by Rev Dr David Instone-Brewer
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You can download the complete text and pictures by clicking on "Download" at the end of the sermon. This downloads a compressed ZIP file which expands into a folder of web files and pictures. You can also download it as a Word document to preach from, and as a Powerpoint with the sermon in the Notes section.
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|Sermons are added occasionally - about every other month. If you wish, I can email you when I add one.||David Instone-Brewer|
Sermons available so far:
|Splits in the church - based on Acts 5.17--6.7
Summary: In Acts 5 we see Pharisees and Sadducees working together despite their differences, against a common enemy. In Acts 6 we see the origins of the first big split in the church and how they tried (and failed) to fix it. Jesus prayed specifically for the church to be united so that the world would know God’s love.
|BTW: In 1966 Martin Lloyd Jones split evangelicals by demanding they leave ‘tainted’ denominations. John Stott disagreed and persuaded most evangelical Anglicans to stay, and they have now transformed that church. Lloyd Jones primarily took this stand for the divinity and atoning sacrifice of Christ, but his message was expanded to more issues by others. .|
|Judging Jesus' Miracles for
Today - based on Matthew 8.1-16
Summary: The miracles of Jesus contrast with those of the two Jewish miracle workers in the centuries either side of Jesus, in quantity, amazement, and undeniability. The Jewish leaders tried to disprove them but in the end resorted to saying he used the power of the Devil.
|BTW: People of the 1st & 2nd century were particularly skeptical about miracles, because they were the mark of religious scams. The Gospel writers would probably have kept quiet about Jesus miracles if they could (like the Church Fathers generally did), but they couldn't because everyone knew they'd happened.|
|Reliability of NT
Historians don't expect to find much evidence for Jesus. Very few documents survive that long, and no ancient historian would be interested in a Jewish preacher who was infamous for a week. But actually we have far more information about Jesus than about Socrates or any religious or secular teacher of the age - from both non-Christians and Christian sources.
|BTW: The Gospels are historical gold-dust. They are biased, but so is every other historical document. Centuries of research tempered by healthy skepticism has resulted in a firm historical foundation for the basic facts of Jesus' life. The apparent contradictions in different Gospel sources help to confirm that they are based on eyewitness reports - there is no evidence of collusion.|
the Perfect Groom - based on
Summary: Christ fulfills all the Jewish marriage vows - nourishing, cherishing, loving faithfully - without asking for anything in return. The bride does not even have to wash herself and clean her wedding dress - He does that for her on the cross. All that Christ requires is her submission.
|BTW: Submission, which was added to Jewish marriage vows in NT times or soon after, became very important in English marriage services. The woman vows to "obey" and the man declares "with my body I worship thee" (In old English this means "serve thee" - a judge is called "your worship" not as a divinity but because he is to be obeyed).|
God - based on John 6.28-40
Summary: Both Calvinists and non-Calvinist theology (best represented by Wesley) agree that God is totally "Sovereign", but they mean different things. Calvinists mean that whatever happens is what God wants - even apparently bad things. Wesleyans mean that God does whatever he wants - but lets other stuff happen too - like earthquakes and wars. Calvinists say "predestination" (literally "a prior-plan") is God's plan for salvation for some people and all of them do accept it. Wesleyans say God's prior-plan of salvation is for all people, but only some of them accept God's plan.
|BTW: We need both of these systems of theology. Physicists need quantum maths to predict how molecules work, but need Einsteinian maths to control a rocket. We need Calvinist theology to explain why God bothers to save undeserving sinners and Wesleyan theology to explain why he lets some refuse his wonderful offer. The fact that we don't fully understand doesn't mean that either are wrong.|
Shadows - based on Hebrews 9.1-17;
Summary: Hebrews says the sacrifices and Tabernacle are shadows of heavenly realities. The many sacrifices do contain hints that God has planned a single sacrifice in the future. We can see these hints in retrospect, though no-one in the Wilderness could have seen the reality behind the shadow like we can. Hebrews adds other pictures, like the "will" of someone who died, and the "ransom". These indicate that there is far more to be discovered when we get to heaven.
|BTW: The Temple actually had two veils, as Heb.9.3 says. Most commentators say it was the inner veil which was torn at Jesus' death. But perhaps it was the outer one, so everyone could see it. This means we can now all enter God's Temple through Jesus, as priests. And we hope one day to stand before God's throne itself when we go through the second veil.|
Sacrifices - based on Leviticus
Summary: The Day of Atonement cleared away sin in a way Israel never expected. Egyptian religions (which they had lived among for centuries) expected people to be punished after death for the sins they'd committed, and had no means for gaining forgiveness. The Creator God had a completely different message. He instituted a day on which a goat was sent into the Wilderness graphically carrying away the sins of the nation, never to be seen again.
|BTW: The Old Testament prescribed very few
sacrifices, and almost no burnt offerings. Most sacrifices were eaten,
either by the family of the offerer, or by the priest offering them.
The Prophets said that God didn't like sacrifices - so why were there any at all? They were like candles - they have no real religious value and yet few can imagine religion without them. In the ancient world, religion meant sacrifices. God used them as a picture of the real way in which salvation would come though the personal sacrifice of Jesus.
|Democracy – the least bad
system - based on 1 Kings 11--12
Summary: Israel tried Democracy only once - when Solomon died and they asked Rehoboam for a manifesto. He foolishly said he'd increase the conscripted labour that Solomon used for all the fine new buildings in Jerusalem. So ten tribes voted to follow Jeroboam instead. But he turned out to be a dangerous disappointment because he led them into the sin of idolatry, and the new northern nation of Israel grew progressively weaker till the Assyrians brought it to an end.
|BTW: Democracy in Israel failed because of
three problems shared by some of the new democracies today. |
1) Jeroboam was voted in but he couldn't be voted out. He made himself a lifetime monarch.
