‘Great Expectations…?’

‘Great Expectations…?’

As I write just under 200 million people throughout the world have been infected by Covid-19 and over 4 million have died. Yet in the midst of this pandemic some who claim to be Christian insist that God will look after them – they don’t need to wear a mask, let alone be vaccinated.

Rightly, we pray for ourselves and for the millions whose health and welfare is at stake, and for the millions who grieve. What expectations can we have when we pray?

In Ephesians chapter 3, verses 14 through 21 we read one of the rich prayers of the Bible. Paul the Apostle begins, I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.

While Genesis 1 says that God created all men and women in his image, the Bible reveals a special relationship between God and those who turn to him. Paul is taking up what Jesus says to his people: we can call God, ‘Father’.

What an extraordinary privilege! There is no higher honour God could give us. It means that we stand in a very special relationship with the supreme Lord who transcends space and time. Significantly in his prayer, Paul prays that we might increasingly experience this reality in our lives. We can identify three great expectations.

Inner strength. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit,… (3:16).

The work of the Spirit goes to the heart of our being. Despite what cosmetologists want us to think, the truth is that our physical bodies are wasting away. The time will come, when as far as our physical body is concerned, there is little hope for the future. But Paul wants us to understand it’s not all downhill.

If God is at work in our lives, changes for the better to our inner being can occur. It’s here we see the counter-cultural way God works as opposed to the way that the world expects him to work. The world expects God to work with great displays of power. Tempted to think this way too, we might say that God’s power is to be expressed in self-confidence, self-assertion, and success – there’s no need to wear a mask or be vaccinated.

However, Paul is praying that the Holy Spirit will strengthen our appetite for God. He prays that in the riches of his glory the Spirit will so strengthen our relationship with the Lord, that our confidence and loyalty to him will grow. We see evidence of this power at work when God’s people cope with life’s stresses and pressures with serenity, wisdom and grace.

Transformation. That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love (3:17).

This is the only place in the whole of the Bible that speaks about Christ dwelling in our hearts. Dwell means ‘settle down’, or ‘putting down roots’. Mixing his metaphors Paul prays that God’s people will be well-rooted trees withstanding droughts, and well-built houses that can withstand hurricanes.

There will be many things in us with which Jesus Christ will not be comfortable. Repairs and renovation are needed in our lives. And anyone who has done house renovation and repairs knows it takes longer and costs more than originally expected.

Knowing that this kind of life-changing transformation is what God wants and knowing that it requires God’s power in our lives, Paul prays that God will do what is necessary to make our lives a fit home for his Son.

Now these changes can hurt, for the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God as a scalpel to cut through to our thoughts, words and actions. For as we read in 2 Corinthians 3:16-17, God is committed to change us into the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ— from one degree of glory to another. And to follow this through, it means having a neighbor love that with the Covid-19 pandemic we will want to be vaccinated and, as needed, wear a mask.

Grounded in Christ’s love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length, and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that passes knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (3:18-19).

Early in the 19th century Napoleon’s army opened prisons used in the Spanish Inquisition. They discovered the remains of a prisoner in a deep underground dungeon. The prisoner had suffered a grim death, but he had left a witness. On the wall a cross had been sketched and words written at each corner. At the top of the cross was the word, height, at the bottom, depth, on one side, length, on the other, breadth. In his great suffering this man had known and felt God’s love.

I pray, says Paul, that with all of God’s people you experience the power of God’s love in your hearts, and knowing that experience the fullness of joy with the transcendent Lord.

Benediction. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen (3:20-21).

Paul’s words here startle and encourage us. Our thoughts and imaginations are lifted beyond time and space to the Lord himself. Significantly, the focus of God’s powerful work is amongst and through his people.

To return to our expectations in prayer. Too often we forget God’s awesome cosmic purposes; we focus too much on ourselves. Maybe we are content to swim in the shallows of faith rather than in the deep, crystal clear waters of God’s love. For in his love God has far greater expectations for us than we can even begin to imagine.

A prayer. Almighty God, who taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending them the light of your Holy Spirit: so enable us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things and always to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

‘Great Expectations…?’

