The message of Christmas is one of peace, joy and hope. It is a message much needed in our ravaged and torn world. It speaks of peace with God through a child born to bring us forgiveness, it speaks of joy through the release within us of a new, godly and wholesome life, and it speaks of hope in the knowledge and experience of God’s strength and support throughout this life and on into eternity. There is nothing automatic about this message, however; it demands a response. It calls us very simply and bluntly to come to Jesus and follow Him with heart and mind.

The Christmas story is largely a mix of Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth and Matthew’s account. Both leave us in no doubt that the birth was miraculous in nature and of the Holy Spirit and that Jesus was Son of God. While Luke has a deeply touching side to the story, focussing much on Mary’s part in the birth, Matthew, however, by contrast presents us with a rather darker aspect of the event. Matthew mostly directs our attention to the Magi from the East – kings coming to worship “The King”.

It is through the Magi we also meet Herod the king of the Jews, and it is Herod who casts the dark shadow on the narrative. Jealous for his power, brooking no possible rivals and cheated by the magi from finding Jesus, he orders a whole massacre of children in order to kill the one child who threatens his power. Matthew goes on to record the divine warning to Joseph to flee. As a result he takes Mary and the baby into Egypt as refugees and remains there until Herod dies. Even then it is safe only to return to the remoteness of Nazareth since Herod’s son is not to be trusted.

This is a very different story from the picturesque idyll of the star shining on the manger. But why focus on the dark side of the story? Why not settle for the more comforting side of Christmas? After all, historically Matthew’s events happened sometime after Christmas. Very simply one reason is that the traditional presentation of the birth of Jesus, rightly or wrongly, has always included the “three kings” at the stable tableau. Christmas is not Christmas without the “three kings”! A much more serious reason is that, whether chronologically later or not, it represents a very important aspect of the full birth story. This darker side to the story gets more and more relevant to the world in which we are living, and we need to take note of it. Matthew himself clearly did not feel that what he wrote spoilt the story; on the contrary he felt it very important to record it. The fact is that the birth of Jesus was bitterly contested, and still is! Herod, of course, typifies the ruthless, autocratic power-seeking ruler who, having established his kingdom is prepared to hold on to it no matter how many people have to suffer or die to secure it, children included.

This is by no means an unknown scenario in our modern world. We have seen this process unfolding in not a few nations in the early years of this millennium. Syria is perhaps the most blatant example where the early hopes of the present ruler and his wife of reform have shattered on the rock of an intransigent deeper family grip on power. It has cost thousands of lives, produced thousands of refugees and destroyed many cities. Further east Myanmar (Burma) is another example which stands out. And Africa seems to have more than its fair share of despots. The “Herods” are still numerous in this world, unfortunately.

The story of the biblical Herod has, however, a specific dimension. His wrath was directed at Jesus. It was of no consequence to Herod that this Jesus might be the Messiah promised to the Jews. Herod was not racially a true Jew and was very conscious of being an “outsider”. He was not of a religious bent, and would have had little concern for the moral commandments of the Jewish religion. He had built the Jews a magnificent Temple but that was simply in order simply to gain favour with them and protect his power. The prospect of a Jewish Messianic King was something very different; such a rival was politically extremely dangerous for Herod, and was something to be prevented at all cost, something to be literally stifled at birth.

Herod has not been the only despot who has sought to stifle Jesus (and His genuine Christian followers). It has been a feature of autocracy throughout history, and it remains so today in a marked fashion. The reason is not difficult to see. The lust for naked personal power has no place in the heart of Jesus or in his teaching. Whilst on earth He never sought such power for himself. Among the temptations Satan put to Him was the offer of “all the kingdoms of the earth”. Resisting it, Jesus “took the form of a servant”, for His objective was not self-centred greatness but the dire needs of humanity. Had He succumbed to the temptation He would have found Himself inevitably bound to follow Satan’s method of holding power, namely fear and force.

Jesus’ “kingdom”, however, has a totally different method of control: it is a Kingdom of Righteousness and Love. Its characteristics are humility, not pride; peace, not war; generous giving, not accumulation of riches; forgiveness, not revenge. It is small wonder that self-seeking despots have no time for Christians who seek to walk like Jesus. Their emphasis on the value of each human person makes them inevitably a part of the opposition. They were much under threat from both Stalin and Hitler whose malign social engineering cost innumerable lives. To them Christians were dangerous. It is very much the same with the despots of our own generation. We read a great deal about Christians imprisoned for their faith in a considerable number of countries where fear, force and brutality is the only cement holding despotic rulers in power. The lust for power will always be in contention with the Christ child and those who worship him. Such contention must be a continuing focus for prayer.

The Revelation of St. John is rarely associated with Christmas. It contains, however, an extraordinary apocalyptic vision of the birth of Jesus (Rev. 12). In this vision a woman “clothed with the sun” is seen about to give birth to a child. This child was to rule all nations (clearly a picture of Jesus). A Dragon awaits the birth to devour the child but the child is caught up to God and to His throne.  The Dragon, enraged, made war, therefore, on those who followed the child and kept his commandments. This takes Matthew’s perspective to a deeper level, depicting the spiritual forces underlying the actions of Herod. The symbolism of the vision is lurid and seemingly grotesque, but the application is clear. The Christ was born to redeem the nations, indeed to redeem along with the nations the whole of creation, over which he would rule. Satan’s rule in this world was to be broken by Him. The attempt to devour Him failed. The child was swept up to heaven and will return to rule. What an extraordinary HOPE this is. It is the Christian hope of a new and redeemed world in which Christ rules in love and righteousness, and in which those who believe will live in the light of the presence of God. This is not a hope which might happen, but a hope that is sure and will happen. Herod failed, Christ won; the Jewish priests failed, Christ rose again; gross darkness covers the earth, but the Light of Christ will come in all its fullness. Thus even the darker side of the Christmas story is really pointing to a much greater light and hope. If our Christian hope is smaller than total redemption of the world as we know it then it is falling short of the glory to be revealed.


It is very important for us to keep an eye on the progress of Brexit at this critical point in our history. Two headline statements made in the Press this week have stood out vividly for me, and call for comment:


Mervyn King, former Governor of the Bank of England; on the planning and process of Brexit.


