Turn with me to Matthew chapter 11, Matthew chapter 11 - and we're not going to take time to read it as yet, but we'll read it a little later in our meeting. Of course, as most of you know already - and you must have been in hiding if you haven't known - yesterday saw the commencement of what has been dubbed 'The Great Golden Jubilee Weekend'. It has been said to have begun four days of Jubilee celebrations, commemorating what we know as 50 years of the reign of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. There have been many events planned, some planned here, and I'm sure some of you have already planned to attend some of them tomorrow or on Tuesday. The main events are in London, last evening the festivities began with what was called 'The Prom at the Palace', a classical concert in the gardens of Buckingham Palace. This morning the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh attended the Jubilee church service at St. George's chapel in Windsor, and the church bells rung out right across the whole of the United Kingdom - and you might have even heard some of those church bells in Templemore Avenue ringing out tonight.
Tomorrow sees a new day and the festivities continue. In the morning the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will watch a 2000-strong parade passing through Windsor Castle, and in the afternoon they will launch a music festival that will involve 200 towns right across the whole of the United Kingdom. Then in the evening there will be what is the so-called 'Party at the Palace', in the Palace Gardens there will be 12,000 participants in this myriad of popular music, and a pop concert, a pop culture concert, there in the Palace Gardens. The whole day, and indeed the whole proceedings of Saturday, Sunday and Monday, will finish with fireworks and the lighting of the final beacon - there will be many beacons lit across the whole of the United Kingdom - the final one will be lit in The Mall just there in front of Buckingham Palace, the last of 1,800 beacons lit all around the UK.
The festivities then continue on Tuesday with all sorts of official ceremonies and light-hearted celebrations, but perhaps the most important of all the events, I believe, will take place on Tuesday. It has been called the 'National Service of Thanksgiving'. It will be held at St. Paul's Cathedral - now I don't know what the content of that meeting will be, I don't know what the message will be that will be preached by the preacher, I don't know whether it will be from God or whether it will be based on the word of God and the gospel of Christ - but one thing I am sure of: it must be the most important event of this whole weekend, simply because Her Majesty the Queen, Elizabeth II, owes her long reign to nothing but the grace of God. That is the reason why she has sustained 50 years upon the throne of this land, because of the goodness, the grace, and the mercy of God. It is only right that she and the royal family, and indeed we ourselves as a whole nation, return to God thanks for grace shown toward her in 50 years of a reign and indeed in her long lifespan.
God has been good to our Queen, but not only has God been good to our Queen, God has been good to our land. My fear right throughout this whole weekend of festivities, is that in the midst of all the frivolity, singing of great party songs, we forget the goodness, the mercy, and the grace of God. We forget God our Saviour, we forget the true Sovereign of the whole universe, the one King and only Potentate of all mankind. Really the opposite should be the case - in all of our festivities, in all of our thankfulness for 50 years of Her Majesty's reign and the goodness of God toward this nation, as Paul says in Romans 2:4 and 5, the goodness of God ought to lead us to repentance. That's what should happen as we reflect over this weekend, as we reflect today over the goodness and grace of God toward our Monarch and her family and this nation right throughout all sorts of crises and problems and persecutions and tribulations - we should be coming to God, and God's goodness should be leading our nation and ourselves individually to repentance.
Yet sadly that is not the case, and I hope that you will agree with me in the observation that our nation has largely turned its back on the One who made it a great people in the past. You know, this nation of the United Kingdom has enjoyed the gospel of Christ for well over 1000 years of her history. Even in our own land, from patron saints like St. Patrick - you'll see a few pictures of these individuals here, and this is just to give you a visual idea of the blessing that God has given to this land in the heritage of the Gospel - Patrick brought the Gospel to these islands. When we move down history we read of a man called John Wycliffe, and John Wycliffe is named 'The morning star of the Reformation' - the reason being: he really is cited to be the first reformer of Christianity from the bloody clutch of Romanism. The church in the Dark Ages was destroyed and made rotten by Romanism and its teachings, it chained up the word of God and it didn't give the word of God to the people. It didn't let them know what God was really saying in His word, and it perverted the whole way of salvation and told the people that it can only be given to them through penance and through 'the one true Church', which was the Church of Rome.
