“Here is my servant, who I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight: I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations…. I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
In the beginning was the word…. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it…. John.. came as a witness to that light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.
Then Jesus told them, “…the one who walks in the dark does not know where they are going. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become children of light…… I have come into the world as a light, so that no-one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”
(Jn 12.35&36, 46)
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
(2 Cor 4.6)
Lord, how can we proclaim your light to those around us who don’t see the darkness? To those for whom human wisdom and sophistication, material prosperity, cultural maturity and the security of law and order provide all the illumination they desire?
Is it nothing to them that our society harbours more personal trauma, self-destruction, hatred, division, isolation and sheer human misery than every before? Is this not darkness?
Lord, open their eyes, that they might see the darkness around them.
Is it nothing to them that our global community is facing catastrophic changes in climate which will threaten our existence, and are already causing devastation to millions who are starving, flooded, impoverished, oppressed – all because of the way in which human nature works when societies become powerful? Is this not darkness?
Lord, open their eyes, tear them from dreams of human achievement to waken to the reality of human brokenness.
Is it nothing to them that their own lives are marked by loss, failure, shortcomings and addictions, long-buried and cherished grudges, shame, unresolved griefs and deep uncertainties, and that one day they will die?
Lord, open their eyes, that they might see the darkness within them.
Thank you Lord, for your light is eternal, is life itself, is glory overflowing and abundant: it is You. In Jesus, you give us yourself, and in you, we are made alive not only now but forever.
Thank you Lord, for your light is crack-making, prison-breaking, dream-banishing, life-kindling. Your light is sin-burning, shame-destroying, forgiveness-flooding, hope-filling. Your light is powerful.
Thank you Lord, for your light is joy-infusing, courage-building, immortal-making, heaven-fitting.
Your light is transformative.
This Christmas, as we remember the gift of the Light of the World, we pray for our world. Heavenly Father, open the blinded eyes and break down the defended minds and hearts, to see that without you, they walk in darkness. Their ‘lights’, are impotent against the real darkness, and only in Jesus will they find what is so desperately needed.
Thank you Lord, for your community around the world, living by the light and seeking in all ways and at all times to bring others to see the light. By your grace, set aside our failures and short-comings, strengthen us in courage and perseverance to bear witness to the light, as John did, and to speak truth about you. May you be glorified even through us, as we bear Christ’s likeness and serve in his name.
Then they [all the people] said to Jeremiah, “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the Lord..sends you to say to us. Whether it is favourable or unfavourable, we will obey..so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the Lord our God.”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well…Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…The words I say to you are not just my own..the Father, living in me.is doing his work.
He [Jesus] said to them…”you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eye-witnesses of his majesty. for he received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came…, saying, “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
(2 Pet 1.16&17)
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds,…Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. so be earnest and repent..
Do you notice how the words in Jeremiah are mirrored by the words from Revelation? This struck me today as I considered how to write about the wonderful name Jesus takes to himself in Revelation, speaking to his church in sorrow and summoning them to repent and return to the covenant love which once they had known.
The Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament) are a sorry tale of disobedience by the covenant people, to which God, by his prophets and by direct revelation bears witness. Time and again, the truth about their rebellion is brought before them, and repeatedly they fail to learn from the consequences of their actions. God calls them to repent and return, but in vain.
In Jesus, this act of witnessing to the truth – about God, about human depravity and helplessness, and about the gift of salvation – is brought to a climax. There is no more accurate revelation about God than that which we see in Jesus. He is the ultimate and utterly reliable word of truth on all these subjects. He is THE faithful witness, the only man who never failed to live and speak in ways which truly reflected God’s character and will. That faithfulness took him to the cross, but the truth to which he testified raised him from the grave again in triumph, and now he stands as eternal witness to the irresistible reality of salvation by grace, to a living hope in a new heaven and earth, a new body and an unimaginably rich future life.
The comfort to me from this wonderful name of Jesus is that I can fully rely on him; the challenge is that he has called me in turn to bear witness to the world. I am now to be one who speaks the truth – about God, about human hopelessness and the gift of salvation. I am called to suffer, as Jesus did, for being faithful to this message; speaking of the holiness of God, the depths of sin, and the wonder of grace. I know that I have failed in faithfulness, but also that by the Spirit at work in me I am being transformed into the likeness of this true and faithful witness, Jesus.
