Encounter and Call

Acts 9:1-20; John 21:1-19

Today’s readings offer us two accounts of encounter and call and we will be taking time to consider the wonderful ways the risen Jesus encountered both Simon Peter and Saul (who would later be called Paul) in ways that were perfectly tailored to them individually. We’ll also think about what these encounters might have to say to us today!!

Context

The Context for Jesus:

  • Death and resurrection
  • “Some time later” (John 21:1)
  • The best summary we have of this period = 1 Corinthians 15:4-8 in which Paul lists Jesus having appeared to Peter, then the other apostles, then a gathering of 500 disciples at once, then James (Jesus’ brother), then all the apostles again … and then finally … after Jesus’ ascension to heaven … He appeared … in a blinding encounter … to Paul (our Acts reading today).
  • The risen Jesus is encountering and calling people … and He still does today!

The Context of the Disciples:

  • On the morning of resurrection, Jesus commanded the women (in Matthew 28:10) “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see Me”.
  • Same evening He met them in upper room
  • Next week, again in upper room with Thomas present
  • Now finally they have gone to Galilee.
  • With no sign of Jesus, Peter decides to go fishing.
  • No mention of praying for the Holy Spirit to come … no mention of pursuing the mission of “as the Father sent Me so I now send you” (John 20:21)
  • Out on the Lake all night … no fish (personal fishing story)
  • They are aimless … and totally fruitless both physically and spiritually … drifting on a literal and metaphorical lake.

The Context of Saul (Acts 9)

  • It is months later… it is Post-Pentecost …
  • early Church is taking Jerusalem by storm … thousands are hearing the Gospel, believing, being baptised and following what became known as “The Way”.
  • Jewish authorities are actively persecuting believers, imprisoning and even executing them … and Saul is the “lead detective” so to speak.
  • Saul has taken up a crusade against the Christians
  • He is pursuing believers who have fled Jerusalem and are preaching the gospel in Damascus in order to “take them as prisoners to Jerusalem”.
  • So whereas Peter is adrift and aimlessSaul is radically and actively opposed to Jesus.

The Point

  • The one over-riding point of both of these encounters we read is this: Jesus comes to them … Jesus encounters them face to face where they are … Jesus radically transforms their relationship to Him … and Jesus calls them to a life of discipleship and ministry … then they must respond!
  • And He may very well do exactly the same in our lives in unique ways.

 

1.Face to Face Encounter

Let’s take a look at the way Jesus encounters both Peter and Saul.

  • Beautiful how Jesus comes to them!
  • They are not looking for Him!
  • But He encounters them in an unmistakeable way.
  • Peter: It’s beautiful how Jesus comes to “their special place”
    • where much of Jesus’ ministry happened … but more than that
    • where Jesus called Peter … and as Luke records it in Luke 5:4-6, “When Jesus had finished speaking He said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and let down the nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so I will let down the nets.’ When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.”
    • Now … 3 years later … Jesus reaches out to Peter in such a way as to make it clear:
      • It’s Me Peter
      • Nothing has changed about your call Peter.
      • Back then you were called to be a fisher of men … that is still the case.
    • Once Peter realises it is Jesus he rushes ashore to be with Jesus and the encounter unfolds.
    • Jesus comes to Peter in a way specially tailored for Peter!

 

  • Saul: To a man of forceful directness, Jesus come in head-on confrontation.
    • Saul was a man to force the issue
    • He was not a gentle soul who you could influence gently.
    • He was a bull in a china shop.
    • Jesus meets him where he is at … in the only way that will get through to him … with an explosion of light … a voice from heaven calling him by name and confronting his animosity… and an “I’ll show you who’s boss” affliction of blindness.
    • And Jesus doesn’t beat around the bush:
      • “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting!”
      • “Why are you persecuting Me?”
      • “Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what to do.”
    • Jesus comes to Saul in a way perfectly tailored for Saul.

 

  • YOU and ME:
    • Notice from the 2 examples that Jesus has a “horses for courses” approach
    • He won’t come to you in the same way as to me
    • One size doesn’t fit all
    • My experience of encounter will NOT be yours
    • But Jesus has your number and He will encounter you in the way that is just right for you.
    • Be expectant.

 

2.Transforming the Relationship

Beautiful how (in these encounters) both their relationships with Jesus are transformed:

  • Peter:
    • Floating on this lake of uncertainty … aimlessness …
    • Jesus focuses him on LOVE
    • All through the last 3 years, Peter’s been so task-orientated … so intent on rushing into things … it’s like Jesus slows him down
      • Do you love me?
      • Do you love me?
      • Do you love me?
    • Unmistakably Jesus brings Peter back to the heart of the matter
    • His call is not to be based on performance … it is to flow out of a heart of love for Jesus!
    • Our love for Jesus is to be the well-spring from which everything else flows.

 

  • Saul:
    • For Saul it took a power encounter
    • Peter had to be re-centred on loving Jesus above all BUT
    • Saul has to decide to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus.
    • Jesus put on a power display for Saul – light … a loud voice … confrontation … blindness … and straight-talking instruction to get up and go to the city and wait for further instructions.
    • And Saul meekly goes
    • Then, through Ananias the encounter continues as a miraculous healing and infilling of the Holy Spirit.
    • And when it’s all over Saul is preaching that Jesus is the Son of God.
    • The relationship is transformed from fierce opposition to total surrender.
    • Our Mission in life is to be based on total surrender to Jesus

 

3.Call and Response

For both, love for Jesus and surrender to His Lordship is followed by a Call to Service.

  • Peter: “Feed My lambs”:
    • Peter knows Jesus is the good shepherd
    • He knows He is referring to those who will believe in him
    • Peter’s call is to nurture and nourish those who will believe …
    • with the level of commitment required by the fact that these people are “lambs” of “the good shepherd”
    • It was not enough for Peter to love Jesus … that love had to be translated into the service Jesus called him to.
    • Now John 21 does not tell us but with hindsight we know that Peter spent his life obeying this call.

 

  • Saul: “This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15)
    • Talk about a high calling
    • I think Jesus ministered this calling to Saul while he was blind
    • I think Ananias probably spoke to him about what God had told him too
    • But Acts 9:20 shows that Saul immediately responded to the call.

 

What about us?

