Lent 2 The Kingdom of the Cross

Luke 13:31-35 and Philippians 3:17-21

Today is the 2nd Sunday of Lent 2019.

Last Sunday we witnessed Jesus overcoming the temptations in the wilderness. As he began His public ministry, He revealed His total commitment to living in the centre of God’s love, God’s plan and God’s timing.

As Jesus’ ministry unfolded it became clear through His teaching and explanations to His disciples that His mission was to live His life as an act of self-giving love for the world … and that this divine approach to life would ultimately lead to His self-sacrificial death on a Cross outside Jerusalem … and yet, He promised that this would not be the end … because it was the design of God that when He laid down His life in love for the world … God would raise Him from the dead on the third day.

Now, by the time we get to chapter 13 in Luke’s account of the life of Jesus, this approach to living out God’s will perfectly has already made Jesus some very powerful enemies.

  1. The religious establishment (in the form of the Pharisees) is profoundly offended by Jesus’ flagrant disregard for their sensibilities and their legalism … they are infuriated by His consistent offers of grace and forgiveness to those whom they consider to be the worst of sinners … and they have also persistently refused to acknowledge their own sinful hypocrisy and turn away from it and be forgiven.
  2. The political elite (in the form of Herod) is profoundly afraid of Jesus, perceiving Him to be a threat as He gains more and more popularity with the population of Galilee and Judah.

In the wilderness, the devil had come to Jesus with temptations that sought to lure Him to a life of:

  • Personal comfort and pleasure (“turn these stones into bread”)
  • Power (“I’ll give you all these kingdoms and their glory if you worship me”); and
  • Popularity (through a dramatic miracle of showmanship)

The Pharisees now come to Jesus and seek to lure Him away from His current course of action through FEAR. They tell Him that Herod is planning to kill Him … and so He had better leave this place. Jesus has become a trouble-maker in their eyes … and they want Him gone … so they try to invoke the power of fear to get the job done.

All of that is the Biblical context to the responses that Jesus gives. They help us to understand why He says what He says next.

  1. A declaration of purpose, and
  2. A declaration of motive.

In what follows, our Message will consider these two declarations and then also, with the help of our Philippians reading, consider their implications for us.

1.A Declaration of Purpose (v.31-33)

Jesus tells the Pharisees that if in fact Herod is threatening Him with death, and they have become messengers for Herod, then they should take a message back to Herod. Was the message for Herod? Was it for the Pharisees? Was it for the others who were overhearing Him? Was it for the disciples? Was it for us Luke’s readers? Yes. Yes to all of those. And it was even for Jesus Himself! Because it was a clear declaration of Jesus’ purpose and of His resolve to fulfil that purpose!

He says, “I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow and on the third day I will reach my goal.

Jesus uses a well-known figure of speech when He makes His declaration. To say “today and tomorrow” didn’t mean two 24-hour days. It meant a short period of time which was needed to complete the task at hand.

It would be like when you as a child interrupted one of your parents as they stood working in the kitchen or the workshop or the garden to nag them to take you to the shop. “Just wait,” they may have replied, “I’ll be with you now-now”.

“Now-now” … what does that mean? Does it mean now immediately? Does it mean in two measures of time, “now” and another “now”? No. In South African English slang it means as soon as I’m good and ready but it won’t be too long … be patient.

“Today and tomorrow” was 1st Century Galilean “slang”. It meant a short period of time which was needed to complete the task at hand. It meant, “As soon as I am finished with my task … but I promise it won’t be long now”.

Jesus is declaring: “I am not on Herod’s timetable. I am not his puppet dancing to his tune! He will not control my life. And hey, you Pharisees, FEAR will not control my life either.”

Jesus was restating what He had settled in the wilderness: I will do what God has called me to do … in the way God has called me to do it … until it is done … and that is “my goal”. So Jesus ends that sentence … “on the third day I will reach my goal.” His goal? Yes … to complete God’s calling!

For us as New Testament readers, however, there is an ominous shadow hanging over Jesus’ words. When He says, “I will reach my goal” the Greek word Luke uses is “teleo” … to have been perfectly completed or finished. And we New Testament readers know that it was on the Cross as He died that Jesus called out in a loud voice, “It is finished” … which in Greek is “tetelestai” … a form of the root word “teleo”

So it is no surprise to us when Jesus adds something ominous which hints at what the outcome of His perfect obedience to God’s plan will be: “I must press on today and the next day – for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!”  

As we read Jesus’ declaration of purpose today with hindsight we can recognise that it was this: “I will keep living within the perfect plan of God the Father … I will keep living a life of perfect love … delivering God’s people from their brokenness and bondage to sin … and I will do that until my task is completed … but I know full well that it’s completion … its ultimate, ultimate expression … will be when I literally lay down my life and with my dying breath … extend love and forgiveness to the very people who have nailed me to the Cross.

 

2.Declaration of Motive (v.34-35)

What follows next is a classic biblical literary form called a lament. Jesus mourns over the people of Jerusalem … but to us His disciples in 2019 it is a clear declaration of His motive.

Even though the political and religious powers represented by Jerusalem were going to be responsible for His death Jesus laments over them. Even though He can describe them as “the ones who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you” still He makes this lament over them:

How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

These can only be described as His enemies … and yet Jesus declares that His heart is filled with love and compassion for them. And not just any love and compassion … the very love and compassion of God. This is the power of His image … because it is a Biblical image of God’s love. The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 91:4, “God will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge.”

Jesus is crying out: “I love you with the love of God … and I long to shelter you in my love … but you refuse again and again and again … you reject my offer of love … you are not willing to be gathered into it.”

Jesus’ life of loving ALL people relentlessly with the love of God extended even to the Pharisees, Herod, Pilate, and the soldiers who nailed Him to the cross. And it even extends to me … and to you.”

All that Jesus did and said was to invite all people to come to Him and find shelter in the forgiveness and love of God … His love means that people can still refuse … and they did … and they do … but His commitment was to steadfastly continue pursuing people with the love of God.

So what are the implications for us … us Christians in 2019 … us followers of this Jesus .. this rabbi of relentless love … this Saviour of the world?

 

3.The Implications

Now yes of course the first implication that springs to mind is: “Yay! I am loved! Jesus longs to gather me to Himself in love! Jesus died for me! Jesus rose for me! I can live forever in His Kingdom of perfect love!” And this is all true.

But that is not where it ends. That is only where it begins. Because the moment we say yes to the love of God in Jesus … entrust our lives to Him … and commit ourselves to His Lordship … we take upon ourselves a new identity.

In the words of Paul in Philippians 3 – our second reading – we receive a new citizenship … we become “citizens of heaven”. We become citizens of the Kingdom of God’s love … and we take upon ourselves the responsibilities that such citizenship carries.

In Philippians 3 Paul contrasts citizens of heaven with those who live only or themselves and their own physical pleasures and desires. What is so fascinating though is that in defining those who live in this way he calls them “enemies of the Cross.”

So on the one hand he places citizens of heaven … and on the other hand not “enemies of heaven” but “enemies of the cross”. In other words the “Kingdom of heaven” IS “the Kingdom of the Cross” … it is the Kingdom of self-sacrificial love!

Those living only for themselves and their own desires are utterly self-centred. But you and I are citizens of the Kingdom of the Cross … When we received Christ’s offer and ran into the embrace of His forgiving love … we took upon ourselves the commitment to live lives of love ourselves … to live with a willingness to sacrifice for others and their highest best.

We are citizens of the Kingdom of self-sacrificial love.

Brothers and sisters in Christ … we live in an age of hatred, division, and suspicion … where powerful people are entrenching their power through the weapons of hatred and fear.

Powerful people like the Pharisees … like Herod … used the weapons of fear and hatred … and they got Jesus murdered.

Powerful people like Hitler and his Nazis … used the power of fear and hatred … and they got 6 million Jews exterminated.

