Archive for April, 2017

The Journey

Sunday, April 30th, 2017



Luke 24:13-35

Maybe it’s the fact that I haven’t read a novel in about 20 years, but for some reason I love the way the narrative unfolds in today’s Gospel reading, the story of a journey takes us on a journey, it has changing moods, elements of surprise and even some irony.  As you read it draws you through from start to finish, it builds expectation, partly because we know the story, but also by the way the story is structured.

Here we have two men walking the seven mile journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  They’ve headed out following the events of Easter; they’re sad, depressed, they have the events of the last three days playing on their minds as they walk along and discuss them.  They’d hope that Jesus was the promised Messiah, but then he had been put to death by the very people who should have been supporting him.  Its three days since Jesus died and they’ve heard stories from some women that Jesus’ body was gone and that some angels had appeared and told them Jesus was alive.  Then to make things all the more troubling, some of their mates had gone to have a look and found the tomb was indeed empty but they hadn’t seen Jesus either.

Then this guy comes along and he obviously hasn’t been paying attention if he’s been in Jerusalem and hasn’t worked out what has been going on.  As an audience who already know the story we can see the humour in the situation, even the irony.  Here is Jesus standing right there with them, not only does he know what had happened in Jerusalem, but he was right at the centre of the activity.  If it was a pantomime we’d all be shouting to them, “It’s him, it’s Jesus that’s talking to you.”  Or “It’s him right in front of you”.  But alas they don’t work it out.  We’re told that their eyes were kept from recognising him.  We don’t know whether that is simple lack of understanding or perhaps divine intervention, but like Mary Magdalene at the tomb, they didn’t recognise who it was.  Well not at first anyway.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Jesus calls them foolish and slow of heart because they don’t believe all that the prophets had said.  Then he sets about telling them all about the things that mentioned him, form the book of Moses (Genesis) right through the Old Testament.  It may have taken a while to finish that trip from Jerusalem to Emmaus, because there are lots of references that would have needed to be covered.  Still they didn’t recognise him, even when they were nearing the village and Jesus went to continue on ahead of them.  They were polite though and invited Jesus to come and stay with them, it’s not like there were lots of hotels there for him to book into after all.

So this stranger stayed with them.  Now we get to the good bit of the story, the bit we are hoping for even though we know it’s going to happen.  He took bread, blessed it and broke it and gave it to them, does that formula sound familiar, have you heard it somewhere else in the last couple of weeks?  At last their eyes are opened and they recognise him, but hang on there’s a bit of a surprise here, Jesus disappears from their sight.  Finally they work out who it is and ‘pfft’ he’s gone, vanished, disappeared.

But they still seem excited, they realised that as Jesus was pointing out the realities of the scriptures to them, their hearts were burning, they were understanding that Jesus really was the Messiah that God the Father had promised and now they had seen him too.

Straight away they get up and head back to Jerusalem and find the disciples, and their experiences agreed, The Lord has risen indeed!  Then they told the disciples that Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of bread.

They’d made the journey from sadness and confusion to excitement and understanding, they didn’t need to search for answers anymore, Jesus had explained to them and then they had finally recognised him and understood.  It’s a journey many of us have taken throughout our lives, perhaps often, perhaps all in one day or maybe even faster, depending on our personalities.

It’s a similar journey to the one we take each Easter, depending on our situation and ability to attend some or all of the services from Maundy Thursday through Good Friday and the Easter Sunday.  We start with the celebration of the institution of the Lord’s Supper and then hear of betrayal and end the service with the stripping of the altar.  Our Good Friday services are usually somewhat reflective and even sad or confronting, but there’s still a looking forward to the events of Sunday.  Then we have the rejoicing and hallelujahs of our Sunday celebrations and Christ is risen.

In some ways our service each week follows a journey like that, we often begin with a song of praise, followed by confessing our sins, our failings as people of God, we get a lift when we hear the absolution and the readings.  We hear God’s word read directly and then proclaimed in some way during children’s addresses and sermons.  Then we again give thanks and break bread and pour out the wine, the body and blood of Christ as we rejoice with the whole church on earth and all angels and archangels as we share in the communion meal, still hosted by our Lord and Saviour Jesus, who comes to us in this meal.

We are then ready to leave, prepared for the week ahead, to go out like the two men who were with Jesus on the day of his resurrection on the road to Emmaus.  Just as they ran off back to Jerusalem to tell others about what they had seen, we should do the same.  We’ve got exciting news, we shouldn’t be depressed about it, and there’s no need to be shy either, Christ has risen from the dead, and in his victory over death we’ve had a victory as well.  We share in that victory, because in his death he has fulfilled the Scriptures.  The old covenant has been completed and we now live in the new covenant in his blood, shed for us for the forgiveness of sins.

