“I am the Way, the Truth and the Life…”

“I am the Way, the Truth and the Life…”

Unless I missed something, articles questioning or dismissing the authenticity of Christianity seemed somewhat muted this Easter. Was it out of respect for the churchgoers in Egypt who were massacred on Palm Sunday?

Yet while churches around the world prayed for fellow-Christians in Egypt, little media attention was given to the large numbers attending Easter Day services in Egypt.

None of this should surprise us. Western society reckons that its cool dismissal of Christianity is savvy and sophisticated. Films and persuasive media voices continually assume there is no God. The biblical miracles are fables. Only fools believe them.

Where then do God’s people find strength to persevere – even in the face of persecution?

At the end of John 13, a dark cloud hung over Jesus’ disciples. For three years they had followed him, increasingly confident he was God’s promised king. But at the Passover meal he had told them he was going away. “Don’t be troubled,” he said. “Believe in God, believe also in me… I go to prepare a place for you.”

Thomas’s response expressed a frustration we can all feel: “Lord, we do not know where you’re going…”

We can sympathize with Thomas. Today, people like Richard Dawkins have problems with the idea of a heavenly world. Maybe Thomas thought like this too. Maybe that is why later on he couldn’t at first accept that Jesus had risen from the dead.  For him, knowledge had to be based on concrete realities, not abstract metaphors.

Jesus’ reply to him is breath-taking, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He didn’t say, ‘I’ll show you the way’ but rather, ‘I am the way’; he didn’t say, ‘I’ll tell you the truth’ but, ‘I am the truth’; he didn’t say, ‘I’ll give you eternal life’ but, ‘I am the life’ (John 14:6).

Jesus is saying that behind the universe is not a mathematical equation or a scientific formula but a person. Despite the voices of Richard Dawkins and others today, there are eminent scientists who agree with Jesus. For example, John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, has said: ‘The rational intelligibility of the universe,… points to the existence of the Mind that was responsible both for the universe and our minds. It is for this reason that we are able to do science and to discover the beautiful mathematical structures that underlie the phenomena we can observe.” (cited in Paul W. Barnett, Gospel Truth, p.21)

Jesus tells us that the only way we can make sense of our human existence is by recognising that he is the complex person who is the Mind behind the universe. This means that people who can barely remember their math tables can be closer to the truth than many high-powered mathematicians or scientists, because they have a relationship with him.

This is not fantasy. John candidly reports that Thomas thought for a while it was. He didn’t believe the other disciples when they said they had seen Jesus risen from the dead.

Then when he saw him he responded, My Lord and my God. Were those first followers dreaming?

Six weeks later Peter preached the first Christian sermon less than two miles from Jesus’ tomb, yet no one contradicted his claim that the tomb was empty.

In troubled times we have the assurance, the comfort, and indeed the joy of Jesus’ words, “Believe in God, believe also in me.”

Let me add, because so many have not heard or do not know what to believe, the Anglican Connection conference is focusing on the twin themes of ‘Effective Church’ and ‘Effective Gospel Outreach’. We have a great line-up of speakers and ministry workshops grounded in the Bible and framed by talks on the Reformation. Worship will be lead by the gifted Gettymusic team.

So urgent is the gospel need today, so ill-equipped are many of God’s people, will you join with me in praying that many churches across the US will send representatives to the conference?

The conference is: June 13 – 15 at The Crowne Plaza, Dallas, Galleria-Addison.

Find out more and register at: http://anglicanconnection.com/2017-national-conference-effective-gospel-centered-churches/

Prayer. Almighty God, you have conquered death through your dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ and have opened to us the gate of everlasting life: grant us by your grace to set our mind on things above, so that by your continual help our whole life may be transformed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit in everlasting glory.  Amen.  (BCP, Easter Day)

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© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com

‘I am the Resurrection’

‘I am the Resurrection’

The final volume of JRR Tolkein’s, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King, is dominated by scenes of despair. Yet as the two hobbits from the Shire, Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee, unlikely heroes of the saga, wearily pursue a cause that is seemingly hopeless, we encounter Sam’s reflection when he pauses and looks up:

There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.

