I receive emails from an organization called International Christian Concern who send updates about persecuted believers from around the world. Their latest update had a piece from Britian. A Christian minister, Rev. Noble Samuel – Pakistani born – but now has a Television ministry, was beaten, apparently by Muslims, because of his faith.
You can read the piece HERE
Now, I appreciate that persecution is not good. And I say that having experienced a little persecution. My wife and I lived on housing estate in North london where a group of youths targeted our house and us for abuse and vandalism. We lived there seven years. Persecution is not easy by any means.
But two things concerned me about the article and the points for prayer.
1. Rev Noble Samuel says he is frightened and depressed. Understandable emotions – but not biblical ones. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for u theirs is the kingdom of heaven.“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely h on my account.12 i Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for j so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5) & John 15 says: Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
2. There is no sense in the article or prayers, expressly for the Rev. Noble to love, bless, pray for and do good to his enemies – which is the biblical response.
Again, I do know this is not easy – to a very small extent I know the emotions of Rev Noble first hand – but I exhort him not to be frightened or depressed – but rejoice in the fact he has spoken the gospel to the extent that he is worthy to be persecuted for it.
We want to take the teaching of Jesus and scripture seriously – and how we respond in persecutions and to our enemies is clearly laid out. we need to start practicing them NOW – even though it is hugely counter cultural.
Finally, there is a phenomenal piece on Biblical Justice written by Paul Blackham – it will challenge you – go read it HERE.
We saw last week Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. How Jesus draws her into a conversation, revealing something of himself to her, despite her not understanding it – but then her thinking begins to change – starting from a Jew who spoke to her – to asking if he was greater than the patriarch Jacob – to asking if he a prophet. Jesus brings her to the place of confronting her sin.
Look at v26 – the woman has just mentioned the word Messiah….
What is unusal about Jesus’ response.
He is happy to relate to the title of Messiah. He never does this with the Jews – because of the baggage that comes with it but here is happy to acknowledge who he is – the Messiah.
READ John 4:27-38
The dynamic change a little now. This private, individual conversation is now interrupted by the arrival of he disciples, shocked that their Rabbi was speaking to a woman.
Why don’t the disciples express their feelings publically?
Out of respect for Jesus but also even the disciples seem to acknowledge that to return and say out loud “What the hell are you doing talking to woman.”
Do you see anything significant in the woman leaving Jesus and going back to the town. What does she leave behind?
She leaves the bucket behind. More importantly she leaves HER bucket behind – the bucket she needed to provide her water twice a day – a valuable item. Does she forget it? Well, the word ‘left’ has a sense of deliberateness. It is the same word used to say Jesus left Judah. Did he forget Judah? No, it was deliberate. Maybe the woman finally was going to allow Jesus to get that drink. She leaves it behind so he could get the water to quench his thirst.
What has the woman now become? How would you describe her actions?
She has become an evangelist. I find it interesting that this woman if ill repute comes into the village – tells them that there is guy that seems to maybe be the Messiah, but knew all about me, come and see!! AND THEY GO!!
What does the disciples attempt to feed jesus show about where they are spiritually?
In the same place – to some extent – as the Samaritan woman. They too are focusing on the physical.
How would you express v34 – what is Jesus saying here?
To do the work of God NOURISHES him – it energizes him – it takes away the weariness of the days walk. It was what he was meant to do. Are we nourished in this way.
What is the point of Jesus’ analogy about the harvest is coming? When is it coming?
RIGHT NOW – look the crowd is coming from the village!! The grain harvest maybe four months away but the soul harvest is here.
That’s why he had to go through Samaria.
And what the disciples did not sow – they did not speak with the Samaritan woman – they will reap though in Ministering to the village.
Sometimes the sower never sees the harvest. Other times the sower and the reaper rejoice together. And Christians are called to be doing BOTH jobs – we are to be sowing and we are to be reaping the harvest of what others have sown.
What drew the villagers to go and see Jesus?
Don’t you find it interesting that the village LISTEN to (1) a woman – who had no testimonial value in that culture and (2) who is supposedly ostracized by her people because of her immorality.
Maybe it is because this woman who has been so separate from everyone – who may not have associated with the main village for a very long time – who never spoke or never got water with the other women, comes running into the village shouting “Come and see, come and see a man who told me all about myself…Could this be the messiah.”
