2 Easter Sermon

The Apostle Thomas was a cynical person. If there was one person you wanted to be present when Jesus revealed himself after the resurrection to the disciples it would be Thomas. Where was he? Maybe he was disillusioned by the events of the past few days and had gone away to think it through. We are not told where Thomas was, but my guess is that he should have been with the disciples. They were probably wondering where he was.

By not being with the disciples, Thomas misses an incredible blessing. It’s a principle – when we are disconnected from the body of Christ we miss blessings.

Of course Jesus was not surprised that Thomas was absent when he revealed himself to the disciples. I would even suggest to you that Jesus appeared to the disciples DELIBERATELY without Thomas present. I think Jesus wanted to teach Thomas something. I think he wanted to show Thomas how dangerous his cynicism had become.

The dangerous side of Thomas’ cynicism is shown when he does reconnect with the other disciples. He hears the story of Jesus’ appearance, not by one, two, five but 10 of his closest and most trusted friends. And even from these close friends Thomas is not impressed by their account of Jesus’ appearance. The words on the page probably do not convey the excitement with which Thomas was probably bombarded with when he arrived back with the Disciples. Jesus does not reappear for 8 days and it is not a stretch to think that for 8 days Thomas is subjected to the story of Jesus’ appearance again and again. Effectively he calls his closest friends liars – or men who are delusional.

Thomas then sets his own criteria for what it would take for him to believe. It is always dangerous to say to God “This is my criteria before I will believe in you.” Notice what Thomas says – he is not satisfied just to SEE the print of the nails; in other words what was good enough for his friends would not be acceptable proof for him – no, for Thomas to believe, he would have to put – the greek is more aggressive – thrust; unless he thrusts his finger in the mark of the nails, unless he does THAT, he is emphatic – “I WILL NOT BELIEVE.”

This from a trusted disciple of Jesus! Thomas had seen Jesus’ miracles. He had watched the blind see, the crippled walk, the ill healed. He had been there when Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. He was sent out by Jesus, two by two, and performed great healings and miracles. He had seen with his own eyes the power of the Holy Spirit. He had spent three years with Jesus, learning and being taught. He had been there when Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ.

But now Thomas was struggling to believe, EVEN in the face his closest friends testimonies.

The disillusionment of the cross, the shattering of the dreams, hope and expectation of the future with the Messiah was all but gone and it was leading Thomas towards cynicism and a loss of faith. We know his faith was at risk by Jesus’ own words when he confronts Thomas – he literally says Stop BECOMING faithless but become a believer. Notice that – Thomas was becoming faithless.

Have you ever experienced disillusionment with the Church? Have you experienced disillusionment with your faith? Have you ever struggled to believe? Are there aspects of the Christian faith that you do not really accept or believe to be true? Maybe you have never expressed your doubts to anyone else. Do your doubts and disillusionments threaten to overwhelm you?

Cynicism is a problem in the body of Christ.

One theologian has said that a Christian Cynic is one who criticizes everything while maintaining a degree of allegiance to Jesus but whose favorite verses are those where Jesus attacks and denounces the Pharisees and religious leaders for their failings.

The reason why cynicism is so problematic in the church is that christian cynics have allowed their disillusionment, whether with the world, the church, the church leadership, to take hold of them and it has become the driving force of their natures. Nothing is ever good enough. Everything is always a failure. The leadership can never get it right. The Church does not do enough, etc, etc.

Cynicism almost always begins with disillusionment.

Now disillusionment is not always a bad thing. Disillusionment can bring us to the place of reality – seeing the situation as it really is; that things are not going well; that we are struggling; that the future is uncertain. Disillusionment can be the wake up call. In fact the aim of evangelism is to lead someone who does not believe in God to a point of disillusionment with a world that has no hope of God. The Apostle Paul, during the three days he was blind in the house on Straight Street was probably disillusioned; disillusioned that all that he thought he was doing was in fact wrong.

The danger comes when disillusionment is left unchecked, because unchecked it will develop into cynicism. Ideally, disillusionment should lead us to take stock, re-evaluate and make new decisions. That is why with the atheist we do not stop having lead him to his disillusionment of the world, but we show him the hope – the reality of what God has done.

So what is it that stops disillusionment from becoming cynicism for a Christian? Why does Paul does not end up a cynic? What should we turn to when we are feeling disillusioned with our faith?

The Resurrection!

Someone has written that we need to foster and teach a Biblical spirituality that embraces the grim reality of our ex-eden life along with the joyful reality that God is making all things new.

In other words, we do not avoid cynicism by ignoring reality, or ignoring that life can be tough, that we fail, that we can have difficult, sad and even tragic times, that things go wrong.

