Ascension Sunday

‘Let not your heart be troubled..’

When we looked at this verse on Sunday, we asked the question, ‘Why did Jesus say this?’. To find out why we went back a chapter to chapter 13 of John’s Gospel and found that the context was Jesus telling his disciples that he was leaving them.

In their confusion and fear, summarised by Peter’s, ‘Where are you going?’ Jesus comforts them with these words – ‘don’t worry, I’m going away to do what I need to do, but I’ll be coming back.’

Like many of us though, in the heat of the moment, when emotions are raw and close to the surface these words probably weren’t heard, and, if they were, not understood.  The only reality they heard was that Jesus was leaving them. Imagine the betrayal. These men had grown close to Jesus over a long period of intimate companionship. They had learned to trust him, had seen what he could do, drew a sense of comfort and security from him. They had left comfort and security to follow him as he had asked them too, and now he’s going away.

I guess we can relate to their initial feelings. Those moments of confusion when news we have heard, circumstances we have encountered have left us speechless – the questions that we are left with. What am I going to do? What happens now? How will I cope? Why me?

Not too many weeks pass, and we have Jesus leaving his followers again. This time he is taken up to heaven before their eyes – what we call the ascension – and the response this time is radically different. Luke records it like this:

Luke 24:50-53 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.  While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.  And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

Sorrow and confusion is turned into joy. The reality of what Jesus has said sinks home. The bodily resurrection of Jesus is consummated by his return to his kingdom, his throne, the place of his glory. His humiliation is over, his glorious reign continues in new and powerful and wonderful ways.

He is now the resurrected and the ascended King of Kings – his role as ruler of all creation has been made clear to his followers. The reality of heaven and life eternal is beyond doubt, his promise has been made clear. He is at work preparing a place for his followers, and the beauty of that place is to enjoy his eternal company.

He hasn’t left his followers alone – he has sent the Holy Spirit to be with us wherever we are. Jesus is not limited by space and time. History isn’t his captive.

That’s the joy – have you experienced it? He longs for you to know him and enjoy him and to take comfort from him that no matter what you are going through, ‘Let not your heart be troubled’.

Redemption

Joshua 6:22-23 “Keep your promise. Go to the prostitute’s house and bring her out, along with all her family.”

We were really blessed this morning with the service taken by our university and young professional home group. Focussing on the story of Rahab out of the book of Joshua we were reminded of God’s amazing love and the power of faith.

God sees what we don’t see, and he sees who often we don’t want to see. The service brought this home to us; as a church who would we welcome to be among us? Who might find it difficult to come into our service and be a part of who we are?

Kezia pointed out the wonderful story how God used Rahab, a woman on the outside – her occupation (prostitute) and we are reminded often of what she did, her gender, her location for living on the very outside of the city. And yet how she is named as a hero of the faith in the book of Hebrews, and named in the genealogy of Jesus.

The story focussed on Rahab hiding and saving Israelite spies sent to check out the city of Jericho. She asked in turn for the Israelites to save her and all her family. The said they would, as long as she had a scarlet cord hanging from her window when they came to the city. Rahab did and she and her family were saved.

Here is what Kezia had to say:

“Rahab didn’t know very much about God but her act of faith not only saved her but saved her family too. Isn’t that encouraging? It shows that we shouldn’t discount people because of their social status, their actions or their past.

Loving someone doesn’t mean that you have to support and agree with everything they do. It means that you won’t give up on them no matter how often they make mistakes.

So I want to leave you with a final thought. What is your lifeline? And who are you saving with it?”

Isn’t that a confronting and challenging thought to take into this week. Who is God calling you to love? How well are you doing it?

And for us as church, who are we inviting in and allowing to be with us while God does his work in their lives?

The Presence of God

Psalm 139:7
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?

We spent time on Sunday looking at verses 1-12 in this wonderful Psalm (Psalm 139).  These verses indicate that with God we can run but we can’t hide.  God is wanting to be intimately engaged with our world, our lives, our concerns, our joy.