2) Jeroboam put himself above the law, by encouraging Israel to commit idolatry at Bethel and Dan in order to keep them from Jerusalem where they should worship
3) Voting was along tribal lines, so the result exacerbated the division and the losers didn't accept the majority decision.
Democracy can work, but only if we learn these lessons from Bible history.
- based on Matt.18.1-6; Matt.11.25-30; Mark 12:28-33
Summary: Jesus threatened child abusers with a Mafia style execution - a millstone drowning. Children faced increasing danger of sexual abuse during the first century. This slave boy is on a goblet made in about 10 AD near Jerusalem, so perhaps Jesus knew him. He is looking at two groups of men performing homosexual acts and may have to "service" them. Jesus was incensed at the suffering of such children.
|BTW: Children are so special to Jesus because they love without mistrust or motive. But very quickly they learn that they need to earn human love, and even God's love. When Jewish children become adults at their Bar Mitzvah they take on "The Yoke of the Commandments". Jesus wanted us to bear only "The Yoke of the Kingdom", consisting of one commandment: Love God.|
- based on Matt.6.7-13; Luke 11.1-13
Summary: Jesus warned against "babbling" prayers - empty repetitions. He didn't mean that we shouldn't use books, or repeat the same prayers. He meant that we should always be sincere in what we pray. One way Jews in Jesus' day made sure their prayers were sincere was by making little differences each time they prayed, to avoid getting into a meaningless rut. We see the same kinds of differences in the two versions of the Lord's Prayer.
We now have a two-thousand-year old prayer which Jesus and his disciples would have said twice a day. We also have short versions of it which are very similar to the Lord's Prayer. These have subtle differences just like the differences between Luke and Matthew's versions.
and Character: I AM - based
on Exodus 3 - 4
Summary: God's name I AM is the key to understanding his name Yahweh or Jehovah. People thought that if you pronounced God's name properly, you could do miracles - so they stopped saying it out loud and forgot how to. But the importance is not how to pronounce it - it is what it means. And I AM is the key.
|BTW: What is God like? The way God deals with Moses and Pharaoh tells us as much as his name reveals to us. Will God force them to do his will when they don't want to? Is a perfect sovereign one who forces us or enables us? We see God letting Moses refuse to be his spokesman, and strengthening Pharaoh's resolve - ie he "harden's his heart". God's loves us enough to let us have responsible freedom, while finding another way to carry out his will.|
|Reliability of NT
Summary: The thousands of surviving manuscripts make the NT the best preserved document from ancient times. Of course each manuscript has minor differences, but the large body of evidence makes it possible to reconstruct the original - though there's a few places where the jury is still out. No other ancient manuscript can be relied on to this degree.
|BTW: THe so-called 'other gospels' are better understood as fan-fiction. They were written in the 2nd & 3rd centuries to fill in gaps or push particular doctrines. By the 4th C some people thought they were was ancient as the NT, so the church proclaimed a list of books which had always been accepted as genuine.|
Manners: Feeding the Thousands
- - based on Mark 6.30-46
Summary: When Jesus fed the thousands, why did they pick up the fragments of bread, and sit in groups of 50 or 100 and only count the men, and not women? All this is understandable when we know about Jewish customs of saying Grace and Heave Offerings. This also teaches us why Jesus was so angry about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees when talking about these fragments.
|BTW: The Pharisees used good manners to disparage Jesus' miracle. Do we sometimes use good manners to avoid doing what we should?|
|Jewish Background to Jesus'
Teaching - a study for
Summary: Jesus' audience consisted of first century Jews, and we need to listen with their ears in order to hear his message clearly. Jesus criticises teachings which we find in Jewish sources such as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Unless we recognise what he was teaching against, his emphasis and sometimes his message is difficult to understand.
|BTW: Examples include Jesus' teaching on anger, personal revenge, the unforgivable sin, divorce, polygamy and his own divinity.|
Flood - based on Genesis
Summary: Genesis describes either a global flood or a flood which destroyed the whole civilization of Mesopotamia. God can do anything, so the flood could be global, but this isn't the most obvious interpretation of what the text actually says. The word "eretz" can mean "earth" or "country", and "har" can mean "mountain" or "hill", and "under all heaven" means "under the visible sky". All this fits a flood which covered the 150,000 sq miles of the Tigris delta. The clincher is the olive tree which the text says was not drowned. It was still alive even though olive trees grow no higher than about 500m.
|BTW: The New Testament uses the Flood to emphasise God's judgement. We can mistake God's love for an unwillingness to punish. This event shows us that God is willing to wipe out all sin on judgement day. He will either wipe away our sin through Jesus' death, or he will wipe us away if we don't repent and ask for forgiveness.|
|Moral Monstrosity of Old Testament Genocide -
an apologetics study
Summary: Israel wasn't actually told to wipe out Palestine's population, and they didn't actually do it. They had to kill the families in nearby towns who attacked them because those children would have wanted revenge. This was a necessary law in days when there were no prisoner-of-war camps. They did this to only a handful of towns - which was enough to stop others attacking. Israel's policy was as humane as possible, in contrast to surrounding nations.
|BTW: Why destroy all livestock and goods of the enemy? This removed the prime motive for warfare, which was plunder. Israeli soldiers forbidden to rape and loot, so that their only motive for warfare was self-defense.|
Moral Monstrosity of
Old Testament Law - an apologetics
|BTW: Without the law of Moses, Israelite law would have been similar to other ancient Near Eastern laws. In ancient laws outside the Bible, death was imposed for theft, the rich had more lenient sentences than the poor, women had almost no rights and slaves were treated like animals. Trial by ordeal (being thrown into a dangerous river to see if you survive) was common. God's law in Israel was very different!|
Bible - intro to a public debate
|BTW: There are many examples where archaeology and other sources verify Bible events, but most events will never be confirmed. Ancient history is poorly preserved, and most events in the Bible have no importance in the realm of political history. Also, leaders only recorded their successes publicly - so we shouldn't expect to find a monument to escape of Israelite slaves from Egypt! But we do find records of many other Bible events.|
Achsar the Pushy - based on Joshua 15.13-19
|BTW: Achsar's father and husband defeated towns which had already been "completely destroyed" by Joshua. This, like other texts, shows that "kill everyone" was a formula which didn't have a literal meaning - like football supporters today who say "We slaughtered them". Only three towns were completely destroyed, according to Joshua, and archaeology confirms this picture.|
|The Sorry Wives
of Moses - based on Exod. 2.15b--3.2; 4.18-26;
Summary: Moses' wives aren't mentioned often because they make everyone else look bad. One divorced him and took his children after a short apparently unhappy marriage.
