Read - 2 Corinthians 4v7-12
Message - Scott Woodburn
One of my greatest treasures is a "pink vogue" tea set that belonged to my mother. It might seem strange for a grown man to possess such a thing. I've never used it for tea parties, I know it isn't complete and each cup would only hold a mouthful of tea but to me it is precious because it reminds me of my mum and home. It sits today in a cupboard high above the reach of little hands because it simply would not survive the rigours of everyday family life.
As we continue our journey through 2 Corinthians, Paul reminds us that we are as fragile as those precious items kept behind lock and key. The Apostle describes the human condition as being like "jars of clay" (v7) or in other words, to be human is to be weak and easily broken. Jars of clay were common in the ancient world. They were cheaply made and replaced as they would often crack or smash into hundreds of pieces. As humans we are frail, beset on all sides by sin, disease, weakness and finally death. Yet in these jars of clay we have a treasure.
Paul has already spoken of this treasure at the beginning of the chapter. It is the truth of the Gospel, that Christ died for sinners. Our eyes have been unveiled and the light of Christ has shone in our lives. It is this way to show that the "all-surpassing power" belongs to God (v7b). Salvation doesn't come because we are big and tough and strong. Not a bit. We humans, troubled and weak as we are, have been saved by the power of God. The glory belongs to Him.
We are weak and hard pressed on all sides but we will never be crushed (v8a). We will often be perplexed at how life unfolds and the trouble that follows but we will never despair (v8b). The Christian will on occasion know persecution but equally God will never abandon His people (v9a) and even if our enemies take our very life, the Christian will not be destroyed (v9b). Paul could speak from experience. Just as the Lord was under constant threat, so too Paul carried in his body the death of Christ (v10a & v11a). He was able to say "From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus." (Galatians 6v17)
Paul was a battle scarred soldier of Christ who knew daily trouble and threat of death. But such suffering was for Christ's sake and would mean life for those who would hear the Gospel preached from Paul's lips (v10b & v11b). Death may have been at work in Paul but with confidence he could say life was at work in the Corinthians (v12).
Paul's hope also belongs to us. Christians still die everyday because of their faithfulness to Christ and while we in the west haven't experienced such persecution for a very long time we are beset on all sides by various kinds of trials. We are jars of clay stalked by death but have received life through the Gospel of Christ. Hear this...one day we will be raised imperishable. One day the jar of clay will shatter but on the last day this mortal body will put on immortality. It is our great hope that the dead will be raised to life everlasting. No more sin. No more cancer. No more weakness. No more death. What a day! Come quickly Lord Jesus!
Q83 Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous? Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.
Read - 1 John 2:9-11
Message - Alan Burke
Fall outs among families are never fun, relationships can be left in tatters over something that was said or done, over inheritance when someone gets the lion share and others are left angry or jealous. Relationships that were once so close now in pieces, and once where there was love there is now hate. I’d love to say that this is a problem is just out there, it doesn’t affect the church but it does. We see people who sit on opposite sides of the meetinghouse because of someone they fell out with years ago, we see people stop coming because they fell out with the minister and I am sure that we could all think of examples, we wouldn’t maybe call it hate but there is no love between them. As John continues he explains how the outworking of love will be seen in the life of the believer and among believers, what it is to walk in the commands of God, how love is to be made complete in us (5) and he starts not with love but with hate. For If a person claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness, but whoever loves his brother abides in the light (9-10). The contrasting statement teaches us that if we do not love one another that is to hate them.
Steady on John, sounds a bit strong that doesn’t it. It certainly not how most of us would understand it, how we would see it. Just because we don’t love someone it doesn’t mean that we hate them, rather we would view our attitude as neutral, wouldn’t we, we may not love that person who sits on the other side of the meetinghouse, we may not love our minister but we certainly couldn’t say that we hate them. Look back to what John said again and you will see that it’s one or the other, either we hate or we love. Among the christian fellowship, among the church they are to love, and if you do not love them then you hate them and you walk in darkness. There is no neutral. If we fail to care for one another, love one another, our brothers and sister in the Lord it is a failure to live in love, a failure to live in the light.
