Dying in Peace

“When the parents brought the child Jesus to the temple they were met by Simeon who took the child in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’ The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: ‘This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ from Luke chapter 2

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“Simeon had an assurance that he was going home to his Father in heaven and that he would know an abundant entrance into that Kingdom. This Father-God had made a promise to Simeon that before he died he would see the Messiah, and God had kept his word. “I can die in peace,” he was saying, “because your promise has been fulfilled in me.”

Everybody’s going to depart this life one day, in one form or another, but only some will depart this life in peace. That was Simeon’s hope because God would surely fulfil his word; “Lord, I can depart this life in peace. You can take me home, because your word has come to pass – I have seen salvation in Jesus the Messiah.” He puts it like this: “Now you dismiss your servant in peace.”

The Lord hasn’t come to any one of us in a dream and told us we are going to see the Messiah coming, but he has given me such words as these, that he is going to work all things together for our good, that he will never leave us nor forsake us, that he will supply all our needs from his riches in glory in Christ Jesus, that we shall be more than conqueror through his love, and so on, many such exceeding great and precious promises. He’s given every Christian his word, and he’s saying ‘Test me and find me faithful.’

The peace that Simeon speaks of doesn’t depend on a special gift of prophecy. It comes from God’s word of promise which Simeon had believed. He saw Christ with his own eyes, and, men and women, you also will one day – if you are trusting in Christ – see this promise fulfilled with your own eyes. When we see him we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is. That is the promise, and this one also of peace in departing this life, grace to die with. Those who trust in God will depart this life in peace. J.C. Ryle says about Simeon, “He speaks like one for whom the grave has lost its terrors, and the world its charms.”

Simeon did not fear death. He did not fear the grave. He was not in love with the world so that he had to be wrenched away from it. He was ready to go home in peace, because he believed the word of God. Men and women, you can be ready to go home in peace, not in resignation, not because you’re tired and you just can’t go on anymore, but you can be ready to go home in peace if you will believe the word of God.

Simeon takes the baby from Mary and he says, “Lord, I have seen your salvation.” He says that having seen this particular baby. He had seen hundreds of other babies brought to the Temple but he never said those words when he had seen them. Salvation was going to be in this little boy alone. The jots and tittles of the law are not going to save sinners; self-help schemes for human betterment are not going to do it, but one who was once a baby, born of a woman, is going to save the cosmos. Then salvation must be by grace!

Salvation is in this Christ. It’s in Jesus. Jesus is salvation. Salvation is in him. Look unto him and be saved all the ends of the earth. All those who are in him by faith, united to him by the work of the Holy Spirit, have the fullness of salvation. There is no salvation outside of him. To see him with the eyes of faith is to see salvation. That’s the origin of Simeon’s peace: the salvation of God that has been provided in Jesus Christ, and Simeon can call Jesus ‘salvation’, and he can call salvation ‘Jesus’. “Lord, I’ve seen salvation because I’ve seen Jesus.” His eyes of faith showed him that though he was holding Jesus, it was actually Jesus by grace who had Simeon and the whole world in his little hands.

What a tragedy, to know of Jesus’ great signs, and hear his profound teaching and yet to distrust him, to set your own judgment about him above his judgment of you. In other words, if your faith is only and always in him, then he has been appointed for your rising, up and up, from death and the grave, to heaven itself to share in his glory forever. But if you don’t trust Jesus today, who knows whether he has been appointed for your falling, down and down into the bottomless pit further and further away from God into darkness and anguish for ever. The only way that he will arise as the Son of Righteousness for you is if you trust in him alone for salvation as he is offered in the gospel.”

Extracts from sermon 14th October 2007 GEOFF THOMAS Aberystwyth

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Christmas with Mary

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“Who was she? Mary was certainly a teenager; she had no personal experience of what motherhood involved. Obviously she would have seen how other mothers behaved, and she would have been taught from a child some of the necessary details. It was customary for Jewish women to marry as teenagers and Mary may have been as young as fifteen years of age. Do you realize the implications of that? That God placed the most precious and beloved being of the whole universe, his eternal and only begotten Son, in the care of an inexperienced teenager in an obscure location. What a risk! There was no hospital nearby, and no doctor on call. What madness, if it were not for the loving power of the omnipotent One who does according to his will in the armies of heaven and amongst the inhabitants of the earth.

