We can learn a lot from sheep.

 Easter 4 (Good Shepherd Sunday)
John 10:1-18

We can learn a lot from sheep.

Sheep were the most common domesticated animal of the biblical world. Sheep and shepherds were everywhere. The most famous king of Israel, Kind David, started out as a shepherd. And one famous text that about the coming Messiah, Ezekiel 34, which we read this morning, says that the Messiah would be our shepherd, and also that God himself would be our shepherd. And David, the shepherd king, wrote a famous song about God as his shepherd. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. The tune has long been forgotten, but not the lyrics. It begins with the famous line: ‘The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall want for nothing.’

So at Jesus’ time, illustrations involving sheep and shepherds would be understood by everyone.

In Jesus’ last public talk as recorded in John’s gospel he is addressing the crowds after the healing of the blind man on the Sabbath. The context suggest an implicit criticism of the Jewish leaders for not being very good shepherds, and perhaps also a reminder of the importance of a single lost sheep (the man born blind).

What we find in this text is not a simple illustration about sheep and shepherds, but three inter-connected illustrations.

First, there is the illustration of the Sheepfold and the importance of recognising the shepherd’s voice (vv 1-6).

Second, there is the illustration of the gate to the sheepfold (vv 7-10).

And third, there is the illustration of the good shepherd (vv 11-18), for which this Sunday is named.

In order for us to understand that Jesus is the good shepherd, he first wants to explain a couple of things about sheep and shepherds.

First, he tells us about the importance of the shepherd’s voice. In some parts of the world still today, shepherds take their flocks out into open pasture, and then return with them at night to their village where the sheep are kept in a common sheepfold, or sheep pen. As was the custom also in Jesus’ time, these pens are simple enclosures formed of stone walls. Some of them are quite large and can hold hundreds of sheep. Each night the shepherd brings his sheep into the common fold, where someone guards the gate, and each morning, he comes to take his sheep out and lead them to pasture.

But how does the gatekeeper know which sheep are to go with each shepherd? And how does the shepherd know which sheep are his? While a good shepherd will indeed know his sheep, it would take quite a while to find each one when perhaps a dozen other shepherds also have led their sheep into the common sheepfold for the night. This system works because the sheep also know their shepherd. Each shepherd has a distinctive call, or sometimes a whistle. When his sheep hear this they perk up their ears and hurry for the shepherd, who leads them out of the sheepfold. The sheep who do not belong to the shepherd simply ignore the voice and wait for the call of their own shepherd. The sheep not only know the voice of the shepherd, but they trust it and are quite excited to hear it. They want to follow their shepherd.

For many years our neighbour in Hahndorf kept sheep. He used to work during the week part-time at a local potato farm. Two or three times a week he would drive his old six cylinder Ford ute (which only every ran on five cylinders) to the back of his property, which bordered our own, and would throw out box fulls of potato seconds.

Fun fact: Sheep love potatoes.

What we noticed is that we knew when our neighbour was coming before we could see him because forty or fifty sheep would suddenly come running over the hill and toward the gravel road that lead past his back paddock and to our home. They came running because they recognized the distinctive sound of his ute. And they knew that when he drove the ute in from that direction, it meant they were getting potatoes! They didn’t react that way for anyone else.

The engine of an old ute is not quite the same as the shepherd’s voice, but you can see the point. Sheep are quite good at knowing who cares for them and who provides for them. They will come when they hear the voice of their shepherd because they have learned to trust the shepherd. If someone comes to try to steal the sheep and calls them to come, they will not come. With this first illustration Jesus wanted his listeners to know that he knows and cares for his sheep, and that his sheep know his voice and trust him.  When he calls, we will follow. Jesus comes back to this illustration later in this same chapter when he says: ‘My sheep know my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life (which is even better than potatoes!), and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand’ (27 and 28).

Jesus’ second illustration takes the listener away from the larger, common sheepfold in the town or village to one of the many smaller sheepfolds build in more distance pastures. These were used when a shepherd has travelled too far from home in search of good pasture to return to the large, common sheepfold. In these, he could keep his sheep safely overnight. These structures were simple small stone enclosures built by generations of local shepherds. They did not have a wooden gate or a gatekeeper like the larger sheepfolds in town. They had a single opening into the sheepfold. And the shepherd would lay out his bedroll across the opening, becoming the gate of the sheepfold through the night. Any thief or wild animal that wanted to get at the sheep would have to come through the shepherd. In such a situation a good shepherd would never simply put some limbs across the entrance and go somewhere more safe and comfortable. He would stay with the sheep.

When Jesus says ‘I am the gate for the sheep,’ one of his famous ‘I am’ sayings in John’s Gospel, this is the image he is invoking. He not only protects the sheep with his own life, but no sheep come into the sheepfold except through him.

Now that Jesus has everyone thinking about sheep and shepherds, he moves to his third and final illustration. And remember, when he does this, his listeners will be thinking very much about the famous Messianic passage from Ezekiel in which we are told both that God himself will be our shepherd and that the messianic successor to King David will be our shepherd. It was a famous text. But how can both God and the Messiah be our shepherd when that passage made a point of telling us their would be one shepherd and one flock? A promise from this text is repeated by Jesus in today’s Gospel reading, verse 16, ‘They will listen to my voice and there will be one flock, one shepherd.’  Jesus explains how both God and the Messiah will be the one shepherd of the people when he says to those listening that he is the good shepherd. And as soon as Jesus finishes his illustration of the good shepherd, he goes on to explain that he and the Father are one. Jesus was telling the people that all those centuries earlier, Ezekiel was talking about one and the same shepherd. The one shepherd of God’s people is both the Messiah and God in human flesh. (But that’s another sermon). For now, we want to look at what Jesus tells us about himself as the good shepherd.

In this passage we have another Jesus’ seven ‘I am’ sayings from John’s Gospel, and the second within this single passage. John liked groups of seven. Like John’s seven signs or miracles of Jesus, he reports seven sayings of Jesus in which he said ‘I am …’ I am the bread of life (6:35), the light of the world (8:12), ‘the door’ (10:9) the good shepherd (10:11-14), the resurrection and the life (11:250, the way the truth and life (14:6) and the vine (15:1-5). These sayings are significant because when Moses asked God what his name was, God simply answered ‘I am’. So Jesus’ repetition of ‘I am’ reinforces John’s theme in his Gospel that Jesus is not only the Messiah, but also God the creator come to us in human flesh. So that is part of what is happening in this text.  Jesus is once again telling those who have ears to hear who he is. He is telling them that the solution of the riddle of Ezekiel’s prophecy about the one shepherd for the one flock being on the one had God and the Messiah is that the Messiah is God himself has come among us.

But the other part of what Jesus is telling us is what kind of Messiah he is. And what kind of God he is. He is not just a good shepherd, he is the Good Shepherd. His use of the definite article is deliberate and stands out. There might be many good shepherds, but there is only one who is the Good Shepherd.  Jesus is the one whose voice we follow because we know and trust him and he brings us only good things. He protects us and cares for us. And he gives us life everlasting. We have also been told that he is the gate by which we enter the sheepfold, and that he guards that gate himself, with his own life.

And now he tells us that he really means this. ‘I am the good shepherd,’ he says, ‘and I lay down my life for the sheep.’

People had’ of course’ heard stories of shepherds who had died protecting their flock from thieves or wild animals. Such occurrences were rare, but that is the kind of love and dedication to his sheep a truly good shepherd has. And Jesus is that kind of shepherd.

Jesus is not a God whom we are to fear. We do not cringe or cower when we hear his voice. We do not wonder what he wants from us now. When we hear his voice we are excited, because we know he cares about us. We know that he watches out for us. We know that he brings us everything we need. We know that he even offers us peace with him and eternal life.

And Jesus does this by making the ultimate sacrifice a good shepherd will make for his sheep. When Jesus speaks of the good shepherd laying down his life for his sheep, he is pointing to his own death of the cross. It was a death that was fast approaching when he gave this final public sermon. He is telling the people one last time not only who he is, but how much he loves his sheep, how much he loves all of us, both those who were near and those still far off.

Because Jesus is the Good Shepherd, he is willing to go to the cross that we might have life.

So it turns out we can learn a lot from sheep. As Jesus shows us, we can learn everything we really need to know about God and his love for us from sheep.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, gathers us into one flock, and he gives his life to do it. And his one flock continues to grow as more and more hear the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and follow him.

On this Sunday of the Good Shepherd, might we continue to recongise the voice of Jesus as he calls us. And may we have the strength and courage to follow Jesus, to trust him as sheep trust their shepherd, for in Jesus, we have found our Messiah, our God and Creator, our one and only Good Shepherd.

Amen.

Pastor Mark Worthing.
Port Macquarie.

‘The Greatest Fishing Story Ever Told’

Easter: John 21: 1-14

The summer I turned eight my father took me out fishing one evening on the lake bordering our farm. It is something we often did. Usually we were after small fish, and would be guaranteed to catch plenty. But I had just gotten a new rod and fishing reel for my birthday, so that night we were going after game fish, the big ones. We were fishing for fresh water bass, casting along the shore. I had been out with my father bass fishing a few times before over the past couple of years, but had failed to catch a single one over the size limit. This night was proving no different. After two trips around the lake with our canoe it was getting dark. My father suggested I let my line out with the lure on it and trawl it behind the boat as he paddled back across the lake. A few minutes later my bait hit a big snag and the pole almost came out of my hands.

