31st March 2023
Read - Judges 11:29-40 & Hebrews 11:32-38
Message Alan Burke
Today we get to the vow of Jephthah and as we do remember that he was a man of faith who is listed among the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11. Jephthah made a vow to the Lord (v30-31) While I may not like what Jephthah does, there is a sense in which I understand what he is doing. I know it’s not to the same extent, and I’m not trying to justify Jephthah when I say this, but how often do we fall into the trap of bargaining with the Lord God. What I mean is that we say, Lord I’ll do that for you if you’ll do this for me. Lord get me out of this scrape, sort out my son, help my daughter, heal me from this illness, take this burden away from me Lord, sort my financial problems, it could be any number of things, and we say do this Lord, and if you do this Lord I’ll do what ever you want.
After the vow comes the account of the victory in v32-33. What is striking is the brevity of the victory is given to us, we are not given details of battles, of how the victory was won or achieved, the twenty towns that Jephthah was given victory over empowered by the Lord instead we are simply told that he did and “Thus Israel subdued Ammon”. The Lord the God of Isreal who Jephthah had faith in gave his people victory over the Ammonites, it was not the vow that Jephthah made that brought the victory, it was the Lord who brought the victory by his grace. Jephthah had faith in the Lord God but now the reality of the foolishness of the vow he had made comes into sharp focus, the tragedy of it all as the focus then returns to the vow that Jephthah had made, while he had the victory over the ammonites it would be a bitter one as Jephthah returns home (34).
The vow Jephthah had made earlier was a foolish one, for us when we read of Jephthah’s daughter running out we are left in dismay. Jephthah had said “whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph.” There is only interpretation open to us when he made his vow, he wasn’t expecting an animal, he was expecting a person, he was saying, if the Lord gives me this victory there will be a great cost, bravado in the midst of it all, this is a man who no doubt would have been familiar with the moral law of God that human sacrifices was forbidden (Lev 28:21, 20:2-5, Deut 12:31, 18:10) but then don’t forget that Jephthah was a man who when we were introduced to him was living as an outcast, one who lived among adventurers, vile worthless men, some would argue that Jephthah did not sacrifice his daughter but I don’t think that the text allows that interpretation, rather what we have is a man who would have known enough about the law of God, knowing that what he proposed to be wrong, this is tragic.
We are told in v36 of how indeed Jephthah did as he had vowed.
Jephthah, this man, is one who is listed among the heroes of the faith and he murdered his own daughter over a foolish vow, his actions show how even among the people of God, those who had faith that they had embalmed much of the pagan culture around them, rather than falling to his knees, confessing his sin, repenting Jephthah did as he had vowed.
Whether we want to accept it or not, there is far to much of Jephthah in each of us, why it is because we are sinners. There are many days that I feel more like a scoundrel than a saint. If we have faith in Jesus Christ then we are saints, we are his holy people, we are sanctified throughout yet we all know that we are imperfect in this life for there is still abiding some remand of corruption in every part of us. For there is a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh. We all know it to be true and there are days that our sin leaves us burdened, the Devil accuses us and we find it hard to hold our heads up high, we find it hard to know that we are indeed forgiven, redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified and saved. Often the reason is because if the shoe were on the other foot we would find it hard to forgive a sinner like us. What is so amazing about grace is that it is not dependant on us but on Christ Jesus.
Q8 How doth God execute his decrees?
God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence.
30th March 2023
Read (Matthew 13v44-58)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
A few weeks ago I showed Edengrove's children a copy of Peter O'Brien's commentary on the book of Hebrews. I bought it several years ago for £20 and now, because of O'Brien's alleged plagiarism, all of his books have been taken off the shelves. It means that a second hand copy of his Hebrews commentary will cost you £150 and at the time of writing a brand new version is for sale on Amazon for almost £500. I'll not be selling my copy but theres a wee sinful bit of me that wishes I'd bought ten copies back in the day.
Despite the estimated value of O'Brien's book it is worth nothing compared to the Gospel. It is by the preaching of the Gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit that sinners are converted to Christ and enter into the kingdom of heaven. Christians can often take these realities for granted but the Lord has made it clear about the extraordinary value of being part of His kingdom.
