Welcome to Philippi - some thoughts as we start our new sermon series

by Gavin  

Welcome to Philippi - some thoughts as we start our new sermon series

Welcome to the church of Christ, here in Philippi.  Here we all are, sitting in the spacious and Roman-styled home of Lydia, a local businesswoman.  We’re tried a few other venues, but for this meeting, Lydia’s home certainly has the most space, and in fact the church actually started off in her house anyway!  The date today is between 60 and 62 AD.  The windows are open and a refreshing breeze from the Gangites River is blowing in…

 

Let me introduce you to a few folk…

 

Old grandfather Geriatrix, all of 110 ten years old, sits there in his own world in the corner.  Maybe he is thinking about the events that happened just over 100 years ago when he was 10 years old.  He remembers the stories that his own great-grandfather (Ancientix) told him about what it was like in Krenides, the town of “Little Fountains.”  Ancientix used to play in those numerous springs while his father worked in the nearby goldmine.  But that gold changed his life forever as Philip II of Macedon (the father of Alexander), attracted by the age-old lure of that precious metal, swept down and conquered the region in the 4th century BC.   Krenides was renamed Philippi then (and who says that only South African politicians have the monopoly on name changes! O yes, those were great stories… 

 

Geriatrix thinks of his own story too, with Antony and Octavian defeating the forces of Brutus and Cassius at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC – just 100 years ago.  O, he can remember it so clearly…  Philippi becoming a Roman colony, and so many of those war veterans settling in the area.  Yes, life changed radically for them.  Geriatrix had to learn Latin – that horrid language.  That’s all that they were allowed to speak.  And he wasn’t even aspiring to become an attorney! Oh well – Est quod est! Roman law was introduced, and things were very different.  But it wasn’t all bad!  Roman customs were introduced, and the city government became was modeled on those great Italian cities.  The changes in kitchen design only came later, but sadly pizza never really took off!

 

But who else is in the room as we gather?

 

Yes, of course, Lydia (the ever gracious hostess) and her family.  Who can forget Lydia, the first convert under Paul?  She continued in the fabric business, still specializing in expensive purple-dyed goods. 

 

“Hang on a sec – what’s that you asked? O, the disruption outside?  We’re used to that by now – sadly!  That’s just two of our ladies arguing outside on the roof.  Euodia and Synthche.  They were also some of the first converts, but they don’t see eye to eye on some church issues.”

 

In the other corner, sitting with his family, is the man from Correctional Services, Fearful Frederix.  Remember his story?  Paul had cast that demon out of the girl who worked as a fortune-teller, and her masters were furious.  They had Paul and Silas beaten and imprisoned.  But then that earthquake struck, and God miraculously caused their release.  Old Fearful Frederix was so unnerved that night that he was about to kill himself, but Paul stopped him, and he believed on Christ and was saved.  The first nocturnal baptism happened that night as he and his family were baptized!

 

Ah, but I ramble… Allow me to give you some detail on our church…

 

All of these events happened during Paul’s second Missionary Journey.  But Paul had a pastor’s heart for our church, and he visited again – at the beginning and end of his 3rd Missionary Journey (we read about that in 2 Corinthians 8 : 1-5 and Acts 20 : 6). 

 

As a local church we had developed a heart for believers in crisis, and helped where we could.  We previously helped Paul with some stuff when he was serving the Lord in Thessalonica. We also contributed abundantly for the needy in Jerusalem because we cared for the broader church.

 

But then Paul got imprisoned in Rome 4-5 years after he last visited us.  We were compelled to try and help him.  But we needed a courier, and DHL just were not operational yet… so along with the gift we sent Epaphroditus, one of our members here.  The problem was that Epaphroditus suffered a near-fatal illness en route to Rome (or was it just after he got there – that part is unclear?). 

 

Paul decided to send Epaphroditus back to us.  And he’s just got back!  And Paul sent a letter with him as well.  That’s why we’re all here tonight, crowded in Lydia’s house like sardines.  We can’t wait to hear what Paul has written to us…

Where is God?

by Gavin  

Where is God?