Then the line began to move.

It was a fish.

A big one.

My father coached me through the process. I let out line to wear the fish down, then reeled in a bit, then let out more. For the first twenty minutes I let out more line than I was bringing in, because I didn’t want the line to break. About half an hour in, and with hardly enough light left to see, the fish broke the surface trying to shake the hook out of its mouth. It was a monster bass. When my father saw it he offered to take over the pole and reel. I, of course, declined the offer. My arms ached, but I was determined to land this fish. An hour later, and in near pitch black, I finally had the fish beside the boat. My father put the net under it and lifted it up. The net barely held the fish. It was a small mouth bass, rarer and usually smaller than large mouth bass. But this was the biggest bass of any type I had ever seen. It was the biggest bass my father had ever seen. It measured at 23 and a half inches long. Just an inch short of the state record. It was my first game fish, and was it ever a big one. When we finally got home my mom was still up, wondering what had happened to us. ‘Took you both long enough to come home empty-handed again,’ she said. My father looked and me and grinned. ‘Show her the fish,’ he said.

And that’s my best fishing story. I’m sure many of you have a great fishing story as well. And a couple of you I suspect have a net full of great fishing stories! But the fishing story in today’s Gospel text tops them all.

It is not just any fishing story.

It is the greatest fishing story ever told.

Here’s the context: Jesus had appeared to Mary Magdalene, then to his disciples twice in the upper room in Jerusalem. Now, they have returned to their home region of Galilee. Once there, Peter says one afternoon to the others: ‘I’m going fishing.’ Six of the other disciples decide to go with him. Many of them had, after all, been professional fishers before then began following Jesus.

As with all proper fishing stories, this one begins by relating how they were out all night and didn’t catch a single fish. It is the classic fishing story of nothing happening, of lowered expectations and disappointment.

And then, of course, the big catch.

It happened like this: The disciples were about to give up and come in from the night’s fishing empty handed. That is likely why they were near the shore. They had been casting their net hoping to catch a school of feeding fish, most likely Musht, or St Peter’s fish, commonly caught at night. The disciples then heard someone from shore call out to them. The man asked, ‘Have you caught anything?’ This is the most common question fishers are asked when people pass by. When walking along the break wall I often hear people ask this of those fishing there. And I have asked it a few times myself. And the response is nearly always the same. ‘Not a thing!’ The dsicples likewise call out to the man on the shore, ‘We haven’t caught a thing!’

Then the man suggests they cast their net on the right side of the boat. Now, if you are a regular fisher, you will know that advice from those passing by, who are most likely not expert fishers, is seldom appreciated – or taken. So you might will wonder why a group of professional fishers would listen to someone offering unsolicited advice from the shore. The answer is quite simple. The shoreline in that area is quite hilly and the person on the shore who they heard call out to them would have been standing several metres above the water level. On a calm early morning, such a person could see schools of fish below the surface that those in a boat could not see. So the suggestion was not that odd, nor the fact that they listened to the advice.

But what happened next came a quite shock. They cast the net as instructed. At first, the tug on the net was so great they must have thought that, being so close to shore, perhaps they had snagged the net in on a submerged log, or a wrecked fishing boat. But their net was not snagged. It wriggled with life. Their net was moving and full of fish. In fact, they had caught so many fish that they could not get the net into the boat.

That’s when the fishing story takes an unexpected turn. John turns his attention back to the man on the shore. That’s when John realises there is something familiar about what is happening. It is the first of several ‘memory triggers’ in this story – both for the disciples and for the reader. That it, John relates something which happened which sounds very familiar to the disciples, and to the reader.  Remember when Peter had first met Jesus. He had been out fishing all night and caught nothing. After using Peter’s boat to preach from, Jesus asked him to put his boat out and cast his net once more. But Peter was sceptical. There were no fish about that day. But he did it anyway, and they caught enough to fill two boats. That had been three years ago. Back at the beginning. It had been the start of the journey of discipleship. And that is when it clicks for John. He looks to the shore and realises that the man with the hot tip about where the fish are is Jesus.

“It is the Lord!” he says excitedly to Peter.  Peter, being the impetuous one, jumped straight into the water, so eager was he to come to Jesus. You may recall this is not the first time that Peter jumped out of a boat to come to Jesus. And this is the second obvious memory trigger in this story. But this time there is no attempt to walk on water. Again, Peter in his eagerness to come to Jesus, throws on his robe, jumps into the water leaving the others in the boat, then swims to shore. There he finds Jesus waiting with a charcoal fire going and he is cooking some fish and some bread. Jesus asks Peter to bring some of the fish he has just caught so he can make them all breakfast.

Peter heads back into the water where the boat and the net full of fish beside it are being brought to shore, and he helps drag the net on to the banks of the lake.

Then Jesus, the Creator of the universe who has died and risen from the dead, cooks his friends breakfast! Now that’s divine service!

It is only the second meal described in John’s gospel. Another memory trigger memory perhaps for the disciples. The other one was the feeding of the five thousand. And the menu was the same. Fish and bread. And that time as well it was Jesus who provided. But that time there had been far more people to feed than fish. Now there are far more fish than people to feed. Just how many fish were there?

Because these are fisher folk, and John was a professional fisher before he followed Jesus, there is one last important detail to be added to the story. The number of fish in the net, from a single cast, was one hundred and fifty-three! And they were all large ones at that. That was certainly a new local record for a single cast of the net by a long shot.  Now there’s a fish story that’s hard to beat. And in the midst of it all Jesus once more affirms to his disciples, in the routine actions of an ordinary life of fishing and eating breakfast, that he has indeed conquered death.

And one more memory trigger. And this was one that none of the disciples could miss. The last time Jesus had eaten with them was at the last supper. And now he does and says something very similar. He takes the bread and gives it to them, and then the fish. They could not help but remember the bread and wine of the last supper. So this story also becomes a strong image of the eucharistic meal, and because of this we often see bread and fish portrayed in early Christian art as a eucharistic symbol.

And that’s it. The greatest fishing story every told.

But if you have been following the story closely, you might be asking yourself a question. You might be wondering why, after all that had happened in the preceding weeks, were the disciples back in their boats fishing?

Let’s recap. The disciples have been following Jesus and learning from him for three years. For three years he had been preparing them. Jesus had told them of his death and resurrection, though they did not understand what this meant until these events actually occurred. Until just a week or so earlier, they were in Jerusalem, along with hundreds of other devoted followers of Jesus. Then Jesus appeared to them, at least twice, after his resurrection.  And when he appeared to them in Jerusalem he commissioned them to receive his Spirit, to go and forgive sins, and in general, to proclaim the good news.

And what to the disciples do? Well, they trundle off back to Galilee and go back to fishing. (Perhaps they were just following instructions. While John’s Gospel does not mention it, in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus asks Mary Magdalene and ‘the other Mary’ to tell his disciples to go to Galilee and waif for him there. Perhaps this is what they were doing. But they do seem to be surprised to see Jesus is they had simply been waiting for him to join them.) It is a bit of an unexpected response from those who have just encountered the risen Christ, and who are the recognised leaders of the many followers of Jesus still gathered back in Jerusalem.

So since the disciples are no longer in Jerusalem with the other followers of Jesus, Jesus goes to them. He gives them a hot fishing tip, makes them breakfast, and reminds them once again that he really has risen from the dead.

When we think about what is going on in the context of this story, the implied question Jesus asks is this: ‘Do you and the others have anything else that you ought to be doing now? Why are all you out here by yourselves, trying to catch fish – which, by the way, you were not doing very well at? You have now had the biggest catch of fish you or anyone on this lake will ever have. There is nothing more here to achieve. It’s time to move on.’

We might be harsh in our judgment of the disciples. We might well wonder what on earth were they thinking? After all that had happened, with all the people looking to them for leadership, and Jesus’ own commissioning of them on that first Easter evening – why did they simply go back to their nets?

But the disciples are not really so different from us. We have just journeyed through Holy Week, then celebrated the joyous good news that Jesus is risen from the dead. Now Easter is over. The celebrations have finished. The chocolate is gone. The long weekend past. And we have returned to our normal lives as if nothing has happened. And we, like the disciples, need Jesus to come to us, to where we are at. We need Jesus to come and nudge us and remind us that things can never again be as they were.

The Creator of the Universe has died for us and risen again, that we might have life. He calls us to live out and share this good news, the good news that Jesus lives. And because he lives, and lives for us, nothing will ever be the same again. The question for us, then, is this: What would Jesus have us to do, now that we have heard the good news that he lives?

As tempting as it might be to simply return to our nets, to our old lives, there is good news to proclaim. After Easter, our lives simply cannot be the same.

Amen.

Pastor Mark Worthing.
Port Macquarie.

That first Easter day.

