heaven forty days after his resurrection and who as the ‘right hand man’ of God the Father received from him the authority to reign over heaven and earth until all creation, including those parts of it that are currently in rebellion against God, submits to his rule, thus fulfilling the promise that one of David’s descendants would possess an everlasting kingdom.

It is because Jesus has been given this authority, says Peter, that he has been able to pour out the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost thereby enabling the disciples to speak in many languages. Furthermore, David’s prophecy in Psalm 110 points to the fact that by giving him authority over the nations God has declared the crucified Jesus to be both Lord and Messiah.

Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah (verse 36).

Jesus is Lord in the sense of being the one who is able to exercise God’s authority over creation because he shares God’s divine nature. He is also Messiah in the sense of being the descendant of David who, by ruling over creation on God’s behalf and defeating the forces of evil that are in rebellion against God totally and permanently, will fulfil God’s promises of an age of universal blessing in which sin and death will be no more.  

What all this means for us is four things.

First, it points us to the fact that we need to learn to read the Old Testament as a prophetic witness pointing forward to Jesus. We know from the Gospels that this is how Jesus read the Old Testament (see for example Luke chapter 24 verses 25-27 and 44-46) and he taught the disciples to read it in the same way. We in our turn need to work through the New Testament seeing how the New Testament writers read the Old Testament as referring to Jesus so that we can learn to read it in the same way that Jesus and the disciples did. If we are not reading it that way then we are not reading it properly.

Secondly, we need to recall that the most important thing we can do in life is bear witness to Jesus. David was in his day a significant political ruler, but for Peter that ultimately did not matter. What mattered was that David bore witness in the Psalms to how Jesus would fulfil the promise made by God in 2 Samuel chapter 7. David’s greatness was that he was a faithful witness and that needs to be our greatness too. What will ultimately matter about our lives is whether like David, and like Peter on the day of Pentecost, we tell people about Jesus. It doesn’t matter what else we do with our lives, if we fail to bear witness to Jesus then we have failed in the one really important thing that God wants us to do.

Thirdly, we need to remember that God keeps his promises. God promised to David that his descendant would possess an everlasting kingdom. It happened. God promised through David that Jesus would be raised from the dead and would reign at God’s right hand. It happened. Whatever God says will happen takes place. This means that those things in Scripture which have not yet taken place, the final and complete defeat of all evil, the coming of Jesus in glory, the resurrection of the dead, the final judgement and the life everlasting, will also happen.

Because from our perspective God seems to be a bit slow in doing what he says he is going to do, because two thousand years have passed and evil still appears to flourish and Jesus has still not come in glory, it can be tempting to think that it will never happen. However, as we saw when we looked at the example of Abraham a fortnight ago we need to turn our attention away from outward circumstances and focus on what God has said, God has promised that evil will be defeated, that Jesus will come, that the dead will be raised, that judgement will take place and that God’s people will share life with him for ever and that is all that we need to know. That settles the matter.

Fourthly, it is because God has kept his promises given through David that we can celebrate a baptism here at St Barnabas this morning. Because Jesus has been raised from the dead those who are baptised can receive a new life that will last for ever. Because Jesus has been exalted to God’s right hand and has poured out the Holy Spirit those who are baptised can receive God’s power through the Spirit to live as the people God made them to be.

So as we are all witnesses to the baptism here this morning let us give thanks to the God who has spoken through David, the God who makes promises and then keeps them. Let us put our hope in him and bear witness to him to those who do not yet know him.

 

Questions for further reflection

1. In Acts chapter 2 verses 22-36 how do the witness of the Old Testament and the experience of the disciples fit together to enable them to understand what God has done?

2. Why does what David says in Psalm 16 verses 8-11 and Psalm 110 verse 1 apply to Jesus rather than to David himself?

3. How would you explain to someone what is meant in Psalm 110 verse 1 by the terms ‘right hand of God’ and ‘make your enemies a footstool for your feet’ ?  Who do you think Jesus’ enemies are?

4. Why is it good news for us that Jesus has been exalted to heaven and rules over the world? (see Romans chapter 8 verse 34, Hebrews chapter 4 verses 14-16 and John chapter 16 verses 5-11)  

5. What steps can we take to learn to read the Old Testament as a witness to Jesus?

6. Why do we often find it so hard to believe that God will keep those of his promises that are yet to be fulfilled?

7. Why is bearing witness to Jesus the most significant thing we can do in life and why do we often find it such a difficult thing to do?

 

M B Davie 25.9.11