’Promises …’

’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

’Promises …’

’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

’Promises …’

’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.

’Promises …’

’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

’Promises …’

’The Last Supper …’

A Maundy Thursday / Good Friday Reflection

Why? Why, despite all the hopes and dreams that with globalization the world would become a better place, is there an aggressive and intrusive war against a peaceful neighbor, Ukraine? Why is it that the four freedoms defined by FD Roosevelt in 1941, ‘freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear’, are in danger of being subverted in varying ways in the spheres of politics, the media and social media, education and family life?

Why, two millennia ago, did Jesus of Nazareth die? He lived a life of unquestionable purity: he was never accused of lying. He showed compassion for the needy and the outcast, and revealed his unique divine power and authority in his care, his teaching and debating. And when Pilate, the Roman governor in Judea, asked him at his trial what he had done, he had responded, “My kingdom is not of this world…, implying there is more to life than our present experience (John 18:36).

Luke chapter 22 records Jesus’ words at a Passover meal with his disciples – what became known as The Last Supper. When he broke the bread and gave it to his disciples he said: ‘This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me’ (Luke 22:19).

Passover is a special occasion for the Jewish people as they remember the time God had passed over their homes when they were enslaved in Egypt around 1200BC bringing about their release. Passover became the annual celebration of God’s goodness and grace and the freedom they came to enjoy.

The Passover looks back. On the night of the first Passover, God decreed that every Hebrew household should take an unblemished lamb, slaughter it, and sprinkle the blood on the door posts of their homes. Each household was to have roast lamb for their evening meal. God promised that his angel of death would pass over every household where the blood of a lamb was on the doorposts.

But it also looks forward. Twelve centuries later, Luke records that Jesus carefully prepared a Passover meal with his disciples on the night before his death. It was a time when the Jewish people had once again lost their political freedom. For some six centuries they had been puppets to super-powers and now they lived at the pleasure of the Roman emperor.

Passover signified freedom. And even the gloomiest of Israel’s prophets, Jeremiah, spoke of a new day of hope: The days are coming when I (God) will make a new covenant with the house of Israel … I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people… for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

When Jesus prepared to celebrate Passover with his friends, patriotic feelings were running high. Believing people in Jerusalem would have been remembering the exodus from Egypt. When Jewish families gathered for Passover they would say, ‘Today we are slaves. Perhaps next Passover we shall be free.’

At his Last Supper with his disciples Jesus dropped a thunderbolt. For when he took the bread, gave thanks, and broke it, he gave it to them and saying, ‘This is my body, given for you’.

The breaking of the unleavened bread is a vital part of the Passover. Every Jewish family member around the table knew by heart the words the host would recite: ‘This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. All who hunger, let them come and eat, All who are in need and let them celebrate the Passover…’

But Jesus words are electrifying. He didn’t say: ‘This is the bread of affliction,’ but rather, ‘This bread is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance…’ not of the Passover but, ‘of me’. He has made his body, his dead body, the focus of the Passover meal.

And that raises something else that was strange about this Passover meal. Roast lamb would have been the center-piece of the meal. Peter and John may have prepared the meal, but there is no mention of lamb in any of the Gospel records. Jesus was telling them, and is telling us now, that he is the sacrificial lamb around which the new Passover feast must revolve.

This is reinforced with his further surprising words. For when he took the cup of wine at the end of the meal, he said; ‘This cup is the cup of the new covenant’ (Luke 22:20).

‘The Passovers you have been celebrating over the years,’ Jesus is saying, ‘look forward to God’s new covenant. Well, Passover is about to find its fulfilment. This is the last Passover of the old age and the first Passover of the new age.’

Jeremiah said of the new covenant that God will forgive their wicked ways and remember their sin no more. The self-focused desires of people’s hearts had ruined the old covenant relationship with God. Jesus had not come to save his people from Roman oppression.

Neither did he come simply to restore peace – safety and security, prosperity and a good lifestyle. No. Jesus came to save his first followers, and you and me today, from our deepest need – our love of self and our indifference to God. And he has done it in exactly the same way that the lamb had saved the Hebrews on that first Passover night. As he said at the Last Supper, he gave his body and he shed his blood as the Passover lamb to rescue us from death.

Responding to a question about his reason for writing The Lord of the Flies, William Golding reportedly said, I believed then, that men and women were sick – not exceptional humanity, but average men and women. I believed that the condition of men and women was to be a morally diseased creation and that the best job I could do at the time was to trace the connection between their diseased nature and the international mess they get themselves into.

Imagine for a moment you were the first-born in a Hebrew family at that first Passover. A lamb had been slaughtered, the blood sprinkled on the doorposts, and you awoke the next day to the sound of wailing from every Egyptian household. For in each home someone had died. You thought for a moment, and then you really woke up: ‘That lamb died instead of me! Because that lamb died, God spared me’.

‘This is my body, given for you.’ ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood, Jesus said. (Luke 22:19-20). ‘I chose to die in your place, to save you from the second death, God’s just condemnation,’ he is saying.

Elsewhere Jesus speaks of wars and rumors of wars in this world. And in another place he says: ‘I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him, who after he has killed, has authority to cast you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! (Luke 12:4-5).

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead authenticates all his words and actions.

At The Lord’s Supper, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer sets out Jesus’ death as the one oblation of himself, once offered, a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.

When we come to Communion we are called upon to truly and earnestly repent of our sins…  with the intention of leading a new life, … walking in the Lord’s holy ways. We are to draw near with faith to the Lord Jesus Christ, our one and only Savior. He is our only hope in life and death. (1662 Book of Common Prayer, Service of The Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion).

A Prayer for Maundy Thursday / Good Friday. Almighty Father, look graciously upon your people, for which our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed and given up into the hands of wicked men, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.


Below is a revised form for the concluding segment of the Thanksgiving before taking communion, that is found in A Service for Today’s Church – Communion. The section is adapted from the Passover prayers filtered through the lens of the New Testament. A Service for Today’s Church was developed in consultation with others and is approved for use in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney and at Christ Church New York City.

– – –

The minister addresses the congregation: On the night he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “This is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup saying, “This cup is the new covenant sealed by my blood.  Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.”

Taking the bread the minister gives thanks: Almighty God, we thank you for this bread, and for all you provide to sustain us. Above all, merciful Father, we thank you for Christ your Son, given for the life of the world.  Amen.

Breaking the bread in the sight of all, the minister says: This bread we break is a participation in the body of Christ.

All respond: Thank you, Father, for making us one with Christ.

Taking the cup the minister gives thanks. Almighty God, we thank you for this fruit of the vine, and for every good gift that gives us joy. We thank you above all for Christ our Lord, by whose blood you have bought us and bound us to be your people in an everlasting covenant.  Amen.

Indicating the cup, the minister says: This cup for which we give thanks is a participation in the blood of Christ.

All respond: Thank you, Father, for making us yours forever.

Come, let us take this holy sacrament of the body and blood of Christ in remembrance that he died for us, and feed on him in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving.

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

© John G. Mason

’Promises …’

’Great Expectations …?’

Eleven years ago this month the world watched William and Kate’s wedding. More than 2 billion people took time out to view this royal event with its rich pageantry and ceremony. It was all that we would expect of a royal occasion.

How different was Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday.

As Luke’s narrative unfolds, we find that Jesus’ mission has been a movement towards Jerusalem – the city where the Temple symbolized God’s presence with his people. It was inevitable that Jesus’ work would reach its climax there.

But how would the city receive him? During his three years of public ministry Jesus had been confronted by representatives from Jerusalem who had quizzed him and opposed him.

Preparation. When Jesus had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here.  If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it’ (Luke 19:29-31).

The path Jesus trod with thousands of others on their way to Jerusalem for Passover involved a long climb from Jericho, the lowest city in the world, through the villages of Bethphage and Bethany, up to the Mount of Olives. From there, Jerusalem comes into view, and for most Jewish people, the end of the journey – Passover in the city of God.

For Jesus this was a moment for which he had prepared. He sent two of his disciples to a village to fetch a donkey, telling anyone who asked, ‘The Lord has need of it’.

Jesus was deliberately fulfilling the words of the prophet Zechariah, who had spoken some 500 years earlier about God’s king riding on the foal of a donkey. It was always said that no one but the king was permitted to ride his horse. This colt had never been ridden. Throwing their cloaks on to the colt, the disciples set Jesus on it.

Great Expectations. As Jesus journeyed down the steep path from the Mount of Olives into the Kidron Valley that day, people not only spread their cloaks on the road, but also started singing from Psalm 118, one of the festival psalms: ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!’ The cloaks on the road and the singing suggested that a king was entering his city. Psalm 118 is a song of victory.

There’s something here that is quite often overlooked. The crowds that joyfully sang that day were people from the provinces who had seen and heard Jesus outside the city. Now these people saw Jesus coming in fulfillment of their hopes, answering their longings for a king who would bring peace to earth from heaven itself.

The words they sang echoed the words of Jesus earlier in his ministry: ‘If Israel will repent and greet with blessing the One who comes in the name of the Lord, then Israel will experience the advent of salvation’ (Luke 13:35).

A Discordant Note. However, there was an irony here that the crowds in their enthusiasm seemed to have missed. This king was not riding a warrior horse. This was no royal or presidential motorcade with armed security. This king was riding a donkey, fulfilling for anyone who knew the Scriptures, the words of Zechariah 9:9.

Indeed, some of the Pharisees going along with the crowd appear to have become anxious about how the authorities in Jerusalem would respond. ‘Tell these people to keep quiet’, they said to Jesus. But, contrary to his call for silence when Peter had confessed him as the Christ (Luke 9:20), now he said: ‘If I tell these people to be quiet, even the very stones would sing out…’ He is anticipating the day when even the inanimate elements of creation will respond with joy – the day of the full and final redemption of God’s people.

It was time to sing out: God’s king was coming to the city to bring about God’s rescue for his people. Jesus’ work would provide the greater exodus, not just for Israel but for all people, through his own Passover act when he was crucified.

Tears for the City. As Jesus came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes…’ (Luke 19:41-42).

The people thought Jesus was coming to take up his kingship in Jerusalem. But Jesus went on to predict that because Jerusalem had failed to see and welcome him as God’s long-promised king, it would become a smoking, desolate ruin.

With this description of Jesus’ entry into the city of David, Luke turns our attention away from the glory of the kingdom to focus on the suffering the king would endure before the week was out. There would be no glory without his suffering; no crown without his cross.

There is a lesson here for us. Luke wants us to understand that God’s king will come one day in awesome power and glory. Yes, without a doubt that will happen. Jesus’ death and resurrection and the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD, point to the reality of divine intervention in human affairs.

But Luke also wants us to turn our eyes from the political transformation of society to the greatest need of everyone – the spiritual transformation of our souls. Before we experience our great expectations of Jesus’ kingdom in all its fullness and glory, we must first receive him into our hearts.

In every age preachers have wept for the people in the towns and cities where they have ministered God’s truth. I know I have – wept for those who have come and walked away because they didn’t want to hear about what CS Lewis called the divine interferer. Without Jesus, God’s king in our lives we are lost.

A PrayerAlmighty ever living God, you have given to all men and women Jesus Christ our Savior as a model of humility. He fulfilled your will by choosing to take on human form and give his life for us on the cross. Turn our hearts to you and help us bear witness to you by following his example of suffering; make us worthy to share in his resurrection. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

© John G. Mason

You may want to listen to In Christ Alone from Keith & Kristyn Getty and Alison Kraus.