 We often feel that God is far from us. That somehow he isn’t interested in us, but this Psalm says He is. We cannot get away from the presence of God. The term used to describe this is that God is omnipresent, He is everywhere. It reminds us that the world, the whole of creation is His.

There are times though when we want to hide from God. Adam and Eve did it. Having had the most intimate of relationships with God, they acted in such a way that they spoiled that relationship. BUT God didn’t give up on them. He looked for them. He took the initiative to find them. God always takes the initiative. We don’t make friends with God, He makes friends with us – He has acted first.

The Gospel story is again of God taking the initiative to bring us back into His presence. He did it by sending Jesus. He did it again by sending his Holy Spirit.

We can run but we can’t hide. BUT we can choose to be in relationship with God and enjoy His presence.

As you go further through Psalm 139 we are reminded that despite what we think of ourselves, and why we might think of ourselves the way we do, God loves us, He knows us.

Will we take time to build that relationship with God that is for our good?

This week take time to read the Bible and meditate on it. Read a passage slowly, look for words or phrases that stand out to you. Put yourself in the passage, make yourself the object of what is being said, and allow God to speak to you.

He loves you and wants what is best for you.

The Wonder of The Resurrection

While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.  In their fright, the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!

Women go to the tomb, expecting to find a corpse. They had seen the tomb being sealed, a large rock covering the entrance. But when they arrive the has gone.  It’s not where it is meant to be. There doesn’t seem to be any explanation as to what has happened. The tomb of death had been closed and sealed. It was over, finished, death had its final say. But the rock speaks – Jesus had said so hadn’t he, on the road into Jerusalem, even the stones will cry out – and here is this stone saying something has happened. Death has had its door opened. Come in and see, things have changed.

 And that is the wonder of the resurrection. Things have changed. Everything has changed.

The resurrected Christ changes everything!!  It proves we are not the centre of the universe. That there is a God who truly is in control of all things.

It proves that the promise of life after death is true, the promises that for us there is an eternal life is true.

It declares that there is hope – that this life is not all that there is. Can you imagine that for those who cry for justice, for those whose life is in this world has been unbearable, this isn’t the end, death here is the beginning of a new and wonderful eternity.

It says creation can be and will be remade and reordered to what it was always intended to be.

It confirms that the God who promises to never leave you or forsake you is true to his promise. You will never ever be left alone.

It proves that God has entered our world, experienced our pain, knows our doubts, understands us and walks beside us. That this God is a God who has made himself known and wants us to know him again.

This reality filled these women with wonder and amazement, and the story had to be told. The story continues to need to be told. BUT are we amazed, do we wonder at the power of the resurrection and what it means? Are we telling the story of Jesus?

This week pray for opportunities to be a witness to the resurrected Christ and ask the Holy Spirit to lead you to someone who will be open to what you say.

Palm Sunday – Luke 19:22-44

Vincent Van Gogh committed suicide at the age of 37. Depressed by his lack of success. A prolific artist who only sold two paintings in his lifetime. Plenty of people looked at his art., He did his best to get people to buy his art, to enjoy his art, but people couldn’t see his art for what it was. People would look at his art, study his art, but the could not recognise the beauty and the genius and the value of his art. They simply misunderstood what it was that they were seeing.

On what is now called Palm Sunday as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey – people cheered and celebrated the King they thought he would be. Here is our King. And he will bring peace. Here is Jesus the one we follow, the one we trust, the one we have seen working miracles, healing the sick, raising the dead.

Finally for these people who have been locked in wars, a defeated nation, in their own land but not the masters of it, a land occupied by a foreign power, here comes their saviour. He will defeat the Romans, he will throw them out of Israel, they won’t be paying taxes to them again. They will be the masters of their own country and their own destiny. They will have peace, and with peace will come prosperity. Imagine the opportunities.

But very shortly Jesus would be killed by the Romans. left hanging battered and scared on a cross. He wasn’t the saviour they were looking for. He didn’t come up to their expectations. The Jesus they were looking for was the one who would do what they wanted.