This may seem like an onerous task, a high bar being set, but here John is deliberately awakening the church to the need for radical love among the covenant community if we claim to follow Jesus. It may sound extreme to us, we may sit at the opposite side of the church, but we are to love one another, if it sounds to much then remember what Jesus has done for us, on our behalf, the love that he has shown that exemplifies love. If we do not love one another then we hate and we walk in darkness. Whereas, for those who love their brother or their sister in the Lord, they live in light (10). It is not enough to say that we love our brother or sister, we must show it in our relationships with one another. After all it is easy to claim that we have the truth, to be in the light, for years church membership was simply a right of passage, but the truth, the truth will be seen in the spiritual reality in the life of a believer.
If your profession of faith is true, that we walk in the light then it will be expressed in love for one another, if we love, we want to encourage those whom we love, build them up, but lack of love leads to darkness, if we are focused on ourselves, the problem will be that we will soon loose what it is to love. We are to be a church, a fellowship of believers, brothers and sisters who show our faith is genuine by keeping and delighting in keeping the word of God the commands of the Lord, we know that we have come to know if if we obey his commands (3). The objective test if you will, the Shibboleth, the yardstick of how we are to know if the truth is in us, how we know that we share and others share in the likeness and character of Christ, it should be seen in how we love each other, in how we treat our brothers and sisters, we are to love.
What doth every sin deserve?
Every sin deserveth God’ s wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come. (Eph. 5:6, Gal. 3:10, Lam. 3:39, Matt. 25:41)
Read - 2 Corinthians 4v13-18
Message - Scott Woodburn
I once knew a family in Larne who liked to take a picnic to various local graveyards. Their particular favourite was one at Islandmagee where the graveyard sloped down to the water. I understand the beauty of such places and I have on occasion walked among headstones in a reflective mood but I can't imagine sitting down to a sandwich surrounded by marble tablets. What intrigues me though is that graveyards display the theology (or lack of it) of a nation.
Take a drive around Roselawn and you will see the crests of various football teams carved beside the name of the deceased. Some headstones have national flags engraved. Some hold masonic symbols. Some bear the phrase "for God and Ulster". Indeed the late Martin McGuinness' headstone in Derry City Cemetery describes him as an "óglach" or "volunteer" in the "Óglaigh na hÉireann" a title taken upon themselves by the IRA.
I think John Calvin had it right. His grave was unmarked and today its whereabouts remain unknown, because for Calvin, in both life and death, Christ is all. In today's passage Paul quotes from Psalm 116v10. In this Psalm we read of a person who is experiencing great trial. The Psalmist writes in verse 3 "The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish." Yet the Psalmist wasn't hopeless or faithless. In the very next verse he speaks of calling upon the Lord.
Paul says he shares the same spirit of faith as the Psalmist. They are both individuals who trust in the Lord even in the most difficult trial. Paul believes and therefore speaks (v13b) because he is confident of the resurrection to come. No empty masonic hope thrills Paul. No trusting that "the big man upstairs will be good to me". No boasting about being a volunteer in a blood soaked shame filled organisation. Paul knows that the One who raised Christ will also raise the Christian and present them blameless before Jesus (v14).
So Paul endures "all this" (v15a), the beatings, the mocking, the spit, for the benefit of the church. As the Gospel is preached, more and more people are being reached by the grace of God (v15b) and as grace abounds so too does thanksgiving, overflowing to the glory of God (v15c). No wonder Paul doesn't lose heart (v16a). Even though he sees the frailty of human life and knows that outwardly he is wasting away (v16b), he also understands that inwardly he is being renewed day by day (v16c). The Christian has this confidence that we are being sanctified on a daily basis. The Spirit is at work and the One who started our sanctification will bring it to completion at the day of Christ (Philippians 1v6).