‘The Mystery Unveiled…’

Most people sense that beyond the visible and material world another world exists. The attraction of Star Wars and the level of interest in Harry Potter, especially amongst the young, are indicators that the notion of the supernatural abounds.

Despite what cultural voices and social media insist, there are a significant number of research scientists and mathematicians who believe in the existence of a supreme being, a creator God. Dr. John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics (Emeritus), University of Oxford, and Dr. H.F. (Fritz) Schaefer III, Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry, Director of the Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry at UGA, speakers at this year’s Anglican Connection Online Conference, are two.

The question arises: ‘What is God like?’ Can we penetrate the veil and unlock the secrets that lie beyond? Over the centuries, people in the West have reckoned they could find God by using their minds. In the East, mysticism is said to be the key: we can find the energy or force behind the universe through religious experience such as meditation and yoga.

In the Letter to the Ephesians, chapter 3, we find another option. We can come to know God, not through reasoning nor by mystical experience, but though revelation. God himself has chosen to open a window on the mystery of his great cosmic plan.

Consider verse 1: This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles … and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation,…

The Letter was written in a culture where mystery referred to the pagan secret religious teachings into which a spiritual elite was admitted. Christianity never espouses secret teachings known only to a spiritual elite. Ephesians uses mystery in much the same way as we do in English today – something previously hidden and unknown, but now revealed and open to everyone.

What then is the mystery that Ephesians tells us had been hidden for so long? Verse 4 indicates that it is bound up with the person and work of Jesus Christ – something more fully explained in verse 6: the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

The mystery has to do with the complete union in Christ of both the Jewish and non-Jewish believers. This was radical. And it has far-reaching implications today when ‘critical race theory’ is being promulgated and promoted. Almost two millennia ago St Paul the Apostle was saying that there is now available a unique union between us and Jesus Christ, and between believing men and women across the nations.

We sometimes forget that in New Testament times the divide between the Jewish and the non-Jewish peoples was huge. If a Jewish man or woman married a Gentile, the Jewish family would often declare such a family member dead.

Yes, the Jewish people knew that through them God would bless the nations. This was the promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:3). And Isaiah 49:6 tells us that Israel would be the light to the nations. Furthermore, in Matthew 28:19, Jesus commissioned his followers to make disciples of all nations.

There is no hint in the Old Testament or in Jesus’ teaching that God’s radical plan involved moving beyond his unique relationship with just one nation group. Yet here Paul explains that God’s plan involved the development of an international community under the rule of Jesus Christ. This new society, the church, would include Jewish and non-Jewish believers, on equal terms. This was the mystery that had been hidden but was now open for everyone to see.

Understanding that all men and women are created equal under God, and knowing that God is building a new community across the nations, at the end of the 19th century leaders in England, such as William Wilberforce, worked at and achieved the abolition of the slave trade. In similar fashion, both black and white Christians in South Africa prayed for and played a part in ending Apartheid. Indeed, some commentators consider that the transition was achieved relatively peacefully because of the involvement of God’s people.

Revelation and commission. In verse 7 we have Paul’s testimony: Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power.

There is a development of thought here. In verse 6 Paul speaks of the mystery. Now in verse 7 he speaks of the mystery as this gospel – God’s good news. Furthermore, he understood that it was by God’s gift of grace, that he was to proclaim the gospel through the work of God’s power. He was to preach to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ,… (3:8).

Preach translates the word from which we get ‘evangel’ – the announcement of good news. God’s good news is the announcement of the boundless riches of Christ. And, while our English translators find it challenging to express the meaning of the phrase, boundless riches of Christ, it is best understood as the unsearchable, inexhaustible, and incalculable riches of Christ. We shall never come to the end of the wealth of the Lord Jesus Christ.

There is an important theme throughout these verses as Paul brings together the ideas of revelation and commission. God’s truth is to be passed on through the ages!

John Stott once commented, if scientists cannot keep their discoveries to themselves, how much less should we keep to ourselves what God has made known to us? We need to recover the assurance of God’s truth and the commitment to share Christ’s riches. Just think: if we were sure that the gospel is God’s truth and the riches of Christ are for all men and women, nobody would be able to keep us quiet.

Let me ask, what was the difference between the first Christians and us today? They believed and their lives were changed; they lived and talked their faith! The question is, ‘Do we?’