Title of a Newspaper Leader

This week Theresa May brought her Brexit “Deal” into the Commons to be debated and hopefully to be accepted. On the first day before the debate had really begun the Prime Minister and the government were found in breach of contempt of the House on three separate issues. This was totally unparalleled in the history of the Commons: three in the five year life of one parliament was not unusual, but three in one day bordered on the absurd. This was a very ominous start to the week-long debate. It was the first cannonade of uproar that continued to resound in the Commons.

One act of contempt stood out in particular; the Prime Minister had refused a full publication for the House of a report on the legal basis of her “Deal”. This had proved to be at the very least a misjudgement on Theresa May’s part. It was a failure to play her political cards correctly, and seemingly a result of an intransigence which would not take advice. True, it was not to her advantage in the debate to have the report published, but to have refused to publish simply made matters far worse in the event. It heightened the huge storm of protest (equally unparalleled) as she went on to outline and commend her “Deal”.

By day three of the debate, the rancour and heated division had reached a point where she found herself isolated and pleading with some emotion that she had put everything she had into making the “Deal” the best she could; she had worked hard and long and withstood any amount of abuse in her efforts to do her duty. She begged for support for her plan. Not surprisingly, it seems to have had little effect – the issues were too deep and important for that sort of personal appeal. This illustrates the tragedy of Theresa May. Without any question there has been widespread recognition of her sense of duty and commitment to the best for the country and there has been recognition of her refusal to get embroiled in any kind of political mud-slinging. She has maintained great and exemplary integrity. Unhappily, however, severe misjudgements have clearly dogged her path. A readiness to get on with the job and “go it alone” in the face of the confusion of ideas may have seemed in one sense laudable, but unfortunately her decision to “go it alone” proved to be one of her worst misjudgements. Losing all semblance of support, she tended to lean over into a disposition toward autocracy, and, not listening to advisors she came up with a plan that was so unworkable it pleased nobody.

“Incompetence” is a hard and derogatory word, and I have refrained from using out of respect for Theresa May’s integrity, but taking the Brexit process as a whole I think Mervyn King’s description of that process as being a demonstration of “incompetence on a monumental scale has to stand as very accurate. What I am anxious to underline about this comment is something I stressed in the last blog, namely that it is the classic description of what happens to decision making in government when a nation disowns its Maker. Even if there is a degree of courtesy and genuine selfless concern in any particular politician for what is right it is not sufficient to stem any process of judgement. Misjudgements, and devastating misjudgements with dire consequences, are bound to be made when the fear of God remains as ignored as it is in our nation, whoever might lead. Such misjudgements are quickly seen as incompetence.

The second quotation above, from the Press article, spoke of “dark forces” being released when normal “parliamentary politics break down”. Such a statement reflects with very great accuracy what can happen when political incompetence reaches such a degree that orderly government by due procedure and consensus starts to collapse. We can actually see this happening today in numerous places in our world where the dark forces of autocracy, violence and repression have begun to take over from disorderly democratic rule. Turkey is sadly perhaps the nearest country (being in Europe) to witness something of this downward spiral. The author of the article is not suggesting we have arrived at such a point, but he is certainly sounding a warning that we are moving in that direction. He noted that things become “problematic when there is a clash between the Executive and Parliament of the sort we are potentially seeing at the moment”.  He warns against complacency about civil upheaval. Historically we can never overlook the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the consequent rise of Hitler’s dark forces in what was a highly civilised Germany. The fact is that the road ahead of us with Brexit is highly fractious and dangerous. Almost any direction we take will be divisive, and the chaos of bitter division is the point of entry for dark forces. What we need to recognise is that division and bitterness is again something that humanity walks into (whether in Parliament or anywhere else) when we move away from God’s pathway of righteousness.

As a nation we have been under the growing judgement of God for some years. Rather than getting back to God we have as a nation rather increased the speed at which we are rejecting the moral behaviour which he requires. We have increasing lost any semblance of being a “God” culture, and we have reached a crisis point in His dealings with us.

The greatest gift God could give us as a nation at the moment in His mercy would be that of sound competent and godly leadership, but to be sure of that the greater need is for the nation to find its way back to the God of its forefathers.

“In wrath remember mercy”.

07 – 12 – 18


Everybody apparently is bored with BREXIT; at least this is what the headlines have told us this week. Unfortunately we can’t afford to be bored! It is far too serious a matter. A huge amount depends upon the outcome. A well-known reputable weekly journal put the situation perfectly when one of its columnists wrote, “One thing increasingly clear in the fog of Brexit is that it is the most serious domestic crisis Britain has faced in the modern democratic era”. He went on to quote the transport minister’s remark that in its Brexit dealings the government was responsible for “a failure of British statecraft on a scale unseen since the Suez crisis in 1976”.  He noted that others had compared “the current debacle” of Brexit to the IMF’s bail out of Britain in 1976 and the gold standard crisis of 1931. He continued, “In fact it is worse than anything else Britain has experienced in peacetime. The political system is all but paralysed, the country is divided into warring ideological tribes, the civil service is overwhelmed, and in the event of no deal, Britain would be staring into the abyss”.

These are very serious comments. The Press is not averse to “building up” a crisis, of course – crises sell newspapers and journals! But these comments do not strike me as being in that category. Despite the “fog” of the Brexit process, it is patently obvious that we have a government in confusion and crisis, following a leader with whom very few agree and with whom most strongly disagree, and consequently utterly unable to come to any kind of real consensus at a time when the nation faces one of the most critical decisions of its history.  The possibility of much greater chaos when the House of Commons debate the Prime Minister’s plans is all too real. The fall-out could be extremely serious, with political collapse leading even to dangerous autocratic political take-overs.

No! We cannot afford to be bored – certainly Christians cannot – we have a responsibility.

Serious as this massive political issue is, however, there is a much more serious issue surrounding it than just finding the right political solution. Irrespective of the issue being a complex Brexit, the sheer incompetence of the process, the appalling and aggressive nature of the in-fighting, the confused chaos of the process are all pointing to something deeper, something spiritual. This “something” needs to be stated bluntly, and it is that God is indicating his displeasure against the nation. This is the sort of thing that happens when nations do not walk in the “fear of the Lord”, and have no regard for Him and his moral requirements. They degenerate.