How does this villages response to Jesus compare to other responses to Jesus? – See Luke 9:51-56
This small, insignificant, rejected people have welcomed Jesus and want him to teach them – while other Samaritan villages and those in Israel reject him.
Do you see a pattern of evangelism here?
The woman meets with Jesus and then calls others to Come and See – personal contact with Christ is necessary for conversion. Also, the woman does not beg, or cajole, or argue her case – she simply says – come and meet him and see for yourselves.
What is the significance of their statement in v42 that Jesus is the savior of the world?
These Samaritans see Jesus for the whole world – not just for them or for the jews. Remember John 1:11, he came to his own yet his own did not receive him but the Samaritans in this village did.
Do you see an apparent contradiction in v44 & 45?
To be welcomed is different to receiving honor. Why would Jesus go to a place where he knew he would not be honored? Possibly because he knew that being in Galilee would not bring him such honor as to anger the pharisees and thus cause a premature crisis.
The people in Galilee welcomed him as a miracle worker – but no more – they do not honor him as the person is really is (6:41).
Capernaum was a town on the Northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was a major trade and economic center in the North Galilean region, and was some 16 miles from Cana.
How much faith does the Royal Official Have? Remember the Centurion?
The official obviously believes Jesus can heal his son – but he does not believe that Jesus can do it at a distance – nor that he can do it if his son should die. The official limits what he think jesus can do.
To whom is Jesus addressing? Why does Jesus respond the way he does?
Jesus is responding not just to the official but to the Gailieans. They are more interested in Jesus as a miracle worker – but he is challenging them to think of him differently – about his true identity.
What does Jesus in v50 demand of the man?
Just think about what Jesus does here. The man is desperate for his son. Jesus says to him – “Leave here, go home WITHOUT ME, because he will be well.” For the man to leave without the person whom he was sure could heal his son must have taken courage and faith.
What time does the official discover that his son was made well?
Now, this is another minor difficulty. To some extent is does not matter what time it is here – but there are differing view. The NIV and TNIV say 1pm. The Holman Christian Standard version says 7am while the footnote in the NASB says 7pm.
Commentators differ – majority say 1pm. The man left Jesus and stopped off for the night and continued the next morning. The issue others have with 1pm is that the journey from Cana to Capernaum – while over very hilly country, could be done in 6-8 hours. Surely a worried father could have gotten home that evening. However, those commentators picking 7pm would argue that the man did not begin his journey because of the onset of evening and so set off early the next day and meet his servants.
As I said – it really is not as significant but it does need pointing out.
Why does John tell us that this is the second sign Jesus performed?
For John, he is building the case of his prologue. John tells of eight miracles in his gospel and each one says something very significant about Jesus. The first sign – the water into wine – showed Jesus’ power of the physical universe and declared what he would do in the future. Here, Jesus shows his power over life and death – and that he could heal at a distance such was his powerful word.
( Turning water into wine (2:1-11); healing the royal officials son (4:46-54), healing the paralysed man (5:1-15); feeding the five thousand (6:1-14); walking on water (6:15-21); healing the blind man (9:1-41); Raising Lazarus from the dead (11:1-44); providing the catch of fish (21:6-11).)
What does Mercy look like to you. Do you have an image of what mercy entails? What do we mean and expect from God when we say in our Liturgy “Lord Have Mercy Upon Us?” How would you define mercy? The dictionary defines mercy as having compassion or forgiveness toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.
The misconception is that to show mercy is passive only. That it is a THOUGHT – a mental ascent – I will forgive / have compassion on someone.
That is not a biblical understanding of mercy. Mercy is not about being passive. In fact, with God, it’s just the opposite – God’s mercy is about action – and sometimes intense action.
Our reading from 2 Chronicles is an example of this. Israel is God’s chosen people; the people through whom the promise of God will come to all humanity. Yet his people have walked away from the ways of God. Being God’s people is more than a status – it is more than just being THE PEOPLE – it requires obedience – an obedience to God’s ways, no more and no less. So God, in his mercy, sends messenger after messenger to his people – prophet after prophet – to tell the people to change – to turn back to him.
My first encouragement to you this morning is that God’s mercy is patient.
How patient is he with us? How patient is he with his church? Outrageously patient. Our reading from 2 Chronicles shows us how restrained God is. The religious leaders of Israel, the priests and the officers were unfaithful to God and this has meant that the people are also unfaithful. The nation from the top down had turned away from the creator God. They had not just turned away from God – they had begun to follow all the abominations of the nations.