A prayer. Almighty God, we thank you for the gift of your holy word. May it be a lantern to our feet, a light to our paths, and strength to our lives. Take us and use us to love and serve all people in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

‘Great Expectations…?’


Alienation is a word often used to describe our human plight. Everywhere relationships are broken. While people may speak of ‘the power of love’, there is often no substance to it, for love is subjectively defined. It has more to do with your love for me – whoever and whatever I choose to be. It is a love that has little or no interest in or compassion for others, let alone serving them. There is no place for apology or forgiveness.

A worldview that some hold follows the French philosopher, Rousseau, who reckoned that men and women were inherently good before the corrupting influences of civilization took over. The remedy, it’s said today, requires the removal of constraints that are considered to be ‘supremacist’.

The unfolding narrative of the Bible paints a very different picture. Yes, men and women in their original state were ‘good’ – the glory of God’s creation (Genesis 1:26-30). However, the tragedy Genesis 3 reveals is a rebellion against God that has had cosmic implications.

Indeed, such is this brokenness that, as we read in The Letter to the Ephesians, only God could address it. In Ephesians 2:1-2 we read: You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient…

In our natural state, we are subject to oppressive influences – from outside, the prevailing secular culture; from within, our flawed, self-centered, twisted nature. Beyond both, but actively working through both, is the Ruler of the kingdom of darkness who holds us in captivity.

All of us are by nature children of wrath,.. (verse 3). But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us…(v.4). The contrast between these verses is astonishing. It is completely at odds with what is understood by love today. God’s just anger in condemning us is not incompatible with his love. The two can be held together because giving life and loving, even the unloveable, are at the heart of God’s nature.

Release. When Jesus Christ died, God provided the means whereby he could forgive us and release us from the powers of evil and death. In verses 8 and 9 we read: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

Reconciliation. Furthermore, Jesus’ voluntary self-sacrifice on the cross not only provided the means of reconciliation with God, but also reconciliation across human divisions. Verse 12 is specifically for non-Jewish readers: Remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

Because non-Jewish people were once without Christ, without God, and without hope, they had no love for people who were not one of them. It’s what we are like before God’s love touches and transforms us.

Barriers of colour and race, culture and class cause division in every part of the world. There is no community across the divide. But, in Christ, God has broken down the barriers: But now in Christ Jesus, we read, you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace;… And verse 16 tells us: that he might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.

A new society. Christ is creating a new society in which hostility gives way to harmony; alienation gives way to reconciliation. Of all the great teachers, prophets, and mystics, of all the -isms of the world, Jesus alone has been able to achieve this.

This doesn’t mean that humanity is now united and at peace. Daily the news tells us it isn’t. But while at times it is difficult to believe, there is one group where true community is possible – amongst God’s people.

Furthermore, in verse 19 we read: So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God,

‘You non-Jewish believers,’ Paul says, ‘are no longer what you used to be— strangers and visitors without legal rights. Rather, you have a new status. Once you were without God, but now you have the same God and Father as Jewish believers: you are brothers and sisters together in Christ. Once you were without hope, now you are joined together with believing Israel and being built into a temple – the people with whom God lives’. It’s a wonderful picture of the future.

Without the teaching of the apostles and the prophets we wouldn’t have a clue about what God has done. Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone of God’s work. Cornerstones were essential in ancient buildings, setting them and keeping them in line and steady. The glorified Jesus is the key to the growth and development of God’s new community.

Not there yet. This doesn’t mean that God’s people are yet perfect. Far from it. It does mean being honest with God, turning to him in repentance and asking for new resolve and strength to live his good way. It means less self-interest and self-will, more of what God expects of us.

It means putting aside everything that stands in the way of developing true community as God’s people – getting to know one another, including those who are not normally part of our social network, caring for those in need, working at reconciliation with those we have hurt or those who have hurt us. Not bearing grudges or grievances.

Men and women everywhere are looking for meaningful, trusting relationships. In an angry, bitter and divided world, a powerful testimony to the truth of God’s gospel is the local church community where peace, not division, exists. What are we doing with this precious jewel God has given us?