To make this sort of remark is, of course, to invite from most people an immediate disdainful response. Such comment belongs, they reckon, to the “loony fringe”. The biblical prophets knew all about that kind of reaction! Such reaction is only to be expected, however, for this world has little time for God and its Maker as it blindly battles on in its own supposed “wisdom”. But those who have come to know the reality of a holy God have come to know that God is utterly central to our life and our well-being. They realise that He is not indifferent to the way we live but expects godliness and righteousness, and that if we do not walk that way we can meet with trouble in our lives! Furthermore our God is the God of the nations; he created them and expects of them what he expects of individuals. When they honour Him, he blesses them; when they arrogantly reject Him and his ways they meet with trouble – trouble of all kinds, and incompetent and chaotic government is frequently one such kind of trouble.

This  is not an obscure or extreme or “fringe” idea. It is written on page after page of the biblical record, and we meet with it in most of the books of the Bible. The Old Testament in particular is essentially a story about a nation – the Jewish nation. But it also the story of many other nations alongside Israel. As the biblical history of those nations unfolds, it is constantly commenting on the well-being or demise of those nations and demonstrating one essential theme; that those nations and their leaders who walk in God’s ways experience wisdom and blessing, and those who do not walk in his ways experience distress of every kind. This is no “fringe” idea; it is an utterly central idea, culminating in clear and definitive fashion with all the main biblical prophets. It is “fringe” only to those who have no time for God, though, sadly, it may also be “fringe” to those whose faith in God is only “personal” and does not grasp God’s deep concern for the nations.

The lesson from the biblical record is that our “troubles” as a nation will continue (and get worse) as long as we insist on living the way we live. Violence is on the increase, sexual immorality and confusion abounds, greed, covetousness and corruption are very much with us even at the highest levels of society and seemingly know no bounds; and our children are more and more tainted with what is not good, but destructive.

No, Brexit is not really the main national problem; it is only an ugly symptom of the main problem. The real problem is the systematic way we have strayed away from the fundamental requirements of God – “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and your neighbour as yourself”. The second of those two requirements (love your neighbour) is totally dependent on the dynamic provided by the first (love the Lord your God). The nation has chosen a liberal secular belief system, opening the way for an increasingly self-indulgent life style, and the movement away from God has been swift. We have lost  the anchor to which we have held (albeit often with lip service) for centuries. It is no longer woven into the national fabric. We have reverted to paganism. In all our praying for the nation (so desperately needed at this time) the confession of this must be paramount.

We are left literally to the mercy of God. He is ready to judge, but he is able to have mercy and restore. There is no other positive platform for our prayer other than that of pleading his mercy. “It is of his mercies that we are not consumed“.



I have been listening in to some of the proceedings of the World Economic Forum’s annual conference in Davos, Switzerland. The conference brings together some 2,500 top business leaders, international political leaders, economists, celebrities and journalists for up to four days to discuss the most pressing issues facing the world. Over the years it has had bitter criticism as well as rough handling at the hands of protesters; it has been inevitably branded by conspiracy theorists as a world “take-over” group, and it has been maligned as the spearhead of globalization activists etc. Nonetheless it continues to be a place where international contact can be made between leading world politicians and those who are heading up the vast new business empires and the technological revolutions that are rapidly re-shaping our age At the same time the fundamental intention of the forum still remains the resolution of the tensions and difficulties in the world. To have such a forum is important. The subjects under discussion are wide, impressive and relevant. Theresa May, for example, has spoken at the Conference (very ably) on AI (Artificial Intelligence) – a massive issue for the future. Of course we have to acknowledge that in such a forum different interest groups (whether business or political) will inevitably watch carefully over their own interests, but there never has been in this world any kind of forum on any aspect of life where that has not been the case. Despite such divergent interests it remains a fact that such forums have done good and can still do some good. Finally it is worth noting that it is the brain child of a Business Professor of the University of Geneva, not a politician; the politicians are invited because the resolving of our the problems in our future society will require business and politics to operate together more than ever before.

Watching all this as a sort of “layman” in a hideously technical and complex debate I am struck once again by the fact that the new modern world requires a huge amount of wisdom from those steering the vast changes that are taking place. I am alarmed by how little grasp even the best informed economists have on the vast fluctuations in the world economic processes. It’s not just economic wisdom we need, however. At another level the technological changes promise great gain, but at the same time are fraught with appalling social dangers: Face Book, for example, has brought great social gain and yet at the same time grave social dangers. We need wisdom for that.

The problem in the modern world is not so much what we know as what we do with what we know. Knowledge is what we know; wisdom is what we do and how we handle what we know. It is wisdom we need. We know how to split the atom, but we need to understand what to do with that knowledge; we now know how to cram an infinity of knowledge on to a very small “chip”, but we need to know what we should and should not do with that chip! The world has excelled in knowledge over the last decades; it now needs to excel in wisdom!

This wisdom, however, is not just scientific or economic or business wisdom. The wisdom that is called for is a wisdom that will restrain irresponsibility and evil self-aggrandizement; we do not want the “wisdom” that creates greater and greater profits for just a few, or that puts a few on higher and higher pedestals. That, unfortunately, is the horizon of too many powerful people. It’s a “selfish” wisdom. Rather the need is for a wisdom that creates a much wider and greater social benefit. In other words the wisdom required must have a strong underlying moral aspect. We want a wisdom that leads us away from the jungle of the “survival of the fittest”; we want a wisdom based thoroughly on responsibilities to people. That, of course, is a huge challenge to our self-centred humanity. The best of the Davos thinking would not disagree with that desire, I’m sure: indeed many of the discussions centre on human social needs. But the problem is to keep focused on such a desire! I do not think any algorithm will find the way to such wisdom; at best it would only affirm the intransigence of humanity in its propensity to do the wrong thing!

It is precisely such wisdom that our Christian faith offers. That is fundamentally because it offers the strongest of moral bases. It constitutes a call to a deep personal rejection of pride, power, unlimited possessions, and an embracing of responsibilities for other people. The billionaires who make up the guest list of Davos are in grave danger of missing this call simply because of their worldly success, though some have clearly acknowledged the need of a moral basis for their discussions. The wisdom that the Bible offers is summed up in the simplest of terms: “The fear of the Lord (an awesome respect for his commandments) is the beginning of wisdom” in the Old Testament, and “Love your neighbour as yourself” on the lips of Jesus. A Holy God calls us to a personal rejection of all evil and to a simple trust in Him and his Christ. The world lacks wisdom simply because it does not walk with its Maker as it should, even though his “wisdom” has been conveyed to us it such simple terms.