Without hope for the future life becomes meaningless. Indeed anxiety, fear and hopelessness about the future seem to have been the cause of the recent suicide of a successful Wall Street man.

Where do we find hope for the future that is a ‘true hope’?

In John’s gospel we see that life had been heating up for Jesus in Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders had attempted to stone him (John 10:31) for his apparent blasphemy. So Jesus left the city for the region east of the Jordan River. There he learned that his friend Lazarus, brother of Martha and Mary, was dying in the village of Bethany near Jerusalem.

When he heard that Lazarus had died, and against the advice of his disciples who feared the Jewish leaders, Jesus returned to Bethany where he was met by Martha. In the course of their conversation he made the amazing assertion: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

Significantly, he didn’t say, ‘I promise resurrection and life’ or ‘I procure’ or ‘I bring.’ He said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ The witness of the New Testament, the evidence of history, the existence of the Christian church all point to the fact that Jesus’ words are the truth.

In his poem, Dover Beach, Matthew Arnold identifies the fear and hopelessness that lies in many a human heart: The world which seems to lie before us like a land of dreams so various, so beautiful, so new, hath really neither joy nor love, nor light nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain; And we are here as on a darkling plain, swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, where ignorant armies clash by night.

Where in the world do we look for meaning and hope? In our abilities, our resources, our success? In political solutions?

The events of the first Good Friday and Easter Day tell us that there is no real answer apart from Jesus Christ. Because he has come; because he has given his life in our place; because he has been raised from the dead, we can have the assurance of hope.

John 11:26-27 tells us that Jesus challenged Martha about his claim to be the resurrection and the life with the question, “Do you believe this?” To which she replied: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world”.

Jesus asks you and me the same question today: “Do you believe this?” If you do believe this to be true, what does it mean for your life now – and for your future?

Will you be praying this Easter for opportunities to tell your story of faith to family and friends, inviting them to come with you to church?

The Apostle Peter writes in his First Letter: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading,.. (1 Peter 1:3-4).

Prayer: Almighty God, you have conquered death through your dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ and have opened to us the gate of everlasting life: grant us by your grace to set our mind on things above, so that by your continual help our whole life may be transformed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit in everlasting glory. Amen. (BCP, Easter Day)

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 ANGLICAN CONNECTION CONFERENCE – June 13 – 15, Crowne Plaza, Dallas, TX

 Music is one of the delights of the Christian faith. Keith and Kristyn Getty of Gettymusic, will lead worship; they will also lead workshops on the importance of biblically grounded music and song in building effective, outreaching churches for adults and children in today’s progressive culture.

 At a time when many people have never heard, and so many don’t know what to believe, we aim to explore practical ways to develop more effective gospel-focused churches.

 Find out more and register at:

http://anglicanconnection.com/2017-national-conference-effective-gospel-centered-churches/

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© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com

‘I am the Good Shepherd…’

‘I am the Good Shepherd…’

Elections remind us how much we long for a leader who will bring us justice and peace, protection and prosperity. However, on every occasion our aspirations are dashed as leaders reveal their flaws and failures and self-interest. No one proves to be the leader we long for.

There is one exception: Jesus, who said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

We tend to view shepherds as romantic figures who spent most of their time cuddling lambs and roaming hillsides with faithful dogs. However, that is a false picture of a shepherd in Israel. They lived dangerous lives.

Jesus, in saying he is the Good Shepherd, brings together shepherd as a metaphor for the Messiah and the idea of death. False messiahs took the lives of men and women. Jesus the true Messiah gives life to men and women at the cost of his own. Consider what we read in John 10:15: “…Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep”.

The word good is not the usual word that describes, for example, the efficiency of a good car, or the moral uprightness of a good person. Rather, it is the magnetism of the personal goodness of Jesus that draws men and women to him. People understand that he really cares for them.

Nowhere is this goodness better seen than in Jesus’ willingness to die on our behalf. He was not just a do-gooder, for often ‘do-gooders’ aren’t really interested in others, but only in themselves and what others think of them. Jesus is genuinely concerned about us because he really wants us to enjoy life to the full.

