The gift of the Holy Spirit, given at this time. It is seen as the birth of the church.
The passage which we read from the gospel of John tells us of Jesus appearing to his disciples, after his resurrection.
Imagine the scene: The disciples, except for Thomas, were gathered in a house with the doors locked. Thomas has been labelled ‘Doubting Thomas’, but you wonder about the doubts, and fears, of the others, if they felt they had to meet in secret. When Jesus showed them his wounds, they were thrilled and their doubts and fears were removed.
*Jesus had identified himself with his Father.* He was telling the disciples by whose authority he did his work, when he said: ‘As the Father sent me, I now send you’. In saying this, he was also passing on to his disciples the job of spreading the good news of salvation around the world, and this applies to us. Whatever God has asked us to do, we must remember that our authority for doing it comes from God, and that Jesus has demonstrated by words and actions how to accomplish the job he has given us. As the Father sent Jesus, Jesus sends his followers …and us.
The receiving of the Holy Spirit by the disciples was a foretaste of what all believers would experience from the time of Pentecost and forever after. To do God’s work, we need the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. This may be through consulting the Bible or by prayerful thought, or worshipping with other Christians. We must avoid trying to do his work in our own strength.
Jesus was giving the disciples their Spirit-powered and Spirit-guided mission – to preach the Good News about Jesus’ resurrection, so that peoples’ sins might be forgiven. The disciples did not have the power to forgive sins (only God can forgive sins), but Jesus gave them the privilege of telling new believers that their sins have been forgiven because they have accepted Jesus’ message. All believers have this same privilege. We can only truly announce forgiveness of sins when we ourselves have found repentance and faith.
Thomas wouldn’t take anyone’s word for it; he had to see and touch! This attitude contributes to the advancement of our scientific knowledge; if there is hard evidence for, say, the effect of some drug to relieve pain, then we can at least begin to believe in the drug’s power. Paradoxically though, a ‘seeing is believing’ attitude isn’t enough – there has to be a belief in unseen factors – a faith.
Have we ever wished that we could actually see and touch Jesus, and hear his words? Are there times when we want to sit down with him and get his advice? That’s like Thomas: Thomas wanted Jesus’ physical presence. But God’s plan is wiser. He hasn’t limited himself to one physical body; he wants to be present with us at all times. Even now he is with us in the form of the Holy Spirit. We can talk to him, and we can find his words for us in the Bible. He can be as real to us as he was to Thomas.
Jesus wasn’t hard on Thomas for his doubts. Despite his scepticism, Thomas was still loyal to Jesus and to the believers. Some people need to doubt before they believe. If doubt leads to questions, and questions lead to answers, and the answers are accepted and well thought through, the doubting has been worthwhile; people can be convinced in this way. I wish that this could be applied to politicians… But perhaps that’s going a bit too far!
Problems arise when doubt becomes a lifestyle in any sphere; that is, when ‘I don’t believe’ becomes ‘I won’t believe’.
When we doubt, we shouldn’t stop there. We should let our doubt deepen our faith as we continue to search for the answer.
Jesus’ resurrected body was unique. It wasn’t the same kind of flesh and blood Lazarus had when he came back to life. Jesus’ body was no longer subject to the same laws of nature as before his death. He could appear in a locked room, yet he wasn’t a ghost because he could be touched and he could eat. Jesus’ resurrection was physical and literal – he wasn’t a disembodied spirit. This is very difficult to understand, and certainly it’s not possible to do so on purely scientific principles. I think this is where we must say that something must have happened so that we might be aware of God’s presence with us, and willing to be guided by it. We don’t need to understand the way it works or came about, to observe and understand the effects (think of dropping the sheets of paper), and this where faith comes in.
Jesus then said to Thomas, ‘You believe because you see me. Those who believe without seeing me will be truly happy’. Some people think they would believe in Jesus if they could see a definite sign or miracle, but Jesus says we are blessed if we can believe without seeing. We have all the proof we need in the words of the Bible and the testimony of believers. A physical appearance wouldn’t make Jesus any more real to us than he is now; not in the long term.
John’s gospel was written close to the end of the first century and the message is for second and third generation Christians, and for the rest of us. This Good News includes everything we need to know to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, through whom we receive eternal life.
It goes without saying our world today needs change. We are asked to change from spectators to active disciples, from watching other people do things to be those leading the change.
On our own we cannot do it; following our own agenda we will fail. We need first to acknowledge and accept the power of the Holy Spirit and move by its prompting and guiding. Remember Jesus tells the disciples that they need the power of the Holy Spirit.
Even spending three years in His presence was not enough to equip then for the work that lay ahead.
The gift of the Holy Spirit means action. This gift is not given to us so that we might feel good but so that we are equipped for a task. Not so that we can be better spiritually but so that we can carry out that great commission and witness in our lives.
Let us pray –
Risen Lord, you entered into the lives of the disciples despite locked doors and fearful minds. You brought them wholeness and peace, to set their frightened minds at rest, and to make them ready for the task you had for them.
We pray that you would make us ready in our lives, to allow you to walk through the closed minds that we so often have, and the barriers that we create. Take away our fears and open our hearts that your Holy Spirit may come again to dwell within us, and that we, your people, may be ready to hear your words and respond to your call, for only in you do we find true peace. Amen.
Commonism In The Church
Acts 4:32-4:37 The meanings of “socialism” and “communism” have changed over time as various political tyrants and undemocratic governments have used the ideas to advance their own political power and fantasies. But for today let’s use the simplest possible meaning which Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels promoted in the late 1800s. According to the online encyclopaedia, Encarta, the terms could be used more or less interchangeably to refer to a, quote “society in which class differences had disappeared, people lived in harmony, and government was no longer needed.” Unquote.
Today’s passage may sound like communism but it is quite different, so this sermon is entitled, “Commonism in the Church.” God does not show how an enlightened proletariat wrests control of business and wealth from the rich in order to fairly distribute it across society. Instead, God creates a church voluntarily disposing of their possessions, generously providing for those who lack. The Christians in Jerusalem held their goods “in common,” and no needy person lived among them.
Introduction A minister was talking one day to a farmer in his congregation. The minister asked the farmer, “Fred, if you had one hundred horses, would you give me fifty?” Fred said, “Certainly.” The minister asked, “If you had one hundred cows, would you give me fifty?” Fred said, “Yes.” Then the minister asked, “If you had two pigs, would you give me one?” Fred said, “Now that’s enough minister; you know I have two pigs!” 🙂
Generosity sounds good in the abstract; many Christians picture themselves giving away half their lottery winnings; the reality is often quite different.
Lucian was a Greek satirist who lived between 120 and 200 AD. He was an opponent of anything religious (which he grouped together as superstitions). Yet when he saw the generosity of the Christian church he wrote: “It is incredible to see the fervour with which the people of that religion help each other in their wants. They spare nothing. Their first legislator [Jesus] has put it in their heads that they are brothers.” The cause of the difference which Lucian observed among the Christians was the presence of the Holy Spirit producing power in their witness. Our God is generous; and when we devote ourselves to him and he works among us, he makes us generous like himself.
The passage we heard today speaks first of all of Unity In the Church (Acts 4.32a) These early Christians understood that it was no longer “I” but “we”.
C. S. Lewis, a number of years ago, wrote a novel entitled “The Screwtape Letters.” In it, he imagined Screwtape as being the Devil, & his nephew, Wormwood, as the little demon who had been assigned the responsibility of recruiting members for the Kingdom of Hell.
In one chapter, Screwtape is talking to Wormwood. He says, “You will find that the church is fertile soil. One of the best places to find recruits for Hell is in the church.”
Now here is his advice to Wormwood. “Keep them bickering over programs, procedures, money, organization, personal hurts, misgivings. Keep them bickering. Whatever you do, don’t let them see the banners wave, because if they ever see the banners wave, we’ve lost them forever.”
C. S. Lewis says, “The secret to carrying out the great commission is that when our vision is fixed on Jesus, & we are so caught up in Him, we won’t have time to bicker. We won’t have time to worry about our little hurts. When we are caught up in carrying His banner to a lost & dying world then the church will march forward in triumph once again.”
