Proper 7 YEAR A

The presence of death, pain, disease and evil is not a sign of God’s absence in the world, but the results of why God told Adam not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil. The prohibition to NOT eat of the tree was because God knew that humanity could never handle the knowledge of good and evil – and this has been shown throughout human history. God’s test to Adam was very simple – God basically asked Adam if he would trust God with the knowledge of God and Evil, knowing that God would always do what was right for Adam. But Adam said no – he wanted the knowledge. Suffering, pain and disease are the manifestations of a fallen world.

That is Paul’s point in Romans 5. One man’s disobedience caused all humanity to be condemned and the creation to be separated from God. The suffering, death, disease and pain which we encounter on the earth is the consequence of SIN. This is why God tells us to avoid it – to flee from it – to repent of it – and to believe in the work of Christ.

So, because of Adam’s decision to disobey God, all humanity died.

However, the great news is that because of Christ’s willingness to obey God, the grace of God abounds to many bringing life.

So when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, we are justified, that is, we have been reconciled with God and are now back in relationship with Him. And this can only happen as the result of a living union with Christ which leads us to a new life as Christ followers.

But entering into this new life with Christ means we are given a responsibility – a responsibility which each and every one of us here has – to declare the Gospel. What that means is that instead of Christians retreating away from the world and it’s pain and suffering, instead of trying to provide a safe place for us to live out the remainder of our lives, instead of insulating ourselves against the pain of the world, Jesus sends his followers back into the world with the TRUTH of who God is, what God has said and the promises God has given.

In other words, having been rescued from the burning building – God sends us back into the burning building to bring others out.
There is a misconception which is I think unconsciously assumed in the Church – that being a Christian keeps us safe physically. Jesus dispels this in the gospel reading. Christianity is not necessarily about keeping us physically safe.

Jesus says that he sends the Church out like sheep into the midst of wolves. Just linger on that image for a moment. Think about it. What do wolves tend to do to sheep? It’s dangerous – it’s perilous to be a witness for the gospel – we may get torn to shreds

Facing a world which has been separated from the goodness of the Father in heaven is not easy. It’s going to be tough.

In fact Jesus tells us here that we should expect three areas of attack for the Christian church: – v17 – organized religion; v18 government; v21 family.

Religion has always persecuted true belief – just look at the Apostle Paul – as Saul he killed Christians’. And of course, the the Gospels and the book of Acts gives us plenty of examples of how the religious establishment attempted to stop the gospel. We know that governments persecute Christians. But then there is family. Family members will turn on each other.
Jesus said that his words would bring division in the midst of families as some accept the gospel while others may be very opposed to it.

Now, the words Jesus is speaking here are both for the people listening and prophetic for future generations. Jesus tells us here that there will be a time when persecution will become so intense that disciples of Jesus will have no secure refuge until His’ return. And while that time may not be here yet, all persecutions of Christians and the Church throughout history are a dress rehearsal for what will come in the last days . Whether we are at the beginning of the end times or at the end of the end times is irrelevant to some extent – the end time persecution is the magnified event of what has always happened on a smaller scale to the church and followers of Jesus.

Jesus gives advice on how the church should act in the face of opposition, regardless of when and where it comes. Jesus says the church should be is shrewd as snakes, that is avoiding conflicts and not unnecessarily provoking their opponents while at the same time remaining innocent as doves – that is walking with integrity and truth.

Just how tough things might get for us is illustrated by the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah lived in Jerusalem at a time when the people had become secularized, following their own pleasure, being idolatrous and rejecting the ways and truth of God. And Jeremiah pronounced the truth of God and the consequences of rejecting God to this people.

Jeremiah’s prophetic visions made him a hated man. He almost stood alone against the tide of his countrymen and the religious leaders who all condemned his words and rejected his messages. The tide of opposition and persecution against him and his life wore down Jeremiah. Jeremiah was fearful. In fact, his ministry was, in today’s assessment, a failure. He converted no-one except his own servant. Jeremiah would have failed his annual review in every church in this country. He was rejected, his message was rejected and he faced reproach, derision and even the threat of death DAILY. To the point that this prophet decreed that he would NOT speak the message of God anymore. The pressure and the kickback was just to great.

But notice what happened when he decided not to speak of God. His heart burned. He could not physically keep it in.

Even this great prophet, in the face of the opposition, wanted to retreat and shut up – BUT HE COULDN’T! Why? Because he knew what was the truth – and the truth cannot remain silent. This is the tragedy of todays church – in the scriptures we have the truth – and yet much of the church is willing to keep silent because of the tide of opposition the truth will bring.

One of the biggest problems Jeremiah faced was that what he was prophesying was not coming true instantly – and because of this people were deriding him as a false prophet or a scare monger. Jeremiah pronounced that God would judge the people. That God would not stand by and see evil, injustice, idolatry and false priests thrive. Jeremiah preached this for 40 years – and for 40 years nothing happened – the judgment did not materialize. And the people came to believe that God would not do what Jeremiah said and so they accused him of being a false prophet.

We face the same issue today. We say “ The Lord is returning – get ready – turn to him” but people think just because he has not come back yet, he is not going to. The New Testament knew this would happen – 2 Peter 3:3 tells us that in the last days we will have scoffers saying Where is the promise of His coming?

What Jeremiah’s ministry was doing for the nation was important, but even more important was what Jeremiah’s ministry was doing for Jeremiah. He was learning to trust in God’s provision even in the face of opposition, suffering and pain. As we serve the Lord, our capacity for ministry should increase and enable us to do much more than we ever thought we could do because our trust in God increases.
Jeremiah didn’t preach because he had to say something but because he had something to say, and not saying it would have destroyed him. Paul had the same attitude: “Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16)
Remembering the promises God gave him at his call, Jeremiah was confident that the Lord was with him and would deal effectively with his enemies.

