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A few words about the Word

John 1:1-14. It’s been a familiar Bible passage for our carol service over the years.
A wonderful piece of poetry you might think.

In fact that’s probably exactly what it was in its original language – but I’m guessing that even some of the best legal minds in may be thinking “What does it actually mean?”

So let’s take a look.

We have just a few minutes to think about John’s words today, but I could probably talk about John chapter 1 for a couple of hours.

Imagine that:

2 hours.

Multiplied by the number of lawyers here today.

Multiplied by our hourly rates.

No. 5 minutes it is.

In the beginning was the Word.

In John’s gospel there is no reference to a baby, or to shepherds, or wise men. He talks about someone that he calls the Word.

How do we communicate with one another? There are different methods. Today I could share some thoughts with you in semaphore, Morse code or smoke signals, but my favourite way is still to use words.

When people talk to God we call it praying.

But what about God speaking to us? How would He do that?

Through the Word.

The description that John intentionally gives to Jesus in this passage.

If we want to know what God has to say to us, we need to listen to Jesus.

But how can we do that?

John sets up the Word’s credentials. He is eternal. He is God. He is the creator of everything.

But he doesn’t remain distant.

John puts it simply that the Word became flesh. In other words this eternal Word takes on a human body, moves into our neighbourhood and lives among us.

The one who John says made everything, becomes one of us.

The Word is given a name.

Jesus.

And amazingly, although John doesn’t spell it out like Matthew or Luke, as with any other human being, Jesus starts his life on earth as a baby – the one we remember at Christmas.

The creator of everything,needs to be held and fed and cared for by a young woman, with an animal’s feeding trough for a cot.

Perhaps that’s the first thing that God is saying to us through the Word:

“I love you enough to come and live among you, to be one of you, with all the vulnerability that being human entails”.

In 2018 I am very much looking forward to meeting my first grandchild. It’ll be a special thing to spend time with him or her and enjoy those early weeks and months.

But wonderful as that will be, things will move on. My grandchild will not be a baby forever.

We wouldn’t want that. He or she will hopefully have a full life in front of them. It’d be good to think that he or she will live a life in a way which will make a difference for good to those around them.

John doesn’t spend any time thinking about the childhood of Jesus. He moves on to the adult He became and the difference that He made in people’s lives.

He describes how people, whom He created, did not recognise Him when He came. In fact it was much worse than that.

For Jesus who did nothing but love the people of this world, who spoke about love, who showed love in healing the sick, caring for those rejected by society, even raising the dead, was seen as such a threat that He was put to death by the authorities.

Again, how amazing that the eternal Son of God should love us so much that He would become one of us, feel our vulnerability, experience hunger and thirst, rejection, anger, loneliness, bereavement, and even death itself.

Jesus knows what it’s like to be human.

But there’s even better news in this story.

For there were other people, John tells us. They were the ones who did recognise Jesus the Word. They saw the evidence in the miracles He did and in the way He taught – and they believed.

John tells us that those who believed in Jesus, who recognised Him, could claim a special relationship. They could be called children of God.

For that is why Jesus came, that is why He was born, that is why He died. So that people down through the centuries could know God, not as a distant mysterious figure, but as a Father.

So this Christmas, take a moment to focus upon this child, Jesus the Word. Who tells you by that simple act of being born, without words, that you and I are loved by God.

Marvel that the one who made everything, would put on one side the power and authority that was rightfully his and face danger grief and betrayal and even death.

And know that through his death He paved the way for us to know life as it was intended to be. In relationship with God.

For though Jesus the Word was rejected by humankind, death could not have the final word with Him.

And Jesus the Word has not stopped speaking.

Will you allow him to speak to you this year, about his great love for you, through the familiar words of the Christmas story?

Will you listen to the Word?

Will you follow Him?

For to quote the Beatles:

“The Word is love”.

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Sermon blog post: New heaven new earth

Revelation 21:1 – 22:5

This morning’s sermon has been a while in the making.

We all have times in our lives I am sure when it’s all a struggle. When we feel we’re in the dark, when the pain is too much.

I remember reading just a few verses from today’s passage and thinking “I must look at this more closely. I need to know that one day everything is going to put right. This life is not everything”.

And so here we are looking into the closing chapters of the Bible.

Sometimes the visions that John received are baffling, incomprehensible, disturbing.

The vision in these closing chapters is breathtakingly beautiful and full of hope.

[1] In describing the new heaven and new earth, John uses terms which would have been familiar to his readers, drawing from the prophet Isaiah, and taking us back to the very opening words of the Bible.

From the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation, the Bible comes full circle.

At the beginning we see God in creation.

Now we see God in re-creation.

John has just been shown the judgement of the dead (chapter 20).

His first sight after that is of a new heaven AND a new earth.

Those who knew their Old Testament scriptures would have had their minds turned probably to Isaiah 65 and the promise of God through the prophet:

17 ‘See, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind” – Isaiah 65:17.

Old things will be forgotten. As John puts it, the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.

As Christians we often live with a false impression.

That this world is temporary.

That heaven is eternal and one day when this world is done we will go to heaven.

That’s not what the Bible teaches. For now as in Revelation, we are taken back to the very beginning of Genesis and are reminded that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”.

Heaven is a created place just as much as earth is.

Sometimes the Bible talks of heaven, sometimes it talks of heavens. We try to differentiate between the two, for example by explaining that the heavens is a way of talking about the skies, but the original language does not attempt to do that.

Scholars suggest that perhaps the only reason the plural is sometimes used is to try to portray the vastness of heaven.

“Heaven is the place, created by God alongside earth, where God dwells”, says New Testament scholar Paula Gooder in her book “Heaven”.

Which could beg the mind boggling question, where did God live before he made heaven?!

Think about that for homework!

But Gooder reminds us that “at the dawn of time God created heaven and earth together. They continue to coexist side by side and will be recreated together at the end of all times”.

God created the heavens and the earth

Jesus did not teach that heaven, as distinct from earth, was an eternal place, but said “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away”. (Matthew 24:35).

“God’s desire in creation was to dwell alongside humanity in  a realm created for that purpose”.

Occasionally scripture reminds us that heaven is not so far away:

In his book ‘Simply Christian’ Tom Wright reminds us:

“It has been central to Christian experience…that in Jesus of Nazareth heaven and earth have come together once and for all. The place where God’s space and our space intersect and interlock is no longer the temple in Jerusalem. It is in Jesus himself”.

Remember the baptism of Jesus?

“10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” Mark 1:10 & 11.

Occasionally when I was younger people would talk about a worship service as having been a foretaste of heaven. Perhaps it wasn’t so much a foretaste of a future event, but being permitted a glimpse into heaven. Although one day we will see things with full clarity.

As Paula Gooder puts it in ‘Heaven’:

“Worship, at least occasionally, should be one of those times when heaven opens and we see that our words are not ours alone, but are joined together with heaven’s eternal worship before God’s throne”.

What difference would that make to our church gatherings?

Returning to John’s vision, all that was good in the beginning, but which had gone off the rails is one day to be restored fully. God the Father, the one seated on the throne that John sees, says “I am making everything new!”

“God will restore what was lost or distorted at the beginning”. Fee & Stuart – How to read the Bible book by book.

The Bible uses different ways to describe what is to happen but, while some see the old heaven and earth destroyed, others see the new heaven and new earth not as replacements for their old counterparts, but rather that God takes the old heaven and earth and renews them. A divine renovation.

But not just a fresh lick of paint. God makes everything new. Sparkling, brilliant, spotless.

John describes that there is no sea. For sailors, surfers and channel swimmers that might not sound like good news.

When Bible writers used the imagery of the sea though they generally thought of danger and chaos. It’s the first hint of the safety and security to be found in the new heaven and new earth.

We are sometimes nervous to think about the new earth as we hear the Jehovah’s witnesses talking about those who will live on the earth while the select 144,000 enjoy heaven (we’ll see later that the city of God is not a closed place).

But what John sees is unmistakeably earth. With presumably all the beauty you would expect to see in God’s creation. Magnified.

[2] But not only is there a new heaven and a new earth.

But a new Jerusalem. The city of God. The holy city as it is described here.

Coming down out of heaven. From God. Touching earth. A city and yet also described as a bride dressed up for the biggest of big days.

Isaiah again:
“18 But be glad and rejoice for ever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more” – Isaiah 65:18 & 19.

