Archive for ‘Christianity’

September 26, 2014

Persecution, humility and a perfect example…

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(Photo: Sunset over Crozon, Brittany, August 2013)

Sermon for Sunday 28th September 2014.

Philippians 2:1-13

A few days ago during an early morning time of prayer and Bible reading, I was struck by the stark difference there is in being a Christian here and being a Christian in say Syria, Northern Iraq, Nigeria or many other places at this time. We can sit and read our Bible in peace and safety, not worrying for a moment that we are in any danger – a deranged sword-wielding Jihadist is unlikely to bang on the door.  Yet daily we are hearing reports of our brothers and sisters in Christ suffering unimaginable persecution; men are being crucified, women and children are being beheaded and worse.  Why?  Because they are Christians who live in the path of a great swathe of evil the type of which the world has never before seen.

Of course we do have persecution of sorts here, (though it is so different from what I have just described that the same word hardly seems appropriate). In Ireland the Christian who does not readily agree and go along with societies views on divisive issues such as the life of the unborn child, fair economic policy, marriage or the importance of the family in bringing up children, is scorned and ridiculed.  When we gently quote scripture and talk not only of grace and love but right and wrong, eyebrows are raised and eyes roll as if we are some quaint and old-fashioned sideshow.

I don’t know if we will ever suffer persecution here in the same way that our brothers and sisters in Africa and the Middle East are going through right now, but we can be sure that if we stand up for Christ even here then we are going to be increasingly in for rough treatment in the years that lie ahead.

It is with all this in our minds that we turn to the Epistle reading for today. The Apostle Paul is writing to the small group of believers in the Roman city of Philippi.  Paul himself is writing the letter from prison and he writes as one who has endured much for the cause of Christ.  He writes to a church that has undergone and continues to undergo much in the way of persecution.  He knows that they have suffered much and so he seeks to encourage them.  In so doing, we are left with these wonderful and Spirit-filled words of truth and beauty, which are a wonderful encouragement to us today, whether we are a Christian in Ireland mocked and gossiped about by her work colleagues for being a follower of Jesus or whether we are a Christian living in Africa or Asia who daily wonders whether this will be their last day on earth.

Paul starts off his encouragement by saying that they must as a Church be united. A church is united when Christ is the focus and the centre of everything that happens and when it is His love that is the driving force behind all that is said and done.   When things are done because of selfish ambition or conceit then the church is in trouble.  Sadly we see it far too often that people in the church do things for the wrong reasons; to promote their own views, or to get everyone noticing how important or humble or holy they are.  When as the church we take our eyes off the Lord Jesus, we start to disintegrate as a body.  He must always be the focus of everything that we do, and everything that we do must be done with the aim of giving glory to Him. Paul says that humility is the key ingredient. He says that we must consider others better than ourselves.  Let’s just think about this for a moment, how can we genuinely consider others better than ourselves?  Well if we are a Christian it is easy – we only need to consider the extent and the stench of our sin and of the enormity of God’s grace to us through the cross of Christ.  If we remember that we are forgiven sinners it will soon stop us from strutting around like a Christian Peacock going ‘look at me aren’t I holy’!!  As well as being aware of our sin, if we remember that other people, especially those who we dislike and extra-especially those who dislike us, are wonderful creations of God, made by Him in His own image, then we will have a much better perspective on reality and it will help us to be genuinely humble.  It is the soil of genuine humility, with everybody looking to Christ, that provides the only environment in which the Church will grow and thrive.