To step into God is to step out for God and to go into the firing line. At the men’s book club at the beginning of the month I was told of a story of heroism regarding the event when a US helicopter crashed in Somalia. Two soldiers asked permission to be dropped into the area in order to protect the pilot. The General said “Do you know where you are going? Do you know I cannot get reinforcements to you for hours.” The soldiers said yes and the General gave them permission and they died protecting the soldier on the ground.

When we evangelize people and lead them to the Lord we need to say “Now, do you understand what you are doing?” “Do you know the ramifications of being a believer in Christ?” We have the promises and the power of the Spirit – but we also have the words of Jesus that we are sent like Sheep in the midst of Wolves. Are we willing to give that sacrifice for the Lord.

Understanding that Jesus deliberately sends us INTO a dangerous world should lead us to see persecution not as something to be feared but as an opportunity for gospel to be declared. Believers will be brought in front of kings and governments and courts and as that happens we are able to tell the Kings and leaders and judges the wonderful news of Jesus Christ.

So as we approach the end times we as a church will face opposition but also opportunity. In spite of attacks, rejection by our families, persecution from city to city and trials before leaders, we MUST remain true to our Lord.

And here is crux of the issue – when faced with intense opposition – when everyone is against us – when knowing that confessing Christ could or even will lead to our disadvantage, or our losing our jobs or our security or even our lives will we stand with Christ publicly? To stand publicly and boldly for Christ in the face of intense opposition shows that we fear God and God alone – and Jesus’ promise is that He will stand with us before the Father’s throne.

This is why our security as Christians must never come from the external things of the world like comfort, buildings, our health or even our traditions – these can all be taken away – destroyed or banned. Our security MUST always be in God himself. And we must learn this now while we enjoy relative comfort, freedom and security.

So, let me end with three exhortations to us this morning:

I exhort us all as Jesus’ followers that we should witness boldly, fearing no shame from our peers in this world – there is no reason for holding back. When Jesus says preach from the rooftops – it means preach from the place that people will hear you the most. Flat housetops above the streets provided easier hearing than the streets themselves.
Because God is the judge in the end, we should not fear even persecutors who threaten death. The choice is not between courage and fear but between whom one will fear more – Remember, Jeremiah was afraid – but he feared God more than the people who opposed him
Jesus makes a promise – disciples of Jesus can trust God’s sovereignty in their protection or their death. As Paul says, to live is Christ, to die is gain.

So, as God sends us as sheep amongst wolves be very BOLD in our witness – FEAR ONLY God, and no-one else and TRUST God’s promise to protect us, even in death.

Trinity Sunday YEAR A

Today, in the church calendar, we celebrate Trinity Sunday. The trinity is perhaps the most distinctive doctrine of the Christian faith. One theologian has said that the Trinity is unquestionably one of the most perplexing aspects of Christian theology.


While it is true that the WORD trinity never appears in the Bible and was first used in the 3rd century by the theologian Tertullian; the claim that the doctrine of the Trinity is only CREATED in the 3rd century, as some such as Dan Brown have claimed, is utterly ridiculous.


I am going to quote something and I want you to think when this was written: ‘The Lord is my shepherd, and I shall lack nothing’ (Ps. xxii (xxiii). 1).  This psalm should be rehearsed by every lover of God, and in an especial sense by the universe.  For like a flock, earth and water and air and fire and all plants and animals in them…are led according to right and law by God the Shepherd and King, who has set over them His true Logos and first-begotten Son, who takes over the care of this sacred flock like the vicegerent of a great king.


Now this quote is from Philo and he wrote this  possibly just before Jesus was born, or when Jesus was a just a child.


But we don’t have to rely on Philo to show us the Trinity was thought of and known before the 3rd Century. If our God is Trinitarian then it should be evident throughout the scriptures – and it is.


Now, there is a distinction we must make before we go on – and I think it is an important distinction. It is this: The scriptures do not so much contain a doctrine of the trinity but rather the scriptures bear witness to a God who demands to be understood and can only be fully known in a Trinitarian manner.


 And while we do not have the time to go through all the passages of scripture such Isaiah 48:16 and Zechariah 13:10 which clearly reveal the trinitarian God, we can see it in Genesis 1. And that’s where we will focus for a moment.


It is not surprising that the beginning of the Bible should be Trinitarian in nature because Genesis 1 introduces us to the Trinitarian God of the universe. In the Beginning God created. The word God is the hebrew is Elohim. Elohim is a plural word that has a singular verb. In other words, Elohim is one God who is multiple. So right there we have a hint to the nature of God – the trinitarian God.


But that’s not all! The phrase In the Beginning is very significant.


Now we have often got into trouble with Genesis 1 because we naturally assume that the beginning is in fact the beginning of time or history. But what if Moses had another beginning in mind as he was inspired to write this.


In Hebrew beginning is b’resheet. It could mean beginning but that is not it’s normal use. It is usually used to mean supreme, first, king, ruler,head or chief. So Psalm 118:2 says The stone the builders rejected  has become the  b’resheet [chief or head ]cornerstone.


What is very interesting is that 300 years before Christ the Old Testament was written into Greek – called the Septuagint. The legend has it that 70 jewish scholars all translated the Old Testament and when they came together they found that they all had the same translation – hence septuagint which means 70. Regardless of whether you believe this legend what is interesting is that Jesus often quoted from the Septuagint when he quotes the Old Testament. Mark 7:6-7 is one example whereby Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13 and it is almost word for word from the Septuagint.


So, the septuagint was a Jewish Translation of the Hebrew scriptures into greek – and it is the Bible many Jews in the first Century would have used.