The Text: John 20:19-31
The sun has set on that first Easter day. In the midst of their grief and confusion, the apostles are given a glimmer of relief through sightings of the risen Lord Jesus, through angelic messengers who bring hope for the future, and a dim, dark memory of some things Jesus said about suffering and dying and rising again. But as the sun sets, fear and anxiety takes hold once more. Life often seems more difficult when darkness descends.
The apostles find a safe location and lock themselves in securely. Who knows what they talked about? What we do know is that despite all the evidence that Jesus had overcome death, they were still scared out of their wits, fearful that the Jewish leaders would murder them just as they had murdered Jesus.
Jesus had the right to show up and tell the disciples off. “You thick-headed people,” he could have said, “I told you over and over and over again that I was going to rise on the third day. How come you never got it?” Jesus had the right to do that, but He didn’t. Instead Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” Instead of scolding them, He gave them peace. They deserved wrath, but Jesus gave them peace.
Standing in the middle of the disciples and proclaims that, despite their failures; despite the way they abandoned Jesus and even denied Him, they have peace with God. And as He says this, Jesus shows them how much this peace cost – pointing to the wounds of His crucifixion.
So Jesus speaks His word of peace and the disciples receive the gift of reconciliation with God. It’s little wonder that they were still so excited when Thomas finally arrives later that night. “We have seen the Lord!” they declare to him, expecting Thomas to be excited. Over the centuries Thomas’ response has come to be known as one of doubt…but that’s not accurate.
Thomas doesn’t doubt, he flat out refuses to believe. That’s what he says. It’s not
that Thomas has a few questions about what happened to Jesus – he simply refuses to believe the word of God spoken to him by Jesus’ apostles. He rejects the eyewitness testimony of those who had seen Jesus and been given authority to tell the world about Him.
Well, a week later, it’s the same story. The disciples are gathered in the same room but this time Thomas is there. And Jesus shows up again. And again He has every right to tell Thomas off for his unbelief. But the first word Jesus speaks is one of peace. He declares that our sin’s rage against God is finished and He gives hope for eternity. He doesn’t chastise Thomas but offers the proof Thomas asked for and then demands that Thomas stop doubting and believe. He tells Thomas to stop being a pagan. Stop being an unbeliever doomed for judgement. And He calls him to simply believe. And what’s amazing is that Jesus’ words are enough. Thomas doesn’t stick his fingers in the nail wounds and he doesn’t prod Jesus’ side. Instead he hears Jesus’ words and his heart is changed. He cries out, “My Lord and my God!”
People often say how much easier it would be to believe if only…if only they could see Jesus….if only they could have some miraculous experience….if only Christian teaching was more in line with their way of thinking…if only their lives showed more evidence of blessing…and the list goes on. But what today’s reading does is show this kind of thinking for what it is: unbelief. This unbelief has the worst consequences, for refusal to believe God’s promises leads to hell.
Jesus doesn’t mess around with Thomas. Jesus speaks plainly that Thomas needs to stop being an unbeliever if he wants to enjoy the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Simply hanging around with the other apostles while maintaining this stubborn unbelief is not enough.
Yet Jesus is determined that Thomas not continue in unbelief. Jesus is kind and gracious and speaks words of forgiveness and mercy to him, and this word of grace changes the hardest of hearts.
That’s good news for us, too. For as we can no longer see Jesus with our eyes, it can be easy to doubt—or even disbelieve—God’s promises in Christ to us. How do we deal with unbelief such as this that lurks in all our hearts? How do we simply trust in the Lord whose wounds declare us forgiven and at peace with God?
At the end of our reading John says “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
What a wonderful statement of grace to you and me! Through His servant John, the Lord is telling us that we have all we need to believe and be saved. It’s not the kind of proof that will satisfy those looking for spectacular experiences or worldly approval…but it is the sure and certain proof that we all need to be freed from our sins and to live in the knowledge that we are at peace with God because Jesus died in our place and is now risen.
The Word of God is all we need. In fact Paul says in the letter to the Romans that faith can only come through hearing the word of Christ. That’s what John is saying. Yes, those first apostles were blessed to see the Lord, resurrected from the dead, alive and full of blessing.
But ultimately their faith was based on the words He spoke…the same word we have with us still today.
Week after week many of us come here and basically our message is the same. Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins. He rose again in victory over sin and death and the Devil.
And now He proclaims we are forgiven and set free for eternity. And you know that’s basically what the apostles said to Thomas as well when he refused to believe. Let us be careful, that we too are not stubborn and unbelieving and buy into Satan’s lie that we need more than this; the lie that there is something more exciting, something more spiritual than hearing that our sins are forgiven? God forbid that we would be found to be unbelieving Thomase’s in this way.
For just as Jesus was present with the disciples proclaiming peace and forgiveness in the midst of their fears, He surely stands with us today speaking that same word. He proclaims we are forgiven by His blood. He declares heaven is ours because He overcame death and the grave and was raised on the third day. He continues to come to us proclaiming peace,
proclaiming life, proclaiming salvation that at the last day we would be found believing.
So hear the word of Christ spoken first to the apostles, then to Thomas and now to us here.
The word that sets us free and creates faith in Jesus’ saving work. The word that Jesus has commanded His church to proclaim until He returns – the word that declares our sins are forgiven because Jesus has died our death and is now risen from the dead to fill us with the peace of God which passes all understanding. A peace that will keep our hearts and minds
in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

‘Mary Magdalene, the first evangelist’

Easter Sunday, 2024
John 20:1-18

John’s account of the resurrection of Jesus begins and ends with Mary Magdalene. In verse one she is heading to the tomb of Jesus before it is even daylight. At the end of this initial resurrection account, in verse 18, she has returned to the city, for the second time that morning, and is proclaiming to the disciples that Jesus has risen. There can be no doubt of the significance John gives to Mary in this story.

But just who was Mary Magdalene? How does she come to be the first witness of the empty tomb? The first to see and hear the risen Lord? And the first to proclaim his resurrection?

Mary Magdalene was so-named in the gospels because she was from the town of Magdala, which lay on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee between Tiberius, the regional capital to the south, and Gennesaret to the north. Little today is known of the town, which was destroyed in the Jewish uprising against Rome in 70 AD. Archeology suggests it was significant, urbanized town, and we also know that the building of boats and the drying and pickling of fish were the dominant industries there. Rabbis at the time of Jesus criticized the inhabitants for their lose morals. None of the Gospels mention whether Jesus visited the town, but given that it was in Galilee and that one of his early and most devoted followers was Mary from Magdala, it is safe to assume that he had some ministry there.

Mark and Luke tell us that Jesus cleansed Mary from seven demons (Luke 8:2 and Mark 16:9). So Mary was a woman who was in a great deal of strife and pain before meeting Jesus. She was a woman who owed Jesus everything. From the time that Jesus healed her it seems that she did not leave the close band of disciples who followed Jesus. She is mentioned in all four gospels, and all four list her as being a witness both to the crucifixion and the empty tomb. And John and Mark agree that she was the first person to see the resurrected Jesus. She stood beside Jesus’ mother Mary and John at the cross. And when others left, she remained to see where Jesus would be buried (Mark 15:47), which is how she knew where to go before dawn on that Sunday morning. And that is basically what we know of Mary Magdalene. She was not the Mary who anointed Jesus before his death, and there is no biblical evidence that she had been a woman of ill repute.

But what we do know of Mary is enough.

Apart from John, it was the female disciples of Jesus, including Mary, who did not run and hide when Jesus was led to the cross. When Jesus was dead and others left in despair, it is Mary who stayed to see where his body would be taken. And it was not the disciples who went to the tomb before dawn as soon as the Sabbath was finished. It was Mary Magdalene.

And that is where John picks up the story. Mary shows up at the tomb apparently with no plan as to how she roll the sealing stone away so as to further minister to Jesus’ body the traditional rites for the dead. But in the early light she notices something unexpected. The stone has already been rolled away. She looks into the tomb and finds it empty.

Her thoughts race. She is not thinking that Jesus has risen, but that his body had been stolen or moved. She does the only thing she can think to do. She hurries to be place where Peter and the other disciples are hiding, probably the upper room they had rented for the Passover, the same room in which a few days earlier they had eaten with Jesus and he had washed their feet. She wakes them with the news, and Peter and John rush to the tomb to see for themselves what has happened. They do not wait for Mary as they run. And John does not wait for Peter. These are people still in grief and shock, and now in a panic.

John arrives first and sees the tomb empty apart from the linen burial cloths, but does not go in. Peter runs straight past John when he arrives and goes into the tomb. It is indeed empty, and the linen wrappings are lying where the body of Jesus had lain, but the head wrapping, or Soudarion, is rolled up, or folded, laying separately. And this is an odd and interesting detail. But it is an important detail, for the evangelist tells us that when he saw the burial cloths for the head in his state, he believed. But why?

Many have speculated on the significance of the head wrapping laying folded and separate to the other burial cloths. If you look on the internet you will very quickly find one recently popular theory that a folded napkin in Jesus’ time meant that a dinner guest was coming back. Some versions of this story say that it applied only to kings. So the point is that the folded head covering meant Jesus would be returning.

But there are problems with this explanation. Firstly, napkins were not used at table for meals in this period. And even if they had been, it would be a long leap from napkin to burial head covering and from dinner table to tomb. More importantly, no source from the ancient world has ever been given that cites this custom, and no biblical commentary even mentions it. A more thorough search of the web reveals an explanation. The story first arose on the internet in 2007, not in Jesus’ time. So we will need to look elsewhere to understand the significance of this detail.  

Another view is that the presence of the burial cloths simply demonstrated that the body of Jesus had not been stolen or moved. After all, who would strip a body of burial cloths, then move the body, leaving the wrappings behind. And if they did, why take the time to fold them neatly?