A woman was sitting in the waiting room for her first appointment with a new dentist. She noticed his diploma on the wall, which bore his full name. Suddenly, she remembered that a tall, handsome, dark-haired boy with the same name had been in her high school class so many years ago. Could this be the same guy she wondered? She quickly discarded any such thought when she met the balding, grey-haired man with the deeply-lined face. He’s way too old to have been my classmate, she thought to herself. Still, after he had finished examining her teeth, she asked, “Did you happen to attend Morgan Park High School?” “Yes I did”, he said, smiling with the recollection. “When did you graduate?” she asked. “1980,” he replied. “Why do you ask?” “You were in my class!” she exclaimed. “Really?” he said, looking at her closely. “What did you teach?”[i]

Sometimes we all need a bit of help to be humble, but it is important that we are. Have you ever heard Nicky Gumbel (Vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton and author of the Alpha Course) speak?  Compared to most Christians, he could be excused for patting himself on the back a little, but even though God has used Nicky to reach thousands, if not millions of people with the Gospel, he always credits other people and most of all Christ when he speaks – perhaps that is why God is able to use him so effectively – because he is genuinely humble.

The Apostle Paul shows us that the best example of humility is that of Christ Himself.  Verses 6 – 11 are thought to be words of an early hymn and if so what a hymn it is!  Jesus willingly and out of love for His Father and out of love for us gave up the glory of heaven.  As a member of the Trinity He gave up all the power and knowledge that went with His deity.  He emptied Himself and was born as a tiny, helpless human baby.  As we know, He lived a perfect life, never committing sin (1 Peter 2:22) and He was totally obedient to His Father in heaven.  He obediently went to the Cross and to the unimaginable pain and suffering that He bore for us there.  Look how the words change going into verse 9; from utter humility, dead on a Roman cross, He is resurrected from the dead, God highly exalts Him from the lowest of the low to the highest of the high.  The day will come when every knee will bow to Him, “in heaven and on earth and under the earth” and “every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (v.10,11).  This is referring to the Day when Christ shall return, known as the “Second Coming” or the “Day of Judgement”.  Talking about such things today will get people rolling their eyes at us, even sadly sometimes amongst people who go to Church.  But we make no apologies for Scripture; we are plainly told by Christ in the Gospels (for example in Matthew 24) and in many other places as well (see Acts 1:11, 1 Corinthians 11:26, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, James 5:7-9, Revelation 3:11 etc.), that Christ will return and on that day, people in heaven will bow their knees before Christ and those who are left on earth at the time of His coming will bow their knees to Christ, and those who are ‘under the earth’, (referring to those in hell) will also bow their knees to Christ.  Not only will all knees bow (willingly or unwillingly) at the mention of His Name, but every tongue will also (willingly or unwillingly) confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord”.

What about us? Do we confess that Jesus Christ is Lord?  Do we bow before Him in humility, worship and wonder?  One day everyone who has ever lived will together bow their knees before Him.  The question we must ask of ourselves today is – Will I do so willingly or unwillingly?[ii]  Let us pray … Amen.

[i] http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2007/july/8073007.html (Altered)

[ii] Question adapted from: Bentley, Michael. “Shining in the Darkness”, Philippians simply explained. Welwyn Commentary Series, Durham. Evangelical Press 1997, p.80

August 28, 2014

An ugly beauty

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The photo above is of a “Common Darter” Dragonfly, (at least I think it is, I found a similar enough picture in our Collins British Wildlife book and online).  It’s probably a female or immature male!  (See Chris Brooks’ excellent site here for more.)

Usually these wonderful insects fly away the moment you get anywhere near, but I was able to get quite close on this occasion (with a 70-300mm) lens.  Even so this is a 16 megapixel file heavily cropped to get close enough to see the detail.  I came across one of these Darters before, you can see that post here (definitely a male on that occasion.)

There really is something magnificent about Dragonflies.  They truly are beautiful to look at as they fly into your vision, and as they do so you find yourself hoping that they will just settle somewhere nearby so that you can get a closer look.  I don’t know how something can be both beautiful and ugly but there you are. On one level it is a marvel of Creation, with such masterful intricacy and balance, perfect in it’s design and operation.  On another level it is a terrifying monster (particularly if you happen to be a smaller and edible insect nearby!)

