Archive for January, 2011
Poulner Baptist Chapel
Psalm 66 – A Life of Joy
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Tonight, we are going to look at Psalm 66, which I consider to be a prayerful song of ecstatic joy – describing a life of overwhelming joy that exists between an Almighty God and one of His followers… So please do turn to that Psalm in your bibles.
Charles Spurgeon said of this Psalm “it is a marvellous psalm just to read; but set to suitable music, it must have been one of the noblest strains ever heard by the Jewish people.”
The first impression I get from this Psalm is that there is a sense of a deep intimacy between God and the Psalmist. Part of that intimacy and that relationship was joy, true joy. Let us see together from Psalm 66, where joy fitted into the life of the Psalmist. The author was probably King David and we have no reason to doubt that. Then we will go on to discover what I think joy actually is, before discussing what is one of the greatest barriers to joy. Then finally, we will see where joy is to fit into our life.
1. The Psalmist and Joy!
a. Joy and the Earth (vs. 1-4)
1 Shout with joy to God, all the earth!
2 Sing the glory of his name;
make his praise glorious!
3 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
So great is your power
that your enemies cringe before you.
4 All the earth bows down to you;
they sing praise to you,
they sing praise to your name.”
Throughout the history of Israel, the majority of scribes and leaders of Israel usually gave praise to God in silence, in meditation and solemnity. This was of course acceptable to God and proper to do so.
But here, on this occasion, first of all for the Psalmist, among a great number of people, the whole earth is encouraged to shout with exuberant joy to God. It is quite natural for great crowds of people to shout in harmony. If praise is to be widespread, it must be vocal; joyful sounds stir the soul and cause great thanksgiving spread throughout the people. Of course everybody is different and each person praises differently! Some people are naturally loud and others naturally quiet! Whatever your own style of praise, God is to be praised in all styles and with both the voice and the heart. The whole earth, everything and everyone, is encouraged to sing of the glory and power of God!
The psalmist encourages worshippers to turn their praises of joy to God alone! Turning in joy and admiration to a God who one day will cause all the earth to fear and tremble before him. For those who are enemies of God, who have never believed in him, never followed Jesus Christ, they too will be forced into submitting worship to Him before departing His presence forever. They will be forced to worship Him, due to His joyful magnificence and through forced submission, not because they choose to.
But their worship will not be like those who decided to follow Jesus Christ during their earthly life. The worship of all those who truly believe in Him, following Him intimately – their worship will be of truth, love, service and pure unadulterated joy. Their reward will be to praise God eternally.
b. Joy and the nation of Israel (vs. 5-12).
5 Come and see what God has done,
how awesome his works in man’s behalf!
6 He turned the sea into dry land,
they passed through the waters on foot-
come, let us rejoice in him.
7 He rules forever by his power,
his eyes watch the nations-
let not the rebellious rise up against him.
8 Praise our God, O peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard;
9 he has preserved our lives
and kept our feet from slipping.
10 For you, O God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
11 You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
12 You let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.
The psalmist now goes on to exhort great communal joy because of what God has done for Israel. He has done mighty works for his people. Did not God start the nation of Israel from Abraham in Genesis? Had not God led His people out of exile in Egypt by parting the Red Sea with His mighty hand so that his people could walk to freedom? Does not God rule forever by his mighty power and His outstretched hand? God watched over that nation of Israel, making covenants with Abraham and Moses, promising that He will be their God and they will be His people. The people of Israel were to be a people of joy, because they could look and see what God had done for them, and had a sure hope of what He would do for them in the future. They were His and He was theirs – a cause for great joy!
The psalmist continues to encourage the people to exhibit joyfully. God kept the feet of Israel from slipping. Even though Israel often turned their back on Him, God always kept a remnant of true believers for Himself. God sent Israel into exile under oppressive enemies, as punishment for their rebellious ways! Eventually He led them into the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey. That is why Israel could have exultant joy because of the hope they had in their God and the testimony they could give as a nation under their God!.