Powerful Hutu politicians in Rwanda … used the power of fear and hatred and 800 000  Tutsis died in an African genocide in 1994.

You would think the world would have learnt our lesson. The kingdom of fear and hatred leads only to death!

These are of course profound examples …but they must serve as a warning to us … that when anyone uses the weapons of fear and hatred to gain popularity and power … let me put it bluntly … they are acting as enemies of the Cross … enemies of the Kingdom of self-sacrificial love.

With their mouths they can profess as much Christianity as they like … but their public rhetoric proves that they are promoting the way of fear and hatred … not the way of love. They are acting as enemies of the Cross … enemies of the Kingdom of self-sacrificial love.

And when the kingdom they actually represent is made manifest it looks exactly like what happened in Christchurch on Friday morning. Those who promote the way of fear and hatred are ultimately responsible for tragedies like that.

There is such power in this kind of irrational fear and hatred that it can lead a man to murdering 49 innocent Muslim worshipers … and believing that he’s doing the right thing. Fear and hatred lead to terrorists flying into the Twin Towers … to ISIS massacring Christians in Syria, Libya and Egypt … to mosques being attacked even here in Cape Town in Khayelitsha in November 2018.

The enemies of the Kingdom of the Cross are not Muslims … they are not Jews … they are not Buddhists or Hindus or Sikhs or Hare Krishna …they are those who promote the kingdoms of fear and hatred and drive people apart.

The true Kingdom of the Cross gathers people together in the love of God … it is ordinary people like you and me refusing to live our lives in fear and hatred … but instead giving ourselves completely to lives of love for ALL. And when we do that we reveal ourselves to be true citizens of the Kingdom of love.

That’s what the world has always needed … more than ever that’s what the world needs NOW!!

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Belinda’s Morning Message

On her recent visit to Cape Town our missionary from Bosnia, Belinda Chaplin, shared the following message with us. Thanks Belinda for letting us have the notes!

Living a resurrected life:

I am so glad that I get to share with you today. Even though I may not be the best Bible scholar, or the most eloquent speaker, I always pray that God will share something with me that I can pass along to you. When I first agreed to preach today, Dave then went on to say that he is doing two sermon series – one in the morning and one in the evening. If I had known… I may have only decided to do one sermon! But being the trooper that I am, I decided to step up to the challenge! The passages for each sermon were 1st Corinthians 15 in the morning and John 3 in the evening. I spent time in both passages and realised that to me they were connected. I decided that I would be clever and actually do ONE sermon with both passages at the heart – focussing more on Corinthians in the morning service and John in the evening.

The Corinthians passage comes near the end of the first letter from the apostle Paul to the church in Corinthians. The city of Corinth is near present day Athens, situated strategically on an isthmus between two harbours. The 6-kilometre overland trip between the two helped avoid the dangerous 300-kilometre passage around the Peloponnesus peninsula. The city was well known as a place of godlessness and debauchery at that time. In fact, at that time, to “behave as a Corinthian” was synonymous for leading a debased and depraved life. Paul founded the church on his second missionary journey around AD 51-52, and some of the leaders of the church included Aquilla and Priscilla. The letter itself addresses some misconceptions that have been reported to Paul, and this passage is part of a whole chapter looking at their concept of resurrection.

The Gospel of John was written by the “disciple whom Jesus loved” and looks at the life of Jesus, but has some differences from the other 3 gospels. And John 3 is one of the passages that is not repeated in the other 3. It mainly deals with Jesus sharing with Nicodemus about having to be born again and then also John the Baptist’s disciples sharing with him that Jesus has started to baptise people and John’s reaction.

So how are these two passages connected? In Corinth, the believers were struggling with the concept of the resurrection. They didn’t believe that Jesus rose again, and this was a sticking point in their faith. In John’s gospel the Pharisee Nicodemus couldn’t fathom how a man could be born again spiritually.

And for me, the baptism that we see at the end of John 3 sort of connects resurrection and being born again all together – when we are baptised, we symbolically die with Jesus and then rise again out of the water into new life. It symbolises both the death and then the resurrection and the rebirth.

On Wednesday, I joined Dave and Gerrida’s cell group, and they are going through 1 Corinthians, so we actually looked at this passage. One of the interesting things that we discussed was that the Greek verb translated as “raised” or “resurrection” simply means to “rise up” or “get up” like you do each morning. So just as sleeping if the metaphor for death, on the other side, the metaphor continues and we simply get up after sleeping. Only Jesus knows what this is like – He is the only one to have “risen up”. And we as Christians believe in it, it is now part of our worldview. One day we will simply fall asleep and then be raised up in the same way Jesus was. It is such a fundamental core part of our belief now, it is actually quite hard to explain it to others who may not have that same worldview, just like it took Paul a long time to convey it to the Corinthians. We also need to be able to give a good explanation to those around us who don’t believe it… yet.

In Bosnia, I mostly work with an ethnic group called “Serbs” who are Orthodox believers, so like Russian or Greek Orthodox, but they have their own “Patriarch”. The sad truth is that they are mostly cultural believers – they are Serb so therefore they are Orthodox. Even after spending a lot of time getting to know what they believe and seeing some good things, it came to me as a shock how much they focus on the resurrection at Easter. Of course, it is good for us to focus on the new birth and the resurrection and eternal life, but it came at a price. And I was shocked when I realised that many of them do not connect Easter with the cross at all. The eggs and the “Christ is Risen” on Easter Sunday is all they focus on. They often forget that Good Friday (or as they call it “Great Friday”) came before the Sunday!

And I fear that we in the Western Church sometimes also forget that being born again, having eternal life and being raised up actually come at a very high price. We focus on God for what He can do for us, and what we can get out of it. A little bit of the prosperity gospel can sneak into our lives and we start to think “but Lord, I did this and this for you, why have I not been rewarded” or “Lord I gave up all that for you, so where are my blessings?”.

If Paul was alive today, I don’t think he wouldn’t be talking to the believers about the resurrection – I think we know and understand that well enough – he would be talking about what comes before the resurrection.

I have been a part of Claremont Methodist Church since I joined the Sunday School in 1983 at 8 years old. My parents used to drop us off at the East Claremont Congregational church for Sunday School before that, but when my sister started High School, she wanted to be part of Guild and so it was easier just to drop us all off here as well. I grew up in the Sunday School and then joined Guild when I went to High School. Eventually it was time to go to confirmation classes and become confirmed. As I hadn’t been baptised as a baby, the minister (Rev Bill Blakeway) was supposed to baptise me and one other the week before at the Baptist church and then confirm us the following week. Unfortunately, somehow, this all got forgotten and we got to the Confirmation Service still unbaptised. But, no problem, there was the baptismal font and Bill who used to travel to Israel with organised groups had some water from the River Jordan, so he used that to sprinkle us with in the service and then we confirmed that Baptism.

Why am I telling you this? Because although I know that baptism was real and confirmed it and lived it out, however, when I turned 40, I had the amazing opportunity to visit a friend in Israel and renew my baptism in the Jordan River. What a blessing. But also, what a revelation. Now, although I loved and believed and lived out my baptism by sprinkling (especially as Bill put the sign of the cross on me with that water, and so it felt as if I was taking the cross into the world), I felt that God had given me through renewing my baptism in the River a new revelation of what Baptism means. He showed me how it was a symbol of dying to self and coming out completely born anew. It was a powerful experience. One I had not expected. I realised that death to self must come before living life to the full.

I think it also was so special, as John the Baptist and Jesus probably baptised in about the same spot. And I am always amazed by John’s reaction to his disciples’ “complaint” about all the people going over to Jesus. He says amongst other things “He must become greater; I must become less.” And this is something that needs to become our own catchphrase: he must become greater, I must become less.