How patient has God been with you and I – when we get it wrong when we ignore him, when we fail to do the things he has asked of us? Infinitely. He has not judged us as we deserve time and time again.
One of the prophets sent to tell the Israelites to return to God is Jeremiah. He becomes a lone voice – a minority against the huge majority who are defying God.
To be in the majority does not mean you are right your thinking or position – the majority can be wrong – just as being in a minority does not mean you are wrong or mis-guided. A minority in scripture often has another name – a remnant; God’s people who stood against the tide of unfaithfulness to him.
God is patient.
But God’s mercy does not remain patient.
The people do not listen. What a dangerous place to put oneself – ignoring the words, the commands, the pleading and the petition of the living God.
The consequence is that God sends Babylon against Israel. Jerusalem is destroyed and the people of God sent into exile for a generation – 70 years.
Has God’s mercy ended?
No. But how can sending an army to destroy the nation of Israel and send them into exile be merciful?
When we persistently ignore God he will get our attention – and that may sometimes require what we would consider extreme action. God’s judges Israel for it’s rebellion but his judgment is NEVER, NEVER devoid of mercy in scripture. Even in God’s judgment there is mercy and that is shown by the fact that Israel survives. Psalm 137 – By the rivers of Babylon
God’s mercy is active.
God actively gets Israel’s attention.
God’s active mercy is both physical and spiritual. We see in our Gospel reading physical mercy – the crowd is hungry and from the other gospels we know Jesus had compassion on them and he tells his disciples to feed them. The disciples see no way that they could feed a crowd this size, but Jesus takes what is available and miraculously feeds them all.
Jesus’ healing are physical acts of mercy.
Our Epistle reading shows us God’s active mercy spiritually. Paul says that God is rich in his mercy – and that is shown in the incredible verse that says even when we were dead in our trespasses made us alive together with Christ.
In other words God’s mercy takes the initiative. He makes it possible for us to be reconciled with him. And He does that through judgment – judging his son, Jesus Christ, in our place, that his mercy may be made available – and through the resurrection of Jesus Christ making us alive spiritually and physically.
So, God’s mercy is firstly patient and secondly it is active.
Thirdly, God’s mercy is also available – to absolutely anyone. Paul says that the life given through Christ happened while we were still dead in our sins.
This mercy has nothing to do with us – whether we are nice people, or whether we are from good homes or not, or whether we have tried to be moral or not – it has absolutely nothing to do with these things – it comes down to one thing – do you believe what God has said and done in and through Jesus Christ is absolutely true? If yes then the mercy of God is poured out upon you.
All that is required to receive God’s mercy is to ask him for it.
Psalm 31:22: I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from your sight.” But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help
Psalm 116:1 says I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.
Proverbs 28:13 says Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.
And finally just hear the words of Isaiah, 30:18 Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him
What a fantastic image – the Lord God – the creator of the universe waits to be gracious to US. He is waiting to show us mercy. He says this morning to each of us “I want to be gracious to you, I am available – come on Andy, come on Prince George, I am waiting.”
And his showing mercy to us glorifies his name. We should want him to show us mercy because it glorifies him – his name is made great when we come to him asking for his mercy.
God’s mercy is patient; God’s mercy is active; God’s mercy is available now, and finally God’s mercy is eternal.
Paul tells us a wonderful truth in our epistle reading – that when we come to know the living God – being saved by grace alone God raises us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places.
When we believe and accept Jesus as Lord and savior we enter into his death, resurrection AND ascension. Our place is with Jesus for eternity – that is assured – it is guaranteed to all who follow Christ. Of course we are not perfect yet – we struggle, we still do the things we do not want to do – we are not yet without our bad tempers, or bad thoughts, or bad words, or bad actions – but the right to receive it fully has been secured and the new life has already begun here on earth. We are being governed by heavenly standards and motivated by heavenly impulses. Its power, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, enables us to be more than conquerors.
In view of God’s mercy, his patient, active, available and eternal mercy, where are we with God this morning? Is God being patient with us right now? Are we separated from him, doing our own thing, ignoring the ‘prophets’ who are sent to us to say ‘come to God – give your life to him – he loves you and he wants you to be in his kingdom.’
