The Parables of Jesus - iv. A Father and Two Sons

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Luke 15:11-32

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Everyone loves a story and Jesus is a master storyteller.  Indeed, the parable of the Prodigal Son is perhaps the greatest story ever told, without parallel in its dramatic effect.  Its vivid storyline and riveting intrigue make it hard to forget as the listener is disarmed and persuaded, caught unawares as the habits of one’s heart are exposed and challenged. 

Jesus captured the imagination in an oral culture where many of his listeners could not read and had to rely on memorization in order to learn, hence the brief storyline: home, sick of home, homesick, home! with dramatic twists and turns in-between.

The Parables of Jesus - iii. The Kingdom of Heaven: Priceless

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Matthew 13:44-52

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The parables of Jesus have rightly been described as Pictures of Revolution.  The message of the Kingdom of God is indeed revolutionary, unlike any human revolution promising Utopia and freedom, only to oppress those who stand in the way.  Jesus was a revolutionary far more radical than those who endeavoured to change society through force.  His method was one of persuasion through parables ticking away like a time bomb with explosive results.  His ‘stories of intent’ were designed to disarm his opponents on the one hand, and reveal the true nature of discipleship and radical repentance on the other.  The parables simultaneously conceal and reveal, exposing the habits of his hearers’ and readers’ hearts.

The Parables of Jesus - ii. Seeds, Weeds and Explosive Growth

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Matthew 13:24-43

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Jesus continues to tell three parables about the Kingdom of God: the wheat and the weeds with an explanation to follow, the mustard seed and yeast.  Whether Jesus told these parables in this precise order is a moot point.  Matthew writes to a predominantly Jewish order and he collates his material accordingly to stress the primacy of the Kingdom in Jesus’ teaching. 

The Kingdom cannot be equated with the church, a mistake Augustine made in his interpretation which led to very grave consequences.  The church in the Middle Ages became a coercive agency, relying on power and control.  Constantine, the first ‘Christian’ emperor of the Roman Empire established a state church.  He is reputed to have offered defeated opponents in war a choice, be baptised or be drowned!  Little wonder that the church became a compromised body with nominal allegiance by many.  The Crusades in attempting to impose Christianity by force on Islam had disastrous consequences, compounded by Islam’s equating the gospel with western culture.

The Parables of Jesus - i. How do we hear?

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Matthew 13:1-23

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Jesus was a masterful teacher who captured the imagination of his hearers through the use of parables, described as stories with a sting in the tale, striking home unawares.  Filled with everyday illustrations, the surface meaning hides a sucker punch.  Whilst not unique to Jesus, parables in his hands have coined universal phrases like ‘turning the other cheek’, ‘going the extra mile’ and ‘being a Good Samaritan’ to name but a few.

 Context is vital to the right understanding of a story, not least a parable.  It may well have a disturbing, cutting edge especially if conflict and confrontation is in the air.  In this context Jesus’ enemies accuse him of being in league with Satan, and his immediate family are concerned about his mental state.  So faced with direct opposition on the one hand and familiarity bordering on contempt on the other, Jesus tells the Parable of the Sower.

Malachi Then and Now - God's Unchanging Love v. Preparing for the Great Day

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Malachi 2:17-3:5


Malachi doesn’t pull his punches.  He tells the people of his day, “You have wearied the Lord with your words”.  Their warped concept of justice sees them accuse God of inconsistency at best, deceit at worst.  Because they doubt the love of God, the Israelites resort to keeping up religious appearances, devoid of reality, simply going through the motions.  They place God in the dock and ironically blame him for their present state of despair and futility.  They refuse to accept responsibility and simply desire to save face, not unlike the role players involved in the explosion at Chernobyl nuclear power station in northern Ukraine in April 1986.  It was the height of the cold war and the Soviets were determined to preserve their perceived scientific superiority over the West.  However, cutting costs and high-handed authority led to the disaster that affected multiple thousands of innocent people.  The recent docu-drama ‘Chernobyl’ depicts a brave Russian nuclear scientist hold the state accountable with his chilling words “Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth.  Sooner or later that debt is paid”. 

