Monday, June 21, 2021



Speaker Bruce Millar

The Bible tells of many journeys. Israel’s journey to the Promised Land. The prophets Samuel, Elijah and Elisha all feature journeys. Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Jesus journeyed on his ministry and so on. Last week, Leslie used the apostle Paul’s journey to Rome, interrupted by a terrible storm and shipwreck that left him washed up on the island of Malta to teach us how to handle storms — storms pass, get your bearings, light a fire, shake off a snake.


All of these journeys ended; they reached a terminus. But this morning I want to look at a journey that never reached a goal — and perhaps never will — referring, of course, to the life of Abraham, chapters 11 to 25 of Genesis. Since Christian life is regularly described as a walk — we are exhorted to “walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16), to “walk by faith” (2 Corinthians 5:7) and “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4) — I hope we may find it instructive to our own journey in life. Let’s start with the summary in Hebrews 11:8-11 —


“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place where he was to receive an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.”


Abraham is one of the towering figures of human history. He is of special significance to us because of the unique relationship in which we stand to him. Bear with me in another quotation, excerpted from Galatians 3:6-9.


“Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”


Did you catch that phrase: “… those who are of faith are the sons of Abraham?” What does it mean to be such a son? Recall the tense debate found in John 8 between Jesus and the Jewish leaders? They were upset because Jesus declared that he was doing the will of God his Father and angrily retorted that Abraham was their father. Jesus agreed that as ethnic Jews they had a genetic link to the patriarch, but he countered “if you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works that Abraham did.”  The term “father” is sometimes used in the Bible in the sense of “the first one of a kind”; for example, Genesis 4:21 states that “Jubal … was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe.” This is the sense Jesus was using, which Paul picked up on. Abraham is the first of a particular line of people — people of faith — whose faith is evidenced by their actions or works; the same point made by James in his letter (James 2:21). These kind of people are his family, his sons, his tribe or clan.


At this point, we need a working definition of the faith I’m talking about. I find Tom Wright helpful: “Faith is not a general religious attitude to life. It’s not simply believing difficult or impossible things for the sake of it, as though credulity was Itself a virtue. Faith hears the promise of God, the assured word of the world’s creator that he is also its redeemer, and that is through the strange fortunes of Abraham’s family (that is his clan) he is working out this eternal purpose.”  Let’s think about this as we follow Abraham’s story.


Abraham’s faith-journey began from the town of Haran, in what is now southeast Turkey with a word from the Lord. How this happened and how he recognised it, we don’t know, but he sets out south and for the rest of his life he is on the move. He will stay in some places for a period of time, sometimes lengthy, but he never puts down roots or builds a permanent place called home. The journey embraces extraordinary events, but most of the time it is very ordinary; it has highs and lows, joys and sorrows, times when nothing is happening and times when everything is happening. But the unique feature of the journey is that it never reaches a final destination. Abraham never arrives; his journeying never finishes. Hebrews 11:13 says that he and others “died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen and greeted them from afar and recognised that they were strangers and wanderers in the land...”


Our text mentions two major elements to Abraham’s journeying:

 1.  Perennial Leaving

All journeys start with a leaving; but Abraham’s leaving was extraordinary in the extreme. Granted that people lived longer back then, at 75 years of age Abraham is no spring chicken when God called him. He is required to leave everything that was familiar and loved, his home, his wider family, his natural desire for security, safety and a settled comfortable lifestyle, to journey into a strange foreign land where he would be regarded with suspicion as on outsider, and live in a tent with all the insecurity and vulnerability that entails, having absolutely no idea where he was, where he was going or what lay ahead for him and Sarah.


Furthermore, he would be a nomad, moving from place to place — sometimes because his flocks needed fresh pasture, sometimes because the native inhabitants didn’t want him around, sometimes because he decided to and sometimes because God directed him — but it all meant he had to keep leaving and move on, over and over again. In short, Abraham is called to a life that from a human perspective was the epitome of uncertainty and mystery, walking by faith in a God that at the start of the journey he hardly knew.


Abraham exemplifies walking by faith. He’s not an idol to admire but a model to emulate, as indicated in the following chapter 12:1 — “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us …. run the race that is set before us…”  The logic is “If they can do it, so can we.” Like him then, we are called to be travellers not settlers, to experience change, embrace unpredictability, expect disruption and as a result encounter fresh discovery. Just to be clear, I’m talking about spiritual mindset not actual mileage. For some, such as apostles, travel may feature in their faith journey, but we can keep moving on in God even if we never move house. It’s our life in God that is not intended to be static — but that’s the rub since for most people being settled and comfortable is a very human default desire. We swing to it as surely as a compass needle seeks north. We love stability, security, order, and the familiar and trusted, what we’re used to; we don’t mind a couple of weeks on holiday overseas, but then we get itchy for home. This pandemic and its lockdowns was an adventure for the first few weeks but now we all want the old normality back. I observe that we all invariably sit in the same places in church, and if we change the chair layout, in a few weeks we’ll all sit in the same new places again.