Lord God, may I rejoice in my calling to be in my own place a true and faithful witness – even when this brings me pain or rejection. Renew my trust in your truth, so that I may be steadfast in my testimony. Oh Lord, renew and revive your church, that we may increasingly embrace this calling to witness to you. Turn us from complacency, from mere institutional self-preservation and comfort-seeking, to courageous witness to your holiness and saving power, and to the compassion and love of Jesus.
The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple…Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God..
Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men I will disown him before my Father in heaven. Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth I did not come to bring peace, but a sword..Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me;…and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye-witnesses and servants of the word..Therefore ..it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you..so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
..these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Sometimes I wonder what it must be like to come to the gospel without any background understanding or knowledge; no preconceptions or expectations, no ingrained bias or barriers to understanding..perhaps no one comes this way, since everyone has consciously or unconsciously made some deductions about how life works and what – if anything it means. But still I wonder, struggling to read the four accounts of Jesus life and ministry without hearing again the interpretations of past teachers, and trying desperately to learn for myself from the written record.
As a christian, Jesus is not only my role model for life, but also the one who by his Spirit lives in me to make that new life possible and desirable. I know, because the bible tells me so, that as I dwell on him, worship and love him, so I am being transformed into his likeness, and that this is for my highest good. But if this is so, then why do I find his teaching so puzzling? So much seems obscure, depending on years of study and intimate knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures (OT) to be understood. Is it really meant to be so hard? Why do we hear of non-believers reading the gospel accounts and coming to faith, when I frequently come away bewildered and wondering what I ought to have learnt?
Perhaps I am simply intellectually too lazy to do the necessary work; perhaps my heritage does truly hinder me, as I am so accustomed to learning from the preacher, and not from personal bible study. But the fact remains that while I can read much of the scriptures to great personal benefit, finding encouragement and direction, when I come to the gospels, I am often baffled.
But I persevere, trusting that even what seem like superficial observations are worth making, and that in my own confusion, I might identify with Jesus’ disciples, who must often have wondered..Who is this man who first commends peacemakers, and then claims to have brought a sword to divide the closest families? Who is this man who shows love to the outcasts, and shockingly rebukes the religious leaders?
One thing is becoming very clear as I read in Matthew….Jesus polarises opinion, leaving no middle ground when it comes to our response. It is not possible to say, “Oh he was a good man, a great teacher”. His teachings are puzzling, challenging and disturbing. He speaks more about judgement and hell than anyone else in the bible. He claimed to be the Son of God, equally divine, with full authority over creation and the spirit world.
If I will not accept Jesus on his terms – as God; as the physical manifestation of the Almighty and Eternal Judge as well as the loving and redeeming Saviour; as the only true Lord of my life, before whom every other human tie or principal must submit; as the Sovereign whose ways are utterly beyond my finding out, and who must be trusted, not understood – then, I am rejecting him utterly, and in so doing, I am putting myself beyond the reach of God’s mercy. This was the tragedy of the Jewish religious leaders in Jesus’ day, that the Messiah whom they longed for stood before them, but because he didn’t fit their theology and expectations, they rejected him with merciless fury, and stood thus condemned before God.
Jesus says, “Take me, and you find God. Reject me, and God will not know you.” He will not force anyone to accept him, but if – as he claims – he is the only true way by which I may find hope, home and healing in God, then I must and will persevere in my quest to know and love him as he is. May God grant us humility and understanding as we feed upon his word, and are transformed by the Word into His likeness.
Your statutes are wonderful; therefore I obey them. The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands. Turn to me and have mercy on me, as you always do to those who love your name. Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”…. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom..
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life….do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”
One of the – admittedly few – disadvantages of growing up in a christian home, under a ministry of faithful biblical preaching, is that so much is familiar and absorbed unthinkingly. It can be a challenge to read and listen to God’s word without hearing and understanding through the lens of those who taught me, and I suffer from a real lack of confidence in handling the word responsibly for myself. For example, it is only recently that I have realised how significant Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 are for my own understanding of the bible!
It can be tempting to dismiss or discount those parts of what we call the Old Testament which are dull, hard to understand, or difficult to reconcile with our own ideas of God’s character and purposes. We might want to pretend some of it was never said, or has nothing to do with the ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ of the gospel narratives. In fact, Jesus himself makes this impossible by his words to the disciples in the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus own ministry is explicitly placed in the context of the Hebrew scriptures – Law and Prophets – and he claims not to be replacing, but fulfilling them. In other words, everything which had been written, was part of God’s revelation towards this point when the Son of God would inaugurate the Kingdom of God on earth. I find this a great encouragement to me – both in my appreciation of the many places where I find comfort and instruction; and also in my wrestling with the places where the message is painful, and even apparently contradictory. Jesus refuses to rub out anything. The God revealed in the Law and Prophets is his Father; there is no inconsistency between what has gone before, and what he will reveal through his life and ministry. Rather, he comes to wrap it all into a coherent and cosmos-shaking mission, by which the future of the world and its people is forever changed.