The kingdom of heaven can be observed in the church on earth. She may seem small, fragile and often troubled but in the sight of Christ she is beautiful indeed. So the kingdom of heaven is worth more than all of this world's treasure. To underline this fact Christ spoke of a man who found treasure in a field saying "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field." (v44). By finding this treasure the man had every right to claim it as his own but just to make sure, he sold everything he had and bought the field. It doesn't matter if you are the most wealthy man on earth, if you are without Christ then you are impoverished beyond all imagination. Membership of the kingdom is a treasure worth securing.
In the same vein Jesus said "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it." (v45-46) Such a merchant was well used to seeing the beauty of a pearl but the pearl of great value took his breath away. He sold everything else and used the money to buy the exceptionally beautiful pearl. Do you get the picture? The kingdom is glorious, it is beautiful, it is the greatest treasure and it is worth the loss of all things to secure membership.
Why does this need to be stressed? Jesus answers by reminding us that the kingdom is also like a net thrown into the sea which gathered a catch of fish of all kinds. The good catch was placed into containers whilst the bad catch was thrown away (v47-48). The meaning of this parable is plain - when Christ returns He will send out His angels and they will separate the Christian from the unsaved (v49). The individual who hasn't turned to Christ and entered into the kingdom will be cast into hell where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (v50).
I have endless cards in my wallet and with them come certain privileges. My Dobbies card gets me free tea once per month and my Blue Cedar card will get me a free coffee after ten stamps, but membership of the kingdom is a life or death matter. How does one enter the kingdom? By repentance of sin and faith in Christ. There is nothing more precious in this world than Christ and His kingdom and only a fool rejects the Gospel.
Having understood these things the Christian is therefore "trained for the kingdom of heaven" (v51-52) and just as the master of a house brings out both his new and old treasure (v52b), the Christian is to receive and share joyfully the teaching of the Bible. The law and prophets (the old) pointed forward to Christ (the new). All Scripture is God breathed and our only infallible rule of faith and practice.
The tragedy of the kingdom is that not all will enter it and this is not a new phenomena. Jesus made a visit to His hometown but there was no bunting, parade or lavish meal. He astonished the locals with His wisdom and mighty works (v54) but they did not repent and believe the Gospel. Instead they said “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” (v54-56)
Christ's fellow citizens could not move beyond His humble roots - they knew His parents and were able to name His brothers and sisters, but this knowledge did not lead to saving knowledge of Christ. Indeed they took offence at Jesus causing the Lord to state “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” (v57) So the Lord did only a few mighty works in Nazareth because of their unbelief (v58). It wasn't that their lack of faith kept Christ's hand tied or limited His power, rather the Lord's lack of miraculous works was His judgement upon the people of Nazareth.
The kingdom of heaven is like a great uncovered treasure and a precious pearl. It is worth leaving all else behind in order to enter Christ's kingdom. The alternative is an eternity in the place called Hell. In response the Christian believes and shares what has been received by faith whilst others are offended by Christ and His Gospel. As another chapter closes Jesus asks “Have you understood all these things?” (v51). My friend, make sure you have, nothing is more important.
Q7 What are the decrees of God? The decrees of God are, his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.
29th March 2023
Read - Judges 11:4-40, Hebrews 11:32-38
Message Alan Burke
Jephthah was an outcast, he was a nobody, he had been rejected by his people because of the sin of his father (Judges 11:1-2) but this is the man that God used. After war breaks out, in the midst of a power vacuum the bothers of Jephthah turn to him and ask that he would lead them even though he had been rejected by them. There is something that in the midst of the back and forth dialogue between Jephthah and his brothers that we see, this is a man of faith. It is easy to miss it but from what he says to his bothers (v9) it is clear that this is the case when he says “Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the Lord gives them to me”.
Jephthah understood that in the midst of it all it was the Lord who would give victory, that if the Lord was on their side, that the Lord went with him then there is nothing that could stop them from having the victory. After all this Jephthah agrees to the elders request, he who was rejected has become their leader. Even though Jephthah was living a mercenary lifestyle in Tob we once more in the midst of the engagement with the king of Ammon that Jephthah did have faith. For just as before with the Elders of the people he had understood it was the Lord who was the one who gave the victory, v21 the Lord, the God of Isreal gave this land to them. He understood the the Lord is indeed sovereignly in control of all, he is the one who rules, the people of God would not have this land if it were not for the Lord God of Isreal giving it to them, likewise the victory was going to be the Lord God’s, it was the Lord who was the one that gave it to His people to possess, it was the Lord’s to give as the creator of all.
