4 Easter YEAR A

I have talked many times about Hebrews 11:1. It is one of key passages in Scripture. it says, Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

In other words, Faith is the reality of things fully expected, the certainty of things not seen. Faith requires us to know and trust with absolute certainty that God’s love for us is unwavering and never ending, and that God’s purpose for us, regardless of what is happening to us, is ultimately to bring us to the green pastures and still waters of Psalm 23.

But in order for our faith to be truly a Hebrews 11:1 faith, we need to be able to recognize the presence and voice of God.

This is really a vital thing for us as Christians. Because we if do not know or recognize the presence and voice of God we will find ourselves being led off the path God has for us and even walking into problems and disasters in our Christian walk.

There is a battle going on for you right now in the heavenly realms. When we give our lives to Jesus and trust in him our destiny is secured. But the battle continues because the enemy would love nothing more than to push us away from God’s promises and purposes for our life and even to make us miserable and ineffective for the kingdom of God. And if he can sow discord in the midst of the body of Christ while doing that then he is very happy.

In the words of our Gospel reading this morning there are thieves and robbers who seek to STEAL us. This is why it is so important for us to cultivate and grow in relationship with God so that we may be able to recognize and respond to God’s voice and presence.

Chapter 10 of John’s gospel begins the great teaching of Jesus on the good shepherd. But the context to this passage is in fact chp 9. In Chp 10v1, Jesus is still talking about what had happened to the blind man he had healed.

The blind man, if you remember, had been excommunicated – thrown out of fellowship in the synagogue because Jesus had healed Him. The pharisees were ANGRY at the healing because it caused people to begin asking the right questions about who Jesus might be – and the pharisees hatred of Jesus ironically blinded them to who Jesus was – and they were angry with the man because he had given the credit for his healing to Jesus and called him a great prophet.

The context of John 10:1 is found when the blind man had responded to Jesus voice. Jesus had put mud on his eyes and told him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. And he did it. We tend not to think about the implication of the blind man obeying Jesus’ command to go and wash. It was not a simple task. The pool of Siloam was over 1000 yards away – that is half  a mile. He would have had to have found someone willing to take him, to guide him there. Despite the difficulty in going, he obeyed Jesus’ voice and was healed!

It is the blind man that is in Jesus’ mind as he starts to plant the imagery of a shepherd into the hearts of his listeners. You must remember that while chapters and verse are helpful for us in finding passages easily in our Bible’s, they were not in the original manuscripts. Chapters and verses are man made and are sometimes even arbitrarily put in. And this can cause a problem. In our mindset, we tend to subconsciously think that the end of a chapter finishes one thing and the beginning of a chapter starts a new thing. That is not necessarily true in the Bible!

Whenever an Israelite heard the word Shepherd he would think of a leader – spiritual or political.

A Shepherd had responsibilities towards the sheep – responsibilities to love, protect, guide and lead the sheep. Even being willing to give up his life for the sheep.

The Pharisees and Sadducees were known as the shepherds of Israel. The religious guides of the people. Their role was to nurture, love, protect and feed the flock. But what had they done to this blind man? Here was a man who has received an incredible miracle, an amazing blessing, a messianic healing, and yet these shepherds vilify, question and verbally abuse him and then tell him that he was no longer able to worship the Lord in fellowship with other Jews. What had this man done? Nothing.

The shepherds eject this sheep callously.

Their actions showed the type of shepherds they were. The had no love for this man. They had no desire to protect him, nurture him, guide him, feed him and bless him. Instead they had an agenda – and they attacked, abused and rejected any who did not tow their line and their agenda. They were bad shepherds – they were evil shepherds – they were false shepherds BECAUSE of their attitude to the sheep. And Jesus is telling the sheep that they should not listen to them because they are merely thieves and robbers.

Awful isn’t it. And yet this is so prevalent in the church today. That is Shepherds whose actions are not that of a good shepherd but instead they protect their own agenda, even at the cost of the people.

This is why Jesus starts to outline what a true shepherd of Israel looks like. He is making a direct contrast between the pharisees and himself.

The relationship between sheep and shepherd in first century Israel was quite remarkable. Sheep learnt to trust and recognize their shepherds.

A common occurrence for shepherds in Jesus day would be that as night fell, there might be two or three flocks in close proximity. Shepherds would come together and build a waist high pen – often against a rock or cliff face. Then they would put all three flocks into the pen for safety over night and one of the shepherds would lie at the entrance or opening to keep watch while the other shepherds slept nearby.

In the morning the shepherds would come and call their sheep and the sheep would come out and go to the shepherd. The sheep KNEW and recognized the voice of the shepherd and they would ONLY respond to that shepherd. In fact if another shepherd tried to call them they would run away. Which is why Jesus says that the only way for a false shepherd to take sheep would be to climb the wall and TAKE the sheep physically.

The blind man recognized the voice of the shepherd and he ran from the attempts of the false shepherds to make him follow them.

Another thing which was amazing about the shepherds and different from today is that Shepherds led the flock – the sheep followed behind the shepherd, unlike today where shepherds tend to drive the sheep.

To trust the shepherd is to follow him and to trust him where he will lead you. Sheep followed the shepherd BECAUSE they knew that the shepherds would protect, love and guide them, even if the path was hard and dangerous.

Sheep have to know who to follow. And that means knowing the voice of the true shepherd when he calls.

Do you know that God’s heart and purpose for you is to guide you, love you and tend for your needs, even when the path is hard and difficult. But for that to happen WE MUST  know his voice and then we must follow him. We MUST ignore the voices of the false shepherds who seek to steal us away from doing the things of God – from obeying the words of Christ. We don’t have time this morning to examine all the ways false shepherds can attempt to steal us away from the Lord, but the other readings this morning show us one particular way.

A false shepherd will always try and convince us to walk the easy path and to avoid difficulties or hardships. A false shepherd will tell us not to stand up for what is right when it will cost us something. A false shepherd will convince us that we should keep hold of our money rather than give it to the Lord to use as he pleases. A false shepherd will persuade us that it is not prudent to lay everything on the line for God, but that we should hold something back for ourselves just in case.

We see this clearly in Acts and 1 Peter. Let me re-read our Epistle reading this morning: For one is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it , you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

Peter expects believers to do things which will get them into trouble or to lead to suffering. Why? Because to follow in Christ’s footsteps in this world, to do what he asks of us, will lead to suffering. Notice what he says for when you DO RIGHT and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God’s approval.

Just look at our Acts reading. How easy it would have been for Stephen to have simply apologize and walk away. We would have! Stephen had been defending the claims of Christ when his opponents had him arrested by falsely accusing him of speaking blasphemy against God. When asked to speak he spoke the truth – not angrily, not disrespectfully – but simply the truth and and the truth angered the Jews so much they stone him to death. Stephen laid everything on the line for Jesus. Would we? Stephen does not follow the false shepherd even when his life depended on it. Instead he followed the true Shepherd – because he knew the shepherds voice.

Finally Psalm 23 emphasizes this very clearly. He revives my soul and guides me along the right pathways for his names sake, THOUGH I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil. To be guided by the true shepherd means at times we go through the valley – but we do so with no fear. Stephen saw the shepherd as he was about to die and he followed his into eternity.

We MUST be a people, a church, a community who not only know the voice of the true Shepherd but follow it even when it pushes us outside our comfort zone; even when we are asked to put all our resources into God’s hands; even when God asks us to risk everything for his purposes. Anything less is to listen to the false shepherd and so be stolen away from the purposes of God for us.

 

3 Easter Sermon YEAR A

Last week we saw how God intervened into Thomas’ life in order to deal with a dangerous dose of cynicism which was threatening Thomas’ faith.