Now the word in Genesis 1:1 for beginning in the septuagint is arche. This is a word we still use today – ARCHbishop = first bishop. ARCHangel – chief angel. MONarch – King. In fact the word ARCH, which means something that rules over a space. is arche.


So the more literal translation of Genesis 1:1 is In the ruler / chief or King the God who is multiple created the heavens and the earth.


So the question Moses was wanting readers to ask would not be WHEN was the beginning but WHO is the beginning. Who is the ruler or king?


The gospel of John helps to answer this because John was clearly pointing to Genesis 1:1 when he wrote the opening verses of his gospel. He writes: In the beginning was the WORD. John tells us who Moses is referring to in Genesis 1:1 – the word, the logos who was with God and was God and who became flesh and whom John knew – Jesus.


What is remarkable is that Paul confirms all this in his words from Colossians 1:15-18. Listen to how he describes Jesus – The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.


Where does Paul get the idea that Jesus is the beginning – from Jesus himself.


Jesus himself says he is the beginning and the end – Revelation 22 “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”


1 John 2:13 says I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is the beginning.


Of course, we should not be at all surprised that the Scriptures which point towards the Trinitarian God should begin in the very first words with the Trinitarian God himself. The whole point of the Bible is to reveal to us the trinitarian God who created all things, who created us in his image and who has acted in history in order to rescue us from our rebellion against Him and to tell us what kind of nature He has, what he has promised to do.


In our epistle reading this morning from 2 Corinthians 13:14 we have a wonderful summary of what the Trinitarian God is like. Paul writes these words which should be so familiar:  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of[a] the Holy Spirit be with you all.


We learn here that God the Son is grace. It is through grace that we saved. The life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ is what has broken down the barrier of sin which had  separated us from God. But this grace could not have happened without love. God the Father is love. The Father’s love for us sends the Son as our rescuer. And the result of the rescue is what? Fellowship with the Trinitarian God! God the Holy Spirit brings fellowship to us by residing in us.


How wonderful is this! The very character and mission of God is summed up by Paul in these words.


And we learn from this very simple verse a very important truth. Only a Trinitarian God can save us. Unless you have a Trinitarian God, there can be no salvation; without a Trinitarian God there is no atonement for sins. How could God take our sins upon him and remain pure, even when he has not sinned. How could the judgment of the Father be upon the Son and our sins if our God was not three persons but one God? How could we be filled with the Holy Spirit and be adopted as his sons and daughters unless God was trinity? How could God have been born as a human being, emptying himself of his divinity, and still remain sovereign over the universe? How could God know what love is and how to love if he has spent eternity alone before creating the world? Only a God who has been in a perfect eternal relationship in the trinity can know and then create in his image beings who can love.


God has to be Trinitarian to be the God who loves us and who has rescued us from sin. No other God is able to save.


And here is the bottom line of all of this. As the Bible begins with, points to and concludes with the trinitarian God of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, our response to it is to go and make disciples of all nations – baptizing them INTO the trinitarian God. This is why our proclamation, our witness of God is in aTrinitarian pattern: The Father Sends the Son to the earth; then the father and the Son send the Holy Spirit; and now, in Matthew 28, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit send the CHURCH into the world to make disciples in the Trinitarian formula, in the name of the father, the son and the holy spirit. We declare not just GOD – but the Trinitarian God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit who is able to save all who call upon his name.


To Him who is able to keep us from falling and is able to present us before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy. To the only God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be ascribed all the glory, majesty, power and authority from now and through all the ages, AMEN!

Christ-Shaped Character: Choosing Love, Faith and Hope by Helen Cepero


51QVLItlcmL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_                                                                                                                                                                                               A truly Christlike walk is the deep desire of every Christian, and yet so difficult to those of us tempted by firstworld abundance, or beset by the unexpected trials and tragedies of life. Helen Cepero’s book, Christ-Shaped Character, is like an open-hearted, affirming conversation with your own personal spiritual director. Cepero, an adjunct instructor at the North Park Theological Seminary and Multnomah School of the Bible, trains spiritual directors and is a frequent retreat leader. She has an immediate, engaging writing style that draws you in. Her personal stories not only engage you because she makes herself vulnerable to you, but help you to put your own stories into a Christlike perspective. By showing us that the everyday experiences of our lives provide deep insight into God’s purposes, she invites us to work daily to put our experiences into that perspective.  Attending a middle school band concert and listening to the children’s fumbling attempts, she realizes that God is not at all like the band director who may roll his eyes at every mistake, but is much more to be found in the rapt, loving eyes of the parents who watch their children try their best. If only we could really rest in the truth, that God loves us not for how well we do, but simply because we are his children.


Using 1 Corinthians 13:13 as her guide, Cepero structures her book on the guiding truths of love, faith, hope. The Love section encourages us to rest in the fact that God loves us not for how well we do, but for who we are; to be completely open to the fact that God also loves every person we meet, so they are truly our brothers; and to recognize that everyone is as flawed as we are, and yet as beloved by God as we are. The Faith section asks the intriguing question: What if the ‘thing’ that God wants us to ‘do’ is to satisfy our deepest desire; the longing for More that all of us have?  Cepero encourages us to accept our brokenness, our deepest failures, our skeletons-in-the-closet; surrendering them to God, and surrendering the self-involvement that they create; realizing that we will fail, but we must persevere. It is not about how much we do, but if we do it in God’s will, it is enough.


