A Christmas Day Sermon by Samuel Marsden – Luke 2:10-11

Samuel_marsdenOn Christmas Day 1814, Samuel Marsden preached the first ever Christmas message on New Zealand soil at Oihi in the Bay of Islands. His text was Luke 2:10-11. The following sermon is not the one Marsden preached on that day (we have no record of that sermon), but another Christmas sermon on the same text from a different year. The sermon has been slightly abridged here.[1]

 “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

The birth of our blessed Saviour is one of the most important events that ever occurred since the foundation of the world for in it the happiness of all the human race was involved; Though all will not obtain salvation through him, but only those who believe, and serve him.

God had promised many years before this event took place that he would send mankind a saviour and the faithful in every age looked anxiously for his coming. The apostle to the Hebrews mentions many a name, who believed in the divine promises and obtained eternal salvation through him. He begins with Abel and recites a long list of the Old Testament saints, of prophets and martyrs. All these, he observes, died, “not receiving what was promised, since God had provided something better”

As the fullness of time drew near God made a fuller revelation to the faithful and prepared their minds for receiving the [good news].[2]

And so we find good old Simeon when on the very verge of the grave, receiving a divine intimation that he should not taste death until he had seen the saviour of the world. He had in a very special manner been promised to the Jewish nation, and they were anxiously looking for his appearance … an earthly king and ruler.

But God’s thoughts [are] not as their thoughts. No doubt many of them expected him to appear in a very different manner from what he did. They expected that his advent would be distinguished by some outward significance, power and majesty. The eastern Magi expected to find him in Herod’s palace, when they saw his star and hastened to Jerusalem to pay their homage to him. On their arrival they said ‘where is he who is born king of the Jews?’

But as his kingdom was not of this world he was not to enter into it as an earthly prince. Though his birth was to be proclaimed by harbingers from heaven, they were not sent to publish this wonder to Kings and Emperors, nor to the chief priest or rulers of the Jewish nation, but to the humble shepherds who were keeping watch over their flocks by night.

When the angel of the Lord appeared unto the shepherds, we are told the glory of the Lord shone round about them and they were sure afraid. In order to dissipate their fears, and to calm their agitated minds, the angel said unto them fear not for behold ‘I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

In considering this subject we shall

First endeavour to elucidate the tidings announced;

And second, consider the importance of them

Firstly. We have here the birth of Christ proclaimed and the city wherein he was born. ‘Go to Bethlehem’ said the angel to the shepherd ‘and there shall ye see him, wrapped in swaddling cloths lying in a manger’.

It had been foretold by the prophet Micah, that the saviour should be born in Bethlehem. This prophecy had its full accomplishment at his birth.

How must the pious shepherds have rejoiced when they saw him who had been so long promised to the faithful? Their faith does not appear to have been staggered when they saw him in his low and humble state.

On the contrary their hearts were filled with unspeakable joy and they returned glorifying and praising God for all the things for all the things that they had heard and seen as it was told unto them by the angels.

The description here given of Jesus is worthy of our deepest attention. The angel describes him by first by his office. [Saviour.]

Many saviours had been sent to Israel in former times. Moses delivered them from the bondage of Egypt. Samuel afterwards saved them out of the hands of their enemies, and many others of their kings and prophets.

But here was one born infinitely superior to them all. One who came not only to deliver one people, but a whole world – not from temporal bondage and misery, but from sin, Satan, death and hell, and to save them with an everlasting salvation. For this purpose he came into the world, to redeem man from all evil. This was his office to which he had a right and title.

The name ‘Christ’ as also the name ‘Messiah’, signifies ‘anointed’. Jesus was the Lord’s anointed. He had appointed him to preach glad tidings to the meek.

This was the name by which the great deliverer was expected by the Jewish as well as the Gentile world. The woman of Samaria in her conversation with our saviour at Jacob’s well said unto him, ‘I know that Messiah cometh, which is called Christ, when he is come he will tell us all things’. Hence we see that the Samaritans as well as the Jews were expecting the coming of the Messiah.

Now his name denoted his divine commission, together with his justifications for the performance of his office. The kings and the priests, and in some instances the prophets also, were set apart for their respective offices by the holy unction. And he in whom all these offices of prophet, priest and king were combined, was consecrated to them by a public and immeasurable effusion of the Holy Ghost. He was a saviour duly sent and qualified for the great work of redeeming a lost world.

