Notes of Meeting Sunday 24 July 2022

Worship led by Brian Legg

Psalm 123: 1 – 2 – looking until we receive – don’t give up!

Whatever our current fears and difficulties, we are all encouraged to come and bring our worship to the Lord.

2249      Come people of the risen King

859        I will worship

Who? You alone. Are we ever tempted to put at least some of our trust in others? Rulers of nations? Some are very good, wise, thoughtful of others, generous. But others – sadly only out to line their pockets at others expense. Politicians? Same again really – for some, it’s just a job they enjoy. But trust them? And we certainly wouldn’t feel we could worship them – although of course some people do, even today.

We’re here to worship and give honour to Jesus

Hebrew 1: 1 – 3 (Read) – See what He is doing now. And Rev 1:7 – what He will do in the future.

870        Jesus is the name we honour

Our next song again picks up the theme of every knee one day bowing the knee before the living Lord Jesus.

302        Jesus shall take the highest honour

READ 1Corinthians 15: 1 - 10

We can now celebrate the wonderful fact that the death of Christ has set us free. Paul says in Galatians 5: 1 “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free”.

Freedom – what a child or young person feels at the end of a school year

  • Or an ex-prisoner released after a long jail sentence couped up in a cell 23 hrs a day
  • Or a person who has just retired after a lifetime devoted to serving his employer-
  • I’m FREE      

309        Jesus we celebrate your victory

What a wonderful Saviour we have – and we just want to sing his praises – a Saviour who has so graciously poured out his love on our lives.

1158      All my days

Finally, a song with a challenge to each of us. “Each other’s needs to prefer, for it is Christ we’re serving”.

Think of Jesus – the servant king – what he endured to give us freedom, and allow our thoughts of Him to affect our relationships and support for others.

120        From heaven you came

 

Brian’s Message

They say don’t judge a book by its cover.

You can quite literally pick up a paper-back with the most amazing cover sheet, you are stunned by the description of the book which seems to reflect your specific interests, so you buy it. But when you start reading the book, you soon ask yourself if it’s the right book at all, as it suddenly seems so different. It’s not what you expected it to be.

We are all very prone to making instant judgements about people – we like of course to think we are experts in analysing people at first sight – we then subconsciously label them and put them into a cubbyhole - worth getting to know, he’s a no-hoper, won’t talk to him again, avoid at all costs, give her a chance, could be useful to us, has he ever had a job? etc. etc.

I want to look at a few people in the Bible today who turned out to be very different from what many people who knew them earlier in their lives might have expected. Many would have quickly written them off because of their home backgrounds, their education, their perceived failures or errors, but somehow in God’s great plan, their lives were turned around. I guess in many ways that’s a testimony we would all give, that God in his grace met with us, and turned our lives around so we could be his followers.

As the Bible shows us, God chose some of the most unlikely people to be his servants in carrying out his plans for mankind. We might call them “unexpected heroes”

What is a hero?

Can be defined as “a person who is admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities”, and the four people I want to focus on today certainly warrant our attention under that definition.

For a start, I want to look at someone from Old Testament times who had experienced a mixed childhood, escaping being killed as a babe like many of his day, and then enjoying a privileged education in the king’s household. We next find him as a man with a short fuse, as he reacted violently to seeing a fellow Hebrew being beaten by an Egyptian. That’s wrong, he thought to himself, I need to sort this guy out – so, when he thought no one was looking, he promptly kills the Egyptian and buries him in the sand.

When challenged by some fellow Hebrews a little later, he realised that what he had done had been seen, and soon everyone would know what he had done, and would therefore be out to catch him and gain revenge. So he quickly escapes from the scene, and heads out to the desert to rebuild his life.

It is of course Moses. I wonder, what do you most remember him for? What events in his life stand out most to you?

So there was Moses, in many ways a broken man, yet one who it seems was determined to turn his life around for the better. Only a few years later, we find God picking him out and choosing him to lead his people out of the hands of the Egyptians. God dramatically appeared to him in that burning bush incident that I guess we all heard about in our early years at school or Sunday school. God spoke to him so clearly, setting a new path for his life.

It seems that God was willing to forget what Moses had done in killing the Egyptian, and was able to use all his positive attributes, including his education and training in Pharoah’s household. in order to carry out his plans for his people Israel. His subsequent life was by no means perfect – he famously disobeyed God, when instead of speaking to a rock as commanded, he chose to strike the rock twice in order to satisfy the people’s thirst for water – and because of this he wasn’t allowed to lead God’s people victoriously into the promised land. That was to be someone else’s job.

Hebrews 11, that great chapter about men and women of faith, tells us that it was Moses’ faith that had led him to share the oppression suffered by his fellow Hebrews, rather than to continue to enjoy the privileged upbringing in Pharoah’s palace. His faith in the living God was what enabled him to get the nation released from captivity in Egypt, and safely across the Red Sea en-route for the promised land.

