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!

Spirituality of Fund-raising Part 5: A New Communion

In Henri Nouwen’s book “The Spirituality of Fund-raising” we read this…

“People have such a need for friendship and for community that fund-raising has to be community-building.”

Now when we’ve done fundraising here in this parish one comment that I hear over and over again is that it has drawn us closer together.  This seems to be said regardless of how much money is raised by a single event.

Last week I spoke about asking people for money, saying that when we do this we are to do it from the viewpoint that we want them to help us strengthen and expand the work of God’s Kingdom here.  When we do this we are also inviting them into a new spiritual communion.  This is very important.  In Paul’s letter to the Romans we read:

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom. 8:22-23, NIV).

The New Jerusalem Bible has this as the last part to v23; “waiting with eagerness for our bodies to be set free”.

Because we are made in the image of God this groaning comes from deep within us, and as God has created all things this groaning comes from within all creation.  It is the sound of a yearning for all things to be in glorious communion with God and with one another, a communion that transcends the limitations of time and space.  If we are not careful, we limit God but He is bigger than all of us put together. 

In times such as these I believe that God is calling us to step out of the limitations that we impose on Him and on ourselves.  We think that we have to be in physical proximity with others in order to sense God in worship.  I just don’t believe that.  Yes, worshipping corporately with others is truly amazing and powerful, but when we can’t do this because of Covid-19, God has the power to transform us so that even when we’re either reading a weekly service on our own or with A. N. Other, or when we are watching a service online we can still experience His supernatural divine presence drawing us ever closer to Him, and one another.  After all, by His Word He brought absolutely everything into being!  By His Word He raised His Son from the dead, so defeating death, and at the same time flinging wide open the doors to Heaven to allow all who put their faith and trust in Him as their Saviour and Lord to enter in and bask in eternal life in fellowship with Him, His Son and the Holy Spirit!  The good news, though, is we enter into this eternal life the moment we personally confess and profess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour.

This groaning, therefore, expresses God’s passionate yearning for communion with us and with all that He created.  God desires; “that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (Rom. 8:21, NIV).

This is the freedom of true spiritual communion.  When fund-raising and asking for money we have an opportunity to call people into this communion with us.  We are saying, “We want you to get to know us.”

When we’re gathered together by a common yearning, we begin to know this communion in a deeper way as we move together toward our vision.  Our vision here involves taking on a Children and Families Worker to help and encourage us all to draw families and young people deeper into this fellowship and communion with God.  Why?  Because being in communion with God is amazing and worth inviting others to experience for themselves.  Remember the parable of the hidden treasure and pearl? (Matthew 13:44-46).

To me this is spiritual communion manifesting itself in a concrete way.  When fund-raising as ministry calls people together in communion with God, and with one another, it will hold out the real possibility of friendship and community.  Covid-19 has clearly shown us that people have such a need for friendship and for community, therefore fund-raising has to be community-building.  Do we really realise that as Jesus’ Church here, community is one of the greatest gifts we have to offer to all people?

So, if we ask for money, it means that we offer a new fellowship, a new way of belonging.  We have something to offer – an opportunity for all to know the transforming power of Jesus in their personal lives through friendship, prayer, peace, love, fidelity, affection, and ministry with those in need.  These things and so much more are so valuable, and when people catch it for themselves many are willing to make their resources available to sustain them.  Therefore, fund-raising must always aim to create new, lasting relationships, relationships that flourish because of nurture and support.  If these people have money, they will give it; but that is not the point.  When compared with new freedom and new friends in a new communion, money is the least interesting thing.

Spiritual communion also reveals itself in a new fruitfulness. Here the radical nature of fund-raising as ministry becomes clear.  In the world, those who raise funds must show potential donors a strategic plan that convinces donors their money will help to increase the productivity and success of the organisation.  In the new communion, productivity and success may also grow as a result of fund-raising, but they are only by-products of a deeper creative energy, the energy of love planted and nurtured in the lives of people in and through a relationship with Jesus.  With the right environment and patient care, these seeds can yield a great harvest, “thirty and sixty and a hundredfold” (Mark 4:20).  This is a vision of fruitfulness, so every time we approach people for money, we must be sure that we are inviting them into this vision of fruitfulness, a fruitfulness that reveals God’s generosity to all who give cheerfully and freely. We want them to join us so that together we begin to see what God means when He says, “Be fruitful” (Gen. 1:28).

Fund-raising, as Henri Nouwen says, also gives us an amazing opportunity to grow in faithfulness toward our own personal calling, our own unique vocation and ministry.  At times this may well bring us right to the heart of our struggle with our vocation, for who does not from time-to-time struggle with the vocation God has set upon our hearts?  Yet, it is through our struggle that we can give God an opportunity to help us become more fruitful. He does this by calling us to deeper commitment to our particular ministry and vocation, so fund-raising helps to make visible the Kingdom that is already among us. This is part of the fruitfulness of the community of love.

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: 2 Corinthians 9:10-15 & Matthew 14:13-21.  Let them speak to you afresh in the light of giving, stewardship and fund-raising as ministry.  As God speaks to you why not write down (in your journal, or on the spare pages in this service booklet) 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. What does God mean when he says “Be fruitful” (Genesis 1:28)?
  2. Read Matthew 13:44-26.  How do you respond to the actions of the man and merchant in these parables?  Is God asking you to sell something of great worth to you so you can be part of His plan to extend His Kingdom here in these communities?

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

Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous;

teach me to serve you as you deserve,

to give and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,

to labour and not to seek reward,

except that of knowing that I do your will.

Amen

 St. Ignatius Loyola

The pre-eminence of Jesus

Readings: Colossians 1: 14-20; John 1: 1-14

Everyone worships someone or something. All people give someone or something first place in their life.  The apostle Paul was determined that the church at Colossae give Jesus Christ pre-eminence in everything.  Paul used what is most likely an early Christian hymn to explain how Jesus is pre-eminent in the entire universe and worthy of the church’s allegiance and affection.

The beginning of the hymn explains that when people see Jesus, they see God. Remarkably, even in His human form, Jesus is God.  Jesus Himself affirmed this when He said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).  Jesus’ deity displays His pre-eminence.

Paul then used a phrase that has often been misunderstood.  He said Jesus is the “firstborn over all creation” (Col 1:15).  At times, people have mistakenly taken this to mean that God the Father created the Son.  The immediate context reveals otherwise, describing Jesus as the creator of all things, who existed “before all things” (v16-17).  Additionally, John as we heard in our Gospel reading, affirmed that Jesus was in existence with the Father at the very beginning: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning” (John 1:1-2).