Of course it is not just Dragonflies that are capable of beauty and ugliness, it is a contradiction which we humans exhibit to an even greater degree.  We want to be a good person, we want to do the right thing but all too often we mess up.  I love the way that the Apostle Paul describes this internal dilemma in the Bible:

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate… Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.

(Romans 7:15, 24-25 NLT)

Unlike the Dragonfly, we do have an option to change, an opportunity to be rescued from the ugliness of our sin.  That wonderful option is found in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ…

August 25, 2014

“But who do you say that I am?”

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(Photo: Statue of Christ in the Gothic Memorial Church, Kylemore Abbey, Co. Galway.  July 2014)

Sermon for Sunday 24th August.  Text – Matthew 16:13-20

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ 14 And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ 15 He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’

Sooner or later we all have to deal with the Great Question. The great question is one that Jesus asked of His disciples and it is a question which each of us must give an answer to also. The question Jesus asks is: “But who do you say that I am?’ (Repeat).

Those who have grown up in the church and can recite the creeds in their sleep are perhaps most in danger. We are so used to the liturgy and the prayers that we go through a church service on autopilot, without ever actually really engaging with what we are (or should be) doing. We might answer the question from our head saying that, “Yes, Jesus is of course the Son of God our Saviour who died for us upon the cross and rose again on the third day etc. etc.” And we can say all this (and even sound convincing when we say it), but the reality is that even though our heads know the right thing to say, in actual fact our hardened hearts are far from Him. We need to let go of our protective wall of hardness because not only does it keep people out, it keeps Christ out too.

In the previous chapter (15), in verse 8, Jesus, speaking about the religious church-going folk of the day said: “This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

I don’t like saying it, but that is a warning for us. We are guilty. We honour God with our lips when we are in church, but our hearts are far from Him. What do we need to do?

First of all we need to repent. We need to acknowledge our sin to God. We need to say sorry for just going through the motions of Christianity. We need to say sorry for coming to church merely out of a sense of duty. We need to say sorry for busying ourselves with all the activity of church and parish life and thinking that that is enough to make God like us.

Secondly we need to be thankful. God has provided the means for us to be right with Him. Jesus Christ, the Son of God took upon Himself our sins upon the cross. When we repent, when we say “sorry”, He will forgive us and He will cleanse us from our sins. Because of Jesus, God the Father sees us as spotless and without any blemish when we allow Jesus to be our Lord and Saviour. Let us fully take on board what God has done for us and let the roof of this place be lifted off with the power and strength and passion of our thankful praise and worship.

Thirdly we need to invite God to come into our hearts and dwell there. Perhaps we have been going to church all our lives and yet we have never unlocked the door of our hearts and let Him in. Maybe we let Him in years ago but over the time since the weeds have grown up and we have become closed to His working in our lives; we have built up barriers of resistance to the Spirit and we no longer know His power or His leading in and of our lives.

Fourthly, we need to get serious about serving Him. Let’s get this straight, turning up at church is not serving God. We can only truly serve God once we have got to know Him and we can only get to know Him once we have acknowledged Him as Lord and Saviour and invited Him into our hearts.   Once we have a relationship with God, He will then lead us and show us how, when and where He wants us to serve Him. This is a big obstacle for many people because we don’t want to be told what to do. We want to be in charge and we want to make our own decisions. But it is impossible to be a Christian and be our own boss. It is impossible to serve Christ and only go where we want to go and do what we want to do. It just doesn’t work like that. He has to be in charge, He has to be number one. If we look at our lives and wonder why God has never really used us, the answer most certainly is that it is because we have not let Him! To begin with, when we were a young Christian, God tried to gently lead us, but every step of the way we thought we knew best, and now look at us, we no longer know God’s leading and our life for Him is but a pale shadow of what it could have been. But don’t despair, whether we are 18 or 80 it is not too late. All we have to do is acknowledge our sin and rededicate our lives to God, to allow Him to come into our hearts and lives and then when He asks us to do something we do it! He will never ask us to do something without helping us and giving us the power to do it. Yes it will mean leaving our comfort zones but He is with us and as St. Paul said “If God is for us who can ever be against us?” (Rom. 8:31b).

