Victory over death: HRH Prince Philip

Many years ago on a family holiday with our daughters we had a glorious couple of days on the Lincolnshire coast.  There was sand for miles and it was ideal for making a sandcastle.  We had great fun making it, and at the end of the day we left it.  We went back to the same spot the next day, and to our surprise and delight it was still there.  The tide had not washed it away, so we continued to enjoy it and care for it!  But we did know that eventually the tide would wash it away, and what was once there would be there no more.  Thinking on the death of HRH Prince Philip reminds me of that occasion and of a saying that you may be familiar with… life is like a sandcastle on a beach!  You build it, tend it, enjoy it, but you know it is only temporary, for you will have to let it go… the tide comes in and washes it away. 

When reading the Bible, we read about the reality of life; death hangs like a funeral pall over the coffin of life.  There is a sombre repetition of the phrase “and then he died”.  This serves as a reminder that our efforts to extend the realms of our existence are checkmated by death.  Even our most noteworthy achievements are neutralised by death and washed away by the ocean waves of time.  Regrettably, generations in the distant future will not even remember us and our collective efforts.

But there is good news!  For believers in Jesus Christ as the Son of God the sting of death is overcome by the hope of His resurrection, a truth made clear in 1 Corinthians 15:50-58.  In this “lyrical passage,” the author Paul exults in the triumph Christ has won over death itself.  Paul repeated in plain terms that natural, earthly bodies are not suited to a spiritual, heavenly existence.  Indeed, that which is subject to death and decomposition could never receive as an inheritance that which is eternal and glorious in nature (v50). The good news is that living, as well as deceased believers, will have their bodies transformed at the Messiah’s return (v51).

So what is this all about?  Well, perishable, mortal bodies are unfit to inhabit heaven, they need to be transformed into imperishable, immortal ones (v53).  This does not mean that the earthly and heavenly bodies are completely different, for there is a fundamental continuity of identity between the old and new.  This can be described like a person putting on a new robe (v54).  Paul’s quote from Isaiah 25:8 indicates that the sovereign Lord completely checkmates death.  In 1 Corinthians 15:55, Paul also quotes from Hosea 13:14 as if to taunt death, who is a loser and does not have ultimate power to inflict harm on God’s people.

Death has been described in many ways, like a poisonous hornet or scorpion whose stinger has been pulled.  By Jesus’ own atoning sacrifice on the cross and resurrection from the grave, He dealt a fatal blow to death.  The truth is this: all people must die; but when the Messiah returns, He will raise all who have trusted in Him for eternal life, and they will be rescued from death forever.  In this way, the arch-enemy of all humanity, the pain of death, is going to be completely overwhelmed by God’s invincible supernatural power.

This pain of death is caused by the presence of sin in the world and in our own personal lives.  In 1 Corinthians 15:56, Paul tells us, his readers, that it was through the presence of sin that death received its power to hurt believers.  After Adam disobeyed God’s command, death invaded his life and the life of all his descendants (cf. Romans 5:12).  Sin gains its power from the law by using God’s commands to produce all sorts of wrong desires in people and to seduce them into disobeying the Creator (cf. Rom. 7:7-11).  The Bible is clear, people who reject the Lord are powerless to resist sin or overcome death.  Paul gave thanks to the Father for the triumph available through faith in the Son (1 Cor. 15:57).

Paul, the apostle, exhorts us to remain steadfast in his teaching and resolute in the faith, for we have ultimate victory in the Redeemer (v58).  The hope of the Resurrection is meant to spur all on to serve the Lord diligently and wholeheartedly.  With such an attitude our efforts will never be wasted, since in Christ they will bear eternal fruit and reap a heavenly reward.  From this it is clear that only in Christ can work and leisure be enjoyable, beneficial, and fulfilling for people of faith.  So as you reflect on the life of HRH Prince Philip don’t ponder on the finality of death; instead ponder on the hope of life everlasting in the presence of the Almighty God, where we will be clothed with a new body fully fit to live eternally.

Christian living and giving

32All the believers were one in heart and mind.  No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.  33With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34that there was no needy person among them.  For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.  (Acts 4:32-35)

The first sentence sets the tone for what follows:  All the believers were one in heart and mind. Luke is describing the extraordinary sense of unity that the early believers felt.  The phrase heart and mind indicates to me that their unity was far more than just an intellectual understanding of Jesus; they were united in their faith in such a way that they deeply experienced the feeling of a common bond in Christ.