Bob Dunnett     25/01/18


How wonderful and intriguing is the Christmas story! And not least is that dramatic part of it which tells of the visit of the wise men (or Magi). This visit of the “wise men” is in actual fact probably a little post-Christmas; Matthew’s Gospel alone records the incident and there is no mention of a “stable” or a manger, and Mary and her baby appear to have been found by the magi in a “house”. Reflecting this, their visit is celebrated in the Anglican Church calendar two weeks after Christmas day. Hence this post-Christmas blog. I hasten to add, however, that it is a very happy act of traditional license which puts the whole narrative together, since none of the meaning of the story is lost and, providentially (it seems to me), the traditional story ministers beautifully to the faith and imagination of children. That is important because the Christmas story indelibly underlines the value of children to God. Jesus, in being “made man”, lived in a womb, was born a baby and grew up as a child. Bringing up a child, therefore, is a great and important calling; no child should be an “afterthought”, much less an intrusion! They deserve an introduction to Jesus in such a beautiful and appropriate way.

But there are, however, profound lessons for adults in the visit of the Magi. The main lesson stems from the fact that we have Magi (the number of them is not specified in Matthew, and neither is their precise status) who come “from the East” in order to worship this King who is to be born to the Jews. These men are not Jews; very clearly and significantly they are Gentiles. All the other participants in the Christmas story are Jews, even Jesus himself, and he is to be King of the Jews. The Magi have come to do homage to the king and to worship him. The true significance of this is that they are the forerunners of those who through the coming ages were to fulfil the great prophecy of Isaiah concerning his Messiah in which God said, “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). It resonates well with the remarkable account in Luke in which Jesus was brought into the Temple a month or so after his birth, and Simeon, full of the Holy Spirit and led by the Spirit, spoke prophetically over the child with very similar words, “my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light to lighten the Gentiles and for the glory of your people Israel” (Lk. 2:29-32). There is no doubt that this is exactly as Matthew understood the coming of the Magi; it was not just a gratuitous wonder story for the ignorant and illiterate, but a real event of great prophetic importance. These Magi were both fulfilling prophecy and also pointing prophetically to what the future would hold. He is saying to us in this story “Jesus is not simply Saviour to the Jews but to all mankind”. It is worth noting in this connection that Matthew not only begins his gospel with a focus on the Saviour and the “world”, but in his concluding chapter he leaves us with Jesus saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt28:18).

We are all familiar with the theme of the nativity of Jesus being attended by poverty and identification with the poor. Jesus was indeed a king but was not born in a palace, and his angelic heralds spoke to working shepherds not to royalty. But the Magi do not fit into this theme. Whether we can legitimately call them “kings” may be in doubt, but they were clearly men of very considerable substance, standing and wisdom, and professionally as astrologers would at the very least stand close to kings. They were important enough to stir the whole city when they arrived in Jerusalem asking where the King of the Jews was to be born, and Herod took them very seriously (Matt 1:3). Their exalted positon gives a further prophetic dimension; as they knelt before the child Jesus they represented the wisdom of the world submitting to the Christ of God, and they pointed to a fulfilment of Isaiah prophecy, “many nations will be amazed at Him, and kings will shut their mouths because of him” (Isaiah 52:15).

We need to recognise that we are very much in our own times a witness to the prophetic truth of this story. Some of us, for example, have lived long enough to see tens of millions of people from all over the world becoming Christians and kneeling before Jesus. We have, for example, seen China not only drawing level with the U.S.A. economically and militarily, but also in terms of its Christian population. A century ago that would have seemed an impossible development on all those fronts, and least of all in the spiritual dimension. More recently, despite all the carnage revolution and war in the Middle East we have seen thousands upon thousands of Arabs coming to Jesus. The striking feature of these huge waves of conversions has been that they have taken place not for political or economic gain (producing “rice Christians”), but against the strongest political and religious persecution. They have been the result of the “power of the Holy Spirit”. Looking at the world from our place in the West it is almost as though we are hearing those words coming across the globe saying again, “We have seen his star in the East and have come to worship him”! In addition the miraculous manifestations of visions and healings by which many of these modern “Gentiles” have come to Jesus are equally reminiscent of the manifestation of the star of the Magi. I have listened to such testimony at source and their authenticity is not in doubt.

There is one great difference between the story of the Magi and the story of Gentiles coming to faith in our own generation. The Magi were at the beginning of the process. We are at a point where the end seems to be coming into sight. As Christians, amid all the chaos and troubles of our time, we need to keep a clear grasp of the fact that the fulfilment of God’s purpose in bringing in the fullness of the Gentiles is moving at a pace we have never seen before. The world is currently a great harvest field and the reapers are very busy. Whatever else this year may bring forth, it will certainly bring widespread additions into God’s harvest. This is a fact which makes it possible to respond to the call to “Rejoice in the Lord!” whatever the outward circumstances. It should stimulate us to look for His Coming – the real Epiphany!

What about “Herod’s Men”, and the dark shadow they cast over the story of the “Wise Men”? It is certainly not something appropriate for children to linger over with its gruesome description of the destruction of children. None the less, it puts a focus on one of the most disturbing features of reality that we are all too often seeing on our screens and reading in the news. Commonly described in art and literature as the “Massacre of the Innocents” the murderous work of Herod’s men is disturbingly prophetic. It is as much a part of our modern world as is the ingathering of the Gentiles. Indeed it is part and parcel of the story of that ingathering throughout history. Herod’s men have always been around and are still very much with us!

Herod the Great was the archetypal autocrat; paranoiac and intensely jealous for his position, power and wealth. He was vicious, cruel, scheming, clever and utterly ruthless, and he had gained his power and maintained it by those means. Hearing of this new birth of a king from the magi, he immediately perceived a serious threat and so the child must be removed. If the child could not be identified every suspect child must go. But unhappily Herod is not just found in history. We can find a very considerable number of “Herods” in our modern world. Every day one or another of them is in the news. Some are petty tyrants, some rule very large countries. Like Herod of old they tangle with anything and anyone which has the true flavour of Jesus about them. Christians are an immediate threat to their pride and position, and to the reign of fear that alone keeps them in power. As creatures of darkness they hate the light of Christ. The sword is quickly out and the men that wield them move ruthlessly about their business of suppression. It was precisely in this way that Jesus himself died; though in his death the wrath of men was seen to work out the purposes of God, for no tyrant can suppress the Living God.