. We know our tendency to be divided in all matters important, especially those related to religion. So it is hard to believe that these Christians could agree — men and women of different ages, backgrounds and personalities, people who were opponents to one another a few months earlier, for they came from a wide variety of sects and religions. But that was now all forgotten, and they are unanimous in their love for Jesus. And because they were united in this, they were joined in love to one another. Such was the dying command of Christ to his disciples: “Love one another.” Jealousy in the church is not a sign of great grace. Envy over another’s gifts and ministry does not create a powerful witness. Looking out for number one produces no converts. A critical spirit impresses no one, either inside the congregation or outside. Bitterness and rivalry and insisting that we are right and getting our way pleases only the enemy. Verse 31 of Acts 4 indicates they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. As a result (verse 32), they were of one heart and soul. They loved one another, and love enabled them to count others of greater worth than themselves; love caused them to overlook any number of faults. Aesop tells of three bulls for a long time pastured together. A lion lay in ambush hoping to make them his prey, but he was afraid to attack while they kept together. So the lion whispered in the hearing of first one and then the others that the others were keeping secrets and making plans that did not include him. Eventually the bulls separated from one another and the lion feasted on them one by one at his leisure. “United we stand” is not merely a slogan; it is a Biblical principle illustrated well by Aesop. Parents know the extent of personal sacrifice they would endure to make sure their children do not suffer hunger and want. I dare say that many (maybe all of you) would sell house and car, land and property, if it were necessary to provide for your children. You love them. They are yours and you are theirs. Problems do not prevent outrageous acts of generosity, for they are your beloved family. What did Lucian say of the Christians he met? “Their first legislator [Jesus] has put it in their heads that they are brothers.” This pagan understood well that family love united the Christians in heart and soul.
The second point today is that of Generosity In Giving (Acts 4.32b, 34-37) There are those in some churches who imagine that true faith is shown ONLY by commitment to the Scriptures. For example, many Christians speak in glowing terms of the pulpit ministry of Charles Spurgeon, while far fewer are thrilled by his work with orphanages. Spurgeon had always devoted large sums of money to the alms-houses. But his biographer writes: “At one Monday evening prayer meeting, which in his day were phenomenal, he said, ‘We are a large church, and should be doing more for the Lord in this great city. I want us to ask Him to send us some new work; and if we need money to carry it on, let us pray that the means may also be sent.’ Soon afterward Mrs. Hillyard, a clergyman’s widow, determined to devote her money to the service of God. She saw an article in The Sword and Trowel advocating the establishment of schools where ‘all that we believe and hold dear shall be taught to the children of our poorer adherents.’ Upon reading this she wrote to Mr. Spurgeon, telling him of her desire to establish an orphanage where boys would be trained in simple Gospel principles. Mr. Spurgeon and Mr. William Higgs made an appointment, and when they called at her modest home they feared that there had been some mistake. So they began the interview by saying that they had called about the £200 she had mentioned in her letter. “Did I write £200?” exclaimed the lady. “I meant £20,000.” “Oh yes,” said Mr. Spurgeon, “you did put down £20,000, but I thought perhaps there was a naught (zero) or two too many.” According to John Stott, here in Acts “Luke…is concerned to show that the fullness of the Spirit is manifest in deed as well as word, service as well as witness, love for the family [of believers] as well as testimony to the world”
Notice the characteristics of these believers in the passage. * First, sense their attitude. This is not communism, for no one took from them what was theirs. It was “common-ism,” so deep was the love that they felt that every possession was made available to help their brothers and sisters. * Second, see their action. They refused to speak of this love without visible generosity. Faith without works is dead; love without generosity is hatred. John Calvin: “Surely we ought to observe the same order, first loving one another with a sincere heart, and thereafter our love showing itself in its application to others. For even external beneficence, if it comes not from the heart, is of no value in the sight of God. We boast in vain of proper affections, unless the evidence of them is seen in outward performance…. And now, we must have hearts that are harder than iron if we are not moved by this narrative. In those days the believers gave abundantly of what was their own; we in our day are content jealously to retain what we possess…. They set forth their own possessions with simplicity and faithfulness; we devise a thousand cunning devices whereby we may acquire everything for ourselves by hook or by crook. They laid down at the apostles’ feet; we do not fear, with sacrilegious boldness, to convert to our own use what was offered to God. They sold their own possessions in those days; in our day it is the lust to purchase that reigns supreme. At that time love made each man’s own possessions common property for those in need; in our day such in the inhumanity of many, that they begrudge to the poor a common dwelling on earth, the common use of water, air and sky. These things then are written for our shame and reproach.” No one in Acts 4 was required to practice common-ism – they just did.
So firstly there is unity in the church, then generosity in giving, and as a result there is:
Greatness In their Witness (Acts 4.33) John Calvin observes that the New Testament Christians “were well liked because they were generous.” There is some debate over whether the “great grace [that] was upon them all” refers to God’s grace or the people’s favour. The Greek word for grace can refer either to a blessing from God or the acceptance of people. Whichever meaning is intended, both are clearly true. God’s favour was with them — they witnessed with power, they preached with boldness, they prayed with visible demonstrations of the presence of the Spirit, and they cared passionately for their fellow believers.
4. Conclusion Fred Mueller once asked a godly and generous businessman in London for a donation for a charitable project. Little was expected because the businessman had recently sustained a heavy loss from the wreck of some of his ships. To the amazement of those involved with the charity, he gave about ten times as much as expected. When asked how he was able to give so much in light of his business difficulties the businessman replied, “It is quite true, I have sustained heavy loss by these vessels being wrecked, but that is the very reason why I give you so much; for I must make better use than ever of my stewardship lest it should be entirely taken from me.”
And finally, Charles Spurgeon, the great English preacher, was once invited by a wealthy man to come to preach in a certain country church, to help the membership raise funds to pay off a debt. The man told Spurgeon he was free to use his country house, his town house, or his seaside home. Spurgeon wrote back and said, “Sell one of the places and pay the debt yourself.”
To God the Father,
God the Son
And God the Holy Spirit
Be glory and praise, now and forever. Amen.
The Greatest Explanation
v 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Have you ever found something hard to believe?
There were two gentlemen were traveling on a plane and were seated next to each other. One turned to the other and asked, “What do you do?” The gentleman replied: “I am a minister.” “Oh,” said the first man. “I don’t believe in that religious stuff. It’s for kids, you know, ‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so…’” The minister politely laughed and asked the other man what he did for a living. “I am an astronomer,” said the first man. “Oh, that stuff,” said the minister. “I thought it was just for kids, you know, ‘Twinkle, twinkle little star…’”
Sometimes, we find more substance than what we initially thought.
I am willing to bet that there are some former sceptics here today that are now true believers.
As you explored for the truth, you discovered that there was more to Christianity than you initially thought.
The setting of today’s text revolves around a sceptic of sorts.
The story of Nicodemus is our setting.
Nicodemus, a Pharisee, has come to Jesus at night.
He is on a mission—a personal one it seems.
He has come to Jesus in an attempt to figure Him out.
He has come to the conclusion that Jesus cannot do what He does unless He has come from God.
It is a good conclusion, yet in the conversation with Jesus, Nicodemus found that…
Believing in Jesus can be very difficult.
Ironically, it is difficult only because Jesus made it simple.
He said, “You must be born again.”
“You need to be born of the Spirit.”
For Nicodemus, who thought that because He was Jewish and was publicly dedicated to following the Ten Commandments, he was already in.
His whole worldview was being turned upside down.
John 3:14-21 describes three reasons to believe in Jesus.
Firstly, Jesus becomes our SIN (14-15).
In verse 14 we read,” Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, (15) that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
This is the story that is found in Numbers 21:
The Israelites had been complaining against God, grumbling about the journey and their apparent lack of food and water.
They did not like the manna God gave them day after day.
And so God had enough, and He sent fiery serpents among them, and many of those who were bitten died.
But God provided a salvation for this disobedient people, so that they might survive the divine judgment.
He instructed Moses to make a serpent of bronze and to set it on a pole, so that anyone who was bitten by one of the serpents could merely look up at the serpent and be healed.
And this is precisely what happened.
All who were bitten and looked up were healed.
The point is that serpents are symbolic of sin. After all, it is the serpent that lies to Eve in the garden.
And you know, when God looks at our world, he sees what we often try to ignore.
He sees the hurt, shame, misery and the meaninglessness of life.
He watches the murder, violence, hatred, bitterness, anger, and greed.
He observes child abuse, famine, death, tears, and fear of every kind.
And as He watches, He notes that the anguish we have in life is often self-caused.