The other caused a riot led by Moses' brother and sister who said she was so unsuitable that she made Moses unsuitable to be a leader of the people.
|BTW: Moses second wife was black, and Miriam was turned into a white leper when she criticised Moses for marrying her. Even if we aren't racicist, we are all guilty of judging people and rejecting them on the basis of appearances.|
|Hairstyles & Disgraceful
Worship - based on 1 Cor.11.1-16
Summary: It was so disgraceful for men to have long hair and for women to let their hair down in public, that Paul used euphemisms instead of telling it straight. This led translations to add the word "veil" or "covering" to make sense of the Greek. And this constrained women to wear hats and men to not wear hats in church for centuries. NT believers followed the cultural expectations about hairstyles so that the Gospel wouldn't be hindered by prejudice.
|BTW: So what? Understanding this doesn't change our behaviour, but it does imply that not all Bible commands are relevant for today. Before throwing out all the commands we don't like, we need to think about why this doesn't apply, and how to judge if other commands (such as male headship) fall into this category.|
|New Evidence for the Resurrection -
based on 1 Cor.15.1-20
Summary: Historical evidence for the resurrection will
never be sufficient for some people, but we do have:
|BTW: The Nazareth Inscription prescribes the death penalty for anyone who removes a corpse from a Jewish tomb which has a roll-away stone. There is no mention of grave robbing and it isn't concerned about Roman tombs. It dates from the latter half of the 1st century in Palestine. What event in the early 1st century caused the Emperor to be so concerned about people who move Jewish corpses from tombs with roll-away entrance stones?|
|Theodicy as Spiritual Warfare - a
Summary: If God is good and all-powerful, why do bad things happen to good people? There are many answers, but the oldest (which is found most often in the NT) is that God has an enemy, Satan, who sometimes has a minor victory. The OT says very little about Satan, but the key NT teachings are hinted at. God's will won't be frustrated ultimately, and even the bad thing that happen to us on earth can be transformed by God into struggles which make us stronger.
|BTW: Jesus taught more about Satan than anyone else in the Bible, and a third of his healings were exorcisms. The chruch hasn't always been comfortable with this, and even the Lord's Prayer has been changed from "protect us from trouble and deliver us from the Evil One" to "Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil". The church, like the OT, de-emphasised the Devil in case believers thought that he was an equal rival to God instead of a defeated demon.|
|Preservation of the Bible Text -
based on 1 John 5.1-12
Summary: Can we be sure that the Bible we have hasn't
been changed by the church or by copying errors? There are a few
errors, but they don't change any doctrines, and we have a huge
number of ancient documents which help us to sort out what the original
text said. Discoveries at places like Qumran, Mt Sinai, and Egyptian
rubbish dumps give us confidence in the text which we have inherited. God
has preserved the text of the Bible in a remarkable way.
|BTW: The OT has certainly been edited, but Jesus declared the edited text was inspired when he said, “Not one yod will pass away”. Some scholars now suggest that Jesus’ OT was essentially identical to the modern Hebrew OT. The Standard Text manuscripts at Qumran and Masada demonstrate that our Hebrew Bibles are virtually letter-perfect copies of the text which Jesus said was eternal.|
Theology of Scripture - a study with examples for preaching
Summary: Scripture doesn't contain theology in the way that scholars want. It has stories, wisdom, prophecy and poetry, which different ordinary people love. It is written for humans by humans in their own language, inspired by God.
BTW: Often the Bible doesn't make sense because we impose our
theology on the text, eg:
|Jesus' death as a criminal -
based Gal. 5.11 "the offense of the cross"
Summary: Crucifixion was the most painful and shameful
legal execution invented, and the church shied away from using the cross
as a symbol for 300 years.
BTW: We've cleaned up the cross - removed all the dirt and
degradation from it.
Discipline - based on 1Cor.5.9--6.6 & Matt.18.15-17
Summary: Jesus taught us to rebuke in private, then with witnesses and then before the church. This is very similar to what the Essenes did, and presumably other Jewish groups. They defined this as a method of excommunication, but Jesus' emphasis was different. He repeatedly said: "If they listen..." - ie he wanted them to repent, not to be excluded. And Paul was concerned that a man who had been disciplined wasn't being invited back.
BTW: The church throughout history has often been more concerned
about purity than helping sinners. Jesus' emphasis was to discourage
excommunication. Paul's emphasis was to welcome back. Discipline, such as
excluding someone from communion, is sometimes necessary. But Jesus and
Paul encouraged us to do all we can, before and after, to help sinners
of God in Science - based on Psalm 8
Summary: Physicists now conclude that this universe is 'Fine Tuned' for life - life is improbable by billions to one, unless there is a God to design it. Philosophers explain this by proposing a Multiverse - an infinite series of universes where everything which can exist does exist. However, it is also possible for God to exist, and in a multiverse he must exist. Have atheists painted themselves into a corner?
BTW: We don't need or have ultimate proof that God exists or that Gravity is constant. We experience them both. However, we should acknowledge that it now requires a great deal of faith to be an atheist or agnostic. The force of logic at present is weighted towards God's existence.
about God and evil - based on Gen.6.1-6
Summary: Hidden in this passage is the revelation that God’s love actually causes him to suffer when we sin. This aspect of God’s character was not ‘discovered’ by theologians till this generation. Moltmann showed that God was not ‘impassive’ or ‘apathetic’ to the horrors of war and suffering, as previous theologians had concluded. Because God was in Jesus, God himself shared the suffering on the cross, and is grieved by our sin.