So, from what I have just said, and proved with Scripture, God and Jesus have been around for as long as each other.  What then is the meaning of Paul’s use of this word “firstborn“?  Well, this is where it helps to have a little bit of understanding of the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day.  The “first born” was significant.   Remember last week we celebrated Candlemas; Jesus being presented to God in the Temple because the Law of the Lord said;  ‘Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord’. (Luke 2:23).

This points to the exalted position held by God, and so the family, of the firstborn son.  So in the Jewish context, “firstborn” implied the highest rank and value.  Therefore, as the firstborn Jesus has the highest ranking and value of all things, both visible (i.e. created) and invisible (i.e. what goes on spiritually and in the heavenly realms).

Paul then pointed to the fact that Jesus created the universe.  He hoped to stretch his readers’ minds by leading them to think about invisible things that Jesus created, including the unseen angelic realm.  When Christians ponder on all of creation, galaxies upon galaxies, unexplored oceans and the complexity of the human body, we can only just begin to understand a tiny fraction of the majesty and power of Jesus.  During His life on earth Jesus demonstrated the very same power that He used to create everything through the “signs” He performed, “signs” such as turning water into wine, feeding the five thousand, walking on water, calming the storm, casting out demons, etc. 

All of these show us His complete mastery over both the physical and spiritual worlds.  “Signs” brought glory to God, and therefore all of creation exists to bring glory to God.  As part of His creation, we too are to bring glory to God.  And we can do this because Jesus dwells in us!  Colossians 1:19 tells us that God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Jesus.  So, if the fullness of God dwelt in Jesus and Jesus dwells in us, so the fullness of God dwells in us too!  Isn’t that awesome?  The same amount of God dwelling in Jesus (which is all of God) dwells in us too!

As the firstborn, Jesus is pre-eminent in His church.  Jesus creates, sustains, and leads His church as its Head.  Every church has its challenges and problems; but, because the church belongs to Jesus, Christians should have a heart to build up the church rather than tear it down. Such a heart has to be based on obeying the teachings and commands of Jesus.

Jesus’ pre-eminence shines brightly through His work of reconciling all things through His death on the cross: Jesus’ death and resurrection are among the ultimate displays of His pre-eminence.  Why?  Because of this Good News: Jesus is greater than humanity’s sin. Wow!  Now that should be worth shouting from the roof tops. 

Yet there is more to shout about…Jesus is greater than death! Jesus is greater than the devil, so much greater!  At the name of Jesus, the devil and his minions quiver and shake and look to make a very quick exit before they are destroyed.  Jesus’ name has that much power.  Indeed, in a world that often feels out of control, Christians can rejoice and take hope that Jesus Christ is in fact reconciling all things to the Father and will bring peace to the cosmos.

Last week I preached on a Hebrews passage which showed us just how broad and high Jesus affects the cosmos.  This has enormous implications for us, because Jesus shapes the way we live our lives, right down to the very smallest detail of our daily lives.  As Christ is supreme over all creation, including the spiritual world, we must believe in the deity of Jesus Christ, (that Jesus is God) or our Christian faith is hollow, misdirected, and meaningless, for this is a central truth of Christianity for Jesus is the Lord of all.

When we believe this, we are to share this awesome Good News with others.  There is nothing in the whole of this world, the whole of your life, that is better than Jesus.  Yes, my wife and daughters are amazing and I love them dearly.  Yes, I love cricket, I love riding my motorcycle, driving a classic Mini car.  All of these give me great joy and satisfaction, but all of these pale into insignificance with regards to what I get out of my personal relationship with Jesus.  Jesus is the ONE, He is the way, the truth and the life. 

That certainly has been my personal experience and God wants it to be everyone’s personal experience.  And it can, regardless of your age, circumstances and what you’ve done before with your life.  You see in our life God has given us a route to experience His reconciliation through His incarnate Son Jesus!

To know God, we have to go through Jesus.  He alone has cleared away our sin that stops us having a right relationship with God, so we can have direct access to the presence of the only holy supernatural divine God – Jesus’ Father.  Clearing away our sin doesn’t mean that everyone has been saved from eternal death.  Instead by clearing away our sin, Jesus has shown a path for anyone who trusts Him to be saved. 

All of our life is to openly proclaim the way of salvation to be through Christ alone.  Our life is to be a clear pointer to Christ.  Jesus has laid a clear path that leads to eternal life, a path that is counter-cultural, a path that will bring hostility to you, but a path that has closed the gap between us and our creator God.  Jesus’ way is what unites us to our Creator God.

I can preach for hours on these few verses.  They do have so much to say to us about faith, trust, who Jesus is, (God), who God is, (the sustainer of all things), but the crucial thing to me for us today is this question:

Does your life point people to Jesus?   

In other words, does Jesus have pre-eminence in your life 24/7?  If He does others will see it!

Time to think

Read Colossians 1:15-20 (and pray)

These verses are often referred to as one of the ‘purple’ passages in the Bible on the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. It speaks of His Supremacy over creation (old and new) and as a result His Sufficiency in Salvation. This all fits in with the main Idea of Colossians: Jesus Christ is all you need.

As you ponder the questions below why not write down your thoughts and share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s word

  1. What does Paul mean when he says that Jesus is the ‘image of the invisible God? Hint: see John 1:18. So, if we could learn something about God outside of Jesus, even if in dreams and visions and myths (the things troubling the Colossians), what would this say about Jesus?
  2. How much of God can we learn from Jesus according to verse 19? How much of Himself has God given to us in Jesus?
  3. Jesus is described as ‘firstborn’ in 15a. Some people think this means that Jesus was created. Look up Psalm 89:24-28 and Hebrews 1:1-3 and reflect of the Biblical meaning of the word ‘firstborn’.

Digging deeper into God’s word

  1. Jesus is Supreme in Creation because He created everything and He holds it all together.  He is Supreme in the New Creation because of His death and resurrection. What does this say about the sufficiency of our salvation in Christ?
  2. Can you think of ways in which Christians are tempted to add to Jesus?
  3. Christians are to point towards Jesus.  Write down the ways that your life points people to Him.

Prayer response

Dear Father,

we have not seen you. We do not even know what it might mean to see you. But you have shown us Jesus, and because we have seen him, we have seen you.

Thank you for him who is the image of you, the invisible God. Thank you for creating all things through him who is the first-born of all creation.