 

Take courage men and women! God is saying to you today, “You can cope. I never put my children in situations where my grace can’t keep them.” You can handle the responsibilities of parenthood, and can cope with sickness, or caring for your loved ones with an incurable illness, or the pressures of a new job – or the lack of a job. God supported Mary for thirty years, living in the same house as the Son of God with all the tension and glory that that entailed, and God can also support you. She knew that the holy one born to her was the Son of God, the Son of the Most High, whose kingdom would never end. She was a very young woman when Gabriel told her what was to happen to her and it came like a bolt out of the blue. Whatever shocking news you’ve had in your life it is a molehill compared to the Everest news Mary was given by God. Or let me turn it this way that shouldn’t some of you fifteen year olds display as much maturity as Mary had to show here?

 

However, the most important thing that Luke wants us to realize is that God’s choice of Mary was not because of her own inherent and unique worthiness, much less her sinless perfection. God’s choice of Mary was a display of how he exalts the humble. She herself will praise the Lord in response to Gabriel’s news saying that God “has looked on the humble estate of his servant” (v. 48). It certainly was very humble. Mary thought of Nazareth, and the two room shack with its mud walls, and her family called it home; the bedroom she shared with her siblings. She had hardly any possessions at all. She had no jewels; she had no beautiful clothes; her toys – maybe a doll, a skipping rope and her whip and top – were made for her by her Dad. Maybe she had a special pussy cat. She had nothing; she was a nobody, and she was the one in the entire world who got this message from God.

She understood that the reason for God’s choice of her to be the special servant in whom he would do the greatest of all miracles – “our God contracted to a span” – was not because ‘somewhere in her youth or childhood she had done something good.’ Rather it was a display of how God loves to manifest his power in our weakness, his sovereignty in our inability, his plan in our lostness. So Luke focuses our attention on God sending Gabriel from his presence to the cosmos, to Galilee, to out-of-the-way Nazareth, and in the cluster of peasant-farmer families he homes in on one particular young teenager called Mary, and he freely bestows his immense grace to her. He is showing us that his purposes are always to exalt the weak and lowly. That is what God does. Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

 

 

Sermon extract G.Thomas Aberystwyth

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Christmas with the Shepherds

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Shepherds weren’t high up on the social scale in Israel. Shepherds were not to be trusted. They were often the victims of some fairly cruel stereotypes. People would comment to one another if the sheep being herded along the side of the road really belonged to those shepherds’, or whether some of them had been ‘nicked’ by them in the middle of the night. It was surely difficult to be absolutely certain whose sheep they were.

 

In a Jewish book called the Mishna, familiar in the first century and so at the time of Mary and Joseph, buying from shepherds food and clothing was forbidden because they were probably stolen goods. By Jesus’ time they were held in such low esteem that they weren’t allowed to give court testimony in judicial or civil cases, because they were judged to be utterly untrustworthy men. Shepherds were despised; they were considered ‘unclean,’ and so they were banned from entering various homes; they couldn’t enter the courts of the temple in Jerusalem because they weren’t ceremonially ‘clean’ men.

 

Yet God in his grace and mercy came at the very beginning to a group of worthless men in the eyes of the world, and to them he first announced the fact, “My Son has arrived.”

 

This underlines how our God is one who reaches out to the most trashy and despised people. His mercy is so great. And if we know today that we’ve been redeemed by that mercy, it speaks volumes about our own self-discovery. We’ve looked into our own hearts and we’ve seen something ugly there, and we’ve realized that we are sinners, and the conviction has really got under our skins. We stood in need of grace; God alone could give us that grace. We have discovered that, and what is more it has changed our whole view of the people around us. There is within us a new spirit of compassion and a longing for the people who are around us to know the One who is our Saviour. Those who know God’s grace show God’s grace to those who need God’s grace. So God works in the recipients of his grace a motivational energy to reach out to sinners. ‘God saves sinners’ is a wonderful summarization of the truth of God’s gracious gospel, and it’s illustrated even in God’s announcement to these shepherds in the hillsides.

