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

Help with suffering – just in time!

Image by Sabine van Erp from Pixabay

There is a manufacturing method called Just in Time ((JIT).  To cut a long story short this method works by making sure that the items you need from your suppliers to make your product arrive at the assembly line immediately before they are needed.  The advantage of such a method is that you don’t have to tie up large sums of money stocking the different parts you need to make your product.

Jesus’ ministry was full of “Just in Time” moments. Let’s consider this question… “Where do we go for help with fear, suffering and death?”

It’s a simple question with a simple answer… Jesus!

Why is the answer Jesus?  Well, it’s all to do with what He is like.  He is trustworthy, faithful, always present, ever reliable.  We find this out when we get to know Him.  It’s the same for anyone we get to know, the better we know them the more we are likely to trust them, assuming, that is, that they are of good character. I have a deep trust in some very close friends because I know them extremely well.

What is the Lord Jesus like?  Well, for one thing, He operates on the “Just in Time” principle.  In a short account of one of his miracles, (Luke 7:11-17) we see first of all that Jesus meets us “Just in Time” in our grief and sorrow.  When Jesus starts the long walk from Capernaum to Nain, which is about 25 miles, the young boy is still alive.  Perhaps His disciples were puzzled – why go to that small, out of the way place?  They don’t know, but Jesus does, because as the maker of the universe He knows He has an appointment with a grieving widow.  She doesn’t know who He is, but He knows all about her, … and he knows all about us.

However utterly insignificant we feel, the maker of the universe makes a bee-line for us when we are suffering.  Our eyes may be filled with tears and we can’t think of any help, but the fact is this, Jesus is right in front of us, waiting for us.

We can see how perfect Jesus’ “Just in Time” method is.  A few minutes either way and the two processions don’t meet.  But “Just in Time” Jesus is there, standing in the way of death like a road block.  Did you notice how the people carrying the dead body stand still as this ordinary looking man blocks the procession on its way down to dusty death.

What kind of roadblock is this man?  He is full of compassion.  “Don’t cry” he says to the grieving mother, no doubt her eyes full of tears.  The Greek speaks of Jesus’ intestines being twisted.  Yes, the Lord is deeply moved by our suffering.  Yes, though we feel as if we have been forsaken and abandoned, He meets us in our grief.  And not just with words; there is also touch – He touches the bier.  He connects with the dead body.  Something no normal rabbi would do for it makes him ritually unclean.  God is not only moved He touches us in our suffering.  His touch is saying “I am with you”. 

We’ve been created to be social beings, and this means that touch is part of our makeup, part of our DNA.  This is one reason why lockdown has been so hard, we haven’t been able to hug, shake hands, have any form of physical contact with those outside our immediate bubble.  This has been hard, particularly when we’ve known someone to be in pain.

This story therefore, reminds us that Jesus wants us to let Him touch us with His holy divine supernatural presence on a daily basis.  Touching in a tender way shows compassion.  But if our God was only compassionate that simply wouldn’t be enough.  One of the things the Bible clearly shows us is that through His Son Jesus, God has a colossal life giving power.  This life giving power very much includes power over death. 

Did you notice how Jesus demonstrated this power over death?  With just a few spoken words the dead boy is brought immediately back to life.  It’s worth thinking about this question: “What is death?”  It is many things.  But I think the hardest thing is that it is separation from a person you once held, spoke to, spent time with, shared good and hard times with together.  You see, death causes a separation that means you will never be able to do the things you used to do again with that person.  That’s the hardest thing about death.

Miraculously the boy comes back to life and immediately starts talking!  The “Just in Time” method of Jesus turns death round 180 degrees. Apparently Nain is on a hill.  You can get a sense that death is carrying off his prey downwards, but Jesus holds the keys of life and death and turns the whole thing around and leads the boy back upwards alive! 

So it is with us.  Death is a terrible enemy but the Good News is this, the Lord owns it due to His “Just in Time” method.  Death will one day be carrying off our body, but we will also meet Jesus standing in the way.  “That person is mine and I am the resurrection and I am the life” He will say, and Death will have to give up its captives and our bodies will be gloriously resurrected.