After the diplomatic efforts fail, Jephthah’s attempts to stop the war by negotiation are futile and when the time comes we have the Spirit of the Lord come upon, it is by the power of the Spirit of God that Jephthah goes forward, that he advances against the Ammonites. While the Holy Spirit, the Third person of the Trinity was present and active from the very beginning, in the Old Testament period the Ministry of the Spirit was to come upon people and equip them for a task ahead, empower them. Since the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ the spirit of God lives in all who turn to Him in repentance and faith. The Spirit of God works in us, helping us each day to live more and more for Christ and die to sin.
What is being conveyed to us by the coming of the Holy Spirit is that this is the Lord God, divinely enabling Jephthah to have the victory over the Ammonites. While we see a man of faith that is being empowered by the Holy Spirit within him we also see a man who is deeply flawed. The Spirit comes upon him (29), and then goes on to make a vow to the Lord. We will deal with the vow of Jephthah on Friday but for now we can take great comfort in the words of Jesus in John’s gospel when he says: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out... No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:37, 44). The Spirit not only indwells in the believer, that indwelling is permanent, the Spirit will not depart from us as it did when individuals were equipped for a certain task in the Old Testament. If you have been saved from your sin then you have been baptised by the Holy Spirit, you are His. I’ve heard lots of nonsense that you need some kind of experience, that you need to babble, mumble, a heavenly language called tongues, but that is not what the disciples experienced on the day of Pentecost, it was intelligent speech that all could here in their own language. Know that if you have received Christ, then you have been baptised by the Spirit, the Spirit dwells in you, for those who belong to Jesus have been given a new heart, the Spirit moves in us helping us daily to live for him and die to self.
Q6 How many persons are there in the Godhead?
There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory. (1 John 5:7, Matt. 28:19)
28th March 2023
Read (Matthew 13v24-43)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
Where can we see the kingdom of heaven today? Jesus said that His kingdom was not of this earth (John 18v36) and so the kingdom of heaven has no earthly capital, no earthly borders, no earthly armies and no earthly king. So is the kingdom of heaven found only in heaven? No. The Westminster Confession of Faith is clear on where we can find the kingdom. It states "The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation as before under the law) consists of all those, throughout the world, that profess the true religion, and of their children; and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation."
We believe that the kingdom of heaven can be seen in the visible church here on earth. So is the visible church perfect? By no means. Jesus compared His kingdom to a man who sowed good seed in his field (v24). He went to bed and during the night his enemy sowed weeds among the good crop of wheat (v25). The wheat and the weeds grew together and caused consternation for the man's servants. They came to their master and asked "Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?" (v27).
The master knew that the weeds were the work of the enemy but he advised his servants to let the wheat and weeds grow together until the harvest when the master would command the reapers "Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn." (v30).
At first glance this parable seems to say little about the church of Jesus Christ but the Lord graciously explained its meaning. Jesus is the man who sowed the good seed throughout the field which represents the whole world (v37-38). The seed gives a picture of those who repent and believe the Gospel whilst the weeds show those who reject the Gospel (v38). Who sowed the weeds? The enemy the devil (v39). Therefore in the visible church there will be both Christians and the unsaved. The wheat and the weeds will grow together until the end of time. The harvest will take place at Christ's return when Christians will be called to glory and the unsaved will know the flames of hell (v39-42).
The church of Christ is therefore an extraordinary body and yet it is one that had the smallest of beginnings. Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like a single mustard seed which grows larger than all other plants becoming a great tree which offers a home to the birds of the air (v31-32). Critics point out that the mustard seed is not the smallest seed and when it is fully grown it does not become a great tree. But the Lord made no mistake. In his day the mustard seed was seen as a metaphor or an image for something incredibly small. Christ's point was simply that the kingdom may have had small beginnings but would grow to an enormous extent.
If the church began with Adam and Eve then we could argue that it has gone from just two members to countless millions across the span of time. In Elijah's day the church numbered just him and seven thousand others (1st Kings 19v18) but today the Gospel has gone to both Jew and Gentile right across the globe. The mustard seed has become a great tree and in the kingdom there is rest for those who seek Christ.
Furthermore the kingdom doesn't advance by the gun or bomb. Jesus said the kingdom is like leaven which a women hid in three measures of flour until all was leavened (v33). I'm no baker and perhaps you're not either so what is leaven? Leaven is a substance (like yeast) added to dough in order to produce gas bubbles which lighten and soften the mixture. In other words the Lord tells us that His church works in quiet and unseen ways but will bring transformation to the world around it.
