Malachi and the Lord Jesus

malachiMuch of the news this week has focused on the murder of James Foley, the American journalist killed by IS in Syria. The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists estimates that about 20 journalists are missing in Syria. Many of them are believed to be held by Isis.

They have made the news because they are British and American. But the fate of the hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced peoples of Iraq and Syria who make up the minorities, the Alawites, Shia’s, Kurds, Yazidis and Christians has been less well documented.

On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that a broad array of countries must unite to stamp out the “cancer” of the Islamic State group. Describing its “acts of sheer evil,” Kerry said the Islamic State group has “demonstrated the ability to seize and hold more territory than any other terrorist organization, in a strategic region that borders Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey and is perilously close to Israel.”

That is one reason why on Friday the UK’s terror threat level has also been raised from “substantial” to “severe” or “highly likely” for the first time since 2010.

The people of Malachi’s day were as frustrated as you may be over the lack of justice in our world. They were troubled by the corruption of their day, they were irritated by the inequalities, they were perturbed by the injustices they saw all around them. And they began to question whether God really cared. They blamed God for their suffering. They questioned God’s integrity. They even went as far as to accuse God of tolerating injustice. What did they say?

malachi from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

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Gaza Benefit Concert with Garth Hewitt and Friends

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King David and Jesus the Anointed Son: Psalm 2

crownWhich is your favourite Psalm? Which do you think is the most popular Psalm of all? Which is the most frequently quoted, the most likely memorised, or the most repeatedly sung? Psalm 23. But which is the most frequently quoted Psalm in the New Testament? This one. Psalm 2. What does that say about us? Perhaps we are closer to the sentimentality of Victorian paintings of shepherds and sheep than we are to the Early Church who saw this as a psalm of Jesus. In its initial sense, the psalm is clearly referring to the coronation of David.

It predicts the opposition he will experience as king and looks forward to the eventual subjugation of his enemies. But beyond any doubt one greater than David is described here. There are several phrases in this psalm, which are not at all applicable to king David. Not even the highest angel could warrant the affirmation, “You are my Son; this day have I become your Father.” (Psalm 2:7; Hebrews 1:5). And just as that title was inapplicable to David, so it could never be said of him, that God would make “the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.” (Psalm 2:8). Moreover, the expression, “Kiss the Son,” (Psalm 2:12) implies an act of divine worship.

It is clear then, that this psalm describes, not earthly, but heavenly things. Who then is “the Lord’s Anointed”?

King David and Jesus the Anointed Son: Psalm 2 from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

!–more–>History shows that this Psalm was understood to have Messianic significance well before the coming of Jesus Christ. Which perhaps is why Psalm 2 is quoted by the Apostles Peter and John in Acts (Acts 4:24-28). By Paul in Acts (Acts 13:32-33). By the writer to Hebrews (Hebrews 1:5; 5:5). And by John in Revelation (Revelation 2:26-27; 12:5; 19:15-19). Why?
Why was this psalm so important to the Early Church? Because they recognised in it a beautiful prophecy concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. What was it then that they appreciated and perhaps we need to rediscover? This short psalm contains four profound truths that reveal different aspects of the gospel.

1. Resistance to God is Foreseen: Because Jesus is Hated by the Nations

Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the LORD and against his anointed, saying, “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.” (Psalm 2:1-3)

This psalm plunges straight into the question that is on the front pages of every newspaper today. Why is this world in such a mess? The answer? Because our world is in a state of defiant rebellion against Almighty God. Because our world has fallen so far from God’s intention. Matthew Henry observes,

“One would have expected so great a blessing to this world should have been universally welcomed and embraced, and that crowns and sceptres on earth should have been laid at his feet; but it proves quite contrary.

Never were philosophers or princes opposed with so much violence as the doctrine and government of Christ.”

This psalm describes a great struggle. The struggle against God the Father and the Lord Jesus. Heaven and hell are contesting and the battleground is earth. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, writing at the height of the Cold War and living under Communist control in Russia saw the spiritual dimension in this way:

“But the fight for our planet, physical and spiritual, a fight of cosmic proportions, is not a vague matter of the future; it has already started. The forces of evil have begun their decisive offensive. You can feel their pressure, yet your screens and publications are full of prescribed smiles and raised glasses. What is the joy about that?”