The tendency to settle in our natural lives is often reflected in our spiritual lives too. Paul urged Timothy to “stir up the gift of God within him” (2 Timothy 1:6) for this very reason. We sing a song: “There must be more than this” asking The Spirit of God to stir up within us a passion for His Name, but I wonder if the reality is that we’re reluctant to respond to the Spirit leading us to live by faith, leave our comfort zone of present experience and knowledge to enter the unknown where change and uncertainty are the preconditions to new encounters with God?  The opposite of faith is not doubt; it is certainty, for certainty has it all worked out, everything is fixed and nailed down, written in stone. Faith is redundant when there is certainty. Faith operates in the arena of doubts and questions, of divine delay and silences, of not knowing, the realm of the unseen and the humanly impossible. The only constant in the life of faith is the Lord God Almighty, the Creator and Sustainer of all things — and even then, there is continuing movement and progression. To live by faith, one has to constantly leave where one is at! Absent this, we settle and stagnate.

 2.      Perpetual Learning

The second element to the journey of faith is a perpetual learning. Abraham did not become a paragon of faith at his call. He strayed from the path of faith on a number of occasions, as we shall see; but God does not castigate or punish him for doing so, though Abraham has to live with the consequences. One has to learn the way of faith, and mistakes are valuable teaching experiences.

1. He was learning to discern between faith and belief

·      On entering Canaan for the first time, famine hits the land (Genesis 12) and Abraham moves his family to Egypt. God did not tell him to go there; he believed it was the sensible and obvious action to take. But that belief got him into trouble, to fear, lying and deception. Had God not intervened, it might have destroyed his marriage as well as God’s purpose for his life by Sarah becoming Pharaoh’s concubine.

·      Again, after 12 years in Canaan (Genesis 16), Abraham, who has recently received God’s covenanted promise that he would father a son from whom would descend a family more numerous than the stars of space, is frustrated that he and Sarah are still childless. We’re told they had a belief that God has left Sarah barren and the only way the promise can be realised is to adopt the pagan practice of surrogacy where Sarah’s slave Hagar bears Abraham a son legally regarded as Sarah’s. But this was never part of God’s purpose and it backfired spectacularly and created huge, painful consequences still being played out in the Middle East today.

In both instances, Abraham’s belief was genuine, but it was not true faith. Belief and faith are both valid entities, and share an etymological root, but they are not synonymous. A belief is an idea that a person holds to be true. It may actually be true, or it may not.


·      Almost 50% of the USA’s population have a genuine belief that the last presidential election was rigged despite the absence of real evidence. By contrast, a few days ago, the world’s cosmological community was thrown into confusion because recent scientific discoveries about dark matter in space shattered a core belief about the nature of the Universe. In the former, people tenaciously cling to their belief; in the latter, the scientists acknowledge they must ditch their old belief and find a better explanation. So what is more important? What we believe to be true or what is actually true?

·      In Jesus’ time, the Jewish leaders were the Evangelicals of the period. They studied and searched the Scripture, debated and defined their beliefs about the person and nature of God and of the kingdom of God; it’s written in the Talmud. Then Jesus comes with a different view about God, His kingdom and the way it operated — and the Jewish leaders would not leave their long-held beliefs to embrace the truth Jesus proclaimed, even though it was endorsed by the signs and wonders He did. Their solution to the impasse was to crucify Him, for to follow Jesus’ way of faith would destroy their position as the guardians of Jewish belief.


Belief is a product of information we have imbibed or obtained by our life experiences; it’s a product of the human mind. It’s valid and valuable as far as it goes. But beliefs change. When I became a Christian sixty-odd years ago my church gave a series of teachings entitled “Fundamental Truths” and I took it all on board. However over the years I discovered that much of what was taught was neither fundamental nor true; it was the belief of the day but got officially changed as fresh insight was gained in expanded biblical understanding and interpretation. Church history shows it has been ever thus.


The fact is that Christians disagree on many matters of belief. It’s not my job to tell you what to believe: “Let every man be persuaded in his own mind.” One has to develop the capacity to think for oneself. But belief is not faith. Abraham’s belief was that impotent husbands and barren wives couldn’t have children. It was an unassailable fact, proven throughout all human experience. But when he and Sarah, still learning the way of faith, became willing to lay aside that long-established belief and be open to God’s omnipotence working in them, a delighted centenarian and his overjoyed 90-year old wife obtained in due time a physical makeover and produced the promised baby boy! They’re not the only ones! Hebrews 11 speaks of a great cloud of them. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is not mentioned among them, but her faith in response to the angelic announcement took precedence over her well-founded belief that virgin women don’t have babies.


As with Abraham, so with us; to make progress on our journey, faith must lead belief.

