The Lord is near

Philippians 4.4-7



(click on arrow above to hear audio of sermon) 

It has been a fairly stressful week and at times I felt overwhelmed
But it is nothing compared to what other people are going through
Some of you may have had a hellish week;
Some of you are under almost unbearable pressure

Paul knew about pressure.

He is writing this letter from prison. He is facing a capital charge. If it goes badly, he will be executed. And the church in Philippi that Paul founded, the church that he loves, is divided. There is a bitter conflict between two women. Just before these verses Paul has appealed to Eunice and Syntyche to agree in the Lord.

And yet despite that, Paul urges his readers to rejoice, to be gentle, and not to be anxious about anything.

But he doesn’t just tell them that – because that would be like telling a drowning person to swim harder. He gives them a reason. It is very simple – in English it is 4 words: ‘The Lord is near’. In Greek it is 3: ‘Ho Kyrios engus’

The Lord is near.

The Lord is near in time.

This is the season of Advent when we remember that the Son of God came as a human being among us.
It is also the time when we consciously prepare ourselves for his coming at the end of history. We call it his second coming.

And so we say in the creed:
‘He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end’.
We say in the communion prayer:
‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again’.

This is our Christian hope

God spoke to his people long ago, through the prophet Isaiah and Zephaniah and others, that one day his King would come, would bring judgement and deliverance, and his Kingdom would be established.

And we read about this coming King, this coming ruler in Isaiah and Zephaniah.

He will come to rescue his people, to deliver us from our enemies and to save us from disaster.
He says to people who were, at the time, in exile: ‘I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise .. at that time I will bring you home’.

And to us who are in exile, living in a foreign land – and I’m not talking about those of us who are migrants here – this is about all Christians. We live as strangers and exiles in this world. Our real home is there. We live as citizens of the Kingdom of God in the kingdoms of this world, and we long for the Kingdom of God – where we will be set free from sin and law and death – where we will see God, and be filled with delight in God, where we will live with joy for God and bubble over in praise for God.

What is interesting in both Isaiah and Zephaniah is that God’s people are invited to rejoice as if that Kingdom has already come, as if God’s people have been gathered together, as if all people can see the beauty and holiness and rightness of God, as if his rule of mercy and justice and peace has been established.

And Paul in Philippians, urges the early Christian church to rejoice. Yes, they are a tiny minority, in many places facing persecution, but the Lord is near. He is coming. His Kingdom will be established.

How can the Lord be near?
Perhaps some of us here may be cynical. We think, ‘But Paul wrote those words 2000 years ago, and the Lord has not yet come’. How can he say the Lord is near?

There is a biblical and a practical answer to that

The biblical answer is that a thousand of our years is as one day to the Lord. And when eternity is your time scale what is 80 years and what is 2000 years. And Peter tells us that the reason that the Lord has not yet returned is that God in his patience is waiting for all to come to repentance. And that all can include can people who have not heard, or people who have not yet been born. What if God wants to include your child, your as-yet unborn nephew or niece, in his Kingdom?

The practical answer is that if we believe the Lord is coming soon, then we will live each day as if it could be the day that the Lord returns. We are to live with that sense of expectancy, that longing for him, that desire and conviction that he will come and establish his kingdom.

And that is particularly important when believers face fierce persecution.

Revelation 13 speaks of the beast – empowered by Satan - who will arise at the end times, who will do amazing things, and who will compel all people – on pain of death - to worship its image and to have its mark placed on their right hand or forehead.

And the beast appears to be a god-defying global totalitarian government which demands not just the allegiance of its citizens, but also their worship. And Christians throughout the ages have identified the beast with different totalitarian regimes or rulers – from Nero to certain popes to the Tartars through to Hitler and the Soviet Union. And they have identified the mark of the beast with tattoos, symbols and now with implanted chips [In Sweden people are receiving implanted chips]

And they are both wrong and right. They are wrong in that obviously those regimes or rulers in the past were not the beast, because they failed, and the end has not yet come. But they are right – because anything or anyone, apart from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who demands our ultimate worship – is at the very least a mini-beast: and we are called to stand firm against anything or anyone who demands that total subservience, absolute obedience and worship.

One thinks of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who refused to worship the golden image of Nebuchadnezzar in the Old Testament, even though it meant that they were thrown alive into a blazing furnace.

And it is our conviction that ‘the Lord is near’ which means that believers can both be alert to the dangers – because we know it will happen - and which also give us the incentive to stand firm – as, for instance, did many Russian believers here in the Soviet era.