A prayer. Almighty God, our heavenly Father, like lost sheep we have gone our own way, not loving you as we ought, nor loving our neighbors as ourselves. We have done what we ought not to have done, and we have not done what we ought to have done. We justly deserve your condemnation. Father, for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, forgive us all that is past; Turn our hearts to love you and obey your will. Help us to live for your glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

‘Great Expectations…?’

‘Caught Up in God’s Epic…’

Everyone loves a story. Stories grab our attention and draw us in. Some stories don’t satisfy – perhaps because there’s no conclusion, or injustice and evil succeed. Great epics, such as Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings stir our imagination and touch our inner longings for a better world. We don’t want epics like this to end: we become involved with the characters and the plot. But they do end, and we have to come back to earth.

Significantly, in a world that is crying out for identity, there’s a very real interest in the ‘story’ of family forebears, or culture.

The Bible has been described as the greatest story ever told. But it is an epic with a difference – it is set in the context of real events that point to a future.

Consider the opening lines of The Letter to the Ephesians. In one long sentence, from verses 3 through 14, we glimpse God’s awe-inspiring epic – his plan and purpose to draw us into it.

The themes of God’s love and grace are palpable. God is the subject of almost every main verb – for example: It is he who has blessed us… ’; He has freely bestowed upon us his grace (1:6); He has made known his will and purpose which he set forth in Christ… to unite all things  (1:9f); He accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will (1:11). The God of the Bible is a big life-giving, warm-hearted, loving God – so different from the cold, impersonal force of Star Wars, and the ruthless rule of human dictatorships.

A costly love. In verses 5 through 8 we learn of what that love cost God: He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.

In our western world today there’s a complex mix of victimhood that says others are at fault, while I’m OK. Any sense of personal failure is rejected, as is also the need to forgive. The truth is that in turning away from our creator God and our need for his forgiveness, we also fail one another.

King David, when confronted with his adultery with Bathsheba and Uriah’s murder, wrote in his prayer of confession, Against you only Lord have I sinned (Psalm 51:4) David understood that his real guilt lay in breaking the first commandment: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your soul.

Our real failure is in not loving God. And because God requires that all his just requirements are met, the supreme sentence is to be carried out on all who have failed the test. That said, God has offered and has provided a way forward: someone who is without sin, could stand in our place. Only Jesus Christ, God’s Son could do this for us.

It is because God’s nature is to love and to give life that he pursued the costly path required. As we read in John 3:16, God so loved the world that he gave his One and Only Son so that whoever believes in him, should not perish but have life everlasting.

The tragedy. Many churches have not grasped the real significance of this. They insist that Christianity is about love – loving your neighbour, caring about the injustices of the world – but they do not have a vocabulary of a love for God. They don’t have a ministry or a liturgy that calls for repentance and for the forgiveness of sins by God.

God’s plan is to build a vibrant, new community of forgiven people. Eleven times we read the phrase, in Christ or in him. And in verses 9 & 10 we learn that God’s ultimate plan is to bring everything and everyone under the rule of Christ.

Assurance? Having believed, you were marked in him (in Christ) with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit, guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession— to the praise of his glory.

The New Testament reveals that the Spirit is a Person, having his own identity. On the night Jesus was arrested, he told his disciples he would not leave them bereft. He would send them a Comforter who, as we learn from John 16, is another Person in the Godhead.

God seals us as his own by putting his Spirit within us. Long before he had promised his people that he would personally live with them (Jeremiah 31:31ff). Ephesians tells us that the presence of God’s Spirit in our lives is a down-payment on our future inheritance.

What should my answer be when one day I am asked why I should be given entrance into God’s presence? I will ask that the Register of names, the Book of Life be checked. And when that great Register is opened, the presence of the Holy Spirit within me assures me that my name will be found there – listed as an adopted son of the Father, signed in by Jesus Christ, embossed with the great seal of the Holy Spirit of God.

It is with humble, heart-felt thankfulness for the humility of our great and wonderful, all-glorious and loving God, that I look forward to that day with joy, because he has honored me with a part in his epic story.

A prayer. Eternal God and Father, by whose power we are created and by whose love we are redeemed: guide and strengthen us by your Spirit, so that we may give ourselves to your service, and live this day in love for one another and to you; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.  Amen.