2. He was learning that faith’s prize is God Himself.

Hebrews 11:11“For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” Looking through Genesis chapters 11 to 25 you will not find reference to this city anywhere. God did promise Abraham a land inheritance, but when the patriarch died he didn’t possess a square foot of territory other than the cave of Machpelah which he purchased as a burial place — but there is no mention of a city.


So it appears that verse 11 is the writer’s summary of the tenor of Abraham’s life with all its highs and lows, its fears and failures, its wrestlings and longings, promises and covenant. The patriarch is constantly developing learning of the nature and purpose of God that is being outworked in himself and his children who walk by faith. That purpose is described as a city built by God, and Abraham died in faith looking forward to seeing it. This same city is spoken of in Hebrews 12:22 as the “… city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…” and in Hebrews 13:14 as “the city that is to come” on God’s renewed earth. It also features in Revelation 21 and 22.


In old Jerusalem, the central sacred space in the temple was a cube-shaped room — the Holy of Holies. God dwelt there, in the form of a blazing white fireball known as the Shekinah, hidden by curtains and veils, inaccessible to all but the High Priest on one day each year. In the New Jerusalem, there is no temple for the gigantic cuboid city is itself the Holy of Holies, where God dwells, with no barriers or curtains, openly accessible and approachable 24/7 to everybody. It’s a city of peace whose only business is the healing of the nations, where the world is put right, tears are wiped away, creation is liberated and every act done to achieve this is seen as an act of worship. Here the glory of God, His own Presence, shines in every street and from every stone, for all this is utterly beyond the power of mankind to accomplish. Only God can design and build this city!


Of course, this is all symbolic imagery. It is not an actual place like Athens, Rome or London. It’s the same kind of language Paul uses in speaking of believers as the Temple built together as a dwelling place of God’s Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22. But while the language is symbolic it is nonetheless real. One day, “the earth will be full of the glory of the Lord” at the restoration of all things.


Jesus said, “Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad.” John 8:56. The 175-year old patriarch died in faith knowing that in the future he would obtain his inheritance — not just Canaan but the whole world — sharing it with his family of faith. But the greatest thing Abraham learned was that God Himself was the prize of faith. To know Him and to know there is always infinitely more to know of Him is what makes eternity exciting. God is always going to be immeasurably greater than our knowledge of Him! The Bible speaks of Him but He cannot be confined to it or by it. That’s why faith will still be required in the age to come. 1 Corinthians 13:13 “And now three things continue forever: faith, hope and love.”  The journey of faith will never end!


As I close, may I encourage you to let Abraham inspire you to emulate him? May we keep moving in God and not settle for where we’re at. Let’s be open to hear His voice call us out of our comfort zone to secure His purposes through us. Let’s become less security conscious and more God-conscious. Let God direct us to new places. Let’s do as 2 Peter 3:18 urges and “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” — there more to know than we presently know.



Speaker Leslie Emmett

What a beautiful few days we've been having lately. The sun has been shining, the birds have been singing, the sky has been blue and it's going to carry on like that for a few more days. But apart from the weather the last 15 or 16 months have been very stormy anything, but singing, shining and blue and we've been in the mother of all storms. In the pandemic we've learned a whole new glossary of words and phrases and places that we never really knew before, social distancing, self-isolation, super spreader, R-rate, herd immunity and yes… Barnard Castle!

Well the pandemic wasn't in the weather forecast and it has proved to be an unparalleled storm but as well as that we've all had our own individual storms, as church, as families, as individuals. Challenges, difficulties, struggles, troubles… But this morning there is good news, storms don’t last forever and of course tomorrow we're hoping that Boris will tell us that the worst of the storm is going to be over in, well, some people think one week, some are now saying it might be two weeks or even four weeks, but the storm will come to an end.

Let's go to the scriptures. One of my favourite chapters in the bible is Acts chapter 27 and there we find that Paul is on a journey from Judea to Rome and he gets caught in a really terrible storm. But we're going to move on to Acts chapter 28 and look at what happens after the storm. You see storms blow up out of the blue. Don't waste your storms. Turn what was meant to harm you into something profitable that does people good.

Acts 28:1 “Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta”

Or as the English Standard Version has it; after we were brought safely through”.

Through is a wonderful dynamic word, “through” means there's an after. “Through” has inspired some great songs …


“Yea though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil" (and by the way if there's a shadow the sun must be shining somewhere).

Somebody else, inspired by “through” John Newton:

“Through many dangers toils and snares I have already come.

His grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home”

Or Andre Crouch:

“Through it all I've learned to trust in Jesus, I've learned to trust in god”

Or one or two of you might remember a really old chorus (some of the old ones have got some very good truths in them),

“He'll take you through

However you're tried

His tender care is never denied

Believe his word his promise is true

He'll take you through, He'll take you through

Yes weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning”


What should we do after the storm?

