Bible Readings and Reflection

Check out Archdeacon Andy's blog for daily Bible reflections 

http://gwynog.blogspot.com/


Reflection: Easter Day

Graveyards are strange places; in that they bring up different emotions for different people. For the recently bereaved, they can be places of grief and sadness, for the historian, they are places of interest and date collection, for children, they can be playgrounds great for hide and seek.

When I lived in Dorset with Emily, there was a strange graveyard on the Isle of Purbeck. In a small hamlet where the church of St. Michael and All angels, there is a small graveyard. In that graveyard are many graves of two families who were joined in 1390 the Washington and Lawrence and lived in the area as lords of the manor. The interesting thing about these graves is the coat of arms which is three stars with two stripes. Through these ancestors a man called George Washington became the first president of the United states in 1789.

The star and stripes from the coat of arms became the inspiration design of the USA flag.

Mary Magdalene came to the graveyard that Sunday morning with a mixture of emotions about graveyards.

Only a week before, she had stood in another graveyard – the one where a tomb housed Lazarus. Now that had been a visit to a graveyard she would never forget: Lazarus had been ill for a while and Mary and Martha, his sisters, had called on Jesus to come and heal and Jesus arrived to see Lazarus dead. Then three days later a miracle happened that Jesus drew near to Lazarus’ tomb and called him out and he came back from the dead. Jesus shows his authority and power.

The graveyard was a good place to be that day! The graveyard was a place of victory, a place or miracles, a place of uncontrolled joy.

That was seven days ago and a lot can happen in seven days. The triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the crowd had turned, the mood had soured, the atrocities of Good Friday dealt a crushing blow to the hopes and dreams of Mary and the disciples. How could it all have gone so wrong? Had the last three years been for nothing?

What about all things Jesus had promised? What about bring life in all its fullness? These words seem to ring hollow for Mary as she stood in the graveyard.

Mary moves towards the tomb of Jesus and grief consumes her heart. John reminds us that “It was still dark.” The sunrise had yet to happen, both physically and metaphorically for Mary, in body and soul, “It was still dark”.

She arrives at the tomb and to her horror the stone has been removed, lifted out of place. Mary is beside herself in fear and sadness. The final humiliation, the final betrayal by the authorities, the lack of respecting the dead.

She runs off to tell Peter and John the terrible news and she is convinced that Jesus’ body has been mistreated in death just as in life.

In her shock, in her fear Mary reminds me of a boy in my high school chemistry class. During some chemistry experiment that had gone wrong, there was an explosion in the back of the class. Nothing serious, just a loud bang. And he, seated at the front, bolted out of the door, ran down the corridor and was not heard from again that day. The teacher asked him the next day what on earth were you thinking about. He said, I wasn’t thinking about anything, I just ran. I didn’t know what to do, so I ran.

Mary just ran and on her way she met Peter and John. Peter and John run to the tomb. John gets there first, he bends over to look inside – but he didn’t dare go in. Peter reaches the tomb and goes straight inside and sees the linen cloths which had been wrapped around Jesus’ body.

This was the indication that something very special has taken place. When Lazarus was raised from the dead, he came out of the tomb still wrapped in his linen cloths. Here this scene is now different. The cloth was neatly folded, the napkin for the head is in a separate place. Jesus had been resurrected is the very heart of Easter and what we believe. John says of himself, in the third person as usual, “He saw and believed”.

Why add this comment? 1) Maybe he is comparing himself to Thomas who in a few verses says “Unless, I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side. I will not believe.” What a contrast of faith between John and Thomas.

2) there is something more profound, John is confronted by an empty tomb, he sees and believes. The empty tomb is enough for him.

Here today who may not consider themselves as Christians, that the empty tomb in enough; the empty tomb is the basis of our faith.

We don’t need to see great miracles to believe or profound answers to prayer to believe because the empty tomb is enough. The empty tomb is the greatest miracle of all. The empty tomb is God’s message to us. He saw and believed.

We live in a culture today that says “Seeing is Believing”, this means people need evidence to prove the existence of something true. In our court systems, evidence produced can convict a person of an alleged crime, and lack of evidence can cause a case to be dismissed. Evidence gives us eyes to see the truth of something, which leads us to believe. John stresses this by the way in which he uses the word ‘saw’ in verse 5 and 6.

In verse 5, John bent over and saw, here has to do with the eye to physically see. In verse 6, Peter went into the tomb and saw to do with contemplating an event and then in verse 8 we read He saw, which is to do with spiritual insight and understanding. John uses this idea to see in three ways for that action to describe the spiritual journey that each one of us goes on the light of the empty tomb of Jesus.

We see the facts, we contemplate the facts, we understand the spiritual implication of those facts. Our journey of faith can be described to see, contemplate, understand. We all go through this process of seeing, contemplating and understanding.

The disciples leave the tomb and go back to where they had come from with confusion running through their minds. Mary is left alone at the tomb – weeping and mourning her loss. Mary stays behind, in grief, bends over and sees inside to see if it really is true or not.

What she sees shocks the life out of her! There are 2 angels in white, seated where Jesus had been laid.

“Woman, why are you weeping?’ they ask. And as soon as she answers, she turns round and sees Jesus standing there. She doesn’t recognise him and asks her the same question but adds a vital second question: Woman, why are you weeping? Who is it you seek? What a profound question!

This question could be asked of each one of us today. We have come to church this Easter morning and we have gathered – why? Who do you seek?

Jesus asks here this question, she think he’s the gardener and her devotion to her beloved lord shines through in her response: “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” She wants to be with Jesus because her identity is in him, her devotion is towards him, there is a real intimacy to this moment: when Jesus reveals himself to us and to her, he calls us by name, Jesus calls us name and that is enough.

Who do you seek? Jesus calls you by name this morning.

Jesus gives Mary a command: “Do not hold to me” . I think here Jesus speaks not of a physical touch but speaks metaphorically to Mary and to us: Don’t cling onto Jesus, do not think that the earthly story is all there is to it, I am more than just a man. If we do then we miss the bigger picture, we don’t allow him to ascend to the Father or the Holy Spirit to be with us or for us to be in the relationship once again.

Mary runs to the disciples with the news and proclaims to them “I have seen the Lord!”. Here John writes to see and implies that the seeing will have an ongoing implication for her future.

The resurrection of Christ changes our lives, through our worship, gives us a new identify and become reunited in Christ. Paul says in Romans, we know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. Romans 6:9-11

The resurrection gives us hope in the promise of Jesus, that by reuniting with Him through faith, we have the promise that he was brought back to life, se we shall have eternal life.

This takes us on our faith journey to a place we see more and more clearly. We see the physical evidence of the empty tomb, we contemplate the evidence of the empty tomb, we develop spiritual understanding and insight about the resurrection and finally see the implications of that in our lives.

Who do you seek? What do you see? Have you grasped the implications of the resurrection?”

Where are we on the journey of faith? Have you seen, have you contemplated? Have you understood, have you grasped the implications of the resurrected Christ for your own life? The resurrected Christ brings us forgiveness, wholeness, healing, identity and fullness of life. We can all have a living experience as we learn to see Christ for who he is and the impact he can have on our lives. Who do you seek? Who do you see? Jesus simply says. Seek and you will find.

Let us pray… Father God, risen Christ, we are like you disciples, prone to doubt, full of fears, unsure of how to live as Easter people. Come to us, this week and grant us your presence and your peace as we seek you and believe. We pray this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Reflection John 6: 22-end

Prayer: Father, may these spoken words be faithful to the written word and lead us to the living word, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This morning I am going to start with a quote - “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you. The quote comes from Augustine in one of his books Confessions. Augustine knew about a restless heart by his own admission. He writes

          “I went to Carthage, where I found myself in the midst of a hissing cauldron of lust... My real need was for you, my God who are the food of the soul. I was not aware of this hunger.”

Augustine discovered freedom that we find in Christ.

His desires, especially his lustful lifestyle changed radically. He later in his life established a community for spiritual pursuits and published books to lead the Church towards God. The change in Augustine’s desires and his thinking was not limited to him.

Our text today, in John 6, is a rich text in which Jesus teaches how he is the solution to their misplaced desires and misguiding thinking. Jesus is what you need. He is the Bread of Life. Let us look at two problems and one solution this morning

Just to remind you that John wrote this book to bring evidence that Jesus is the Son of God so that they might believe and have life in his name. These verses show us an important aspect of Jesus’ own teaching.

The setting: The crowd of people continued to follow after him. Verses 22-24 tell us that the people were seeking him as they boarded boats and travelled to the city of Capernaum to find Jesus.

What follows is a series of questions and answers between Jesus and the people who followed him there. We see Jesus confront their wrong desires in seeking him. There are three questions.

Problem 1: ‘Rabbi, when did you come here”? v.25

Their question is more than simply a common, generic question. The crowd is confused because they knew the disciples travelled by boat and that Jesus wasn’t with them. They wanted to know how Jesus got there. Last week, we learned that Jesus walked on the water.

Jesus doesn’t tell the crowd this, but instead challenges their motivation. Jesus tells them that they are not seeking him because of ‘signs’ that point to the proof of his deity. The people are seeking Jesus because “you ate your fill of the loaves.”

Jesus charges them with seeking him because he gave them food. They crossed the Sea of Galilee because they desired what Jesus could give them.

They were interested in Jesus because he could meet their physical needs.

Verse 27, Jesus challenges them not to “work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal which the Son of Man will give” to them. Jesus then connects his authority to who God is when he talks about God setting his seal on him.