Pentecost Sunday - The Holy Spirit for Today

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Acts 2:1-13


“Wherever one looks in the church today, there is an evident need for a deeper work of the Holy Spirit.”  Those prophetic words written some forty years ago by John Stott are even more pressing today.  The church in the West is tolerated but hardly embraced by a society which is pluralist and permissive.  The church in the majority world is growing rapidly but, more often than not, it is marred by shallow teaching and factions not to mention the cult of personality and the so-called ‘health and wealth’ gospel which by-passes the cross and flatters only to deceive.

Malachi Then and Now - God's Unchanging Love iii. Mouthpiece for God

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Malachi 2:1-9


“The eye is the window of the soul” is a familiar saying.  However, Malachi addressing the priests of his day argues that the mouth is the window of the soul.  Jesus echoes this sentiment, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matt 12:34).  Malachi took the priests to task for failing to fulfil their primary calling, viz. faithful teaching of God’s Word. 

 The novelist John Updike, no friend of the gospel, in his novel Run Rabbit describes a young minister Rev Eccles, “With his white collar he forges God’s name in every sentence he speaks...  He steals belief from the children he is supposed to be teaching.  He commits fraud with every schooled cadence of the liturgy.”  John Updike may well have taken his words straight from Malachi 2400 years ago.  Malachi sounds strident and harsh to our modern ears.  We prefer a kinder, gentler faith.  But extreme times require extreme measures.  The priests looked the part.  They wore the right vestments.  They recited prayers.  But they were lifeless.  Platitudes devoid of passion.  They bent the truth and corrupted their ministry.

Malachi Then and Now - God's Unchanging Love ii. A Call to be Real

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Malachi 1:6-14


Malachi holds the priests responsible for the spiritual malaise of Israel.  Well might he add, in a contemporary context ‘as the pulpit, so the pew’.  Three means of revelation saw the priests responsible for Worship, the prophet for the Word from God, and the sage for Wisdom.  Worship, Word and Wisdom maintained the religious ethos of Israel, and all three areas, particularly worship were in a parlous state with devastating consequences for the nation as a whole.

 Integral to Israel’s worship was the sacrificial system both mandatory (the sin and trespass offering) and voluntary (the grain, drink and peace offering).  The sacrifices in the Old Testament pointed forward to the perfect and final sacrifice of Christ.  As such they had to be unblemished and perfect.  However, the priests colluded with the people in presenting second-rate sacrifices, an insult to God which defiled worship.

Malachi Then and Now - God's Unchanging Love i. A Call to Respond to God's Love

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Malachi 1:1-5

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Cynicism is devastating.  The default mode of despair and disillusioned people, it robs one of enthusiasm, commitment and energy.  This was the situation confronting Malachi.  Circumstances, opposition and adversity had all but destroyed Israel’s assurance of God’s presence and provision.  Their homeland had been devastated by the Babylonian invasion, the temple destroyed and most of the population had been exiled.  And now through Persian intervention, the people were beginning to return.  The temple had been rebuilt under Haggai but the city walls remained a ruin.  Even more galling, their neighbour Edom, descendants of Esau, had escaped unscathed.  They had prospered whilst Israel suffered.  The fact that Esau had cheated Jacob of their father Isaac’s blessing added insult to injury.

Risen Indeed!

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Luke 24:1-12

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In the days before television, a radio programme ‘Consider Your Verdict’ fascinated me.  The listener was required to evaluate evidence presented and whether one’s verdict coincided with that of the court.  It made for entertaining ‘theatre of the mind’.  The evidence for the resurrection transcends the realm of entertainment.  It demands a verdict.  “The message of Easter is either the supreme fact in history or else a gigantic hoax” argues Prof J.N.D Anderson.  It is literally a matter of life and death not just a comforting story.  The Apostle Paul put it this way: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.  More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God.” (1 Cor 15:14,15)

