The outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Text: John 20:19-23

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

This joyful cry leads us beautifully into our Pentecost celebrations. As part of God’s magnificent plan of making peace throughout the whole creation, Christ’s resurrection is followed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Each of the readings today tell us something about the gift and the work of the Holy Spirit, giving us a taste for the richness of the Spirit’s activity. It’s wonderful that we hear four Bible readings each Sunday. The four readings we’ve heard today, from Psalms, Acts, 1 Corinthians and the gospel of John each tell us something different.  This is wonderful because it shows us how diverse and generous God’s outpouring of the Holy Spirit is.

We’re taught not to become trapped in a prescriptive and limited understanding of how the Holy Spirit is given and what the Spirit does. For example, it would be quite wrong to say that the Spirit hasn’t come to a person, or group of people, if there is no sound of rushing wind, or tongues of flame, or speaking in tongues.  We hear about those dramatic signs as Acts chapter two describes the day of Pentecost. Later in chapter 2 we read how 3000 people were convicted by what they heard and, we believe, prompted by the Holy Spirit to repentance and baptism.

However, Acts chapter two is not everything that the book of Acts, let alone the Bible, says about the Holy Spirit.

For example, in our psalm for this day (Psalm 140), we sang about God’s abundant, overflowing, joyful, playful creative activity, where the Spirit is very much involved in creating and sustaining life, in quite a concrete way.  Instead of trying to limit God’s activity, the psalmist simply stands in awe of God’s wondrous and ongoing work of creating and sustaining all that exists, even some things that we’re not so sure about, like the Leviathan frolicking in the ocean.

For another example, there’s John’s gospel, which has no fire or rushing wind to signal the presence and work of God.  The gospel reading we heard today is a section of the same gospel reading that we heard on the second Sunday of Easter.  On that Sunday we tend to be captivated by the action involving Thomas. Today the focus is on Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit. We clearly heard about the risen Lord Jesus himself, God in the midst of the disciples, who breathed on them and said “receive the Holy Spirit”. In both the gospel of John and in the book of Acts it is clearly God who gives his Holy Spirit to the church. Jesus and the Father send the Spirit so that God’s mission to the world will be carried on as the church’s mission to the world.

It’s helpful to hear these different accounts which have both obvious differences and important similarities. We can be encouraged to notice that in both the reading from Acts and John’s gospel, the Holy Spirit is given to empower God’s mission through the church. In both cases the proclamation of the good news of salvation in Jesus’ name is central. In Acts we heard Peter’s pithy sermon using the book of Joel, when he proclaimed that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. The same wonderful, gracious message is contained in Jesus’ instructions to the disciples when he said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”(John 20:23) 

The heart of the work of the church is to go out and tell the news that reconciliation has been won. Jesus has taken away the sin of the world. In Jesus there is peace.  God is bringing everything into harmony in Jesus, and we have been baptised into Jesus. The Spirit empowers us to live in this wonderful truth, trusting completely in Jesus’ death and resurrection, and sharing this wonderful news in word and deed.

Jesus has given us the Spirit so that everything we say and do becomes a proclamation of the good news of God’s salvation. 

We’ve already mentioned God’s overflowing creative genius. The beauty of God’s outpouring of the Spirit is the sheer diversity which works for a common goal. St Paul teaches us that we all have the same Spirit, but we are not all the same. 

The basic gift is the gift of faith, which allows us to live confessing and trusting Jesus as our Lord, the Lord. 

But then the wondrous diversity opens up. St Paul writes,

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord;  and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”(1 Cor 12:4-7) 

There are many gifts with one overarching goal and purpose.

What a wonderful insight it is, to realise that the working of the Spirit doesn’t look the same in each Christian, and it doesn’t need to look the same. The working of the Spirit is not the same from Christian to Christian. We can expect differences; differences which add to the health and richness of the body; differences which reflect God’s unstoppable creative genius. 

Our differences are a reason for rejoicing. These differences are evidence of the presence and working of the Spirit. 

Fully in keeping with God’s wonderful creativity is a church full of people of different abilities doing different activities. We can rejoice in our differences. We can rejoice that the Father and the Son have poured out the Spirit so richly on the whole church, including us. 

It’s true that, from time to time, there have been profound signs and activities in conjunction with the Spirit’s presence, but mostly the Spirit’s work is to build up the body of Christ in all sorts of ways that people easily overlook. The activities of the Spirit are for the building up of the body, as St Paul wrote “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.”

Today we’re encouraged when we hear that Jesus gives us the Spirit so that we can proclaim his forgiveness, an essential part of building up the body. He’s not saying that you or I can decide on whether or not we forgive other people. That would be to jump out of the story and to pretend that we’re God. No, Jesus does something very important so that we trust that we are forgiven and can live in a good relationship with God and each other. 

Jesus gives his church the authority to declare that sins are forgiven. We have the privilege and responsibility of telling people, including one another, that sin is forgiven. When someone confesses their sin, we can declare confidently: Your sin is forgiven for Christ’s sake. The Holy Spirit helps us to trust in that forgiveness and to live in it. We have peace with God. The barrier is gone. Jesus has taken our sin away.

There is another side to that message. Since Christ’s work is so wonderful and complete, it’s not to be taken lightly or ignored, and we might sometimes have to tell people that they are not forgiven. Who would that be, we might wonder?  Certainly not any despairing sinner, since forgiveness comes from Jesus and isn’t dependent on us pulling our socks up by ourselves. It might come as a shock to realize that those who may need to hear that their sin is not forgiven are the proud and self-righteous, who are often seen as ‘good people’, like the Pharisees, who considered that they had little that needed to be forgiven. Jesus wants everyone to turn to him and accept his gracious forgiveness – that includes you and me. In turn, he sends us to proclaim God’s mercy in the power of the Spirit.

Today, we rejoice in the gift of the Spirit’s presence and work. We rejoice in the rich and diverse activities of the Spirit among us. We rejoice in God’s manifold creative works that are evident in the creation and in the church. 

Let us rejoice in his creative, life-giving presence, knowing that God’s Spirit is at work in us.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

The Ascension of Jesus.

The text: Acts 1:1–11

After He said this, (Jesus) was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky?’ (Acts 1:9-11)

The events surrounding the concluding weeks of Jesus’ ministry on this Earth are really quite fascinating and action-packed. This includes His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the resurrection on the Sunday and the weeks after it until His Ascension forty days later.

Up until His entry into Jerusalem Jesus was out and about in all sorts of places: wandering here, there and everywhere. He made himself available to plenty of people, crossing all sorts of boundaries: geographical, cultural and religious. He made Himself available to bring the truths of God’s Kingdom to bear on people’s lives.

Sometimes Jesus was a bit harder to find. He would withdraw to solitary places in order to be alone; like when He heard news of the death of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:13). But despite this, the crowds still managed to track Him down. They could still find Him in the end.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem at the beginning of what we call ‘Holy Week’ He very much placed Himself within reach. He went to the most public of places, the Temple, and taught there each day. He wasn’t hard to find at all. In fact, at His arrest, late at night in the Garden of Gethsemane, He told those who had come to arrest Him: ‘Every day I was with you in the Temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me…’ (Luke 22:53).