Help us grasp what it means that everything – things in heaven, things on earth, things visible, things invisible, thrones, dominions, principalities, authorities, all matter and all energy – was created by him who was before all things, and that all these things hold together through him.

How over-awed we are! We prostrate our bodies, souls, and spirits before him!

In Jesus’ hallowed name we pray. Amen.

Summary of Fellowship, Discipleship and Evangelism

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)

Why are fellowship, discipleship and evangelism so important?

God’s truthful word to us teaches us that these three things are needed if His church is going to grow here on earth, therefore God expects all Christians to engage with them. I hope that over the last few weeks you have seen that all that I have said has its foundations in Scripture.  Without the truth of Scripture, we would not be here today, and Christianity would have died out with the first Disciples.

So what have I learnt about fellowship?

I was reminded of the New Testament Greek word for fellowship: koinonia (koy-no-nee-uh).  This expresses the idea of being together for mutual benefit.  So it’s all about relationships. 

Hebrews 10:24-25 shares this idea, saying,

And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

The natural result of koinonia is that there is no fellowship without action.  Hence, we believe that RBR Connections will result in deeper practical pastoral support as well as greater spiritual support. 

Fellowship enables us to see that the local church is a community with real names, with real faces, with real joys and with real pain and sorrow.  This is another purpose of RBR Connections. Through this shared life as a community, we become a visible manifestation of the Gospel we are all called to proclaim.

Fellowship originates from the Holy Spirit, expressed succinctly by Paul; May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor. 13:14) Thus fellowship results in a relationship with God the Trinity, and with one another.

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John. 1:3).

Fellowship means living and sharing life together.  So it is to be a priority; one of the objectives for gathering together. 

Godly fellowship then is about sharing and communicating Gospel truths together, which in turn will build us up. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.  (1 Thess 5:11; see also Rom. 1:11-12; 2 Tim. 2:2; Philem. 6)

What have I learnt about Discipleship?

Being a Christian is about willingly submitting the whole of yourself to God. 

The Greek word translated “disciple” means follower, someone who invests their life and time learning from someone else, and then spreading that person’s teachings to others. This is in-line with the great commission of Matthew 28 in which Jesus commands us to go and make disciples by telling others the way of Jesus.

Yes, some are gifted in teaching, but all believers are called to share with others what they know about Jesus, in accordance with the faith God has proportioned to them, (see Romans 12). 

Isn’t that great?  We act in proportion to the faith God has given us, and as our faith grows so does what we share.

To tell others about Jesus we need to get to know God and His Son in a deeper and personal way. This involves not only learning the truths of the Gospel, but showing them to others in a loving, caring and compassionate way.  Truths such as

  1. Jesus is God incarnate;
  2. His death and resurrection was a sacrifice that we could never make as an atonement for our sin;
  3. His sacrificial death abolishes the power of death to separate us from God. 

All of which means we are saved fromthe penalty of sin, the power of sin, and sin’s presence.

As a disciple of Jesus Christ we move from living under the power of sin, shifting instead to living in the hope of His coming, His second Advent.  All of which assures us of eternal salvation.

What have I learnt about evangelism?

This is the tricky one. In sharing Jesus, we must share the truth of Jesus, a truth based on the need for all people to repent. 

Matthew 4:17 tells us that Jesus challenged people with the words,v“Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near”.    This means explaining three realities:

  1. the inherent sinful nature of mankind,
  2. the holiness of God,
  3. the existence of heaven and hell. 

The only means to escape the punishment of sin is faith in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. While many Christians begin their evangelistic efforts with God’s love, that is really the second half the story, because the message of God’s love is lost on unbelievers unless they first come to grips with sin, judgement, and punishment.

There is no doubt that God is a loving God. But He is also holy and righteous, thus hating sin.  However, because God’s nature is full of love and mercy He provided the only acceptable sacrifice for our sin –  His Son! 

Ephesians 2:8–9 explains why.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

We’re saved not because we deserve it or can earn it, but by God’s grace!

Only those whose natures have been changed to be in line with God’s can escape His wrath, and thus experience His transforming nature expressed through His love and grace. If we believe these things, we will live eternally with Him in the joy of heaven.  If we do not, our eternal destiny is hell.

Jesus was God on earth.  We can say this with confidence because in John 5:19-20 Jesus, in His own words, tells us that He only did what He saw His Heavenly Father doing in heaven.  God, through the person of Jesus, was revealing His transforming power to the world.  This transforming power moves us from an earthy perspective to a supernatural heavenly one, so that we too can do what we see our heavenly Father doing in heaven. 

And Jesus unashamedly acknowledges that He “can do nothing by Himself”. 

This is the most radical statement to be found in the whole of Scripture as it indicates that any effort made to use God’s power for our own benefit will leave us feeling hollow and empty; it will never achieve anything and our life will be insipid and of no use to God. 

Because Jesus is confessing that as “the Son (he) can do nothing by Himself” we can have confidence in our core being that the words of Jesus are utterly dependable, truthful and worthy for all to hear.

So in sharing the Gospel we must have confidence that Jesus’ words have spoken powerfully to us personally, transforming us into His likeness, and that through us He can speak powerfully to others, transforming them too, because that is what He has done us!

Fellowship, Discipleship and Evangelism are things we need to work on in our daily lives if we want to see God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.

The Importance of Evangelism: Part 3

Then Jesus said, ‘Therefor go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’  (Matthew 28:19-20)

We’ve been looking at fellowship, discipleship and evangelism, elements and principles that a professing Christian needs to understand if the Kingdom of God is to be extended here on earth as it is in heaven.

These three things are not something that have been made up in order to see church growth.  No, these are all things that can be found in Scripture, The Word of God to us, and Jesus’ own words are no exception, as we see in our Gospel reading.

In John chapter 14 through to, and including 17 we read Jesus’ final discourse to His Disciples before He is arrested.   In the verses we had from Chapter 17 Jesus begins to pray for His disciples and in essence He is saying that they have come to believe four specific things about Him (7-8). The prominence of these four things, here in this prayer, and the way they are mentioned elsewhere in John’s Gospel points to their importance. They were vitally important for the founding of the church and for its growth and security against error. Getting these beliefs about Jesus right is important for us too, and so important for how we tell people about Jesus. The four things were:

1. Jesus’ ministry was only possible by the power of the Father (v7): Jesus transformed people.  He took them from living by an earthly perspective to one with a supernatural heavenly one.  As professing Christians, we have all experienced a supernatural moment with God.  Jesus commands us to share the Gospel and when we do, not if we do, it is important for our message not only to be true but for our message and method to demonstrate that Jesus can radically and powerfully transform lives. In your own life do you have confidence that Jesus still ministers powerfully to you and through you?