This experience was so intense that it spilled over into the practical issue of possessions. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own.  Instead they shared everything they had.  This is an extraordinary statement; how was this sharing actually carried out?

Some have claimed that the Christian church practiced socialism or even communism.  But that is not really what happened.  It is true that they shared what they possessed and had everything in common, but Luke’s phrase, “No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own”, indicates what actually went on: sharing here applied to every possession.  In a socialist society, members still have private personal possessions.  You may not own your land or house, but you do possess books, pots, and other items, which you do claim to be your own. The sharing of all possessions expressed an attitude of each believer, not a community rule.

The summary of Acts chapter 2 gives us a clearer understanding of how possessions were held in common.  Believers sold personal possessions to meet the needs of brothers and sisters, thinking that the value of their possessions were no longer reserved for their own ends, but for the common good of their new community.

Luke makes the point that in doing this they regarded personal property as a means to serving the community, acting in the way loving family members would do for one another.  They did all this because of the supernatural resurrection of Jesus from the dead, for His resurrection was proof to them that His teaching on Kingdom lifestyle was the right way to go.

At its heart, Christianity is not a religion of ideals.  It is not a philosophy.  It is a way of life, born out of the transforming power of redemption through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross.  Our lives are changed, not because Jesus has a way of making us agree with His principles, but because the power by which He conquered death comes into those whom He has called to salvation.

So what are the implications for us with regard to giving?  What does this passage teach us individually and as a church about giving?

First of all, we ought to have a mind set for giving.  Again, the impression Luke gives us is that the early believers spontaneously gave to meet the needs of one another, which appears to have risen more out of a natural mind-set that they ought to be looking out for each other, rather than on any teaching given by the apostles because there is no record of such teaching at this stage.

This mind-set for giving is one of the key signs of whether someone has become a follower of Christ, because the one who has experienced the saving grace of Christ, not only becomes conscious of God but of his or her neighbours, especially those who are also in the family of God.  Christians shift from a mind-set of self-centredness to one which sees the needs of others, and it leads to a natural desire to give whatever they have the power to give.  It may be money; it may be possessions; it may be time and attention.

How attentive are you to the needs of others, whether in the church or not?  Ask God to show you the needs of His church here and the needs of the wider community.  As you do this He will show you how to get beyond the “how are you doing” greeting and find out how those around you are really doing.  Giving starts with caring enough to know the needs.

Do you know the needs of the church?

Do you pay attention to the reports on how well giving is meeting the Parish Share?

Do you know the widows in the church and their needs?

Do you know the families in the church — the names and needs of the children and the help the mothers could use? 

Secondly, we ought to give generously. That is clearly the trait Luke is bringing out in his description of the early church. That sentence in 2:45, — Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need — is not the description of a people who look through attics, garages and sheds, or wherever things are stored, to unload what they had no use for.  They gave generously what was precious to them in order to support all.

But how much is generous? Perhaps it is when others begin to question your judgement about your level of giving!  Sensitive Christians will give what they ought to, not because their emotions, or their guilt, are stirred, but because God is telling them to do so.  What should be evident of the Christian is that they give more of their money, talent, and self than the non-Christian.

Thirdly we are to have the right motive for giving.  This motive is to come out of a sense of unity and belonging.  That is what is meant by verse 32: All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.

Like the early believers we ought to feel united to one another.  This is more than simply recognising that we hold the same beliefs.  We ought to feel that we belong to the family of Christ, and as members in a local church we ought to feel that we belong here – to this church and to each other.

That’s hard to do, – to keep the feeling of belonging.  It is hard enough in a family.  How much more difficult then, to feel a unity and belonging in a church where people come and go, come from different backgrounds, have families of their own and other groups to which they belong?  This is all made even harder when we’re meeting on YouTube, Zoom, in restricted numbers and when we have to socially distance ourselves from others!  No, it is not easy, but the very act of giving helps to nurture the spirit of belonging.  When people give and receive out of a sense of belonging to one another, they nurture that bond.

Fourthly, we are to give out of the joy and power of our redemption. I get this from verse 33: With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.