 

Another event-filled week in South Africa passes.  Violent N3 protests in KZN, sentencing and appeal in a racism case, petrol-bombing of a mining bus with tragic deaths, the demise of an admired liberation figure and a life lauded, a high profile court case on fraud and corruption with the prospect of a postponement and more appeals… God is thrown into the conversational mix by many, and we’ve seen church leaders appeal to Him for their particular flavour of preferred human justice. 

 

So where is God, and His justice in all these events?  How should we regard the workings of God when, as Job legitimately asked, “Why do the wicked live, reach old age, and grow mighty in power?” (Job 21:7, ESV).  How do we answer such a probing question, fuelled by the real events that one sees around us where justice is often seen to not prevail?

 

The Christian’s confidence lies in the long-term view!

 

Fret not yourself because of evildoers, and be not envious of the wicked, for the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out.” (Proverbs 24:19–20, ESV)

 

As Dr D.A. Carson writes on this text:

 

“The believer must take the long view. If we judge everything by who wins and who loses in the short span of our own lives, we will often be frustrated. But  God the Judge has the last word.”

 

So look long!  There will be a full and final reckoning before the judgement seat of the One who is infinitely just.

 

A PSALM OF ASAPH. Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning. If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children. But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms. When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” (Psalm 73, ESV)

 

Curse of the crown

by Gavin  

Curse of the crown

 

There are rich ironies embedded in the build-up to the cross.

 

Mark as he writes shows us the mocking of Jesus Christ all over the place!  Pilate, Chief Priests, Herod, Herod’s soldiers, Romans soldiers, and the people passing by at Golgotha where Jesus was crucified all revile Him. The whole spectrum of society mocked him as king… from the lowest to the highest, from the most powerful to the least, from the pagan foreign rulers to the ultra-religious Jews.

 

But you know the irony in all this?  What is the irony in the mocking and taunting and laughing at Jesus when they pour scorn on Him as King?  What have they missed as they laugh and joke??

 

Do not miss this… this is the crucial part of this whole story. Jesus was the King.  He is the King.  He will forever be the King. They mock Jesus as King but fail to see the majesty of Jesus as real King!

 

Part of that multi-phasic taunting was the mocking of Jesus as king by the Roman soldiers…

 

And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him.” (Mark 15:16–17, ESV)

 

The military force was overkill here.  The whole battalion – the local cohort – would have been 600 men, and it is they who gather here.  Pretty much all the off-duty soldiers gathered together to have some fun with this Jewish prisoner, who was known to be the supposed King of the Jews.

Their strategy was simple – if He was supposed to be king, then they’d treat Him as a king.  So they find a purple cloak – a symbol of royalty – and they put it on Jesus.  Then they find thorns, twist those twigs into a rough circle, and create a crown, and force it down on the head of Jesus.

 

And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him.” (Mark 15:18–19, ESV)

 

The whole thing is an act, a show, a time of sport for them, some fun Friday morning entertainment.

They get their few minutes of fun, at Jesus’ expense, by pretending He was a king, and pretending to honour Him and revere Him.

 

And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.” (Mark 15:20, ESV)

 

They had no clue. For these pagan soldiers it was just a game, but their sadistic actions actually pointed to Christ as the sin-bearer, as the atoning sacrifice, the One through whom sin would be defeated.  The missed the true majesty of Christ even in their fake homage.  That mocking carried on right through to the cross.

 

But now, think about this… the crown of thorns was done primarily as an act of fake homage to the real King whom they did not see or acknowledge as King.  But is there a deeper level of significance here?  Track with me…

 

What was one of the signs of the Fall? 

 

And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.” (Genesis 3:17–18, ESV)

 

Thorns!  Thorns entered a good world because of sin.  Thorns and thistles are a marker of a sin-affected, sin-corrupted world that is longing for the final redemption.  In Eden, before Adam and Eve sinned, there were no thorns.  In the New Heaven and New Earth, with the effects of the Fall reversed, there will be no thorns.

 

So, we see Jesus Christ wearing a mock crown, designed to humiliate Him, but made out of plant material that was a result of, and in fact a sign of, mankind’s sin.  We see the Son of God going to the cross to deal with man’s sin wearing a crown made of one of the very signs that points to that sin.  Christ headed for the cross to defeat sin and overcome sin and atone for sin while wearing a deeply painful reminder of that sin.  Without even knowing the depths of what they were doing, these Roman soldiers thrust a sign of God’s curse on humanity onto the head of the Saviour who was about to suffer and die to redeem humanity.    In a very real and graphic way, the Sacrificial Lamb bore the sign of the curse even as He was led to be crucified on the cross,

 

The ironies are rich!