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”

From sermon by G Thomas Aberystwyth

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Christmas with the Angels

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Detail from the LA Cathedral Mausoleum Stained Glass Window

“So the angel of the Lord appeared to these shepherds, and we are told that the glory of the Lord shone around them. This reminds us that this angel Gabriel had, from the moment of his creation, been in God’s presence.

God was again showing his favour to his ancient people, even to the most unworthy amongst them, to mere shepherds.

The appearance of Christ isn’t first of all about angels in the sky; it’s about a baby in a manger. It’s not about God dazzling us with his splendour; it’s about God the Son laying aside his splendour to become a humble infant.

Jesus was born bloody and wriggling in a wooden manger, and he died bloody and writhing on a wooden cross. In between he grew up in the family of a lowly woodworker. He befriended shame-filled prostitutes and respectable teachers alike. He rubbed shoulders with lowly fishermen and lofty synagogue rulers. He showed his love to helpless widows and powerful army officers. He knew hunger as well as feasting, laughter as well as grief. He knew loneliness and betrayal and rejection and pain. He became one of us in every way, he made our situation his own, and ultimately he took the sins of a broken world upon his shoulders and suffered hell on our behalf as he hung on the cross.

That’s why the coming of Jesus matters. That’s why the Son of God became one of us. He plunged all the way down to the depths of our misery and bound himself to humanity in every way. Then he rose back out of the depths, lifting humanity up with him into the life of God. In Jesus, God understands people fully, and he saves them completely. The Lord Jesus came to enter our misery, to walk with us in the midst of it, and ultimately to lift us out of it. What you and I need, then, isn’t a sentimental break from reality, and it’s not a dazzling angel to remove our doubts. We need God with us. We need God to convince us that he loved us so much he became one of us. We need him to convince us of our sin and to help us receive the salvation that only the God/man, Jesus Christ, can provide.

As David Geddes says. “In short, we don’t need an angel to change our minds; we need Christ to change our hearts. The day is coming when you’ll see all the glory you can handle—and more. Jesus is coming again, this time not as a humble baby but as the King of kings and the Lord of lords. The glory of God will be blazing forth from him, and his angels will be with him. That sight of angels with Christ at their head will be more dazzling than anything the shepherds saw in the fields around Bethlehem. You will meet Jesus, and it will be astounding. But I know that Jesus has a reason for not coming back just yet. A lot of people aren’t ready to meet him, and Jesus is giving them time to repent and get ready for his coming. The glory of his face will be the supreme joy of all his people, but it will be the ultimate horror for those who never knew him.”

Before you meet Jesus as the Lord of glory, you first need to trust the baby in the manger, the friend of sinners, the reject on the cross. You need to accept the miracle of God’s self-humiliation, and all that he went through for us. Trust in Jesus Christ as the only one who can deliver you from your sins, save you from hell, and make you right with God. Welcome the Spirit of Jesus into your heart. Once you’ve accepted what Jesus did for you in his first coming, and once his Spirit comes into your heart, you’ll be ready to meet him when Christ comes again in glory.”

2nd September 2007 GEOFF THOMAS

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Christmas with the Animals

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Are such portrayals of animals worshipping Christ simply flights of fancy, and an excuse for cutesy nativity plays with toddlers dressed as little lambs shepherded by older kids with tea-towels around their heads? Not at all! They should be powerful reminders that Christmas is not only for humans! Christmas is God entering the creation he spoke into being. Jesus not only became a human being. He became an animal – a mammal – and through him not only humans but all creatures are included in God’s saving plans.