More of that later.

As often in Revelation we see things in different ways, as with the glorified risen Jesus as the Lion and the Lamb.

Here we see a bride but also a city!

The bride of Christ is a phrase used to describe His church. You and I if we have followed him and experienced His forgiveness and salvation. Elsewhere in Revelation that bride is described in more ordinary terms.

If men are talking to each other about a wedding one of them has been to, they will probably talk about the food.

Ladies on the other hand will want to know the finer detail of the dress!

There’s no great detail in chapter 19. The dress is “fine linen, bright and clean”.

The purity and righteousness that the Lamb who was slain has given to his bride through his victory on the cross.

The bride is clothed in Jesus’ righteousness.

To appreciate the dress fully, you’ll have to see it for yourself!

John is later to get a guided tour of the city.

[3] Something amazing is taking place and fittingly there is a loud voice to announce it!

God is now dwelling with men.

The word is the same as that used when God took up residence in the tabernacle. At one time he deigned to live in a tent and then later in the glory of the temple, although we were reminded that almighty God doesn’t live in a building made by hands.

Even the temple we spoke of earlier proved to be temporary.

Now we see something altogether more permanent.

A city.

As heaven and earth come together again.

God and humankind are together as never before.

And there is no disputing it. God is unmistakeably God.

Every knee is bowed at last.

[4] Verse 4 is hauntingly beautiful.

All the tears that we have cried on earth, will be wiped away.

By God himself.

A loving, tender Father.

And death is no more. Whether or not we have tasted death before Jesus returns, death will have no place when heaven and earth are re-created.

And once those tears are wiped away, as Eric Clapton sang on the loss of his young son, “there’ll be no more tears in heaven”.

Imagine that. Nothing more to cry about.

No broken families.

No more cancer.

No more financial worry.

No more natural disasters.

No child abuse.

No life taken far too early.

No freak accidents.

No discrimination.

No mind subjected to dementia.

No terrorism.

No war.

No more pain.

Not even the odd twinge!

For however we describe what has happened to heaven and earth, “the old order of things has passed away”.

Revelation was written to those who suffered and if we sometimes feel that is us, we can see here a promise of the end of that suffering.

Simon Thomas is a former Blue Peter presenter and now a presenter on Sky Sports. He is open about his Christian Faith. On Tuesday of this week his wife Gemma was diagnosed with leukaemia. On Friday she died. I am sure that Simon’s faith will not provide easy answers for him, in his “indescribable pain”, and his 8 year old son Ethan in the days to come. But I trust they will be encouraged to remember that one day tears will be wiped away and pain a thing of the past.

[5] God underlines it again from the throne:

“I am making everything new!”

Again John’s original readers may have gone back to Isaiah:

”He will swallow up death for ever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken”. Isaiah 25:8.

God’s promises are surely coming to pass.

[6] God continues:

“It is done”.

Is it fanciful to hear those words and hear them echoed in Jesus on the cross?

“It is finished”.

I don’t think it is fanciful.

For ultimately how is this transformation taking place?

It is not by an expert building job.

This perfect future is achieved through one thing.

The cross of Jesus.

His moment of glory and victory.

The day that changes all history.

This truly is eternal God speaking. The alpha and omega. The A-Z. The beginning and the end.

But truly for God there is no beginning and end.

And it’s his hands we are in.

His promise is the water of life – free of charge.

The best spring water ever.

It’s Isaiah time again!:

‘Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost’. Isaiah 55:1.

[7] “Those who are victorious will inherit this”.

Children of God.

[8] But in amongst all this glory is a reminder of a darker truth.

Some are not destined to enjoy all this but their destiny is in “a fiery lake of burning sulphur”.

In the previous chapter this lake is described as the final destination for the devil and his followers. Even death itself is thrown into the fire.

But now God gives a list of those consigned to that same fate, for an experience described as the second death:

Cowardly. Unbelieving. Vile. Murderers. Sexually immoral. Practising magic arts. Idolaters. Liars.

In the previous chapter John describes books being opened and people being judged according to what they had done.

The whole range of sin is mentioned here from murder to telling lies.

If we are judged according to what we have done which of us can stand before God?

We are all sinners.

No sinners in heaven.

Even the apostle Paul described himself as the chief of sinners.

King David was a murderer and adulterer.

And no place for liars?!

Thankfully the previous chapter talks about another book. The Lamb’s book of life.

Those whose names are found in that book will truly experience God’s salvation.

The idea of looking for my name in a book brings back some memories to me. Or at least looking for my name in a newspaper.

Nowadays it is different, but when I completed my legal studies, the way I found out if I had passed was to look in the Times or the Daily Telegraph. They published a list of names of the successful candidates.

One year I got up early and went to the newsagents. My name was not there.

The following year, after much hard work, my name was in the list. Spelt wrong, but definitely there!

I wonder:

Will only perfect people get to spend eternity in the presence of God?

John reminds us:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us”. 1 John 1:8.

Grace and mercy for sinners like you and me is found in Jesus – the Lamb. Christ came to save sinners.

If we all fall short in the books showing what we have done, any accusation is overcome if our names are in the Lamb’s book.

Are these books real or is this picture language as with so much of Revelation.

My first suggestion is that God the Father knows his children and doesn’t need to look us up in a book.

My second suggestion is that we can have confidence that God is ready to receive us. It will not be like that frantic looking through the newspaper years ago.

Jesus’ promise is that “whoever hears my word and believes…he has crossed over from death to life”( John 5:24-29).

Judgement is according to works, but “The book of life belongs to the Lamb, and all whose names are in it belong to him. His obedience covers our sin, and his power within us produces holiness”. Wilcock – The Message of Revelation.

We can have confidence through what Jesus has done for us.

But only through him.

The price of trying to make it with our own good works is too great.

But the bride is clothed in Jesus’ righteousness.

The “second death”, as God describes it, is avoidable, by God’s grace.

[9][10] There isn’t time this morning to look in detail at the vision of the city of God. We are reminded again that the city, the bride, comes down to earth “down out of heaven from God”.

[11]-[21] It’s glorious, with the brilliance of precious stones.

Even the streets are made of gold.

There is security in its high walls, guarded by angels.

Israel’s tribes are represented in its pearly gates.

Its foundations are the 12 apostles.

[22] As John’s readers looked at the city they may have expected to see the temple, so central to the city of Jerusalem. But there is no such place now.

Now there is no need for a building to meet with God. Although of course there is no need now for a building to enable us to worship God.

The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb ARE the temple.

Now there is no barrier and we see them face to face!

[23] The sun and moon are even made redundant as we bask in the glory of God himself and the lamp of the Lamb. The light of the world indeed.

We are presented with a secure city but also an open city. There’s a sense of life going on. The nations will walk by that light. The kings of the earth will visit.

It seems that all that is truly good and beautiful from this world, is purified and enhanced. Nothing of real value is lost. It’s all now as God intended.

Such is the security that the gates need never be shut. And there is no night. No need to lock up and put the cat out.

[24]-[26] It’s interesting how the vision John has shows people coming and going between the new earth and the holy city. Makes you wonder what life in this new place will be like.

[27] There’s a reminder again that nothing impure can enter. Nothing can go wrong. There will be no one to be afraid of.

“Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” will have access.

[1] As we continue into the opening verses of the following chapter we are shown a river in the city.

Initially as I read this passage it all seemed to be about God the Father and God the Son, and stupidly I wondered where God the Holy Spirit is!
This crystal clear river reminds us that He is here.

I am reminded of some of Jesus’ words in John’s gospel, as I look at this river:

“14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14.

“37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’[c] 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified”. John 7:37-39

This river is flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb.

[2] Down the middle of that high street made of gold.

On either side of the road is the tree of life.

In the final chapter of the Bible we are thrown back to Eden itself.

Remember there were 2 trees that Adam & Eve were prohibited from eating from.

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Which they ate from.

And the tree of life. Which they were prevented from eating from.

Years before John’s vision, Ezekiel had prophesied, through a similar vision:

12 Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.’ Ezekiel 47:12.

Now that fruit of life is available to all.

[3]-[5] The curse has been removed.

The throne of God and Lamb are in the city. His servants will serve him. There will be ways in which we will continue to serve God. But not in the dark, but in the light of His face.

The name of God will be on their foreheads. We will be plainly seen as His.

