fbpx
’What, Me…?’

’What, Me…?’

Over the last twenty years or so God’s people have been increasingly put on the defensive about their faith. In a climate where people of faith are dismissed as intellectually inept, many are fearful of speaking up about what they believe.

Come with me to a very important scene that occurred on the day Jesus rose from the dead, recorded by John the Gospel writer (John 20:19-23). That Sunday evening, the first day of the week, Jesus suddenly stood in the midst of his disciples. John doesn’t explain how Jesus came to be there. He simply records, Jesus stood.

Last time the disciples had seen him, he was wounded and bleeding, wracked with pain, dying on a cross. When they had seen a spear thrust in Jesus’ side and the fluid that had flowed, they knew he was truly dead. Yet here he was, not weak and limp, but tall and erect, standing, speaking the very words he had uttered at the Passover meal, ‘Peace be with you’. And to prove he was physically alive and not a ghost, significantly he showed them his hands and his side.

Bewildered and confused though they doubtless were, they knew, utterly amazing miracle though it was, that Jesus was truly alive again. ‘Peace be with you’, he repeated. At the Passover meal he had promised, ‘My peace I leave with you… Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Believe in me’ (John 14:27). In a world of turmoil and injustice, the peace he held out to his followers had not been meaningless comfort. His resurrection was now proof of that.

Overjoyed, they still couldn’t fully grasp what was happening. It was so surreal it was like a dream. But then, as GK Chesterton once rightly observed, Truth is stranger than fiction.

The Commission: As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you…’ (20:21). These were challenging words to men who moments before were bewildered and fearful.

More than once they had heard Jesus say, ‘As the Father has sent me…’ But now he was drawing them into this work as well. ‘What, me …?’ they may have immediately thought. He was giving them a job to do: ‘As I was sent, so now I am sending you…’

Jesus had been sent to speak God’s words in person to the world. Supremely he had been sent to be lifted up on a cross at Calvary to rescue humanity (John 12:32). Now, he was sending his disciples and, in turn his people, to announce his life-giving news to the world. But they would not be alone. They need not be fearful. They would experience the peace of Christ at every twist and turn along the way.

The Gift. And, with this commission John tells us, Jesus breathed and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven, if they are retained they are retained’ (20:22).

There are two very different interpretations of Jesus’ words here. The Roman Catholic Church understands they apply only to priests: they alone have the power to forgive sins through the confessional. However, the Protestant church teaches that any Christian can hold out God’s forgiveness by encouraging others to turn to Jesus Christ in repentance, asking for his forgiveness.

John’s record of Jesus’ words and actions here is important. We should notice that Thomas wasn’t present, and that John’s Gospel doesn’t record the events of Pentecost and the specific coming of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, it is very significant that the verb, breathed does not have an object – despite many English translations.

This indicates that Jesus’ action in giving the Spirit was not just for the disciples, nor just for ministers, but also for all his people throughout time. It suggests that in the same way that God breathed life into all men and women in creation (Genesis 2:7), Jesus, the Word of God, the life-giver (John 1:1-4), now breathes his Spirit, the Spirit of his Father, into the life of all who turn to him. Paul the apostle draws this out when he says, Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him (Romans 8:9b).

To return to sins retained and forgiven. Jesus’ words retained and forgiven are verb forms that indicate decisions with a fixed and final outcome. Further, being in the passive voice, the verbs indicate that it is not humanity, but God, who retains or forgives sin.

John’s Gospel announces the news that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, so that anyone who believes in him will have life in his name (John 20:31). This draws together the narrative theme that Jesus was sent to be lifted up for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life for all who believe (John 3:14-15, 12:32, 35-36). People of the first century needed to hear the news – as do all of us in the twenty-first century.

John’s record of Jesus’ resurrected appearance and his promise of peace, his commissioning of his disciples and the gifting of his Spirit, is most important. From the time of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, the disciples had been terrified. Now, he was commissioning them, empowering them with his peace, and equipping them through his Spirit for the task of announcing the good news of God’s offer of forgiveness and with it, life eternal.