He was not only set apart by the father of mercies to this office, but he was in every respect sufficient for it.

Had the person, whom the angel announced been a mere creature, he never could have effected all that was necessary for those he came to save.

But he was the Lord Jehovah himself. He was God manifest in the flesh.

It had been said of him, 800 years before, “To us a child is born” […his name shall be called, wonderful, prince of peace, mighty God, everlasting Father’] … and that prophecy was now declared to be accomplished.

Hence we infer that whatever he had undertaken, he was able to perform. His atonement would be sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world. His righteousness would be sufficient to justify all that should trust in it for acceptance, and his grace and Holy Spirit would be sufficient to make them conquerors over all their spiritual enemies, and to bring his people finally to glory.

More joyful tiding than these could never be proclaimed by man or angel. Well might the angel say behold I bring you [good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all the people]

We have now considered out Lord’s office. He came as a deliverer of his people from their sin, Satan, death and hell – and that he had a title to this office having been consecrated, and set apart to it by the Holy Ghost – and that he was sufficient for it, being God over all blessed ever more.

We shall in the second place consider the importance of the tidings mentioned in our text.

The very term ‘behold’ is always used to mark the importance of that to which it is prefixed. It emphatically calls our attention to the subject. But here the particular view in which the tidings claim our close attention is distinctly specified,

They are a matter, firstly, of exceeding joy.

To illustrate this we need only to observe by whom the message was delivered and to whom. An angel from heaven was the messenger but he was not privileged to say, to us is born a saviour. No, there was no saviour provided for the fallen angels but for man a saviour was provided. When man fell God became incarnate. We are told by the voice of inspiration, he took not upon him the nature of angels, but he took on him the seed of Abraham.

Suppose then, that instead of being sent to men, the angel had been sent to his fallen brethren, and that after he had opened the gates of hell he had announced the tidings to the apostate spirits, to you is sent a saviour. O what joy had been spread through these dark and dreary regions of misery and woe. How would the very vassals of hell itself have wrung to loud exclamation and hosannas! How would every spirit instantly have forgotten its pains and pressed forward to hear the full import of this joyful message.

Thus then ought these tidings to be received among us. Since the only difference between them and us is that on them is executed the sentence they deserve.

But are not we sinners? The angels that sinned are reserved in chains of darkness unto the judgement of the great day, and suffering now the vengeance of eternal fire. We are as prisoners, guilty prisoners waiting for our trial, and to have the sentence of death passed upon us as soon as the full measure of our iniquities are completed. This my brethren is our awful state while we are living without God and following the vain imaginations of our own hearts.

The glad tidings mentioned in our text ought to be tidings of unusual joy to all who are sinners before God. They are equally interesting to Jews and Gentiles, to those of the apostolic age, and to us who live at such a distance both of time and place. Nor is there one single individual upon earth amongst the children of men who have not equal cause to value the Saviour that is here proclaimed to us.

Who is there that does not need the merit of his atonement and the efficacy of his grace? Who is there that have not sinned and come short of the glory of God. Who is there that to whom these glad tidings are not published freely. Who is there amongst you that is not invited to come to Jesus for pardon of sin.

There is not one upon earth, rich or poor ignorant or learned that can be saved without him. Nor is there one however abandoned, who may not by a believing application to the Saviour, be admitted to his pardoning grace and mercy.

Since all may obtain the blessings which these glad tidings proclaim they may well be called glad tidings to all people since they are so to all nations kindreds tongues and people, and some of all nations under heaven will at last be found amongst that great multitude which St John saw.

What a pleasing idea is this, how pleasant to the pious soul is this divine prospect. What pains has God taken to make known his divine will to us. He has not merely given is his word of promise, but he has fulfilled his promise made unto his the fathers.

And the very hour his Son is made flesh and dwells amongst us, an angel is dispatched from heaven to communicate the joyful news to men upon earth. And this heavenly messenger no sooner proclaims the good tidings than an heavenly host joins the angel in loud anthems praising God and saying glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will towards men.

If anything could add to the happiness of the angels of God, this wonderful display of divine love to man increased their joy.

Having now considered the importance of these (good) tidings we shall conclude with inviting you all to imitate the shepherds.

Firstly, Inquire into the truth of all they and you have heard.

The shepherds were not satisfied with the good tidings communicated to them by the angel but they said one to another ‘let us go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which has come to pass which the Lord hath made known unto us.’ Go you then, we say, go to Bethlehem, or rather go to the Bible, and see whether these things be not as they have been represented.

What would you have thought of the shepherds, after what they had seen and heard, if when they had an opportunity of obtaining satisfaction on the point, they had neglected it, and had laid themselves down to sleep without making any further enquiry about the new born Saviour?

O, let me entreat you to enquire after him. You have incomparably better means of information than they had. You may see in the sacred scriptures the whole record concerning the holy child Jesus. His birth, his life, his death, his resurrection, his ascension. Yes, you may see the union of the Godhead with the manhood, and may read in facts as well as in his promises, and declarations his ability to save you to the utter most. All these wonderful and mysterious subjects are revealed in God’s holy word which you can consult at all times, for it is nigh unto every one of you.

O, arise then and enquire into these important truths with all the humility care and attention they require. Your eternal happiness wholly depends upon knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent.

Again when you are convinced that the Saviour was born in Bethlehem yourselves, and that all the prophets have said of him relative to his incarnation, and for what purpose he came into the world, namely to redeem us from all our iniquity, communicate these things to others with all diligence and care.

The shepherds would not hide within their own bosoms the things they had heard and seen, but immediately published them abroad for the information of others. They told others that they had seen an angel to who proclaimed the good tidings to them, that that angel was accompanied by an heavenly host who praised God, and sang glory to him in the highest, the Saviour for ruined man was born in Bethlehem that night, that they went to the city and found the new born child in the very stable and manger where the angel said he was laid.

This information made a deep impression upon the minds of those who heard them from related by the shepherds and especially upon the blessed mother of our Lord, for the evangelist tells us that Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. She meditated upon them, and they administered the greatest consolation to her mind, and confirmed her faith in the divine promises.

Should you be silent then? when you have so much clearer instruction to convey. Should you not impart it gladly to those around you?

And for the comfort of your own souls should you not ponder all these things in your hearts. These wonderful and important events should occupy our contemplation from the beginning to the end of the year. For there is no subject upon earth in which our happiness is so much interested as the nativity of our Lord and Saviour.

Our church has with great propriety and pious consideration appointed a special service for this day. In order that we may keep in grateful remembrance the infinite love of God to us in giving us his Son, to save and deliver us from everlasting death. With what holy devotion, with what sacred reverence and holy godly fear ought we to keep this divine festival. At this period we should renew our covenant with God and engage thru his grace and Holy Spirit to serve him more and love him better. It is a period never to be forgotten by the pious Christian.

All who love the Saviour will go as it were to Bethlehem with the shepherds to see the new born babe, and with them, they will praise and glorify God for his unspeakable gift. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son for its redemption. These glad and good tidings ought to be received by all with the greatest heartfelt joy and gratitude.

But alas, few believe the report, so as to be influenced by it.

Instead of making this holy festival a time of deep humiliation, and of praise and thanksgiving to God, the greatest part of mankind convert it into a season of drunkenness, riot and crime, by which they pour the most souring contempt upon the divine goodness. And many, many act so wickedly, and give themselves to such vices lusts and appetites, as if they were determined to kindle God’s wrath against them and to cause him to swear that they shall never enter into his rest.

Let me warn all of you who have trifled with the salvation of your souls to the present period, that your day is coming, I mean the day of vengeance when God will bring you into judgement for all you now do.  Consider this ye that forget.

This may be the last Christmas you may spend upon earth.

Spend it then then, not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envy. It is now time for you to awake out of sleep and to bethink you what is to be done.

You then who love the Saviour, rejoice and glorify God with the shepherds. They saw the him in the manger but him whom you have not seen ye love, [and though now you see him not, you believe, and rejoice with joy unspeakable. – 1 Pet 1:8] Keep continually in mind the exceeding great love of your Lord and only Saviour that he was rich yet etc [yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich – 2 Cor 8:9].

Renew your solemn covenants with him at this period. Dedicate yourselves anew.

Let not the love of the world nor the things of the world draw your affections away from him. Before the return of another Christmas, you may be removed to a better world to see him as he is and to be present with him. Many during the last revolving year, have entered the joy of their Lord, and many will the next (in) the number of whom your name may be recorded.

Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid, only cleave unto the Lord with full purpose of heart, and he will preserve you falling, and will in the end present you before the throne of his glory. \

It will be well for you to visit Bethlehem often. To meditate upon the great humiliation of your Lord where he lay in the manger because there was no room for him in the inn. There is no room for him still in the hearts of wicked men but if you are his people he will dwell in your hearts. Your bodies will become his temple thru the Holy Ghost. And when he hath perfected all the good pleasure of his will in you, he will wipe away all your tears, he (will) put final end to all your mourning. You shall no more say my soul melteth away because of trouble for he will place you near his throne, at his right hand, where there are pleasures for ever more.

Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written death is swallowed up in victory. Then every promise will be fulfilled, every wish will be fully satisfied, God’s people shall dwell in his holy temple and go out mo no more, and join an innumerable multitude of angels, in one everlasting song to God and the Lamb will who sit upon the throne forever and ever.

[1] Sermon 33 in the Moore College Sermon Collection. Marsden has used an outline from Charles Simeon’s Horae Homileticae to compose this sermon. Transcription by David Pettett.

[2] Text is missing in the original manuscript here.

Scholarship: Stars, not the Sun – Wisdom from John Donne (Chris Spark)


      The sacred academy above
Of Doctors, whose pains have unclasp’d, and taught
      Both books of life to us—for love
To know Thy scriptures tells us, we are wrote
            In Thy other book—pray for us there,
            That what they have misdone
Or missaid, we to that may not adhere.
Their zeal may be our sin. Lord, let us run
Mean ways, and call them stars, but not the sun.

This is a section from a work by John Donne, The Litany.

Donne was a 17th Century Anglican clergyman, as well as a rather important writer. Two phrases which he coined are ‘no man is an island’ and ‘for whom the bell tolls’ (Metallica fans are especially fond of the latter). I would by no means endorse all he wrote, but, my goodness, sometimes he expresses the beauty and power of the Christian faith with depth I have seldom heard outside of Scripture. His words can be genuinely breath-taking. I first came across Donne through the sublime poem ‘A Hymn to God the Father’, one of the most wonderfully real and beautiful reflections on the personal significance of atonement I have ever experienced. Later I encountered ‘Death Be Not Proud’, a piece I think I would like read at my funeral.

The Litany, which is where I started this post, is an extended poetic reflection on various beings – from Father, Son, Spirit, Trinity, to different groups and orders of people. As with his wider work, I don’t think everything in it is awesome, and I would have to disagree fairly strongly at a number of points.

But section 13, quoted above, struck me as full of wisdom for many of us today who regularly engage with scholarship about Christ and Scripture – whether we do that in preparation for preaching or teaching, for general reading and interest, or for other reasons. If I understand what he is saying rightly (which I may not!), he helps us in two excellent ways:

Firstly, Donne would warn us against the kind of dependence on, and even worship of, scholarship which makes us ‘the sun’ (and in which we can let it eclipse the Son). In this way we might think and speak as if scholarship was always done from a neutral or completely transparent perspective, or treat it as almost canonical. We uncritically defer to scholarly opinion as it currently stands (or that of our favourite scholar or scholars), and this may indeed be a way of not having to do the hard work and thinking (and training and learning) ourselves. I know that temptation in myself.

Donne rather seeks that we be saved from what ‘they have misdone, or [m]issaid’, so that ‘…their zeal may not be our sin’.

This is well said, and even better if heeded.
But on the other hand…

Secondly, he would also encourage us to actually listen to, and make use of, scholarship. He speaks of scholars as ‘[d]octors, whose pains have unclasp’d, and taught, [b]oth books of life to us—for love’.

Some of us are at times in danger of what I think is a silly scorning of scholarship, where we have a fundamentally sceptical attitude, often arising from self-defensiveness. In my opinion (as one who is tempted to it at times!), this attitude lacks a basic Christian principle of knowledge: humility. If we won’t genuinely listen and consider what those who have spent a good deal of time learning have to say, we are very unlikely to ever discover areas where we are wrong – because we already think we have all the answers!

Now of course we will definitely have to disagree with scholarship at times – Paul did say the cross would be foolishness to the world (1 Corinthians 1), and no doubt that includes many scholars. Besides which, scholarship itself disagrees with itself very often. But to dismiss the opinions of those who have worked hard at learning, rather than humbly, if critically, listen – well that is to sow arrogance and to impoverish our riches for understanding the depths of God’s word as it has been given to us.

‘Stars, but not the sun’. There is a bit of wisdom from an old poet for all of us who stand on the shoulders of giants.

Moralism vs. Jesus

I’m presently preaching through the book of Judges and loving every minute of it. I never imagined how such a dark and confusing book could be so gospel-rich. Last Sunday I covered the story of Samson – 4 chapters, in one hit. It wasn’t an easy thing to do but I sensed it was better way to handle the narrative and retain the big picture. And the big picture was clearly Samson points us to Jesus.

In fact all the Judges point to Jesus in one way or another, because they all show us how human deliverers are insufficient. Some are better than others of course (such as Othniel and Deborah), but all are weak and flawed, and all eventually die. Jesus is not weak or flawed. He is the perfect deliverer-judge. And he doesn’t die.

The most powerful connections to Jesus in the Samson story was his birth and his death (everything in between was an absolute disaster!). One entire chapter (Judges 13) is devoted to the birth narrative – something unequaled with any other judge in the book. But just note the parallels: Samson’s birth is announced by an angel; Jesus’ birth is announced to Mary by an angel. Sampson is miraculously conceived in a barren woman; Jesus is miraculously conceived in a virgin. Samson is consecrated to God from the womb; Jesus is consecrated to God from the womb. That’s more than a coincidence.

And then with regard to his death, the author of Judges tells us that those who died with Samson that day were more than all he had killed his entire life (Judges 16:3). This was in fulfilment of the promise the angel of the Lord gave to his mother, “he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines” (13:5). The next time the Philistines appear in the Bible is in 1 Samuel, but Israel is no longer ruled by them; Israel is at war with them. And that war continues for centuries all the way to king Hezekiah. But never again are the Israelites ruled by the Philistines as they are in the times of Samson. But note again the parallels with our Saviour: Both are betrayed, Samson by Delilah and Jesus by Judas. Both are handed over to Gentile oppressors. Both are chained, tortured, mocked, and put on public display. Both chose to sacrifice themselves. Both died with their arms outstretched. And both enabled God’s people to triumph over God’s enemies by their deaths.

The story is a wonderful pointer to the true deliverer-judge who defeated our two great enemies, sin and death. Jesus’ death freed us from sin’s rule just as Samson’s death freed Israel from the Philistine rule. That doesn’t mean that we don’t sin any more just like it didn’t mean that Israel’s problems with the Philistines ended with Samson. What changed is that we now have the power through Christ to say no to sin and to refuse to let it reign over us.

So what did I do with the middle; that is, the record of his life? I simply retold the story, reading the pertinent verses and showed how even a man like Samson, whose life was completely out of control and lived for self could be used by God when his purposes are at stake. This is made very plain to us in chapter 14 where Samson goes against his parents counsel and insists they “get” for him Timnite girl. We are told in the follow verse, “His father and mother did not know that it was from the LORD, for he was seeking an opportunity against the Philistines” (14:4). This is an interpretive key for the entire narrative. It informs us this was all in God’s plan. God was going to use Samson’s weakness to bring about a confrontation between the Israelites and the Philistines. They had become way too comfortable together. This was God’s way of prying them apart.

Well that sermon did open a few eyes! However at the end one faithful brother (whom I have a very good relationship with) came up and said, “Great Sermon Peter. That was a great connection you made between Samson and Christ. However, didn’t miss the obvious?” I said, “Go on.” “You had in the congregation a very large number of men, all of whom are tempted by lust on a daily basis. Samson’s life was ruined by his lust. You never made the connection.” He was right. I alluded to it of course, but I never pointed it out clearly. Nor did I take the time the time to drive it home.

The question is – should I have? There are two concerns I can see if I chose to go down that road.

1. I would likely obstruct or at least weaken my main point (the big idea) which was the entire story points us to our need for the Saviour. You can’t preach a message on the story of Samson, majoring on the dangers of lust and then add something at the end how this points to Jesus. I’ve tried it before. People wind up thinking most about what was stressed. They would go away thinking a lot about the dangers of the sin of lust and not a lot about Jesus.

2. I don’t think that was the main issue – even in Samson’s life. Samson’s biggest problem wasn’t a struggle with lust (in fact it doesn’t appear that he struggled with it at all!). It was unbelief. He lived for himself, not God. He lived to please himself, not the Lord. And as a result, his life spun completely out of control. He wanted freedom, but his way. What he got was bondage. He became a slave of his own sinful desires. And of course that is the point Paul makes very plain in Romans 6. Which is why we all need the gospel!

Perhaps if I preached that passage again, I might do things a bit differently – but not too much differently. I’ve heard enough moralizing sermons in my life (particularly in the Old Testament) that have put me off teaching about sin. I already know I sin. What I need is the answer to overcome it.

And that lies in Jesus.

Life by death (Rob Harrod)

Recently I had the privilege of attending the annual Men’s Christian Convention here in Christchurch. David Cook from Sydney was helpfully unpacking truths from John 11 and 12, and showing us their vital application to life and ministry. On the second night he highlighted something that has been much on my mind and heart for much of this year. David opened up John 12:23, 24: "And Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." Here Jesus states that He will be glorified through His death. Through His death on the cross He will be like a grain of wheat falling into the earth and dying, and in death He will bring forth much fruit.

How would Jesus accomplish His purpose? How would He save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21)? How would the Lamb of God take away the sin of the world? By His death! The grain of wheat MUST fall into the earth and die, and through that death … Fruit would come! Life would come! Salvation would come! (Isaiah 53:8-10). All by the death of the suffering servant in the place of his people. In John 12 we see that this is not only a wonderful picture of what Jesus does, but it also provides a pattern for our life and ministry. This is how the disciples of Jesus must also live, individually and corporately. This Christ-like selflessness must characterise both the Chrisian believer and the church.

We often focus on the individual outworking of this biblical principle, but I want to draw your attention to one New Testament example of this selfless attitude seen in the events surrounding the establishment and early life of the church in Antioch, a major city some 500 km north of Jerusalem and the capital of the Roman province of Syria. Antioch was the third largest city in the Empire after Rome and Alexandria. Here are six examples drawn from the book of Acts of churches and believers learning to think and live ‘us’ and not ‘me’, being willing to fall into the earth and die in order to see real gospel fruit.

(1) Persecuted believers continue to preach Christ. Believers fled from Jerusalem (Acts 8:1) under intense persecution. Christians had lost their homes and jobs, and their lives were under serious threat. All because they aligned themselves with Jesus and His Church. The natural tendency in such circumstances would be to go quiet about Jesus in order to avoid more trouble. These believers did the opposite. They arrive in Antioch and freely and boldly preach the Lord Jesus despite the threats (Acts 11:19-21).

(2) A persecuted church still cares for others. The persecuted believers in Jerusalem could have been excused for retreating into a shell of self-interest: keeping their heads down for fear of more persecution. This was emphatically not the case: the church’s ‘ear’ was still open to hear of God’s work in other places, to pray for it, and to help where they could. (Acts 11:22-24) They send Barnabas (the ‘son of encouragement’) to assess and strengthen the work in Antioch. A 500km journey to benefit others! For the Jerusalem church it was clearly not all about them: it’s about their Lord’s glory, the good of their brothers and sisters in Christ, and it’s about the world hearing the gospel.

(3) Barnabas recruits Saul (Paul) to help the church in Antioch (Acts 11:27-30). The gospel work in Antioch was going forward strongly (Acts 11:21-24), but Barnabas longed for it to be established and further extended. He thinks of his friend Saul and believes he could make a significant contribution to the work in Antioch, so he goes off to Tarsus (240km away) and recruits Saul. These two men spend a year teaching many in Antioch, pouring out their lives to build up the church. Barnabas doesn’t care that the gifted apostle Paul might become more prominent – all he cares about is the fame of Jesus Christ and the good of the church.

(4) The generosity of the church in Antioch toward their brethren in Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-30). Hearing of the real need of the Chrisians in Judea because of a widespread famine, the Christians in Antioch (even though most of them have never met any of the believers down there) determine to send financial "relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea."

(5) Very different men work together (Acts 13:1).The leaders of the church at Antioch were a very diverse bunch. Barnabas, a Levite from Cyprus who had been a prominent encourager in the Jerusalem church; Lucius of Cyrene in North Africa, perhaps one of the founding members (Acts 11:20); Manaen, who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and was probably from a noble family; Simeon, called Niger; and Saul from Tarsus in Cilicia, who had been a Pharisee and fanatical persecutor of the church! These men, despite their differences in personality, background and gifts, worked together selflessly for the good of the church and the glory of Christ.