We give because of the grace of God working within us. Note what I just said – We give because of the grace of God working within us.  This means that we do not give in response to the grace of God; we give empowered by the grace of God.

Do you see the difference?  The attitude of the early Christians was that they gave because of the joy of giving, not because they felt obligated.  That joy came from the grace of God and the power of the resurrection.

We are created in Christ Jesus to do good works, as we are told in Ephesians 2:10.  All that means is that we are created in Christ to do what we were originally created by God to do – to joyously glorify our God through pouring out our lives in service to him.  And our God takes delight in our serving one another.  It is not an obligation he places on us; it is a joyous privilege that he gives us the power to do.

True Christian giving is not paying God back for anything, no, we are joining in the joy for which God created us and for which Jesus Christ redeemed us.  We are joining in the activity that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit delight in doing themselves.  That is a wonderful privilege that God has given to us.

So a question to think about as you go about your daily life:

Have you added Jesus to your life, to make you feel better about yourself, to help you overcome your personal difficulties, to guide you in what you want to do?

Or

have you completely and utterly submitted yourself to Jesus, given up all that you are, all that you have, given up your whole life to Him in order to know the joy for which God created you and for which Jesus Christ redeemed you through the resurrection?

Time to think

This is your opportunity to spend time alone with God.  The more time you spend with Him the more you will get to know Him as He reveals more of who He is to your heart, soul and spirit. This time will be personal and wholly unique to your faith journey with Him.

Read again the two passages from Scripture: Acts 4:32-35 & John 20:19-29, and let them speak to you afresh in light of Christian living and giving.  As God speaks to you why not write down in your journal what you sense God is saying to you?

The benefit of writing down your thoughts helps you to check them against Scripture, and then plants them more firmly in your heart and mind than just simply thinking on things.

Can I ask you to consider these questions?

  1. How attentive are you to the needs of others, whether in the church or not?  Ask God to show you the needs of His church here and the needs of the wider community.  As you do this He will show you how to get beyond the “how are you doing” greeting and find out how those around you are really doing. 
  2. Have you added Jesus to your life, to make you feel better about yourself, to help you overcome your personal difficulties, to guide you in what you want to do? ….OR….
  3. …have you completely and utterly submitted yourself to Jesus, given up all that you are, all that you have, given up your whole life to Him in order to know the joy for which God created you and for which Jesus Christ redeemed you through the resurrection?

Go into a quiet place and invite God to show you how He wants you to respond to these questions.

As you ponder on them, why not write down your thoughts and share any reflections with others.

Easter Sunday Living Thoughts

For all of us, those of faith and those of no faith, the last year has been like nothing we’ve experienced before.  We have had churches closed for a time.  I have recorded services and posted them on to a YouTube channel we’ve generated for ourselves.  People, young and old, have worshipped from home; you’ve invited your church ministers into your living space each week as you’ve gathered around the TV, laptop computer, or mobile phone.

So when we finally emerged from our months of pandemic quarantine in lockdown 1, it was like breaking free as a butterfly does from a chrysalis.  We were breaking free from the prison of isolation to join a living, breathing world again, all be it one different from a few months earlier.  And then lockdown 3, the same restrictions; here we go again!

There’s a story of a Christian family playing in a public park after lockdown 1.  As they are playing catch with a ball the Mum thinks that she hears singing and then hears the name “Jesus” floating on the air.  Stopping to look around she sees a group of people on a nearby hill, and one of them has a guitar in hand.  She had heard correctly.  Without hesitation she sets off, at a fair lick that surprised even her, to get to the top of the hill! 

At the sound of His name, this Mum ran and with a sheepish look on her face she stood among the startled strangers trying to justify her intrusion into their safe space!  No one said anything for a moment, the music and singing stopped and then the Mum blurted out, “I heard the Name of ‘Jesus’ and just came running.”  She says that months of being out of church had had a profound impact on her; at the name of Jesus she ran toward the source of the name!  She was desperate for the company of other believers, for the love she knew His Name could bring.  In fact, she was so desperate for restoration – to be awakened back to life – that her heart reacted in a way that surprised her, especially for the rest of her family as they hastily gathered up their belongings to chase after her, not knowing where she was going and what she was trying to achieve. 

By the way, she’d run into a worship group recording songs for their on-line service!

