“Just Sex” by Guy Brandon


People today are hopelessly confused about sex. On the one hand, it is meant to be something special. On the other, it is casually dismissed as trivial – merely or ‘just’ sex.

Sex has also become a big issue for Christians. Faced with a barrage of messages from a sexually permissive environment and lacking a clear rationale for biblical teaching, many Christians are unsure of what they think.

Just Sex deals with the popular view that sex is merely a private act between two consenting adults. Drawing on psychological, social, financial and demographic data, Brandon demonstrates that the ‘private’ act of sex has wide ranging ‘public’ consequences. It impacts not only on the couple having sex, but on their family, their social group, their local community and ultimately the whole of society itself. It is never ‘just sex’. To have a healthy society, with healthy people who enjoy healthy sex, we need to see sex in this relational, social framework – which is actually God’s framework.

In what Brandon calls the ‘iWorld’, people believe the purpose of life is to achieve self-fulfilment, without reference to anyone else. Sex, therefore, becomes a commodity to be used for personal pleasure and self expression. This supposedly ‘liberated’ view of sex has not led to personal happiness and wholeness, but to wholesale misery. Brandon seeks to set sex within the ‘relational order’ that God has wired into this universe. Humans are primarily relational beings, made in the image of God. As relational beings, our primary need is not pleasure, but intimacy: the ability to be honest and real with someone and be confident of their unconditional acceptance. This kind of intimate relationship should be found in families and friends, as well as marriage.

Heterosexual marriage provides the kind of stable relationship in which sex leads to increased intimacy and personal growth. Despite it becoming less popular, marriage has a vital role for the couple, the family, the wider network of friends and the whole community. Apart from marriage, sex actually destroys intimacy by reinforcing the inward, self-centred habits of the iWorld. Western culture substitutes sexual pleasure for relational intimacy and thereby stunts personal and social maturity. In the face of such unhealthy, destructive, secular, sexual behaviour, Brandon encourages churches to be wholesome counter-cultures. Churches must not merely be places for formal ‘worship’, but must be supportive relational communities, where Christians of both genders, from all ages and stages of life, can have appropriately intimate relationships.

Brandon produces a brilliant overview of how idolatry and sexual promiscuity coincide in the Old Testament, and why it may been also seen in the lives of adulterous Christians today. His critique of contemporary sexual obsession is excellent, his concept of relational order is insightful, and his call for churches to be relationally healthy communities is good (although ought to be taken as read!).

the BIG story: Matthew 5:1-12

Here Jesus teaches the ethical guidelines for life in his kingdom; and the guidelines point to the quality of righteousness that characterises life in the kingdom, now in part, but fully in the future. This is the righteousness that they should all exhibit if they repent and enter His kingdom. It is the picture of the perfect disciple of Christ who is the heir of the promises we have considered for days now in this Lent series.  But Jesus does not here tell people how to become like this.

Each saying is proverb-like. Cryptic, precise, and full of meaning. Each one includes a topic that forms a major biblical theme.  These days some want to translate the word “blessed” as “happy.” But that is to devalued. This term is an exclamation of the inner joy and peace that comes with being right with God. Happiness may indeed be a part of it; but it is a happiness that comes to the person who is favoured by God. The Lord’s declaration of “blessed” is a pledge of God’s reward for the inner spiritual character of the righteous. And Jesus is praising them for their character and pledging divine rewards for it.

1. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

If anyone is going to enter the kingdom of heaven they must become poor in spirit. It is the call of repentance. They must humble themselves before God and acknowledge that they bring nothing of their own power, possessions or merit to gain entrance. Those who truly humble themselves and express their need of the Lord, they have the kingdom of heaven. “If my people….”

The message of the kingdom is that it is entered through repentance for sin and submission to the will of God. The first step then is to confess that by oneself we can do nothing, and so to seek the gracious provision that God has made.

Once within the kingdom, we are to live our lives in total dependence on God to supply our needs.

2. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

The instruction here concerns the focus of the mourning, not the mourning itself. The mourning that will be comforted is the mourning of disciples who have the proper understanding of the reasons for the mourning. And they will have the proper faith to see them through. As people face the sadness of life, they can do so with hope if they have mourned over sin – a clear sign of faith in the Saviour.

3. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

Meekness and gentleness and goodness are part of the fruit of the Spirit – they are produced in the Christian by the Holy Spirit. So the direction people should follow to cultivate a spirit of meekness would be to walk by the Spirit, or be controlled by the Spirit of God so that the qualities of Christ can be produced in and through them.

4. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled”.
Most Christians are for righteousness! Paul teaches that the spiritual person is one who begins with commitment to God’s will. And the closer one lives to the Lord, the more sensitive he or she becomes to the unrighteousness and injustice in the world. The truly spiritual person then will begin to long for righteousness.

5. “Blessed are the Merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” 
People who know God’s mercy will be merciful. It is important, then, that we have a good understanding of the grace of God in our own lives. This comes from the experience of confession of sin and thanksgiving for forgiveness – Christian life that often get neglected. Christians some times get to the point of thinking that they deserved the grace they have received, and they become then intolerant of others, even judgmental. The reality of our own spiritual condition and God’s provision must never be forgotten.

6. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
A pure heart begins with conversion when God gives us a “new heart,” and it continues through the spiritual growth as we follow Christ. Walking in the light, meaning learning to live by the word of God, will change the way we think so that our hearts will grow more and more pure. But as the light of the word reveals impurities, we must deal with them and change.

7. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.”
The disciples of Jesus should be promoting peace. They do this by spreading the Gospel of peace to the world, and by promoting reconciliation within the church too.

8. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
The lesson is that people should be living for Christ in this world, championing righteousness and justice, showing mercy, remaining meek and poor in spirit. But they should know that genuine righteousness is offensive to many, and so they will be prepared for opposition. These last verses have an implicit claim to deity by Jesus. In the Old Testament the prophets were persecuted because of their faithfulness to God. Now Jesus says that his disciples will be persecuted because of their faithfulness to him.

the BIG story: Luke 5:17-26

The house was crowded and Jesus is teaching. It was on of those times when Jesus was especially empowered with the gift of healing. Jesus’ teaching was immediately recognized as newer than, different from, and better than that of the scribes and Pharisees. It would not have taken these teachers of the law long to recognize that the popularity of Jesus spelled trouble for them. The teachers of the law had gathered to hear Jesus, to pass judgment on Him, and then, undoubtedly, to decide what course of action to take concerning the threat which He posed to them.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were “sitting” – a position of authority. To have stood would have been to concede Jesus’ authority as a teacher, the very thing they were inclined to challenge. It is this large group of hostile hearers who take up the room inside this house, and who keep the paralytic from being brought before Jesus.

Once Jesus saw the man’s need the response is swift: “And seeing their faith, He said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven you’” (Luke 5:20). But he had not come to be forgiven, but to be healed. And now rhe Pharisees and teachers of the law were indignant.  Forgiveness of sins is something which only God can do, they reasoned, and rightly so. Thus, to tell a man his sins were forgiven was also to claim to be God.

1. Why did Jesus offer the man forgiveness of sins when what he really wanted was physical wholeness?
Jesus, by His actions, was teaching that the forgiveness of sins is more important, more valuable, than mere physical healing. If one had to choose between one or the other, forgiveness of sins is of much greater value than physical recovery.

2. How can Jesus forgive this man’s sins, based on the faith of the four friends?
Forgiveness of sins should be  based upon individual repentance and faith, shouldn’t it.  But we love him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). We have faith in him because he first opens our hearts (Acts 16:14). Faith itself is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8-10). Therefore grace is not prompted or initiated by man’s actions, it is prompted by God’s compassion and grace. God’s good gifts are the result of God’s goodness, not man’s good words, to which God must respond. God’s blessings do come by faith, and that in this case the faith which is in focus is that of the four men, not that of the man on the stretcher.

3. How can Jesus forgive a man’s sins when only God can do so?” 
Simply because he is God.

This healing was to be a teaching tool, not just a miracle. Strangely, it is actually easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” than it is to say, “Rise up and walk.” The reason is because there is no visible proof that sins have been forgiven. One can make such a statement without having to prove he has done it. But to command a paralysed man to walk is something very difficult. To command a paralysed man to walk requires him to do so.  He is “killing two birds with one stone,” so to speak.

Some contrasts:

The stretcher-carriers has faith
The Pharisees showed unbelief.

The stretcher-carriers believed in Jesus,
the Pharisees and teachers were sceptical.