Which brings us to something we easily overlook: his death was planned. In John 10:14f we read: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

As Jesus looked out on the world his eyes, as it were, saw through time and space. Everywhere he saw people who in some very intimate way belonged to him, and whom he calls, ‘My sheep’. They are not just a faceless multitude.

Furthermore, he speaks of other sheep outside the fold – people from the non-Jewish nations. ‘They will hear my voice’, he says. ‘And there will be one flock and one shepherd.’

Significantly he tells us that his death was a saving death. We read this in verses 11 and 15 where he says his death was for the sheep. This is important, for some suggest that Jesus died to set the sheep an example of unselfishness. It’s certainly true that a shepherd’s death in the course of duty does reveal his unselfishness.

The key to understanding his meaning is found in the preposition ‘for’. In this instance it has the sense of ‘on behalf of’. Jesus says that his death was ‘on behalf of’ or, ‘instead of’ the sheep.

We begin to see why we need this Good Shepherd and not a professional do-gooder. We need the kind of shepherd who is willing to take our death from our shoulders and bear it himself. That is what Jesus meant when he said that he was the Good Shepherd and gives his life for the sheep. He didn’t die just to prove how much he loved us. He died to save us from death itself.

Let me ask, have you personally heard the voice of the Good Shepherd? And having heard it, do you trust him with your life and follow him? That is what Jesus calls us to, a life of discipleship – a life with the people who respond to his call.

I can’t tell you where that life may lead. I cannot say that life will be a bed of roses, or that all the problems you are aware of will evaporate overnight. But one thing I can promise, because Jesus, the Good Shepherd promises it: you will find his leadership perfectly satisfies all your longings.

Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, in tender love towards humankind you sent your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to take our nature upon him and to suffer death on the cross, so that all should follow the example of his great humility. Grant that we may follow the example of his suffering, and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP, Sunday next before Easter)

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ANGLICAN CONNECTION CONFERENCE – June 13 – 15, Crowne Plaza, Dallas, TX

Music is one of the delights of the Christian faith. Indeed, in Colossians 3:16 Paul the Apostle exhorts God’s people to sing. Keith and Kristyn Getty of Gettymusic, will lead ‘worship’ as well as workshops on music and church – how God’s Word spoken and in song can build effective, outreaching churches for adults and children in today’s culture.

At a time when many people have never heard, and so many don’t know what to believe, we aim to explore practical ways to develop more effective gospel-focused churches.

Find out more and register at:

http://anglicanconnection.com/2017-national-conference-effective-gospel-centered-churches/

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© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com

‘I AM THE GATE…’

‘I AM THE GATE…’

Blaise Pascal, 17th-century French mathematician and philosopher asked: ‘Is life simply a journey… a great mysterious search for the unknown and unknowable? We desire truth and find in ourselves nothing but uncertainty. We seek happiness and find only wretchedness and death. We are incapable of not desiring truth and happiness and incapable of either certainty or happiness.’

It is one of life’s ironies that men and women choose to reject the voice of a man who stands unique in history. I’m speaking of Jesus. Yet, ironically, despite the riches of his teaching, the depth of debate he brought against some of the sharpest minds of his day, the remarkable powers and compassion he showed for people in need, many of ‘the elites’ today reject him – usually on the basis of secondary opinion.

In the interests of recovering the words of Jesus himself, let me quote John 10:7-10: 

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly…”

I AM THE GATE

These are amongst the most startling words we find in John’s Gospel. In saying, “I am the gate”,

Jesus distinguishes himself from others, who are not just rivals, but thieves and robbers – criminals.

Who were these people? The Jewish leaders of his day were his contemporaries – they didn’t come before him. Rather, Jesus is referring to the false messiahs who had arisen in Israel and with whom he was constantly in danger of being confused. We know from other sources that there were many charismatic leaders in the century or so before Jesus’ ministry.

It’s not surprising Jesus references them because he was so unlike the political and religious activists of his day. John the Gospel writer wants us to understand this. He doesn’t want us to think that Jesus was a political Messiah. He certainly was not.