Indeed, in the book of Leviticus, which is little read these days in Christian circles, in 9:24 we read, “Fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown.” How often have you heard joy linked with the book of Leviticus? WOW!! The Psalmist would certainly have been aware of that!
c. Joy and the psalmist (vs. 13 -20)
13 I will come to your temple with burnt offerings
and fulfill my vows to you-
14 vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke
when I was in trouble.
15 I will sacrifice fat animals to you
and an offering of rams;
I will offer bulls and goats.
16 Come and listen, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what he has done for me.
17 I cried out to him with my mouth;
his praise was on my tongue.
18 If I had cherished sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened;
19 but God has surely listened
and heard my voice in prayer.
20 Praise be to God,
who has not rejected my prayer
or withheld his love from me!
Thirdly, now after joy as a community, the Psalmist turns to himself and gets personal! His own joy starts with a sacrifice of vows and burnt offerings – a sacrifice, which costs him something. The psalmist has given promises to God and he wants to fulfil those promises before his God. Because of his great joy, the psalmist tells others of the source of his joy. He gives testimony to the love of God: how he confessed his sins to God, and how God had listened to him and heard his prayers. The Psalmist told the people to come and “Listen to what God has done for me.” They had all seen God’s work, but they also needed to hear that He was a gracious God! The psalmist has developed an intimate relationship with Almighty God, which is revealed in the joy of the psalmist through sacrifice, testimony and praise.
2. What is joy?
When Jesus Comes To Town!
Sermon based on Revelation 21 & 22
(Recorded at Bishopsdown Church, Salisbury)
Revelation 21v4 – “God will wipe away our tears. There will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying and no more pain, for former things have passed away.“
The audio MP3 file for this sermon can be downloaded by right mouse clicking here.
Today I want to do two things on our subject of heaven as given to us in Revelation 21. Firstly I want to give a big picture view of this chapter, which gives just a snapshot of heaven – the place where God radiates His glory and Jesus is the city light, the streets are made of purest gold and where we shall serve and honour Jesus in all His glory. Then secondly, I have picked out just 3 brief vignettes for this morning, as we contemplate together our eternal home.
The book of Revelation is the book where the bride of Jesus are consummated in marriage to Him. It is where, we the church, the bride of Christ are finally joined with Jesus as One. In Revelation, God’s programme of redemption, starting all the way back in Genesis, comes to fruition and God’s holy and majestic name is vindicated before all creation. Here Jesus is seen in all His glory, to judge the earth and to rule it with righteousness.
The writer is the Apostle John, now approaching 100 years of age and almost blind. John was in exile on Patmos, put there by the Romans due to his effective witness for Christ. Patmos was where the Romans banished criminals and political offenders. There was open persecution of Christians at the time. This is the same John, who was the apostle Jesus loved. John saw Jesus walk on the water. He seen and heard Jesus command a storm to cease! He saw Jesus both weeping. He saw Jesus in righteous anger clearing the Temple courts. He seen Jesus heal the sick and raise the dead. He himself had been there with Jesus when Jesus had cast out demons. He had been there when Jesus miraculously fed the 5000 with 2 loaves and 5 fish. He had his feet washed by Jesus. He saw Jesus transfigured. He saw Jesus torn and bloody on the cross as Jesus died. Three days later he ran to survey the empty tomb. He saw Christ risen again and ascend into heaven. And in verse 14, John reads his name written on the foundations of heaven. As John was taken up in the Spirit (v.10) to view this majestic image, I wonder if John looked back and remembered the sufferings he had endured for the sake of Christ. His torment at the hands of his persecutors for the sake of Christ. I wonder if he thought to himself, “it was all worth it and no matter what I endured for the sake of the gospel and for the glory of my Lord and Master.”
What is the purpose of heaven – for the eternal worship and glorification of God. We shall serve Him (22:3). Its inhabitants are saved (v3); satisfied (v6); and overcomers (v7).