1) Get your bearings

“Once safely on shore we found out that the island was called Malta”

Get your bearings; remember where you've come from. In Acts 27:8 we find that, before they got to Malta the last place where they harboured was Fair Havens. That's a nice place to be, Fair Havens; you'd have preferred to stay there for the winter! The very name of the place suggests ease. It's a lovely comfort zone “but we found that we were steered to stormy waters”.

Stuff happens…

God didn't send the storm

God stills storms

God doesn't inflict sickness he heals sickness god isn't working in some celestial laboratory creating variants of the virus he mutates water into wine

God doesn't steal kill and destroy, he gives life to the full

God doesn't give and take away give and take away give and take away god gives and gives and gives and gives and gives and gives and gives.

What a good God we've got. Let's proclaim His excellences as that holy nation, that royal priesthood we were hearing about the other week. Yes, remember where you've come from and recognize where you are - Malta.  A little pin prick in the Mediterranean.

The Mediterranean, 2400 miles from west to east,  between 100 and 1000 miles from north to south, the whole area 970000 square miles and Malta, a needle in a haystack, at 95 square miles. The odds of you being in the Mediterranean and ending up on Malta are more than 10000:1. No chart, no compass, no satnav, it seems impossible that you'll get there. But when you're in a storm that you think you won't survive, there's a Malta in your Mediterranean.

Malta says ‘you've had a thousand miles of storms but you're a thousand miles nearer where you're meant to be’.

Malta wasn't planned but it's got you closer to where you're meant to be going.

It's a more profitable place to spend the winter than Fair Havens. Malta is not the end of your journey; it's just a stepping stone to your destiny. And so, particularly for MCC in June and July 2021... Malta Christian Centre! Yes, Malta Christian Centre, that wasn't a Freudian slip, that was deliberate. MCC - Malta Christian Centre. You've got a springboard into a new episode of life, abundant of life, experiencing the goodness and the glory of God. Enjoy your life after the storm.

Get your bearings, remember where you've come from, recognize where you are and re-focus on where you're going.

You're on your way to Italy (Acts 28:14), more specifically Rome. Sometimes when we're in the storm we lose our vision, we lose our sense of direction. But on Malta we refocus, we think back to those moments of drama at the height of the storm when you didn't think you'd make it, and nobody else thought you would. But God spoke into your life and said ‘you are mine, you will make it. I will never let you go.’

So after the storm, after the pandemic… The pandemic has meant there were people we couldn't see, places we couldn't go, things that we couldn't do. And all that is going to change. Refocus on where we are going.

Back in Birmingham we used to sing a song and one of the verses goes like this, it's got a line:-

“What I was and where I am is not what I'm becoming”.

What I was, Fair Havens, what I am Malta, what I’m becoming Rome. My destiny is to become more and more like Jesus, to proclaim the excellences of this wonderful God and saviour.

The rest of that particular verse says:-

“What I was and what I am is not what I am becoming. but by his grace the race marked out is one I’ll keep on running. Discouragement shall not prevail nor hope grow dim in trial. For I am confident of this, his presence will not fail”

Amen! After the storm get your bearings.

2) Build a fire

 Acts 28:2 “The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. Paul gathered a pile of brushwood…”

I think if we're going to talk about building a fire and understanding the meaning of the fire we could do with some suggestions as to what the fire can symbolize. So, any suggestions please for what the fire can symbolize.  Oh yeah! Thank you John the Baptist you've got one, what's that you're saying about being baptized in the Holy Spirit and fire. Yeah, okay we'll take that on board. Think about that one.

Oh! Here's Cleopas with a suggestion. He’s telling us that when he was on that afternoon walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, Easter Sunday, with Jesus, that his and his companions hearts were burning like a fire inside them because Jesus opened the scriptures to them on that road. Yes, the scriptures as well. Okay Cleopas.

Well here's somebody else, the wisest man who ever lived. Well Solomon, you may have been the wisest but some of the things you did weren't all that good. Okay, fair enough we're all the same! Solomon wrote a largely erotic song but towards the end he raises the bar and gets very enthusiastic about unconditional love. He says "love is as strong as death... it burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame."

And so if we're going to choose what the fire represents this morning, (I know it can represent a whole lot of other things as well) we're going to go for Solomon’s comparison. And I think this morning for this particular comparison Paul will agree with us because Paul wrote that famous chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, when he says you can have all the Holy Spirit experiences you like, and you can understand all the depths and intricacies of wisdom and understanding, but if you've not got love you add up to one big fat zero!

So the fire is love.

Why do we need to build a fire? Because of what people have been through. 14 (and more) days in the storm in Acts 27, with no sun, no stars, no food, no hope. Julius the centurion, he's very acquainted undoubtedly with the works of Virgil. Virgil in the Enid describes a storm and Julius the roman centurion would be thinking of this

“Next came the shouts of men, the shriek of ropes. At once storm clouds snatched the sky from night. Black light brooded on the sea the heavens thundered frequent flashes that tore the dark. All signs warned the men that death had come.”