Sadly today we are no different. We want a Jesus who fits in with our lives. We want a Jesus who does what we want. We want a Jesus who defeats the problems in our lives. Who meets our needs, affirms our lifestyles, fulfils our needs. We want a Jesus who will bless us. Peace and prosperity, comfort and tranquillity. We want a Jesus who comes to us on our terms.

Jesus was in front of them, but they misunderstood him and his purpose. His purpose wasn’t to defeat the Romans, his purpose was to defeat the devastating consequences of sin and its hold on them. He wasn’t coming to deal with the military and political situation, he was coming to deal with them personally. To challenge them, to show them the way to God.

Jesus came to die not for his sake but for their sake and for our sake.

This time of celebration was mixed with Jesus’ sobbing wailing for what the people could not see.

His tears are for those who do not recognise him and respond to him.

Here, Jesus says, is an opportunity for you to see me and to understand what I am doing. I going to die for you. As a humble servant King – but a King no less, and despite what it looks like I am in control of what I am doing.

Jesus gave a foretaste in words of a judgement that was to come. An awful frightening judgement.  He says, here is an opportunity to recognise me and what I am doing. To value the gift  I am to you.

He says unless you see me and respond to me, obey me and follow me, then your opportunity is lost. You are free to make a choice, but if you choose not to follow me then the consequences of that choice are frightening, dreadful and eternal – why? Because you did not recognise the time of God’s coming to you.

How seriously do you take the Kingship of Jesus? Where are you putting your trust? Who is the Jesus you want to follow? The servant king of the universe or a puppet Jesus who fits in with your life?

Pray this week for a fresh understanding of Jesus as to who he is and his amazing love for you. Live the life he has planned for you.

John 1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him, nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. … The Word (Jesus) became flesh and made his dwelling among us…

Here in the prologue to the Gospel of John, we are told something essential to us as Christians. Jesus is God!! Jesus is the eternal, creating, sustaining God. Not a created being but the always existent God.

And, John says, do you want to know God? Here he is, God lived among us. He became flesh and dwelt with us – Jesus is God incarnate – Jesus is God in the flesh. Jesus is God flesh and blood, skin and bone, muscle and sinew. Living breathing, walking talking God!! Not distant, not cosmic, here present with us!!

Here he is eternal, creating, all knowing, all powerful, life-giving, life-sustaining God – in a body. Touch him, speak with him, walk with him.

This bodily contained God came to earth with a purpose. I have come, He says, to tell you really good news. I’ve got to speak it directly to you, I’ve got to act it out. It can’t be done from a distance – I’ve got to come close – I’ve got to walk among you, and tell it to you and show it to you. You just won’t get it otherwise. I’ve got to come down to your level – I really want you to grasp it. But unless I’m here with you, you just won’t get it.

He so embraced us that he walked where people walked.

He got jostled and bumped, he walked down crowded streets – he didn’t hide himself away – he let his feet do the walking. He travelled the worn pathways – he encountered people – he chatted, he joked, he lived and laughed – and there was something about him that drew people to him.

But there is more to it than the people can see.

Jesus came to do what we could not do – he came to give himself for us. He came to call people back to a relationship with Him – he came to save people from the lives of destruction. He came to build a church !!

A people set apart and called to follow him with purpose.

Jesus came as God embodied and look at what he did with that body!!! We are to be Christ embodied – as Jesus came and lived among us with purpose so are we. As Jesus lived with people walked with people shared with people so must we. We are not to hide ourselves away.

We are to be selfless – we are to be spending time with those in need, we are to be looking for those who are in need. We have a message of good news, freedom and life and light that we are given to share.

We are to be so committed to that task that nothing will stop us – not our comfort, not our pride, not our lives. We are the agents of Jesus Christ – we are so connected to him – that when people see us, spend time with us, hear us they see Jesus.

This week, ask Jesus to show you want he wants you to see. Go and speak and make a difference in the lives of others.

Do you see this woman?

This question is posed by Jesus to Simon the Pharisee who had invited Jesus to his place for dinner. Simon, the righteous, pious host of Jesus – Simon the one that his community would have looked upon as the holy one.

