Resurrection Reflection

I love this season in the Christian calendar – The Easter season – with all these wonderful accounts of Jesus appearing to His disciples.  It’s well worth reading the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, they are so encouraging and uplifting, particularly as we cope with Covid-19.  These resurrection appearances of Jesus are the opposite of this time, so do read them; they are so uplifting as they point us to the only one who is the source of all life, hope and love. 

Acts 1:3 gives the impression that Jesus had several live encounters with the disciples – “After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.  He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.”

In many of the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, people who saw Him had a difficult time recognising Him.  Mary thought Jesus was the gardener (John 20:14 – 15) before He spoke her name (John 20:16).  The disciples on the road to Emmaus did not realise they were talking to Jesus (Luke 24:15 – 16).  The disciples had difficulty recognising Jesus on the shore (John 21:4).  In these resurrection accounts, all of the people ultimately do recognise Jesus.  Yet there is something that makes His appearance different than it was before His arrest and crucifixion.

As we seek to understand our own resurrection in Christ, it’s important for us also to appreciate the new quality of His re-emergence, because Jesus’ resurrection was experienced by His Disciples as something far beyond the resuscitation of a corpse.  Rather, Jesus had taken up a wholly new and transformed humanity that was beyond anything they could fully describe or had ever experienced.

But what about us today?

The ultimate hope of all believers is not heaven, but the new heaven and new earth, of which Jesus emphatically says, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5).  Was he eluding to this in John 14 when he said he was going ahead to prepare a room for His disciples? – just a thought.  The essence of the word “new” in that phrase from Revelation 21 is not “different,” or “new” in terms of time, but rather “new” in terms of QUALITY.  One day Jesus will make all things that do exist new or better, fuller, more complete; this is certainly resurrection language.

In other words, the ultimate hope of the believer is the resurrection—when God will do for us and for all creation what He did for Jesus on Easter Day.  The resurrected Jesus was still the same Jesus who had lived for more than thirty-three years and worked among the disciples for more than three years, but He was changed — He was “new,” He was more, He was resurrected.

Paul gives us an exciting glimpse of this coming reality (1 Corinthians 15:42–44; 49–54).  These are such amazing life affirming words of Paul that it is worth spending a little time looking at them. 

In these words, Paul discusses what our resurrected bodies will be like. If you could select your own body, what kind would you choose: strong, athletic, beautiful?  Paul explains that we will be recognised in our resurrected bodies, yet they will be better than we can imagine, for they will be made to live for ever!  We will still have our own personalities and individualities, but these will be perfected through Christ’s work.  The Bible does not reveal everything that our resurrected bodies will be able to do, but we know they will be perfect, without sickness or disease (see Philippians 3:21).

This time is showing us that our present bodies are perishable and prone to decay.  However, Jesus shows us that our resurrection bodies will be transformed.  These spiritual bodies will not be limited by the laws of nature.  I do not believe that this will mean that we will be super people, but our bodies will be different from, and more capable than our present earthly bodies because we will become spiritual bodies, and these spiritual bodies will not be weak, will never get sick, and will never die.

We all face limitations.  In one way or another we all have physical, mental, emotional disabilities.  However, Jesus spoke how the blind will see life in a new way, how the deaf will hear God’s Good News, and how the lame will be able to walk in God’s love.  As Jesus spoke such words we, His followers, should have the encouragement that any disabilities we may have are only temporary, for Paul tells us that we all will be given new bodies when Christ returns and that these bodies will be without disabilities, never to die or become sick. This can give us hope in our suffering.

Satan may have seemed to be victorious in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3) and at the cross of Jesus. but God turned Satan’s apparent victory into defeat when Jesus Christ rose from the dead. (Colossians 2:.15; Hebrews 2:14, 15),  Thus death is no longer a source of dread or fear.  Christ overcame it, and one day we will also.  The law will no longer make sinners out of us who cannot keep it.  Death has been defeated, and we have a glorious life beyond the grave.