  • Be expectant that Jesus will encounter you … often … and in way uniquely tailored for you!
  • Be expectant that Jesus will encounter you … often … to grow and shape your relationship with Him!
  • Be expectant that Jesus will encounter you … often … to issue a call to follow Him and serve Him … and to shape and reshape that calling and service as your life unfolds.
  • Be expectant that Jesus will encounter you … often … and will demand a response!
  • Then RESPOND
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John 20:19-23

1.Context

Jesus:

  • Death on the Cross on Friday
  • Resurrection from the dead on the Sunday
  • 40 days to go until we know (with hindsight) He will ascend
  • 50 days to go until we know (with hindsight) He will pour out the Holy Spirit on His disciples.
  • We don’t know how Jesus is experiencing resurrection – only the eyewitness accounts. One of which we are studying today.

Disciples:

  • Thursday night ALL deserted Jesus and Peter directly denied Jesus
  • John, Mary and the other women had brought news of His death on the Cross which they had witnessed.
  • They also received news of Jesus’ burial by Joseph and Nicodemus
  • Very vulnerable to persecution or punishment by Jewish authorities

The Scene:

  • The same day as the resurrection
  • Early evening (before sunset) or it would be the next day by Jewish counting of days.
  • In a room – possibly same room as Passover
  • Terrified of Jewish authorities (NB they are also Jews so it’s not fear of the race group in general)
  • Therefore doors locked

Jesus came and stood among them:

  • His resurrection body is the same
    • “He showed them His hands and side” (John 20:20)
    • Luke 24:39, “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see! A ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.”
  • His resurrection body is different:
    • The doors were locked but that didn’t stop Him.
    • Let’s not read more into it. These facts are enough for now.

 

2.The Over-riding Lesson for today:

  • Jesus takes the initiative. They never went looking for Him. “Jesus came and stood among them” He comes to us even before we go looking! (my testimony)
  • Jesus is not put off by their mess of guilt and shame and fear. In fact Jesus always appeared MOST attracted to mess and brokenness (e.g. the prostitutes, demon-possessed, “sinners”, etc.)
  • Jesus can enter our lives in ways that no-one else can. It doesn’t matter how many barriers we put up or how we have locked and barred doors because of our fear, or hurt, or brokenness. Jesus can get in there and get through to us.
  • He can minister to us in ways no-one else can.

3.What does Jesus Minister?

a.Jesus ministers Peace

  • His first words are: “Peace be with you” – Shalom
  • This is the first thing He ministers
  • Because this is His foundation for all the other work He will do in us.
    • Peace with Himself – they had denied and deserted Him but He came here in peace … not to condemn or berate them but to ensure they knew there was peace with Him. Reminds me of John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you. My peace give to you.”
    • Peace with God the Father – this was the heart of His mission after all”
      • 2 Corinthians 5:19 “God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.”
      • Ephesians 2:17-18 “He came and preached peace to you who were far away and to you who were near. For through Him we both have access to the Father by One Spirit”
    • Peace with each other: Imagine how they must have been suspicious and mistrusting of each other – given their track record of desertion and denial.
      • Galatians 3:28 “You are all one in Christ Jesus”
      • Ephesians 2:14 “He Himself is our peace”
    • Peace with themselves: Imagine the sense of shame, guilt and embarrassment after their abject failure of Jesus in the Garden and trial. Jesus wants them to be at peace in themselves. Only He can minister this!
      • Hebrews 9:14 “How much more then will the blood of Christ … cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death so that we may serve the living God.

So we see how Jesus lays the foundation of Peace. And we speculate today that this peace extended to all 4 of the above: Peace with Jesus, with God, with each other and with themselves.

Do you need this ministry of Jesus today?

  • Sense of separation from Jesus, from God the Father, from other humans or even within yourself?
  • Jesus is here in our midst … we invite Him to come and minister.

 

b.Jesus ministers Purpose

  • Imagine the disciples total confusion of what they were supposed to do next
  • Locked away in fear and confusion.
  • “As the Father sent Me so I am sending you.”
    • A mission from Jesus
    • To continue His mission. They still had to figure out the details but they understood the big picture … and later they and others would explain their mission as being:
      • To live in such a way as to reveal God (1 Cor. 11:1 “Imitate me as I imitate Christ”; Ephesians 5:1 “Be imitators of God therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us.”)
      • To reveal God to others through teaching and preaching. 1 Cor. 1:23 “We preach Christ crucified”)
      • To invite others to repent and return to God through faith in Jesus. As Peter did in Acts 2:38 “Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin.”
      • To bring others home to God through the ministry of reconciliation through the gospel (2 Cor 5:18-20 “All this is from God who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: (the message) that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors as though God were making His appeal through us – we implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God!
    • Jesus made sure they understood the importance by saying that if they didn’t take the message of forgiveness it would NOT reach others. “If you do not forgive them they are not forgiven.”
    • This remains our purpose too … to continue the ministry of Jesus’s mission in the world!
    • Whatever else our purpose might be – it is primarily also to reveal God and His glory through testifying to JESUS in word and deed!

 

c.Jesus ministers the Promise of Power

“Jesus breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’.”

Unlike some I don’t see this as John’s version of Pentecost.

This is rather John recording how Jesus promised the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and stressing that they needed to receive Him.

Later in Acts 1:4 and 8 he would say it clearly: “Do not leave Jerusalem but wait for the gift my Father promised … in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit. … You WILL receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Judea and Samara and to the ends of the earth.”

We are heirs of this promise too.

On the foundation of peace Jesus gives us a purpose … and He always promises us ALL the power we will need for that purpose.

 

CONCLUSION:

  1. RECEIVE THE PEACE …
  2. ACCEPT THE PURPOSE …
  3. SEEK THE POWER!

Easter 2019

Luke 24:1-12 and Acts 10:34-43

On this day … every year … all over the world … followers of Jesus remember and celebrate this one glorious truth: Jesus Christ is alive!

It is our settled belief that about 2000 years ago … in a little Jewish town called Bethlehem … a baby was born and was named Jesus. He was raised in the village of Nazareth and lived there until about the age of 30.

At this point … Jesus started a very public ministry in his home province of Galilee … one which later extended to the capital city of Jerusalem and its surrounding countryside.

Jesus was a teacher with unrivalled authority … whose words felt like the words of God Himself.

He was a leader with an unrivalled capacity for grace … whose every action extended welcome to those despised and rejected by others.

He was a man of unrivalled power … who touched sick people and they were healed … who even raised people from the dead and gave them back to their families again.

He was a man of unrivalled holiness … who lived His life perfectly in step with God’s will.

