Snapshots: Day 24

Snapshots: Day 24

The Snapshot: “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac.” You are a God like all the other gods who demand child sacrifice? No I am not. Then why do you want me to kill Isaac? I don’t. But you said….  I simply said take him. But you said sacrifice him? I want you to be willing to give him up. But isn’t that the same as killing him? No, I simply want you to learn to trust me. And you will raise him from the dead? If that’s how you want to see it. Very well, here he is. Stop. But you said…. No, I said learn to trust me with those most precious to you. Then you don’t want me to kill him? Of course not, I said that. But…. Don’t you realize I love him more than you do? But…. Hold all my gifts to you lightly, don’t make them more than me, otherwise you will cheapen them. What?

Further Consideration: Our problem, so often, is that we don’t realize how much God loves us and our loved ones. A good number of years ago, when our three children were young (they are now in their late thirties) my wife had an accident. I will spare her blushes by not telling you what happened but she was bleeding – badly. We put a towel against the cut and rushed her to hospital. In the Accident and Emergency dept they instantly saw there was a big problem and immediately started work on her while I was asked to wait outside. Their problem was that they could not stop her bleeding. She had cut an artery and nothing they could do would stop it.

In a semi-unconscious state she heard their desperate urgency and realized she could be dying. Lying there while they sought to stop the bleeding she prayed and said, “But Lord, what about my three children, who will look after them?” (I could have felt offended about this except that I was passed it at that point and anyway didn’t know until afterwards what she had prayed). But as she prayed, asking for help, she very clearly heard the Lord who said, “Don’t you realize that I love them and care for them even more than you do?” And that was it. The bleeding stopped, crisis over, but a changed wife.

God did NOT want Isaac dead; He just wanted Abraham (and us) to learn something. At the end of it, Abraham named the place, “The Lord will provide.” (Gen 22:14) Here’s the thing, Mount Moriah where this happened (v.2) is according to 2 Chron 3:1, Jerusalem, the vicinity of Calvary where another son was sacrificed – for you and me. God doesn’t want your death or mine, Jesus has already given himself in our place, to carry our sin, so that we can carry on living – for ever! Some are revolted by the picture of Jesus dying for them but it is only pride that keeps us from facing our need and our hopelessness and then, as a drowning person grabbing a straw, we accept the Cross.

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7. Appearance & Performance (2)

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 1 – Falling Short?

7. Appearance & Performance (2)

Mt 24:1 ‘Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple.

Jn 12:24 unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

Recap: In the previous study I have dared tread on hallowed ground, risking offending those who hold great store in history, tradition and education and, indeed, religious formality. I only dare do this because I know where this is going and detractors of what I have been saying can only do it if they ignore or reject the teaching of the New Testament.  In that previous study, I noted that appearance, self-confidence, performance, and unbelief are primary hindrances to Biblical faith. I maintained that religious performance should simply be the channel through which the presence of God can be manifest and promised to explain that in detail in later studies in this series. In considering unbelief in the life of a local church, I touched on worship and public prayer. Now I am going on to another vital aspect of church life that is so often a demonstration of unbelief, that of pastoral care.

Tolerating Pain: Many years ago, the first book I wrote was called ‘Creating a Secure Church’ and in the first chapter I imagined a typical congregation with people listening to their pastor, but with their minds filled with the worries of everyday living. Now nothing has changed. In a local church I know fairly well, a congregation of up to 150, the following are what I suspect are fairly typical anguishes: women with non-Christian husbands, men and women who are struggling to make ends meet financially, families with worries about their children and their teenagers, people wrestling with failures and guilts from the past, people with worries about their jobs, their finances and the future, young people worrying about study and/or exams and their futures. These are people with many and varied worries and concerns, hurts and anxieties, and so I have to ask the question, what do we do about them?