We need to accept reality. We are not to ignore our sin, but we are to be honest and confess our sins. But we do so in the reality and light of the truth of the resurrection. The darkness and pain of this world and of our sins can only be dealt with if Christ rose from the dead!

Remove the resurrection of Christ from the Christian faith and ALL that is left for a Christian is deep and hopeless cynicism.

Paul himself tells us in 1 Corinthians 15; if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Therefore, those who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished. If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.

If we are struggling with disillusionment and cynicism as believers then we have lost sight of the truth of the resurrection and what it accomplished for us and the world. We need to get the truth of the resurrection back into the center of our hearts and our lives and our faith. If we do not have the real joy of the resurrection then we will not have peace or joy in our lives.

This is why we must believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without the bodily resurrection of Christ we have disillusionment without hope and therefore we will become cynical and eventually lose our faith.

The resurrection is more than just ‘Jesus rose from the dead’. It is the undeniable FACT that Jesus’ defeat of death means we have begun, right now, to live in the sure hope of eternal life – that this world will be renewed – wars will end, famine will end, disease will be conquered – that disillusionment will be wiped away for ever when Christ returns. It allows us to live today in the reality of this world knowing the joy of the world to come.

It is the Resurrection that allows us to experience the peace Jesus gives his disciples and enables us to fulfill the calling he has given us – Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me even so I send you. And remember what Peace – Shalom means – destroying the authority that causes chaos! Satan, the prince of chaos, has been defeated. Therefore we go into the world in peace.

When Jesus comes to the one disillusioned in mercy that is when everything changes.

That is exactly what happened to Thomas – Jesus appears to the one disillusioned and everything changes. Jesus invites Thomas to put his hands in the nail marks. He challenges Thomas to fulfill his declaration that ONLY by doing THAT he would believe. But Thomas doesn’t. His emphatic, self declared criteria of what it would take for him to believe disappears. And, I would hasten to suggest, at this moment, Thomas was no longer a cynic.

His immediate response is amazing – he exclaims the truth “My Lord and God.” Why such a response? The scriptures, and the languages that God chose that the scriptures should be written in are so amazing. I would like to suggest a reason why Thomas falls to his knees and declares Jesus to be his Lord and God. In Hebrew, God’s name was Yahweh. Those of you who have done the Jewish roots class with me know that Yahweh in Hebrew is spelt – yod, hey, vav, hey. In the hebrew every letter means something and in Hebrew picture language Yod means hand, hey means window, vav means nail and hey means window. So literally Yahweh means the hand revealed, the nail revealed. And I think Thomas got that when Jesus offered his hand where the nails had been – hence his response! Amazing!

The resurrection changes everything for those who follow Jesus. Despite what we see or what we experience, despite the sadness, the cruelty and the violence of the world, the resurrection gives us hope.

We must not allow our disillusionments and hurts with the world and the church to turn into cynicism. That is what the enemy would love to happen. The world and the church will hurt us – it will cause us to be disillusioned at times – of course it will. Sinful human beings hurt each other in words and actions. But let us ALWAYS remember the truth and the reality of resurrection because when we do cynicism will never have a hold on us because we will be a people of Hope – of true, eternal and sure hope.

Our disillusionments and hurts, do not compare to the fact that Jesus died and rose again for our sins so that we might have eternal life and that he will return to make all things right and new.

Christ has risen – And for all who trust in him, everything will be OK.

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Easter Day Sermon

Alleluia Christ is risen…. he is risen indeed alleluia!

Praise God! While every Sunday in the Christian year is a celebration and remembrance of the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ today is a special remembrance.

Those of you have been in the church for years know how Christians can poke a little fun at those who we affectionally call C Of E’s or C & E’s – those who only ever go to Church at Christmas and Easter but this morning I want us to think about us who have gone to church for years and ask whether we are actually living and moving in the power of the resurrection?

Even sadder than those who come to church only at Christmas and Easter are Christians who attend every week but never live out or live in the power of the resurrected Christ and live their faith as resurrected Christians. You can be alive and still in the grave and for many Christians that is the case.

In the pagan world of the 1st Century personal morality in connection with your religion was virtually  non existent. As long as a pagan gave his offering to his god he could return to his life unchanged and without any guilt.

What a person believed and how he behaved was unconnected.

It is very different for us as Christians. What we believe MUST have a definite connection to how we behave, not because our philosophy is stronger but because of the real power which came with the resurrection.

We saw on Good friday that the greatest cosmic battle which took place on the cross saw Jesus break to cycle of sin and death which had held humanity in bondage. Jesus set us free by dying on the cross, and his resurrection means we have power to live in that freedom.