Again we are reminded there is no night, no lamps, no sun.

“The Lord God will give them light”.

“And they will reign forever and ever”. We will be serving, but we will also be reigning! I wonder what that will mean.

What a truly astounding picture. It’s our great hope as Christians!

It’s something to anticipate, but how do we live now in the light of it?

How urgently will we share the good news of Jesus with those around us?

Simon Ponsonby writes:

“Such a hope, such a heaven, must have a powerful impact on our lives. The contemplation of it must lead us to action”. (And the Lamb wins).

“Your kingdom come, your will be done” we often pray. Wanting more and more to see heaven on earth, in the knowledge that one day all that hides heaven from our view will be stripped away.

Let’s be those who work to enable others to see the kingdom of heaven, as we look forward to that day when God’s dwelling will be with his people.

Sermon blog: Higher Love

Higher love

Psalm 103

I wonder how you would describe your view of God.

What is he like? Is he a God who loves you or a God who watches over you like a headmaster waiting for you to trip up? Or even a God who has no interest whatsoever?

People will have many different views.

Outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins wrote this in his book “the God Delusion”

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

There’s a lot of big words there and I’m not even sure I know what they all mean.

But considering Richard Dawkins doesn’t believe in God, you have to say it sounds as though he really doesn’t like Him!

It is probably fair to say that many of us would have to admit that we don’t always understand the ways of God, particularly in the Old Testament.

I have recently read a book about the violence of the Old Testament, from David & Goliath to the killing of all men women and children in Jericho.

It’s a difficult area, but to my mind it’s not an option for us to re-write scripture taking out the bits we struggle with.

Anyway speaking of David, the psalm we read today is one of the many that he wrote. Of the 150 hymns in the Hebrew song book at least 73 are copyrighted to King David.

In amongst all his other skills he was a prolific songwriter.

Of course not all Psalms are the same. There is joy and sadness, praise and pain, trust and complaining.

And we would find examples of David’s writing where life was far from plain sailing and he has serious questions to ask of God.

This Psalm though is one of unadulterated praise. David lets us in on his vision of who God is and what he is like.

It’s a a vision which is spectacular. A description which is breathtaking, as he describes a God who is so good. Beyond anything that we could expect or understand.

This is indeed a Psalm of praise, perhaps more than any Psalm we could think of and my fear is it is going to be impossible to do it full justice even if we had more time to do so.

I don’t know whether you would admit to talking to yourself?

I certainly do!

And I pray too. And sometimes I find it difficult to be certain where one ends and the other begins.

My thoughts wander to something that’s on my mind. But maybe the subject of my thoughts is an indication of what I really want God to do for me.

This is a psalm of praise, but David never addresses God directly.

For the most part, certainly as he begins, he’s talking to himself.

[1] “praise the Lord, my soul”. Or “praise the Lord I tell myself”.

It seems praise does not always come easily. Even a lyricist like David can suffer writer’s block.

So he encourages himself to praise. To give thanks to God. To make much of God.

With everything that he has. He is going to praise God’s holy name.

[2] for praising God does something for David and for us. It helps us not to forget.

How frighteningly easy it is for us even as Christians to forget the wonderful things God has done for us, to lose sight of his greatness.

As we stop focussing, we ultimately lose sight of him.

As David lists the many qualities of God which have benefitted Him, he is intentionally remembering God and giving him his rightful place in his life.

How often do you or I take the opportunity to praise God, even on those days when we don’t feel like it, or when we’re not sure of what he is doing in a difficult situation?

Who He is.

What He has done.

What He has done for me.

[3] the first thing that David reminds himself is about God’s forgiveness. Although I’m not sure at what point in his life David wrote this Psalm, he certainly knew what it was to be forgiven. Even when he had fallen into adultery and murder.

It is a fact that God is a forgiver of sins.

We might all acknowledge that but maybe sometimes we struggle to believe he would care enough about insignificant me to forgive me.

Not only does he forgive sins but he forgives YOUR sins.

But perhaps you, and even King David, would struggle to think that God could forgive you if He knew what your sins were.

But of course he does know who you are and what you have done. He knowns your sins and he knew David’s sins, and we can share David’s confidence that he forgives ALL your sins.

Forgiveness is not just for other people. It is for you.

And in case we run away with the idea, forgiveness is not just for good people who get things a bit wrong.

All of us can find in God the forgiveness we need if we will only ask Him. Perhaps you need to do that today.

If we find it difficult to visualise the character of God, then unlike David, we are able to look at Jesus – the one who was and is the image of the invisible God.

In his earthly ministry Jesus lived forgiveness.

He caused uproar by telling a paralysed man, and also a woman rejected by others for her moral failures “your sins are forgiven”.

As he was nailed to the cross, even in that agonising moment, he prayed “Father forgive them”. A forgiveness that I believe was not just offered for those who hammered the nails, but echoes down the centuries to you and me.

Secondly David recognised God as the healer. And again there are no limits. “ALL your diseases”. There is nothing that is beyond God’s capability and that is why we should never hesitate to pray for the sick.

From the days of Moses, Israel had been told “I am the LORD who heals you”.

David knew though that there were no guarantees. He had prayed after all for a baby son but seen him die.

We all have examples of those prayers for healing which have not been answered.

Healing comes from God. It may take a miracle. It may be from the skill of the Doctor. It may be that ultimately our healing comes, not in this life, but in that day when there will be no crying or pain. God will heal. The timing is His.

Again Jesus was the demonstration of God the healer, healing people with all kinds of diseases, overcoming death itself.

[4] next David reminds himself and us that God is a redeemer. He is the one who rescues David from the pit. David sang also in Psalm 40 of being lifted from a pit.

God is David’s rescuer and he is ours too if we call upon him.

To be a redeemer involves paying a price and it is in Jesus that is clearly seen as he pays the price of his very life to lift us from a pit of desperation and helplessness, to bring us from death into life.

As with David, he gives us a rock to build our lives upon.

David was a King. He literally knew what it was to be crowned. But greater for him than Israel’s crown was the crown that he received from God. A crown of love and compassion.

And while we are unlikely to wear a royal crown we can know that love and compassion that God has for us. Again a love and compassion consistently demonstrated by Jesus in his dealings with people.

[5] sometimes people view God as a killjoy, but David has no such view. It is God who satisfies David’s desire for good things.

For it is only God who truly knows what is good for us.

Jesus reminded his listeners that God is a loving father who knows how to give good gifts to his children. As we seek to follow him, we can honestly ask him for our desires. Perhaps our desires may change as prayer shapes us, but truly good things come from God.

He promises to rejuvenate us too! That sounds good!

New life is found in him through Jesus. He gives us the strength to live out the lives he calls us to. He gives us the gifts we need to serve Him.

[6] The Lord is active in doing righteousness and justice. He wants what is right and fair for His world and for His people.

Jesus too came to preach good news for the poor and to challenge injustice. And that’s a calling that all of us as Christians need to continue to walk in.

[7] Again David reminds us that this is nothing new. It all goes back to the days of Moses and the way that God revealed himself then.

We may have a number of differing ideas about the God of Moses. Rescuing His people, but there is anger too. Righteous anger as his people continually fail to live as they should.

But God had shown his people his deeds. His great acts of rescue.

[8] And David then virtually quotes from Exodus 34:6 to prove it:

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness”’.

There was something in His people that God was compassionate about. There was something in them too that could cause him to be angry. And yet he describes himself as being slow to anger.

Third is a time for anger about the right things.

God was patient with the people of Israel and He is patient with us.

His justice is satisfied by his mercy. He is our judge and our saviour, again most fully expressed in Jesus.

And he abounds in love. God IS love.

And what David didn’t know but we can know:

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).

[9] God is not our accuser. He is not like the headmaster or boss who is constantly trying to find fault.

The devil is described as the accuser.

God by his Holy Spirit is our comforter, our strength.

And wonderfully the risen Jesus is our advocate who speaks for us to God the Father and clothes us in righteousness.

And this God does not harbour anger. He does not hold a grudge.

[10] He does not treat us as our sins deserve. He doesn’t repay us for our iniquities. How grateful are we for that?!

None of us can approach God on our own merit and yet in Him we find not judgement but mercy and grace.