So today we see not only a world in which the Gentiles are coming to Jesus in their multitudes, but a world in which the “powers that be” are all too ready to respond with the sword. The story of the Wise Men is no fairyland fable. It is a hugely prophetic paradigm for our times. Our eyes need to be keenly focussed on working for the light to shine more and more on the Gentiles, and focussed on those who in our generation live and suffer under the shadow of Herod’s sword.


Bob Dunnett      04/01/18




“The Word became flesh”

“He was incarnate of the Virgin Mary”

For me one of the most exciting things about the Christmas story is the sheer exuberance and blatant joy with which it revels in the “other worldly” and the supernatural. We have angels manifesting themselves and speaking out heavenly announcements, angels in great numbers gloriously filling the night sky; we have the miraculous birth of John the Baptist and then an even more miraculous virgin birth for Mary; we have a very bright star hovering over the birth place of Jesus, having been followed by magi from the East. There are some, of course, who would feel much more comfortable if all this were reduced to “folklore”, and the Christian faith kept securely to the “rational” and the “ethical”. Indeed that is what many “Christian” scholars and commentators have actually striven to do, and still strive to do. But, happily, the story of Christmas is not about man and his “rationality”; it is a story about GOD. God is on the scene at Christmas and revealing something of his hidden glory that we don’t normally see.

It is a brave (or even “impertinent”) person who would seek to put God in a rational box, and deny Him any activity or creativity beyond our normal common human experience. Take the angels for example. God, as creator has brought into being an extraordinary wonderful planet perfectly fitted for the equally extraordinary creation of human beings. His creativity in the universe still goes on, baffling and amazing us. On what reasonable basis, then, can one deny Him creating a whole myriad of other beings, spiritual beings, in some other realm where He has a more “visible” existence? On what reasonable basis can we deny these spiritual beings access to this creation of ours when God so wishes? We have to “let God be God”, and angels be angels! If we have any faith in God at all, we must allow him to be infinitely bigger than our own comprehension. We simply cannot tie him down to our own human experience and understanding. If we do we betray a lack of grasp on the sheer greatness of God!

Part of our problem as Christians is that we tend by default to make him in our own image and make him much smaller than he is, as though he were tied down by the normal rules and regulations of this creation. We need to remember that he made this creation and he is much bigger than this creation. He can, and does, add the miraculous touch to the normal workings of the world; he can make things work out differently in our lives in answer to prayer. He can “tweak” the natural processes as he wishes – and he indeed does! When we start to acknowledge him and walk in fellowship with him the course of our lives will change and change for the better, and the providences of our lives will also change for the better. So we need to rejoice in the greatness, the power and the glory of God!

The supreme miracle of Christmas, however, is of course that God “took on” human flesh in the person of Jesus. Inevitably, therefore, there had to be a virgin birth where the “Father” (so to speak) of the Child could only be the life-creating Holy Spirit, the One who alone is “The Lord and Giver of Life”. But at the same time the miracle happened on account of the simple faith of Mary, the woman who was to bear the child. What a challenge that simple faith in a big God is to us! At the human level we need to believe more in our God, and more in his power and willingness to use it on our behalf.

What does the “incarnation” say to us? I always think first of the fact that it puts immense value on us human beings. I want to exclaim with the Psalmist, “What is man, that you are mindful of him?” God has not “taken the form” of an angel, but he has taken human form! In reaching out and identifying with us God indicates how precious we are to him. Drinking in this truth should in no way breed in us proud complacency, but humble thankfulness, and it is intended that it should produce in us a profoundly deep inner satisfaction and peace. Equally, if we want any basis for our attitude toward other human beings in this world, then we may find it spelt out crystal clear in this human birth of Jesus, the Son of God. His identification with us means we are to treat other human beings with the greatest respect, and we are to be careful with human life at all its stages. Human life is sacrosanct.

Sometimes we hear or read the comment that Jesus became human in order that we in our turn might become divine, and in that way his incarnation brought us our salvation. That sounds wonderful and logical, but it is a statement to be carefully clarified. In the first place it is not the purpose of God to make us “divine” or “give us divinity”. We are human beings, a creation of God, and will always remain so in the world to come. Divinity is not something we are destined for. However, what is true, and is indeed wonderful, is that we are destined to be filled with the Spirit of God and to be people in whom God dwells by his Spirit; our humanity will be shot through with the divine presence. Moreover, the extraordinary fact is that we can begin to experience something of this destiny even now, for already the Holy Spirit has been poured out and indwells those who follow the Christ. We already have a glorious “first instalment” of the kind of being we shall be in the world to come. Our glory will be, not that we become divine, but that God will live in us and fill us with his nature.

We need also to keep in mind the fact that wonderful though it is, the incarnation in itself is not sufficient to bring to us the forgiveness of sin by which alone the Holy Spirit may come and dwell with us and inside us. The incarnation can teach us of the love of God for us and for humanity, it can teach us of the “humility” of God and his great grace, and it can teach us something of the lengths to which God was ready to go on behalf of humanity. In a real sense it was truly a sacrifice on God’s part for us. But it was not the sacrifice for sin that alone could bring us back into the presence of God, forgiven and cleansed and thus ready for the indwelling Spirit. That took place on the cross. It was there that a perfect and totally innocent human being voluntary took on himself the punishment due to the rest of humanity on account of its sin, the punishment of being “cut off” from God. Such a spotless sacrifice could not have taken place without the incarnation for only in such manner could a “second human and sinless Adam” have been born.

The cross became possible because of the incarnation; the incarnation found its purpose fulfilled in the cross; the baby was after all presented prophetically with myrrh.

O come, let us adore Him!


