Education Service

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Can I first of all give a special welcome to any teachers, Sunday School teachers, lecturers, parents, grandparents and students who are with us this morning. Once a year in our morning services we focus on what the Bible says about education. And you are all involved in education, whether at home or church or at school or college. Not that all parents and children want to be involved judging by some of the sick notes that are written! Here are just three:

My son is under a doctor's care and should not take P.E. today. Please execute him!
Dear School: Please excuse John being absent on January 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, and also 33!
Please excuse Jimmy for being. It was his father's fault!

Whether any parents had any actual knowledge of those excuse notes is open to question! But according to the Bible the home is vital in terms of education. Our children do not belong to the state. Look at Proverbs 1:8-9 on the screen where a child is being prepared for life in the world:

Listen, my son, to your father's instruction
and do not forsake your mother's teaching.
They will be a garland to grace your head
and a chain to adorn your neck

And what is the basis of that father’s instruction and mother’s teaching that children and young people are to listen to and not forsake to be? Indeed what should the basis of all true education be? Well in the previous verse of Proverbs, Proverbs 1:7 we read that:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Sadly today in much educational thinking and practice both in the home and at school there is little fear of the Lord and therefore there is a lack of true knowledge, and godly wisdom and discipline are despised which leads to confusion. Living without reference to God, which is what the Bible calls sin, has serious consequences for individuals, families, schools and society.
So at this education service we’re going to be looking primarily at the words of the greatest teacher ever to have walked on this planet, the one who taught with such authority that the people who heard him were amazed at his teaching (Mark 1:22) – the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And yet the words of the greatest teacher are not often heard in many of our schools today despite being words of truth and life and at a time when according to Sir Al Aynsley Green, the Children’s Commissioner for England, this country is one of the worst in which to bring up children. So do turn with me to Mark 10:13-16 on page 1014 in the church Bibles.

13People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." 16And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

THE CONTEXT

But before we look at those verses what’s the context? Well have a look at Mark 10:1-12:

1Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.
2Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"
3"What did Moses command you?" he replied.
4They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away."
5"It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied. 6"But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.' 7'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8and the two will become one flesh So they are no longer two, but one.
9Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."
10When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11He answered, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery."

So the context for Jesus’ teaching on the importance of children is Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce. Nothing surprising about that you may be thinking. But what the present government and possible future governments are wanting in terms of sex education in schools is very different to Jesus’ teaching. And the present government have said that they want sex education, including teaching on civil partnerships to be compulsory for all 15 year olds in England - so no right of withdrawal for parents. In fact under government guidelines issued last week, all schools will be legally required to provide classes in sex and relationships. From the age of 11, pupils will be encouraged to talk about sexual orientation and civil partnerships. The government believes that all this will help lower the teenage pregnancy rate in this country, which is the highest in Europe. However it was reported from America this week by the Archives of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine that children taught that abstinence is the best way to avoid pregnancy and STDs were far less likely to have sexual intercourse than those given lessons on safe sex.

In response a spokesman for the Department of Children, Schools and Families here said, clearly dismissing that study:

We want to give young people the facts so that they can stay safe and healthy. There is no evidence abstinence education is effective.

David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party, recently said to a meeting of party activists:

Schools should teach children that homosexuality is normal and civil partnerships have as much value as marriage…

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, has said that schools including faith schools, should teach that homosexuality is normal and harmless. The message most politicians seem to want to convey to those at school is that all sex between consenting adults is good sex.

So what is Jesus’ teaching on sex? What does God, the creator of sex, teach? What should be being taught by parents, churches and schools at an appropriate age and stage, if Jesus is the truth? Well let’s look at

JESUS’ SEX EDUCATION SYLLABUS

The first point on Jesus’ sex education syllabus is that:

i) God created sex for heterosexual monogamous marriage alone

Look at what Jesus says in v6-9 of Mark 10:

6But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.' 7'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.

First Jesus, quoting from Genesis 1:27&2:24, states that sexual differences are part of God’s created order of things (v6). God made them male and female. Yes men and women have equal value. Genesis 1:27 says: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” The image of God is fully reflected in the male man and the female woman together. But they are different. I trust you’ve noticed! And the differences are not just matters of human plumbing. No! Jesus says what was created originally was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. And (v8) sexual intercourse, as an expression of faithful intimacy, belongs within marriage exclusively. The two will become one flesh after the marriage ceremony. And what is marriage? Marriage is a creation ordinance (v6) in other words a gift of God in creation, as the marriage service puts it, and is defined as a faithful, committed, permanent and legally sanctioned relationship between one man and one woman (v7) until death parts them (v9). And because all this is part of the created order then it’s true for all, not just for Christians. Therefore marriage, as Jesus defines it, is central to the stability and health of human society and needs to be promoted.

ii) Sex within marriage is very good and purposeful

Here Jesus affirms that sex is very good and was created by God for marriage. And young people need to know that God is not against sex in its right context. Look again at v7-8, where Jesus is quoting from Genesis 2:24:

‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one.