So don’t be sad or depressed about your faith, rejoice in it.  Don’t stay away because you feel unworthy, come, come to the waters and drink, come you who are thirsty, as we sang in the hymn earlier at Lilydale.  “Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that though bidd’st me come to thee, O lamb of God I come.”  We bring nothing but what God has first given us, we are only worthy because his blood was shed for us, and he is calling us to come and receive what the Lamb of God has won for us and given to us, forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.

So enjoy your journey, yes it will have its ups and downs, but know that Christ is with you always and he reveals himself to us too, in the breaking of bread and in his Word.
Amen.

Pastor Tim Stringer

The Uncertainty of Faith

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

John 20:19-31

 Let me meet you on the mountain, Lord,

Just once.
You wouldn’t have to burn a whole bush.
Just a few smoking branches
And I would surely be …your Moses.

Let me meet you on the water, Lord,

Just once.
It wouldn’t have to be on the calm tides of Geographe Bay
Just on a puddle on a gravel road
And I would surely be…your Peter.

Let me meet you on the road, Lord,

Just once.
You wouldn’t have to blind me on Mitchell Freeway.
Just a few bright lights on the way to chapel
And I would surely be…your Paul.

Let me meet you, Lord,

Just once.
Anywhere. Anytime.
Just meeting you in the Word is so hard sometimes
Must I always be…your Thomas?

Norman Shirk, April 10, 1981, KQ (Dallas Seminary)

Do you often feel as though you just need a sign from God to really put your trust in him? Do you ever feel that if you just had a visible sign from Jesus, you would be a much stronger, faith-filled, bold person? Do you ever find yourself felling a little frustrated with this whole Christianity thing because it’s so unseen and intangible? If only there was proof. If only I had a direct line to Jesus. If only we had a sign for all to see that we really are on the right horse and that the future will really be okay……

We probably all feel all these things from time-to-time. In particular, the last verse of that little poem speaks of how we struggle with doubts.

Let me meet you, Lord,
Just once.
Anywhere. Anytime.
Just meeting you in the Word is so hard sometimes
Must I always be…your Thomas?

It is hard to meet Jesus up close and personal in the Word sometimes and sometimes we are very much like Thomas.

He needed proof. He needed a sure sign. He wanted a measurable experience, an unequivocal moment upon which to base his trust before he committed for life. He had seen it all and known the man Jesus very well. But he had seen the death of the man and heard the rumours of the resurrection, but he needed something to help him get from doubt to belief.

In the tender patience and grace of Jesus, he allows Thomas this sign, this moment, this experience. He didn’t have to. The church would have continued on without Thomas. The other 11 were ready to go out with the world-changing news of God’s new reality in the risen Christ. But Jesus slows things down, stops the program, and pauses the flow of things to minister to this man in need of something visible for faith to flourish.

Jesus says “Reach out Thomas. Place your finger in my hands. Reach out and hold my hands. Place you needs and fears and hopes in my hands, Thomas. Stop doubting and believe”.

Thomas was blessed because he could reach out and see, feel, touch Jesus. He reached out. He touched. He then shifted in mind and soul. “My Lord and my God!” he declared in relief and joy.

The great expression of the fullest faith in Jesus is given by the one who doubted the most and the longest! There’s some comfort for the doubters among us! This happens a whole week after the resurrection. This is the highest confession of faith in John’s gospel by anyone. It is the conclusive announcement of the whole witness of John. All that has been recorded has led to this moment and of all people, a doubter declares it. A person who in pain and sorrow and disappointment has gone underground and cut himself off from the church and anything to do with Jesus turns out to be the one who gives the final word of Jesus of Nazareth for all the ages to come. Jesus is THE LORD. Jesus is the God of the Old Testament, the creator of the universe, the saviour of the world, the hope and life of everyone!

But he could reach out and get that sign he needed. He could place his hands in the wounded hands of Christ and touch his pan and joy! We can’t.

And John knows this is how it will be for those who would come after those gathered in that room to witness this sign in person. He records this event to whisper in our doubting ears that moving on from unbelief is still possible for us who cannot see Jesus.

It’s clear that John is telling us that faith is possible and doubt can be overcome – but how and where and by whom?

John immediately points us to the very words he is writing on the page with us – who would come after him – at the front of his mind.

He wants us to know that we will never be able to claim faith is too hard or out of reach because we were not there and we did not see with our own eyes. He want us to know that faith will be possible for those who cannot prove Jesus lives or say that they have seen him with their own eyes. He is saying that there is no need for us to give up or feel second class because we could not be there with Thomas and the others.