All of our troubles are temporary and while they sting and crush today, they will dwindle when compared to the eternal glory that waits for the one who dies in Christ (v17). Therefore we set our gaze (v18a) not on the things of this world, but the things of glory. All things seen are temporary says Paul (v18c), all is vanity says Solomon (Ecclesiastes), all things (including us) are passing away. So instead we look to the unseen (v18b). In temptation and trial, in famine and distress, in persecution and sword, we lift our eyes heavenward to where Jesus is. We consider the eternal (v18d) rather than the temporary.
Brothers and sisters today's trouble may cause your knees to buckle and I can guarantee that you will weep again in graveyards across this land but in Christ your day of trouble is not in vain. A day is coming and coming soon that you will be with Him forever. Not even death can rob us of this hope. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." (Psalm 116v15). How about that for your headstone?
Q85 What doth God require of us, that we may escape his wrath and curse, due to us for sin?To escape the wrath and curse of God, due to us for sin, God requireth of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with the diligent use of all the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption.
Read - Psalm 51:5, Rom 5:12
Message - Alan Burke
Often when we hear bad news we respond with fear, anxiety, anger, disbelief or denial, it doesn’t do anything to change the news that we have heard but it is how we begin to deal with it. I’m sure we have seen those responses in people, even in ourselves when we have been confronted with our own mortality with the diagnoses of a terminal illness of someone we know or love or even ourselves, we have seen it when there has been news of a redundancy, a marriage break down, it can be in any manner of thing. As you read this, it may be something that you try to ignore by burying your head in the sand, you may hate when the word is used, or hate the one who tells you the truth but we are sinners. Sin is far more than giving into that extra biscuit, far more than bad behaviour, or doing what is wrong according to social conventions like wearing a mask or not, recycling or just throwing it all in the black bin, sinful because that is our nature and we are also sinful because of both what we do and what we do not do.
Remember Jesus words, when he said; ’by their fruit you will recognise them, do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles’ (Mt 7:16). Thats because the fruit of the plant indicates the nature of the plants life within. As autumn has come and the leaves are bringing to fall, the acorns and chestnuts are on the ground, if you take one of those acorns will it grow a mighty Sycamore tree, or take the chestnut and it will grow to a mighty oak tree, of course not. In much the same way we who are descend from Adam, who are born born by ordinary generation will always be sinful (WSC16), we cannot be any different from that which we came from. No matter how many generations come and go we are descended from Adam, we still come from the one tree, and we are by our very nature sinful, this is called original sin (Rom 5:12). But there is more, for we are sinful not just because of original sin, that we by our natures are sinful but because of our actual sin.
A million times, in a million different ways, day after day after day, we all sin. Paul testified on behalf of all sinners: “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.” We are guilty before God for our sins in Adam, as well as guilty for our actual sins. We must remember that we are not sinners merely because we sin; we sin because we are sinners by nature. Just as from the moment of David’s existence, from his conception in his mothers womb his parents' corruption meant that David was corrupted as well. He not only confesses his sin in this psalm, but that he was conceived and born a sinner. As J.I. Packer states, "The assertion of original sin makes the point that we are not sinners because we sin, but rather we sin because we are sinners, born with a nature enslaved to sin.” We deserve the wrath of God yet the amazing truth is that God who had been infinitely wronged by sin, in his unsurprising love for sinners sent His only begotten Son, to bring salvation all those who believe in Him (Eph. 1:3-11, Rom 6:3). In spite of Original Sin, and our actual sin we can be reconciled to God who makes us alive and gives us eternal life and hope in Him, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).
What is faith in Jesus Christ?
Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, (Heb. 10:39) whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation as he is offered to us in the gospel. (John 1:12, Isa. 26:3–4, Phil. 3:9, Gal. 2:16)
Read - 2 Corinthians 5v1-5
Message - Scott Woodburn
Did you put any weight on over lockdown? I was reading an article recently that said a good percentage of people did exactly that. But never worry! Christmas will probably be cancelled so you'll not be taking any trips down Quality Street this December. Our body can sometimes take too much of our focus. We want to be slimmer. We spend a fortune on magic cream that will hopefully stop our chin sagging. We spend hours every week in front of the mirror lamenting the new wrinkles that have appeared.