Where is our Passion? Where is our commitment?

Benjamin Kwashi, a Christian leader from Jos, Nigeria, tells the following story of how the gospel came to his part of the country:

Missionaries came to my home area of Nigeria in 1907. One of them was a man named Reverend Fox. Reverend Fox was a professor at Cambridge University, and when he arrived his walk with Christ was so deep that he led many people to Christ. He founded a church and moved about 10 kilometers away to Amper, my own hometown, and founded the church there too. How a first-class [scholar] from the University of Cambridge was communicating to illiterates, I don’t know, but God suddenly gave him favour and people were turning to Jesus Christ. So many people came to Christ that he wrote to his younger brother, who was a physician also in Cambridge, and asked him to come and help him because medical practice was needed. As his brother started the journey from England, Reverend Fox fell ill and died. Soon after his brother arrived, he also fell ill and died.

The Church Mission Society wrote to their father, who was also a pastor. When they told him he had lost two sons, he and his wife [mourned deeply], but then in their grief they did something astounding. They sold their land and property, took the proceeds to the mission society, and said, “As much as we grieve the death of our two sons, we will only be consoled if the purpose for which they died continues.” They gave that money and walked away.

Recently I looked through the profile of those two missionaries who came to my hometown. They both had first-class educations and degrees from the best universities. They died as young men—the oldest was only 32. They gave up everything to serve Jesus and bring the gospel to my country. Were they crazy? No, they had heard what Jesus had said, they believed it, and they were willing to stake their whole lives on the truth of Jesus’ words. These men wanted to end their lives well. No matter how long or short their life, it wasn’t going to be wasted, but they would invest it for eternity.[1]

Will we give up everything to serve Jesus? Are we willing to stake our whole life on the truth of Jesus’ words? Today, right now He looks us in the eye and He says “What about you, who do you say that I am?” Will we give up everything to serve Him? Today is our opportunity to say enough is enough and to stop our old selfish and insecure way of living. Today is the day to invite Him into our hearts and say ‘here I am Lord, I am Yours, I will serve You from now on for the rest of my life. You are number One.’

Let us pray together: Dear Lord Jesus, I am so sorry for my sin, for going my own way and being my own boss. I acknowledge my sin before You now … Thank you Lord that You died for me, in my place upon the cross. I give my life to You now and I invite You to come into my life, into my heart. Please use me Lord to serve you in whatever way You wish. Please lead me and guide me in Your ways, because You are the way the truth and the life. Lord I ask all this in Your precious and Holy Name … Amen.

[1] http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2014/august/3081814.html

August 13, 2014

Getting out of the boat

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(Photo: Inishbofin Ferry, July 2014)

Sermon for Sunday 10th August, 2014.

Text: Matthew 14:22-33

As we look at the gospel reading this morning, many of us (if we are honest) will find ourselves identifying with the disciples in the boat. If you think about it, it is a picture of much of the church in our part of the world today. As we look beyond the confines of the boat, we are intimidated by the height of the waves and the strength of the wind. The world is in such a mess, with seemingly endless numbers of spiritually starving people all around us, and the world beyond appears to be nothing but war and rumours of war, disease and disaster, with countless numbers of innocent men, women and children caught up in it all. “It’s much better to say in the boat”, we say to ourselves, “where it is safe, where it is dry and where we can hide from the oceans of need all around us”.  

I have a memory from when I was about five or six years old of watching an episode of Dr. Who on TV – there I was, eyes glued to the old black-and-white television when all of a sudden a scary screaming monster type thing came on to the screen and I was terrified. I got up and ran around to the back of the sofa, occasionally peering over the top to see if it had gone away and then ducking for cover once more. My mother then came in to the room and told me not to be afraid, it was just a man dressed up in a silly costume and it was nothing to be frightened of. I didn’t need to hide behind the sofa any more after that.  