BTW: Conspiracy theories about Gen.6 have existed since before Jesus’ day, and are rampant on the internet. Theories about giants and parallels with Greek mythology are fascinating and perhaps true, but ultimately they are merely distractions.
|Who's fault is
suffering? - based on John 9.1-16, 30-38
Summary: Jesus cut the link between personal sin and suffering when asked whose sin made the man blind. Why should anyone be blind or suffer in any way if God is omnipotent and good? The Fall is an answer which works but we have to take care: we might just use the Fall to blame someone else instead of God.
BTW: If God is in charge, he can stop evil. But is he in charge of people? Did God decide how much good I did yesterday, or how much I ate? Does God use every bolt of lightening to do his will? How often does he actually step in and change things before judgement day?
Winemaker - based on John 2.1-11
Summary: Jesus made 600 liters of the best wine at a wedding as his first miracle. Later he was charged with being a glutton and drinker because of all the parties he attended. THere is no doubt that Jesus drank alcohol, and Ps.104 praises God for wine. But the Bible has many more passages warning against the dangers of abusing alcohol.
BTW: Alcohol was a big problem in the NT days when the cult of Bacchus was spreading even into Palestine. Today, alcohol kills 4 times as many people as all illegal drugs added together. The church needs a practical and non-judgemental approach to those who try to fill their spiritual void with alcohol.
from Global Warming - based on Luke 1.67-79
Summary: Zechariah praises God for salvation in the past, at Jesus' coming and at his second coming. Many disasters will happen before this, but Christians should help to prevent them, and not perversely mutter that this will hasten Jesus' coming. The church should be at the forefront of campaigning to fix the global warming problem. (A very short talk)
BTW: The Carteret Islands have an idyllic Christian culture, but they are being evacuating due to rising tides. Every year the storms causes more damage and danger due to rising sea levels. This audio diary from the BBC follows a last visit to a disappearing island.
against Abortion in the Earliest Church - based on
Summary: From the start, the church was against abortion and infanticide. And yet this was the normal method of birth control for Gentiles, who regarded it as normal and moral behaviour. Where is the teaching which told Gentile converts to reject this practice? It is hidden in the word pniktos - a very rare word among three common prohibitions in the Apostolic Decree which were taken round all the churches.
BTW: Pniktos occurs only 20 times in ancient literature. Half of them refer to "smothered" joints in the plans of Heron of Alexandria, who invented the first steam engine before Jesus was born. The other instances are more helpful for understanding the Apostolic Decree.
Note: THis is a rather scholarly sermon.
Sin? - based on Romans 5
Summary: To illustrate how one man can deal with all sin, Paul shows how one man was the origin of all sin. But does that mean that we are punished for inherited sin? The doctrine of Original Sin was needed by the church to deal with a specific heresy, but it has caused many problems. How do you tell parents that their still-born baby was separated from God by his sin? Paul says in v.12, that each person is punished for the sin they actually commit. And our fallen inclination means we sin very soon!
BTW: God would invite us all to join his Facebook page, if he had one. Paul says that the barrier between us and God has been dealt with by Jesus. God has sent the invitation, but like all Facebook friends, God can't force us to join his page - He has to wait for us to respond to the invitation.
Not Natural? - based on Romans 1.18-32
Summary: Paul has the hard task of making Roman feel guilty so that they can see they need the GoodNews. He says they commit the three worst sins: Idolotry, sexual immorality and hatred/murder. He trips them up by calling lesbianism 'unnatural' (which all Romans would agree with) and then saying that male homosexuality is "the same thing".
BTW: What is "natural"? Paul doesn't mean 'examples found in nature' like we might - after all, lots of species practice homosexuality. For Romans the 'natural law' was a universal law based on what everyone agreed with, such as 'no murder and no stealing'. But does Paul condemn conduct which the majority regard as 'unnatural' when it occurs among the minority for whom this is their 'nature'?
|Son of Man
and Son of God - based on Matt.1.18-25
Summary: Jesus wasn't acting the role of a baby on earth, and he didn't walk through life like people walk through Second Life (the virtual 3D cyber world where some people spend more time than in real life). He really was a baby, who knew no more than a baby. He really was human and he still is human. 'Son of Man', the name he chose for himself, means an ordinary man in Aramaic, and this 'man' sits on the throne (Heb.10.12). Though the perfect way he lived his life means that he will always be far from ordinary!
BTW: How can a man also be God? Early Christians explored this by writing fan faction about Jesus in the form of other Gospels. By the 4th C they were getting mixed up with the real Gospels, so the Councils reminded everyone about the difference, but our popular press still doesn't understand!
or People - based on Deut.14.22--15.20
Summary: The laws of tithing and gifts for priest and
the poor in Deuteronomy are in many ways similar to what we do today in
our tax system. We pay a percentage for the church, government and the
poor. But we ignore two important aspects: loans which are forgiven if
they cannot be repaid, and the holiday tithe. The holiday tithe could only
be spent on food, drink and enjoyment by your own family. Our creator
knows that we are not made for work alone, and legislated to make a
BTW: Big money loans required a 7 year work contract, but Israel was told to freely give small loans and let them turn into gifts after 7 years. This makes good sense in agricultural communities where loans between neighbouring farms created a bond of friendship between them. NGOs have rediscovered the effectiveness of this kind of loan in the Micro Loan systems which have proved so effective in many developing world situations. These loans work because they concentrate more on people than on money, just like the laws in Deuteronomy.
Blessing - based on Deut.5
Summary: The Top Ten Commandments still all apply to us, unlike some others like Levirate marriage. They are curiously restricted - for example we should not "speak against" someone, though Jesus expanded this to include lies in general, just as he also expanded others. These "Maker's Instructions" are the key to living a happy life.