We have ruined the gift He has given.
Most of the agony we suffer is directly related to the choices we have made.
This destruction of His design is sin and it is ugly to God.
But the great thing for us is that His reaction is not one of anger, hatred, or ruthless justice. Instead, it is love.
He reaches out to us and takes on Himself the just result of sin—death.
Jesus becomes sin for us as we can read in 2 Corinthians:
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
In the story in Numbers, no matter how horribly they were bitten, how many times they had been bitten or how sick they were, the opportunity for salvation was there.
In the very same way, even the most degraded and miserable sinner who looks to Christ will be saved.
As a result, new birth comes through the simple gaze of faith.
Just as the Israelites were instructed to gaze in faith at the serpent, so are we to gaze at Jesus on the cross in faith.
It does not have to be perfect faith.
You don’t have to work up your faith to some standard.
You just need to have it.
The second reason to believe in Jesus is that Jesus becomes our SALVATION (16-17).
In verse 16 and 17 we hear, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (17) For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
Martin Luther called verse 16 the miniature gospel.
What he meant by this is that no verse condenses the whole gospel as cleanly and understandably as John 3:16.
This is the way God loved the world…He gave His Son…
For Nicodemus, he was being introduced to a whole new thought process.
Salvation was not a matter of birth.
Salvation was not even a matter of being good.
Salvation comes through the Messiah.
And though the Jews were God’s chosen people, they were God’s chosen people so that the world might know God.
Salvation was to be for the Gentiles as well.
And this had been God’s purpose all along: Salvation was for everybody.
Not only that; Salvation came in time and space.
Jesus came in time and space.
It was a specific act in history.
God loved the world. The tense of the verb is written is to make sure that we understand that this happened at a definite point in time.
When Jesus came to earth, this was the proof that God cared for and loved the entire world.
It was the best gift that could ever be given.
And it was needed…
As George Bernard Shaw once said,
“The statistics about death are very impressive. One out of every one dies!”
A politician awoke after an operation and found the curtains in his hospital room drawn. “Why are the curtains closed?” he asked the nurse. “Is it night-time already?” “No,” the nurse replied. “But there’s a fire across the street, and we didn’t want you to wake and think the operation was unsuccessful.”
While we may laugh at that, there are some awful consequences to dying if we do not believe.
There is eternal judgment and we perish.
The Bible speaks of hell over and over again so that we will be determined to avoid it.
And John tells us here that it is everlasting, irreversible, and most importantly, avoidable.
God has demonstrated His love to us, but it is a love that can be received or rejected.
The third reason for us to believe in Jesus is that Jesus becomes our SEPARATION (18-21).
In verse 18 we read, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
The text is clear here to tell us that Jesus did not come to judge the world, but at the same time, judgment does come.
Condemnation and judgment come passively.
For if we do not believe and take hold of the salvation that comes through Jesus, it is a decision that we will have to live with for eternity.
One night, after he had got ready for bed, a man went out to the front of his house to retrieve some work papers from his car. Since it was dark, he decided no one would see him make the quick run in his underwear and he probably would have made it, too—if it had not been for the motion-sensor light, which illuminated him, just as he reached the car door.
How careful we need to be of light.
Light reveals the righteousness of righteous men.
But for those who are unrighteous, they hate the light because it exposes their sins
But light is more powerful than darkness.
And love is stronger than hate.
There are many reasons God saves you: to bring glory to himself, to appease his justice, to demonstrate his sovereignty. But one of the sweetest reasons God saved you is because he is fond of you. He likes having you around. He thinks you are the best thing to come down the pike in quite a while… If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If he had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning. Whenever you want to talk, he’ll listen. He can live anywhere in the universe, and he chose your heart. And the Christmas gift he sent you in Bethlehem? Face it, friend. He’s crazy about you!
Do you believe in God in a baby?
Incredible the sound of it, isn’t it?
How could God become a baby?
Yet, every Christmas, we celebrate this tremendous truth.
For this is the way God has shown His love for the world.
Do you believe in God on a cross?
Incredible—the sound of it, isn’t it?
How could God go to a cross and die?
Yet, every Good Friday, we celebrate this tremendous truth.
For this is the way God has shown His love for the world.
Do you believe in Life after death?
Incredible—the sound of it, isn’t it?
How could anyone believe that someone lives after he dies?
Yet, every Easter, we celebrate this tremendous truth.
For this is the way God has shown His love for the world.
Believe in Jesus…for He who knew no sin became sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
Believe in Jesus…for God demonstrates His own love for us in this, while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
Believe in Jesus…for God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
And that is the Greatest Explanation:
God – The greatest Lover
so loved – The greatest degree
the world – The greatest company
that he gave – The greatest act
his one and only Son – The greatest gift
that whoever – The greatest opportunity
believes – The greatest simplicity
in him – The greatest attraction
shall not perish – The greatest promise
but – The greatest difference
have – The greatest certainty
eternal life – The greatest possession
What We Can Learn in the Wilderness”
INTRODUCTION: Today is the first Sunday of Lent. Jesus is almost ready to begin his public ministry, but first He must go through some things as final preparation. He had to identify himself with sinful humanity at the outset of His ministry, and He did this by submitting to baptism. Then He had to face temptation. Mark’s gospel doesn’t list any specific temptations such as we find in the gospel of Matthew or Luke. Perhaps that is because each of us face slightly different temptations and yet we do not have to give in to any of them because Jesus is sufficient to handle whatever life brings our way.
- Wandering in Our Wilderness
Immediately after Jesus was baptized by John and heard God’s voice from Heaven saying, “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” things began to change for him. He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. Mark does not describe how Jesus felt about this, but Jesus was going from a very positive experience to an undesirable wilderness. A wilderness is any place we don’t want to be. This wilderness was Maybe He felt the aloneness intensely–maybe He wandered around for a while thinking, “What do I do next? Where do I go? “ Mark is the only writer who says He was alone except for the wild animals. And in this environment, He was surrounded by danger– someone out there alone at night could have been torn apart by the wild animals.
There are many interpretations we can apply to our own lives from this experience of Jesus. We also have wilderness experiences where we feel alone, feel we are wandering around without knowing what to do or where to turn. We are surrounded by many dangers and temptations that are every bit as threatening to us, or more so, than the wild animals that Jesus faced. The devil wanted to tempt Jesus there in His wilderness in order to destroy his work and cancel His mission on earth. Satan did not want Jesus to accomplish the mission he set out to do. He wanted to side-track him and he had a perfect opportunity to do so when he was alone in the wilderness.
Satan especially wants to side-track all of us from accomplishing our calling for God. He can side-track you very subtly and easily. We live in a world of many dangers–danger not only of crime and violence and physical dangers to us but even more so the subtle attacks on our faith. Many people are succumbing to these dangers–first of all by being led away from church, from the teachings of the scriptures and by a greater tolerance to questionable things. We begin to compromise–the wild beasts of indifference and apathy toward spiritual things eat away at us. People more and more say, “I believe in God and I am a Christian but I don’t go to church.”
The familiar hymn goes, “Through many dangers toils and snares I have already come,…” Jesus needed to experience a difficult wilderness experience in order to identify with us today and although the things he experienced were different from what we face in our 21st century technological age, there was the same pull of temptation for him to go ahead and give in to sin. Jesus needed to experience the invitation to sin because scripture tells us that He was “in all points tempted like as we are –yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15).
STORY: A man got tired of people telling him “Have a good day! He didn’t think it was sincere but just a routine saying.”
He began answering, “No thank you. I’ve got other plans for today.”
Jesus had the invitation to sin. He said, “No thank you. I’ve got other plans.”
Jesus was alone in the wilderness. He had no support group, and no one to give him advice. When things began to hit him adversely, he could have wondered, “Has God abandoned me? Is God not pleased with me? Does God not love me anymore?” These are things Satan uses on us to make us doubt and feel discouraged.
STORY: Bill Jones’ wife told her husband one day, “You never tell me that you love me. Why don’t you? Why are you not like other men to let me KNOW that you love me?”
He said, “Mary, I told you once that I loved you – when we got married. If it ever changes I will tell you.”