Bob Dunnett


And suddenly there was with the angel

a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth

Peace among men of goodwillLk 2:14


Yet midst the woes of sin and strife

The world has suffered long;

Beneath the angel strain has rolled

two thousand years of wrong;

And man, at war with man, hears not

the love song which they bring:

O hush the noise ye men of strife

and hear the angels sing

                                                                                                    Rev. Sears 1849

Christmas is close upon us, and this year no doubt, as with previous years, our Christmas cards will bring the word “PEACE” to our attention. Many cards will simply have on the front just this word “PEACE” in large letters against a suitable and richly coloured background. It should strike a deep chord. Peace is the deep longing and need of innumerable people all over the world. Everywhere, from needy individual hearts right up to the whole world of the nations, the cry is the same, a longing cry for peace. But it constantly escapes us. Yet this is the great promise of Christmas. This is what the angels sang about in the Christmas story, “peace on earth”; this is what was being offered; this peace is at the heart of Christmas. This is a very great gift; peace of heart and the deep serenity that surrounds it are worth more than a mountain of riches. Peace is a facet of “the pearl of great price”.

For most people Christmas brings a temporary respite of parties, presents and festivities of different kinds. But “peace on earth”, where does that fit in?  That seems like wishful thinking.  It seems to belong to the “fairy story” bit of Christmas. The great traditional carol which starts off with the verse, “It came across the midnight clear that glorious song of old……..peace on earth, good will to men” continues, however,  with the verse quoted above which speaks of the “world suffering through the woes of sin and strife”, of “two thousand years of wrong” and “man at war with man”. We can relate to that sentiment. It is certainly not wishful thinking, nor a fairy story. Violence, wrong-doing and strife make up the stark reality of life.

The author was right to bring into his carol the sober reality of the strife of human existence. The Christmas story is not just a blind or ineffectual wishing of peace upon people. It goes much deeper than that. It recognises the fact that the world (that is people everywhere) has lost real peace and needs to know how to reach peace. It not only proclaims peace but shows the way to find it. The heart of the story is in the birth of a child, who is named by the angel as “Jesus”. Biblical names mean something, and “Jesus” means “Saviour” or “God saves”. His life’s work was enshrined in that name. He came to save people from their inherent propensity to selfishness and strife. In other words he came to challenge the fundamental problem of humanity, which is human “nature” as we know it. People have an inbuilt tendency to do the very things that destroy peace in their lives, and in Jesus God wants to do something about that problem.

Running through the bible there is one very simple proposition concerning our human living, and that is that righteousness of life and peace are inextricably linked together. We are told quite bluntly that “there is no peace for the wicked” (Is. 48:22) but “the end of the upright man is peace” (Ps 37:37), and (more poetically), “righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Ps 85:10), that is to say righteousness and peace “belong” to each other, they are united in the most intimate of ways. Peace cannot be dis-associated from character and godliness. So the Christmas story comes not simply with a vague wish for peace but with a clear challenge to live righteously and uprightly.

The Christ child has a fundamental role to play in this. It is not simply that he was born to live a model life of righteousness himself, something for us to copy. Our problem of living uprightly is much deeper than that, for we do not have within us the resources to live a truly upright life.  He was born first to bring forgiveness to each one of us, since each one of us has failed in the walk of righteousness, and second to impart to us his own Spirit by Whom we may receive the inner resources and motivation to live uprightly. Both of these can come to us, not so much by his life as by his death. The Cross saw him bear the punishment of our sins, and his resurrection led to him securing the gift of the Spirit of God to infuse us with both a longing for godliness and with the power to be godly.

Christmas, then, is not just a party time! It’s a time of challenge. The challenge is to acknowledge our need of peace, our need to live in a godly manner in order to obtain it, our need to find the resources for godliness in Jesus and our need to come to him in faith and commitment. Where this is done peace will come, where this is rejected “Woe and strife will continue to prevail.

The Christmas message is not peripheral sentimentality, but a fundamental need everywhere in our world.

There are many who will find great peace by simply going into their own room and “kneeling at the manger” in commitment.


Bob Dunnett 1/12/17


Before you were born I sanctified you; and I ordained you a prophet to the nations” Jer. 1:5

God is interested and concerned for the small things (he made the atoms) and for the big things (he made the universe). He is concerned for everything he has made simply because he is the Creator and takes pleasure in what he has made. He is very concerned for the least noticed of individuals and equally concerned for the largest of nations. So he watches the nations and he weighs their actions; he watches their rulers and their people. He has never “switched off” from that concern and he has never put the world on “auto pilot”.

God’s concern for nations was the very first thing Jeremiah learned when God called him to be a prophet. God told him that before he was born God (already planning for the future) had chosen him to be a prophet and, moreover, a prophet “to the nations”. The calling to be a prophet was a very high and privileged calling. Prophets were privileged to hear what  God was thinking and what he planned to do both with individuals and nations, and in Jeremiah’s case particularly what he wanted to do with the Jews, his own people. And in their turn those to whom the prophet was sent with his “word” were equally privileged. Through the prophet they would receive guidance, support and warning. On the whole the Old Testament Jewish nation (both Israel and Judah) recognized and honoured the prophet and his calling. Sadly, however, only too often they rejected what the prophets were saying when they most needed to listen to them and take their warnings seriously. Jewish leaders were prone to listen to the “false prophets” (self-ordained prophets who had not really heard from God) who spoke to them the things they wanted to hear rather than what they needed to hear. They much preferred the words, “Peace, peace” to the word “Repent!”

But it was not just the Jews that were privileged to hear the “word of the Lord” from the Israelite prophets. It is quite clear that all the surrounding nations were given words of warning by those same prophets. They, too, were hearing of the expectations of justice and righteousness that God required from all nations. They were hearing of the judgements that would come if those expectations were not met.

In the providence of God these prophetic pronouncements to the Jews and to the nations have come down to us in our generation in written form from several of these prophets, forming as they do a very significant part of the Old Testament scripture. These writings cover the best part of two centuries of prophetic activity. Together they form one large, continuous and united flow of the mind and heart of God as he dealt with the nations of that era. They all bear witness to a God who loves and requires righteousness and who brings about severe correction and judgement where they are where those requirements. They are not just of historical interest, though a knowledge of their history is essential in order to fully grasp their message. They are essentially a collection of the timeless principles on which God deals with nations, why they prosper and why they fail. They underline very clearly that God has dealings with the nations and that no nation can afford to neglect his laws. It is this that makes them intensely relevant to any real understanding of our own times. The prophetic warnings given more than 2500 years ago are as applicable as much today as they were then. God has not changed, people have not essentially changed, and nations have not changed despite the passage of time. In fact the similarities in behaviour from then and now are very striking. God is still at work among the nations today, he is still weighing them on the same scales of righteousness and justice and he remains a god who judges evil. How very sad, then, that the prophets remain a closed book for many of God’s people to-day; how very mistaken and foolish that we should think we have matured and those principles no longer apply.