2. Jesus spoke the Father’s Words (Vs 8a): Read John 5:19-20 and what do you see…” the Son can do nothing by Himself”.   Jesus is clearly declaring the secret to how He lives.  This is the most radical statement to be found in the whole of Scripture as it indicates that any effort made to use God’s power for our own benefit will leave us feeling hollow and empty; it will never achieve anything.  Even if you become really successful in your field and have not found this secret your life will be unsatisfactory, insipid and of no use to God.  “The Son can do nothing by Himself”.

Yes, Jesus could have done things apart from His Father, just as we can and do, but He chose not to because He never chose to exercise that power for His own benefit.  Never!  God willingly and lavishly gives His power to those who will not use it for their own benefit.

If Jesus hadn’t lived out this secret, totally and utterly dependent on another – His Father God – then He would have violated His integrity, it would have cheapened His whole life, and been a total contradiction to what He said and did.  So by saying …” the Son can do nothing by Himself” Jesus is saying, no admitting, He could do things apart from His Father, but He did not, and He never did. All Jesus did was totally and utterly in line with the holy and supernatural character of God.  Today God’s holy and supernatural character is revealed to us through The Word, and through the life, death and resurrection of His Son.

This is why we should have confidence in our core being that the words of Jesus are of the utmost importance for us and for others. So in sharing the Gospel we must have confidence that Jesus’ words can speak powerfully to people and transform them because that is what they have done to you.

3. That Jesus came from the Father’s presence, i.e. that Jesus is truly God, (Vs 8b): This reminds us of Christ’s humility.  He was prepared to jump from the truly amazing glory of heaven to the depth of the slimy pit and into the mud and mire for me and for you.  He rolled His sleeves up, got, and still gets His hands dirty in order to sort out my life and your life.  And when He left His glory He knew He had to take the pain and sorrow of all my sin, and your sin, upon Himself because only the one true God is able to pay the price for sin.  In taking my sin, your sin, upon Himself He unites His divinity with our flesh in such a way that we are now able to know and share His Spirit because it is through this sharing we become children of God.  And as children of God we are given eternal life, the most wonderful of all gifts; eternal life through the knowledge of forgiveness for all confessed sin.

4. He was sent by the Father (Vs 8c): While Jesus gave himself for us, we mustn’t forget that the initiative in our salvation begins with the Father. This helps us to remember that the Father loves us just as much as He loves His Son, that He is not angry with us or somehow less loving than Jesus; God and Jesus are one and the same!  Knowing this in the depth of our being reassures us that all things work together for our good and salvation. So we can share the Gospel because of our own personal experience and knowledge of the love of God for ourselves, a love that impresses on us that the Father Himself has an enormous love for the lost too.

So know these four things about Jesus

  1. His ministry was only possible by the power of the Father (Vs 7)
  2. He only spoke the Father’s Words (Vs 8a)
  3. That Jesus is truly God because He came from theFather’s presence (Vs 8b)
  4. He was sent by the Father (Vs 8c)

These secrets of Jesus’ life, which He willingly shares with all, are to be pressed down into our own soul and spirit, until they run over, because from there they will become for us a well spring of life that leads us on to evangelise to those who live in darkness.

Time to think

Read John 17:6-12.  With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand give yourself time to think about the following as you dig into God’s word…. 

  1. Think on the times (v7) when you have felt Jesus ministering to you.  Now write down how these experiences made you feel.  What did you experience? Comfort, peace, healing, forgiveness, joy, love, God’s powerful presence?
  2. In your life today do you have confidence that Jesus still ministers powerfully to you and through you?
  3. Jesus’ words spoke powerfully to His listeners.  Write down the times when Jesus’ words spoke powerfully to you.  How did they make you feel?
  4. Real life is only available through Jesus Christ living in and through you.  How well do you know Jesus’ words? (v8)

Digging deeper into God’s word

Jesus only ever did what He saw His Heavenly Father doing.  In a time of quiet invite your heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, to show you what He wants you to do for Him for the next few days.  If you sense God inviting you to do something, test it against Scripture (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  All that we do must be in line with the plumb line of God’s character and truths.

Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

Prayer response

Lord of the Harvest, we see that Your harvest field is ripe and ready all over this nation and the world! We long to see Your kingdom come on this earth, so may we allow you to strengthen us to obey Your commission to go into all the world. May we as individuals, as families and as Your Church allow you to show us how you want us to serve You, to respond to Your command in whatever way You call us, so we answer Your call to go.  Show us how to pray effectively for the protection, boldness, clarity, health, and fruitfulness in your mission and ministry here in our communities. May we actively seek to align ourselves with Your heart so that our hearts would be obedient to the desires of Your heart, and the whole earth come to a saving knowledge of the truth–the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose powerful name we pray.

Amen


Midnight Message, Christmas Eve, 2020

Readings: Isaiah 52:7-10; John 1:1-14

What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. (John 1:3)

“Trinity”, by Andrei Rublev

The famous Russian artist Andrei Rublev, completed his best-known icon in about 1442.  It is titled quite simply Trinity. Take a moment to look at the image. In a striking combination of colour and light, three messengers from God are seated round a table, and our eyes are drawn to the gentle, loving circle of the figures, with their restful expressions which seem neither masculine nor feminine, and the unity of the three heads, faces and postures.

The right-hand figure, is considered to be the Holy Spirit, as there is a mountain behind his head thus reminding us of the transfiguration (Matt 17) of Jesus, when Moses and the great prophet Elijah appeared in a cloud with Jesus in front of three of Jesus’ disciples.

The middle figure is considered to be Jesus, as it is dressed in a red and gold tunic and there is a tree behind, suggesting the cross.

The slightest of the three figures, the Father, has an air of mystery with a translucent robe, and a house with many rooms above his head.  A reference to the passage in John’s Gospel when Jesus is comforting His disciples before his arrest and tells them that He will go ahead a prepare a place for them because in His Father’s house there are many rooms (John 14).

The cup of sacrifice and life is on the table, and if you look carefully, there in the open space created at the front of the table is a rectangle symbolising the world… (Remember the world was not known to be round in the fifteenth century).

With the three looking the way they do it is as if they are inviting the whole world to receive and join in with the gift of life and love that these three messengers possess. Here, the gift of God is made visible. 