During the affliction that this time is causing let us comfort each other, and ourselves, with the knowledge of the character of the Lord Jesus and his love for us His children.  So what do we need above all things?  To know Jesus more, and through that to trust him more.  What is Jesus like?  In all areas of our life He meets us “Just in Time”.  “Just in Time” He is full of compassion and kindness.   “Just in Time” He touches us in our infirmities.  He has total control over death and “Just in Time” he will raise us all gloriously.

“Just in Time” He helped the widow of Nain 2000 years ago.  He helps me today. He helps you today and He will help us tomorrow and for all eternity!

Alleluia! What a Saviour!

Based on a sermon first delivered on 12th July 2020

Understanding suffering

Suffering, – what is that all about? Many ask “Why does God allow it?  After all, isn’t He a God of love?”

Well, in my life, which is no different to many others, I have experienced suffering on numerous occasions.  Often self-inflicted through my own wilful nature, many other times simply because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time or I was caught up in circumstances beyond my control.

I remember when we told some friends that our unborn child was going to be born with a major heart defect, they quickly said “How could God let this happen to you, especially as you are training for ordained ministry?”  My response was, “Why not us?  Why should I expect God to treat me any differently from the next person?”

It is not to say that I haven’t asked those questions, but there is no easy answer.  Even though the situation ended in the death of our son John I can truthfully say I’ve never felt angry with God, but I’ve often wondered “why me?”. I think we all feel this in suffering and fear.

The Bible does not shy away from suffering and I think that the story of Joseph in the Old Testament can be of real help here.  It shows us very clearly that God’s ways in suffering are mysterious and far, far, beyond our understanding.  I have found personally that the more I see of God’s plans the more mysterious they are.  And I shouldn’t be surprised about that because in the Bible God says “my thoughts are not your thoughts and nor are my ways your ways” (Isaiah 55:8).  God doesn’t tell us to try and understand what’s going to happen to us:  He just asks us to trust Him.  We are the clay and He is the Potter.

One important truth that the story of Joseph reveals is that Christians should expect life to bring them thorns as well as roses.  While Joseph wasn’t perfect (he boasted to his brothers) in general he tried to live the virtuous life.  It would have been easy to succumb to temptation when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him.  He rightly resists – and is promptly “rewarded” by being slung into jail.  The irony of it!  Jesus invites us to take up our cross daily and follow him.  Don’t forget the cross was a symbol of torture.  The Prosperity Gospel message that Christians should always expect good health, wealth and happiness is no gospel: it’s a lie from the enemy.

Another truth is that God’s timing is perfect.  God is always teaching me things about His character.  Something I’m not always that good at is patience.  This tends to be around the things I selfishly want to do for myself.  I want to get out there and go for a ride on my motorbike… but things can get in the way.  Joseph had to wait 24 years between being sold into slavery before he could reveal himself to his brothers.  Oh, there must have been many times when he yearned to be free.  Whilst in jail he helped Pharaoh’s cupbearer interpret his dream – only to be promptly forgotten by the man who had promised to put a good word in for him to the King.  The cupbearer promised to help so Joseph was most probably eagerly expecting to hear the key in the door of his cell for his release.  For two long years nothing happened because the cupbearer had forgotten him. But, GOD hadn’t forgotten him, and nor will God ever forget us, even when we are in a dungeon of suffering.

A third truth is that we can see how God turns evil for good.  When, after their father’s death, Joseph’s brothers plead with him for mercy he reassures them: “you meant selling me into slavery for evil against me, but God used it for good” (Genesis 50:20).

Where else do we ultimately see God using evil for good?  At the cross.  Joseph can be seen as a “type” of Christ, like a signpost to Jesus.  Like Christ, Joseph is betrayed by his brothers, sold for 20 pieces of silver, unjustly sentenced for something he didn’t do and he is “resurrected” from prison to be the saviour of multitudes.  I find this so helpful.