By his parabolic teaching Jesus fulfilled Psalm 78v2 which states “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”
In light of Christ revealing to us great truth we must say that it is a tragedy when we treat the visible church with contempt. Nevertheless it is perhaps sinfully predictable. We witness great division in the local fellowship and sometimes gossip abounds. The church becomes a place that is only useful for funerals and weddings and despite an average Lord's Day service lasting just over an hour, we tell ourselves that it is too long and too boring. Amazingly, even among Christians, taking our place in the visible church has become a chore made all the more difficult by the easy excuse of Covid.
May God forgive us. In these parables Jesus tells us about His glorious kingdom and there is nothing wearisome about it. The visible church will be a mixed multitude until the end of time and throughout history she may seem weak and insignificant but by the preaching of the Word and the work of the Spirit, the leaven continues to make its way throughout the whole world. From tiny beginnings the visible church has grown into a great tree which offers shelter to the weary sinner. The regular Lord's Day meeting of your church is a wonderful and God appointed moment - don't swap it for Newcastle, the golf course or your sofa...take your place and marvel at the kingdom of heaven.
Q5 Are there more Gods than one? There is but one only, the living and true God.
27th March 2023
Read - Judges 11:1-3, Hebrews 11:32-38
Message Alan Burke
As we come once more to Hebrews we will this week be focusing on Jephthah, a man of faith yet the account of Jephthah the man of faith can only be described as a tragedy. One that teaches us much, it teaches us where the people of God were morally and spiritually, as well as the situation that find themselves in and most of all just how amazing the grace of God is towards us because Jephthah is mentioned among those who had faith. He had the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb 11:1).
By this stage in Israel’s history which started the generation after Joshua God’s people did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and turned to false god (Jdg 2:10–13), ’everyman did what was right in his own eyes’ (Jud 21:25). As we are introduced to Jephthah, he was was a man who was rejected by his own family because of his Da not being able to keep his hands to himself. He was rejected by his brothers, seeking to keep him from an inheritance. Jephthah suffered because of the sins of his father. Here we see that the effects of sin don’t only impact us but can also impact the generations that follow. For those of us who are parents we need to be reminded often that our own selfishness can have a detrimental impact on those whom we seek to nurture. Sometimes our own behaviour needs to be challenged, sometimes we need to wise the bap, sometimes we need reminded of the promises that we have made and there are lots of times it is easier to blame someone else than take a hard look in the mirror.
So we have Jephthah who was rejected because of his fathers infidelity, he fled, he became and outcast that is what v3 makes clear. With nowhere to go he ends up in Tob, that’s modern day Syria, sets himself up with a group of adventurers who followed him. Like Robin Hood and his merry men in Sherwood forrest. But this wasn’t robing from the rich to give to the poor. While the NIV says that these were a group of adventurers the KJV and ESV give a better indication of what the Hebrew word means that speaks of these men who had gathered round Jephthah.The KJV uses the word ‘vain’ the ESV the word ‘worthless’. These men that are with Jephthah, who are gathered round him, his band of brothers, are outcasts, vile, worthless fellas.
This band of men mark Jephthah out as a leader, but his people had rejected him because of who he is by his birth and although he’s a leader of this band of brothers ultimately today you’d label Jephthah as the leader of a paramilitary group or an organised crime gang or mercenary group living outside the law. In effect Jephthah was an outcast, he was a nobody, he was hardly a candidate for success and to be included at this stage in the examples of the hero’s of the faith in Hebrews 11 but this is the man that God used. This is the man that God choose, who used for his purposes. Time and time again we are confronted with how God uses unlikely people for his purposes, our Saviour even called a an unlikely bunch of disciples to come follow him, using them for his purposes.
We each one who by faith are his people are called to live for his glory (1 Cor 10:31), and God uses us in-spite of ourselves for his glory. Whatever we do each day there should be no division between ‘ordinary’ and ‘spiritual’ activity, it doesn’t matter if we are mowing the lawn, doing the dishes or evangelising, sharing the good news of the gospel, it is the Christian’s responsibility in life, in all that the believer does, to do it all to the glory of God. It applies to every believer and under every circumstance, it is our obligation and privilege, no area of life is to be excluded. God uses us both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil 2:13)
Q4 What is God?