Or Luke, he'd be there and he would have been thinking ‘hang on a minute, I wrote in the first book that I said to Theophilus about Jesus stilling a storm on the Sea of Galilee and how that everything became calm. Why isn't God doing that now? It seems as if God is on mute.’ And sometimes it does seem as if God is on mute, but I want to tell you God never puts you on mute he always hears when you cry out to him.

 And Paul I wonder what he was thinking in the Storm? In acts 27, towards the end of acts 27, he comes through. But Paul was a man with passions and feelings just like us, and you can read that some five years or so before this event Paul says things had been happening that caused him to despair of life itself! In second Corinthians in chapter 11 he talks about various experiences he's been through. He says that, five years before Acts 27, he's already been through three shipwrecks and spent a whole day and night in the ocean. If I’d have gone through that, and now find myself in the storm in Acts 27, I’d be saying, as I’m sure Paul was, “not again, not again!” Have you ever been in a storm where you feel it’s all happening again? “Not again Lord, surely not again! It’s not going to work this time.” In Acts 27 Luke writes “We finally gave up all hope of being saved” and when Luke says “we” he means Paul and Luke and any companions that are with them. The conditions on board - it's no cruise liner they’ve been on! There are no passenger cabins. It's not even to be compared with ferry across the Mersey. Any passengers that happened to get on board one of these cargo ships in the Mediterranean in Roman times would have to stay on deck all the time. They would be soaked and chilled.

Here they are now, they've been through all that, and they need a fire. The storm, the shipwreck, the stranded has a way of sapping your strength, draining your energy, destroying your hope and crushing your joy. Your soaked to the skin, your chilled to the bone, you're on your last legs. We can be like that too. We need to get warmed up by the fire of God's love. We need to build a fire, just like the people of Malta did. They built a fire to welcome this hotchpotch of people. 276 of them who say we're saved from the shipwreck. Yes, some nice people like Paul and Luke and Aristarchus, but as well there were the greedy merchants who’d been prepared to put everybody's lives at risks risk to get their cargo to Rome. There were the sailors who at one stage were ready to abandon ship and save themselves and leave everybody else to their fate. There were soldiers who apart from Julius’s intervention would have killed all the prisoners as well! All these people need a welcome. They need unusual kindness.

As we come through the storm of the pandemic there are more people than ever who need a warm welcome, unusual kindness, and a fire of love. You see in the Upside-down kingdom of God there are plenty of patrol boats patrolling the borders of the kingdom, but they're not there to turn people away or to drive people back. They’re to reach out to hurting, shipwrecked, broken people and to welcome them - to bring them to the fire of God's love where they can be warmed with no strings attached.

Why else do we need to build a fire? Not just because of what people have been through but because it's still raining. We read there “they built a fire welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.” We’d like our storms to subside immediately, like the one on the Sea of Galilee. We'd like the tornado and the dark sky to be there one moment and the next moment everything to be sunny and warm and the birds are singing. But it doesn't usually happen like that – it carries on raining for a while, and people are still cold. Therefore we build a fire of love for people who are numb and in shock. It's no good coming through the storm and then freezing to death, build a fire! Love burns like a blazing fire and like a mighty flame.

After the storm, get your bearings, build a fire and…

3) Shake a snake

“Paul was gathering a pile of brushwood and as he put it on the fire viper driven out by the heat fastened itself on his hand when the islanders saw the snake they said to each other this man must beat murderer but Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects”

Now before I go any further I do need to confess something. I suffer very badly with ophidiophobia and research has shown that actually a third of all adults suffer with the same phobia so at least a third of you this morning will be on my side here. It's apparently the most common reported phobia that there is - the fear of snakes. I suppose I’ve got the fear of snakes because of where I was born and brought up in Congo, and also because of parenting. My father's parenting skills. I think one of the greatest things he ever taught me was the only good snake is a dead snake! Even action heroes like Indiana Jones - they fearlessly rush into ancient ruins to rescue damsels and priceless artefacts and then they only get the heebie-jeebies when they find there's a booby trap with snakes. “Snakes” he yells “why is it always snakes”.

Sometimes it seems if the storm doesn’t sink you and if the shipwreck doesn't drown you then the snake will poison you! 

So what do we need to shake off after the storm? Revelation 12, quoting one translation, talks about that old snake who deceives and accuses. So let’s shake off deception. After the storm we are very vulnerable, we’re exhausted, we're cold, it's still raining - don’t be deceived. God still loves you. We need the fire of his love. Don't be deceived by appearances. Appearances can be deceptive. The people of Malta thought “oh yeah Paul must be a murderer, he's going to die” but they were wrong. The religious people in Jesus time - appearances were deceptive they said “he's a glutton and a winebibber”. Putting it in this modern day language, he's a greedy pig and he's an alcoholic. But no - he was welcoming sinners and eating with them.

Keep loving people.

Accusation - shake off “the storm is your fault”, shake off guilt and despair. Shake off accusation of other people. The Maltese people found it very easy to accuse Paul; they changed their minds, thank God for that.

 After the storm, post pandemic, we're going to have a lot more contact with loads more people than we've had for the last 15 or 16 months. Like peter said last week about the life groups and looking forward to not having to do the life groups with zoom, being with real people. You see on zoom we're rather limited in what we can find fault with. We can find fault with our backgrounds, we can find fault with the clothes that we're wearing or “can't he understand how to get off mute yet!” But when we're up close and personal we'll notice the foibles and the flaws and the failures far more than we do on zoom. But remember any fingers we point there'll always be four fingers pointing back!

Yes, shake off the snake of accusation into the fire of love. Peter says something in his first letter 1 Peter 1:22 “love one another” different translations have Love one another deeply or earnestly or fervently.

The Greek word Ektenos, it only occurs twice in the whole of the New Testament, it occurs as well in Acts chapter 12 where the church was praying earnestly, fervently, deeply for Peter when he was in prison. It's got the idea, Ektenos, of reaching out your hand. It’s got the picture of Usain Bolt running the 100 meters and reaching out to hit the tape before anybody else. It's got the picture of somebody reaching out to welcome somebody. It's got the picture of reaching out to shake off any accusation, any deception, any doubt, any fear. Reach out, love one another fervently.

Well let's conclude.

One particular storm is subsiding.

It is going to be calm and sunny again –Hallelujah!

Get your bearings.

Make Malta a springboard into a new exciting episode.

Build a fire of love. Get yourself warm and make it a huge bonfire. Pick up some brushwood, make it a huge bonfire that will attract and warm and revitalize many shipwrecked people.

Shake off deception, accusation, doubt and fear and love one another deeply earnestly fervently.

Then - expect miracles to occur, read it in the rest of chapter 28, miracles happened. Expect needs to be met. In the rest of chapter 28 we find that the people of Malta “honoured us in many ways; and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies that we needed.”

You arrive at Malta with nothing but the soaking wet clothes that you're wearing on your back. The nature of storms means we lose stuff but there's a restoration of resources and you move on richer spiritually than you ever were before. Praise god! Be blessed MCC - Metro Christian Centre “Malta Christian Centre” the best is yet to be. The blessing of the lord makes you rich and he adds no sorrow to it. Amen

Sunday, May 23, 2021



Speaker Helen Jenkinson


In July, after 30 years as a Food teacher I am hanging up my apron and school has advertised my job, stating the job description and a list of the qualities they want for someone in that role. Every job has one doesn’t it? But if that advert was for someone to become a Priest of the Living God, I wonder what the person specification would say? And what responsibilities would they be expected to fulfil? Well this morning, if we are Christians, if we are in Christ- the bible says that we are part of a kingdom of priests. We already have the job, but maybe we need to become a bit clearer on what our job description actually says! So this morning we’re going to look at why we are called priests- what it meant in the old testament, how that changed after Jesus’ resurrection and what it means for us today



I was reading that rabbis would often use the technique of connecting passages together in order to convey biblical truth. It’s the sort of thing Jesus did a lot- think about when he explained the scriptures about himself to two of his followers on the road to Emmaus. So  it will be useful if you have your bible handy as we’re going to try and string passages together so we can get a fuller picture of what it means to be part of a royal priesthood.  Our first stop is in Revelation. Remember it is John, one of Jesus’ best friends who, in his old age, a prisoner on the island of Patmos, gets an opportunity to have the curtain lifted on another reality to the one he is living in.  What is happening in the heavenly realms. Jesus is telling him- look John, I know you’re suffering but your troubles are only momentary. I’m going to show you my reality. Caesar might think he’s in control but he absolutely isn’t. I am! What an encouragement that must have been to him.

So let’s start with Revelation 1:  5- 6

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

So what does this phrase ‘kingdom and priests’ actually mean? To understand it we have to go all the way back to Exodus.

In kid’s life we have been learning about how the children of Israel were delivered out of Egypt, out of slavery, out of bondage. And at Mount Sinai God makes a covenant with his people. This is what God instructs Moses to tell the people as an introduction to his giving of the law that we know as the 10 commandments: Exodus 19: 4-6

 You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

So from this we know that Israel was God’s treasured possession. Out of all the peoples of the world, Israel was special. This phrase- treasured possession is used elsewhere of a king’s private treasury. His jewels, his riches, his wealth. Was it because they were better or more deserving than other people? Not at all. But they were the people who God decided would make Him known to the world. A people who would manifest God’s character to the people around them. Now we know that Israel failed spectacularly at times in this role, but one thing that did come out of it was the system of the priesthood.