Paul has already described the human existence as a "jar of clay". Indeed he says that everyday we are wasting away. Talk about being discouraged! But Paul's goal is quite the opposite. As a new chapter begins he reminds us of the hugely significant hope that only a Christian can have. Describing our body as a tent, he says that even if this tent is destroyed we have a God built eternal home in the heavens (v1).
Did you notice the change? This body is a temporary tent and one day we will move into an eternal home. From canvas to bricks and mortar. Some of you have built your own homes and spent a year or so in a caravan while your new home developed. In the caravan the stormy nights seemed to shake every part of your abode but months later in your new house, the storms passed and you slept like a baby. For the Christian our heavenly home is where we will find our permanent address. It is a place of security and peace and never again will we be troubled by the things of this earth.
No wonder we groan in this body and long for home (v2). Paul when death comes will put on his heavenly clothing and therefore he will not be found naked (v3). He will have a home to go to. As Christians we share Paul's hope. If death would visit us today it would no doubt cause much grief amongst those who love us, but the Christian who has died, they are now with Christ which is better by far. We will not be shamed in nakedness but instead clothed in Christ's righteousness and we will be with our Saviour.
The Christian's condition after death has been described as the "intermediate state". At death, a Christian's soul is immediately made perfect and it returns to the Lord. Those precious saints who have gone on before us enjoy heavenly bliss even now. But this state is temporary or intermediate. A final state awaits.
Paul speaks in verse four of being further clothed with the mortal being swallowed up in life. Here he speaks of our hope at the day of Christ. It is our sincere belief that when Jesus returns the dead will be raised to life. Those who have rejected Christ will stand again raised to dishonour but those who have gladly received him will be raised to eternal joy. We will receive a resurrected body reunited with our soul and we will stand again. The mortal will be swallowed up by life.
Some will read this and scoff, but it is certainly true. After death the Christian knows only joy in both the intermediate and final state. God has prepared this very thing for us and guarantees it by giving us the Holy Spirit who dwells within. Your bottom might be a little bit too big. Your head might be getting shinier and shiner as your hair recedes. You may never have met a biscuit you didn't like but child of God...rejoice. One day we will leave the tent and head for the mansion. God Himself guarantees it.
Q87 What is repentance unto life? Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.
Read - Romans 3:10-12, 22
Message - Alan Burke
When we look around though, we see people who do not claim faith yet do things that we would applaud them for. Like the person I bumped into this week walking with the on the way back from the school run taking time to pick up litter as they went, then there is the firefighter who runs into an inferno to try and save the life of someone he does not know and no one would think less of him if he just manned the hose, or the countless NHS staff who day after day show care and compassion to countless people across this land, never mind the countless others who do what they can quietly for others, who obey the law of the land retuning the wallet they found in the street with its entire contents.
On Monday we thought about how that we are sinners, that we are sinners because our nature is sinful we call this original sin and because of our actual in how we a million times, in a million different ways, day after day after day all sin. It affects are so complete that it has left NO part of the human being (including our will) untouched. Look at the Romans 3:10-12 and see how ruined we actually are. We do not do what is right, we do not seek for God, we have all turned away, rebelled against God. All of who we are has been touched, tainted, ruined by sin, Romans 3:10 makes clear that ‘There is no one righteous not even one’ (Rom 3:10 cited from Ps 14:1-3, 53:1-3, Ecc 7:20). But we see many actions that are applaudable, much Civil Righteousness as John Calvin puts its, so how can Romans say that there is no one righteous not even one (Rom 3:10).