So this icon is a human attempt to express something of who God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit is. It is a gift to us from the Artist!

 

These beautiful opening verses to the Gospel of John set forth the entire intention of John’s Gospel: which is to proclaim and testify that Christ is the Son of God.  So who is this Christ? John tells us that Jesus is the eternal Word, (the Logos of God), because He reveals God and the hidden things of God, and in himself declares the beauty of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, in other words the triune God. The Word, who existed with God and creates and holds all things, is the Christ.

These words, like the description of the Icon I described a few minute ago, are John’s, attempt to show us that Jesus is essential to obtaining true life. Life as God created it to be, for it is Jesus who reveals both the Holy Spirit and God to us. And Jesus’ desire is to communicate this truth to all people. 

When we accept and understand that it is He, Jesus, who brings us into a new relationship with God we are brought into a living and dynamic relationship that reveals God’s reconciling, healing and glorifying life, light and, above all, love. 

But Christ who came to the Jews first can, if we wish, come to us now, tonight, as the true gift of God. In this gift, He brings blessing, grace and the truth of truths, and, as with all gifts, we are invited to accept, and then receive the gift which has been revealed to us from the heart of God the Father, the Son of God.  And then Christ, the expression of God, will be known in our hearts, just like a beautiful icon, a colourful sunset, an exquisite flower, a sparklingly adorned Christmas tree, a child’s delighted face on Christmas morning easily fills us with inexpressible delight, warmth and peace,

So the gift of God which is revealed to us and celebrated by us at Christmas is to lead us into a fuller experience and understanding of God’s presence in our lives.  And when we willingly receive into our lives the light and power of the life that God offers through Jesus Christ we receive the gift of being ‘children of God’.  And we do this by recognising the one who lived amongst us 2000 years ago to be the Son of God, foretold by the prophets of old. 

Why did He come?  He came to save us from our sin by helping us to recognise what sin is.  Through His death on the cross Jesus offers us an escape from sin, for sin leads to eternal death and separation from God.  This offer is God’s awesome gift of repentance.  As we recognise this we will then know that Jesus makes and remakes us day after day for the whole of our life in order to know God in new ways, by knowing the depth, height and width of His love for us.  You see, out of His love for us God wants us through Jesus to allow Him to live His life in our personal world.

With the increase of knowledge with each new generation, with the increase of our experience via the media of global suffering, with the pressures of materialism, competition, and visible success motivating so much of what we do, let us spend time this Christmastide reflecting on the beautiful gift which God has given us in His Son.

Let me encourage you to take time to remind yourselves, and your loved ones, of this child, the greatest gift of all time, to enjoy the presence of this gift around your table, to feel uplifted by the gift in creation when you take a walk (whatever the weather), to consider the gift in your conversations, and to dwell on the gift in your prayers tonight and every night.

As you allow the truest gift, the Word of God, namely Jesus Christ, to be part of your Christmas celebrations, may you allow Him to be part of your daily life as you continue your journey through life.

If you choose to do this, know that your life will be held in His grace, truth and love. For all of life is gift.

In the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The importance of fellowship (Part 2)

Grace made frequent trips to her local post office.  One day there was a long queue for the counter service.  Grace only needed stamps, so a helpful observer asked, “Why don’t you use the stamp machine?  You can get all the stamps you need and you won’t have to stand in line.”  Grace said, “I know, but the machine can’t ask me about my arthritis.”  People need human contact.

In Acts 2:42 we read that one of the four things the early church devoted itself to was “fellowship.”  Fellowship was a very important part of their reason for meeting together.  It was a priority, and was one of the objectives of gathering together.

Today however, some view fellowship as the occasion where we have casual, shallow conversations over coffee and biscuits.  This is not bad in itself, and can contribute to fellowship, but it falls far short of fellowship according to biblical standards.

Others who may have become fed up with church seek fellowship through viewing a worship service on television, or the internet, but this too misses the picture.  Going down this road creates an emptiness.  Interpersonal relationships are so desperately needed to keep our faith glowing and growing.  The truth is this:  if you drop off your associations with other Christians and disassociate yourself from them in worship and service, you’ll run out of spiritual fervour and dedication in a short time.  There is no substitute for going to church and worshipping with others.

Why do we read that the first disciples of Jesus shared all things in common?  Well, it was because of a common relationship that they all had together in Christ and with Christ, (1 Cor. 1:9; 1 John 1:3).

So, fellowship comes out of a living relationship with God through Jesus Christ which Christians have in common with other believers.  This tells us that fellowship is first and foremost a relationship, rather than an activity.  The principle is that any activity that follows, should come out of this relationship with God.  He is to be the one that motivates all our activity.

It is important to understand that the early church was not merely devoting itself to activities, but to a relationship.  It was this relationship that produced an active sharing in other ways.  It is so important that we grasp this.   Fellowship means we belong to each other in a relationship because we share together the common life and enabling grace of Jesus Christ.  Biblical fellowship, then, incorporates this idea of an active partnership in the promotion of the gospel and the building up of believers.

Now, fellowship has both vertical and horizontal elements. 

Vertical relates to the way we commune with and experience fellowship with the Lord through the Word, prayer, the filling of the Holy Spirit, and the abiding life.  The analogy of the vine in John 15 is a good illustration of what is required to maintain a right relationship, and thus right fellowship, with our Heavenly Father.

Our priority is our 24/7 relationship with Jesus Christ, which must be maintained at all costs.  This is the foundation and source of all our other relationships and our capacity for fellowship with God, and with others.

The passage in John 15 stresses that we need:

  1. The Right Stock – Verse 1 – “I am the true vine”
  2. The Right Vinedresser – Verse 1 – “My Father is the gardener”
  3. The Right Cultivation – Verses 2, 6 – “He prunes”
  4. The Right Connection – Verses 4 – “Remain in me and I will remain in you.” 
  5. The Right Fruitage – Verses 5, 8 talk about how we are to “bear much fruit”

If we are not remaining (some translations use the word abiding) in Christ we will not live in the fellowship that God has intended us to live in.

The word ‘remain’, which occurs ten times in the passage, means the maintenance of an unbroken connection and thus speaks of the necessity of a constant active relationship between the believer and his Lord.  The resultant life will be productive and so fruitful.

Remaining in fellowship involves renouncing all confidence in our own merit, wisdom, and strength. It means we look entirely to Christ as the source of our merit, wisdom, and strength.