You know, what shocked Peter and John was not that Jesus was resurrected – but WHEN he had resurrected! We saw a few weeks back in the readings about Lazarus that Martha believed in the physical resurrection of her brother. The issue is when would that happen. Jewish understanding was that the resurrection would happen at the end of time because at the resurrection all who believe would be empowered to live in the resurrected life.

The fact Jesus is resurrected in the middle of history is what shocks Peter and John as they stare into the tomb – because it began to dawn on them the consequence of what had happened – the resurrected life had begun. We as Christ followers live everyday in the light and power of the resurrection and in the resurrected Christ. For you and I the resurrected life is not something we WILL experience. It is something we ARE experiencing. At least, we SHOULD be experiencing it now.

Pentecostals use a phrase which many cringe at but I like it – they would ask you, are you living the victorious christian life?

Another way of saying this is Are you this morning living in the light and power of the resurrection. Are you experiencing NOW the resurrected life? Do you know what that means?

Paul knew exactly what it was to live in the power of the resurrection and in our epistle reading this morning he gives four effects of the resurrection on us:

  1. We are alive in Christ. In other words, Christ is our life. You know the Bible tells us that eternal life is not something we have or a concept – it is Jesus Himself. If someone says to you What is eternal life the right answer is Jesus Christ. 1 John 5:12 says And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. And 1 John 5:20 says We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Do you live every day knowing you are alive in Christ? What drives you each day? Is it Christ? Christ was Paul’s life and he was alive to anything that related to Christ.  Can we say that of ourselves this resurrected morning? You know something, our happiness has to be rooted in our life in Christ. If you rely on anything else to make you happy, you are relying on the wrong thing. For example, for those married here today, if your happiness is found in your spouse, or in what your spouse does or provides you are going to have problems. A married persons happiness must never be found in their spouse – my being happy should happy should have nothing to do with Kitty – it must be found and rooted in God. Because when your spouse hurts you, or lets you down, or makes a mistake, if your happiness is rooted in them you will lose your happiness. As Christians we cannot place our happiness in external things like our jobs, our income, or level of living, or even in church, or other people, because these things will fail and therefore so will your happiness. This is why Paul can remain joyful despite experiencing the hardships he experienced and say they are nothing compared to what he will receive when he goes to be with Jesus. His happiness was never based on the things of this world or in other people – it was rooted in Jesus. Are we alive in Christ this morning?
  1. We are raised with Christ. Do you know you have been resurrected and risen with Christ. Paul says in Ephesians that God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. Do you feel raised this morning? It is tragic and sad when Christians live as though they are still in the grave. Yet our destiny has begun already. We are no longer destined to remain in the grave – death has no hold on us. And yet the church can be so lacking in joy. Are truly laughing, joyful, happy people because we know the reality of what happened today?  Non-Christians tend not to see the church as a place of vibrant, joyful, happy people but where boring, and out of touch people who seem to be angry with the world meet. That is terrible in light of the resurrection. We are able to live life without fear. We serve a God who can do accomplish everything he purposes to do – a God who broke the seemingly impossible cycle of sin and death which the devil trapped humanity in.  And yet the Church, and Christians walk in fear and concern about the things of this world.
  1. We are Hidden in Christ. We no longer belong to this world but to Christ. This should give us an incredible peace and sense of security. One theologians has written So here we are in Christ, who is in God and no burglar, not even Satan himself can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Our sphere of life is not this earth but heaven and the things that should attract us and excite us should belong to heaven. Paul says elsewhere that whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
  1. We are Glorified In Christ. The resurrection shows us that our destiny is to be with Christ. While here now we have the down payment of the Holy Spirit within us, we are to look with eager expectation to the fullness of that promise. Either when Christ comes again or when we die, we shall be united with him in his glory which he willing shares with his people. And to share in God’s glory is to attain to his likeness – and that means full sanctification, that is, we will be free of our sinful natures, of the things we have struggled with – we will become fully sanctified and become what God intended we should  be. 1 John 3 promises that we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And although we are waiting for this day the resurrection tells us that its arrival is as sure as if it was already here!

The fact that today, as followers of Christ we are alive in Christ, raised with Christ, hidden with Christ and glorified in Christ means we should be transformed and changed in how we live our lives? If we are not changing and being transformed – if we are not discerning spiritual growth amongst us we are not living in the light of the resurrection.

It should mean that the practical, everyday affairs of our life get their direction from Christ. It means that everything we do or experience or encounter must be looked at from the heavenly point of view and not an earthy point of view. Paul tells us to habitually set your mind – your attention – on things above not on things on the earth. Are we fixated on the things of the earth rather than heaven? Do we need to reset how we think this morning?