No, John says he has written these things down for us and these words are enough for us to stop doubting and believe. Our faith is dependent on and flows from the witness of John and the others. Our faith is dependent on and is created by the witness of all the gospel writers, all the apostles, all the writers of the Bible. They were the “sent ones” of Christ who brought the good news of Easter into the world and the faith we share with them comes from their witness, and their witness is recorded for us and used by the Spirit of the living Christ to create faith in our hearts.

The writer to the Hebrews can say that the Word of the apostles is God’s word. It is living and active. It actually achieves what it is sent to do. It has spiritual power and it cuts to the core of all things and weeds out truth from error. It does what it says.

So, what does this mean for us who doubt?

The direction Jesus gives Thomas to overcome his doubt and unbelief is our direction too. We must follow the lead of the resurrected Jesus. We must follow Thomas. We must reach out. We must place our hand in his hands and place ourselves in his hands to stop doubting and believe. But unlike Thomas, who was asked to place his hands in Jesus hands and his wounds, we are asked to place our hands in this witness of the apostles – the Word of God. We place our hands in the word of God. We speak the word of God. We see the word of God and we hear it and we sing it and we pray it and it becomes us and we find our own story in it.

If you’re doubting that Jesus of Nazareth has anything to do with you – then place your finger in his living and active word as you hear it preached, sung, prayed; as you read it for yourself and see it carried out right in front of you worship. There you will find that his wounds are your healing.

If you are struggling to live with any certainty about Christianity and your place in the church, follow Thomas. Place your mind and soul in Christ and find that by his word you are enlightened and doubt dissipates.

If you consider yourself a hard nut to crack and have often thought that you would like to believe but just cannot, there is only one way to find faith, and that is to put it somewhere – to put faith in this Word and absorb it and find that in a moment or in many a month you can say “My Lord and my God!” with Thomas.

And why keep struggling to believe? Why keep on persisting, reaching out for God, turning up in Church, telling your kids bible stories, opening up the bible for yourself? Why? Because that is where life is. John says that he writes of what he has seen and heard so that we may believe that Jesus Christ is God and that believing this we will receive life and life to the full. Jesus himself says that he has come to give life – full life to those who are dead.

He was dead. Now he lives. Now his life comes through faith and only faith. Faith is the receiver. Faith is what tunes in to God’s message of hope. Faith is the gift he creates to handle his Word.

Yes, friends, stop doubting and believe. In this there is real life and hope. Place your hand in his hand which he extends to you in his living Word.

Amen.

The napkin is still folded

Monday, April 17th, 2017

 

John 20 : 1 – 18

Looking at verse 6- 7

Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings.

In bible days, when someone died, it was the duty of a family member to close the eyes and kiss the cheek of the dead. When Christ died, it was the duty of two men, Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus.

 They went to Pontius Pilot and begged that they be allowed to take the body of Jesus. As they were given permission they removed the body from the cross and placed it into a new tomb that Joseph had prepared for himself. They washed the body and wrapped it in white linen, closed Jesus eyes, kissed His cheek, and placed a napkin over his face.

 As they walked away from the tomb I’m sure they would have been silent, sadness would have overcome them, and they would have felt like there was lead in their stomach and a lump in their throat. I’m sure they would have thought that it was all over, the end of a dream, and it only lasted three short years.

 The next days must have passed like an eternity for them, however, for those days I am sure the devil and his demons would have rejoiced, the forces of darkness, thought they had won. The Jewish leaders, as well as the Roman government, congratulated themselves on their brilliant scheme.

 But, on the third day, something wonderful and miraculous happened, on the third day God the Father said to an angel in heaven, “Go and bring my Son”.          And as the angel’s feet touched the ground, the stone rolled away,    and up from the grave,  Jesus arose…. He lives!!!!!!!!!!

 In the Gospel message Mary, Peter and John all went to the tomb and saw that it was empty,  but there was something interesting in the tomb,     something that caught their eye.They saw that the grave clothes had been tossed in a heap, BUT THE NAPKIN  that was placed over Jesus face was folded neatly and placed at the head of the stony coffin…… Is that important?……….Absolutely!!

 The Gospel of John tells us that the napkin, which was placed over the face of Jesus, was not thrown aside like the grave clothes. The Bible takes an entire verse to tell us that the napkin was neatly folded, and was placed at the head of the coffin.

 In order to understand the significance of the folded napkin, you have to understand a little of the Hebrew custom or tradition of that day. The folded napkin had to do with the master and servant and every Jewish boy knew this tradition.