Yet Satan wanted the death of our son to stir up angry emotions in me that would be vented towards God in a destructive way.  He wanted me to lose faith and turn from the vocation God had placed on me.  But I believe that God has used our son John’s death for good.  By sharing our story, comfort, encouragement and hope have been received by the listeners.  For throughout John’s short life he was an amazing witness for God.  Barbara and I have a certainty that John gave His all for God which we saw in countless different ways; in a variety of ways he touched the heart of all who met him with joy. 

One thing suffering does is it makes us vulnerable, and vulnerability can open people up to hear about the man we have found so helpful – Jesus Christ.  I am sure that this is true for many of you.  However, if you feel this isn’t true for you, look for Jesus in your suffering.  You will find Him, and you can put your hand into His hand.  We simply don’t understand all that has happened to us, but of this Christians can be sure: that ultimately we are all part of God’s plan, and I believe that you and I will only know the true extent of the part we’ve played in that plan when we meet Him face to face in heaven.  So we have to seek God’s face on a regular basis to ensure that we are on the right path, continuing to walk in the plans God has for us.  Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?  I think that we will only get a full answer to that question when we are in heaven, for when we are there everything will suddenly drop into place and we will fall to our knees in love, amazement and praise to the one Triune God.  As we are on our knees, we won’t need to ask any questions – we will just know!

One day we will bless completely, through praise and adoration, the hand that has blessed us throughout our lives.  In the meantime, we must like a small child place our hand by faith in the hand of Almighty God, trusting that He has everything under control even when all seems lost and desperate.

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 delivered on Sunday 21st June 2020

Beach breakfast with Jesus

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

I’ve said this before; I love reading about the resurrection appearances of Jesus.  They are awesome, and there’s so much we can learn from them.  But I do wonder how I would have responded if I had been a disciple of Jesus.  Would I have coped or freaked out?

Jesus appears to a portion of His disciples while they are fishing in Galilee (John 21:1-14).  This appearance can be a bit puzzling.  Why are the disciples fishing back in Galilee after having been commissioned by Jesus and having already received the Holy Spirit?  Why don’t they recognise Him after having seen Him more than once at this point?  Why is this called the third appearance of Jesus when there were already three appearances in chapter 20 of John’s gospel?

His previous appearances in Jerusalem established the faith of the disciples and thus strengthened the nucleus of this new community, one He’d established during His earthly ministry, and that had been further established at the cross and in the breathing of the Spirit.  Now He reminds them of His lordship and their dependency upon Him in the fulfilment of the commission He has given them (John 20:21-23).

But, remember that Jesus had told them to return Galilee, where He would meet them (Mark 14:28; 16:7).  I’m left with the impression that they seem to be a bit bored, as if they’re unsure of what to do, until Peter decides to go fishing and the others come along (v.3).  Peter as often is taking the initiative, but are they just doing that which is necessary?  The outcome is certain, they put themselves in a place where Christ meets them.  Here is a glorious beautiful, but simple truth, when we are uncertain what to do we should simply do our duty and God will guide.  He works like that, using circumstances that we might consider to be insignificant, to bring great glory to Him.

That night they catch nothing (v.3).  What a picture of barrenness.  They have done what they thought was the right thing but experience utter failure.  This prepares them to learn one of the central lessons of discipleship – apart from Jesus they can do nothing (John 15:5).  Jesus has taught this lesson before, for never in the Gospels do the disciples catch fish without help from Jesus.  But they need the lesson repeated, as we often do as well.

The turning point comes early in the morning, perhaps symbolising the dawning of spiritual light.  Jesus is described again as simply standing there, without a description of His arrival on the spot (v.4; cf. 20:14, 19, 26).  Also, as earlier, they do not recognise Him at first.  There was something different about Jesus’ body.

Jesus takes the initiative and calls to them: “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” (v.5).  Think about that question – it’s put in a form that expects a negative answer, but the one asking already knows the answer!  The word translated “friends” (paidiai) is more literally “children” or even “little children.”  John also uses this word in his other writings where he used it in the sense of “an affectionate address of the spiritual father to those committed to him”.  It appears this greeting was unusual to the disciples as they did not know who was calling them.