But staying in the boat, or hiding behind the sofa or just keeping ourselves busy with church activity is not where the Lord wants us to be. He does not want us to live in fear, He wants us to trust Him, He even wants us to get out of the boat…  

The reading starts off with the Lord Jesus telling the disciples to head out in the boat and go over to the other side of the lake whilst he goes up the mountain by himself to pray. Did the disciples know that their master and friend was going to pray? I’m not sure, but if they did, then perhaps they didn’t need to fear what was going to happen next. The same is of course true for us. In Hebrews 7:25, the Bible gives us the wonderful promise that Jesus prays for those who come to God through Him. Isn’t it a very special thing, to know that Jesus prays for us?  

So whilst Jesus is alone on the mountain, the disciples are making their way across the lake, but a storm has arisen, the boat is being battered by the wind and the waves and they are far from the shore. It’s quite a contrast don’t you think? Picture the serenity of Jesus in the place of prayer up on the mountain and then in the distance out on the water are the disciples, being lashed, buffeted and bashed by the waves and the wind which are coming hard against them. Remember that a number of the disciples are experienced professional fishermen, they have encountered many storms before, but this is a bad one. The disciples are in a state of panic and in fear of losing their lives and yet they were in fact perfectly safe, Jesus was praying not only for Himself but also for them and He very soon would come to them. How many times have we been in a state of anxiety and fear only to realise later that God was with us all along, looking after us, holding and protecting us?  

In verse 25 it says “In the early morning he came walking towards them on the lake”. In the original it says “In the fourth watch of the night”, which is between 3 am to 6 am. So the disciples had been battling the storm most of the night, and they were no doubt by this time not only frightened, but exhausted. The waves were still large and the wind still strong and there had been no let up. But Jesus comes to them ‘actually walking on the rising and falling waves’ (Hendriksen). ‘The disciples must discover that they have a Saviour who is able not only to still the storm but even to use it as His pathway’ (Ibid.) Initially they don’t realise that it is Jesus coming to them across the water, in the dim light and overcome with fear they cry out ‘It is a ghost!’ But now close to them Jesus says:  

“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Beautiful words, words that give us strength and comfort to this day. If we look at the literal translation of what Jesus says, it is even more powerful, He says: “Take heart, I AM”. When Jesus says ‘I AM’, it is very significant, because this is the name for God in the Old Testament (Exodus 3:14). Jesus is telling the disciples, and us, that He is the great ‘I AM’, so there is no need to fear. In whatever situations you are in today, this is a huge reassurance to your heart that Jesus is in control.[1]   DSC_0801_wp

(Photo: “Jesus walking on the Water”, Stained-glass window, Church of the Ascension, Timoleague)

I think Peter is just such a great, larger-than-life character. He sometimes gets criticised for being a loud mouth who always seems to put his foot in it, but what we learn from him is that it is much better to do something and fail whilst trying, than to do nothing at all. It is much better to get out of the boat and sink and be saved than to never take the step of faith at all. Peter wants to be wherever Jesus is, even if that means doing something that is impossible, something that contradicts the laws of physics, such as walking on water. Of course it was Jesus who created water in the first place, it was He who determined the laws of physics and nature, He is Lord over all He has created and it is subject to Him in every way.  

Peter has enough faith and enough courage to step out of the boat, which at this time is still being buffeted about. To begin with it all goes well, he is actually walking on the water towards Jesus. But the initial wonder of what he is doing evaporates as Peter takes his eyes of Jesus and notices the strong wind. In so doing his faith is replaced by fear and he begins to sink. Turning back to Jesus he cries out “Lord, save me!” Jesus’ response is immediate, He reaches out and catches hold of him. Perhaps it is then as the two of them are walking back to the boat that Jesus says: ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ In other words, Peter should have taken to heart that He was in Christ’s presence, and he should not therefore have been afraid.  