 

This morning we encounter two other followers of Jesus who also are dejected about the events of Good Friday and have also doubted the resurrection. Maybe they have left Jerusalem and were now traveling these seven miles to Emmaus because they had given up.

 

While we know one of the names of one of the disciples, Cleopas, we also know that they seem to have been fairly close to the 12. The passage this morning suggests that they were in the upper room when Mary Magdalene came with the news that Jesus’ body was not at the tomb. Listen to what they say: Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning  and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.

 

There is, I think, great symbolism in the fact they are walking away from Jerusalem. They had not waited to found out what was going on. They almost certainly did not believe the women’s report. It’s interesting that Luke alone records the disciples initial reaction to Mary’s announcement that the body was missing – Luke 24:11 says but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

 

The basic problem with these two disciples was the same as Thomas – they had heard about empty tomb but because they had not seen Him nor had they heard from any ‘credible’ witness that Jesus was alive, they gave up and left. Notice their dashed hope – But we were hoping that it was He that was going to redeem Israel. The implication is that the Cross had destroyed their hope that Jesus could redeem Israel.

 

What is wonderful about this story is that it is in their hopelessness that Jesus draws along side them. We have no idea what happened to them afterwards – but these two struggling disciples are visited physically by the Lord Jesus on the day of his resurrection in order to help and encourage them. Jesus knew they needed help and so he went to them!

 

Jesus ALWAYS draws along side us when we are struggling. ALWAYS! We may not recognize him or feel him  or hear him at first but Jesus will always come alongside us.

 

And Jesus will always allows us to speak. I love the way Jesus suddenly appears and starts to walk alongside them and then asks – “What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?”  Of course Jesus knew exactly what they were talking about but he allows these disciples to vent if you like. The two disciples are astonished at the question – we are given a sense of the enormity of what happened in Jerusalem during that passover – how can you not know!i Is their response. Of course they were talking to the one who knew everything!

 

But Jesus lets them explain it from their perspective.

 

Jesus’ tenderness and love allows us the space and the privilege to speak out – but then Jesus will always correct us, in order that we may see the situation from the right perspective, just as he does with these two disciples – O foolish ones! He says. Or, perhaps better, How dull you are. One translation has How unwise and slow you are.

 

What is he rebuking these two disciples for?

 

He is rebuking the assumption that just because they have not seen or heard evidence of the resurrection, that it had not happened!

 

It is something we as Christians often struggle with. We are told we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places, that we are blessed with every spiritual blessing; that the Lord is with us; that he will protect us and guide us, that we should live life without fear and yet we don’t always experience these truths.

 

And this is the point that I want us to consider this morning – The basis of whether these disciples believed in the resurrection should not be based on physical evidence but on what the scriptures teach!

 

This is a very important spiritual principles for us as followers of Jesus. The basis of belief in a  promise of God can never be on what we see and experience but on the what the Bible tells us.

 

The absolute truth of Jesus’ words that he will NEVER leave us NOR forsake us, that he has blessed us and will protect us cannot be based on what we are experiencing right now, but on the fact the promise is in the scriptures and that the scriptures are true.

 

Hence Jesus shows these two disciples the truth of the resurrection NOT by showing them himself but by explaining how it was revealed from the Old Testament. Everything about Jesus and the resurrection can be found in Moses and the Old Testament.

 

Jesus probably began at Genesis 3:15 – the first promise of a redeemer; maybe he explained the significance of the passover in Exodus and how the tabernacle and all its ceremonies in Leviticus all pointed to Jesus, as did the Day of Atonement and the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, and the prophetic psalms of 22 & 69.

 

Jesus shows these disciples that their unbelief was not just in the reports they heard, but  also in the scriptures they read since they were children. If they had understood the scriptures they would have believed Jesus had been raised from the dead.

 

As Jesus taught them the meaning of the scriptures, their hearts burned within them. This is exactly what should happen when we encounter Christ – our hearts should come alive and burn in us.