This all goes to show that God’s plans for His people in Christ are so good!  The sure hope that we as believers have is that, one day, the whole creation will be made new, and all will be made right.  As this happens, God himself will dwell among us His people, and He will wipe every tear from our eyes.  More than that, there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:4).  All because Christ is the resurrection and the life.

In the new heaven and new earth, Jesus will reign fully and forever, and everything will be as it should be.  There will be no sin and no possibility of sin, and believers will finally live the lives God had designed them to live from the beginning of time.

For reflection: As you think back on the glorious resurrection of Christ, let it be a reminder to look forward to our future resurrection in Christ.

Based on a sermon from 19th April 2020, 2nd Sunday after Easter

Christ is risen!

Image by TC Perch from Pixabay

Over 10 years ago I said these words….

As I look around, I see great events playing out on the world stage: Efforts are being made to bring democracy to regions of the world where there is none. World health organisations are working around the clock to stem the tide of TB and SARS, diseases which if not fought might become another black plague. We now have an unprecedented ability to communicate ideas and beliefs to any part of the world and to any person in the world. We now have the ability to move produce and goods around the world which makes it possible as never before to bring significant relief to regions of the world that suffer.

All these efforts were to help bring life, and the world appeared to have become so small…

Yet, as I watch the world today, I think, “wow, what a difference Covid -19 has caused”.  We are facing a new black plague… the whole world is in lock-down.  What an impact this is having on our daily lives.  Before our very eyes the world appears to be re-shaping; many things may never be the same again.

But then I am reminded of two things.

First, I am reminded that no event in history has shaped the world like the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and secondly, I am reminded of this simple fact about life; life does not go on forever. There is death.

Every one of us must face our mortality.  Now is the time to think about our own death – what arrangements have we made so that our loved ones know our desires and plans?

Advances in science and medicine cannot prepare us to answer the ultimate questions in life.  And yet this morning through Jesus’ Resurrection I can boldly proclaim hope and life. Yes, there is death.  But life is in Jesus Christ, the hope of our resurrection.

Questions many often ask have taken on a new immediacy, questions such as:

  • Is there hope?
  • Is there new life?
  • Is there life after death?
  • Is there reason for joy?

The answer to such questions has arrived this day (Easter Sunday). It is here waiting for you. It is a three-word message:

Christ Is Risen!

This is good news for the depressed.  Good news for those who have lost loved ones.  Good news to those who have lost their joy.  Christ is risen!

But what are the implications of Easter?

First, the disciples were changed. The most telling evidence of the resurrection is not the empty tomb but the transformation of the disciples to new life. Their disappointment changed to exhilarating joy. Their fear changed to an evangelical boldness.

They assumed a new audacity. In less than two months they went from cowardly disciples who locked themselves behind closed doors for fear of the Jewish authorities, to courageous apostles who stood before thousands in the presence of the Jewish authorities proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Secondly, because of the resurrection our view of death has changed.  The resurrection affirms our instinctive conviction that death is not the end of a person’s story.  For Christians their story is rooted in the heart of God, who is the source of all life.

It is, of course, true, that a day shall come when we shall all die and in time no living person will speak our name.  But the resurrection affirms that God will always know our name, that he will never stop loving us because He has gifted us with eternal life.  Death has been swallowed up in the victory eternal life.

Finally, because of the resurrection, our view of Jesus has changed. It is interesting that the story ends as it began. At the birth of Jesus, the angel’s message to the shepherds was: Be not afraid. When Mary comes to the tomb on that first Easter Sunday the message is: Be not afraid.

We have come full circle. Yet it appears that we are frightened of God, despite being taught that God is love!  And we have good reason – we know God’s purity and we know our inadequacy. Yet, because of the resurrection, our whole understanding of God is different. Why? Because our understanding of Jesus is different. The one on the cross and the one who rose from the dead is none other than God incarnate. Jesus the Galilean is God in human form.

The nail prints in his hands tell us that our Almighty God experienced human suffering. Yet, He is none other than your shepherd fighting for your survival in the valley, your bread sustaining you during the famine, your counsellor who defends you on judgement day.

He is the door, the vine, the gate, the light of the world. He is your sacrifice before God for the sins you have committed. So the nail prints qualify Him to stand before God and plead our case.

