Friday, December 24, 2010

A, Christmas Day - Titus 2:11-14 "Goodwill & Favour"

In these days many are having a wet or white Christmas. And with this comes separation from where they might want to be. In parts of the world you can bet there will be people who can’t be where they want to be, and with it comes sadness, frustration, and perhaps even anger. Even with climactic chaos, there will be folk who seek to blame someone else for their inability to be where they want to be.

Christmas exposes inner belief! Is it about the right to be with family, the demand to control the climate to satisfy the desires of the self, or the requirement to have things just the way we think they should be?

These things are close to what they should be but the motivation the wells up from with us moves us away from what God wants for us. Yes! We do have a right to be with family, we should desire a climate of peace and joy, and there is a necessity for things to be a certain way.

Saint Paul explains, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-14)

Every person on this earth has a right to desire the grace of God; but not because they have earned it. It’s not a case of being good because Santa’s coming to town. In fact, it’s nothing like it. Nevertheless, we can expect grace because God promises it, because the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. Calling all into the family of God!

But what is this grace all people can expect? It’s God’s generosity, his loving kindness, his mercy, his gift to you and me, his goodwill and favour, his acceptance, and his pleasure despite what we do and think exposing us for who we really are.

So who are we? We are people who need salvation. We need a Saviour because in reality Santa’s never coming to town if it is on account of us. We need a Saviour because of sin – my sin and your sin; the sin of all people. Grace is offered to all people because all people need it to be saved from sin and death.

In these days do many of us seek out the appearance of grace? Do we seek the Saviour? We all seek a saviour but is it one in which we wait for our blessed hope, the appearing again of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ?

Just imagine if Jesus appeared in all his glory right now, and said enough is enough, it’s time to take you out of all this. Most of us would be stunned at the change of plans. Hang on, I hoped to go home and have lunch, or go on holidays, or unwrap a few presents. In these days many of us hope in anything but the appearance of our blessed hope, our Saviour Jesus Christ.

But yet he comes into the lawlessness of this world — your heart — and implants salvation. Every time you hear the Christmas story, every time you see a manger in the shop window, every time you hear the proclamation of salvation in the carols, and most of all when you hear the word of God.

This word of salvation which comes to humanity, to you and me by the power of the Holy Spirit, trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled upright and godly lives in this present age. And this word of salvation has to because we’re ungodly towards God, and seek favour and goodwill for ourselves at other’s expense. We are passionate for what’s in the world rather than he who has made it and seeks to redeem it for himself.

Nevertheless, God still seeks to purify for himself a people as his own possession, he seeks to save; to bless and keep, and let his face shine upon those who receive and abide in his graciousness. The Lord of love and grace wants nothing more than to look upon you with favour and goodwill, so you live in peace — purified — despite whatever worldly strife seeks to disrupt you.

As we wait, frequently repenting from our impurity, turning towards our blessed hope, imagine what it will be like when we see the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.

We have heard how the glory of God shone around the shepherds the first time when Jesus Christ dwelt with unclean, lawless, and ungodly people on earth. Picture what it will be like when he returns to purify those who believe they need a Saviour, to those who long and trust God to cleanse them of their sinful passions forever.

Unlike the shepherds who were unclean but privileged to see and hear the glory of God in the field and in the manger, we will be glorified, purified, having received the full measure of what our faith has hoped for. We will shine with Christ, greater than the angelic hosts of heaven. We will be glorified children of God for all eternity.

Do you want this? I want it! No more uncertainty that comes from my heart. No more conflict rising out of an over-abundance of my passion and from others misunderstanding it. No more pressures of time, there will be timeless eternity to be in awe of God and his glory. No more tiredness, no more pain, no more dishonesty, no more superficiality, everything will be real, everyone will be trustworthy. Do you want this? I want it, because here in this world I continually lose sight of the glorified child of God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, have made and are continually making me to be.