To remain in Christ is, on the one hand, to have no known sin unjudged and unconfessed, no interest into which He is not brought, no life which He cannot share.  On the other hand, the remaining one takes all burdens to Him, and draws all wisdom, life, and strength from Him.  Fellowship is about allowing nothing in your life to separate you from Him.

Fellowship with other believers is horizontal. This includes:

  • Assembling together as a whole body (Acts. 2:42; Heb. 10:25)
  • assembling in smaller groups (2 Tim. 2:2)
  • meeting together one-on-one (1 Thess. 5:11)
  • sharing and communicating Gospel truths together and building up one another (Rom. 1:11-12; 2 Tim. 2:2; 1 Thess 5:11; Philem. 6)
  • sharing together in worship, i.e., the Lord’s supper (1 Cor. 10:16), along with the singing of hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16)
  • praying with others – listening to God for His direction and purpose for your life, and seeing how the enemy wishes to oppose God’s good and perfect plans and purposes He has for you, and rebuking them in the name of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 14:16-17)
  • the ministry of the Word (Acts 20:20; 2 Tim. 2:2; 1 Pet. 4:10-11)
  • sharing together as partners in the needs, burdens, concerns, joys, and blessings for the purpose of encouragement, comfort, challenge or exhortation, praise, prayer and physical help according to needs (compare Phil. 1:5 with 1:19; and 2:4 with 1:27; also 4:3; Rom. 12:15; and 1 Thess. 5:11,14,15; Heb. 10:33)

To do this means we must develop the loving art of communication. We need to be willing to share our own burdens and aspirations and be available to hear what others are saying so we may minister to needs according to the directives of God’s Word. The ultimate goal of RedBRick Connections is to build up and enrich others in the things of Christ that we may all together experience the sufficiency of His life and tune our lives into His.  We need others for that. As the early church was first devoted to the apostles’ teaching, they were also devoted to caring for one another and to sharing with one another what they were learning and what Christ was meaning to them (Acts. 2:42; Heb. 3:12-14).

As we’ve seen, fellowship is first a relationship, a relationship that deals with an objective fact: as a Christian I am related to God as His child, born into His family by the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ.  So, as a believer in Christ, I am related to Christ and to all others who have been joined into union with Him; together we are members of His body through the baptising work of the Holy Spirit.  Fellowship means we share this relationship, an objective fact regardless of our spiritual condition (compare 1 Cor. 1:2 with 3:1-3).

A family went to the cinema. On the way in, the son stopped to buy some popcorn.  By the time he got into the theatre, the lights were dim and he couldn’t find his family.  He paced up and down the aisles in near darkness, peering down each row.  Finally, in desperation, he stopped and asked out loud, “Does anyone here recognise me?”

As Grace queued for stamps she was looking for fellowship.  Some of us take Christian fellowship for granted, but we should see it as a great privilege to be able to share together in the things of God.  Just queuing for stamps is not enough.  Just attending church is not enough.  Being connected with other Christians in a relationship because we have Christ in common is so important.  As we do this we all need to see ourselves as servants of Christ with a responsibility to reach out in true Christian fellowship to our brothers and sisters and, to the needy and vulnerable, especially, to those who we consider to be different to us.  We don’t want anyone to come here and ask, “Does anyone here recognise me?”  Certainly, God doesn’t want to hear anyone say “Does anyone here recognise me?”  or for Him to say that to us!

Time to think

Read Ephesians 1:15-23 and John 15:1-17.  With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand consider the following questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

  1. How can we do a better job of including and incorporating new people in our fellowship?
  2. How has the consumer mentality affected the church?  Should the church see itself as being in the business of “meeting needs?”
  3. How does the concept that every Christian is a minister affect the fellowship of a local body?
  4. How can you develop heartfelt affection for a brother or sister you just can’t stand being around?

You might like to re-visit the first teaching on Fellowship from the 15th November.

Prayer Response

Loving Lord, thank You for all my brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus our Lord, and thank You that You have made us one in Him and are building us into a spiritual temple of living stones, each with our own peculiar function, in the heavenly kingdom of God. Instil in each of our hearts an increasing thirst after holiness and righteousness, and give us an ever-deepening love for each other and for You.

Keep us I pray, from petty arguments and careless words and may we minister to one another in true Christian fellowship and godly love, in a body-ministry that exults You, where the gifts and talents of each member are used and valued in the edification of the others, to the praise of Your holy name.

Be glorified I pray, in each and every member of Your body, and use us all to be a witness of the love of Jesus to those who are lost. And Father, I pray that You would unite us in godly love and Christian fellowship, as we watch for the any day return of the Lord Jesus, in whose name I pray, Amen.

The Cross of Christ

Psalm 22 and 23

Image by kalhh from Pixabay

The order of the Psalms is not random.  They have been carefully arranged, and with all texts we are more familiar with certain parts than with others.  In general, I would say that we’re far more familiar with Psalm 23, but to get the most out of this Psalm we must go through the suffering of Psalm 22 first.  By doing this we then get to the peace and rest of Psalm 23.  But Psalm 22 is not about our suffering, it’s about Jesus’ suffering.  It opens with the cry of Jesus on the cross “My God my God why have you forsaken me?  He may even have recited the entire Psalm for it ends with His last words “it is finished” (John 19:30),for when you look at the full Hebrew text for the last verse of this Psalm, the words “He has done it” could just as accurately be translated “It is finished”! (See the Amplified Version of the Bible).

I see this Psalm as holy ground, and we can only look on in awe for this Psalm outlines in great detail what crucifixion was really like for Jesus.  In fact, there is no other passage in the Bible, including the Gospels, which outline in such detail what Jesus experienced as Psalm 22 does.  Jesus’ suffering on the cross was more than just physical pain.  He experienced the fullness of the wrath and total abandonment of God.  This relational trauma, physical pain and spiritual torment is beyond our imagination and experience.  No wonder He hoped to avoid it, (Matthew 26:38-39).  Yet Jesus managed to endure all this for the “joy set before Him” (Heb. 12:2)Because He endured the cross there is light at the end of this tunnel, for this Psalm also speaks of the dawning of a new day and, what the result will be for believers, Israel, and the ends of the earth.