When I did my first course in Youth With a Mission – the verses that God gave us for our outreach in Malawi were from Philippians 3:10-11:

“I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”

In order to know the power of Christ’s resurrection, we also need to participate in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. This will lead to us, as Paul says, “somehow” achieving the resurrection from the dead.

We all know that Jesus’ death and resurrection meant new life for us, but it is not in vain that Jesus is quoted 5 times in the 3 synoptic gospels that in order to follow Him or be worthy of Him, we need to deny ourselves, pick up our crosses and follow Him. Yes, I was also amazed… it is repeated twice in Matthew and Luke and said once in Mark, so 5 times! Through my baptism in the River Jordan, God helped me see that without dying to self, there can be NO resurrection.

We recently rededicated ourselves to God using the covenant prayer. I love this prayer. But I also sort of hate it. It is a powerful prayer of self-denial that reminds us how we need to live out our lives completely given over to Him.

I am still reminded how, when God first started calling me into serving Him with my whole life, He used this prayer as a powerful reminder that my life is not my own. I used to think that I could NEVER live on support, never “beg people for money”. It really was the biggest stumbling block when He was calling me to join Youth with a Mission fulltime. I literally ran away to the UK, kind of like Jonah, and did the working holiday visa in the UK for a year instead. But God kept changing my heart and working in other’s hearts. And He kept using those verses from Philippians to remind me of His calling on my life. He actually showed me what it says after those verses in Philippians 3 in verses 12-14:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

I realised that my guilt-tripping over not being able to be a perfect missionary or completely given over to the Lord was echoed in Paul’s words: “not that I have already obtained all this”. Even Paul was saying that he was working on being a Christian, pressing on towards the goal…

So, I came back after that year knowing that I needed to join YWAM. But I still had a sneaky plan, which was quite clever – or so I thought – I had enough money saved from working to support myself for about 3 months. And so I thought I would run out of money when no one supported me and I would go “well I tried” and then get a real job and move on… But God had other plans. The leadership at CMC at the time turned around and told me that they would support me fully until such time that I could raise money from individuals. Bummer! I was now stuck doing exactly what God wanted me to do… He made the way.

I also remember how I used to pray “God use me for your service, but only if I can stay in Cape Town”. But God changed my heart on this as well. He was very clever because He told me to go at first to Bosnia for just 2 years, which seemed doable… and I actually had another sneaky plan even then. I was horrible at languages at school; I mean seriously horrible. So, I thought I would go to Bosnia, and try to learn the language and then say: “well I tried” and go home. (See the pattern?) But then, I managed to really enjoy learning the language and after the 2 years was fairly fluent, so God used my logical side to say: “well now go back to use the language that you have learnt”, and so I did for two more years. And then two more, and now I have been there 18 years!

There are times I struggle, and see what my friends have in their lives – children, a house, security and I find myself complaining to God and saying: “see what they have, Lord, when is it going to be my turn?” and He reminds me gently “You are no longer your own, but mine.” Or “not that you have already obtained all this, but in my strength, press on!”

It is when I start comparing myself to others that I realise that I have dropped the cross and picked up resentments and desires that are not mine to have. And once again, I pick up the cross and place my life in my creator’s hands. It is really not easy. At times I almost want to throw the cross at Him, and then I see His outstretched hands with the marks on them, and I realise that He went through so much worse than anything I have.

In working on this sermon, I asked the Lord, what does it mean to pick up my cross and follow you… I mean it is a hard task to do. Who wants to carry a cross every day? And the still small answer was – you pick up the cross when you realise the truth of the love that is behind it. Let me say that again. When you pick up your cross, you see the LOVE of Jesus. When you realise how much His love for you cost Him, it is not hard to then love Him and love others the way He commanded you. It is about giving over your life to Him completely and letting Him lead and guide you in all that you do. It is about living out the dailiness of your relationship with Him.

I have been involved in leading in YWAM in the area of Central Europe (one of 6 “areas” in YWAM Europe) for the past 3 years. I am also therefore part of the team that leads the whole of Europe. 10 of us were in meetings in England two years ago, and one of the other leaders (also a Methodist!) shared the covenant prayer with the rest of us as something we should do as a team. And I was reminded of how we sometimes taking it almost for granted when I saw these leaders’ reactions. People who have for years been following Jesus were blown away by the commitment that this prayer demands. However, I realised then, that if you know and trust the one to whom you are praying, then you have security knowing that He will do what is best for you, and for others, and for His Kingdom.

I know that at times when I would think about giving up and coming back to South Africa, He reminded me that He called me to go to Bosnia, and that He is not finished with me yet. And even though I still haven’t seen much fruit, the part that I have seen is encouraging enough to keep on trusting in His plan for my life for His Kingdom and for the people of Bosnia.

A few years ago, I was involved as staff in a YWAM course in Switzerland, where one of the staff was from Liberia. Whenever we ate chicken he would say, “the only good chicken is a dead chicken!”. He meant that he really hated living chickens running around, but he would eat chicken in all shapes and forms! One day we were praying and in the middle of the prayer time he said, “Oh Lord, the only chicken is a good chicken!!” and we were all a bit taken aback. Why was he using that saying in a prayer time? But it became clear in his prayer as he prayed that he wanted to become like that dead chicken – completely given over to God and able to be used by God in many different ways. Instead of being a silly chicken that just ran around aimlessly – that God would use us for His purposes.

How do we live this “resurrected life” now? How do we pick up our cross daily and follow Him? How are we born into new Spiritual life? How do we become the dead chicken, able to be used by God?

There is of course the part where there is an instant change when we give our lives over to Him and are saved. But there is also the daily picking up of the cross – realising how much He loves you, “pressing on”, trusting Him and being shaped by Him into the person He wants you to be.

Now, I have some questions for you:

Firstly: Are you living the resurrected life now? Have you been born again? Are you the dead chicken? If you are not sure, then maybe you are not, and you need to make that right with God.

Secondly, if you have committed your life: Have you committed yourself to Him completely or are just kind of getting by? Are you picking up your cross? Is He becoming greater in your life? Are you becoming less? If you are not completely given over to Him in your life, then what is stopping you? Ask Him to show you what you need to do to make it right.

Now, lastly if you have given your life to God and completely given yourself over to Him, by praying that covenant prayer two weeks ago, that was a great start! It is great to have that covenant prayer reminder every year, but we also need to commit ourselves every day… Practically: Are you spending time in reading His word and speaking with Him every day? Starting the day with a “Good Morning Lord”?

Then every time when we find ourselves starting to ask: “what about those other people?” or “where are my blessings?” –  He will remind you that He loves you, He wants the best for you, and dying to self becomes accepting the LOVE that He has for you as He controls your life. And no other blessing can ever come close to that!

Let us pray…

Lent 1 The War in the Wilderness

Luke 4:1-13

You can listen to the Audio of this Sermon HERE

As you are no doubt aware, the 40 day season of Lent began last Wednesday … which makes today the 1st Sunday of Lent. And as is always the case, the Gospel reading for this Sunday is the account of Jesus’ 40 days in the Wilderness.

Let’s just set the scene. In Luke 3, Jesus has been baptised as a way to mark the start of His ministry – His mission to bring salvation to the world. As He came up out of the water and was praying, the Holy Spirit descended upon Him and the voice of God the Father came from heaven saying: “You are My Son whom I love; with you I am well-pleased!”

Then … even though on the pages of Luke’s Gospel there is an interlude as Luke gives Jesus’ ancestry … immediately after the voice of God’s love and affirmation speaks to Jesus and He is filled with the Holy Spirit … “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.”

The wilderness Jesus was led into by the Holy Spirit is an area of land about 50x25km … a desolate part of the Judean desert that rises from the Dead Sea towards Jerusalem. It was a place of precipitous cliffs, ravines, rocks, scorpions, snakes and wild animals. Commentator George Adam Smith points out that it was also sometimes referred to as “the devastation”. It is dangerous and desolate.

BUT note this: The Holy Spirit … the Spirit of God … led Jesus here. He was not here by mistake. He was not here because it was a good idea. He was here because in accepting His Mission and signing off on that acceptance by the sign of baptism … Jesus had covenanted to perfectly follow the will of God. And now the will of God … put in His heart by the Holy Spirit … was to go out into the wilderness. And the point of that wilderness wandering was a spiritual war.

There were some truths that had to become certainties … that had to be cemented in Jesus’ heart … before He went any further on His mission. He needed to win the spiritual war in the wilderness before He went one step further. And the temptations that Satan buffeted Him with after 40 days of wandering in the wilderness with nothing to eat … were essentially tests of whether Jesus truly believed the truth in regard to these three things that were absolutely crucial to His mission:

  1. God’s love for Jesus
  2. God’s plan for Jesus
  3. God’s promises for Jesus

As always the true battlefield for temptation is the heart and the mind … the wilderness was just the setting … the backdrop … but Satan came whispering to Jesus the way he does to us … in our hearts and minds.

1. God’s Love (v.2-4)

Have you ever done something in obedience to a clear word from God and suddenly everything just got worse and worse? You followed the prompting of the Holy Spirit … believing that you were acting with a clear understanding of what God wanted you to do … and then all hell broke loose? If so, you’re in good company!

Jesus, led by the Holy Spirit went out into the wilderness believing that the Father was taking Him there. God took Him there and so God would provide … even if it was by way of birds bringing Him food the way God sent food to Elijah in the wilderness … or via manna from heaven the way God had done it for the Israelites. Day 1 … no food. Day 2 … no food. Day 3 … no food … by day 40 … still no food. Yet Jesus was exactly where the Holy Spirit was telling Him He needed to be.

It was 40 days later … no apparent end in sight … but 40 days ago God the Father had told HIM: “You are My Son whom I LOVE.”

And what temptation comes to Jesus?

Hey Jesus, is this what the love of God looks like? If you really are this beloved Son of God … why are you hungry? Why has He let this happen? It’s so deceptively cloaked … it sounds so logical … but what is this challenge? It is the same temptation you and I face … Does God really love me? If He does … why is this happening to me? It is a temptation to distrust the love of God.

Satan used a similar temptation with Eve, didn’t he. “Hey Eve, you mean to tell me there is such delicious fruit hanging here and God has told you not to eat it? If God really loves you, why has He told you not to eat it? Why is He denying you this pleasure? God doesn’t love you. God is just keeping it for Himself.”

Now it is: “Jesus … if you’re loved by God … why are you hungry? You shouldn’t be suffering like this. You shouldn’t be going through this. You’re the Son of God! Come on … take matters into your own hands and make some bread from these stones.”

What is Satan doing here? He is trying to set Jesus against the will of God the Father by getting Him to believe that God is not leading Him in love.

For the rest of His life … if He is to fulfil God’s plan for the salvation of humanity … Jesus will have to move in perfect obedience to the Father. He will have to be able to say (as in fact He later did in John 5) “I do only what I see the Father doing.” And He would have to do that even when it was leading inevitably towards a horrifying death on the cross. Against all the odds Jesus would have to overcome the temptation to doubt God’s perfect love for Him, again and again and again.

He does it here by quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man shall not live on bread alone.” Of course we also know that the verse continues … “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God!” Which word do you think Jesus was thinking of? Which word from the mouth of God was Jesus living on in the desert rather than on bread?  Which word? I believe it was the most recent word: “You are My Son. My Beloved!”

Jesus makes it clear that He trusts the love of God even when He can’t understand it. God and God’s Word must direct His life every step of the way because even when it makes no sense … God loves Him … which means God is at work for His highest best.

Jesus demonstrates that … come what may … He trusts in the love of God.

It speaks a powerful word to us too … when life goes horribly wrong … keep trusting the love of God. Whatever you do … do not give in to Satan’s temptation to believe that this disaster means that God does not love you. Feed your soul on the love of God!!

 

2. God’s Plan (v.5-8)

When the first temptation doesn’t work, Satan changes tack.

He inspires a vision of all the kingdoms of the world with their authority and splendour.

These kingdoms were in fact Jesus’ destiny as the Son of God and Son of Man. In Daniel 7, Daniel saw a vision of the Son of Man standing before the Ancient of Days – that is God the Father – and being given dominion and glory and a kingdom that will never end in which all the kingdoms of the earth would come and worship and serve Him.”

Jesus knows this. He knows that ruling over these kingdoms is His ultimate destiny.

So when He sees a vision of what is one day going to be His … the devil’s temptation is really very simple … here is a short-cut to the vision. Here is an easy way to receive what is rightfully yours after all … just bow down and worship me. Then I’ll give them to you on a plate.

We could spend a lot of time looking at whether these kingdoms were actually Satan’s to give or not … but we don’t need to. That’s not the point here. The point is the choice Jesus faced … to get the kingdom the easy way … Satan’s way … just bow down and worship Satan here and now … or to do it according to God’s plan … which may I remind you was a very difficult plan … to worship God by obeying Him all the way to death on a cross.

If you truly worship God then you do so by living your life according to God’s plan. Worship … truly spiritual worship … is, according to Romans 12, to offer your body as a living sacrifice to God. Jesus knew this clearly … and this was His life’s calling … to worship God all the way to the cross. What Satan was asking him to do. He could never do.

We face this temptation whenever we are tempted to take the easy way. The easy way out is usually the devil’s way out.

John Wesley said: “Jesus did not come to make life easy; he came to make people great.” When God’s plan seems too difficult … and the easy way out looks so totally alluring … remember that this is a choice we are being called to make … to worship God by obeying His plan … and not to worship our own comfort and ease. If God’s way happens to be the more difficult way … take the more difficult way. Beware the easy way out … it is usually the devil’s way out.

 

3. God’s Timing

Jesus had demonstrated that:

  1. He knew He was loved by God regardless of circumstances … and that
  2. He was committed to the plan of God no matter how difficult that plan.

Now He faces a temptation just as subtle.

Psalm 91 is full of promises of protection for those who love and trust God. So now the devil tempts Jesus with those promises. “Alright … you love God … and you trust God’s ways … these promises are clearly for you … CLAIM THEM!”

In other words … put God in a position where God has to prove Himself true to His Word. Test God! Test God’s promises! Just imagine the adulation of the crowds in Jerusalem when you show them how you are God’s beloved … the object of God’s promises in Psalm 91.

This is the temptation to manipulate God and to use and abuse God’s Word for our own selfish ends … and particularly I see in it a temptation to test God’s timing. God has made us these great and precious promises … make God fulfil that promise NOW!

This is the temptation of the prosperity gospel … and the name it and claim it movement. Find a promise in God’s Word and claim it from God. In essence … make God do it for you.

God’s promises are given to us to encourage us in obedience to His Sovereignty … even when the going gets rough and tough … not so that we can presume on them and make God do things for us … as if we are sovereign and God is at our beck and call.

Jesus straight refusal should be ours too: “I will NOT put the Lord my God to the test.”

Yes there would be times when God would protect Jesus miraculously. One instance that comes to mind is at Nazareth when the crowd was attempting to throw Jesus off a cliff … but He walked calmly through the crowd and left. Another is, of course, when the mighty storm comes up on the Sea of Galilee as Jesus and His disciples are crossing it in a boat. With a word of command Jesus stills the storm and their lives are saved.

But there was also that all-important moment when Jesus would be nailed to a cross to carry the sins of the world … and God would allow His beloved Son to die.

God’s promises are sure … but our calling is to allow God to decide when God will fulfil those promises. It is not our place to presume upon God and to demand from Him … or worse still … command Him as some tend to do … to fulfil His promises NOW … when we believe the time is right.