And how do I know this? One reason….. He lives!

The empty cross, and His resurrection to new life gives us a whole new understanding of Jesus. Because of the resurrection we have a hope and a new life that the world cannot give, and that cannot be taken from us so…. do not be afraid.

The message that all have been waiting for has this day arrived. It is a three-word message:

Christ Is Risen!

Easter Day, 12th April 2020

Bible reading: John 20:1-18

The crucifixion of Jesus

Opening Prayer
Jesus, Son of God,
we come to you in worship and thanksgiving:
suffering servant,
pioneer of our salvation,
sacrifice for our sins,
example of perfect forgiveness,
God sharing our humanity,
obedient even to the death of the cross,
made to be a curse for us to take away our curse,
victor over the powers of darkness,
achieving our peace, reconciling us to the Father,
bread of our life and blood of our deliverance.
Lamb of God, redeemer,
by your death sealing God’s new covenant of love
by which the sins of all are forgiven,
drawing all people to yourself
by the glory of your cross,
raised high for the healing of the nations,
that all who see you might believe and be saved:
glory be to you, Jesus, Son of God.  Amen.
Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Toward the end of Jesus’ mission, he spoke these words to his followers, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). 

Journey with Jesus, now, in his last hours to watch him demonstrate his “greater love” for you, and for the entire world.

After Jesus was taken captive in the Garden of Gethsemane, a private garden across the narrow valley from Jerusalem, he endured six short trials, all of them a mockery of justice. Finally, the Jewish religious leaders, in wanting Jesus dead, decided to take Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor.

Had the Jewish leaders executed Jesus, themselves, it would have been death by stoning. That was the Jewish method. However, stoning would have been too fast of a death for what the religious leaders had in mind for the man who had called them out for their self-absorbed hypocrisy. They opted for the Roman method of execution – by crucifixion. That would satisfy their thirst for a slow and painful death.

Although the religious leaders took Jesus to Pilate, the governor didn’t find any wrong in Jesus. He just wanted to give Jesus a relatively light slap on the wrist and let him go. Pilate’s decision forced the religious leaders to use a tactic that would persuade the governor to do their bidding.

They convinced Pilate that Jesus had claimed to be a Jewish king. Of course, the title, ‘king,’ flashed a red light of alarm in Pilate’s mind. He knew any rival king could energise the already hostile Jewish people to openly rebel against the Romans. Because Pilate served the Romans in that Jewish region, he knew any outbreak would bring the wrath of Rome down on him. Consequently, he would lose his cushy position – and, most likely, his life.

To his credit, Pilate still didn’t want to kill Jesus. However, to appease the Jewish religious leaders, Pilate commanded his soldiers to scourge him. Then, if the messy, blood-splattering scourge didn’t satisfy the Jews, Pilate had one last card to play to save Jesus from crucifixion.

The soldiers led Jesus to an outer courtyard, lifted him onto a raised platform tied his hands to the top of a wood post set there. A soldier climbed up on the platform, gripping the dreaded scourge. Just the sight of its nine leather straps, and pieces of broken bone and metal attached to the ends, would be enough to terrify anyone. Many blows later Jesus was released and dragged to a room of the courtyard.

In that room, while one soldier held Jesus up, another poked his body with a pole and slugged him in the face. After the soldiers had their sadistic sport with Jesus, a couple of them helped him back to Pilate.

The Roman governor thought Jesus’ beaten and scourged body would satisfy the religious authorities as he played his trump card to spare Jesus’ life. Each year at the Passover, the Roman custom was to release a Jewish prisoner. That year, Pilate left it up to the people who had gathered in his courtyard to decide between Jesus and Barabbas, a known ruthless killer.

To Pilate’s surprise, the religious leaders used their clout to persuade the people to call for the release of Barabbas.

“But, what should I do with this man?” Pilate asked them, pointing to Jesus.

“Crucify him,” they shouted.