When God spoke at Jesus’ baptism, He had to rely on that Word, “You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” He was not hearing repeated confirmations of His Father’s love and concern while out there in the wilderness. God had spoken and He had to believe that Word. In the wilderness there was not the constant reassurance of God’s love. We, too, need to believe God’s Word to us because sometimes there are periods of silence when we don’t feel God’s presence and we don’t hear His Voice reassuring us of his love and concern. We need to hold fast to His promises and scriptures and not allow Satan to tempt us into believing that God has abandoned us or that He does not love us. We need to know what is in Scripture so that it is second nature to us and there when we need it. When God gives you a promise at least once, hang on to that promise. You don’t need to be reassured all of the time.
We face situations in our everyday life all the time of one sort or another. We are not the strong person we think we are. The wild animals of temptation sometimes devour us. But they didn’t devour Jesus. Why? He could have given in. He had choices to make just like we do. He had constant conflicts throughout his future ministry, not just during the wilderness experience. We do too. So we shouldn’t be surprised when things hit us hard at times. We shouldn’t be surprised when our faith seems to be almost overwhelmed. So how do we tame the wild beasts that try to devour us in our daily life at work, at home, or anywhere else that we go?
- Examining the Darkness of our Lives
Jesus had to be alert to the dangers surrounding him as he walked around in his wilderness. He had to be aware of what was lurking around the bushes ready to pounce on him unexpectedly. He had to be aware of the deception of Satan who came to offer him “A good deal.” But we might say, “Well, what can I do about that? I don’t have any control over the circumstances of my life.”
We have to examine the wilderness areas of our lives and then begin to resist the devil in those areas just as Jesus did in His wilderness. The beginning of the Lenten Season is a good time to begin to ask ourselves questions. Just where do we stand in our relationship with Jesus? Have we allowed our faith to be devoured in certain areas? Have we allowed the things of the world to subtly tear us apart to where we no longer know what to believe? Have we become Christian in name only? Has our church attendance become “once in a while? and our Bible become lost somewhere in a stack of papers?
Let us examine our wilderness. Where are the places we are losing the battle? What are the things that are constantly attacking us–addictive habits, procrastination, conflicts and anxieties. Worries of all kinds that eat away at us? What is trying to come against us to tear us apart?
We should be thinking about the things in our life that really get us down? What are our greatest temptations? What do we give in to time and time again? We need to be able to identify those things in our own lives. Mark does not point out specific things. Maybe it is because there are all kinds of “wild animals” trying to get to us.
- Reclaiming God’s Call on our Life
Some will say, “Yes, Jesus was successful. He didn’t give in because He was Jesus.” He had the opportunity to make a choice just like we do. He made the choice. He could have made a bad choice and never have gone on to fulfil His mission to bring salvation to humankind. He could have opted out when the going got rough. He could have made other plans when he felt alone and abandoned by His Father. He could have “called 10,000 angels to get him down off the cross.”
During this Lenten Season, how can we reclaim God’s call on our life once we have identified the things which so easily tempt us and drag us down to failure.
In Psalm 25, David begins by saying “In you Lord my God, I put my trust”. These accounts of the temptation show us that Jesus did exactly that. Alone in the wilderness, where did he turn for help? Did he try to do everything himself? No, he put his dependency upon God and His Word to defeat the trickery of Satan. In the Old Testament times, David had also learned this–to look up in his wilderness–to deliberately look to God, to put his dependence in God.
Then in the next verse he asks for several things and rather than asking for a pat answer to his problems he asks for something better than that.
“Show me your ways, LORD, teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me.”
Many people today just call the spiritual hotline for a specific answer to a specific problem. Here David is not asking for specific answers to one problem–he is asking for God to show him His ways continually.
He asks direction from God and also prays to God to teach Him. We can walk in the Spirit throughout our day, not just once in a while, because God will be showing us His ways, teaching us to choose one path over another and leading us into truth.
Remember that Jesus said in John 14:6 “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” When we follow Him we know that we are being led in His ways.
And when we ask Jesus to show us his ways, we must intend to follow them or why else would he show them to us. We could say, “Lord show me your ways and if I like them I will accept them or if not I will ignore them.” We must determine that we will make every effort to accept His ways.
We have the assurance that He will lead us. Psalm 25:8-10 says, “Good and upright is the Lord–therefore, he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right, And Teaches them his way.
CONCLUSION: On this first Sunday of Lent we can learn from Jesus’ experience in the wilderness. We, too, have wilderness experiences throughout our journey of faith. We mustn’t let these experiences throw us or discourage us.
Let us pray.
Father God, Help us to be willing to follow Jesus’ ways, be taught by His spirit, and to be consistent in our walk and choices.
I to the hills will lift mine eyes from whence doth come mine aid.
I love hills and mountains. We are very lucky here on Arran to be surrounded by such wonderful scenery and to have hills and mountains, to look at, to enjoy walking in and climbing. Having grown up in the west of Scotland and holidayed on Arran I hadn’t realised how much I enjoyed hilly landscapes until my husband and I moved to York and I found the very flat landscape around there very troubling! It just didn’t seem right.
Mountains are not only good for us physically but I think mountains are good for our souls. And mountains feature widely in the Bible.
Important Biblical events include:
• Mount Ararat, after the flood, the ark of Noah rested here till the waters subsided.
• Mount Moriah the place Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice.
• Mount Sinai where God gave the 10 Commandments to Moses.
• Mount Carmel- the site of the showdown between
Elijah (the prophet of God) and Baal’s prophets.
• And the Mount of Olives or Olivet where lots of events in Jesus earthly ministry occurred and Jesus ascended back to heaven.
A kind of Bible rule of thumb is if a mountain is mentioned something important is going to happen.
So let’s look at today’s story about the transfiguration. Matthew tells us that Jesus led 3 disciples, Peter, James and John up a high mountain. And it is the impact of that experience on the disciples that I want to think about today. Now we started the reading at Matthew 16 to put this expedition into context. This important and pivotal event happened at a point in Jesus ministry when he had been with his three disciples for quite a while, they had given up their old lives to follow him, they had heard him teach, they had seen him perform many miracles; healings, walking on water, feeding crowds of people. And then there were two important happenings, firstly Peters realisation that Jesus was the Christ, as Matthew puts it in answer to Jesus question, who do YOU say I am Peter answered ‘you are the Christ, the son of the living God’. And then closely following on from that Jesus made it clear to the disciples what was going to happen,
that his continued confrontations with the scribes and Pharisees would lead to his arrest, trial and his crucifixion and that after three days he would come back from the dead. This was all very heavy stuff that the disciples did not understand, that they did not want to hear and that they couldn’t begin to get to grips with. And it was soon after and in the light of these events that Jesus led the three disciples up the mount of transfiguration.
As I said earlier we often use metaphors like race and journey to describe our lives and in the three years they had known him the disciples had been on a journey with Jesus, and on a journey it is not all the same terrain that we cover, there may be mountains we need to climb.
Climbing a mountain is tough, yes you need to be fairly fit but climbing a mountain requires more than physical strength it also requires emotional strength it requires determination, motivation, and commitment somebody said to me that you climb a mountain with your head not your legs. It is hard and there can be a great temptation to give up. The disciples needed to be committed and determined to follow Jesus, others had started out and fallen by the wayside. The things that Jesus had told them and what was to come were going to try the disciples’ commitment and determination.
In our lives too there are mountains to climb, tough times in all areas of our lives. And we need a great deal of determination to get through all that we have to do, resisting the impulse to give up when things get difficult. We all experience difficulties and setbacks in all areas of our lives in our relationships and in our work and health issues, all kinds of mountains to climb. Sometimes being a follower of Christ can seem very hard, we know that being a Christian certainly does not guarantee an easy path through life but at times it can all seem just too hard. Like the disciples we don’t understand God’s plan. And it is at these difficult times we need to be determined; we need to fix our eyes on the goal, on the mountain top.
The disciples had a mountain ahead of them in the days and weeks, months and years to come and they needed a goal to fix their eyes on and it may have been for this reason, to try and help them with what was ahead that Jesus took these three disciples to the top of the mountain and there for the first time they saw Jesus transformed, transfigured, they saw and really understood that Jesus was the Christ and that all that he had told them was true, that he was the Son of God and that he was following God’s plan, the appearance of Moses and Elijah connected Jesus with two of Israel’s major prophetic figures adding more depth to their understanding of who he was. And as if all this wasn’t enough they heard the voice of God telling them who Jesus was and commanding them to listen to him. This experience, must have been the greatest experience these men had ever had, it must have remained one of the high points of their life, a moment to look back on, a moment that made sense of all that was to come.