He does the opposite of what we deserve:

To quote a couple of short passages we’re very bad at only reading the half the story:

Romans 6:23 “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 3:23-24. “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

[11] this love of God cannot be measured. It is as high as the heavens. God’s love can be fully experienced by those who fear him. God loves without exception. But we are to live lives that reverence him.

[12] As well as a higher love it is a wider love. It is worldwide. It is a love which takes all our wrongdoing and hurls it into the far distance never to be seen again.

You can be free from everything that tries to break you.

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians (and for us):

Ephesians 3:18 you “may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ”.

[13] the relationship we have is closer than we can imagine. It is Father and child. John in his gospel says how those who accepted Jesus, he gave the right to be called children of God. As believers we are adopted into the very family of God.

The Father has compassion. He receives us like the father receives the homecoming prodigal. And as we’ve already said he knows how to give us good things.

[14] David is always conscious too that God is a God who fully understands us. Because he made us. His label is upon us.

David takes up similar thoughts in another song:

Psalm 139:13-14 “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

God knows us inside out. He knows how you and I tick. We cannot kid ourselves that we can hide anything from Him.

[15] God knows as well that our lives are short. Dust to dust. Grass. A flower to be blown away.

[16] We are short-lived. Not many of us will go down in history.

And yet we are not forgotten by God.

[17] And that is what matters. For where we are mortal., God’s love is everlasting. No beginning and no end.

So mere mortals can receive and know eternal love. Our security is not in our own achievements but rather in the one “who was and is to come.”

That love stretches down through the generations.

[18] the love of God is unconditional, but it is a covenant love. A love that calls for a response from us. That calls us to obedience.

To live a life of obedience and gratitude.

[19] we are reminded again of our eternal security in an eternal God. The throne of God is established. It cannot be shaken. While we are like dust in the wind, we are safe in him.

His kingdom is absolute in power. And yet it is that heavenly King who longs to welcome us and call us His children.

[20] And so David’s song starts to wind up to the big finish.

Now he looks beyond himself and stops talking to himself. He challenges the angels to praise God too.

[21] He looks to the stars and calls them as he sang elsewhere to “declare the glories of God”.

[22] All creation. Absolutely everyone and everything he can think of. Come on. Praise the LORD!

This God is totally deserving of praise.

As John saw it:

“Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!’”

‭‭Revelation‬ ‭5:13‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Then finally David turns to himself once more.

Finally you turn to look at yourself in the mirror.

You’ve heard all this. And what will you say to yourself?

“Praise the LORD, my soul.”

Sermon blog: Don’t pass me by

Luke 10:25-37
Along with his story of the Lost Son, this is probably the best known of Jesus’ parables, and like the other, it has entered our vocabulary.

Just as we talk about a wayward child as being the prodigal, we also talk about people as being a good Samaritan.

In 2011 the BBC asked readers to share their stories of how a Good Samaritan had helped them. And they received a number of stories which showed how the intervention of a complete stranger can transform a life or even save it:

• A Plymouth A&E Doctor who saved the life of a man having a heart attack in a Cornish car park, and kept in touch with the hospital to check his progress

• A man who leapt into a car as it rolled down the hill with a 6 year old girl in it, while her father was in the pub

• A driver who stopped and put petrol in the motorbike of a preacher, and left without saying a word

• A couple in Canada who took in two young holiday makers lost in a storm

All these perhaps have some elements of the story we have read but are unable to do full justice to the original good Samaritan.

Is a true good Samaritan just a nice person who does nice things to nice people?

This particular story that Jesus told had a context. And just like those lost parables that Jesus tells in Luke 15, the story was told in response to particular people who listened. In Luke 15, Jesus spoke in response to moaning. Here he spoke in response to a question.

The people common to both conversations are the teachers of the law, or as he is described in this chapter, an EXPERT in the law.

Luke earlier identifies the experts in the law as being those who rejected John the Baptist, and accordingly rejected God’s purposes for them.

They rejected Jesus.

Their questions and their moaning become a regular feature in the gospels.

It would be nice to think that the expert on this occasion was genuine and interested in what Jesus had to say, but Luke is clear that the man stood up to test Jesus. In the gospels we see sustained attempts by his opponents, sometimes forming alliances, like the Pharisees and Sadducees, an alliance more unlikely than the Conservatives and the Liberals, or the Conservatives and the DUP, in their efforts to trip him up.

Jesus dealt with their questions so well that at times they would just give up asking.

This man is an expert. Other people listen to him when he talks about the law. The Law of Moses.

His specialist subject is the Torah, the laws that we find in the first 5 books of the Bible, that we sometimes call the Pentateuch:

• Genesis

• Exodus

• Leviticus

• Numbers

• Deuteronomy

That’s a lot of reading. Jewish tradition claimed that in those books of the law they found not just 10, but 613 commandments to follow in order to obey God.

But the expert in the law in turn addresses Jesus as “Teacher”. What kind of teacher is he? What does he believe about the big questions?

The expert goes for one of the big ones:

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” This was not the only time Jesus was asked this question. Another young man of means once asked him the same question.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

What must I DO?

It is interesting that he talks about eternal life as something to be inherited. For inheritance usually happens irrespective of what we do. If we are the heirs or if our names are in the will, the inheritance is ours. It’s not something we earn, unless of course we have done all we can to worm ourselves into somebody’s good books!

Eternal life.

It’s what so many people want to know about.

“Is this all there is to life?”

“What happens when we die?”

“Is there really such a thing as everlasting life?”

Certainly not for the only time in his life, Jesus, like many good teachers, doesn’t answer the question. He turns the conversation around with a question of his own.

“What is written in the Law?”

The Law. The secret to eternal life is to be found in the laws of Moses. In there somewhere is the way to life.

So here is the expert, he knows the 613 laws inside out and back to front, so how is he to sum this all up?

Have you ever been to an event where you are told to introduce yourself or your business in 60 seconds?

Can you describe yourself in a few words?

Or are you a Twitter expert who can express your passions and your opinions in just 140 characters?

“How do you read it?” asks Jesus.

The answer is staggering. 613 laws, not to mention the ones that man sought to add are reduced by the teacher into just 2 sentences

“Love the lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”

AND

“Love your neighbour as yourself”.

He takes a couple of verses from Deuteronomy 6 and a small bit of a verse from Leviticus 19, and says “That’s it. That is the law in summary. And THAT is how you inherit eternal life”

This summary of the law appears elsewhere (Matthew 22 – “the greatest commandment”; Mark 12 – the “most important commandment”).

It seems to have been a popular teaching.

You can boil the whole of the law of Moses down into two things; how we treat God, and how we treat our neighbours.

It’s an amazing thought, but think about it, follow those two rules and you will keep the whole law. And if you do that it leads to eternal life.

Of course you’re all sitting there shaking your heads.

“That’s not how you inherit eternal life!”

But Jesus answers “You are correct”.

And he continues “Do this and you will live”.

So there’s the good news for this evening.

If you want to live forever, you just need to obey 2 little tiny rules.

“Love the lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”

AND

“Love your neighbour as yourself”.

AS Bruce Forsyth used to say “That’s all there is to it!”

But the expert isn’t finished. Maybe it’s occurred to him as it has to you.

That’s impossible!

I mean the first bit he seems to be alright with. There was a lot of piety in Jesus’ day. The Pharisees, the experts like these. Remember how the rich young man we mentioned earlier said that he had kept all the commandments from his childhood.

But love your neighbour as yourself? Is this where the expert is struggling?

He has another question. Luke says that he wanted to justify himself. He wanted to show that he was truly the expert in the law. After all Jesus hadn’t answered any questions yet.

“And who IS my neighbour?”

Is this where the expert looks for a bit of wriggle room? How widely do we need to read these 5 words?

Who is his neighbour?

Is it just the two families who live next door on either side?

Is it the whole street?

Is it the people he works with? Surely not all of them?

Is it the people who have the same religious beliefs as him?

Is it the pillars of society and those of the same class and standing?

Is there some way we can draw a line on this love? Where is the limit?

So now we have a question that Jesus is going to answer.

With a parable.

This is not a story told in isolation.

Bear in mind as we go, this is the answer to:

“And who IS my neighbour?”

It’s a short story. It’s fast moving – the details are sparse.

An unnamed man is on a journey – from, Jerusalem to Jericho. We don’t know why he’s going. We know none of the details. He’s central to the story but he is by no means the main character.

But it is a journey that ends in disaster. A violent attack. Robbery.

Robbery, assault and battery.