Have you ever needed God like that Mum?  Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by your circumstances that, given the chance, you’d throw off everything else and just run, in surrender to Him?

In the wake of Christ’s crucifixion, we can guess the apostles were swept over by a range of emotions: confusion; discouragement; isolation; pain, grief, and loss.  I would have imagined there was also despair that what they’d thought was supposed to happen . . . didn’t.  The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly what the apostles’ hearts were experiencing at the time, but it does paint a portrait of their response when Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women returned with a report that Jesus was not in the tomb.  No – He had risen from the grave!

The apostles thought these were idle tales.  That is, except for one man.  The Gospel of Luke tells us:

“Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.” (Luke 24:12).

Can you for a moment allow yourself to get caught up in the sheer breathless beauty of that moment – Peter running to the tomb?  What was Peter thinking as he ran to the tomb?  Was his heartbeat drowning out the sound of his sandals pounding on the dirt road beneath his feet?  What did he feel as he approached the stone?  What did he feel seeing it rolled away?  What did he feel when he too found the tomb empty?  Did he cry, did he cradle the strips of linen to his chest in confusion?

As Peter wondered to himself what was going on, I think it was a step back toward redemption for him.  He probably couldn’t see it for himself, but remember, he had denied knowing Christ on the night of His arrest, despite hotly denying he would do any such thing when Jesus told him he would do it!  I think that Peter, standing in the tomb, a grave, was brought one step closer back to life.  Another step was when Jesus appeared to him later in the day.  I believe that this is all part of the truth of the Good News of Easter…we are brought back to life, and in of all places, a grave, one step at a time!  So, out of this specific grave, Jesus’ grave, comes God’s amazing gift of redemption.

The Scriptures back this up….

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” (Ephesians 1:7)

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

We may well have felt overwhelmed by the circumstances of the last year.  But I don’t think that is a bad thing.  In fact, from my personal experience, the moment we’re most overwhelmed is the perfect moment to come alive again and embrace all God can do to bring life back to the dead places in our hearts.

So don’t wait for the circumstances to change around you.  If you did this, you could have a long wait!  Don’t waste your time waiting for them to change; instead run to the promises of God.  There is a lot of running to and fro from the grave, as well as to and fro from Emmaus to Jerusalem, on the first Easter Day.  We don’t have a tomb to run to, but Easter is still about running to the life that’s waiting for you in His Word.  Easter is about running to prayer and worship and to the community of Jesus-followers in your life.

Whenever you feel overwhelmed, get up and run toward Jesus; redemption is waiting for you when you do.  But don’t do this just when you’re feeling overwhelmed, no, run toward to Jesus from the moment you wake up first thing in the morning to the close of day.  God is looking for marathon runners, not sprinters!

Christ is risen…

He is risen indeed!

Time to think

This is your opportunity to spend time alone with God.  The more time you spend with Him the more you will get to know Him as He reveals more of who He is to your heart, soul and spirit.  This time will be personal and wholly unique to your faith journey with Him.

Read again the two passages from Scripture we had today: 2 Corinthians 5:14-17, and Luke 24:1-12.  Let them speak to you afresh in light of Jesus’ resurrection.  As God speaks to you why not write down (in your journal) what you sense God is saying to you?

The benefit of writing down your thoughts helps you to check them against Scripture, and then plants them more firmly in your heart and mind than just simply thinking on things.

Can I ask you to consider these questions found in this week’s sermon:

  1. Have you ever needed God like that Mum?
  2. Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by your circumstances that, given the chance, you’d throw off everything else and just run in surrender to Him?
  3. What was Peter thinking as he ran to the tomb?  Was his heartbeat drowning out the sound of his sandals pounding on the dirt road beneath his feet?
  4. What did he feel as he approached the stone? 
  5. What did he feel seeing it rolled away?
  6. What did he feel when he too found the tomb empty?  Did he cry, did he cradle the strips of linen to his chest in confusion?

Go into a quiet place and invite God to show you how He wants you to respond this question.

As you ponder on it why not write down your thoughts and share any reflections with others.

Prayer Response

Help us every day to come with anticipation into your presence.  As we take this step we ask you to roll away the stone from the tombs of our hearts, O God that we may share in the fullness of the resurrection life that your Son Jesus offers to all who put their faith and trust in Him and who call on Him as their Lord and Saviour.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen! 

He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!