 

Christmas is good news for all creation – the culmination of what began when God looked at all that he had made and proclaimed it ‘very good’. The birth of Jesus is the dawning of the hope contained in the rainbow of Genesis 9, a promise of God’s saving covenant with ‘every living creature upon the earth’. It was foreseen by the prophets too. Hosea envisaged a day not only when swords would be beaten into ploughshares but when God’s covenant would be ‘with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky and the creatures that move along the ground’. All these hopes are brought together in the Messiah, God’s chosen One, the infant Jesus whose birth, life, death and resurrection make possible the renewal of all creation.

 

So, in this Christmas season, amidst the secularism and sentimentality, have a thought for God’s other creatures for whom Jesus’ birth is also good news. Consider the birds – including the ethics of factory-farmed Turkeys. Consider the lilies – hopefully not air-freighted at huge cost to the planet and to sustainable livelihoods. And why not take a walk outdoors around your neighbourhood? Listen and look for the signs of creation worshipping our incarnate and risen Lord, and groaning in anticipation of being set free from its bondage to decay, waiting to join in the glorious freedom of God’s children (Romans 8:18–22).

 

Dave Bookless at Planetwise blog

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The Three Days…Day Three

Christ’s resurrection has been called the best attested fact of history

The message of Christianity for the world is centred on the cross and the empty tomb of Christ for good reasons. It was by his death that Christ dealt with our sin-debt and it is by his resurrection that we are assured of our deliverance from both sin and death. In fact St Paul goes further and says that we Christians can enter into Christ’s victorious life here and now. This is his testimony, and the testimony of every Christian,

“ I have been crucified with Christ and the life I now live is not my life, but the life which Christ lives in me; and my present mortal life is lived by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me” Galatians 2

Here is John Stott

“ Paul compares death to a scorpion whose sting has been drawn.

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Sin causes death but Christ has died for our sins and taken them away. Now that we know we are forgiven, death can harm us no longer. Paul shouts at death defiantly “Where O death, is your victory? Where O death, is your sting? In triumph he shouts “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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The Three Days….Day two

The cry of Jesus from the cross “It is finished” was a cry of victory over the darkness of sin death and hell itself.

St Paul wrote ” When Christ ascended on high he led a host of captives and gave gifts to men”

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Here’s a quote from David Jackman concerning the victory of the cross and resurrection

“In Jesus, the invisible God has revealed himself in terms that can be understood anywhere, any time – a perfect human life. In Jesus, the powers of the unseen world, the age to come, are being revealed as he demonstrates his sovereignty over all the hostile forces ranged against man – sin, disease, demons and even death itself. Supremely, the life of eternity is life that has overcome the grave, and that life can be found in Christ alone who triumphed over death by his glorious resurrection. This life is in his Son.

– David Jackman, from The Message of John’s Letters, p. 154

 

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The Three Days of Easter…Day One

Good Friday!

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What’s good about it? Here’s a quote to thrill the heart of any Christian

“The cross of Christ is first and centrally God’s means of reconciling sinful people to his sinless self. But it is bigger than that too. From the ground we see the cross as our bridge to God. From the air, the cross is our bridge to the restoration of all things. The cross of the battered Son of God is the battering ram through the blockade into Eden. It is our key into a better Eden, into the wonders of the new-covenant kingdom, of which the old was just a shadow. The cross is the linchpin in God’s plan to restore all creation. Is it any wonder, then, that the empty tomb opened out into a garden?”

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Save the Bees

Anne recently signed a petition to urge UK Government to back EU Law to prohibit use of certain pesticides which could kill bees.

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Here’s the case outlined by Professor Baer of the university of Western Australia

Bees have always played an important role for humans, as the social lifestyle of many bees inspired men and women to reflect on our own societies and influenced philosophical and political thinkers in their search to define the individuals rights and obligations within a society. However, as we all know, there were also more pragmatic reasons to look for bees. They provided important products such as honey or wax. At some point in history, humans became fully aware of the most important good they get from bees, pollination. Or in short: Bees = food. As a consequence, humans started to keep a number of bee species and domesticated them – and one species, the European honeybee eventually joined the settlers when conquering the world.