But God moved through a man in our nation called John Wycliffe. He got the word of God, he began to translate it from the Latin language that none of the people understood and only the priests could interpret, and he turned it into the English language - the language of the people. He taught and preached the principles of the word of God. He has been named the Luther of England. He was the first man in England to call the Pope 'antichrist'. He castigated the Church of Rome for her hypocrisy. He was said to be a lover of the ordinary people, and he went among them and he preached the simple gospel: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. But he is best known for his translation of the word of God, the first translation of the English Bible - into the language of the people. Eventually this man of God, in 1384, was martyred at the hands of Rome - yet God used this man's work, and God eventually gave all the people the Bible through this man. The first translation of the English Bible came to us in 1380.
Then there came a man called Hugh Latimer. Believe it or not Hugh Latimer was a staunch supporter of the Church of Rome in England. In fact, the Church of Rome believed that Luther in Germany had now met his match, because Latimer was a great man and he seemed to be able to argue for the doctrines of Rome so convincingly. He was evangelical in his conversion of people back to Rome from this Reformation. We find that one day, as he was hearing the confession of one of his penitents - the man in the confessional box began to tell him how he'd found forgiveness and peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ alone, through His grace and through His blood - and Hugh Latimer was gloriously converted hearing a man's confession. Hugh Latimer along with Nicholas Ridley was burned at the stake for his faith. During that awful ordeal Hugh Latimer, as he saw the faggot burning being laid at the feet of Nicholas Ridley, turned to the young man and he said: 'Be of good comfort Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall, this day, light such a candle by God's grace in England as I trust shall never be put out'.
From that day on, from the blood of the martyrs, the fire of the gospel spread right across the land. From the preaching of the word of God, to the blood of the martyrs being shed for the Gospel and for the furtherance thereof, the gospel spread like a forest fire. Thomas Cranmer was another martyr, he was in England, and through recantation of his confession in Christ, believing the gospel, he turned again to Rome - but then finally he turned back to the Protestant, biblical faith: that you are converted by grace through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God lest any man should boast, not by works. He was burned also.
It is through men in Scotland like Patrick Hamilton, George Wishart, all who were burned for their faith; men like John Knox who were sacrificed on the altar of Romanism, on the altar of false doctrine and a false gospel, and darkness and sinfulness - it is through these men's blood and these men's lives laid down that we have the Gospel tonight, never forget that! Our land has been blessed with the gospel being taught, with men like the Puritans - some of whom, because of persecution, had to board the Mayflower and go across the Atlantic and settle. That is who formed the United States of America, and the Constitution that they have even today was formed by the Pilgrim fathers - Puritan men of God who went out there for religious freedom.
Then we come into the 1700's and we find that there was a mighty awakening, and let me say that the nation of England and the whole of the British Isles in that particular era was in a similar state as it is today. The church and society was in a deep, degraded, depraved sinfulness. Through the preaching of a man called George Whitefield, the gospel came to the highways and the byways and the open air. He preached the gospel of grace again and there was a mighty awakening. Through men like John Wesley whose brother's hymns we've been singing tonight there was a great awakening, there was almost a revolution in our nation - like the one in France, a godless, socialist revolution - but God stemmed the tide of godlessness and brought the gospel in a wonderful revival and awakening. We need never forget that it was such men as these, such men as laid their lives down for us, that have framed and shaped our nation for God and the Gospel and Christ - and because of these men and God's work in their lives, the Gospel has gone from these shores and there have been revivals right across our world, because of the Gospel in this nation.
In fact the modern missionary movement found its embryo in England. A man called William Carey stepped up one day in a Baptist Convention and told of his desire to go and preach to the heathen that they may be saved. He was told to sit down, for God, if He wanted to convert the heathen, would do it without William Carey. But William Carey went to India, and he preached the Gospel nevertheless. David Livingstone went, he is buried today in Westminster Abbey at the very top of the church, right at the front of the altar - pride of place. He went to Africa, and his heart is still buried out there, and he went for the Gospel and he laid his life down - what a blessing! The modern missionary movement coming out of this land!
The man who has been christened 'the prince of preachers', C.H. Spurgeon - and there seems to have been no-one to touch him in the modern era - preached his whole life in London. There have been many gospel influences, evangelical influences, missionary influences in our land - and there has also been political influence, evangelical at that. Take, for instance, men like Lord Shaftesbury, the evangelical social reformer who campaigned for the improvement of factory conditions for the working classes. He campaigned for the regulation of child and female labour, and he campaigned for the regulation of the slum schools where children were in awful, deplorable conditions. Political reformers who were men on fire for God, like William Wilberforce who campaigned against the slave trade - out on a limb in his day, against the whole of government and society, yet he campaigned and God was on his side and he won!