Jesus tries here to move the crowd beyond their temporal desires to something eternal and connected to who he is but they miss his point. They have no desire to look to Jesus for what they need. Their desires are clouded by their judgment and their ability to see.

Problem 2: “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”

Jesus says in verse 27 to work for the food that endures to eternal life. They missed the next sentence: “which the Son of man will give to you.” They only hear that they should work for eternal good and are guilty of selective hearing. They only hear what they want to hear.

They say to Jesus: Tell us what God requires and we’ll do it. Both their arrogance and self-trust are quite evident. Jesus answers them “This is the work of God, that you believe in him who he has sent.” Entrance into the kingdom of God takes place by belief. But not just belief or faith in general; we must believe in who Jesus is – as the Son of God and the Saviour of the world.

Instead of believing in their efforts or their ability to know what they should do. Jesus calls these people to believe in him. Their desire to have their needs met collides with the reality that they must deal with Jesus personally. Will they trust Jesus to meet their needs?

Let’s see their response in another question

Solution:“Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe? What work do you perform?”

What do they want – they want proof, in fact, they come back to the bread thing. The crowd was connecting to a belief that the Christ would call down manna from heaven like Moses did for the children of Israel. Jesus corrects their wrong understanding of the Scriptures. The crowd elevate Moses to a place that is simply not accurate. It was God the Father who gave them the bread. Their desires create the wrong conclusions and they don’t see clearly.

Jesus connects himself and this discussion – for the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. Jesus is the true bread. He’s been sent form God. He’s the thing people need. He’s the gift and provision that’s been sent by God.

The crowds are missing Jesus because of their desire to have their needs met, to do it on their own, and to have Jesus prove himself to them.

You might think it only happened them but actually that barrier of coming to Jesus is still the same for us.

We come with wrong motives or we think we can do it in our own strength, or we wait for Jesus to say the magic words.

Notice how this end: Sir, give us the bread always.” They don’t get it.

John here records one of the most important statements that Jesus makes in the entire Gospel to this point. Jesus attempts to break through the seekers misplaced desires by offering one of the most profound statements.

 

Jesus tells them who he is. He does so plainly and with a promise. “I am the bread of life: whoever comes to me shall not hunger and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. This is the first of seven I am statements in the gospel of John. Here by calling himself the Bread of Life, Jesus connects himself to the provision of God to sustain the life of his people. By coming to him, our needs are met.

Consider the desire for food and water How do we create these desires – we can’t because they are innate but they can be satisfied with the right supply.

The tragedy here is that the crowd still do not believe. It sounds hopeless. Jesus talks about one of the great mysteries and comforts in the Bible the sovereignty of God and reveals to them that God draws us, and we believe. In verse 37, Jesus indicates that God is on a mission to save people, God draws people to himself. God is not passive nor is God developing a better marketing plan to hook us into his plan. God moves in the hearts of his people who have misplaced desires. God breaks through the deadness of humanity and calls people to new life. Jesus is the Bread of Life, to bring hope and joy.

Unbelief doesn’t rule the world Jesus does. John calls us to believe. Don’t allow our wrong desires, our misplaced affections to rule our day. Believe in Jesus, trust in him and our fear will go because we are rooted in the sovereignty of God, Jesus is the bread of life, he is the food we need for life we must receive it.

The text could have ended on a high note but we find more rejection. The issue is how the people are thinking. Jesus confronts them.

John references “the Jews” the reference could be likely to the leaders of the synagogue where Jesus was teaching. They could not believe in him because he didn’t fit the mode of what they expected in the Christ: “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?

These leaders are making the mistake of thinking that their thinking is sufficient to lead them into the future. The crowd lived according to what they wanted. They trusted their gut. These leaders are trusting their intellect and what they know.

Jesus reiterates the trust that his life, his body and his death as the means necessary for eternal life. Jesus uses a metaphor here when it comes to eating his flesh. The delight that can only be found in him. We might say that we devour a book, chew over a matter, eat our own words. The point is profound. How we found satisfaction in Jesus? Is he your bread? Do we live for him? Do we trust and rely upon him? Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger and whoever believe in me shall never thirst. Amen.


Reflection: John 6:16-21

Have you ever been frightened by the forces unleased in nature? Can you remember hearing lightning cracking overhead and then the deafening thunder? In John 6:16-21, the disciples also experienced the forces of nature, but that wasn’t their only source of fear. This morning let’s examine the experiences of the disciples that evening.

THE SETTING

Jesus had just finished feeding the 5000, with five loaves and two fish, and His disciples gathered twelve baskets full of leftovers. They saw the power and the provision that only God could provide in such a miraculous way, and were reminded of God’s faithful provision of the manna to their ancestors in the wilderness for forty years. Jesus teaches them and now it was time to put what they had learned into practice. You might call this a stress test. Immediately after the disciples came back with the baskets of fragments from the meal, John writes, in verses 14-15 that the people were saying that Jesus must be the Christ. Jesus realized their intent to take Him by force and make Him king, so He ‘withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.’ Mark’s gospel fills in a few details that are missing and says

 “And immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the multitude away.  And after bidding them farewell, He departed to the mountain to pray.”  

 

Then Jesus told His disciples to get in the boat and leave immediately because He didn’t want His disciples to get caught up in the frenzy of the crowd to make Him king. It still wasn’t clear in their minds that Jesus was the Son of God.

 

Jesus’ purpose for going up on the mountain was to pray and as we read through the Gospels, we find that He often spent time communicating with His Father in prayer and sometimes spending the whole night in prayer. His disciples recognized this and asked Him “Lord, teach us to pray”.

Going back to John’s gospel, verses 16-17 ‘Now when evening came’ His disciples went down to the sea, and after getting into a boat, they started to cross the sea to Capernaum.  And it had already become dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.”  The stage is set: Jesus is on the mountain, they are in the boat on the Sea of Galilee, and its dark.

 

THE STORM

 

The Sea of Galilee is situated below sea level in a bowl in the hills. Winds can travel up the valley of the Jordan River at great speeds. The cold air suddenly comes from the mountains that surround the Sea which collides with the warm air rising from the surface of the water. The Sea of Galilee is also shallow, so the waters can become stirred up very quickly. This storm, must have taken the disciples by surprise. Was Jesus surprised by the storm no as He sends them into the storm which was their exam. He was testing their faith to see if they learned the lessons from before and come to understand who Jesus was.

 

Several of Jesus’ disciples were expect fishermen and they knew that they needed to get the boat onto the other side of the lake as soon as possible. They had been in a similar situation recently, but on that occasion, Jesus was with them in the boat, sleeping. This time He’s on the mountain. What were they going to do?

 

Rather than calling upon God and trusting in Him to provide for their need, they keep on rowing and get themselves into further trouble. The wind and waves continue to rock the boat. They are failing the test but they’re not ready to give up yet!

 

Does Jesus know that there is a storm on the Sea of Galilee? Yes, as Mark tells us “and seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them”. 

How can Jesus see them if it’s dark and stormy and they are in the middle of the lake?

From the mountain, Jesus could see them by the light of the moon.

Why doesn’t He do something about it? He’s praying for them as a wise and caring teacher, He’s giving them time to complete the test. Jesus could be looking straight at them and watching their efforts.

 

Have you ever run on a treadmill machine? If you have, imagine that you’ve thought about the fact that you’re running hard and are becoming exhausted, but you aren’t going anywhere. You are still in the same place where you started. If you talk to people who have those machines do, they like to run outdoors and mostly they do because of the change of scenery but because of a greater sense of accomplishment that comes from arriving at a destination.

Compare this illustration with the disciples, it’s like them being on a rowing machine, rowing harder and harder but going nowhere! The boat carrying passengers across the Sea of Galilee but being swamped by the storm.

 

We know from Matthew’s gospel that they are in the middle of the Sea approaching the fourth watch of the night or put it another way they started crossing the Sea about 7pm and they have been rowing for 8 hours or more. Mark states that Jesus “saw them straining at the oars” They must have been completely exhausted but they hadn’t learnt the lesson.

 

THE RESCUE

Jesus goes to collect His disciples and bring them to the other side of the Sea, but in a very unusual and miraculous way. John writes in verse 19,

 “they beheld Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat; and they were frightened.”  

 

Mark adds more detail, 

 “He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them.  But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were frightened.”  

 

Jesus’ timing is perfect as He comes to them at the moment when they have given up hope. All their efforts were getting them into worse trouble, they were physically exhausted, emotionally drained, and spirituality dead. They weren’t prepared for what was going to happen next. Suddenly, they see something that their minds refuse to believe. Jesus’ walking towards them against the wind as if there were no wind at all, and walking on the water as if the water was dry ground. The wind and waves have no effect on Him. The disciples cried out I terror thinking Jesus was a ghost or phantom.

Why did they respond in such a way to Jesus?

They don’t expect Him because they failed to pray and trust in His Son to meet their need and rescue them. The second reason comes from Mark, which says, “their hearts were hardened”. 

 

They tried to overcome the storm their way, and now they concluded that it was a hopeless situation.

 

Why did Jesus choose to walk to them on the water? He could have saved Himself a lot of time and effort if He had just appeared in their boat, or called out to the wind and waves in a voice loud enough for them to hear, telling the wind and waves to quiet down.

Jesus gives them here a visual demonstration that the things they now feared were completely under His control. Jesus spoke those words to them in Hebrew and He was literally saying to them, I AM, do not be afraid. Jesus used God’s name and was applying it to Himself.

 

During the previous storm, Jesus was in the boat and rebuked the wind and waves to calm and they obeyed His voice. Now after seeing Jesus’ walking on water and hearing those words from His mouth, the disciples and Jesus reach the other side and go onto land.