From the very beginning of this psalm we are hurled headlong into this conflict.

1.1 The extent of the revolt

“Why do the nations conspire?” (Psalm 2:1)

1.2 The determination of the revolt

“The rulers band together (Psalm 2:2)

This It the same word used of the way Goliath defied God.

Around 297AD The Roman Emperor Diocletian was so confident he had destroyed Christianity from the Roman Empire, he had two monumental pillars raised in Spain on which was written,

‘Diocletian Jovian Mazimian Herculeus Caesares Augusti for having extended the Roman Empire in the east and the west and for having extinguished the name of Christians  who brought the Republic to ruin.’

and on the other,

‘Diocletian Jovian Mazimian Herculeus Caesares Augusti for having everywhere abolished the superstition of Christ for having extended the worship of the gods.’

Little did Diocletian know that within 40 years the entire Roman Empire would be declared Christian. Joseph Stalin tried the same strategy in the last century. He had no more success. The irony is that his own daughter Svetlana became a believer. This kind of deliberate, premeditated rebellion against God is not confined to atheistic regimes. It is endemic in our country too. The extent of the revolt. The determination of the revolt.

1.3 The purpose of the revolt

“Let us break their chains” (Psalm 2:3)

Defiant independence from God = cosmic rebellion. The barbarian influence on education began as early as the middle of the nineteenth century with the innovative and compelling ideas of Freud, Darwin, Fauerbach, and Marx. Each called into question the idea of a transcendent moral law. As a result, the former President of Harvard, Derek Bok said this:

“During most of the twentieth century, first artists and intellectuals, then broader segments of society, challenged every convention, every prohibition, every regulation that cramped the human spirit or blocked its appetites and ambitions… They have made it clear that their prime enemy is the Judaeo-Christian tradition of metaphysics. With that destroyed, terms like truth, good, evil and soul can be discarded.”

C.S. Lewis describes the subtlety of this rebellion in his book, The Screwtape Letters:

“The greatest evil is not done in those sordid ‘dens of crime’ that Dicken’s loved to paint… It is conceived and … moved, seconded, carried and minuted… in clean, carpeted, warmed and well lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars, and cut fingernails, and smooth-shaven cheeks, who do not need to raise their voices.”

It is endemic. It is instinctive. Just ask yourself whose name is the most frequently used swear word? Why?

Resistance to God is foreseen: Because Jesus is hated by the nations: The extent, determination and purpose of this rebellion. But…

2. Rebellion Against God is folly: Because Jesus is King of Kings

“The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.”(Psalm 2:4-6)

Notice: Christ’s rule is holy. Therefore this is an unrighteous rebellion: His law is legitimate. Therefore this is an unreasonable rebellion: Christ’s rule is omnipotent. Therefore it will be an unsuccessful rebellion: Three reasons:
The impotence of such rebellion is laughable (2:4)
The displeasure of such a God is ominous (2:5)
The purpose of such a God are overwhelming (2:6)

Resistance to God is foreseen. Rebellion against God is folly.

3. The Rule of God is Proclaimed: Because Jesus is Judge of all Peoples

“I will proclaim the LORD’s decree: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father. Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” (Psalm 2:7-9)

Having heard in the first six verses what people have to say about Christ’s kingdom, now the Messiah replies. Verse 7 is speaking of a coronation. This promise was first made to King David through the prophet Nathan.

“When your days are over and you go to be with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever.I will be his father,and he will be my son.I will never take my love away from him, as I took it away from your predecessor. I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever.’” (1 Chronicles 17:11-14)

Solomon in all his glory never fulfilled this promise. But the Lord Jesus did.

By divine appointment: Jesus is the King (2:6)

By divine nature: Jesus is the Son (2:7)

By divine inheritance: Jesus is the Heir (2:8)

By divine rule: Jesus is the Judge (2:9)

God the Father is speaking of when Jesus was publically declared to be the Son of God, when he formally took up his inheritance and his titles, after his resurrection.