 

But notice when they DID recognize him. When he broke the bread! Now, Jesus was not presiding over a passover meal here – this was not a ‘communion’ meal. He was simply sitting down to eat with them and doing what all Jews did – blessing the bread as they broke it. BUT, in light of what has just taken place in Jeruslaem and the fact Luke makes it very clear that their eyes are opened to Jesus’ identity at THIS point, I think we are meant to see a link to the Lord’s Supper.

 

At the clergy retreat this past week, at the final Eucharist, Archbishop Bob Duncan gave a meditation on the Eucharist which was extremely powerful. And some of what about about to share with you comes from a small part of that meditation.

 

We have seen so far this morning that our life and our hope in God cannot be based necessarily on what we are EXPERIENCING but on what the SCRIPTURES teach. We cannot say for example “I do not believe God speaks in visions today” just because we have never experienced a vision. Our acceptance of it should be based on what scripture teaches.

 

Often our struggles and doubts in life and even about our faith lead us to ‘walk away from Jerusalem’, that is, take us on a path AWAY from where God would have us be. And during these times it is hard to hear from God or to know his will for us.

 

Yet what we have seen this morning is that God meets these disciples on the road and speaks with them and then reveals himself to them.

 

And I want to suggest to you today that in those times when we are struggling – when the reality of our life situation is not matched by the promise in Scripture – when chaos seems to be overwhelming us, the way we turn it around and walk back towards Jerusalem, is to come to the Lord’s table in Communion.

 

Because it is at the breaking of the bread – at the Communion table – that Jesus has promised to be with us and indeed is REALLY present. Anglican theology believes in the REAL presence of Christ at Communion – not just in the bread and the wine but in the fact that Christ himself is here with us!! And it is here that he speaks with us. Of course God speaks to us at other times through the Bible and his Spirit – but when we come each week to be with one another as the body of Christ. We gather, as the old prayer book,reminds us,  to render thanks for the great benefits that we have received at his hands, to set forth his most worthy praise, to hear his most holy word, and to ask those things which are requisite and necessary both for the body and the soul. Do you see that – TO ASK, for those things necessary for the BODY and the SOUL.

 

The Lord is powerfully present when we come to worship and to take communion – and so we must be EXPECTANT that God will speak to us – expectant that God will minister to us – expectant that he will change our focus from what we are experiencing to what the scriptures have promised. We must come to communion in an expectation that God will speak to us – speak to us and reveal himself to us in the breaking of the bread. And even if we hear or feel NOTHING this morning – we must leave this place knowing the promise of scripture that God has meet with us.

 

Just like these two disciples on the road to Emmaus, we will encounter discouragement. But also, just like these disciples, the Lord has promised to walk alongside us and to encourage us with his word and to meet with us when we need Him so that we may return to the path he has for us.

 

The thing is we must be expectant that he will speak to us.

 

As we prepare ourselves to come before the Lord at Communion just hear some of the promises in our reading from Isaiah this morning:

 

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine

 

When you pass through the waters I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

 

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.

 

Because you are precious in my eyes,
and honored, and I love you

 

Fear not, for I am with you.

 

May Congregational Letter

When we became a believer – when we trusted in Christ, we became part of the body of Christ. We joined the church of God, regardless of whether we belong to a specific congregation or not.

When we enter into the body of Christ as a believer we enter into a destiny that God has for us.

I would suggest that we have multiple destinies and while they are connected, each one helps us with the other. The three destinies we have are:

  1. Our general destiny in the body of Christ
  2. Our specific destiny as a believer in the body of Christ
  3. Our specific destiny in our personal context as members of the body of Christ

Let me explain.

OUR GENERAL DESTINY IN THE BODY OF CHRIST

In Christ, our first destiny is secured and finished with. As a believer I am part of the body of Christ which means that should I die today I will go to heaven. This destiny is assured and secured.

This where we should begin because it gives us confidence and security. Regardless of what happens here on earth my future is assured.

OUR SPECIFIC DESTINY AS A BELIEVER IN THE BODY OF CHRIST

While our future is secured, our role here on earth as believers is to point to and declare the greatness of God. We have a role in the church. We have a destiny in serving the body on earth.

Once we understand these too destinies, only then can we begin to look at our third destiny…

OUR SPECIFIC DESTINY IN OUR PERSONAL CONTEXT AS MEMBERS OF THE BODY OF CHRIST

Romans 12:5 says We are all part of his one body and each of us has different work to do. And since we are all one body in Christ, we belong to each other and each of us needs all the others.

Each of us, as a member of the body of Christ, assured of heaven, and as believer’s whose role it is to declare the greatness of God and point people to Christ, need to work out our role how we serve God in a specific church.

It’s not that the church needs your gifts – it’s that the church cannot be the church without your gifts.

Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 12:27 that you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Hudson Taylor, the great 19th century missionary to China, speaking about the time after his conversion, says:

For what service I was accepted I knew not: but a deep consciousness that I was no longer my own took possession of me….I was not my own to give myself away; for I know not when or how He whose alone I was, and for whose disposal I felt I must ever keep myself free, might call for service.

The question we should ask is not if I am called to serve – but to WHAT is God calling to me to serve in the body of Christ.

The apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 4:10:

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

Service is not something which should be forced – but it is part of the transformative nature of being a believer, and so it should be a part of our process, being in fellowship with each other, to help another discover the area, the destiny of service that God has prepared for us.

Matthew 25 has the parable of the talents.

The master gives 5 bags of talents / gold to one servant, 2 to another and 1 to the third – he then goes on a long journey.

The master gave according to the servants ability – the master knew what each servant was capable of and he gave according to their abilities – but he gave responsibility to EACH of them.

God knows our abilities – he knows our gifts – he knows that we may hate speaking in public, but he given each of us some responsibility – he has entrusted to us something for us to do for him.

Invisible War: What Every Believer Needs to Know about Satan, Demons, and Spiritual Warfare by Chip Ingram

51UHRnz92EL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_ Our men’s breakfast book club read this Book over April. This is the second book which we have read on spiritual warfare and I feel this is an important topic for our church. Satan delights in nothing more than trying to disrupt and destroy the church, friendships and fellowship. For Chip, he suggests that there are 5 basic truths we must be aware of: Basic Truth #1: There Is an Invisible World – you may rarely see it or you may have NEVER ‘seen it’ or experienced it – but it is real. Basic Truth #2: We Are Involved in an Invisible War – you may not like the term, but it is the truth.  We are in the middle of a war. Basic Truth #3: Our Foe Is Formidable – don’t think you can take satan on as you please. He is dangerous… Basic Truth #4: We Must Respect Our Foe but Not Fear Him Basic Truth #5: We Do Not Fight for Victory; We Fight from Victory The rest of the book revolves around these basic truths. Section one looks at What Every Believer Needs to Know; section two examines How to Prepare Yourself for Spiritual Battle; section three shows How to Do Battle with the Enemy and Win and finally section four explores Deliverance from Demonic Influence. The bottom line for Ingram is that every believer needs to:

  • maintain a healthy spiritual life.
  • Understand your position in Christ as spelled out in the first three chapters of Ephesians.
  • Discern when demonic influence may be the cause.
  • Claim God’s promises out loud.
  • Then take your authority and position in Christ, and command the demonic forces to cease their activity and depart.

I think this is a valuable book for every christian to read. It is easy to understand and well laid out. But most importantly it challenges us to be aware of and helps equip us in the spiritual battle each of us is involved with. Let me finish with an exhortation from Ingram; I urge you, then, as a matter of utmost importance, to be strong in the Lord. Stand firm and be alert. Gird yourself and use your weapons. Above all, pray. You represent the greatest army in all of history , and you fight for the greatest of causes . When the King comes in victory, you will receive the honors of a valiant warrior. And the invisible war will never need to be fought again

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.

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.