Jeremiah was born to be a person who would hear God speaking to the nations and would be required to speak out what he heard to the nations. He was hearing the “word of the Lord”! The words he spoke had a divine stamp on them; they were beyond human wisdom and human assessments. They were not just relevant to one generation but were valid for all other generations. God does not change – his principles abide.  God’s commission to Jeremiah was very strong: “I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant”. Jer. 1: 9-10. Even as Jeremiah was commissioned with these words God emphasized what he was saying by touching his prophet’s mouth. Whatever the nature of that touch was, it utterly confirmed to Jeremiah that he was indeed speaking God’s word, not his own. He was to be God’s mouthpiece, God’s spokesman, God’s messenger.

In a very real sense, however, this word to Jeremiah was even stronger than endorsing his credentials as a speaker of divine truth. The expression “I have set you this day over nations … to destroy … and to build” almost seems to convey on Jeremiah a power to bring about on the nations what he is pronouncing over them. It is as though Jeremiah himself is destroying or building. The phrasing is quite astounding. What it means is that by simply speaking out prophetically God’s word for a nation Jeremiah would also actually bring about the enactment of the word. By simply speaking judgment as God’s mouthpiece, he would cause judgement to happen. This is understandable if we keep in mind the fact that in principle when God declares something will happen then his very declaration is the first step in making it happen; God speaks and what he speaks comes into being. This is fundamentally how creation itself came into being – “God said let there be light, and there was light”. God in fact underlines for Jeremiah the importance of his speaking out by giving him a vision. It is a very simple but unusual and enigmatic vision of an almond tree (1:11-12). God asks Jeremiah what he sees. Jeremiah replies, “An almond tree”. The Hebrew word for “almond tree” is almost exactly the same as the word “watching”, and it’s as though Jeremiah had said “watching”. God’s interpretation of the vision to Jeremiah was “I am watching over my word to make it happen”. In this way God was making sure that he understood that he was not prophesying mere words but words which God had every intention of making happen. It is indeed astonishing that God should require his word to be spoken out as crucial for it happening. For Jeremiah it was sharp reminder that he was not just playing with words but that his prophesying was integral to what God was going to do. It was a ministry of power, not just words.

Jeremiah was also warned by God of the opposition he would receive as he declared the “word of the Lord”. He was told that the kings of Judah, the princes, the priests and the people would all “fight against him” (Jer.1:18-19. In the main the thrust of the prophecies would be of judgement on nations bent on idolatry and self-indulgent behaviour. It would not be well received, but would be met by self-justification and even hatred and violence. That fact in itself was also ultimately to be enshrined in our Scriptures, that those who spoke up for righteousness would be hated and rejected in a nation that was bent on godless ways.

Bob Dunnett


This is a nation that has not obeyed the LORD its God or responded to correction. Truth has perished; it has vanished from their lips” Jer. 7:28

They make ready their tongue like a bow to shoot lies; it is not by truth that they triumph in the land.” Jer. 9:3

 God opened the eyes of his prophet Jeremiah as he looked hard at the people of Judah, and amongst the many revelations that both impressed and hurt him was the realization that everywhere he looked there was dishonesty and deceit. When the word of the LORD came to him about this matter it was very sharp and jolting, “Truth has perished!” Doubtless there were people in Judah who were honest and trustworthy but the prevailing characteristic of the nation was an embedded dishonesty. The apple, so to speak, had one or two green patches but on the whole it was rotten. And the rot was growing – it was virtually impossible to stop it. I wonder how we in our own country and in the West generally might score in God’s sight on this issue; how rotten is our own apple?

The fact is that lying, deceiving, dissimulating, insinuating, accusing, backbiting and the like are constantly being exposed in the business world, the political world, the financial world, and the professional world as well as the world of work generally. Ironically most of the exposure comes largely through the world of media which itself becomes more and more hypocritical and deceitful. The emergence of “fake news” has added a whole new and dangerous dimension to all this.

Perhaps the most disturbing feature, however, is the fact that in all these areas many of the very highest echelons of leaders seem to be involved in this deceit and lying. It was, for example, something of a shock that in the motor world the deliberate falsification of the readings of the emission level of diesel engines was not something that came about through dishonest activity in back street garages, but was programmed into the original instruments of the cars during manufacture with the connivance of the people at the highest management level of the most “reputable” of car makers. Likewise the revelation that numbers of M.P.s were grossly falsifying their expenses accounts equally brought shock waves. It seemed that in precisely the places that you would expect honesty and integrity the opposite was to be found. The scam of “injury compensation” touted by unscrupulous lawyers brought defamation to a profession where one would certainly have expected integrity. The notion that those who have the most responsibility should show the greatest honesty is not now a sentiment that is commonly held. When the leaders, makers and shakers, and the role models of society behave without integrity and truth the cancer soon spreads throughout society. A society that cannot look up to its leaders for good examples of living is a society that is in decline.

Lies and deceit are, of course, really the offspring and consorts of other and worse behaviour. Those whose lives are bent at all costs on securing positions of power and influence find that their ambitions are frequently to be gained and kept by false accusations and deceits; it is very difficult for them not to undermine rivals with slander and gossip, and more difficult still to maintain integrity in an atmosphere where it is lacking. For those whose main aim is riches in abundance deceit, lying, falsification all too often become an easy tempting road to success. Adultery or “having an affair” inevitably leads to a destructive web of deceit and denials. What we may conclude from this fact is that a society which can be characterized as dishonest will be invariably a society in which much deeper evils are to be found. Lying is the fungus growing on the deeper decay.

The important question is whether we are looking at something in our nation that has always been there and not exposed, or whether we are witnessing something of a real and serious moral decline. People have always lied, but has it ever been quite so rampant? The answer to the question has been coming from a number of different directions and there seems little doubt there is a consensus that we are in fact seeing a moral decline. The sanctions which kept control over our behaviour have now either gone or been severely weakened. The area of sexual behaviour probably provides the clearest evidence of this. Certainly what was viewed as pornographic only a decade or so ago is now mainstream in all kinds of publications and not just tabloids. Two or three decades ago such publications would have produced an outcry. But in an increasingly self- indulgent money-obsessed society we have seen the loss of sanctions in all directions, and particularly the sanctions which are a crucial aspect of a Christian culture and which have lapsed with the retreat from Christian faith. The Ten Commandments no longer stand tall in the background of life and warn of danger.