A more powerful and more likely explanation is to be found in looking more closely at the meaning of the Greek verb entylissein, literally to wrap or to roll up in an oval shape. Translators have long struggled with how to translate the word, and have often settled on ‘wrapped up’ or ‘folded’, as this seems to make sense in the context. But what if John literally meant that the head cloth was still wrapped in an oval shape? This would convey the sense of the head wrapping as still in-tact, in the shape of the head and face which it had covered. That is, it had not been unwrapped. The many ointments used by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus would have been more than enough to hold the cloths’ shape in place. And such cloths did not simply fall loosely off. When Lazarus was raised he came out from the tomb completely wrapped in his burial cloths and Jesus has to instruct those standing by to unwrap him. So, if the head cloths were still wrapped and in place, perhaps even with the outline of the head and face still showing, that would have been quite remarkable. If Jesus could appear through walls and closed doors, as happened later that night, then it seems John is telling us that his resurrected body simply left its burial cloths without unwrapping them. It would explain why John tells us that when he saw the burial cloths in this manner, he believed.

Whatever the situation was with the burial cloths, it was clear that something truly extraordinary had taken place in the tomb.

With nothing else to investigate or be done, Peter and John decide to leave. And the focus shifts back to Mary. For by this time, Mary has certainly caught up, and has arrived at the tomb. But Peter and John do not wait for her. They do not share with her their thoughts. They do not stay to keep vigil with her at the empty tomb.

In hindsight, they should have waited. For things are about to turn from mysterious to miraculous.

First, Mary, who is still weeping, sees two angels in the tomb, one sitting where Jesus’ head had been, and the other, his feet. She likely rubbed her tear covered eyes thinking she was seeing things. But the visions spoke audibly to her. They asked a simple question of Mary: ‘Why are you crying?’

On the surface of it, it was a silly question. Mary was at a fresh tomb. Someone she deeply loved had died. Why did they think she was crying? But Mary gives them an honest and obvious answer to the question. Not only was Jesus dead, but his body had been taken away and she does not know where it has been laid. The wording of her answer to the angels’ question is virtually identical to what she had said to Peter and John when she found them earlier that morning. Her concern has not changed. The missing body has added grief upon grief for Mary.

It is a natural response. We often see the relatives of those killed perhaps in a boating accident, or plane crash or some other way in which the body has not been found. They are still coming to terms with the loss of their loved one, but now all they want to do, all they can do, is find the body to say a proper goodbye. That is the situation Mary was in.

Then Mary becomes aware that there is someone else present apart from the angels. There is someone behind her, outside the tomb. She turns and sees a man whom she presumes to be the caretaker. And after so many tears since Jesus was killed, and now even more that his body in missing, there is little need of explanation as to why she does not recognise Jesus. He asks her, just like the angels, why she is crying. Again, it must seem to her an obvious question. But the man adds to the question by asking, ‘who are you looking for?’ Well, she is in a cemetery. She could only be looking for a grave. And clearly she has found the grave she is looking for. The questioner seems to know more about what is going on in Mary’s mind than a stranger should, but Mary does not pick up on this. Instead, assuming him to be the caretaker who has just showed up for work, she asks where the body had been taken. Perhaps the authorities have decided someone crucified as a criminal should not be buried in such a prominent section of the cemetery. She will quite happily take the body somewhere else.

Then the man says a single word. Her name. ‘Mary.’ And that is all it takes to spark sudden and complete recognition. Her tears of grief turn to joy as she cries out ‘Rabbouni! Teacher!’ She grabs hold of Jesus to hug him, to assure herself that he is real and that she is not dreaming. Jesus says she should not cling to him as he has not yest ascended to the Father.

Then Jesus gives her a task to perform. She is to go the disciples and tell them what has happened. She is to proclaim to them the good news that Jesus has risen from the dead. This she promptly does, making her second trip that morning to the room where the disciples are hiding. Breathless, she announces, ‘I have seen the Lord!’ then tells them the whole story.

Now this story is remarkable for several reasons. Firstly, people simply do not rise from the dead. So at the very centre of this story is the event of the resurrection itself. It is an event that changed the history of the world and transformed millions of lives.

Also remarkable is Jesus’ choice of the first witness to the empty tomb, to his resurrected body, and the first to proclaim his resurrection. Women were not highly valued as witnesses in Jesus’ time. Rabbinic law, which began to be codified about a century after the time of Jesus, said that the testimony of women was not admissible in court. Other evidence suggests that it took the testimony of two women to equal that of one man. And Mary Magdalene was not even a prominent, respectable woman. Jesus could have appeared to Pilate, to the high priest, perhaps to Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, members of the Sanhedrin. Even Peter and John would have been a more strategic move to get the proclamation of the good new going.

But consider this. Jesus waits for Peter and John to leave the cemetery. Only then does he reveal himself – to Mary. His intent in revealing himself first to Mary Magdalene was clearly not to make a big impact in the arena of acceptable evidence. The reasons underlying Jesus’ decision would seem to have been much more personal and profound than such concerns.

So what is the takeaway message from this story for us, on this Easter day, some two thousand years after the first Easter?

I think it is simply this. It is the power of the message that Jesus is risen that transforms lives – that transforms the world. It is not the fame or respectability of those proclaiming the message. It never has been. Even now, it doesn’t matter who we are. How unimportant we think we are, or how invisible we might feel. Like Mary, we are given a task by Jesus – to tell people the good news that he is risen. That he has conquered death. And from the simple of power of that proclamation – ‘He is risen’ – everything begins to change.

Mary was the first to proclaim this good news. But she was far from the last. The message that Jesus lives, that death is defeated, continues to spread. On this Easter, may that message change your life. And may God use each one of us to stand in the line of succession of Mary Magdalene, and pass on the story of Jesus’ victory over death.

He is risen!

He is risen indeed!

Amen.

Pastor Mark Worthing.
Port Macquarie.

‘The Day the World Changed’

Good Friday
John 19:16b-42

There is no escaping the brutality of the crucifixion. There is no way to read today’s text without a shudder. The Romans were efficient at putting people to death is ways that were very public and excruciatingly painful. And that is the kind of death Jesus willingly accepted. For us.

And his mother was there. Did you pick that up. We almost read past it, as if she is just part of the background, but the woman God chose to bring Jesus physically into this world, to feed him, nurse him, rear him; is there to watch him die in agony. There is nothing pretty or beautiful about this story. And John doesn’t hold back. He was there too. The only of the disciples who was not in hiding. And he wants the reader to know and feel what happened.

It is a relief when Jesus says the words, ‘It is finished.’  We want it to be over. Surely he has suffered enough. His mother has suffered enough. The thieves beside him have suffered enough. The reader has suffered enough. Then finally Jesus says, ‘It is enough. It is finished.’ He has done what he came to do. And he bows his head and dies.

But we are not done yet. John has more to tell. The legs of the thieves on either side of Jesus are broken. This would have been done with a large mallet, so that they can no longer push themselves up against the nails through their feet to get air into their lungs. This will hasten their death, suffocating them. This happened, John tells us, because the authorities do not want the inconvenience of people still being tortured to death when the holy day of Passover is about to begin.

It was after all, as John tells us, the Day of Preparation. That was the day before the Passover in which lambs were sacrificed in preparation for the Passover meal.

The alert reader will recall that at the beginning of John’s Gospel, John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and proclaimed: ‘Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ Jesus even goes before the high priest, for every sacrificial lamb had to be approved spotless by a priest, and he is approved for death – approved by the high priest Annas himself, the one who said it is better for one man to die for the whole people.

And now here Jesus is, the Lamb of God, being sacrificed for us all.

But what we are hearing, what we are seeing, is in stark contrast with the beautiful songs we often sing about the ‘Lamb of God.’ The brutality of it all is relentless. So after Jesus says, ‘It is finished,’ the thieves’ legs are broken, each thief, one leg at a time. Then the soldiers come to Jesus and find he is already dead. But even in death the brutality continues. A spear is thrust into his side – just to be certain.

And Mary is still there. It is difficult to fathom the courage and love it must have taken for Mary to stay there with her son to the very end. But she did.

And that’s the story of Good Friday. And there is nothing pretty about it. But somehow, through this brutal death, through the pain Jesus endured, something shifted. The world changed. The world became somehow less brutal, and more filled with hope.

Something shifted. The world changed through that horrendous death.

And the change begins to be seen almost immediately.

We spot it first in what seems to be a minor post-script to the account of Jesus’ horrendous death. John tells us about two members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council that conspired to send Jesus to Pilate and to his death, two men who muttered only mild questions about the rightness of what the council was doing, two men at whose hearts Jesus’ message had long tugged. But they were too fearful to speak up. John tells us that now, when all is lost, they find the courage to publicly come out as followers of Jesus.

Something has changed. There has been a shift in reality.

The disciples you will recall, with the notable exception of John and a few of the women, are in hiding. Everyone is feeling the bitter sting of defeat. No one is any longer expecting Jesus to overthrow the Romans or to usher in any kind of kingdom. And then, of all times, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus step forward.

Nicodemus?

Yes, Nicodemus.

You remember him. He showed up early in John’s Gospel, at night when he would not be seen, asking Jesus questions. It was Nicodemus to whom Jesus explained that ‘God so loved the world that he sent is only son, that everyone who believes in him would have eternal life.’ It was Nicodemus to whom Jesus said a person must be ‘born again’ or ‘born from above.’

It was Nicodemus, who when the Sanhedrin first began to plot against Jesus, meekly suggested a person should not be judged without a hearing. And he was mocked with a suggestion that he, too, was a Galilean, and a follower of Jeus (7:50-52). And Nicodemus went quiet and remained quiet.