BTW: God's law reveals how God regards us. Unlike other laws of the time, everyone in Israel was treated equally under the law - God has no favourites. And unlike in other laws, crimes against people were punished much more seriously than crimes against property. People are the most valued part of creation.
Restored - based on John 21.1-19
Summary: Peter's three denials were redeemed when Jesus asked him three times: Do you love me? Feed my sheep. He was an unlikely choice as leader - young, impetuous, fallen and restored. Jesus wanted leaders who were representative of the flock and could be examples to them and feed them, rather than ruling over them.
BTW: Shepherds had a very lowly job - finding food and keep predators away. Sheep in the BIble are not those who follow blindly - they were known for going astray and getting lost. With proper feeding we are supposed to grow up and become those who lead - lead others to Jesus.
Suspects - based on 1 Cor.15.1-21
Summary: The body of Jesus was gone - who could have
taken it? The usual suspects (including the evangelists themselves) are
lined up and dismissed, and an ingenious new theory is examined (a
conspiracy between Joseph of Arimathea and Judas). The appearances are
very unlike normal hallucinations. In the end it is harder to believe the
theories than the unique miracle.
|BTW: "After Christ's death, the superstitions started" - that's how Suetonius, the Roman historian saw it. There are a number of grudging references to the resurrection by ancient writers. And although even non-believing scholars admit that the early witnesses were sincere, some still insist there are ways to explain away their stories.|
Service - based on John
13.12-15; Eph.5.21-25; 6.1-9
Summary: NT wives, children and slaves submitted to
the normal structure of Roman society "so that the Gospel be not reviled".
The man was the 'oikedespotes' ('house-master') in public and
outside the home. But inside a Roman home, the wife was the
'oikedespotes', ruling the slaves and setting timetables so that
even her husband submitted to her. Paul says that a Christian wife should
do the same (1Tim.4.15). His summary "submit to each other" tells us that
each partner has different areas of responsibility where they are in
|BTW: Christians have a perfect master who allows us to do what we are best at. Everyone is better at something than everyone else, and we should all submit at different times to each other. Like Christ, who was undeniably in charge, and yet did menial jobs for others.|
|The Dark Deceptions - based
on 1 John 2.21--3.8
Summary: Philip Pullman's trilogy turns many things
upside-down. The church (the 'Magisterium') is an evil authoritarian
organisation which follows a God (the 'Authority' or 'Yahweh') who turns
out to be an imposter (an angel pretending to be God), and each person has
a soul in the form of an animal called a 'daemon'. But his avowedly
atheist agenda falls down, because although these books can confuse, they
also open children's minds to the reality of an unseen dimension.
|1 John was written to combat some similar gnostic ideas. He gives us two straightforward ways to test truth: Does it affirm that Jesus is the Messiah? And does it promote a righteous lifestyle?|
|Jesus the Illegitimate
King - based on Matthew 2
Summary: Kings rely on their parentage and a good army
to make people follow them, but Jesus had neither. His parentage was
questioned from the start. Mark and John contain hints that Jesus was
accused of an illegitimate birth, while Luke and Matthew go on the
offensive by telling the whole remarkable story in their own ways.
|BTW: Jesus was single in a society where it was irreligious to remain unmarried. He was probably not single by choice. No good Jewish father would let his daughter marry someone whose birth was suspect, like Jesus' was.|
Divorce - a background study
Summary: When listening in on Jesus’ debate with the
Pharisees, we have to understand their legal terminology. They had
recently invented a new type of divorce called the ‘Any Cause’ divorce, so
they asked Jesus: Is is lawful to divorce for ‘Any Cause’? Although
virtually everyone in Jesus’ day used the ‘Any Cause’ divorce, Jesus
declared it unbiblical, so if they remarried they were committing adultery
because they were still married.
|BTW: Before the ‘Any Cause’ divorce the Jews recognised four ground in the OT: Adultery and neglect of food, clothing and love. Jesus affirmed adutery and Paul affirmed the others. Remarriage was a right after any valid divorce.|
Conversion - based
on Acts 9.1-19a
Summary: Paul's conversion didn't make him any more
devoted to God, but he discovered new depths to the love of God in Jesus
and the intimate presence of God by his Spirit. When Muslims convert,
they do not change to worshipping a new God, but they discover the depths
of the God they have been seeking.
|BTW: Conversion is illegal and dangerous in many countries, so some Christians continue to worship in Mosques while honouring Jesus in their hearts.|
& Miracles - based
on Acts 8.4-25
Summary: Simon Magus founded a successful religion
based on his showmanship and magic, like many other 1st C religions. He
was the first to recognize Philip's miracles were real. Later,
when the Apostles introduced the Holy Spirit, he recogniszd the
commercial value of offering the presence of God and the peace he brings,
which he saw was much more valuable than mere miracles. But God's gifts
are not for sale.
|BTW: Miracles still happen, but usually in small groups and off the big stage. The self-aggrandizing practices of some preachers remind us more of Simon Magus than Simon Peter.|
the Establishment - based on
Summary: Esther was a teenage bride who showed up the
stupidity of an Emperor. One of his silliest decrees was that all wives
should obey their husbands, unlike Vashti who refused to parade in front
of his drunken friends. The book of Esther teaches that all people are
equal in the eyes of God's law.
|Under the law of Moses, women had far more rights than anywhere else in the Ancient Near East. But for Christians in the 1st century, it was important to act submissive, so that the Gospel was not misunderstood.|
Earth - based on 2
Summary: When God finally punished Judah with the
destruction of Jerusalem, he had been forgiving them for 70x7 years. What
makes God finally act? Evil human-sacrificing religions, and oppression of
the poor made him act in this case. He rarely acts before Judgement Day
because such judgements cannot be fully fair, but sometimes there is no
|BTW: The Exile allowed the land to "enjoy its rest" for 70 years. God loves the earth he created as well as the people he made.|
Lost Tomb - a short
talk based on Mark 15.46--16.6
Summary: The so-called 'lost tomb of Jesus' contains
remains of "Mary", "Jose" and "Jesus son of Joseph". But these names were
very common - a quarter of all women were called Mary, and one in 25 were
called Jesus. Identifying a lost grave marked simply "Mary and John" is
more likely to be accurate than this so-called tomb of Jesus.