 

Before we consider the fear of the disciples and our own fears as well. We know that for us we have the emotion of fear, given to us like a built-in alarm system to warn us of danger. It is for our protection and preservation because it’s natural for us to be afraid in times of danger and at times we should follow our fears. There might be times when we should choose to overcome our fears by asking God. A question would be what do I fear, and why do I fear it? How should I respond to those fears, in the light of God’s word?

 

We need to learn how to pray. Jesus was up on the mountain praying. Jesus could have been praying for His disciples to realise their helplessness and turn towards their Father in faith, asking Him to rescue them. When they failed to do so and were in the hopeless situation, maybe Jesus’ answered His own prayer for His Father to use Him to rescue them and show them that He was the Son of God. What we know is that God answered His prayers and Jesus brings us closer in relationship and deep trust to our Father through prayer.

 

What’s the value of our prayers to God? God answers prayers in usual or unusual or unexpected ways because God delights in answering prayers of His children. Paul reminds us of this in his letter to Philippians which says, “And my God shall supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” 4:19.

 

Why didn’t the disciples pray to God when the storm began? It could be pride – ‘I’ll do it my way’ or ‘I’d rather do it myself’. Are we filled with pride in yourself and would rather be independent of God? Are we drowning in our own sins, but unwilling to lift a hand in prayer to God who can reach down and pull us out of the dark waters?

 

Finally consider the fear of those disciples that comes in many different forms and can affect us in many different ways. Are we controlled or hindered by various forms of fear, fear of death, fear on the unknown, fear of failure, fear of change, fear of what others think of us? Fears can be tied to the past, present or the future. Worry is a form of fear. This incident of the storm, in John 6, tells us that we can banish all of our fears by recognizing and relying upon the faithful presence, power and providence of God.  Let us this week lean into God’s presence by reading His word, praying to Him every day, seeking his deliverance from our fears so that Jesus can take us through the storms of life and bring us hope as we reach together the other side. Amen.


 Reflection: John 6:1-15

Today as we continue on in our trek through John’s gospel, we come to John 6, one of the longest chapters in the Bible. We come to a familiar story of Jesus feeding the five thousand as is recounted in each of the four Gospels.

The accounts of the Gospels do not tell us these specifics, but they certainly tell us that this was a miracle. This story is made up of five scenes, so let’s take them one at a time.

Scene 1: The setting

As chapter 5 ends and chapter 6 begins John tells us the setting has changed from Jerusalem back to Galilee.

We find Jesus and his disciples with him heading to the other side of the Sea of Galilee or as John notes the Sea of Tiberias. Now Herod Antipas the son of Herod the Great had founded the city of Tiberias, naming it after the Roman Emperor Tiberias. The Sea of Galilee soon then came to be called the Sea of Tiberias after this prominent city on its shores. So, for the older members of John’s target audience reading his Gospel, John uses the seas older name.

John doesn’t usually repeat any stories that Matthew, Mark or Luke have told, but here, the feeding of the five thousand, is an event he recounts even though it is found elsewhere. Telling the story himself helps John to explain the sermon Jesus gives the next day, and which is recounted later in this chapter. The sermon is where Jesus explains that he is in fact himself the Bread of Life.

As Jesus travelled to the other side, a large crowd had begun to follow Him ‘because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick’. They don’t follow him because He is the Son of God but because of His miracles. It is a bit like thrill-seekers who failed the grasp the true significance of Jesus’ miraculous signs, they flocked to see His works, but refused to accept His words.

Now though we have read and explored together over the weeks and months a handful of Jesu’s miracles, we read that the crowd had gathered due to the multitude of miraculous signs and wonders He kept performing for the sick.

At the end of John’s gospel 20:30-31, it tells us there are many miracles of Jesus John does not record in this account, but those he did where to express Jesus’ purpose of helping us see who Jesus truly was and remains to be the Son of God so that by believing we may have life in His name.

Jesus goes up on a mountain overlooking the Sea and sits down with his disciples. This is where it seems he in his human nature may have wanted some peace and quiet, but the crowd was coming toward him.

If you are an introvert, this is a particular stressful situation. Introverts would like about 25 hours per day of personal time. Small group discussion is OK. To sit with 12 others might be fine, though a bit whelming. Life comes at these types of people and calls them to interact with others and to participate in society. For the introverts around us this particular situation described here would be stressful and be quite stress-inducing.

My Uncle told me a story when he drove a tank in World War II, some days after the Normandy landings in France. He was up on a hill looking back at the coming army and he saw, thousands of ships, planes, tanks, jeeps, artillery pieces and foot soldiers coming his way. If it was quiet then it would soon get very loud as the whole army was on the move. A crowd coming towards you when you want to retreat might feel like the war is coming towards you.

With the end of scene one the setting has been laid out for us and the beginning of verse 5 we see the grand event about to begin.

Jesus quickly adapts to the situation. As the crowd approaches Jesus, he has concern enough for their physical welfare that he asks his disciple Philip ‘Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’ The text tells us “He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.”

Philip would have been the natural choice to ask because in John 1:44 it says that he is from this area, so if anyone is to know where to buy large amounts of food, he would be the one to know.  Put yourself in Philip’s shoes. There had to some level of pressure to be put on the spot by Jesus at that moment. The crowd coming out of the city to see Him and He asks you how they’re going to be fed? Does this surprise you that Jesus would do this? That He would intentionally put you on the spot and move you into a stressful moment?

Why does Jesus test him? For us like Philip to learn or to grow in His knowledge, to learn about ourselves and about Him. Jesus intended to teach these things to Philip to show us the gift of grace for our good and for God’s glory.

The third scene shows us not only Philip’s answer to the question but Andrew’s answer as well. Both answers are lacking and reveal unbelief.

Philip answers Jesus by saying “two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” This was a large crowd indeed. Two hundred denarii are about two hundred days wages or about six to seven months’ salary for a common worker. So, the crowd must have been thousands with men, women and children. Notice rather than answering Jesus’ question Philip responds with only bare visible facts. He blurts out the obvious. Philip clearly was a man who wanted solid visible evidence but Christ text here reveals his unbelief.

Andrew counted the goods. He found a boy with five barley loaves and two fish. But like Philip, Andrew concluded that they were far short of what was necessary to feed the crowd. Andrew chimes in with his answer to Jesus’ question in saying ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish…” At first, we may think that Andrew remembered how Jesus turned the water into wine but as he saw the large crowd nearing his whole reply shows he was thinking of these things … He says of the fish and loaves, “what are they for so many?”. Andrew is much like Philip simply looking at the resources and deciding there was no way to solve the problem. None of the disciples offered any other solution to Christ’s question, so it would appear that they all believed nothing could be done for the crowd.

Do we see ourselves as Philip and Andrew? Do the problems we see in front of you seem larger than God? Do we trust who Jesus is and in what He has said to us?

To see it, we move onto the next scene Christ’s solution.

Jesus calmly says “Have the people sit down”. John adds that there was not much grass in the place which highlights his being an eyewitness of the event and correlates well with the earlier passages that the Passover was at hand, because the Passover is in the Spring when the grass is not yet been scorched by the sun.

John tells us the number of men in the crowd but the total number varies widely. On the minimum end it could be that just the men are out following Jesus while the women and children are at home but that can’t be totally true as there was at least one boy there who had the fish and loaves. On the maximum end I’ve found that commentors suggest as many as 15,000 or 20,000 people. That is a big crowd.

Now for the miracle itself

11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.

Not only was there sufficient food but an abundance! So, what happened?

Jesus takes the loaves and the fish and gives thanks and the food is distributed to them. The disciples gather up what remained and all the leftovers filled 12 baskets. Some think that the 12 baskets remained is about the 12 tribes of Israel that were fed by God with manna in the wilderness. It is hard to know if John is making such a connection, but we do indeed see here that God provides for His people like God did in the wilderness.

Barley loaves with a few small fish was a common meal for the poor in this culture. Barley bread was so course that the fish served not so much as a side dish but as an aid to soften the bread to make it edible. Jesus takes a poor boy’s lunch and turns it into a meal for 20,000 people.

Perhaps you think your mind can’t comprehend the deep things of God, be reminded that with God it can be renewed, expanded. Perhaps you think your heart is too cold or messed up by sin to change but be reminded that with God the heart can be warmed and be transformed. Perhaps you think you’ve said things that can’t be unsaid or erased, be reminded that with God the tongue can be tamed and trained.

Maybe you think you’re too small, too weak, too unknown, too old, too young to do anything for God. We are not in God’s eyes as we are all accepted and forever loved. This lunch was given to Jesus, accepted by Jesus, blessed by Jesus, improved by Jesus and distributed by Jesus. So, if we feel like we have nothing to give to God? Then give Him that, We don’t need to understand what He’ll do with us or through us, it’s His gracious work that takes our nothingness and turns it into something and spreads it for His father’s glory. The equation is Jesus + nothing = everything.

Our last scene for today, we read Jesus simply performs a miracle and that is what the text tells us. It calls it ‘a sign’. This sign impresses the people that they call Jesus ‘the Prophet’ and had sights on making him king.

When the crowd say ‘prophet’ they had in mind Moses who spoke to the people then

“The Lord you God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.” Deuteronomy 18:15-19 (cf. Acts 3:20-22)

Jesus surely was this prophet. He is King also. So as the people perceive him correctly but only to a point, for they wanted to set Jesus over an earthly kingdom. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. They wanted someone to deliver them form the Romans, but they needed someone to deliver them from their sins.

They wanted an earthly deliverer, but Christ delivers eternal life.