Look at the order here: leaving, uniting and then becoming one flesh. A personal commitment, a public statement and then sexual intercourse. Not the other way round. The uniting is not having sex but rather the wedding. It is only after the uniting that the two, the man and the woman, will become one flesh. And in becoming one flesh, in being unified, God calls us to be faithful to our spouse alone. Therefore marriage is God’s intended context for the procreation of children. And that’s a message young people also deserve the opportunity of hearing even though it’s a difficult message to deliver when so many are growing up in homes without married parents, all of which brings me to the third point of Jesus’ syllabus.

iii) Marriage is for life

V9:

Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.

When there’s a leaving, a uniting and a becoming one flesh, Jesus says God is doing something. He is joining the husband and wife together, whether they are Christians or not, for life, in a sexually exclusive relationship. So we are not to break that divine bond. Therefore, Jesus goes on to say in v10-12, divorce and remarriage are not God’s plan. Just as he does in Luke 16:18, and just as Paul does in Romans 7 and 1 Corinthians 7. The supposed exception in Matthew 19 is in fact a mistranslation in the NIV. And because marriage is a creation ordinance this applies to all married people, Christians or not. Look at what Jesus says in v10-12.

10When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11He answered, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery."

Jesus’ teaching is very clear and very positive even if the latter part appears to be very hard. Jesus’ teaching is the most loving – it is the best for individuals, couples, families, children, schools and society as a whole. What Jesus is teaching is built into the order of creation – this is how God designed it and young people need the opportunity to hear God’s positive purposes for relationships. But perhaps some of us this morning are especially aware that our situations are not the ideal God intended. But our God is a God of hope who offers forgiveness if we turn to him. Jesus wants people who have made mistakes, whether heterosexual or homosexual, to come to him in repentance and faith and know God’s forgiveness, freedom from guilt, rescue from God’s judgment and go God’s way - in the power of the Spirit. Yes the good news is that at the cross there is forgiveness for every sin, including sexual and marital sins. And that good news needs to be heard in homes, churches, schools & colleges. So it’s very encouraging that 29 lecturers at Newcastle University have taken a page in the university newspaper ahead of the upcoming mission to encourage the student body to take a look at the claims and message of Jesus Christ. It’s also encouraging that there are opportunities in many primary school assemblies for the good news. Some school Christian Unions are thriving. But within the school curriculum the Christian faith is being squeezed.

Ten days ago the government issued guidance saying that children as young as five should be given lessons in minority religions such as Baha’i, Jainism and Zoroastrianism plus humanism as well as Christianity and five other major religions – Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism and Hinduism.
So what is Jesus’ syllabus for RE? What does Jesus teach in Mark 10:13-16? Well let’s now look at

JESUS’ RELIGIOUS EDUCATION SYLLABUS

13People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." 16And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

Now that government guidance on teaching minority faiths, apart from being educationally irresponsible at primary level because of the confusion it will cause, will hinder the little children from coming to Jesus. Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me.” And 30 plus years ago that was the aim of the Newcastle RE syllabus of 1972. It said this:

The RE syllabus is to help pupils towards an understanding of the Christian faith, in Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life and to provide a basis from which they may move toward the belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing they may have life in His Name.

Sadly how the aim and syllabus have changed although the main focus of RE and assemblies should legally still be Christianity. But interestingly in these verses it was Jesus’ disciples who were hindering the little children from coming to Jesus. They didn’t think they were important enough to bother Jesus. Are there ways in which we individually or as a church hinder little children from coming to Jesus, whether our own children or others? What about as parents? Do we model our faith to our children as well as teach it? Deuteronomy 6:6 says that God’s commandments are to be upon our hearts not just on our lips. In the light of Jesus’ teaching about marriage and divorce what’s the best thing a father can do for his children? The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother and together bring them to Jesus. If we’re godparents do we take that role seriously? Is there more we can do as a church to help those who come to our midweek Baby and Toddler groups to not be hindered from bringing their children to Jesus? Likewise with those who go to the uniformed groups? Do more of us need to be standing to be school governors and local councillors to help to ensure that Jesus remains on the curriculum and in assemblies? Do others of us need to be considering teaching as a vocation? And what about a thoroughly Christian school within the Newcastle City Council boundary open to all and influencing the wider school community? Many people in this country still want their children to go to a church school. Many people still want to bring their little children to Jesus in that way. And Jesus is indignant here in Mark 10. He values little children and is concerned for their spiritual welfare v14-15:

14…"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."

So Jesus’ RE syllabus is also very clear for all of whatever age. Only those who receive the kingdom of God with the simplicity and trust of children can enter it. God offers a place in his kingdom to those who will simply trust in Jesus. Who this morning needs to do just that and then know God’s blessing?

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