Pilate reluctantly commanded a detachment of Roman soldiers to take Jesus away to be crucified. Now, it was customary for a criminal to carry the cross on his way to the site of his crucifixion. However, Jesus was weakened from having lost so much blood during the scourging that he needed help to drag his cross through the narrow streets of Jerusalem.

Finally, on a hillside just outside Jerusalem, one soldier positioned Jesus’ cross flat on the ground, between the crosses of two other victims. A second soldier peeled Jesus’ blood-soaked robe off him.  Then, he threw Jesus down on the cross, his raw back rubbing against the splintery beam. Another soldier stretched out Jesus’ arms, and drove a spike into each wrist and his feet.

With Jesus writhing in agony, the cross was then hosted up and he hung there.

At twelve noon, the sun stopped shining in that small area of the world. For the next three hours, darkness filled the land. Not an eclipse of the sun since eclipses don’t last that long. Something unexplainable was happening.

Suddenly, Jesus’ words shattered the silence. “Why have you forsaken me?” he cried out in a weakened and raspy voice. Every head jerked up. All of his life, Jesus had sensed his Father’s presence.

But, not then.

He felt empty and alone.

At three in the afternoon, Jesus’ shallow breathing was sporadic. No more push in his legs. Jesus, the man of life, was suffocating, gagging on the fluids of his own congestion. His pain had become a dull numbness.

In the mystery of darkness, a soldier dipped a sponge into vinegar and raised it to Jesus’ lips. With one last gasp, he uttered, “It is finished!” And, Jesus’ head dropped to his chest.

Fortunately, it wasn’t over!

All of the Old Testament sacrifices pointed to this moment. At this juncture, the great High Priest became the sacrificial Lamb. The symbolism and mysterious predictions became a reality in the life and death of this man who was God.

  • This God-man who turned himself over to death so that His murderers could be forgiven.
  • This man-God whose death would remove the sins of His own mother, who watched with sorrow as the prophecies became reality on that hideous cross.
  • This God-man whose willing sacrifice sufficiently and completely covered the sins of men and women past, present, and future.

Angels, prophets, and Jesus Christ himself predicted His death at the hands of sinners.

But His death was also for those sinners. God’s justice demands death for sin. God’s mercy provided the willing, perfect sacrifice for sin.

The cross is God’s love gift.

On that cross, love made a man die so that His enemies could live. There, the only perfect human died so that we sinners can be forgiven.

On that day, everything that separates people from God was torn in the brutal tearing of Christ’s body.

He did it for you.

This sacrifice was the only way your sins could be paid for without your own eternal death.

Christ’s death paid the price of your sin.

When Jesus said, “It is finished,” he meant there was nothing else to do, nothing left to pay.

He paid it all—totally, completely, permanently.

It is finished.

Closing prayer
Lord, draw us to your cross which brings forgiveness:
that we may be cleansed.
Lord, draw us to your cross which brings life:
that we may live for you.
Lord, draw us to yourself
and to each other;
one body in heaven and on earth.  Amen.

Good Friday, 10th April 2020

Love one another

John 15:9–17

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

During his final few hours with his disciples, Jesus said; “Love each another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) He didn’t say it just once, or twice, or even three times. He said it four times that night!  It’s as if He’s saying to us—to you and me, “if you don’t do anything else, make sure that you love one another!”

Jesus has just washed His disciples’ feet, predicted His death and Peter’s denial and then He set about teaching them many things: the command to love one another; that in His Father’s house there are many rooms and that He’ll return to take them there; that Jesus is the only way to the Father and that after He has gone He and the Father will send the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, to teach them and remind them of everything He has said to them.

Wow, wasn’t there a lot to take in!  If I was there I might well have been a little bit bewildered.  There’s almost a frenetic feel about Jesus’ teaching.  He had so much more to say to them, but so little time left.

However, there is more; Jesus uses the illustration of the vine and the branches as a way of stressing how important it is for His followers to stay in close contact with Him and His Heavenly Father.  They will need to do this if they are going to survive being His disciples. You see, this is a matter of life and death, as He explains that if they do not remain in Him, they will not bear fruit, thus they will not survive.  They will only be fit to be cut off and thrown into the fire. 