Left for dead.

More characters are introduced, again with scant details.

First the priest is passing by – a leader of religion. A man who surely knows what it is to love God with all his heart soul and strength. A man who surely will do the right thing.

If the man is still conscious his hopes rise, and are promptly dashed, as the priest carries on walking, never coming near to the victim, and disappears into the distance.

A Levite is not in the same league as a priest surely but he could be the next best thing. He is part of the tribe specially chosen to assist in the temple.

It’s no better. He is not ready to stop.

Somehow Jesus is saying here that the religious people have no time for this man. Maybe they are keen to get to the service. Maybe their concern is that the man is dead and they could be ritually unclean if they touched him.

It may be that their love for the Lord, in soul strength and mind, actually in some way prevents them from “loving their neighbour”.

There is no hope.

But then another arrives on the scene. The detail is again brief.

There is only one scandalous description.

He is a Samaritan.

It’s interesting to read the modern day Good Samaritan stories, where a stranger demonstrates love and care for a person, sometimes at great cost to themselves. But one element seems to be missing from those stories, that was central to Jesus’ tale.

This man is an enemy. If the injured man is still with it, he’s thinking “Oh great. Oh no hang on. A Samaritan. That’s it for me then…”

In his gospel, John writes simply “Jews did not associate with Samaritans”. Thus the surprise when Jesus stopped to talk to a Samaritan woman, and to ask for her help.

Jesus of course was rejected by the Jewish religious leaders, but accepted by many of those Samaritans who had the joy of meeting him, as the “Saviour of the world”.

The Samaritans had intermarried with those of other nations and faiths. They had built their own temple at Mount Gerizim. They even had their own version of the Pentateuch, and apparently rejected the rest of the Old Testament.

Which was the right temple? Jesus had the answer. “Never mind where you worship. True worshippers will worship in Spirit and in truth”.

Jew or Samaritan.

These Samaritans were best kept at a distance. They were a people who were known for spiritual and moral compromise.

Unlike the people of Judah of course!?

Like the other two, the Samaritan saw the dying man. There the similarity ended. His reaction was one of love. Pity for the man.

• Firstly he came to his aid. He administered first aid. Oil and wine.

• He rescued him – put him on his own donkey

• He cared for him – taking him to the inn

• He continued to provide for his needs – paying what was the equivalent of around 2 days’ wages for a labourer to the inn keeper and offering to pay more when he returned.

“Send me the bill”.

“So”, says Jesus, “Who was the neighbour to this man? Which of the 3?”

We’ve almost forgotten the expert in the law now, but he’s hanging on Jesus’ every word.

The answer is not difficult.

“It was the one who showed mercy to him”.

He is the true neighbour.

The uncomfortable truth. Perhaps it’s the case that he cannot even bring himself to say “the Samaritan”.

And the punchline?

“You go and do the same!”

You have to pinch yourself a moment and think, “where did this all start?”

“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Somehow through all this is Jesus saying “You’re looking to keeping the law of God as a way TO life. Actually it’s the way OF life”.

Maybe by his standards the expert thinks he’s doing OK, but Jesus’ story shows a higher standard than he has imagined.

No your neighbour is actually the person you might regard as your enemy. The person you want absolutely nothing to do with.

In fact there are two ways of putting this.

Elsewhere Jesus simply says “But I say, love your enemies”.

So the answer to the original question is there is nothing you can do to inherit eternal life. The teaching of Jesus is plain.

None of us can live to that perfect standard of fulfilling the law in every detail.

It can only ever be through faith in Jesus, who alone lived that perfect life, fulfilling the law, and who paid the price of our sin, that we can inherit that eternal life. In that sense, like all inheritances, it is a gift.

Recently I preached on Jesus’ prayer in John 17. There he comes up with a very simple definition of eternal life. It is to know the true God and Jesus Christ.

I wonder though if I’m the only one who finds this story confusing. There’s something about it that I can’t quite pin down.

There’s a twist in this tale. You think you’ve got it. But have you?

The man wants to know “who is my neighbour?” Who is the person I can show love to?

He might have liked to think that as the story unfolded the expert in the law himself would be the hero of the story.

Perhaps even a Samaritan has been attacked and is lying in the road. If the expert gets it right, he will come to the rescue.

But the story won’t lie down that easily.

Rather than say “who was the neighbour in my story?”, Jesus asks “Who acted like a neighbour?”

It’s actually the one that you would never want to love, or care for. He is actually the one who treats us as a neighbour. It’s the one we’ve got no time for who shows us the correct way. The one who worships the same God as we do, but whose doctrine is all over the place. He is the neighbour.

Maybe even Jesus places the expert in the story, not as the hero, but as the victim, reliant on the love and care of an unlikely neighbour. That might be stretching things too far!

Yes the way of life is about loving God with total devotion.

And it is about loving others without prejudice.

That is what it should look like to be a follower of Jesus.

It’s as if Jesus challenges the expert – “Never you mind losing sleep about who is your neighbour. You just be a neighbour.

You be an example for everyone else to follow.

In this of course Jesus is the supreme example:

• The Word who “became flesh and blood and entered the neighbourhood (MSG)

• The one who touched the untouchable

• The one who spoke to the outcast

• The one who was a servant to his disciples

• The one who cried “Father forgive them” as they nailed him to a cross

If we are ever tempted to put our hope in doing what we can to be right with God, forget it. Jesus offers the way to life. Through his death and resurrection.

But for those of us who have put our trust in him, how will we live?

Where will we draw the line of love?

Who is my neighbour? Who doesn’t qualify?

That person who’s been rude to me at work? Even them?

The one who has bullied my family member?

The one who believes different things to me? Even slightly different?

The one who just doesn’t really fit in with the circles that I am part of?

Jesus turns our thinking upside down and says:

“Never mind that. You be the neighbour.”

“To everyone”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sermon blog: The Glory of Love

John 17

Here’s an unpleasant thought!

Imagine my prayers were available online. Available to download as podcasts.

What might you learn about me?

What do I pray about? Is it all about me? Is it long lists of requests? Are my prayers full of praise and worship? And thanks?

Does the way I pray change with the different circumstances in life? Are they different when things are swimming along, or when times are hard?

When I’m up against it, do I pray more earnestly? Or do I pray less for some odd reason? Or do my prayers become obsessed with my problems and needs?

Long before the days of downloads, the disciples had the privilege of listening in on an amazing prayer. A prayer of Jesus himself. Facing his greatest challenge.

Thanks to John the gospel writer, we can listen in again this morning, and hear how Jesus prayed when his mind was focussed on the cross that lay ahead of him.

[1] “After this” – these are the words that started our reading this morning, so of course we need to remind ourselves what came before. We can read about this in chapters 13 to 16. Jesus is in the upper room with his disciples.

A meal was shared (the Last Supper as we call it). Jesus had washed their feet in an act of servanthood. He told them of his suffering to come. He told them that he was leaving them, but promised them the indwelling presence and power of God the Holy Spirit. He encouraged them that he was preparing an eternal home for them. He assured them of his peace.

And his victory.

It is after all this. He raises his eyes.

And he prays.

We often talk about the Lord’s prayer. In Matthew 6, Jesus taught his disciples HOW to pray. Not WHAT to pray, but he gave them a pattern to pray.

In some ways, this is more the Lord’s prayer. Some people have suggested that this is John’s longer more detailed version of the Lord’s prayer:

• Jesus addresses God as Father

• Reference made to heaven

• Making the name of God holy

• Jesus has done God’s will on earth

• Prays for his disciples to be protected from the evil one

But this is not Jesus teaching how to pray. Not an example. This is him doing it.

In the face of impending suffering and death.

Now his prayer is there for all to hear.

When we face a crisis, we may pray, but we might also busy ourselves with activity.

As strange as it might seem to us sometimes, the most practical thing you can do is pray.

As he had taught his disciples, he prays to a father. His Father. There is no closer relationship one can know.

It is a joy for us to know God as Father, but that relationship was, and is, so much more for Jesus.

This has been described as the high priestly prayer of Jesus.

Or Jesus’ prayer of consecration.

The prayer can quite easily be divided into 3 parts:

• Part 1: A prayer for himself

• Part 2: Prayer for his disciples

• Part 3: Prayer for all believers

Part 1: A prayer for himself

He begins “Father, the time has come.”

John loves to talk about “the time”. Or “the hour”.