When the word of the LORD, “Truth has perished” came to Jeremiah it did not mean that only speaking honestly and with integrity had died among his generation. It also meant that the truth about God has also perished in their midst. Their understanding of God, their fear of God, their trust in Him and their keeping of his ways had all been lost in preference to a clinging to idols of their own creation. People were worshipping what they had made rather than the Creator who had made everything. Their idols were in every way more convenient for their life-style, particularly since they called for no sanctions on their behaviour. On the contrary their idols encouraged loose sexual behaviour along with riotous living. In our own day man himself, the human being, has become the great idol and put centre stage. The human rational intellect is seen as the fountain of wisdom and to be lauded above all else. But man, like other idols, does not in himself bar the way to easy access to sexual looseness and riotous living. The call is now to trust our enlightened grasp of science and technology – this will give us the answer to everything. Philosophy (the love of wisdom) has replaced theology (the study and understanding of God), even though philosophers themselves have made it clear that philosophy is not likely to change behaviour. Ours is a generation which has lost the “Truth”. Pilate asked Jesus, What is truth?” He did not receive an answer, but Jesus had already made the answer very clear in his teaching with the words, “I am the way, the truth and the life”.  God, and God alone, is truth at the deepest level. It is because we have lost the TRUTH Himself that we have inevitably become a people who cannot speak the truth. It is God who hates lies and deceit and demands utter integrity. Without his Spirit we inevitably fall from the grace of honesty.

Remember, Jeremiah is not carrying out an historical survey of Judah; he is a prophet with a message from God, and the message is one of judgement on societies which are too blind or clever to acknowledge their Maker and his ways.


Bob Dunnett   09/10/17


The foundational pamphlets which brought this website into being were studies of the prophet Amos and his message to the northern kingdom of Israel. That message was of great relevance to our own nation. It took the form of stern warnings against a godless and selfish, money seeking society for which pleasure took precedence over all else. The warnings were of the inevitable judgements of God against such a corrupt society. The ultimate judgement was that the Israelites would lose their land and find themselves in exile. The Israelites were in no mood to take heed to such warnings and they were either ignored or bitterly resented. In the event it was some thirty years from the time that Amos first began to warn the Israelites until the ultimate judgement actually overtook them. During those thirty years, however, there were serious developments in the political life of the nation; developments which should have made them realize they were on a downward trend nationally. Those developments were in themselves judgements of God.

The first of these trends was growing political disintegration. I quote from an earlier pamphlet: “The first sign of the withdrawal of God’s favour from the nation came in the form of political disintegration and loss of stability. On the death of Jeroboam the nation was straight away plunged into political chaos. Within 12 months Jeroboam’s son who succeeded him was assassinated, and his son’s killer and usurper was also assassinated. The latter’s murderer, Menahem, managed to hold on for 8 years, but only in a bloodthirsty atmosphere of brutal civil war. When Menahem’s son succeeded him, he also failed to last a year, and was murdered. His murderer survived only four years before the Assyrians deposed him. Thus the mark of those years was a chaotic struggle among rivals to gain and hold power. This took precedence over everything else, dragging down the nation, and making effective government impossible”. Political disintegration is unfortunately becoming more marked in the western world, not least in the USA (where politics seem to have reached a lock-down), and our own country.

The second trend was of growing political incompetence, especially in foreign affairs. The Israelites badly judged their own vulnerability in the face of the growing Assyrian super power and eventually were responsible for the foolish policies which opened the door to Assyrian conquest of their land.

A third mark of divine disfavour can be found in the debilitating effect of widespread and increasing political corruption in the nation, not least among its political leaders. I quote again from a previous pamphlet: “Hosea, a near contemporary of Amos, and whose main prophetic activity was at its height during these decades of collapse, sums up the situation with Israel’s leaders in a few terse comments: “their rulers dearly love shameful ways” (4:18); “Judah’s leaders are like those who move boundary stones” (5:10); “They delight the king with their wickedness, the princes with their lies. They are all adulterers, burning like an oven …On the day of the festival of our king the princes become inflamed with wine … (7:3-7). Thus the personal degradation of the rulers was very marked were dishonest, they were dissolute, they were drunkards, and they loved it. They were arrogant. Justice and integrity had died. There was no political integrity because there was no personal integrity. The two, of course, can never be disassociated: humanity cannot keep corruption confined to one compartment of its life – it spreads all over. It is a sign of decadence when politicians insist that public life and personal life can be held in separate compartments.

I am writing this on the same morning that the resignation of our Defense Secretary and a senior Minister of the government has been announced. His resignation is due to the “sex scandal” among members of parliament. The same appalling “sleaze” which has been has been exposed at Hollywood threatens to rock the very centre of our government. More exposures are expected; and all this at a time when the stresses and strains of government are at an extreme level with disintegration not too far away. The situation is distinctly disturbing.

Has this behavior always been there? Many would say, “yes!” But many would suspect it has reached new levels. Sex is “in the air”, and open in a way that it has not been before. It certainly points at moral corruption. But does this exposure amount to a new moral beginning? Are we to see a new moral outlook? Or is that taking optimism too far? I suspect it is. The fact is our present position mirrors Amos’s position only too well. We are seeing only too clearly an aspect of the judgement of God.

Perhaps I should add a further quote from the pamphlet mentioned above: It was not political corruption in high places alone that marked the years of rapid decline, however. The corruption was endemic in the whole nation. Greed and gain among the rich provided not only a degenerate example to the less affluent, but drove those who were poorer to evil ways in order to keep up or even to survive. In this way corruption led to violence. Hosea again paints the picture: “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgement of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds and bloodshed follows bloodshed” (4:1-2). The corruption and evil with which the nation had lived for fifty years, and by which it had lived a profligate lifestyle, was now to become part of the cancer which was to render it incapable of a strong response to the danger it was to face. The political leadership was absolutely incapable of addressing these deep moral and social issues: it was actually itself a part of the problem”.

The signs are all there – time is running out!


Bob Dunnett                  02/10/17