How readily they admit their failure (v. 5).  Jesus instructs them, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some (v. 6).  This is not an idle suggestion.  He does not say, “Try over there and you might find some.”  No, He gives an assurance that they will find fish “on the right side of the boat”.  When they obey they cannot get the net back into the boat, there are too many fish (v.6).

Doesn’t this abundance echo the enormous provision of wine at the wedding in Cana (2:1-11) and of bread and fish at the feeding of the five thousand (6:1-13).  Aren’t there similarities here to Jesus’ original call, “Come, follow me … and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt 4:19 par. Mark 1:17)?  But I think a primary point here seems to be accepting Jesus’ lordship and the need to be obedient to Him for any labour to be fruitful.

Earlier, Mary recognised Jesus when He called her name, and the disciples recognised Him through His wounds.  Now He is recognised through the abundance that comes through obedience to His word.  It is the “Beloved Disciple”, John, who first discerns that the stranger on the shore is Jesus (v. 7).  If Peter had been the one to recognise Jesus, one suspects he would have immediately jumped into the sea before they’d cast the net again!  Notice that having received insight John immediately bears witness to it.  Oh, dear… how often I have failed at this, bearing witness to the insight God has given me!

We have no idea if Peter gets to land before the others do, for we  read, “When they landed…” the disciples notice a charcoal fire with bread and fish already on it (v.9). Wow, Jesus has breakfast ready for them.  I love it when someone gets my cooked breakfast ready.  But this is a sign of Jesus’ grace and provision, like the catch they have just taken.  There is no indication of where Jesus got the bread and fish from.  The appearance of the food is as mysterious as His own appearance.

The first one to speak is Jesus, and He tells them to bring some of the fish they have caught (v.10).  For the second time in this story Jesus gives them a command.  Guess who responds – yes, Peter!  Although Jesus addresses all the disciples (enenkate, bring, plural), it is Peter who brings the catch ashore, by himself (v.11).  Peter’s zeal to come to Jesus is now matched by his zeal to obey him.

This miraculous catch speaks of the abundance that our gracious God provides and how He also enables the abundance to be received.  We’ve seen this before haven’t we?  At the feeding of the five thousand they had brought the bread and fish to Jesus, and He multiplied them (6:9-11).  But in this scene He already has food and invites them to add to it from their catch.  We have work to do in order to bring others into Jesus’ kingdom.  But such work can only be done with our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus and thus following His commands.

Throughout this encounter with Jesus the disciples have not said anything.  They are in great awe; none daring to ask Him, “Who are you?” (v.12).  There was something different about Him, yet they were able to recognise Him – Jesus is the focus of this story, as He should be the focus in our own lives.

After inviting them to come and eat, He himself comes to the fire.  He took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish (v.13).  This provides the climax of this story.  It answers their unasked questions– He is recognised in this breaking of the bread (cf. Luke 24:30-31).  So here we have the master who commands them also serving them, continuing a theme found during His ministry (see 13:5, 13).

John says, “This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead” (v.14).  Surely this is at least the fourth appearance?  So what is John doing here?  I think that here John is counting appearances to the disciples as a group, which would not include Jesus’ appearance to Mary Magdalene.  This appearance reveals the same key characteristics as Jesus manifested throughout His ministry, namely His lordship, His servanthood, His character as gracious giver of abundance and His love.  He has met His disciples at a point of failure and revealed Himself as the awesome Lord of creation who cares for them.  The fact that He provides a meal indicates that this type of “lordship” includes fellowship.  Such fellowship with Jesus at a meal reminds one of the many times He shared such fellowship during His ministry, especially at the Last Supper.  And this is the theme of the new community He has now established and so echoes the Eucharist.  This meal itself is not a Eucharist, but it embodies a central aspect of what the Eucharist itself is about – communion with the risen Lord in the midst of His people.

Based on a sermon from 17th May 2020