 Now if the master had finished eating, he would rise up from the table, wipe his fingers, his mouth, and clean his beard, and then would screw up the napkin and toss it on the table……… The screwed up napkin meant,…………. I’m done……….. The servant then knew, he was to clear the table.

 But,…. If the master got up from the table, folded his napkin, and laid it beside his plate, the servant WOULD DARE NOT TOUCH   the table, because the servant knew that the folded napkin meant, “I’m not finished yet”.                 The folded napkin meant, “I’m coming back”!!!

 Peter and John spent three years with Jesus; they watched Him as He opened the eyes of the blind, as He literally raised people from the dead. They saw Him heal the sick, the compassion He had for the poor and the lonely, the outcasts……… Then…….. They watched Him die.

 As they saw Him die all their hopes and dreams would have shattered!!     All they could think of was, “IT’S OVER……..IT’S ALL OVER”. …….For three days they were in the depths of despair, the lights of their soul had gone dim……. Peter even said I’m going fishing;                      I’m going back to what I used to do.

 After three days they saw the empty tomb, BUT THEY ALSO SAW  the folded napkin.              “He’s not finished yet;……..He’s coming back”.

 I thank God today that “He’s not finished yet”

 Right now Jesus is busy saving souls; the bible says that Jesus came into this world for one reason,……to save sinners. John 3:17 “For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved”.        

In the eyes of God there are only two kinds of people, those who have already been saved, ………. And those who need to be saved.

 Some mistakenly say that good people are saved and bad people need to be saved. This is incorrect as all need to be saved; there is no-one so bad that they cannot be saved.

 We are all sinners in need of saving. In God’s eyes there is no difference, there are no big sinners or little sinners. In God’s eyes, there are sinners like you and me who have been forgiven, and then THERE ARE the sinners who have not yet been forgiven, but certainly CAN BE.

 ‘The napkin is still folded,            He’s still saving souls”

 A few days before Christ died, He took the disciples aside and told them what was about to happen. He said, “I’m going to be betrayed, arrested, beaten and crucified. Then He looked at the disciples and said, “All of you are going to desert me when the heat is on”.

 Peter in true fashion rose up in typical style and said, “Not me”.

 Can you see Jesus shaking His head saying to Peter, “You are going to deny me three times before tomorrow”?

 Now let’s go forward in time when they found the empty tomb and the angel tells Mary and the other women to tell the disciples to meet with Jesus in Galilee.

 Mark 16:7 “Now go and tell His disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see Him there, just as He told you before He died.”

 Can you imagine how Peter might have felt.  Jesus wants to see him, what for? He not only denied Jesus three times, but he also cursed and he ran off deserting Him.

 Peter was in total despair, He couldn’t have meant him, He would have meant the other disciples,    not me.                            But they replied that the angel had named him,the disciples and Peter!!

 Why did Jesus want to see Peter?………. To rebuke him? ……………No to restore him!
One of the sweetest scenes in the Bible is Peter and Jesus coming together, and Jesus hugging him and saying,“Peter do you love me”?

 Did you notice!!.. Jesus does not mention anything about Peter’s denial, .. Jesus does not mention anything about Peter’s Dessertion of Him,……… Did you notice that Jesus didn’t mention anything about Peter’s cursing?
Do you love Jesus?Jesus loves you.The napkin is still folded.

 Are there friends, neighbors or maybe even a member of your family that you are concerned about…… It’s not too late……… Go to them……. Tell them about Jesus. Do it in love, be gentle, understanding compassionate.

 We are to imitate Jesus and He was always gentle and loving with ordinary people like you and me. Nowhere in the New Testament will you find an account where Jesus was abusive or scolded an ordinary person like you or me.               Yes He was critical of the Pharisees and Sadducees,         but not the ordinary people they were the leaders, AND THEY BURDENING THE PEOPLE TERRIBLY.

 Jesus wants you and me to be a part of His great commission,.. ……we are to be the messenger,………. He will do the rest. ………God does all the real work, we deliver the message, God opens their heart so that they can hear the truth. It is Jesus who will bring them home.

 Now let’s look at the key issues. When Jesus arose from the dead,…He folded the napkin to let us know He is coming back, His work is not finished.

When Jesus met with Peter in Galilee He didn’t remember any of Peter’s sins. He hugged him and asked him “Do you love me”.Do not be concerned, Jesus won’t remember your sins either. I beg of you, don’t wait until it’s too late.right no.. the napkin is still folded.