Today, more than 80 crops of agricultural interest depend on bee pollination or about a third of what you eat requires a bee pollination event. However, industrialisation within the agricultural sector has brought dramatic changes for bees. Beekeeping has become a large-scale business, some Apiarists keep thousands to tens of thousands of colonies and earn money by renting them to farmers that need crop pollination. For this, bees need to be transported over thousands of kilometers and are confronted with new and rather hostile environments: Crop monocultures that need heavy protection through pesticides to ensure maximal harvest. Our growing global population of humans struggles to produce sufficient amounts of food under increasingly more difficult conditions such as global climate change.

Is it surprising then that we are losing bees as pollinators? Probably not, but a full awareness of their decline, value and importance for food production and ecosystem stability is just beginning to emerge, and becomes increasingly more recognized beyond beekeeper and academic borders. The horror of what could await us is nicely pictured in a recent movie “More than Honey” where trees in some regions of China need to be hand pollinated after the disappearance of bee pollinators. What we need is the recognition that bees cannot be treated as another industrially produced commodity. As such they might teach us another critical lesson: That there are indeed Limits of Economic Growth.

10 things you can do to help

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Identity….universe

Our identity with the natural world and our responsibility to God for it are clearly taught in the Bible.
As a race we are dependent upon the earth’s bountiful resources and subject to the forces of nature that come upon us. In addition we humans have shown, especially in recent times, that we can impact our natural environment mostly to its disadvantage. Our relationship with our environment is essentially one of interdependence and we ignore such interdependence at our peril.
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The Bible also teaches that the continuation of the blessings of the natural world available to us are intimately associated with our moral state. (Jeremiah 12 v 4, 10-13) Having “dominion” over nature clearly does not mean we can become wasteful stewards of God’s wonderful resources and blessing.

St Paul brings the future of the natural world into his understanding of Christ’s coming and mission. He sees that God’s purpose of redemption, reconciliation and restitution involves all created things and this centres on the work of Christ. His incarnation, death and resurrection make it possible that we can be part of God’s great saving purpose. When we become Christians we become part of His new creation story and He makes us responsible for our involvement with Him in the fulfilment of His great purpose for the whole cosmic order.

His vision is summarized thus,
“ The whole universe has been created for Christ.. through Him God chose to reconcile the whole universe to Himself, making peace through the shedding of his blood on the cross….to reconcile all things… through Christ alone. Col 1 v15-20

“the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God; for creation has been subjected to futility… and will be set free from its bondage to decay to obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God….so we ourselves have become the firstfruits of the Spirit ‘even as we wait to be freed from the shackles of our mortality’ Romans 8. v 19-25

As Christians we can be optimistic for the future. In the light of Christ’s mighty resurrection nothing can now frustrate God’s grand and ultimate Purpose. Even our Christian failure to meet with the Lord’s calling upon us as stewards of his bounty will not frustrate the fulfilment of God’s moral purpose to rectify and transform all natural imbalances and disorder into God’s “new heaven and new earth” Revelation 21
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Eye has not seen nor ear heard what God has prepared yet many have tried to visualize it

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How different this Christian vision is from prevailing mind-sets!!

Many today feel there is nothing to live for long term but extinction. “The world is going nowhere and I am drifting in a kind of lostness; having come from I do not know where, and on the way to nowhere.”

As William Barclay has put it, without this Christian vision for ourselves and our universe we face a dreadful and bleak uncertainty and begin to see our lives as valueless.

Even so, there will come a day for each of us when God will break into our lives. One day we must die and face God’s judgement upon our lives and for that day we must be prepared

Every day that comes to us is God’s gift; a further opportunity to repent and turn to God; an opportunity to “develop and purify ourselves; to render some service to others; and to take one step closer to God”

The challenge of seeing our identity as linked to the future of our universe therefore lies in this.

Do I regard my life as a gift from a generous Creator God?

Have I responded to Christ’s offer of eternal life?

Am I involved in God’s great Purpose of reconciling “all things” ( including the created order) to himself?

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