Yes, he became a hero – a much-needed leader for God’s people Israel, but he had an unlikely start – those who knew him in those early impetuous days would not have expected that he would become a wise negotiator and a national hero. But it’s amazing what an encounter with God can do. I don’t think Moses was ever the same again, after his burning bush experience with God.

Part of God’s plans were for the nation to inherit the promised land which God had promised to Abraham many years earlier. Moses had done his part in getting the nation out of Egypt and within sight of the land, but others were to complete the major task of occupying Canaan by driving out the tribes already living there.

So Joshua, whom God had chosen to lead the nation after Moses passed away, sent out his spies into the land – firstly to look at the defences in the city of Jericho. To do this, they needed to find a safe place to rest to plan their next moves. There they found our second “unexpected hero”, a lady named Rahab. What is a female hero called? She was actually a prostitute, living on the edge of society. Her house was part of the city wall, conveniently situated to provide lodgings and favours to travellers passing that way. It provided a safe place for the Israelite spies, who would be mistaken by locals as yet more of Rahab’s customers. Not the obvious place to look for a hero you would think. But as always, God had his own plans, even for someone as unlikely as Rahab.

It seems that Rahab was fearful of a forthcoming invasion by the Israelites, having heard about the way they had crossed the Red Sea, and the many victories that Israel had achieved on their journeyings over the past 40 years or so. She acknowledged that the Lord, the God of the Israelites, was indeed God in heaven above and on the earth below. Living where she did in the wall of the city of Jericho made her feel especially vulnerable. So, she was quite happy to seek to help the spies by hiding them on her roof under some bundles of flax. When challenged by city officials about some visitors alleged to be spies, she said they had already left, and could still be pursued down towards the river Jordan.

In the discussion Rahab then had with the spies, she is able to negotiate the means by which she and her family would be kept safe in the event of an attack on the city, She had to tie a scarlet cord in her window, to identify her home. When Joshua gave his final orders to his troops who were to take the city of Jericho, he specifically mentions Rahab and her family who were to be spared, because of the way she had hidden the 2 spies. Her act of bravery paid off – she was saved whist all her neighbours perished at the hands of the Israelite army as the walls of Jericho fell down.

Rahab is of course one of only 2 women to be included in the great roll call of people of faith in Hebrews 11 – Sarah being the other. We read that “It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.” Could God really use such a woman as Rahab, with her mirky background to further his plans for Israel?

She was our second “unexpected hero” – so what can we learn from her? Despite her primary occupation in life, she knew something about the God of the Israelites, and was clearly willing to help others even at great risk to herself. What little she knew of God gave her the assurance to put her life in the hands of those who served the living God. She didn’t let fear hinder her response to a perceived need to support the Hebrew spies.

James in his New Testament epistle writes “Was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent their pursuers off in a different direction. James was emphasising the need for action as well as faith – “faith without deeds is dead”. It’s all very well saying you have faith, but is it seen in your daily life? Does our faith get an airing, as we tackle the problems of living in the world as it is today?

Which brings us on to my 3rd “unexpected hero”.

He is someone we don’t read too much about in our Bibles, but who had a major role in the development and growth of the early church in Jerusalem. He is first mentioned in Matthew 13:55 where we find Jesus returning quite late in his ministry to his hometown of Nazareth. He began teaching the people in the synagogue as was his custom, and as so often the people were truly amazed at the quality of his words. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? And aren’t all his sisters with us?

It seems that for most of his ministry Jesus was not accepted by his family – they didn’t understand his special calling, and who he really was – the Son of God. You can perhaps imagine how he would have been treated by his contempories, as he grew up – being without sin would have made him often the subject of ridicule. Mark’s gospel records an incident where his family tried to take him away, and they even declared “He is out of his mind.”

John also records (7:5) that “Even his own brothers did not believe him”. Those apparently closest to Him somehow refused to accept Jesus for who He truly was.

Of his brothers and sisters, we only know a little about just one – and that is James. I’ve chosen him as another of my “unexpected heroes” – someone who, despite being brought up alongside Jesus, refused to accept who he was. He would have joined all the taunts against Jesus, he would have sided with all the sceptics in the synagogue, he would have made derisory comments about Jesus whenever the opportunity arose. Much as brothers would. He would probably have been the subject too of much abuse, solely because he was a half-brother of Jesus. So life was not easy for him, being brought up with Jesus in the back-water of Nazareth.

As I’ve already said, we know very little else about James’ life – except for one most important thing– thanks to Paul’s writings, we know that he encountered the risen Jesus. 1Corinthians 15:7 simply tells us “Then Jesus was seen by James”. This was after Jesus resurrection, after he had appeared to his closest disciples, and to over 500 of his followers at one time.