Until Jesus was crucified.

And Joseph of Arimathea. He was wealthy. He was a member of the ruling council. He was important enough to go straight to Pilate, the Roman governor, and ask for the body of Jesus.

Jesus is dead. The disciples are in hiding. The movement is over. All hope is lost. Then two secret followers with everything to lose come forward, when there was no hope. Jospeh provides his own tomb. And Nicodemus comes with a hundred pounds of ointments and spices to prepare the body.

They came forward when there was nothing to gain and everything to lose. And they did not so quietly or meekly, but in a big way. They went straight to Pilate. They took ownership of Jesus’ body. They put in in one of their own tombs, in a prominent place. They brought an expensive excess of ointments and spices to anoint the body, that it would have taken much effort for the two of them to carry to the tomb. It was a very public, very bold and very dangerous identification with Jesus.

So what happened? Why did they suddenly act.

Something had shifted. The world had changed. And two powerful men with everything to lose suddenly throw caution to the wind.

It was starting.

It would be a long dark Saturday before Sunday morning finally came. Before the disciples and the whole world would began to understand the enormity of what had occurred that Friday afternoon.

But the death of Jesus had already changed everything. And in the surprising action and courage of Joseph and Nicodemus we see the shift already beginning. We see the cracks in the walls of darkness, fear and despair appearing.

Jesus freely went to the cross. He allowed himself to be put to death in one of the most brutal ways imaginable.

We still cringe when we read the story.

But somehow, in the midst of the brutality, the pain, the suffering – the world changed.

God himself in the person of Jesus Christ had not only come to live among us, as John tells us at the beginning of his story, but now God in the person of Jesus has embraced human pain and suffering, dying at human hands, dying among us and for us.

God freely suffered with us and for us. God felt our pain, literally.

And in the midst of darkness, darkness itself cracked. The light of Christ breaks in – and the world changed.

Those at the cross felt it. Joseph and Nicodemus felt it. And soon, the whole world would begin to hear the news. One man’s brutal death had shifted our reality. One man’s painful execution had changed everything.

And here we are, two thousand years later, on Good Friday, still contemplating the depth of what happened on the cross, and how it changed the world – and how it continued to chance each of us.

Amen.

Pastor Mark Worthing.
Port Macquarie.

‘He loved them to the end’

Maundy Thursday
John 13:1-20; 31b-35

Matthew, Mark and Luke all record the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples. They each tell us of the institution of the Lord’s Supper that night, of the betrayal of Judas, and the prediction of Peter’s denial of Jesus.

Like Matthew, Mark and Luke, John tells of Judas’ betrayal and of the prediction of Peter’s denial of Jesus. John does not, however, mention a single word about the institution of the last supper. But this is not because John is in a hurry to move past this meal to the account of the arrest of Jesus. Whereas the three earlier gospels devote less than a chapter each to the event of the Last Supper (68 verses between them) John devotes five full chapters to the words and actions of Jesus as this meal totaling 155 verses, nearly a quarter of his gospel.

As in other parts of his gospel, John feels no need to go over ground that is already well covered. So John begins his account of the events of the upper room with a story the other evangelists had left out, the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. After reporting what Mary of Bethany had done for Jesus, this seemed an obvious follow-on story. The humility and love of Jesus are themes that John frequently returns to in his gospel. So this is a story that must be told.

But how to tell such a story? What is it really about? Well, it is about love. John brings up the theme of love more than all the other gospel writers combined. So it is no surprise that he once again wants to focus on Jesus’ actions and words concerning love.

So he begins his account like this, ‘Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end’ (13:1). The things Jesus is about to do and say are consistent with his entire life with his disciples. Jesus is about to go to the cross, but his focus is still on his love for those who have followed him. Having loved his disciples, Jesus continued showing them his love to the very end.

And then this story, ‘And during supper – and this is the only reference in these entire five chapters that this all took place in the context of a meal … ‘Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet and to wipe them each with the towel he had tied around him’ (vv. 3-5).

The reader, of course, is going to think back to the story of Mary of Bethany, which occurred just a few days earlier. Remember how shocking and humbling her actions were. Now here his Jeus, humbling himself. He is their rabbi, their leader, the one they have come to recognise as the Messiah. And he is washing their feet! And towelling them dry! This would have been hardly less shocking than what Mary had done. And, like Mary’s actions, it elicits a strong objection, this time from Peter.

As Jesus came to Peter, who probably would have been very near Jesus at table, perhaps only the second or third person he comes to, Peter asks in dismay, ‘Lord, you are not going to wash my feet?’ (v. 6). When Jesus confirms that this is exactly what he intends to do, Peter is almost offended at the thought. ‘You will never wash my feet!’ he says. Peter, you see, knows exactly who Jesus is. He can still hardly believe that the Messiah, indeed, the Lord of the universe, would let him, a simple fisherman, be a part of his mission, one of his group of disciples. But Peter knows his place. And he is not about to let Jesus humiliate himself by washing his feet. To say that Peter was firm in his response would be an understatement.

I wonder how many times God has called us to do something, perhaps through the voice of others, or a gentle nudging, or perhaps a conviction from his Spirit, and we have responded like Peter with a sharp ‘no’ or, ‘that won’t work’ or, ‘you’ve got to be kidding.’ We respond this way not out of any disrespect for God’s leading, but we simply do not think we are capable or worthy. That was Peter’s situation. He was not being disrespectful or rude. He simply felt overwhelmed with unworthiness.

But Jesus changes Peter’s mind. ‘Unless I wash you, you have no part with me – you are not one of my followers.’ And that was enough. ‘Don’t just wash my feet, then,’ says Peter, ‘wash my hands and head as well!’  Jesus explains that that was not necessary. Those who are clean, after walking about during the day, only need to wash their feet. But the point was made. This was not about pride and humility so much as it was about love. And Peter loved Jesus and wanted to remain a part of that circle of love.

And so Jesus washes Peter’s feet, and those of the other disciples – including, significantly, Judas.

Jesus has shown his disciples his love for them with his actions, through his humility and service. It is an important lesson, and he is about to draw the point home. ‘If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also out to wash one another’s feet, for I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you’ (vv. 14,15).

And that is exactly what disciples do. They watch their teacher and do as their teacher does. That is what is means for us to follow Jesus and be his disciples – to do what he does. And what does Jesus do? He shows his love by his actions – by humility and service.

Jesus brings the point home even further when he tells his disciples that he is giving them a new commandment. This is a big deal. There were over 600 commandments in the Hebrew scriptures. And there were the ten famous ones that God gave through Moses. And now Jesus is going to give them a new commandment? He certainly has their attention. And remember, this is all taking place in the context of the washing of the disciples’ feet. And this new commandment Jesus is about to give is so significant that it has given its name to our celebration of this day, for the name Maundy Thursday comes from an Anglicising of the Latin ‘Mandatus’ or ‘commandment’. So literally, this day is Commandment Thursday. And this is the commandment.

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this will everyone know that you are my disciples, if you love one another’ (vv 34,35).

Again, this text is all about discipleship. It is about what it means to follow Jesus. On the surface, it seems like an easy enough command to follow. But loving one another can be a challenge.

Take a moment to look to your left, now to your right. Now look behind you and in then in front of you. Who do you see? These are the ‘one another’ that we are commanded to love and to serve in humility. Can you love and serve these people?

If you are honest, some of you might be thinking, ‘Is it too late to move to a different place?’ or  ‘I don’t know some of these people that well.’ Or perhaps, you know them too well. Let’s face it, some of us are difficult. How do we love and serve the sister or brother in Christ who seems prickly, or who always disagrees with us, who voted for blue chairs when we wanted burgundy! That’s one side of the challenge. But Jesus says if we are his followers we will do it. And that is how people will know we are his followers. Not because we serve and love those who are easy but because we do this for each other (and all people) – even when it might not be easy.

Then there is the other part of the challenge of this commandment – letting others show their love by serving us.

And this is the part that most of us find most difficult. By nature, most of us do not want help. We are proud. We want to be do it alone.

There was a story in the news this past week out of the US about a man trapped in a drain on a back street that he had climbed down to retrieve a set of dropped keys. Two women passed overhead late that afternoon and noticed him struggling to climb back out. They offered him a hand up, but he refused their help. He could do it on his own. The next morning, he was still in the drain, too exhausted to make any more attempts. The police were called, and then the fire department, and they got him out. But for his pride he could have been out the evening before and spent the night in his own warm bed, and probably avoided the embarrassment of making the evening news. Afterall, the night before he was strong enough that a simple ‘hand up’ was all he needed. By the next morning, he had to be winched out, with cameras rolling.

Now we might laugh at this fellow. I certainly did. Until my wife said, ‘That sounds like something you would do.’ And of course, that is exactly like something I might do.

We show we are followers of Jesus by loving one another. And Jesus showed us by his example as our Teacher that his is done by humility and service. So we show the love of Christ in our community by a two way flow of humility and service. That means it is just as important to serve others in humility, as it is to accept the help and service of others in humility. It means accepting offers of help or assistance without rejecting them outright out of pride, or without the need to immediately think of how we can ‘pay the person back’ or ‘return the favour’ so that we do not feel we owe anyone. That is a misplaced pride that we are all often guilty of. It is not showing love through mutual service and humility.