(v.6-7) God’s people possess it!! They are thirsty for Jesus, and drinking from the fountain of the water of life. God’s people have overcome! Overcoming doubts, trials and persecution because of their reliance upon Jesus. God’s people inherit it. God will be their God and they will be His people. An echo back to the time when God called the nation of Israel to Himself. It is composed of people from all nations (v.24),p echoing again that promise God made to Abraham all those years ago about Abraham being a blessing to ALL nations. It is a secure and promised place (v.5-6) God has said it, it will be done!! Also nobody can enter if they don’t trust and obey Jesus. If somebody’s name isn’t written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, they wont be entering (v.27). Will your name be in there?
You may have noticed the frequent use of the number 12 by John. 12 is the symbol of the church – both in the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, hence its unifying, continuing significance here. The number 12 is God’s choice to show completeness and perfection. This can be seen in the 12 gates mentioned in our passage – 12 gates is enough for all!! And for us, this leads and gives us confidence in a God who longs for all to live with Him eternally.
- (v.12) 12 gates and 12 angels with the 12 tribes of Israel written on them.
- (v.16) A perfect cube – 12000 furlongs high, wide and deep. That is about the same distance as Edinburgh to Rome. It is symbolic of the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem temple, where the priest could only enter once a year. This whole city is a temple, where we encounter God face to face, not just one day a year, but all the time!
- (v.17) each wall is 144 cubits. Twelve square is 144.
- (v.19-20) 12 stones symbolises the 12 stones around the high priests breastplate to signify the 12 tribes of Israel.
- (v.22-24) God’s glory radiates through the city!! His glory, radiating in purity, to make it a sacred place so that God is accessible to all. Jesus The Lamb is the light of the city. There is no sun or moon.
1. Prepared place
Jesus said (John 14:1-4)
One of the most beautiful buildings in the world is the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. It was built by a Muslim emperor in memory of his wife, of whom he had only known 19 years. It took 20,000 workers a day and 21 years to complete. In Britain today, it would cost about 2,200,000,000 pounds and made of the purest marble sitting on a red sandstone base and adorned with precious jewels. Now if a pagan Indian prince can make this beautiful building for somebody he had known for only 19 years, how much more beautiful than that, is our new home going to be. Jesus has been working on it almost 2000 years to this point in time!! Heaven is a beautiful place, prepared for you and me, to live forever and ever!
At the moment, I live in Christchurch and my wife temporary lives in our London flat. But when I get home to London, I know I am expected and loved. She has my favourite meal prepared. The heater on. Everything I like, that makes it a home is done for me, by her! The first week I was showered with balloons and all manner of things, because I was expected and she loves me!!
When we got married ten years ago, we had a wedding here in England and 3 days later she flew to her home country to prepare for our wedding there, which was to be 6 weeks later. I had no idea what was going to happen when I flew there for the wedding. But, when I landed there, every detail was prepared and ready.
Similarly, when we go home, Jesus has prepared a place for those of us who love Him, trust Him and obey Him. Jesus is waiting for us! He is expecting us, wanting to lavish His love upon us. We know He loves us now, but that is only in part. When we are with Him eternally, we shall have the full picture of Jesus. He is with us now in Spirit, but then we shall be with Him physically. Heaven is a prepared place of extraordinary beauty. John tries to portray it for us, building up layer upon layer of words, just as painters paint a picture. Laying on the colour, as they paint until finally the painting is finished.
