Sermon 16/03/14

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Jeremiah 22:1-9

English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

22 Thus says the Lord: “Go down to the house of the king of Judah and speak there this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O king of Judah, who sits on the throne of David, you, and your servants, and your people who enter these gates. Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. For if you will indeed obey this word, then there shall enter the gates of this house kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their servants and their people. But if you will not obey these words, I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation. For thus says the Lord concerning the house of the king of Judah:

“‘You are like Gilead to me,
like the summit of Lebanon,
yet surely I will make you a desert,
an uninhabited city.[a]
7 I will prepare destroyers against you,
each with his weapons,
and they shall cut down your choicest cedars
and cast them into the fire.

“‘And many nations will pass by this city, and every man will say to his neighbour, “Why has the Lord dealt thus with this great city?” And they will answer, “Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God and worshipped other gods and served them.”’”

Matthew 8:1-13

English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

Jesus Cleanses a Leper

When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. And behold, a leper[a] came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus[b] stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”

The Faith of a Centurion

When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralysed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go’, and he goes, and to another, ‘Come’, and he comes, and to my servant,[c] ‘Do this’, and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this, he marvelled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel[d] have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.

 

If we start by looking at Jeremiah 22 we see God laying down his agenda to the nation of Israel notice in Verse 1 and 2 how this message is for all of Israel including her king, this is a national message. Verse 3 the Lord demonstrates his heart for those who are often forgotten the ones that we chose to ignore. God takes these people hidden behind the walls that we build and smashes them down revealing the unsettling truth. That regardless of what we sing and say there are still people in desperate need of love and service.’Do what is just and right’. Do, not think or believe or write mission statements but actually do. God cares about every single person regardless of their circumstance and hates injustice. Hopefully some of you guys can see that in your lives where before you knew Jesus and today. It’s not that becoming a Christian is a “quick fix” and an easy solution to all your problems but I know in my life even the most agonising and deepest of issues fade into insignificance when I remember that God is for all people including the robbed, immigrants and those who have lost family.

 

What would happen if we shared that with the poor? I look at organisations such as family space and the food bank showing the world little by little that the people of God will stand with them and for them regardless of whom they are and where they’ve been. Often the person who God wants you to minister to the most is the person you find hardest to relate to. How can we improve the lives of the oppressed, the fatherless, and the robbed? I believe 100% that God calls us as Christians to be giving. I’m not just talking about money but I will charities have become very good at being able to make even the smallest of donations count. Never has it been so easy to change another person’s life for good. What an amazing thing that giving up one nice cup of coffee in costa a month we could do something transformational for the Kingdom of God.

 

I love food banks I think they are doing fantastic work right here in the UK the way that they give to those in need without patronising them is a beautiful thing. But actually they shouldn’t exist. To be honest I love food banks but I also hate them, I hate that there are parents who are absolutely terrified that they might not be able to feed their children. So how can Christians help? Well we can be a voice for the poor; a voice for those who have no voice. We can stand up to the people who say “well this is how it has to be” then we can turn around and say “well actually it doesn’t”. We can lobby and we can march and show the world that God has not forgotten the poor.

 

We can give our time, some people have little money or they aren’t confident in being public speakers or lobbyers but they can serve I think we all know one of those people who no matter what is the kind of person you can ask to help with something. Unless that is they are already serving someone else. Well actually by the grace of God we can all be servants. I’ll say that again. By the grace of God we can all be servants. Volunteer as a hospital visitor, at a food bank orin a prison. Do you remember Job’s friends, they always get a really bad time but, basically this guy Job had a really horrible situation and his friends came and sat with him on the ground where he is just emotionally ruined in the dirt and they sit with him for 7 days they do get a bit of flack later on because they mess up and say the wrong things but hey, not many people would sit with you for a week. Sometimes just being there is enough, a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, call it what you will. I think it’s beautiful and I know some of you are already doing this just, promise me you’ll do it more.

 

We can also pray.When we pray for those in need, we are also serving them. I’ve been chatting with a group of year 11’s at All Saints’ and I told them that I pray for them and that as a team at Cheltenham Youth for Christ we pray for them. I completely underestimated how they would react to this they were amazed that we would care enough to pray about them and that we deem it important enough to bring this to the sovereign Lord of the universe. Sometimes we pray for people we know sometimes we pray for people we don’t know but the truth is God knows them, and our prayers are mysteriously and miraculously all part of his plan. So, why not offer those who God cares about: the oppressed, the robbed, the fatherless, the widowed and so on. You may not know them but they are known to God and aren’t the least of these the ones we are called to love?

 

In the days of Jeremiah our Lord puts forward what will happen to them if they do not change their attitude and their ways. Looking at verse 6 onwards he says he will make the land into a barren dessert isn’t it interesting that the Israelites who were ignoring the starving as a consequence would themselves become starving. When they would ignore the fatherless the Lord would send foreign soldiers who would kill them so that their children would indeed become fatherless. This is how much the Lord hates how his people sin he chooses to make them an example of his wrath so that as we see in verse 8 and 9 that people will ask why this has happened how their God could allow this and the only answer is they have chosen not to be law abiding, bible believing, followers and worshipers of God, they have chosen to worship false idols and so God who his sovereign holy and just can do what he wishes.

 

But, we know the Lord did not give this punishment to his people even though they were entirely deserving of it. Skip ahead a few chapters and we see probably one of the most famous verses in the whole of scripture Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Now this verse I think links very nicely to us but also to the people of God in the time of Jeremiah, this promise must have been very exciting but also totally confusing, they knew their actions, they knew their sinful souls what would they do to ever warrant such a promise? Well they got their answer later in Jesus Christ and that’s why it is so convicting, that’s why it hurts so much we know that actually we are totally undeserving of the promise of hope and a future because Jesus didn’t just die for the Jews he died for us as well.

 

Let’s look at tonight’s new testament reading from the Gospel according to St. Matthew particularly at this roman centurion verse 8 is one of those verses that pretty much summarises the Gospel don’t you think? “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word and I shall be healed.” “Lord, I do not deserve.” Firstly it is really interesting what is going on culturally here basically this Roman has shown compassion to the Jewish people by understanding that in their culture to enter a house of a gentile made them ceremonially unclean. But secondly he sees that Jesus is more than just any Nazarene, the way in which this Roman recognises who he is in relationship to Christ is nothing more than true he is basically saying you, Jesus are God, you are holy and righteous. You made me and I chose to sin, to turn away from you and to hate the things you love. I am not even worthy to have you in my house but Lord my concern is not for me it is for my servant. Is that not who we are called to be? People who: recognise God, love him and fear him. Jesus even says that is the first and most important commandment. ’Love the lord your God.’ But also he wants us to be concerned with the welfare of others. “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Sound familiar?

 

Often we run away and forget that we are sinners and please don’t hear that as there is no hope or salvation. But I find it very easy to fall into the trap of almost believing that I deserve the cross that somehow despite the wicked and evil things that I do, time  and time again, that God thought well obviously he’s a good chap better send my son to die for him. No. That is not the Gospel; I have to keep reminding myself. Because actually when I look at my life I see what I deserve; Jesus describes it in verse 12 I deserve a place with weeping and gnashing of teeth. In fact if Jesus hadn’t have saved me I’d actually want that place, I’d chose that place. So why do Christians have the hope described in Jeremiah 29:11 or why was the Roman centurion’s servant healed Matthew 8:13?  You may well be thinking at this point, ‘Francis why can’t you preach a nice message?’ Well I think John Piper, who’s an American bible teacher and theologian puts it beautifully in his book 5 Points: towards a deeper understanding of God’s grace. He says that ‘[k]nowing the seriousness of our disease will make us all the more amazed at the greatness of our Physician.’ If you want to hear a nice message preached we can go read some postmodern chose your own path everyone’s a winner theology but don’t go kidding yourself my dear friends that it has anything to do with this faith, these scriptures, this religion, this church of our one Lord and God. When we understand what we’ve been saved from we look to Christ and his sacrifice upon the cross and the spilling of his most precious blood for our sake. And we cry Holy, holy, holy.

 

It all comes from his love and this is good news. God’s love is unconditional he didn’t look at you and make lists and measure you up with your good and bad he simply loves.Rev. Dr Billy Graham in a recent devotional says this “It is because God loves that He is just. His justice balances His love and makes His acts of both love and justice meaningful.”This is sometimes described as unconditional election. This is why the grace of God is so beautiful he looked on me a person who did evil things yesterday and will no doubt do evil things tomorrow and said I love you, but I hate your sin and the only way you can be reconciled with me is if I send my own darling son to come out of heaven to be born into poverty as a Palestinian baby who’d grow up into a man who’d work hard as a carpenter sweating for his right to eat even though he himself is rich. And that he’d walk around with sinners, and undesirables telling them that there was a hope to come. He went to the cross to show that, but also to take on everything that had ever been done or will be done that’s wrong, he took my sin and your sin, the sin of the people in the time of Jeremiah and the sin of today, he took that on himself. It’s a sacrifice made once and for all upon the cross a perfect saving victim taking the wrath of God for us. That is love. That is love.

 

But don’t just believe me I really want you to hear the words of God’s love tonight. 2 Timothy 1:9 “Who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began [.}”Revelation 22:17 “The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.1 peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” Ephesians 2:8-9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And THIS is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  I know I keep saying it but this is good news I don’t mean to state the obvious but church we really have reason to rejoice.

 

And what does Jesus think of this Centurion? Matthew says he was amazed at his faith. “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” The answer is faith and that doesn’t come from us but from God alone, the gift that saved God’s people Israel from the time of Jeremiah the faith that saved the centurion and healed his servant, the faith that allows us to receive the grace from our Lord Jesus Christ. WHY? Because he loves you, because he loves you, he loves you, he loves you and he loves. Romans 5:8 GOD demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Father almighty, you are holy, all good things come from you and we are not worthy as to have you anywhere near us, but we thank you that in your love you grant us the grace that we are free from sin and death, we thank you that our lives have been purchased by the spilling of the precious blood of your son Jesus, we thank you that he loves us, that he is our friend, master, physician, saviour and lord.In the name of Jesus Christ through the power of the spirit. Amen.

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