Conclusion

Jesus overcomes Satan’s temptations in the wilderness. The course of His ministry has been set. He has made His decisions:

  • He will trust the Father’s Love
  • He will trust the Father’s Plans
  • He will trust the Father’s Timing

And then we are told: “The devil left Him until an opportune time.”

We do not overcome temptation once and then it’s over. Each day brings its own battles.

  • May the Lord give us grace always to trust that no matter what is happening in our lives NOTHING can alter this truth: We are loved by God. God’s love remains. It never fails. It never runs out. Circumstances may tempt us to doubt God’s love … but those doubts are always ultimately unfounded. We are loved by God.
  • May the Lord give us grace always to trust that God has an ultimate plan and that God is at work in that plan. May He give us grace to walk within His plan for us … even when it is a difficult or painful plan … knowing that if God is in this plan, He will bring good and beauty out of it!
  • May the Lord give us grace always to trust His timing … and to resist the temptation to become like petulant children before the Lord … demanding that He do something for us NOW. Make no mistake this is a powerful, powerful temptation in our instant world. But if God’s love can be trusted … and God’s plan can be trusted … then His timing can be trusted too.

Transfiguration

Luke 9:28-36; Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:12-18

On Wednesday this week we, along with millions of Christians around the globe, will enter a spiritual season called Lent. The ancient tradition of Lent has the very beautiful purpose of being a “springtime of the soul”. We find a hint of this purpose in the name “Lent”. The word “Lent” comes from the old English, “lencten,” which means “spring.” It is closely related to the Dutch and Afrikaans words, “lente”, and the German, “Lenz”, all meaning “Spring”.

Of course, in the Northern Hemisphere it often almost coincides with the season of spring, while here it is closer to autumn. However, the name is given to this 40 day period not because of the season … it is not about a physical spring, but a spiritual one – a springtime of the soul. A season of spiritual refreshing, renewal and even rebirth.

Lent is a 40 day season of:

·        Preparation for Easter;

·        Deliberate self-searching to discern in our hearts and minds and lives the emotions, attitudes, words & deeds which Jesus desires to purify from us;

·        A season of repenting for what we discover there and of asking the Lord to purify us of all such things;

·        MOST importantly, in order for Lent to fulfil any of these functions, it is a season of seeking out deeper and deeper intimacy with God.

·        And in order to facilitate this greater intimacy with God, Lent is also often a season of fasting and of additional time spent in prayer, Bible Reading, Worship and other spiritual disciplines.

I am here today to invite you to engage as fully as possible in Lent 2019.

I am here to invite you to deliberately seek for more of Jesus in your life – with all your heart, mind and strength.

I am here to invite you to turn away from everything that separates you from Him and to fully embrace His presence in your life.

Today that invitation is based on these two moments in the Biblical narrative with which Lent is always introduced; viz. the accounts of Moses returning from the top of Mount Sinai, and Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. We will also briefly refer to our 3rd reading today from 2 Corinthians 3 where Paul encourages us, his readers, with reference to the story of Moses. In the two stories there are some common denominators which we mustn’t miss and through which we can really hear the Lord’s word to us today:

1.      Invitation

2.      Encounter

3.      Transformation

1. Invitation

Why did Moses go up onto Mount Sinai in Exodus 34? Verse 2 records that God said to Moses: “Be ready in the morning and then come up on Mount Sinai. Present yourself to me there on top of the mountain.”

Why did Peter, John and James climb the mountain that day? Verse 28 says that Jesus took them with Him and went up onto a mountain.

Without the invitation from God, Moses would not have been on Mount Sinai at all.

Without the invitation of the Son of God, the disciples would not have been up on the mountaintop.

It is the most wondrous privilege that Almighty God Himself invites us mere human beings to come close to Him … and to spend time with Him.

It is the most awesome privilege of the Christian life … now that the barrier of our sin has been removed by Jesus’ self-sacrificial death on the Cross … that we have permanent access to the very throne room of the King of the Universe.

And there is indeed a consistent invitation on the pages of the New Testament for us to make use of this access … to sense the call of God’s love and to respond to that call!

·        Hebrews 10:19 and 22 says: “Since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus … let us draw near to God.”

·        Likewise Hebrews 4:14 and 16 says: “Since we have a great high priest … Jesus, the Son of God … let us approach the throne of grace with confidence.”

·        James 4:8 says, “Come near to God.”

Jesus Christ died to deal with the sin that separates us from God … to open the way to God for all who desire to come to God … and now the invitation to intimacy is issued loudly and clearly. Come close to God!

Good news: It is not necessary to climb a mountain to meet with God today. We can meet with Him on a moment by moment basis wherever we are. But if we are going to be seeking out the depths of intimacy with God which Jesus has died to make possible, and which we are being encouraged to pursue during Lent, then it is important to at the very least do what the Old King James Version used to call “come apart”.

Whenever Jesus was seeking greater intimacy with God the Father, He would go “to a place apart”. Sometimes that was out in the wilderness … sometimes it was on a mountainside … sometimes it was across the lake. But it was always a place where there would be no distractions from the purpose at hand … meeting with God.

Why not make this a concerted effort in Lent 2019? Find for yourself a “place apart”. Create a prayer space in your home – a corner of a room or a whole room if you have that privilege. A corner of your garden … or of a public park … or a bench in Newlands Forest … to which you can go every day from Ash Wednesday until Good Friday … in order to be alone with God.

Of course it’s not that God will only meet with us in special places … but when we create a space like that and then go to it, we send ourselves a powerful message … this time and this space is set aside to seeking God. And in my experience God responds very powerfully to that deliberate seeking.

He certainly did for both Jesus and Moses when they responded to His invitation and drew near to Him. His response was what I will call …

2. Encounter

It was dramatic for both Moses and Jesus and His disciples … that’s for sure.

God spoke to Moses up there on Mount Sinai and revealed to Moses so much that Moses had never known before. He spoke to Moses about His character, saying to him, “I the Lord am the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” It’s a beautiful revelation. God also revealed His will … repeating for the 2nd time His Ten words of the Covenant – the ten commandments . There on the mountaintop Moses developed such a love for God’s Presence that he said to God: “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here!”

The disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration had a similar encounter. Their exposure to the presence and voice of God was much briefer … they saw the cloud of God’s glory come down and they heard the audible voice of God speaking … and as suddenly as it all happened it was all over. But Peter did not want to leave the mountainside. He wanted to build shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah so that they could stay. “Master,” he said, “it is good for us to be here!”

Jesus had the most dramatic encounter of all. His whole appearance was transformed … He received revelation of God’s will for His “departure” (that is His suffering, death, resurrection and ascension) … and He heard once again the sound of God’s voice affirming: “This is My Son, whom I love!”

As Christians … when we respond to the invitation to draw near to God in intimate fellowship … when we go to our “place apart” … we do not know exactly what God will have in store for us. Will it be a new revelation of understanding of something in the Bible? Will it be a new realization of some aspect of the character of God? Will it be a precious affirmation of God’s love for us? We don’t know.

But one thing is definite. We will always find a greater love for God’s presence growing in our hearts?

An article I read yesterday on the 24-7 Prayer Blog says this: “We are each called to flourish as followers of Jesus. This flourishing begins by receiving God’s delight in us … by making time and space to receive it.” This is what God is inviting us to do in Lent 2019!

3. Transformation

Exodus 34:29 says, “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai … he was not aware that his face was radiant.” Only when Aaron and the people did not want to come near him did he realise that his appearance was glowing. I think of it as an afterglow of God’s presence. He had spent so much time in fellowship in God’s glory that some of that glory had soaked into the very flesh of his face.

For Jesus, of course, it was different. Luke 9:29 says that “the appearance of His face changed and His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.” Whereas Moses was a mere human being and his face had seemingly “absorbed” some of the glory of God (so to speak) … Jesus was God … and the divinity of Jesus was suddenly being revealed. The glory of God that had always been in Jesus but had been hidden by His human form was now suddenly being released.

Here is the profound truth: When you and I spend time in the presence of the Lord, deliberately being in fellowship with Him, we are not only like Moses in that God’s presence and His truth “from the outside” has a transformative effect on our lives … we are also like Jesus because the Holy Spirit lives within us … and He transforms us from within!

For you and for me the effect of time in fellowship with God is not an outer transfiguration where our skin takes on a glow … although I have in truth seen people who walk so closely with God that it has actually seemed to make them more physically radiant. Most times, however, time in fellowship with God transforms us in more practical, everyday ways.

Time with God transforms our view on life … it fills us with hope and faith in the midst of the despair of our word … it deepens our joy and peace in the midst of the stresses and strains of our world. Time with God transforms our view of others … we begin to see them with God’s eyes and love them with God’s love, even in the midst of the hatred and selfish pride of our world.

Time with God also begins to open our eyes to see God where we have never noticed Him before. Consider that Jesus had been with the disciples all this time … and suddenly their eyes were opened to see His glory. I wonder how often God is there in plain view, but we do not notice Him? I am convinced that the more time we spend in fellowship with God in our “place apart” in Bible Reading, Prayer and Worship … the more our eyes will be opened to see Him everywhere else too … in the glory of nature and in others human beings right in front of us.

 

 

The Resurrection

1 Corinthians 15:35-58

You can listen to the audio recording of this sermon HERE.

Over the last few weeks our sermons have been declaring to us boldly the Gospel Message … the glad announcement … that Jesus has truly been raised from the dead and has received a glorified resurrection body. His resurrection is the guarantee that all believers will also be raised to eternal life on the day of resurrection.

In the interests of time and clarity, I would love to just give a straight-forward synopsis of what this passage is declaring to us and then look at what on earth that can mean for us in this earthly life of ours.

Firstly, let’s make the clear biblical distinction between heaven/paradise and the resurrection.

A: Heaven v Resurrection

Let nothing that I will say as this sermon continues be confused with this glorious truth that we declare at every funeral and memorial service: When a believer … a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ … reaches the end of their earthly, physical life and dies … certain irrefutable truths apply:

  • In John 14:3 Jesus says: “I go and prepare a place for you and I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
  • Where is that?
    • Well Jesus had just declared in John 14:2 that He was going to prepare a place for us in what He called “My Father’s House”. So Jesus is returning for us to take us to our Father’s House.
    • But we must also remember that Jesus had declared boldly to the criminal on the cross next to Him: “Today you will be with Me in paradise.”
  • I suppose this is why 2 Corinthians 5:6 and 8 says: “We know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord … we are confident and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”

When a believer in Jesus Christ dies, Jesus Himself draws near … and He takes us “by the hand” to the paradise He has prepared for us.

But that is not the resurrection. That is death. That is dying into the perfect presence of the perfect love of God. That is what Paul speaks of as “sleeping”. To the New Testament, death is like “falling asleep”. Death is like “falling asleep” … and the state into which we fall is so magnificent and glorious and wondrous that the only word Jesus had for it was paradise … or what we sometimes call in English, heaven.

Are we literally asleep after death … as in unconscious? From the parable of the rich man and Lazarus it is clear that the sleep of death is metaphorical and that this is a conscious experience of paradise while we await the culmination of all history … i.e. the return of Jesus to the earth in His resurrection body to usher in the day of judgment and the establishment of His perfect and eternal Kingdom.

It is what happens at that moment which is the subject matter of 1 Corinthians 15 – the day of resurrection.

B: The Day of Resurrection

Here is how it is described in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52. “I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep (i.e. there will still be humans alive on the earth when Jesus returns) … but we will all be changed – in a flash in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound (announcing the return of the King), the dead will be raised imperishable … and we will be changed.”

That same thought is echoed again in 1 Thessalonians 4:14 -17 in which we are taught:

“We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him. According to the Lord’s own word we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven (notice that word … this is where Jesus is now … in heaven … in paradise … with all those who have died in Him)  … with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God; and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

What both of these passages are boldly declaring as absolute truth is that a day is coming when Jesus will return to the earth. In addition to everything else that will happen which we are not looking at today … those who have died in Christ up to that point will “be raised” and then those in Christ who are still alive in bodily form on the earth will be “changed”.

So the question begs answering: Raised to what? Changed into what? The answer of course is “the resurrection body”. And that’s where Paul started this part of 1 Corinthians 15, in verse 35: “But someone may ask: “How can the dead be raised? With what kind of body will they come?”

Allow me to try to capture the answer to that question in summary form.

C: The Resurrection Body

The really short answer is that the only example of a resurrection body we have is Jesus’ resurrection body – the way He was after He was raised from the dead on the third day. How was that? What was that body like?

  • The resurrection body of Jesus had been seen and touched by the apostles and others after Jesus was raised … and yet He was also not quite the same. He appeared among them despite the doors being locked, for example. He was the same … but different.
  • In Luke 24 Jesus had walked side by side with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and He had seemed so ordinary that they had not realised He was the resurrected Jesus … and yet the disciples also saw Him ascend to heaven in His resurrection body … which is far from ordinary.
  • Paul had caught a blinding glimpse of the resurrection body of Jesus on the road to Damascus.

Jesus had appeared to numbers of people in visions in the book of Acts. And so I guess all of these experiences had to go in to the teaching Paul was giving in 1 Corinthians 15  … but you will still notice that he writes about the resurrection body mainly in ways that are emphasizing how profoundly different the resurrection body is from this earthly body of flesh and blood. He does not want to risk misrepresenting the resurrection body in any way … and so he only says what he knows about it by eye-witness accounts and by revelation from the Lord. This is his list:

  • It is a different body entirely. As different from this earthly one as a plant is from its seed. It has the same identity … the same essence or being … but a totally different embodiment thereof.
  • It is an imperishable body: i.e. it cannot decay
  • It is immortal; i.e. it cannot die.
  • It is a glorious body: i.e. where the earthly body is tarnished by our human sinfulness and therefore long ago stopped revealing the full glory of God … our resurrection bodies will “shine forth” the glory of God’s beauty and power and honour.
  • It is a powerful body: The earthly body is weak and prone to so many illnesses, infections and injuries … but the resurrection body is not. It is pulsing with the power of God.

Then as the culmination of his list … Paul says that it is a spiritual body. He declares that:

  • the earthly body we have right now is like the one God gave Adam … born of the dust.
  • But the heavenly body is like the one Jesus received after resurrection. And just as we bear the likeness of Adam and Eve today … so after resurrection we will bear the likeness of the risen Jesus.

We may battle with this concept of a spiritual body because we have always thought of “spiritual” as being incorporeal … disembodied. But the resurrected Jesus was tangible … He was embodied … and not just a ghost. When the disciples thought they were seeing a ghost He made them touch Him and said: “A ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones as you see I have.”

When Scripture therefore says that the resurrection body is spiritual, I think the key to understanding is that the word “spiritual” is about our relationship with God. The human “spirit” is that part of us that relates to God. So if our resurrection bodies are spiritual it simply means that no longer will it just be some inner, invisible part of us that relates to the invisible God but ALL of our being … even our bodies … will be in unhindered relationship with God. Now … in this physical body … we cannot see Him with our eyes and hear Him with our ears or touch Him with our hands … but with the resurrected body we WILL!

Brother in Christ … sister in Christ … you are going to die physically … when that happens, you yourself … the real you who lives inside of this body of yours … is going to be in paradise with Christ until he returns to the earthand then you are going to be raised into your resurrection body. You are going to experience the transformation of your body into a body that has not been corrupted … and cannot be corrupted … by the powers of sin and death.

D: SO WHAT?

This is all wonderful to know … but what about now? What relevance does all of this have for today?

  1. I believe first and foremost these glorious truths should set us free from any fear and trepidation about death. Scripture insists that death is like falling asleep … that this metaphorical sleep is a spiritual paradise with Jesus … and that when we awaken we will awaken to a new heaven and a new earth and glorious, beautiful, powerful, immortal resurrection bodies. So do not fear.

 

  1. Secondly we should be inspired by these truths to strive to already begin to bear the image of the resurrected Jesus. In v.49 Scripture says that “just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so … and here there are two possibilities … some early manuscripts read “we will” bear the likeness of the man from heaven … other early manuscripts read “let us” bear the likeness of the man from heaven.” In those two possibilities we can see that it is a promise that one day we will perfectly bear His image … but that even now we ought to be striving to attain to be like Christ. To “bear the likeness of the man from heaven” … is not only a promise for the day of resurrection and a wondrous gift to look forward to. It is also a calling to pursue that image NOW already.

 

  1. Thirdly these glorious truths should encourage us to never give up and to let nothing stand in the way of our obedience to Christ and our determination to do His will and fulfil His calling. In v58 Paul concludes: “Therefore (in other words, “because of all of the above) Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord.”

If even death holds no fear for you then surely there is nothing else that can prevent you from pursuing the will of Christ with all of your heart, all of your energy, all of your gifts and abilities and talents. Whatever the cost in this world might be for bravely following Jesus and striving to be like Him … eternity will more than fully compensate us for that cost!!

John 2

 The next installment of notes from our Evening Service Study of the Gospel of John

John 2:1-12 – The First Sign

  • The 3rd day = the 3rd day after the calling of disciples in John 1. The phrase “the 3rd day” carries deep resurrection symbolism.
  • Cana in Galilee = a village close to Nazareth (visible on a clear day)
  • A wedding took place: Weddings feasts lasted up to a week with new guests appearing each day
  • Jesus’ mother was there:
  • The story creates the impression she was somehow connected to the wedding family
  • A non-canonical Coptic Gospel tells us she was a sister to the groom’s mother.
  • The ancient Monarchian Prefaces to the Gospels indicate that the groom was John himself, and that his mother was Salome, the sister of Mary.
  • Joseph was absent, offering circumstantial confirmation that he was already dead by this time.
  • Jesus and His disciples had been invited. Note that thus far this was only Andrew, Simon, Philip, Nathanael and one other unnamed disciple.
  • When the wine was gone, Mary told Jesus, “They have no more wine”. Remembering that Jesus had not yet done any miracles, why do you think she did this?:
  • If they were related, Jesus bore some responsibility to help
  • Mary trusted Him to get things done.
  • “Woman, why do you involve Me? My hour has not yet come”: Was Jesus being rude?
  • “Woman” was a common form of personal address (e.g. John 19:26)
  • He was sending a clear message that He was now on the Father’s timetable and had His eyes fixed on an hour that was to come. He was no longer under her authority.
  • Jesus refers 9 times to His “hour” in John’s Gospel; viz.: 2:4; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23; 12:27 (twice); 13:1; 16:32; and 17:1.
  • Mary remained confident, telling the servants: “Do whatever He tells you.” Hereby she issued a call for them (and us) to trust Jesus and to obey Him
  • The jars for washing. These were:
  • 80-120 litres in volume
  • Provided for foot-washing and for
  • Ceremonial handwashing before meals and between courses to ensure the meal was eaten in a kosher fashion.
  • Six is the number indicating imperfection to the Jews:
    • The jars can thus be seen to stand for the imperfections of the Jewish rituals
    • The coming miracle is indicative of Jesus replacing the water of the ritual law with the new wine of the gospel of grace.
  • Jesus said fill the jars and they filled them to the brim (v.7) Then He told them to draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet and they did so! (v.8) What does their response to Jesus tell us?
  • They put their faith implicitly in Jesus.
  • They obeyed to the letter … to the brim
  • The master’s astonishment in v.9-10 is understandable. What do we learn from it?
  • This was the best wine they had at the feast
  • The supply of excellent wine for the banquet was now virtually bottomless (120L x 6 = 720L)
  • Abundant, extravagant supplies of wine is a profoundly symbolic thing in Scripture, where abundant wine is a sign of the coming age of God’s Kingdom; e.g.:
    • Jeremiah 31:12
    • Joel 3:18
    • Amos 9:13-14
    • This miraculous sign indicates to the careful reader that the long-awaited Kingdom of God has arrived and that God has drawn near in Jesus.
    • The imperfect law was very limited in its ability to transform lives but the grace of God in Jesus is limitless
  • This was the first sign Jesus did. John says it revealed His glory. What did it reveal about Jesus?
  • All things are possible to Him
  • He is the King of the coming Kingdom
  • His grace and truth replace the ritual law
  • His disciples put their faith in Him. This connects the reading back to John 1:12-13

 

Jesus cleanses the Temple (2:13-25)

The Synoptic Gospels only record one journey to Jerusalem, just before the crucifixion. John records a number of visits. Is this a contradiction? No.

  • They have different points of view. They complement each other’s accounts.
  • Matthew, Mark and Luke concentrate on the ministry in Galilee. John fills in gaps by concentrating on the Judean and Jerusalem ministry.
  • Even Matthew 23:37 implies numerous previous visits to Jerusalem.

 But in John, Jesus cleansed the Temple as His ministry began. In the Synoptics it was as His ministry was ending. How do we understand this?

  • John is concerned with truth, not chronological facts.
  • His aim is not to present a chronological biography, it is to show Jesus as the Son of God and Messiah.
  • Recording this event here was not about when it happened but WHY it happened and what was symbolised by it.

Why did it happen and what did it symbolise?

  • Obeying the ritual of temple worship necessitated sales of sacrifices and coin exchanging activities;
  • Because the ritual had eclipsed the heart of worship, convenience and expedience brought such sales right into the Temple courts.
  • This was symptomatic of the state of heart confronted by the Jewish prophets (e.g. Psalm 51:16; Isaiah 1:11-17; Hosea 5:6 and 8:13)
  • The only place Gentiles could worship was being used as a marketplace.
  • Jesus’ passion for pure worship (truth) and the inclusion of all people (grace) was paramount.
  • It was also in a way a sign of:
    • Jesus’ fulfilling prophecy like  Psalm 69:9 – His zeal for God’s house
    • Jesus doing away with the sacrificial system
  • It was a symbol of the truth underlying the miracle at the wedding – that His grace and truth will replace the ritual law.

Jesus responded to the angry challenge of the authorities by saying that He would prove His authority to do this by rising from the dead (v.18-22)

The effect is remarkable:

  • People believed / trusted in Jesus (John’s main point)
  • Jesus however did not entrust Himself people and their fickle commitments. His purpose was still God’s Will.

The Heart of the Good News

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Over the last few weeks our Readings have centred on Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians. We’ve had his teaching on the use of spiritual gifts … then on the local church as the Body of Christ … then last week we focused on his magnificent manifesto of love, in the context of our covenant service.

Now, as his letter is coming to a close, Paul sets out to remind the Corinthian Christians of the gospel he had preached to them.

The word Gospel is an English translation of the Greek euangelion, which literally means a “glad announcement,” or “good news”. When a proud new parent sends out the sms or WhatsApp, makes the phone call or posts the Instagram photo to announce proudly: “It’s a girl … or It’s a boy” … or when a young person calls to say excitedy, “I got the job!” … that is a euangelion … a glad announcement.

At its heart, Christianity started … and still starts … with a glad announcement. Everything else in the Christian life flows from this one, single, original glad announcement. So let’s start right there. What was the glad announcement according to the Word of God through Paul in 1 Corinthians 15? We find it in v.3-4.

A: THE GLAD ANNOUNCEMENT

…What I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, (and) that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

The glad announcement thus has two parts. Both are exceptionally good news for us.

  1. Christ died for our sins.

Sin leads to death! In 2019, popular culture and even some popular versions of Christianity will shudder at this ‘in-your-face’ statement … but there’s no way around it when you take the Bible seriously. Sin leads to death … because “sin” is rebellion against God.

“Sin” is insisting on MY way in rebellion against the good, pleasing, perfect, and life-giving way of God.

“Sin” is the blatantly foolish choice to rush headlong into a course of action which leads away from God, and away from life, and into the path of an oncoming freight-train called “death”.

“Sin” is a personal Unilateral Declaration of Independence from God.

“Sin” is the decision to reject a relationship with the One who is the fountain of eternal life.

“Sin” therefore inevitably leads to both physical and spiritual death.

And every person sins … every single human being in this room … when left to our own devices … has taken the pathway that leads to both physical and spiritual death.

Sin leads to death and all have sinned. All therefore must endure both physical and spiritual death.

That is … until the subject matter of our “glad announcement”. One could state and restate it in so many different ways.

The glad announcement, Part 1 is: Jesus Christ died FOR OUR SINS. He died in order to take responsibility for our sins … He died because of our sins. He died our death. He did it in our place. He did it on our behalf. And now it is done!

The glad announcement for ME is that Jesus Christ died for David Howard’s sins. Jesus Christ died David Howard’s physical and spiritual death. Insert YOUR name here … because it’s true for you too. It is in fact universally true. Christ died for all! (2 Corinthians 5:15)

Part 2 of the Glad Announcement is even better:

  1. Jesus Christ was raised on the 3rd day

Did Jesus’ death in our place actually pay for our sins? Is this really the way it is? How can I know that Jesus’ somehow solved the issue of my sin once and for all by offering up His life in my place 2000 years ago? Well, the Bible alleges that God proved it by raising Jesus from the dead.

Part 1 of the glad announcement is that the death of Jesus on the Cross pays the price once and for all for our sin. It deals with our PAST.

Part 2 is that the resurrection of Jesus proves that because our sin is dealt with, LIFE is now freely given to us. It deals with our PRESENT and our FUTURE. We are alive NOW in the beauty of an intimate relationship with the Lord, the Fountain of Life. And we WILL be alive forever.

What happened to Jesus physically mirrors what happens in our lives spiritually NOW. While we were dead in sin, our sins were paid for and removed from us as far as the east is from the west … and … we are then raised from spiritual death to the eternally abundant spiritual life of a restored relationship with God … and this spiritual life is eternal … it has started now and will go on forever.

Jesus’ resurrection ALSO foreshadows exactly what will happen for us physically after death … we will be raised to both physical and spiritual life forever. This we will explore more next Sunday.

But for now, Romans 4:25 explains: “He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.

Now two questions remain:

  1. How can we be sure that Jesus was truly raised from the dead?
  2. What shall we do?

 

B. HOW CAN WE BE SURE?

There was never any doubt that Jesus had died. He had been certified dead by Roman executioners who were professionals at their task. If they certified someone dead and released the body for burial it meant the person really was dead. They didn’t make mistakes because if they did then their own life would be forfeited.

Not only that, Jesus body had been prepared for burial by people very familiar with death. He had been buried in a tomb and the tomb sealed by Roman soldiers. There was never any doubt that this Jesus was dead and buried.

But His resurrection. In our day and age we would ask, “Isn’t this maybe fake news.”

Think about it this way. If you see a headline that says: Baby born with three heads … click here to see what happened next. Don’t click there whatever you do!

You read: “6 meter long snake swallows man alive [WATCH]” … well … I guess it’s possible. I wouldn’t want to watch it anyway … but … Is it possibly true? What are you going to look at to help you decide if this is a serious news video or just “click bait”?

What you should look at is, who posted it? Is it a website called viralnewsvids.tv? Or is it BBC.com? In other words… is it a source that has proved itself trustworthy and true in the past?

This is the test Paul asks the Corinthians to apply. How can you know whether the news of the resurrection is true? Well, look at who has said they saw Jesus alive from the dead. His list is:

  1. Simon Peter
  2. The other apostles all together at the same time
  3. A group of 500 disciples at once … so that was a large gathering of the early church somewhere … we’re not told where
  4. Then to his brother James, the leader of the Jerusalem church
  5. Then again to all the apostles
  6. And lastly Jesus appeared to Paul at the time of his conversion.

Now the Corinthians knew Simon Peter personally. They knew Paul, obviously. They knew James by reputation. And they knew that some of the apostles had already died because of their testimony that Jesus was alive from the dead … and even under threat of death … they would not recant their testimony. It was true and they were willing to die for it.

The source was fundamentally believable. The news of the resurrection was fundamentally trustworthy.

C: WHAT SHALL WE DO?

The glad announcement has been made. The evidence for its trustworthiness has been presented. All that remains is to ask, “So then what are we supposed to do with this news?”

The passage uses three words:

  1. Receive it: This means that they embraced the good news. They heard it gladly. They received it as a true story … a true witness. They opened their hearts and minds and welcomed with joy the glad announcement as being true. That’s what it means to receive it. Is that where you are? Are you perhaps someone who has always resisted the message rather than receiving it. Have you always approached it as a bit of a sceptic and not really ever given it a chance to impact you? Well today’s the day to change that and to receive the news. Open your heart to the possibility of the Lord Jesus literally having been raised from the dead and give Him the opportunity to reveal Himself to YOU as the Lord who has conquered death!

 

  1. Believe it: He says they believed the glad announcement. They not only believed that it was true … but they believed IN IT … they put their faith in it. They entrusted their destiny to the truthfulness of this announcement. They threw themselves ALL IN … into the implications of it. Some gave up their idols and their temple prostitutes … others gave up their law-keeping legalism … they repented of their sins and threw themselves into the free relationship with God which Jesus had died to make possible. Are you perhaps at this point? You have become convinced over the years that the message is true and that Jesus Christ has in fact been raised from the dead. But you’ve not taken it further than that … a cognitive acceptance of the glad announcement. Today’s the day to throw yourself all-in and to entrust your life to Jesus in its entirety.

 

  1. Stand firm in it: Paul says that now they are to stand firm in the good news. Scripture is full of similar exhortations to stand firm in the faith once received. The Christian life is not a once off purchase of a fire-insurance policy. It is a lived relationship with God which fills our lives with love and joy and peace. But only if we live in it. Jesus gave His life so that we could live in intimacy with God … talking to Him, listening to Him and being empowered by Him to overcome sin and to live a victorious life of fellowship with God. We ought not to settle for anything less than that.

1 Corinthians 15 says that the Gospel saves us if we stand firm in it. In other words, unless we are living in the reality of the relationship with God that Christ died and rose to give us, the glad announcement will make no difference to our lives.

Today, stand firm in the good news … stand squarely in the reality of your relationship with Jesus! Let your relationship with Jesus be centre-stage in your life. Let it be what defines who you are and how you live. Let it influence every aspect of your life and work and relationships … or else it will make no difference to you at all.

The glad announcement is not that Jesus is risen from the dead in order to become a beautiful appendage to our lives.

No! He has risen from the dead in order to totally, and radically transform our lives. But for that to happen, we have to stand firm in Him! We have to make Him the centre … not an appendage … we have to daily surrender full control to Him … the way we were invited to do last week.

Our Covenant with Christ is not an annual moment of commitment … it is a pledge to DAILY total surrender to His presence, His friendship, His love, His grace, His POWER!

I’m inviting you today to make a renewal again … not of your Covenant with Christ … we did that last week … but of the commitment to walk daily with Him in deep, and total surrender … giving Him centre-stage… giving Him free rein to direct the course of your daily life. I’m inviting you to renew a level of commitment you perhaps once had but you have grown lukewarm … you were passionate for Jesus  … you were on fire … your life was a living testimony and people sat up and took notice that you had been with Jesus. Now they might not even notice any difference to anyone else around you.

I invite you to change that today … to commit yourself to radical discipleship … to standing in the truth and the power of the resurrection again.