One of His earliest followers Peter summed up His life like this:

“God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power and … He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with Him.” (Acts 10:38)

But He was also a man of unrivalled controversy … because He acted in accordance with the will of God … whether anyone else approved or not. And when His actions, His grace and His teaching began to offend some very powerful politicians and religious leaders … they hatched a plot to kill Him.

Now you would think that Jesus, a man of unrivalled power, would not have allowed them to succeed in their plot. Surely someone who raises the dead cannot be overpowered and defeated … surely someone with their ear so close to the heart of God cannot be taken by surprise and defeated. You would think.

Except … with His ear so close to the heart of God … Jesus continued on the path which God had laid out for Him … even when that path led to His death at the hands of the human authorities.

As He Himself explained it: “No one takes my life from Me … I lay it down of my own accord.”

And so it was that the life of Jesus of Nazareth came to an end on a Hill called Golgotha, just outside Jerusalem. Nailed to a Roman Cross … Jesus breathed His last breath … was certified dead by the Roman executioners … Then His Body was taken down and buried in a nearby tomb … which was sealed by the Roman authorities.

Let’s pause for a moment and ponder what this was about. Fortunately for us … we don’t have to figure it out for ourselves … because God explained it both ahead of time and afterwards.

In many places in the Jewish Bible … God explained what He was going to do through Jesus. Most notably however was Isaiah 53. Do yourself a favour and read the whole chapter when you get home. But the crucial verses say this:

“He took up our pain and bore our suffering … He was pierced for our transgressions … He was crushed for our iniquities … the punishment that brought us peace was put on Him … and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray … each of us has turned to our own way … and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all… He poured out His life unto death and was numbered with the transgressors … for He bore the sin of many … and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:4-6, & 12b)

God told His people ahead of time that one day someone would come who would take onto Himself the responsibility for the sins of all human beings … and that through the death of this person … many would receive peace with God because their sins would be removed from them … having been paid for by the death of this one person.

Years after the crucifixion of Jesus … His disciple Peter explained it so concisely:

“All the prophets testify about Him that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins in His name.” (10:43)

One of the early converts from Judaism to Christianity, named Paul, explained it this way in his 2nd letter to the Christians living in the Greek city of Corinth:

“God was reconciling the world to Himself through Jesus Christ … not counting people’s sins against them … God made (Jesus) who had no sin to be a sin offering for us…” (2 Cor. 5:19 & 21)

So the heart of what was going on when Jesus allowed Himself to be put to death by crucifixion … was that He was willingly taking responsibility and accepting the punishment … for the sins of othersall others as it turned out.

If that was all there was to the Good News of Jesus that would be plenty.

BUT … it is not only the settled belief of Christians that Jesus Christ was born … that He lived a perfectly sinless and beautifully godly life of grace and truth and power … and that He died a sinless, self-sacrificial death on the Cross to pay the price for our sins so that we may be forgiven and live free of guilt and shame …

It is also the settled belief of all Christians that in the early hours of the Sunday morning after the Friday of His crucifixion … God raised Jesus from the dead.

The same Peter who described Jesus’ life so beautifully in Acts 10 also went on to describe His death and resurrection like this:

“They killed Him by hanging Him on a cross, but God raised Him from the dead on the 3rd day and caused Him to be seen … by us who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead.”(Acts 10:40-41)

From the earliest moments of that Sunday morning … over a period of 40 days … more than 500 followers of Jesus saw Him and interacted with Him physically. Some ate with Him … some touched Him … many heard Him speak … and His 11 closest disciples received clear instructions from Him as to what this all meant.

His disciple John … in John 3 explained:

“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son … so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (3:16)

In Titus 3 it is stated this way:

“(God our Saviour) saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” (3:5-6)

Did you catch those words? Rebirth … renewal … eternal life.

If Jesus’ death on the cross offers us forgiveness from sin … What does Jesus’ resurrection have to offer us? What difference can it make in our lives?

Answer: The cross of Jesus means that when a human being recognises that the way they are living their life without God is totally empty and meaningless … and turns away from their sins and comes to Jesus … trusting Him for forgiveness … God gives them that forgiveness freely … BUT GOD ALSO THROWS IN THE POWER OF THE RESURRECTION!!

As if forgiveness were not enough of a blessing … the God of the Universe says: “But wait, there’s more! You are forgiven, yes … but because you are forgiven and there is no longer any barrier of sin and shame between us … I am also going to breathe into your spirit the same power that raised Jesus from the dead … and I am going to give you the free gift of My life living in you. You and I are going to live in an unbreakable relationship where I am your perfect Father and you are my forgiven and beloved Child … and I am going to pour My perfect love into you day after day after day

… But wait … there’s more … even when your body diesour relationship will not end. You see, I am eternal … I am outside of time … I am God forever … in the realm of eternity … and when you die I will still be pouring my love into you forever … I am going to take you to be with Me so that where I am you will also be … and let me tell you … it’s paradise … and then one glorious day the same thing will happen to you as happened to your Lord Jesus  … your body will be raised from dust and ashes … and I will give you a glorious resurrection body … just as I gave one to My Son Jesus.

 

CONCLUSION

Every year … all over the world … followers of Jesus remember and celebrate this one glorious truth: Jesus Christ is alive!

And we celebrate that because He is alive … we who repent of our sins … place our faith in Him … and come to Him for forgiveness … receive that forgiveness freely … and we receive the power of the resurrection too … the Spirit of God working in us to raise us from the spiritual death of a life of sin … to the spiritual life of an unhindered relationship with God Almighty.

 

I pray that you will know and experience this relationship FULLY!!

Good Friday 2019

GO HOME!!

Please will you join me in closing your eyes and travelling, in your imagination, to the foot of the Cross on the hill called Golgotha outside Jerusalem. Throughout the service so far we have read what happened here. Allow your mind to travel across the scene and the events we have read. I will mention each crucial moment and leave a silent pause as we try to conjure up the image in our minds. Focus on what you see and what you hear and maybe even the smells of the moment.

There’s no doubt it is a brutal scene.