It is a section we cannot ignore. We all have the wonderful privilege of being sent by Jesus to play our part in announcing his good news. ‘What me…?’ you say. Yes: all of us. Because Jesus is the risen Lord, we have no reason to fear: we have his peace. We also have his Spirit at work within us and at work in the world, unstopping deaf ears, opening blind eyes, and softening hard hearts. Do you really believe this?

We need to pray – for ourselves and for our family and friends. Let me also encourage you to check out TheWord121 – an annotated version of John’s Gospel that anyone can use to introduce others to God’s good news – perhaps over coffee: www.TheWord121.com.

A Prayer. O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: do not leave us desolate, but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to where our Savior Christ has gone before, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for evermore.  Amen.

You may want to listen to Christ Our Hope in Life and Death from Keith & Kristyn Getty and Matt Papa.

© John G. Mason

’What, Me…?’

’Prayer – Relationships and Mission …’

Sometimes one person’s life has a great and lasting impact for good. This is certainly true of the man who made an extraordinary impact on his immediate world in the three short years of his public life. The effects of Jesus’ life didn’t cease when he was put to death. In fact, the reverse occurred, for some two millennia later, the impact of his words and actions, his death and resurrection, continue to grow throughout the world.

The closing chapters of the Gospel of John focus on Jesus’ words to his followers at the ‘Last Supper’. We might think that his ‘story’ is coming to an end. But while we learn that Jesus was going away, we find this would mean the beginning of the next stage in God’s great plan.

Jesus’ prayer on the night of his arrest (John chapter 17) opens another window on this. ‘Father,’ Jesus prayed, ‘the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you’ (17:1). His death was now a certainty: Judas had gone out into the night to betray him.

And now as Jesus reckoned with the darkness of this evil, he was facing the greatest test of all – to remain faithful to God the Father when he was lifted up on the cross at Calvary bearing in himself the sin of the whole world.

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury in the Reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI understood, as Ashley Null has observed, that ‘the glory of God is God’s love for the unworthy’.

Jesus not only prayed for himself. The greater part of his prayer was for his close followers and for all his people throughout the ages.

Prayer for the disciples: ‘Father,I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word’ (17:6).

The disciples were to be the bridge between himself and the rest of humanity. Their ministry was essential for the future. If they failed, if they denied the truth that Jesus is God’s king sent to rescue the world from its narcissism, Christianity would die at its birth.

So Jesus prayed that God would keep them and protect them as one in the Father’s name (17:11f); that God would keep them from the evil one and make them holy in the truth he had revealed (17:15, 17).

Prayer for all who believe: ‘Father, … I ask … also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their (the disciples’) word’ (17:20).

The heart of the disciples’ mission would be the ministry of God’s Word. From Pentecost, following Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples began preaching, urging their hearers to turn to Jesus as the Messiah in repentance and faith. And over the following fifty years, thousands turned to Jesus Christ as Lord through this word ministry.

‘I ask’, Jesus prayed, ‘… that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me...’ (John 17: 21a).

Unity. Jesus prayed that the unity of profound love and fellowship he enjoyed with God the Father, would be true of the relationship between God and all his people, and that they in turn, would be united in their love and fellowship with one another – ‘so that the world may believe that you have sent me’.

So that the world may know. In our fallen state all of us are in revolt against God and the Son he has sent. Yet God has so loved the world that he is committed to drawing people from everywhere to the Son he gave … so that all who believe in him would be saved (John 3:16).

Jesus is not praying here for the amalgamation of denominations. Denominations are humanly devised structures. Yes, bringing like-minded churches together might be desirable, especially where buildings and services are often duplicated with a loss of efficiency. However, Jesus is praying for a more fundamental union of hearts and minds that flows from a united and personal faith in him.

Doctrine, grounded in God’s written, self-revelation is essential for real and authentic relationships. Without truth, relationships have no meaning or substance. So, Jesus prayed for the unity of all who share this common confession of faith: Jesus Christ is the Lord (1 Corinthians 12:4).