“regarding his Son, who as to his human naturewas a descendant of David, and who through the Spiritof holiness was declared with power to be the Son of Godby his resurrection from the dead:Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 1:3-4)

Before the resurrection the deity of Christ was largely a hidden truth, glimpsed only occasionally by his disciples. We hear them when Peter answers Jesus’ question “Who do you say I am?” Peter replies,

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus replies, “for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in Heaven.” (Matthew 16:17)

These two titles, ‘Messiah’ and ‘The Son of God’ are only found together in the New Testament after the resurrection. But that revelation was disclosed here in this very psalm. That is why the psalm could so confidently assert the end of the reign of evil. Jesus is the King. He is the Son. He is the Heir. He is the Judge. This truth is not only messianic but missionary too. Because it is true, there is hope for the world. That is why Jesus echoed this psalm when he commanded his disciples to go and take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Resistance to God is foreseen. Rebellion against God is folly. The rule of God is proclaimed. Therefore…

4. Repentance to God is wise: Because Jesus is a refuge to all who seek him

“Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling. Kiss his son, or he will be angry and you and your ways will be destroyed, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 2:10-12)

In these concluding verses we are urged to respond to the Messiah. Passive indifference to the claims of Jesus is no better than active and wilful rebellion. The only hope for this world is ‘Islam’. That is right. You heard me. ‘Islam’ is the Arabic word for ‘submission’. Arab Christians use it when they sing “I surrender all…”

The only hope for this world is in submission to the Lord God Almighty expressed in submission to his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Submission is expressed in the willingness to ‘Kiss his son’. This is not the romantic kiss on the lips but the kiss on the feet, the kiss of the hand, of the cheek, of the shoulder. The kiss is deeply symbolic in Scripture. There is the kiss of agreement and reconciliation between brothers (Jacob and Esau). And there is also the kiss of betrayal (Judas). How should we understand the kiss described here in Psalm 2. Commentators tell us it has three dimensions.

4.1 The kiss of submission to his authority

When Samuel anointed Saul king of Israel, he kissed him, as a sign of his submission to the power that was now vested in him. Now Jesus is “seated as King upon God’s holy hill in Zion and demands that all should acknowledge him as their supreme Lord and only Saviour (Romans 14:11). While our human nature recoils at the idea of submission, this is what we must do if we are to be honest and truthful when we call him, “The Lord our Righteousness.” (Philippians 3:9; Jeremiah 23:6).
The kiss of submission to his authority.

4.2 The kiss of love for his sacrifice

In Bethany, shortly before his crucifixion, Mary expressed her love for Jesus when she “kissed his feet” (Luke 7:37-48). Jesus forgave her sin.

Faith in Christ is far far more than an intellectual assent to the gospel. We also must feel in our hearts, and express, in every possible way, a fervent love for him. Peter describes Jesus as ‘a precious stone’ Do you view Jesus as precious? We must delight ourselves in contemplating on his beauty, and maintaining fellowship with him. (1 John 1:3)
The kiss of submission to his authority.
The kiss of love for his sacrifice

4.3 The kiss of devotion to his service

Both Job and Hosea describe how Pagans worship their deities by kissing their images (Hosea 13:2; Job 31:26-27).

When Paul was about to leave his brothers and sisters on the beach at Miletus in Acts 20, it says “they all wept as they embraced him and kissed him.” (Acts 20:37). In Jakarta this week, we kissed a lot. It is an Middle Eastern tradition for men to kiss one another on the cheek as a sign of friendship and devotion. In this sense also we are to “kiss the Son,” in devotion to his service unlike Judas who through a kiss betrayed his Lord.

The kiss of submission to his authority.
The kiss of love for his sacrifice.
The kiss of devotion to his service.

By this kiss we enter a covenant of friendship. A covenant of grace. The final beatitude in this psalm reads, “Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” What fear and pride interpret as bondage at the beginning of this Psalm is shown to be in fact our very security and bliss. Herein is the gospel:

It is a universal promise: ‘rulers of the earth’
It is an unequivocal promise: ‘all who take refuge’
This is an unconditional promise: ‘Blessed are all who take refuge in him.’

In his book, Future Grace, John Piper says this:

“We do not earn or merit anything by taking refuge in God. Hiding in something makes no contribution to the hiding place. All it does is show that we regard ourselves as helpless and the hiding place as a place of rescue. The condition we must meet to have this grace is not a meritorious one; it is the condition of desperation and acknowledged weakness and need. Destitution does not demand or deserve; it pleads for mercy and looks for grace.”