The Hope section seems to begin a bit off topic: adjuring us to be present in the moment and really appreciate the events and people in our lives. We all feel the need to be busy, but being busy can suck the joy and even the significance of events and people out of our awareness. We can also beat ourselves up so much for our failures that we don’t see the blessings of life. Cepero assures us that God isn’t pretending that we have worth in his eyes. When we live in Christ’s light, it reveals that there are possibilities of Christlikeness in each of us. Relaxed in the love of Christ, we can live a life of readiness to accept and act on his will whenever it appears in our lives. Love, faith and hope must be practiced to become habits that uphold us in times of chaos and upheaval.


With the exercises in each chapter for prayer, group activities, meditation questions, and journaling, this book would work well for small group studies. The exercise on forgiving is especially powerful and can be used any time we have to confront injustice in our lives. The acceptance that true forgiveness does not come easy is helpful and affirming. Cepero provides a real sense of hope, hope that we can persevere to achieve the kind of love that God has planned for us; but consistently reminds us that it is a process, a daily exercise, a life work, to forgive, to love, to build our faith.


Pentecost YEAR A

Today we celebrate the feast of weeks, or Shavuot, or better known as Pentecost.


Pentecost is actually an Old Testament festival. Pentecost took place, as Leviticus 23 instructs, on the 50th day after the feast of unleavened bread.


Pentecost simply means ‘fiftieth’. The Hebrew name Shavuot means weeks – the counting of the weeks – 7 weeks from the feat of unleavened bread.


The feast of weeks was a festival which required the presence of all males in Jerusalem – therefore it was an important festival. People would come with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest and of other crops. They would then bake two loaves of leavened bread and bring them to the temple as a wave offering to the Lord. It says in Lev 23 You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the Lord. 17 You shall bring from your dwelling places two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven, as firstfruits to the Lord.


But the Feast of Weeks also has another significance. During the exile, when the Israelites could not bring the first fruits as an offering, Shavuot became the celebration of the giving of the law at Mount Sinai. According to the Bible account this happens around the 50th day of the Israelites leaving Egypt. So the first Penecost, from the Jewish perspective, takes place in Exodus 19 – On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. 19 And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. 20 The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain.


So by Jesus’ day, Shavout was a celebration of both the giving of the Law and of the reliance the Israelites had upon God for the provision of the harvest and the food they ate.


One of the things we have to understand about the festival’s in the Old Testament is that they are dress rehearsals. The Israelites were meant to keep the festivals as a reminder of what was to come. They were memorials of what had happened in the past as well as reminders of what will happen in the future. So Passover was celebrated for 1500 years as a memorial to the killing of the lamb by whose blood the Israelites were saved from judgment. But Passover was a dress rehearsal of what Jesus would do on the cross – the lamb that takes away the sin of the world.


Pentecost was a memorial of the provision of God in giving the Israelites all they needed, both in terms of physical food – the harvest and spiritual food, the Torah. The Israelites would come to the temple on Pentecost – or Shavuot, in the hope that today would be the day Ezekiel prophesied a new spirit would be given – the day of Spiritual Renewal – the day when God would provide the new covenant – the day the Spirit is written on the hearts of the people.


For 1500 years the Israelites had left the festival of Shavuot, or Pentecost disappointed because the New Spirit had not been given.


But now, on this Pentecost the promise was fulfilled.


You know, the Jewish midrash has a fascinating piece about what happened on the day God gave Moses the law. Exodus 19 tells us that when God comes to the mountain there was smoke, fire and a cloud as well as the mountain trembling. But the Midrash teaches that when the law was given flames of fire came down on each individual and God spoke in every language known to man.


Now, whether or not the Midrash records a real event or is just apocryphal is irrelevant. The Jews in the temple in Acts 2, and the disciples, would have known this account very well. It would have been apart of their whole framework for Shavuot..


Therefore what happens at this particular Pentecost in Acts 2 carried deep significance and prophetic fulfillment.


Now, many commentators will argue that the house the disciples are in is in fact the temple. Peter tells the crowd that the disciples were not drunk because it was only 9:00am – the third hour. Well the third hour was when you went to the temple for the morning sacrifice. And we know that the early believers gathered everyday at the temple for the times of prayer. So, possibly, the people in the temple offering their morning praises to God have heard the sound of the Spirit – the wind and might roar and may even have felt the shaking of the temple and now they hear the commotion and the testimony of the disciples speaking in all the tongues of the world. The room shaking, the tongues of fire, the wind and most importantly the speaking in different tongues would have immediately brought to mind both Exodus 19 AND the Midrash account of the giving of the law at Sinai.


Let’s spend a few moments thinking about the symbolism and significance of the loaves which would have been offered that day in the temple. The bringing of the first fruits and the presentation of the two loaves of bread is a sign of dedication to God. How? Despite working hard to plow a field and plant the seeds, the farmer, the people, are never the one responsible for the harvest – that it is God’s blessing. The first fruits and the bread acknowledge everything comes from him and that all we have is from him. And instead to taking the first fruits and eating it as if they were the ones who had done the hard work and so deserved the benefits of the first part of the harvest, the people offer it to God.


But in light of what Jesus had done and who he said he was, the loaves real symbolism becomes very clear.


The loaves were a first fruit offering. This is very powerful symbol for us as christians. Who was the first fruits? Jesus. He rises from the dead on the feast of first fruits as the first fruit from the dead. Paul says in 1 Cor 15 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. Also, Bread is the major source of sustenance. How does Jesus refer to himself in John 6? As the bread of life! Jesus invites us to eat of his body and drink of his blood – Jesus is the ultimate and eternal sustenance.  Finally, the bread was leavened. This is the only time leaven was accepted as an offering within a festival of the Lord. Also, Just 49 days previously the Jews had diligently removed ALL leaven from their homes and had celebrated the festival of unleavened bread. Many times in the Bible leaven is a picture of sin and indeed the festival of unleavened bread was a symbol of God removing their sin.  Don’t forget that it is during the feast of unleavened bread that Jesus is in the tomb dealing with our sin. But leaven is not ALWAYS a picture of sin. We should realize this because nothing impure can be offered in the temple as a sacrifice. What other symbol can leaven represent? Well, Jesus uses the picture of leaven in relation to the Holy Spirit. Matthew 13:33 The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.


For 1500 years the Israelites had been enacting, doing a dress rehearsal for what would happen to those who accepted God and received the Spirit upon them at this Pentecost.


On this pentecost – the offering of the bread pictures those who have recognized the revelation of God and the provision of God in Jesus Christ. It pictures those who have leavened themselves with the Word of God through the Holy Spirit.


No wonder 3000 jews instantly believed!! They got it. They saw the connection and they understood.


As we remember Pentecost today we must remember and celebrate God’s provision for us – his provision in our lives, his provision in giving us the word of God and his provision of the Holy Spirit which makes his word live in our hearts. One of the powerful effects of offering first fruits is freedom from ones own self aggrandizement. It’s an acknowledgment that we are not responsible for what we have – God is. We are not responsible for our blessings – our income – our skill and abilities. We have simply been blessed by God. By giving the first portion of what we receive to God we acknowledge it’s not about us. A Jewish Rabbinic saying says Who is a freeman? One who is enslaved to God’s word! Pentecost is about putting God at the center of our lives and not ourselves. And that is the whole point of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us!!


When we believe in Christ we are instantly filled with his Spirit but as Christians it is not until we offer ourselves to the Lord  – when we give the first fruits of ourselves completely over to the Lord, when we remove self from the center of our lives that we will start to be molded and effected by the Spirit. There are Christians who while saved, are not allowing the Spirit to move and fill them because they still live for themselves. They think they are in charge. They believe they are the ones responsible for their life and destiny. Christians who think like this will receive no benefit from having the Spirit in them. Just like many of the jews and religious leaders in Jesus’ day Christians are missing what God is doing around them because they have not submitted themselves to the Spirit. How do we submit to the Spirit? Primarily in following and doing what the Bible says we should do. Not the bits of the Bible we like – but all of it. Going back to that first pentecost in Exodus 19 just listen to what God says to the people and listen to their response: Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” 7 So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. 8 All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.”


And it is only when we say All that the Lord has spoken we will do will the Spirit minister to us, in us and through us. Only then will we will be able to do what Jesus asks us to do: As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.


He sent the disciples in the power of the Spirit and he sends us in the power of the Spirit.


Ultimately, the purpose of our salvation, the purpose of giving us the Holy Spirit is service to God. Are we living our lives in service to God? We have been saved, we have been given the Holy Spirit not to serve ourselves, but so that we might walk in obedience to God’s commandments and serve him and him only.


That is the purpose of Pentecost and that is what we should commit ourselves to this morning.


Easter 7 YEAR A

One theologian has said that this prayer of Jesus is the holy of holies of the gospel – an amazing moment whereby we get a glimpse of the intimacy between the Son and father as the Son converses with his Father on the eve of his death for the sinners of the world.


We have not read the entire prayer this morning – just a portion. But even in these first 11 verses we see something very important. Jesus is facing incredible suffering and death. But here he is, not a victim about to be taken to the cross but a victor about to fulfill his father’s will.  Jesus has complete trust in the Father in spite of what awaits him. In fact, in the previous chapter of John, 16:33, Jesus tells his disciples that he has ALREADY overcome the world.


Jesus is an overcomer even though he knew that suffering lay ahead. And the prayer his prays is deliberately meant for his disciples ears. He knows not just the storm he will encounter in the next few hours but he knows the storms and trials his disciples will face in the coming days, weeks and years ahead.


This prayer Jesus spoke aloud to His Father is meant to give the 12 disciples, and us, immense security and comfort.


And I think it is because of this prayer that the apostle Peter was able to write 1 Peter 4:12-19.


Peter tells us four things which, while they are tough to hear, we need to hear as Christians. All of which come back to what Jesus says in these verse from John 17.


  1. Firstly, Peter says that as Christians, we must expect suffering. That is not something we want to hear –  but if you remember, neither did the disciples when they heard that Jesus was going to suffer.  Jesus knows what is ahead of him – and while the disciples saw it at that moment in the upper room as a disaster.  But Jesus does not. Invariably we receive bad news badly. But what Peter says and what Jesus models is that even bad news can be used for the glory of God. Which leads to the second point Peter wants us to understand


  1. We should Rejoice in Suffering. Now this is getting a little too hard. Really? You want me to rejoice in my trials and suffering? Why? How? Interestingly Jesus uses the word glory 5 times in first 5 verses of John 17. And while we don’t have time to look at the significance of this fully this morning, don’t miss that for Jesus, the cross was not a disaster but the means of glorifying the Father. Not because pain and suffering glorifies God – but because Jesus was following the path the Father had for him. In order to reach the goal for Jesus – that is, his returning to his pre incarnate glory – returning back to the place of honor in heaven he had before he was born as a human being – he had to go through the cross. Therefore for Jesus the cross glorified the Father. For Jesus, just as his life glorified the Father, so will his death glorify the Father, because he knew where he was going and what awaited him. As Christians we want our life to glorify God – but have you thought about how your sufferings and trials can glorify God? Our suffering can be a great witness – it can be a far greater witness to unbelievers than our words. And what about our death? Have you ever prayed that we may die  glorifying God? Or even that our death may be a witness! The issue is not I hope that if I suffer or have a great trial I might glorify God, but will I glorify God WHEN I suffer. Peter says that we must not be surprised about the trials and sufferings we receive because Christians are not immune or protected from suffering. Which leads to the third point.