The stretcher-carriers were persistent in their efforts to reach Jesus.
The Pharisees and teachers were resistant, increasingly drawing back from Jesus.

The stretcher-carriers overcame various obstacles to get to Jesus;
The Pharisees and teachers were obstacles, keeping others from Jesus.

The stretcher-carriers wanted others to benefit from the blessings which Jesus bestowed on men;
The Pharisees and teachers rejected His blessings and cared little about others benefiting from Jesus.

Not once in any of the gospels do you find a teacher or a Pharisee bringing anyone to Jesus for mercy and grace. You find them opposing and resisting people who wish to draw near to him. At best, you find the Pharisees and teachers passively tolerant. The Pharisees and teachers had to reject their own logic and theology to reject Jesus as the Son of God, which their hardened hearts compelled them to do. They saw themselves as righteous and suspected Jesus to be a sinner. After all, He associated with them.

The bottom line is simply this: Are you a stretcher-carrier or a sermon critic? Stretcher-carriers are those who recognise Jesus’ power and authority and who seek to share him with others, often at great personal effort and sacrifice. Sermon-critics are those who may listen to the teaching of the Bible, but with minds already made up, just waiting for some pretext for their unbelief and rejection.

Even Christians are inclined to become sermon critics, rather than stretcher-carriers. They come to hear a preacher, only to see if he conforms to their preconceived doctrines and ideas. They want only to discover if he agrees with them. They do not want their prejudices exposed and challenged. They do not want to be under the authority of God’s Word.

May God grant that you and I become stretcher-carriers, and not sermon critics.

The Returning Lord: Luke 17:20-37


We are resident aliens!  To follow Jesus is to be different. And being curious about the future is to be human.

We need to know where history is going:  Not to prepare charts but to prepare hearts.  We are to be faithful watchers. 

The kingdom’s future nature. 
Ultimately the kingdom’s coming will include its powerful and coercive establishment on the earth, with total authority over all of humanity. When the Son of Man returns with authority to vindicate the saints and exercise power on their behalf, it will be a grand day of judgment (Dan 7).

Kingdom now (forgiveness, defeat of Satan, release of the Spirit, new community of the church – v21); Kingdom to come (God’s power, vindication of the saints, justice). Jesus has two goals in Luke 17:
1. The kingdom is inextricably tied to him (20-21). 
2. Although times will be tough and we will long for the day of the Son of Man, his day will eventually come suddenly and bring harsh judgment for those who resist him(22).

Our world is heading towards judgement

1. We will not have to work hard and knowing what is happening (but not a cosmic sign v26-30).  We need to be ready.

Jesus explains that the kingdom does not come "with signs to be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst."  But, how is "the kingdom of God is in their midst."  He does not mean in one’s heart. Jesus is speaking to Pharisees who have rejected him. They do not have the kingdom in their heart. And nowhere else in the New Testament is the kingdom described as an internal entity. He must mean something else here.

It is present in Jesus. He and it stand before you. You do not have to look for it, because it is right before your face (7:22-23; 11:20; 7:28; 16:16; 4:16-23).

The program of God’s reclamation of creation starts and stops with Jesus.If the Pharisees had read the sign of the present time correctly, their question would not even be asked (12:54-56). Jesus has declared that the process of kingdom growth has started, so they should not assume it is absent, though it has made such a humble start (13:18-20). They need to respond to the King.

2. Judgement is a serious matter.  People will be separated. Life for some: death for others (v37).    We are accountable for our actions. Jesus portrays a division within humanity. Two pictures make the same point. Whether two are asleep or two women are grinding at a mill, on that day one will be taken and another left. It is debated whether the one is taken into judgment and the one is left for salvation or the other way around. Given the Noah and Lot metaphors, as well as the picture of the birds gathering over the dead bodies in verse 37, it seems that it is those who are left behind who experience the judgment. Those who flee, like Noah and Lot, are spared.

When the disciples ask, "Where, Lord?" they appear to be asking where this will occur or what will happen to the bodies. Jesus replies that where the bodies are, the vultures are gathered  (Lev 11:13; Deut 14:12; Job 39:30; Mt 24:28). The image is grim. The Son of Man’s return means massive judgment; it will be final and will carry the stench of death. The return will be deadly serious. You should not be on the wrong side when it comes. Be assured that the vindication of the saints will come (18:1-8). The Son of Man’s return means humanity’s separation into two camps: those who were for him enter into everlasting life, while those who were against him face an everlasting judgment.