“He was seen by James” – James saw Jesus – the risen Jesus – he knew it was him alright, and suddenly everything began to make sense. Jesus had talked about dying, and about coming back again – but James had never fully appreciated anything his brother had said. Until now – “Jesus, you are alive!”. Just imagine the impact this must have had. “All these years I’ve heard you – but couldn’t possibly believe that you really are the Son of God. But now I know – you were right all along”

It seems that James lost no time in joining up with the other disciples – he would of course have known them quite well, from their frequent times spent with Jesus, especially when visiting Nazareth. He went on to become a well-recognised leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem, and as a result he was in the front line when opposition against the church grew, and the church became scattered throughout the Roman world.

James later wrote a letter to the Jewish converts, knowing the pressure they were under. He began by saying “When troubles come your way, …..” Not IF, but when.

James had wasted the early years of his life, by refusing to listen properly to Jesus. But once he had been confronted by the resurrected Jesus he made up his mind to become a follower and disciple of Jesus. Once a sceptic, but now totally convinced that his half-brother was indeed who he claimed to be – the Son of God.

My 4th unexpected hero” will come as no surprise. Like James before him, he too encountered the living Jesus in a very special way.

He is of course Paul.

We know little about his life until he turns up in Jerusalem as a persecutor of the Christian church.; He was born in Tarsus, a Roman citizen of the tribe of Benjamin, and a zealous member of the Pharisee party. He had enjoyed a good education under the guidance of Gamaliel and had sought to keep the Jewish laws to the letter.

He was clearly an energetic young man, someone who would today have grabbed every opportunity to appear in various marches or demonstrations against the ruling powers. If there was a good cause that he believed in, he would be out on the front line, giving voice to his feelings. He seems to have thought that persecuting Christians was a good cause, and he threw himself behind every group who were intent on making life difficult for the growing numbers of believers joining the church in Jerusalem and forsaking their previous Jewish preachers.

But two events were to change Paul’s life .

The first might have made him think, although it seems to have made him even more determined to make life impossible for believers. When Stephen was being stoned to death for allegedly blaspheming against Moses and God, we find that a young man named Saul was there, even acting as a coat-stand for the rioters as they shouted and screamed abuse against their victim. I think Saul would have heard the last recorded words of Stephen “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”, and then “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”. Wonderful words of compassion, reminding us of the words of the Lord himself as he hung on the cross at Calvary.

We read that after this Saul became even more determined to destroy the church, and going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and had them thrown into prison, simply because of their determination to share their new-found faith publicly with others. We read that Saul continued to “breath our murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples”, and he was determined to catch them even if they had escaped from Jerusalem and travelled as far away as Damascus. He even got the backing of the high priest for his actions.

But God famously intervened in Paul’s life – a light from heaven blinded him as he was on his way to persecute believers in Damascus, and he heard the voice of God “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”. He was directed to meet up with a follower of Jesus named Ananias in Damascus.

Put yourselves now in the shoes of Ananias. “Lord, what are you doing? You are asking me to meet up with this terrible man Saul – he’s done so much harm to my fellow believers in Jerusalem, and he’s here now with the high priest’s authority to do the same with us. I might as well commit suicide”.

But God didn’t change His mind – he quite simply told Ananias to go – because he had chosen Saul as his instrument to proclaim His name to the Gentiles and to the people of Israel.

And the next thing we read is “Ananias went” – wow, what bravery to obey the Lord’s voice immediately. He obediently met up with Saul, prayed with him, enabled him to see again, and promptly baptised him. After that, we read in  Acts 9: 19b – 22 “……………………..”

But life for the changed Saul wasn’t easy

Back in Jerusalem, Acts 9: 26 – 28.

Saul was a changed man – he had met the living Jesus, and he went on to serve him as a missionary throughout Asia Minor and ultimately in Rome.

“Unexpected hero” – not what you would have expected if you knew him as a young man. But God had his own plans, taking the energy which Saul had, and making use of it to his glory.

Paul’s energy, as well as his good education enabled him to serve others well – just look at the letters he wrote to believers in many towns, and which we now have as part of our Bibles.

But how did this all come to pass?

I think one song sums it up – a song which I’m sure reflects our own experiences of coming to know the Lord. We may not have had the sort of dramatic experiences our 4 unexpected heroes had, but at some time the Lord has made himself real to us, and we’ve accepted his gift of salvation.

Eph 2: 8 – 9  reads “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Saved – by the grace of God – with a purpose, a job to do.

Close:  Only by grace  441

 

Notices

  • Wednesday 27th July at 2.00pm – special Ladies afternoon tea, arranged by Sue Clarke and Clare Skipper
  • Next Sunday 31st August – speakers will be Clare & Jonathan Skipper (from Barcelona).