31. Essentials (1) Sin & Guilt

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 31. Essentials (1): Sin & Guilt

2 Sam 12:5 “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die

2 Sam 12:7 “You are the man!

Significance: It may be that if you have been following this series, or you’ve just come to it and scanned the number of studies that are here, you might ask the question, why are you continuing this, why are you going over the same ground again?  The answer to that is that ‘Redemption’,  first of all, is something that so often we consign to ‘spiritual facts’ about what happened back when I became a Christian but, second, because the whole emphasis that I have felt from the outset of this series is that it is also a description of the ongoing work of God to keep us on track, being changed into the likeness of Christ and a being an active citizen of the kingdom of God and, third, all of that despite the fact that we are failures and get it wrong.

It is the combination of these last two things, that God is continually working on us sinners to bring about change, that is so significant, and it is significant because of its part in enabling us to triumph in spiritual warfare. It is when Satan whispers to us, “You are rubbish, no one loves you, you are insignificant, you are achieving nothing meaningful in life, give up,” that these things come into play as we respond, “Yes, all you say is right, but God still loves me and is still working on my life to change me so that in Christ I am somebody and in Christ I do have a purpose and in Christ I am going somewhere – so go away!!”

Why Sin? But why, you may ask, do we need to go back and eyeball ‘sin’ again, why do we need to focus on sin and guilt as our heading says? Well, again there are at least two reasons. The first is the reality of sin and the second is that when we face that reality it makes us more aware of the wonder of this whole thing about God’s redemption. Yes, we have seen some of these things previously, and we have certainly seen them in the lives of individuals and in the life of Israel, but now we need to bring this aspect right out into the open and shine the spotlight on it in order to a) understand its reality and then b) appreciate even more the wonder of God’s redemption.

Sin’s Reality: We don’t like talking about ‘sin’ because it is depressing, and it raises the spectre of judgmentalist condemnation, which the Pharisees of Jesus day were good at. It can be depressing because it is always there, lurking in the background. As God said to Cain, that we saw in an earlier study, “if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen 4:7) What that implies is that we have to be constantly alert and make positive acts of will to overcome the temptation to give way to self-centred, godlessness that leads to unrighteous acts or words. There have often been arguments in theological circles whether it is an inherent predisposition within each of us that we have inherited, or whether it is simply the moral choice we are so often confronted with when faced with people or circumstances who provoke us or present us with moral options.

The option to do our own thing, contrary almost certainly to God’s design for us and the world, is ‘sin’. It is as the Bible says, ‘lawlessness’ (1 Jn 3:4) Lawless simply means operating outside or contrary to the Law and ‘the law’ in this general context simply means the way God has designed this world to work properly. The Bible uses the word ‘folly’ a number of times, a noun that means foolishness, and any act of sin is ‘folly’ or foolish because it always has a detrimental effect, a negative outworking in our lives. David lusting after Bathsheba was folly in itself AND because it led on to other sins – trying to cover up what had happened by having her husband killed. In the New Testament Paul made that all- encompassing statement, “The wages of sin is death,” (Rom 6:23) i.e. the outworking of sin always results in spiritual death or the separation from the life that is God.

Call a spade a spade: We have this phrase or expression, meaning to call a thing what it is, and so we must from the outset eyeball our stupid acts of self-centred godlessness what they are – sin and, yes they are, stupid!  David, when Nathan told his little parable, rightly responded with anger, as our first verse above shows. It was right to be angry at the injustice in the parable and the perpetrator deserved to die. It was then Nathan spoke those terrible words, “You are the man,” and instantly, David, the man after God’s own heart, was convicted: “I have sinned against the Lord.” (2 Sam 12:13). It was the same language Jesus inserted in his parable of the prodigal son: Father, I have sinned against heaven and you, and am not worthy of being called your son.” (Lk 15:21) Wrongs against people are also wrongs against God.

If you steal from another person, vandalize their property, speak wrongly against them, entice their partner away, all of these things are offences against that person AND against God. They are against God because they run contrary to His design for us that we live in peace and harmony with one another, and it is like we say, “God, I don’t care about your will, your ways in the world, your design, I’ll do my own thing,” and the trouble is all such things bring repercussions, there always will be negative outworkings, the ultimate one being the accountability that God demands at the end of our lives, “Why did you act as less than the child I designed you to be, why did you act as a godless, self-centred sinner?”

God’s Remedy: The death of His Son on the Cross outside Jerusalem, two thousand years ago in time-space history, was deemed by heaven to satisfy justice, was deemed to be sufficient to act as the judgment on every individual sin ever committed. The only thing is that it needed to be appropriated by us and we do that when we a) acknowledge, confess and repent of our sin(s) and b) accept the truth that Jesus died in our place to redeem us.  It can’t work unless these two things are there in place. When we are convicted of our sin, the recognition that we are helpless and hopeless and need God’s help, God’s forgiveness, God’s transformation, it is both devastating and dynamic. It is devastating to be truly honest about yourself – I am lost! It is dynamic in that it opens the floodgates of God’s love, mercy and grace that is poured out to us and which we are then able to receive.

Individual Sins: When we blow it – and yes, we are still a Christian who loves the Lord – the short way back is as we have described above, acknowledge, confess and repent, but the lessons we have observed through the studies earlier in this series, tell us that so often there are repercussions or consequences that have to be faced. So often, life doesn’t just go on, and so to see that in detail, we’ll need to wait until the next study.   You have sinned? It is not the end, but you are required to follow the Biblical pattern – acknowledge, confess and repent – and then receive forgiveness and cleansing and a fresh start – but it must begin with honesty, I’ve blown it! That is the beginning of the next step.

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1. Considering Redemption

PART ONE: Introducing the Theme

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 1. Considering Redemption

Ex 15:13 In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.

Approaches: There are times when I come to the end of a series of studies and wonder where I should go next. How does God want to feed me or challenge me next? And then there are other times – and this is one of them – when as I pray early in the morning I find the Lord filling my mind with a completely new train of thinking that challenges and stirs and demands to be written down.

Significance: For the last week or so, while I have been writing another series, I have found the Lord challenging my thinking into an area that I have never been before, and I have found it mind blowing. So it is time to start writing it. These will not be short meditations because the content is too important and too significant to be dealt with casually. If you want quick and easy and effortless daily readings, this will not be for you. However, if you will journey with me along the path I believe we will travel, I think I can promise you that you will be blessed and maybe even your whole outlook on yourself and others transformed. Yes, that is where I believe this is going.

Old Testament basics: Let’s take this word ‘redeem’ which has been imposing itself on me. My Bible dictionary says: “1. To buy back. 2. To get back, recover, by paying a fee. 3. To pay off a debt.”  In our verse above, Moses and Miriam sing this song of triumph after the Exodus and they look at what God has done, delivering them from slavery and they speak of themselves as “the people you have redeemed”.  Perhaps they take their language from the language the Lord used earlier: “‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.” (Ex 6:6)

New Testament Parallel: Today, in respect of our own salvation, the New testament speaks of, “Jesus Christ who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:13,14) Also, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law …..  He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:13,14) It is the same sort of picture in the New Testament in respect of our salvation as in the Old Testament in respect of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. The two sets of verses above speak of us being delivered FROM something (the old godless life of wrongdoing) and delivering us TO something (all the blessings that now flow through the work of the Cross – justification, adoption, glorification etc.)

Questions: So where are we going here? Well let me ask a simple question. How extensive is the redeeming work of Christ? Who will it cover? Does it cover a murderer? Does it cover an adulterer? Does it cover a denier? If you say no to these, you are running contrary to what the Bible tells us about the ‘heroes of faith’ who we will consider in this series as a preliminary to looking at how we live our church lives.  Oh yes, that is where this is going. How do you feel about Christians who have killed, Christians who have committed adultery, Christians who have denied Christ, Christians who have been caught with their hands in the till, Christians who have been found to be frauds?

No Jumping to Conclusions: Be careful here. I hope we are going to look into this in sufficient depth that we will avoid the two extremes of judgmentalism that writes off people and the opposite that simply shrugs and says, “It doesn’t matter, we’re all human.” God has given us case study after case study in the Bible and what we will see is a God who is both a Judge who declares guilt and a Redeemer who pays for our punishment. This means that on one hand we cannot be casual about sin – and we need to call it for what it is – and on the other we cannot withhold grace from the sinner. The thing about redemption is that God looks to deliver the person under the sentence of death and restore and elevate them to a position of sonship. It can be a painful process but a wonderful one.

Basic Truths: In case you might think I am going soft on you, let’s remind ourselves of some New Testament teaching from the apostle John. First, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 Jn 2:1,2). Next, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9) These two sets of verses lay out three very important truths for the Christian:

Sin is an exception: “so that you will not sin”. The apostle doesn’t expect the believer to sin. The standard is to aim for perfection (Mt 5:48 –“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”, perfect meaning complete in Christ.)

Yet we can fail: But if anybody does sin.” It is a possibility. These are hopefully just one-off failures, one-off sins, things where, to use my phrase, ‘we trip over our feet and it goes pear-shaped’.

Confession is the way back: “If we confess our sins.” Acknowledgement of sin, of a failure, of our guilt, is a pre-requisite to restoration. Often, we struggle with this because we are not in a secure place and we fear the people around us will condemn is. We will deal with this as we go along. That must change.

Consequences: Now it would be foolish to pretend that there are no consequences to our acts of failure (Sin!) and part of our journey ahead must be to face those consequences and consider how grace may abound. However, let’s keep in mind throughout (and the scriptures will help us see this) that God’s intention is always to help us come to a place of restoration. When we look into the Bible with ‘redemption focused eyes’, we will see people who didn’t get there, and we’ll see why they didn’t, but we’ll also see some surprising cases where people who seriously blew it and got it very badly wrong, still ended up in God’s good books – and that is really encouraging for each of us as we live out each day with the Lord. Oh yes, it is all there, so will you be prepared to join me in this mind-blowing experience and be prepared to have your mind changed (not by heresy but simply by what the Bible shows us) and your outlook transformed?

Application for further thought and prayer: Lord, I may have question marks over my life but today I rest secure in the knowledge that you are working for good in it, and whenever I see failure, I will rejoice that you want to take me to a new level of restoration as you work to redeem my life on a daily basis. Thank you so much.

7. Covenant Reassurance

Meditations on “Fear Not”:  7. Covenant Reassurance

Gen 26:24    That night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.”

Life had been somewhat tumultuous for Isaac. For twenty years he had failed to be a father and his prayers seemed to go unanswered. Then his wife conceived and bore him twins, twins who will be in constant competition, one of them a schemer and the other oblivious of the significance of his family background. Then his father died, and he is now the patriarch, wandering in Canaan. A famine comes, and he goes to Gerar, in the south, where he gets in trouble with the king, just like his father had done before him. Eventually, “Abimelech said to Isaac, “Move away from us; you have become too powerful for us.” (v.16) Affluence can make others insecure.

So he wanders the Land with his flocks and herds and finds shortage of water so, “Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham,” (v.18) but the locals claim the water is theirs, and this is repeated again and again, until, “He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarrelled over it. He named it Rehoboth, saying, “Now the Lord has given us room and we will flourish in the land.” (v.22) He has every right to feel insecure and wonder whatever is going on in his life, but then the Lord turns up.

That night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.” And so we find another, “fear not’ or ‘do not be afraid’ situation, but what is the reason he is given not to be afraid?  It starts out simply, “for I am with you.”  Yes, but what does that mean? You are with me, but my life circumstances are confusing and questionable.

Ah, we need to see the words before that: “I am the God of your father Abraham.  Ah, this starts to make sense. His father would have told him of all the dealings he had had with the Lord, the unseen One who had called him to leave his homeland and travel nearly a thousand miles to Canaan, with a promise that He would end his childlessness and make him into a great nation (Gen 12:2) and would give them this land (Gen 12:7). Then there had been a most solemn covenant made (Gen 15:9-20) that the land would be for his descendants.

There it was, a solemn covenant, a solemn promise accompanied by ritual, whereby the Lord declares this land will belong to the descendants he is yet to have. Once made it will stand and so Isaac will know of it and his children will know of it and their children and children’s children will know of it. That is why, Isaac, you can rest and be at peace in the midst of these confusing circumstances and not be afraid of them, of kings, of the peoples of the land, and of the future. The present circumstances may appear confusing, but God has promised a good outcome.

Similarly, for you and me, we have a new covenant (Lk 22:20), promised centuries before, (Jer 31:31) and now part of New Testament teaching (e.g. 1 Cor 11:22, 2 Cor 3:6, Heb 8:6,8,13, 9:15, 12:24) that Jesus died on the cross to take our sins to enable us to be justified and become Holy Spirit empowered children of God. That is our covenant in which we can be secure, so that whatever the circumstances, we know these truths do not change and thus we are part of God’s family and God is for us in them. Hallelujah!

12. Righteousness Arrives

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 12. Righteousness Arrives

Isa 32:17,18 The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest. 

Fruit of New Birth = Righteousness: I often think that there are things about the Christian life that, for most of the time, we take for granted and so perhaps they are things to which we don’t give much thought. For example, we have observed a number of times already in this series, that the change from our ‘old life’ to the new born-again experience is quite dramatic and the product of being born again, if we may put it like that, is righteousness. 

Two Sorts of Righteousness: Now there are those who argue about these things, but I do believe there are two levels of righteousness that we experience. The first is imputed’ righteousness which is attributed when we come in repentance and submit to the Lord for Him to take and change our lives. On the basis of our belief in the finished work of Christ on the Cross, we are declared righteous by God (see Abraham’s example – Gen 15:6 and affirmed by the apostle Paul in Romans 4). It is all about our standing now.

The second is imparted’ righteousness whereby the Lord imparts His Holy Spirit to indwell us, and as He leads us He enables us to live righteous lives. This is all about practical living.

But what is righteousness? Well apart from the two suggestions above, put most simply, it is ‘living according to God’s design, the way God has designed us to live’. Using the two definitions above we might say it is about a new attitude, knowing we are justified children of God, justified by the work of Christ on the Cross and appropriated by us when we surrendered to Christ. It is also about a new way of behaving, as we work it out in our everyday behaviour.

NT Examples: Now at one level this is very simple for it is living according to the teaching of the New Testament and so there are very obvious statements that in some ways are the equivalent to the Old Testament Law. For example in both Colossians and Ephesians there are times when Paul says “put off” or “put to death” certain things and “put on” other things. (e.g. Col 3:5-9) so you have obvious things such as putting to death, “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed,” and “Do not lie to each other.” There are lots of these sorts of instructions in the New Testament.

If you want some of the more positive ones, a bit later there is, “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love.” (v.13-15) There are lots of these sorts of instruction throughout the New Testament and we might summarise their description as ‘living according to God’s will and God’s design’. This is what He wants for us.

A New Focus: Whereas in our old life, we just lived according to what seemed right for us, now we have specifics to obey. Indeed, the fact that we have this goal – to please God by obeying His will – is the first thing that marks us out from our non-Christian neighbours. As we purpose to obey these things, the indwelling Holy Spirit helps us and enables us. When you look at Jesus’ teaching near the end, in John’s Gospel, we find that he told us that the Holy Spirit would testify in our hearts the truth about Jesus (Jn 15:26) and about sin, righteousness and judgment (16:8-11) and will generally guide us into all truth (16:13), i.e. his primary way of working within us, to help us clarify our purposes, is by convincing or reassuring or convicting us of things that are the truth in respect of God and His desires for us.

Dead & now Alive: Whereas before we came to Christ we were ‘dead’, now God has made us ‘alive’: you were dead in your transgressions and sins …. God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions …. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:1,4,6)   Previously we were spiritually dead, insensitive to God, and unaware of His presence. Now, by His Spirit He has made us alive – hence the resurrection analogy. The analogy of being lifted up to be seated with Christ, we will consider in the later Parts.

Change! The first sign of this resurrected life, therefore, is a change of direction, a change of purpose and, as I suggested at the beginning, it may be so obvious that we take little notice of it and yet it is the absolute basic foundation of our new lives. We were saved to be changed; we came to Christ because we acknowledged we needed to be different, and so we died to the old way of doing things and the Lord established a new way in us through His word and by His Spirit.

Spirit Direction: Note how we finished that last paragraph. It isn’t merely following a set of written instructions because there are times when the written instructions are inadequate for dealing with a particular conundrum that is before us. Problems arise and we really need some form of personal guidance and direction – and He is there within us, and then we find something strange: He doesn’t seem to be saying anything and so we have to go to Him and ask in prayer for help, for wisdom or revelation, to know what to do – and then we enter into a whole new world, the world of learning to listen to God. This is the world of relationship, not merely following a written list of rules; this is a world of trying to catch His heart, of hearing His quiet whisper, this is the world of the resurrected Christian who is now “alive to God”, empowered by God to, if nothing else, hear God.

Revelation brings Releasing: How rarely is this taught in church! How many there are who know so little of this relational living! How few put a premium on hearing God! Righteousness starts with us being told that we now ARE righteous in God’s sight. It continues as we turn to ‘the Law’ of the New Testament and start living according to this new paradigm, BUT the power of it is revealed in the relationship the Holy Spirit enables, which lifts being a member of the body of Christ, the Church, out of the realm of a club with a constitution, into a living, active body that receives revelation from heaven. This may be revelation about individuals, insight into situations, wisdom to know how to counter the works of the enemy and bring peace and harmony around us, freedom and liberty to individuals.

Righteousness means Peace & Security: Our starting verses from Isaiah, spoke of a righteousness that God would bring and the effect it would have “The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever. My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.” What a picture is conveyed of the fruit of this righteousness working in our lives: peace, quietness, confidence, security.  The fact that so often, it seems, in Christian lives today these things appear to be absent, suggests we may not be living lives of righteousness that I have described above.  Perhaps we might need to think again.

32. And Onwards

(apologies for our silence – we have been away to somewhere that should have had wi-fi but didn’t. We finish off the Easter- the Cross series)

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 32. And Onwards

Acts 2:1,4  When the day of Pentecost came ….  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit

We perhaps walk away from Easter too quickly. The fact is that without Easter none of us would be what we are. Something amazing happened on the Day of Pentecost that we sometimes miss: “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.” (Acts 2:3) This was the fire of God but here is the amazing thing – it did not burn up these followers of Jesus.

Why? Because of Easter, because all their sin had been dealt with by Jesus on the Cross. These men and women could encounter God without being burned up. I believe these tongues of fire were the sign of God’s merciful presence; the disciples could be in the presence of the Holy God without being destroyed.  Again and again, the indication in the Bible is that God cannot tolerate the presence of sin and fire comes down to destroy it – but here the fire comes, and they are not only safe, but they are filled (how we take that word for granted!) with the Holy Spirit.

Now this wasn’t just for an elite group of the closest followers, because the ongoing teaching of the New Testament is that, that happens to all believers and is the work of the Holy Spirit, who carries the presence of God. We are ‘born again of the Spirit’ (Jn 3:5-8), made anew by the power of God, and without His indwelling presence we are not Christians (Rom 8:9). Paul speaks of His indwelling presence a number of times – 1 Cor 3:16, 6:19 your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you,” as well as 2 Cor 6:19 “we are the temple of the living God.” See also Eph 2:21,22 etc. Isn’t that amazing, a truth we so often take for granted, that the very presence and power of God Himself dwells within us.

Now stop and think about the nature, the character of God. When we are filled with the Spirit, we are filled with all the love, goodness, and grace of God, expounded by Paul in Galatians as including, “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal 5:22,23) But it also includes all of His revelation: wisdom, knowledge, understanding and insight. All of these ‘resources’ are a gift from Him to each one of us.

But how can we, less than perfect beings, have all this, have this close encounter with the Holy One of Israel? The answer is ‘the Cross’. As we said at the beginning of this series (and this is the end), those words don’t just mean the physical means of death or the events themselves, but they are shorthand for all that Jesus achieved on the cross for us – our justification, our adoption, our being empowered to live the Christ-life, and a future destiny that contains the word, ‘everlasting’! All of this because of Easter. Thank and praise Him for it before we move on.

31. Postscript

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 31. Postscript

Acts 1:12-14  Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives … When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying….. They all joined together constantly in prayer

It didn’t feel right to stop at Easter day for the story has to go on. But it is not merely ‘a story’, it is time-space history, it happened and continues to happen. We move on to what are events that are probably a month and a half on from Easter Sunday. Since then the disciples – men and women – had spent a period of time up in Galilee with Jesus as we noted yesterday. Then they had returned to Jerusalem where Jesus left them and ascended back to heaven to sit at his Father’s right hand.

One of the things I have found in the back of my mind this Easter has been the emotional roller coaster that this time has been. For Peter, much of the time, it had been a nightmare. As one of Jesus’ leaders, he had let his master down – badly! He had denied Jesus three times – and, as we said previously, Jesus knew it (Lk 23:61). Who else would have known? Dare we even suggest there was a measure of relief – over this at least – when Jesus died. When Jesus rose, there was this specter of a confrontation with Peter, just hanging there in the back of his mind. But he didn’t take the cowards way out as Judas had, so he didn’t take his own life. He stayed with the others and went to Galilee, probably full of foreboding. And then, beyond anything he might have expected, Jesus told him to lead his church. But I am an absolute failure! Yes, but you are still here. “Feed my lambs …. Take care of my sheep … Feed my sheep.” (Jn 21:15-17)

A couple of years ago, a young man came to me and said, “I want to be a church leader.” I replied, “You must be out of your mind! However, if God is calling you, go for it.” Why that response? As my wife says having watched me for many years, if you have never been a church leader, you just don’t know and can’t possibly comprehend the difficulties and stresses that church leaders go through. They carry the church in their hearts, they are there on call twenty-four hours a day, they are front of the queue for enemy attacks, they carry the discouragements and the criticisms and are so often expected to be perfect, but they know they are not. We don’t know what Peter felt when Jesus ascended and left them, but I doubt it was relief. His calling would result, according to tradition at least, in his also dying on a cross. So now? They did the only thing you can do in such a situation, they sat down and prayed.

Life will go on despite our failures; we have an amazing God of grace and forgiveness. We are out the other side of Easter now and life goes on. But he IS still here, by his Spirit at least, and he is still leading his church and he is still there for us; that is the wonder of Easter. Our failures, our confusions, our hurts, are not the end. He will continue to lead us and work out his Father’s will. Join him in heart and worship – and keep on! The future is in His hands. Amen? Amen!

30. Possibilities

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 30. Possibilities

Acts 2:36  “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

It is Easter Day – Sunday. It is probable in our churches we sing songs of praise and of triumph and victory but all that is so far from the truth of that incredible day in history. Yes, Jesus has risen and death has been conquered. Yes, it is a glorious triumph, but that is not what the disciples were feeling on this day.

They had been taken up to the heights of the roller coaster by Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem a week ago but as the awful events of the weekend roll on, so the roller coaster dives down. First, they flee when Jesus is arrested (Mk 26:52). Then Peter denies Jesus three times (Mt 26:69-75) and only the women and John attend Jesus at the cross (Jn 19:25-27). When it comes to Sunday the women see and struggle with what is happening but tell the men to whom “the story sounded like nonsense”. (Lk 24:10-12). On the road to Emmaus, two convey loss and misery (Lk 24). Back in Jerusalem in the evening, they are locked away behind closed doors for fear of the Jews (Jn 20:19), Jesus appears but they think it is a ghost (Lk 24:36,37), and so Jesus rebukes them for their ‘stubborn unbelief’ (Mk 16:14,15) for even when he shows them his wounds, “Still they stood there in disbelief” (Lk 24:40,41) and later Thomas exemplifies their unbelief in his own expression of it (Jn 20:24,25). It is a tale of chaos and confusion. Don’t think badly of them for we would have been the same in their place.

But the story doesn’t finish there. They are told to go up to Galilee to meet with Jesus there. Why he won’t go with them we aren’t told. Perhaps it was to allow the scene to roll out with some more lessons. I referred at the end of the last study to Peter, growing frustrated with waiting and going fishing, but I wonder what more went on in Peter before this? He had badly let Jesus down and he knew that Jesus knew it and now he knew there would be a longer meeting with Jesus. What would Jesus say to him? Guilt, shame, fear?

But what are the possibilities now? Jesus has risen! Surely he can show himself to the crowds and the authorities and thus prove he is who he said he was? This is an opportunity for the glorious kingdom to be revealed! But no, from, Jerusalem to Galilee for a number of weeks of teaching in exclusion and then back to Jerusalem. Surely this is it! But no, even greater confusion, he ascends and leaves them. Jesus rising from the dead is for us, it is to convince us and reassure us and now he sends us to carry on doing what he has been doing. Today is a day of new possibilities but they are all about what Jesus can now do in and through you and me! Dare to face that truth on this day.