This psalm leaves us in no doubt of the grace which inspires the call to come and enter a right relationship with God through the Lord Jesus. In Jesus we come face to face with the grace of God. God’s grace to those who haven’t sought it, for those who don’t deserve it, to those who can’t earn it, and who will never ever be able to repay him for it.

Let us pray together.

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Haggai and Jesus: The Chosen Servant of the Lord

6a00d8341fd10e53ef01543212b437970c-320wiWhen you were young, who were your heroes?  Who did you want to become like? Who did you pretend to be? Whose posters adorned your bedroom walls? 

As a child I can remember playing Cowboys and Indians and pretending to be the Lone Ranger. For some reason none of my friends wanted to be Tonto. Then it was Scott Tracy of Thunderbirds, then it was David McCullum as the Man from Uncle, then 007, James Bond. What about pop stars? Who did you idolise? While my mother probably wanted me to grow up to be like Cliff Richard, on a good day I presented to be Paul McCartney of the Beatles. On a bad day it was Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. But, strumming a tennis racket and growing my hair long didn’t make me a rock star. 

In the 1970’s I graduated to the Beach Boys and even made myself a full sized surfboard at school but it didn’t float! In the 1980’s when Steve Ovette was competing against Sebastian Coe for an Olympic place, I bought myself a tracksuit and went through a jogging phase. My attempt to improve my fitness didn’t last more than a fortnight. 
In the 1990’s when Tiger Wood was winning every golf tournament, I went and bought myself a new cap and putter to improve my game but it hasn’t worked, yet… I suspect I am not alone.

Aspiring to be like someone else is natural. Whether it’s a positive or negative role model seems to depend on whether you are a parent or a child. Did your parents ever encourage you to be like Jesus Christ?
 The amazing truth is that God created you for nothing less than to become like Jesus Christ.

Haggai and Jesus: The Chosen Servant of the Lord from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

From the very beginning, God’s plan has been to make you like his Son, Jesus. This is your destiny and purpose. Rick Warren, in his book, The Purpose Driven Life, reminds us we were planned for God’s pleasure. We were formed for God’s family, and were created to become like Christ. This is our greatest privilege and our lasting motivation. That is why Sunday by Sunday we have been studying the Old Testament discovering that Jesus Christ is indeed in all the Scriptures. Jesus is central to every book of the Bible.

That is because God’s plan from the very beginning of creation has been that we come to know and love him through his Son, and that we become like him through His Spirit.

“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Romans 8:29)

Today we come to the Book of Haggai something special about Jesus, but along the way we are also going to discover what a little motivation and prioritizing can do for an entire nation. Please turn with me to the Book of Haggai. By the way, the quickest way to find it, is to look in the index for the page number. You’ll get there quicker than the person sitting next to you just flicking through at random…
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Zephaniah and the Day of the Lord Jesus

Zephaniah317When you think of God, what comes to mind?  For many he seems distant, remote, impersonal, unknowable. And that is tragic because until we know who God is, we can never know ourselves, or our purpose in life. In our series ‘Christ in all the Scriptures’ we have been discovering that the he is central to every book of the Bible. We’ve had a taster for the Bible study Jesus gave the disciples:

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)

Zephaniah has been called “The Compendium of all prophecy”. Zephaniah points to what the Gospels proclaim: Jesus is our Lord and Saviour, he is our Judge, our Prophet, our High Priest and King. And because he fulfills these roles on our behalf, wonder of wonders, he can be our friend too. There are three great themes in Zephaniah. The Day of the Lord (Zephaniah 1); The People of the Lord (Zephaniah 2); The Name of the Lord (Zephaniah 3).