|Ossuaries were boxes for bones. First century Jews in Jerusalem used them to save space among the tens of thousands of family tombs.|
Many - based on Mark
Summary: Slavery in Egypt ended for Israel when the
last plague killed all the Egyptian firstborn.The Israelite
firstborn were ransomed by an equal number of Levites in Numbers 3 who
gave their lives in service to God. Jesus says that his one life will
ransom us all. He ransomed us not only by his death, but by his whole
life of service. We too have been bought back from slavery to give
our whole lives in service to God.
|BTW: Slavery and paying ransoms have been part of everyday life from ancient times till very recently. When Jesus offered to be our ransom this would be a very emotional message for former generations.|
Chosen - based on
Summary: "Many are called but few are chosen" was a saying which summarised what Jewish theologians of the time believed. Jesus profoundly disagreed with the way they understood this, so he undermined the saying with the parable of the banquet. In Jesus' theology, "Everyone is called, and many chose to come - though not the ones you'd expect".
Warning: Do not preach this in a church with a strong predestination
theology. It will not be appreciated.
|Documents from Qumran and 1st C rabbinic Judaism are quoted in this sermon to illustrate the theology which Jesus was disagreeing with. When we know how his audience thought, it is easier to hear what Jesus is saying to them.|
|Jesus and his
Prayer - a background
study for preachers
Summary: Jesus’ Prayer is very similar to a
2nd C summary of the 18 Benedictions which Jews pray three
times a day. A copy of this prayer was found in a rubbish room in Egypt,
and a recent discovery shows the wording goes back to the 1st
C, so Jesus himself prayed something similar every day. This helps to
explain the differences between the different versions in Matthew and
Luke, and to understand what Jesus and his disciples were praying
|BTW: Jesus’ prayer has some very distinctive features which we can’t recognise till we know what is normal in 1st C Jewish prayers. He prays for the ‘daily’ food of a beggar, and emphasises forgiveness for the forgiving. He is on intimate terms with God but is also constantly aware of the presence of Satan.|
|Jesus' Temptations -
based on Luke 4.1-13
The Devil sounds as plausible as a preacher: "Of course God will
provide your needs and keep you from injury, and he will provide a
public miracle to aid evangelism." He even quotes Scripture to prove
his point - Psalm 91 tells us that someone under God's protection will not
suffer injury or illness. The Devil has the same message as a
health and wealth preacher! Jesus was tempted to fall into the same error
as Israel when they tested God by making demands from him instead of
asking for his mercy.
|Fasting is an important part of the Christian walk, though Jesus warns that it can also become a matter of spiritual pride.|
Passover - a background
study for preachers
Summary: Did Jesus die on the day they killed the
Passover (as John says) or did he eat the Passover (as the other gospels
say). Scholars have now found new evidence for the old theory that they
both happened. If Jesus’ last meal was a Passover, we have to fill in
details which the gospels omited because they were too obvious – and then
everything which happened that night suddenly makes sense.
|BTW: The charge sheet for the trial of Jesus has survived in a censored rabbinic tradition which has been doctored to cover up embarrassing details. It says he was hung on Passover Eve for sorcery – not for magic – which is an admission that his miracles were real.|
|King Herod versus King Jesus -
based on Matt. 2.1-8
Summary: Herod's rule was based on suppression and
fear - especially the fear of losing his throne. Jesus' rule is based on
humility and love - and he did not let his disciples defend him even when
he was about to lose everything. Nietzsche complained that Christianity
promoted a servant mentality - but he didn't realise that it is this
willingness to lose which will win in the end.
|Herod really was Great - Israel became prosperous and secure thanks to the ports and fortresses he built, and he rebuilt Jerusalem's Temple in fabulous style. But his paranoia took over.|
|Jesus and his Bible - a
background study for preachers
Summary: What translation should we use? Jesus quoted
the Hebrew OT, but he also quoted the Aramaic and Greek translations, as
we can see when they paraphrase the Hebrew. Why? - because they helped to
express the meaning of the Hebrew in a easier way – Jesus’ aim was
communication of God’s message.
|BTW: Most Jews in the day of Jesus used the Greek translation or Aramaic translation, to help them understand the Hebrew Bible which was difficult for non-scholars. Jesus didn't distain these translations which sometimes expressed the meaning he wanted to emphasise.|
|The Purpose of Suffering -
based on 1 Peter 4
Summary: What do you tell a father who has
watched his son drown? All the stock answers sound hollow.
Peter, whose flock face constant persecution, gives an answer which seems
idiotic: rejoice at suffering. Why? This is our only opportunity to be
heroic in this life. A hero can't choose the illness or injury which makes
his subsequent perseverance heroic, so if such an opportunity arises,
Peter says: rejoice.
|BTW: God watched his Son die and had to stand by without intervening. This pain is just the visible tip of God's pain when he sees his beloved creation suffering.|
|The Distinctiveness of
Christianity - based on 1 Cor.1.20-25
Summary: What makes the God of the Bible different
from other religions? We find different answers at different times in the
Old Testament, depending on what emphasis was needed. He is presented as
the only God without an image at Sinai, the greatest God among the many in
Palestine, and the God of righteousness when Israel turns to sin before
the Exile. What difference should we emphasise to today's society which
has a consumer choice of religions?