The God of love; the true Father of Christmas, and his Son Jesus Christ, together with the Holy Spirit, want this eternal reality for you too. Amen.

Heavenly Father, lead us from the temptation to believe your kingdom is not coming to us. But move us to believe and receive the true gift of Christmas into our hearts, your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A, Advent 4 - Isaiah 7:10-16 "The Rejection of Immanuel"

There are many quotes out there about history. Perhaps you’ve heard some of them.

Such as the anonymous quote, “History repeats itself because no one was listening the first time.

Or from Karl Marx, the father of socialism, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.

And from last century the Irish writer George Bernard Shaw, “If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must man be of learning from experience.

These all hold certain elements of truth. When history repeats itself it demonstrates the foolishness of humanity, because we neither remember nor learn from what has happened in the past. When an event tragically repeats itself, so often we react in complete surprise at the occurrence unfolded before us.

Perhaps if we could hear and see those who’ve been before us we’d be laughed at and lamented over as a joke, for our inability to listen, our incapability to learn, and we’d be humiliated and embarrassed by our ridiculous repetitious behaviour.

Isaiah the prophet of the Lord is sent to Ahaz, the king of Judah, to encourage him to place his trust in the Lord, for the Lord was with them. In fact, recent history in Judah had been quite positive in reflecting God was indeed with them, in that the kings leading up to Ahaz had done mostly what was right in the eyes of the Lord.

Since the death of Elisha, about one hundred years before, the southern kingdom of Judah had kings who upheld temple worship. Over the border in Israel (aka Ephraim), the northern kingdom was in complete disarray. Their kings had led the people further and further away from God.

The northern kingdom had separated itself from the southern kingdom, Jerusalem, and therefore the temple of the Lord. And so in Samaria, Israel’s capital, the north continually committed evil practices and worshipped other gods as a result of excommunicating themselves from God’s presence in Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem the southern kingdom of Judah still had access to God in the temple. And although the kings did right in the eyes of the Lord, many of the Judeans were still applying themselves to pagan worship, at certain high places and spreading trees which the kings had not destroy. However, because the kings preserved the ways of God, Judah lived under God’s favour, despite the many bad practices of the people.

Then Ahaz came to power as king of Judah in the southern kingdom. In one sense he didn’t repeat the recent history of Judean kings; instead he committed evil in the eyes of God. In fact, he was repeating the immediate history of the north; their wayward brothers in Israel. His evil practices had not been seen amongst the kings of Judah since the time of Elisha the prophet, a century before.

King Ahaz grieved God and tested his patience. Worshipping Molech and Chemosh, whom demanded child sacrifice, Ahaz burned his son as an offering to these gods of Moab and Ammon. He also joined his subjects in making sacrifices on altars at high places, hill tops, and under spreading trees.

So when Israel joined forces with Syria to attack Judah, God sent Isaiah to King Ahaz after he and the people were shaken at the thought of being attacked. Isaiah tells him, “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smouldering stumps of firebrands.” (Isaiah 7:4 ESV)

These two smouldering stumps were Syria and Ephraim (aka Israel), and Isaiah goes on to deliver God’s word to Ahaz, “It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass. For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin. And within sixty-five years Ephraim will be shattered from being a people. And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.” (Isaiah 7:7–9 ESV)

Through Isaiah, God was giving Ahaz and Judah, the history before it happened. And in doing so God was calling Ahaz and Judah to return to the faithfulness of those righteous kings before him. If they were not firm in faith, they would not be firm at all. Instead they would be shattered as Israel was soon to be!

But things in Judah continued to go from bad to worse. Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? (Isaiah 7:10–13 ESV)

The Lord promised to give a sign of his faithfulness to Ahaz, but Ahaz rejects it. And in claiming he didn’t want to test the Lord, in fact, put God to the test, grieved him of his glory, and treated God as impotent in dealing with the attacking Syrians and Israelites from the north.