‘Great Expectations…?’

‘Thorn in the Flesh…’

What on earth does God promise us? Health, wealth, success?

Confusion often arises amongst God’s people, as well as in the wider community, because many of us think we have a right to expect to be healed and blessed with material riches and success. And there are preachers who reinforce this idea.

Paul the Apostle experienced an affliction that in 2 Corinthians 12:7 he speaks of as a thorn in the flesh.

To understand why Paul writes about this, we need to consider how some of the Corinthians regarded him. His Letters reveal that some treated him as weak because he lacked oratorical skills and spiritual experiences. And he had a recurring sickness. ‘How can a man like that be an apostle?’ they asked. ‘Spirituality means presence, power, mystique.’

Paul faced a dilemma. How could he puncture their self-opinionated spiritual disdain? It’s evident that he was uncomfortable in making a response: he didn’t want to boast. But he saw he had no option. In chapter 11 we see that his boasting or self-promotion has an unexpected focus. His response identifies principles that begin to answer our question: ‘What on earth does God promise us?’

Paul’s boast. In 2 Corinthians 11:23 – 28 he writes about the various challenges and afflictions he experienced. He doesn’t refer to the number of churches he has started, or the number of books and articles he has written. Rather, he sets out the persecutions and dangers he faced. He also speaks of the sense of responsibility that daily pressed on him.

In verse 30 he concludes: If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed for ever, knows that I do not lie….

Paul turns upside down the glamorous image of Christian spirituality the Corinthians were being fed by teachers who insisted that spiritual leaders were superheroes. True Christian leaders experience hardship. They have a sense of their own unworthiness and inadequacy.

An autobiographical note. That said, in chapter 12 Paul touches on an experience he once had. He writes: I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows….  and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses (12: 2, 4, 5).

This very special, personal and private experience happened only once. And that Paul does not elaborate is very important. He wanted his reputation to be based only on what others could observe of his character, his life, and his teaching.

A thorn in the flesh. Paul continues: And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me;… (12:7-9a).

Much ink has been spilled in discussing the nature of Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Was it depression, an eye issue, or something else? Certainly it wasn’t insignificant. Three times I besought the Lord, he said.

But consider the Lord’s response: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (12:9). God used the thorn to prevent any conceit in Paul. His ministry wouldn’t suffer. Rather it would become more effective, not because people saw Paul as some impressive, super-spiritual leader, but because the grace of God could be seen at work in him.

From our human perspective true spirituality looks ordinary and weak. The Son of God looks weak and ordinary when he lies in a manger and hangs on the cross. Paul’s testimony contrasts with that of Christian leaders who surround themselves with an aura of spiritual power and mystery. Sadly, a number of them have fallen into disgrace.

Paul’s testimony brings us back to the question: ‘What on earth does God promise us?’ He shows us that the prayers of the greatest saints are sometimes not answered in the way they desire. Prayer is not a wish to be granted unconditionally. God, who is our Father is not going to give us something he knows is not good for us, no matter how much we press him. Even Jesus prayed, ‘Take this cup from me’ and received the answer, ‘No!’

True Christian spirituality acknowledges and accepts weakness. Indeed, it is only when we recognize and confess our weakness that we find the supernatural grace of God flowing to meet our need. In speaking like this I am not wanting to make light of the harsh realities of sickness and suffering, of loss and grief. Nor am I wanting to gloss over the tough questions posed by the Bible’s teaching that God is all-powerful, good and loving.

Yet, only in humiliation do we find God exalting us. Only in dying to self do we find God making us alive. Only in throwing our lives away do we find God giving life back to us. Only when I am weak, am I strong.

When we are pressed by some thorn in the flesh in our own lives, let’s never forget God’s words to Paul the Apostle: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”.

A prayer. Lord our God, fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: have compassion on our infirmities; and those things which for our unworthiness we dare not and for our blindness we cannot ask, graciously give us for the worthiness of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

‘Great Expectations…?’

‘Hopeless or Hopeful…?’

HelplessOver the last seventeen months millions have watched helplessly as loved ones have died from Covid-19. For many there has been no comfort or hope.

In recent times our culture has made a habit of setting aside the wisdom of the past, and especially the wisdom of the Bible. But, as we touched on last week, when we are facing catastrophe and are confronted with the realities of the human experience, the words of the Bible come through with immense power and wisdom, truth and compassion. For here there is comfort for the broken-hearted and hope for the bereaved.

In the Book of Job, chapter 19 we read Job’s words: ‘I know that my redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another’ (19:25ff).

And through the words and works of Jesus Christ we see the evidence of God’s life-giving power, providing a sure hope of life beyond the grave.

A dying girl. In chapter 5 of his record, St Mark tells of a 12-year-old girl who was dying. Her father, Jairus, a synagogue ruler had ignored the usual Jewish religious leadership opposition to Jesus and begged him for help. And, while Jesus agreed to go with Jairus, he hadn’t hurried. In fact, when he realized that a woman had been cured by touching his clothing, Jesus had stopped to speak with her. We can imagine Jairus’ further sense of helplessness.

It’s worth pausing to consider Jesus’ lack of urgency here. Often we’re anxious because we think God doesn’t understand the urgency of our need. It’s helpful to realize that Jesus knows our situation.

Don’t fear, only believe. During the delay a messenger brought Jairus the news that his daughter had died. Overhearing a comment to Jairus: “Why trouble the teacher any further?” Jesus’ reassuring response is remarkable: “Do not fear, only believe” (5:35f).

Jesus’ words underline a theme we have already observed: With his coming, fear can give way to faith, not just any faith, or faith in faith, but faith in him. It was a test of Jairus’ faith. The delay not only heightened the drama of the miracle, but shows us that we can trust God to be working out his good purposes for us at all times, even in tough times when he seems to be doing nothing.

So far in Mark’s narrative there is very little evidence of this kind of faith. Yet it is something he wants to press on us, his readers, as he moves on to the climax of this event.

God’s compassionBy noting that Jesus took with him into the house, Peter and John and James (the three who would later witness his transfiguration), Mark affirms their credibility as witnesses to Jesus. Furthermore, by describing the scene at Jairus’ house where people were weeping and wailing loudly, Mark heightens the drama of the scene (5:38).

With Jesus’ words, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping”, the crowds laughed (5:39). They knew the girl was dead, otherwise they would not have been there, and they certainly didn’t believe that Jesus could do anything for her now. But in saying that the girl was sleeping, a word that could signify either physical sleep or death, Jesus indicated the situation was not as hopeless as they thought. Are there not times when we are downcast because we don’t expect God to do the unexpected?

Taking the girl’s parents and the three disciples with him to her bedside, he took the girl’s hand and without any fuss or incantation, said, “Talitha cumi” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (5:41).

In touching the dead girl Jesus had technically become impure and ritually unclean. Yet he had not hesitated to do this for her sake.

New life. At his words, immediately the girl got up and began walking… (5:42). Understandably the parents were amazed (8:56) at this extraordinary act of Jesus. Directing that they should give her something to eat (5:43), Jesus not only showed his understanding of the girl’s need, he wanted everyone to know she was not an apparition. She was truly alive. No one but God could raise the dead.

There is no other word to describe what Jesus had: power. Power over death itself; power to turn a day of mourning into a day of joy.

New hope. An event such as this awakens us to where hope is to be found. According to the Bible we are all helpless. We try to hide this or simply ignore it, but the reality is that we are not in charge of our destiny. Our world is subject to titanic forces far beyond our control. Consider the power of fires, floods and earthquakes; consider the evil in the world and the atrocities that are perpetrated for the sake of human power; consider the power of a pandemic and the harsh reality of death.

CS Lewis spoke of suffering as God’s megaphone. It can awaken us to the realities of our helplessness and therefore our need for God. Sometimes it is only when face the realities of life and death that we come to our senses and turn to Jesus.

Whatever our cry is, Mark wants us to know that our cry will be heard. We can also point people we know who have lost loved ones through Covid or for some other reason, to the God of all hope. In Christ Jesus alone, helplessness can be changed into hopefulness.

A prayer. Heavenly Father, keep your people continually in a true faith in you; so that those who lean only on the hope of your heavenly grace may always be defended by your mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.