  • Four soldiers shove the condemned man, Jesus, to the ground.
  • They pin his arms to the cross-beam of a wooden cross and hammer a large nail into the base of each hand and into each foot.
  • They hoist the cross into a prepared hole in the ground so that it stands on end with Jesus suspended from it.
  • All around the base of the cross there’s talking and jostling going on … people mocking and jeering the crucified men … but you’re just focussed on Jesus … you’re straining to take Jesus in … your eyes and ears reaching out to Him. What do you see? What do you hear?
  • As we watch Jesus with utmost attention … hungering to see and hear Him … we notice Him turning His head and looking intently at a small group standing very close … right at the front of the crowd … just where the soldiers have cordoned off the area.
  • This huddled group is watching and weeping. Look at them.
  • As our eyes move back to Jesus. We see Him strain to get enough air into His lungs to speak. Looking straight at the group His eyes fix on the only man in the group … a young man, eyes red and face streaked with tears … He says: “My lady – this is your son now.”
  • Then His eyes fix on the oldest lady in the group … she looks about 50 … Staring intently at her … Gasping for air again … He gathers Himself and chokes out: “She is your mother now.”
  • As we continue for another moment in stillness … try to connect with the emotions of this moment on Golgotha. What emotions are in the air?

Then return with me to Claremont Methodist Church in Cape Town. You’re no longer at the foot of the Cross. You’re sitting on a blue chair in the Church on Cavendish Street. You’ve come to remember the greatest act of love ever performed … the moment when Jesus took responsibility … and accepted the punishment … for all the sins of humanity … past … present … and future … my sins and yours too.

On the Cross Jesus displayed the glory of God … Jesus made the invisible God visible throughout His earthly life … if you wanted to see God you looked at Jesus. And here on the Cross … more than ever before … the wonder of God’s grace and mercy was blazing from Jesus for all to see.

The perfect expression of perfect love which Jesus made on the day we call Good Friday was so immense … and so multifaceted … that to soak it all up in one service is impossible … even if it is the 3 hour service we will engage in later.

And so each year on this day I try to focus in on one aspect of the glory of God in Jesus … as displayed on the Cross.

Today I invite you to realize … possibly to your amazement … that divine love … i.e. the love of God … is not only expressed magnificently in miraculous moments like the raising of Lazarus from the dead … or in enormous acts of heroism like laying down one’s life for one’s friends. These are dramatic expressions of the love of God … no doubt!

But divine love is also radiating from Jesus profoundly in this very earthy and yet beautifully intimate expression of family love. To His mother: “My lady – this is your son now.” To John: “She is your mother now.”

MARY

I cannot being to imagine the pain Mary was feeling. She and the other were taking  huge risk being at the Cross. They were associating themselves with a man found guilty of treason against the Emperor, Caesar. But her love for her son had overcome any fear she may have had of being arrested and punished. Jesus may have been a criminal in the eyes of the law but He was still her son. Her mind may have been travelling back to the temple courts 33 years ago when the old lady Anna had taken Jesus in her arms as an infant and prophesied:

“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

And yet I sincerely doubt that she understood at this point why this was happening!

But this was her son. So she was here. There was nowhere else to be.

Rudyard Kipling wrote:

“If I were hanged on the highest hill; mother o’ mine; O mother o’ mine

I know whose love would follow me still; mother o’ mine; O mother o’ mine

If I were drowned in the deepest sea; mother o’ mine; O mother o’ mine

I know whose tears would come down to me; mother o’ mine; O mother o’ mine

If I were damned of body and soul; mother o’ mine; O mother o’ mine

I know whose prayers would make me whole; mother o’ mine; O mother o’ mine”

Jesus looks down from His Cross and sees the agony of the mother who has loved Him unconditionally from before He was born … He sees the gaping wound in her soul … and the gaping hole His passing will leave.

His love for her is overwhelming and He must do something.

 

JOHN

He also looks down from the Cross and sees there the young disciple called John. John always writes about himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. And clearly Jesus did love him as a friend, a disciple, even a brother. John had been part of Jesus’ life as one of His closest three disciples for 3 years. But he had also been part of Jesus’ life throughout his own childhood too. For John’s mother was named Salome. She was the wife of Zebedee and mother of this John … and according to Mark and Matthew she was the other woman at the Cross along with Jesus’ mother, Mary of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. John says the other woman was Mary’s sister. John was Jesus’ cousin. A cousin-brother to speak in African terms.

As Jesus looked from the cross, He saw the raw wound in John’s heart too. Yes, like Mary it was the wound of losing a best friend … a cousin … and a Leader … his mentor and master was about to die.

But there’s more than that. In the Garden … when they came to arrest Jesus … what had John done? He had not resisted. John 18 tells us that John was known to the high priest and managed … having followed Jesus and the arresting officers … to enter the high priest’s courtyard …but what had he done then? There’s absolutely no record of him trying to defend Jesus against the trumped-up charges … Mark tells us that many testified falsely against Jesus … but there is no record of anyone speaking the truth on His behalf.

So if I try to stand in John’s shoes … what am I feeling? I’m feeling that I have let Jesus down. I have failed Him. There’s part of me that is so ashamed … I wish the ground would open up and swallow me … I couldn’t even stay awake for one hour in the Garden to watch and pray for Him. … Jesus trusted me and I failed Him dismally.

The gaping hole Jesus sees in John from the Cross is surely not only a hole of grief but also a wound of shame.

His love for John is overwhelming and He must do something.

 

LOVE

Jesus always knew what to do. If he had to ask Himself a question in order to figure out what to do … perhaps it would have been: “What will most profoundly reveal and communicate the love of God in this situation?”

In THIS situation for Mary and John the answer was this beautifully intimate expression of family love. To His mother: “My lady – this is your son now. Take him into your heart and love him with the love you long to love me with. he will be your son now to love you and be loved by you.”

To John: “She is your mother now. Look after her. That should have been my brothers’ responsibility but you are the one. I love you and I trust you. I know you will love her and care for her on my behalf.”

Friends … it is such an everyday kind of moment … but it shines with the love of God.

Can you see it?

Isn’t it beautiful?

Isn’t it a wondrous invitation too?

All of Jesus’ life is both a beautiful revelation of the love of God … as well as a beautiful invitation to participate in that love ourselves … not only by receiving that love … but by radiating that love too.

I don’t have a biological mother alive on planet earth.

Perhaps you don’t have a biological child alive on planet earth.

But family on earth is not about mother and child only. Family is everyone who does life with us at the most intimate level. Family is a biological mother or father, yes … but it is also a mother-in-law, or a mother-in-Christ, or a father in the neighbourhood. Family is a biological son or an adopted daughter, yes … but it is also a nephew or a child at church. Family for a single person alone in the city might very well be a friend … or a relative … or one of us.

And Jesus from the Cross shows us today that the way to life is the way of self-sacrifice, yes … that the way to love is to lay down your life for another, yes … the way to love is to forgive, yes … but He also shows us that the way to love is to give ourselves to our families … whatever those may look like … in relationships of caring … of support … of encouragement … of honouring our parents and loving our children.