We see the force of Jesus’ words: the false messiahs used violence. They attempted to free Israel from Rome’s rule by revolution. Most of them were freedom fighters, even terrorists. Sometimes they even spoke in messianic terms; some even used the title, ‘Shepherd’, because Ezekiel had used this term in speaking of the Messiah.

When Jesus said, “All who ever came before me are thieves and robbers” he was saying that everyone who had claimed messianic titles had been imposters. So when he says, “I am the gate”, he is saying that he is the only one who is the true Messiah. The way to the promised Kingdom of God, and therefore to life, is through him alone.

When we think about it, Jesus’s words have a direct relevance for us today. The only real hope for a future that liberal progressivism has to offer is some kind of humanistic utopia – which can only be temporary at best.

Indeed, there are hints of Karl Marx’s thinking when he said people could only discover their true happiness or fulfillment through liberating themselves from economic oppression and exploitation. He taught that only when all the old alienations are dissolved could men and women be free to develop their full human potential.

The false messiahs in Jesus’ day had a similar theme. For them imperialism was the problem. ‘If we can overthrow the Romans then the kingdom of God will arrive.’

DON’T BE DUPED

It’s against this false messianic voice that Jesus speaks. ‘Don’t be duped’, he says. ‘These people have no respect for personal property – they come to steal. They have a ruthless indifference to human life – they come to silence, and if necessary, to kill. They have an irrational contempt for anything of value – they come to destroy.’

The 20th century witnessed the appalling criminality of revolutionary movements. Millions perished under Lenin, Stalin, and Mao, under Pol Pot and Idi Amin, not forgetting Hitler. Yet no perfect society of peace and justice has emerged.

In fact, Jesus’ words are vindicated. And even more so through his death and resurrection! The progressive humanist dream of a radically new society will not provide long-term, satisfying answers to our questions about life.

“I am the gate,…” Jesus said. He, and nobody else, has come that we might have life. When we go his way we find true liberty – we can come and go; we find true deliverance – we are rescued from the curse of self; we find meaning and fulfillment – we find pasture. Significantly, to fulfil his words Jesus didn’t wield a sword: he carried a cross.

Prayer: Almighty God, the protector of all who put their trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply your mercy upon us, so that with you as our shepherd, ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal that we finally lose not the things eternal: grant this, heavenly Father, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. (BCP, Trinity 4 – adapted)


© John G. Mason

‘I AM THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD’…

‘I AM THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD’…

In her recent Wall Street Journal article (03/18/17), Peggy Noonan referred to ‘the observation that a great leader has more in common with an artist than an economist. Economists drill deep in narrow fields, but the artist’s view is more expansive; he’s more able to grasp the big picture, and see how it is changing’.

Any serious consideration of Jesus challenges us with the evidence that he is not just ‘a great leader’ but an exceptional one, who grasps life’s ‘big picture’.

H. G. Wells, historian, and author of books such as The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds, once remarked: ‘I am a historian. I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very centre of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history’.

In John’s Gospel, we read: 

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

When Jesus said this he was in the Jerusalem temple for the Feast of Tabernacles. A feature of the festival was the lighting of four huge elevated bowls filled with oil. The light they gave was spectacular. They symbolized the great day of God’s Messiah.

Again his words “I am…” stand out. Again he claims to be one with the God who revealed his name to Moses as, “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14). As the light of the world Jesus invites everyone to come out of the darkness of self-absorption and turn to the true light that uniquely shines from God.

LIGHT AND TRUTH

Light is a metaphor for truth – which includes moral attitudes and actions. Later he tells us that he is committed to truth and is himself the truth (John 14:6). He also calls on us all to live in the light of his truth. When we think about it, we can’t experience great relationships at any level – with God or with another human being – unless they are framed in truth.

Because our age insists on political correctness and tolerance we easily lose the impact of Jesus’ imagery. We don’t see the moral darkness of life around us. Yet when we digest Jesus’ words here we feel the weight of how far we all fall short of the God standard.

Significantly, he promises us freedom: “…If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32).