Or maybe is he actively showing his mercy to some of us right now. Maybe things are tough in life – is God trying to get our attention? Is he beckoning us to come to him and allow him into our life? Maybe we are already walking in God’s mercy right now – is God’s name being glorified in our lives? Or do we need to hear this morning that God’s mercy is available – its available to you I regardless of what we have done, or where we have been in life – he is waiting to be gracious to you, he is waiting to pour his mercy on us and we have nothing to bring to God for this – just our yes Lord – we believe and we are yours forever. Or maybe some of us are praising God because we know this morning that the Mercy of God in our life is eternal – and we are rejoicing and glorifying his name – and so Sunday morning’s is about the joy of praising his name.
Wherever we are let us cry out to him this morning asking for his holy spirit to fill us. As we come forward to share communion together ask God to meet with you in a powerful way. If necessary ask someone to pray with you after the service – speak to someone if you need to speak with someone. But please do not delay – God’s mercy is available this morning – he is patient, he is active and it is eternal. Receive it – and receive it fully.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
We had a Tornado Watch today. A big thunderstorm rolled in from the West and all of a sudden at about 6:30pm warnings were displayed on the TV screen. It’s normal for this area, and for this time of year – but I am still not used to it.
“Don’t fish for compliments, lest you defy God while you are applauded. “If I yet pleased men” Paul says “I should not be the servant of Christ.” He stopped pleasing men when he became Christ’s servant. For Christ’s soldiers march on through good talk on the right hand and evil talk on the left. No praise excites them. No criticism crushes them.” Jerome (347-420 AD)
As we begin the season of Lent, I am drawn to this quote by Jerome. How many of us fish for compliments? Our natures eagerly feed off compliments like a hungry animal. Yet Jerome encourages us not to fish for compliments “lest you defy God while you are applauded.” What does this mean? Being complimented can lead us into danger. We can become so enamored with compliments that our diligence to following the commands of our God can wane in favor of trying please others. This is because compliments usually lead us to want to please men rather than God.
The pleasing of men is the positive side of the more negative saying, the fear of men. Do we want to please men or God? That is Jerome’s point and challenge to us. The question seems simple, but the reality is that many of us struggle – our heads tell us to please God and yet our hearts are drawn to pleasing men, or being concerned about what men (people) think of us.
How releasing – how powerful – how wonderful it would be to say with Jerome that no praise excites us and no criticism crushes us. To reach this point requires us to be honest with ourselves – honest about whether the fear of men or the pleasing of men dominates our thinking and actions – and then to come to God and ask him to change our hearts so that we would be more concerned about what God thinks.
Maybe we might want to put Jerome’s quote in a prominent place this Lent to remind us that we should not be trying to please, or pacify people. Instead we should look to the living God. To Him only should we want to please, serve, worship and obey and to him only should we bring our concerns. And alongside Jerome, why not put Proverb 27:21 which says: “The crucible for silver, and the furnace for gold, but a man is tested by the praise he receives”
Thomas a Kempis once said that Instant obedience is the only kind of obedience there is; delayed obedience is disobedience.
We can know this to be true in our own lives. Kitty can ask me to do something and I’ll say yes I’ll do it but in my own mind there is no set time. Kitty will come back 20 minutes later and see that the thing she asked me to do has not been done and she will then vigorously encourage me to do it right now. For Kitty, when I said yes I’ll do it she expected me to get up and do it. Instant obedience; I am learning.
There is a story of parents who would always say to their son, “please go and tidy your room NOW.” The son would always agree to tidy up, but then wouldn’t follow through. After high school the young man joined the Marine Corps. When he came home for leave after basic training, his father asked him what he had learned in the service.
“Dad,” he said. “I learned what ‘now’ means.”
Ananias is an unsung hero of scripture. We know nothing else about this man except what we read in Acts 9, but what we do learn is that this is a faithful, obedient servant of God.
He was a man who knew the voice of God. God calls him and he says “yes Lord, here I am”. The fact that God called upon Ananias shows not only that he was a man of faith, but that he could be trusted. Yet God’s command to Ananias must have made him very afraid – go to Straight Street and seek out Saul of Tarsus.
Ananias response tells us a number of things. Firstly, it tells us that word of Saul’s mission had reached the Christians of Damascus. In fact, Ananias was relatively safe from Saul. Saul had extradition papers to capture Christians from Jerusalem, who had fled, and bring them back for trial, and Ananias was a Damascene Christian.
Secondly It would appear that Ananias was not aware of what had happened to Saul and his encounter with the risen Lord.