|BTW: Muslims and other religions can remind us of virtues like prayer. They know God exists and many have the highest regard for Jesus. But they do not accept the most precious truth of all - that Jesus died to save us.|
|Ezra and marriage to non-believers -
based on Ezra 9-10
Ezra told the Israelites who had returned from Exile and married
foreign wives to throw them out. Were there special reasons why Ezra did
that then? Should we similarly abandon unbelievers? And what if we have
already done so, like the woman at Corinth? Paul says we shouldn't abandon
or divorce an unbeliever, and if we have done so, we should remain
unmarried in the hope of
|David was descended from a non-Jewish grandmother, Ruth. Paul says that a marriage to a non-believer is sanctified by God just as much as a marriage to a believer. But given the choice, Paul tells us to marry a believer.|
|The Holy Spirit and Old Testament
Believers - based on Num.11.16-29
The Holy Spirit occurs surprisingly often in the Old Testament, guiding
and empowering individuals. But he comes on believers only when needed,
and only on a few people. The prophets looked forward to a
time when he would live inside all believers, bringing not only
visions and prophesy but giving each believer an internal knowledge of
God's will. If we look only for visions and prophecies without
listening for God's internal prompting, we are merely aiming to be
|Jesus summarized the difference his death would make to the Holy Spirit and the believer: "He lives with you but he will be in you" (John 14.17). Now that we are made holy, the Holy Spirit can live inside us permanently.|
|The Trinity and The Da Vinci
Code - based on John 8.37-42, 51-59
Summary: The Da Vinci
Code claims that Gnostic gospels (like the new Judas
Gospel) show that the earliest church regarded Jesus as human, and
married. Looking at the Gnostic writings shows the opposite - they
rejected the humanity of Jesus and procreation. But the Trinity is
already seen clearly in the New Testament, and the creeds merely
defined what was already there - Jesus is both man and God. Pliny's
report to Trajan in 111 AD shows that the earliest Christians already
worshiped Jesus as God.
|BTW: The Da Vinci Code is a good yarn, but it should not be regarded as historically accurate, any more than the Indiana Jones movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. Most of the inaccuracies don't matter in a work of fiction, but the suggestion that Jesus' divinity was a late invention by the church undermines the heart of the Gospel.|
|Theories of Sin and Salvation -
based on Col.2.4-15 & Rom.5.6-12
Summary: We know that Jesus died for us on the cross
and took away our sin so we are now guiltless and death is defeated. But
how does this work? Theologians have tried to answer that. Anselm said
Jesus bore our punishment. Abelard said Jesus' death demonstated God's
love. Luther said the cross was a spiritual battle ground. And Moltmann
said God shared our suffering in Jesus on the cross. Who is right?
|BTW: The different ways of looking at the cross all show facets of a wonderful truth: that God loves us and sent his Son to die for us to take away our sin.|
|God our Programmer -
based on Job 38 & John 1
Summary: God is so different from us that 'Father',
'King', 'Shepherd' etc are all inadequate to describe Him. One picture
which works better than most is God as our Programmer. We are less
than ants in his sight. We are like characters in computer games,
with limited intelligence and fragile lives. The wonder of God's love is
that he was willing to become one of us.
|BTW: The Sims are surprisingly sophisticated artificial intelligences which can give us insights into questions like 'How could Jesus be fully God?' and 'How will God resurrect us in new bodies?'.|
|Paul in Prison for Good -
based on Philippians 1.1-14
Summary: Paul, languishing in prison, didn't spend
time analysing what had gone wrong. He looked to see what opportunities
could be found in this situation. He knew that the world is not as God
wants it to be, and bad things happen - but he also knew that God is the
expert at bringing good out of evil, and getting his way in spite of evil.
|BTW: While in prison, Paul wrote several important letters. Others have also done their most important work when in prison or during enforced 'rest'. What important things should we do, which we don't make time for?|
|Joshua's God of War -
based on Deuteronomy 20.10-20
Summary: Joshua was told to kill everyone in
Palestine. The Rules of Engagement in Deuteronomy are lenient by Ancient
Near Eastern standards, and necessary when men are the main weapons of
war. But the ethnic cleansing commanded by God goes beyond self-defence.
The reasons for this may be hidden in clues about an evil genetic
contamination in Palestine.
|BTW: Ancient warfare was encouraged by allowing solders to keep any booty they found. But Israelites had to destroy everything, so their only motive was self-defence.|
|Finding the Gospel in the Gospels -
based on John 3—4
Summary: Jesus' message was different for each
individual he met. He told Nicodemus to be "born again" and told the
Samaritan woman to "drink living water". When we look at their contrasting
backgrounds we find these two messages fit their situation exactly. These
different messages help us discover the core of Jesus'
|BTW: These quotes from Terminator films express the Gospel more accurately than many church messages.|
|Fitting in for the sake of the
Gospel - based on Col. 3.18—4.1
Should we obey the Household Codes of submission, as found repeatedly
in the New Testament? A Muslim woman convert inSaudi Arabia
should certainly be advised to follow them, because if she
exerts her Christian freedom, this will be interpreted as western
immorality. This is very similar to the early Roman society which promoted
these Household Codes of Aritotle. Peter & Paul commend them, though
with severe misgivings, in order to help spread the Gospel. We should have
the same motive in deciding to follow them (or not)
|A Muslim convert should probably submit to her husband, for the sake of the Gospel. But does that apply to every woman?|
|Jesus Rules the Universe -
based on Col..2
Summary: The Colossian heretics worshipped angels who
controlled the stars, but Paul said that Jesus was in control.
Today, we fall into two opposite errors - superstitious regard for
horoscopes, and rejection of anything which can't be measured by science.