In John 2, as Mary sought Jesus’ help at a wedding with no wine, he replied, “Woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come”.

In John 7 he told his disciples, “I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not fully come”.

Equally in the same chapter John tells his readers, “They tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come”.

Jesus knew when his time had not yet come.

But now – “the time has come”.

Jesus somehow was always completely in control of his times.

His time, his hour, was to be his moment of destiny.

The moment everyone is waiting for.

His ‘moment of glory’.

And it is to the subject of glory that Jesus turns:

As we will see the theme of unity runs through this prayer but it has been said that this chapter is primarily about glory. Unity will not be a goal in itself, but will point to glory.

“Glorify your son”.

“…that your son may glorify you”.

Jesus is preparing himself, or consecrating himself, to glorify God by his death.

Christ revealed his glory to his disciples by his miracles. In John 2 the turning of water into wine is said to have revealed Jesus’ glory.

In Jesus’ glory, we catch a sight of who he really is. In that first miracle, we see that he has come to transform lives, to take the ordinary things of life and turn them to the best.

He reveals his glory too through his death and resurrection.

Glory is seen in majesty and in suffering.

Glory is reputation. In seeing Jesus for who he really is, Jesus shows God as he really is.

If we think of glory, we tend to think of the scenes in heaven in John’s revelation. There we see Jesus in all his risen glory and power there, but even there we can never forget that he appears as a lamb looking as if he has been slaughtered.

[2] Jesus derives his authority from the relationship he has with the Father. He has a God-given authority over all humankind.

An authority that was his rightfully from the beginning, and yet as he laid aside his heavenly standing, to enter this world as one of us, God returns that authority to him.

An ultimate authority. An authority that gives life to those whom God brings to him.

[3] So what is eternal life? Jesus puts it plainly. It is simply knowing God. The true God.

And knowing Jesus. The one sent by God.

That relationship with Father and Son (and surely also Holy Spirit) is eternal life. There is no mention of quantity of eternal life, although that is plainly in sight. First and foremost it is knowing God.

Suddenly what is impossible to know, becomes known to us.

Eternal life is about quality – Jesus describes it elsewhere as “life in all its fullness”. As life was always meant to be.

Here we are being drawn into the prayer life of Jesus. Invited into relationship with God; Father, Son and Spirit.

[4] Jesus continues “I have brought you glory on earth”. Jesus points to God. He shows the way to God. He is the Word. He is the image of the invisible God. The visible face of God. The revelation.

And how does he bring God glory? “By completing the work”. This will be a culmination of a whole life lived to the glory of God. That is what his “TIME” is to be.

The culmination of their rescue mission for mankind.

[5] Now Jesus asks the Father, “now Father, glorify me in your presence, with the glory I had with you before the world began”.

A prayer to restore his previous rightful royal position. At the very beginning of this biography of Jesus, John describes Jesus as “the Word” who, in the beginning was with God. And was God.

The reward for Jesus’ suffering is to be glorification.

Jesus is ready to be glorified on the cross. Now we truly see who he is.

The cross has the power to free us from sin. Resurrection frees us to serve in a new life.

Jesus glorified God. But the question for us his, how do we glorify Jesus? Can we find glory on a Monday morning, in the ordinary moments of life? How do we live glory? How might we even bring glory to him through suffering?

The Apostle Paul learnt from God “My power is made perfect in weakness”. 2 Cor 2:9.

Part 2: A prayer for his disciples

So there it is. Jesus prays for himself. The vast majority of this prayer though is taken up in praying for others.

[6] We already know that he has lived a life which points clearly to God. “I have revealed you…”

“To those you gave me” – to his disciples. Those who had followed him, presumably more than just the 12 apostles.

“…out of the world” – these disciples had been called out, to follow Jesus.

“They were yours…” – the disciples belonged to God.

“…you gave them to me…” – they now belonged to Jesus. They are part of that family.

“…and they have obeyed your word”.

These disciples are God’s people, called by God, to follow Jesus, to live a life of obedience”. As modern day disciples, we are of course called to do the same.

We might ask ourselves about the obedience of the disciples. They made plenty of mistakes. The showed what it was to be obedient and disobedient. Although they would never be perfect, that obedience would show itself in its fullness at Pentecost.

[7] “Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you”. Which is interesting, because as Jesus taught his disciples in the upper room, they plainly had some issues with this.

“Show us the Father” said Philip.

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” was Jesus’ reply in John 14:8 & 9.

It seems now Jesus felt the disciples had understood.

[8] “I gave them the words you gave me, and they accepted them”. Again, not always without difficulty! John 14:10 “The words I say to you are not just my own”. These disciples were going to turn the world upside down.

Jesus’ upper room teaching was fresh in his mind, and also hopefully in the disciples’ minds, if they listened in now to Jesus’ prayer.

The disciples not only (1) accepted Jesus’ teaching, but (2) they knew with certainty Jesus was from God, and (3) they believed.

[9] So Jesus prays for those disciples. His prayer in this moment is sharply focussed. It is not for the world. It is for his disciples. They are God’s people.

[10] Again there is relationship between Father, Son and disciples. Jesus has brought glory to the father.

But now get this:

Jesus has been glorified through his disciples. They have shown him to others. With varying degrees of success it might be said. But they have glorified and they will surely bring glory to Jesus.

Jesus the “light of the world” calls his followers the light of the world also.

Nothing has changed in that regard. The way Jesus is now glorified and revealed in the world is through you and me! That is why the unity we will come to read about is so important. God’s glory is revealed in who his followers are together.

So the challenge for me and you is, can people look at us and see who Jesus really is?

His glory.

The disciples are the joint property of God the Father and God the Son. Soon to be the realised possession of the Holy Spirit too, by his indwelling presence.

[11] Jesus has already told his disciples that he is leaving. He focuses in now on this.

He zooms in on the problem. “I am leaving”, but “They are staying”.

The disciples need prayer!

These disciples aren’t going anywhere. They are in the world.

In the familiar verses of John 3:16-20, Jesus makes it clear to Nicodemus that God loves the world and yearns to save it.

So we must love the world.

But at the same time Jesus’ followers are not to love the world and all it stands for. John again makes this clear in his letter, 1 John 2:15. Loving things so much that we get drawn into them rather than Jesus is dangerous.

Jesus prays to “Holy Father” a phrase that is only used here. It reminds us of the nearness of the Father but also his Holiness. Two things always to be held in balance.

Surely the disciples need protection. The protection of the power of God’s name.

The name of God is the same name that is given by God to Jesus. “I am”. The one who does not change. The resurrection, the good shepherd, the way, the truth, the life.

“that they may be one as we are one”. Again the closeness of that relationship in and with God. Unity that is given. It has been established for the disciples by Jesus. They ARE one. This is not something to be achieved.

But it will be something to be shown

The apprentices have now been hired for the job ahead. Their call to be unified in their love for the world. Unity is outward looking. It is to be done with backs in fronts out. An outward facing circle, not a holy huddle.

It is loving the world together that will bring unity among Jesus’ followers.

[12] They had until now been under Jesus’s protection. He had kept them all safe and secure.

“…except the one doomed to destruction”. Judas. The one who had made a very different choice.

Scripture is being fulfilled, even by Jesus’ betrayal, and suffering, death and resurrection.

[13] “I am coming to you, but I am saying these things now, so that they may be completely joyful”. Presumably the disciples are listening in here.

Joy and hope are closely linked. The great thing is to be able to live in the knowledge that everything will one day be right. No more death. No more tears. No more pain

[14] Jesus, the Word, has lived up to his name, and given God’s word to the disciples.

The world that is hostile to Jesus is also hostile to his disciples. To be a Jesus follower was never about winning a popularity contest.

[16] They don’t belong to the world.

They’re strangers too in a strange land.

One answer would perhaps be to take his disciples with him to the presence of the Father too. One idea for us might be to shut ourselves away so that we don’t get contaminated by the world.

But that is not Jesus prayer. The disciples are going nowhere. There is no escapist journey for them. And neither for us.

They are to stay right here. They have work today. Citizens of another country. But with a life to be lived there and then.

Just as we have a life to live now.

[17] The disciples need God to sanctify them. According to the truth of God’s word.

They are to be set apart. A holy people.

[18] God sent Jesus into the world.

Jesus sends his disciples into the world.