That last night that Jesus spent with his disciples, and at that last meal he shared with them, he began the tradition of the Lord’s Supper, which we still observe today, in remembrance of what he did for us. The first three gospels and the Apostle Paul all told that story.

John tells us another story from that night and that meal. It is the story of how Jesus loved his disciples to the very end. It is the story of the washing of the disciples’ feet. It is the story of Jesus’ new commandment to all of us who follow him: to love one another.

And just as we regularly need to remember what Jesus did for us by our taking part in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, so, too, we need to remember the importance of sharing and demonstrating the love of Christ through loving one another in humble service. For it is by this loving service that everyone will see that we are his followers.

Amen.

Pastor Mark Worthing.
Port Macquarie.

Your King comes to save you.

The Text: John 12:12-16 (esp. v 15)

When our sports heroes come back home, say, after the Olympic Games, and they’re given a parade in one of the capital cities, there’s great excitement.  When a football team wins a grand final, its fans become delirious.  It must have been something like that when our Lord entered Jerusalem on the Sunday before the Passover (12:1,12).  The large crowd that welcomed Him was jubilant.  Of the four Gospels, only St John tells us that people carried palm branches.  For the Jews, palm branches were symbols of victory.  2 Maccabees, for example, tells us that after Judas Maccabeus won a victory over the Syrians in 164BC, he and those with him entered Jerusalem to cleanse the temple and rededicate the altar.  It says, “carrying green palm branches and sticks decorated with ivy, they paraded around, singing grateful praises to [God] who had brought about the purification of his own temple” (10:7).  On the occasion of our text, the crowd that had come to Jerusalem for Passover was stirred up because they’d heard how Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead (vv 9,18).  Who had ever done anything as great as that?

For all the freedoms we enjoy in this life, especially in a country like our own, we human beings remain in the grip of death.  We become alarmed when we hear of conflict between nations.  We panic in the face of a pandemic.  “In the midst of life we are in death.” Death in turn is the result of sin that characterises the fallen world in which we live.  Each one of us sinful by nature and is also guilty of actual sins of thought, word, and deed.  We haven’t loved God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength, as He wants us to.  We’ve failed to love our neighbour as ourselves.  God has every right to consign us not only to death but also to eternal punishment.  Instead, He loves the people He has made.  He sent His own dear Son to save us from sin and death.

Jesus came to Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday so that He might be our Saviour.  The people who welcomed Him thought of Him as their King.  Their cry was a verse (26) from Ps 118 that was used to welcome pilgrims to the temple: “Hosanna! [Save now!] Blest is he who comes in the name of the Lord”.  We shouldn’t question that they added the words, “even the King of Israel!”  Many of the Passover pilgrims would have travelled from Galilee.  No doubt some had been present the year before at the feeding of over 5,000 people on the other side of the Sea of Galilee (6:1, 4).  On that occasion, people wanted to take Jesus by force to make Him their king, St John tells us (6:15).  When the Passover crowds heard that Jesus had raised Lazarus of Bethany to life (12:18), they would have been sure that He was their king.

Yet they had no idea what Jesus would do as King.  Jesus’ own disciples didn’t understand, either, that though almighty God, He’d come humbly to die as God’s ransom for human sin.  They knew the Old Testament verses that mention the coming of Israel’s glorious King.  But they had a blind spot when it came to those verses that tell about His suffering and death.

In Zechariah 9 the LORD tells the inhabitants of Jerusalem to rejoice greatly that her King would come to her victorious and bringing salvation.  He’d come humbly, riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  He’d rule over the earth in peace, but not peace brought about by war.  The LORD says, “As for you also [daughter of Zion], because of the blood of my covenant with you, /I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit” (v 11).  He wasn’t referring to the blood of the covenant that Moses splashed on the people of Israel at Mt Sinai (Ex 24:8).  He was referring to the blood of Zion’s King.  In those days kings were called shepherds of their people (e,g, Ezek 37:24).  In following chapters of Zechariah there’s a mysterious reference to the shepherd of the flock whose wages would be weighed out as 30 pieces of silver (11:4, 12).  The LORD says about Him, “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (13:7).  He, the Shepherd, says, “when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn … as one mourns for an only child” (12:10).  Then come these important words: “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness” (13:1).  (This verse was the inspiration for the hymn [LHS 68] that begins, “There is a fountain filled with blood, /drawn from Immanuel’s veins”.) 

Jesus’ blood that would be poured out at Calvary is the blood of the new, eternal covenant.  The only other mentions in Scripture of ‘the blood of the covenant’ are found in the New Testament, always in connection with Jesus’ death.  For example, St Matthew tells us that at the last supper Jesus gave His disciples a cup of wine and said, “this [cup] is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28). Jesus is the King who would be sold for 30 pieces of silver and would be struck and pierced to save His people by the blood of His new covenant.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion,” is how the passage in Zechariah begins.  But the passage that St John quotes doesn’t begin with a summons to rejoice.  It begins, “Fear not, daughter of Zion”.  These words are from another part of Scripture, from the prophet Zephaniah.  By using only a few words, Gospel writers usually (e.g. Mk 1:2f) draw in large amounts of the Old Testament Scriptures.  It says in Zephaniah 3 (:16f), “Fear not, O Zion; /let not your hands grow weak.  /The LORD your God is in your midst, /a mighty one who will save”.  Just two verses earlier, the prophet calls on the daughter of Zion to sing aloud, shout, rejoice and exult with all her heart because, he says, “The LORD has taken away the judgments against you … /The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst”.

As earlier chapters of Zephaniah show, by her worship of false gods the daughter of Jerusalem deserved every one of the judgments of the true God.  Who of us always puts God first in our lives?  But the prophet also tells about the LORD, the King of Israel, coming among His repentant people to save them from His judgments.  That’s what Jesus came to do.  He’s not to be taken lightly, as His cleansing of the temple and His cursing of the unfruitful fig tree show.  He’ll come as powerful Judge of all at the last day, to destroy His enemies.  All the more amazing, then, that He came humbly the first time to be lifted up from the earth (on a cross) in order to draw all people to Himself, as last Sunday’s Gospel tells us (12:32).  He’s not spiteful or vindictive.  He has righteous anger over sin.  Yet even righteous anger isn’t at the heart of His being.  It says that He punishes people only to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him, whereas He shows steadfast love to thousands of generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments (Ex 20:5f).  His heart is full of grace and mercy (Ex 34:6).  By that mercy, all who turn from sin to Him are saved for all eternity.

We’re saved by our King who shed His blood for us on a cross.  The letter to the Hebrews (9:15) describes Jesus as the mediator of a new covenant/testament that gives an eternal inheritance.  It says that His blood purifies our conscience from dead works so that we can serve the living God (9:14).  It’s by His blood that we can come into the presence of God and live.  As the song, ‘Shine, Jesus, shine’ says, addressing Jesus, “By the blood”—by your blood, that is—“I may enter your brightness”.  In His Supper He comes to us in a hidden way to give us His blood to drink and His body to eat.  By His body and blood, He forgives our sins and strengthens us in faith towards Him and in love towards one another.  Therefore, we also rightly welcome Him among us with the words, “Hosanna!  Blest is He who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest!”

For now, many of His followers are treated just as He was.  They’re killed in gruesome ways, as He was.  But since He now rules over all things, eternal victory is also theirs.  In the Revelation the apostle John was given (7:9-10), he was shown the huge number of people who can’t be numbered, standing before God’s throne and before the Lamb, Jesus, “clothed in white robes”, that is, cleansed from all their sins.  They’re described as coming out of the great tribulation.  But they’re victorious as He is.  They stand before God “with palm branches in their hands”.  They sing in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”  That victory is also yours, who, to use words from the Revelation, “have washed [your] robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14).  We aren’t privileged to have been among the Jerusalem crowds that waved palm branches and welcomed Jesus as their King.  Nor do we see the great multitude that stands before His throne in heaven.  Yet until we do, we are privileged to welcome Him among His Zion, His new Jerusalem, His church, whenever and wherever she is gathered together in His name.  We join all His people whether living or dead, in praising Him.  For Zion’s King comes humbly today also to you, daughter of Zion, so that you may belong to him in peace and joy for all eternity! Amen

Glory – on God’s Terms

The text: John 12:20-33

What would you see as the most glorious thing that could happen to you? Receiving an Australia Day award? Being praised in the presence of others? Gaining recognition in the newspaper for something you’ve done? One of our daily newspapers has a 15 Minutes of Fame column. A person was randomly chosen by a reporter who wrote up a brief sketch of that person’s life for the newspapers. But human fame and glory is quickly forgotten.

God’s idea of glory is totally different. Prior to their wedding day, a pastor was discussing marriage vows with a young couple. The man objected to the words in the vow “’til death do us part”. “Can’t you change the words?” he asked. “I don’t want death mentioned on my wedding day.” For God, death and glory aren’t incompatible. Nothing brings God greater glory than the death of His Son Jesus Christ for us. Jesus wanted God to be glorified by His perfect obedience to the will of God, no matter what the cost.

God doesn’t seek glory by means of a spectacular, sensational public relations stunt. Instead, God hides His glory in the life, suffering and death of Jesus our Saviour. Our world glorifies power, success, strength and affluence. God reveals Himself most fully in the humiliation, vulnerability and weakness of the Cross. The cross of Christ is the hiding place of God’s saving power and glory. We see our Saviour’s glory in His suffering because it shows how much He loves each and every one of us; we see His love in His excruciating agony on the Cross, as it reveals how He sacrificed everything for us. We cannot really understand Jesus apart from His Cross. It is central to why He came to our earth to be one of us, with us.