God is a Spirit, (John 4:24) infinite, (Job 11:7–9) eternal, (Ps. 90:2) and unchangeable, (James 1:17) in his being, (Exod. 3:14)wisdom, (Ps. 147:5) power, (Rev. 4:8) holiness, (Rev. 15:4) justice, goodness, and truth. (Exod. 34:6–7)
25th March 2023
Read (Matthew 13v1-23)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
The Scriptures don't tell us everything that Jesus said or did but we have been given more than enough to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing we might have life in His name (John 20v30-31). What we have in the Bible is sufficient and what we have in Christ's parables is a treasury of spiritual truth.
What is a parable? A parable is a story with a deeper meaning or as has often has been said a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. Jesus told a growing crowd about a sower who went out to sow (v3). I'm not from an agricultural background and you may not be either so lets make the image clear. Imagine a farm worker with a bag of seed heading into a field. The field is empty and so the farm worker's job is to scatter the seed with a view to harvesting a good crop at a later stage.
In Christ's story the sower was busy in his work but not all of the seed fell on good and fertile soil. Some seed fell on the path and soon the birds ate the seed for a free meal (v4). Some seed fell on rocky ground which had some soil but not too much. The seeds sprouted but because there wasn't enough soil the plant's roots were not strong and soon the plant was scorched and withered by the sun (v5-6). Some seed fell among the thorns which choked the life out of the young plants (v7). But some seed fell on good soil eventually producing crops of grain of various sizes (v8). With the story told, Jesus declared "He who has ears, let him hear." (v9)
But what are we to hear? Perhaps we are to learn something about farming? Perhaps this is a story about a careless worker? Perhaps the story is just a story with no life changing meaning? Thankfully the Lord explained everything we need to know about the parable of the sower.
In the parable the sower is someone who is scattering the Gospel seed far and wide. Some hear the Gospel, don't understand it and then Satan comes and snatches the good seed away - this is the seed that is scattered on the path (v19). Others hear the Gospel and receive it with joy, however the Gospel hasn't taken root in that individual's life and so when trouble comes such a person turns away from Christ - this is the seed scattered on rocky ground (v20-21).
Another person hears the Gospel but they are filled with the troubles and cares of life and so the Word has no impact - this is the seed scattered on thorny ground (v22). But thanks be to God, for some hear the Gospel, receive it and from a transformed heart and the working of the Holy Spirit an abundance of good fruit is produced - this is the seed sown on good soil (v23). Therefore the parable of the sower accurately describes the world in which we live and the church to which you belong.
I find both encouragement and challenge in the parable of the sower. As a preacher of the Gospel I want nothing more than everyone listening to repent and believe but tragically not everyone who hears will repent. I am often frustrated and brought low by the lack of response to the Word of God, but rather than being down in the dumps and feeling sorry for myself I should be driven to prayer. The scattering of the Word must be accompanied by the work of the Holy Spirit in my life and the life of those listening. The work of salvation belongs to the Lord and so my challenge is to sow faithfully whilst understanding that only the Lord can make hard hearts soft. Brothers and sisters, be encouraged to keep on sowing and keep on praying. You may see little to no response but surely Christ will lose none of those for whom He died.
But why did Jesus choose to teach in this way? Would a straightforward sermon not have been better? The disciples wondered along similar lines asking Jesus “Why do you speak to them in parables?” (v10). The Lord's response was to explain the dual purpose of the parables. For the Christian the parables serve to reveal more of God's kingdom giving them an abundant treasury of truth (v11-12a). This is God's special revelation. To His people He gives ears to hear and hearts to receive. For them the parables aren't simple stories but glimpses of kingdom realities.
However just as the parables are a blessing for the Christian they serve as God's judgement on an unbelieving world. The one who refuses Christ will lose everything (v12b). They refuse to see, they refuse to hear and they refuse to understand (v13). They are the fulfilment of Isaiah's prophecy "You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them." (Isaiah 6v9-10).
It is a terrible thought that God meets sinful humanity's rebellion by giving them exactly what they want. Paul explains this in Romans 1 where he speaks of sinful people suppressing the clear truth of God in their lives (Roman 1v18). They see God in creation but deny Him and their hearts grow dark (Romans 1v21). They make their own images and their own "gods" and in response God gives them exactly what they want (Romans 1v24,26). It is a terrible thing to be hard against the things of God, the seed may be scattered but it never takes root. The judgement of God has fallen on those who refuse to see.