The same is true for us and the question might be “Where is God sending you?”

“Sanctify myself”. Jesus sets himself apart now to do God’s will. The cross is a looming reality.

The disciples will be saved through his sacrifice and in turn consecrated to his work.

Part 3: A prayer for all of us

[20] “My prayer is not for them alone”.

“…for those who will believe in me through their message”.

Jesus prays for those who believe , from the day of Pentecost as Peter preached, down through the centuries, to believers like you and me.

As Jesus faces his greatest challenge, in the valley of the shadow of death, he prays for US!

[21] “that all of [us] may be one”.

Again, as with the disciples earlier, that unity is a fact. It is not to be achieved. On one level that prayer is answered, by the fact of the worldwide church of Jesus down through the centuries.

[22] Again that unity is in the relationship with Father Son and Spirit.

“There is ultimately only one church, one family…” Pete Greig reminds us in his book “Dirty Glory”.

Unity is not uniformity. We are a family with many differences. But we are one in blood.

On another level is it proof that even Jesus has experienced unanswered prayer.

A prayer that we be one just as He and God the father are one. A huge prayer! It is fact that we are all one in Jesus.

But is unity a visible reality? A living witness to the world?

Just look at the number of denominations.

When I was a student, my friend and I stood outside church one day after the service , and an elderly man came up to us. If he had spoken to us before I don’t remember it.

Our one conversation, he said to us, “We have the truth”.

I’m not sure we even replied, even if we knew how to. Was he talking about the worldwide church?

I’ve never been able to get away from the idea, “this little church congregation here , we’re in the right.”

But as the creeds remind us, we are part worldwide church of Jesus followers.

Yes you may have disagreements.

But you are one In Christ.

How though do we show that to the world?

“Surely we could learn to look at each other generously and, instead of wondering, “What’s wrong with them?” we could ask, “What’s right with them? What can I learn from them?” Pete Greig again.

That oneness with each other and with God helps the world too to believe. Others will believe that Jesus is the visible hands and feet of God.

The gospel goes on sharing and growing. Our attempts at unity won’t always work. But when they do people notice.

But again that word glory. God has made himself known to the world through Jesus. Now Jesus in turn makes himself known through us.

[23] We are here to love. We are sent to love.

The standard of oneness in God the Father and the Son.

The promised Holy Spirit is surely crucial to this.

The world will notice complete unity. Sadly it will very quickly notice disunity!

[24] Jesus’ continued prayer for his followers is that you and I should “be where [he is], to see [his] glory”.

Glory given to Jesus. Loved before the creation of the world. Again in that upper room, Jesus promised to his disciples (and to us) “In my Father’s house, there are many rooms”. He’s getting a place ready.

[25] Jesus continues, “Righteous father”. Again an expression only used here. God is good.

[26] God is unknown.

But Jesus made him known.

Jesus will continue to make God known, firstly through the cross and resurrection, then through his Spirit filled followers.

God’s love that is in Jesus will be in his followers. So as the Holy Spirit lives in us, Jesus promises to continue to be with us.

So the challenge for us this morning, is what can people see of Jesus in us? Are the people of God bringing glory to God?

To start perhaps we need to look at the people around us in this congregation. We ARE one as the God the Father and Son are one.

Fact.

So how will we live that out in our relationships? How will we pray for each other? How will we care for each other?

Perhaps too we can look at the church in a wider context, maybe the other churches in this city. With them, we ARE one, as God the Father and Son are one.

Fact.

So how do we look to show that deep unity in the ways we communicate with them, talk about them, or when we work together with them?

On another level, how do we show the unity that already exists in God’s worldwide church? Do we pray for those who suffer and are persecuted, as if we feel their pain?

Jesus’ prayer as that we may be deeply, totally ONE.

We are one.

Will we display that oneness to bring glory to God?

That the world will see him as he really is.

 

 Glory!


Glory.

It’s a word I’ve revisited this week.

Today, Good Friday, at the foot of the “wondrous cross”  I viewed glory with new eyes.

Glory is about splendour, victory, success, being in the hall of fame. Admired by your peers.

And when it comes to Jesus, glory is about resurrection, the ‘glories’ of heaven, endless worship.

But as Paula Gooder led us through John chapter 17 at Spring Harvest this week, I realised that there are 2 sides to this coin called glory.

In prayer Jesus said:

“And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” John 17:5.

Good Friday today. A dark day, a necessary day, a wonderful day. 

But surely glory is the bright resurrection sunlight of Easter Sunday.

Glory is the vision of Jesus by John the Revelator.

But I learnt this week that glory has 2 strands. Splendour yes.

But also glory is that moment when you see someone as they really are.

So where is Jesus glorified? He is glorified in the blood sweat and tears of the cross.

We see him as he really is and see what God is truly like.

We see a king who so loved the world that he did this.

Such love.

Glory.

We see a perfect God who forgives those who kill him, and those of us down the centuries who ignore or reject him.

We hear the cry of a Son who experiences an inexplicable sense of fracture in his relationship with Father and Holy Spirit. 

We see a God man on a mission who cries “Mission accomplished”.

To be fair we cannot begin to describe all that we see and hear.

But we catch a glimpse of glory.

And one day when we see him “in glory”.

And it will be glory, for we will see a lion who is a lamb. A risen radiant Christ who at the same time bears the marks of the nails that bought our freedom.

Glory…

Sermon blog: Drive my car

Matthew 16:21-28

It’s been quite a time for Jesus’ apprentices (the disciples). Especially Peter.
Jesus has taken them away for some tuition. It was in a place called Caesarea Philippi. A place north of the sea of Galilee.

It was a place generally associated with pagan worship.

In this unlikely place Jesus held a brainstorming session.

“Question 1. Here’s the first question for discussion today. What are people saying about me? Who do they say I am?”

There are a few suggestions. Some bright sparks raise their hands.

Jesus is ready with the pen and white board.

“Some say John the Baptist”.

“OK”.

“Others say Elijah”.

“OK”.

“There are people also who say you are Jeremiah or one of the other prophets”.

“OK”.

All rather far-fetched theories if truth be told. You see all those men were dead, some of them for hundreds of years.

Effectively people were saying that in some way these people, even John recently beheaded, had come back from the dead – in the shape of Jesus.

And how could Jesus be John? They were cousins. Some would have seen John baptising Jesus in the river.

But it was fun to share the theories. These were the things they had heard.

“Question 2. So what do you say about me? Who am I?”

There’s an awkward silence, interrupted by the shuffling of paper.

James and John look at the floor. They avoid eye contact with Jesus. Matthew has a sip of mineral water. Thomas grabs another handful of pretzels. Philip and Andrew fiddle with their mobile phones.

It’s closer to the bone now. Jesus cuts to the heart of the matter.

After what seems like an age, Simon Peter speaks up. You can always rely on Simon Peter to have an answer. He’s rarely backward in coming forward.

“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”.

The correct answer!

Peter has heard the truth from God.

Interestingly you could say that his brother Andrew told him, when they had started to follow Jesus: “We have found the Christ”, but now it seems he knows this for himself.

It’s a high point for Peter. God is going to build something on the back of this confession of faith.

But then oddly Jesus tells them to keep all this quiet.

But the apprentices are buzzing.

Peter is walking on air. If he could he’d get a certificate printed – and show it to everyone –

“Apprentice of the Week!”

“Surely if Jesus were Lord Sugar”, he thinks, “I would be HIRED!”

It’s a high.

We all get them.

We have a breakthrough and learn something new or experience a deepening of our relationship with God.

We see a friend or colleague come to faith in Jesus.

We spend time with thousands of other Christians worshipping at a New Wine or Spring Harvest.

We have success in our work. A promotion.

We marry the man or woman of our dreams.

But after that high, so often can come the low.

After the euphoria comes a dose of reality.

Just a short while after winning the Premier League, the results aren’t coming and you’re out of a job.

It’s at these sort of triumphant moments that Peter is often heard to open his mouth and put his foot in it.

Peter who had got it all SO RIGHT, was just about to get it SO WRONG.

It was an important lesson and Jesus was ready to move things on. The apprentices had a dream that this Jesus was really going to be someone. He was going to rise up and get rid of the Roman occupying forces.

So as Jesus continues there is puzzlement. Perhaps even annoyance at his words.

“Here’s the plan. I’ve got to go to Jerusalem”.

“This is it!” his apprentices are thinking.

“And I’m going to suffer at the hands of the religious leaders”.

They stop checking their text messages, not quite sure if they just heard him right.

I suppose it’s OK. Jesus won’t win the nation’s freedom without some sort of struggle.

But as they listen on, his words are astonishing and alarming.

“And I must be killed”. Their heads are spinning. They’re getting that sinking feeling in the pits of their stomachs. They are so thrown by this they don’t even hear him say “and on the third day I’ll come back to life”.

Someone needs to say something!

No one knows what to think, never mind what to say to Jesus in this moment.

Well, except Peter of course. You can always rely on Peter to say what he’s thinking. To say what many of the others are thinking.

In Peter’s mind, Jesus has really lost it. He’s said some odd things, but what is all this about?

So, not wishing to make a scene, he takes Jesus to one side. It is time for the pupil to show the teacher what he has learnt.

Jesus is here to win, not to be a loser.

“No way Jesus! What are you talking about? You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. This is not what is going to happen. You need a rest. You’ve been working too hard”.

But there is no gentle let down for Peter. He has crossed the line. A mere man telling the Son of God what to do.

Jesus is so firm “Get behind me Satan. You are trying to trip me. You may understand human things, but have no idea about how the mind of God works”.

And so Jesus goes on to teach his apprentices again.

There’s another side to all this that they need to understand. That his way is a way of suffering.

And it’s not just his way.

It’s theirs too.

“If you want to come with me, you’ve got to deny your own comforts and dreams. If you’re going to follow me, you’ve got to carry a cross like I’m going to”.

Jesus chooses the way of suffering, and if they are truly his apprentices they will do the same. They are not to seek a path of glory for themselves.

“If all you want to do is hang onto your life, then you’ll end up with nothing. If you are prepared to lay all that down, then you’ll find real life”.

“You can have everything anyone could ever want in this life. Money, status, fame, perfect relationships, power, a wonderful home, possessions. But if you add all that up, it means nothing. You are the loser”.

“You can’t buy a real life”.

“There’s more to this life than looking after yourself. And if you live for me that will have its reward”.

“I’m coming back after 3 days as I said. And you will see what I have been talking about”.

Then they’ll see that his way has been right.

It’s such an encounter between Jesus and Peter.

It takes something for a pupil to stick his hand up in a lesson and say “Actually Sir, you are wrong”.

Not many of us would have the nerve to do this.

But Peter takes this to the ultimate degree, as he takes Jesus on one side.

This is a man telling God what to do.

Crazy!

I mean, none of us would ever do something like that?

Would we?

The words “Never” and “Lord” don’t work together.

In his Message version of verse 24, Eugene Peteron paraphrases Jesus’ words like this:

“You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am”.

Elsewhere the evangelist J John has compared our lives to a car.

Who’s in the driving seat of my life?

What about you?

Am I trying to drive my way, or am I trying go his way?

Do I, like Peter, actually think I know better than God, what is good for my life?

Recently my wife and I were on holiday in Somerset and we got lost on the way to our destination. We knew we were doing something wrong when we saw the sign for London!

This has happened too often recently.

Enough!

We have always resisted the urge but we popped into Halfords and bought a SatNav.

The shop assistant was helpful and described the different features. As well as making sure you are going the right way it will also warn you when you are approaching speed cameras, and will tell you if you exceed the speed limit.

“Great” I said. “It’s going to be like having 2 wives in the car!”

Perhaps you like having someone in the car when you’re driving, telling you what to do.

My wife comes from a family of 4 generations of back seat (or passenger seat) drivers. She will always tell me when the speed limit is about to go down. And to be fair that is pretty useful.

I’ve noticed though that she never tells me when the speed limit is about to go up!

My youngest daughter is more concerned with the finer points of my driving. She will tell me when to change gear. “Can’t you hear that the engine is racing”.

It’s got to be something pretty drastic for me to give advice to a driver.

My mother-in-law has always been good for driving advice too. It’s been a while since all these women have been in the car with me at the same time.

She would instruct me to go straight across at the traffic lights. She would always add helpfully, “when they’re on green”.

Her mother was apparently pretty useful to have in the car on a long journey too. If her daughter and son-in-law were uncertain of the way, she would offer, “it must be that road over there, because that’s where everyone else is going”.

Helpful advice.

While I’m not one to give advice to drivers myself, as I’ve got older I have come to hate being a passenger in a car or even on public transport. I can be a nervous wreck if I think the driver is going to take a corner too fast. I’ll hang on and press my foot to the floor as if operating a brake.

I would much rather be in the driver’s seat. In control.

It takes something to let someone else take the wheel.

It takes something to let someone else take control of your life.

Peter wanted to assume control of things. He was right. Jesus was wrong.

He couldn’t see how absurd that idea was.

That the one who made him, who was there when the universe was created, might not actually know how life works.

The Christ, the Son of the Living God, is certain to know best.

His design for your life is best.

Is Jesus even part of your life? Is he in that car?

For so many “it’s my life” and it’s up to them how they live it. Looking back on their lives they’ll sing defiantly:

“I DID IT MY WAY”.

They’re the people who Jesus talked about. People who can appear to have everything in life, but actually, when you add it all up, they haven’t got anything that truly counts. They’ve wasted their time and energy on stuff that doesn’t matter.

You can try and live life your way, but Jesus came and announced himself to be THE WAY. No need for holy SatNav.

Follow him.

So you let him in the car. He’s a welcome passenger – good for a bit of advice when you need it.

J John says there is no doubt that for most Christians, Jesus is in the car. Maybe he is in the passenger seat. Perhaps he’s a back seat driver trying to grab our attention.

I’ll listen to him occasionally. I’ll go the way I want to go. I’ll trust my own intuition and wisdom. I’ll go the same way as everyone else seems to be going.

Maybe when I get stuck I’ll call on his help.

I don’t seem to know very much about the presence of Jesus in my life.

He needs to be in the driving seat; not me.

J John goes further and makes the point with some Christians that the situation is even worse. Jesus is not only not driving, he’s in the car, but he’s in the boot.

Some Christians put him in there to take him to church, where they get him out for an hour or so a week, and then they put him away again and drive home.

No one can see the difference in these people’s lives that being a follower of Jesus brings. The rest of the time they live for themselves. They buy the same stuff. They have the same ambitions as their colleagues. They even play fast and loose with their relationships.

Jesus needs to be in the driving seat; not them.

Perhaps they’re like Peter. Jesus says a lot of good stuff, but some of it is just too hard. He can’t really mean that literally.

Or maybe they’ve stopped hearing Jesus all together.

You see Jesus does not call his followers to do anything that he himself was not prepared to do.

He is our supreme example.

But he is much more than an example.

He is a Saviour.

He was ready to suffer even though he is God.

He was ready not just to become a man, not just to suffer, but also to die.

The way of suffering was his victory. His way of suffering is our hope.

His victory over death, which his apprentices seemed to be oblivious to, when he mentioned it, is a victory over our death too if we will trust in him.

His life is our life. Life in all its fullness.

There’s a cost to following him for sure, but it is THE WAY. The only way that makes sense. And it will be worth it, for Jesus will bring his reward.

Ask him into your lives, to take complete control. To take the driver’s seat. Get it the right way round.

Follow HIM.

But maybe you’ve done that. Hopefully you’re not one of those Sunday Christians who keeps Jesus in the boot out of harm’s way.

If you are, remember Jesus is for life not just for Sundays. He is there in every part of your life if you will let him be.

Or if Jesus is just an occasional advisor, then think again.

Maybe there are just parts of your life that you want to keep as they are. You really don’t want Jesus changing things too much.

It’s all about surrender.

It is about recognising one very important fact, as John Ortberg shares in his book “The me I want to be”:

“There is a God. It’s not you.”

As the song went “Everybody wants to rule the world”.

But it is God’s job to be God.

Let Jesus live in you by his Spirit. God the Holy Spirit is the one who will enable you to live in this way.

To be filled with the Spirit is not so much about receiving more of the Holy Spirit. It is about the Holy Spirit having more of us.

Putting our lives in the hands of the one we can really trust.

Let’s think about our response this morning.

It’s time to surrender:

  • Your life to God
  • Your plans
  • Your ambitions
  • Your finances
  • Your ministry for him
  • Your reputation

To you Jesus wants to say “I’m in the driving seat; not you”.