[you can find a biblical, balanced and helpful article about the beast mentioned in Revelation 13 at https://www.crossway.org/articles/what-is-the-mark-of-the-beast-revelation-13/]
But the Lord is near can also be understood in another way.

The Lord is very close to us.
This Lord who will come to reign and bring salvation and establish his Kingdom, is now so close to us.

He is close to us as our Lord who we follow and serve. He kneels in front of us, as a servant, and washes our feet. He is beside us as our friend sharing with us his desires and we can rest our head – when we are tired – on his chest: that is what we are told that the beloved disciple does at the last supper. He is our host who welcomes and feeds us. And he is close to us because we are part of him, like branches that are part of a tree. He is close to us because he lives in us by his Holy Spirit.

The Lord is near

So rejoice!
Rejoice in him: in who he is, in what he has given us (life, creation), in what he has done for us: his incarnation (coming as a human being), dying for us and rising for us. Rejoice because he knows you, has called you and loves you. Rejoice because has saved us from the guilt and condemnation of sin. Rejoice because we are forgiven. Rejoice because he has given us hope. Rejoice because he has given us life.

Rejoice because he is so close to us.

And learn gentleness!
The Lord is God. He is so much bigger than us. His purposes will not be frustrated. Yes, we need to work together with God, but it is not ultimately down to us.

And we don’t need to force the issue, to compel people to do what we want. Remember God’s patience with us. Remember the many times we have failed him and let him down – and both how strict and how gentle he has been with us.

We’ve been watching the Apprentice. Last week the finalists were interviewed. They were asked what drove them to do what they did. For one, it was to please his father; for another it was to make her children proud of her; for another it was to show that she could do good even though she came from a place that everybody rubbished.

We all need to prove ourselves, but sometimes that need can make us aggressive and impatient. And when you look at the Apprentice, you see how that desperate need to prove themselves means that they can end up trampling over the truth and trampling over each other

But the Lord is near. He loves you. You have a destiny in heaven. You do not need to prove yourself to anybody

And do not worry.
Maybe you are redundant, unable to feed your family, facing a criminal conviction; you are about to be called up to serve in the army, to go into hospital for an operation you dread; maybe you know they’re out to get you, you are sick with worry about your child or partner or parent, your marriage is on the rocks, you are constantly on edge, you are about to be shamed and humiliated.

How can we possibly not worry?

The Lord is near. He is so close you can turn to him. Give him your worries; give him your anxiety.

In the Old Testament, King Hezekiah was one of the rulers in Jerusalem. The Assyrian army had surrounded the city. The people for whom he was responsible, faced annihilation. Sennacherib, his enemy, sent him a letter telling him what he was going to do, and ordering him to surrender. All Hezekiah can do is take the letter and lay it before God and pray.

He knew that this was far bigger than him
He knew that worrying would change nothing
But he knew that his God was the Lord who could do everything.

And notice that it says, ‘with thanksgiving’.
That is so important

Thanksgiving takes the focus away from ourselves and puts it back on God. When we say thank you it means we recognise that what the other has done for us was done as gift, and we did not deserve it.

There is a great quote from Denzel Washington. At a speech to church leaders, he said, “Give thanks for blessings every day. Every day. Embrace gratitude. Encourage others. It is impossible to be grateful and hateful at the same time. I pray that you put your slippers way under your bed at night, so that when you wake in the morning you have to start on your knees to find them. And while you're down there, say "thank you." A bad attitude is like a flat tire. Until you change it, you're not going anywhere.”

Think back over what God has done for you – write it down – and say thank you!
Think over what he is doing for you, how he is changing you – and say thank him!
Thank him for what he will do for us

The peace of God
And finally, in verse 8 there is a promise. You hear it most weeks when we have the blessing:
‘The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus’

This peace is the gift of the Holy Spirit, the presence of God – so it is good to ask for this peace.

It is the Holy Spirit who will bring peace to our Eunices and Syntyches – to our divided communities.
It is the Holy Spirit who will bring peace to our troubled and anxious hearts and minds.

This is the peace which will lead us
This is the peace which means we can shelter secure in the storm. There is a painting of a bird sitting on her nest, nuzzled into the cliff edge rock, while the wind rages and the waves crash around her.
This is the peace that can unknot our stomach in the dark hours of the night
And this is also the peace that can conquer mountains.

It is the peace of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as they stood before the king and told him they would not worship his statue;
It is the peace of David as he walked to meet Goliath;
It is the peace of the Lord Jesus as he walks that final road to the cross.

This is the peace which tells us that it is OK. The Lord is near.

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