The Christian response to this news must be humility. We were no better than our pagan neighbours but due to the extraordinary work of the Spirit we have been made alive in Christ - it is by grace that we have been saved! We are the blessed of God for we can now see and hear (v16). Indeed for those of us on this side of the cross we have seen and heard things which the prophets and other Old Testament believers longed to see (v17). The Parables aren't a mystery to us or a judgement upon us, instead they are the Lord's revelation of His kingdom which is received willingly by our new hearts.
Jesus said "He who has ears, let him hear." Child of God, by faith you hear and by faith you see. Glory be to God!
Q3 What do the Scriptures principally teach? The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.
24th March 2023
Read - Joshua 2:8-11
Message Alan Burke
We’re focusing on Rahab before the fall of Jericho, a woman who we are told “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.” (Heb 11:31). Why did Rahab welcome/hide the spies it is because she had faith, her faith was shown in her willingness to risk everything is because of her belief in the Lord God. In v9-11 she confesses her faith to the spies that she had saved shows a remarkable knowledge of what God had done and was going to do. Firstly she tells them v9, that she knows the LORD has given them this land. Here we are told what had happened, it is that the fear of the Lord had fallen upon the people. This isn’t the type of fear God’s people have before the Lord their God, which is a filial fear, as that of a child before their parent. Rather the fear that the people of Jericho and the Canaanites had experienced was the fear of finding themselves as the enemies of God, it is the fear of those who find themselves under the judgement of God. The Canaanites were fearful of the Israelites, they knew they were the people of the one true God Yahweh.
This is the reason why Rahab was willing to save the lives of the spies, to risk everything, for she had saved them so that they would go back to Joshua and that God would have the victory. This woman who was not an Israelite, who was a Canaanite, who was an outsider, had heard what God had done, how He had dried up the water of the Red Sea before his people, how they had defeated their enemies on the way to the promised land, devotion those who were the enemies of God to destruction. We don’t know when Rahab came to this realisation for herself, when that faith was worked in her by God but her confession shows her faith, she acted the way that she did because of faith, faith based in the knowledge of God. She responded rightly to the knowledge of God. The only way that any of us can respond rightly to the Lord is by the knowledge of who He is, while creation testifies to the existence of God, it is not in itself sufficient to give knowledge of God that is necessary for salvation. But faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of God (Rom 10:17). Rahab had heard and responded to the word of God.
The sadness about this is that even though the Canaanites had heard it is only Rahab and her family that in the end are saved from the coming Judgment of God. This event and faith of Rahab reminds us firstly of the necessity of hearing to the word of God but also respond to the word of God rightly. For the grace of God was not and is not limited to the people of Isreal, Rahab shows how the Canaanites could be saved, Rahab shows how any person who has ever lived can be saved, that is to trust in the one true God, to have faith in what he has done in Jesus Christ, for it is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone that we are saved (Rom 10:13). But only she and her family were saved for only Rahab responded rightly to the fear and sought refuge in the Lord. The response of Rahab to who the Lord is, is only appropriate response for all who hear the word of God is to seek refuge in Him, to trust in Him, to run to Him in faith. It is the only response that matters. The people of Canaan knew what was coming with the judgement of God but even though they knew it was only Rahab and her family that were saved because the rest of the Canaanites did not put their trust in God.
God saves sinners like us, sinners like Rahab, there is only one category of people outside faith in Christ and they are the wicked, for our sin makes us his enemies and the only way that we can become the righteous and be commended for is by faith. One last thing that confronts us with the wonderful grace of God. For we learn in Matthew's gospel that Rahab’s husband was called Salmon and their son was called Boaz, though God’s wonderful grace, Rahab was an ancestor of Jesus Christ (Matt 1:5) even though for some they might find it surprising, but God uses fallen sinners for his glory, he doesn’t need us, but yet he chooses to use us. Let us marvel more and more at the wonderful grace of God and just how scandalous that grace is, HIs mercy towards us.
Q2 What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, (2 Tim. 3:16, Eph. 2:20) is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him. (1 John 1:3–4)
23rd March 2023
Read (Matthew 12v38-49)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
Throughout Matthew's Gospel there have been numerous accounts showing Christ's awesome deeds. We have seen Jesus healing the sick and casting out demons and preaching with true power. He was the long promised Messiah who fulfilled Isaiah 35v5-6 "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy."
Jesus had provided more than enough evidence that He was the Christ but nevertheless He was approached one day by the scribes and Pharisees who stated “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” (v38). This wasn't necessarily an unreasonable request. In the Old Testament the Lord used men like Moses and Elijah to perform miraculous signs and on other occasions He gave signs directly to His people. A sign acted to authenticate the Lord's servant and the message they'd been sent to deliver.
However Jesus would not be a performing monkey doing signs at the demand of the Pharisees. They had seen and heard enough but still would not repent. Jesus answered them by saying "An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah." (v39) The Pharisees were part of a sinful generation who had eyes to see and ears to hear but still rejected Christ. They would receive no more signs except the sign of Jonah.
What was the sign of Jonah? The prophet was dead and buried in the belly of a great fish and yet after three days and nights the Lord raised him to life. In the same way Jesus would be crucified, dead and buried and in the tomb for three days and three nights (v40). Just as Jonah was raised to life, so too Jesus would stand again upon the earth. The sign of Jonah was the miracle of the resurrection and it remains a sure testimony to the authenticity and power of Christ. Jesus is the crucified and risen Lord in whom all must believe.
Furthermore, the Ninevites who repented in response to Jonah's preaching will stand in the last judgement and condemn the generation who rejected Christ, for Jesus is the greater Jonah (v41). They will be joined by the Queen of Sheba who travelled "from the ends of the earth" to hear Solomon's wisdom (v42). She will condemn the evil and adulterous generation of Christ's day because Jesus is the greater Solomon. The Lord's point is simple - the Ninevites & the Queen of Sheba had much less revealed to them than future generations but still trusted Christ.
On the other hand, the scribes, Pharisees and others had rejected the great Jesus who was the true Prophet, Priest and King. They were like an individual who had been cleansed from a demon. The demon then went out into the desert seeking rest but found none (v43). On the demon's return to the person they had originally troubled, they found that "house" empty and therefore returned with seven other spirits to enter that person once more (v44-45).
The Lord was not giving us a handbook on demonology in these verses. Instead He was stressing that the generation of His day was in a terrible and worse position than before. Christ had come and He had swept the house clean. Nevertheless His work was not accepted, He was opposed at every turn and He was accused of being a tool of Satan. The evil generation who stood before Jesus had every advantage and yet they sought signs rather than offering repentance.
Anyone who follows this path of unbelief will find themselves in the same position as the Pharisees on the last day. All the signs in the world mean nothing if a sinner's heart remains cold to the things of God.
On the other hand, the Christian has nothing to fear in the judgement. We have been moved by the Spirit to repentance and faith. We have received the sign of Jonah willingly and put our trust in Christ. The will of the Father is for us to believe in the Son (v50) and therefore, by faith, we have become Christ's family, children of God and heirs of the promise.
It is as the Apostle John once wrote "to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1v12-13) This is glorious news indeed!
Q1 What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.
22nd March 2023
Read - Joshua 2:1-7 and James 2:25
Message Alan Burke
We pick up today forty years after the people crossed the red sea. God swore that they would not enter his rest because of their rebellion, their hearts that went astray (Ps 95:8-11). Their rebellion had seen them wonder for forty years until that unbelieving generation died out in the wilderness. Now they are about to enter the promised land and Joshua who had went to spy out the land all those years earlier is now about to lead the people into the land (Num 13:14). He sends two spies in to the promised land on a scouting mission. He had a fair idea what the spies were going to see as they entered the promised land and what the people were going to be faced with (Jos 3:14-17). He knew that Jericho was the first city that they would encounter when they entered, a massive fortress city and it is where the spies themselves went on their mission. The spies end up taking refuge in the house of a woman called Rahab and her profession is such is that she would have been looked down upon, viewed as a second class citizen, one who would have lived on the fringes of society.
Word got back to the King that there were spies in their midst, they were at Rehab’s and that she had taken them into hiding. Straight of we see the faith of Rahab as she has hidden the spies and when she is asked about it by those sent by the king she is willing to risk her very life for their safety. Think about the situation that she is in, and at this stage we not told of the reason for her doing this, but what she does shows that she is willing to risk everything with no guarantees. If the kings men had come into the house and searched it the spies would be found and once found the spies would have been excused, and the best Rahab could have hoped for is that they would only kill her and let her family live. The possible consequences for not only Rahab but her family were server and after all who would care about a person like Rahab. Added to that, also think of how Rahab hides two men that she hadn’t clapped eyes on before, hides them on her roof under stalks of flax and she had no guarantee either that they wouldn’t sell her out. Rahab in each part of this was taking a massive risk, but she was showing her faith in how she was willing to risk it all, her life, the life of her family, everything most people hold dear, all because of her faith in the God of Isreal.