  1. Peter encourages us to not waste our suffering. What do i mean? In the furnace of suffering we often end up contemplating how we got there or we try and figure out how it happened. A time of suffering and trial is often the time when we examine our life. As  a Christian, we should be building our life on truth, humility, holiness and the desire to glorify God. Therefore we should use every trial, as a refining process – a process by which we allow God to remove the dross in our life and purify us. You know, God wants us to grow spiritual  in our trials and sufferings. Romans 5:3 says we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.


  1. Which leads to the fourth thing Peter wants us to understand – that ultimately, in our trials we must commit ourselves to God. The enemy has done a great PR exercise in persuading people to move away from God in suffering – to blame him and accuse him. But actually, trials and suffering SHOULD draw us to God.  The Psalms describe God as a strong tower. 45 times in the Psalms God is referred to as a refuge. God is who we should run TO when we face hard times for refuge and safety. So, Peter tells us that we should – Expect suffering, rejoice in suffering, don’t waste our suffering and commit ourself to God in our suffering.


Now, we can are only able to hear these four things from Peter if we hear what Jesus prays in John 17. Because what Jesus wanted his disciples to hear and us to hear is this – Jesus is praying for us in our sufferings and trials. In fact Jesus is always interceding for us. We are told  in Hebrews 7 that Consequently, he [Jesus] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.. Jesus prays for us. Our security and protection is found in God’s character and nature and not in ourselves, or our circumstances.


Notice the last verse of our Gospel reading. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. Do you see that? KEEP THEM IN YOUR NAME. That is what he prays for the disciples and us – that God would keep us in His name.


v12 of John 17 says While I was with them, I kept them in your name. If Jesus, in his limited human body was able to keep the disciples safe and protected should he not be able to keep them and us now he is glorified in heaven?


God guards and protects his people – even when they suffer and face trials BECAUSE of the nature of God, the nature of salvation, the glory of God and the intercessory ministry of Christ. THAT IS WHY we can face suffering and trials and not be surprised by them; why we can rejoice in suffering; to grow in our suffering and to commit ourselves to God in our suffering.


1 John 5:4 says For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?


To overcome suffering, John says, is to have faith.


In Christ we are over-comers, despite the mountains we face. Jesus knew as he prepared to leave the disciples that they would be scared and frightened in what they would face and so Jesus gives them the two thing which we also have to help us – the power of the Spirit and his prayers! These two alone make us overcomers.


And we must not let satan obscure this truth. Satan knows that if God’s people hear this and act on it then there will be a spiritual victory over him in our lives. Rev 12:11 says And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.


We must never let satan rob us of our overcoming power through Christ’s finished work.

Easter 6 YEAR A

Are you happy being a Christian? I mean, are you enjoy being a believer in the living God? More importantly, is being a Christian the very source of your existence on earth?


We know that for a flower, it source, it’s existence, it’s ability to thrive and live comes from it’s stem, it’s vine, it’s root. And we know that if we cut a flower off from it’s source it will eventually die, even if we arrange it in a nice vase.


The same is true with us. We have been cut off from the source of life – Adam did that in the garden of Eden and humanity, like a flower in a glass, is wilting and dying. The wages of sin is death.


And so the image of a vine in this morning’s Gospel reading raises the question for each of us of whether we have life or are we dying. And the key issue to that question is are we in the Vine.


What does it mean to be in the Vine?


Well, the gospel reading is clear. Christ is the Vine. So the first question we must ask is “are we in Christ this morning”. In other words do you believe in all that Christ has done for you and do you accept him as your Lord and Savior. To say yes then puts us under a little examination. To say YES I am in the Vine – I am in Christ, requires a further question of whether we are bearing fruit.


That may be an uncomfortable question for us. What does it mean to bear fruit? Is he talking about conversions – how many conversions have I this week, month or year? Is he talking about what my Character is like – is it Christ like? Do I exhibit the characteristics of being  a follower of Jesus? Am I being obedient to God’s commands in my life – is that what he means?


There is an element of these things in the  passages we have read this morning but it is not the main point. Good works or good character cannot get us attached to the Vine. We cannot be In Christ because of our good works. That only happens by faith IN Christ. But being in Christ will change who we are and what we do.


The core issue about fruit in a Christian’s life is that it begins with us and God. Bearing fruit begins with a daily, personal relationship with God that involves prayer. If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ASK WHATEVER YOU WISH and it will be done for you. It all begins with a living and active relationship with God. And a living and active relationship with God involves speaking with God regularly.


Out of THIS foundation comes the rest; our witness, our character and our obedience.  But the key thing is are we in a  daily, personal relationship with God – because that is our life, our source, the very essence of our existence.


So what does having Jesus as the source of life look like? Well, we have been given examples in both the Acts and 1 Peter readings this morning. Acts reveals the ‘evangelism’ aspect of being in Christ. The Atheians, with all their alters, recognize that they may be ignorant of all possible deities and so they have an alter for an unknown God! Paul seeks to relieve them of their ignorance – even using their own poets – We are the offspring of god. Now the original poet was referring to Zeus but Paul takes this idea and points out that it is true – we are the offspring of God, not Zeus but  of the living god – the God of the universe – and if God has created US – as complex as we are – then surely God himself is far more complex than statues of gold and silver and marble. And this God Paul declares to be the one who rose form the dead. Notice what Paul says about God – he says that In Him we live and move and have our being. There is very little for anything else. For Paul the whole of life encompasses God and this drives his witness to others.


Witness is an important aspect to being a branch of the true vine. Peter picks up this theme.  We are to witness with gentleness and reverence – we are to be ready to give a response to anyone who asks “Why are you a Christian – Why do you believe in God”.