The God of the Hebrew Scriptures (the OT), is loving, passionate, slow to anger and intimately concerned in his children’s lives. The Son of God revealed in the gospels is loving, passionate, denouncing unbelief, exhorting with tears but unflinching in his proclamation of the eternal separation and judgement which will come on those who insist on having their own way. One God, in three persons, telling a unified story of redemption, transformation and new creation.
I have – in our combined scriptures – God’s good gift to me of revelation, of faith-food for life, all that I need in order to live with and for him. Let me grow in hunger for and reliance on that word, rejoicing that I can trust it to be nourishing and sustaining, even if – and maybe especially when – I have had to really search and wrestle to understand!
Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.
[Jesus ..prayed] Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent..I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one..sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish..In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith…may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed…
Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
(1 Pet 1.3-6,13-16)
Sometimes, we find ourselves wondering why God doesn’t answer our prayers in the ways we want. We are asking for good things for ourselves and for other people, and yet God ordains other outcomes than we desire and we resent what feels like his hardness of heart..
I was recently challenged about my own weakness in this regard, reminded that God may have higher priorities than mine and that while I may desire good things, He seeks the best for all his children. What is that ‘best’ which inspires all God’s working together for good, through time and across the nations?
The whole narrative of the bible reveals a God who desires to dwell with people who love him, rejoice in and worship him – who bear his name to great honour and glorify him in all they do. This is not because of some power-hunger in God, but because – having fashioned us- he knows that this is our truest fulfilment, the ideal for which we are made. So long as we pursue our own goals before God, we will remain broken and unsatisfied. Of ourselves, we are incapable of breaking the power of sin in our lives which keeps us from living for and with God. So Jesus came and by his sacrificial death broke the power of sin. All who trust in that wholly effective blood payment, who recognise that only Jesus can save them, are brought to life, are newborn into God’s family and not only experience freedom and forgiveness in this life, but have a certain hope of an eternal life of unimagineable richness and fulfilment.
God’s best for us – as part of his overarching plan for new creation – is our salvation from sin, and our sanctification, our growing holiness and Christ-likeness. While the wealth, health and happiness which the world desires may be good things, they are not the most important, and indeed will distract, ensnare and pollute faith and holiness if not kept under the lordship of Jesus.
When I pray for good things for others, and for myself, I need to remember that if these things are not conducive to salvation and sanctification, then God will not grant them. Our God works through pain, loss, suffering and disorientation to bring people to the point of recognising their helplessness in sin, and their need of Jesus. Should I pray for things that will prevent them from responding to the gospel? Surely not!
The many crises currently enveloping our world are a source of much suffering and anxiety – this is undeniable. BUT they are also opportunities for people to reach an end of their self reliance, their faith in humanity, and to call out to God who alone can hear and save them.
In my bewilderment at the many trials which are going on around me, I am challenged to pray for God’s will to be done – for the salvation of many, the deep maturing of faith and growth in holiness as the saints choose to trust God in this great upheaval.
May I learn to desire that which really matters, for myself and those I love, for my wider community and the whole world – that I may truly say (with Paul)..”I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”(Phil 3.8)
For our offences are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offences are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God, fomenting oppression and revolt, uttering lies our hearts have conceived. So justice is driven back and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.
Jesus replied:”‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
Jesus…said to them, “If anyone of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
(1 Jn 1.8)
Imagine…living in a society where no one assumed on the basis of a person’s colour that they were shiftless, dangerous, amoral or greedy.
Imagine…living in a society where the process of justice was applied fairly to everyone, regardless of their colour, background, education and wealth.
Imagine….living in a society where people were able to make fresh starts, to be forgiven and given grace to put the past behind them.
Imagine….living in a society where we could celebrate the marvellous things which make us different, because in every way they enrich us as a whole.