The lie she spun was believed by the men at her door, her house was not searched, they men came and then went in peruse of the spies as far as the fords of Jordan. In the midst of this we have the wonderful hand of God at work, for there is no reason that Rahab should have been believed by the kings men, none at all, yet they take the lie that she has spun and they go in search of the spies. The only reason for this the sovereignty of the Lord God, in how by His providence He was powerfully preserving and governing all that was taking place. For the promised land was His to give and He was the one who was bringing about his peoples entry into it. The only reason why Rahab’s house wasn’t searched and the whole plan didn’t come crushing down around her was because of how God was working in the midst of all that was taking place.
What I want to leave you with today is Rahab a woman who was willing to risk it all because of her faith, a faith that was seen. In James 2:25 we are told "Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction” (Ja 2:25). The context there is about the necessity of works, it is making the point, faith without deeds is dead, it is not enough to say that I have faith, faith must be seen in our actions, it must be manifest, it is not just a knowledge of who God is, the people of Jericho were filled with a fear because they had a knowledge of who God is but they all but Rahab and her family perished because Rahab by her faith was willing to act. Our faith should be seen.
Q107 What doth the conclusion of the Lord’ s prayer teach us?
The conclusion of the Lord’ s prayer, (which is, For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever, Amen. (Matt. 6:13)) teacheth us, to take our encouragement in prayer from God only, (Dan. 9:4,7–9,16–19) and in our prayers to praise him, ascribing kingdom, power, and glory to him. (1 Chron. 29:10–13) And, in testimony of our desire, and assurance to be heard, we say, Amen. (1 Cor. 14:16, Rev. 22:20–21)
21st March 2023
Read (Matthew 12v33-37)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
John Owen once said "The rule and method of the gospel is, that the tree be first made good, and then the fruit will be so also." He was right. There is no possibility of you being saved by trying to produce "good fruit" in your life. First your heart needs to be transformed by the grace of God and from that "good root" follows "good fruit".
This teaching doesn't belong to John Owen but was given to us by Christ. He said "Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit." (v33). A good tree produces good fruit and a bad tree produces bad fruit. This is a simple but clear picture of the difference between a Christian and the unbeliever. Both individuals deserve nothing but God's wrath but the Christian has understood their spiritual poverty, trusted in Christ and has been made alive in Jesus. The once dead tree has sprung into life as it has been watered by the Gospel and cultivated by the Spirit.
Christ turned to His opponents (probably the Pharisees) and called them a "brood of vipers" (v34). They had no ability to say anything good because their hearts were evil. This sounds like an incredibly harsh attack but please understand that it applies to all of us before our hearts are transformed by the Gospel. Jesus said that the words that flow from the mouth display the condition of the heart (v34b). The Pharisees were filled with venom towards Christ even stating that He was Satanic - their root was rotten and so was their fruit.
However the one who has been transformed by the Gospel is someone who brings forward good things out of his good treasure (v35). The new heart of a Christian is a great treasure indeed. The Lord has graciously raised us to spiritual life and now we no longer speak as His enemy but as His friend. It is not so for the one who is evil as from his heart only flows evil. The Christian has been enabled to cry "Jesus is Lord" whilst Christ's enemies often declare Him to be irrelevant or worse still an ally of Satan. The difference is extraordinary and it all stems from the condition of the root which is the human heart.
All of this will become apparent at the last day. Jesus said "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." (v36-37) It is important to understand the gravity of these words without misrepresenting their meaning. What do I mean? Well what is a careless or idle word? Perhaps it is the joke we shared with a friend? Perhaps it's the idle chit-chat we have every single day with our next door neighbour?
If so does the Christian have to be a humourless and virtually wordless individual? No. In this passage the Pharisees have declared Jesus to be in league with Satan and it is in this context that Christ urges caution over the words we speak. The words we speak against Christ will see us condemned on the last day. But thanks be to God, for the lips that declare "Jesus is Lord" will meet with His approval when the end finally comes.
The good heart produces good fruit and good words about our good shepherd. This is God's work and it is glorious indeed.
Q106 What do we pray for in the sixth petition? In the sixth petition, which is, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” we pray, that God would either keep us from being tempted to sin, or support and deliver us when we are tempted.