Now friends tonight, why do I tell you all this? Is it just to give you a history lesson? Of course it's not, it's to give you this lesson: God has been good to our nation! God has been good to our people, and the goodness of God ought to lead our people again to repentance!
I have a threefold message for you tonight, a Jubilee message. The first is: in the light of our festivities this weekend, we have a Gospel responsibility. If you look with me at Matthew chapter 11, we read these words - Jesus was coming to one of His hometown areas, and He comes to preach the gospel, the same gospel that these men preached and the gospel that we are preaching this evening. He said in verse 16 to them: 'But whereunto shall I liken this generation? It is like unto children sitting in the markets, and calling unto their fellows, And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented'. What He's really saying there is this: 'You're like children, and when we want to play a band with you, you don't want to dance. You're spoilt. When we want to play funerals with you, we want to mourn, you don't mourn you want to dance. You seem to want to do the opposite of what we're telling you to do, what we want to play with you. You're like spoilt children!'.
That's His illustration, and now He comes: 'For John came', John the Baptist, 'and he did eat and drink strange things, and you said, 'He has a devil''. 'The Son of man came eating and drinking, and you say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children'. Do you know what He's saying? John the Baptist came to you, he wore strange clothing and he ate strange food, and he didn't come to the people to preach to them but he went out to the wilderness and the people went to him to hear his preaching. But he was strange man and you rejected him - and then the Son of Man came, the Lord Jesus Christ, and He ate like you, He drank like you, He slept in the same type of houses as you sleep in, He talked like you, He walked like you, and He came to the people. Yet you said of Him that He was a publican, He was a drunkard because He drank with the ordinary people and He ate with them, He was a winebibber - and they even went to the extent of saying: 'He's got a devil'.
Do you see the illustration? 'We've piped to you and you won't dance' - when John came you couldn't take it, and then when the Lord Jesus came you couldn't take it. You just won't listen to whatever God is having to say! Verse 20, then He comes and applies this message: 'Then began he to upbraid', to rebuke, 'the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not'. Here He goes: 'Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven', because the Lord Jesus Christ came to Capernaum, so they were exalted unto heaven, 'thou shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day' - because they would have repented. 'But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee'.
Friends tonight, what privileges we have had nationally as a people, what privileges we have had in this section of East Belfast - there's almost a church, maybe two or three or half a dozen churches on every corner of this area. We've had the Gospel, and we're not in pagan darkest Africa this evening; we're not worshipping idols; we are not in the unexplored islands of the Pacific or the farthest oceans - but we are nation who has had the Gospel for as far back as history can recall. Indeed, our now tainted greatness as a nation was and is built on the Bible; our laws were built on the Bible; our government was built on the Bible - but now our whole nation rejects the Bible, and rejects the God of the Bible and His Christ!
What is the general trend of society, I believe, is reflected in the individuals within our society. For as society at large is rejecting the word of God, and the God of the word, and the blood of Christ, you find that individual men and women and boys and girls are rejecting Him too. Even in this district, and even in this building, week after week men and women and boys and girls - some of whom were brought up in Christian homes; some who were partakers of Christian education in school that people don't have today; some of whom have read the Bible and own a Bible, and were taught the Bible at their mother's knees; some of whom had a praying mother, and still have a praying mother who weeps on a regular basis for their souls - men and women that go through the centre of town and receive tracts and literature, and Gospels of John; people who attend missions year after year for night after night, and still they're not converted! People who sit in Gospel meetings and have the privilege of the Gospel Sunday after Sunday after Sunday; people who walk down the street and hear the Open Air; people who sit in their parlour and hear the Open Air preaching outside their door - yet the nation is filled with men and women who have been recipients of the gospel, yet at this very moment in our nation's history they are rejecters of the Gospel! It's tragic, and the rejection of Christ at this moment in our land and in this district is deafening!
Our Queen received the goodness and grace of God. Our land has received the goodness and grace of God - and, my friend, if you're here and not converted perhaps you've never heard the gospel, and you're hearing it for the first time tonight, but thank God that you're able to hear it! For there are people across this world that will never hear it! Yet in hearing it men feel nothing and find nothing wrong with rejecting it! Yet the Lord is saying in this passage that men in a pagan jungle would believe quicker than you. With all the privilege that you've have - Capernaum was lifted to heaven - you're lifted to heaven with the gospel heritage that you've been given in this land and in this church, Christ has come to you and spoken to you, yet the fact of the matter is: you will be brought to hell because you've rejected Him! If the people in the jungle could hear the name of Jesus, if the people in darkest Africa and in the jungles of the Amazon that have not been discovered yet, if they could hear the gospel, if they could see the Christ dying on the cross, by faith from the word of God, they'd believe! But you won't. If Sodom and Gomorrah that had been eaten up with homosexuality and harlotry and all sorts of idolatry and sin, the Lord Jesus Himself is saying: 'If they had received what you've received, and what you're hearing tonight, they'd be coming up in the aisle, and they'd be kneeling down weeping for penitence and repentance and for their sin'! But you're not.