Jesus’ prayer is breathtaking and profound. It tells us so much about him – his glory, his suffering and death – to glorify God and to serve a fallen humanity. It speaks of the significant word ministry of the disciples. If they had messed up, we would have no knowledge of God’s love and the forgiveness he holds out to us in Jesus Christ.

The prayer also tells us about us – that we can enjoy a personal relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, because of our united faith, we are to live in unity with one another as God’s people – a unity God uses to testify to others the depths of his love.

From the time of Pentecost, the word ministry of the disciples, whom Jesus appointed as his apostles, has been and continues to be the key in bringing people from all races and nations to faith and unity in Christ.

Furthermore, the ministry of God’s Word draws us ever deeper into a personal relationship with God, equipping us with an ever better understanding of how he wants us to live for his glory and our eternal good.

In Jesus, we have the man from heaven who has impacted the world, not through a political or economic system, nor at the end of a gun, but through his self-sacrificial love that draws us into a personal relationship with the one, true God, who is Lord of all.

Let me ask, when you wake-up in the morning, have you considered praying, ‘Good morning God the Father; Good morning Lord Jesus; Good morning God the Holy Spirit’? And, if you do, have you shared this with others?

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.

You may want to listen to the song, Across the Lands from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason

’What, Me…?’

’Promises …’

Have you ever wondered why you sometimes feel God is distant and doesn’t seem to care?

Come with me to John chapter 14. The chapter forms part of the record of Jesus’ final hours before his arrest and crucifixion. The meal he had with his friends that night was the last meal with them before his death. The reality that a separation was about to occur was hanging like a pall over them.

The disciples were puzzled and frightened. On the one hand Jesus was saying that he was soon to be ‘glorified’, but at the same time he was saying he was ‘going away’: ‘Where I am going you cannot come,’ he said (14:3).

In the same way a dying parent tries to warn their children of their going, so Jesus, with great tenderness was preparing his friends for his departure.

 However, from verse 15 of John 14, we read that his going would mean the coming of someone else. He was not going to leave them bereft.

 Verses 15 through 17 read: ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.’

With his reference to the Spirit, we might think Jesus is speaking of an impersonal power or force. However, the personal pronouns him and he in reference to the Spirit, tell us that he was not speaking of a ‘force’ but a ‘person’. Indeed, in referring to the Spirit this way Jesus breaks the rules of grammar, for in the original language spirit is a neuter noun. The him and he in the verse are emphasized pronouns: He dwells with you

The moment we think of the Holy Spirit as an ‘it’, we miss the point of Jesus’ promise: he, Jesus, is going away. But he is to be replaced, not by an it, but a he, the Spirit, the Helper. Into this time of deep loss with Jesus’ departure, comes the promise that the Holy Spirit perfectly matches the need for a Helper, a Comforter.

The Helper or Comforter is not like Linus’s blanket, nor is it a hot water bottle for cold, hard times. He comes to strengthen God’s people – not just with a pat on the head, but rather to put new life, resolve and vitality into our hearts.

Relationships. ‘If anyone loves me,’ Jesus says, ‘they will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them’ (14:23).

Jesus knows better than anyone that relationships can only be meaningful when they are based on truth. So he continues, ‘But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you’ (14:26).

The Spirit, who caused the Scriptures to be written (2 Peter 1:21), will teach us through the written Word of the Bible. We can be sure the Bible is true!

What the disciples preached and what they wrote, comes with this authentication: they were promised accurate recall of all Jesus said and did, as well as the true interpretation of these events.

This promise is not primarily for us. We arrived too late to see and hear Jesus. But we do have the assurance that the disciples got it right. Their preaching, teaching, and writing is true because the Spirit of God was at work through them. He was inspiring them, breathing into them God’s Word of truth.

This is so encouraging, for it means that we are being brought into a true, authentic relationship with the living God. Our faith is not some vague, mystical experience.

The Bible is more than memories of a long-dead hero, more than following the wisest teachings the world has known. The Bible enables us to listen to what God is saying and to what Jesus says, so that we can grow in the riches of that relationship. If we ignore the Scriptures, our relationship with God will grow weary and weak.