It says in the verse that Israel was to be a kingdom of priests. The priests represented the Lord to the people. Aaron who was the first high priest had garments that were made of the same material as the curtain of the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle in order to represent God’s glory. In other words, the normal Israelite couldn’t go into the Most Holy Place to witness God’s glory there, but they could see Aaron and witness God’s glory reflected albeit imperfectly in the high priest. The priests also represented Israel to God. Aaron’s ephod had stones in it representing the 12 tribes of Israel. When he stood before God, Israel stood before God; when he entered the holy of holies once a year on the Day of Atonement, to sprinkle the blood of sacrificial animals as atonement for his sins and the sins of the people, when he presented the blood of the sacrifice which secured forgiveness, Israel benefitted from it. So the presence of the priests was to create the possibility of a relationship with God. In turn, Israel was to represent God to the world through mission and present the world to God through prayer. The world couldn’t see God but they could see Israel. So God’s intention was that Israel as a whole would be an ambassador, representing God to the nations- demonstrating to the nations the character of God. So I want you to hold those thoughts about the priesthood for a moment.  God’s words to Moses also says that Israel was to be a holy nation. Set apart. Different from the other nations around them. God is saying “you may see what other people in the land I am giving you may be doing but I want you to be distinctively different. The 10 commandments are an illustration of this. They were designed to be missional. They were given to shape the life of Israel so that as a nation they displayed the goodness of God. God was creating one area in the world where his goodness could be seen. His people were his prototype- his working model. Now we know that this didn’t happen. Israel looked around them and saw the gods the Canaanites worshipped and often joined them- worshipping idols and taking part in all sorts of pagan rituals. In the days of Samuel they declared they wanted a king just like the other nations around them, ignoring the fact that God was their king. But have you noticed that God’s covenant promise was that all God’s people would be priests- A kingdom of priests. Not something that was reserved for a special few. The old covenant system of priesthood was a picture of something a lot more wonderful.

And so we enter the new covenant and I want you to think back to what we learnt about the priesthood of Exodus. The pictures of the old covenant are perfectly embodied by Jesus, our great high priest. We said that the priesthood was designed so that people could see God’s glory. What does John say?

John 1: 14. And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only son from the Father, full of grace and truth

Jesus is the radiance of the Father’s glory. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. In the old covenant the high priest had to cleanse himself before he could offer sacrifices on behalf of the people. Jesus who knew no sin was the only one truly qualified to make atonement for our sin by his death on the cross. His death brings us forgiveness. He fits the person specification of the High Priest perfectly doesn’t he? And as he cried ‘It is Finished’, the curtain in the temple separating God and man was torn in two from top to bottom. We now have full access to the Father through what Jesus has done for us on the cross, not like the high priest who only had access on the day of atonement.  Let’s hear what Hebrews 10: 19-22 says:

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

In the old covenant the priests had to be descended from Aaron. In the new covenant we do not have to be descended from Aaron to be part of the priesthood. We have something much better. We have been chosen to be adopted as sons and daughters of the living God. We don’t have to prove ourselves in a job interview before we receive our status as sons or daughters, we have been chosen before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight, as it says in Ephesians 1. So what does this mean for us? Do we just sit back, and enjoy our privileges as priests? Of course not. That would be the same as someone being appointed to a job and then never doing anything in that role! So what does it mean for us to be a royal priesthood? Let’s look at what the apostle Peter says:

1 Peter 2:9: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Do you see how Peter uses the same language as Exodus to describe Christians?

1.    Chosen

We sing a song that starts with “Who am I that the highest king should welcome me” don’t we? The initiative is all with God- not with us. Jesus said “No one can come to me unless the Father draws him”. When we became a Christian we responded to the Holy Spirit’s invitation. Just like Israel, we weren’t chosen because we were better than anyone else. In his divine grace and wisdom God decided to make us his treasured possession! If that’s not enough to get us on our knees in worship to Him on this Pentecost Sunday I don’t know what is!


2.    Royal

Peter also says we are a royal priesthood. Why royal? Because we are sons and daughters of the king of kings! There’s lots of controversy at the moment isn’t there about Prince Harry and how he feels about being royal. And lots of the problems are arising because he and his family have different ideas about what his royal status actually means in practice. Now it’s not my job here to make a judgment either way but what I do know is that the royal family feel that they are in a privileged position and that requires certain standards of behaviour and ethics. And as we’ve seen throughout the years quite a few royals have not lived up to the standards that have been assumed they should meet, in various ways. But shouldn’t it be even more so true for us? We’re not descendants of Queen Elizabeth. We’re children of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Corrie Tem Boon said ‘God has no grandchildren’. So wherever we are we are representing him and the values of His kingdom. We don’t ever stop being part of the royal priesthood- on bad days as well as good.


3.    Holy

Which brings us onto the third thing that Peter says. We are a Holy Nation. The whole law was set up by God to demonstrate the set apartness of God. How Israel was to operate was so different to the people around them- Their reverence for God above all else. Their refusal to worship idols. Their trust in God to supply their needs, reflected in keeping the Sabbath. Valuing the people around them by treating others as they would want to be treated. And that should be our call too. Those values should permeate into everything we do, say and think. They should govern our relationships with each other and those we come into contact with on a daily basis. Israel was called to be distinctively different and so are we.


4.    God’s special possession

We saw in Exodus that Israel was to be God’s treasured possession. And it’s the same for us. We can know God as our Father. He cared for Israel as the best kind of Father cares for his children. With tenderness, responding to their whinging and wining as we saw last week at kids life and he cares for us in the same way. He always has our best interests in mind. The scriptures also speak of God being a Father to the fatherless. Whether your relationship with your father was or is good, bad or non-existent, you have a heavenly father who sees you as His. You are his special treasure.

God is also seen in Scripture as our Husband. This may seem very strange to men, but it is true for you too. Those who trust in Christ are called the bride of Christ. The idea of marriage is that two people agree to commit their lives to one another until death. They enter into a covenant to remain faithful to one another no matter the cost. When we came to Christ it’s like we entered into a marriage covenant. We are now part of one another. And as a husband or wife should be jealous of their relationship with each other, so God is jealous of his relationship with us. We tend to think of jealousy as a sin, but in this context it means making sure nothing or no-one comes between you and your spouse. That’s why in the old testament often God speaks through the prophets like a husband who is devastated that his wife has committed adultery. It was as though Israel had committed adultery with the other gods of the time. Nothing has changed. When we run after things that are not of God, that’s how God feels. Like a jilted husband. But like Hosea, he longs for us to come back into that close relationship with him.

Being God’s treasured possession also means that He is our friend. Not an acquaintance, not a facebook type of friend but the deep and unshakable friendship that we have with only a few people in our lifetime. The kind of friend that will lay down his or her life for you. Someone who sticks closer than a brother. The one who will be with you through thick and thin. One who will walk with you through the good times and the bad. Friendship also speaks of sharing one’s heart with one another. A huge part of that is knowing what the other is thinking. God desires to share and reveal the deepest part of His being to us and he wants us to share ourselves with him.

There are so many other aspects of being God’s treasured possession that we haven’t got time to delve into this morning. But maybe this week, meditate on the truths that He is your father, your husband, your friend but also your good shepherd, your saviour. How wonderful He is!


So why have we been called to be priests? The rest of the verse in Peter gives us the answer. So you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

We learnt last week didn’t we that through his atonement, Jesus invites us to move from death to life. From darkness to light. And that is the message we need to carry to the world around us. Remember that Israel’s mission was to make God known to the world. To display his character. To be missional. The church is the people chosen to be a kingdom of priests who make God known to the world. The church, Peter says, is the nation which is holy as God is holy. That requires us to lead distinctive lives. We want to make connections with people around us. But what will attract people to the gospel is not our similarities to them but our distinctiveness. It’s the difference that the gospel makes to our lives that will provoke their questions. How we view or deal with similar situations to others in a godly way. But in order to make God known to the world, we need to know him for ourselves. If we are to manifest God’s character, we need to know what his character is. So for the last few minutes we are going to focus on a few aspects of God’s character and some practical ways we can make those characteristics known to the world.



The world is obsessed with love isn’t it? You only have to listen to popular songs or watch romantic comedies or see the books for sale in a bookshop to know that. But this love is what the bible would term ‘eros’. It’s the falling in love feeling we get when we first meet someone we really like. But this is not the type of love the bible talks most about. The bible mostly focusses on agape love. Self -sacrificing love. The kind of love that empties yourself for the good of someone else. The type of love that Paul in Philippians 2 says Jesus demonstrated when he emptied himself and became man. The type of love that keeps you committed to something or someone when it is costly to you. When you don’t feel like it. When you are tired. When the credits role at the end of the film and the characters start to live life together in all its messiness. That’s the type of love and commitment God shows to us and that we should be showing to each other. Why did Jesus keep teaching his disciples that love is the key to all men knowing that they were his disciples? Because the world doesn’t experience agape love that often and when they do, they will recognise that this kind of love is not something that can be generated by human will but only by God.


Mercy and Forgiveness

God’s nature is always to show mercy. He longs to forgive. Think about the parable of the prodigal son. What do we convey about God’s character if we choose to hold grudges or choose not to forgive when we have been wronged? Or choose not to say sorry to people who we have wronged? As Tristan shared with us last week, it was the actions of Rizpah, not David who brought about transformation into that situation because she chose to end the cycle of vengeance.


There’s so many characteristics of God that the world need to see demonstrated through us isn’t there? Maybe this week, as well as meditating on the different aspects of us being God’s treasured possession we can also meditate on how we can demonstrate God’s faithfulness, God’s justice, God’s truth, God’s holiness to the world around us. It would be lovely if we could engage in conversations with each other about it. Put your ideas on the facebook page. Share your ideas in the whatsapp group.


Remember we are a kingdom of priests. It’s not just the job of the leaders. As we are the new Israel, God’s special possession, each one of us has the role of representing God to the world.


To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.