Jesus continues by commanding His followers to demonstrate love toward each other. This is phrased, in no uncertain terms, as an obligation, a command, given directly by Christ. Jesus once again ties our willingness to obey His commands to the legitimacy of our love for Him. This contrasts with the hatred shown by the unbelieving world, which He discusses in the verses that take you to the end of this chapter.

So Jesus has used the metaphor of the vine and branches to explain how our spiritual life, as born-again believers, is drawn from His life.  You see, it is God’s desire and intent for our lives to progress from barrenness to fruitfulness, and on to spiritual supernatural abundance. 

Now this is the part I think is amazing…In repeating the command to love one another Jesus goes as far as to refer to those who follow His teachings as His “friends.” Think about this.  Friends with Jesus = friends with God – wow, what a privilege!

But for us to remain in the vine one thing is crucial… to remain obedient to His teachings.  It’s by being obedient to His teachings that we are able to love one another. We could be discouraged when we read these verses and study this command, after all Christ was sinless and perfect (Hebrews 4:15).

When He commands us to love each other the way He loved us, many find it too challenging and unrealistic to expect them to fulfil this command. Surely, because of our fallibility this is impossible, impossible to always have happy thoughts about others, even fellow Christians. The thought that we are commanded to feel perfect joyful affection towards others is daunting. If we took this seriously it may lead to martyrdom, but just look at what happened to Jesus! (John 15:13).

However, that is not what Jesus means in this statement.  We know that living as a born-again believer in Jesus our aim is to live a life that reflects Him to others – To live as a living Bible (John 13:15). So far as we can, we want to respond to other people in a Christ-like way.

But Jesus is not telling believers “feel about other people the way I do.” Nor is He demanding we be sinless, infallibly perfect. Rather, our love needs to echo the character of Christ’s love. This involves two main ideas.

FIRST, we should realise the “love” Jesus speaks of is practical, not emotional. We don’t need to “feel warm thoughts” for others, but we do need to ACT lovingly towards them, even when they’re hostile to us (Romans 12:17–21; Matthew 5:43–48). When this evening of discussion and teaching began, Jesus initiated it with an act of love: washing the feet of the disciples (John 13:3–5).  Affection will sometimes grow as we serve others, but even when it doesn’t, the command to “love” always remains.

SECOND, we are meant to echo the nature of Christ’s love. This means humility (John 13:6), sacrifice (John 15:13), and service (John 13:35).

Our approach to others, especially between fellow Christians (1 John 4:20–21), should be characterised by those traits.

As I have been thinking about this I’ve come to realise that the idea of laying down one’s life, stated in this passage, means something more constant than a single act, it’s about continually putting the needs of others above our own.  When we do this we are laying down our life for others.

Christ’s love displayed through the believer is unlike the “love” generated by the flesh, which can be selfish, egotistical, unforgiving, and insincere.

1 Corinthians 13:4–8 says this about love –

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

The Good News is that we cannot live this kind of love on our own!  Not only do we need Jesus living is us, we also need the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.  These two persons help us to strive to live out Jesus’ command “Love each other”.

The truth is this: people don’t naturally love with a 1 Corinthians 13 type love. To love like that, there must be a change of heart.

A person must realise that they are a sinner before God and understand that Christ died on the cross and rose again to provide them forgiveness; then they must make the decision to accept Christ as their personal Saviour.  At that point they are forgiven by Christ and receive God’s gift of eternal life—in fact, they become a participant in the divine supernatural nature of God (2 Peter 1:4). How awesome is that!! 

In Christ they know that they are genuinely loved by God. With this knowledge, believers are given a new capacity to love like Christ loves, for they now have living within them the unconditional, sacrificial, forgiving, eternal, and holy love of God (Romans 5:5).

To love one another is to love fellow believers as Christ loves us. Those who love like Christ in the Holy Spirit’s power will give evidence that they are lifelong disciples, learners, students, of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is saying to us—to you and me, “if you don’t do anything else, make sure that you love one another!”  How are you fulfilling this command today, and every day?

Based on a sermon from Maundy Thursday, 9th April 2020.