 

GOOD FRIDAY

From the Cross Jesus didn’t send John out to transform the world. He sent him home to love His mother. He didn’t send him to plant a church. He sent him home to love His mother.

From the Cross, Jesus didn’t send Mary to fix the world … or turn its kingdoms upside down. He sent her home to love a son … and to allow him to love and care for her.

You may say: Dave, this is really not very profound.

I don’t mind. Profundity never was my forte.

But I can say in all honesty that this is the Word the Lord wants us at CMC to hear today. Whatever your family looks like … whatever that means to you … Jesus is not sending you home from this Good Friday service to change the world … not today. Today He is sending you home to love your family.

In Mark 5, Jesus commanded the man out of whom He had just driven a legion of demons: “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how He has had mercy on you!”

Today Jesus says to us: “Go home, people. Go home to your family and love them with the love of the Lord!”

 

 

Holy Week Monday

John 17:1-5

I feel very privileged to be starting off our Biblical reflections in Holy Week 2019. It’s always a joy to share in both fellowship and ministry with Grant and Mike, and I consider it an honour to start off this week of reflection on what is widely called “Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer” in John 17:1-26. I will be focussing on verses 1-5, which is that section of the prayer in which Jesus prays to be glorified so that He may in turn glorify God the Father.

CONTEXT

However, first let’s note the context of this prayer.

It is the Thursday night of Jesus’ final week in Jerusalem. The Passover Festival is just about to begin and Jesus has gathered with His disciples for the evening meal.

In the conversations immortalised for us by John chapters 13-16 Jesus has

  • washed His disciples’ feet
  • predicted His betrayal by Judas
  • predicted Peter’s denial
  • taught about:
    • His being the only Way to the Father
    • the promise of the Holy Spirit
    • the importance of abiding in Him as a branch abides in the vine
  • predicted their coming persecution
  • explained the way the Holy Spirit will work in their lives; and
  • promised them that their grief will soon turn to joy

The conversational part of their time in the Upper Room ends with Jesus saying: “In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart. I have overcome the world!”

Then only does our passage for tonight begin: “After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:”

And then we must also be aware that immediately after Jesus finished the prayer we are reflecting on for 3 nights we are told in John 18:1 that “When He had finished praying, Jesus left with His disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side was an olive grove and He and His disciples went into it.”

It is already less than 24 hours until Jesus will breathe His last and be dead and buried. It is the dead of night and the end of a loooong conversation with the disciples … and it is moments before the events of His arrest, trial, punishment, crucifixion and death. For Jesus who knew what was coming … as a fully human person … it was an intensely painful, stressful, emotion-laden time.

And we are so privileged to eavesdrop through the pen of John.

  • The great grandfather of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is reported to have called John 17 “a thunderbolt fallen from the sky.”
  • Philip Melanchthon said: “There is no voice which has ever been heard, either in heaven or in earth, more exalted, more holy, more fruitful, more sublime, than this prayer offered up by the Son of God himself.”
  • Others have called it:
    • “the holy-of-holies of the Bible”
    • “the most glory-filled chapter of the Bible”, and
    • “the prayer above all prayers”.

It is a moment when we are granted the honour of eavesdropping on a moment of the most incredibly intimate communion between the Son of God and His Father. In that moment when Jesus is in the spiritual holy of holies with God the Father … approaching the spiritual mercy seat to find mercy in His time of need … we are listening in.

So let us treat this time of listening with great dignity … respect… honour … tenderness. Let’s quiet our hearts and minds and stand in awe on the holy ground of John 17 as Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God the Son, opens His mouth and begins to pray … first for Himself …: “Father”

Here’s what He prayed.

THE TIME HAS COME/THE HOUR HAS COME

Until very recently in John 12, Jesus has constantly been telling people that His hour has not yet come. That “hour” was always in reference to the ultimate conclusion of His mission. The hour was the moment when He would complete fully the mission the Father had sent Him on. In John 12:23-28 when Jesus for the very first time declared that “the hour has come” He continued to say “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies it produces many seeds.” Then He concludes, “My heart is troubled and what shall I say? ‘Father save me from this hour?’ No, it was for this very reason that I came to this hour. Father glorify Your name.”

At this moment the Father’s booming voice comes from heaven: “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” And Jesus explains: “Now is the time for judgment … for the prince of darkness to be driven out … But I when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

So it is very clear what Jesus means when he prays to the Father, “the hour has come”. He is declaring as much to Himself as to the Father that He is fully aware that this is the hour … the moment … for Him to be lifted up … for Him to lay down His life for the world … for the seed of His life to be planted in the ground in death. The hour has come.

 

GLORIFY YOUR SON, THAT YOUR SON MAY GLORIFY YOU

This prayer is so deep. It is so laden with riches of Scriptural significance. But right now for our purposes in Holy Week please allow me simply to open up one aspect of its beauty.

Jesus knows that His glorification … His ultimate moment of fully revealing the glory of God through His incarnate human life … is going to happen through the agonising path to death on a Cross.

This prayer right here: “Glorify Your Son, that Your Son may glorify You” is at its heart asking God the Father to cause His glory to shine perfectly through the Son (“Glorify Your Son”; i.e. let Your Son be shining with Your glory) … as he journeys towards and then hangs and dies on His Cross … so that the Father’s glory may be perfectly revealed and all will stand in awe of the majesty and beauty of God on display.

Jesus is praying that from the heavenly riches of God’s storehouse of all that makes God glorious … His beauty, His majesty, His power, and ultimately His love … God will so fill Jesus with that glory … that Jesus will be enabled to walk the walk of “Good Friday” in such a perfectly God-like way … that He will thereby be putting the glory of God on perfect display for all to see.

He is praying that His ultimate humiliation (humanly-speaking) will become the moment when He MOST fully reveals the glory of God to all who will look and see.

Jesus is asking for the infilling of God’s glory so that … even under the intense pressure of an unjust trial … unjust, cruel, agonising punishment, crucifixion and death … His every action … His every word … and even His every attitude may shine the glory of God – God’s truth, His integrity, His love, His forgiveness, His grace, His mercy … all that makes God glorious … Jesus prays that these thing will shine from Him in this … His hour of greatest trial and tribulation.

 

I HAVE BROUGHT YOU GLORY ON EARTH BY COMPLETING THE WORK YOU GAVE ME TO DO.

FOR You granted Him authority over all people, that He might give eternal life to all those You have given Him … and this is eternal life that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent … and I have brought You glory on earth by completing the work You gave me to do.

I’m putting all of that together as basically being one thought that Jesus was expressing. And this is the thought … that everything Jesus had been given to do in life … had now been accomplished.

  • Jesus had been sent and authorised and empowered by God the Father on a mission to bring eternal life to humanity;
  • That eternal life consists in people being brought into the intimate knowledge of a true personal relationship with God through their relationship with Jesus.
  • Jesus had so far done everything he could possibly do as an incarnate human being to accomplished that mission.
    • He had taught – everyone who would listen to Him – the glorious truth about God and God’s ways by His ministry of teaching
    • He had revealed – to everyone who had watched Him attentively – the glorious truth of Who God is by His ministry of embracing the outcasts and forgiving sinners
    • He had demonstrated – to everyone who observed – the awesome power of God over nature … over demonic evil … over sickness … and even over death, by His ministry of miracles.

In a nutshell … Jesus had fully completed the mission for which He had been authorised and empowered … to reveal the glory of God by His life.

His task had been accomplished. To quote Jesus here, “I have compleetd the work.” It is finished!

That is … it is finished to the full extent to which it COULD be accomplished prior to the final act of the Gospel … and ALL that remained now was the ultimate task … the task of dying for us.

And so Jesus ends this part of His prayer …

 

AND NOW, FATHER, GLORIFY ME IN YOUR PRESENCE WITH THE GLORY I HAD WITH YOU BEFORE THE WORLD BEGAN.

Now yes, you would be correct in understanding that the ultimate answer to this sentence of Jesus’ prayer was going to be His resurrection, ascension and exaltation to the Father’s right hand in glory.

But first … Jesus’ prayer is to be so filled with the glory and power of God that He may enter through the only door that could lead Him to that resurrection, ascension and exaltation … that is His DEATH … His death on the Cross … and to do it in such a way that the PERFECT and HEAVENLY glory of God would be revealed PERFECTLY through His self-sacrificial death.

He is praying that the perfect glory of God which was His before the world began would pour out of Him at His arrest … His trial … His scourging … His crucifixion … and even the every moment of His death.

It is the Son’s greatest act of revealing the glory of God … to suffer and die in perfect obedience to the Father’s will for His mission in the world.

 

CONCLUSION

How might we respond to this prayer? I’ll suggest just two responses:

  1. We should make very sure … as this week of reflection and the coming weekend of remembrance passes … that we are fully focussed on observing Jesus on the road to death … because we have discovered that it is THERE that the greatest revelation or vision of the glory of God is on display. In this world we will see nowhere else a greater display of God’s glory than right there!! So watch … and pray … and look in order to see God’s glory.
  2. We should ask for the courage to pray the same prayer for ourselves: Lord, grant me the power to so perfectly complete your mission for MY life on this earth that others may look at it and see YOUR glory on display through me.

Palm Sunday 2019

Luke 19:28-40

Today is the Sunday before Easter, which is traditionally the start of what we call “Holy Week” –  the week building up to the Cross – and is also known as Palm Sunday. The events of this day in the final week of Jesus have long been recognised as a deeply symbolic moment in the journey of Jesus to the Cross.

Way back in Luke 9:21-22 Jesus spoke clearly to His disciples, explaining that He was going to Jerusalem and would experience suffering, rejection and death there. And the same chapter tells us that Jesus “set His face” to go to Jerusalem. Again in Luke 18:31-33 (the previous chapter to the one we read from this morning) He said that they were going to Jerusalem because He, the Son of Man, would be handed over to the Gentiles (i.e. the Roman authorities) and they would make fun of Him, insult Him and spit on Him … they would whip Him and kill Him … but 3 days later He will rise to life.

In Jesus’ own mind God the Father had made everything entirely clear. Jesus knew what He had to do and how He had to do it … and what others would do to Him and how the story would end.

The disciples, however, certainly did not understand what Jesus was talking about. They definitely did not want to hear it. But even more so … the large crowds of followers who tailed Jesus throughout His ministry – had a growing desire to see Jesus enthroned as the king of Israel. After the feeding of the 5000 in John’s gospel we are told that the crowds had looked for Jesus because they wanted to take Him and make Him king by force. This is the kind of king they wanted … a king who would use military force to free them from the Roman Empire. They wanted a revolution against Rome … and they wanted the miracle-worker from Galilee to lead them because they believed that with that kind of power … He could never fail.

By the time we reach Luke 19:11 we are told: “They supposed that the Kingdom of God was JUST about to appear.”

Now … understanding that background to the story is essential to us understanding the important detail that Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey. Why now? Throughout His ministry He had been quite content to travel everywhere by foot.

Well the answer is found in two places:

  1. In that age, when a king was entering a City to express force … when He was coming to wage war … he would ride the largest and greatest stallion at his disposal … often a white horse. But if he was coming in peace, he would approach the city on a donkey.
  2. Secondly, in the tradition of the prophets, Jesus was performing a dramatic, symbolic action here … and He was claiming for Himself the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout daughter Jerusalem! See your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey!”

Through this prophetic action Jesus is making an in-your-face, bold pronouncement to everyone who would bother to notice that:

  1. YES, He is the King and intends to be enthroned as king!
  2. NO, He is not a military king … He is the King of a different Kingdom … who rules with righteousness and humility … a King of a Kingdom of peace.

This unpopular truth … that Jesus would NOT allow Himself to bow to the populist agenda of revolution by force … that He would be God’s King, God’s way … that as He said to Pilate,  “My Kingdom is not of this world” … is what ultimately led the populist crowds to turn away and fold to the pressure of the authorities to bay for His blood.

Now all of this is essential to remember and for us to chew on … I guess we could think about what it means in the light of the coming election in South Africa. But something different strikes me about this reading today. It has profound truths to teach about our everyday discipleship. To help us remember those truths let’s call them:

  1. The colt
  2. The cloaks, and the chorus

 

The Colt

We’ve see that the colt was part of a profound prophetic display by Jesus. God the Father must have led Jesus to enter Jerusalem this way. Yet Jesus didn’t own a colt, the foal of a donkey. So what was He to do.

Now we are not told overtly in the gospels about what I would call the “invisible work of the Spirit”… but I do absolutely believe that the Spirit worked invisibly to give Jesus the details of the plan to provide a colt … and the Spirit worked in the hearts and minds of the earthly owners of the colt to prepare them for the moment when they would need to release their colt to Jesus’ use for the day.

Personally I believe the Spirit probably spoke to them very specifically either in a dream or a vision which is not recorded for us in Scripture … and showed them what was going to happen and how they should respond. But be that as it may, He definitely also worked in their minds to remind them of a truth that is vital to our own correct approach to discipleship in general and stewardship in particular.

This truth is revealed in the instruction Jesus gives to His disciples: “If the owners of the colt ask you what you’re doing, tell them, “The Master needs it!””.

Now in English the significance of that sentence is lost. In the original Greek, however, so much more becomes clear. Let’s replace two words in the English sentence with the original Greek noun. “When the “kyrioi” of the colt ask you what you are doing, tell them the “Kyrios” needs it.” Kyrios, you see is the word for Lord or Master … in the sense we usually use it … but also the word for “owner”.

The human owners owned the colt … but somehow the Spirit had convicted their hearts before the appearance of the disciples, that the Lord was the true owner … that if the Kyrios was the Kyrios then He was the Kyrios even of their colt.

Right there is the lesson of the colt for today:

  1. If Jesus is my Lord … then He is the true owner of My life and He has the right to command anything of me. I guess we do recognise that in our Covenant prayer every year when we pray: “I am no longer my own, but Yours!”
  2. And as an important implication of this truth … if Jesus is my Lord, and therefore Owner, then He is also the true owner of everything I own in this world and has the right to freely command me to give it up or give it away for the cause of His Kingdom.

I invite us all to reflect deeply on this truth as we journey into Holy Week. If I am His disciple and He is my Lord then He owns my house, my colt (which in our age is of course my car), my clothes, even my vote. As a Christian Jesus owns my vote… we should consider that too.

But let me not be prescriptive or even too suggestive about where each of our reflections on this truth will take us. Let’s each ask the Lord personally this week: “Lord,  I am Your disciple and You are my Lord. You are the true owner of everything I own. Is there anything you require of me?”

The cloaks and the chorus

Now whereas I believe that the owners of the colt had been prepared ahead of time for their big moment, it seems to me as though the crowds that followed Jesus were caught up in the moment. In that very moment that they saw Jesus entering Jerusalem, they felt that the hopes and dreams of many years were being fulfilled right in front of their very eyes. And so they extended to Him the royal welcome that befitted a king entering Jerusalem … they spread their cloaks on the ground in front of Him.

Now to us that may seem unimportant or even somehow trivial. But remember that a cloak was their outer garment and also doubled up as a blanket by night. It was such a valuable item that it was often used as security against a loan … and the Law of Moses provided the strict rule that if you took a poor man’s cloak as security, you could keep it throughout the day … but you had to return it to him at night. It was something of significant value.

  • Maybe they were inspired by the owners of the colt?
  • Maybe they were simply inspired by their own love and admiration for Jesus and their own beliefs about what He was about to do …
  • maybe they too were moved by the Holy Spirit …
  • it’s probably all of the above … but they expressed to Him the same spirit that the colt owners had … they surrendered their valued possessions to be used to bring praise and honour to Jesus.

And then, as Jesus descended the Mount of Olives to cross the Kidron Valley and enter Jerusalem through the City Gates they began to thank Jesus and praise Him! Significantly they were participating in fulfilling Psalm 118 which not only says in v.1 “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; His love endures forever!” It also says in v.24-26 “Let us rejoice today and be glad. Lord save us (i.e. Hosanna) Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!

So they shouted out their thanks for all the awesome things they had seen Jesus doing and they praised Him as the King coming in the name of the Lord!

Moved by the Spirit though, they also cried out something truly profound. None of them had been there to hear it … but when Jesus was born the choir of heavenly angels had sung to the shepherds, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” The angels had sung at the birth of this King … now the crowds of followers were declaring the very same thing. Jesus was and is the heavenly King.

It was a bold proclamation of praise. No, they did not come close to understanding the full truth of their proclamation … but moved by the Spirit they boldly proclaimed it. They knew that it was a dangerous proclamation to make … but they made it anyway. It got them into grave trouble with those who differed from them … but they made it anyway.

May I put this before us as an invitation and an encouragement this morning at the start of Holy Week? I think the passage sets us a brilliant example and issues us this invitation: Let us also seek to be an outspoken people … not outspoken for the cause of some political agenda … but outspoken in our praises of Jesus! Outspoken in our giving Him thanks and declaring what He has done! Let us not allow ourselves to be cowed into silence by the fact that we live in an increasingly secular society, at best suspicious and at worst hostile towards those who give themselves fully to Christ. Let us boldly proclaim Jesus Christ … His power and praises … His love and Lordship. Let us join our voices to the chorus on Jerusalem’s streets as we boldly praise Jesus.

CONCLUSION

Of course we know that the story ends on an ominous note with yet another confrontation. The Pharisees appear! Probably fearful of a Roman backlash against this loud and very public demonstration of a claim to the throne … right at the gates of Jerusalem … the Pharisees tell Jesus to rebuke His disciples for their words. But Jesus’ reply confirms that everything happening here is absolutely correct and within the plan of God. This is a moment where God’s will is being done … so if He commands the disciples to be silent the very stones of the walls and streets of Jerusalem would begin to cry out instead.

So it is a glorious way for our passage to end … but it is also an ominous one … as it places the shadow of the Cross – which we know is coming – squarely across the path of Jesus on His colt.

Yes, Jesus is proceeding perfectly in accordance with the Father’s plan … but that perfect obedience will lead Him to the Cross to give His life for the salvation of the world. His blood will be shed to pay the price for the sins of the world and to make a way for them to be washed away … and for all who will believe in Him to be adopted into the family of God.

So today … here in the shadow of the Cross we now is coming … let us also join with the crowds in praising Jesus for all that He has done and is doing for us.

The Love Anointing

JOHN 12:1-8

The noose was tightening around Jesus. His journey to Jerusalem was nearly complete. 3 years had passed since the testing in the wilderness, with which we started Lent. He had healed and taught and loved and forgiven sins and included the outcast and confronted the Pharisees … He had revealed God in His teaching and in His living … His mission was nearing its end.

In perhaps the greatest miracle of all, Jesus had just raised His friend Lazarus from the dead after 4 days. And although one would think that this would gain Him nothing but honour and popularity … it had quite the opposite effect on the religious authorities … and their plotting to kill Jesus had hectically intensified. The high priest Caiaphas had even unwittingly spoken prophetically in John 11:50 when he addressed the Sanhedrin with these words: “What fools you are! Don’t you realise it is better for you to let one man die for the people, instead of having the whole nation destroyed?” And from that day on they actively plotted to kill Jesus … so much so that Jesus withdrew to a desert town called Ephraim (11:54).

I can’t begin to imagine the stress Jesus must have been under … the anxiety and human fear of the suffering and death that He knew awaited Him. If I lie awake at night tossing and turning over issues like Church finances and the troubles of others which I will have to counsel, what kind of sleepless nights must Jesus have endured as He wrestled internally with His calling to sacrifice His life … along with the temptations and attacks of the evil one trying to lure Him to walk away from the Cross.

And so it was that on His final journey to Jerusalem, Jesus made one last stop in the little town of Bethany. The next day He would make what came to be known as His triumphal entry into Jerusalem … and in less than a week from this event He would be dead and buried. The noose was tightening and the storm clouds were gathering around Him … and so Jesus chose to stop at a home that had become for Him a personal oasis.

The whole occasion remembered in these brief 8 verses is, for me, an incredible display of love … and they can be for us such a beautiful inspiration to express the same love to others. SO what can we learn from this?

  1. Love is Hospitality

As we have seen, pressure, stress and the intense dislike and hatred of those who had decided he was the enemy were pressing in powerfully on Jesus. He was in a place of enormous personal pain … so where does He go? He goes where He will receive that which will give Him life and hope and motivation and courage to go all the way to the Cross … He goes to the place where He knows that He will receive unconditional welcome … heartfelt friendship … and really great food. I mean this was Martha’s sweet spot … cooking up a storm.

Maybe it’s because my sense of smell is very limited… but I so appreciate the gift of aroma. I imagine that as Jesus and His disciples entered Lazarus’ home they were greeted with the heavenly smell of freshly baked bread! But they would also have been greeted with someone offering to wash their feet and give them water to wash their faces and wine to relieve their thirst.

It was not just because Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead that He was so dearly loved here. Even before that miracle Mary and Martha and Lazarus had been people who loved and were loved by Jesus. In coming here, Jesus was coming to His home away from home. He was coming to the place where the welcome was always warm and the hospitality expansive.

Now friends, we know how beautiful it is to receive warm hospitality. But could we allow ourselves to contemplate today that hospitality is one of the most ancient expectations God has of His people … all the way from the ancient laws of hospitality in the law of Moses to the beautiful way Romans 15:7 is translated in the Living Bible: “So warmly welcome each other into the church, just as Christ has warmly welcomed you; then God will be glorified.”

Simple old-fashioned friendly hospitality and a warm welcome into our homes or spaces … with friendship, food and unconditional acceptance … is a profound offering of love to our fellow human beings. And who knows whether the hospitality we offer may just be the one thing that helps someone keep going in the face of great trials … the way it did for Jesus.

This scene in Lazarus’ home is an incredible display of love … and it is a beautiful inspiration to express the same love to others. Love is hospitality.

 2. Love is Selfless Sacrifice

I wonder which was most difficult for Mary as she made her way silently into the dining area on a covert mission to minister to Jesus.

Was it that she had saved money most of her life and had recently spent it all to buy this half-litre of highly expensive nard … this exotic perfume from the Far East … which she now felt strangely moved to pour on Jesus’ feet as an act of extravagant worship?

Was it that she had never let her hair down in public before … maintaining her decorum and decency in public at all times like every decent woman did … and that now she felt strangely moved to let it down in order to wipe Jesus’ feet with it as an act of extravagant worship?

Was it that she knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that her actions would bring criticism from others who would simply not understand that she simply had to be obedient to the strange promptings of God?

Whichever it was … this was a difficult moment … a moment of great risk and great sacrifice. She risked her financial future … she risked her social acceptability … she risked her reputation … and she surrendered them all for Jesus.

But what a stunning moment it was when Mary overcame the inner doubts and fears and poured her perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair … kneeling down behind Him as He reclined at the table. Surely she could feel the love pouring out of her heart to Him in that moment … as she sacrificed her finances … her dignity  … her reputation. Because after all Love is self-sacrifice … self-sacrifice is love!

Jesus would later say that no-one has greater love than to lay down his life for his friends. But here was Mary … laying down so much of herself for her Master.

This scene in Lazarus’ home is an incredible display of love … precisely because it is an act of such complete self-sacrifice … and it is a beautiful inspiration to express the same love to others … sacrificing ourselves and our own comfort … pleasure … or reputation even … for their good.

3. Love is standing up for the vulnerable

When Mary did what she did, I’m sure the room went dead quiet!

Everyone was in a state of shock … they didn’t know what to make of it … no one had ever seen anything like this before. You could hear a pin drop.

Like a bucket of cold water thrown on a sleeping person Judas’ voice breaks the silence: “Nooooooooo! (Okay I added that) Why wasn’t this perfume sold for 300 silver coins and the money given to the poor?” One can almost imagine that he might have added, “You foolish, foolish woman!”

In doing what she did Mary had made herself totally vulnerable to criticism … and Judas had gone for the kill.

But now it was time for Jesus to love Mary back. And that love was expressed in standing up for her in her vulnerability.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t just defend her as having the right to do whatever she wants with her own perfume … He implies that she has somehow performed a prophetic action … preparing Him for His sacrificial suffering, death and burial. Yes, spending money on caring for the poor is a beautiful thing and it should be done … but so is worshiping Jesus with that money … and especially when it is done under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit … as Mary has done here. Did she know why she was prompted to do what she did? Probably not! But she did it in faith and it turned out to be prophetic.

And this is what Jesus points out. He stands up for her in her vulnerability. he not only defends her … but He honours her in their sight as well!

Love is standing up for the vulnerable!

Love is speaking out for those who have no voice of their own!

And you will only doubt that this is true if you have never been vulnerable and had someone speak up for you. You will not be aware of the intense relief and gratitude one feels when someone comes and stands with you in your vulnerability to defend you and uplift you.

This scene in Lazarus’ home is an incredible display of love … and it is a beautiful inspiration to express the same love to others … to speak up and stand p for those who are vulnerable.

 Conclusion

So yes, of course, love is much more than just these three things … but as a good Methodist three things are enough to keep us busy in the coming days.

May the Lord give us grace to express His heart of love to others this coming week in:

  • Acts of hospitality
  • Acts of self-sacrifice; and
  • Words and actions that stand up for the vulnerable!