Hebrews for Today: The Majestic Jesus - xi. Christ our Sanctuary

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Hebrews 9:1-28

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The writer of the Hebrews depicts Jesus resplendent in majestic glory.  He attempts to describe the indescribable.  No visual image will suffice.  This presents a creative challenge for us today.  One social critic has described our contemporary world as having shifted from the Age of Exposition in which the written world prevailed to the Age of Entertainment in which image trumps words.  Lines have been blurred.  Confusion parades as creativity.  Comprehensive descriptions of reality are regarded as suspect.  Our postmodern world has come of age in which a multiplicity of ‘truths’ (small t) have replaced ‘Truth’ (capital T) reminiscent of Pontius Pilate who asked ‘What is truth’ and did not wait for an answer.

 That notwithstanding, Hebrews is quite content to describe Jesus as God’s final word. (Heb 1:1,2).  Various metaphors are used – Jesus as high priest, an anchor for the soul, the guarantor of a new covenant, culminating in Jesus as our Sanctuary, the one who offers forgiveness and a clear conscience.  “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death so that we may serve the living God” (v14).


Hebrews for Today: The Majestic Jesus - x. The Matchless Christ

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Hebrews 8:1-11

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Recently the State President exhorted us to view South Africa, with all its present challenges and opportunities from the perspective of a glass half full rather than a glass half empty.  He offered the country hope based upon a social contract between government and people.  The writer of Hebrews, in contrast, offers hope not by way of a social contract, but a covenant based upon the promise of God.  In light of this perhaps we need to ask ourselves what hope is not.  Hope is not based on the ‘power of positive thinking’ as Norman Vincent Peale advocated.  Hope is not a pious Pollyanna wishing things would get better.  Hope according to Hebrews is choosing to believe and trust when everything around me and within me suggests that it is foolish to do so.  Hope is not simply human aspiration, rather taking hold of the presence and power of God in the midst of human frailty. 

Hebrews for Today: The Majestic Jesus - ix. The Sufficiency of Christ

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Hebrews 7:11-28

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We live in an age when language is used quite loosely.  Words like great, wonderful, brilliant, awesome abound.  The problem is when we use superlatives to describe the routine and ordinary, language like currency loses its value.  This was the issue faced by the writer of the Easter hymn “O sacred head how wounded”.  He asks, “What language shall I borrow to praise you dearest Friend?”  it is a remarkable question, which deserves close attention and which the writer of Hebrews attempts to answer in the passage before us. 

Jesus is indeed unique, one of a kind, the God-man.  He sets the Christian faith apart from any other religion.  He is the one who seeks, searches and saves.  And having done that, he is the one who prays continually for us.  The writer of Hebrews is quite justified to use superlative language to describe Jesus who “truly meets our need – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart, exalted above the heavens” (v26).

Hebrews for Today: The Majestic Jesus - viii. An Anchor for the Soul

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Hebrews 6:13-20

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The writer of Hebrews is an astute pastor concerned about the spiritual well-being of his readers.  He uses sound biblical theology to encourage them, some of whom were tempted to abandon their faith as part of a beleaguered Christian community and revert to the relative safety of organised religion recognized by the Roman state such as Judaism or a variety of mystery religions.  Having written about the snare of drifting and the danger of hard hearts, he exhorts his readers to experience Christ who offers “hope as an anchor for the soul” (v19a), as an antidote to despair and discouragement in the midst of difficulty and hardship. 

Jesus as our high priest who has “entered the heavens” is not simply a “go between”, representing humanity before the divine; he has pioneered the way into the Father’s presence through his sacrificial death and resurrection.  This assurance is the bedrock of faith on which we withstand temptation and the assaults of the devil.  The resources to do so are not found within ourselves as we look inward, but outside of ourselves as we look to Christ.