 

How does that enrich our reading of Galatians 3:13 as we approach Easter this year?

 

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—” (Galatians 3:13, ESV)

 

 

What's with the water jar?

by Gavin  

What's with the water jar?

 

It’s great to have good Bereans (Acts 17:11) in our services, who listen attentively to the sermons, and are willing to engage meaningfully on the content!  And even be prepared to challenge!

 

OK, so yesterday I preached Mark 14:12-21.  This a staggering and mind-blowing account of how a holy, righteous God uses human sinfulness to achieve His own good and wise purposes.  We learned that through two facets of this story: 1) Jesus’ total control over all the events, and 2) Judas’ total culpability for all the events

 

Those 2 facets of this account show us how a holy, righteous God uses human sinfulness to achieve His own good and wise purposes… a lesson that we need to heed today!

 

As we unpacked this, we saw that Jesus sent 2 disciples into the city.  We know from Luke 22 that these men are Peter and John… part of the inner circle.  Jesus says that they were to go into the city, into the frenzy, amidst hundreds of thousands of people, crushing crowds, animals, carts, dust, noise… Everyone was thinking Passover:  preparation, final arrangements, final shopping, and lambs to the slaughter…

 

And Jesus says that in the middle of that circus, a man with a water jar will meet them.

 

This is a taste of Cape Town in the next few weeks and months, but also what millions do across the globe each day – fetching and carrying water to their homes.

 

Get this – that was unusual, because typically the women did the water duties.  So, if that was the case it would have been pretty easy to identify the man with the water jar.  The point was well made to me after the service yesterday, and I concede that fully.

 

BUT male slaves were used to carry water as well, and with the Roman occupation there must have been lots of slaves conveying water to the barracks etc.

 

So then, what are the chances?  Even if they found a guy with a water jar, what are the chances it was the right guy, going to the right place? There was no communication, no set meeting point, no SMS, no pin drops on WhatsApp… they just had to go, and meet a random man with a water jar.

 

So, if it was unusual for men to carry the water, and that is Mark’s point, then we accept that in the providence of God, the paths of that man crossed with Peter and John at the place and time.  If there were many men carrying waters jars in the city, and they just happened to stumble across the right  man at the right place and right time, the same point holds true – it was all providentially arranged, and God’s plan and timetable to get His Son to be arrested, tried, tortured and crucified still worked out perfectly.

Help in Heaven!

by Gavin  

Help in Heaven!

 

We all know about “Help” buttons… if there is a problem in using a programme, click on the “Help” icon for information.  Help lines and call centers are everywhere and for everything – anything from severe life trauma, medical aid queries, insurance claims through to how to correctly wire your electronics to get them to work – help lines exist to render aid.

 

Why?  Because we need help, don’t we? As people things are often beyond us, and the expertise and intervention of others is necessary. People with more power, more skill, more insight, more money, and more ability are needed to guide, coach, assist, rectify and troubleshoot for us.  You’re probably done it many times this week already… calling someone to help with carrying the groceries, calling someone for help with dates you don’t know, calling a plumber for help with a burst water pipe, asking a sports coach to assist with improving at tennis or golf or bowls!

 

How much more spiritually? We live in a fallen world, as fallen, fallible, sinful people.  Our lives are in God’s hands.  Everything we have is from him…

 

Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.” (1 Chronicles 29:11–12, ESV)

 

We have a total dependence on God in every way – for life, health, provision, protection, salvation, daily grace, wisdom etc.

 

To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he has mercy upon us.” (Psalm 123:1–2, ESV)

 

This is a picture of total dependency, total need!  God alone can help us as needy people.

 

Now, what has that got to do with Ascension Day and us gathering tonight to consider the fact that Jesus is back in heaven?  This whole “Help” thing sounds a little left-field, a little removed from the issue of Jesus going back to heaven, right?