We are also to be Branches who are have love of the brethren – a tender heart and a humble mind. We are to be people who do not return evil for evil, or reviling for reviling. Our characters are important.


But above all there is an approach to life that is beyond anything that the world teaches. Peter draws from Ps 34 when he says He that would love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile; let him turn away from evil and do right; let him seek peace and pursue it.


Most of us want to love life and many of us probably do love life – but do we love life IN CHRIST. That is the question. Which brings me back to my opening question – do we LOVE being a follower of Christ? Do we love knowing the living God. Do we love the fact that Jesus has rescued us?


We can too easily end up loving life and tolerating Christ  – and that is a very dangerous place to be according to St John.


To be in the Vine is to love life IN CHRIST. Not that such a life is a breeze or free from troubles and trials. Peter tell us that suffering comes as a Christian. Being in the Vine does not protect us from tragic and difficult times. Theologian Wayne Grudem put it well when he says To love life does not mean one has a trouble free life – it suggests rather an enjoyment of life and contentment in the life God has given, no matter what the outward circumstances.


How can we do that? How can we enjoy life and be content in life regardless of the circumstances? By standing on this incredible truth that if we are in the Vine if we are in Christ we have true life – and if Christ suffered, died, and was raised, so we too can be assured that, if we endure suffering for Christ or even death we will be like Christ and therefore we will be raised to eternal life too. That’s the promise.


This is why Paul writes in his epistle to the Philippians not to be anxious about anything – and that he has learnt to be content in every situation; whether with little or plenty. Paul knew the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection – and he loved Christ and he longed to be with him and had certainty that he would be with Him. Therefore everything else paled into insigificance compared to that truth – even suffering.


But this can only be true – this can only be a reality for us if we remain in the Vine.


If we are not, then we are a branch that is in danger of withering.


There are no true Christians without some measure of fruit. Fruitfulness is an infallible mark of true Christianity – the alternative is a withered branch that will eventually die.


Continuous dependence on the vine, constant reliance upon him, persistent spiritual imbibing of his life – this is the absolute necessity of spiritual fruitfulness.


So, from where are you drawing your life from? What is th source of your enjoyment and happiness? If it is not foundationally from Jesus Christ then you may not be connected to the Vine.


It really is all about Jesus and your relationship with Him. You may feel great right now; you may feel like a million dollars. You may feel that life is full and filled with enjoyment and good things. And that is great. But, if you are not attached to the true Vine; unless you have a continuous daily personal relationship with God; unless you are growing in that, both spiritually and physically, then you are simply like a flower that has been cut from the stem and placed in the vase you will eventually die.


Only Jesus gives real and true life. You know in your heart this morning if you abide in him – if you are attached to the true vine, if your love and enjoyment of life comes from the life of Christ. If you know you are then rejoice in the promises given this morning. Continue to grow and thrive, allowing the spirit to bless and use you. But if you know that you are not in Christ – if you know that your life does not come from Christ then you must get grafted into the Vine and that requires you to begin a conversation with God. You don’t need an introduction – he knows you better than you know yourself because he created you. As we heard read this morning from Acts, Paul says God is not far from each one of us. You start the conversation by saying Lord, I am sorry – You are not my life. Please, come this morning, and forgive me for my sins. I want to trust in you – to let you have my life. Graft me in to the Vine.” And then tomorrow continue your conversation, and the next day and the next.


Then read the gospels – read Jesus’ words. Start to understand how Jesus wants us to live life.


And then see what happens. See what happens when you give yourself to him; see what happens when you place yourself into his care; see what happens as you begin to draw your life from Jesus.


When we are able to acknowledge that In Christ we live and move and have our being, we will then be able to say with Peter; Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is right? But even if you do suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear , nor be troubled, but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. 


Easter 5 YEAR A

Has your heart ever been troubled? Have you received news which made your heart sink and stomach churn with worry and concern? The week began like that for Kitty and I  and then I sat down to start to think about the sermon and the first words I read were Let not your hearts be troubled.


Jesus speaks these words to the disciples after they had eaten the last supper. In chp 13 the disciples had heard shattering news which had caused them to experience a surge of emotions. They were sad because Jesus had told them he would leave them; they were ashamed because they had been arguing about who was the greatest and Jesus then washed their feet telling them that they should humble themselves in service; they were perplexed because Jesus had told them that one of them would betray him. What began as a wonderful celebration of the passover meal that evening had turned into a roller coaster of emotions as the disciples tried to digest what they heard.


And Jesus knowing that they were shocked, now gives them teaching on how to stop them worrying. The best sense of Jesus’ words in v1 is Let not your hearts be troubled any longer!. This is not a “It will be OK in the end” statement – nor is he saying “Don’t be sad” – he tells them to stop being troubled right there and right then. Now  we know that it is far easier to tell yourself to stop being troubled in your heart than to actually to do it. Our emotions can overwhelm us despite our best intentions and efforts to not feel worried, or stressed.



Jesus gives his disciples three assurances which are to help them to stop their hearts being troubled. They are about to face the storm of Jesus’ arrest and execution and so gives them the keys to stop their hearts being troubled. These assurances rest on the vital foundation that the disciples MUST believe in God and in Jesus.


This is so important and it is the place we must always begin in whenever we face hard times. And the reason is that Jesus knows that his disciples cannot trust in their own ability of effort to do the right thing. We have an example of this is In Chp 13. Peter says, will all the best intentions and with true self belief “I will remain with you even if everyone else runs away” and Jesus says “ No you won’t Peter – you will deny me three times this very night.”


The key to not having a troubled heart is not to draw on your own ability or resources or try harder to not be troubled, but to believe in God and Jesus. Jesus says the key to riding out the storms is to believe God and Believe Jesus.


True security comes from focusing on God and Jesus alone. Jesus asks that the disciples rest in God and in himself with their entire being so that their heart, soul, mind and strength will continually go out to the source of their salvation and not to their own resources and abilities.


In our passage this morning Jesus gives the disciples three wonderful assurances to help them focus upon God and Himself.


1. The first is that they were going to heaven. That is the disciples and our destination. You and I are going to heaven. That is our home. It is a real place. It is not a product of religious imagination. Heaven is where God dwells and where Jesus is right now. Heaven is home for God’s children.


Have you noticed something wonderful here – the REASON why Jesus returned to heaven was for the purpose of preparing a place for us. Jesus has prepared a place for us where he dwells. But there is something even more wonderful here. Jesus does not tell his disciples that he will come again and take us to heaven – he says he will come again and takes us to HIMSELF! Heaven is not some giant eternal dorm room filled with Christians – it is a place of intimate relationship with Jesus – we go to be with HIM in heaven. To be in a perfect relationship with Him – to worship Him and experience him perfectly.  The phrase I will take you to myself” means To be face to face with me.”


So wonderful is Christ’s love for his own that he is not satisfied with the idea of merely brining us to heaven. He must take us into his own embrace.


And Jesus says that the way to heaven is himself – trusting in him. Thomas’ question We do not know the way”  is not totally negative. It reveals Thomas’ desire and devotion to be with Jesus. Such is his love for Christ he cannot bear the thought of being without him and so he needs to know the way.


Jesus tells Thomas that he does know the way, he just has not yet recognized it as the way – those famous words, I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except by me. In other words:


Jesus is the way – He is the direction of life.

Jesus  is the truth – He is the content of life.

Jesus is the life – He is the application of life.


These words that Jesus was going away to prepare a place for them, was to give them strength to face the turmoil ahead – to face the imminent collapse of their entire world – they must trust in God and in Jesus and know that heaven is their destination.


As one song says Who could mind the journey when the road leads home.


2. The second assurance Jesus gives them is that they know the Father right now and the Father knows them. You and I are not unknown minions of a great king. The great King knows us by name. He knows us intimately. Jesus says if you had known me you would have known my Father also – henceforth you know Him and have seen Him. The word ‘know’ is used  roughly 141 times in this gospel (depending on which translation you use). The greek language has four different levels of knowing:


  1. to simply know a fact
  2. to understand the truth behind the fact
  3. to believe in a person
  4. to have a deeper relationship and a deeper communion with someone.


Jesus uses the fourth meaning here in the word know. The promise Jesus gives them here is that even though Jesus will leave them they will grow in the relationship with the Father.


When Philip asks Jesus Lord show us the Father Jesus’ response is Have I been with you so long and yet you do not know me Philip? Jesus phrases this question is such a way that Philip is required to answer yes…. Because it is so obvious. To be with Jesus is to be with the Father. We are not insignificant servants but loved children of the Father in heaven. We know him in and through Jesus Christ. We do not have a relationship with a second in  command – we have the Father on our side. He knows us – He knows everything about us and He still loves us and longs for us to know and trust Him fully.


And it is by knowing the Father in and through Christ that we shall do even greater works. What does he mean that we will do greater works? Well Jesus has mentioned this twice before in John.


John 1:50  Jesus tells Nathaneal that while he believed in Jesus because Jesus told him he had seen him under the fig tree “You will see greater things than these.”


John 5:20-21 – “The Father loves the son and shows him all that he himself is doing: and he will show him greater works than these so you will be astonished Indeed just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the son gives life to whomever he wishes.”


Greater works are conversions. What we will do is not greater in terms of quality – but quantity. From 12 disciples came billions of believers – that people will commit to, give their lives to and even die for Jesus Christ with far less physical evidence than the disciples experienced.


The assurance that Father God, the sovereign Lord of the Universe knows us and loves us should calm our troubled hearts.


3. The final assurance that Jesus gives is that we have prayer. Prayer is the untapped power for many Christians. Someone has written these words:


O What peace we often forfeit

O what needless pain we bear

All because we do not carry

Everything to God in Prayer


What is your prayer life like? Do you see prayer as a duty, a chore, a requirement, a necessity? Or do you see prayer as a privilege? Prayer is our life line to God. The biggest danger we have is that we tend to stop praying when a storm hits. We tend to stop praying and starting worrying and start having troubled hearts. The exact opposite needs to happen – the storm comes and we quit worrying and we quit having troubled hearts BECAUSE we know where our home is, we know the father and we know the privilege and power of prayer.


Notice – God will do everything we ask in Jesus name. Does this means what it says – God will answer all prayers that are in the name of Jesus? The answer is yes. Not that God will answer all our prayers as long as end with the magic formula “In the name of Jesus”. But God WILL answer every prayer that we pray which is in complete accordance and unity with the will of Jesus Christ and that glorifies and further the kingdom of heaven.


If we are in a storm and we ask God that his name would be glorified in this difficult time and that we would be his servants during the storm we face I can guarantee you that that prayer will be answered.


How would we categorize our prayers – would we be able to say that at the heart of our prayers is a desire to glorify Jesus’ name – to advance the kingdom of God in harmony with the will and wishes of our savior?


To know that God hears our prayers and will answer every prayer which is in his will should give us great assurance – it should mean our hearts should no longer be troubled because God will answer the prayers which are for our good and will not answer the prayers which will lead us into trouble.


So, Let  not your hearts be troubled any longer. How? By believing God and believing Jesus. By knowing that our home is heaven. That the Father knows us and we know the Father. And our prayers are heard in heaven.