Following this, the Son of God allowed Himself to be pinned down in place on the Cross. He was very easy to find that day, lifted high on Golgotha for all to see. After that He was laid in a tomb. Now, it appeared, He wasn’t going anywhere anymore. His body could be found readily enough – if anyone cared to look.

Three days after He had died, the women disciples did care to go and look. They went to go and conduct the last rites for the body of Jesus. Only now, they couldn’t find His body. And they had no idea where to start looking. Mary told the angels at the tomb: ‘They have taken my Lord away … and I don’t know where they have put Him’ (John 20:13).

They would soon discover that they were not dealing with a misplaced body – they were dealing with the resurrection. What followed was a number of instances where Jesus came to find His followers; the same followers who had no idea where to find Him.

The chronology of appearances is not neatly presented in one Gospel account. Putting them all together we find that Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene that Easter morning at the site of the tomb (John 20:16). Next appearance was to Peter, though exactly where and when is unknown. It was prior to Cleopas and the other disciple leaving for Emmaus – because they were the next ones to see Jesus, and that happened late in the day. These two disciples said to Jesus, before they recognised Him: ‘stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over’ (Luke 24:29). When they did finally recognise Jesus they rushed back the 11 kilometres to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples. As they were discussing it that night Jesus came and stood among them and appeared to them as a group – except Thomas who was not with them. (Luke 24:36).

Eight days later, Jesus appeared to the Disciples, once again in their locked room, together with Thomas this time (John 20:26). At some point after this night, the disciples leave Jerusalem and return to Galilee. They are back fishing and Jesus appears to them by the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-14).

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, mentions that Jesus also appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time (1 Corinthians 15:6). It would be interesting to know more details about that incident, when and where it occurred, but that is the only mention we have of it in the New Testament.

As you gather together these scattered accounts you get the distinct impression that the post-resurrection Jesus is not so easy to find and track down. He is there one minute, and gone the next. There are 40 days between the Resurrection and Ascension and the recorded sightings of Jesus, in that time, are surprisingly few. The final sighting is at the Ascension itself and that concluded with Jesus being …taken up before their very eyes and a cloud hiding Him from their sight.

If the post-resurrection Jesus was hard enough to find and keep track of, then how much harder is the post-ascension Jesus? It is not surprising the Disciples stood there looking into the sky as He disappeared from their sight. I wonder what they were thinking? Were they wondering if they would ever see Him again in their lifetime?

And how about us? Jesus told Thomas: ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ (John 20:29). We are those apparently blessed ones who have not seen Him with our physical eyes. We have not had visible firsthand experience of the earthly ministry of Jesus. So where do we go to find Jesus? How hard is it for us to track Him down?

Do we stand looking into the sky, hoping for some kind of sign? Do we resign ourselves to simply having to live by faith – what some would call ‘blind’ faith – until that day when we finally see our Lord face to face? Or is it that it is the risen Lord who comes to find us? Is it that our Lord is out and about in all sorts of places: here, there and everywhere? Is our Lord making Himself available to us, crossing all sorts of boundaries in order to seek us out and find us and bring us into God’s Kingdom?

Surely the answer is ‘yes’ to that second bracket of questions. After all, it was Jesus who told His disciples: ‘I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.’ (John 14:18). And in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Ascension He told His disciples: ‘…surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (28:20)

The ascension does not remove Jesus from us but places Him in a position whereby He can and does come to us. Listen again to how Paul describes the current location of Jesus in His letter to the Ephesians 1:20-23):

God raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the Heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.

The Heavenly Throne of God symbolizes His sovereignty. It is from there He stretches out His hand for His people. We hear about this in Psalm 47. The thought of God ruling on high did not discourage the Psalmist – as though God was distant and uncaring. Instead, He declares to the world: ‘Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy…Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises’ (v1&6). 

The Psalmist declares that it is from this position that God is ‘King over all the earth’; it is from this position that He ‘reigns over the nations’.

It is to this place Jesus has ascended and it is from this place He now rules. From this place, Jesus exercises all authority in Heaven and on Earth.

So standing there looking up at the sky wondering when Jesus would come back was not the most helpful of exercises for those first disciples. Similarly, if we live our lives as though Jesus is absent from us or if we find ourselves biding our time here on earth until we finally get our reward in Heaven, then that too is not particularly helpful. Instead, we clap our hands and shout for joy that our Lord and King Jesus is in the very place where He can effect His reign – the very place where He can stretch out His hand to help us and bless us and keep us.

We will struggle to find Jesus if we fail to see that the Ascension has placed Jesus in a position of power that is exercised in the here and now.

So it is, that we find Jesus in worship – though it is probably better to think of our worship as Jesus coming to find us. He comes to us through His word and He ministers to us through it according to our needs. He comes to us in His Holy Supper, strengthening us in body and soul with His presence in this special meal.

But we also find Jesus out and about in our world. He is not lying in a tomb where He is not going anywhere anymore. He is risen from the dead and is the living Lord who is here, there and everywhere. Jesus is there as the truths of God’s Kingdom are being proclaimed in His name. Jesus is there as sins are being forgiven in His name – a forgiveness that has come through His death and resurrection. Jesus is there as healing and hope and life are brought to so many people in so many ways.

The first disciples were told to be His witnesses “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). As the first disciples witnessed they discovered that Jesus wasn’t hard to find at all. He was out and about – here, there and everywhere. All authority in Heaven and on Earth has been given to Him and they saw He was acting on it. As we bear witness to Jesus in our lives He won’t be hard to find at all; for He promised to empower us with His Holy Spirit and He promised to be with us always to the very end of the age. Amen. 

I will never leave you.

The Text: John 14:18

Jesus said to his disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans”.

Orphans the world over are a tragedy of tremendous proportions. According to UNICEF there are 153 million orphan children worldwide with over five and half thousand being becoming orphans every day. Whether in refugee camps in Africa, India, Romania, Bulgaria, or South East Asia these figures are mind blowing especially knowing the tragic affect that the loss of parents has on children and how this loss shapes the rest of their lives.

Even a child left without parents here in our country, although infinitely far better off than those in the countries I have just mentioned, is affected in ways that we don’t fully understand. Children who lose their parents lose their security and are vulnerable and powerless physically, emotionally and psychologically. The love and care given to them by others will, in time, make up for this but unfortunately some children never get over their loss. Some never get over the psychological wounds that comes with being an orphan. It’s as if they have lost their story, their roots, their history, their identity, their sense of direction.

In the light of this, the words of Jesus take on a special meaning. “I will not leave you orphaned” Jesus says to his disciples. Or this could be translated, “I will not leave you desolate, deserted, alone, abandoned, unloved, futureless”.

The disciples knew Jesus in a very close and personal way. They had walked together, talked together, eaten together, shared good and bad times together. They had been constant companions of Jesus. They felt confident and safe in the presence of Jesus.

When they experienced doubt, pain and suffering, they felt Jesus understood what was happening to them.

When they were filled with joy and happiness or overcome with sadness and sorrow, they felt secure in the knowledge that Jesus experienced the same emotions and feelings as they did.

When they were hungry, Jesus fed them and a great crowd with a few loaves and fish.

When they were in danger on the sea, Jesus was nearby to rescue them.

When they witnessed the grief that death brought into their lives, Jesus was at hand to comfort and raise the dead to life.

You see there is a kind of fatherly or perhaps brotherly relationship between Jesus and the disciples.

Jesus could see that his disciples were dependent on him. In fact, Jesus occasionally addressed them as “little children”. In the presence of Jesus they were like “little children” who relied on his love and comfort.

When Jesus warned the disciples that he will no longer be with them he had to quickly assure them not to be worried and upset, but to trust him. Now if that’s how they felt before Jesus’ death imagine how alone and abandoned they must have felt after Jesus’ death on the cross. Under the shadow of the cross, Jesus knew that they will feel like orphans—lost, without hope, helpless, powerless, uncertain about their future and confused. So he makes them a promise:

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth…I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you….Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14.16,18,27).

Note this unique way Jesus reminds us that we will always have a home and a family.  He says, “I am in the Father, and you are in me, just as I am in you (John 14:20).

This is a good passage to pause and meditate on. Simply what Jesus is expressing is the very close and intimate relationship between himself and the Father, himself and his disciples and his disciples and God. That tiny word “in” describes a special bond, a unique oneness. A family relationship.

You who believe in Jesus already have the Holy Spirit. God the Father has sent you the Holy Spirit through the Son. He did this for you at baptism. Because of God’s work for us in baptism you have a place of belonging in the family of God, by which you are no longer orphans, for God our Father has made you heirs with Jesus his Son. We are sons and daughters together with the Son. And since that is the case for every person who is in Christ then we are all a part of that Triune God’s loving, supporting family. We are all brothers and sisters joined together in God’s family, the church.

In this family God the Father continues to give you the Holy Spirit, through the Son, who meets you in the word, the scriptures. Through the Scriptures the Holy Spirit continually comes to us. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we are given a new direction, a new future and a new life.

This new life is one in which we will always have a home.  We will always have a loving family—God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These words of comfort carry the message that we won’t ever be orphans—we will know exactly who we are and where we belong.

True enough Satan will always try to break up that togetherness we have. He just loves to drive wedges of doubt, anger, hostility, and jealousy, either between us and God, or between each another in his family. He will constantly tempt us to sin and break the bond and put up barriers between the members of the family, and break apart from it. But that’s not what God has planned for any of us.

God wants no one to feel like an orphan. When Jesus says to us “I will not leave you as orphans” he means that we belong to the Father, adopted and claimed through Jesus the Son. We are loved by the Father. We are forgiven by the Son. When there are members of the family who are feeling like an orphan because we have had a falling out with someone, as a member of this special family, it becomes our responsibility to make amends, whether it was our fault or not.

When there is a member of the family who is feeling like an orphan—lonely, scared, uncertain because they are facing illness and even death—as a member of this special family, it becomes our responsibility to pass on the love and care that we have received from our heavenly Father.

When there are members of the family who are feeling like orphans—feeling unloved, needing a guiding hand, wanting someone to know their pain—as a member of this special family, it becomes our responsibility to be a brother and sister to that person and let them see the love of our heavenly parent through us.

When there are members of this special family who are feeling like orphans, needing someone to provide them with basic essentials and to empathise with them in their circumstances, it becomes our responsibility to be a brother and sister to that person and let them see in us the love of our heavenly Father as we meet those needs.

Jesus’ words need to become our words to one another as people of God’s family “I will not leave you as an orphan”, as we reflect the love and care of God into the lives of the people around us. Let Jesus inspire us to say to our fellow brothers and sisters, “I will not leave you desolate, feeling deserted, alone, abandoned, unloved, futureless”.

At the 400 metre race at the 1992 summer Olympics a young Englishman, Derek Redmond was hungry to win a gold medal after being forced to withdraw from the previous Olympics because of injury. However, shortly after the start of the race, he popped his right hamstring. All the other runners continued the race leaving him like an orphan alone on the track. Amazingly Redmond got back up and started hopping towards the finish line. The other runners had all finished the race in a matter of seconds. Redmond, in tears, slowly and laboriously kept hopping. It looked as if he would fall any moment.

Suddenly, a man appeared beside Derek. It was his father. He had run down from the stands and pushed his way through the security guards to reach his son. Redmond’s father put his arm around his son and let him cry on his shoulder. Then, with his father holding him up, Derek hobbled to the finish line and then he hopped over the line by himself to finish the race.

There’s a word of hope for you and me, to help us finish the race of life. It is God’s own word. When we are feeling like orphans to run the race of life in this world—a race we cannot run by our own strength—we have a Father who gives us his strength to keep on going, a Saviour who walks beside us and the Spirit who comforts us, and strengthens us in faith, pointing us to everything Jesus said and still speaks, enabling us to cross the finishing line. We are not abandoned because we have a God who loves us. He says to each of personally and individually, “I will not leave you as orphans”. Amen.

A place prepared

The Text: John 14: 1-14

A Place prepared

Clean sheets on the spare bed. check.

House clean and tidy. check.

Plenty of Food in the house. check

Yep ready for the visitors to arrive.

Is that something you do to prepare for visitors to come and stay with you? A special meal, the spare bed has clean fresh sheets, and the house is tidied?

It is special when children who have grown and left home, come home. For a mother, it is a joyous occasion when all the family are together and are at peace with one another.

Depending on where the children are geographically, there may be different ways they can travel to come home. Even when we go to places there is generally more than one way to take to reach a destination. If there is a more scenic way to get to a destination, sometimes that is a better wat than to travel on a major highway.

We can’t do that at the moment. We aren’t allowed to travel. We can’t be with our mother’s today if they live away from us. But that’s okay we can still connect with, phone, Facebook, Skype, email. Once this pandemic is over, once again we can go to their place.

Jesus tells about a place for us to go to today. He calls it his Father’s house. It’s a place where there is not just one spare room, but there are many rooms. But as Jesus says to Thomas, you can’t get there on your own. Jesus says: “I am the way”.

To know Jesus is to know the Father. In the same way, the Father knows the ones who listen to the voice of Jesus, and follow him along the way. It’s interesting that before early believers were called Christians they were called people who followed ‘The Way’.

Jesus fulfilled what the prophet Isaiah spoke of, “And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray”. (Isaiah 35:8).

How are we ever able to walk the way of holiness and be invited into our heavenly room that is prepared for us? For we know that daily we struggle with our humanity and its sinful desires. Rather than daily concentrate on the Holy life God desires of us, we follow our own ambitions.

The way to God was completely closed, and sin was the roadblock. It was like when the Israelites had been rescued out of Egypt they were filled with fear because they thought the way to freedom was blocked by the Red Sea as the Egyptian chariots were closing in behind them. It’s the same in our lives. If we think our way to freedom depends on us, then we fail to trust that Jesus has provided away for our freedom.

The way was blocked because of sin, but God wanted to rescue us from this world in which sin entered and blocked the way to the place where our Heavenly Father has these many rooms prepared. God could not simply excuse or overlook our sin and allow us to enter his place in our sinful state. Yes God is merciful, but He is also just. Justice requires that sin be paid for. At great cost, he himself paid that price.

God offers salvation to everyone who accepts it through faith in Jesus. Jesus describes this way as entering through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Perhaps the way through Jesus doesn’t look appealing enough or has too many restrictions. But in reality, the way through Jesus is bigger than you think, because God sent Jesus to save the world. It isn’t God’s fault that many don’t accept that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.

We know the way to heaven by trusting in what Jesus has done for us and what he continues to do for us through his gifts to the Church. Our journey begins in Baptism. Through God’s Word and water Jesus dwells in our hearts through faith. Faith receives the promises of God and clings to Jesus as the true and only way. Faith receives Jesus as the way and rejects all other ways that are contrary to what God’s word says.

Just like a mother, God has a lot of love to give, even lots more. God’s love is an everlasting steadfast love that endures rejection, as he sees people go on a journey in other directions to fulfil their needs. However, through the Holy Spirit, God never stops trying to alert us if we go in the wrong direction.

It’s like when your TomTom or Navman tells you perform a U-turn where possible. What I really dislike about relying on GPS is when they try to take you down a road that isn’t there. It makes us end up feeling lost and not sure where I am. Then I need to back track to get on the right way.

Likewise, God gives us a conscience to alert us when we follow a way that leads away from his way. His ways are written on our hearts, and supported through his written word to show us his way.

When it comes to walking the way of holiness, it’s the way of repentance and forgiveness. Repentance because we fail to live holy lives and need to turn back and confess our failures to God. God hears our cries for mercy and forgives us for Jesus’ sake.

He is always waiting like a mother for her children to come home. One of the best images we have of this in the bible is the story of the prodigal son.

When Jesus says, “I am the Way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me” he is not meaning this to be a threat. Jesus spoke these words to his disciples, as a word of comfort.

They are a comfort for us as well, for we don’t need to panic and search for a hidden map or look for clues, or guess if we are on the road to salvation. It’s clear and simple. As Jesus says “Do not let your heart be troubled. There are many rooms in my Father’s house. If it were not so, I would have told you. I am going away to make a place for you. After I go and make a place for you, I will come back and take you with me. Then you may be where I am.”

A mother’s desire is to protect her children. Have you felt the anxious wait to see your children safely arrive home? You hope they will not get lost, but will follow the way that leads to you, to the place you have prepared for them. Sometimes things occur where as parents, as a mother, you need to go and bring your child to the safety of home.

This is what Jesus did for all of us. He came down from heaven into the world, where we were lost and heading in all sorts of directions and he shows the way home. His desire is for us to be where he is. There is no other way than the way Jesus paved at a great cost to himself.

He calls us to follow him with hearts that forgive, and have compassion. With hearts that welcome home into the family a child who had lost their way. With hearts that even go looking when we notice we haven’t seen them for a while.

It’s what a mother does for her child so she knows her child is safe.

It’s what Jesus does for us. There is only one true way to eternal life. That is the way of Jesus. Amen

I am the good Shepherd.

The Text: John 10: 1-10

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. On this day we recognise that Jesus our risen Lord is indeed our Good Shepherd. As Psalm 23 says, he leads us to green pastures, and beside still waters. In our Gospel reading it cuts short of the part where Jesus says, ‘I am the good shepherd’.

In this reading from beginning of John chapter 10, Jesus describes himself as a door or a gate. The word for door can also mean opportunity.

Let’s look at what we know about doors and gates. What is their purpose? Why do you have doors in your house? Obvious isn’t it? You want to keep out those whom you don’t want in your house. The ones who you allow in your house are the ones you invite into your house. Even within your house are doors. You may close the door to your room for this may be your private sanctuary, and the ones you allow into your room are the people who are closest to you.

Jesus describes the people who try to get into your house by other means than invited through the door, are thieves and robbers. That is why our doors have locks on them, to prevent thieves and robbers from entering through the door uninvited. Of course, as Jesus tells us what we already know, they will try to find another way in.

It’s the same when you have a gate to your property, or a gate to the paddocks on your farms. The gates are there for a reason, to keep safe what is within, and to keep out that which is not allowed.

So, who is allowed through the door? Why is Jesus describing himself as the door?  Jesus may be alluding to the ways that shepherds would gather their sheep into a pen by calling their names. They would follow the shepherd into the pen and the shepherd would sleep in the opening as there was no gate.

Why is Jesus telling us this? What has bought him to this point where he teaches about himself as the door or the gate?

You may recall the Gospel reading for the fourth Sunday in Lent, about the man born blind. When Jesus healed this man born blind on the Sabbath, it was the talk of the town. The man was bought before the Pharisees and they interrogated him and his parents. During the interrogation the man said to the Pharisees: “Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become one of his disciples?” This led the Pharisees to cast him out of the temple where Jesus came to the man and asked him: “Do you believe in the Son of God?” The man replied: “Who is he sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus answered: “You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you.” What did the man do then? He confessed his faith and worshipped Jesus.

Now today, Jesus says he is the door, he is the opportunity for all those who hear his voice, to come to him, to worship him and say, ‘Lord I believe’.

Jesus calls you into the safety of his kingdom. There is no other way to enter. The way is through Jesus. Anyone who tries otherwise to snatch you away from the love and mercy of Jesus is a thief and a robber who tries to rob you of the joy of being saved.

The Pharisees tried to rob the man born blind of the grace that Jesus had shown to him, claiming it to be a sinful deed done on the Sabbath. They denied the joy the parents should have felt of their son receiving his sight. Even as we read further into John chapter 10 in verse 27, Jesus says: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them out of my hand. I and the Father are one.”

It was that comment that stirred the pot for the Jews. When John speaks of the Jews here, it is all those who opposed Jesus. Just as they rejected what the man born blind said, they now rejected Jesus, accused him of blasphemy, they picked up stones and tried to arrest him, but his time had not yet come. Remember this happened before the events of Easter.

What does this mean for us? It means that there is life and salvation for all who hear Jesus’ call to follow. Jesus has come to bring forgiveness and healing. Jesus has come to make his voice known. How is it known? Through his word. Through his word we hear that Jesus suffered greatly that we may know him.

As 1 Peter 2: 22-25 says: “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

What more can we say than, ‘worthy is the lamb who was slain’? Despite our sinfulness, Jesus still calls us by name, and invites us into his kingdom. He invites us in and sets out a banqueting table of forgiveness, mercy, healing, acceptance and compassion.

You are all welcome. Do you hear his voice? A voice that says: Come all you who are weary and burdened. I will give you rest. Come, I will give you abundant life. Come in, I will keep you safe from the evil one.

The Pharisee, the Jews, the crowd, Satan, all may have thought they had silenced Jesus when he died on the Cross, but the Cross only showed to the world that Jesus is worthy to follow, for he was willing to give his life for his sheep.

Jesus is calling your name. Do you hear his voice? The blind man heard Jesus ask: “Do you believe in the Son of God?” He responded: “Lord I believe”.

Jesus is the door. Jesus is your opportunity to know the love of God and be accepted into his family, simply by listening to his voice. Any other voices that want to rob you of receiving this grace that Jesus offers to you are thieves and robbers. You don’t need to listen to those voices, because Jesus is calling your name. His is the voice that calls to you as you come and go in this world. Just as you come and go from the safety of your home, Jesus tells you to come and go knowing he is watching over as your good shepherd. Jesus knows you by name. May that be your comfort and peace. Amen

Hope Restored

The Text: Luke 24: 13-19

On that day two of Jesus’ followers were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking to each other about all the things that had happened. As they talked and discussed, Jesus himself drew near and walked along with them; they saw him, but somehow did not recognize him.  Jesus said to them, “What are you talking about to each other, as you walk along?” They stood still, with sad faces. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have been happening there these last few days?”

“What things?” he asked. “The things that happened to Jesus of Nazareth. “they answered.

Have you heard the term, “I’ve had the stuffing knocked out of me?” This is an old saying that people have said when they suffer a serious illness, or get news that just saps the strength out of them. It is a struggle to get through the day. Maybe even cause a loss of hope.

Have you ever felt like that?

Perhaps it is because you have put high hopes in being cured of sickness and it hasn’t turned out how you expected. Or even like the disciples, when you are overcome with the death of a loved one. All these things can consume us, and bring loss of hope.

Today we hear of two disciples consumed with the events of the last few days. It’s been an overwhelming week, from Jesus’ triumphant entry into the city, to his betrayal and arrest, culminating in His crucifixion and burial. All of this was too much. The disciples have had the stuffing knocked out of them.

Some women came and reported that angels had told them he is not here. He is risen, but when Peter went and had a look all he saw was the strips of linen, so they regarded the news as nonsense. So later that day of the Lord’s resurrection, these two followers of Jesus’ head back home to the village of Emmaus about 7 miles from Jerusalem. As they walked and talked, they were filled with a mixture of sadness, of grief and confusion, a loss of hope, trying make sense of the last few days.

They had high hopes. Jesus was supposed to be the Messiah. He was supposed to come to liberate Israel, to free the people from oppression. But now Jesus was gone. As the disciples were preoccupied with all these thoughts, we are told Jesus came up and walked beside them, yet they were kept from recognising him.

Why would Jesus do that?  Why would Jesus delay revealing he is alive to them? Why let them suffer and think all that we hoped for is gone?

When they ask Jesus: “Don’t you know what has been going on the last few days?” Jesus pretends he doesn’t know and asks “What things?”

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.

Then Jesus said to the disciples: “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”

Jesus wants the disciples to understand, all that has happened was prophesied. Jesus taught them from the beginning with Moses and all the prophets, how all the events about himself were a fulfilment of scripture.

Perhaps Jesus began with Genesis 3:15, where God cursed the serpent saying, “I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. And he will strike your head and you will strike his heel.”

And maybe Isaiah 7:14 where God says, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive, and she will have a son and name him Immanuel.”

Maybe Jesus quoted Isaiah 53:3: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was. He was like one people turned away from; he was despised, and we did not value him.”

What we can know is that it would have been an amazing journey through scripture as Jesus journeyed with them on the road to Emmaus. Jesus would have taught them about the Messiah and why it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and die and be raised again.

So, what can we learn from this great learning experience the disciples had with Jesus? Well for us, it means we can also rely on the word of God to learn all we need to know about Jesus. We can also learn how the Old Testament points to Jesus as the saviour who is to come. In the gospels, we hear of Jesus, the word become flesh. We hear he came to heal and to proclaim the good news, that Jesus is the way into the kingdom of heaven. We hear of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. The letters of Paul and Peter and others encourage us to live in faith, trusting in all that Jesus has done for us and for our salvation.

Jesus continues to reveal who he is through the truth of his word, so that our hearts burn within us, as we learn more and more about Jesus and of his love and mercy for us. It is not without significance that it is around the Supper table the disciples’ eyes are opened and they see Jesus for who he really is as he “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them”. The words are almost identical to those at the Last Supper where Jesus “took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them”.

While we are unable to gather for Holy Communion at this time, we look forward to the time when we can once again commune with the Lord Jesus, the host and the meal itself. For it is a meal that involves all our senses as we taste, see, hear, feel, and smell Jesus, in this Holy meal.

Another thing that is interesting, is once their eyes were opened, Jesus disappeared. Why?

Our answer is in what we are told happened next. This was something they could not keep to themselves. They could not wait to run the seven miles back to Jerusalem and share the news. They gave witness that Jesus was risen, that he had walked with them and talked with them, explained the scriptures to them, and broke bread at their table.

While we have not seen the risen Jesus, we can be assured that just as the scriptures say, He is Risen. This something that we cannot keep to ourselves. We aren’t allowed to congregate or gather at the coffee shop to share this good news, we do have a phone and technology to tell this good news. We don’t need to hide in fear of all that has happened and is happening, but we can be filled with joy for the hope we have in Jesus.

Even though we have times where we experience despair, sadness, even shattered hopes, we are not alone. Maybe Jesus is walking beside you and you haven’t noticed Jesus come along side and say, “Tell me what it is troubling you?”

Though we can’t make sense of all that is going on, Jesus wants us to be in conversation with him, to cast our burdens on him.

Jesus is our living Lord who is committed to walk with us and help us to endure all things. He tells us that nothing can separate us from his love. All it takes is to listen to him in his word and draw comfort and strength from his word. As we walk and learn more about Jesus, may our hearts burn within us as we here Jesus speak to us through his Spirit.

Through faith and trust in the resurrected Jesus, it enables us to truly see that the risen Lord is our hope when the stuffing has been knocked out of us. Let’s remember we are not walking alone. The risen Jesus is walking with us! Amen.

Seeing is believing

The Text: John 20:19-31

Some of our popular sayings are absurd, like “seeing is believing”. If you see, you don’t need to believe.  People have refused to affirm what they see. They often have vested interests for doing so. Jesus’ opponents witnessed His mighty miracles and yet refused to believe in Him. Earlier in John’s Gospel, after Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 people, Jesus said: “You have seen me and yet you do not believe (John 6:36).”  In the Bible, believing makes seeing possible. At her brother Lazarus’s death, Jesus tells Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see God’s glory (John 11:40)?”

You see, faith is a lot like falling in love. Falling in love isn’t blind, but super-sighted. It enables you to see all sorts of things, good qualities in your beloved you never noticed before. So faith opens our eyes to the things God is doing in your life right now. Both love and faith involve taking a risk, the risk of commitment. Some people have never found commitment easy. There have always been those who have found faith in God a struggle, like Thomas did in today’s Gospel. When you consider all the attacks on our Christian faith in our media, in pubs and at parties, it’s an amazing miracle that so many people in our community, not only believe in our Lord but give visible evidence of their faith week by week. Thank God for every sign of faith you see around you.

Thomas didn’t initially share Peter’s Easter joy. He was absent the first time our risen Redeemer appeared, when His followers were gathered together. What blessings he missed out on by absenting himself from the company of his fellow believers. Consider what blessings, what enrichment and strengthening of your faith you may have missed out on by absenting yourself from the fellowship of the Lord’s House on Sunday only to inform this person that that topic was dealt with the previous Sunday when that individual was absent.  That’s why God urges us: “Some people have got out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we mustn’t do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer (Hebrews 10:25).” 

Thomas grieved over his Lord’s death longer than he needed to. He believed he was a realist. He’d expected all along that Jesus would be crucified. When Jesus proposed to visit Mary and Martha because their brother Lazarus had died, Thomas replied, “Let us also go that we may die with him (11:16).”  He didn’t lack courage, but was a pessimist. A loyal follower of Jesus, he was a slow learner, slow to grasp who Jesus was and why He’d come. He wasn’t afraid to ask the questions of Jesus no one else dared ask. “Lord, we do not know where you are going”, he said.

Thomas is the most maligned of Christ’s apostles. He has been dubbed “doubting Thomas”. We don’t refer to Peter as “Peter the denier”. There’s something up-to-date about Thomas. He strikes me as a suitable patron saint for our times. He wasn’t prepared to believe because others said so. He wanted a genuine faith, a firsthand experience of the risen Christ. He wasn’t going to be content with second-hand testimony.  If others had encountered the risen Christ, so must he. Thomas doesn’t ask to hear our Lord’s voice or see His face; he wants to see Jesus’ wounds. He’s only interested in the resurrection of His wounded Saviour. The wonderful thing about the other apostles is that they don’t snub him because of his doubts, but gently keep him posted about their Easter experiences. Maintaining friendship and fellowship with someone plagued by doubts has won many a doubter back into a stronger, firmer faith.

I have found that most doubters are dissatisfied with their doubt, and long for the joy a firm faith provides. Thomas’ lack of faith does more for us than the firm faith of his fellow apostles. Thomas doubted, so that we need not doubt.

Jesus now comes to His followers on His Day, the Lord’s Day. This time Thomas makes sure he’s with the others. Thomas has perhaps begun to realise that the place to find an answer to doubt isn’t in isolation, but in the company of others with a stronger faith than his own. Faith, you see, is partly contagious. As Jesus has often done with others who need their faith strengthened, Jesus gives Thomas what he needs to have, a firm faith in Him. Jesus displays His wounds which reveal the depths of His love for Thomas (and us). The wounds in Jesus’ hands heal the wound in Thomas’ heart. The slowest learners often become the strongest believers. Thomas may have been slow to believe in Jesus’ resurrection, but at a bound, he leaps ahead of the others and is the first to come to full faith in our Lord: “My Lord and My God”, he confesses. He now confesses a greater faith than eyes can see. Thomas gives expression to the highest act of worship in the New Testament. The words “My Lord” mean Thomas is thrilled to now belong to his Lord and to surrender his life to Him.

We remember Thomas more for his supreme confession of faith than his previous doubts. Jesus calls a faith like ours that hasn’t seen Him “blessed”. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe (John 20:29b).” Our Lord commends, praises and blesses a faith that heroically continues to believe without immediate or obvious confirmation. Faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in hindsight. Faith that makes a difference believes that our Lord is with us in all our difficulties, disappointments and doubts. Faith that thrives constantly feeds on God’s Word. Christians are more likely to read God’s Word for comfort and help if they believe God is with them in their difficulties and doubts. Doubt is faith suffering from malnutrition. Doubt points to areas where one’s faith needs to grow and acquire deeper insight. Doubt is faith’s inbuilt stimulus to increase, deepen and develop.

Regular prayer and worship help keep our faith in good shape, fit to meet life’s challenges and setbacks. Luther once said: “To believe in God is to worship God.” God is greater than all our problems, difficulties and doubts. When we bring our doubts to God in prayer, the sting is taken out of them and they no longer impact negatively on our faith. We needn’t understand everything about our faith for it to be robust and resilient. Faith becomes unshakeable when I realise that Christ my Lord has grasped me more firmly than I ever could grasp Him. Fear, shame and guilt have kept more people away from God than doubt ever has. The welcome news Jesus brings is that He can free you from fear, guilt and shame like no one else can. Pray for a faith that nothing can destroy. Pray to stay faithful to your Lord unto death, so that you will receive from Him the crown of life everlasting. Amen

He is risen indeed!

The Text: John 20:1-18


This phrase rolls off the tongue easily enough for Christians on Easter Day – but how do we know that it is true? A resurrection is not the easiest thing to believe.

We’re told that we live in a ‘post-truth’ age, that the truth doesn’t matter, that it’s relative, that it is what you make it – but do we really believe that to be true?

The truth does matter to us.

If some truth is threatened, like an issue of equality, then we will fight to preserve it. If your integrity was being called into question or if you had been slandered in some way then you would want the truth to be known. And show me a parent who doesn’t care when their child is caught lying. Instead we teach our children from a young age to tell the truth.

Jesus had come to speak and enact God’s truth. At the beginning of John’s Gospel account we are told that ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’ and that ‘he came from the Father full of grace and truth’ (1:14). Jesus himself said: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life’ (14:6). At his trial Jesus told Pilate: ‘everyone on the side of truth listens to me’, to which Pilate famously replied: ‘what is truth’? (18:37-38).

The truth was that Jesus had come to die for us. He had come to Jerusalem to be betrayed, condemned, mocked, flogged and killed. Good Friday was not a miscalculation – a case of sticking his neck out too far, too soon. Good Friday was God’s Son, the Messiah, choosing to enact God’s saving truth.

It was the truth from his own lips that led to the guilty verdict at his trial before the Jewish ruling council. The truth was that we needed the innocent Son of God to die for our sin and guilt. So, armed with that truth, Jesus went willingly to the cross to suffer and die for us – to be our way, truth and life.

But I don’t imagine a single follower of Jesus went to bed that Good Friday night comforted by this truth, comforted by his death on the cross. There was no joy or hope or life for them that day. Instead there was only sadness, despair and death.

That was the reality they had to deal with. That was the new truth they were confronted with less than 24 hours after Jesus had shared the Passover with them and told them: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled; trust me’! They had this truth to come to terms with and it wasn’t pretty.

Good Friday on its own has nothing to give us really. All it gives us is an innocent man dying an unjust death. It is not the first time something like this has happened in human history and it won’t be the last.

But Good Friday is not on its own. We don’t stop our Easter celebrations on Friday – we simply pause them in anticipation of what is to come.

That is the benefit of hindsight for us. The first followers of Jesus did not have that luxury. They were dealing with a ‘full-stop’, with the conclusion to a life story. They were involved in the funeral arrangement stage, where the next thing to be done was to see to it that Jesus at least had a decent burial.

That is what the women came to do that morning while it was still dark. They weren’t coming to see how the life of Jesus could continue. They were coming to give it a fitting end.

And even that consolation was taken from them.

They arrived to find that the stone had been rolled back, exposing an empty tomb. The body was gone. This did not change the ‘full-stop’ into a ‘comma’ for them. They did not interpret an open tomb and a missing body as a potential resurrection, as a possible continuation of a life cut short. Why would they? Humanly speaking that was impossible.

No, all it did was interrupt their plans of giving Jesus a fitting send off. In our John reading we are given an insight into the distress this discovery caused Mary Magdalene and how intent she was on getting answers. She wanted to find out where ‘they’, whoever ‘they’ were, had put the body of her Lord.

The scenario quickly developed into something resembling a primitive crime scene investigation – CSI Jerusalem. Unfortunately the detective in this case, Mary, was not an expert in investigative techniques. So she rushed to get Peter and John. They came quickly – but they needn’t have bothered. They inspected the tomb, saw the strips of linen and the folded up burial cloth, and then went home again. Thanks for the help boys!

Mary was left to continue the investigation on her own. Surely we can understand why she wanted to know the truth about the whereabouts of the body of Jesus. We know from experience how important the funeral and burial are in the grieving process. It provides a sense of closure and enables the bereaved to move on in their lives without their loved one in it.

Thank God those plans were interrupted! And we do have God alone to thank for the change of plans. They were coming for closure and for a fitting end and God gave them an open tomb and a new beginning.

The grieving process, where the bereaved were taking steps to ensure they could try and move on in their lives, was interrupted by the risen Lord himself who re-entered their lives. Jesus started with Mary, calling her by name. Later that day he would come to his other disciples, standing among them to bring them resurrection peace and joy and hope and life.

The truth of the cross meant nothing without the truth of the resurrection. They now had the complete story and it would still take some time for this truth to sink in. But you can’t tell me that this truth didn’t matter to them. It mattered all right! It mattered so much it changed the course of their lives.

With the death of Jesus they had come to a full stop and weren’t sure what to do next. With his resurrection the story was continued and it continued with the promise that it would not end. They were now moving on with their lives, but moving on with the risen Lord at the centre of their lives. Death had lost its sting; it had lost its ability to cast a shadow on their lives. They now lived with a sense of purpose that only resurrection light can bring. This purpose bursts forth from the pages of history as we hear them declaring boldly that Jesus is risen from the dead and that he is Lord!

This confession comes from the lips of a man who denied his Lord three times at his trial. It comes from the lips of a distraught woman who just wanted to find where they had laid the dead body of her Lord. It comes from the lips of countless others who should have been in disarray, but were now united in their declaration of this amazing truth.

This is a confession that has continued to echo down through the ages, all the way to this time and this place. For their truth is our truth.

We believe that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. But we also believe that on the third day he rose again from the dead!

That is a truth that sets us free. It sets us free to live with a renewed sense of purpose. It sets us free to serve under a Lord who not only died for us but who also now lives for us. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! So, let’s get on with life; let’s get on with it, with the presence of our risen Lord and Saviour Jesus at the heart of it. Amen. 

God’s dearly loved people

The Text: John 19:23-39

A survey taken overseas asked people about what question they would like to ask God. Most of those asked, said they’d ask God “Why is there suffering?” For many people, suffering makes it very hard to believe in God. The good news of Good Friday is that God didn’t stay aloof from suffering, but shared it with us. God Himself is our co-sufferer who experienced suffering first-hand with us and understands what it’s like to suffer.

A suffering God is the most profound response to human suffering there is. Who knows how much suffering God has had to bear because of the way our sins, faults and failures have hurt Him? Christ’s passion, dying and death are the point at which divine and human suffering meet. It is not enough to know God in His glory and majesty unless we have first got to know our Creator in the suffering of His Son on Good Friday. There can be no pain worse for a parent than to see his son suffer and die in a terribly cruel way, as God the Father did on Good Friday.

 “The crucified Jesus is the only accurate picture of God the world has seen (A. Baker).” By means of Christ’s suffering on the cross for you, God is saying to you, “This is where you ought to be. Jesus, My Son, hangs there in your stead; His tragedy is the tragedy of your life. You are the rebel who should be hanged on the gallows. But lo, I suffer instead of you, and because of you, because I love you, despite what you are. My love for you is so great that I meet you there with my love, there on the cross. I cannot meet you anywhere else. You must meet me there, by identifying yourself with the One on the cross.”

Good Friday was when God took His own medicine. At Calvary God submitted to the conditions He laid down for us and seemed to suffer defeat. But instead God defeated death with death, and our suffering with His own suffering. By entering into our experience of suffering, Jesus can comfort us in all our distresses like no one else can. Over the centuries, Christians have kept coming back to the cross of Christ for comfort, strength and hope. You see, the cross of Christ has released into human history the most powerful force for regeneration and renewal the world has ever seen. It is the pinnacle of everything Christ achieved for us on earth. There Jesus took on responsibility for all our failures, took them as His own and took the punishment they deserve. Instead of judging us, Christ was judged in place of us, with the ungodly men being crucified next to Him, so that we might be acquitted and set free from our sin.

Therefore, as we read in Romans 8:1, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” That’s the unsurpassed good news Good Friday made possible. There can be no true love without a willingness to suffer for and with those we love. We go to the Cross of Christ for our definition of love. “This is how God showed His love for us: He sent His only Son into the world that we might have life through Him. This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven (1 John 4:9-10).”

Our crucified Saviour continues to attract the devotion and wholehearted commitment of millions of people because His suffering for everyone on the Cross is the greatest demonstration of love the world has ever seen. At the Cross we see a totally other-centred love. Instead of focussing on His own pain, Jesus shows love for His executioners by asking God to forgive them and welcomes the penitent thief being crucified next to Him into Paradise. Now Jesus shows His love for His mother by making sure she is cared for.

Mary is there with St John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, because they cannot bear to be anywhere else. At the Cross St John was overwhelmed by our Lord’s love for him, and represents all of us who love Jesus and are forever grateful for His love for us. John now places himself at the service of Jesus. Mary sees all the hope she’s placed in Jesus now gone. How sad it is that Jesus’ brothers aren’t there. Maybe they’re too scared to be seen with Him. We wonder what’s going through Mary’s mind. Perhaps Mary is haunted by the words of Simeon: “and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.”

Thinking more of His mother’s pain and anguish than His own suffering, Jesus now entrusts His mother to the disciple He knows will care for her best of all. “Woman, here is your son” Jesus says to Mary. In doing so, Jesus adopts St John as His brother. Then to John He says, “Here is your mother.” Jesus now gives both of them a new future in the community He has established through His cross and resurrection. His death creates a new set of relationships, bringing together as Christian siblings, those previously unrelated.

John and Mary are the first two members of Christ’s new family, the Christian Church. Jesus had promised to His followers who lose their family members in this life because of Him, He will provide them with Christian siblings. “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now and in this age, houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children…and in the age to come, eternal life (Mark 10:29-30).”

Our Lord will now love Mary through John’s love for her and He will show His love for John through Mary. Relationships with fellow Christians have often been deeper than with members of one’s own family. Jesus brings His blessings to us also through our fellow Church members. “We do not live for ourselves only, and we do not die for ourselves only. If we live, it is for the Lord that we live, and if we die, it is for the Lord that we die. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For Christ died and rose to life in order to be the Lord of the living and of the dead (Romans 14:7-9).” The abundant life Jesus offers us is life together with our fellow Christians, where Christians encourage, serve, comfort and are devoted to each other. Our ties with our fellow Christians are so good because they continue forever beyond death.