Our world is going there without concern for God (Noah and Lot).
Jesus compares the day of that arrival to the times of Noah and Lot. The two examples are parallel. Life went on with eating, drinking, marriage, buying and selling–and then judgment came. For one it was the flood, for the other fire and sulphur. But to be outside the family that day was to face instant judgment. The time of the Son of Man will be no different: it will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed.

When the judgment comes, he says, it will be swift. There will be no time to gather possessions from your home, whether you are on the roof or in the field. Unlike Lot’s wife, do not look back, longing for what you are leaving behind. To seek to protect your life is to lose it. But to lose your life will be to gain it. In other words, if you identify with God, suffering and persecution may result, but God will redeem you. If you fear the rejection of persecution, you will not come to Christ, but neither will you be redeemed by God. Jesus’ words here recall 12:1-12. Again the point is, Expect suffering but persevere with patient faith. Redemption comes, and so does God’s vindication.

1. Choose wisely when it comes to the things of God.  The idea that it the time of judgement there will be a second change is a myth (Gen 7 and 19).

2. Every moment is a moment to change the destiny of others (2 Peter 3:9).

When – the thousand dollar question?
For a time, disciples will long to see it, but it will not come. That day does not come immediately. People will claim that it has come, but Jesus warns that the disciples should not go to check for his arrival. Those claims are not the real thing. When it comes, it will be sudden and visible like the lightning across the sky.

But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. That’s why he heads for Jerusalem (13:31-35). Before glory there is rejection and suffering. The kingdom’s decisive arrival will be obvious, but for now rejection dominates.

One day the kingdom will wield a gavel, but for now it bears a cross.

A blind alley?
Scholars argues that Jesus predicted his quick return after the ascension, and when it did not come the church struggled to explain why. As often, this is mostly academic speculation.  But he makes clear here and in texts like Mark 13:10, 32 that the exact timing is not known and that other things must happen first, like his suffering and the church’s preaching of the gospel. God has a plan, even if we cannot know the exact timing of all these events. If there is a problem with "delay," it is because the church failed to reflect on the whole of Jesus’ teaching.

Cell outline

1. Where is the kingdom of God? (17:21)

2. What did Jesus tell his disciples they would long to see? (17:22). At his return, is Jesus going to bring peace or punishment?

3. How did Jesus describe what the days of the Son of Man will be like? (17:24-30). What exactly are the “days of the Son of Man?”

4. Jesus warns those on the roof or in the field not to go back to get their possessions. Why? What does this have to do with Lot’s wife? (17:31-32)

5. Verse 17:33 is the second time Luke records those words of Jesus. What does that mean? (Luke 9:24-25). What does "trying to keep one’s life" have to do with turning to get one’s possessions? What is the paradox here that trying to save one’s life results in losing it?

6. Jesus speaks of people in close physical proximity to each other, and warns that one will be taken and the other left. What does this teach us about the nature of Jesus’ coming? Where will they be taken? What happens to those who are left? (17:34-35)

Going deeper

What’s the meaning of that last verse (17:37)? What does this verse teach us about his location when he comes? (17:37)


Practically speaking, how could Jesus’ teaching about losing your life make a difference in your daily routine? How can you reaffirm your commitment to follow Jesus whatever the cost?

the BIG story: Mark 1:14-20

Just a brief note today because my laptop hard drive has disintegrated!

Jesus can say that the kingdom of God is near because He, the King, is near.

Peter and Andrew, James and John—they all responded with haste. While their initial response is immediate, the text they certainly didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. They failed to consider the cost. And the cost turned out to be too high; they all abandoned Jesus before ultimately coming back to him.

John Mark was another one who failed to count the cost. He was taken by Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. Mark abandoned Paul and Barnabas, let’s presume when the going got tough. Could it be that Mark too hadn’t counted the cost? It is speculation, but possible.

Later, Barnabas allowed Mark to join him on another challenging journey, and this time Mark succeeded. Likewise, the same disciples that follow Jesus “immediately” in this chapter will abandon him just as quickly at Gethsemane. There is nothing wrong with following immediately; there is everything wrong with following immediately without counting the cost. The Gospel of Mark places a higher priority on a lasting response than an immediate one.

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