I believe in a kingdom where this kind of justice reigns; where this kind of love and forgiveness is available; where this kind of society can exist. And I recognise with deep sadness just how very far I am from being the kind of person who belongs in that kingdom – my place there is assured to me solely on the basis of Jesus’ sacrificial death on my behalf. I acknowledge with shame that I am part of a nation and culture whose wealth and privilege is built upon the suffering and exploitation of other human beings, and that those people have been ignored in our telling of history – it has not been true. Hypocrisy, greed, pragmatism and disdain for the image of God in our fellow human beings has been the characteristic of so much national and individual behaviour. And I have chosen to ignore the stories which tell the truth, in order to avoid being upset by it – where is my love for my neighbour, that I cling to my own comfort at the expense of their pain being prolonged and disregarded?
The sin of suspecting, mistreating and exploiting my neighbour must be recognised, called out for what it is, and repented of. I know that it may take me the rest of my life to root it out, but I also know and thank God that I may be forgiven for this sin too, and enabled to live differently in the future. Racist thoughts and actions are not beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness, and I believe that in my life – and perhaps at last in society at large – the tide may begin to turn and this gross offence against the image of God in each of his children will finally begin to be addressed.
I am not proud of the truth of my nation’s history in abusing my brothers and sisters around the world. But I am able to boast of a gospel which comes to each of us with hope for forgiveness and transformation, and which will bring God’s children from every nation, colour and tongue to worship at his throne one day.
I have been privileged to worship with fellow believers from Asia, Africa and Latin America, and to receive their loving welcome and hospitality to me, to be loved and to love in return. They choose to receive me as a sister, not to make assumptions about me based on my race – and I humbly thank them for not re-telling stories of exploitation and oppression, or assuming that I will behave in the same ways.
May I be quicker to listen, and slower to speak; eager to learn and less willing to teach; keen always to honour God by loving his children and by doing what is in my power to change my culture and see the values of God’s kingdom being lived out.
The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”….the Lord was not in the wind…the Lord was not in the earthquake…the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. when Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
(1 Kin 19.11-13)
The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic..the voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning.The voice of the Lord shakes the desert..The voice of the Lord twists the oaks and strips the forests bare, and all in his temple cry, “Glory”.
By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me – a prayer to the God of my life.
The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.
“..My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no-one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
A few weeks ago, I had the extraordinary experience of hearing – in quick succession – the voices of the three ministers who shaped my faith and life for my first thirty years. They had been recorded at a conference, and my husband was playing the recording to illustrate something to our daughter. I had to ask him to stop the recording, as I found that I was weeping and couldn’t bear to listen anymore – it had been such a surprise, and I was not prepared for it. Why should I cry to hear them? All three are now in glory with the Lord they served so faithfully, having lived long and rich lives to the blessing of untold numbers. And yet it hurt to hear them…
When people whom we love, and to whom we have owed a great deal are gone, any reminder of them is precious and also painful. Voices are such a distinctive part of personalities, and until they are silenced, we perhaps don’t realise how well we know them and how much they conjure up the speaker. And it is extraordinary how instant recognition can be, even for those we have not heard for a long time. Sometimes I wonder whether we shall sound the same in our new bodies in the new earth, so that we may recognise one another in a crowd again…
The pain and pleasure of those recollections set me thinking about all the ways the voice of God is used in Scripture. We have a communicating God, Hallelujah! We are not left to wonder what to do, or whom to worship, but hear from him in many ways…..God spoke with Adam and Eve in the garden, sharing in their life and enjoying their company. God spoke in dreams and visions, through angels and prophets directing his people and sharing his heart. God speaks in creation, in power and vision, in infinite detail and providential creativity for the sustaining of life. God thunders, and he whispers; and sometimes he is silent so that his people might learn to hunger for his voice again, and repent of their rebellion and rejection of him. God speaks intimately to the hearts of his children – singing lullabies over us, songs of deliverance and gladness in our relationship to him.
Do we know his voice well enough? When there is a cacophony of noise, competing claims on our attention and conflicting opinions on what is right, can we discern the Shepherd’s voice?
The three men of whom I spoke earlier ministered for decades here in Scotland, influencing thousands of lives for the gospel. I listened to them, submitted to the word lovingly preached and committed to share in the lives of their congregations. I learned to know and love them, and in their integrity saw that they were to be trusted as under-shepherds. Their voices came to be to me as the voice of God, and I gladly followed when they called.
Have I learned to know the voice of God in this way? Have I learned to love him? I see the work of creation; the tragedy of the Fall and all that has followed and I see the great redemptive work of Calvary where God said so clearly “I love you”, and I choose to trust him. I press on to know him better, not depending on the preacher but also wrestling with the word for myself, trusting that as I do so I may learn to hear the beloved voice more clearly and more often.