Ignore the Pain? This is the first expression of unbelief in respect of pastoral issues, and I believe it is true of so many churches. Pretend it is not there or if it is there, accept that this is what we all have to suffer, living in the Fallen World.  But Pastors may be aware of it and yet feel out of their depth in dealing with the scope and breadth of such issues, so simply try to cover some of these things in a surface way in twenty-five minutes of Sunday morning preaching. Some churches have house groups but what I so often find, is that they do such spiritually sounding things as Bible Study and ‘praying for the nations’ yet fail to create an atmosphere of security whereby people are put first, people who are anguishing and struggling with burdens that almost overwhelm them. In church, if God is to be our first focus, people should be a close second, because they were with Jesus. A damaged people cannot be a community-transforming people. Our transformation should start within the church, and then when we learn to do that, we can reach out to do it in the community.

When Jesus declared the Isaiah mandate as his mandate, “to proclaim good news to the poor.… to proclaim freedom for the prisoners,” (Lk 4:18) the reality is that those poor prisoners are in our congregations too, and it is only unbelief that continues to tolerate that state of affairs; Jesus wants to heal, deliver, transform and change such people with their threatening circumstances.

We can in our churches be the same as the synagogues in Jesus’ day, shown by the classic instance in Mark 1 when a demon possessed man was in the synagogue and when Jesus delivered him, the reaction was amazement by the people who considered this something new. Presumably this man existed in the synagogue on a weekly basis at least and it was only when Jesus turned up that he was delivered. I have a suspicion that many in our churches (including leaders) would be utterly shocked if our neat and orderly services were interrupted by Jesus turning up and healing and delivering people publicly.

Misguided Disciples: In the first verse of Matt 24, the first of our starter verses above, Jesus’ disciples are carried away by the grandeur of Herod’s Temple. And, of course, that was how it was always described, Herod’s Temple. Herod the Great added on to the old, smaller temple, and created this great and beautiful building. And here is the irony of those verses: the disciples were excited by the amazing building and missed the fact that God, in the form of His Son, was walking away from it.  Jesus, in his response to them, warns, “not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down,” (v.2) and of course that was exactly what happened within some forty years in AD70.

Now the example of the disciples in this instance is what is at the heart of the belief system of so many people and I only mention this in this study so that we will realise that this feeling of grandeur can never be at the heart of true faith. Please understand, I am not attacking great ecclesiastical buildings, or religious institutions or other institutions that support and strengthen our societies, but I am saying they have little place in creating biblical faith. Similarly, familiar religious practice and standard service formats are in no way an expression of the life of the church revealed in the New Testament and should in no way replace a vibrant life of the Spirit in the church.

Death to self: We have, in this study, been suggesting that it is so easy to look at status and size as means of gaining confidence in who we are, or of establishing a sense of security, and that regular format services can act as a means of creating a weekly comfort zone. However, there is a teaching in the New Testament that lays an axe to the particular belief that human effort and endeavour is the key to religion. It may be summarised as the need to die to self to become a follower of Jesus. The second of our starter verses today came from the lips of Jesus: “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”  He was, of course, referring to himself and his impending death but he was also laying down a principle that applies to each of us, and indeed dare we suggest it, the way we go about ‘church’.

Baptism: Baptism of believers in the New Testament period involved total immersion and the act of immersion was a picture of the spiritual reality of what would happen to Jesus and what has to happen to us. Going down into the water is symbolic of him – and us – dying, and then being raised up out of the water is symbolic of his resurrection and ours, as we are raised to a new life.

The Message version puts it, “That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!” (Rom 6:2,3) It continues with the apostle Paul’s teaching, That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father.” (v.3-5) He explained the same thing to the Colossians: “Going under the water was a burial of your old life; coming up out of it was a resurrection, God raising you from the dead as he did Christ.” (Col 2:12 Message version)

This same concept comes up again and again in the New Testament, that in coming to Christ we have to die to our old life, i.e. we have to completely let go of it, we have to reject and leave that old self-centred life, the life of human endeavor, that is so often godless and which, so often, results in things going wrong  We have already described Sin as self-centred godlessness that leads to unrighteous acts. God has designed us to live in relationship with Him but before we come to Christ, we will not have known that experience, we will have led self-centred lives, lives that are in reality, godless.