Martin Luther said about this Psalm, “God forsaken by God – who can understand it?”. Why is He forsaken, alone, His communion with His Father totally interrupted?  Well, because God is of such purity that He cannot look on evil.  God sees the sin that His Son takes and He, God, has to turn away.  And what sin does He see?  Our sin!  We rightly deserve the consequences of sin and even though, as I have said before, our suffering is often not the direct consequences of our sin, nonetheless the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

But there is also amazing balm here for the suffering and fearful, for “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).  This “gift of God” is because Jesus stood in our place, was rejected and abandoned by all, (Psalm 22:6-8 &12-18)including His Father.  This action of Jesus Christ teaches all who have accepted who He is that we, His family, have a way out of suffering.  We shall look at Psalm 23 in a minute to see this, but looking at Psalm 22 we see that Jesus, still in his utter abandonment, says twice “My God”.  And the name of God He invokes here is sometimes translated “Mighty God”.  So even in His suffering, even when God appears humanly to be as far away as possible, He is still God and He is still mighty to save.  Jesus asks questions of God in His suffering and so can we.  Often we do not know why something terrible is happening, but God wants us to know this truth of the Christian faith: Jesus was abandoned by God so that we will never be abandoned by God!  The cross towers over us casting a mighty light on our way, for the cross throws no shadow, it can only radiate the pure light of the pure goodness, mercy and love of God.

Where are we going on our journey here on earth?  As we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) we are going home.  Now let’s look at Psalm 23 which is best accessed through Psalm 22.  This is the entry to our safety in the cross. “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever”. Our life here on earth oftentimes seems to be a dry desert in which we wander, but the Lord has gone ahead to make a home for us (John 14:1-4)and what a place that will be!  The Anglican martyr John Bradford who was burnt at the stake under Queen Mary is reportedly to have said to the trembling young man being burned with him “Be of good comfort brother; for we shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night!”

We are on our way to something mind-blowingly “merry” and good.  En-route there is comfort.  A verse in the Bible that has been of great help to me when I feel in trouble is this: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me”.  Many years ago when I was ill and very low with post virial fatigue, that verse repeatedly impressed itself on my mind like a burning light in the dark valley, and it still does today, as it has done for countless other people for hundreds of years.

Each of us must walk through that valley and it is a valley of shadow.  It is dark and I know that.  There is evil prowling about (1 Peter 5:8).  But for there to be a shadow, there must be a light beyond.  That light is streaming from the face of Christ.  It leads us on and He, the Good Shepherd, is not just ahead holding the door open nor behind on the cross having suffered in our place.  No, most amazingly He is with us right now, walking with us, talking with us, and He has, if you like, two divine “sheepdogs” with him, one called mercy/love and one called goodness.  Evil has to slink away.  So this little party, a sufferer, (that’s you & me), a Saviour and two ministering angels struggle on to glory.

Note finally that v6 of Psalm 23 says “all the days of my life”. This refers to the evil days and the good days, the days of suffering and the days of joy. God in his goodness supplies everything we need in suffering, and his mercy/love on the cross means that we don’t get what we deserve – eternal suffering and separation from God.  Amazingly rather we daily receive a free gift – the presence of the Lord God Almighty through His goodness, mercy and love all the way home.

Based on a sermon first delivered on Sunday 23rd August 2020

Overcoming fear

Luke 22:39-46

Have you ever been caught up in moment when you’ve agreed to buy something and you suddenly panic and think “have I got enough money to pay for this?”.  This may be something you’ve felt when you’ve gone to the supermarket.  The trolley is full to over-flowing, but have you enough to pay for it?  Perhaps you like to go to auction houses and bid on items that you collect and the bidding spirals upwards and you cannot keep you hand down!

That feeling of panic can incite fear into the depths of your very being.  You may well think, “What am I doing?” At times our human nature doesn’t always know when to stop.  It can be like trying to stop a large ship, it can take miles.  So, can I pay the bill?

The Lord Jesus is just like us.  He is fearful as to his human nature; “Take this cup away from me but let not my will but your will be done” (Luke 22:42).  These words are a source of encouragement, a source of hope, for when we are in fear we can recall that the Lord himself in his humanity faced fear too; fear far worse than any we will ever face.

But He is not like us for He has a choice.  Even when He says, “I am He” as he is arrested in the garden of Gethsemane (John 18:5) this invocation of the divine name causes the soldiers to fall on the ground in terror.  They thought that they had come to arrest a meek peasant, but instead in the dim light they were confronted by a truly majestic person.  Often we have no choice in our suffering, but the Lord has both the means to escape suffering – one angel is terrifying while a legion would be overwhelming – and the grounds for escape, for He, unlike us, is totally innocent of any wrong-doing.  Death has no jurisdiction over Him, yet death is lingering in the shadows.

But Jesus is treated as a criminal. He willingly takes the cup of suffering that we deserve, the cup of God’s judgement on our sin, and He freely drinks it for the love He has for us.

My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38). Where does sorrow and suffering come from?  From sin.  From our sin.  Yet Jesus is sinless!  Is it from this moment in the Garden that Jesus starts to feel the weight of carrying our sorrow and our sin to the cross?  One thing we do know for certain is that as the man of sorrows Jesus is acquainted with any sorrow and suffering that we too go through.

So Gethsemane shows us that Jesus is a man of sorrow.  Gethsemane also shows that Jesus is a man of prayer.  What is prayer?  Well one thing I think that these verses tell us is that prayer is a confession of weakness!  Think about it.  Godly prayer is a recognition that we are totally dependent on our Heavenly Father.  When we know this,  we see our weaknesses, and led by the Holy Spirit we want to confess them so we can be rid of them.  But Jesus was also God so why did He need to pray?  Well, Philippians 2 gives us a clue: He humbled himself becoming a servant.  I still find praying on my own very hard.  Over the years I have improved, but there are times when I feel ashamed at how weak it is.  We can learn so much from Jesus and his constant prayer, but at times we feel daunted to pray.  Are any who are reading this in trouble, in fear and suffering?  Maybe you’re facing death?  Then like the Lord we must ask for help, for in our weakness we are made strong.

Your will be done” (v42), which is of course a phrase from the Lord’s Prayer; the will of the Father was that Jesus would be the sacrifice for our sins, a sacrifice for my weaknesses and frailties.  He alone can pay the bill.  We are bankrupt.  But how much must we be conformed to Him as He prayed that God’s will would be done.  He is a man of prayer.  His prayer is the prayer of faith and so must ours be.  He shows obedience to His Heavenly Father in suffering and so must we.  But this can be very, very, hard to do.  I don’t think it’s wrong at all to pray that God would relieve us of our suffering, but it may be that He will not, or at least not for a time.  And this is very hard to accept.  I know from my own experience, particularly when our 11-month old son laid in a coma in a hospital bed.  Having had corrective heart surgery which had been successful seven days later he got an infection which led to his death.  At times Barbara and I felt bewildered, and found praying at all, let alone praying “let not my will but yours be done” so difficult to do by ourselves, but the Spirit helped us and the knowledge that many people were praying for us also sustained us.