May I become more like Samuel, who listened attentively; like Jesus’ mother Mary, who listened submissively; like Mary Magdalene, who in listening discerned the loving voice of her beloved Lord and found resurrection hope, triumphant faith, and courage for life.
“Praise be to you, Lord, the God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendour, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all..
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit…You must be born again”
We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Now and not yet – a kingdom come and coming.. The Old Testament stories are full of references to God as ruler, sovereign in his glory and a call to the people of Israel to live as loyal subjects of that kingdom. Their loyalty was designed to set them apart from other nations, so that they might demonstrate to the world just how wonderful their God was and so glorify his name. Sadly, the OT is also full of stories of how his people rejected his sovereignty and instead lived like people of other nations, loyal to other gods, giving lip service to their covenant God, and trusting in deeds and ritual instead of depending by faith on his love for them.
When Jesus came, preaching that the kingdom of God was near, many thought he meant a military power that would overthrow the tyranny of Rome. But once again, they had got the wrong idea, as Jesus taught repeatedly in his parables and directly, showing that God’s kingdom is not like a human kingdom. Its values are totally different, and ultimately we can enter that kingdom only by new birth, by becoming new creatures with a nature and life designed for that kingdom. Thanks be to God that in Christ Jesus, we are offered that new birth, that new life, and that God does everything necessary to establish us securely in his glorious kingdom of light!
This kingdom – inaugurated by the first coming of Jesus – continues to grow in the world today, but not as human kingdoms grow. Not by conquest, not by political or popular campaigns, not by adroit financial investment, bribery or coercion. Rather, this kingdom grows as heart, after heart recognises Jesus as Lord, and accepts his sovereignty in their lives. As this happens, that life becomes a place where the kingdom of God is realised in this world. My life, and yours, are to be lived examples of the values and atmosphere of the kingdom of God – where he reigns, our loving Saviour.
While we will not see this kingdom fully realised until God winds up time and ushers in the newly re-created earth and heaven, we are living in its light, by its time, and by its values. In effect, we are part of the answer to the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to say – “thy kingdom come….”, and we are also part of the work in realising the kingdom as we witness, pray and serve the Lord in our own turn.
Thank you Father, that by the gift of faith in Christ, I live now under his sovereignty, a subject of your heavenly kingdom. Thank you that a glorious day is coming when that kingdom will be visible, tangible and supreme, wiping out all trace of this shadowland where your reign is still disputed.
Let my life truly be a little part of that heavenly rule – a place where the Spirit dwells as honoured sovereign, unquenched, active and in charge. Let me live as one honouring my inheritance, delighting in my name and stake in your promised land. Let me in all things acknowledge and exalt my king, treasuring his word, engaging with his work, delighting to introduce him to those who have never met him, and resisting his enemies.
Even as the seed sown bears fruit a hundred fold, Lord so may your kingdom seed be fruitful in many lives; invisibly taking root, and then bursting forth in newness of life to your glory and the hastening of the day when all shall be finished and Christ return in glory!
Early on the first day of the week..Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple..and said,”they have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb..the other disciple reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there..Finally [he] also went inside. He saw and believed.. [Mary] turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying..?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him…” Jesus said to her, “Mary” She turned toward him and cried out..,”Rabboni”
(extracts from Jn 20.1-16)
..if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised..[so] our preaching is useless and so is your faith…But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep..as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive..the last enemy to be destroyed is death.
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.
(extracts from 1 Cor 15.12-20& 55-58)
As far as the civil and religious authorities in Jerusalem were concerned, it was a normal day, the morning of a new week, perhaps a little uneasiness still lingering after the events of Good Friday, but a sense of relief that it was all sorted. There was the small matter of the excited and fearful eye-witness account of the soldiers set to guard the tomb of the Galilean, but sufficient funds and safeguards had made sure that story would not go further..Nothing untoward had happened..
That first Easter Sunday was not greeted by parades, by choral services and rituals, by special robes, or new outfits, by feasts and cakes or special confectionery. It was ushered in on the tears of a mourning woman, and the weariness of bewildered and defeated men who had let themselves and Jesus down so badly, only three days earlier.
Unlike the occasion of his birth as an infant, there was no spectacular heavenly choir to invite witnesses to the event; no astronomical wonders to draw foreigners to worship. While the celebrations at the throne of God must have been spectacular, they were not allowed to spill over into the human realm. Only two angelic witnesses are recorded – and they sit passively in the tomb, awaiting the mourners before quietly disappearing.