FREEDOM IS SOMETHING WE ALL LONG FOR

Yet, when we rightly understand it we see that freedom is not the absence of all constraints, but submission to the right constraints. It is not the rebellion that recognizes no authority, but the discernment that distinguishes legitimate authority. As someone observed, ‘true freedom is not the license to do as we please, but the liberty to do as we ought’.

We need to relearn this vital distinction, for we are all in danger of failing to observe the difference between exercising liberty and taking liberties. Jesus is telling us that true freedom is bound up with knowing him. This is why he wants us to continue in his word.

We’ve already noticed his insistence on our need to know the truth – about who God is and what he expects of his people. This truth is not just head knowledge. It is a knowledge that awakens, drives and frames our relationship with God and our relationships with one another, impacting our mind, conscience, will and heart. So, as with any relationship, we need to work at knowing God better through his special written self-revelation in the Bible.

Furthermore, as with any relationship, we need to persevere with it, even when things don’t seem to be going our way. Jesus is not asking us to join him in a one hundred yards sprint, but in the marathon of life. The extraordinary thing is that when we do this he, being the leader he is, frees us from our bondage to self-interest and sin and opens our lives up increasingly to develop a world-view through his lens, and so enjoy life as we were meant to live it.

Prayer – Almighty God, give us grace so that we may cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came amongst us in great humility: so that on the last day, when he comes again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP, Advent – adapted)


© John G. Mason

“I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE…”

“I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE…”

We can think that to have doubts is to lack faith. But doubt is not the opposite of faith. To suggest that it is, is to confuse doubt with unbelief. Doubt is something only a believer can experience, for we can only doubt what we believe. Doubt is to belief, what temptation is to sin – a test.

In fact, in those times when we have to engage with doubt, honestly and frankly, we find our relationship with God grows stronger and more intimate as a result.

BREAD OF LIFE

One of Jesus’ extraordinary statements was that he could offer life: “Anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life… has passed from death to life,” he said (John 5:24). How could he say this?

On one occasion he stunned everyone by producing sufficient food for a crowd of five thousand from five loaves and two fish. The time when Jesus performed this miracle was Passover – the time when everyone remembered God’s liberation of his people from Egypt. We can understand the crowd’s response, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” They saw Jesus as a modern-day Moses – someone who could free them from Roman rule. But, having a bigger and better plan, Jesus withdrew from them (John 6:15).

In fact, Jesus commented: “…You are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (John 6:26-27).

There are two kinds of bread – bread for our physical bodies that will one day die; and bread for our spiritual existence that is destined to last forever. ‘You have seen a miracle,’ Jesus said, ‘but you do not see the sign.’

Jesus doesn’t just see empty stomachs, but empty souls, empty lives. The miracle of turning the loaves and fish into more than sufficient food to feed the crowd was a sign of Jesus’ capacity to feed our deeper spiritual need and give us life.

UNBELIEF AND DOUBT 

In John 6:60-69 we read: When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

Jesus was a controversial figure. As people came to know him better they were strongly divided in their opinions about him. So, whereas they had begun to come to him in thousands when they saw and experienced his amazing healing powers, large numbers turned away from him when he challenged them with the deeper issues of life and what he had to offer. Number crunchers today might say his ministry was a failure.

Disbelief and doubts arose when Jesus said of himself, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). In the conversation that follows, it is clear that Jesus’ hearers didn’t get it when he contrasted the experience of life now – one that perishes – and the experience of life eternal.

‘Which life is the one really worth working for?’ is his challenging question. But his hearers then, as we can be today, were too focused on life now and finding political solutions.

As the crowds departed, Jesus challenged the Twelve: “Do you also wish to go away?” We can feel the intense sadness of the moment for him. It is a sadness that all faithful ministers of God’s Word experience when people refuse to listen to God’s truth.

Responding on behalf of the Twelve, Peter said, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” It’s the response of someone who, as we see elsewhere has real doubts, but who by God’s grace, believes. 

Collect – Almighty God, we confess that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: keep us outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, so that we may be defended from all adversities that may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.   (BCP, Lent 2 – adapted)


© John G. Mason