2. Purity (v.4)
We all suffer in some way. For myself in the recent past, I have suffered with a brain haemorrhage. I went to bed on a Saturday evening and woke up in intensive care on a Tuesday afternoon. I have lost three days, I will never regain. I continue to take medication for blood pressure and hypothyroidism in the morning and in the evening I take anti-convulsants. With the medication, come all manner of side effects. I find it difficult doing certain activities. In childhood, I had to overcome the suffering of childhood asthma that almost took my life several times. Sometimes my entire body aches and groans in protest at my actions. We suffer, don’t we. My father suffered for years under a misdiagnosis when the doctors originally thought he had emphysema, before they found out too late that it was actually a hiatus hernia, where the stomach acid comes back up and enters the lungs and burns them internally. My mother suffers with arthritis and hyperthyroidism. We suffer don’t we? One day soon, we will have perfect bodies and full health. We only have to look at the news on TV or read the papers to see global suffering. There will be no more terrorism, missiles, guns, wars or bombs. No more will man’s inhumanity to man be allowed. No more torture, rapes, muggings or robberies. No more poverty or famine. No more religion, idols or icons. No more gossip, fornication, adultery, lying or debauchery. No more cowardice. No more pain. No more death. No more suffering. No more sin.
Suffering of any kind leaves some sort of scar or mark. Do you have scars? Physical, emotional or mental scars due to sickness, somebody else sinning against you or as a result of your own sins? Scars come as a result of human life. Much like a house that has been lived in. Scratches in the paintwork. Dents and knocks in the wood. Our human bodies are the same, yet… Yet, one day they will be gone!! Vanished!! A pure body you will have!! And I will have! No need for annoying spectacles. There will be no Specsavers or Stannah stair-lifts in heaven!! No more wheelchairs. No more walking sticks or frames. No more hearing-aids. No more braces. No more doctors or dentists!! Perfection attained and it is to the glory of God and His majestic doing, that this will occur. Do you believe it? Do you live it?
Are you suffering today from sickness? Are you suffering today because of somebody else?? Well one day, one glorious day, all suffering will be banished for those of us who love Him. Read with me verse 4, “God will wipe away our tears. There will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying and no more pain, for former things have passed away.” Take that verse to heart. What a glorious day it will be for those of us who love Him now. God Himself, wiping away our tears… It will be a place where we will live the fruit of the spirit for eternity. A place where “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are permanent and universal.” (Gal.5:22-23). What a day, that will be!! We will enter those gates, thanking Jesus, looking back at how we suffered. Not only medically, but also for His sake and saying with John “It was worth it all. The sufferings I endured and overcame for the sake of Jesus, was all worth it, so as to be here eternally.”
3. Pearly gates (v.21)
Heaven is prepared and pure. Do you know how a pearl is formed? When an oyster gets an irritating grain of sand within its shell, it covers it over with layers of mother-of-pearl until the irritation and the suffering is no longer felt. Now what could the suffering have been with these giant pearls that are the gates (v21)? I think they are to remind us of the cross and the suffering and pain that Jesus endured. People denigrate the cross. I have had people say that “the cross doesn’t matter and your religion is as good as my religion thank you very much. Because all religions lead to heaven, don’t they?”. However the very gates of heaven tells us that is wrong. It tells us that it is only through the cross, that we get to pass through the gates to enjoy heaven in worship and service of God. Only through the pain, the agony and the suffering that Jesus endured, culminating in His crying “My God! My God! Why have You forsaken me?” God Himself has suffered for us, so that we may enjoy His company forever and ever, if we only trust and obey Him now and placed our faith in Him while we are here. We know in part now, but then we will know in full.
This makes the sins that we commit while we are here on earth trying to follow Him, even more serious. Sometimes we take a rather blasé attitude to sin. We excuse it as only a little sin and it doesn’t really matter. Each time we sin as believers, it is as if we are spitting in the very face of Jesus. Our desire should be, to be Jesus and to be like Him. I long to be perfect. When I make a mistake and sin, I cry out in frustration to be perfect now! However, I also know that God is taking off my rough edges to continue making me purer, more like His Son Jesus, each day under the power and direction of the Holy Spirit.
I won’t be entering heaven because I am Australian. Although I consider that a very close second. You won’t even be able to claim your entry into heaven by showing your passport that shows you are a British citizen, let alone a member of the European community. Even more surprising to some across the Atlantic I am sure, is that if you are American, your passport wont even let you in!! No, we can only enter heaven, our new home, through the cross. When we first decided for Jesus and turned over our lives to him, that is when our eternal life with Him commenced.