This year, as followers of Jesus around the world prepare to celebrate his death and resurrection, we will be denied the accustomed trappings of our high and holy days. There will be no special gatherings at dawn to greet the risen Lord with songs of praise and worship. There will be no intimate communion meals to remember his last supper, to share the bread and cup together. There will be no triumphant processions along village streets witnessing to our communities of the joy of the risen Lord.
What can we do? We will be learning to celebrate as persecuted believers have done for centuries – in private; in quiet; depending upon the word of God alone. While we may be spared the threat of imprisonment for our faith, we are learning something of what it means to worship in spirit and in truth – for all our rituals are stripped away.
Paul’s words to the Corinthians is our encouragement in these days too. We are no less saved, no less sure of our hope for resurrection when we cannot meet our fellow believers in church to sing together. Our hope is sure, Christ has conquered death, and in his resurrection we have our own guarantee of eternal life. In our celebrations at home today, whether joining with an online community, or simply on our own with the Lord, we rejoice in a living hope. We stand firm because our victory has been won by Christ, and that fact – quietly and without ceremony – is the foundation of all our life and hope in this world and the next. We can live without public fanfare, without the ritual and trappings of public worship, but we cannot live without a risen Christ.
O death, we defy thee, a stronger than thou hath entered thy palace: we fear thee not now!
Oh, sing hallelujah, oh, sing hallelujah, oh, sing hallelujah! Be joyful and sing, death cannot affright us – Christ Jesus is king!
(WC Plunket 1828-1897)
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take fragrant spices..and make a fragrant blend of incense..It is to be salted and pure and sacred..place it in front of the ark of the covenant law in the tent of meeting, where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you.
The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade. Through us, he brings knowledge of Christ. Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation – an aroma redolent with life.
(2 Cor 2.14-16, The Message)
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
In the regime of temple worship which God instituted with his people, there was a special incense – to be used only within the confines of that building, and for one purpose only. This particular smell, composed of rich spices, would instantly alert the worshipper to the fact that they were in a place set aside for meeting with God. This building would smell different from every other, a perfume different from any flower, shrub or spice they knew in daily life, a building set apart for a special purpose. The scent would speak immediately of a holy place, one where God was pleased to encounter his people, where they were put right with him through the sacrificial system.
I believe that it is this instant recognition factor which is so significant about the incense in the temple. Even those who only occasionally made the journey to worship there would carry in their sense-memory that particular scent, and each return visit would bring a sense of homecoming, as the smell of incense reached them. Here, in this place, God is..
Our sense of smell is amazing, and scents are strong triggers for memory and recognition. How often have you been jolted from your present situation by a smell, pleasantly or painfully reminded of another time, place or person? My daughter inherited the end of a bottle of perfume which my late mother used for years. I find myself confused by the scent, worn by the one and reminding me so powerfully of the other. In a less serious vein, how many of us treasure the smell of freshly mown grass?! Reeking of spring and summer, of school games fields ready for lunchtime games, it speaks of heat, life and freedom.
What then is the significance of the aroma, or scent which Paul attributes to believers as they follow Christ? Is there something here of the unique fragrance which belongs to the place where God and humankind are reconciled – the cross of Jesus, which once for all replaced the sacrificial system of the temple?
The bible tells us that as we receive Christ’s sacrifice for us, by faith, so we receive new life – his life in us. We are now welcomed into God’s presence because we are ‘in Christ’, and all his triumphs and blessings are counted as ours. This surely means that we are to God as an acceptable fragrance too – we speak of atonement for sin, of reconciliation, of peace. As we seek to live faithfully, increasingly transformed by the Spirit into likeness of Christ, our lives yield the unmistakeable scent of grace. In the same way that the hyacinth fills a room with its fragrance – simply by fulfilling its nature and coming into flower – so also as believers, in obeying and trusting God, we are spreading the scent of the gospel to all with whom we come in contact.
Some will react against it, finding all that the gospel stands for abhorrent, and condemning all that we hold most dear. But even as the hyacinth cannot change its scent simply because some people find it unpleasant, so we as believers cannot change the truth about us – that we are saved, because we needed to be rescued, because sin is a reality which humanity alone cannot deal with. The gospel is indeed a stumbling-block to many, but we as believers are not accountable for how people react to it, only to for sharing it.
As I live by faith in Christ, depending on his once-for-all sacrifice, and representing in myself the place where God by his Holy Spirit dwells with his people, I pray that the aroma of grace might be the most noticeable thing about me.