We are told in second Kings Chapter sixteen Ahaz sought an alliance with the Assyrians rather than trust in God. When Israel and Syria had besieged Jerusalem, Ahaz sent word to the Assyrian king and placed himself in submission to him. He sent silver and gold from the temple as a gift to the Assyrian leader. And on receiving Ahaz’s plea and gift, Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, marched on Syria’s capital, Damascus, and took it captive.

After the defeat of Damascus, the Syrian Israelite siege of Jerusalem disintegrated, and we can listen to what happens next from Second Kings…

When King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, he saw the altar that was at Damascus. And King Ahaz sent to Uriah the priest a model of the altar, and its pattern, exact in all its details. And Uriah the priest built the altar; in accordance with all that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus, so Uriah the priest made it, before King Ahaz arrived from Damascus. (2 Kings 16:10–11 ESV)

After Ahaz arrived back in Jerusalem, he began to change the structure of the temple to accommodate the Assyrian worship he had observed while in Damascus. He placed the replica altar Uriah had built in the temple and moved the sanctioned bronze altar aside, as well as removed other sacred items placed in the temple at God’s command.

In doing these things Ahaz was rejecting God and years of sound worship in the place God had set aside through Moses, King David, and others faithful to the Law of God.

History was certainly repeating itself in Ahaz’s rebellion against God. He led the nation of Judah into the same sins as Israel; sins that had been absent from the king’s palace in Judah for over a century.

What was to happen to Judah, to King Ahaz, and the Judean-Assyrian alliance after the defeat of Israel and Syria? This is what Isaiah prophesied on behalf of the Lord…

The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim (Israel) departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.” In that day the Lord will whistle for the fly that is at the end of the streams of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria. And they will all come and settle in the steep ravines, and in the clefts of the rocks, and on all the thornbushes, and on all the pastures. In that day the Lord will shave with a razor that is hired beyond the River—with the king of Assyria—the head and the hair of the feet, and it will sweep away the beard also. (Isaiah 7:17–20 ESV)

God was going to give Ahaz what he sought – the king of Assyria. Judah would become the battle ground between the Assyrians and the Egyptians, who would swarm over every part of the land like bees and flies. And as a result Judah would be shaved and left as a bare wasteland.

If only Ahaz had returned to the Lord and not relied on Assyria. If only he had listened to God who promised to be with Judah. If only Ahaz was firm in faith and followed the Heavenly Father.

But Ahaz who had wearied his own people by his disregard for the sanctity of life in the death of his own son, was to also weary God by not holding fast to the sanctity of God’s promise in his word. A holy word that would be a sign as deep as the greatest depths of Sheol and even as high as heaven itself! A word from God through Isaiah who said…

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. (Isaiah 7:14–16 ESV)

Not long after, the Assyrians not only defeated Syria and Damascus, they also overran Ephraim and carted the Israelites into exile. As God had promised, the two kings were overcome and their land was deserted.

Yet a greater Immanuel was still to come. Not just a child born with a name as a sign to Judah in the days of Isaiah; but rather a child who was indeed Immanuel – God with us! But first Judah went the way of Israel and they lost their land to the Babylonians and were taken into exile too.

We hear this recount from God’s word today as a constant appeal from God that he is our Immanuel; he is God with us! Every year history repeats itself in our remembrance of Christmas, so in faith we might grab hold of the true gift that Jesus Christ is our God with us!

We hear of the moment in history where Jesus was born to a virgin, to be your God with you. This is a piece of history well worth listening to, hearing, and absorbing. This is a piece of history that saw Jesus on the cross, which some see as a tragedy, and others see as a farce, but we see as our salvation from the very sin that sees history repeating itself.

We can also learn from the history of Ahaz, Judah and Israel’s constant repetition of sin against God, that we indeed are incapable of learning from experience, as George Bernard Shaw said last century. And therefore turn to God who is with us not only as Father, and Son, but as Holy Spirit too. And the Holy Spirit, coming to us from the Father and the Son, is faithfully more powerful at returning us to Christ and his forgiveness than our own human spirit.