Jesus brings the miracle of the fish and loaves as a sign to the greater reality that Christ can feed his people eternally. They wanted food and, in His kindness, Christ provides it but it is a sign to point to the truth that Christ brings eternal food.

Just like Jesus says to the Samaritan woman ‘whoever drinks of the water that I give him will never be thirsty again.’ We could say here in parallel what whoever eats the bread of life will never be hungry again.

Jesus does not just bring what the people want, he brings what His people need.

Jesus did not work this miracle to provide a meal but to show that He is the bread Himself. He is the Lamb of God, He is the long-awaited Prophet, and He is the Messiah. The One who has come as the Bread of Heaven Himself to fill our hearts with new life, to fill our minds with new truth, and to fill our mouths with new praise. Let us all then, seek his Father’s kingdom by trusting in His son Jesus as we feed on him and are nourished. 


Reflection: John 5:19-42

Sometimes experts are wrong.

In 1962 executives at Decca records dismissed the Beatles and said "we don't like your sound and guitar music is on the way out." The Beatles went on to sell 183 million records.

Here in John's Gospel the Bible experts (the Jewish leaders) are wrong about 3 things

1) The Bible

The Jewish leaders claimed to follow Moses and his teachings. However, Jesus tells them that the Old Testament is all about him. Even Moses predicted that a prophet greater than himself would arise and that people should listen to him (Deuteronomy 18). The Old Testament is like an arrow that points to Jesus. He is the fulfillment of prophecy, the true prophet, priest and King.

2) The Trinity

It is Jesus who reveals God as Father, Son and Spirit. There are no 3 Gods, but one God in three persons. This was not fully revealed in the Old Testament, but Jesus's miracles give authentication to his teaching about God.

3) The Way to Find Eternal Life

John 5:39 - The Jewish leaders thought they could find eternal life by studying the Scriptures. Bible study is worthwhile, but it always a means to the end of knowing Jesus. Salvation is not through Bible study but through Jesus.

John 5:24 Jesus says...
"Truly, truly, I tell you, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment. Indeed, he has crossed over from death to life"


Reflection: John 5:1-18

This episode of the healing at the pool is the third of seven signs in John's Gospel to testify that Jesus is the Christ. 

The pool of Bethesda (literally meaning house of mercy) has been discovered by archaeologists in Northern Jerusalem, and it matches John's description. There was the superstitious belief that when the waters stirred up, the first sick person into the pool would be healed. One  man had been there 38 years and seemed hopeless and helpless, He just cannot get into the pool quick enough to be first and no-one is willing to help him.

Jesus does not push him in, but simply says the word. The man is healed, picks up his mat and walks. It seems strange because there is no indication the man has faith, in fact he does not know who he was when asked by the Jewish leaders. It is a miracle of sheer mercy on the sick man.

Why is this miracle recorded?

The reason seems to be the impact upon the Jewish leaders. Firstly they accuse the man of breaking the Sabbath by carrying his mat (you were not allowed to carry anything on the Sabbath as it was regarded as work). Then they accuse Jesus of working on the Sabbath by doing a healing. After this they want to persecute and kill Jesus. The problem with the Jewish leaders is that they are more concerned about the mat than the man. They have so focused on the rules that they miss Jesus - they do not recognise who he is.

Do we see who Jesus really is?


Ash Wednesday Reflection: Matthew 6:1-6

A poem by Mark Oliver called ‘The Summer Day’.

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

I came across this poem recently and I had never thought of my life as wild and precious. I love the idea of the invitation to be free, to express, to dream big and go beyond the currently possibilities of the impossible. I find myself asking what really matters in life and that is a perfect question to ask on Ash Wednesday - What does it mean to live a wild and precious life? How do we give up the things that devalue our lives? How do we recognize and recover what is important?

 

I wonder what this year Lent journey will feel like – it might be a rush or we are currently very busy leading up to this period. We might have things done or left undone. What if Lent is really about the life yet to be lived? Or in other words what if I paid attention to where I am going? How precious is life?

 

I started to think about my own life and what would I thing was important, what did I value, what is wild and precious. What in my life means to life a live of wildness?

I am not talking about being disobedient or living an unruly life but about being open, unbounded and free. To explore the possibility of something new, something different, something that will transform us from the inside out.

 

After talking to my oldest daughter Chloe about what it might look like living a wild life. She mentioned to me a book called where the wild things are. The story is about a young boy named Max who dresses as a wolf and wreaks havoc through his household and is sent to bed without his supper. Max’s bedroom undergoes a transformation into a jungle and he sails to an island where the wild things are. The story ends with Max appreciating what he left behind and discovers a hot supper waiting for him.

 

Sometimes we let fear, self-doubt, guilt, regret, disappointment or wounds tame our lives. Something is broken and we feel lost.

 

I watched the advert of Lloyd’s Bank which has a horse running which is unbroken as to a horse which has been tamed and is rideable. So, in what ways has our life been tamed? Or in other words what do you need to do or give up to reclaim your wild life? What freedom and opportunities would a wild life offer you? What dream might become a reality?

 

For me, Lent is a time to understand a bit more about God’s mystery, God’s love, His compassion, His mercy, His forgiveness and kindness because God sees us as precious. We are His children who is worth so much in His eyes.

 

Our Life is precious – it is found in its fragility and mortality. Life is short and uncertain. The poem has the line ‘everything dies at last, and too soon’. Most of us know about the ‘too soon’ of death. That does not, however, negate the value and beauty of life; it intensifies them. It makes life even more precious. Everything and everyone matters. Nothing and no-one are to be taken for granted. Not a minute of time is to wasted or wished away.

Our life is precious and gets revealed in the things we are most passionate about; in the people we love and those who love us; in the things that give us meaning, offer us hope and bring us the courage to live wildly. They are people, circumstances and things to which we give all that we are and all that we have. We pour ourselves, time, and money into them and there is never remorse.

The preciousness of life means that we are of infinite value. Do you see and believe that about yourself? Or are you devaluing yourself or another? We are the treasure chests that hold God’s heart. So maybe this Lent stop diminishing your preciousness and see how would your life be different if you lived from a place of preciousness? If you saw others as precious?

In a normal Ash Wednesday service, I would be saying these words

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” 

So, what do we need to do on our Lenten journey, do we need to live a life that is wild and precious in God’s eyes? 


Reflection: John 4:1-42


John’s gospel is about the evidence of Jesus Christ, which in turn involves believing or faith in Jesus Christ which produces life.

As we look at John, chapter 4 where a conversation is recorded at Jacob’s Well and its astonishing result, it is impossible not to be struck by the wealth of teaching in these verses. We have probably heard a range of sermons, talks and reflections about this passage of Scripture. So, in this chapter we can take John’s key elements: testimony, faith and life and locate these where they come in the narrative.

Testimony: Within the conversation with the Samaritan women there are two records of witness: first her own story and then their story of the townspeople shaped by God’s story. Let’s start with the Samaritan community.

We are told that it was her story that people believed in Jesus. They left to come out to Jacob’s well. They had a choice. Usually at that time Jews and Samaritans didn’t mix, so when this community heard the women’s story, they might have ordinarily crossed the street to avoid a Jew. But they came, following this woman to the place where Jesus was. It was in this little Samaritan town that Jesus conducted his first revival meeting, and it was in this town that large numbers of people first believed – first accepted Jesus as the Messiah – first accepted Jesus as Lord.

Her own story at first sight of coming to see reminds us of our own deep spiritual hunger as well as the communities which in turn they are all seeking truth. Their thirst for truth made it possible for them to see that Jesus was, indeed, the living water gushing up to eternal life.

They recognized that Jesus could quench their thirst and fill their hungry hearts. It was these marginal people who were open to receiving Jesus, so it was to these marginal people – these unlikely candidates – that Jesus first revealed himself to be the Messiah!

So, who is this person? The answer is the revelation Jesus brought into the world for people like the Samaritan community, came to this person a woman and to come to a sinner whose guilt is beyond doubt.

Faith: Jesus has different choices to meet this Samaritan. Jesus had a choice. He could go around Samaria or he could go through it. Going through Samaria was the most direct route, but Jews didn’t like Samaritans and Samaritans didn’t like Jews. For a Jew, going through Samaria could be trouble! Most Jews took the longer route and avoided Samaria.

But Jesus took the direct route – right through the middle of Samaria. It wasn’t that Jesus was spoiling for a fight, but that Samaria offered him a special opportunity. Jews thought that the Samaritans were hopeless. In Samaria, Jesus could demonstrate that there is no such thing as hopeless!

When Jesus arrived in the little town of Sychar, he went to the town well. It had been a long walk, and the sun had been high and hot. Jesus was thirsty.

A woman came to the well for water. That was unusual. Most women came to the well in the morning or evening – why carry water in the noonday sun?!  But this woman had a reason for coming at noon. She didn’t have many friends. The women in her village didn’t like her, so she came to the well when no one was there. She was lonely – but she prized her solitude.

Jesus broke the silence by choosing to speak. He said,” Give me a drink” (v. 7). The woman was surprised. “How is it that you, being a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” (v. 9). Good question! Jews didn’t speak to Samaritans, and men didn’t start conversations with women. What did this stranger want? Jesus gave a strange answer. He said,

“If you knew the gift of God,
and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him,
and he would have given you living water” (v. 10).

Who was this anyway? “Sir,” she said, “you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. From where then do have you that living water? Are you greater than our father, Jacob, who gave us the well?” (vv. 11-12).

Our own conversation start like this encounter, talking about surface level and then going deeper into that subject. Sometimes in that conversation we might even fine it a little embarrassing. This woman could have felt that when Jesus turns his thoughts on husband.