 Jesus won’t scold you; He will hug you like He hugged Peter and ask you, “Do you love me”. The napkin is still folded                    Amen.

 

Let’s pray.  Dear Jesus, you suffered so much to save us, help us to remember all that you have done for us. Help us never to forget that you love us, and you are coming back for us. Amen.

Pastor Ian Kotzur

Easter Urgency

Sunday, April 16th, 2017

Text: John 20:1-9

We have, unwittingly, set a tempo with our current Easter celebrations that is quite contrary to the nature of the event.  We have the longest of long weekends…  A break…  People go away…  Switch off…  Shift our focus from the everyday and escape into wall-to-wall footy, or family get-togethers, or a lounge-chair, chocolates and a book…

Our weekend, even if it is ‘busy’, usually lacks the sense of urgency that drives the story in the Gospels:  secret plotting, finding the right moment to make the capture, money taken and then almost immediately returned, the repeated plea to “keep watch!”, a rushed trial full of movement between three courts (two of them uncomfortable and unwilling), a hastily considered trade-off for another criminal, and even a hurried crucifixion constrained by the Passover regulations and timetables, a nearby tomb procured quickly, and incomplete burial rites.  It is an urgent business.

…and no less urgent on the Sunday morning, as today’s Gospel makes clear.  At the first light, they run!  The waiting during the Sabbath and the darkness has been an agitated waiting.  They are not resting.  They are disturbed.  They are uncertain.  They are distressed.  They have been dragged—urgently—through the trauma of the previous days and they are unsettled about the “what next?”.

And…as you will know from hearing the Easter story over the years…when they are confronted by the fact and by the message—“He is risen!”—they do not calm down, or become less agitated.  The urgency continues.

The implications of Jesus’ resurrection necessitate urgency.

This was not the first miracle.  This was not even the first healing in which someone who had died was made alive again.  But this was an event in which the worst of human injustice, oppression, hatred, and cruelty had been offered by religious and secular authorities alike, as a public statement, as an assertion of power and authority.  And over and against this powerful, public statement Jesus had said, “Father, your will be done”; “Father, forgive them”; “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”.  And the one who openly identified with the weak, the ill, the poor, the displaced, the outcast, the hated, the oppressed, the suffering, and the dying—the powerless—the one who openly identified himself with those who suffered the worst of sin and evil in the world—he didn’t assert power and authority, but offered himself over to the will of the Creator.  He gave his life into the hands of the one who created all…in the beginning…and said, “It is good.”  In the middle of the mess, of all the ugliness of sin, he handed it back to the one who said, “It is good.”

And to that, God answered with the resurrection.

And to that answer, they ran…with urgency.  To that answer.  To that declaration.  To that new creation.  To that new “it is good”.

We have developed a bit of a tradition in the Church—(and even if we don’t really ‘own’ it we will have to, at least, recognise that it is a perception held widely)—that the only time we get urgent about things is when we are facing the grave.  Historically, we ‘evangelise’ (which means we ‘tell the good news!’)—we evangelise with some sense of urgency if we think that someone might miss out!

But the urgency of the first Easter springs from a much more immediate question:  What are we going to do tomorrow?  How are we going to live tomorrow?  We, who have followed the one who serves, who keeps forgiving, who releases from guilt for sins past and into new opportunity, who is generous in time and spirit and gives all he has to those in need, who distinguishes not on the basis of ‘who belongs?’ or ‘who deserves?’ but on the basis of ‘to whom can I show love?’ & ‘to whom can I be neighbour?’—we who have learned the day to day reality of grace from God walking with us…how are we going to live tomorrow?  As they ran to the tomb they wondered!  Is it over?  Is it gone?  Or is he alive, like he said?  Is he still loving, and giving, and forgiving?  How are we going to live this next day?  This is the immediacy and the urgency of Easter!

Those same followers of Jesus would, in the coming days and years, focus their Easter urgency into proclaiming a message of “hope”.  The New Testament term “hope” has a very definite meaning:  We know that God, in Christ, has forgiven us, and given to us eternal life.  This is made certain in the resurrection of Jesus—his life for us.  There are no ‘ifs’ or ‘maybes’.  This is certain.  Hope is the certainty of the fulfilment of God’s promises.  Easter is the Christian foundation for hope.  Easter is the moment in which the Christian says “I know that my Redeemer lives”—and because he lives, I have life, his life, my life, all bundled into the one.  I am God’s new creation.  Hope is the certainty that looks forward in life because God has demonstrated his absolute power and authority and victory over sin and death.