This is so important for us who live in the light of the resurrection and it is so important for this church. There is a spiritual principle here: What we set our minds on determines our seeking and thus the direction of our Christian lives. Unless we set our minds on the resurrection and what is means for us, we will not seek or walk in the light of the resurrection. And this is why even Christians who have come to church all year are not walking or living in the power of the resurrection each day. They have not set their minds on it, but on other things.

The resurrection means we should be transformed, living out our new life – each day, each week, each year. If we are not being transformed, if we are not slowly becoming more christ like each day, each week, each year, we are not living in the power of the resurrection, we are Christians who are still in the grave and that is tragic – it is a waste of the gift of life which God has bestowed on us and we are in no better state than those who come to church at just Christmas and Easter.

So, let us this morning say with Paul I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection.

 

Good Friday Sermon

Today we meditate on one of the most incredible cosmic battles that has ever taken place.

From the moment that the devil managed to get Adam and Eve to disobey God he believed he had an airtight victory over humanity.

The devil is cunning. He understood exactly what he was doing in the temptation. This was not just a “I am going to ruin everything” moment but a “I know that what I am planning will doom the human race, this creature created in God’s image, for all eternity to sin and death.”

The result of the disobedience of Adam and Eve was that every single offspring throughout all of history had the inherited DNA, the inherited nature of sin. The devil had locked humanity into a cycle which could not be broken. Yes, people could believe in God and go to heaven – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the Israelites, Rahab etc. But ultimately, the end result would be that God’s creation and the creatures he created in his image would be trapped in this cycle of sin and death and many, many, many would die and belong to the devil.

Satan believed he had irreversibly ruined God’s creation.

The only way out of this cycle would be for a human being to live perfectly. But that could never happen because every human being was the product of man and woman, descendant of Adam and Eve and so at the very moment of conception the sin nature was passed onto the baby and therefore right from the get go, imperfect.

This is why God is so amazing. He formulated the plan that broke the cycle.

Jesus was Born of a virgin and so while fully human, He was not contaminated with the sin nature which Adam passed down through the ages. God himself became a human being and lived on the earth for some 30 plus years perfectly.

No wonder the satanic forces rose up so powerfully during Jesus’ life time and did everything they could to destroy Jesus and his ministry on earth.

And it all culminates in what happened on Good Friday

The final attempt at his destruction was the cross. If the devil knew what the cross would actually achieve he would have tried to have prevent Christ going there. But he didn’t understand. 1 Peter 1 has a remarkable passage which says this Concerning this salvation, the prophets who predicted the grace that would come to you searched and investigated carefully. 11 They probed into what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when he testified beforehand about the sufferings appointed for Christ and his subsequent glory. 12 They were shown that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things now announced to you through those who proclaimed the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things angels long to catch a glimpse of.

Notice that – the things revealed to the prophets about salvation were things the angels long to catch a glimpse of. The angels in heaven are learning as things unfold on earth. How amazing!

There is a remarkable tension in the events of the cross. From the human point of view it was the greatest crime and tragedy in history. From the divine point of view it was the fulfillment of prophecy and the accomplishment of God’s will.

Both are true.

Pilate and Caiaphas are responsible for their actions and will be judged for the decisions they made but in God’s sovereignty what they planned for evil only ended up fulfilling the purposes of God.

God was right in the midst of the brutality, blood and pain of the cross. He did not avoid it nor did  he insulate himself from it – he went through it.

The cross shows us that we must never, as Christians, believe that evil has the power to win. Pilate believed he was in charge – he tells Jesus I have the authority to release you or crucify you” . Having stayed silent to Pilates questions, at this point Jesus corrects him – “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above”. The delusion of Pilate and Caiaphas and all people who do evil and oppose God or who abuse authority and power is that they think they have authority. They don’t. It’s a lie. God is the one with true authority.

That is why we are commanded to be unafraid of the world and all it can throw at us. Jesus stood calmly in the midst of his trial and in the face of Pilate BECAUSE he knew God’s authority is what really matters and that God alone is able to deliver his servants even from death.

Remember what Jesus taught in Matthew 10:28 do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

All a government, a despot, a dictator, an evil person can do is take our life. Jesus says we must not fear anyone who can kill us, because that is all they are able to do to us.

Notice that Jesus’ calmness makes Pilate afraid. He had never seen such a prisoner before – facing crucifixion Jesus is not begging for mercy and arguing his innocence. He remains silent. He remains calm.

What Jesus showed us on Good Friday is that we can face the most darkest of times in the faith, trust and truth of the victory that God has won. In a few hours, from all who looked on, Jesus’ ministry was about to die and fail. He would be killed a criminal. His promises and his words would come to nothing.

Yet Jesus knew that God would fulfill his promises. That God would do what he said he would do.

We can face the darkest of times in our lives BECAUSE Jesus faced the cross. Death was about to claim something which did not belong to it. Because Jesus was born without sin and lived without sin he did not deserve death. But he entered death in order to shatter it for us. Sin and Death no longer has a hold on us because a perfect human being lived and died.

And because Jesus broke the cycle of sin and death there is no situation – no brutality – no tragedy in which God is not right there with us. On the Cross Jesus defeated Satan’s supposedly airtight trap for humanity.

Finally, I believe that God gave all who looked at the cross a final sign of exactly what was happening. You know that the Pharisees got so angry with the sign over Jesus’ head. John tells us that the sign read “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” John’s account is probably the full wording of the sign. The reason why the Pharisees were incensed at the sign was not what it claimed – they were OK for Jesus to claim he was king of the Jews, they even suggest to Pilate he change the sign to say he claimed to be the King of the Jews – they were angry for another reason.

The sign in hebrew would have been in four Hebrew words – Yeshua / Narazath of / King the and / Jews the of. The first letters of each word are: yod hey vav hey – which spells Yahweh, the Jewish name for God which they believed was so holy it could not be pronounced – but right above Jesus as he dies was the letters of yahweh. That is why the Pharisees were so angry.

The proclamation to the world of who Jesus was and what he was doing was right there above Jesus’ head as he died.

You know, today reminds us that the cross means that you are I are no longer held by the chains of the world’s darkness and pain nor of the cycle of sin and death.God asks us to walk with him even through the pain and the darkness of the situation we face. We are able to because Jesus pronounced just before he died that it was finished. It has been accomplished. The debt has been paid in full.

People can attack us – they can seek to do us harm – they may even appear to be winning or even to have won but God’s promises will prevail and he will protect and uphold each of his children. But we must be like Jesus is the face of the storm – calm and trusting in the Father’s purposes.

 

Maundy Thursday Sermon

Tonight we meditate on the final evening of Jesus’ life on earth, and famously known as the last supper.

Jesus had lived his life to a heavenly timetable. Nobody had dictated where he should go or what he should do.

Three times in John’s gospel, chp 2, chp 7 and chp 8 we are told that Jesus’ hour had not yet come but now, in v1 of John 13 we are told Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father.

Even though Jesus was about to enter the most turbulent time and trial of his life, he was still the complete master of the situation. He knew what was coming. But he also knew who he was and where he was going and that the battle ahead was the Father’s will. We saw on Sunday that Jesus willingly goes to the humiliation and mocking of the cross for our sake. Jesus as committed to living out his life under the timetable of the Father and nobody else’s.

But before the turmoil of the next 24 hours begins and before Jesus leaves his disciples, He gives perhaps one of the most powerful lessons he possible could have given. And this lesson was meant for every single follower of Jesus throughout all time. Sadly, while it is one of the most important lessons Jesus gave the Church, it is also one of the most neglected.

As Jesus reclined and began to eat this passover meal he was aware that there was a competitive spirit in the hearts of his disciples. Luke’s gospel tells us that during the last supper a dispute arose between the disciples about who was the greatest.

The church has always had these battles over who is the greatest. I have been shocked and saddened at how often people have fought over and for power and authority in the church. It never ceases to amaze me that Christians actually strive for status and influence within the body of Christ. The amount of times people have tried to get onto leadership teams or vestry’s in order to get the church to do something their way is astounding.

It is astounding because of what Jesus so clearly teaches us in this passage.

Jesus gives the disciples and the future church an unforgettable lesson in humility and at the same time sent a stinging rebuke to his disciples selfishness and pride.

It is said that humility is not thinking meanly of yourself – it is simply not thinking of yourself at all.

Imagine church like that – where people did not think of themselves at all. Imagine a church that really put Paul’s words in effect in Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Sadly, as one theologian has written, The church is filled with a worldly spirit of competition and criticism as believers vie with one another to see who is the greatest.

Christians so often grow in knowledge but they do not grow in grace or humility.

Andrew Murray from the 19th century has written that humility is the ONLY soil in which grace takes root. The lack of humility is the sufficient explanation of every defect and failure.

It is a lack of humility and his desire to be the greatest which causes Peter to respond to Jesus’ remarkable actions of rising from the table and beginning to wash the disciples feet.

As you all know, what Jesus did was reserved for only gentiles slaves. Washing feet was so lowly no Jew servant would ever do it, not would he be expected to do it. Peter’s response is quite violent. “You shall never wash my feet.”. In the greek language this is called a double negative. You could render it as You shall by no means wash my feet, no, never.

In todays language it would come out as Don’t you dare do that to me.

The reason Peter is so insistent that Jesus should not wash his feet is because Peter’s pride would never allow him to do what Jesus was doing. It’s almost as if Peter is thinking, if Jesus is willing to do this then I am going to be expected to do it and I won’t!

So he tries to stop him.

But Jesus is about to teach something very important to Peter, the disciples and all of us.

The word that is used in this passage for wash  in all but one instance is the word nipto which means to wash a part of the body. The exception is in the verse which says He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet. Here John uses a word that means to wash all over the body.

This distinction is so important. Jesus was teaching his disciples the importance of a holy walk for which humility is vital.

When we trust in Christ we are bathed all over and our sins are washed away. However as we walk in the world it is easy to pick up dirt and become defiled. We do not need to be washed all over again but we must wash that part which gets defiled.

The feet are a great illustration. In the first century you would arrive at a house after a long journey with very dirty feet. Hence the ritual to wash feet when people arrived at places. They did not necessarily need a bath but they would need their dirty feet cleaned.

Jesus’ point is that without being cleansed of our sins, our pride, our worldly spirits, our critical natures etc, we cannot have communion with God.

Notice what he says to Peter – “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.”  This is incredible language! In other words Jesus says, If you do let me wash you clean of that competitive spirit Peter – if you do get rid of that pride, you can have no part of me. The word No part in me refers to participation – having a share in someone’s future. Peter, and the disciples, were in danger of not being in fellowship with Jesus, because of their pride and competitive spirit.

When we believe and trust in Christ we are bathed all over – but our communion with Christ depends on our keeping ourselves unspotted from the world and its values. If we allow unconfessed sin in our lives, if we do not deal with attitudes which are damaging, such as gossip, or critical spirits, or pride or competitiveness, we hinder our walk with God – and that is when we need to have our feet washed.

The whole point here is that Peter was having a  difficult time receiving this from Christ BECAUSE his heart was not in humility and he was speaking out of his pride and desire to be the best in the room.

It takes humility and grace to serve others but it also takes humility and grace to allow others to serve us.

The amazing thing about this night is that Jesus was their master. He had every right to command them to serve him.

Instead he served them in complete and utter humility.

Jesus said that ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’  If the master becomes a servant where does that put the servant?

Yet what is incredible is that by becoming a servant Jesus did not push us down but raised us up – to be with him. Not above, or better than him, which is how we act sometimes – but with him – a servant of others.

The Romans had no use for humility because they saw it as weakness – the Greeks despised manual labor as they saw that as beneath them – right here Jesus combines the two and tells us that this is what we are to be. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 

After reading this passage how on earth can Christians vie and fight for positions of authority? How can leadership teams and vestry’s be a place of conflict and anger. How can churches be filled with people who dislike each other when you see what Jesus does and says here?

Because they are fileld with people who, like Peter who say in their heart “You shall never wash my feet.” People know that if Jesus washed their feet, instead of being critical and angry and competitive they have to wash feet too and they are too prideful to get on their hands and knees, whether physically or spiritually, to serve and minister and help others.

Ultimately, without humility and grace we cannot enter the true work of the cross. Jesus knew that unless Peter and the disciples understood this they would find the next few days even harder than they did.

As we prepare ourselves to come to the cross, let us continue to give ourselves to the Lord that he would clean those areas we need cleansing from. That we would seek to serve, on our hands and knees if necessary, and we would do so not in a place of pride or competitiveness but from love, knowing that if that is where Jesus ministered, so must we.

Palm Sunday Sermon

Whenever we read this incredible account of the Passion of Christ we must, I believe always bear in mind Jesus words in Matthew 16:24:

If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross & follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Is Jesus saying we must all be nailed to a cross and suffer incredible pain in order to be his disciples? No. But he is saying that we must be willing to do what Jesus did ON the cross – willingly give our life for the glory of God.

Following Jesus means sacrificing our own honor and pride for Christ’s sake.

This is Paul’s point in our Epistle reading – Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus – other translations render v5 as Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus.

So, here is a question for us to ponder this morning – can we say that having read the passion this morning that our attitude is like Christ’s. We would all probably say no. BUT – it should be – and at the every least each day we should be pursuing that goal – allowing a little bit us to die everyday in order to grow more Christ like – letting more of our self-centeredness wither away.

And probably the hardest thing for us as Christians to let go of and die within us is our pride.

Pride is one of the greatest threats to maturing our faith and having an attitude like Christ’s. Our culture values pride – it encourages us to have pride but pride is deadly in a Christian.

How do we know we are prideful? Do you find it difficult to apologize for something quickly and sincerely? Do you find it hard to admit that you were wrong? Do you find it hard to take responsibility for a mistake? Do you instinctively blame others when something goes wrong? These are symptoms of pride.

And the reason why pride is so dangerous is that it leads to a hardness of heart.

Look at what Jesus does in our epistle reading. He willingly left heaven and gave up his glory and honor in order to be humiliated and take the blame for the wrongs of others despite having never done anything wrong.

Jesus allows his reputation to be shredded and his motives questioned and his ministry dismissed in order to complete the work God the Father had for him.

Jesus endured the lies and the false accusations. And even more amazing he endured them while having the power to stop it and to prove them completely wrong.

There are times when we suffer unjustly – but there is a big difference between suffering unjustly when we have NO choice in the matter and suffering unjustly when we have the power and the ability to stop it happening! Jesus had the power and the authority to end the suffering right there and then. He could have revealed just a small amount of his majesty and glory and Pilate and the religious leaders would have fallen on their faces – just as when the guards came to Gethsemene to arrest Jesus and Jesus said “I am” and the soldiers fell to the ground.

But Jesus chooses not to – because he willingly walks the path the Father asks of him. He allows himself to be humiliated and mocked so we might be set free.

If we have Pride, and are unable to even admit we make mistakes, or find it hard to apologize, how on earth will we be able to face people mocking us as Christians or face humiliation in the name of Jesus? We won’t be able to because we will react and fight and not in a godly righteous way but in the way of the world – with bitterness and anger. And therefore we won’t be able to have the mind of Christ as Paul says we should.

Pride stops us from entering into the things God has for us.

I want to make a brief digression here. There is the famous account in the gospels of James and John’s mother going to Jesus and asking Jesus whether her sons would be able to sit at the right hand of Jesus when he came into his kingdom. The request was made in pride.

Well, look who is actually on Jesus left and right in our passage this morning. It’s not James and John. What happened? Well, James fled and John along with Peter followed Jesus to the High priests house. They were not willing to stand with him at this point. Instead Jesus dies between two strangers.

My point in mentioning this is that we cannot have the glory without the willingness to sacrifice everything and give it all to God and we cannot do that when we have pride.

We want to be disciples – we want to be followers of Christ – we want to receive all the blessing God has for us then we must be willing to die to self give everything to Christ.

Jesus is able to do what he did because he knew exactly who he was. He knew where he had come from and he knew where he was going. He knew who he was and he knew the Fathers love. He knew that while people thought they controlled His’ destiny Jesus knew exactly who was in control.

When Jesus tells us to lose our life – to take up our cross he does so in the context that we must know who is ultimately in control.

I believe every martyr who has faced the sword, or wild animals or the barrel of a gun has known that while their persecutor thinks they are in control, the martyr knows God is in control and that his destiny has already been secured.

If we hold onto our pride we will never know that security. If we hold onto our position and securities we will never be able to peacefully face persecution or even mocking for being Christ followers.

The religious leaders stood around Jesus’ cross and mocked him and challenged him.

So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him; for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”

There is sad irony in the mocking of the religious leaders – Jesus would not come down from the cross and save himself PRECISELY BECAUSE he was saving others.

The righteous sufferer is mocked for his trust in a God who, it seems, will not respond to his devotion with practical help.

Just think on that for a moment. From those standing around the Cross, God is not apparently helping Jesus at all. And so they mock Him. How would we respond to such mocking? How often have we heard “Where is your God?” Or “If your God exists he is obviously useless because he is not acting”.

There is a time coming when being believers in Jesus Christ and living out our lives as his followers will bring mocking and even persecution to us. How will we respond? How will we act? Will we fight back? How will we fight back? Will we fight back as with the mind of Christ as if we are taking up our cross and following him; as if we are losing our life for his sake and so find it?

Having the mind of Christ does not just involve the death of pride in us but it also involves how we respond.

You know what Jesus was doing to those Pharisees and Sadduccess and scribes as they mocked him – he was loving them. You know, Jesus lived out the words he spoke – love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, bless those who seek you harm.

Why is the church so weak in our culture – because quite simply we do not love those who hurt us – we do not bless those who persecute us and we do not pray for our enemies.

And yet the core of the passion is about a God who endured the cross out of his love for even those who mocked him and despised him.

This has got to stop being doctrine in our minds and it has to become action in our lives.

I urge us as we enter Holy Week to seek the Lord on this – that we may meditate on what it is to have same attitude as Christ – to take up our cross – to lose our life in order to find it. I pray that we will ask the Holy Spirit to root out the pride which makes us defensive and self-centered and self seeking and that we may this week seek to die to self so that Christ may live in us.

The Strategy of Satan by Warren W. Wiersbe

 

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Warren Wiersbe’s The Strategy of Satan is not a ‘sensationalist’ book, but a deeply thought out, biblically based understanding of what we as Christian’s need to be aware of.

We are in the midst of a spiritual battle, much of which we do not see, but of which we are a part. Wiersbe writes that: It comes as a shock to the new believer that the Christian life is a battleground and not a playground. In my pastoral ministry, I could always tell when a new Christian was starting to mature, because he found himself fighting battles. This was a good sign because, as Spurgeon used to say, “Satan never kicks a dead horse!”

With that said, we need to understand about the battleground and the enemy. Wiersbe will open your eyes and deepen your understanding of where Satan targets us (the mind, the body, the will & the heart and conscience); what he uses to attack us (lies, suffering, pride and accusations); why he attacks us (because we are ignorant of God’s will, impatient of God’s will, independent of God’s will or indictment BY God’s will); and our defence against his attacks (the word of God, the grace of God, the indwelling Spirit and Christ’s intercessions).

One of the most poignant warnings that Wiersbe gives is not to give satan a beach-head in your life: If the believer cultivates in his life any known sin, he is giving Satan an opportunity to get a foothold, a beachhead in his life. Satan will then use this opportunity to invade and take over other areas. Paul warns in Ephesians 4:27, “And do not give the devil an opportunity.” The word translated “opportunity” simply means a place such as a city or a building. But it carries the idea of a foothold or opportunity, a chance to operate. The J. B. Phillips paraphrase of Ephesians 4:27 reads, “Don’t give the devil that sort of foothold.” In the language of warfare we would say, “Don’t give the devil a beachhead.”

This really is a MUST read for ALL Christian’s. Spiritual warfare is real and it is dangerous. This is one of the best books to help you be prepared and ready for whatever the enemy throws at you.

April 2014 Congregational Letter

Jesus prayed for his disciples that They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. John 17:16,18.

The great danger we have as a Church and as believers is that as we are in the world we start to become desensitized to the impact of the world on us and the church. When you have been immersed in something for your whole life it can be hard to spot the areas of life and our culture which are really damaging to our faith in Christ. Lot is an example of this. When you read Genesis you will see a progression – Lot leaves Abraham and moves TO the plains – then he camps outside the city of Sodom and then he lives IN the city of Sodom. Lot is gradually sucked into culture around him and finds himself in the midst of it. The Bible tells us that Lot HATED what he saw in Sodom – 2 Peter 2:7 says, Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless .What Peter reveals through the Holy Spirit is that Lot struggled in Sodom – he knew they were wicked – but because he had allowed himself to be sucked in he got himself into trouble.

As an aside, although I find it fascinating, In the Hebrew language each letter has a meaning of its own as well as a picture. This is called Hebrew Picture Language. Interestingly Lot’s name in Hebrew is made up of the letters ל lamad (control) – ו vav – (nail) – ט tet (snake). In rabbinic tradition Lot gave control to the snake.

And this is something we have to be very careful about in the church because it can happen very subtly. Satan can distract us and while we are focused on one thing, Satan gets in through another door and before long a church can give it’s authority to the serpent.

Let me explain.

What was the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah? Most of us would answer debauchery. Interestingly, the Bible actually tells us the exact sin of Sodom.

Ez 16:49-50 Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.

So, Sodom’s sin(s) was not just debauchery – it was also arrogance, being over fed, unconcerned, stingy by not helping the poor and those in need and they were haughty (which means arrogantly superior and disdainful)

Now, look at Proverbs 6:16-19. This passage tells us what God hates. The Lord hates six things; in fact, seven are detestable to Him: arrogant eyes [pride], a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that plots wicked schemes, feet eager to run to evil, a lying witness who gives false testimony, and one who stirs up trouble among brothers.

Is pride, arrogance, a lying tongue, spreading false rumors or stirring up trouble in the church as bad as sexual sin? Yes it is. And here is the point – we cannot think that just because we are not committing the BIG sins we are OK.

Because we live in a world and are immersed in a culture where pride, discord, division, unforgiveness, anger and bitterness are so prevalent be it in the schools we study in or in the offices we work in or even in the homes we live in, we can too easily let it creep into the church unawares and before we know it has created havoc amongst us.

Friends, we need to ask the Holy Spirit, individually and corporately to minister to us, to free us and to protect us from pride, discord, division, unforgiveness, anger or bitterness. Only then will we be able to be what the Lord prayed we should be later on in John 17:

May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.