Being nice, having status, relying upon traditions, buildings, institutions, regular religious formats etc., none of these things counts for anything with God. We could say so much more here, but we will let the teaching of the following Parts speak further as it becomes applicable. These are the things that I have found had motivated and challenged me to come to this point of starting afresh to consider what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be part of the Church.

Instead of diving straight in and making suggestions about what the New Testament says about ‘church’ we need to start before that by considering what a Christian is, what has happened to them to be able to claim this title, and yet before that we need to consider what went before, their need, and what brought about the transformation that the New Testament speaks about. That is where we will go in the next Part.

(If you have simply come to this series and not followed it each day, you may wish to know where it is going, and so here at the end of each Part is an overview of the series)

Part 1 – Falling Short?

  1. Wonderings about Church
  2. Concern for People
  3. Challenged by Scripture
  4. Wondering about ‘Fitness for Purpose’
  5. Problems with Religion and Revival
  6. Appearance & Performance (1)
  7. Appearance & Performance (2)

Part 2 – A Different People

  1. Different
  2. Believers
  3. Supernatural
  4. Repentance and Conviction
  5. Needing to be ‘Saved’?
  6. A People of Faith

Part 3 – Making of Believers

  1. A Guilt-Free People
  2. No Longer Orphans
  3. Growing in Sonship
  4. The Yeast of Humility
  5. Getting on a Learning Curve
  6. The Reality of Sacrifice
  7. No Add-ons
  8. Servant-hearted (1)
  9. Servant-hearted (2)

Part 4 – Pondering on Vision

  1. The Significance of Vision
  2. More on ‘Why Vision?’
  3. The God Focus
  4. Spiritual Expressions
  5. Building People

Part 5 – Starting from Scratch

  1. Clear your Mind
  2. A New Creation
  3. Life (1)
  4. Life (2)
  5. Being Together
  6. Fellowship

Part 6 – thinking about Leaders

  1. Led
  2. Local leaders – overseers
  3. Local leaders – shepherds
  4. Local leaders – elders
  5. Local Leaders – The Nature of the Church (1)
  6. Gifts of Ministries – Introduction
  7. Gifts of Ministries – to plant
  8. Gifts of Ministries – to build up
  9. The Servants – Deacons
  10. The Nature of the Church (2)

Part 7 – Unique Ingredients

  1. Uniqueness
  2. Another quick look at ‘Vision’
  3. Power – for Life Transformation
  4. Power – for Life Service
  5. Power – for Living
  6. The Need for Faith
  7. More on Faith.
  8. Obedience
  9. Finale – the Church on God’s heart

34. Hindrances to Redemption

PART SIX: Thinking about Practicalities for Today

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 34. Hindrances to Redemption

Jn 8:3-5 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

Different Aspects: As we move on to considering various practical issues that might face us in the church today, we need perhaps, to start by considering some of the things that hinder the bringing about of practical redemption in people in the Church today. There are various things we can observe in this passage above and we’ll start with the problems that arise in trying to be objective here.

First this woman IS guilty; she has been caught in adultery. We have said previously that it is important to face the reality of our guilt in all such cases. Redemption starts from a place of acknowledging guilt.  Second, the Law was quite specific: “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbour—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.” (Lev 20:10 Also Deut 22:22) The means of death was not proscribed so that was probably something added by the Pharisees. Nevertheless, according to the Law, she did deserve to die.  Third, it is only the woman who has been brought before Jesus which suggests there is an element of entrapment about this, for somewhere there is also a guilty man. So, fourth, we should watch out when we are trying to resolve the truth about any particular situation that we do not have tunnel vision that fails to see that usually, this is one sin among many in society and is no greater or no less than any other sin. Sins are only distinguished by the seriousness of the consequences.   Fifth, as this situation shows us, it is easy in these things just to appear judgmental and unloving and simply be out to blame.