The Cross of Christ is the climax of His identification with us as mortal men and women. There, Christ carried out His mightiest work of salvation for us. The Cross both reveals and condemns our sin and guilt, and takes it away. We are eternally indebted to Jesus for what He did for us there. In the words of the famous hymn, Rock of ages:      

“Nothing in my hand I bring

 Simply to Your cross I cling.” (LHS 330)

In this morning’s text, some Greek visitors come to Jesus’ disciple Philip, perhaps because of his Greek name, and ask him: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” What a praiseworthy request! Philip is so excited that folk from the most intellectual and artistic nation of the time come to make contact with Jesus, that he quickly shares the news with his friend Andrew. At last Jesus is going to be recognised as a celebrity! They can’t wait to tell our Lord. Jesus responds that the great hour of His life has arrived.

These Greeks represent us, the Gentiles of the world. Their arrival anticipates Christ’s post-Pentecost mission. Jesus isn’t the latest philosopher or newest religious guru with a trendy recipe for self-advancement or self-enlightenment. Like a wheat crop, before there can be a harvest, grain must be buried in the ground. Jesus compares His mission to a grain of wheat. Before there can be the fruit of mission, of many people being won for Christ, He must sacrifice His life for us.

The sacrifice of His life on the Cross for each of us, and for all people of every race, has and will continue to draw more men and women to Jesus than all His miracles or unsurpassed moral teaching. Jesus wants us to be drawn to Him because of His suffering with and for us, and the sacrifice of His life instead of us, rather than because of His amazing miracles. We’re so reluctant to think or talk about our own or anyone else’s death. Jesus, however, views His death, as the greatest thing He’s done for us. We read in John 15:13, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends.” 

At the same time, giving His life for us wasn’t at all easy for Jesus. For us, often the anticipation of something painful, like going to the dentist, is worse than the event itself. Jesus doesn’t hide the anguish His imminent sacrifice of Himself for us was causing Him. The thought of it filled Him with deep agony: “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour?” was His painful plea as He anticipates his awful agony in the garden of Gethsemane. Who wants to die at the age of 33? Jesus’ obedience to God’s will came at great personal cost. But as today’s second Bible reading says, “He learnt obedience from what He suffered.” His private agony is transformed into a public confession of His obedience to God: “Father, save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” (v27)

By His obedience to God the Father, Jesus came to undo and repair the damage caused by Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God. Nothing less than the future of all of us, of all humankind, was at stake. At any moment, Jesus could have said “no” to the Cross. But for our sakes, He was “obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” This gift of sacrificial love gives us a hope nothing can destroy. Martin Luther King Jr has said, “There are some who still find the Cross a stumbling block, others consider it foolishness. I am more convinced than ever that it is the power of God to social and individual salvation.”

We focus on the Cross of Christ during Lent because it speaks to us primarily of a fellow-sufferer who understands what it’s like for us to suffer and to be afraid of dying. Jesus hears your pain from His cross and not from the cosy comfort of an armchair. Jesus shares your suffering, physical or emotional, however great or small, in ways you can only begin to imagine. Your Saviour’s Cross means you can trust Jesus with your suffering, and discover that trusting Him is life-transforming. Jesus didn’t come to our world to answer your questions about why you’re suffering, but to fill it with His life-changing presence. No other sacrifice has changed as many lives as has Christ’s sacrifice for us. His sacrifice of Himself on the Cross attracts our gratitude because it was so undeserved. Jesus said, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I’ll draw all kinds of people to me (v32).” His death is the magnetism of an utterly selfless sacrifice. There’s something deeply moving about self-giving love, isn’t there? 

Life without sacrifice is a mean existence. We can either hoard what we have or sacrifice it in love for someone else. Jesus invites us to follow Him on the path of sacrificial service. “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me (v27).” What a marvellous incentive to join Jesus on the path of sacrificial service. God will exceedingly honour such service. What’s more, Jesus calls those His friends, who serve Him in a way that sacrifices their preferences, their priorities and their inclinations. He says in John 15:15, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing, but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from My Father.” To be called Jesus’ friend makes all we do for Him and for each other so very worthwhile, and fills life with meaning and purpose.

Jesus’ cross has transformed how we view life. Life isn’t about what we can get out of it for ourselves, but what we can give for the sake of others. Think of how much poorer our world would be without all those selfless folk whose first concern is always the welfare of others. They invite you to share their discovery, that “life’s happiest hours are those of self-forgetfulness.” We can lose ourselves in serving Jesus because He will never forget us.  

Amen!

It can turn into an ‘Oh no’ moment.

The text: John 3:1-17

It can be a really nice thing to be comfortable in the presence of another person, perhaps a new friend or acquaintance, and to have them enthusiastically ask you whether you are a Christian. It gives you a sense of encouragement and confidence to answer truthfully, whole-heartedly and without any reservations, particularly if you think they are going to respond in turn by smiling, enthusiastically nodding and saying ‘me too.’ Sometimes, in less comfortable environments, we can feel the need to add a few gentle disclaimers about our faith or perhaps apologise for any indiscretions done in the name of the Christian faith that might somehow tarnish us. But when someone asks you with enthusiasm if you are a Christian, and you get the sense that they also are a Christian, it’s quite a good thing. I’m sure you have experienced that.

It can turn into an ‘Oh no’ moment however, when, having put your faith out there on the line and received an enthusiastic smile and nod in return from the other person, that they then ask you, ‘So, have you been born again?’ Perhaps you’ve experienced what I’m talking about. You thought you were about to deepen your relationship with this individual by sharing something very personal with them – your faith. You expected that you were about to feel closer to this person because you thought you were going to have something very important in common – your faith. But it turns into an ‘Oh no’ moment when they ask if you have been born again because it is clear that they see some distinctions between your Christian faith and theirs. Without unfairly caricaturing people like this, should you ever be in this situation, you can probably expect a long and drawn out theological discussion to follow about these distinctions between your faith and theirs and about what makes a real Christian. Inevitably it is bound to include things like adult baptism and a disregard for the baptism that you received as a child. You will probably be told that that baptism didn’t count. You’ll need to do it again as a consenting adult and there will probably be some other conditions on your new type of Christianity, perhaps extra evidence of your true faith by showing that you have the gift of speaking in tongues or something else like that. The message is: it’s time to move on from just being a Christian. That’s not enough. It’s time to be a born-again Christian.

I call these ‘Oh no’ moments because of course there’s no such thing as a born-again Christian. Or if there is, we are all born-again Christians. But really, if we wanted to get technical, we could say that there aren’t actually born-again Christians; there are only born-from-above Christians and I’ll let you know what I mean by that in a moment. Trying to explain this in pleasant company with a person who is determined to prove you wrong is hard work. Try it sometime, if you don’t believe me.

When the Apostle John recorded Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus he used a Greek word that can have two meanings. It can be translated as ‘again’, as in one is born ‘again’; or it can be translated as ‘from above’ as in, one is born ‘from above’. It is a word superbly chosen by John to create a sense of the confusion between Jesus and Nicodemus. They seem to be talking about the same thing but really they are not. In fact, for quite a while they are talking past each other, a bit like us when someone asks us if we are a Christian and then takes us on the path I mentioned before.

A good comparison for Jesus and Nicodemus’ conversation is the old skit done by Abbot and Costello in the 50’s called ‘Who’s on First?’ One of the characters asks the other ‘Who’s on first?’, wanting to know the name of the player on first base in a baseball game. But the man who answers just says ‘Yes.’ It’s a strange answer because it doesn’t answer the question – ‘Who’s on first?’ ‘Yes’. As the skit goes on, however, you discover that the name of the man on first base is Who. ‘Who’s on first?’ ‘Yes’. But it gets more and more maddening for the person asking the questions because he doesn’t get it. He’s just confused. So then he asks, ‘What is the name of the player on second base?’ and the man who answers again says ‘Yes!’ This is extra frustrating for the person asking the questions because he doesn’t know but the name of the person on second base is, of course, Watt. And so the skit goes on and on with two people having a conversation both thinking that they know what they’re talking about but finding out that they are totally talking past each other.

So it was with Jesus and Nicodemus. Jesus says, ‘No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born from above’ and a confused Nicodemus asks, ‘Born again? How can a grown person enter into their mother’s womb for a second time?’ Who’s on first Jesus? Yes.

I must admit I’ve got quite a soft spot for Nicodemus. He was considered to be a great teacher – Jesus even called him Israel’s teacher – so he was well-renowned and well-respected. He was a Pharisee, which meant that he really knew his stuff and would have studied the Old Testament in great detail for decades. He was a member of the Jewish ruling council so people looked to him for leadership and direction and he had the trust of the people. He was a man of great standing and stature, of enviable knowledge, age and wisdom. And there he is in the dark, coming to visit Jesus, a thirty-something, new kid on the block who doesn’t seem to have studied anywhere. Nicodemus, the great leader, needs some answers and he goes to Jesus. That’s a dangerous move – most of the other Pharisees and the Jewish ruling council are not on board at all, in fact, they reject Jesus outright and make plans to bring him down. But Nicodemus can see something in Jesus, something from God, yet at the same time things just don’t quite add up. Maybe these thoughts had been keeping him up at night. Whatever it was, he came to see Jesus one night to try and sort out his confusion. It’s long been speculated that by meeting Jesus in the dark Nicodemus was trying to keep his affiliation with Jesus a secret so that he wouldn’t lose his standing in the community.