I think Easter should be our ‘moveable feast’.  Easter should be the Christian celebration we have the day our family welcomes a new baby—a day filled with a sense of urgency over the fact of this new life, this new life created by God.  Easter should be celebrated on the day a new marriage begins.  Or the day we begin a new job, or a new course of study.  Easter should be our celebration at the moment we buy a new home, or build one for someone else!

Easter is the celebration that marks our living in the presence of the God who has declared absolute grace, declared eternal love, declared that he is with us and for us in every circumstance and every stage of life—one with us from birth through all the realities of living, through death and the grave.

And we, like Mary and Peter and John—we can declare “Christ is risen!” with the joy of recognising that our neighbours, like us, have lives to live—and they can live them in the knowledge of God’s loving presence, today!

Urgency comes about at the point of intersection between a question or uncertainty, and an answer.  In our world, in our society, and in our very local communities and families (and selves!) there is often much agitation and anxiety:  Can we save the world from ecological disaster?  Can we save the world from economic disaster?  Can we survive on-going hostility and war?  Can we survive on-going injustice?  Can we survive our own individual weaknesses and the hurt they cause?  Can we live past the next generation?  Or the next day?

Today God proclaims again, and reminds us again, that he has heard our prayers, our cries, our dying breath, and has made his statement:  I am the resurrection and the life.  Believe and me, live, trust, hope, be certain.  I am for you.  And trusting in me you will always live.

Urgency comes at the point of intersection between a question and an answer.  We are surrounded by a world with the question.  You know the love of God and the life of God for the world.

I urge you to be urgent in celebrating and proclaiming the answer of life in God’s grace.

Amen.

He died for us

Friday, April 14th, 2017

Text: Romans 4:25
He was delivered over to death for our sins.

They nailed him to a cross.  We say that sentence so easily.  They nailed him to a cross.  It’s at the core of our faith in Jesus our Saviour and those words slide off our tongue so smoothly.  He died on a cross.  Those words are powerful and comforting but it’s easy to forget what lies behind those words.

The cross was anything but easy and nice.  It was much more than an instrument of death.  Roman historians who were accustomed to seeing people crucified describe crucifixion as the worst kind of pain and suffering that any human could endure as life slowly, ever so slowly, dripped from the body and every breath was extreme agony.  The crucified was totally humiliated, stripped naked and often endured other inhumane bodily tortures by the Romans and onlookers depending on the crime.

What had this man from Nazareth done to deserve such a torturous and horrible punishment?
What had he done to deserve the humiliation of such a public execution, and the sneering and the mockery of those who stood around to watch his suffering?

Two men were executed with him – we can understand why they were nailed to crosses.  They were criminals but why was the man in the middle nailed to wooden beams?
He had been the most kind and compassionate person that anyone would ever want to meet.
He had helped so many people,
he had talked about the love and forgiveness of God,
he had made friends with lepers and tax collectors – people everyone else tried to avoid.
He was the love of God in human form and did no-one any harm.
What had Jesus done to deserve this terrible excruciating and torturous way to die?

The answer is simple – nothing.  Jesus was the most innocent person you would ever find.  It wasn’t what he had done that caused him to suffer like this –
it is what we have done
and every person who has ever existed in the past
and every person who will be born into our world in the future.

It’s true that it was a Roman soldier who held the hammer that drove the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet.  But we are the ones responsible for those nails – we are responsible for his agony and death.  He suffered on the cross because of our sin.

St Paul simply says, “He was delivered over to death for our sins” (Romans 4:25). And there is no greater truth than this – it was my sin and your sin that nailed Jesus to the cross.

Jesus’ suffering and death was horrible, brutal, cruel, bloody, sickening – enough to make us turn our eyes away from the man whose love for us is so persistent, so warm and so sincere.
Yet today we are drawn to the cross; we focus on images of Jesus on the cross.  We know that the cross is a symbol of suffering and pain but today we are drawn to the cross because of what it means to each of us.

Come to the cross and bring your sin.
I don’t know why we do it, but far too often we carry our sin around with us and let it eat away at us.  The bad feelings, the guilt, the shame, the feeling sorry for ourselves, the broken relationships – it is just for these that Jesus was nailed to a cross.  He carried our sin on his shoulders on the cross.
Trust him to take that burden from us.
Trust him to renew and refresh your life.
Come to the cross, bring your sin and receive forgiveness.

Come to the cross and bring everything that frightens you and everything that weighs you down.
If your own death or that of a loved one fills you with grief or fear;
if sickness and surgery cause you to worry;
if you are confused and unsure about the future;
look to the cross.
There you will see love in all its brilliance – God’s love for you.  He knows the burdens you are carrying.  He promises, “Come to me all of you who are tried from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28).  The love shown on the cross is a clear sign that Jesus is prepared to help you with anything, absolutely anything that life might throw at you.