He said,” Go, call your husband, and come here” (v. 16). “I have no husband,” she admitted (v. 17). Jesus said,” You said well, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands; and he whom you now have is not your husband” (vv. 17-18).

How embarrassing! Was this man a mind reader? If he knew about the men in her life, he must know everything. But this woman had been around men, and she knew how to get them to change direction. She said, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship” (v. 20). Jesus responded by saying something so important it can easily be skipped over. “I AM HE!” Jesus said (v. 26).

Did you catch that! Jesus said,” I am he! I am the Messiah!” To be perfectly correct, Jesus said,” I AM!” That was God’s name! At the burning bush, when Moses asked God his name, God said, “I AM!” (Exodus 3:14).

“I am the Messiah!” Jesus had not said that to his disciples! He had not said that to his inner circle, Peter, James and John! He had not said that to the priests! He had not said that in Bethlehem, where he was born; nor in Nazareth, where he grew up; nor in the synagogue, where he worshiped; nor in Jerusalem, where God lived. It was here, in this ungodly place with this ungodly woman standing in the dust at High Noon that Jesus first revealed himself to be the Messiah.

Isn’t that amazing?! After all Jesus had gone through to get to this point, why would he choose this time and this place and this woman to reveal the Big Secret? Stop and think for a moment! Can you imagine a less likely candidate than this much-married, truly ostracized, Samaritan woman? The question is not whether Jesus could have made a better choice. The question is whether he could have made a worse choice!

But that’s how Jesus worked. Jesus picked the unlikeliest candidates! It began with his birth. He could have been born in Rome – the Capital of the World! He could have been born in a palace! Instead, he was born in a nowhere town in a nowhere country to a nobody girl. He was born among a stiff-necked, self-righteous people who let him teach for about three years before they killed him.

The principle of unlikelihood held true when Jesus chose his apostles. He chose the unlikeliest candidates. He chose twelve men. One of the twelve betrayed him. A handful amounted to something. The rest we never hear from again. And even those who amounted to something were often an embarrassment. You could always count on Peter to do something, but not usually the right thing!

But there was method to Jesus. Just look at what happened when Jesus tried to work with the religious leaders – with the more obvious candidates. In John 3, just a weeks ago, Jesus tried to work with Nicodemus, one of the best and most open of the religious leaders. What happened? Nicodemus’ last words to Jesus were “How can these things be?” (3:9). Nicodemus came to Jesus as an honest inquirer, but Jesus stretched him to the breaking point. Nicodemus tried to believe, but he just didn’t get it. And Nicodemus was the best of the bunch! The rest of the religious leaders wanted to kill Jesus! So much for the most likely candidates.

Now look at what happened when Jesus came to this Samaritan woman. She left her water jar sitting by the well, because she couldn’t carry a water jar and run. She ran into town and said, “Come, see a man who told me everything that I did. Can this be the Christ?” (v. 29).

Life: In short, her story leads to belief that there at the well is none other than the Saviour. In this personal encounter John is drawing from her example to light of the gospel upon someone who is lost and now is found. A struggle is taking place before our eyes and she tries to evade with distraction but focuses on Jesus who speaks to her so she can see and have life.

That should tell us something! It should instruct our ministry today. We Christians today are called to share God’s story with others too. We can draw from our circle of friends as well as those people outside. Jesus went to people like this Samaritan woman and these Samaritan villagers – people who were hungry and thirsty for righteousness because they had so little of it. Jesus proclaimed the Gospel to these unworthy people, and they believed! They received Jesus gladly, because their lives were empty, and they saw that Jesus could fill their souls with good things.

We have people with empty lives in our community today. We have Samaritans living among us. Who are they? Perhaps the homeless. Perhaps prisoners in jail. Perhaps those who are hooked on alcohol or drugs or gambling. Those are obviously empty people. But the empty people also include ordinary people facing the challenges of ordinary life without Jesus. In many cases, the empty people are our friends and neighbours and members of our family. Jesus says,” Behold, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and look at the fields, that they are ripe for harvest already” (v. 35).

Did you ever think of your community as a field ready to be harvested for Christ? Or do you ever think of the people you meet in the ordinary course of your day as a field ready to be harvested for Christ?

It might seem as if the task is hopeless, but it’s not. It might seem as if our neighbours are hopeless, but they aren’t. We have God with us and have to choose to continue to tell his story and invite others to come and see. We all have the responsibility to invite or to plant or to water or to harvest. Each of us plays a part in God’s kingdom to bring life. God needs us to be faithful to Him.

The Samaritan woman was faithful. She did her part and brought life to her community. She ran into town to tell her neighbours about a Jew who might just be the Messiah. The scripture tells us that “many of the Samaritans believed in (Jesus) because of the word of (this) woman” (v. 39). Then it goes on to say, “Many more believed because of his word” (v. 41).

We all have opportunities to invite friends and our community to church. You will have opportunities now and then to tell someone what your faith means to you. When that happens, ask yourself this question: “If not me, then who’s going to do it?” Amen.

Reflection: John 3:1-17

Nicodemus ‘came to Jesus by night’. I wonder if that’s not true for all of us. I wonder if we don’t all come to Jesus by night. Some have said that Nicodemus was hiding in the darkness. He was embarrassed. He was scared and didn’t want to be seen or caught. Others have said Nicodemus wasn’t a true believer and that his faith was shallow and superficial. A few have even said it was just a matter of scheduling and night was the only time Nicodemus and Jesus could get together. Maybe, but I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s any of those. I think there is much more to it than that.

John is using night in a particular way. It’s not our usual understanding of the word. John is using it to describe a condition or a circumstance. Elsewhere in John’s account of the gospel night is that time, Jesus says, “when no one can work” (Jn. 9:4). Our usual daytime activities have no power or meaning in the night. We are unable to create and sustain our own life in the night. Jesus speaks of night as the time when we stumble because there is no light in us and we just can’t see the way forward (Jn. 11:10). Night is the separation, fragmentation, and division within us that can become betrayal of ourselves and others. Remember Judas? He got up and left the table, John writes, “and it was night” (Jn.13:30). Night describes those times we fish all night but catch nothing (Jn. 21:3). Our efforts prove fruitless and our nets remain empty.

Coming to Jesus by night is not a statement about the time, Nicodemus’ motive, or his faith. It is, rather, a description of Nicodemus and his life, a description that probably fits all of us at one time or another. Coming by night is the recognition that there is a daytime Nicodemus and a night time Nicodemus; just as there is a daytime Chris and a night time Chris, a daytime you and a night time you. But what do I mean by this?

Well, by day Nicodemus knows who he is. He has an identity. He is a Pharisee. He has a role and a reputation as a leader of the Jews.

He knows and applies the law. People listen to and follow him. He has a particular place in society. He fits in. He has security and power.

By night, however, Nicodemus is lost and confused. He cannot see or understand. Nothing makes sense. He’s in the dark, as we say. His work, accomplishments, reputation, and place in society no longer provide stability or answers. Everything has changed. He’s stumbling in the dark. Daytime certainty has given way to night time questions. “How can these things be?” By day he keeps the faith. By night, however, his nets come up empty. He’s looking for something the daytime life just cannot give him.

We probably all know what that’s like. We live daytime lives and we live night time lives. By day all is well. We live with a sense of identity and security. We have a place and purpose. Our life has meaning and direction. Daytime reveals what is, but darkness reveals nothing. By night everything is hidden. We stumble through the darkness, grasping for something to hold, seeking answers and explanations for our life. Everything has been turned upside down and nothing is certain. In the dark life it doesn’t make sense and we don’t understand. The night is a time of vulnerability, questions, and wrestling with life.

We are almost always better at daytime living than night time living. We have been taught to live daytime lives. That’s what our world values, encourages, and rewards. We want to be daytime people. That means we spend our time looking for information and answers. We build our reputations. We desire recognition and approval. We establish our place in life. We buy stuff and gain wealth. We want predictability and control. We prefer what is safe and familiar. Daytime life is the life we create for ourselves. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that.

We all do it and we need to. Some of those things are necessary. The problem is that daytime life keeps us stuck in the cycle of always having to create and re-create our lives. Somehow, we can never get enough. We never quite get there.

It seems that which we most want is always just beyond our grasp. That’s important information to know. It means we cannot keep doing the same old things and expect a different result.

It means no matter how hard we try, how much we gather, or how much we know something will always be missing from our daytime life. It will always be less than the life God intends and desires for us. No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above. No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born again. No matter how full, beautiful, or successful daytime life is it will always be incomplete, fragile, and fleeting. How could it not be? It’s the life we have created for ourselves and “what is born of the flesh is flesh.”

When we realize that about our self and our life, we have entered the night time of life. Here’s the irony. The very life we create for ourselves often becomes the circumstances that take us into the darkness. We keep doing the same old thing but nothing changes. We’re so exhausted we can’t muster the energy to re-create our life one more time. We have everything we want, everything is fine, but something is lacking. Those and a thousand others like them are the start of our darkness.        

Most of us do whatever we can to avoid or get out of the darkness. Night time living isn’t much fun. It’s difficult, uncomfortable, even painful. It’s not our first choice. It is, however, necessary. That’s why we are marked with ashes on Ash Wednesday and reminded of our mortality. We must remember that what is born of the flesh is flesh and that there is more to us and our lives than what we can create for ourselves. It’s why at times we need to let go instead of possessing, hunger instead of fullness, self-denial instead of self-satisfaction, change instead of status quo, self-examination instead of blissful ignorance, and darkness rather than light.

The great temptation in the night time is to think that if we just get the answer, if we can understand and explain it all, then we’ll know what to do. We’ll do it better this time. We’ll do it differently this time. Things will change and we’ll get what we want.

That’s what Nicodemus is doing. “How can these things be?” He wants an answer, information. That’s just more daytime living and it doesn’t work in the night time of life.

The night time of life is not a situation to be resolved, a problem to be figured out, or a question to be answered. As difficult and painful as it may be the night time of life is the womb by which we are born from above. The discomforts of the darkness are the contractions by which we are pushed into new life and born again. This night time birth changes everything about our daytime life. This second birth gives meaning to, completes, and fulfils our first birth.

This, however, is the Spirit’s work not ours. We cannot birth ourselves. We can only feel and give way to the rhythm of the contractions. So, don’t flee the darkness. Don’t fight the night. Let yourself be born. The contractions of the darkness are God reshaping, forming, and molding you in the likeness of Christ. Isn’t that what we really want? Isn’t that why we’ve shown up here today?

Today is our reminder that the night time of life, no matter how dark, is always filled with the promise of new life, full life, abundant life, God’s own life – what Jesus calls eternal life. Why settle for re-creating ourselves one more time when Christ is dying to give us a life, we could never create for ourselves?

Reflection: John 2:13-25

1 Jesus, 2 Temples, and 3 Days

1 Jesus

Often Jesus is depicted in popular imagination as a Hippie figure, with sandals and long robe. In this section of John's gospel he is holding a whip - driving out the animals and money changers from the Temple courts. Does you understanding of Jesus include this side of Jesus. It is a passion for the purity of worship.

2 Temples

The problem at the Temple in Jerusalem during Passover is that it had become a market. Animals for sacrifices were being bought and sold. Also the Temple had its own currency, so money changers offered the chance to get some Temple coins, but obviously at a mark up. Hence Jesus was angry. The Temple was supposed to be the place where God was worshipped, and the outer courts were an area earmarked for Gentiles (non-Jews) to come and pray. 

When asked to show a sign of his authority to purify the Temple, Jesus points to a greater Temple: his Body. The Temple was where God dwelt and met the people - ultimately the fulness of God dwells in the person of Jesus (Colossians 1:19).

3 Days

Jesus predicts his death and resurrection just a few years later at Passover when he says that the Temple will be destroyed and rebuilt in 3 days. But why 3 days? In Jewish thought you could stay up to and including 3 days at someone's house as a visitor, but if you stayed longer than 3 days you were classed as a 'resident.' So what Jesus is explaining is that he will only be a visitor to the realm of death, and not a permanent resident.

This should give us the confidence to know that as Jesus followers and "in" Christ we also will not dwell in death, but follow Jesus to eternal life.

Reflection: John 2:1-12

In every marriage ceremony, there can be mistakes that take place. In today’s reading from John’s Gospel, we have a wedding scenario where the refreshments for all the guests were running out. If that happened the celebration wouldn’t have joy anymore.

 

Weddings in Israel are not like are wedding services today because the wedding celebration would usually last a week where the bride and groom were surrounded by their friends and family. In this famous wedding from Cana, we have no names of the bride or groom but only the names of two of the guests – Mary and her son Jesus.

 

Jesus and his disciples arrive on the third day – almost ½ way into the feast of the wedding. From our perspective, it looks like Jesus has bad time management because he arrives when supplies of food and drink were running out but this was the perfect time that people would recognize that they need him.

 

If we were there at the wedding feast, we can just imagine the beautiful bride looking worried and anxious about the shortage. We could even hear her say to her own mother

My wedding day is not supposed to be like this! I’m supposed to be filled with joy but instead I’m worrying about what everyone is going to say about us when they discover that we have no wine left’.

 

Mary, Jesus mother might have been the one responsible for planning and co-ordinating the feast and would have been blamed for the embarrassment.

 

When Mary realized that there was a problem, she took the problem to Jesus.  Some commentators believe that the bridal family may have been Jesus’ relatives, or perhaps it was even the wedding of one of his younger sisters. They believe that Mary was not asking for, or expecting, a miracle, but was saying, in effect,

The arrival of you and your disciples has caused a problem. Please send some of them to purchase more wine.”

 

In the passage we gather that the family didn’t show great wisdom in how they planned the wedding feast but they did invite Jesus which turned out to be the wisest thing they did.

Jesus response towards his mum but it seems to be cold and hard to us. Some translations make it sound much harsher but I prefer the NIV translation that says:

          ‘Dear women, why do you involve me?’

Rather than addressing her as mother, he calls her ‘woman’. He is gently distancing himself from his mum and this indicates that their own relationship is changing. Until now, she had enjoyed special privilege as Jesus’ mother, but now she had to begin to learn how to be a disciple. This process would be painful for her.

If that was true for Mary, then it is also true for us. There are times when we bring our requests to God for what we think would bring joy into our lives that God’s response seems cold and hard. The response Jesus gave to his mum was to let her know that she was no longer in control. He was not going to do what she wanted when she wanted it because He was fully obeying his heavenly father.

The servants were are willing to be obedient. Obedience makes the possibility of joy to become a reality. Mary says to the servants

          ‘Do whatever He tells you to do.’

 

At that moment, Jesus ceases to be a guest and becomes the one who is in control and a miracle begins to happen. There were 6 stone jars and within each jar it had water because the Jews used the water for washing their hands with. The servants heard Jesus speak, and they responded in obedience. They began to fill the stone jars with water from the nearest well. Each jar held between 20-30 gallons of water so it took time and energy to accomplish the task. The servants filled the jars all the way to the brim.

 

Jesus commanded them to draw some and take what they drew to the Master of the Banquet for him to taste. Reading this verse in English gives us the impression that when the servants did this, they drew water out of the stone jars.

 

But the word draw out here means to take the water from the place where water settles, in other words not from the stone jar but from the well. The servants had spent time and energy filling the stone jars and to them it seemed that their own effort was wasted.

 

Jesus was interested in more than just seeing water change into wine because he wanted to change the servants too and in order to make that happen, he had to get them willing to serve his authority without questioning. Jesus didn’t need the servants work to do the miracle because he needed their obedience.

 

The servant then took the water that had been drawn out and presented it to the Master of the banquet. As far as we know, Jesus doesn’t say to the servant that He was going to perform a miracle and so the servants thought that they were carrying a cup full of water and not wine.

 

When the Master tasted the cup he got a mouthful of wine that was better than anything he had ever tasted before. Jesus had performed a miracle and brought a renewal of joy to the situation.

 

Two miracles happened on that day – 1st was changing water into wine and 2nd was Jesus’ disciples were changed because they put their own faith into Jesus which also applies for us that if we allow Christ to be within us there is cause for a celebration.

 

Let us pray together....

Eternal God, your greatness is shown through the miracles of Jesus, letting the world realize that you are very real. Thankyou for all the little miracles that you have allowed to happen in each of our lives and help each one of us to know your joy in our different circumstances we face today. Amen.



Bishop Gregory's January Pastoral Letter

We’re familiar, I suspect, with the story of the twelve disciples, who are an integral part of the story of Jesus in the Gospels.  As sure as Snow White belongs with the Seven Dwarfs, so Jesus belongs with the twelve, if that isn’t too trivialising a thing to say.  What is so fascinating in the Gospels is what a motley band the disciples are.  They make a mess of things, they misunderstand, they question, they fail to believe and to follow.  Over the course of the ministry of Jesus, however, they are forged into apostles, and Jesus is not afraid at his ascension to put the whole business of the Gospel of Salvation and the Church into their hands.

I was challenged before Christmas when someone said to me that they didn’t think that Christians today thought of themselves as disciples, and that people didn’t understand what a disciple was.  It was a name which belonged in the Bible, but was hardly a contemporary description of faith, they said.

For me, the fundamental question of faith is whether I am a disciple.   Faith is not an abstract exercise of the mind, it is how it affects my daily life.  A disciple is one who learns: it is clearer in the Welsh, where disciple and pupil are the same word: disgybl.  To be a Christian is to lay one’s life on the line, and to follow Jesus.  We see the “crisis” of discipleship when Jesus calls the twelve – peremptorily – from their fishing or their tax collection or their political activism.  He just turns up, it appears, and issues the invitation (we might be better saying “command”.) And they go with him, they leave their work, they leave their families, they set out on a journey from which, to tell the truth, they never return, and yet they come truly home.  The gospels even tell us about one occasion when someone said “no”:  a rich young aristocrat, who just couldn’t tear himself away from the privileges of his wealth (Mark. 10.17-27).

Jesus, I’m afraid, doesn’t call us to stay where we are, in the sense of saying our creeds with meaning, but otherwise going about our lives.  He calls us to set out on a journey, away from the familiar, to become larger than we are, greater in spirit, holier in life, loving in service.  Nor does he make it easy, “If anyone does want to come after me,” he says in Luke 9.23, “they must deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and so follow me.”

Are we frightened by this?  Was it enough to be baptised or confirmed in the past, so that we need not heed the call that comes today or tomorrow, to go somewhere we don’t expect and to learn something new about the real meaning of life?  This is what it is to be a Christian: to learn what God has in store for us and to follow it, to be a disciple.  The disciples didn’t find following Jesus easy, and indeed, the Gospel according to John tells us that on one occasion Jesus’ teaching was so demanding that a lot of people gave up, and left.  (John chapter 6, particularly v.66 ff)  Jesus has to turn to the twelve, and say:  “Are you lot off as well?”  It is good old Simon Peter who replies on this occasion:  “Where else could we go?”, he says, “You are the one who has the words which give eternal life.”

And that’s the promise – to follow Jesus, to go on the unexpected journey, is to discover the riches of a life beyond compare, beyond blessing.  “He who would true valour see, let him come hither,” wrote John Bunyan in the seventeenth century.  “One here will constant be, come wind, come weather.  There’s no discouragement shall make him once relent his first avowed intent: to be a pilgrim.”  Pilgrim follower, disciple.  Are you a disciple?  I can think of no better vocation, no more exciting journey in 2021 than to get up, shake off the lethargy or the disgruntlement, and to go through the door of life, and look to Jesus, who stretches his hand towards us, and for us to say to him: “Here I am, and where you lead, I will follow.”

 Gregory

 

Reflection: John 1:15-34

Who are you?

When someone want to know who you are, they ask ‘Who are you?’ 'What is your job?’ ‘What is your career?’ and we usually answer with ‘ I’m a teacher, a farmer or a truck driver’ Who we are is connected with what you do.

This isn’t always the way things have to be. A friend of mine said that when asked him 'who are you’ he spoke about His own family, he showed them pictures and usually said ‘I am the son of these parents’, or ‘I am the uncle of these wonderful children’.

Who are you is an important question with some important answers? As we think about that question, we can use this to focus on our bible reading from John’s gospel looking at three parts - who is John, who is Jesus and who are you?

Who is John? This question is just what the delegation sent from Jerusalem asks John. The group of priests and Levities arrive and ask ‘Who are you?’ and John says that ‘I am not the Christ’ very quickly and openly confessing that he is not claiming to be someone great but is a humble man. John gives a response that he is not Elijah either who was a prophet of God.  John responds according to the opinion of the Jews that the literal exact same person – Elijah would return. John is not the same person or the soul of Elijah. As the questions keep coming to John, he makes his third denial. I am not the Messiah, I am not Elijah, I am not the Prophet.

As we know from the other Gospel accounts, John the Baptist is a wild-haired, locust and honey eating figure who lives out in the desert. His activities have gained a lot of attention. Now he has come to the attention of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and there is at this time a great messianic expectation. Many people believed that the Messiah, the Christ, would come. The Jewish leaders were coming to investigate John to bring a report back to the Sanhedrin that they might determine what to think about John.

The delegation cannot go home empty handed so they ask – who then is he? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself? John responds I am the voice of one crying out – He is a herald of the coming King. This reference is from our Old Testament reading Isaiah which prophesies that the glory of the Lord will be revealed. John is simply a voice.

Secondly, who is Jesus? John very quickly turns his attention to the members of the delegation – who is Christ? John explains three ways in which Christ is greater than he is. John starts by saying that he baptises with water, but the Christ will baptises with the Spirit. John’s baptism couldn’t take away sin. It was with water but Jesus’ baptism is with the Spirit. It gives life. The water sign-posts to a greater reality of being with the Father. The Spirit cleans away our sins.

Next  John says that he is not worthy to untie his sandal. Untying the thong of his master’s sandal was the task of the lowest slave. Feet are dirty, gross and covered in all sorts of things like sand, sweat etc. John feels that he is not even to do the lowest of tasks for Christ.

Next John says that He who came after me ranks before me. Jesus comes after John, because Jesus is God, He has always existed. Being God, Jesus is holy, something neither John or humans can measure up to. Christ ranks before John. We see this throughout John’s ministry because it is all about someone greater than himself. He constantly points to Jesus. He is the witness, the herald, the voice, the one preparing the way for the coming King. 

But we have more because Jesus is the Lamb of God. The Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. In various places in the Old Testament there are lamb sacrifices but all of these were insufficient to take away sin. The people of God needed a Messiah. Our other bible reading from 1 Peter tells us that this did indeed happen in Jesus Christ. “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that lamb without blemish or spot.”

The sacrifices of the Old Testament had no power whatever to atone for sins, but that they were only figures, the truth of which was manifested in Jesus Christ himself. Jesus is the Lamb of God who also was revealed to John by a direct message from God. Christ is revealed to him from God. When John sees the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, remains on Jesus, he knows that Jesus was the Lamb of God.

Thirdly, who are you? What do you say about yourself?

Now we might answer with our profession, our family but have we ever said I am a Christian as a response to that question. What happened if we got questioned who are you and we say I am one who believes in Jesus Christ. My identity is rooted in God, I am forgiven by Jesus. John the Baptist bears witness to the Son of God, and we can hear his testimony but our choice is do we behold the Lamb? Do you see him in this passage and understand that Christ alone is here? If so we can believe in His word and trust in Him as our Saviour and our Lamb of God. Amen.


Reflection: John 1:1-14

We are beginning a new series on Sundays, preaching through the gospel of John.

In his introduction John writes that the Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us. In his Gospel John presents evidence to prove that Jesus was God in the flesh. John likes the number 7, symbolic of perfection - he introduces 7 witnesses that Jesus was God

1) The Father  (see John 12:28)

2) The Son (Jesus says "I am"= the Old Testament name of God, Exodus 3:14)

3) God the Holy Spirit (John 15:26)

4) The works of Jesus (eg feeding 5000)

5) The Scriptures (John 5:39)

6) Human Witnesses (eg the woman at the well in John 4)

7)John the Baptist (he testifies that Jesus is God)

John the goes on to say how faith in Christ brings light and life to those who believe in him.


Reflection: Revelation 22

This final chapter of the Bible speaks of a new beginning and a new blessing.

Notice the similarities between this chapter and where the Bible begins in Genesis 1/2: There is a river, trees of life and most importantly the presence of God. There is no church or temple in the new creation because God himself is present. Genesis begins in a garden with the presence of God, and Revelation ends in a garden city with the presence of God. 

There are seven beatitudes or blessings in Revelation: 1:3, 14:13, 16:15, 19:9, 20:6, 22:7 and 22:14. God blesses his new creation and those people who are part of it. Do you want to be there? There is only one way and that is through the washing, cleansing and forgiveness of Jesus. Only Holy people will be allowed in this garden city. We know we are not Holy, so the way is through Jesus who was Holy for us, and forgives us of our Unholiness.

Amen. Come Lord Jesus.


Reflection: Revelation 21:1-8

We continue our sermon series by looking at Revelation 21. We find ourselves in the middle of the final scene of the entire Bible which is beyond the life and world we know, beyond God’s victory, beyond God’s final judgment. In these 8 verses we find seven truths that reveal more about God, so let’s explores these truths together.

 

The God who creates (verses 1-2)

John picks up the language from the Old Testament that God will create a new heaven and a new earth after this present heaven and earth passes away. Eugene Petersons describes this as

The biblical story began, quite logically, with a beginning.

Now it draws to an end, not quite so logically, also with a beginning.

The sin-ruined creation of Genesis is restored in the sacrifice-renewed creation of Revelation. 

 

CS Lewis, wrote the Chronicles of Narnia and features this scriptural reading in his book ‘The last Battle’ in which he describes this transformation as the door being closed on the new Narnia as the faithful enter a new Narnia.

 

If you look throughout scripture God is one who creates, breathes life, speaks into everything and simply continues to create and is creating His people for himself. We hear about the Bride being prepared for her husband to help us understand that the new heaven is not a picture of our future home

 

The God who comes (verses 1-3)

The God who creates is the God who comes.  God comes to dwell with His people in the fullest way possible, like the groom comes to be with His wife, to take her to himself forever. Throughout scripture God comes to His people even when the Israelites travel in the wilderness God says a promise to them that I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall by my people. This promise comes in many passages and they lead us to this verse to accept that God will continue to come to us His people.


The God who comforts (verses 4-5)

God who comes brings us comfort too. Look at verse 4 and think about every time we have carried a burden, ever tear that you had shed, every fear that’s ever gripped us, every worry about the future you’ve suffered under. John writes ‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’

 

What are tears? Tears tell us about our soul as we shed tears it could be from the pain that cuts the soul such as sorrow, we experience. Tears can express other emotions such as despair or disappointment or of joy and gratitude. God who comforts us speaks to reassure us in the light of the suffering or joy that we experience in our everyday life.

 

The God who confirms (verse 5)

If there is any doubt in our minds about this kind of future, we must see here that the God who brings comfort also confirms us where we are. Think about these words from verse 5, trustworthy and true. Think about what these words mean to you? Or to those hearers from the seven churches mentioned at the start of Revelation. The challenges they and us face? Think about those words in the context of the rest of the letter and about the future for which they had to prepare themselves for.

They like us might be prone to doubt when things seem so dark and yet they needed to hear God’s word, we too need to hear this word, that these words are trustworthy and true.

 

The God who completes (verse 6)

God reassures us and confirms that His words are trustworthy and truthful and what’s interesting is that within verse 6 God’s declaration is in the third person. It means that these opening words of verse 6 ‘And he said to me, “They are done!”

What does John refer to as ‘these words’ – could it be the whole context point us to all the promises of God? God is telling us here that there is a day coming when every single promised of God will be perfectly fulfilled. When all will be finished.

 

We currently live day by day in the light of God’s promises and Jesus has fulfilled many promises and yet in our future and forever home, we will live day by day in a new world in which every promise of God has been fulfilled. We will dwell with, serve, worship the God who completes every one of His purposes and plans.

 

God tells us this by saying that in verse 6 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. God introduces himself in chapter 1 verse 8 as that Alpha and Omega. This bookends not only the letter of Revelation, but is points us to God’s position over all of history. The A-Z, the beginning to end, God is Lord over it all and everything in-between. Everything will work out to bring glory to Him and God has guaranteed us to be part of it.


The God who covers (verse 6)

Listen to these words ‘To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment’.

This promise again from Isaiah, this time from chapter 55 is another way of describing the future God has in store for us, you will be satisfied, forever. You will never be thirsty again ‘I came that they may have life and have it abundantly’. God can offer us something that is so valuable as the ‘water of life’ without payment but how? Because He is the God who covers. He has covered the cost by covering us with the blood of the Lamb – the blood of His Son Jesus Christ.

 

The God who calls (verses 7-8)

The passage ends on the God who calls. Verses 7-8 connects us back to chapters 2 and 3, forming yet another bookend about the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the ‘one who conquers’ found at the end of all seven individual letters to the churches in Asia Minor. The promises to conquerors, the promises like the tree of life, the new Jerusalem, the protection from death, these promises are further described in these closing chapters.


What does it mean to conquer? It means to stand firm for Jesus, to the very end. Verse 8 uses the terms that describe the path of compromise for those who confess Christ. These are also the very temptations these churches faced, to be cowardly when called to stand for Jesus, to be faithless in the face of persecution, to go along with the murderous and immoral ways of the culture, to dabble with idolatry, to lie about God’s truth. The letter of Revelation is the voice of a God who calls us to not compromise but to stand. Stand to the vision of the future that inspires us and leads us into action.

So, what does God want to inspire you this morning?

The other bible reading we had from 2 Peter chapter 3 provides us one answer that gives us a very similar description of the end of all things. Peter writes,

But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly...[10]

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar,

and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. [11] Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, [12] waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! [13] But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 

 

Do you notice the parallels, and even the order of the events? Clearly Peter believes visions of what is to come can change our lives now; that holiness and godliness would be the qualities that characterizes us and not compromises us to the fading world. That life is fuelled by more than a vision of what is to come, it is inspired by a vision of who is to come. God comes, God creates, God comforts, God confirms, God completes, God covers, God calls is the God of new beginnings.

 

We as God’s people are moving forward toward a new beginning, something to encourage us that in some sense the future is now. In our responsibilities and relationships, in our feelings and our finances, in our circles and struggles, God shows himself to us and our hope is always in Him.

 

As Peter reminds us For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God... When you know and love and serve God, there are opportunities for God to bring a new beginning, in light of the new beginning that's to come. So, I finish with these words of truth, as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Amen.



Reflection: Revelation 19:4-10

The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried: “Amen, Hallelujah!”

Then a voice came from the throne, saying: 

“Praise our God all you his servants, you who fear him, both great and small!”

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah!

 For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
    and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean was given her to wear.”

(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)

Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”10 At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For it is the Spirit of prophecy who bears testimony to Jesus.”

This section of revelation describes a wedding supper between the bridegroom (Jesus) and the bride (the Church). It is the consummation of a relationship shown through the whole Bible:

-Betrothal: The Old Testament contains promises given by God to his people (the bride). Jewish weddings began at betrothal, something like engagement, but legally binding/

-Payment of the dowry. In Jewish weddings the groom had to pay an appropriate sum to the Father of the bride in order to marry. It is Jesus who 'pays' the Father with his life and death on earth in order to make the bride (the Church) his treasured possession. By forgiving sins the bride is made spotless and holy, dressed in pure white for the wedding.

-The wedding procession. At Jewish weddings, the groom would lead the guests in procession to pick up the bride from her house. This is the return of Jesus, who will in the future return in order to take his bride (the church) to be with him forever.

Blessed are those who are invited to this wedding feast. You are invited - have you responded to the invitation?

The right response to Jesus's invitation to be with him forever is repentance (putting God first in your life) and faith (trusting in the finished work of Jesus to clothe you in the white garments through his life and death)


Reflection: Revelation 14

Sermon Christ the King

Romans 11:13-24

Isaiah 60.1-3

Revelation 14:1-5

We continue our preaching series looking at the letter of Revelation and I hope that as we explore this letter, we are learning together the challenges it presents to us.

We still might find it complicated or even confusing at times but when we do engage with this letter it is full of insights about our faith and gives us a wealth of knowledge about who God is.

As I was writing this sermon, I was watching on BBC1 the gameshow Pointless and when each contestant is greeted by Alexander Armstrong, I discovered that He usually asks three sets of questions:

 

Pointless - WikipediaWho are you?

Where do you live?

What do you do?

 

As I re-read Revelation 14 it offered a solution to these three pointless questions which we will explore this morning.


Who are we?

This question is about identity and identify appears in our contemporary culture. We live in an era of identity politics – we can cause great offence by falling to acknowledge aspects of the identity of those we are talking with. We know a lot more about our physical, biological and medical identity now these days now. But for me I am interested in genealogy – who are we – about my own past – understanding this identity for me from the past helps to understanding myself in the present.

 

To understand the five verses in Revelation chapter 14 we need to understand John the writer of Revelation who uses the lenses of a mathematician. John does his own theology through maths such as the number 144,000.

The number 144,000 has two parts – a product of 12x12 with 10x10x10. Part a the 12x12 is significant to John because in the Old Testament God chose 12 tribes of Israel to be God’s covenantal people.


Jesus himself chose 12 disciples to begin his renewal movement and so this number represents the place of God’s people, the continuity with God’s eternal promises from the Old Testament, the invitation to enjoy God’s blessing throughout history.


Throughout his letters Paul assumes that the followers of Jesus will read the Old Testament as their own story regardless of their own identity and as Paul says, we Gentiles have been grafted into the olive tree that is the Jewish people of God.


Part b of the number 10x10x10 is a cubed number as my oldest daughter reminded me which produces a distinctive shape. The shape of the cube is distinctive in scripture as well and could point to the shape of the Holy of Holies, which sat at the centre of the temple, the centre of Jerusalem, the centre of the nation. Here is a place where God’s holy presence comes from heaven down to earth. Jesus describes his own body as the new temple and Paul continues this image as Christian becoming the body of Christ or where the spirit dwells inside of us. Here in Revelation 14 it tells us the same thing so look at the people surrounding you or sitting near you, they too are holy places, where God dwells within them.


The second pointless question asks the contestants where they are from? Where are we or where do they live? Revelation 14 tells us who we are and immediately tells us where we live. If we are as I said before God’s temple, where would you expect to find us? Well ask a first century Israelite/Jew and they would probably answer you, in the holy city, on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.


People would have travelled a physical ascent, praising God as they climbed to the temple and sing and read psalms together such as from the prophet Isaiah 60:3 that Mount Zion would become a great high mountain to which all nations would be drawn to the presence of God. 

 

We as Christians are not only located on Mount Zion in the presence of God but we are also living in places where god has called us to be. We live in two worlds, not to conform to one way of living but to set our values on Christ our King and His kingdom. We as God’s people are to live to His purposes, His plans, His ways which at times might look odd but the difference is that we walk the path of righteousness and a vision that endures for eternity.

What do we do?

Each constant give detail about their jobs and their hobbies but Revelation 14 gives us a clear answer for us: we sing!


You might like singing or not like singing – some churches are currently like ours have no singing or having singing from the front that the congregation can listen to rather than join in with. But for me singing makes a real difference. Sing transforms our souls and makes a real difference to people who suffer from anxiety or depression.


We have a song which is not sung, we who were lost in our woundedness, in our sin, in our pride, have been ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven! We who were far off have been brought near, we who have no hope can have hope in the God who sent His son into our world to save us.  For me that is our song we have to sing!


As we sing this song it becomes the voice of God to others, as we speak, we might even catch the same vision as John did of ‘the rushing of waters and the peal of thunder’ to help us understand that God is real, God is holy, God is love. We can sing this song together as we declare His praises who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light in order that others will be invited to join in the song. It is a song that can only be sung by those who know God’s ways a song which is not just sung with our lips, but with our lives.

So, these three pointless questions are anything but pointless! Revelation 14 tells us who we are, where we live and what we are to do.

Today and this week, let us receive God’s gift of a new identity in Christ, to rest in His grace and to commit once more to live the life His is calling us to do. Amen.


Reflection: Revelation & Remembrance

Sacha Baron-Cohen disguised as 'Ali G' once did a spoof interview with Major General Ken Perkins, one of Britain's most distinguished army officers. Amongst the questions he asked was whether the General thought of changing sides during World War 2 when things were not going well for Britain.

This was obviously meant as a joke. However, as Christians we can often be tempted to give up or change sides when the spiritual battle is very intense and challenging. It is here that the book of Revelation can help us.

Of course looking bad on the Second World War we would say a person wanting to switch sides from the Allies to the Germans/Japanese would be stupid - because we know the outcome - the Allies won. In the same way Revelation urges us not to give up or switch sides because the battle is won and Satan has been defeated and will be cast into away for eternity. 


Reflection 15th November 2020: Revelation 13

Revelation 13 can be understood by looking at Daniel 7 in the Old Testament. The beast from the sea is found to the state or political power. There are a series of contrasts..

The Real Trinity vs The false trinity

(Father, Son & Spirit) vs (Dragon and Beasts)

Worship of the slain lamb vs Worship of the wounded beast

(Jesus dies on the cross) vs (the political parody)

The mark of the lamb vs The mark of beast

(the mark is a sign of ownership and belonging)

777 vs 666

(God's perfection) vs (human imperfection)


Lessons for now

-Do not worship the state. We must worship the true and living God. It is interesting to think how the Government views churches in Wales - during the recent lockdown churches were allowed to stay open for weddings and funerals, but not for corporate worship. The Government does not think that worship is a priority.

-Remember Christians are in a spiritual battle. Our main weapon is prayer. The political world operates through petitions, protest marches and lobbying. We have to recognize as Paul did: Ephesians 6:12 "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."