During the week some of the people attending the meditation sessions put themselves in this story and also found it quite confusing. I don’t want people to find Scripture confusing forever but a sense of confusion or disorientation in this text is not necessarily a bad thing. Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel, didn’t get it, so don’t worry if you also need some further explanation.

Jesus makes a simple comparison: Flesh gives birth to flesh – all people are born as people of the flesh. We are born from down here. But Spirit gives birth to Spirit. If we are to be people of the Spirit we need to be born of the Spirit. We need to be born from above. Without being born from above we won’t even see the kingdom of God and so Jesus tells Nicodemus that while he may think he’s seeing the work of God in the works that Jesus does, he needs to be totally reborn to really see the work of God in the world.

What Jesus is talking about is baptism. ‘No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born from above; no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.’ That’s why to be called a born-again Christian or even a born-from-above Christian doesn’t really make sense. When we were baptised we were born from above, born of water and the Spirit and we were brought into the kingdom of God. Did you consent to being born of the flesh? Did you do anything to influence your parents so that they gave birth to you? Of course not. Being born in the flesh is a passive act, requiring no effort on your part. It’s a gift and so is being born from above. In baptism God adopts us as his children and gives us the gift of his Holy Spirit.

Some people disown their parents and some people disown their baptism. But it doesn’t change the promise of the parents and in the case of baptism Jesus made the promise that whoever believes and is baptised will be saved.

Nicodemus may have been confused but what Jesus said to him must have taken effect. When the Pharisees declared that Jesus should be put to death Nicodemus calmly reminded them that their law did not condemn anyone without first giving them a fair hearing. After Jesus was put to death, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea – another closet follower of Jesus – took Jesus’ body and laid it in the tomb. Perhaps it was Jesus’ most famous words that stuck with Nicodemus even when he preferred to stay in the dark: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. What great hopes we can have for Christians who maybe, like Nicodemus, are not quite ready to make a bold confession of faith.

And what great hope we have. We are Christians – that means we are born from above, born of water and the Spirit. God’s promise to you in your baptism, whatever your age at the time, is unconditional: Jesus came to bring light into the world and in baptism he brought you into his light. Jesus came not to condemn the world but to save it and in baptism you have been saved – born of the Spirit, born from above. Amen

Signs are everywhere

The Text: John 2:13-22

Signs are everywhere; they block out the scenery and distract our minds as we pass by them on the roads with slogans like: “Do this, don’t do that, buy this, try this”

And I reckon Jesus was probably thinking the same as He entered into the Temple courts at this high point of the Jewish yearly celebrations; the Passover.

And it seems that Jesus sees some disturbing signs around the Temple.

Just imagine if Jesus turned up today and threw all of the contents of the church outside! (brandishing a whip at the same time)… Most politically incorrect indeed!

Surely there’s no harm in a book stall or a trading table? After all, we’re only doing these things to promote the work of the church…

Which raises the question for us; “WOULD Jesus do the same thing today?”

If He did, I am sure we would be just as perplexed and demand some sort of explanation, just like those of Jesus time did; “Prove to me that You have the authority to do this?”

And to give us this proof, why not show us a little party trick; something to prove TO US that You have the credentials.

Now if we unpack all of this ‘tongue in cheek’ rhetoric, the point that this sermon is trying to make is that the people Jesus was criticising in our reading today were presuming authority over God, the God who worked through both the system of rites of the Jerusalem Temple and also through Jesus himself. The Jewish people of Jesus day are an example of this presumption, but people today still suffer with the same problem.

Humanity has always been easily deceived to think that we have the authority, because we believe we are keeping God’s law. What underpins this belief is a poor understanding of the nature of our sin.

The Temple system served well, as it provided a means for dealing with the problem of sin. But the system suffers from the same issue that has plagued humanity from the fall – we do not understand the true nature of our sin and think that we can simply deal with it like this: “If I am a good person, if I attend to my religious duties, then I will be OK.” And so we fool ourselves into thinking that we can keep in good with God, by our ‘own effort’…. Or, we despair of any hope at all.

But today’s text is full of human presumptions. It is exactly what Jesus is dealing with; people PRESUME that it is OK to buy and sell in the Temple precincts. They think that they are alright with God BECAUSE of the Temple system. But this should be a warning sign for us. Everywhere there are signs, but the signs are pointing to the systems devised by humanity and not to the real sign of what the sacrificial system means, as it deals with sin and who we are before God.

But, we might argue; “isn’t all of this sacrifice business commanded by God in the first place? Is there not a need for sacrificial animals and the right money to pay the Temple tax?” (And even Jesus agrees to pay the Temple tax in Matthew 17:26, 27, so as not to offend…) So just what are the signs for us in this story?

Well, Jesus is offended that this necessary business of sacrificing animals and the money changing is occurring within the Temple complex itself. Afterall, it is taking up space in the Temple precinct – God’s meeting place with humanity. And because all the sacrifices and money changing used to happen in the court of the Gentiles, that means less space for them to worship God. So everything (the sacrifices and money changing) that was supposed to bring people into the temple was now excluding people; specifically those who are not Jewish.

And at this time of the Passover, we could well expect a vast amount of trade going on, through simple necessity. If any of us were a Gentile at the time, and we wanted to pray before the Lord in His Temple, we simply would not be able to because ‘there would not be any room in the Inn…’

So, part of Jesus’ anger is directed at these practices which denied people (specifically the non-Jews) access to worshipping God.

And so, a good question to ask ourselves today is; “Am I robbing people of access to God through my own attitude, actions and behaviour?” (pause)

But there’s an even deeper message to be found in this story of the cleansing of the Temple. Jesus, through this action, is preparing His people for the new covenant agreement. As He takes hold of the whip and drives out human corruption from this, His body of worship, so He is preparing the way for Himself. Jesus is giving us a sign of what is to come…

The Jerusalem Temple was the divinely given means of humanity to have access to God. A place where Israel could be sure of God’s presence with them. A place where they could meet with God and plead for their sin to be taken away. And also, a place where God’s people could and should, pray for the whole world.

And because the non-Jews had been denied a place of access to God because of the clutter of all the sacrificing and money-changing, God has now come to provide greater access for all; not just those who think they’re in God’s good book; and it is a sign of new things to come…through Christ!

Signs, signs, everywhere there are signs…and it seems no one is looking! When the Jews demanded a sign from Jesus, He gave them and us the only real sign that we could ever need; His own resurrection, His own body torn down and raised up again in three days. But of course, this is not the sign that humanity wants or expects, is it? In fact, it would be far more believable and faith building for Jesus to tear down and rebuild the temple in three days, than to believe in His resurrection from the dead after three days.

As St Paul tells us, this is the foolishness of God. The sending of His Son Jesus to die on a shameful cross is not what the proud, self-secure, human heart wants to see! It’s not the sign that we want to believe in! It is an offence to our pride and condemns our very being. It is a sign that is still rejected today. But it is very much the sign that is given by God to us…and thank God that it is! For what the proud human heart actually needs, is the heart surgery that our Lord brings through this very means of the cross!

As our Lord clears the Temple and makes way for Himself, so He gives the very sign of His suffering and death that we, as His very own people, might see and recognise! As He takes up the whip in the Temple, so He foreshadows His own flogging; another sign for us! When Jesus, the Word of God, says that He is the Way and the Truth and the Life, so He is showing us that it is THROUGH Him that we now have access to God the Father. Through Jesus bodily suffering, death, resurrection and His bodily ascension into heaven, we now HAVE ACCESS to God! Jesus replaces the old Temple system with Himself!

We know that the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed in 70AD, and never rebuilt or replaced.  We know that our own bodies, the new temple, will likewise be destroyed. But just as the Word says, they will be replaced with something far greater and grander! Because the more glorious sign, the second part of what Jesus says, is His resurrection!

The old system of sacrifices at the Jerusalem Temple were only a foreshadowing of Jesus, the living Temple as God with us, God incarnate! It is Jesus’ sacrifice that deals with our sin, once and for all. It is in Jesus’ Name that our prayers are heard. It is in Jesus’ Name that we gather before the altar of God each and every Sunday. It is through Jesus’ resurrection, that all of this, is opened up for US!

Jesus’ body replaces the old Temple system, and we are invited to follow into Jesus’ new temple system –  through our baptism. Helped on our way, through receiving His Word and His body and blood.

And so now that our sin is DONE WITH through Jesus’ sacrifice, we are also called into His resurrection living. Each Sunday we confess our sin and are forgiven. As Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, so we are now called to follow in this “new temple system” and our bodies have even become God’s very own little temples of the Holy Spirit!

And, this brings about change. For our old Temples have now been swept clean! We are set free from the burden of those sacrifices and money changing to SIMPLY BE GOD’S HOLY PEOPLE!

We are no longer bound to sin, no longer focussed on ourselves. We are free to be the living presence of God for others through our daily living. Free to love as God first loved us. Free to seek this constant sweeping clean by Jesus’ Holy Spirit. We are a new creation – a reflection of Jesus Himself; perfect love!

And so each of us, now have become a walking, living billboard for the saving grace and love of God! We are all signs, no longer blocking out the scenery or distracting our minds, but pointing others to Christ.
Amen.
And now may the peace of God that passes all human understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.