We have all experienced high points in our life, times when it is all going well for us. Times perhaps when having endured some tough times and struggles it seems as if things are working out right for us. And it is important that we recognise these times that we celebrate them and make the most of them. That we feel blessed and grateful and that we thank God for all the good things that he has given us. Christians should never be seen as joyless people, on the contrary we should be full of joy, we have a lot to be thankful for and we shouldn’t be afraid of making the most of the high points in our lives. Because it seems to me that in taking those disciples to the mountain top and sharing that wonderful experience with them that Jesus is telling them and us that life does have its high points and that they are there to be enjoyed, they are times to thank God for, they are there as goals to work for and they are there are times to look back on when things are not going so well. For the disciples and for us Mountain top experiences are a gift from God.
And then there is the inevitable third mountain experience, we have had the struggle to the top, the elation of the pinnacle and then we have to get back down again. I know when I am climbing up a mountain, gasping for breath; legs aching I always think that going down will be easy. But the descent has its challenges too, sore knees, tiredness, the feeling of having done it and just wanting to get home. Apparently more climbing accidents happen on descents than on ascents.
We read that Peter said, teacher it is good for us to be here. Let us make three booths one for you one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ I think what he was saying was ‘let’s stay here a bit longer, let’s try and make this wonderful experience last as long as we can. Life was so much better; they were so much nearer to God on the mountain top. But it is the very essence of life that we must come down. After Christmas as we driving back to Nursery and work my grandson Fraser said, ‘granny why can’t it be Christmas every dayT and I tried to explain to him and maybe to myself too that we can only enjoy Christmas because it is not every day, because it an exciting event that only happens once a year. After the mountain top Peter and the others had to come down to business as usual, back to ‘Auld claes a parritch!’ porridge
and old clothes, back to the humdrum. I found this short poem on the internet and I thought it might interest you as it mentions some local areas.
Parritch and Auld Claes
From Douglas to Ardrossan light The churning screw repeats the tune; From London in the deeps of night The engine sings it to the moon; The paddle beating from Dunoon In every ear the music plays
The requiem of holiday, “Parritch and auld claes.”
And so it is for us there are times in our lives which contrast severely with the high point on the mountain, and it’s not even as if they are tough times it’s just that they are flat, dismal times, times when our lives just seem boring and mundane, times when God can seem very far away, when our devotions and prayers seem just like going through the motions, when our faith seems far from vibrant and real.
Disciples and Jesus going down to Jesus death.
For the disciples in their journey with Jesus and in our lives, in our journey of faith there will be mountains to climb, tough times, times when we feel tempted to give up, times that take all our determination, motivation and commitment to get through. There will be high points, times when we everything is going well and we feel in tune with God the universe and everyone around us, times when we feel we can do no wrong. And there will be low points, times when we feel discouraged and depressed, when everything seems flat and dismal. When we seem to have nothing to look forward to and we fear for the future. But in their journey of faith three of the disciples experienced the Transfiguration event, an event which had meaning not only for Jesus as he moved forward towards Easter and all that would mean for him but, as we have particularly looked at today, for his disciples and of course also for us. because Jesus chose not to go on his own to the mountain top but to take some of his closest friends with him to prepare them for what was to come and to reassure them that though there were dark days to come God was in charge and in the end all would be well.
And this event can reassure us too because Just as Jesus went through his journey on earth with his disciples, we too journey with our fellow Christians, with our church family to support us and to help and guide us. People who are there for us through the tough times, who celebrate with us in the good times and who support is in the low times. And just as God was with Jesus every step of his way we also have God with us, not just on the mountain top but wherever we are on our journey, and just as Jesus was able to rely on God to support him in all that he had to do so can we be sure that when we ask we will receive the strength and determination that we require for our journey of faith. And finally just as Jesus told the disciples not to be afraid so we too know that we do not need to be afraid because God is still in charge and in the end all will be well.
Doing it Right
Have you ever had a bad day? I guess that’s a rhetorical question!!
This was a particularly bad day for a friend of a friend of mine:
She was late for work and so was driving too fast. The police stopped her and issued a speeding ticket. Later in the day she drove to the Post Office – and locked the keys in the car. She had to walk back to her work and, as her purse was in the car, she had no money to buy lunch and went hungry all day.
Eventually she called her fiancé who brought the spare car key. They got the car open and he followed her as she went to the bank.
At the bank the ATM ate her card because she didn’t remove it quickly enough. She had to cancel her card and get a new one.
As she and her fiancé drove away from the bank, his car ran out of petrol and stopped in the middle of the road. They had to leave it there while they went to a garage and filled a can with petrol. Back at his car they discovered that the can had a leak and most of the petrol had been distributed around the boot of her car.
Jonah knew what it was like to have bad days.
First of all he was in a slimy fish and then because of an involuntary emetic reaction (The medical people will tell us that is a technical way of referring to “throwing up.”), he found himself landed on a beach.
But following on from this we find that Jonah gets a new start to his life.
And the fact that Jonah gets a new start, really is amazing.
After all, he really had made a mess of things!
Jonah’s initial response to God’s call was less than inspiring.
God had called Jonah to go to Nineveh.
Since he had no interest in going to Nineveh because of his disdain for them as Israel’s enemy, he decided to go a different direction.
So, instead of heading east, he headed as far to the west he could possibly go at that time—Spain.
But Jonah’s disobedience resulted in God bringing about an intense storm, which threatened the ship, and which frightened the sailors to the point that they were fervently calling on their gods to save them.
Finding Jonah sleeping soundly below deck, the captain of the ship rebuked him for sleeping and commanded him to pray (which he apparently never did).
After an interrogation, Jonah told the seamen that the storm was his fault and that they must save themselves and their ship by casting him overboard.
Only after God thwarted their diligent efforts to get Jonah to shore did the sailors consent to do as Jonah had instructed them.
They preceded this act with a prayer that expressed their concern for putting an innocent man to death.
When Jonah was cast over the side, the sea calmed and the seamen worshipped the God of Israel with sacrifices and vows.
If the first chapter revealed anything, it dramatically contrasted Jonah with the unbelieving sailors.
He was disobedient to the command of God; they obeyed what God told them to do through Jonah.
They prayed frequently and fervently; Jonah did not.
They had great compassion for Jonah; he seemingly had none for them.
When we come to chapter two, we find that Jonah is starting to get it. We find a “psalm” of sorts. Jonah’s “psalm” centres on the prophet’s dilemma, danger, and deliverance.
When Jonah gives the glory to God for his physical deliverance, God commands the great fish to spit Jonah up on the beach.
We are not so unlike Jonah.
When God asks us to do something we don’t want to do, we too run away.
As soon as we do that, we guarantee the outcome—failure!
But the important thing to learn about failure is not to stay a failure.
This must be Jonah’s lesson as well. It is important not to continue to be failure. It is time to do it right. So we find that God recalls Jonah.
He comes a second time to Jonah.
He had commanded him once to go to Nineveh.
Now that He has caught him again, it is time to repeat that command.
Does God deign to use those who have rejected His calling, turned a deaf ear to His word, and pursued a course of determined disobedience?
The answer is an absolute, “Yes.”
If it were not so, there would not be too many of us here, or any for that matter.
Jonah is now experiencing the unearned grace of God!
And this time Jonah willingly runs with God, instead of running away.
He had run away. He had run back. Now it was time to run with God.
But it had not come easily. It came with the discipline of God.
God’s discipline helped him to be more obedient and more flexible.
So, now he goes to Nineveh, the international outlaws, hated by the whole world. And though Jonah’s opinion of the Assyrians has not changed, he is convinced that God’s message must be given. So Jonah proclaims the message God has given him: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be toppled”
Now, that was a message of good news for Jonah and you have to believe that Jonah enjoyed giving the message.
The text tells us that Nineveh was a great city to God. The greater Nineveh area was probably sixty miles in circumference and it took 3 days to walk through it. So Jonah walked across the city, giving the message of God. He didn’t worry about the result, whether it is good or bad, he simply proclaimed the word. But it did have an effect!
The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh:
We are to be gracious and compassionate.
We are called to love, not hate.
We are called to care, not be inconsiderate.
We are called to be of good courage, not be afraid.
We are to proclaim God’s message.
Paul writes in Romans that if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Interestingly, it is the person of Jonah that points us to Jesus.