Our Lord’s next word from the cross—“I thirst!”—is the shortest of His seven words, and the most thoroughly human. I’m sure you can recall a time when you were desperately thirsty and know how desperately you longed for your thirst to be quenched. Jesus now acknowledges His own suffering. In doing so He comes closest to us as a fellow human being. Thirst was one of the worst agonies of crucifixion. Those about to die often asked for a drink just before they passed away. Jesus’ plea is something even a child in need of a drink in the middle of the night can understand.

Jesus became one of us in every way so that He can make us one with Him. When we suffer today, Jesus can sympathise with us, knowing first hand what it’s like to suffer. The soldier who gave Jesus a drink showed him the only act of kindness Jesus received on the Cross. Today we meet Jesus’ thirst by satisfying the thirsty around us: “I was thirsty and you gave me to drink …Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brothers or sisters, you have done it to me.”

The drink Jesus received revived Him enough so He could utter His cry of victory: “It is finished!” “It is finished” means that Christ’s sacrifice for us is complete. Christ has won the victory over sin, death and the devil. Receipts from that time have been found with these words written across them, meaning the account has been PAID IN FULL. Jesus has paid in full the debts created by our sins. We can add nothing to our salvation, except to thank and praise Jesus forever for all He has done for us. Love at its best defeated evil at its worst. God’s masterpiece is now complete. Christ’s Cross is His victory for us, and Easter is the revelation of that victory. The events of Good Friday are permanently effective for all time. The Cross sanctifies our pain and sorrow so that it can bring blessings into the lives of others. The Cross of Christ enables all who love God to suffer in hope, knowing that “all things work together for good for those who love God (Romans 8:28).”

In a chapel in Europe hangs a painting of Christ on the Cross with the words printed under it: “All this I did for you. What have you done for me?” One summer afternoon, the Count of Zinzendorf entered the chapel and was immediately drawn to the painting. He saw love in the pierced hands, love in the bleeding brow, love in the wounded side. Then he read the caption below. Sobbing and weeping, he gave his life to Jesus, whose love had not only saved his soul, but also conquered his heart. The Count of Zinzendorf wrote our hymn “Jesus, your blood and righteousness / my beauty are, my glorious dress”, and spent the rest of his life telling others about the love of Christ revealed so fully on the Cross.
“Love so amazing, so divine / demands my soul, my life, my all.” Amen.

Take off your shoes and sox

The Text: John 13:1-17, 31b-35    

If you were asked to take off your shoes and socks I imagine you might be a little reluctant to do so. Feet have a reputation, don’t they? We don’t just cover them to make it easier to walk around. We tuck them away out of sight and out of smell. We can probably handle the smell of our own feet but the thought of a roomful of exposed feet is probably not what we want at the end of the day.

And it is the end of the day. Chances are some of us have been on our feet for much of it and that tends to take its toll. Look at the burden our feet have to bear. They carry our weight around from A to B and everywhere else we need to go.

In Biblical times they used their feet much more than what we do these days. Feet were the primary mode of transportation. They didn’t have cars or buses or trains and even horses and donkeys were available only to the privileged few. So if you wanted to get anywhere, from a kilometre to 100 kilometres, you had to walk.

The Romans were known for their road construction, enabling the efficient movement of their legions. But in Palestine this was the exception rather than the rule. There was the Via Maris, the coastal road, and the King’s Highway, a trade route, but that was about it for major roads in that area. The Jews were not into road construction as the Romans were. A beaten, worn out dirt path was basically considered a road to them. A goat track was sufficient to get around.

So we can understand why the washing of feet was as much a part of their culture as the washing of hands is in ours. It must have been a huge relief to wash away the grime of a day spent on your feet. Think of the relief you feel when you can kick off your shoes and socks at the end of the day and put your feet up.

With this cultural background, it shouldn’t be that surprising to find Jesus at the feet of his disciples, offering to wash them. Yes, it was a task normally reserved for a servant of the household or the wife of the host. Failing that, the host would at least provide a bowl of water and some towels for his guests to wash their own. 

But Jesus had told his disciples: ‘the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Matt.20:28).

Jesus had got dirty in the past as he touched lepers, healed the demon-possessed and mixed with non-Jews. He had eaten with tax-collectors and sinners. So why should the washing of feet be so repulsive? ‘No, you shall never wash my feet’!   

Well, the symbolism happening here is more significant and deep-seated than we realise. As the lowest part of the body feet were considered inferior. This wasn’t so much in terms of the function of the feet but their position. Feet acted as the interface between the individual and the ground, the dirt, they walked upon.

That is why the ultimate rejection is to wipe the dust from your feet, indicating that the other person’s dirt doesn’t even deserve to be on your feet.

It is also why it was considered to be an act of submission, reverence and humility to be found before the feet of another person. You can’t get any lower. It was expected for some people to be at the feet of others but not the other way round.

Throughout his ministry Jesus had people at his feet and for a variety of reasons.

Some of them were there because they needed his mercy. A beggar came before the feet of a lord or master in the hope of some morsel. So it is that the woman who was suffering from severe bleeding fell at Jesus’ feet (Mark 5:33). A woman whose daughter was possessed by an evil spirit fell at his feet (Mark 7:25). Even a synagogue ruler, Jairus, whose daughter was dying fell at his feet (Mark 5:22).

Others were at his feet out of sheer gratitude for the mercy that had been shown to them. The Samaritan leper fell at Jesus’ feet when he had been cleansed (Luke 17:16). Mary was at his feet, pouring perfume on them and wiping them with her hair after Jesus had raised her brother Lazarus from the dead (John 12:1-3). 

Still others were at Jesus’ feet in submission to listen to his teaching and wisdom, as was Mary that day when Martha was busy doing all the work (Luke 10:39).

It was entirely appropriate for people to be at the feet of Jesus. After all, he is the King of kings and Lord of lords. You come before a king in all humility to seek his mercy and wisdom and to give him the praise and honour he deserves.

And let’s not forget that a conquering king would literally put his feet on the neck of his enemies (Joshua 10:24). This demonstrated the ultimate humiliation and defeat of that enemy. As Jesus taught in the Temple during holy week, he himself quoted Psalm 110 to refer to this kind of thing: “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet’” (Mark 12:36).

Think also of the first prophesy connected to the Messiah. In Genesis God said to the serpent: ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel’ (3:15).

With all of this in mind, it is truly fitting and right that ‘at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord’ (Philippians 2:10).

And yet, here was Jesus, bowed before his disciples and at their feet!

It didn’t seem right. This wasn’t just a gracious act of service. This was a position of submission, reverence and humility. That is not where Jesus should be. This was a position of vulnerability, a place where those who are defeated get trampled on in disgrace. Surely not! ‘No, you shall never wash my feet’!

But Jesus answered: ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me’. Unless Jesus can serve us in such a way where he is trodden underfoot and humiliated and rejected and despised; unless he can be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities – we can have no part with him. The full extent of his love was not shown in the washing of their feet but in the piercing of his.

‘He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…he humbled himself and became obedient unto death – even death on a cross’ (Philippians 2:6-8).

This Easter as we come before the cross once again we will find ourselves at the feet of our Lord. But truly it is on the cross where he is at our feet. He is there in all humility to submit and to serve. He is there to show us the full extent of his love. Amen.