The Lord said another occasion: 'For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and you believed him not; but the publicans and harlots believed him - and ye, when ye had seen it repented not afterwards that ye might believe him'. The Lord said: 'Verily I say unto you, the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you'! Imagine this tonight, that one day you lift up your eyes in hell, conscious that harlots, publicans, whores, drug addicts, homosexuals, all kinds of sinners of every colour of the spectrum and the deepest dye are in heaven - because when they heard the gospel, when they received the privilege, they came...but you didn't. With every privilege that is given there is a responsibility, and the privilege of the gospel has been given to you in this land - and there's an awesome responsibility because the Lord has said: 'For to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required'. God will ask you why you never came!
Secondly there is a Jubilee renewal that we need to think about this weekend. In the Old Testament in the Bible you know that there is the Sabbath day, and the Sabbath day is not Sunday, it's the seventh day which is Saturday. That was the day God rested from creation, and He instructed His own people to rest too from their work on the seventh day. But there was also mirrored a seventh year, a seventh year of rest - and when there were seven seventh years that comes to 50, the 50th year, the seventh seventh year, was the year of Jubilee and everybody stopped their work. It was seen as a year of perfection, and the trumpet of Jubilee was blown, there was a celebration, Just like the Sabbath was set aside in the Old Testament for the Lord, the seventh seventh year, the Jubilee year, the 50th was also set aside - the whole year - for the Lord.
The year of Jubilee spoke of emancipation, it spoke of freedom and restoration. It was a year of rest, it was a year of release from labour, but more than that: it was a year for the Lord. It spoke of the lordship of God, it spoke that the whole land belonged to Him. Do you know what people had to do? God gave them originally plots of land to every tribe, and if during those 50 years you sold part of your plot of land to somebody else for money, on the year of Jubilee you had to give that piece of land back to the rightful owner - and everybody had to do that. So what it was declaring was: God is sovereign over the land, God is in control. You are not your own, you don't own the land. You're not the driver, and the director, and the pilot of your life - God is. On the 50th year the people had to admit that.
It spoke also of redemption, because land was being redeemed. The trumpet of Jubilee was the same trumpet that was blown on the day of redemption that spoke of forgiveness of sins, peace with God. On that Jubilee year there would be slaves released to freedom, captives would be let out of prison, people were allowed to go to their homes. There was emancipation. Thirdly, not only was there lordship and redemption, but there was rest - because people stopped from the toiling and harvesting. You might say: 'Well, how did they eat?'. They ate because God provided for them, and they enjoyed the harvest and all the debts were cancelled so they didn't have to work to pay off their bills - they were just to worship and think about the Lord. It was a deliberate opting out of the rat race to think about God for just a moment. Taking time to prioritise, and that for a whole year!
It was a time of faith, for God commanded them to take the year off and He told them that He would provide for them. It was a time of obedience, because God commanded them to do it - and if they didn't do it they would lose the land. It was a time of hope, because it pointed towards a day when Eden would be restored. Do you remember in the Garden of Eden, through the curse, people were to work and to feed themselves from the sweat of their brow - but for this year they weren't to work, and God would provide for them alone. It was pointing to a day when God would restore Eden that had fallen in the beginning. Can you not see the parallels? My friend, the Lord Jesus Christ one day came to the temple, and He stood up and He opened the law of God in Isaiah chapter 61, and He read: 'The spirit of the Lord is upon me; because He hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and the recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the LORD' - that is the Jubilee year. That hope, that redemption, that lordship, that rest, that faith, that obedience was all fulfilled in the Lord Jesus. He closed the book, He sat down, and it says that everybody's eyes were fastened on Him, and He began to say unto them: 'This day is the Scripture fulfilled in your ears'.
'He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free'.
Isn't it wonderful, tonight, to realise that His lordship can be over our lives? We are not our own, but we can be bought with the precious blood of the Lamb. We can be redeemed, not with corruptible things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of the Lord, as a Lamb without blemish and without spot. That King of the Jews that we ought to be thinking about on the Lord's Day, that One who was taken and whom they plaited for a crown of thorns, and they planted it on His head. They put a purple robe upon Him, and they put a reed in His right hand, and they fell down before Him and mocked Him, and said: 'Hail, King of the Jews'. They wrote a superscription over His cross in Greek, in Latin, and in Hebrew: 'Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews'.
My friend, do you know that He came to give you your Jubilee? He came to give you freedom from sin, emancipation, deliverance and salvation from hell. Do you realise that He came to give you rest? He says even in Matthew 11: 'Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest'. He says that if you put faith in Him, He will give you hope, He will give you deliverance from the slavery of sin, and He will restore eternal life into your life. For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, but lose his own soul? You see, the goodness of God ought to lead us to repentance. It's not an end in itself, but it ought to draw us and bring us to God.
Finally: there's a gospel responsibility, and a Jubilee renewal, and thirdly there's a temporal - or even an eternal - reflection that you have to make tonight. I was reading in my readings this week, and in the book of Psalms I read this: 'God will prolong the king's life' - God - 'and his years to as many generations'. God is the one who prolongs the King, and Queen Elizabeth's life. Proverbs 27 verse 1 says: 'Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth'. Proverbs 27:24 also says: 'For riches are not for ever: and doth the crown endure to every generation?'. God is the one who prolongs the life of the Queen, and Proverbs says the crown doesn't last to every generation. In other words, Queen Elizabeth - God bless her soul - will not live for ever, why? Psalm 76: 'He cuts off the spirit of the princes: he is terrible to the kings of the earth'.
What does that mean? It means what we read in Romans: God is no respecter of persons. Queen Elizabeth, as her father George VI, will die. Every King or Queen after her will die, and all of them will stand before the judgement bar of God after they die - for it is appointed unto man once to die, and after this the judgement. My prayer is for you tonight, as you will stand there, that at this moment you take a reflection of time - take a moment out like the Jubilee, and look to God, and number your days that you may apply your heart to wisdom and follow Christ, and trust the Saviour! Be warned: for there is a day coming, if you do not die, when the Lord Jesus Christ shall come in judgement - and the Bible says in the book of Revelation that He will ride upon a white horse out of heaven. His name will be faithful and true, and He comes to make war against the enemies of God and His Christ, and He is clothed in a vesture dripped with blood - the blood of the people whom He judges! The armies of heaven follow Him on white horses, clothed in fine linen garments, white and clean. Out of His mouth goes a sharp two-edged sword to smite the nations, and He shall rule the nations with a rod of iron. On His clothes and on His thigh are written His name: 'King of kings, and Lord of lords'. John says: 'I saw an angel standing in the sun, and he cried with a loud voice saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven: Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God, that ye may eat of the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses and of them that sit on the throne'.
Do you know what the Bible says the kings of this earth, that have ruled in power and dignity, those who do not know Christ - do you know what they will do? The kings of the earth and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains and the mighty men, and every bondman and every free man will hide themselves in the dens and in the rocks and in the mountains; and will say to the rocks and the mountains: 'Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the Throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb'.
You have a Gospel responsibility. You, tonight, can have a Jubilee renewal - but you must, right now, reflect; and you must count your days and consider Christ and be saved. I finish with this story that you know well. In 1939, the end of the year broadcast, and George VI - Queen Elizabeth's father - was making his speech, and it was soon after the outbreak of World War II. He said these words: "I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, 'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown'. And he replied, 'Go out into the darkness, and put out your hand into the hand of God - that shall be to you better than light, and safer than a known way'".
What do you need to do tonight in the light of the goodness of God toward you? You need to repent, you need to turn from your sin, and you need to put your hand, by faith, into the hand of God. There are booklets for everybody on the way out here tonight, don't take one if you're not going to use it or give it to a friend. But if you're not saved tonight, make sure you do take one. It's called: 'The Crown of Distinction' - it will tell you the Gospel. You can speak to me tonight after this meeting if you wish, but don't leave tonight without putting your hand into the hand of God.
Let us pray: Father, we pray tonight that Thy blessing will be upon all of us, but especially those who are privileged tonight to receive the Gospel. We pray that they will bring responsibility to their hearts and lives by trusting the Saviour, realising that there is a day coming when it will be required at their hand: 'What did you do with Jesus, which is called the Christ?'. Father, we pray that they will trust Thee this evening, that their year of Jubilee and emancipation will come, that their chains will fall off, that their heart may be free - that they may rise, and go forth and follow Thee. We pray for a safe arrival home for every person gathered here tonight. We pray in the name and to the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
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This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "Your Jubilee Responsibility" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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