So bring to the cross whatever heavy load you are carrying.

Come to the cross and bring your thankfulness.  As you remember what Jesus went through for you, how he has taken your place, given you forgiveness and the assurance of eternal life, do so with gratitude.  Without those nails and that cross we would be in serious trouble.  Without Jesus, God’s judgement on our sin would be a terrifying thing.  The cross is the only way to be forgiven.  Thank God for the cross.

Come to the cross and stand beneath its shadow and be assured when the day comes for us to leave this life, our sin will no longer condemn us because Jesus died in our place and has given us eternal life.  Jesus died for everyone –for you and me!

The man who was crucified next to Jesus saw his past, present and future in a different light when he looked at the Son of God dying next to him.  As guilty as he was, he appealed to the grace and mercy of Jesus asking, “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom”.

As we reflect on the cross and the reason for it, we do the same.
Without any excuse and without any pretence of somehow being better than we are and acknowledging our own weakness and vulnerability, we also appeal to God’s mercy and grace and ask,
“Jesus remember me”,
“Jesus, do not hold my sin against me”,
“Jesus, have mercy on me”.

We gladly make this appeal because Jesus has done it all for us.  He has given us complete pardon for all our sin and new life and hope for the future.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

Jesus our King

Saturday, April 8th, 2017

Text: Matthew 21:8, 9
A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest!”

As you look through history books you soon realise that when it came to kings and queens that some are remembered for the way they abused their power and used the people of their kingdoms.

One notorious ruler in England was King John who was born on Christmas Eve 1167, the youngest son of Henry II. When his brother, King Richard, was killed in France and Richard’s son was murdered, John became king. (Many believe that he was responsible for his nephew’s death).

John faced one disaster after another.
His army was defeated in France and had to retreat.
To rebuild his army he imposed incredibly high taxes.
The country broke into civil war when his nobles rebelled.
John even managed to get the church offside and was excommunicated by the pope and no baptism or marriage performed in England would be legitimate until the pope said so. And without church approved baptisms or marriages the people were afraid that they would all end up in hell. They blamed John.
John’s life was at risk when the pope declared that if anyone overthrew King John they would be legally entitled to do so.
After John was again defeated in France his barons were fed up. John was forced to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215. This guaranteed the people of England rights that the king could not go back on.
When John tried to ignore the Magna Carta the barons rebelled against him again and soon after John died.

Today we hear about another king. This king is nothing like bad King John. He was quite the opposite. There was nothing arrogant or evil about this king. He demonstrated nothing but humility and kindness. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, a work animal used to carrying loads for farmers and traders. The disciples and those who lined the roads hailed him as the king – ‘the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’

Even before Jesus was born the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that her son would be a king, a descendant of King David.
When the wisemen were looking for the Christ-child they asked King Herod, ‘Where is the baby born to be king of the Jews?’ When they found the child-king they knelt down and worshipped him, presenting him with royal gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh.

King of the Jews! That title followed him into the trials before the Sanhedrin, King and Herod Pontius Pilate. The Sanhedrin, the Jewish Council, had found Jesus guilty of blasphemy on the basis that he claimed to be the Messiah. But they knew that the Roman Governor wouldn’t be interested in any of their religious reasons for getting rid of Jesus, so they brought a charge against Jesus they knew would interest Pilate. They accused Jesus of treason. He claimed to be a king and was a traitor to the Roman Empire.

Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus looked nothing like a king. In chains, beaten – having been slapped in the face, and with spit in his hair and beard.

Jesus’ answer is unexpected. He soon sets Pilate right about who he is and affirms clearly that he is a king. But not a king as Pilate might expect. John’s Gospel reports Jesus saying, “My kingdom does not belong to this world; if my kingdom belonged to this world, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish authorities. No, my kingdom does not belong here!”

Such an idea doesn’t make sense to Pilate. With puzzlement written all over his face, he asked a second time and Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. I was born and came into the world for this one purpose, to speak about the truth. Whoever belongs to the truth listens to me” (John 18:36-38).

So you see, Jesus admits to being a king but a king with a kingdom and a kingship quite different to anything that we have seen in history. Jesus wasn’t interested in power or politics, pomp and pageantry. His kingdom was not an earthly kingdom but one that existed in the hearts of people.

Pilate was puzzled.  The people outside were quite clear about what they wanted done with Jesus. They called for the death of this meek and gentle king and the release of the brutal and murderous Barabbas.