Perhaps some of us can relate to Peter, yes we have faith, but mixed in with that faith is fear and doubt (Wright). It can seem that what Jesus has asked us to do is impossible, whether that is being a witness for Him in the home, in school or in the workplace; whether that is being involved in ministry of some kind to those in the church or to those outside; whether it is in helping those around us or helping those in far away places. It can all seem, at times, overwhelming. If like Peter we look at the wind and the waves we will conclude that what God has asked us to do is impossible. All we have to do though is keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, in prayer, in His Word, in worship and praise and as we go out into the world. Spending time with Him is key so that not only will we know what He wants us to do, but we will have the power, energy, strength and faith to do that which He asks of us.  

As Peter and Jesus get back into the boat all is calm, the wind stops and the disciples cry out now not in fear, but in worship, saying to Jesus ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’  Worship is of utmost importance.  

One of my favourite books of recent years is John Ortberg’s “If you want to walk on water You’ve got to get out of the boat.” He writes:   “When human beings get out of the boat, they are never quite the same. Their worship is never quite the same. Their world is never quite the same. Whatever the results, whether they sink or swim, something will have changed… Jesus is not finished yet. He is still looking for people who will dare to trust Him. He is still looking for people who will refuse to allow fear to have the final word. He is still looking for people who refuse to be deterred by failure … Just remember one thing: If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat.”[2]  

Let’s pray: Lord, we ask that You would give us courage to get up and to step out and to follow You and Your will and plan for our lives, now and always … Amen.  

Further Reading:

  • William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, Matthew, Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1989
  • John Ortberg “If you want to walk on water You’ve got to get out of the boat.”, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2001
  • Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 1, SPCK, London, 2004

[1] http://acs.alpha.org/bioy/commentary/765

[2] John Ortberg “If you want to walk on water You’ve got to get out of the boat.”, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2001, p.202

May 3, 2014

Joy

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They are just some Tulips in a kitchen window, but I marvelled at how beautiful they were. One word came into my mind as I looked at them: “Joy”.

They seem to be radiating light and beautiful colour; perhaps it is not going too far to see them as an act of worship, pointing the viewer to the landscape beyond and ultimately to the Hand that made it all…

C. S. Lewis described nature as “a medium of the real joy”*, in other words a way in which God conveys to us all the wonder that is found in Him. His beauty is reflected in His work; the great Artist longing for us to love not only his nature, but Him…

*”Surprised by Joy”, Fount paperback edition (1977), p.66

April 19, 2014

Sermon for Good Friday 2014

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Photo: The “Famine Cross”, Church of the Immaculate Conception, Clonakilty.

It seems like long while since I put a sermon on this blog, so here are the words I spoke from at the Methodist Church in Clonakilty last night, for Good Friday…

Text: Matthew 27:33-54

I read an extraordinary story in the news last night[1].  It happened in Iran.  A man was to be hanged for murdering a young man of 17 in a street fight.  The photos showed a large crowd all around him, pressing in on the scaffolding that surrounds the place of execution.  The condemned man is standing there on a chair with a noose around his neck.  There he was in tears and moments from death when the mother and father of the man he had killed came up to him and together removed the noose from around his neck, the mother declaring that she had forgiven him.  Understandably this has caused quite an uproar in Iran, enough of an uproar that it is even being reported about in Ireland…

Our reading for this evening concerns another place of execution and one in which the man being executed is entirely innocent.  The uproar caused by this particular execution has sent shockwaves through history ever since, shockwaves that transcend time and distance, language and culture, heaven and hell.

As we turn to Matthew 27, starting at verse 33, the Lord Jesus, who had already been flogged, mocked, spat at, and had a crown of thorns pushed onto His head is brought to the place of execution, known as Golgotha, the place of the skull.  The Lord refused the bitter wine he is offered; He wants to face what is ahead with full clarity of mind.  Matthew does not give us any details of the crucifixion, he merely writes: “And when they crucified him they divided his garments among them by casting lots.”  This is talking about the Roman soldiers who would have been the ones to nail Jesus to the cross, hoist him up and then keep watch.  It is their job to keep the people at least a spears distance away from the cross and it is easy for us to imagine a seething crowd of people around, some mocking, some grieving, and some just waiting to see what might happen.  In the crowd were Mary, Jesus’ mother, some of the disciples and many of Jesus’ friends, but also the chief priests, scribes and elders and many others who were only too glad to see the Lord Jesus as He now was.

The soldiers put up a sign above Jesus which read “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews”, we learn from John’s Gospel that the religious leaders did not like this sign at all (John 19:19-22), but Pilate, who had written it would not let it be changed.

We are told that two robbers were crucified with Jesus, one on His right and one on His left and so we can imagine the scene more clearly, soldiers around the three crosses, a sizeable crowd, many of whom were mocking Jesus and even passers by we are told, wag their heads, deriding Him, saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself.  If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” (v.39, 40).  Are we not reminded in these words of the words of satan as he tempted Jesus in the wilderness: “If you are the Son of God…” (Matthew 4:3).  Here again Jesus is being tempted to leave the cross, to show His power.  The words of the accusers, even the chief priests, elders and scribes ringing in His ears saying: “He saved others; he cannot save himself.  He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him…” Of course, Jesus could have come down from the cross if He had wanted to, He could have silenced the jeering and the mocking with a show of power or with legions of angels.  But He chose the path of suffering because He was on the cross not though human plan or action; He was not there because things had gone wrong.  He was there because it had been planned all along that He would give His life as a ransom for all (1 Timothy 2:6), to purchase freedom for all who would receive it.

Matthew tells us that at the sixth hour, (that is 12 noon); there was darkness over all the land.  This was no ordinary darkness; it can only have been a special act of God, as it lasted for three hours.  Obviously we cannot even begin to imagine the suffering that the Lord Jesus took on Himself during that time.  The pain of the nails in his hands and feet, the pain and exhaustion of hauling up His tired body to breathe, all this would have been nothing in comparison to taking upon Himself the sin of the whole world, including my sin and yours.  He experienced the full punishment that our sins deserve.  He experienced God’s anger and wrath that would otherwise have been directed at us.  He experienced the judgement of the Father that we deserved.  So great was this suffering that Jesus calls out a line from Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  The Son of God, who had in all eternity known total oneness and intimacy with the father and with the Spirit, is now rejected and judged and punished for our sin, as He hangs in the place of execution, dying the death that we deserve to die.  Finally, when the time comes for Jesus to die He gives up His spirit not in weakness fading to death but with a loud voice, which John records as Jesus saying, “It is finished.” (John 19:30).

God the Father responds in a dramatic way.  The curtain of the temple is torn in two.  No longer would an elaborate system of animal sacrifices be necessary.  No longer would God be inaccessible and hidden.  No longer would there be an enormous unfathomable chasm between God and us.  There was now a bridge, in the shape of a cross, and we are free to cross over that bridge into the Holy of Holies.  The dividing barrier, symbolised by the curtain in the temple was now torn in two.  Next we see that there is an earthquake, strong enough that rocks are splitting and tombs opening.  Godly people who had died are now raised from the dead and come out of the tombs.  Later, after Jesus’ resurrection these risen saints go into the city and appear to many.