(6) The church in Antioch surrendered key leaders to frontline mission (Acts 13:2,3). Led by the Holy Spirit as they worshipped, prayed and fasted, the church set apart two of their most able, useful, influential and much loved leaders to a new work. This was not easy, these men still could have been very useful to the work in Antioch. They sent away two beloved pastor-teachers for the benefit of others and the glory of Christ. This became known as the first of the apostle Paul’s missionary journeys, through which many came to Christ and churches were planted throughout the Roman empire.

May the Lord help us, as individuals, families and churches, express the same selfless spirit in our lives and ministries today! And may the Lord use us to bear much fruit to His glory!

I’m Wrong (Chris Spark)

We’re both right.

That’s something an old friend and I used to say to each other in our teen years (I think the credit should go to him for originally coining it, but I could be wrong…). It was most likely usually used in the course of discussion of things like science fiction, music, and teenaged philosophy – not uncommonly in the potato and pumpkin fields of North Canterbury as we earned money to buy guitars and cymbals. We used ‘we’re both right’ when we differed on something and wanted to end the discussion happily. And we used it partially in jest.

But there is something profound in it I think. Not that we were profound (our discussions sometimes got very interesting, but ‘profound’ may be overreaching!). The profundity is in what it revealed about us that is common to so many of us. We didn’t like being wrong. When we held views, or made arguments, for two opinions that were clearly different, and wouldn’t fit together, we found it easy to say we were ‘both right’ than to admit one of us was wrong. Even if it was a case of saying one of us must be wrong, even if we weren’t sure which – it was still easier to say ‘we’re both right’.

Being wrong is really, really difficult. Actually, that is not quite right. Being wrong is easy. Admitting you are wrong, that is another kettle of fish. That is hard. One of New Zealand’s finest singer songwriter talents, Bic Runga, had a song on her first album called ‘Sorry’ with a line that went ‘it’s not that hard to say, so why can’t I say it now?’ The answer of course is that to say sorry is to admit I’ve been in the wrong. And to admit I’m wrong in that or any other way is just hard.

Should it be so hard? We are wrong all the time about a million things. And we so often claim to be happy to be corrected, to be happy to be shown to be wrong, to ‘hope I’m wrong’. Occasionally some of us manage to say ‘I was wrong’ – in the past tense. That is still hard enough, and rare enough. But it is a little safer, because that was the old me. I was wrong (but I’m right now).

But when it comes to actually being wrong now – acknowledging we are wrong, admitting it, and changing – it is hard. Because to be wrong feels like it is to question our value. To undermine the justification for our existence.

That is where Christianity is really hard. It can be hard in lots of ways for people to accept. But among the most universally difficult is this – to be Christian is to say ‘I’m wrong’. And not just in one area, or about one theory, or on one occasion. Rather, to become a Christian is to say, at the most fundamental level, I am wrong. As Jesus puts it, our hearts are wrong (Mark 7:20-23). As the Apostle Paul puts it, our rejection of God makes us thoroughly wrong and in big trouble (Romans 1-3). And that’s why, at the heart of the start of being a Christian, and essential to the continuation of being a Christian, is repentance – turning around, because you are continually admitting you are wrong.

“8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8-9

If we confess our sins. In other words, if we say we are wrong. There is the real rub.

But there is the real freedom, too. To be able to admit we are wrong, and to know that at the same time we are justified. It’s not about being right anymore. Rather, as Paul puts it in that discussion of our wrong-ness: it’s about this: “Let God be true, and every human being a liar” Romans 3:4

It’s about us all admitting we are wrong. All of us. Each of us – including me, including you. On a level playing field of wrong-ness. And, having been freed from needing to justify our existence by being right, we can get on with really living. Because it is Christ’s right-ness that justifies us, not our own.

For those of us who are Christian teachers and preachers and pastors, I suggest this means we need to help our people get better at being wrong. Because they are anyway, whether they admit it or not. And perhaps the first way to help them admit they are wrong is to show them how. We can own up to being wrong, We can express the freedom of God’s justification in Christ by admitting the areas and ways we are wrong, rather than passionately holding on to our right-ness and defending ourselves all the time.

We are not both right. We are all wrong. I’m most certainly wrong. And Jesus is right enough for the lot of us.