This world, green and blue, suspended in one of countless galaxies, so small and insignificant, yet so large as to contain the lives and ambitions of billions of people. This world, teeming with life and yet existing only because of an exquisite balance, which you uphold Lord my God; daily and hourly you decree that we should continue.
All our boasted scientific knowledge only reveals to us more about your creating genius, leaving us more to marvel at and a humbling sense of the responsibility you gave us in putting all this into our hands as your stewards. How unworthy we have proved to be of that great trust, squandering your riches; destroying your creatures; polluting the air, the water and the land.
And not only have we abused the bounty of nature, but one another too. Our failure to see that every human creature bears the imprint of a heavenly Father’s nature, reflects – however imperfectly – his character, has brought untold misery and suffering upon our race.
We are deserving of judgement and destruction – indeed, we are perhaps hastening the day by our own actions! We have rejected you, rejected the idea of ourselves as subjects, and grabbed selfishly at some pseudo-lordship of our own.
Oh God, in your holiness and utter ‘otherness’, we are so completely cut off from you, rebellion against you is in our very bones, and we cannot overcome it of our own efforts. What hope do we have?
And into that void, you speak.
Into our despair, our rebellion, our darkness, there came a voice, a man, who said “I am the way, the truth and the life.”
And you took our rebellion, our shame and guilt, and he bore it away, so that we are free for the first time. Free from the stranglehold of sin on our lives, free to see and taste, smell and touch, hear and speak of all your goodness and love to us.
Such love: selfless, sacrificial, soul-searing and saving.
takes my breath away.
Therefore, I will always remind you about these things – even though you already know them and are standing firm in the truth you have been taught. And it is only right that I should keep on reminding you as long as I live….For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendour with our own eyes….because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets.
I want you to remember what the holy prophets said long ago and what our Lord and Saviour commanded through your apostles.
(2 Peter 1.12,16,19 &3.2)
Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the good news I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. It is this good news that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you…I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the scriptures said.
(1 Corinthians 15. 1,3&4)
Our world in these early years of the twenty-first century is driven by rapid change – population growth; expanding economies; transforming technologies. We in the prosperous and stable European nations enjoy an unprecedented standard of living and are swept along in the current of constant innovation which drives our economies and personal lives. Every few years, we replace appliances, cars and pieces of furniture, and obsolescence is built in to much of what we use, we accept it cannot last for long. We are increasingly driven by novelty, the lure of the new and different. It was ever thus, humanity is easily bored, but the pace of change today is breath-taking.
Do we sometimes fall into the trap of thinking about faith in this way, as if there ought to be some innovations by now, some new and exciting insights and teaching which will render much of our tradition obsolete? Well, perhaps there is a case for arguing that much which is traditional is no longer helpful, but actually obscures the gospel, and it could therefore be set aside. But, there is a foundation of truth upon which our faith must rest if it is to have any validity at all, and that foundation remains today as it was when the apostles wrote about it two thousand years ago..
We believe in a God who became human, lived a perfect life, died the death of a sinner, and was raised to new life, ascending into heaven where all those who accept his death in their place will also be received. It can be reduced to the simplest of statements, as the children’s hymn puts it, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the bible tells me so..”
There is sufficient profound theology behind this truth to occupy the greatest minds; and yet it is clear enough to be understood and embraced by the youngest and simplest of us. And it does not change…this is what we believe, and without this, we are astray upon a sea of conjecture, tossed by fashionable philosophies, driven by ruthless atheists, and without any real grounds for hope. It is this truth which we need, more than anything else, to give us courage to face life, to face ourselves in all our weakness, failure and malice.
Jesus loves me – therefore I am of worth, I have value in God’s eyes and can hold my head high no matter what others say of me; Jesus loves me – and his death has dealt with all my sins, the past, present and future, I am forgiven and the burden of guilt has no weight for me: Jesus loves me – I want to live in a way that honours him and recognises that my life is no longer my own to waste; Jesus loves me – and that love is for all who will receive it, therefore I have good news to share with my world!
This old story, of Jesus and his love, is what I need to receive afresh every day of my life. It is as basic to my existence as the food I eat and the air I breathe. Without this story, I have no hope, and am at the mercy of my own sin, the wiles of the devil, and the power of evil in the world.
Praise God, in his infinite wisdom, that his great story of redemption is complete, that nothing need be added by all the cleverness of humanity to make it effective. There is no need to look for new versions of the good news of Jesus; the old story, the unchanging story, is never obsolete, always effective, and the only sure foundation of faith. Alleluia, and Amen!
Jesus took the twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be turned over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me?…All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads:..I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me….They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing….
(Psalm 22. 1, 7, 1, 14 &18)
Bewildered, but loyal; unable to see what was in store beyond the certainty of trouble for the man whom they loved and had followed for years, yet willing to go with him for a little longer. Do you ever wonder how the disciples made sense of the last weeks of Jesus’ life, what did they tell themselves was happening? The methodical author of Luke’s gospel leaves us in no doubt, and presumably he has it on good authority from one who heard the disciples themselves tell the story… They had no idea what Jesus was up to, it simply made no sense to them at the time! I doubt whether we would have done any better in their place given our limited understanding of God, and poor grasp of his big plan for the world.
The disciples had all the clues – as Jesus reminds them when he points out that all which is to come had been foretold – and yet they remained so wedded to the popular Jewish idea of a military and political deliverer as their Messiah, that it all passed them by. How patient Jesus continued to be with his foolish followers, and how lonely it must have been..When we face great trials, are we not much comforted by sharing our apprehension with trusted friends and praying with them? There was no one who understood, no one except his Father. As it says elsewhere in Psalm 22..”Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no-one to help.”
For love of his friends, for love of all those who would one day follow their journey into faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour, for love of me, he chose to walk that lonely road. Each day brought the final trial closer, more clearly into focus. Each step of the journey that was gradually drawing him closer and closer to Jerusalem was a triumph of his will to obey his Father, and a demonstration of the power which is available to us now, his followers, as we live in him.
Even in their confusion and ignorance, Jesus’ disciples were still so dear to him, so precious, and he knew that their participation in the events which were to unfold was crucial. These men would be the witnesses, the recorders and preachers of all that they had seen, and in time would found the church, that body of redeemed humanity which is Christ’s beloved and for whom he died. He was full of compassion for their weaknesses, and bore with their foolish, misguided ambitions, and above all, he loved them well enough to complete his work. His presence alone would never have been enough to atone for their sins, or ours; we needed his death – what a humbling thought. His teaching alone cannot change our hearts or avert the right anger of a holy God against rebellious people. We needed his death, and he knew and determined to love us to that uttermost extent.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who from the beginning of the world had purposed to pursue his fallen children and to restore them, spotless and pure, to fellowship with him.
Praise be to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who submitted himself entirely to the planned work of redemption, for love of his people, and held nothing back in meeting our utmost needs.
May we be found fully submitted to Christ, to his transforming power in our lives; so moved by and indebted to his love for us that we hold nothing back in our turn, as we seek to live for and glorify him.
..when you pray don’t rattle off long prayers like the pagans who think they will be heard because they use so many words…God, who is your Father, knows your needs before you ask him. Pray then like this –
Our Heavenly Father, may your name be honoured; May your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day the bread we need, Forgive us what we owe to you, as we have also forgiven those who owe anything to us. Keep us clear of temptation, and save us from evil.
(Matthew 6.7-13, JB Phillips – The New Testament in Modern English)
May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Do you notice anything about these prayers? Anything unusual in your experience of praying and hearing others pray? On a purely superficial level, we could note the complete absence of the word ‘just’, and also ‘bless’…both useful in their place, but perhaps too frequently on our lips to add much to the sense of our words!
Seriously though, what do we find? Our Lord Jesus in teaching his disciples to pray sends them straight to the heart of the gospel – that God might be glorified, lifted up, recognised and worshipped as God above all, mighty, merciful, holy and pure.
How is this to happen? By the coming of the kingdom which has been ushered in by Christ, and which will be fully realised when he returns from glory to wind up time and bring his people into the eternal joy of life with him. We can pray for this to happen – we are commanded to pray, to do our part in furthering God’s great plan for the world in this way. We may not see immediately how we are part of the process, but if we faithfully pray for it to be happening, we are obeying Christ and that is enough.
In order for us to play our part, we need food (and a few other necessities of life), so we ask in full confidence for God to provide these, but move on swiftly to a greater need – forgiveness (and the reminder that our willingness to forgive others shows the extent to which we are aware of our own great indebtedness to God). God’s work in realising his kingdom is accomplished through forgiven human beings, who know that all they are is God’s gift to them. It is right to continually remind ourselves of this debt. And finally to acknowledge our ongoing dependence on God to make any progress in our spiritual lives and to achieve anything in his service – it is his power which enables us to follow Jesus’ example and resist temptation; his power in Jesus which has defeated the Evil One and protects us in turn.
Do you find that we pray for one another like this? Or in the wonderful ways that Paul prayed for his young churches – who faced persecution and hardships that most of us will never know? He makes no mention of praying for their safety, or their health, the schooling of their children or the security of their jobs!
I am deeply challenged by these prayers, as I respond to the needs around me, and the challenges faced by friends and family.. Do I pray for their faith to grow, their love to be strengthened and for God to be glorified regardless of what happens in their lives? What is most important in the light of eternity? How do I pray for my children – that they might be successful, or that they might be godly, faithful, recklessly obedient servants of the King of heaven?
Is it not good to think before we pray, and put God’s priorities for his children at the top of our prayers for them too?
Oh Lord, let us become wiser in our praying, discerning those things which really matter, and praying your promises for one another that our lives might show more and more clearly your love, power and holiness, and bring you glory.
As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died. It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation. May God’s peace and mercy be upon all who live by this principle, they are the new people of God.
This is what the Lord says: “Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom, or the powerful boast in the power, or the rich boast in their riches. But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. I, the Lord, have spoken!”
(Jer 9 23-24)
The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…. there is a subject upon which one could lavish a lifetime of study and reflection and still never reach the end! It is the pivotal point upon which all of history revolves, and by which the eternal destiny of humanity is determined. And for every individual follower, it is the foundation of their new life, the power which re-creates them as children of God with the promise of eternal life and the guarantee of his constant presence.
In the cross, God demonstrated that he was indeed a God who brings justice to the earth, because it was there that the price demanded by holiness for sin was paid – the wages of sin is death. And there too, was demonstrated the unfailing love of God, because it was God himself who paid the price, so that we might be spared! Our God, he it is that delights in justice, in unfailing love, and righteousness – that all should be done well. How great should our delight in this God be! We can most legitimately boast in our God, the only one who can fully deal with the brokenness of our hearts and our world, while at the same time restoring us to the perfect relationship with him for which we were designed.
What human wealth could ever buy a clean conscience or a quiet mind? What power on earth can bring a holy God back into fellowship with rebellious, proud and stubborn creatures? What wisdom could discern the only way to restore the broken image of God in his creatures? When we begin to understand what was achieved on the cross, then we begin to understand our great God, to glimpse the unfathomable love, the amazing grace, which are his essential character. There can be no end to the ways in which we can truthfully glory in, boast about our wonderful God.
This afternoon, I watched my small nation’s rugby team winning – against the odds – the opening game of the 2017 Six Nations tournament. It was thrilling, nerve-wracking, exhilirating – all the things a great sporting occasion can be; and I am proud tonight to be a Scot, to identify with the team in their commitment, passion, skill and doggedness. But as we all know – especially Scots! – sporting greatness is a fleeting thing, and not to be relied on for national pride or peace of mind. As individuals, we dare not invest our security or identity in such things, because they CANNOT be relied upon, they will fail us and leave us adrift and vulnerable. That is the point which Jeremiah is making when he dismisses the claims of wealth, power and wisdom to our loyalty and reliance.
There is nothing upon which it is safe to build our identity, our lives, except the Lord of unfailing love, who delights to bring justice and righteousness to the world. And it is supremely in the cross of Jesus Christ our Lord that we see this God revealed to us, when everything needful was done to restore us. We add nothing, no matter how wise, powerful or rich we are, to the cross. If we cannot accept it without paying or contributing in some way, we have failed to understand what God is doing, and what a state we are in before his holiness. Let us rejoice in this complete work, in the cross, and be at peace!
I will not boast in anything, no gifts no power no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection!
Why should I gain from his reward? I cannot give an answer;
But this I know with all my heart, his wounds have paid my ransom.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons to bless the people of Israel with this special blessing: ‘May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. may the Lord show you his favour and give you his peace.’
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf…then at last his fellow countrymen will return from exile to their own land. And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honoured around the world. And he will be the source of peace.
Our world has been tormented and scarred by warfare and disharmony between individuals and nations ever since the beginning; we are incapable of living peaceably together. But the kind of peace which is being promised all through the bible narrative is much more than simply that absence of conflict for which we long. The Hebrew word which we translate as peace, is ‘shalom’, and it has a much richer meaning including a sense of completion; health; thriving and fulfillment. All the barriers to fullness of life will be gone, and every created being will be able to rejoice without fear or restriction in what and who God made them to be.
The story of how the people of Israel should have entered and conquered the land promised to them is for us a picture of the unfettered, fruitful living which God desires for all his children. If the people had obeyed and driven out all the nations living in the land, they would indeed have dwelt in peace, receiving all the blessing God intended for them. Instead they compromised, chose to live alongside the other nations, and in time, were led away from worship of the living God into idolatry, with its disastrous consequences of destruction and exile. It is a warning to us to be aware of those things in our lives which we know pull us away from God, and which we yet cherish. Where then will our peace go?
This side of the winding up of time, we cannot hope for complete peace, the power and consequences of sin in our broken world are too much present. But as followers of Jesus we can trace this promise of peace, of wholeness and freedom to thrive, with confidence that it applies to us. We live between the first coming of the one who – as Micah said – is the ‘source of our peace’, and his triumphant return, when all the opposing forces will be finally swept away.
In his letter to the Roman church – which experienced appalling persecution and had little hope of ‘peace’ in the sense of being free from assault – Paul writes these incredible words:
Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.
We have peace, that freedom from grinding fear, because we are already regarded by God as right with him – no longer at enmity with him – all through Christ’s redeeming work on the cross. None of the the things that ultimately matter can be damaged or stolen from us – our Saviour has made us secure for ever and we will share God’s glory.
And not one of the difficulties which yet lie ahead, or which have dogged our lives for years, can undermine that peace. In fact, Paul seems to be saying that because we are safe in Christ, our very difficulties can be received as sources of blessing because God is at work through them to make us more like Christ – more like the glorious original he had in mind when he conceived us!
We need not worry, or fret that our struggles or sufferings will endanger our relationship with God because NOTHING can do that, and so we can accept each one with a peaceful heart. What a wonderful reason for celebration as we look forward to celebrating again the birth of the Prince of Peace, and praying once more with fervour for his speedy return!
So, friends, we can now – without hesitation – walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The “curtain” into God’s presence is his body.
So let’s do it – full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word.
Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshipping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.
(Hebrews 10.19-25, The Message)
So I sometimes – often?! – get discouraged about life, about God’s work and the apparently impenetrable resistance of the people around me to any interest in the good news of the gospel.
I know that I am blessed beyond measure to be one of God’s children, to stand before him as beloved, cleansed, with hope and a future, purpose in life’s journey and glory to come. I know the power of that truth to lighten my dark days, strengthen my nerve in persevering service, and bring joy in every circumstance. I know that this is the best news anyone ever heard, that it is life-transforming and life-giving.
When I join with others in praise of Jesus, celebrating his character, his redeeming work and glorious triumph over sin, I am healed, my perspective on this world and all its trouble is restored. To be given fresh glimpses of the depths of love which are for me, reminded of the price that was paid, and the security of my hope.. all these things are precious beyond telling. And yet still, to my shame, I become discouraged.
It is surely good and right that we – as Jesus’ followers – long to see others responding to his love, so that his name might be made greater, and that their lives might share the blessings which are so abundantly ours! The writer to the Hebrew church reminds them of the truth about who they are in Christ – a blood-bought people, with free access to God’s throne; a people whom he delights in. These truths, combined with the promises of an utterly faithful God, are the basis for our life and witness. We have treasures to share, both with each other and with those who as yet do not believe.
I am relieved that the writer does not scold the readers for a lack of enthusiasm, but rather exhorts them on the basis of wonderful realities to find a new courage and energy for the work their Lord has given them. Some translations use words which imply a degree of reluctance on the part of the readers to be up and doing – one does not have to spur on a horse which is already galloping as fast as it can!! Perhaps the readers of the letter to the Hebrews were suffering from discouragement, even as we do, seeing the scale of the opposition and losing heart. It is fatally easy to see the task ahead in light of our own strength instead of God’s strength, and to assume that we can do nothing about it!
So how can we be ‘inventive’ in provoking one another into action, in stirring one another up to be loving and active for the sake of the gospel?
I believe that one of the most powerful ways we can do this for each other, is to share with one another the stories of God’s activities – in our lives, and those of others. I regularly attend a mission prayer meeting, and while there are plenty of needs to bring before God, we are always encouraged by the number of answers to prayer – often miraculous in our eyes, and always demonstrating that God is indeed powerful and wise. He knows and meets the needs of his people, and he can call men and women to himself in the most astonishing ways.
So my challenge for myself, is to be more conscious of God’s direct action in my life – what can I tell my friends of his goodness to me this week? How can I encourage them – not by boasting of special blessings, but by reminding them through my story that our God is good and great and faithful?
Lord, give us clear sight, to recognise your hand at work, your daily blessings and moment-by-moment grace. Let us take heart and encourage one another on our journey in faithful service of you, our almighty God.