It is because when we are judged by the standards that are not of this world, not social conventions and trends around us, not by the morality of society instead we are judged by the standards of the law of God there is not one of us that can be called righteous. That means that not one person in their natural state is morally and ethical upright, just, law-abiding, honest, good. Most people I assume would be willing to admit that they are not perfect but this is far from admitting that we are unable and totally opposed to that which is moral, ethically upright, just, law-abiding, honest and good we are ‘totally depraved’, yet that is who we are, every human being who has ever lived apart from Jesus that is. Since no one can be righteous before God by keeping the law, right standing with God comes through faith alone in Christ alone, we may have right standing before God only by the imputed righteousness of Christ that is ours by faith not on the many acts of Clvil Righteousness we may do, by faith alone through our Representative Head Jesus Christ (Rom 3:22).
What are the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to usthe benefits of redemption?
The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption, are his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation. (Matt. 28:19–20, Acts 2:42,46–47)
Read - 2 Corinthians 5v6-10
Message - Scott Woodburn
On Tuesday we considered the Christian's heavenly hope - an intermediate state with our souls made perfect in the presence of Christ and a final state with raised body and soul in the presence of Jesus. I'm aware then when we start throwing theological terms around like this, our eyes can gloss over. But please not today!
The good news of our eternal dwelling should produce in us good courage. Indeed Paul says the truth of his eternal home causes him to be "always of good courage" (v6a). Admittedly he knows that while we are here on earth we are away from the Lord (v6b). He doesn't mean that the Lord is far distant from his people like some unconcerned deity. The Lord is always with us. Paul simply means that here on earth we cannot yet see the heavenly realties that belong to the Christian.
We walk by faith and not by sight (v7). Faith is a receiving and resting in Christ as he is offered in the Gospel. We were not there at Calvary to see with our own eyes and today we cannot see Jesus but the Gospel has been preached, the Spirit has been at work, our eyes were opened and we received Christ by faith. We are those of whom Jesus spoke when he said "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (John 20v29).
We are men and women of faith walking every day towards home. We are of good courage because we know the heavenly promises are yes and amen in Christ. So much so that we would rather be with Jesus which is better by far (v8, Philippians 1v23) But it isn't yet. Soon, but not yet.
Until then we make it our aim to please the Lord (v9). We do not know the future and we certainly cannot predict when we will hear God's upward call. These things aren't our concern. Instead we live everyday seeking to love and honour the Lord in all that we do or say. What does God require of us? Obedience to His revealed will.
Even Christians will stand before the judgement seat of Christ (v10). The Christian need not fear the last day. We do not stand before the judgement seat of Christ for Him to consider if we should be saved or if we have done enough. We speak of justification of sinners. God declares us to be righteous in His sight. Therefore on the last day our justification isn't going to be revoked, instead the Lord will acknowledge us as belonging to Him. He will publicly acquit us in the sight of the world and He will graciously reward us for the good we have done in the body (v10).
So dear brothers and sisters be of good courage! The journey in front of you may be long or short. It may be filled with hard days and few that feel good. At times the journey may seem exhausting and you fear that you will soon fall by the wayside. Keep going. Be of good courage. Every single day, you are closer to home.
WSC Q89 How is the Word made effectual to salvation? The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching, of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.
Read - Romans 5:18-21
Message - Alan Burke
It’s been one of the main news stories of the past couple of weeks, as the United States gear up for the 2020 presidential election. On the 3 November the population will go to the poling station to decide whether it will be the incumbent Republican Donald Trump who will continue to represent them as President for another four years or it will be Presidential challenger Democrat Joe Biden who will represent them. Our politicians are our elected representatives, here we have Boris as our Prime Minster, we have Arlene as our First Minister and Michelle as our Deputy First Minister and they represent us. But who represents us before God?
Over the past few days we have been thinking about our natural condition, "The assertion of original sin makes the point that we are not sinners because we sin, but rather we sin because we are sinners, born with a nature enslaved to sin.” (J.I. Packer). There is no part of us that has been unaffected by that sin and that sin means before God there is no one righteous not even one (Rom 3:1). Adam’s disobedience brought us all under the curse of sin, but that is not the end of the story, for although Adam was our representative head God has appointed for us a new representative head that being Jesus Christ. God in his great mercy and abundant grace has given us a new representative head, when Paul says, “so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:19) he means by “many” all who share have put their trust in Jesus Christ as their representative. Thus, in Jesus Christ, we are counted as one with him. And as it was with Adam that we are seen as sinners, in Jesus we are seen as righteous.
It means that when God looks at us, he doesn’t see original sin or the actual sin in our lives, in how we a million times, in a million different ways, day after day after day all sin. No God instead sees the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, but it is more than that, not only does God see the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, it is as we had perfectly lived our lives in obedience and died on the cross in ourselves and are in fact righteous. It is call imputation, when the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ is given to us, it is imputed to us. We are now righteous before God, justified before him, declared righteous before God for the sake of Jesus Christ. If you have heard the good news of Jesus Christ, and with faith believed all that he has done to reconcile sinners to God, if you believe Christ died and was resurrected to declare you righteous before God, then you are represented by Christ. You have eternal life, nothing can change that truth, you are secure, for Christ is our Head, our Covenant Keeper, who makes us alive and gives us eternal life and hope in Him!! “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). What ever you face in the coming days and weeks, know that it is no longer dependant on you, your civil righteousness or anything else that you can do but on Christ as your representative head.
How is the Word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation?
That the Word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend thereunto with diligence, (Prov. 8:34) preparation, (1 Pet. 2:1–2) and prayer; (Ps. 119:18) receive it with faith and love, (Heb. 4:2, 2 Thess. 2:10) lay it up in our hearts, (Ps. 119:11) and practice it in our lives. (Luke 8:15, James 1:25)
Read - 2 Corinthians 5v11-15
Message - Scott Woodburn
Paul's life isn't driven by the hope of retirement and long walks on a sun kissed beach. Instead he is a servant of the one true God. He knows Him, has been saved by Him and endures all things for the sake of the Lord. He knows that one day he will stand before the judgement seat of Christ. Paul is a man who fears the Lord. This is what drives his life and gives him the fire to preach Christ in an effort to persuade others (v1).
What is the fear of the Lord? Charles Hodge puts it this way "The fear of the Lord is that fear or reverence which the Lord excites, or of which he is the object." To fear the Lord is to know Him, to love Him, to trust Him. It is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9v10). It isn't the fear a servant has for their master, instead it is the fear a child has for their father.
God knows what drives Paul (v1b) and Paul hopes that the Corinthians know this too (v1c). There are those who boast about outward appearance (v12b) and as we have previously discussed, Paul apparently didn't look very good. But the Apostle points out that what really matters is the content of a man's heart (v12c). Those who opposed him seem to have looked better and sounded better, but the Apostles' goal was never to impress or entertain but instead to preach Christ and Him crucified.
This was Paul's ministry and message. Some may have considered that he spoke out of insanity (v13a), others may have considered him perfectly reasonable (v13b). Regardless, says Paul, when he spoke it was for God and for His church (v13). Paul never acts for himself. He isn't building a brand or kingdom so that he will benefit from riches. It is the love of Christ that controls or compels Paul (v14a). Why preach? Why take the abuse? Why face criticism? Because Paul understood the glory of the Gospel.
He concluded that Christ had died for the sins of His people (v14a). Just as in Adam all sinned, so too in Christ all have died (Romans 5v19). Christ's death is our death and His life is our life. Paul told the Galatians this very thing "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2v20) We have been born again to a life of selflessness not selfishness. We live for the one who died and was raised for our sake (v15b).
Covid has changed nothing. As Christians the Lord has removed the veil from our eyes and driven by the fear of the Lord we seek to reach the lost. The lost may be fearful of a pandemic or they may be living in undisturbed comfort, either way the love of Christ compels us to declare to them the glory of the Gospel. In a dying and disease filled world the answer is still Christ who died so that we might live.
Q91 How do the Sacraments become effectual means of salvation? The Sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them; but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in them that by faith receive them