Who was he asked to look at? A woman who had intruded into this dinner. Uninvited, unnamed, unwelcome. Acting scandalously as she unfurls her hair and dries and kisses Jesus’ feet and anointing them with rich perfume. A sinner is her description, known as such by Simon. Her sin must have been great, giving her actions. And it’s speculated that she was a prostitute.

It’s difficult to communicate how scandalous her actions were. One commentator opines it would be like seeing the Queen doing a pole dance.

This is outrageous behaviour. By someone who ignores the boundaries of propriety (right and honourable behaviour).

And yet it is she, and not Simon, who is approved by Jesus. Simon had not shown to Jesus the honour due to him as a guest, but the woman had. By her actions, she demonstrated her devotion to Jesus. And yes Simon saw this woman – he watched with eyes of criticism and disdain.

But Jesus saw her as a woman who was conscious of her sin, and who responded out of love to the one who forgave her, healed her, restored her and set her free.

As church are we aware of what Jesus has done for us? Are we honouring him with all that we have because of the gift of his forgiveness?

Are we looking at those who don’t understand the boundaries in church with criticism and disdain? Are we acting like the Pharisee, or like the woman? Are we reaching out to Jesus with intimacy, with courage, with humility with generosity?

Are we living lives that reflect a knowledge of what Jesus has done for us, and acting desperately to get close to him?

Are we living life in the knowledge that forgiveness is there waiting for us? Do you know the power of Jesus forgiveness? How are we going to respond to Jesus and his love this week?

Seeking God’s face

On Sunday we looked at the church as being a place of transformation – mysterious transformation – We don’t understand all that happens, we often don’t even see what is taking place – but being part of the church see a transformation taking place. Strangers become family, enemies become brothers and sisters, the rich and powerful become servants the broken are healed, the lonely are loved!!

While there is a transformation that occurs at an individual level, God has called a people to be his who will be a transformed community.

That is the message of Christianity, that what was is not what is. That who we were is not who we are. This is absolutely fundamental. We cannot enter into a relationship with the creator God and not be changed, not be transformed.

2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

John 8:12
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

Ephesians 2:4
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.

Here are the examples of change old to new, darkness to light, death to life.  This is not minor adjustments, this isn’t a small correction of an annoying fault this isn’t a slight change this is a transformation. This transformation comes about not because of who we are but because of What God has done. In Ephesians 2 Paul writes this:

remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.

Alienated
Strangers
Without hope
Without God

Do you hear the negativity associated with all these words – this sense of lostness.

And here we are told that that is no longer the case our situation has been radically changed – it’s not a circumstantial change but a change within us and for us. Don’t forget how it was, Paul says, and realise that what was is not what is.

Paul uses the metaphor of a dividing wall, a barrier. And he says that it has been broken down. We easily create our own barriers.

The comparisons that we will make to elevate us above another – we are culturally superior, financially superior, racially superior, physically superior.

There is that more tragic barrier between us and God – a barrier that has eternal consequences and a barrier no one could break down but God and he did it through Jesus Christ.

And friends, this is where the hard word and work for us as a church is. A wonderful relationship with Jesus is incompatible with a lukewarm relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are not to have dividing walls between us.

We are not an example to the world because we meet on Sundays, we are an example to the world when we show them that the barriers do not exist. We must live to show that we belong to Jesus Christ – we live a life of sacrificial obedience to him, and we live as if we belong to each other.

How do we do that? By caring for each other. By connecting with each other. By being hospitable, inviting folk into our homes. By being generous sharing what God has given to us.

We are not a club – we are a Spirit-filled community loved by God, his special possession. We must be a witness to the world that God who we confess we follow has transformed us. Our lifestyles, our habits, our ambitions our values are evidence that we belong to Jesus

Here is a prayer from the book Seeking God’s face,

Brother Jesus, out of the entire human race, from beginning of time to this worlds dying seconds, you gather together the most unlikely of people as family. Politically left and right, rich and poor, crooks and commoners, adolescents and aged, skeptics and scholars, all united together as a family of faith in Jesus. In a world that struggles to live together with all our differences, make your church a beautiful display of created diversity and gospel unity. Amen