Hugh Martin a 19th century Scottish Minister said this, “Be in prayer beside the Saviour, mingling your crying and tears with his: when Jehovah looks on his anointed, he will lift on you the light of his face.”  (book “The Shadow of Calvary).  This urges us to join the Lord in Gethsemane, and so go the way of Christ, which is the way of the cross – the way to death.  For in death we find life!

We must go down into the Jordan to come up into the promised land and “Jordan’s river is chilly and wide”.  But the Saviour bids us follow in his footsteps.  He has paid the bill which was our bill and which we can’t possibly pay, and He has drained our cup of suffering and He will ferry us safely to the other side.

I’m going to close with words from a song by a Christian rock band called White Heart, which I believe encourages us to do as the Saviour bids and follow in His footsteps of suffering.

And the river will flow
the river will flow
through all the times of your life
the river will flow
and the river is love
the river is peace
and the river will flow
through the hearts of those who believe

So put your hand in mine
oh, put your hand in mine
and let us all go down
and kneel by the river’s side
we’ll cry our tears of joy
cry our tears of pain
we’ll let them fall down from our eyes
to be washed in the sacred stream
even the secret tears
buried in our memories
let them all be swept away
to the depths of the endless sea.

Based on a sermon first delivered on 16th August 2020

A matter of life or death

Genesis 3:1-19

Photo by Jason Betz on Unsplash

The Bible tells us that death, and his two sidekicks fear and suffering, act like intruders in our lives. We know all too well that the world is full of death, fear and suffering arising in various forms.  It might be in the form of disease and natural disaster, or in the form of the moral evil that resides within people, – within each of us.  The truth is this; one sin leads to another and the destination is clear, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).  I’m sure when you look back over your life you can see that this is so true, one sin leads to another, “Oh what a tangled web we weave”!  There’s a TV series that became a smash hit called “Breaking Bad,” in which a respectable teacher becomes a drug dealer and unleashes a trail of death and suffering on everyone, and even destroys his own family.  What a tangled web he weaved!

That TV series shows us how easily it is for us to become a hired person for the devil.  So how did we end up being hired by this employer?  The Bible tells us that in the beginning the “house”, the world, was good.  How did moral evil enter the world?  Genesis 3 tells us that humanity suffered a catastrophic fall.  Evil in the form of a serpent tempted Adam and Eve.  They fell into sin and unleashed a wave of suffering, fear and death on themselves and their descendants: humanity.  The consequences of the fall are the unleashing of fear, death and suffering, who roam the world freely.  The very first emotion the newly fallen couple experience is fear (Adam says, I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I naked” v10).  As we heard, Adam and Eve (v 16-19) will suffer in specific ways and anyone who has been through childbirth, or work, knows that this is still true to this day.  And what is the end?  Death.  Back to the dust from where we came.

Genesis clearly teaches us that the devil, satan, is real and is the enemy of humanity.  He will do anything to get us to follow his evil deadly plan.  Adam and Eve chose a particular course of action – disobedience – and then God chose His.  As a holy God He could only respond in a way that was consistent with His perfect moral nature.  He could not let sin go unchecked; He had to punish it.  Adam and Eve’s chosen path set in motion the world’s tendency towards disobeying God.  That is why we sin today: every human being ever born, with the exception of Jesus, has inherited the sinful nature of Adam and Eve (Romans 5:12-21).  The punishment metered out by God reflects how seriously He views sin of any kind.

So the damage is done.  If you like, Adam and Eve were “patient zero” in a Wuhan wet market, once the virus broke out it could not be stopped!

But wait!  There is amazing hope.  For as by one man came death so by another will come life.  And strangely enough that hope involves that same evil trio.  From a woman a deliverer will come who will kill that old serpent the devil.  He will obliterate the snake by stamping on his head despite the devil’s best efforts and repeated attempts to defeat this person.  This person will also have to suffer himself in order to defeat the devil.  v15, “He will crush your head”, foreshadows satan’s, defeat when that rescuer rose from the dead. 

That rescuer of course is Christ and the rest of the Bible is the story of how that happens.  The Bible is the amazing story of God’s rescue plan for His creation.  That story leads to a hill outside Jerusalem 2000 years ago, to an old rugged cross and near its foot a new hewn tomb.  Isn’t it amazing that right at the beginning of the Bible God was revealing His plan to defeat satan and offer salvation to the whole world through His Son, Jesus Christ?  So the only answer to all the questions we have about life, moral evil, natural evil is Jesus!

But what comfort may we take from this when we are experiencing such suffering, discomfort and disruption?  I believe that there are many, and they include:

  • God doesn’t give us what we deserve.
  • Before the creation of the universe, God purposed a Saviour to save us from the three intruders; fear, suffering and death.

Yet still many, both Christians and non-Christians, ask the question “How can a loving God allow suffering?”

The Christian answer to this question and the unholy trio who afflict us so badly, fear, suffering and death, is not ultimately theological propositions, helpful though they can be.  Rather, the answer is the rescuer I have mentioned above… Jesus!  He has shared in our suffering, He experienced fear, He sweated droplets of blood on the eve of His crucifixion, and then He died for us, for you and me.  The Son of God was crushed; He is a man of sorrows and so is acquainted with grief. Yet, He has turned these three imposters, fear, suffering and death, on themselves. Even Death, who is their terrible king, has himself been utterly defeated and will one day be completely destroyed, “He (God) will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4).

Life in the Garden of Eden was like living in heaven.  Everything was perfect, but the moral sin of Adam and Eve destroyed that.  If God had not punished them, and they’d continued to live in the Garden and eat from the tree of life they would live for ever.  But eternal life in a state of sin would mean for ever trying to hide from God.

We are all like Adam and Eve, we have sinned and are separated from fellowship with God.  But the good news is this; because of Jesus we do not have to stay separated for ever!  God is preparing for His people a new heaven and a new earth in His eternal paradise (Revelation 22).

Let us pray…

Lord God, the unfailing helper and guide of those whom you bring up in your unmovable fear and love, keep us, we pray, under the protection of your good providence and give us a continual reverence and love for your holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

Based on a sermon first delivered on Sunday 2nd August 2020