‘If anyone loves me,’ Jesus says, we will come and make our home with them’ (14:23). What a wonderful promise and privilege, a wonderful experience: God in us. Or, as Paul the Apostle writes in Colossians 1:27: Christ in you, the hope of glory. There’s nothing second rate about this. Jesus couldn’t make it clearer.

Yes, there will be times we feel God is distant. But we need to remind ourselves, and one another, that God has not forgotten us. It can happen when we’re so focused on our own interests that we forget that the Spirit speaks to us and makes his presence known to us through the Word of God. Sometimes the Spirit will prompt us to take up and read our Bible, perhaps starting with a Psalm.

Peace. Jesus also promises, ‘My peace I give you, not as the world gives…’ In the midst of the turmoil and conflict of the world God’s people can experience God’s peace.

Others will notice our changing lives as the Spirit works within us. They will also notice how we cope with the challenges of life in an unjust and unpredictable world.

Jesus’ words to his disciples on the eve of his arrest and crucifixion, tell us that God is passionate about people of all ages and cultures knowing him, loving him and enjoying his peace. The promises were not just to the disciples but also to you and me today.

A Prayer. Almighty God, you show to those who are in error the light of your truth so that they may return into the way of righteousness: grant to all who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s service that we may renounce those things that are contrary to our profession and follow all such things as are agreeable to it; through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

You might like to listen to, Holy Spirit Living Breath of God from Keith and Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend.

© John G. Mason

’What, Me…?’

’Life Unimaginable …’

Occasionally someone says, ‘Show me proof that God exists and I will believe’. But will they? Frederick Buechner in The Magnificent Defeat (1966) wrote: ‘We all want to be certain, we all want proof, but the kind of proof we tend to want – scientifically and philosophically demonstrable proof that would silence all doubts once and for all – would not in the long run, I think, answer the fearful depths of our need at all.

‘For what we need to know is not just that God exists, but that there is a God right here in the thick of our day-to-day lives as we move around knee-deep in the fragrant muck and misery and marvel of this world. It is not objective proof of God’s existence we want, but the experience of God’s presence. That is the miracle we are really after – and that also, I think, is the miracle we really get.’

In John chapter 10, verse 24 we read that the Jewish leaders pressed Jesus to answer their question: ‘If you are the Christ, tell us plainly’.

John tells us that Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication. The Jewish Feast of Dedication, Hanukkah, is an eight-day festival celebrating the rededication of the Temple after it had been desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanes in 168BC. Furthermore, because candles that had been lit at the first festival had oil for just one day and yet kept burning for eight, it also was called the Festival of Lights, a time of rededication to God.

The question the Jewish leaders put to Jesus was one that was causing division in Jerusalem at the time (John 7:25ff). John writes that while there were those who believed in Jesus most of the Jewish leaders were antipathetic towards him (John 10:19-21).

But Jesus refused to be drawn. He knew a direct answer would not be heard by those who had already made up their minds and refused to acknowledge the true significance of the things he was doing – not least his recent giving sight to a man born blind (John 9:1-7).

‘I told you, and you do not believeThe works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep’ (John 10:25f).

Jesus identifies the emergence of two groups of people. There are those who are satisfied with their view of life and therefore don’t believe in Jesus: they refuse to look to the signs that point to his transcendental nature. On the other hand, there are those who view themselves and life very differently. They know their lives are empty and don’t measure up to their expectations. They are looking for life that is not just physically but spiritually satisfying, the kind of life that Jesus says he can offer; he promised the woman at a well in Samaria living water, welling up into eternal life (John 4:10, 14). Here in chapter 10, he calls this second group his sheep. He is the good shepherd who is willing to give his life for them.

As Jesus continues, he references what we might describe as three tests that reveal whether we are members of his flock.