The reading ends with the Roman centurion being filled with awe.  What had started out as a day like any other day for him had become utterly like any other day in history.  He had seen how the Lord Jesus had calmly and silently dealt with the mocking and accusations, even uttering words of forgiveness (Luke 23:34).  He had seen the dignity and authority of Jesus even in the midst of unimaginable pain and suffering and he had witnessed the supernatural darkness, the earthquake and the raising of the dead saints coming out of their tombs.  All this had an effect, a profound effect on the centurion, enough for him to utter those famous words:  “Truly this was the Son of God!” (54)

This is the point where we come into the story.  What is our response to it?  This is not just ancient history, the cross of Christ transcends time and space and it is indeed a crossroads in all of our lives.  How do we respond to Jesus?  How do we respond to the fact that He died for us, that He willingly and totally gave His life for us in order that we might be forgiven and made right with God?  How do we respond to such incredible love?  Surely when such an overwhelming gift is offered to us, we take it, then with tears of gratitude in our eyes we say ‘thank you’.

The Lord Jesus not only takes the noose off our neck, He places it around His own neck and dies in our place.  Not only that but He wants us to be with Him, to allow Him to live in us and to be His friend and disciple and to walk with Him and talk with Him and share our whole life with Him.  How could we not want to do this?  It is the most beautiful gift and it is one that He offers to ever single one of us, please I ask you, accept it with all your heart.  Amen.

 

[1] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-27070087

 

March 24, 2014

Endless Wonder

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A couple of nights ago the sky was particularly clear.  The photo is a bit blurred but nevertheless it gives a glimpse of just what a wonderfully starlit night it was.  Orion can clearly be seen in the bottom left corner (though not as clearly as I had hoped).  This attempt at photographing the night sky has given me the determination to give it another go soon.

I read a C.S. Lewis quote recently which I think appropriate:

No: Space was the wrong name.  Older thinkers had been wiser when they named it simply the heavens.” (From Out of the Silent Planet).

February 1, 2014

Lead me to the rock that is higher than I

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Photo: Church at Pointe du Van, Brittany.

We visited this wonderful location during the summer. As I read the words of Psalm 61 recently, I remembered this beautiful little Church high up on the rock, far above the crashing Atlantic waves below…

“Hear my cry, O God,
listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to you
when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
that is higher than I,
for you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the enemy.”  (Psalm 61:1-3)

January 15, 2014

Storms

 

On the 27th December we took a trip down to Red Strand and on to Long Strand and Ownahincha to take a look at the stormy conditions.  It was very windy and quite a job to hold the camera still enough to take pictures …

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It was a wonderful experience, to feel the strength of the wind and to hear the roar of the sea so loud that we had to shout to speak to each other.  It was also good to get back to the car and feel safe!  Looking back at these now I am reminded of all the verses in the Bible about God sheltering us from the storm, such as in Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength,
always ready to help in times of trouble.
So we will not fear when earthquakes come
and the mountains crumble into the sea.
Let the oceans roar and foam.
Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!

November 17, 2013

Prayer

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I think that the longer a person knows God, the more they want to get to know Him.  Prayer is such a wonderfully rich and fathomless subject and something that can be both easy and very hard, uplifting and elusive; something that can release tears of joy and tears of sorrow.

As well as stumbling and stuttering in prayer and in trying to pray throughout the day, directing everything heavenward, I like to write out my prayers in a book too.  That way I can come back to them and see what transpired.  Looking back sometimes I am very grateful that God didn’t answer a prayer the way I wanted Him to!  The best times of prayer are when we pray with our boys at bedtime (some of the things they come out with are priceless!) and then later in the evening with Sonja, when together with God we bring to Him ourselves, our lives, and pray both for those who have asked for our prayers (and also those who have not!), as well as other things and different situations.    

For the beginner (and I think I will always be a beginner but that’s no bad thing), I recently came across an article on the Church of England website entitled “Learn to Pray”, which I really like.   There are lots and lots of books on prayer, but my favourite is Gordon MacDonald’s “Ordering Your Private World”, which has taught me much about how the inner life of prayer affects the outer life we live every day.

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Photo: A man at prayer in the Church of St. John the Baptist, Cirencester

Nikon D7000, 35mm DX lens at f1.8, 1/90 sec, ISO 160