Mainstream science, in the mean time, has found that only 15% of the
universe is made of matter as we know it. In the light of this vast
ignorance, it is facile to dismiss the existence
|BTW: We now know that most of the universe is made of Dark Matter, and Dark Energy. We see their effect on stars, but we have no idea what they are.|
|Sacrifices - an invitation to
God's Party - based on Lev.1-7
Summary: Sacrifices were the normal expression of
worship in the ancient world. God turned them into a system of
parties at which he was the honoured guest and a simple system of
reconcilliation with sinners. Jesus' lifestyle showed that God loves to
spend time with people.
|BTW: When you have to eat a whole lamb in one or two days, you have to invite your friends!|
|Nahum - God's Judgement - based on
Summary: We often rightly emphasise that God forgives
us for evil when we repent. But the opposite is equally true - the
evil who don't repent will be punished, sometimes in this life and
certainly in the next.
|BTW: Some acts seem so treacherous and evil that we cannot imagine God accepting repentance, but God is serious about offering forgiveness, even when we aren't.|
|Obadiah - a political prophet - based
The prophet Obadiah spoke out on a political issue of his day. He
appears to be partisan, but he says that God will judge all nations using
the same standards. What should God's prophets be speaking out about
|Israel was surrounded by enemies in Obadiah's day, as it still is. The prophets often proclaimed doom to those neighbours, but they also criticised Israel. Is Obadiah different?|
|2nd Coming and the Matrix - based on
Summary: The Matrix trilogy is packed with as
much philosophy and theology as action and thrills. It is not a Christian
film, but it is full of Christian imagery and it has some useful insights
on the Biblical teaching on the Second Coming.
|BTW: Matrix characters who can be seen as allegories of (right to left): Judas, John the Baptist, Jesus and (perhaps) the Church. (No kidding!)|
|Creation and Evolution - based on
Summary: Perhaps God used evolution as part of his
creative process (or perhaps he didn't). But if he did, how would he
describe what happened to Moses? Perhaps it would be similar to Genesis.
But either way, the main message of Genesis 1-2 is theological, and we
tend to miss what God is saying.
|BTW: Homo sapiens suddenly became artistic and religious about 20,000 years ago. Why? Scientists don't know, but perhaps the Bible does.|
|Giving - based on 2 Corinthians
Summary: The New Testament does not define how much we give, unlike the Old Testament - which is a good thing because OT tithes total 30%! We give as much as we want, out of gratitude to God.
|Three tithes of the Old Testament which total 30% not 10%.|
Prophecy about Tyre - based on Ezekiel 26
Summary: The strange prophecy about Tyre being 'scraped off the land and thrown into the sea' was fulfilled literally when Alexander the Great built a causeway to their island fortress 250 years after Ezekiel prophesied. This could not be guesswork by the prophet!
|Alexander's causeway to the island off Tyre..|
Ezekiel's Message - based on Ezekiel 1-2
Summary: God's movable throne, which Ezekiel saw, demonstrated to the Exiles that God was able to go wherever he wished, outside his Temple and even outside the Land. Our generation needs to be reminded that God sees everyone and everything we do.
|Ezekiel's vision of God's movable throne.|
I believe in
God - based on the creeds and 1 John
|An early version of the Apostles' Creed.|
Jesus meets.... a
crooked civil servant - based on Luke
|Christians earn money in order to use it wisely!|
Jesus meets.... a
woman caught in the act - based on John
|Is Harry Potter the worst influence on our youth today?|
Jesus meets.... a
man out of his mind - based on
|Pigs of Gadara jumping off the cliff.|
Jesus meets... a
pillar of the establishment - based on John
|Jesus meeting Nicodemus at night.|
Jesus meets... a
man of great faith - based on Matthew
|The Centurian came to Jesus|
- based on l Peter 2.9-17
|A pavement paid for by Erastus, Director of Public Works (Rom.16.23)|
- based on 2 Samuel 11
|Bathsheba, as seen by David|
|Ruth, an Unselfish Woman - based on
Summary: Ruth worked like a slave for Naiomi, and even endangered her good reputation by agreeing to go the the Threshing Party. And all this for a foreign mother-in-law. She highlights the evil of racist selfishness. This is a love story for adults only.
|Ruth gleaning in Boaz's field.|
|Tamar, a Wronged Woman - based on Genesis
Summary: Tamar did wrong, but Judah did worse (at his own admission). Judah's crime was to lie, which is counted as one of the worst sins in both Old and New Testaments.
|Tamar and Judah's three sons|
|Rahab the Pragmatist - based on
Summary: Rahab is celebrated as a hero of faith in Heb.11 because she demonstrated trust in the God who was helping Israel. She was interested in saving herself, so she acted in a pragmatic way.
|Rahab lived in Jericho's city wall|
|Jesus' Bank Balance - based on
Summary: Galilee was based on cash, just like our world, and Jesus' parables show a good grasp of economics, and yet he did not seem interested in earning any. He was too busy doing other things, and although he does not reject money, he did not seek it either.
|The world runs on money|
|Jesus' Family - based on Matt.10:32-42;
Summary: Jesus' family did not understand him. And Jewish society looked down on Jesus because he appeared to be conceived out of wedlock. Jesus bore that stigma for us, and eventually was reconciled with his family.
|Jesus' Family turned away|
|The Lord's Prayer - based on
Summary: Comparisons with Jewish prayers of the first century shows that Jesus emphasised our close relationship with God, the use of plain language, seeking God's help to do his will, forgiving others to be forgiven, and protection from the Enemy.
|Jesus teaches his disciples to pray|
|Standing against Evil - based on
Summary: Spiritual evil is real, and much more deadly than just demon posession. Demon posession is real, but not as common as many people suggest. The Enemy attacks most of us in a much more mundane way which is why we are so often defeated.
|The Armour of God|
|God's Great Plan for Us - based on Ephesians
Summary: Paul helps hurting and disappointed believers to see that God loves them. But this doesn't mean that he hates those who don't believe. God has a wonderful plan for us all, but not all accept it.
|Churches near Ephesus|
|Heroic Goodness - based on 1Tim.6.11-16,
Summary: This is the closing appeal of Paul for Timothy to 'be good'. People tend to look down on Goodness, but it is the stuff of heroes, not wimps.
|Jesus before Pilate|
- a contrast between Christmas cards and the harsh reality of
the first Christmas.
|Christmas Card Stable|