Neil Marten, a member of the British Parliament, was once giving a group of his constituents a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament. During the course of the visit, the group happened to meet Lord Hailsham, then Lord Chancellor, wearing all the regalia of his office. Hailsham recognized Marten among the group and cried, “Neil!” Not daring to question or disobey the “command,” the entire band of visitors promptly fell to their knees!
Saul experienced something which instinctively made him fall to the ground asking the question, “who are you LORD!”
Having expected to enter Damascus in the fullness of his pride and power, as a self confident opponent of Jesus Christ was instead led into the city, humbled and blinded, himself captured by the very one had stood against. Ananias also feels that he needs to remind God exactly who Saul of Tarsus was – as if God might have forgotten – this was the man intent on destroying the church; imprisoning Christians – threatening any who followed Christ. Going, willingly, to a man who had approved of the killing of Stephen would seem foolish in anyone’s eyes.
But God tells Ananias to go.
And so Ananias goes.
He was obedient to the call of God and he goes to Straight Street (a street which is still there in Damascus today) to lay hands on Saul.
Now Saul, by this time had been blind for a number of days. I wonder what went through Saul’s head when he heard and saw Jesus standing before him on the road. Jesus’ words are very powerful – “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?” – in other words, to persecute the church was to persecute Christ himself.
Saul now discovers that this Christ was indeed the Messiah – risen and alive.
This was the beginning of a total conversion for Saul – a conversion of will, intellect and emotion which now set his life upon the purpose and direction of being obedient to Christ. Saul / Paul’s obedience begins here – when while blind begins to pray and seek after God.
And finally these two men come together – the faithful obedient disciple Ananias and the newly born, newly obedient servant Saul – Ananias lays hands upon Saul and his blindness leaves him and he is baptized.
Obedience is not always the easy road. Ananias went to Straight Street, not knowing what would happen to him or what he would find but in full obedience, trust and faith in his God.
Saul’s new life of obedience to God was about to begin – a life which we know would involve suffering for the name of Christ. We also know that Saul, Paul, embraces it not just willingly but joyfully.
A life of obedience to God is not always the easy road, but it is always the fruitful one, form only when we are obedient to Christ in our personal lives and corporate lives can we do anything of value.
This is what Jesus’ disciples learnt. The disciples spent three incredible years with Jesus – seeing and experiencing things beyond their imagination.
Yet after Jesus is crucified the disciples go back to Galilee and become fishermen again. They return to what they thought they knew best. The problem is that what they know best is just not working for them. When Jesus first met Peter, he said that he would become a fisher of men. Jesus changed his job description. That was their life and their task now and they were not doing anything about it. The fact they caught nothing (John 21 – not a good thing for supposedly professional fisherman!) is a kind of metaphor that they will not catch anything when they are fishing in the wrong place – they can do nothing, nor achieve anything without Christ.
Jesus appears on the bank and cries out “children, have you caught anything yet?” The sentence structure demands a negative!
Just like a parable, Jesus tells them to put their nets over the other side – it is not a suggestion but a command and instantly the nets fill with fish. Even as the resurrected Lord Jesus is teaching his disciples to do what they must do – they haven’t caught anything because they are not fishing were they should be fishing – in the towns and cities of Israel. Fish when, where and how Jesus tells us to and we will have the harvest!
Ananias, Saul, Peter and the six disciples, you and I are called to be obedient to Christ BECAUSE apart from Christ we can do nothing and achieve nothing of value.
It is the first step of our calling as believers, followers and worshippers of Christ.
That Christ is the center of our obedience is shown in the book of Revelation. It says in Chapter 5 ; “Between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a lamb standing, as though it had been slain…” The lamb is the central figure in heaven – on whom all the attention is focused – a lamb that bears the marks of violent death because he was obedient to his Father – but yet standing, alive, not dead.
Is the lamb the central place in our lives? Is he what moulds us and directs us and inspires us?
And here is the main point – the lamb – Christ – is worthy because he is the model of obedience – he is worthy because he laid his life down for every tribe, tongue and nation. He came and did the fathers will – “Not my will be done but yours”.
He is worthy to be worshipped – to be honored – to be praised because he too was obedient, even to death. How much more should we also be obedient as believers.
Somebody once said, “The first duty of every soul is to find not its freedom but its Master”.
IS CHRIST OUR MASTER TODAY?