For Jonah becomes a sign of what occurs to Jesus.
He is a demonstration of the power of resurrection.
In the Gospel reading we heard the call of the disciples to become fishers of people which has a very clear connection to the story of Jonah and his missionary exploits to Nineveh. Both, in their different times and contexts, reflect the urgency of making known the boundless love of God. The significant difference being Simon and Andrew, James and John had the living example of the love of God as their teacher and friend.
As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. There is urgency, immediacy and conviction in these men.
When Jesus called these fishermen the story could have had a vastly different development. They could have scratched their heads and discussed the pros and cons with each other, their families and neighbours.
They could have told Jesus, “Let us think about it for a while”.
Maybe a big school of fish will come and we will not be able to leave, maybe our wives won’t let us, maybe our friends will make fun of us for leaving our jobs, our home and our families to follow a man who will travel around the country side preaching that the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.
But when Jesus called these fishermen there was none of that: they didn’t question his call, they didn’t think about it, they didn’t consult their families, they didn’t want to see if anything better would come along – they followed him.
When Jesus through his Holy Spirit encourages us today to follow him, he doesn’t want us to think about it, to weigh it, to study the pros and cons, to talk to our family and friends, to wait and see if something better will come along, or the situation in which we find ourselves will improve.
When Jesus calls us, he does so with a sense of urgency, with a sense of immediacy, with a sense of conviction, with a sense of commitment, with a sense that we will turn our entire lives over to him.
Then notice what he said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
Having been fishermen, they knew what he was talking about, they would become fishers of men, they would go out and catch others for Jesus. They would catch others with the gospel message of repentance and forgiveness that Jesus was proclaiming. They would share with others the good news that Jesus was sharing with them. Jesus call us to a task, he calls us to a job, he calls us to do something with what he has given us. He calls us to share, he calls us to give to others what he has first given to us: his love, his caring, his forgiveness.
Jesus calls us to love the ones in this world that no one else will love. He calls us to reach out to the lonely, to the hungry, to the sick, to the ones in prison, to the disabled, to the forsaken, to the needy, to all of those people who need to hear that someone indeed does love them and that someone is Jesus Christ.
Today is January 25th which is of course the birthday of Rabbie Burns. There is much in Burns’ life which caused pain and uncertainty not least to those closest to him. But there is much to be admired in his creative thought, of his ability to express moments you and I might have thought about but could not find the words. Remember his condemnation of hypocrisy, still rife in the church and religious communities, remember Holy Willie’s Prayer. And then there is his paraphrase of the 1st and 90th Psalms; his grace before and after meals, his sense of the value of each and every individual life. No saint certainly, but few of us are, and God can use us all.
God is gracious and because He is, He gives each one of us the opportunity to serve Him again, even after we have blown it.
God is gracious and gives us the opportunity to repent of our misdeeds; He gives us the opportunity to understand the wickedness of our own ways and the great offence they are to His character and person.
God is compassionate for when we realize the error of our ways, He relents from the judgment we so richly deserve and provides through His Son the salvation we so desperately need.
To God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit be all glory and praise now and for ever. Amen.
January is a time when we traditionally have New Year resolutions, when we take stock of our lives and plan for the year ahead. The word January comes from the Roman god Janus, the god of transitions , he is a two headed God looking both forward and backwards. So at this time of year as we think about ourselves and our church, we need to decide are we going to spend this year of 2015 looking back, regretting the days that have gone when we were younger and fitter, when coming to church and being a Christian seemed easier, when we didn’t feel as if we had to defend our faith to those around us. Or is it a time when accepting all these things we resolve to look forward, a time to try and discern what God wants from his people at these challenging times. A time to move forward with faith knowing that we are in God’s hands and that all will be well.
Well I hope that as we meditate on the reading that we had today from Mark’s Gospel it will help to arm us for the year ahead as we step boldly into 2015.
As the boat nosed into the reeds at the water’s edge with a gentle swish Jesus and the others climbed out, their feet splashing in the water and the shingle crunching underfoot. At once the air was shattered with a tortured animal cry. The wild man stumbled out from among the tombs, broken chains swaying from side to side, their sharp edges slapping his raw, wounded sides. His eyes were bloodshot; his body caked with dirt, his smell was appalling.
What do you want with me Jesus? he slurred. His voice was distorted and ugly, a man shouting into a chamber of his own echoes. Jesus’ voice was calm, interested. Looking at the twisted broken man at his feet Jesus asked him his name. It was a long time since anyone had asked him that. So long, in fact, that the voices within him shouted him down, the voices of his demons came tumbling out of his mouth like a horde of banshees, ‘Legion’ they said and began to plead for themselves. Jesus; reply when it came was not in the kind voice he had used to speak to the man. He spoke with authority like an ageless God. Wrapping the words round the situation, like God framing the heavens and the earth. One word from him and it was as if all hell let loose.
It began with sounds of restlessness and agitation in the herd of pigs, up on the hill beyond the gravestones. They began to grunt and squeal, churning the ground and sending up clouds of dust and dirt. Then it came. Like things possessed, they thundered down the hill to the cliff top over the water. Then as if pursued by the hounds of hell they continued running, over the cliff edge down into the water far below. One, two, hundreds all driven by the same madness, the water boiled and foamed as they thrashed and kicked and then silence, stillness as the doomed animals sank out of sight.
And in the silence, as the waters settled so the wild man seemed to deflate. The anger, the agitations were gone. And suddenly there was a crowd and someone handed the man a robe and he slipped it on like a man who had never forgotten how to dress, like a man who had never raved and screamed like a man who was completely sane. This calm and cured man sat and gazed at Jesus, drinking in the sight of his face. Looking at him as a patient might look at the surgeon who has, against all the odds, saved his life. In the peace beside the lake he heard the birds singing and the water lapping. His life had been restored to him.
Soon however the peace was shattered by the crowd, the crowd now as uneasy with what they had seen as earlier the pigs had been. The village men who had chained the wild man up, the wives who had scared their children with tales of the bogey man, Farmers and fishermen, tradesmen, women, children, Muffled, furtive talking began, eyes darting, a sense of unease, waiting for the brave one, the spokesman to speak up. And he did, Go, he said at last, go away and take your power with you, we don’t want you here. For all his bluster the spokesman was afraid, and the whole town shared his fear. ‘Just go Jesus of Nazareth, he pleaded. Just go and leave us alone, we don’t want you here.
Harsh words for Jesus, the healer, to hear. But harsher words were to come. As Jesus climbed into the boat to leave the newly sane man went to follow him, went to climb into the boat after his saviour. But that was not to be. No Jesus told him firmly, no you must stay here. Go back to the people who know you, tell them your story, show them your sanity. You must not come with me, this is where you belong, you must stay here. Cruel words and so hard for the man to fulfil, as the boat slipped away from the shore and gradually faded into the horizon the man finally turned to shore, picked his way through the crowds as they stepped warily back to let him through.
Ahead lay all manner of explanations, all kinds of questions an uncertain welcome wherever he went, a new and better life certainly, but a difficult one all he same.
Why did Jesus tell him to stay? Why couldn’t he give him a break, hadn’t he suffered enough? Would it really have hurt to take him along? In fact Jesus says this kind of thing quite often. He says it to the weeping Mary at the tomb when having at first mistaken him for the gardener she then realises he is Jesus in John chapter 20 verse 17, ‘do not hold on to me, go’. He says it to his disciples as they watch him ascend into heaven, ‘go, reach the world for me’. He says it sometimes to us, ‘You must move on, you cannot hold onto the past, Go’.
Our job is the expansion of Gods kingdom, and to do that we must move on, just like Jesus himself moved on relentlessly pushing himself, aware of how little time he had and of how much he had to do moving on to crowd after crowd, situation after situation. When we think of that poor man looking helplessly watching the boat sail away until it becomes a tiny dot on the horizon we might think of ourselves, of our church, are we like that, looking back to the way things were, wanting things to be the way they were?
But at the beginning of a New Year we have to realise that that will not do. The Jews in Exodus could not live on yesterday’s manna; God’s good provision was for that day only, the next day it turned bad inside them. We cannot survive on a diet of yesterday’s blessings and expect to still complete the journey, as we get older it is tempting to look back, as we get older it can be harder to leave our comfort zones, to leave the places and the routines that make us feel secure but as Christians those hard words are for us too, you need to move on, there is work to be done. Go
Jesus has rescued us and saved us, he loves us as his beloved children, but he loves everyone else too, every person in the world is God’s beloved child to and he needs us and our gifts to reach them. The Old Testament is full of images of growing up and moving on, to stay where we are spiritually is to choose a stunted life, and if we choose to live a stunted life then we are depriving the world, we are not doing the work that Jesus has appointed us as his disciples to do. If the man had gone with Jesus, stayed with him in the comfy boat, how many people would have heard his story, how many people would have had the chance to be changed by it.
It must have been a hard walk home for the man, maybe he could hardly even remember where home was! There must have been many difficult days, hard conversations. But he did it he became a disciple for Jesus.
So for us at the beginning of 2015 the message is the same, don’t look back, don’t try and eat yesterday’s manna, with faith in Jesus our Lord and Saviour we must all move forward to build the kingdom of God.
“Rest for the Weary”
Have you ever just had one of those days or weeks where everything seems to be falling apart around you or the pace of life seems overwhelming and you’re not sure how much more you can cope with?
Some time ago, I found an article online about a Bassett hound named Tattoo. This is his story. Tattoo was not a fan of exercise and didn’t intend to go for an evening run, but when his owner shut his lead in the car door and took off for a drive – with Tattoo still outside the vehicle, he had no choice. A police car noticed the passing vehicle with something dragging behind it. He commented that the poor basset hound with its short legs was, “picking them up and putting them down as fast as he could.” He chased the car to a stop, and Tattoo was rescued. The dog had reached a top speed of 25 miles per hour, falling down and rolling over several times but he survived and was unharmed.
When we have one of those days, or weeks, or months, or for some of us it’s the only lifestyle we know, we’re a lot like Tattoo, our legs just don’t seem to be long enough and we’re picking them up and putting them down as fast as we can as we try to keep up with life– falling every once in a while and rolling around & feeling as if we’re being dragged along.
There was a report in the 60’s on time management. It predicted that advances in technology would radically change how many hours a week people worked. They forecasted that the average person would be working 22 hours a week within 20 years. “The great challenge,” the experts said, “would be working out what to do with all the excess time.” Over 40 years later, after major advances in technology – how many of us are wondering what to do with all the excess time on our hands?
Life isn’t always what we thought it would be. It’s hard! All of us need and want rest.
As we look at the reading from Matthew this morning, rest is exactly what Jesus offers: Rest for the weary, relief for the burdened, rest for the soul.
The beginning of this chapter tells us that the disciples have just been sent out to preach and Jesus also goes out to preach. While He’s out, some men come to him from John the Baptist, who has been arrested and put into prison. Now John had expectations of what Jesus would be and what he would accomplish and, to be frank, Jesus was not living up to those expectations. John expects the Messiah to come and to put and end to the way things are. He expects the Messiah to come and make His judgment on the nation of Israel and on the other nations of the world who have turned away from God – and that’s not what Jesus is doing. So when John heard what Jesus was doing, he sent his disciples to Him with a question. He, no doubt, heard of the kind of men that Jesus had called to follow him, he heard what Christ had taught about love and mercy and the law on the side of the mountain. He probably heard that Jesus was making it a habit to eat and have fellowship with sinners. He knew that Jesus’ disciples had gone out and were preaching and asking the people to repent, Christ was still giving them a chance to turn away from sin. This wasn’t the Jesus that John expected. And to top it all off, now John is sitting in a prison cell, where is his deliverer?
Most Christians find themselves in this place at some point in their lives. The place where Jesus doesn’t seem to be who we thought He was. He doesn’t seem to be doing. When we find ourselves in this place, doubt begins to creep in. One of my favourite poems is Footprints by Margaret Fishback Powers. The writer is asking God why when she needed Him the most the two sets of footprints in the sand became only one and God replies that that is when He carried her.
So even John the Baptist had his moments. Despite all that he had seen, when Jesus didn’t appear to be the instrument of God’s Wrath and Judgment on mankind, like John thought he should be, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus why. Jesus answers and says to John’s disciples: Look at all of the things that I have done which has displayed my power and my authority. So, Jesus is not bringing the judgment that John and many others expected. The judgment that John and others were waiting for will come, but what John didn’t understand was that Christ came to rescue and save as many from that judgment as possible.
Then Jesus continues to talk. He says “you don’t know me.” Only the Father truly knows why I have come and you don’t know my Father. Only those who believe in me, who recognize me, will know My Father because I will reveal Him to them. So don’t assume that you know. Don’t assume that I’ve come to judge and to pour out wrath. The day for that will come, but for now, this is what I offer, not judgment, but rest for those who are weary, rest for those who are burdened. Not just physical rest, but rest for the soul, rest and peace in the deepest parts of who we are.
But this promise, like so many others in Scripture, requires us to act. And so there are three aspects of this promise that are our responsibility if we want experience the rest that comes from our relationship with Christ.
The First Command is this:
1) Come to Me
Come to me all who are weary and burdened. All who have been beaten and battered by life, come to me and you will find what it is that you need and what it is that you’re looking for.
It’s for those who are weary and tired of searching for meaning and purpose among the things that the world offers. They find peace that no one else can offer because now, they understand. Things begin to make sense, no longer is the future filled with uncertainty and fear.
And not only are we to come when we are weary but Jesus says when we are burdened as well. When the things we talked about earlier are pressing in on all sides and we feel like we can’t stand up under their weight any longer, Jesus says to come. He wants us to lay our burdens down and to give them to him and when we’ve done that and we trust that He will deal with them, we will experience rest.
In his book, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” John Bunyan tells the story of a Christian on a journey, carrying a large bundle on his shoulders. He arrives at a place higher than the surrounding area. On that hill there stands a cross, and below the hill there is a grave. As the man comes to the top of the hill with his heavy burden, the load is suddenly released from his shoulders. It drops to the ground, rolls down the hill, and disappears into the empty grave. That is a picture of what Christ has done for us. We labour along, carrying a heavy load. The cross appears before our eyes. We lay our heavy load down there, and it is rolled away.
The next command that God gives us here in this promise is to:
2) Take My Yoke –
The first command begins with a call to come to Christ. But it doesn’t end there, the Christian life is one of growth and each of us must come to that point in our growth where we give up trying to do things in our own strength and accept the strength, direction, and instruction that God offers.
In old war movies, when one side sees the hopelessness of their situation, they wave the white flag and surrender. They give up! Jesus says, Give up, take my yoke upon you. He will not force it on us, but we must willingly go with Him.
Now you know that a yoke is a carved piece of wood that is fitted to the neck and shoulders of a particular animal that was to wear it to prevent chafing. It is part of the harness used as a means of controlling and guiding the animal (whether it is oxen, horses, or mules) in useful work. It is always the case that when a pair of animals is yoked together, the workload is reduced and more can be accomplished. So God, is offering to be yoked with us. To be bound together and to help us in the work that He has for us. And when we obey, when we take that yoke, we will find the rest that he promises.
This yoke will not choke us, it will not drag us down. It will be well fitting and custom made for us. His yoke is easy and He also says that His burden is light. At that time, a relationship with God was anything but a light burden. The demands of the law and the rules and regulations that had to be followed were breaking the backs of many Jews.
Jesus came to lift that burden by fulfilling the law for us and freeing us from it. He carries the load.
When we’re yoked with Christ, our burden is light, not because problems go away, not because God won’t ever ask anything of us. Jesus doesn’t say that there will be no burden but our burden is light because when we encounter situations in which the burden is too much for us to bear, Jesus is there shouldering the load and the burden is carried together.
The third and final command that we have here is Jesus saying:
3) Learn From Me – the process in all of our lives in which we become more and more like Christ. This will happen naturally if we have followed the second command and we have yoked ourselves to Christ. Connecting ourselves with Him, leaning on Him, and following where he leads us.
It is the norm in basic training in the services that the recruits are screamed at, yell at, berated and to torn down. Failings are pointed out and praise is seldom given for things done well. I’m sure you’ve all seen the sort of thing I mean on TV or in films and indeed many of you have personal experience. Some people think of God this way, but Jesus says that’s not the case, we can learn from Him and He is gentle and humble in heart. He is patient and kind as He guides us towards those things that He wants us to learn, patiently walking us through our shortcomings and cheering us on when we get it right. And he promises again, when we learn from Him we will find rest for our souls.
Rest will come when we take His yoke on us. When we surrender, give up trying to do things on our own and let Him shoulder the load with us. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. And if we want rest for our souls, we’ve got to learn from Him.
To God the Father, God the son and God the Holy Spirit be glory and praise now and for ever. Amen.
“The Man Who Witnessed”
A grandfather took his four-year old grandson out to the forestry to select a Christmas tree. They tramped all over, but the boy couldn’t find a tree that suited him. Finally, it began to get dark and cold and the grandfather shook his head and said: “We’ll HAVE to take the next tree.” he said flatly.
The boy looked up in bewilderment: “Even if it doesn’t have any lights either?”
It’s a little wonder that boy was confused… Christmas is a time of lights. It’s said that about 500 years ago, Martin Luther lit the first “Christmas tree”. Granted he used candles – which was a bit unsafe – but from that day on people lit candles in their homes to decorate for the season.
Then, in 1895, someone invented the first Electric Christmas tree lights.
Now, all through December, the evenings will be lit up as homes, businesses, and city streets fill the night with beautiful coloured lights and decorations. Some communities even have competitions to see who can put up the prettiest and most colourful light displays.
And that seems fitting – because the Birth of Christ was also decorated with lights.
· There were the Angels who lit up the night for the Shepherds.
· And the Star in the East which led the Wise men to find Jesus.
Christmas is a time of lights. And that’s only right… because Jesus is the light of the world.
That’s what it tells us in John’s Gospel.
John 1:4-5 “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”
In John 8:12 Jesus… said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
And again in John 12:46 Jesus declared “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”
Have you ever been hauled over the carpet by anyone? You know what I mean, have you ever been called in front of someone, someone who had authority over you to explain some actions, to explain something that you did or said?
If you have, you know that is a very uncomfortable feeling. And it is even more uncomfortable if the people you are standing in front of are very angry with you and you do not consider that what you did was wrong. ’
John the Baptist in our gospel lesson this morning was hauled over the carpet by the religious rulers as they asked him who does he think he is preaching out in the wilderness, teaching this this baptism of repentance.
They wanted to know who John thought himself to be, and why he thought he had the right to be doing this kind of preaching.
Can you picture the scene? There is John, this giant, rugged individual, standing front of these wimps, these religious rulers with their flowing robes, their leather bands around their heads and wrists and they are probably waging their fingers at John, perhaps even screaming at him because they are angry with his kind of preaching and John is calmly and coolly standing there telling them all he is doing is preaching about one who is coming.
Can you just hear his words: “Listen folks, don’t get so upset. I am not doing anything so awful. NO, I am not the Christ. I am not Elijah. I am not a prophet. I am just a voice crying in the wilderness. I am preparing the way for one who is mightier than I, whose sandal I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with Power, with the Holy Spirit.”
John gave a witness to the one who was coming. He bore witness to Jesus. He stood his ground, he told about what he saw as his mission, he told about the coming of Jesus’ public ministry. John the Baptist was called by God to bear witness to the coming of Jesus’ public ministry. He was called to be a voice of God in this world; he was called to prepare people for Jesus. And his calling from God was not a popular calling.
The religious rulers were angry with him, they could not understand where he got the authority, or the power, or who gave him permission to do this kind of preaching: John didn’t fit the mould the people were looking for.
John wasn’t what you call the typical religious ruler of his day. But he was faithful to his calling, he was faithful because he knew he was called by God for this mission. He knew God would give him the strength to carry on.
John came not to show how great he was, which by the way, was the style for the religious rulers; he came to show others someone who was greater than he was. John came to bear witness to the light of the world. He was being used, not as the centre of attraction, but as the light pointing to someone else.
Some churches have stained glass windows. The workmanship of these windows is beautiful; the pictures they display are superb. But without light, without sun light shining through these windows, their beauty would never be seen.
The windows are a human creation. Their glory comes not from humans or of itself alone, but from the light that streams through them.
John the Baptist was a creation of God, but without the light of Christ, he was nothing. His function was to let the light of Christ shine through him and help him point the way to Jesus. The windows in churches are used to point the way to Christ. Without light, without the message of Christ, these windows would be worthless. But because the creative sunlight of God lights them, and because they point beyond themselves to Christ, they are a beautiful work of art.
We are all created with a special purpose to somehow in our lives bear witness to Christ and his work of salvation.
In our everyday life, we are called by God to bear witness to Christ and His saving grace in our lives. Maybe it is by example, maybe it is by a gentle touch when someone is feeling the brokenness of this world. There are as many ways for us to bear witness to Christ as there are people in the church. No one way is right! But what is right is that we have to find that way to bear witness as John did in the wilderness.
There is a legend about a little shepherd boy who watched in amazement when the 3 wise-men brought their precious gifts to the Lord. His eyes filled with tears as he thought, if only a pearl would fall from the hand of a king, then I could go too. But I am ashamed to go because I have no gift for the Saviour.
The little lad was about to turn and run for the hills. Suddenly an angel appeared before him and said, “Give the gift that is closest to your heart.” So he did. They say that the Bethlehem star gave an extra twinkle in the heavens as a ragged boy placed a faded blue sack beside the expensive gifts of the three wise kings of the Orient. The sack contained the things closest to his heart, a sea shell that whispered in his ears, a piece of rope used to climb trees, a jagged slingshot made from a forked limb and a butterfly preserved in candle-wax.
That little boy gave to Jesus a part of, himself. He gave to him those things that he was truly attached. He gave to Jesus not merely things but part of himself. As we think about what we give to Jesus; we can see what he wants this Christmas is a human gift – ourselves. God wants us to give our lives to him and when we do that, then he will give us the power, the strength, the courage to be his stained glass windows in this world. He will give us the power to witness about his grace, his love, his mercy, his gift of salvation to this world.
God wants us to give hope to this world. He wants us to be people of hope. He wants us to be people who see beyond the brokenness of this world to His promise of Grace brought to this world as the Baby born in a manger on Christmas Eve.
“In late 18th century Poland, the Kaiser’s forces were burning all the Jewish villages. One village had been burned and nothing was left standing. As the sun came up the next morning an old Jewish gentlemen pounded a few boards together, made a sellers stall and opened it up for business.
A young man walked passed, stared in disbelief and asked, “What are you selling among these ruins.
The man smiled and said, “I am selling hope. You can sell water on a dry desert, so the place to sell hope is on the ash heap of destruction.”
As John the Baptist gave himself to God and the mission he was called to do, God is asking us to submit ourselves so that he might use us for the mission he created us to do. We are all called to bear witness to the one who is coming as a baby in the manger. We are all called so that we might be a voice crying in the wilderness of this world, a voice crying so that people might not see us, but see Christ, see the baby, see the precious gift of life that God has given to all people.
God is calling us to bring hope to despair, to bring comfort to those hurting, to bring hope to the grieving, to bring a measure of his grace into this world.
A closing story speaks about giving of ourselves in this world.
A poem by Edwin Markham , “How the Great Guest Came.”
“A old cobbler named Conrad had a dream that the Lord was coming to visit him. So he washed the walls of his small shop and his shelves until they shined. He decorated his shop with holly and fir. He put milk and honey on his table to offer to his special guest. He sat down and waited.
As he was waiting, he saw a poor barefoot beggar walking in the rain outside his door. He felt sorry for the man and invited him and gave him a pair of shoes. His clean floor was now dirty from the rain and mud.
As he was about to clean it up, he noticed an old lady who was bent over carrying a heavy load of firewood. He invited her in to sit and rest, shared some of his food with her and walked with her, helping carry some of the wood.
When he returned to his shop, he thought of all that needed to be done. He began to clean again and hoped he had time to find more food. Just then there came a knock at the door. He answered hurriedly and it was a small child crying – lost and cold. He picked up the child, dried the tears, gave her a cup of milk to drink and walked her to her home down the street and around the corner.
He hurried back to the shop. He was too tired now to clean or find more food but he still waited. Evening came and he began to wonder if the Lord had forgotten.
Then he heard a soft voice break the silence in that shop, ’Lift up your heart, for I kept my word. Three times I came to your friendly door. Three times my shadow was on your floor. I was the beggar with bruised feet; I was the woman you gave to eat, I was the lost child on that homeless street.”
Conrad smiled to himself, put his feet up on the table and settled back in his chair to pray and talk with the Saviour so fair. “
To God be all power and glory, now and forever, amen.