 

Well, today is Ascension Day in the life of the church.  But what does it mean?  Is it important?  We kind of know about Christmas and Easter, but Ascension Day?  We can talk a little about the importance of Jesus’ birth and life and death and resurrection, but his ascension?  Hmmm… that often where the wheels fall off, don’t they?

 

Well, there are a number of key reasons why it is important:

  • Establishes Jesus as ultimate ruler over all things (King of Kings, Lord of Lord)
  • Makes possible all the promises about the coming of the Holy Spirit as the “another Advocate, Helper or Counselor”, just like Jesus.
  • Keeps us longing for His return as judge – He’s gone, but He is coming back!

 

But I want to consider just one key reason in this reflection.  “HELP!”  The matter of divine help for believers in Christ Jesus!  Help for Christians, help for needy, sinful and vulnerable Christians is just one of the great benefits the ascension brings to us… How?

 

I want to peg our focus in Hebrews 4 primarily.  Let’s have a look…

 

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14–16, ESV)

 

In Jesus “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens.”  “Passed through the heavens” is ascension language.  The thought is that Jesus has gone right through to the supreme place – and that is back in heaven, with the Father.

 

“… After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” (Hebrews 1:3, ESV)

 

See, after His death to save sinners, and resurrection that shattered the power of death, Jesus also passed through the heavens to be seated at the Father’s right hand.  That’s what the ascension accomplished. Jesus Christ is now is seated triumphantly at God’s right hand.

 

Christ reigns right now with all power given to him both in heaven and on earth. Nothing happens that Christ does not know of, and that He does not have authority over.  He reigns above all, and possess all power and sovereignty to achieve His purpose and to defend His church.    That’s hope building for the Christian!  But it should also be quite sobering for the rebellious sinner who rejects the authority of Christ.

 

And what does Jesus do there in heaven?  He intercedes for His people on the basis of his shed blood.

 

Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” (Romans 8:34, ESV)

 

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25, ESV)

 

See, Jesus is the Advocate for the believer, for the Christian – interceding for them.

 

So what?  How does all that help us, help me, help you?  What’s the result of this whole ascension and rule and right hand and intercession stuff?  Let’s go back to Hebrews 4, and see the development of the argument…

 

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16, ESV)

 

That’s huge!

 

Think of where we started… we’re weak, fallible, sinners with weak faith and creaking, groaning, aging bodies, living in a world of crime, pain and heartache.  And believers in Christ have a risen, ascended Christ in heaven who is our advocate, interceding for us.

And Christians are invited to come to His throne of grace – confidently – to find what?  Mercy and grace in our time of need!

 

  • So, whether we are battling cancer, bitterness, betrayal, pride, or discouragement, we can pray with confidence because of our ascended Lord who intercedes for us.
  • When we face trial and affliction and confusion and distress, we’re invited to pray to God through Christ, who is powerful and concerned for us.
  • When we are faced with issues too big, pain too deep and decisions too confusing, the ascended Christ guarantees mercy and grace in our time of need.
  • When Satan comes and tells us that real Christians don’t do and say things like what we do, or people point fingers and say, “Hah, look at you – what a hypocrite you are!” or our faith is rattled and our sense of assurance gets eroded, where is our confidence? In Him, interceding for us, and in the invitation to come through Him to find mercy and grace!

 

When temptation and lack of assurance comes, our confidence lies in Christ – His finished work, His resurrection and His ongoing intercessory work for us as our Advocate in heaven all the time.  As the wonderful hymn, “Before the Throne of God above” captures it:

 

When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within

Upward I look and see Him there, who made an end to all my sins.

Because the sinless Saviour died, my sinful soul is counted free

For God the just is satisfied, to look on Him and pardon me.

 

That is the significance and importance of the ascended Christ!  Be encouraged by that.

 

On this Ascension Day (40 days after the resurrection), take time to reflect on how Jesus’s ascension changed everything.  It provided his followers with power, grace, mercy, presence, gifts, and anticipation enabling them to advance his mission.  And through faith in Christ, that means YOU! 

 

There is present help and hope for the believer, for the Christian.  Why?  Because He is presently seated at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

 

But there is also future hope as well… this same Jesus will return earth to establish his kingdom in fullness and put his enemies under his feet.

 

Let those truths fuel hope and motivate even greater prayer as we face life in this fallen world!

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