Hebrews for Today: The Majestic Jesus - vii. Our Great High Priest

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Hebrews 4:14-5:10

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The word ‘better’ occurs some seventeen times in the New Testament, thirteen of which occur in Hebrews alone.  Whilst in one sense the majestic Jesus is incomparable being the unique Son of God, God through him “planned something better for us” (11:40).  The passage before us describes Jesus as a better high priest.  The writer draws on the history of Israel in the wilderness and the role of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement offering sacrifices on behalf of the people and himself in the Tabernacle.

 The focus is not simply on the person and work of Jesus on earth, the empty cross and the resurrection, but the ongoing work of Jesus as high priest, having passed through the heavens as the human high priest passed through the curtain in the Tabernacle into the holy of holies to make atonement for sin.  This is the main point of the passage, indeed the whole of the book: Jesus’ ongoing work presenting the fruit of his sacrifice before the Father and interceding for his people on earth.

Hebrews for Today: The Majestic Jesus - vi. Entering God's Rest

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Hebrews 4:1-13

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The writer of Hebrews often uses the word ‘better’ to describe Jesus.  In one sense Jesus is incomparable.  He is unique: the majestic Christ supreme over everyone and everything.  However, in terms of salvation history Jesus is indeed ‘better’: better than angels, Moses, Joshua, a better high priest sacrifice, and rest to name but a few.

 And now the writer invites us to reflect on our relationship with Jesus in what has been described as ‘one of the most fascinating, enigmatic and tightly argued sections of Hebrews’.  The Israelites of old failed to enter God’s rest through unbelief and disobedience.  However, rest is more than a metaphor for the Promised Land.  The inclination to enter God’s rest still stands millennia after that event.

Hebrews for Today: The Majestic Jesus - v. The Danger of Hard Hearts

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Hebrews 3:7-19

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The writer exhorts his readers (and us) to attend to one’s heart.  Having warned about the danger of drifting in chap 2, he now addresses the matter of hard hearts by way of examples from Israel’s history.  He uses the familiar synagogue call to worship from Psalm 95 “Today if you hear his voice” to arrest our attention.  He places his finger on a two-fold problem: rebellion against God and testing his patience in the face of his provision and patience.   

History is a humbling exercise.  By ignoring the mistakes of the past, we are prone to repeat them, just as the Israelites did.  After 430 years of slavery in Egypt, God delivered them through Moses “by his mighty hand”.  Pharaoh’s army was destroyed and the people had miraculously crossed the Red Sea.  Having “plundered the Egyptians”, they had provisions and resources, a sign of God’s generous providence.  And then the most amazing thing happened.  As they entered the wilderness an immense pillar of cloud formed in the sky before them to lead the way and at sunset it transformed into a pillar of fire.


Hebrews for Today: The Majestic Jesus - iv. Free Indeed

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Hebrews 2:5-18

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The writer of Hebrews once again addresses the person and work of Jesus.  He has exhorted his readers not to drift away from faith (2:1-4).  Having highlighted the divinity and supremacy of Jesus in chapter one, he now stresses the humanity and humility of Jesus (2:5-18).  His concern is both theological and pastoral lest one succumbs to mere pragmatism or the passing facts of the day.

 Two errors were faced by the early church which still remain today.  The full divinity of Jesus was questioned by Arias a presbyter in Alexandria.  On the other hand Docetists (from the Greek dokeo ‘to seem’ or ‘appear’) argued that it was unworthy for the divine to take human flesh, much less to die in shame and weakness upon a cross. 


Hebrews for Today: The Majestic Jesus - iii. The Danger of Drifting

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Hebrews 2:1-4


Hebrews is quite different from other books of the New Testament: a sermon in the form of a letter.  It is addressed to second generation believers who face circumstances they cannot control.  They are in danger of falling away from Christian commitment.  They are weary and their faith is sagging.  Accordingly, the writer offers a sensitive pastoral response.  Before he resorts to exhortation, he highlights sound theology, always good pastoral practice.  Chapter one underscores the majesty of Jesus in a profound way: supreme over creation and the cosmos by way of seven arresting statements (1:1-4) and supreme over angelic revelation by way of seven quotations from the Greek version of the O.T. (1:5-13), seven being the number of perfection.