Zephaniah and the Day of the Lord Jesus from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

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The Lord of Time and Space : Psalm 8

Jon Meacham, writing in Time [1] this week observes,

“It was supposed to be over in a matter of weeks. In the summer of 1914, the European war that began in the aftermath of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand drew great armies into the fields, launched ships of war upon the seas and engaged imperial ambitions and fears. There was, however, a sense of optimism among several of the combatants, an expectation that victory would be quick. “You will be home before the leaves have fallen from the trees,” Kaiser Wilhelm II told the German troops in the first week of August. Of course, it wasn’t over by the time the leaves fell, and what became known as the Great War really isn’t over even now. From the downing of the civilian Malaysian airliner by Moscow-supported insurgents over Ukraine to the Israeli-Palestinian combat in Gaza to Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Iran, the troubles of our time directly descend from the world of 1914–18, the [European Colonial] era that inflamed ethnic and nationalistic impulses and led to the ultimate creation of new nation-states, especially in the Middle East.To understand the madness of the moment, then, one needs to take a long view–one that begins in 1914…

Summing up August 1914, historian Barbara Tuchman wrote, “Men could not sustain a war of such magnitude and pain without hope–the hope that its very enormity would ensure that it could never happen again and the hope that when somehow it had been fought through to a resolution, the foundations of a better-ordered world would have been laid.” We know now that such hope was illusory. It did happen again, from 1939 to 1945, and now, a century on, we live in a world that remains vulnerable to chaos and mischance and misery. Such, though, is the nature of reality and of history, and we have no choice but to muddle through. There is, in the end, no other alternative, whether the leaves are on or off the trees.”

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Zion’s Christian Soldiers in Arabic

zcsarabiccover zcsarabicinfo zcsarabicindex zcsarabicback-2  Zion’s Christian Soldiers is now available in Arabic and costs £8.95 plus £2.75 postage in the UK and £4.75 internationally. Order via PayPal

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Where does my help come from? Psalm 121

10325210_10152177845962893_7563485204009088956_nTwo weeks ago, I woke from a brief Sunday afternoon powernap to find a black spot on my arm. I thought it was a piece of mud, but it would not come off. When I looked closely I realised it had legs and was moving. Alone in the house and unable to remove the tick sucking my blood, I did what any man would do, I drove to St Peter’s A&E. As I was driving I kept watching the tick closely to see if it was burrowing its way into my arm. I imagined it disappearing into my bloodstream, like something from the film Alien.

Sitting for two hours in casualty did not improve my peace of mind. The nurse who saw me admitted having removed several from herself in the past, but only managed to pull the body off leaving the head inside my arm. She called a doctor who, with the aid of a magnifying glass and scalpel, performed microsurgery, removed the head, cleaned the wound, insisted in showing me there was nothing left in my arm and prescribed a heavy dose of antibiotics.

Back home, an Internet search for the symptoms of Lyme Disease did not improve my state of mind. Apparently these little creatures feed off foxes, deer, dogs and the disease they carry can attack your brain, heart and other vital organs.

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Micah and Jesus the King

This weekend our thoughts and prayers have been with the relatives of the passengers of the Malaysian Airline flight shot down over the Ukraine. A similar number of civilians have been killed by Israeli shelling in Gaza this week but they wont receive the same level of media coverage. We wont see their photos or learn their names. There wont be interviews with their grieving relatives because they are not Europeans.

Ten years ago Garth Hewitt and I were on a concert tour of churches in Israel and the Occupied Territories. While he stayed in Jerusalem on Sunday, I traveled to Gaza to preach at the Anglican church meeting in the home of a dentist. It was very tense even then, and on the Monday we decided a short break would be good. I offered to show Garth the beautiful scenery of the Golan Heights. It was February, and by mid afternoon the light was fading as I drove a borrowed church minibus up the winding road past Mount Hermon and into the snowy slopes of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. Above the snow line we encountered a group of young Israeli army conscripts on a training exercise. They were cold, wet and tired and wanted a lift. We nervously ignored them and carried on driving up into the darkness.

Micah and Jesus from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

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Jonah and Jesus

There are two ways to learn a lesson – the hard way and the easy way. The hard way is when we have to learn the lesson ourselves. Better to learn from someone else without having to repeat it. That is why the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.” (1 Corinthians 10:11)

That is the reason, on the road to Emmaus, Jesus gave the disciples the most amazing Bible study of all time: “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself… Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:25-27; 44-45)

That is why this summer we are concluding our sermon series – “Christ in all the Scriptures” in the Minor Prophets. Over the past year or so, we have been reading each book of the Old Testament to see “what is said in all the Scriptures” concerning the Lord Jesus.

Jonah and Jesus from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

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