Something is wrong here. Jesus hasn’t been brutal and oppressive. The crowd had hailed him as king when he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and now they were asking for this king’s blood. Here is king who is on the side of the people, the friend of the poor, the sick, the guilty, the sad but the people turn against him. A murderer goes free, while a king like no other king, loving and kind, is heading for execution.

Pilate mockingly placed a sign at the top of the cross, “This is the King of the Jews.” This was truer than he imagined. This bleeding broken man on the cross really is a king. The criminal crucified beside him recognises Jesus as a king and says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. And Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

When we were baptised, through the simple water and the Word of God we were made members of God’s kingdom. Jesus became our king. Not a ruthless and pompous king like bad King John, but a king who was so generous that he gave his life for us.
A king whose throne was the cross,
whose crown was made of thorns,
who was dressed in a royal robe as a king and mocked by Herod and his soldiers,
whose blood was called for by the crowds when they said, “Take him away! Crucify him! We have no king but Caesar. …!
Jesus is our king who loved us so much that “he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8).

What does it mean to have Jesus as our Lord and King?

  • With Jesus as our king we enjoy a royal pardon for all our sin. This pardon means that there is nothing that stains our lives. We have been made clean with the righteousness of Jesus. When God looks at us he doesn’t see sin and weakness; he only sees the purity and newness that have received through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross of Calvary. When Jesus declared from the cross “Father, forgive them” he was also saying that to us.
  • With Jesus as our king, he says to us as he did the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise”. He promises that we too will share in his eternal kingdom where there will be no more pain, or crying or dying.
  • With Jesus as our king – our ever present and living king – he promises all those who belong to his kingdom that he will always be there for us in times of joy, in times of sadness, and in times of suffering. When we are discouraged and weak, ‘the King of kings and Lord of lords’ (1 Tim 6:15, 16) assures that there is nothing that can stand between God and us; nothing that can stop him loving and forgiving us; nothing that can harm us. Even when we face death we can confidently say, “I have a king and a friend who will never give upon me and when the time comes for my departure, I am confident of his love for me.”
  • With Jesus as our king he lovingly rules and directs our lives as citizens of his kingdom. He has bought us with his blood, made us his chosen people and urges us to lives of repentance, faith and love. In the Small Catechism Luther says after describing how Jesus rescued us from sin and death through the events of Good Friday and Easter, “Jesus did this so that I can belong to him, and he can rule over me as my king. I can live under him and serve him, innocent and happy forever” (1996 Openbook).
  • With Jesus as our king we are joined together in his family, his kingdom, his church. He has placed us in a baptismal relationship with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
    We have been called to care for one another and to show compassion and understanding wherever it is required.
    We have been called to work together sharing the Good News about Jesus with those who need to know of his love for them.
    Through us, he calls them out of the darkness of sin into his marvellous light.
  • With Jesus as our king we have an advocate before the throne of God. He hears our prayers and answers them. He sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty and has the authority and the power to answer all of our petitions.
  • One day the king will return. He will come on the Last Day and will reward those who have trusted his love and been faithful to their calling as disciples. He will say, “Well done good and faithful servant. … Come and share your master’s happiness” (Matt 25:23).

As we enter this Holy Week it’s a good thing to ask ourselves where we stand in our relationship with our Lord.
Does he rule our lives?
Is he truly the Lord of our lives, Lord in the sense that he directs our actions, our words, and our thoughts?
Does the Lord of lords rule every corner of our lives; not just a small part but every part – our family life, our work life, our church life, our leisure life.
Because Jesus is our Lord and King no doubt there are some things that we need to change, some things we would stop doing, and there are other things that we could take up, all because Jesus rules our lives completely.

This is serious stuff that we don’t take seriously enough. We are good at giving all kinds of excuses. But Jesus is our Lord and King now. As Saviour he has committed himself to us, and as Lord he wants us to be committed to him.

But if we are honest, often we are like the people of Jerusalem – sometimes we are all excited about Jesus being our saviour and king but there are other times when our faith has grown cold (at best lukewarm) and we find ourselves distant from Jesus. Instead of Jesus ruling our words and actions we find ourselves so self-focussed that sin rules our lives as our words and actions hurt others.

When this happens this is a time for repentance – turning back to Jesus, his love and forgiveness, and his rule in our lives. It is a time for renewed faith and trust in him as the one who loves us, died on the cross for us, and calls us to be his people in the world around us.

We have a king who has done so much for us. Today let’s welcome Jesus with shouts of “Hosanna!” He is our Saviour from sin.
Let us also shout “Hosanna!” and welcome him as the Lord and King of our lives.
Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna!

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy