Unless I missed something, articles questioning or dismissing the authenticity of Christianity seemed somewhat muted this Easter. Was it out of respect for the churchgoers in Egypt who were massacred on Palm Sunday?
Yet while churches around the world prayed for fellow-Christians in Egypt, little media attention was given to the large numbers attending Easter Day services in Egypt.
None of this should surprise us. Western society reckons that its cool dismissal of Christianity is savvy and sophisticated. Films and persuasive media voices continually assume there is no God. The biblical miracles are fables. Only fools believe them.
Where then do God’s people find strength to persevere – even in the face of persecution?
At the end of John 13, a dark cloud hung over Jesus’ disciples. For three years they had followed him, increasingly confident he was God’s promised king. But at the Passover meal he had told them he was going away. “Don’t be troubled,” he said. “Believe in God, believe also in me… I go to prepare a place for you.”
Thomas’s response expressed a frustration we can all feel: “Lord, we do not know where you’re going…”
We can sympathize with Thomas. Today, people like Richard Dawkins have problems with the idea of a heavenly world. Maybe Thomas thought like this too. Maybe that is why later on he couldn’t at first accept that Jesus had risen from the dead. For him, knowledge had to be based on concrete realities, not abstract metaphors.
Jesus’ reply to him is breath-taking, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He didn’t say, ‘I’ll show you the way’ but rather, ‘I am the way’; he didn’t say, ‘I’ll tell you the truth’ but, ‘I am the truth’; he didn’t say, ‘I’ll give you eternal life’ but, ‘I am the life’ (John 14:6).
Jesus is saying that behind the universe is not a mathematical equation or a scientific formula but a person. Despite the voices of Richard Dawkins and others today, there are eminent scientists who agree with Jesus. For example, John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, has said: ‘The rational intelligibility of the universe,… points to the existence of the Mind that was responsible both for the universe and our minds. It is for this reason that we are able to do science and to discover the beautiful mathematical structures that underlie the phenomena we can observe.” (cited in Paul W. Barnett, Gospel Truth, p.21)
Jesus tells us that the only way we can make sense of our human existence is by recognising that he is the complex person who is the Mind behind the universe. This means that people who can barely remember their math tables can be closer to the truth than many high-powered mathematicians or scientists, because they have a relationship with him.
This is not fantasy. John candidly reports that Thomas thought for a while it was. He didn’t believe the other disciples when they said they had seen Jesus risen from the dead.
Then when he saw him he responded, My Lord and my God. Were those first followers dreaming?
Six weeks later Peter preached the first Christian sermon less than two miles from Jesus’ tomb, yet no one contradicted his claim that the tomb was empty.
In troubled times we have the assurance, the comfort, and indeed the joy of Jesus’ words, “Believe in God, believe also in me.”
Let me add, because so many have not heard or do not know what to believe, the Anglican Connection conference is focusing on the twin themes of ‘Effective Church’ and ‘Effective Gospel Outreach’. We have a great line-up of speakers and ministry workshops grounded in the Bible and framed by talks on the Reformation. Worship will be lead by the gifted Gettymusic team.
So urgent is the gospel need today, so ill-equipped are many of God’s people, will you join with me in praying that many churches across the US will send representatives to the conference?
The conference is: June 13 – 15 at The Crowne Plaza, Dallas, Galleria-Addison.
Prayer. Almighty God, you have conquered death through your dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ and have opened to us the gate of everlasting life: grant us by your grace to set our mind on things above, so that by your continual help our whole life may be transformed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit in everlasting glory. Amen. (BCP, Easter Day)
The final volume of JRR Tolkein’s, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King, is dominated by scenes of despair. Yet as the two hobbits from the Shire, Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee, unlikely heroes of the saga, wearily pursue a cause that is seemingly hopeless, we encounter Sam’s reflection when he pauses and looks up:
There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.
Without hope for the future life becomes meaningless. Indeed anxiety, fear and hopelessness about the future seem to have been the cause of the recent suicide of a successful Wall Street man.
Where do we find hope for the future that is a ‘true hope’?
In John’s gospel we see that life had been heating up for Jesus in Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders had attempted to stone him (John 10:31) for his apparent blasphemy. So Jesus left the city for the region east of the Jordan River. There he learned that his friend Lazarus, brother of Martha and Mary, was dying in the village of Bethany near Jerusalem.
When he heard that Lazarus had died, and against the advice of his disciples who feared the Jewish leaders, Jesus returned to Bethany where he was met by Martha. In the course of their conversation he made the amazing assertion: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
Significantly, he didn’t say, ‘I promise resurrection and life’ or ‘I procure’ or ‘I bring.’ He said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’ The witness of the New Testament, the evidence of history, the existence of the Christian church all point to the fact that Jesus’ words are the truth.
In his poem, Dover Beach, Matthew Arnold identifies the fear and hopelessness that lies in many a human heart: The world which seems to lie before us like a land of dreams so various, so beautiful, so new, hath really neither joy nor love, nor light nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain; And we are here as on a darkling plain, swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, where ignorant armies clash by night.
Where in the world do we look for meaning and hope? In our abilities, our resources, our success? In political solutions?
The events of the first Good Friday and Easter Day tell us that there is no real answer apart from Jesus Christ. Because he has come; because he has given his life in our place; because he has been raised from the dead, we can have the assurance of hope.
John 11:26-27 tells us that Jesus challenged Martha about his claim to be the resurrection and the life with the question,“Do you believe this?” To which she replied: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world”.
Jesus asks you and me the same question today: “Do you believe this?” If you do believe this to be true, what does it mean for your life now – and for your future?
Will you be praying this Easter for opportunities to tell your story of faith to family and friends, inviting them to come with you to church?
The Apostle Peter writes in his First Letter: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading,.. (1 Peter 1:3-4).
Prayer: Almighty God, you have conquered death through your dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ and have opened to us the gate of everlasting life: grant us by your grace to set our mind on things above, so that by your continual help our whole life may be transformed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit in everlasting glory. Amen. (BCP, Easter Day)
Music is one of the delights of the Christian faith. Keith and Kristyn Getty ofGettymusic, will lead worship; they will also lead workshops on the importance of biblically grounded music and song in building effective, outreaching churches for adults and children in today’s progressive culture.
At a time when many people have never heard, and so many don’t know what to believe, we aim to explore practical ways to develop more effective gospel-focused churches.
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