Jesus’ approach: Jesus suggests to the accusers that, “any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (v.7) and, when none of them dares take up that challenge and they slink away, he turns to the woman: “neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (v.11) So we may add to the list above, two more things to be considered: Sixth, Jesus is not out to condemn but to redeem. We should remind ourselves of the threefold teaching from Ezekiel: Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek 18:23 & v.32 & 33:11) supported by “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9) The Lord, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, is always looking, not to condemn but to redeem. All it needs is our repentance.  Seventh, he does call for repentance and change of life. He is not being casual about her situation, he calls her to stop what she was doing and put her life right. He is giving her a second chance. The end product of redemption is to be a righteous life.

Facing the World: Very well, we’ve done the ‘Bible Study’ but why and what does it say to us? Remember, we are only starting to work through our thinking on the practicalities of this subject.  Well, before we start considering life within the Church, let’s consider the state of the world. It is important to recognise the world’s approach and note how it differs from our own. The biggest problem that the world has, is not that they are people who do wrong or questionable things, but they are godless, and that is a wilful thing. The outworking of that, the various things we can see and say are wrong in society, are merely outworkings of that godlessness. The issue that God has with them is that they are godless.

God has designed all humanity to live and work in relation to Him, and therefore to live contrary to that is an act of oppositional will, an act of rebellion which carries with it a whole raft of consequences, most of which are simply the logical outworking of the sin, e.g. excess use of alcohol produces loss of self-control, violence, abuses, waste of money, causing hardship to others (the social outworkings) but this behaviour becomes addictive and alcoholism causes physical damage to the body and eventually premature death (the health consequences). Rather than simply point fingers at such behaviour in society, we would do better to speak about the consequences of all ungodly and therefore unrighteous behaviour, because the consequences are there to be seen. The call, in respect of any unbeliever, is first and foremost to stop being godless and when repentance comes, and salvation follows, the behaviour will change.

Facing Ourselves: But we, as Christians, as part of the Church must see these things in the context of the Church, and our following studies must be in the light of the Church. Anything we may say in respect of this subject and the practical outworkings of redemption, must be seen in the context of God, Jesus and the Christian faith. To take this stance, we also have to recognize that the Bible is our source and accept that it is not always as specific as we might like it to be and so we are sometimes left making assumptions, and those assumptions can be suspect because they so often depend on what we’ve heard and the prejudices we’ve accumulated, and not necessarily on the complete teaching of the Bible. The difficulty that we have, and it is a legitimate and right and proper one, is that we want to uphold what we see is the Bible’s teaching and we want to stop wrong behaviour. However your list of wrong behaviours may be different to mine and your way of dealing with them may be different to mine. There is often a lot of leeway to these things.

Challenging Examples: Let’s put up some difficult situations. Example 1: ‘A’ is a minister, a church leader. He falls into adultery and it becomes public. We all accept his behaviour is wrong, but what do we do about it? It sounds easy until you think more deeply. He should step down from his position, I hear you say. Right.  For now and forever? Can he ever return to the ministry and if yes, after how long and after what conditions? These are the questions of redemption. What about the woman? Can she remain a ‘church member’? If not, why not and what do you say should happen to her? Is that going to work towards her redemption? (I’m simply asking question and not implying answers; we’ll look at these things in more detail in subsequent studies).

Example 2: ‘B’ is a female worship leader. She ‘comes out’ and publicly declares she is a Lesbian. The world says this is fine, but you are not sure what the Bible says. Can she carry on as worship leader? What are the consequences? If not, what would you want to happen to her? Has she a special need in respect of redemption or is God fine with her as she is?  Example 3: ‘C’ is a Christian who married ‘D’ a non-Christian knowing their approach to life. ‘C’ has become Church Secretary of your local church and in the interim while they are waiting for a new minister, she appears in control. A woman leading? What did Paul really say? Married to an unbeliever? Problems? Difficulties? Messy.

It is Difficult: What are the answers here, what is the truth? These are the difficult (and maybe not so obvious) questions that face us when we seek to apply all we have seen in these studies so far to modern living. Should the fact that it is ‘modern’ affect the outcome? In order not to ‘cast the first stone’ maybe we need to tread more lightly than our background, church style or whatever might previously have suggested. Jesus was full of ‘grace and truth’ (Jn 1:14). Can we pray for both in our understanding of these things?  How can we face the truth but do it lovingly if it looks to challenge people around us? What would we want if we were in their shoes?

A Personal Example: Many years ago when I was in leadership there arose a situation where I snapped in public, responding to an individual’s public criticism – obviously at a low grace level! – and walked out of the meeting. The object of my response, and it is better not to go into details, was in tears and others gathered round her to console her.  The next day when several of us leaders gathered together, one of them simply declared with great hostility, “I can’t work with you!” and the other one sided with him and agreed. I said I would resign. Long story short, I remained but we went through a very difficult period. Now when I view that many years later, I can say unconditionally I was wrong. However as I have pondered over the situation and reflected on what happened, I realize (and it is after years of reflection) that I wish that the response to me had been something like, “My dear old friend, whatever came over you yesterday? What has caused you to react like that? How can we help you and how can we rebuild the situation?” But crass judgmentalism reigned and condemnation flowed, and my wife and I identify that year as the worst year of our lives as I sought to continue to hold that church upright following that public conflict. There were painful lessons there.

The Lessons: Without going into details, the background to that situation, the thing that caused me to break, was an unrighteous attitude that I had never dared confront. Leaders often fear that such confrontations will cause church disharmony, people leaving, and their salaries evaporating, and so we do not confront. It is wrong and perhaps we may ponder on that in some further study.  But here’s the thrust of this particular study: unknowing and unthinking criticism of people, judgmentalism that refuses to step in their shoes to understand what is going on in them, can be a primary cause of hindering redemption. I have lost count of the number of times that I have heard someone say of someone they know, “Oh no, they don’t go to church anymore, the church hurt them too much.” Now there are always two sides to every story, but one side, so often, is the failure of us, the church, to love the fallen and work to graciously, sensitively, and carefully, help them back on to their feet again. With a great sense of inadequacy and reticence, I hope to try looking at some of these things in yet a few studies to come.

11. Resurrection = Power

(We pick up the threads again of the series we started before Lent, particularly appropriate after Easter))

PART TWO: Lifted up – for Resurrection

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 11. Resurrection = Power

Phil 3:10    I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection

The Resurrection Parallel: As we move into the second Part of this saeries, we remind ourselves that we are basing these studies on Jesus’ words about “when I am lifted up” which can have three applications. The first was about being lifted to die and the second one, which is a quite natural follow-on when we consider Jesus’ life, is about resurrection. The parallel with Jesus death and resurrection and the same happening, in spiritual terms at least in our lives, is strong in the New Testament.

We have seen it previously in Romans 6; now see it in Ephesians 3:  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,  and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.”  (Eph 3:18-20) i.e. the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is the power that now indwells you. There is a hint of what is coming in the final Part that we will consider – ascension and ruling in heaven and that is put as a parallel by Paul when he speaks about our inheritance. At this point in time, this is expressed as hope for the future which we are encouraged to believe in, as we take hold of it today in the power of God that we experience. Do you see how all these things are inter-related?

Death essential: Of course without death there cannot be resurrection. We see that from earliest preaching: This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him,” (Acts 2:23,24) and the apostle Paul, as we saw previously, follows on from that: We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”  (Rom 6:4) It sounds an obvious thing but when you apply it to the spiritual parallel of our lives, it becomes vital. If we do not put to death all those things we considered in the first Part, they will act as a hindrance to us being able to enter into the experiences paralleled by resurrection which we will consider as we go through this Part.

Indeed, when we start thinking about resurrection parallels in our lives, the thought that death MUST go before, puts a new emphasis behind all we said in that first Part. Our starting point had been the picture of the seed falling into the ground and ‘dying’ and without that happening, it cannot possibly ‘germinate’, get nourishment from the soil, be watered and grow. The burying and ‘dying’ is vital.

God’s Sovereignty must mean Our Surrender: But then we considered the matter of sovereignty, and this is where a unique dynamic comes in. Unlike a do-it-yourself activity or working from a self-help book, living out the Christian faith is not only about following the instructions of the teaching in the New Testament but also taking the leading of the indwelling Holy Spirit; it is a personal relationship thing and that can’t happen unless we are willing to put aside our own hopes, desires and dreams and submit to the Lord’s plans for our lives – which are always better!!!! But for His will to prevail, ours has to die.

Available to all People: When it comes to people, it is so easy to let personal likes or dislikes prevail, but Jesus is open to all and wants us to be available to all, but we cannot do that and be his instrument unless we are willing to die to those likes or dislikes in respect of people, our own prejudices. If it applies generally to people, it certainly applies where we have a need to be forgiven or to forgive. Failure to die to self means the Lord cannot raise up new life in the form of reconciliation and healing.

Don’t Lose the Resources: Then there was the subject of allowing people or systems or methods to replace our reliance on the Lord Himself. While we rely upon or look to anyone or anything other than the Lord as our resource, we will not be able to receive the flow of His Spirit, His power, into our lives. We have to die to those other ‘resources’ if we are to become recipients of the Lord’s resources. Jeremiah had to bring the word to God’s people, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water,” (Jer 2:13) which was all about substitutes.

Reliance in all areas = blessing in all areas: Anxiety and worry, and the whole subject of trusting the Lord is, at the heart of it, all about knowing the Lord in daily experience, not merely in reading about Him in His word. Death to self means turning to Him, relying upon Him, turning to Him with all problems and difficulties, whether intellectual, material, spiritual or emotional, and not making our own intellect or cleverness, or our own will-power, the resource we will rely upon.  Anxiety closes us down. Reliance releases resources.

This is a very real issue. Another way of putting it is to ask are we godly or godless, selfless or selfish, when it comes to running our lives? Death to the godless and selfish approach to life is essential if we are to let the Lord move in with resurrection power to deliver us in the trials we face in life and shine as His children.

Pleasure, a supplementary gift: Finally we considered the difficult path of enjoyment and pleasure that can exclude the Lord from our lives. In such a case it is death to excess, death to making pleasure the source of meaning and fulfillment for our lives. Where the seeking after pleasure through goods or experiences has subtly grown to fill our lives to the exclusion of the Lord, then balance is never going to come and all we can hope for is a jaded ‘existence’ if we fail to put to death such a reliance. In today’s age that is a particularly hard thing in modern life.

Life Options: So there it is: failure to face and deal with these very real issues means we will be consigned to a mundane life of ordinariness, jadedness and frustration, a life where the glory and wonder of the Lord cannot break through in resurrection power. Clearly the opposites of these things that we have considered, and which need putting to death, will be goals of the resurrection life and so, having dealt with them thus far, we will endeavor not to repeat them in the following studies. Instead we will consider what the resurrection life means and how it can be experienced, even in what we might consider the ordinary aspects of the Christian life, so they can become less ordinary and become a source of excitement, faith and hope, rather than drab, taken-for-granted features of formal religion. Remember, this second Part is all about power to live the new Christian life.

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.

23. Obedience

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 23. Obedience  

Phil 2:8   And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

We have been looking at ourselves, at how the Cross impacts us in our lives today. We’ve considered the physical act of crucifixion, the event, and we’ve gone on to consider its significance and meaning, but let’s go back and consider Jesus himself, what he was doing. There are so many aspects of this whole thing to consider and Jesus is central to it all, an example for us to follow, a wonder for us to worship.

Our verse above is part of what many consider a summary paragraph of the work of Christ, or maybe even one of those sayings the early church used to teach the basics of the faith, a saying that runs from verse 6 to 11. To catch the wonder of this verse we need to also consider the verses before it: “Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing.” There it is, the glorious Son of God who left heaven (see all of Jesus’ references in John 6 to coming down) and put aside his glory to live as a human being. Thus, when we come to our verse 8 above we now see the significance, the importance, the thrust of this words, “being found in appearance as a man”.

To carry the sins of the world, and to take the punishment that would satisfy Justice, the Son of God would have to do it all in human form. Consider the significance of that. That punishment would be meted out to a human body but in that human body he not only suffered the pain and anguish of the experience of execution on a cross, it also meant he received and took the total rejection and abandonment of the world and in so doing, for a moment, maybe longer, suffered a terrible sense of separation from the Father in heaven, observed in the terrible cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46).

No, if we believe in the fact of Jesus taking the punishment for our sins, that punishment is far greater that merely the physical agony, as terrible as that was. To do this the glorious Son of God had to leave the side of his Father in heaven and put aside all his glory and come in human form and in that form take the anguish and pain of both the act of crucifixion and the separation of the Father.

Now, and perhaps only now, can we see the significance of the other words of that verse, “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death –  even death on a cross!”  Everything about this would scream against him doing this. No wonder he prayed, My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me,” as he anguished, but still concluded, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  What followed was total obedience to the will of God, preplanned by the Godhead. Hallelujah!

11. Two Stages?

Short Meditations for Easter on the Cross: 11. Two Stages?

Acts 5:30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross.

There is a danger, as we view the last days of Jesus on the earth, that we compartmentalise each part of Jesus’ ‘experience’ on earth – born, growth, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension and, indeed, this is often helpful but it can detract from a key fact – every phase is linked and every phase is part of the overall plan that we have previously considered, the plan formulated by the Godhead before Creation.

Yet when we come to accounts of preaching in Acts, death and resurrection go hand in hand. The above quote is Peter before the Sanhedrin, and earlier on the day of Pentecost he spoke of Jesus’ death (Acts 2:23) and then immediately about the resurrection (v.24). Later after healing the cripple as he speaks to the crowd, he closely links the two: “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.” (Acts 3:15) Still later, when speaking to the household of Cornelius, he again linked them closely: “They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.” (Acts 10:39,40)

In a different series recently, it crossed my mind that there could not be (and in our case cannot be) resurrection without a death. Now I don’t want in any way to diminish the work of Christ on the Cross, but I do want to pick up on what comes through in these verses, that the cross was stage one of a three stage exultation of Jesus: cross – resurrection – ascension. The latter two are dependent on the first.

Those closing words in verse 40 immediately above are important, “and caused him to be seen”. If you read the apostle Paul’s testimony about the number of people who saw the risen Christ (in 1 Cor 15:5-8) the word ‘appeared’ is used four times. It was important that Christ was seen after he rose from the dead. This may sound obvious but think about it. As God he could have quietly risen from the dead and ascended back to heaven without anyone seeing him, but the fact is he was seen, again and again by well over five hundred people and they bore testimony (and we’ll come to this in the next study) and thus Christ was vindicated, he showed that he was who he had said he was, the glorious Son of God.

Thus these two interlinked parts are vital and need to be held together: Jesus died for our sins, for our justification, but he rose from the dead – as he said he would (Mt 16:21, 17:9,23, 20:19, 26:32) – to be seen to confirm, justify and vindicate all he said he would do and thus confirm all the teaching that would follow of ‘the work of the Cross’. The resurrection confirms the purpose of the life AND the death.