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.

 

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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.

 

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.