Be encouraged, heaven is for you if you are trusting and obeying Jesus and have him as Lord of your life! Are you suffering? Suffering will soon be gone. When you sin against God, keep a short account and ask for forgiveness as soon as you recognise that you have sinned and the Holy Spirit has convicted you of it. We long to be with Him for ever and ever. We are to keep one part of our mind on Heaven and the other on the responsible work we have been set to do, here on earth. We are not to be so heavenly minded, that we are of no earthly use. Conversely, we are not to be so earth bound that we are not tied to Jesus in our eternal home. Go tell somebody. Won’t you go tell somebody this week, this message. Heaven is a great big place, and there will be room for everybody in this town, this county, this nation and this world to enter through one of those twelve gates! Go and share this good news with somebody this very week.
What now can we say? Chapter 22. (v.14, 17) – Trust Him! (v.8-9, 15) Live a life worthy of Him! (v.7, 12, 16, 20) Look for his coming! He is coming back for us soon!
I conclude with this quote from CS Lewis’ last book of the Narnia Tales – “The Last Battle” : “But the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story ….which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.“
To which we unite with John, and say “Come Lord Jesus. Come…” (22:20)
The sermon as a audio MP3 file, you can download by right mouse clicking here.
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God of Judgment
We all have at some point liked to think of God as being all love and never judging. People say “It will be alright in the end, because the love of God conquers all.” Well, remember also, that love involves judging! God is the judge of all the earth, the writer of Hebrews reminds us (Hebrews 12v23)! This judgment has several aspects to it:
God shows no favouritism (Romans 2v11). God is eternally just and righteous. It is a reflection of His mercy, that nobody can claim God is unfair.
Jesus Christ will judge the whole world with justice (Acts 17v31). People are destined to die once and after that to face judgment (Hebrews 9v27). What is common to all people, is a universal sinfulness (Romans 2v1). What is in the murderer or the thief is in all people, everywhere and of all time. That is sin and it must be judged. Judgement will be before the Great White Throne of Judgment (Revelation 20v11-15).
Judgement covers both unbelievers and believers!
Judgment of unbelievers - Those who do not profess Jesus, as God, will be judged according to their sinfulness. They are already guilty, because they didn’t take up the offer during their earthly life. These people will be cast into the lake of fire with satan and his angels (Revelation 20v15; Matthew 25v41). This punishment is eternal (Matthew 25v46).
Judgment of Christian Disciples - And that is not all! Those who are believers, Christian disciples, and are actively engaged in a relationship with Jesus Christ, will also be judged! Does that surprise you? While these people have accepted God’s free offer and are declared righteous by faith, they will be judged according to the things they have done with, and in, their faith. Belief and faith is to be supported by good works (Galatians 5v6; James 2v18).
As a Christian Disciple, you will not be judged for sin – this has been judged (Isaiah 53v4-6; 1 Peter 2v24), and you have salvation on that basis! This judgment is not for your salvation but for your crown! As a Christian Disciple, you will be asked to give an account of yourself (Romans 14v10), and you will be judged according to what you have done (2 Corinthians 5v10). The quality of your work will be tested (1 Corinthians 3v11-15) and your motives exposed – either you did things for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 4v4-5) or you did them for your own glory.
As a Christian Disciple, you will give account of the opportunities and abilities entrusted to you (Matthew 25v14-30). Rewards may be gained or lost (1 Corinthians 3v14-15). These rewards are described as an incorruptible crown (1 Corinthians 9v25); a crown of glory (1 Peter 5v4); crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4v8); crown of rejoicing (1 Thessalonians 2v19) and the crown of life (James 1v12)
So, go this day. Go this week! Go tell somebody of the crown waiting for them, if only they are willing to enter into a living and dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ! Remember – do all you do, for God’s glory and not your own!
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