In these days of struggle, let the Spirit return you to the Christ child; let Jesus daily save you, from yourself, from temptation, and from all evil. Let him be your daily bread so his will is your will, and you yearn not for this land but for the fruit of faith; peace, hope, joy, and love. Be firm in this faith and you will be firm forever! Amen.

Let us pray… O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin, and enter in: be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Immanuel! Amen.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A, Advent 3 - Matthew 11:2-11; James 5:7-10 "What do you hear & see?"

Jesus says John the Baptist was the greatest prophet. A prophet amongst the Hebrews was a seer; one who was given the gift of discernment and revelation of what was to come. All the prophets looked forward to the coming of a messiah; an anointed one who would lead the Israelites as did King David, but even greater than him.

John was the greatest of the prophets because the one he prophesied about had arrived. John not only received the spoken word of prophecy from God, he saw with his very own eyes the one whom all prophets spoke, the Word made Flesh, baptised by his very hand, to fulfil all righteousness of God.

John was the greatest prophet, the greatest seer! Yet in prison he sent word to Jesus through his disciples and asked, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3 ESV) Not even the greatest of the seers saw or understood how Jesus was to be the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29) And so although John was the greatest, he was the least in the kingdom of heaven.

Why is this so? Who then is greater in the kingdom? The one who sees and looks for no other than the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! The one who is least, who knows their weakness, and allows the Lamb of God to take away their sin, is greater in the kingdom of heaven!

The question for us this Advent is the question Jesus asks the people after John’s disciples leave. The question is this: What do you hear and see? What do you look for?

What do you look for in the church? What do you seek in this congregation of people? What do you hear now that Christ has come into the world, and put righteousness right through his death and resurrection, and sends the Holy Spirit to continually draw all to him through the light of his Word? What do you look for in those sent to point you back to Christ and his Word?

It’s obvious that what most look for in the church these days is not what Christ would have us look for.

Some seek a social club. Where everyone seems nice; well, superficially anyway! A place for a weekly chat, as long as no one talks about “Jesus”! Oh, except the pastor of course! We’ll put up with him speaking about “Jesus”, as long as it’s not too long or too confronting!

Some seek a place of entertainment; and if their fancies aren’t tickled, they lose interest in coming.

Some seek to do the right thing; out of duty and responsibility they hear and learn not out of joy and love for the Lord but because they think they have to, to be a good Christian.

Some come looking for cheap grace; a get out of jail free card, as it were. They want the salvation but they don’t want the Saviour doing anything in them or through them, which might make life a bit uncomfortable.

Some come with expectations in everyone else, rather than in Jesus Christ and what he can do. They come expecting Jesus fix others, but not them.

Some even look to the pastor to fix everything. “The pastor, he’ll magically turn up with his family and all the other families will return. He’ll fix all the faults with everyone else. He’ll be able to do it because he’s meant to.”

But on his family’s arrival, hopes are dashed because he has just as many faults and foibles as everyone else. And he keeps banging on about the love of God, letting God be God within, faith, endurance, sin and the forgiveness of it, fellowship and the family of God. “Being” as opposed to “doing”, and so on! Some are disappointed and even offended hearing the same old, same old!

When we seek something other than what God wants to give us, coming to church suddenly seems to lose importance and relevance in our lives. Not hearing and seeing what we want, other things soon seem to find their way to the top of the list.

Family, fun, the farm, future success, and one’s financial situation become so important that time for God plummets in value. God without worth gives way to neglect for his Word, and the preaching of it, as people lose sight of what it is they could be receiving if they only would gladly hear and learn his Word.

For sure there are great pressures on our lives today. No one will argue with that. But the sickness of our western society, which floods the hearts of those in God’s church, is leading more and more away from God and his kingdom in search of short-lived appeasement. And in the process the problem which existed and caused the falling away from God in the first place is only exacerbated.

The sign of this is a fractured community sad and sorry for itself. Each person for themselves spiralling down in despair! Sadder is seeing such things happen in the church. The community of God finds it harder and harder to exist, as hearts turn away from faith in God towards this “every man for himself” attitude.

Right here today no one wants to serve each other out of love for Christ. Some do only because no else will, but it’s done out of duty and drudgery, and not out of overwhelming joy at the eternal inheritance and victory we have in Jesus Christ. No, Jesus and eternal joy don’t have relevance for those seeking satisfaction in themselves today!

But then the excuses come! Times are tough! It’s too wet, it’s too dry, and it’s too much of a commitment! Time! There’s never enough time — time for others, or time for God. One wonders when things really begin to get rough, what the excuse will be. They’ve all been used up today! People are excommunicating themselves from God’s Word over such trivial things, what will happen when we’re truly persecuted for righteousness’ sake? Will you only then allow Christ to shine his light from you?

What do you hear, what do you look for? God looks for a change of heart within you! To repent and lay your sin at the foot of the cross! There will be tougher times yet. Without a continual, daily change of heart, that comes from allowing Christ to work his salvation in you, there’s not a chance any one will be there enduring till the end.

When we look to Christ, and hear the mystery of our salvation, we allow the light of God to ember within us. The Holy Spirit flourishes faith from these embers of God’s Word, and it helps us just as Jesus helped many as he walking to the cross.

We are weak. The strongest amongst us in our church and local communities might be seen the most parading their ability, but they are the weakest of all. But those of us who are ready to admit to our weaknesses, can stand in the strength and joy of the Lord. In weakness you can be strong in Jesus Christ. You who are the least in the kingdom of God are the greatest in Jesus Christ.

What is your weakness? Are you blind? Are you lame? Are you a leper? Are you deaf? Are you poor? Or are you just straight out dead? If you can hear and see that you are, there is hope for you? If you can’t, pray to God that he shows you who you are!

Jesus wills you to hear and see that in him… the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me. (Matthew 11:5–6 ESV)

What do you see and hear? I pray you are blessed by Jesus’ word and not offended.

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. (James 5:7–10 ESV)

Like the last prophet, John the Baptist, be a seer, be greater than John. See the Christ child in you; hear his promises in the Word, and hear of his faithfulness towards you! Take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

Be patient and endure in you weakness, continually turning to and trusting Jesus, and allow all glory be his.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10–12 ESV)

Go and tell what you hear and see! Amen.

Friday, December 03, 2010

A, Advent 2 - Isaiah 11:1-5, Matthew 3:4-12 "The Black Stump"

There’s an old black stump. Where it is, nobody’s sure! Are you this side of the black stump, or is there a place where we pass it by and go way out past the black stump? There’s an old black stump that’s hard to find, so how does one know when they’re on the right side of the black stump?

This stump blackened from fiery assault, stands as a marker, remembered in the hearts of those whose travels are tiring and sometimes treacherous. The stump appears to be lifeless, yet from within its darkened timbers a shoot has emerged, promising life, a gift of shade to weary travellers, towering up as it did once before, higher and more majestic than even the cedars of Lebanon.

Against its blackened surrounds this green shoot is life, sooty darkness and choking dust cannot darken its freshness and all who pass by live in hope of one day dwelling in its promising shade.

However, there are other trees nearby. They too are sooty and dark, standing proud in the wake of the stump’s fiery trials. They have suckered from the stump; parasites seeking to suck the life out of their host, but appearing as if they have their own roots in a river of life.

They produce fruit, it looks pleasing to the eye, but below the skin it’s rancid and rotten to the core.

Nevertheless, the old black stump sustains the green shoot. It grows out of the stump into a beautiful tree. All who pass by seek rest and shelter under its branches. And the parasite trees don’t like it one bit. No amount of acidic rotten pesticide spat from the parasite trees can kill the shoot which has grown up out of the root.

Someone enquired as to why the black stump, became a stump in the first place. Such a large stump would have been a big majestic tree in ages past! But the reply came; it was cut down because it became rotten. It no longer sought the sap from its root source, and began to die.

Those travelling by cut it down because it was feared it would fall to its death and kill others around it. So it got the axe and what was useful was carted away and the rotten section was burned in the fire.

A reminder of its former glory stands as a blackened stump, but the reality of its diseased former limbs now lives in its blackened state and in the parasite trees scattered nearby.

Although the stump’s former foliage was fraught with failure, the green shoot shows no sign of sickness. It’s strong and healthy, there’s no wilt in its leaves, and its greenness is greater than a verdant vibrant spring.

It’s seems such a shame this beautiful new shoot which has grown into a magnificent tree is to be cut down yet again. Why this had to be done is sad, but it’s completely necessary that one tree falls in the forest for the sake of the rest.

For the sapling on the back stump had to suck up the sap that caused the former tree to start dying! The black stump is saving the parasites; it has become the succour for the suckers, it is helping those who hope to hurt it.

The tree was cut down, but its timber still gives life. Now others outside the forest are grafted into the black stump, growing into trees that give glory to the old black stump, drawing others into its shade offering a place where they too might be grafted in. These are the precious fruit the stump now produces in those who have been grafted in.

This black stump is also known as the tree of righteousness, the tree of faithfulness. This family tree is written down forever, bearing the fruit of peace, joy, and love. And even now those being grafted in live in faith and look forward in hope when peace, joy, and love will be the norm. This black stump is the tree of life.

There’s an old black stump! One mightn’t be able to say where one can go to physically look at it, but all know when they’ve been brought to the black stump, in which they receive righteousness, faithfulness, and life.

Do you trust in the life of righteousness and faithfulness you're receiving from the shoot which has shot up from black stump? Do you allow yourself to be daily grafted into the stump that gives life, producing the fruits in keeping with repentance? Or are you a sucker seeking to save yourself?

Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptised by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 3:4–10 ESV)

Just as Jesus came to the Jordan, he is coming again. Still today the axe is at the root of the trees. Are you allowing the root of evil to be chopped out of you, so it can be immersed in the fire of the cross? Or will you be one who is completely cut down and thrown into the fire on the last day?

John the Baptist tells those who only seek to be parasites, “I baptise you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:11–12 ESV)

You see the chaff in us has been burnt with unquenchable fire, when we allow ourselves to remain grafted into the black stump of righteousness, and faithfulness. This black stump is the place of endurance and encouragement, and the life giving sap is the Word of God. And in the Word we receive the Word made flesh – Jesus Christ.

When Jesus was baptised by John, he was the green shoot growing out of the stump of righteousness and faithfulness, but this green shoot of life grew knowing he was to be cut down, lifted up, and nailed to a tree, to the cross.

Jesus Christ is our shoot from the black stump of whom Isaiah prophesied, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.” (Isaiah 11:1–5 ESV)

Therefore, full of the Holy Spirit, he faithfully underwent a baptism of fire and death, descending into hell with our load of parasitic sins, and they were burnt in the fire. But only when we allow the Holy Spirit to keep us buried in Christ, through baptism. We are now grafted into the Black Stump of Righteousness and Faithfulness, so the Spirit can raise us up and grow in us the fruits of repentance. We now live, not with the fire of wrath hanging over our heads, but with the fire of Pentecostal faith and hope.

This faith and hope allows Christ who has been raised in power over death to daily clean out the chaff that clutters our lives so we might one day be gathered around the eternal tree of life.

On this matter Paul says in Romans 11 …if the root is holy, so are the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. (Romans 11:16b–22 ESV)

So let us stand as one, enduring and encouraging one another with the Word of Life through whom we are grafted into the one Black Stump. He is pruning off the old sinful nature, saving us from the eternal fire, and growing us into eternal life. Amen.