‘My sheep hear my voice’ (10:27). Today there are all kinds of voices raising fears for the future. But many realize their concerns are not going to address the deeper needs of our souls. Another voice beckons – one that speaks to our hearts and opens up a personal relationship with the Good Shepherd who knows our name. He is the one to whom John the Apostle bears witness when he says: We beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

‘They follow me’ (10:27). John chapter 10 reveals Jesus’ words that he is the good shepherd who knows his sheep and cares for them. Furthermore and significantly, he is also known by the sheep (10:14). The imagery Jesus uses is that of a shepherd in the ancient world – one who guides and protects the sheep. Unlike the Australian ‘drover’ who drives a mob of sheep from behind with dogs keeping them together, the shepherd of Israel led the sheep to find good pasture and springs of water. The shepherd not only led but went amongst the sheep, keeping them together, protecting them from marauding animals.

It’s often said that God’s people are shut into a joyless lifestyle without freedom and fun. How different this is from Jesus’ imagery: his sheep follow him freely. They are not driven and beaten. Rather, their choice to follow is voluntary. They perceive that true life is to be found only in relationship with the Lord who loves them dearly. To quote Buechner again, ‘It is not objective proof of God’s existence we want, but the experience of God’s presence. That is the miracle we are really after …’

‘I give them eternal life’ (10:28). With the unprovoked war in Ukraine and injustices perpetrated in varying ways throughout the world, many are anxious about the future. Furthermore, with the pandemic that has been sweeping the world over the last two years, many are experiencing greater uncertainty and loneliness, and with it have become cynical about all forms of authority.

How comforting and truly strengthening it is to know that we can put our hand in the sure hand of the Lord. He not only knows us by name, he understands our concerns and our needs. With the American withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan in August last year and the sudden rise to power of the Taliban, stories are emerging of the miraculous way the Lord has cared for and is providing for his people.

Yes, some have died for their faith. But the uncertainties and injustices of this world awaken us to the greater depth of Jesus’ words, I give them eternal life, and they will never perish’ (10:38). No one can ever remove Jesus’ people from the security of their relationship with him. Why? Jesus answers: ‘My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand’ (10:29).

None of us knows where life with the Lord will take us. The path may not always be easy. But we can be assured of this, life with Jesus, even though it is eternal, will not be boring. Far from it. It will be a life unimaginable, far beyond anything we have ever dreamed: a life of beauty and goodness, love, laughter and joy.

A prayer. Almighty God, you alone can order the unruly wills and passions of sinful men and women. Help us so to love what you command and desire what you promise, that among the many and varied changes of this world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys may be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

You may like to listen to He Will Hold Me Fast from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason

’What, Me…?’

’Feed My Sheep …’

In this Easter Season it’s helpful to reflect on the deeper significance of Jesus’ resurrection. Indeed, so life changing is it, that it’s also useful to be equipped with answers to questions about it.

Ken Handley, a retired Justice of the Court of Appeal in New South Wales, Australia, has commented: ‘Most people who reject the resurrection do so with a closed mind without looking at the evidence. This is irrational and foolish. Jesus, the Son of God, who died to make us right with God, is calling each of us into a relationship with him which will involve faith, repentance, forgiveness and obedience. The Christian answers to those nagging personal questions make sense of the Cosmos and our place and purpose in it…’

In the opening segment of John 21 we learn that seven of Jesus’ disciples, including Simon Peter, went fishing on the Sea of Tiberias (Sea of Galilee) in the aftermath of Jesus’ resurrection. However, as they were returning to shore a voice called out asking if they had caught anything. Receiving a negative answer, the voice encouraged them to cast their nets on the right-hand side of the boat. Even though they didn’t know who it was, they followed the advice and quickly found that the nets were overfull with fish. ‘It is the Lord!’ John quietly said to Peter (21:7). Keen to see Jesus once again, Peter threw himself into the water.

As an eyewitness John the Gospel writer provides precise details: the boat was in shallow water, being only 100 yards offshore, and the catch of large fish numbered 153 (21:11). Fabricated accounts don’t give such unexpected detail. They found Jesus by a charcoal fire with fish laid out, as well as some bread. ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught’, Jesus said … ‘Come and have breakfast’ (21:12). Jesus not only turned out to be their provider that morning but cooked and served them breakfast – something apparitions cannot do (21:13).

John records: it was the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead (21:14). And as we read on, we find that Jesus had a special word for Peter that day.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ When Peter had first encountered the power of Jesus’ words, he had said, ‘Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord’ (Luke 5:8). And on the night of the Last Supper Peter had said, ‘Lord I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death’ only then to deny Jesus three times, as Jesus had predicted (Luke 22:33f).

Like us, Peter was a sinner, in need of forgiveness. He sorely wanted Jesus’ assurance. He knew that without Jesus’ forgiveness their relationship would be broken; it would also mean that he could never be what Jesus had said he would be one day, ‘catching men and women’ – with God’s good news. (Luke 5:10).

‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ Jesus asked him. Three times Jesus asked the question. Three times Peter had denied the Lord, and now, three times Peter responded, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you’. Humbled and grieved for his failures, Peter felt the force of Jesus’ questioning. So much so that his third response reveals the depth of his contrition, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you’ (21:17). The thrice repeated questions and Peter’s answers, assure Peter, in front of the other disciples, that the Lord had fully and freely forgiven him. It was a special word for Peter and for us all.

Furthermore, Jesus now had work for him to do. For with his response to Jesus’ three questions, he is commissioned with, ‘Feed my lambs’, ‘feed my sheep’ – God’s people, the children and the adults, the young in the faith as well as those who are mature in their faith.

The imagery of shepherd and sheep bubbles throughout the Bible. In Psalm 23 David speaks of the Lord as his shepherd and John chapter 10 records Jesus’ words, ‘I am the Good Shepherd (10:11, 14). Psalm 100 says, Know the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Isaiah chapter 40, verse 11 tells us, He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.

Verse 6 of Isaiah chapter 53 begins with a sobering note about everyone of us, All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to our own way; and then foreshadows what God will do, And the Lord has laid on him (the suffering servant – the Son of God) the iniquity of us all. It is a prophetic word about the significance of the death of Jesus: Christ died in our place (Romans 5:6, 8).

Jeremiah chapter 3, verse 15 sets out another facet of God’s plans for his people, ‘I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding’. These words stand behind Jesus’ charge to Peter as well as those of Paul the Apostle in his Letter to the Ephesians when he speaks of God giving various ministries to his people – some as apostles (the foundational ministries), some as prophets, some as evangelists, and others as pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11f).

The ministry of God’s Word is the key to effective pastoral care and the growth of God’s people. Without announcing God’s good news, how will people be rescued? (Romans 10:14f) Unless God’s people are taught God’s truth, how will they grow in their love for the Lord? (Colossians 3:16f). How will we know that all men and women, created equal in God’s eyes, are designed to know and love him, and enjoy him forever? How will we know what true compassion and justice are? Without God’s external written revelation, how will understand that our reasoning and decisions are so often flawed? God alone can teach us the wisdom we need for life in a self-centered world until the day of the return of his King.

In his First Letter, Peter says, shepherd the flock of God among you … And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory (1 Peter 5:2, 4).

Do you love me? the risen Jesus asks. Feed my sheep – children and teenagers, unmarried and married, and the elderly.

A prayer. Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us both a sacrifice for sin and also an example of godly living; give us grace so that we may always thankfully receive the immeasurable benefit of his sacrifice, and also daily endeavor to follow in the blessed steps of his most holy life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for evermore. Amen.

You may like to listen to Facing the Task Unfinished from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

’What, Me…?’

’A Secure Hope …’

The story is told of an Easter dawn in a Russian prison camp in the days of the USSR. A voice called out, ‘Christ is risen!’ and, despite the command for silence, a chorus of voices responded, ‘He is risen indeed!’

The events of the first Easter Day awakened the world to the dawning of a new era and with it the assurance that there is more to life than our experiences now.

In our troubled, conflicted and war-ravaged world, how encouraging this is. The resurrection of Jesus reveals that death need not be the end, but the door to life in all its fullness and joy.

Now you may dismiss the resurrection as fake news because it conflicts with the natural laws, the regularities scientists observe about the operation of the universe. However, such laws don’t prevent God from intervening and overruling whenever he chooses – bringing about an event that we speak of as a miracle.

In the opening lines of Luke 24 we read: But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they (the women) came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.

The first witnesses. There would have been no joy in the hearts of those women in that early morning. They had watched as Jesus died. Now, filled with grief as they trudged to his grave, laden with heavy spices and ointments for his burial, they were confused and despairing.

But more disquieting news was to come. When they arrived at the grave, they found the massive stone that had closed the grave entrance, had been rolled away. What could have happened? Was it thieves? Was it some underhand action on the part of the authorities? They were totally out of their depth.

While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. And as they were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen…” (24:4-6a).

‘If you want to find Jesus, you’ve come to the wrong place,’ the angels said. Remember how he told you while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise again…’” (24:6b,7).

The angels themselves could have explained the empty tomb. But instead, they focussed on the weight and authority of Jesus’ own words: ‘Remember what he told you,’ they said.

How important this is. The gospel writers want us to hear Jesus’ explanation of what he did and why. He had spoken of the events that had now come to pass. He had already explained why it had to happen. And, with this reminder, the women remembered (24:8).

It is easy for us today to forget Jesus’ words when we learn troubling news. We forget that Jesus not only predicted his death and resurrection, as well as the fall of Jerusalem (which occurred in 70AD), but he also spoke of earthquakes, conflicts and wars that would occur before his return.

As Paul in his Letter to the Romans writes, We know that the whole of creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved … But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:22-24a, 25).

During his ministry, Jesus had spoken twice about his death and resurrection. He had come as the savior who would address our greatest human need. He would deliver us from God’s just judgement and open the great doors into God’s kingdom.

Jesus’ words at the Last Supper are key: ‘This is my body given for you,’ he said. ‘This is my blood shed for you.’ Scholars agree that these words are probably the most reliably preserved statements of earliest Christianity. We find them in First Corinthians, written around 50AD, and also in Matthew, Mark and Luke, written no later than the 60s.

‘Love it or hate it, the evidence that Jesus thought of his death as a sacrifice or ransom for sins is strong.’ In fact, when we read Luke as a whole we see that his emphasis on Jesus’ death is so strong we begin to understand that the crucifixion is about God’s justice and love. It was why Jesus came.

Love and justice both matter to God. To say, as some do, that Jesus death was some kind of cosmic child abuse, is to forget that the New Testament insists that he was not coerced into dying at Calvary. Jesus laid down his life voluntarily. In John chapter 10, verse 18 we read Jesus’ words: ‘No one takes it (my life) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord…’

The New Testament is clear. In the case of men and women God is the wronged party. Yet, in his love, he chose to enter the world in person and bear the punishment that we, the wrong-doers deserve. He, the judge has paid the fine owed to him by us.

Jesus’ resurrection confirms for us the truth and trustworthiness of what he has done.

The women who went to the tomb did remember Jesus’ words. And what a difference it made. They didn’t stay at the tomb. Suddenly energised with new vitality and joy they rushed off to tell their friends the breaking news. Who doesn’t want to share good news?

And Dr Luke, that very careful historian, wants us to know that even though the first witnesses to the empty tomb were women, their witness is true. It’s one of the reasons he identifies them by name: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James (Luke 24:10). They were perfectly sane and sensible people, people of integrity. In fact, Luke implies, if you want to find out for yourself, go and talk to them.

How important remembering is for us. How often we forget the words of Scripture. In good times we forget because things are going well. But we also forget God’s words of comfort and assurance when life gets tough – in times of drought or flood, injustice and war. Or you may be single, longing for a partner; you may be in a loveless marriage; you may be longing for a job; you may have a sick or dying loved one.

We need to remember that we are never alone. We have a secure hope. Through his death and resurrection Jesus is the pioneer who leads us into life in a new era in all its fullness and joy.

A 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.

You may want to listen to Christ is Risen, He’s Risen Indeed from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason