Sunday 15th March 2020
Hebrews 3 (GNB)
3 My Christian friends, who also have been called by God! Think of Jesus, whom God sent to be the High Priest of the faith we profess. 2 He was faithful to God, who chose him to do this work, just as Moses was faithful in his work in God’s house. 3 A man who builds a house receives more honour than the house itself. In the same way Jesus is worthy of much greater honour than Moses. 4 Every house, of course, is built by someone—and God is the one who has built all things. 5 Moses was faithful in God’s house as a servant, and he spoke of the things that God would say in the future. 6 But Christ is faithful as the Son in charge of God’s house. We are his house if we keep up our courage and our confidence in what we hope for.
7 So then, as the Holy Spirit says, “If you hear God’s voice today, 8 do not be stubborn, as your ancestors were when they rebelled against God, as they were that day in the desert when they put him to the test. 9 There they put me to the test and tried me, says God, although they had seen what I did for forty years. 10 And so I was angry with those people and said, ‘They are always disloyal and refuse to obey my commands.’ 11 I was angry and made a solemn promise: ‘They will never enter the land where I would have given them rest!’”
12 My friends, be careful that none of you have a heart so evil and unbelieving that you will turn away from the living God. 13 Instead, in order that none of you be deceived by sin and become stubborn, you must help one another every day, as long as the word “Today” in the scripture applies to us. 14 For we are all partners with Christ if we hold firmly to the end the confidence we had at the beginning.
15 This is what the scripture says: “If you hear God’s voice today, do not be stubborn, as your ancestors were when they rebelled against God.” 16 Who were the people who heard God’s voice and rebelled against him? All those who were led out of Egypt by Moses. 17 With whom was God angry for forty years? With the people who sinned, who fell down dead in the desert. 18 When God made his solemn promise, “They will never enter the land where I would have given them rest”—of whom was he speaking? Of those who rebelled. 19 We see, then, that they were not able to enter the land, because they did not believe.
The writer continues to remind folk who Jesus is:
- A High Priest – and we will hear more in chapter 4 and 5
- Faithful to God
- Greater than Moses – who was God’s servant
- Worthy of more honour than Moses
- He is God’s Son, in charge of God’s House
The writer reminds the folk then and us that if we hear God’s voice today then we shouldn’t be stubborn and ignore it as people have done before. We mustn’t rebel against God or test Him so that he becomes frustrated with us because just look at what happened to the folks who he freed from the Egyptians, they did exactly that and made God angry so that he wouldn’t let them go into the land he had promised them but instead sent them walking in the desert for 40 years. I believe you can actually hear God’s frustration in verse 11 where it says ‘I would have given them rest’.
The writer warns folk not to be the same but to help each other every day to stay faithful and routed in God, through His Son Jesus and that’s what we need to do now, today and every day. We live in worrying times, a fearful time when all you hear about is the Coronavirus. It’s on the telly, it’s in the news, and it’s on people’s lips but as Christians we are not to be afraid, we are to stay faithful to God, encouraging each other just as the writer of Hebrews did, knowing that Jesus is our Lord and Saviour. Not allowing ourselves to be swayed away from the truths, the Good News that Jesus brought and shared with folk then as now.
In this reflective time of Lent, I hope and pray that we will be abundantly blessed by God as we stick close to him through Jesus who said ‘I am the way, the truth and the Life, no-one comes to the Father except through me.
Sunday 22nd March
Hebrews 4 (GNB)
Now, God has offered us the promise that we may receive that rest he spoke about. Let us take care, then, that none of you will be found to have failed to receive that promised rest. 2 For we have heard the Good News, just as they did. They heard the message, but it did them no good, because when they heard it, they did not accept it with faith.
3 We who believe, then, do receive that rest which God promised. It is just as he said, “I was angry and made a solemn promise: ‘They will never enter the land where I would have given them rest!’”
He said this even though his work had been finished from the time he created the world. 4 For somewhere in the Scriptures this is said about the seventh day: “God rested on the seventh day from all his work.” 5 This same matter is spoken of again: “They will never enter that land where I would have given them rest.”
6 Those who first heard the Good News did not receive that rest, because they did not believe. There are, then, others who are allowed to receive it. 7 This is shown by the fact that God sets another day, which is called “Today.” Many years later he spoke of it through David in the scripture already quoted: “If you hear God’s voice today, do not be stubborn.”
8 If Joshua had given the people the rest that God had promised, God would not have spoken later about another day. 9 As it is, however, there still remains for God’s people a rest like God’s resting on the seventh day. 10 For those who receive that rest which God promised will rest from their own work, just as God rested from his. 11 Let us, then, do our best to receive that rest, so that no one of us will fail as they did because of their lack of faith.
12 The word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. It cuts all the way through, to where soul and spirit meet, to where joints and marrow come together. It judges the desires and thoughts of the heart. 13 There is nothing that can be hid from God; everything in all creation is exposed and lies open before his eyes. And it is to him that we must all give an account of ourselves.
14 Let us, then, hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we have a great High Priest who has gone into the very presence of God—Jesus, the Son of God. 15 Our High Priest is not one who cannot feel sympathy for our weaknesses. On the contrary, we have a High Priest who was tempted in every way that we are, but did not sin. 16 Let us have confidence, then, and approach God’s throne, where there is grace. There we will receive mercy and find grace to help us just when we need it.
The writer continues by telling folk that God has also promised them the rest he spoke about that their ancestors refused by non belief and lack of trust. However that rest is still available today says the writer because God’s gracious promise of rest has not been withdrawn. However this rest cannot be achieved by just good works but by the grace of God at the end of the journey.
Jesus points the way and walks alongside us to dispel our fears and strengthen us so that we do not disappear into a well of self pity and lack of love for our neighbours.
As a Christian I have certainly found and experienced the inner peace that God gives as I put my trust in Him knowing that only He ultimately is in control of my life. As Psalm 16:5-6 says: You, Lord, are all I have and you give me all I need; my future is in your hands.’ These verses give me hope and I recite them in my head often and share them with others as I am now with you.
However please don’t be misled my life just like anyone else’s Christian or not, is still one that has problems and sad times as well as joys and great times but because I invited Jesus into my life, whatever I am experiencing in life, I am not alone and knowing that gives me peace and great comfort.
I was very stubborn and it took me many years of ignoring God’s voice and trying to go it alone before I asked Jesus into my life. So I would encourage you as the writer encourages the Hebrews (4:4) ‘If you hear God’s voice today do not be stubborn’ because as 4:13 says There is nothing that can be hidden from God; everything in all creation is exposed and lies open before his eyes. And it is to him that we must all give an account of ourselves.’
However don’t despair is what the writer says, just have confidence and approach God’s throne where there is grace and they and we, will receive mercy and ultimate rest because of Jesus, his love for us and his sacrifice. In this time of Lent we think about his journey to the cross, we read in the Bible how he was focused on reaching Jerusalem, about the folk he journeyed with and those he met and healed and spoke to and changed their lives forever. Let us read the narrative in the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, let us remind ourselves as the writer to the Hebrews reminded them of all that had happened in the past and how Jesus is God’s answer.
Sunday 29th March 2020
Hebrews 5:1-10 (GNB)
Every high priest is chosen from his fellow-men and appointed to serve God on their behalf, to offer sacrifices and offerings for sins. 2 Since he himself is weak in many ways, he is able to be gentle with those who are ignorant and make mistakes. 3 And because he is himself weak, he must offer sacrifices not only for the sins of the people but also for his own sins. 4 No one chooses for himself the honour of being a high priest. It is only by God’s call that a man is made a high priest—just as Aaron was.
5 In the same way, Christ did not take upon himself the honour of being a high priest. Instead, God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”
6 He also said in another place, “You will be a priest forever, in the priestly order of Melchizedek.” 7 In his life on earth Jesus made his prayers and requests with loud cries and tears to God, who could save him from death. Because he was humble and devoted, God heard him. 8 But even though he was God’s Son, he learned through his sufferings to be obedient. 9 When he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him, 10 and God declared him to be high priest, in the priestly order of Melchizedek.
In today’s reading we find the writer talking about Jesus as High Priest and if you remember from last week he has already told them that Jesus knows all our weaknesses and temptations because he has lived a human life. However the difference between him and us is that he isn’t sinful – there never was any sin in him so the sacrifice he made is very special indeed because for himself he didn’t need to do it, the reason he died on that cross was for our benefit, our sin not his.
You see normally a high priest would offer a sacrifice for his own sin before he could offer sacrifices on behalf of the people. Also the high priest would have to keep offering sacrifices on behalf of himself and the people at regular intervals. However the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross was for all of us, once and for all, for all time.
We find ourselves living in strange times at the moment, most of us confined to our homes unless we need food or exercise but even then our movement is restricted and we cannot socialise with anyone apart from our immediate family living with us. All the things we normally spend our time doing, shopping, going to concerts or theatre, cinema or dining out have been taken away from us. Although these things are pleasant and nice sometimes we lift them up to a place where actually only God should be. So maybe in our confinement it’s now time to get everything into the right prospective by putting God first, by giving him a bit of our time, by giving him a chance to connect with us and by giving ourselves a chance to spend time with and listen to him.
The verse that stood out for me in this reading is Hebrews 5:8 But even though he was God’s Son, he learned through his sufferings to be obedient. Pondering on this verse I wondered do we learn through our sufferings, are we learning to be obedient to God as we journey through this time of sickness when our lives as we knew them are disrupted as never before. Will we turn again to God saying ‘thy will be done? Apparently the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury are encouraging people to say the Lord’s Prayer at 12 noon every day. As some of you know I have been doing this regularly for some time and I would encourage you to join with me and Christians everywhere to do the same. Some of you may not know this prayer that Jesus taught his disciples so here it is:
Our Father, who art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come and thy will be done
One earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses (sins)
As we forgive those who trespass against us
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory
For ever and ever. Amen
And just in case you are wondering who Melchizedek was, have a look at Hebrews chapter 7, it tells us he was the king of Salem and a priest of the Most High God, whose name means King of Righteousness also King of Peace. It also tells us that there was no record of Melchizedek’s birth or death, however when Abraham was coming back from winning a battle against four kings he was met by Melchizedek who gave him a blessing. Abraham we are told gave Melchizedek a tenth of all he had taken as the spoils of this battle he had just fought and won.
Next week is Palm Sunday when we will be thinking again about how Jesus came into Jerusalem riding on a donkey and how the crowds shouted and threw their cloaks or palm leaves down on the road in front of him. Our journey through Lent is continuing and I hope and pray that your journey with God through his son Jesus is continuing too.
5th April 2020 Palm Sunday
Mark 11:1-11 (GNB)
As they approached Jerusalem, near the towns of Bethphage and Bethany, they came to the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of his disciples on ahead 2 with these instructions: “Go to the village there ahead of you. As soon as you get there, you will find a colt tied up that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 And if someone asks you why you are doing that, say that the Master needs it and will send it back at once.”
4 So they went and found a colt out in the street, tied to the door of a house. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders asked them, “What are you doing, untying that colt?”
6 They answered just as Jesus had told them, and the crowd let them go. 7 They brought the colt to Jesus, threw their cloaks over the animal, and Jesus got on. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches in the field and spread them on the road. 9 The people who were in front and those who followed behind began to shout, “Praise God! God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 God bless the coming kingdom of King David, our father! Praise be to God!”
11 Jesus entered Jerusalem, went into the Temple, and looked around at everything. But since it was already late in the day, he went out to Bethany with the twelve disciples.
Palm Sunday in some way marks the beginning of the end of Jesus’ earthly journey. Not that long ago (only 3 months) we were celebrating his birth at Christmas. Then we get a glimpse of his life as a child of 12 when he goes missing after a trip with his parents to Jerusalem for the Passover celebrations. He then comes back into view around 30 years of age and begins his three year ministry of teaching, healing and setting an example of living God’s way – of being obedient even if the task or journey is difficult.
And now today, on what we call Palm Sunday we relive yet again his final journey into Jerusalem. His followers by this time recognise that he is special. Peter has vocalised his thoughts that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God but they still haven’t quite got what it all means.
As they walked into Jerusalem with Jesus riding on a donkey they sang hosanna and threw down their cloaks and palm leaves in front of him. They were escorting their king into the main city, expecting something to happen but they will soon find out that what happened wasn’t what they had expected. They were joyful and in high spirits; it was a triumphant entry into Jerusalem. They shouted Praise God and God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord, God bless the coming kingdom of David, our father. Praise God.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday can be found in all of the four Gospels, Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-40 and John 12:12-19. Have a read for yourself, ponder on the words and pray that God will give you insight to understand what is being said to us today. Today when things aren’t what we thought they would be. Did we think at Christmas, when we were celebrating the birth of Jesus, that we would be confined in our homes by Easter because of a dreaded virus?
As we have the time now because of the change in our circumstances and way of living, let us use it positively and reflect on what we expect of Jesus and his impact on our lives. Also let us reflect on what Jesus expects of us, how he impacts our lives and how obedient are we to his calling. Now is the time to take him seriously and to seriously follow him.
10th April 2020 Good Friday
Mark 15 (GNB)
Early in the morning the chief priests met hurriedly with the elders, the teachers of the Law, and the whole Council, and made their plans. They put Jesus in chains, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 2 Pilate questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “So you say.” 3 The chief priests were accusing Jesus of many things, 4 so Pilate questioned him again, “Aren’t you going to answer? Listen to all their accusations!” 5 Again Jesus refused to say a word, and Pilate was amazed.
6 At every Passover Festival Pilate was in the habit of setting free any one prisoner the people asked for. 7 At that time a man named Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder in the riot. 8 When the crowd gathered and began to ask Pilate for the usual favour, 9 he asked them, “Do you want me to set free for you the king of the Jews?” 10 He knew very well that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him because they were jealous. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to ask, instead, that Pilate set Barabbas free for them. 12 Pilate spoke again to the crowd, “What, then, do you want me to do with the one you call the king of the Jews?” 13 They shouted back, “Crucify him!” 14 “But what crime has he committed?” Pilate asked. They shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” 15 Pilate wanted to please the crowd, so he set Barabbas free for them. Then he had Jesus whipped and handed him over to be crucified.
16 The soldiers took Jesus inside to the courtyard of the governor’s palace and called together the rest of the company. 17 They put a purple robe on Jesus, made a crown out of thorny branches, and put it on his head. 18 Then they began to salute him: “Long live the King of the Jews!” 19 They beat him over the head with a stick, spat on him, fell on their knees, and bowed down to him. 20 When they had finished making fun of him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes back on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
21 On the way they met a man named Simon, who was coming into the city from the country, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. (Simon was from Cyrene and was the father of Alexander and Rufus.) 22 They took Jesus to a place called Golgotha, which means “The Place of the Skull.” 23 There they tried to give him wine mixed with a drug called myrrh, but Jesus would not drink it. 24 Then they crucified him and divided his clothes among themselves, throwing dice to see who would get which piece of clothing. 25 It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The notice of the accusation against him said: “The King of the Jews.” 27 They also crucified two bandits with Jesus, one on his right and the other on his left. 28
29 People passing by shook their heads and hurled insults at Jesus: “Aha! You were going to tear down the Temple and build it back up in three days! 30 Now come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the Law made fun of Jesus, saying to one another, “He saved others, but he cannot save himself! 32 Let us see the Messiah, the king of Israel, come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him!” And the two who were crucified with Jesus insulted him also.
33 At noon the whole country was covered with darkness, which lasted for three hours. 34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why did you abandon me?”
35 Some of the people there heard him and said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah!” 36 One of them ran up with a sponge, soaked it in cheap wine, and put it on the end of a stick. Then he held it up to Jesus’ lips and said, “Wait! Let us see if Elijah is coming to bring him down from the cross!” 37 With a loud cry Jesus died.
38 The curtain hanging in the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 The army officer who was standing there in front of the cross saw how Jesus had died. “This man was really the Son of God!” he said.
40 Some women were there, looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joseph, and Salome. 41 They had followed Jesus while he was in Galilee and had helped him. Many other women who had come to Jerusalem with him were there also.
42-43 It was toward evening when Joseph of Arimathea arrived. He was a respected member of the Council, who was waiting for the coming of the Kingdom of God. It was Preparation day (that is, the day before the Sabbath), so Joseph went boldly into the presence of Pilate and asked him for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that Jesus was already dead. He called the army officer and asked him if Jesus had been dead a long time. 45 After hearing the officer’s report, Pilate told Joseph he could have the body. 46 Joseph bought a linen sheet, took the body down, wrapped it in the sheet, and placed it in a tomb which had been dug out of solid rock. Then he rolled a large stone across the entrance to the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph were watching and saw where the body of Jesus was placed.
Since Palm Sunday we have been journeying through Holy Week, a week that sees Jesus overturning tables in the Temple, cursing a fig tree because it had no figs on it, speaking in parables about the tenants of a vineyard, answering questions about paying taxes, rising from death and what the most important commandment was, to which he replied, ‘Listen, Israel! The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength’. And although he wasn’t asked for a second one, he gave it anyway, saying “The second most important commandment is this: ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.’” As we move on we find him in the Garden of Gethsemane after he has finished sharing the Passover meal with his disciples and it’s here after spending much time in prayer he is arrested. As I have reflected on all this I find myself asking questions as if I was actually there, one of his followers and these are what I share with you now.
What has just happened? Can you believe things have changed so quickly? Last night before we went to the Garden of Gethsemane everything was so right. The meal shared with Jesus, the walk to the garden, yes I know we slept while he prayed even though he asked us to stay awake, but we couldn’t help it, the food and wine lulled us into a dreamy sleep. And then the soldiers took Jesus and we, his brave companions ran away, like cowards, no more the brave words just cowardly actions. And now after a bodged trial and an unfair sentence and outcome Jesus is crucified on that cross over there. All our dreams shattered and our hopes lost, what is to become of us now? What shall we do?
12th April 2020 Easter Sunday
Today is Easter Sunday, the day when Jesus rose from the dead and his disciples and followers were amazed and eventually delighted (once the fear factor had gone away) to discover that his words were true and there really was hope for the future.
Very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, carrying the spices they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the entrance to the tomb, 3 so they went in; but they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 They stood there puzzled about this, when suddenly two men in bright shining clothes stood by them. 5 Full of fear, the women bowed down to the ground, as the men said to them, “Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive? 6 He is not here; he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and three days later rise to life.’”
8 Then the women remembered his words, 9 returned from the tomb, and told all these things to the eleven disciples and all the rest. 10 The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James; they and the other women with them told these things to the apostles. 11 But the apostles thought that what the women said was nonsense, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; he bent down and saw the grave cloths but nothing else. Then he went back home amazed at what had happened.
So the Sabbath is ended and life can return to its normal hustle and bustle, however for the disciples and followers of Jesus, time has stood still over those few days. The things they hoped for, their dreams of justice and victory have been lost but some of the women decide they can’t be inactive any longer. So they take the spices they have prepared and go to anoint Jesus’ body as was the normal practice, however they discovered that their lives were anything but normal that day. Jesus is not dead in the tomb but alive – alive, could it really be true? They go to share the news with the disciples who I suspect may have reacted something like this:
Oh my goodness, can it be true, Jesus risen from the dead.
What does it all mean? What was it he said to us when he spoke of these things, can you remember?
Do these women really know what they are talking about, surely they are just distraught, their minds confused. What’s that they are saying – Jesus alive!
How can the tomb be empty, where is the body of Jesus, who could have taken it?
It’s just too much for us to take in – too much for us to hope for…
Could this hope be real?
Yes it is – Jesus is alive, he has conquered death. Halleluiah!
Well maybe they didn’t quite use these words but I suspect something like them in the language of their own time. Certainly what happened on that morning of the third day was nothing short of a miracle and for over 2000 years Christians everywhere have been celebrating the resurrection of Jesus on that first Easter Sunday.
So this morning I would invite us all to also join in and feel the excitement and amazement of what happened and think about the impact on our own lives. Maybe you’re not yet a committed Christian, maybe you are not sure what you believe, maybe you think you don’t believe anything but in this strange and challenging time we find ourselves in, I would encourage you to view the passion story of Jesus seriously.
For myself I made the decision a number of years ago now to invite God to let me know if all this was true and he did and my life was changed. Jesus said ‘Ask and it shall be given unto you, seek and you will find’.
Sunday 19th April 2020
During the week as I was taking our dog Daisy for a walk I found myself along one of the wide footpaths at Tindon End and as I walked along I thought about the two disciples who walked along the road to Emmaus talking to each other about all that had happened recently. The joyous entry into Jerusalem, the Passover meal, the events in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ trial and execution and now news that he had risen from the dead. We find this written about in Luke’s gospel chapter 24 verses 13-35.
On that same day two of Jesus’ followers were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking to each other about all the things that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed, Jesus himself drew near and walked along with them; 16 they saw him, but somehow did not recognize him. 17 Jesus said to them, “What are you talking about to each other, as you walk along?” They stood still, with sad faces. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have been happening there these last few days?” 19 “What things?” he asked. “The things that happened to Jesus of Nazareth,” they answered. “This man was a prophet and was considered by God and by all the people to be powerful in everything he said and did. 20 Our chief priests and rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and he was crucified. 21 And we had hoped that he would be the one who was going to set Israel free! Besides all that, this is now the third day since it happened. 22 Some of the women of our group surprised us; they went at dawn to the tomb, 23 but could not find his body. They came back saying they had seen a vision of angels who told them that he is alive. 24 Some of our group went to the tomb and found it exactly as the women had said, but they did not see him.” 25 Then Jesus said to them, “How foolish you are, how slow you are to believe everything the prophets said! 26 Was it not necessary for the Messiah to suffer these things and then to enter his glory?” 27 And Jesus explained to them what was said about himself in all the Scriptures, beginning with the books of Moses and the writings of all the prophets. 28 As they came near the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther; 29 but they held him back, saying, “Stay with us; the day is almost over and it is getting dark.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 He sat down to eat with them, took the bread, and said the blessing; then he broke the bread and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Wasn’t it like a fire burning in us when he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” 33 They got up at once and went back to Jerusalem, where they found the eleven disciples gathered together with the others 34 and saying, “The Lord is risen indeed! He has appeared to Simon!” 35 The two then explained to them what had happened on the road, and how they had recognized the Lord when he broke the bread.
Luke who wrote all this down was a physician, he wasn’t one of the twelve disciples or an eyewitness to what happened to Jesus but a friend of Paul, the man who was changed from a persecutor of Christians to an avid follower of Jesus on his journey to Damascus. Luke writes his carefully researched account about Jesus and his life so that people will know exactly what happened and this is part of that account.
So where do we find ourselves, the women have been to the tomb after the Sabbath to discover Jesus body missing and then went and told the others. Now two followers of Jesus are walking to Emmaus, maybe they live or lodge there, it’s a seven mile walk and probably takes them a couple of hours. So as they walk along they discuss what’s been happening and then this man joins them and asks what they are talking about. They are surprised that he doesn’t know what’s been going on in Jerusalem and begin to tell him. When they have finished, the man begins to explain to them how everything that has happened was meant to happen and had been written about in the scriptures. Just thinking about this I remember how Isaiah talked about a voice crying out in the wilderness saying prepare the way for the Lord and also about a servant king and how Jeremiah talked about a new covenant.
Anyway they finally get to the place they are staying and the man acts as if he is going further on until they invite him to stay at theirs for the night as it’s getting late. He accepted the offer to stay and also have dinner with them but then something amazing happened as he broke the bread and said the blessing because then the two men realised he was Jesus and as they did he disappeared from their sight. Wow! They were excited and kept talking about how it was like a fire burning in them when he explained the scriptures to them. They were so excited that they walked another seven miles back to Jerusalem to tell the others what they had experienced, it was that important and amazing, they had been with the risen Jesus.
Jesus had taken these two men back over time and helped them discover how the different bits fed into God’s bigger plan. Sometimes we feel we don’t know what’s going on in our lives and I think that’s true especially at the moment, the whole world has changed and we are not sure how things will work out. However in hindsight at some future point I think we will have a greater understanding of what’s going on here today and how it fits in with God’s greater plan. However at the moment we just have to sit tight, trust Him and stay close to Him through our prayers and Bible readings, quiet times and reflections, remembering that ultimately God is sovereign over all, He created us, loves us and has our best interests at heart even if it doesn’t quite feel like that at the moment.
Sunday 26th April 2020
Today we carry on reading in Luke’s gospel from chapter 24:36-49 continuing to journey with those two disciples back in Jerusalem after they realised who their companion on the road to Emmaus was.
36 While the two were telling them this, suddenly the Lord himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were terrified, thinking that they were seeing a ghost. 38 But he said to them, “Why are you alarmed? Why are these doubts coming up in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet, and see that it is I myself. Feel me, and you will know, for a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones, as you can see I have.” 40 He said this and showed them his hands and his feet. 41 They still could not believe, they were so full of joy and wonder; so he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of cooked fish, 43 which he took and ate in their presence. 44 Then he said to them, “These are the very things I told you about while I was still with you: everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the writings of the prophets, and the Psalms had to come true.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “This is what is written: the Messiah must suffer and must rise from death three days later, 47and in his name the message about repentance and the forgiveness of sins must be preached to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49And I myself will send upon you what my Father has promised. But you must wait in the city until the power from above comes down upon you.”
So the two disciples have arrived back from Emmaus and are telling their story to the eleven disciples and the other folks who are with them. We are told in John’s gospel that the door to the room is locked because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities but Luke doesn’t mention this.
What Luke says though is that suddenly into this gathering stood Jesus, saying ‘Peace be with you’. Well you can imagine the emotions they experienced; fear being one of them, and Luke tells us they were terrified because they thought he must be a ghost.
In Mark’s gospel we are told Jesus scolds them (tells them off) because they didn’t have faith and also were too stubborn to believe those who had already seen him alive. Then in John’s gospel it says, after they had seen his hands and feet they were filled with joy at seeing him.
Returning to Luke’s account we find Jesus asking them what the matter is and why they are alarmed, asking why do they doubt with their minds what they can see in front of them? To give them proof he tells them to look at his hands and his feet and see that it really is him because the marks of the nails are still there. Also he says, touch me and feel that I am a living body not a ghost because a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bone.
Even though they are full of joy and wonder they are still finding it hard to believe that Jesus is indeed alive. Maybe you and I would too because if we had seen Jesus’ lifeless and brutally damaged body hanging on that cross just days before wouldn’t we have doubts. Reality tells us that a body can’t heal that quickly normally and someone who is clinically dead cannot come back to life. So we can understand where they are coming from, that’s why Jesus gives them further proof when he asks them for food and eats it in front of them – showing them that he is indeed alive in the flesh.
He then seems to go over again what he told the two disciples as they walked to Emmaus, opening their minds to the scriptures about how the Messiah must suffer, die and rise from death three days later. I often wish he would come and explain things to me in simple language that I can understand but then I think maybe the wrestling with things in the scriptures is what embeds the truths into our hearts and minds and helps us to obediently live our lives God’s way within his plan for us and the world.
Jesus has been obedient and has played his part within God’s plan however as we carry on reading we see that the disciples now have to do their bit because they are the eye-witnesses to all the things that have happened. It’s their turn to play their part and be obedient. They have to go and tell others; to speak about Jesus and the message he brought about repentance and the forgiveness of sins, starting in Jerusalem and eventually spreading out and telling the whole world. Matthew 28:18-20 tells us that Jesus said ‘I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go then to all peoples everywhere and make them disciples; baptise them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always to the end of the age.’
In saying this he lets them know that they don’t have to do it on their own or in their own strength because he will give them what the Father has promised but for now they will have to wait until a bit later, when the time is right for this promised gift, but they won’t have to wait too long.
Sometimes waiting can be difficult, at the moment we are all waiting for the time when our freedom is returned to us and we can go out when we like to visit our family and friends, when all the shops will be open and life returns to some kind of normality. However our normality may not be what it was, life has changed and it may never be the same again. Life had changed for Jesus’ disciples and theirs would never be the same again however the life that Jesus offers is so much better, a life free of fear, especially the fear of death because he has conquered death and offers the hope of eternal life to all who will believe in him.
Sunday 3rd May 2020
50 Then he led them out of the city as far as Bethany, where he raised his hands and blessed them. 51 As he was blessing them, he departed from them and was taken up into heaven. 52 They worshiped him and went back into Jerusalem, filled with great joy, 53 and spent all their time in the Temple giving thanks to God.
This morning’s reading is a short one however both the books of Mark and Acts record this moment too in slightly different words but it is the same moment in time. Before Jesus leaves his disciples to return to his Father God he blesses them. I always think being given a blessing is a very special moment. It’s a good thing, it means someone cares about you and a blessing from Jesus himself must have been very special indeed. We are not told what the blessing consisted of but I don’t think that matters, it’s enough to know that he blessed them.
Often at the end of church services the priest or pastor will give a blessing to the folk who are there, the one I like to use is ‘The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace’.
Luke tells us that as Jesus was blessing them he departed from them and was taken up into heaven. I can imagine them looking up, their eyes following him until he was out of sight. In Acts (1:9-11) it tells us that when he has gone, the people as their eyes return to looking out instead of up, see two other men standing beside them, both dressed in white. These men ask them why they continue looking skyward when actually Jesus although he will return, it will be at some future point. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why they spent their time in the temple praising God because they knew then that Jesus wasn’t leaving them for good and would be coming back.
Wow! what a roller-coaster of emotions they have been going through recently. Joy on Palm Sunday as they journey into Jerusalem: great sadness on Good Friday as Jesus is crucified: fear and also great joy on Easter Sunday when he rose from the dead as well as confusion and anxiety, that’s enough to put anyone’s head in a muddle. However we are told that after all this they are to be found in the temple praising God and I believe there is something for us to learn here – whatever happens in our lives, good or bad, sad or joyful we mustn’t forget to praise the one who created us and who loves us passionately regardless.
In the Old Testament book of Psalms we find many psalms written with praising God in mind and these were probably used by the disciples when they were in the temple. I do like reading the psalms because I find they cover many of the situations I find myself in and I can use them to cry out to God and find comfort in them or share my joy through them. Psalm 27 is an example of a prayer of praise, it begins saying: The Lord is my light and my salvation. I will fear no-one. The Lord protects me from all danger; I will never be afraid. The last verse says: Trust in the Lord. Have faith, do not despair. Trust in the Lord.
Maybe you might want to have a look through the book of Psalms and I would suggest if you are not familiar with the bible or maybe only have Auntie Jean’s King James version that was left to you (great in itself but the language is a bit old fashioned), then you go on the web (if you are on line) and look up Biblegateway.com where you will be able to access different translations and find the one that suits you best at this moment in time. Some suggestions would be: Good News Bible (GNB), New International Version (NIV) or maybe The Voice. Just make sure that when you read the Bible it is in language that you are familiar with and can understand.
But back to the disciples who were told to wait for the gift Jesus promised and will do so now with confidence that he will return. They don’t know when and neither do we but I like them and other Christians believe it will happen so as I have said before I do encourage you to take him seriously before it is too late.
Sunday 10th May 2020
12 Then the apostles went back to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, which is about half a mile away from the city. 13 They entered the city and went up to the room where they were staying: Peter, John, James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Patriot, and Judas son of James. 14 They gathered frequently to pray as a group, together with the women and with Mary the mother of Jesus and with his brothers. 15 A few days later there was a meeting of the believers, about a hundred and twenty in all, and Peter stood up to speak. 16 “My friends,” he said, “the scripture had to come true in which the Holy Spirit, speaking through David, made a prediction about Judas, who was the guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 Judas was a member of our group, for he had been chosen to have a part in our work.”(18 With the money that Judas got for his evil act he bought a field, where he fell to his death; he burst open and all his insides spilled out. 19 All the people living in Jerusalem heard about it, and so in their own language they call that field Akeldama, which means “Field of Blood.”) 20 “For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘May his house become empty; may no one live in it.’ It is also written, ‘May someone else take his place of service.’ 21-22 “So then, someone must join us as a witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. He must be one of the men who were in our group during the whole time that the Lord Jesus travelled about with us, beginning from the time John preached his message of baptism until the day Jesus was taken up from us to heaven.” 23 So they proposed two men: Joseph, who was called Barsabbas (also known as Justus), and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know the thoughts of everyone, so show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to serve as an apostle in the place of Judas, who left to go to the place where he belongs.” 26 Then they drew lots to choose between the two men, and the one chosen was Matthias, who was added to the group of eleven apostles.
So things are moving on, the disciples are back in Jerusalem meeting together and waiting for something to happen as they were told to do. There are now only eleven of them – Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Patriot, and Judas son of James – that’s because Judas Iscariot is dead. We are told that they gather frequently as a group to pray and with them are the women, un-named except for Mary Jesus’ mother and she is there we are told with his brothers.
At one of their meetings Peter stood up and spoke about Judas Iscariot and how what happened through and to him had been previously predicted by King David many years earlier. He said “For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘May his house become empty; may no one live in it.’ It is also written, ‘May someone else take his place of service.’”
So what happened to Judas was part of the overall plan for the coming of God’s kingdom into the world, someone had to play that part and that someone was Judas Iscariot.
Peter now explains to the others that they need someone to make up the twelve and part of the job profile is that the person needed to have been with them all the time. Right from the very beginning when John the Baptist baptised Jesus in the river Jordan to the time when Jesus ascended into heaven, the person needs to have experienced this first hand, to be an eye witness.
Two men seemed to fit the bill however how would they chose between them? The disciples did what they knew Jesus would do and that was to take it to God in prayer, so they prayed, ‘Lord, you know the thoughts of everyone, so show us which of these two you have chosen to serve as an apostle in the place of Judas.’
The disciples answer to their prayers came as they drew lots and the one chosen by this method was Matthias, so he became the twelfth apostle.
Whenever we have decisions to make, this is what we should do to, we should let God be our guide and doing this should become habit forming. The first thing we should think of in any situation we find ourselves in, is about taking it to God in prayer and also seeing what it says in the Bible (God’s word), because when we do He can then help us make the right decision and choices.
When Peter raised the subject of Judas’ replacement, it was because he knew what the scriptures said and prayed to God for the way forward. I suppose they could have just stuck with eleven of them however the number twelve is special for the Jews, it was considered a perfect number – it symbolised God’s power and authority. There were twelve tribes of Israel and Jesus called twelve disciples in the beginning so the best way forward was with the perfect number, the complete number, the number twelve.
And eventually the twelve will go out with the other disciples and followers of Jesus to tell the world about the Good News that Jesus brings and next week we will be looking at what this Good News is, why it is so important for us and what the consequences are of accepting or refusing it.
Sunday 17th May 2020
1 Corinthians 15:1-7
And now I want to remind you, my friends, of the Good News which I preached to you, which you received, and on which your faith stands firm. 2 That is the gospel, the message that I preached to you. You are saved by the gospel if you hold firmly to it—unless it was for nothing that you believed. 3 I passed on to you what I received, which is of the greatest importance: that Christ died for our sins, as written in the Scriptures; 4 that he was buried and that he was raised to life three days later, as written in the Scriptures; 5 that he appeared to Peter and then to all twelve apostles. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred of his followers at once, most of whom are still alive, although some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, and afterward to all the apostles.
So what is the Good News! Well I asked my husband Malcolm this and his thoughtful reply was that ‘Jesus offers us a way back to God’ and I thought yes that’s a good beginning for my talk today, Jesus does offer us a way back to God, so now let’s look at how he does that so we can understand how good the news is.
Ever since God created us and things went a bit awry in the Garden of Eden, God has always had a plan to bring humanity back to him and this plan is Good News. It was hinted at and spoke of many years before Jesus was born. Even the wise men at the time of his birth were guided by it when in Jerusalem they were told that the scriptures talked of the Saviour King being born in Bethlehem. All along God has been letting people know through the prophets and the scriptures that all is not lost and we have not been abandoned by our creator because of our sin but that he was planning to put things right himself.
The Good News is about Jesus being God’s Son, the promised saviour and how through him God would fulfil his promises that he made to the folk in the Old Testament. This Good News is for everyone not just for the Jews who were chosen by God to be an example to other nations.
The Good News is that Jesus Christ died for us and the whole of Jesus’ life is Good News because it shows that God has not abandoned or deserted us. His love continues forever and he wants each one of us to be back safe in his care.
Jesus preached the Good News to the poor, he made folk feel loved and acceptable, no longer on the outside of society, he gave them back their dignity and worth. He showed people that everyone regardless of gender, race, health or sickness, wealth or need, God loves them all and Jesus showed God’s love in a very human capacity and expects us to do the same as we follow his example.
Now some folk say there is no Good News because there is no God. Well everyone is entitled to their opinion but I can only say that this is not my experience or the experience of so many others now and over the past centuries.
Many years ago I was asking the question does God actually exist and one day I asked Him myself and he answered me and I have never doubted since. Therefore I’m glad to accept the Good News that Jesus died for me, accepting the punishment for my sins as he was crucified on the cross. However there is more Good News because Jesus didn’t stay dead he rose after three days to a new life. How can I say this with any conviction, well there were eyewitnesses and they wrote down what they had seen and I believe them. I also believe that Jesus is now seated at the right hand side of God, the Father.
The Bible tells us that Jesus was called by the Spirit of the Lord to ‘preach the Good News to the poor’. That Jesus is the eternal word of God who became human and lived among us. John 20:31 says that Jesus is the promised saviour, the son of God and through faith in him they might have life. In Mark 1:15 Jesus said, ‘The right time has come…. the Kingdom of God is near. Turn away from your sins and believe the Good News.
I believe Jesus died for our sins and through our faith in Jesus our sins are forgiven which means we are acceptable to God and John emphasises the gift of eternal life through Jesus, a gift which begins now and which comes to those who respond to Jesus as the way, the truth and the life.
So where does that leave us, well I would say with two choices:
- Accept Jesus and his Good News and receive forgiveness and acceptance into God’s kingdom
- Reject Jesus and risk condemnation and exclusion from God’s kingdom
I know which one I chose, what about you?
Sunday 24th May 2020
Last week I wrote about the Good News that Jesus brings and I touched on the fact that God has always had a plan for Jesus to offer us a way back to Him. This week I thought it would be interesting to have a look at where in the Old Testament, long before the birth and ministry of Jesus we would find clues to Gods plan.
If we start right at the beginning in Genesis we find in chapter 12:3 Abram being told by God that all nations would be blessed through him and the decision he made to obey God’s call to uproot and leave everything he was comfortable with behind.
In Genesis 17 we find God making a covenant with Abraham and in verse 19 promising him a son from whom he will have many descendants (remember Abraham and his wife were quite old when God told him this) and in Genesis 28:14 he reiterated this to Abraham’s grandson Jacob. In Genesis 49:10 we see that Judah, one of Jacob’s sons (Abraham’s great grandson) is named as an ancestor of Jesus and this is confirmed in Luke 3:33.
We then move on to 2 Samuel 7:12-13 where God promises King David that one of his offspring will have a kingdom that will last forever and in Matthew 1:1 we find a list of Jesus’ ancestors which includes King David.
Now in Isaiah 7:14 when King Ahaz was told to ask for a sign from God by Isaiah he refused but God gave him a sign anyway which was these words ‘ The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel’. And we find this happening in Luke 1:35.
Now I never ceased to be amazed at how God does things, oh believe me lots of things remain a mystery to me and I’ve learnt to accept that’s sometimes the way it has to be. However I am in awe of the folk who have searched the Bible and found the links and the clues and I am so glad they have shared them.
Now we know that after his birth Jesus and his family had to flee to Egypt to escape being killed by King Herod who was paranoid about anyone taking over his throne but did you know that it was talked about by the prophet Hosea. Have a look at Hosea 11:1 where God talks about calling his son out of Egypt and it was the prophet Micah who said that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem in the first place (Micah 5:2).
Christians believe that Jesus became the once and for all sacrifice for sin when he was crucified on the cross however up until that point folk had to offer a sacrifice every year for their sins and this was often a lamb. The lamb had to be the best, not your lamb with the gammy leg or one eye, no! you shouldn’t offer anything that was less than perfect to God and in Exodus 12:5 it tells us that. After Jesus died for our sins there was no more need for an animal to die because he was the perfect sacrifice and you can read more about this in Hebrews 9.
In Psalm 8:5-6 it says that the messiah will be humbled to serve humankind and Jesus was humbled when he took on the body and mind of a human being and in Hebrews 2 it explains that this was the way to lead folk back to God and be saved.
As to what Jesus came to do well, in Psalm 40:9 it tells us that righteousness was to be spoken of and in Psalm 78:1-2 that he would speak in parables also in Isaiah 6:9-10 that those parables would fall on deaf ears. Let’s have a look at Matthew 13:13-15 where Jesus explains to his disciples after his telling of the parable of the sower that folk will not understand and I believe that was until they had faith and believed in him and would turn from the way of the world not before. As I think about my own life I see within it a time when I didn’t understand what I do now and sometimes still don’t, and I realise that’s because I did open myself up to God and continue to do so as I journey with him through my life.
There is so much in the Old Testament that I couldn’t possibly go through it all today and I’m sure I would miss some of the bits if I even tried. But Isaiah said that Christ’s ministry would begin in Galilee (Isaiah 9:1-2) and that the Gentiles (the non-Jewish people like you and me) would be drawn to him (Isaiah 11:10). He would do miraculous things during his ministry (Isaiah 35:5-6). In Matthew 11:2-6 it is recorded that John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus with a question asking if he really was the Messiah. Jesus’ answer was that they were to tell John that the blind see and the lame walk, the deaf hear and the lepers are healed, the dead are raised and the Good News is preached to the poor. Jesus answered John’s question with the clues from the Old Testament. And John the Baptist was also a clue that had been spoken about by Isaiah too and you’ll find it in Isaiah 40:3-4.
That Jesus would come into Jerusalem riding on a donkey surrounded by joyful people (Zechariah 9:9) and would be despised and rejected is found in Isaiah 53:3. His betrayal for thirty pieces of silver can be found in Zechariah 11:12-13. There were prophecies about his death and resurrection, how he would be forsaken, how he would be scorned, how he would be thirsty, how his hands and feet would be pierced and lots cast for his clothes, you can find this all in Psalm 22. Psalm 31 talks about how he was abandoned, the plot to kill him and how he was quiet before those who accused him also of the words he spoke on the cross before he died, ‘Into your hands I commit my spirit’ and Jeremiah spoke of the Messiah bringing in a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31).
So I hope I have just given you a little bit of an insight as to how God’s plan can be discovered in the Old Testament and also how Jesus’ death and resurrection were the most important events in history.
Sunday 31st May 2020
When the day of Pentecost came, all the believers were gathered together in one place. 2 Suddenly there was a noise from the sky which sounded like a strong wind blowing, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 Then they saw what looked like tongues of fire which spread out and touched each person there. 4 They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to talk in other languages, as the Spirit enabled them to speak.
5 There were Jews living in Jerusalem, religious people who had come from every country in the world. 6 When they heard this noise, a large crowd gathered. They were all excited, because all of them heard the believers talking in their own languages. 7 In amazement and wonder they exclaimed, “These people who are talking like this are Galileans! 8 How is it, then, that all of us hear them speaking in our own native languages? 9 We are from Parthia, Media, and Elam; from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia; from Pontus and Asia, 10 from Phrygia and Pamphylia, from Egypt and the regions of Libya near Cyrene. Some of us are from Rome, 11 both Jews and Gentiles converted to Judaism, and some of us are from Crete and Arabia—yet all of us hear them speaking in our own languages about the great things that God has done!” 12 Amazed and confused, they kept asking each other, “What does this mean?” 13 But others made fun of the believers, saying, “These people are drunk!”
14 Then Peter stood up with the other eleven apostles and in a loud voice began to speak to the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, listen to me and let me tell you what this means. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose; it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 Instead, this is what the prophet Joel spoke about: 17 ‘This is what I will do in the last days, God says: I will pour out my Spirit on everyone. Your sons and daughters will proclaim my message; your young men will see visions, and your old men will have dreams. 18 Yes, even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will proclaim my message. 19 I will perform miracles in the sky above and wonders on the earth below. There will be blood, fire, and thick smoke; 20 the sun will be darkened, and the moon will turn red as blood, before the great and glorious Day of the Lord comes. 21 And then, whoever calls out to the Lord for help will be saved.’
22 “Listen to these words, fellow Israelites! Jesus of Nazareth was a man whose divine authority was clearly proven to you by all the miracles and wonders which God performed through him. You yourselves know this, for it happened here among you. 23 In accordance with his own plan God had already decided that Jesus would be handed over to you; and you killed him by letting sinful men crucify him. 24 But God raised him from death, setting him free from its power, because it was impossible that death should hold him prisoner. 25 For David said about him, ‘I saw the Lord before me at all times; he is near me, and I will not be troubled. 26 And so I am filled with gladness, and my words are full of joy.
And I, mortal though I am, will rest assured in hope, 27 because you will not abandon me in the world of the dead; you will not allow your faithful servant to rot in the grave. 28 You have shown me the paths that lead to life, and your presence will fill me with joy.’
29 “My friends, I must speak to you plainly about our famous ancestor King David. He died and was buried, and his grave is here with us to this very day. 30 He was a prophet, and he knew what God had promised him: God had made a vow that he would make one of David’s descendants a king, just as David was. 31 David saw what God was going to do in the future, and so he spoke about the resurrection of the Messiah when he said, ‘He was not abandoned in the world of the dead; his body did not rot in the grave.’ 32 God has raised this very Jesus from death, and we are all witnesses to this fact. 33 He has been raised to the right side of God, his Father, and has received from him the Holy Spirit, as he had promised. What you now see and hear is his gift that he has poured out on us. 34 For it was not David who went up into heaven; rather he said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: Sit here at my right side 35 until I put your enemies as a footstool under your feet.’ 36 “All the people of Israel, then, are to know for sure that this Jesus, whom you crucified, is the one that God has made Lord and Messiah!”
37 When the people heard this, they were deeply troubled and said to Peter and the other apostles, “What shall we do, brothers?” 38 Peter said to them, “Each one of you must turn away from your sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven; and you will receive God’s gift, the Holy Spirit. 39 For God’s promise was made to you and your children, and to all who are far away—all whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 Peter made his appeal to them and with many other words he urged them, saying, “Save yourselves from the punishment coming on this wicked people!” 41 Many of them believed his message and were baptized, and about three thousand people were added to the group that day. 42 They spent their time in learning from the apostles, taking part in the fellowship, and sharing in the fellowship meals and the prayers.
Today we celebrate Pentecost which is the fiftieth day after Easter Sunday although for Jesus’ first followers it was celebrated as the fiftieth day after Passover, known as the Feast of Weeks. Anyway here we find the disciples had been obediently hanging around since the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, waiting for the gift he promised to arrive. On this particular morning as the believers were gathered together early in the day, they received this gift, the gift of the Holy Spirit and wow did it arrive in a spectacular way.
Just think about the description again (v2-4), suddenly there was a noise from the sky like a strong wind blowing and it filled the house inside. Now very often when there is a strong wind blowing you might not feel it that much if you were nice and snug indoors however this was not the case that particular morning. And not only was there this strong wind but within it were things that looked like tongues of fire swirling around, spreading out and touching each person there. I wonder what it would have been like to be there, how would they feel? Scared, amazed, stunned and awed, probably all and many other ways besides but the most surprising thing that happened was their ability to speak in other languages, which it seems until that point they had no knowledge of.
I say again wow! God doesn’t do things by halves does he? What a stage show, what a performance and it was only just beginning because of all the noise other folk were becoming interested in what was going on. To them all they could see were these people from Galilee, not the most popular place in those times, being able to speak in every language of the folk who had gathered in Jerusalem for the festival. What on earth was going on? Questions were asked and discussed, commented on and oh of course, you always get the doubters, the killjoys and those who have to ridicule anything new and exciting and it was no different then. Some folk began mocking the disciples and saying that they were drunk, why is it that some people just can’t accept good things for what they are?
Anyway all this led to a most significant time in Peter’s life because it was then that he made his first confident speech. The same Peter who had denied Jesus and wept when he heard the cock crow as he remember what Jesus had said was now given confidence to speak with authority about what was going on.
So he stood up and let rip saying: ‘These men aren’t drunk, it’s far too early in the morning for that. What is actually happening here is that Joel’s prophesy is coming true and it’s all about Jesus’. He went on to describe how the scriptures spoke of Jesus; his death and resurrection, last week we were looking at the scriptures in the same way. He also challenges them – this man who withdrew and went back to fishing after the death of Jesus because he didn’t know what else to do – and his challenge resonates with them, disturbs them and makes them ask the question, what shall we do? And his reply is found in verse 38 ‘Each one of you must turn away from his sins and be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven and you will receive God’s gift of the Holy Spirit’.
Today I repeat that challenge and urge everyone to turn to Jesus and invite him into your lives so that the gift of the Holy Spirit can be yours too. For those of us who have already done this, we know what a great gift it is and how our lives have been blessed as we journey the way of the Lord instead of the way of the world.
Sunday 7th June 2020
Reading: John 16:12-15
12 “I have much more to tell you, but now it would be too much for you to bear. 13 When, however, the Spirit comes, who reveals the truth about God, he will lead you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own authority, but he will speak of what he hears and will tell you of things to come. 14 He will give me glory, because he will take what I say and tell it to you. 15 All that my Father has is mine; that is why I said that the Spirit will take what I give him and tell it to you.
Last week we celebrated Pentecost when the Spirit came as Jesus had promised and this Sunday we celebrate Trinity Sunday, a time when we try to get our heads around the fact of God being one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and not three as some folk would suggest.
It’s very easy to see how folk could get confused; I was taken aback one day many years ago when having a discussion with a Jewish friend of mine, she talked about me worshipping three Gods. I quickly said that I only worshipped one God and that he was the same God she worshipped. Her view was that Father, Son and Holy Spirit meant three not one. I found myself trying to explain something that at that moment wasn’t easy for me and still isn’t easy to comprehend.
The word ‘Trinity’ which means a group of three persons or things doesn’t appear in the Bible anywhere and that’s because it’s actually a concept, an idea, that comes out of what we read and the reading from John 16 gives a hint of the Trinitarian relationship within God.
Trinity is about relationship, unity and community but do we really understand the trinity of God. People use different ways to try and explain what it’s all about. There is the illustration of an apple which you can see on the next page – although examples of water, ice, steam have been also used to try and open up our minds to this idea. Whenever you look at these examples remember that God is one, Father, Son and Spirit of the same essence and equal.
This concept has confused many folk over the years. So in 381AD the Nicene Creed was circulated to try and help the people understand. If you’re not familiar with it, why not find a copy to read? It begins: We believe in one God, the Father, the almighty….. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God……. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son…..
Apart from trying to get our heads around the Trinity, why is it important for us to anyway? Well I think it allows us to have a model for our own lives because the Trinity is about community, about love, about relationship and about working together for God.
The concept of the Trinity of God is certainly a bit of a “mystery” although it’s not meant as a riddle, but rather the Trinity is a reality above our human comprehension – outside of our normal pattern of thought and it’s this that we struggle to grasp.
In John 16 Jesus wanted to share much more with his disciples however he recognises their limitations of understanding. He knows that they will need the help of the Holy Spirit and only when the Spirit lives within them will they continue their journey of faith and exploration with greater understanding.
So today, try and get your head around the Trinity but don’t beat yourself up if it’s still hard to understand because I think you will be in the company of many others who find themselves in the same situation.
After writing this I felt God wanted me to put down on paper thoughts that were in my mind on the Trinity so here they are:
The Trinity of God
God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit
One God in three persons – three in one
Trinity = a group of three
The word Trinity is not found written in the Bible but the concept/idea is there
A concept/idea that comes from knowing God and reading his word (the Bible)
Found in Genesis 1 – In the beginning – God (Father) said, God (Son) did and God (Spirit) hovered over the water
John 16:12-15 gives hints of the Trinity
Matthew 28:18-20 Instructions from Jesus to go and do in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
People struggled with the concept so the Apostles Creed was written followed in 381 by the Nicene Creed to help peoples understanding of the Trinity – it’s still used in worship services today
Examples to help: water, steam, ice all H²O in different forms
Apple – skin, God the Father, Protector –flesh, Jesus the word made flesh, pips/seeds, the Spirit – the giver of life
So the concept is in the Bible but it isn’t given the word Trinity to describe it
God is a relational God within himself – Father, Son and Holy Spirit
He therefore requires a relationship with his creation including us – He wants us to talk to him, to listen to him and walk with him as we journey through our lives
One God in three persons, blessed Trinity
I hope this is helpful.
Sunday 14th June 2020
43 Many miracles and wonders were being done through the apostles, and everyone was filled with awe. 44 All the believers continued together in close fellowship and shared their belongings with one another. 45 They would sell their property and possessions, and distribute the money among all, according to what each one needed. 46 Day after day they met as a group in the Temple, and they had their meals together in their homes, eating with glad and humble hearts, 47 praising God, and enjoying the good will of all the people. And every day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved.
So here we are the day of Pentecost has been and gone but the Holy Spirit has stayed with the apostles as Jesus promised They are not alone, they have the helper they need to do the work Jesus commissioned them to do. Let’s have a look then at what was going on in the lives of these believers.
Firstly we are told there were miracles and wonders happening through the apostles, fishermen – Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, Matthew (Levi) the tax collector. I’m not sure what the others did for a living we are only told that Simon was a Zealot, Thomas a twin, Judas who was the son of James, Philip, Bartholomew and James the son of Alphaeus, bit of a mixed bunch of individuals who had been with Jesus from the start of his mission to save the world and its inhabitants.
Anyway here they are continuing to perform miracles and acts of wonder just like Jesus had done and as we read in the text it was awe inspiring. There was close fellowship, the believers encouraged each other and spent much time together as well as sharing what they had with each other. They would even go and sell something they owned to help others out – their possessions or even property/land and believe me in that day and age it wasn’t done lightly because not only was the land they sold just an asset it was part of their ancestral heritage and part of God’s promised inheritance, so doing this was a big thing.
Although the passage tells us they went as a group to the Temple every day it also tells us that they met in their homes to eat together, to share bread and wine and as they did, they would have remembered Jesus’ words and instructions of how to live. It tells us that they ate together with glad and humble hearts, they spent time praising God and they enjoyed the goodwill of all the people. No unfairness, no division – working for the good of all, they were of one heart and mind and every day their numbers increased.
I have to admit it does sound a bit too good to be true because we know don’t we that families or just folk in general don’t always agree however filled with the Holy Spirit I believe anything is possible and I am encouraged especially when I see what is going on in the world.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if like them we today could live together in peace with humble hearts and be full of gladness instead our world seems full of injustice, racism, unfairness, individualism, gossip, hype in which God is forgotten, denied and forsaken.
The terrible and inexcusable death of George Floyd and the aftermath of emotions and actions this has revealed compel me to say that the whole world should be on its knees praying for forgiveness and tolerance of others. I can’t begin to explain my own feelings of disbelief, sadness and fear for the future if we don’t remember what the Bible says about the words that come out of our mouth. Yes we should be standing up against injustice of any kind to any peoples, wherever that injustice takes place. Whatever colour your skin is, whatever creed or gender you are, there is no excuse for intolerance or injustice, neither is there any excuse to fan the fires of hate by what you say.
Appropriately this morning my Bible reading for today (from ‘Fresh from the Word’ which was written more than a year ago) is from the book of James chapter 3 and says:
2 We all stumble along the way. If a person never speaks hurtful words or shouts in anger or profanity, then he has achieved perfection. The one who can control his tongue can also control the rest of his body. 3 It’s like when we place a metal bit into a horse’s mouth to ride it; we can control its entire body with the slightest movement of our hands. 4 Have you ever seen a massive ship sailing effortlessly across the water? Despite its immense size and the fact that it is propelled by mighty winds, a small rudder directs the ship in any direction the pilot chooses. 5 It’s just the same with our tongues! It’s a small muscle, capable of marvellous undertakings. And do you know how many forest fires begin with a single ember from a small campfire?
So I am grateful that the book of Acts describes the way of living for those early believers as an example for us all and I am grateful to writer of the book of James who so clearly points out that the words that come off our tongues have the power to build up, tear down, strengthen, heal, destroy and restore. My hope and prayer is that everyone who chooses to express an opinion on what is happening at the moment on whatever platform they use, that they will just take a moment to contemplate, before they speak, the possible damage to life and relationships their words and the actions that come from them could bring about.
Prayer: Creator God, help us in the light of all that is going on in this world you created, to be the people that you intended us to be. People who love as you love, who care for others regardless of colour, creed or gender, who hate injustice and who will be brave enough to stand up and say so. Amen
Sunday 21st June 2020
One day Peter and John went to the Temple at three o’clock in the afternoon, the hour for prayer. 2 There at the Beautiful Gate, as it was called, was a man who had been lame all his life. Every day he was carried to the gate to beg for money from the people who were going into the Temple. 3 When he saw Peter and John going in, he begged them to give him something. 4 They looked straight at him, and Peter said, “Look at us!” 5 So he looked at them, expecting to get something from them. 6 But Peter said to him, “I have no money at all, but I give you what I have: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth I order you to get up and walk!” 7 Then he took him by his right hand and helped him up. At once the man’s feet and ankles became strong; 8 he jumped up, stood on his feet, and started walking around. Then he went into the Temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God. 9 The people there saw him walking and praising God, 10 and when they recognized him as the beggar who had sat at the Beautiful Gate, they were all surprised and amazed at what had happened to him.
11 As the man held on to Peter and John in Solomon’s Porch, as it was called, the people were amazed and ran to them. 12 When Peter saw the people, he said to them, “Fellow Israelites, why are you surprised at this, and why do you stare at us? Do you think that it was by means of our own power or godliness that we made this man walk? 13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our ancestors, has given divine glory to his Servant Jesus. But you handed him over to the authorities, and you rejected him in Pilate’s presence, even after Pilate had decided to set him free. 14 He was holy and good, but you rejected him, and instead you asked Pilate to do you the favour of turning loose a murderer. 15 You killed the one who leads to life, but God raised him from death—and we are witnesses to this. 16 It was the power of his name that gave strength to this lame man. What you see and know was done by faith in his name; it was faith in Jesus that has made him well, as you can all see.
17 “And now, my friends, I know that what you and your leaders did to Jesus was due to your ignorance. 18 God announced long ago through all the prophets that his Messiah had to suffer; and he made it come true in this way. 19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that he will forgive your sins. If you do, 20 times of spiritual strength will come from the Lord, and he will send Jesus, who is the Messiah he has already chosen for you. 21 He must remain in heaven until the time comes for all things to be made new, as God announced through his holy prophets of long ago. 22 For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will send you a prophet, just as he sent me, and he will be one of your own people. You are to obey everything that he tells you to do. 23 Anyone who does not obey that prophet shall be separated from God’s people and destroyed.’ 24 And all the prophets who had a message, including Samuel and those who came after him also announced what has been happening these days. 25 The promises of God through his prophets are for you, and you share in the covenant which God made with your ancestors. As he said to Abraham, ‘Through your descendants I will bless all the people on earth.’ 26 And so God chose his Servant and sent him to you first, to bless you by making every one of you turn away from your wicked ways.”
Peter and John were still speaking to the people when some priests, the officer in charge of the Temple guards, and some Sadducees arrived. 2 They were annoyed because the two apostles were teaching the people that Jesus had risen from death, which proved that the dead will rise to life. 3 So they arrested them and put them in jail until the next day, since it was already late. 4 But many who heard the message believed; and the number grew to about five thousand.
One afternoon, three O’clock to be exact, the disciples were going to the temple for prayers and as they entered by the Beautiful Gate entrance there was a man who had been lame from birth, which meant he couldn’t work like others could to earn money to live, so every day someone, a friend perhaps, carried him to this particular entrance gate so that he could beg for help to get by.
As Peter and John prepare to go in through the gate the man asks them to give him some money but they don’t have any, however he is given something much more valuable when Peter says to him, I haven’t got any money but what I have got I will give to you, in the name of Jesus get up and walk.
Well, I’m sure he wasn’t expecting that, however with Peter and John’s help up he gets and realises that for the first time in his life his feet and ankles are strong and will support his weight. He might have gingerly stood at first but once he was on his feet, he began walking and even jumping around. Wow! Now that’s what I call having a good day and he wanted to thank God for what had just happened so he went into the temple with Peter and John.
As you can image other people who over the years had become used to the beggar at the Beautiful Gate were amazed when they realised it was him, standing and walking about and as they stood there looking and wondering what had happened, it gave Peter the opportunity to speak to them.
He told them that what they had just done for this man had been made possible through faith in Jesus and the power of his name, the same Jesus who not so long ago in their ignorance, they had rejected and allowed to be killed, this Jesus who was holy and good and who is the only one who can lead them to life. He reminded them of their ancestry and about the prophets and their messages from God on the coming of Jesus and how he was the saviour spoken about.
However a bit more radically he spoke about Jesus being raised to life after his execution and told the people that he and John had seen this for themselves, they were witnesses to it. I’m sure this caused a wave of discussion because this was often talked about; some folk believed that it was possible for the dead to be raised to life and others didn’t. That was one of the differences between the Pharisees who believed in the dead returning to life and the Sadducees who didn’t.
So when the Sadducees arrived on the scene with the officer of the temple guards we can understand why they weren’t happy about Peter and John telling the people that Jesus had in fact risen from the dead because it went against what they believed and they didn’t want the people thinking this way.
Their immediate answer to the problem as they saw it was to remove Peter and John from the temple and that meant arresting them and putting them in jail overnight. However they arrived a bit too late because as the scripture tells us, many folk believed what Peter had been saying and became followers of Jesus too. Next week we will discover what happened the following morning.
Thinking about life and death, it’s not much different today really is it, many folk believe that after death there is nothing and this is what my own parents believed because they weren’t Christians. I was brought up as a child believing that when I died, my life would end and that would be it, nothing else, no memories, it seemed to me just a deep dark void and believe me I found that very scary.
However, luckily for me, my mum sent me to Sunday School and it was there that I learnt about Jesus and how he rose from the dead and that if I put my faith and hope in him then death wasn’t the end but just the doorway to my ongoing life with God.
I didn’t take this on board until I was in my late twenties when I like those people who listened to Peter, accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. Since then my fear of dying no longer troubles me or overshadows my living each day. It makes me very sad when I see folk so afraid of dying and trying to avoid it, that they never live the life that was intended for them. I believe each day is a gift from God and should be enjoyed as best we can. If any of what I have shared of my life resonates with you personally and you want to talk about it please get in touch.
Moving on, as it is Father’s day today I thought it appropriate to say together the Lord’s Prayer, I have my phone alarm set at noon each day to remind me to say this prayer so that in the business of my day I consciously come and give time to God, maybe you might want to join me in doing this every day too.
Prayer: Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory. Forever and ever. Amen
Sunday 28th June 2020
5 The next day the Jewish leaders, the elders, and the teachers of the Law gathered in Jerusalem. 6 They met with the High Priest Annas and with Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and the others who belonged to the High Priest’s family. 7 They made the apostles stand before them and asked them, “How did you do this? What power do you have or whose name did you use?”
8 Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, answered them, “Leaders of the people and elders: 9 if we are being questioned today about the good deed done to the lame man and how he was healed, 10 then you should all know, and all the people of Israel should know, that this man stands here before you completely well through the power of the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth—whom you crucified and whom God raised from death. 11 Jesus is the one of whom the scripture says, ‘The stone that you the builders despised turned out to be the most important of all.’
12 Salvation is to be found through him alone; in all the world there is no one else whom God has given who can save us.” 13 The members of the Council were amazed to see how bold Peter and John were and to learn that they were ordinary men of no education. They realized then that they had been companions of Jesus. 14 But there was nothing that they could say, because they saw the man who had been healed standing there with Peter and John. 15 So they told them to leave the Council room, and then they started discussing among themselves.
16 “What shall we do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone in Jerusalem knows that this extraordinary miracle has been performed by them, and we cannot deny it. 17 But to keep this matter from spreading any further among the people, let us warn these men never again to speak to anyone in the name of Jesus.”
18 So they called them back in and told them that under no condition were they to speak or to teach in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “You yourselves judge which is right in God’s sight—to obey you or to obey God. 20 For we cannot stop speaking of what we ourselves have seen and heard.” 21 So the Council warned them even more strongly and then set them free. They saw that it was impossible to punish them, because the people were all praising God for what had happened. 22 The man on whom this miracle of healing had been performed was over forty years old.
Peter and John have just spent the night in jail and now they stand before the Jewish leaders – the elders, the teachers of the law and the High Priest Annas and others of his priestly family, all because they had spoken to the people yesterday about Jesus being raised from the dead.
I expect it must have been a bit intimidating for the two fishermen in front of all these dignitaries. However when they are asked about what they did the day before they don’t sound intimidated at all and in fact we are told that they spoke boldly because they were full of the Holy Spirit.
Peter begins by clarifying what the Jewish leaders are asking them, speaking with respect he says ‘Leaders of the people and elders: if you want to know what happened yesterday when we healed the man who couldn’t walk, then you should look no further than to Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who you crucified and God raised from the dead. Peter tells them that Jesus is the person spoken about in the scriptures where it says; ‘the stone that you the builders despised turned out to be the most important of all.
And he boldly goes on to tell them that salvation can only be found through Jesus, there is no-one else that can save like he can.
Well you can imagine this was a turn up for the books, these two men who had spent the night in prison should by all accounts be feeling a bit sorry for themselves and concerned for their own wellbeing. But no! Here they are as bold as brass, lacking in education they may be but definitely not lacking in confidence which amazed the dignitaries, those powerful men, no end.
So what are the men in charge to do? They realise that these two men were companions of Jesus and there was nothing they could really do because the healing of the lame man was a fact that they couldn’t ignore. They realise that they needed to have a bit of a chat between themselves so they send Peter and John out of the room.
They have a bit of a conundrum on their hands don’t they, what should they do? The news of the miracle that happened yesterday is now all over Jerusalem so they can’t ignore or deny it. But they want to try and contain the situation and the only way they can think of doing that is to tell Peter and John that they mustn’t speak or teach about Jesus anymore.
Well as we read on we can see that, that is never going to happen as Peter and John challenge them by saying tell us, do we obey you or God? And then go on to say that they cannot stop speaking about what they have seen and heard.
The officials, not knowing what else to do because by now the people were praising God for the miracle, let them go but warned them again not to say anything more about Jesus.
The thing was, these two apostles, just like everyone else who has encountered and believed in Jesus as the long awaited and talked about Saviour, it was impossible for them not to share what they had experienced and discovered for themselves.
It was impossible for them not to want others to know what they knew and feel what they felt; to really know God’s love and have the joy of eternal life before them each and every day. And with the Holy Spirit’s help they shared this with a boldness they had never had before.
Next week we will find out what happened when Peter and John returned to the other followers of Jesus and told them all about what had been going on.
Prayer: Lord, help us to open ourselves up to your Holy Spirit so that we may be strong in the face of adversity and challenge, being obedient only to you. Amen
Sunday 5th July 2020
Our Bible reading continues on from last week as we find out what happened to Peter and John once they were let out of jail with a warning never to speak about Jesus again.
23 As soon as Peter and John were set free, they returned to their group and told them what the chief priests and the elders had said. 24 When the believers heard it, they all joined together in prayer to God:
“Master and Creator of heaven, earth, and sea, and all that is in them! 25 By means of the Holy Spirit you spoke through our ancestor David, your servant, when he said, ‘Why were the Gentiles furious; why did people make their useless plots? 26 The kings of the earth prepared themselves, and the rulers met together against the Lord and his Messiah.’
27 For indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together in this city with the Gentiles and the people of Israel against Jesus, your holy Servant, whom you made Messiah. 28 They gathered to do everything that you by your power and will had already decided would happen. 29 And now, Lord, take notice of the threats they have made, and allow us, your servants, to speak your message with all boldness. 30 Reach out your hand to heal, and grant that wonders and miracles may be performed through the name of your holy Servant Jesus.”
31 When they finished praying, the place where they were meeting was shaken. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to proclaim God’s message with boldness.
Peter and John have been released from custody and so make their way back to the others. They told them what had happened and how the chief priests and elders had said that they shouldn’t speak about Jesus anymore.
I’m not sure how I would feel probably mixed emotions, glad that Peter and John were back safely. Maybe a bit miffed at the instruction not to talk about Jesus anymore or maybe sad because the people who were supposed to be in the know, who were there to guide and look after the ordinary folk had completely missed the most amazing thing in the world and that was that the Messiah had arrived on the scene as promised and they just couldn’t or wouldn’t see it.
So what did the believers do? Well they prayed and their prayer went like this:
- Firstly they turned to God, the master and creator of everything and acknowledged His power.
- Then they recognised the Holy Spirit’s part in God’s work – how the Spirit spoke through people, particularly their ancestor and God’s servant King David.
- They recalled how David had spoken about Jesus in Psalm 2:1-2.
- They talked to God about Herod and Pontius Pilate’s involvement in the treatment and subsequent death of Jesus.
- They recognised before God that this was all part of his bigger plan.
- They asked God to be aware and take notice of the threats that had been made to them by the authorities.
- Not asking God to remove the threats but instead to give them boldness to continue sharing the message with others despite them.
- Finally they pray that God would stretch out His hand to heal, and grant that wonders and miracles may be performed through the name of Jesus.
We can certainly see that they are not going to stop doing the job that God has given them to do but they do ask for help – ‘boldness’ – to carry on.
And God answered their prayer because when they had finished we are told that the earth shook and they were filled with the Holy Spirit and did go and boldly proclaim God’s message regardless of the risks or threats they might encounter.
There are a lot of things going on here:
- Instructions from the authorities
- Disobeying of those instructions
- Looking back, to see how what was happening at that time, had been spoken about before
- Realisation of God’s plan
- Awareness of the possible outcome of disobedience to the authorities
- Faith in God
- Giving up of concerns and worries, as the threats were given to God in prayer
- The power of prayer
- What they had asked for was given
As it says in verse 31 – When they finished praying, the place where they were meeting was shaken. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to proclaim God’s message with boldness.
So their prayer was answered and this enabled them to continue following God’s instructions although it would get the followers of Jesus into more trouble in the future, it was the only way forward.
Even today following God’s instructions is not easy but if we, like these early followers of Jesus, come and share our thoughts, cares and concerns in prayer, we will be given the boldness that we ask for to do and live as God wants us to.
Father, hear the prayer we offer: not for ease that prayer shall be, but for strength, that we may ever live our lives courageously. (part of a hymn written by Love Maria Willis who was born in 1824 and died in 1908)
Sunday 12th July 2020
This week we are introduced to three people, Barnabas, Ananias and Sapphira.
32 The group of believers was one in mind and heart. None of them said that any of their belongings were their own, but they all shared with one another everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God poured rich blessings on them all. 34 There was no one in the group who was in need. Those who owned fields or houses would sell them, bring the money received from the sale, 35 and turn it over to the apostles; and the money was distributed according to the needs of the people.
36 And so it was that Joseph, a Levite born in Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “One who Encourages”), 37 sold a field he owned, brought the money, and turned it over to the apostles.
5 1 But there was a man named Ananias, who with his wife Sapphira sold some property that belonged to them. 2 But with his wife’s agreement he kept part of the money for himself and turned the rest over to the apostles. 3 Peter said to him, “Ananias, why did you let Satan take control of you and make you lie to the Holy Spirit by keeping part of the money you received for the property? 4 Before you sold the property, it belonged to you; and after you sold it, the money was yours. Why, then, did you decide to do such a thing? You have not lied to people—you have lied to God!” 5 As soon as Ananias heard this, he fell down dead; and all who heard about it were terrified. 6 The young men came in, wrapped up his body, carried him out, and buried him.
7 About three hours later his wife, not knowing what had happened, came in. 8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, was this the full amount you and your husband received for your property?” “Yes,” she answered, “the full amount.”
9 So Peter said to her, “Why did you and your husband decide to put the Lord’s Spirit to the test? The men who buried your husband are at the door right now, and they will carry you out too!” 10 At once she fell down at his feet and died. The young men came in and saw that she was dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 The whole church and all the others who heard of this were terrified.
Once again we are told that the early believers were of one heart and mind and that they share what they have with each other. Also that the apostles, Peter and John & Co, gave witness to the resurrection of Jesus, they powerfully told their story of being with him as he travelled from village to village. Of how he taught folk to live God’s way and not the way of the world and how those men in authority who should have believed what he said just didn’t get it. And they didn’t forget to tell people about how Jesus had risen from the dead, how they had seen him, talked to him, had eaten food with him and finally saw him rise into heaven so that he could sit at the right hand of God. They didn’t pull any punches, they told it like it was and the people listened and all the followers were blessed by God.
It all sounds so good and it was, no-one was in need, no-one was hungry and no-one went without clothes to wear. Those with an excess, fields, houses or whatever, would sell them and then give the money to the apostles to be distributed to those in need. One man who did this was Joseph, a Levite who was born in Cyprus. Although his name was Joseph he became known by the name of Barnabas which means ‘one who encourages’ and that’s because he was a great encourager of others and as we journey through the bible we will hear more about him. However at this point in time all we are told is that he owned a field which he sold and like others gave the money he got for it to the apostles.
Now also in the group there was a husband and wife – Ananias and Sapphira – and like Barnabas they sold some property they owned too but unlike him they didn’t give all the money to the apostles. This in itself was not a problem because it was their money to do with what they wanted. However there was an issue because they didn’t want folk to know that they had kept some of the money for themselves. Why? I don’t know but what I do know is that they let people think that the money they had handed over was exactly what they got for the property; so they lied. Maybe they didn’t want to be seen to be different to folk like Barnabas. Maybe they were still more connected to their possessions than they wanted people to know. Maybe they were unsure about the future, so were just putting aside a little nest egg, something for a rainy day. Maybe they didn’t trust God enough or maybe like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, they listened to the voice of the devil. I really don’t know.
However the thing was, what they had done wasn’t hidden from God; you see you just can’t hide things from God, he knows everything we do, whether we do them openly or in secret, he knows. It’s quite sobering to think that nothing we do or say can be hidden away completely.
So here is Ananias bringing along some of the money from the sale to go into the pot for the benefit of others when Peter begins to question his actions which must have made him feel very uncomfortable.
Peter says to him “Ananias, why did you let Satan take control of you and make you lie to the Holy Spirit by keeping part of the money you received for the property? 4 Before you sold the property, it belonged to you; and after you sold it, the money was yours. Why, then, did you decide to do such a thing? You have not lied to people—you have lied to God!”
With the truth out in the open poor Ananias drops down dead and the other people there get a bit scared. Later on Sapphira, Ananias’ wife turns up, not knowing what has happened to her husband and Peter questions her too. I almost feel he is giving her the chance to redeem herself and tell the truth however she sticks by her husband’s story that what they gave was the whole amount of the money received for their property. Unfortunately her fate is the same as her husband’s and she drops down dead as well.
A bit of a scary story this one, it all seems very harsh and it was a hard lesson for the early church who we are told were terrified. However if we take nothing else from this story I hope we will remember to take God seriously and to serve him honestly. On the plus side, this event where there appears to have been no opportunity for repentance or restoration of the relationship with God, seems to be a rare occurrence.
How do you feel about what happened?
Prayer: Creator God, help us always to take you seriously and to be truthful, so that our lives may be a blessing to you and those around us. Amen
Sunday 19th July 2020
This week’s reading is about blessing and then persecution as the apostles find themselves once more in jail.
12 Many miracles and wonders were being performed among the people by the apostles. All the believers met together in Solomon’s Porch. 13 Nobody outside the group dared join them, even though the people spoke highly of them. 14 But more and more people were added to the group—a crowd of men and women who believed in the Lord. 15 As a result of what the apostles were doing, sick people were carried out into the streets and placed on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16 And crowds of people came in from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing those who were sick or who had evil spirits in them; and they were all healed.
17 Then the High Priest and all his companions, members of the local party of the Sadducees, became extremely jealous of the apostles; so they decided to take action. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19 But that night an angel of the Lord opened the prison gates, led the apostles out, and said to them, 20 “Go and stand in the Temple, and tell the people all about this new life.” 21 The apostles obeyed, and at dawn they entered the Temple and started teaching.
After the episode of Ananias and Sapphira and the previous prayer for boldness, came a time when miracles and wonders were performed by the Apostles who were filled with the Holy Spirit. The believers met together in Solomon’s Porch, at the outer part of the Temple. We are told however that nobody outside the group dared to join them even though they spoke highly of them, why? And then that the numbers of believers did increase, so how did that happen and who were these people coming to know Jesus and joining the believers?
Well the theologian Tom Wright says there are some things we need to understand about those times which shed some light on the situation. Firstly the Temple wasn’t a single building but an area like an entire city which included walled off bits and porches, smaller buildings and gates as well as the very special place, the Holy of Holies.
When the apostles had finished worshipping in the temple they were in the habit of gathering around the area known as Solomon’s Porch and this is where they taught folk and healed them. The problem was that they, like Jesus had before, were sort of stepping on the toes of the priests and temple authorities.
If you want to, have another read of Acts 2, and you will see that what they were doing was in Tom Wright’s words: ‘drawing together the ancient scriptures, not least the Psalms and the prophets and the extraordinary events concerning Jesus.’ Unfortunately the apostle’s words and deeds were not popular with those who had power in the temple especially when they realised more and more people were becoming believers.
The impact of what the apostles were doing was that everywhere they went sick people were brought out to them, some just thinking that if Peter’s shadow passed over them they would be healed. The bible tells us in verse 16 that crowds of people came in from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing those who were ill or who had evil spirits in them; and they were all healed.
God was powerfully at work through the apostles, new things were happening as lives were being restored; it must have been an amazing time.
But then as so often happens someone has an axe to grind and we are told that the High Priest and others became extremely jealous of the apostles and had them arrested.
Again they spend another night in jail but this time God sent one of his angels to release them. We are not told how they did this; some things just remain a mystery, maybe because the practicalities of how it was done are unimportant. The important thing was that the apostles were free and were given an instruction to go and continue telling people about this new life that was being offered by God. So at dawn they were to be found in the temple again sharing the Good News.
Therefore I think we can understand why first of all folk steered clear of the apostles because probably they didn’t want to upset the authorities or get into trouble themselves.
Also why the numbers of believers increased when we see the people sharing what they have seen and heard; both in the teaching of the apostles and also the miracles of folk being healed. Not to mention the escape from prison with the help of an angel. It would have made the talk of Jesus’ resurrection and his mission as the Son of God, seem far more plausible, possible and believable.
So do you believe yet, if not what’s stopping you? Want to talk, get in touch.
Prayer: Lord, it is written in the gospel of Mark that you Jesus said to the father of the boy plagued by an evil spirit, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” And the father replied, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” So today Lord I ask that you take our unbelief and help it become a belief so strong that nothing can shake or remove it, so that we will always live our lives with faith and trust in you. Amen
Sunday 26th July 2020
Acts 5 21b-42 Free but not without cost
The High Priest and his companions called together all the Jewish elders for a full meeting of the Council; then they sent orders to the prison to have the apostles brought before them. 22 But when the officials arrived, they did not find the apostles in prison, so they returned to the Council and reported, 23 “When we arrived at the jail, we found it locked up tight and all the guards on watch at the gates; but when we opened the gates, we found no one inside!” 24 When the chief priests and the officer in charge of the Temple guards heard this, they wondered what had happened to the apostles. 25 Then a man came in and said to them, “Listen! The men you put in prison are in the Temple teaching the people!” 26 So the officer went off with his men and brought the apostles back. They did not use force, however, because they were afraid that the people might stone them. 27 They brought the apostles in, made them stand before the Council, and the High Priest questioned them. 28 “We gave you strict orders not to teach in the name of this man,” he said; “but see what you have done! You have spread your teaching all over Jerusalem, and you want to make us responsible for his death!”
29 Peter and the other apostles answered, “We must obey God, not men. 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from death, after you had killed him by nailing him to a cross. 31 God raised him to his right side as Leader and Saviour, to give the people of Israel the opportunity to repent and have their sins forgiven. 32 We are witnesses to these things—we and the Holy Spirit, who is God’s gift to those who obey him.”
33 When the members of the Council heard this, they were so furious that they wanted to have the apostles put to death. 34 But one of them, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, who was a teacher of the Law and was highly respected by all the people, stood up in the Council. He ordered the apostles to be taken out for a while, 35 and then he said to the Council, “Fellow Israelites, be careful what you do to these men. 36 You remember that Theudas appeared some time ago, claiming to be somebody great, and about four hundred men joined him. But he was killed, all his followers were scattered, and his movement died out. 37 After that, Judas the Galilean appeared during the time of the census; he drew a crowd after him, but he also was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38 And so in this case, I tell you, do not take any action against these men. Leave them alone! If what they have planned and done is of human origin, it will disappear, 39 but if it comes from God, you cannot possibly defeat them. You could find yourselves fighting against God!”
The Council followed Gamaliel’s advice. 40 They called the apostles in, had them whipped, and ordered them never again to speak in the name of Jesus; and then they set them free. 41 As the apostles left the Council, they were happy, because God had considered them worthy to suffer disgrace for the sake of Jesus. 42 And every day in the Temple and in people’s homes they continued to teach and preach the Good News about Jesus the Messiah.
Here we are, the next morning after Peter and John’s arrest as the High Priest and the council meet to deal with the apostles. They send for the prisoners to be brought from the jail however the men sent to get them return empty handed, they have disappeared from the prison even though the guards were still in place and the doors locked. I bet that took them by surprise but then someone comes and says that they are in the temple preaching and teaching, doing once again what they had been arrested for in the first place.
Officers are sent off to go and get them and as it tells us they didn’t use force because they were frightened that the crowd might stone them, I assume Peter and John came quietly.
Anyway, once again Peter and John stand in front of the High Priest and council officials, if you remember we found them in a similar position in Acts 4:5, and the High Priest speaks to them once more saying:
- We gave strict instructions that you shouldn’t teach in the temple about Jesus but you have spread your teaching all over Jerusalem
- You want to make us responsible for Jesus’ death
Peter and Co reply:
- we must obey God not men (repeating what they had said in Acts 4:19)
- God raised Jesus from death after you had killed him
- Jesus sits at the right hand of God
- We are witnesses to these things, us and the Holy Spirit who is God’s gift to those who obey him
The High Priest and the members of the council are furious and feel that their only action is to kill the apostles. However we then hear a voice of reason from one of them, Gamaliel who was a Pharisee and teacher of the law; a highly respected man we are told. He asks that the apostles be taken from the room and then speaks to the others.
- Be careful what you do to these men, remember others like them and what happened in the past
- Theudas, he claimed to be somebody great but his 400 followers scattered after his death and we haven’t heard any more from them
- Judas the Galilean who was around the time of the census. People followed him but then disappeared after his death
- Maybe it’s the same with this Jesus, leave these men alone and they will probably disappear in time if their teaching is of human origin. However if it is of God do you really want to be fighting against Him?
Gamaliel must have been a good speaker and we know they respected him so the council took his advice and let the apostles go. However they didn’t get off scot free, they were whipped before being released; maybe as an example, maybe because the previous time they had been released with just a verbal warning; maybe just to satisfy the anger of the High Priest and council or to try and frighten the apostles into doing what they wanted.
Whatever the reason it didn’t work, the apostles we are told were happy to receive their punishment and the social disgrace that went with it for the sake of Jesus and the telling his Good News story to others. So they continued every day to preach and teach in the temple and peoples’ homes and the belief and hope in Jesus hasn’t died out and continues to this day, that’s why you are reading this service sheet now.
Prayer: Lord, help us to be like the apostles and share your Good News regardless of any opposition that comes our way. Help us to always stand firm even if we find ourselves in difficult situations because of our love for you. Amen
Sunday 2nd August 2020
Acts 6:1-7 Unrest and distraction
Sometime later, as the number of disciples kept growing, there was a quarrel between the Greek-speaking Jews and the native Jews. The Greek-speaking Jews claimed that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of funds. 2 So the twelve apostles called the whole group of believers together and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the preaching of God’s word in order to handle finances. 3 So then, friends, choose seven men among you who are known to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, and we will put them in charge of this matter. 4 We ourselves, then, will give our full time to prayer and the work of preaching.”
5 The whole group was pleased with the apostles’ proposal, so they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a Gentile from Antioch who had earlier been converted to Judaism. 6 The group presented them to the apostles, who prayed and placed their hands on them.
7 And so the word of God continued to spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem grew larger and larger, and a great number of priests accepted the faith.
Have you noticed how easy it is for us to get distracted from doing what God wants us to and it was no different for the Apostles. In fact C S Lewis wrote a book about in called ‘The Screwtape Letters’ and it’s an interesting read.
Any way here we are back in Jerusalem and the numbers of followers are still increasing, there are Greek speaking Jews, as well as native Jews and it all seems to be going along fine, sharing what they had, making sure everyone had what they needed and then the harmony is broken and the apostles are brought into the situation which means their focus of preaching and teaching is disrupted.
So let’s have a look at what’s happened – a division has occurred between the Greek speaking and native Jews – why? Well the Greek speaking Jews claim that their widows are being unfairly treated. The Bible says they are being neglected in the daily distribution of funds, so it appears to be a financial matter, possibly the Greek speaking Jews thought the native Jews widows were being given more money than their own. Whatever caused the division it needs to be sorted so the twelve apostles call a meeting, which everyone is to attend.
The apostles’ priority is on preaching and teaching because this is the job Jesus gave them to do not long before he left them to return to heaven. You can find his instructions in Matthew 28:19-20.
So how do they resolve this issue and any further issues that may come up in the future because they certainly don’t want to be distracted from the important task Jesus gave them?
Their answer is to delegate, if you remember a similar thing happened in Exodus. Moses was being swamped with issues to resolve between the people. Therefore his father in law Jethro who could see how tired and drained Moses was becoming, suggested that Moses should delegate the lesser issues to other men who were well respected, honest and could be trusted to make fair decisions, so this is what Moses did.
The apostles told the crowd to choose seven men, the criteria for their choice was that the men could be trusted and were full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. I’m not sure how long it took them to make their choice but eventually they settle on Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolaus. These men would be put in charge of this matter leaving the apostles free to carry on the important work they were doing in preaching and teaching folk. The men were prepared for the service they would be doing by the laying on of hands and prayer, empowering them for God’s work.
So with a bit of thought and prayer the problem is resolved, life goes on and the word of God continues to spread and the numbers of disciples in Jerusalem grows larger and larger and even includes a number of priests. Wow! When God sets his mind on something he doesn’t do it by half does he. Priests, those who instigated or were part of the arrest, trial and execution of Jesus are now becoming followers too.
This last verse so encourages me because it just shows how amazing our God is. He accepts everyone who comes to him even those who were responsible for the torture and death of his only Son and the only response I can give is ‘thank you Father’, ‘thank you Jesus’, ‘thank you Holy Spirit. Amen
Prayer: Lord, let us never forget how greatly you love us, how you sent Jesus to be our Saviour and the Holy Spirit to be our guide. How you enable and empower us for the work you want us to do, just help us Lord to say yes to you whether it’s for the first time or the hundredth. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer. Amen
Sunday 9th August
8 Stephen, a man richly blessed by God and full of power, performed great miracles and wonders among the people. 9 But he was opposed by some men who were members of the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), which had Jews from Cyrene and Alexandria. They and other Jews from the provinces of Cilicia and Asia started arguing with Stephen. 10 But the Spirit gave Stephen such wisdom that when he spoke, they could not refute him. 11 So they bribed some men to say, “We heard him speaking against Moses and against God!” 12 In this way they stirred up the people, the elders, and the teachers of the Law. They seized Stephen and took him before the Council. 13 Then they brought in some men to tell lies about him. “This man,” they said, “is always talking against our sacred Temple and the Law of Moses. 14 We heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will tear down the Temple and change all the customs which have come down to us from Moses!” 15 All those sitting in the Council fixed their eyes on Stephen and saw that his face looked like the face of an angel.
7:1 The High Priest asked Stephen, “Is this true?”
This week we start to follow the journey of Stephen who we were introduced to last week as a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit. He was empowered with the other six men to sort out some of the practical issues between the followers of Jesus, I suppose you could say he became an administrator. This week we find out that administration isn’t his only gift as we are told he was a man richly blessed by God and full of power who performed great miracles and wonders among the people.
So in a short space of time he goes from just being one of the crowd to being chosen as an administrator and then goes on to find himself active in the ministry of healing and teaching. Sometimes it appears that God launches us into his work and then moves us on quite quickly to the other things he has planned for us to do.
Anyway back to Stephen and we are told that he found himself in a bit of trouble with some men who were members of the synagogue of the Freedmen. These men apparently were probably Jews who had been enslaved at one time and then returned to Jerusalem. It seems they got into a discussion over what Stephen was telling the people, the gist of which obviously upset them, and so it became a bit more heated, spilling over into an argument.
During that argument we are told that Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit who gave him such wisdom when he spoke that they couldn’t find anything to prove him wrong. So instead of admitting he was right they resorted to bribing some men into saying that they had heard him speaking against Moses and God, thereby stirring up ill feeling against him.
And it worked; Stephen was seized and taken before the council where those men employed to tell lies about him began their work. This man they said is always talking against our sacred Temple and the Law of Moses. We heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will tear down the Temple and change all the customs which have come down to us from Moses. Well in that day and age an accusation like that was enough to get anyone worked up and riled.
One thing we have to be aware of here is that the Jews were living basically in a pagan world and therefore they held on tightly to what it meant to be God’s people. If they thought anyone was not aligned with them or seemed to be compromising the temple or the law or their identity then those people were seen as troublemakers and were not to be tolerated.
What they didn’t understand was that although it might have seemed to them as if Stephen was undermining the Law of Moses or speaking out against the temple and therefore blaspheming against God, he really wasn’t, he was just sharing with folk the new thing that God was doing which led on from the law and the temple but they weren’t listening or even trying to understand. Therefore all this talk of Jesus was seen as a threat to their whole way of thinking and living.
Sometimes it’s not easy for us to see and understand a new way of doing things, we get very attached to what we know and how things have always been. However we have to remember that sometimes we have to leave things behind, not because they weren’t good but because the time is right to let go and see what else God has for us.
Let’s go back now to Stephen and his predicament, although the situation doesn’t seem good for him as he stands there in front of the official assembly there is notably a change in him and apparently everyone can see it. What is this change, well it’s in his face, the bible says ‘All those sitting in the Council fixed their eyes on Stephen and saw that his face looked like the face of an angel.
I don’t know about you but I think that’s very strange and have to ask the question how did they know what an angel looked like? And what changed in the appearance of Stephen? Was there a kind of light that shone from the inside out? Was there a sort of serenity or peace about him or a humble confidence? We don’t know but what we do know is that the next question comes from the High Priest himself and he asks Stephen if all that has been said about him is true.
Next week we will see how Stephen answers
Prayer: Lord, help us to see and understand the things you want us to. Help us to accept new things, moving on from the old, not forgetting the good of it but being aware that often you offer us something so much better that we would be daft not to accept. Amen
Sunday 16th August 2020
Last week we ended when the High Priest asked Stephen if all that had been said about him was true – that he was always talking against the temple and the Law of Moses. Also did he say that Jesus of Nazareth would tear down the temple and change all the customs handed down from Moses? This rather long piece of scripture is Stephen’s answer, please stay with it as it shows the whole history of the Jews in a nutshell.
2 Stephen answered, “Brothers and fathers listen to me! Before our ancestor Abraham had gone to live in Haran, the God of glory appeared to him in Mesopotamia 3 and said to him, ‘Leave your family and country and go to the land that I will show you.’ 4 And so he left his country and went to live in Haran. After Abraham’s father died, God made him move to this land where you now live. 5 God did not then give Abraham any part of it as his own, not even a square foot of ground, but God promised to give it to him, and that it would belong to him and to his descendants. At the time God made this promise, Abraham had no children. 6 This is what God said to him: ‘Your descendants will live in a foreign country, where they will be slaves and will be badly treated for four hundred years. 7 But I will pass judgment on the people that they will serve, and afterward your descendants will come out of that country and will worship me in this place.’ 8 Then God gave to Abraham the ceremony of circumcision as a sign of the covenant. So Abraham circumcised Isaac a week after he was born; Isaac circumcised his son Jacob, and Jacob circumcised his twelve sons, the famous ancestors of our race. 9 “Jacob’s sons became jealous of their brother Joseph and sold him to be a slave in Egypt. But God was with him 10 and brought him safely through all his troubles. When Joseph appeared before the king of Egypt, God gave him a pleasing manner and wisdom, and the king made Joseph governor over the country and the royal household. 11 Then there was a famine all over Egypt and Canaan, which caused much suffering. Our ancestors could not find any food, 12 and when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent his sons, our ancestors, on their first visit there. 13 On the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and the king of Egypt came to know about Joseph’s family. 14 So Joseph sent a message to his father Jacob, telling him and the whole family, seventy-five people in all, to come to Egypt. 15 Then Jacob went to Egypt, where he and his sons died. 16 Their bodies were taken to Shechem, where they were buried in the grave which Abraham had bought from the clan of Hamor for a sum of money.
17 “When the time drew near for God to keep the promise he had made to Abraham, the number of our people in Egypt had grown much larger. 18 At last a king who did not know about Joseph began to rule in Egypt. 19 He tricked our ancestors and was cruel to them, forcing them to put their babies out of their homes, so that they would die. 20 It was at this time that Moses was born, a very beautiful child. He was cared for at home for three months, 21 and when he was put out of his home, the king’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. 22 He was taught all the wisdom of the Egyptians and became a great man in words and deeds. 23 “When Moses was forty years old, he decided to find out how his fellow Israelites were being treated.
24 He saw one of them being mistreated by an Egyptian, so he went to his help and took revenge on the Egyptian by killing him. (25 He thought that his own people would understand that God was going to use him to set them free, but they did not understand.) 26 The next day he saw two Israelites fighting, and he tried to make peace between them. ‘Listen, men,’ he said, ‘you are fellow Israelites; why are you fighting like this?’ 27 But the one who was mistreating the other pushed Moses aside. ‘Who made you ruler and judge over us?’ he asked. 28 ‘Do you want to kill me, just as you killed that Egyptian yesterday?’ 29 When Moses heard this, he fled from Egypt and went to live in the land of Midian. There he had two sons.
30 “After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai. 31 Moses was amazed by what he saw, and went near the bush to get a better look. But he heard the Lord’s voice: 32 ‘I am the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.’ Moses trembled with fear and dared not look. 33 The Lord said to him, ‘Take your sandals off, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 34 I have seen the cruel suffering of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groans, and I have come down to set them free. Come now; I will send you to Egypt.’
35 “Moses is the one who was rejected by the people of Israel. ‘Who made you ruler and judge over us?’ they asked. He is the one whom God sent to rule the people and set them free with the help of the angel who appeared to him in the burning bush. 36 He led the people out of Egypt, performing miracles and wonders in Egypt and at the Red Sea and for forty years in the desert. 37 Moses is the one who said to the people of Israel, ‘God will send you a prophet, just as he sent me, and he will be one of your own people.’ 38 He is the one who was with the people of Israel assembled in the desert; he was there with our ancestors and with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and he received God’s living messages to pass on to us.
39 “But our ancestors refused to obey him; they pushed him aside and wished that they could go back to Egypt. 40 So they said to Aaron, ‘Make us some gods who will lead us. We do not know what has happened to that man Moses, who brought us out of Egypt.’ 41 It was then that they made an idol in the shape of a bull, offered sacrifice to it, and had a feast in honour of what they themselves had made. 42 So God turned away from them and gave them over to worship the stars of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: ‘People of Israel! It was not to me that you slaughtered and sacrificed animals for forty years in the desert. 43 It was the tent of the god Molech that you carried, and the image of Rephan, your star god; they were idols that you had made to worship. And so I will send you into exile beyond Babylon.’
44 “Our ancestors had the Tent of God’s presence with them in the desert. It had been made as God had told Moses to make it; according to the pattern that Moses had been shown. 45 Later on, our ancestors who received the tent from their fathers carried it with them when they went with Joshua and took over the land from the nations that God drove out as they advanced. And it stayed there until the time of David. 46 He won God’s favour and asked God to allow him to provide a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47 But it was Solomon who built him a house.48 “But the Most High God does not live in houses built by human hands; as the prophet says, 49 ‘Heaven is my throne, says the Lord, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house would you build for me? Where is the place for me to live in? 50 Did not I myself make all these things?’
51 “How stubborn you are!” Stephen went on to say. “How heathen your hearts, how deaf you are to God’s message! You are just like your ancestors: you too have always resisted the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there any prophet that your ancestors did not persecute? They killed God’s messengers, who long ago announced the coming of his righteous Servant. And now you have betrayed and murdered him. 53 You are the ones who received God’s law that was handed down by angels—yet you have not obeyed it!”
Stephen asks them to listen to him and then doesn’t exactly give them an answer but instead takes them on a journey through their history. You see this is a very tricky time for Stephen, if the council agree that what he has been accused of – that he has been talking detrimentally about the temple and the Law of Moses and saying that Jesus would destroy the temple and change the customs – is true, then he is in big trouble and his life could be at stake.
So he tries to get them to see that maybe they need to look at their journey from a different aspect, one that in the big scheme of things points to Jesus. He ends with saying that the most High God does not live in houses built by human hands and reminds them of what the prophet said: Heaven is my throne, says the Lord, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house would you build for me? Where is the place for me to live in? Did not I myself make all these things? Basically I suppose saying that they have made the temple into some kind of idol instead of the place it was intended to be – a place for people to come and worship God.
After that Stephen seems to get a bit animated which probably doesn’t do him any good but maybe he’s a bit frustrated with them because they just don’t get it and so he accuses them of the following:
- Having heathen hearts
- Being deaf to God’s message
- Rebellious just like their ancestors
- Resisting the Spirit
- Persecuting of the prophets
- Killing God’s messengers
- Betraying and murdering Jesus
- Not obeying the Law
The theologian Tom Wright explains all this far better than I can and so I share with you now some of his words on what Stephen has said:
It is an astonishing speech – unsatisfying in some ways, since we would have liked to know what Stephen would have said in more detail to the actual charges laid against him. But he does something more powerful, and more important. He takes to a new level the charge which Peter and the others have been laying, all through, against the Jewish leaders of the day. It isn’t just that they rejected God’s Messiah, the Righteous One, and handed him over to be killed by the pagans. In doing so, they were simply acting out, at long range, the pattern of rebellious behaviour set by their ancestors. Instead of the recounting of Israel’s history becoming a ‘story of salvation’, as so often, it turns out to be a ‘story of rebellion’. Stephen is claiming the high moral ground. He stands with Abraham, with Moses, with David and Solomon, and with the prophets, while the present Jewish leadership are standing with Joseph’ brothers, with the Israelites who rejected Moses, and with those who helped Aaron build and worship the golden calf.
Stephen appears to lay a case against the council and the High Priest in his story telling, so what happens now? Find out next week.
Prayer: Lord sometimes we get things wrong and see things from the wrong angle. Help us to always see things your way; to be guided by you and do the things you want us to even if they seem to go against the tide. Amen
Sunday 23rd August 2020
Last week Stephen answered his accusers, a bit of a long winded answer but one that he knew they had to hear, it was God’s words he was speaking, given to him by the Holy Spirit and today we find out the consequences of his reply and what happened to him.
54 As the members of the Council listened to Stephen, they became furious and ground their teeth at him in anger. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw God’s glory and Jesus standing at the right side of God. 56 “Look!” he said. “I see heaven opened and the Son of Man standing at the right side of God!”
57 With a loud cry the Council members covered their ears with their hands. Then they all rushed at him at once, 58 threw him out of the city, and stoned him. The witnesses left their cloaks in the care of a young man named Saul. 59 They kept on stoning Stephen as he called out to the Lord, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 He knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord! Do not remember this sin against them!” He said this and died.
The members of the council did listen to Stephen but didn’t like what he said and you can feel a rise in their blood pressures as they got themselves in a tizzy over it. Well more than a tizzy, we are told they became furious and ground their teeth at him in anger.
They didn’t like being taken to task by this follower of Jesus as he reminded them of their continued rebellion against God. To be honest they had probably hoped that as Gamaliel had suggested when Peter and John were taken in front of the council that these followers of Jesus would just disappear but that wasn’t happening. Also this man Stephen had something about him that was disturbing.
Well they were going to become even more disturbed when Stephen shares with them a vision he’s seeing about heaven and Jesus standing at the right hand side of God which seems to tip them over the edge. They cry out and cover their ears with their hands; they just can’t bear to listen to any more so they attack him and take him outside the city to be stoned which would mean certain death.
Before stoning him they take off their cloaks and leave them with a young man to look after, his name is Saul. Remember him because he is going to play an important role within God’s plan for humanity.
Can you imagine being stoned to death, it wasn’t just small stones being thrown at you but also great big boulders would be dropped on you, what a terrible way to die? You would expect someone in this position to be cowering down, trying to protect themselves however we are told that Stephen after calling out to Jesus to receive his spirit knelt down as you would in prayer and cried out in a loud voice ‘Lord! Do not remember this sin against them!’ Then he died. It reminds me of Jesus on the cross saying ‘Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.
The deed done, his executioners would have dispersed one by one and when the coast was clear some of Stephen’s devout friends came and collected his body and buried him with great sadness, mourning for him it says with loud cries.
Remember Saul, well we are told he approved of Stephen’s murder and got involved in trying to destroy the church. He went from house to house hunting the followers of Jesus and putting them in prison both men and women.
That was a momentous day for the early church because then they were persecuted in earnest and what they suffered was cruel. As happens at times like these the people being persecuted leave their homes to find safety elsewhere, just like the refugees today. Although we are told that the apostles stay put, many disciples travel to the provinces of Judaea and Samaria.
In Matthew 28:19 Jesus tells his disciples to go to all peoples everywhere and make them his disciples; they are to baptise them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teach them to obey everything he has commanded them. It seems this begins to happen here without any forward planning by the disciples, showing once again how God is always in control, something we shouldn’t forget in this time of not being able to control our own lives because of the Covid 19 situation.
Next week we hear how the gospel is preached in Samaria.
Prayer: Lord, help us to remember that you are in control even when we feel our lives are out of control. Help us to put our trust in you and you alone because you are our rock and our hope and help us to stand fast even in times of strife. Amen
Sunday 30th August 2020
As we continue our journey through the book of Acts today we encounter different people, even though Stephen lost his life and Saul was diligently searching out the believers to arrest them and have them thrown in jail the spread of the gospel, the Good News, is continuing.
4 The believers who were scattered went everywhere, preaching the message. 5 Philip went to the principal city in Samaria and preached the Messiah to the people there. 6 The crowds paid close attention to what Philip said, as they listened to him and saw the miracles that he performed. 7 Evil spirits came out from many people with a loud cry, and many paralyzed and lame people were healed. 8 So there was great joy in that city.
9 A man named Simon lived there, who for some time had astounded the Samaritans with his magic. He claimed that he was someone great, 10 and everyone in the city, from all classes of society, paid close attention to him. “He is that power of God known as ‘The Great Power,’” they said. 11 They paid this attention to him because for such a long time he had astonished them with his magic. 12 But when they believed Philip’s message about the good news of the Kingdom of God and about Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Simon himself also believed; and after being baptized, he stayed close to Philip and was astounded when he saw the great wonders and miracles that were being performed.
14 The apostles in Jerusalem heard that the people of Samaria had received the word of God, so they sent Peter and John to them. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the believers that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For the Holy Spirit had not yet come down on any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
18 Simon saw that the Spirit had been given to the believers when the apostles placed their hands on them. So he offered money to Peter and John, 19 and said, “Give this power to me too, so that anyone I place my hands on will receive the Holy Spirit.” 20 But Peter answered him, “May you and your money go to hell, for thinking that you can buy God’s gift with money! 21 You have no part or share in our work, because your heart is not right in God’s sight. 22 Repent, then, of this evil plan of yours, and pray to the Lord that he will forgive you for thinking such a thing as this. 23 For I see that you are full of bitter envy and are a prisoner of sin.” 24 Simon said to Peter and John, “Please pray to the Lord for me, so that none of these things you spoke of will happen to me.” 25 After they had given their testimony and proclaimed the Lord’s message, Peter and John went back to Jerusalem. On their way they preached the Good News in many villages of Samaria.
Sometimes things that seem bad can actually turn out to be useful within the bigger picture and because of the persecution of the believers in Jerusalem some left to go elsewhere and one of those was Philip. If you remember he was one of the men chosen with Stephen to be put in charge of admin and the sorting out of disputes and we meet him again today in the main city in the country of Samaria, doing far more now than just admin.
Now you probably remember the story Jesus told about the a man on the road to Jericho who had been attacked and left for dead and as he lays there three people travel the same way however only one stops to help and he is a Samaritan, which was a surprising twist in the story because there was no love lost between the Samaritans and the Jews.
Anyway here is Philip in Samaria, in the main town which I believe was Sebaste, talking about Jesus to anyone who would listen and listen they did and were blown away by the miracles Philip was doing, but then they weren’t altogether unfamiliar with strange things happening because there was a man named Simon who lived there who was a magician. We aren’t told what sort of things he did but he thought he was a bit of all right and enjoyed his popularity and power. However when Philip came along sharing the Good News and healing folk even Simon was one of those who was baptised and after his baptism stayed close to Philip.
Well, as you know from what’s written in the Bible that the apostles kept in touch with each other and the churches as they were planted. Therefore it is no surprise that the folk in Jerusalem got to hear about what was happening in Samaria and decided to send both Peter and John to visit them. On arrival they pray for the folk who have been baptised and lay their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit just like the believers had in Jerusalem.
Now it seems that Simon was really excited by this power that the apostles had and wanted some of it. However where he was wrong was in thinking that he could buy it because you can’t buy the power of God. Poor Simon he may have believed the Good News and been baptised but he still hung on to the world’s values and the worlds way of doing things. However Peter and John soon put him right on this score and I think scared him a bit in the process because he asks that they too will pray for him to be forgiven by God. I assume they did before giving their testimony and proclaiming the Lord’s message, although frustratingly we aren’t told. They then return to Jerusalem but not before sharing the Good News in other Samarian villages.
I wanted to see what the theologian Tom Wright had to say and he ends his writing on this subject with the following words which I find helpful so I share them with you now, he says:
Luke is not interested in Simon’s fate, so much as in the general point, that any attempt to bring the spirit under human control is a nonsense and to be rejected outright. The spirit is the spirit of the sovereign God, who blows where he wants and how he wants. Neither Peter nor John, nor Philip, nor any human being then, since or now can do other than be open to what the spirit wants, ready to be blown along by the rushing mighty wind.
So are we ready to be blown along by the rushing mighty wind of God as we travel through life, listening as God’s spirit speaks to us and directs us? A topic for personal reflection I think and next week we will see where God’s rushing mighty wind takes Philip. God bless. Rev Sue
Sunday 6th September 2020
Today we are walking in Philip’s shoes again and finding out what else God has in store for him.
26 An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get ready and go south to the road that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This road is not used nowadays.) 27-28 So Philip got ready and went.
Now an Ethiopian eunuch, who was an important official in charge of the treasury of the queen of Ethiopia, was on his way home. He had been to Jerusalem to worship God and was going back home in his carriage. As he rode along, he was reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah. 29 The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to that carriage and stay close to it.” 30 Philip ran over and heard him reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah. He asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 The official replied, “How can I understand unless someone explains it to me?” And he invited Philip to climb up and sit in the carriage with him. 32 The passage of scripture which he was reading was this:
“He was like a sheep that is taken to be slaughtered,
like a lamb that makes no sound when its wool is cut off.
He did not say a word.
33 He was humiliated, and justice was denied him.
No one will be able to tell about his descendants,because his life on earth has come to an end.”
34 The official asked Philip, “Tell me, of whom is the prophet saying this? Of himself or of someone else?” 35 Then Philip began to speak; starting from this passage of scripture, he told him the Good News about Jesus. 36 As they travelled down the road, they came to a place where there was some water, and the official said, “Here is some water. What is to keep me from being baptized?” 3738 The official ordered the carriage to stop, and both Philip and the official went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord took Philip away. The official did not see him again, but continued on his way, full of joy. 40 Philip found himself in Azotus; he went on to Caesarea, and on the way he preached the Good News in every town.
So after Peter and John return to Jerusalem, Philip gets a message from an angel who tells him to travel along the road from Jerusalem to Gaza and so Philip obediently gets ready and goes off down this road. It seems he hasn’t been given the reason for the journey but he goes anyway.
As he walks along the road he sees a carriage which is travelling away from Jerusalem and sitting in that carriage is an official from Ethiopia, actually he’s the man in charge of the Queen’s treasury, so he’s an important person. We are told that he is a eunuch (a castrated male) who was in Jerusalem to worship God and is now returning home, reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah.
Philip is instructed by the Holy Spirit to get near to the carriage, which he did and as he listened to what the Ethiopian was reading (obviously he must have been reading out loud) Philip asks him if he understands it. The man replies, ‘how can I unless someone explains it to me’. I assume Philip said that he knew what it was about and is invited to sit in the carriage with the man and explain it. The passage the Ethiopian is reading is from Isaiah 53 and the question he has is about who the person is that the prophet is talking about. He wants to know is it the prophet himself or someone else. Philip takes the opportunity at this point to explain all about Jesus and the Good News. Well it must have made a big impact on him because as they get to some water he stops the carriage and asks Philip to baptise him. As soon as this is done Philip just simply disappears although this doesn’t seem to trouble the Ethiopian who just carries on with his journey full of joy.
So what’s special about this situation and the man in question? Lots of people travelled to Jerusalem to worship God in the temple? Well there are some things in this story that just don’t add up in the right way for the times. However we know don’t we that God doesn’t always do what is expected or in the way expected. So let’s think about this man:
- He is not a Jew, he is an Ethiopian – not necessarily an issue as many people converted to Judaism and they would be known as proselytes.
- However he is not an entire man because at some point in his life he has been castrated and therefore could not according to Jewish law become a proselyte.
- Although he has travelled to Jerusalem to worship God he would not be allowed in the temple with the Jewish men.
- Philip has been sent by an angel to the place where the man is travelling and with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit he speaks to him.
- The man is receptive to Philip’s question about what he is reading in Isaiah and asks one of his own which gives Philip the opportunity to tell him about Jesus and share the Good News. This reminds me of the story of Jesus meeting some disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection and explaining the scriptures to them which pointed towards everything that had happened and his coming to save the world.
So we know that this man couldn’t become a Jew. He couldn’t worship in the temple but Jesus, God’s Son, accepts him with open arms and after hearing about Jesus for the very first time he believed, then accepted Jesus as his Lord and Saviour and was baptised. This is God showing that everyone is welcome among His people, Jew – Gentile – able bodied – physically damaged – mentally scarred – male or female or whatever gender you want to be known by. You are loved by God and welcome to come before Jesus, to confess your sins and be forgiven. However don’t think the journey is then going to be a breeze because it’s not. As we follow Jesus more closely there will be stuff in our lives that needs to be discarded because they go against His teaching. However the joy of knowing him is abundantly obvious as we can see from the Ethiopian’s reaction after his baptism because even the disappearance of Philip didn’t faze him.
Tradition tells us that this Ethiopian was the first non Jew to come to faith and be baptised and that he was the first evangelist in his own native country. Therefore this seems to have been a momentous occasion and the first step of bringing gentiles (non Jews) into the church.
Next week we will be encountering the man who after being a persecutor of the early Christians becomes a faithful and loyal follower of Jesus and who was commissioned by God through a prophetic message to be a witness of the living Christ, especially to the Gentiles.
Prayer: Lord we read such amazing stories and thank you for what they teach us. Help us today to continue learning your ways and putting them into practice in our lives. Help us to be full of the fruit of your spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self control. Amen
Sunday 13th September 2020
Today we meet Saul again and find out what he’s been up to since the stoning of Stephen.
In the meantime Saul kept up his violent threats of murder against the followers of the Lord. He went to the High Priest 2 and asked for letters of introduction to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he should find there any followers of the Way of the Lord, he would be able to arrest them, both men and women, and bring them back to Jerusalem.
3 As Saul was coming near the city of Damascus, suddenly a light from the sky flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me?” 5 “Who are you, Lord?” he asked. “I am Jesus, whom you persecute,” the voice said. 6 “But get up and go into the city, where you will be told what you must do.” 7 The men who were travelling with Saul had stopped, not saying a word; they heard the voice but could not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground and opened his eyes, but could not see a thing. So they took him by the hand and led him into Damascus. 9 For three days he was not able to see, and during that time he did not eat or drink anything.
10 There was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. He had a vision, in which the Lord said to him, “Ananias!” “Here I am, Lord,” he answered. 11 The Lord said to him, “Get ready and go to Straight Street, and at the house of Judas ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying, 12 and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come in and place his hands on him so that he might see again.” 13 Ananias answered, “Lord, many people have told me about this man and about all the terrible things he has done to your people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come to Damascus with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who worship you.”
15 The Lord said to him, “Go, because I have chosen him to serve me, to make my name known to Gentiles and kings and to the people of Israel. 16 And I myself will show him all that he must suffer for my sake.”
17 So Ananias went, entered the house where Saul was, and placed his hands on him. “Brother Saul,” he said, “the Lord has sent me—Jesus himself, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here. He sent me so that you might see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 At once something like fish scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he was able to see again. He stood up and was baptized; 19 and after he had eaten, his strength came back.
Saul stayed for a few days with the believers in Damascus. 20 He went straight to the synagogues and began to preach that Jesus was the Son of God. 21 All who heard him were amazed and asked, “Isn’t he the one who in Jerusalem was killing those who worship that man Jesus? And didn’t he come here for the very purpose of arresting those people and taking them back to the chief priests?” 22 But Saul’s preaching became even more powerful, and his proofs that Jesus was the Messiah were so convincing that the Jews who lived in Damascus could not answer him. 23 After many days had gone by, the Jews met together and made plans to kill Saul, 24 but he was told of their plan. Day and night they watched the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But one night Saul’s followers took him and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.
26 Saul went to Jerusalem and tried to join the disciples. But they would not believe that he was a disciple, and they were all afraid of him. 27 Then Barnabas came to his help and took him to the apostles. He explained to them how Saul had seen the Lord on the road and that the Lord had spoken to him. He also told them how boldly Saul had preached in the name of Jesus in Damascus. 28 And so Saul stayed with them and went all over Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He also talked and disputed with the Greek-speaking Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30 When the believers found out about this, they took Saul to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus. 31 And so it was that the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had a time of peace. Through the help of the Holy Spirit it was strengthened and grew in numbers, as it lived in reverence for the Lord.
So we are back with Saul again, we met him before, he was the guy who held the coats of the folk in Jerusalem who stoned Stephen to death and Saul very much approved of his murder. He really was fanatically against the early church and went around trying to discover where the believers were and then getting them put in jail, both men and women. We find him now still on a mission to stamp out the early Christians, the followers of Jesus.
Extending his reach he gets permission to go to Damascus and rout out the believers there, he was obviously a very zealous man. On his way he hears the voice of the risen Jesus who asks him why he is persecuting him. Saul not knowing who is speaking asks ‘who are you Lord?’ and Jesus tells him, he also tells Saul to go into Damascus and wait for instructions. Helpless and blinded Saul is led by his companions into the city – three days pass in which Saul doesn’t eat or drink anything and is still blind.
Somewhere else in the city a man – Ananias, a believer is spoken to by the Lord in a vision in which he is given instructions to go and find Saul. Well as you can imagine he’s not too keen on the idea because like a lot of the folk in Damascus Ananias has already heard about this bloke Saul and knows he is dangerous. However the Lord tells him that he has work for Saul to do so Ananias obediently obeys and does what he is told although I think it must have taken a lot of courage and faith.
Sometimes we are asked by God to do what we would rather not, do you remember the story of Jonah who was told to go to Nineveh to tell the folk there that if they didn’t buck up their ideas they were going to be in trouble with God. When he didn’t want to go and in fact went in the other direction. It didn’t do him any good though because caught in a storm he was thrown overboard and swallowed by a big fish (possibly a whale). When after three days the fish vomited him up on the beach and God had, had another word with him, he did go and do what God had asked him to.
At face value what God asks us to do can seem impossible but that’s only because we look at situations through human eyes and minds. We do need to remember that God has the bigger picture in mind and the small bit that we are asked to do is just a link in the chain. Also as I have discovered for myself when we do finally do things God’s way we discover blessings we never thought possible.
But to continue with the story, Ananias has met with Saul and done what he was told to do and now Saul can see again but more than sight that lets him see his surroundings, he can see Jesus as God’s Son and is baptised in his name. What a turnaround!
As the story goes on we are told that Saul stayed with the believers for a few days, probably gathering his strength completely and getting his head around what he has experienced and the task ahead. Then amazingly we find him in the synagogue, no longer preaching against the believers but preaching that Jesus was and is actually the Son of God as his followers believed. Can you imagine the look on the faces of the people, one minute he is against the believers and the next he says they are right to believe Jesus is the Son of God. I think the officials especially must have been very confused as I’m sure they were advised of his coming and his original intention and plan. However they couldn’t sway him and we are told that Saul’s preaching (and remember he was a Pharisee who would know the scriptures – what we call the Old Testament – inside out) became even more powerful and they found it hard to argue against him.
So as they did with Jesus when they couldn’t get their heads around his message, they plot to kill Saul too. However Saul found out and his followers helped him escape the city one night by lowering him in a basket through an opening in the city wall. However Saul’s not finished yet because off he goes to Jerusalem with the intention of joining the disciples there but unsurprisingly they are a bit suspicious of him. Well who wouldn’t be, he could just be pretending so that he can get to know who they are and where they live. However there is one man – Barnabas – known as the son of encouragement – who must have thought there was some truth in what Saul was saying because he takes him to the apostles and tells them Saul’s story and about how he has boldly preached about Jesus in Damascus since his experience on the highway. Apparently because of Barnabas’s intervention Saul is allowed to join them and continues preaching about Jesus there in Jerusalem. He got into trouble though with some Greek speaking Jews who also tried to kill him and for his own safety he is taken to Caesarea and from there sent to Tarsus, his home town.
With Saul out of the way we are told that there then came a time of relative peace for the believers in Judea, Galilee and Samaria in which, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the early church was strengthened and their numbers grew as they lived in reverence to the Lord.
Next week we find out what Peter’s up to but don’t lose sight of Saul as we will meet him again and he plays a big part in the sharing of the Good News.
Lord, help us to be obedient to you and if possible without whingeing or ignoring your instructions because then we will discover a life that is more fulfilled that we could ever imagine and a peace that encompasses our whole body and being. Amen
Sunday 20th September 2020
We carry on from where we left off in Acts last week only now we are following Peter.
32 Peter travelled everywhere, and on one occasion he went to visit God’s people who lived in Lydda. 33 There he met a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had not been able to get out of bed for eight years. 34 “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ makes you well. Get up and make your bed.” At once Aeneas got up. 35 All the people living in Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.
36 In Joppa there was a woman named Tabitha, who was a believer. (Her name in Greek is Dorcas, meaning “a deer.”) She spent all her time doing good and helping the poor. 37 At that time she got sick and died. Her body was washed and laid in a room upstairs. 38 Joppa was not very far from Lydda, and when the believers in Joppa heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him with the message, “Please hurry and come to us.” 39 So Peter got ready and went with them. When he arrived, he was taken to the room upstairs, where all the widows crowded around him, crying and showing him all the shirts and coats that Dorcas had made while she was alive. 40 Peter put them all out of the room, and knelt down and prayed; then he turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up!” She opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. 41 Peter reached over and helped her get up. Then he called all the believers, including the widows, and presented her alive to them.
42 The news about this spread all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. 43 Peter stayed on in Joppa for many days with a tanner of leather named Simon.
Peter, this big fisherman and an apostle, who was told by Jesus to go and build His church is doing just that as he travels all over the place telling folk about Jesus and the Good news and in this passage we find him in Lydda. Now Lydda, which sits in a hollow in the Plain of Sharon, today is known as Lod and is a major Israeli transportation hub not far from David Ben Gurion International Airport. Its population is around seventy eight thousand and I’m sure there were many less folk around when Peter was there. This is also the place where according to legend St George lived in the third century.
Any way back to Peter, he is in Lydda and he meets a man named Aeneas who we are told hadn’t been able to get out of bed for eight years because he was paralysed. We don’t know how he met him and we don’t know who introduced him but what we do know is that through the power in the name of Jesus, Peter heals him. Now this healing has such an impact on the folk living in the area that we are told they actually turned to Lord. What a double blessing, Aeneas gets his life back and the people accept the new life offered in Jesus. A short episode but with a very powerful message of what can happen when we believe and trust in the risen Lord Jesus.
Then we hop over to Joppa which is not that far from Lydda and hear about a woman named Tabitha, sometimes known Dorcas as this was her name in Greek. Anyway she was a believer and tried to love folk as Jesus did. She helped them on a very practical level by making clothes for them, doing good and helping the poor. Maybe she was one of these people like my own mother who could sew and knit and who just had the ability to make things and make them well. Anyway for some reason she got sick and died, we don’t have any more information than that except that someone thought to let Peter know and asked him to come quickly. Why? Had he met her before, was he a friend, I wonder what they expected him to do, did they think he might bring her back to life or maybe just to pray for her soul. Too many questions and no answers however the fact remains that Peter was sent for and he came. Not only that but when he got there as people were mourning her death and sharing the joy of knowing her and her kindness they showed him what she had made for them.
Peter like Jesus when he raised Jairus’ daughter from death put people out of the room, although with Jesus he did allow the child’s parents to stay as well as Peter, John and James. So Peter had been present and witnessed the miracle of Jesus bringing that little girl back to life. I wonder if he was thinking about that when he knelt down and prayed beside Tabitha’s body. Whatever, the outcome was the same, when Peter called her name and said to the body of Tabitha ‘get up’ she opened her eyes and apparently seeing Peter, sat up. Peter helps her to feet and then shows the others that she is alive. Wow! What do you think about that? What a miracle and I suspect that this is what her friends had been hoping for when they sent for Peter although maybe even for them the outcome was a surprise. Or maybe not a surprise because their faith in the name of Jesus and the ability of his apostle Peter to be an instrument of his power was in their minds doable, we just don’t know, but what we do know is that because of what happened many more people came to faith in Jesus.
They came to faith because someone else shared the story of what happened. Sometimes we have stories that should be told about what God has done in our lives so that others might know and wonder and maybe question and then seek Jesus for themselves. So if you have a story to tell about what God has done in your life please don’t keep it a secret, share it with others so that they have the opportunity to turn to the Lord too.
Sunday 27th September 2020
Show me your ways, O Lord; make them known to me. Teach me to live according to your truth, for you are my God, who saves me. I always trust in you. (Psalm 25:4-5)
Staying with Peter we continue on into Acts 10 and are also introduced to a Roman army captain whose name is Cornelius.
There was a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, who was a captain in the Roman army regiment called “The Italian Regiment.” 2 He was a religious man; he and his whole family worshipped God. He also did much to help the Jewish poor people and was constantly praying to God. 3 It was about three o’clock one afternoon when he had a vision, in which he clearly saw an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius!” 4 He stared at the angel in fear and said, “What is it, sir?” The angel answered, “God is pleased with your prayers and works of charity, and is ready to answer you. 5 And now send some men to Joppa for a certain man whose full name is Simon Peter. 6 He is a guest in the home of a tanner of leather named Simon, who lives by the sea.” 7 Then the angel went away, and Cornelius called two of his house servants and a soldier, a religious man who was one of his personal attendants. 8 He told them what had happened and sent them off to Joppa.
9 The next day, as they were on their way and coming near Joppa, Peter went up on the roof of the house about noon in order to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat; while the food was being prepared, he had a vision. 11 He saw heaven opened and something coming down that looked like a large sheet being lowered by its four corners to the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals, reptiles, and wild birds. 13 A voice said to him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat!” 14 But Peter said, “Certainly not, Lord! I have never eaten anything ritually unclean or defiled.” 15 The voice spoke to him again, “Do not consider anything unclean that God has declared clean.” 16 This happened three times, and then the thing was taken back up into heaven.
17 While Peter was wondering about the meaning of this vision, the men sent by Cornelius had learned where Simon’s house was, and they were now standing in front of the gate. 18 They called out and asked, “Is there a guest here by the name of Simon Peter?” 9 Peter was still trying to understand what the vision meant, when the Spirit said, “Listen! Three men are here looking for you. 20 So get ready and go down, and do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” 21 So Peter went down and said to the men, “I am the man you are looking for. Why have you come?” 22 “Captain Cornelius sent us,” they answered. “He is a good man who worships God and is highly respected by all the Jewish people. An angel of God told him to invite you to his house, so that he could hear what you have to say.” 23 Peter invited the men in and had them spend the night there.
The next day he got ready and went with them; and some of the believers from Joppa went along with him. 24 The following day he arrived in Caesarea, where Cornelius was waiting for him, together with relatives and close friends that he had invited. 25 As Peter was about to go in, Cornelius met him, fell at his feet, and bowed down before him. 26 But Peter made him rise. “Stand up,” he said, “I myself am only a man.” 27 Peter kept on talking to Cornelius as he went into the house, where he found many people gathered. 28 He said to them, “You yourselves know very well that a Jew is not allowed by his religion to visit or associate with Gentiles. But God has shown me that I must not consider any person ritually unclean or defiled. 29 And so when you sent for me, I came without any objection. I ask you, then, why did you send for me?”
30 Cornelius said, “It was about this time three days ago that I was praying in my house at three o’clock in the afternoon. Suddenly a man dressed in shining clothes stood in front of me 31 and said: ‘Cornelius! God has heard your prayer and has taken notice of your works of charity. 32 Send someone to Joppa for a man whose full name is Simon Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner of leather, who lives by the sea.’ 33 And so I sent for you at once, and you have been good enough to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God, waiting to hear anything that the Lord has instructed you to say.”
Cornelius was a captain in the Italian regiment of the Roman army and he lives in Caesarea on the coast. Caesarea is an important garrison town, therefore we can surmise that Cornelius was a good soldier – a solid, no nonsense man because the Romans would have needed someone in this place that they could rely on and who had proved their worth. It seems that he was respected by most people, including the Jewish community because he was a man of integrity as well as a religious man. Now the Romans would have had their choice of gods, however this man Cornelius appears to worship the God of Israel as it seems do his family. Although like some he has not converted to Judaism, however we are told he is a devout and prayerful man who is also generous with his money to all who are in need. Therefore many folk including the Jewish community have good things to say about him. I think it is also right to add here that Cornelius is not one of your typical Romans because what we read about him here goes against the grain of the stereotype Roman of the day.
Anyway one day as Cornelius is praying he has a vision and in it an angel of God tells him how pleased God is with him and that he is to send for Peter who is in Joppa, staying at the house of Simon the tanner and somehow through Peter, God will answer Cornelius. Now we aren’t told what Cornelius has been asking God but maybe his questions were similar to our own when we begin to have this awareness of God and start to seek him. I can remember from my own experience asking God if he really existed and receiving his affirmative answer as I walked along the pavement locally where I lived many years ago. Cornelius therefore after this message from the angel obediently sends some of his men off to Joppa to look for Peter and once again we are shown how important it is to obey God.
Now Peter, who hasn’t yet left Joppa and is still staying at Simon the tanners house also receives a vision but only just before Cornelius’ men arrive at the house where he is taking time out for prayer. The vision Peter receives is a very significant one because it turns on its head all that he has ever known and believed about what he, as a Jew, can eat and who he should socialise and interact with. It’s also important here to take notice of the fact that Luke the writer of the book of Acts tells the story of Peter’s vision twice, I believe he wants it to sink into the minds of all those who hear it because it is such a pivotal moment for not only Peter and Cornelius but also for all the believers especially the Jewish ones.
As Peter is pondering on what he has just experienced Cornelius’ folk turn up asking for him and explain why they are there and inviting him to go with them to Cornelius’ house. Probably at any other time Peter would have said no and explained that as a Jew it was impossible for him to visit a gentile (someone who isn’t a Jew) in their home especially because of the distance it would mean staying over and dining with them. However the Holy Spirit has already spoken to him about that and told him that he should go with them.
When Peter arrives at Cornelius’ place there are lots of folk waiting inside to see him but it is Cornelius who comes out to greet him and instinctively falls at his feet, an act which Peter quickly lets him know is not required as he (Peter) is just a man like Cornelius.
Peter talks to Cornelius as he goes inside where the others are and begins explaining that what he is doing there today is out of the ordinary he said: “You yourselves know very well that a Jew is not allowed by his religion to visit or associate with Gentiles. But God has shown me that I must not consider any person ritually unclean or defiled. 29 And so when you sent for me, I came without any objection.
Peter then asks them why they have sent for him and it is Cornelius who tells of his vision and the angel’s words and then says, ‘Now we are all here in the presence of God, waiting to hear anything that the Lord has instructed you to say’ and next week we will find out what it was that Peter said but in the meantime just take a while to think about all that has gone on here and some words that came to me are:
Openness to God
Letting go and letting God
If you want to share any of your thoughts email or phone me.
I hope and pray that you will be very aware of God’s blessings in your own life this week and please keep praying for the folk you know and also for those you don’t, for those you love and those you don’t. Pray for our government who need all our prayers to strengthen them in the task of trying to keeping people safe and our economy buoyant remembering that theirs is not an easy job. Pray for the persecuted church in other places and for all the carers, cleaners, nurses, and doctors etc who put their lives on the line just by doing their daily jobs.
Sunday 4th October 2020
Cornelius and all his household are waiting to hear what Peter has to say. I can imagine Peter saying a quick prayer and then taking a deep breath before speaking and the words he said are:
34 Peter began to speak: “I now realize that it is true that God treats everyone on the same basis. 35 Those who fear him and do what is right are acceptable to him, no matter what race they belong to. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, proclaiming the Good News of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know of the great event that took place throughout the land of Israel, beginning in Galilee after John preached his message of baptism. 38 You know about Jesus of Nazareth and how God poured out on him the Holy Spirit and power. He went everywhere, doing good and healing all who were under the power of the Devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses of everything that he did in the land of Israel and in Jerusalem. Then they put him to death by nailing him to a cross. 40 But God raised him from death three days later and caused him to appear, 41 not to everyone, but only to the witnesses that God had already chosen, that is, to us who ate and drank with him after he rose from death. 42 And he commanded us to preach the gospel to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God has appointed judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets spoke about him, saying that all who believe in him will have their sins forgiven through the power of his name.”
44 While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit came down on all those who were listening to his message. 45 The Jewish believers who had come from Joppa with Peter were amazed that God had poured out his gift of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles also. 46 For they heard them speaking in strange tongues and praising God’s greatness. Peter spoke up: 47 “These people have received the Holy Spirit, just as we also did. Can anyone, then, stop them from being baptized with water?” 48 So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay with them for a few days.
Peter shares the insight that God has given him – that God treats everyone the same, it doesn’t matter where you come from, what language you speak or what colour your skin is – if you love God and do things his way you are acceptable to him.
He reminds them of what the scriptures say about Jesus and the Good News he came to bring. He speaks of John the Baptist and his message of repentance and baptism and of how God poured out his spirit on Jesus and how Jesus travelled around doing good and healing folk even from the influence of the devil.
He tells of being a witness of the things Jesus did and not only him but plenty of others too. How Jesus opened up the scriptures and showed them God’s plan in action. Also how Jesus faithfully kept to the plan by allowing himself to be captured, tortured and executed on the cross at Golgotha because he trusted his Fathers plan.
He knew that God would raise him from the dead after three days and he knew that a place was there for him at the right hand side of God the Father when he finally said goodbye to his disciples for a while, leaving them to continue the work of saving those who would listen and trust in him. Those folk who believed him when he said ‘I am the way, the truth and the life, no-one comes to the Father except through me and that at the end of time as we know it he will be the judge of all, both the living and the dead.
Peter in his speech is saying, believe in Jesus, repent and have your sins forgiven by the power of Jesus name. What a speech and as Peter is speaking an amazing thing happens just as it did at Pentecost – the Holy Spirit touches all those who are listening – however there is one big difference, these people are not Jews but Gentiles and they too speak in different languages that they have never spoken before and praise God’s greatness.
Now I have never spoken in tongues as it is known but I don’t think that makes me any less of a Christian or not filled with the Holy Spirit because I believe this gift is just one of the gifts given by God and we all receive different ones according to God’s choice. However at this moment in time for Peter and the other Jewish believers who came with him this was a momentous moment because here was God giving the same gift to the Gentiles as he had to them. This situation prompts Peter to ask the question ‘what is to stop them (Cornelius and his household) from being baptised with water’ and because no reason can be given they were all baptised in the name of Jesus.
I just can’t imagine the joy or feelings that were experienced by both Cornelius and his household and Peter and the Jewish believers but what I do know is that another amazing thing took place and that was, that Peter stays with them for a few days. Peter, a Jew, staying in the house of a Gentile which in a way cements this new relationship between Jew and non-Jew as they sleep under the same roof and share their meals together – circumcised and un-circumcised – all now children of God – a completely outside of the box situation and next week we find Peter having to answer to and explain to the believers in Jerusalem what has just happened in Caesarea.
Lord, help us to be people who see and work outside of the box for you. Who listen and obey your instructions regardless that they don’t quite fit with the way the world does things. Help us to courageously follow your lead so that we may be truly blessed as we believe both Peter and Cornelius were that day when they stepped outside the box and were joined together by your love. Amen
Sunday 11th October 2020
After staying a while with Cornelius in Caesarea, Peter returns to Jerusalem where he is questioned by some about his conduct while he was there, the things he did and what he allowed to happen.
The apostles and the other believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. 2 When Peter went to Jerusalem, those who were in favour of circumcising Gentiles criticized him, saying, 3 “You were a guest in the home of uncircumcised Gentiles, and you even ate with them!” 4 So Peter gave them a complete account of what had happened from the very beginning:
5 “While I was praying in the city of Joppa, I had a vision. I saw something coming down that looked like a large sheet being lowered by its four corners from heaven, and it stopped next to me. 6 I looked closely inside and saw domesticated and wild animals, reptiles, and wild birds. 7 Then I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat!’ 8 But I said, ‘Certainly not, Lord! No ritually unclean or defiled food has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 The voice spoke again from heaven, ‘Do not consider anything unclean that God has declared clean.’ 10 This happened three times, and finally the whole thing was drawn back up into heaven. 11 At that very moment three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea arrived at the house where I was staying. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them without hesitation. These six fellow believers from Joppa accompanied me to Caesarea, and we all went into the house of Cornelius. 13 He told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, ‘Send someone to Joppa for a man whose full name is Simon Peter. 14 He will speak words to you by which you and all your family will be saved.’ 15 And when I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came down on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 It is clear that God gave those Gentiles the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ; who was I, then, to try to stop God!”
18 When they heard this, they stopped their criticism and praised God, saying, “Then God has given to the Gentiles also the opportunity to repent and live!”
Twice in the last chapter Luke writes the story of Peter and Cornelius and here again in chapter 11 we find him writing it down again as Peter explains to the believers in Jerusalem why he has acted the way he has, why he has gone against the teaching and law of the Jewish people. This makes me think that it must have been a very important point to make also if you look carefully at the three accounts there is additional information given as they are retold. But let’s first of all go back to the point where Peter returns to Jerusalem and is confronted by some of the Jewish believers there who weren’t very happy that Cornelius and his household hadn’t been circumcised and also that Peter had flouted the Jewish laws of what to eat and who to socialise with.
Peter it seems could be in big trouble so he takes the time to go through what he experienced once again, telling Cornelius’ side of the story too. It seems that he is made to justify his actions before a critical group and therefore he does his best to help them understand things from where he stood. Not all were critical but some, often a small minority make a loud noise, which can cause intimidation but they didn’t intimidate Peter because he doesn’t back down or conform to their wishes but sticks with what God has made know to him and relays that to them.
He tells them he had a vision and so did Cornelius which he shares with them in detail and then tells them how he was encouraged by the Holy Spirit to go with Cornelius’ people without hesitation.
Then he tells them that it is clear to him that God in what he has just done, was giving to the Gentiles (Cornelius and his household) the same gift that he gave to him and the other Jewish followers when they believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and he makes the comment ‘who was I, then, to try to stop God’.
Powerful words that seem to stop the critics in their tracks, because who in their right mind would want to try to stop God or go against him, as we know from the history in the Bible this was not a sensible thing to do. Do you remember Jonah, trying to stop God from saving the people of Nineveh by not giving God’s message to them and instead setting sail on a ship in the opposite direction? Where did it get him – in the belly of a big fish – and only then did he come to his senses and realise that you can’t go against God’s wishes. Although I must admit Jonah like a lot of us do God’s work sometimes without much grace, because he still continued to have a moan and a grumble about it.
Anyway Peter’s words about trying to stop God obviously hit home and they stopped having a go at him and changed their tunes by saying ‘Then God has given to the Gentiles also the opportunity to repent and live.
However don’t think that was the end of their grumbling as later on in this book we will find them at it again and to be honest all through the centuries people have grumbled and groaned and even dug their heels into the ground when God has asked them and also asks us to take on board or do something new. Maybe something that takes us outside of our comfort zone and asks us to accept folk who are different from us, who live differently, who have different diets or maybe who are invading our space as we see it. Maybe we should ask ourselves how we are reacting to God’s instructions at this moment in time, are we being obedient to his will, his wishes or are we grumbling and digging our heals in too.
No-one can see his own errors; deliver me, Lord, from hidden faults! Keep me safe also from wilful sins; don’t let them rule over me. Then I shall be perfect and free from the evil of sin.
Sunday 18th October 2020
This week we find ourselves in Antioch which today is in ruins not far from the major town of Antakya in south-central Turkey, although then it was within the borders of Syria. It lies near the mouth of the Orontes River which is today about 12 miles northwest of the Syrian border.
19 Some of the believers who were scattered by the persecution which took place when Stephen was killed went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, telling the message to Jews only. 20 But other believers, who were from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and proclaimed the message to Gentiles also, telling them the Good News about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s power was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
22 The news about this reached the church in Jerusalem, so they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw how God had blessed the people, he was glad and urged them all to be faithful and true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and many people were brought to the Lord.
25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul. 26 When he found him, he took him to Antioch, and for a whole year the two met with the people of the church and taught a large group. It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.
27 About that time some prophets went from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and by the power of the Spirit predicted that a severe famine was about to come over all the earth. (It came when Claudius was emperor.) 29 The disciples decided that they each would send as much as they could to help their fellow believers who lived in Judea. 30 They did this, then, and sent the money to the church elders by Barnabas and Saul.
So leaving Peter behind we continue our journey to Antioch where some of the believers had escaped to after being persecuted for their new found faith in Jesus as the Messiah and the bringer of Good News. Actually the believers scattered all over the place as you will see from today’s reading however Antioch is where Luke takes us for the next instalment of the story he is compiling.
It seems that what began as a negative situation as some of the believers left Jerusalem because of the persecution they had begun to experience, has now turned into a job of work for God, as they journey to new lives in far off places and take their faith and trust in Jesus with them, sharing it with anyone who will listen, the Jewish believers sharing with other Jews and the Gentile believers sharing with those who weren’t Jews. And as we are told in verse 21 ‘The Lord’s power was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord’.
It makes me think back to the words of the Pharisee Gamaliel when the council members had wanted to make an example of the Apostles because they wouldn’t stop talking about Jesus. Do you remember in Acts 5:35 he said ‘Fellow Israelites, be careful what you do to these men….v38 Leave them alone! If what they have planned and done is of human origin, it will disappear, but if it comes from God, you cannot possibly defeat them. You could find yourselves fighting against God’. Well this is exactly what they were doing because Jesus wasn’t going away and his teachings and Good News was being spread even further and people were accepting him as Lord and Saviour and being filled with the Holy Spirit.
Now they may not have had all the technology that we have today to share news immediately however news arrived eventually and back in Jerusalem the believers there get to hear of what’s going on in Antioch. At this point Luke picks up the story with Barnabas again, as he is sent to Antioch. We have met him before in Acts 9:27 when he came to the help of Saul in Jerusalem and now we find him in Antioch on a mission to discover what’s going on there. From what the Bible tells us it must have been such a joy for him when he discovered how the people there had already been blessed by God.
I believe Barnabas as well as being an encourager was also a forward thinker and not afraid to include someone else in the work, someone who could maybe add more to help the people on their journey of faith or deepen it. So we find him leaving Antioch and going over to Tarsus and getting Saul to return with him to help in the teaching of the people, especially the Gentiles who Saul had been commissioned by Jesus to minister to.
They were there for a whole year teaching and growing the community of believers and Luke tells us that it was here at this time that the believers first became known as Christians.
We are then told that some others arrived from Jerusalem who were prophets and one of these was Agabus who predicted that there was going to be a famine in the near future which would affect a lot of folk especially it seems in Judea. So the disciples in Antioch decided that they would try to help by sending money back with Barnabas and Saul and this is what they did.
Now I suppose we could liken the situation to when we were going into lockdown and people weren’t sure how much food would be available and we know that what happened was that people bought additional stuff to stock up their cupboards (especially toilet rolls for some reason). However we also know that for some people this wasn’t an option as they were not in a financial position to do this and therefore the food banks became an essential part of their everyday lives.
Sadly things don’t seem to change from one era to another however as Christians we have a duty of care to our brothers and sisters all over the world to support them in whatever way we can. Whether that is financially or in prayer but definitely through kindness and compassion for the situations they find themselves in.
This week I took my first zoom assembly in the village school and as it was wellbeing Wednesday I talked about Naaman the Syrian army commander who had leprosy and how his wife’s servant girl, who had been taken from her native Israel in a raid, pointed him towards the God of Israel for healing through the prophet Elisha. Through his experience Naaman discovered that there is only one god and he is the God of Israel, the same God we worship today through his Son our Lord Jesus Christ, whose Spirit when invited will live in us as our help and guide.
Sunday 25th October 2020
Prayer: Loving God, we come with our fragile lives, knowing our weaknesses, and aware of our tendency to sin. We know there are times we have not noticed what it is you have been showing us because we are too distracted by other things, things that are not worthy of our attention. So cleanse us and forgive us we pray and also, Lord of mercy, give us a fresh start with you today. Wipe the dust from our eyes and blow the fog from our minds and help us to feel your presence. Amen
This week we are following a few characters – King Herod, James (the brother of John), Peter, an angel and a young girl named Rhoda.
About this time King Herod began to persecute some members of the church. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death by the sword. 3 When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he went ahead and had Peter arrested. (This happened during the time of the Festival of Unleavened Bread.) 4 After his arrest Peter was put in jail, where he was handed over to be guarded by four groups of four soldiers each. Herod planned to put him on trial in public after Passover. 5 So Peter was kept in jail, but the people of the church were praying earnestly to God for him.
6 The night before Herod was going to bring him out to the people, Peter was sleeping between two guards. He was tied with two chains, and there were guards on duty at the prison gate. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord stood there, and a light shone in the cell. The angel shook Peter by the shoulder, woke him up, and said, “Hurry! Get up!” At once the chains fell off Peter’s hands. 8 Then the angel said, “Tighten your belt and put on your sandals.” Peter did so, and the angel said, “Put your cloak around you and come with me.” 9 Peter followed him out of the prison, not knowing, however, if what the angel was doing was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed by the first guard station and then the second, and came at last to the iron gate that opens into the city. The gate opened for them by itself, and they went out. They walked down a street, and suddenly the angel left Peter. 11 Then Peter realized what had happened to him, and said, “Now I know that it is really true! The Lord sent his angel to rescue me from Herod’s power and from everything the Jewish people expected to happen.”
12 Aware of his situation, he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13 Peter knocked at the outside door, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer it. 14 She recognized Peter’s voice and was so happy that she ran back in without opening the door, and announced that Peter was standing outside. 15 “You are crazy!” they told her. But she insisted that it was true. So they answered, “It is his angel.”
16 Meanwhile Peter kept on knocking. At last they opened the door, and when they saw him, they were amazed. 17 He motioned with his hand for them to be quiet, and he explained to them how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell this to James and the rest of the believers,” he said; then he left and went somewhere else.
18 When morning came, there was a tremendous confusion among the guards—what had happened to Peter? 19 Herod gave orders to search for him, but they could not find him. So he had the guards questioned and ordered them put to death. After this, Herod left Judea and spent some time in Caesarea.
Our story begins today with King Herod, he if I understand it correctly, was the son of Aristobulus, who was the son of Herod the Great and a half brother to Herod Antipas who was the Herod at the time of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. Some would say that the whole family was violent by nature and that appears to be confirmed as this particular Herod had just had James the brother of John and son of Zebedee killed and news of his death is where this chapter begins. According to one of the theologians James was killed to test the reaction of the crowd and because it pleased them he went on to have Peter arrested and put into jail.
The jail is our next destination and we find Peter there the night before his trial sleeping between two of his guards and he was heavily chained so it seems Herod was taking no chances that he could escape. There are also other guards at the prison gate so I’m sure Peter was thinking that this was it, his time was up and soon he would find himself in the presence of Jesus, even so he manages to fall asleep. At the same time the other believers are praying earnestly for him and his safety.
At this point the fourth character in this story appears and that’s the angel, who wakes Peter up by taking hold of his shoulder and giving him a shake. I seem to hear a note of urgency in the angel’s voice as he tells Peter to hurry and get up, but also I wonder what Peter thought in his semi awake state as the chains that have been restraining him fall off, allowing him once again to move freely.
The angel follows this instruction with others, tighten your belt and put your sandals on. When Peter had done this the angel then tells him to put his cloak around him and says come with me. Peter did as he was told, not knowing if all this was real or whether he was dreaming.
Anyway they went passed all the guards and finally they got to the door – the Iron Gate – that exited into the city and it opened all by itself letting them just walk through it unseen and undetected. I don’t know if any of you are Harry Potter fans but this to me smacks of J K Rowling’s story about the young wizard who was given a Christmas present of an invisibility cloak which when he was wearing it meant that no-one could see him. I remember seeing the film and watching the amazing special effects that had you thinking these things could really happen the difference here is that they were happening, this was real not make believe. Peter was led out of the jail in front of the guards by an angel who obviously had his own power source to make these special effects happen and that was the power of God.
Once Peter is free the angel leaves and Peter then realises the magnitude of what has just happened and how God has saved him from a certain death. He is also aware of his tricky situation and his vulnerability on the streets so he goes to Mary’s house where the believers are still praying. He knocks on the door and it is answered by the servant girl named Rhoda. I assume she must have asked who it was before she was going to open the door because when she recognises Peter’s voice she actually forgets to open it and just leaves him on the doorstep as she runs back to tell the others. It could almost be one of those funny TV sketches – man in jail – escapes by supernatural forces – goes to join friends – one of whom is so pleased she forgets to let him in – leaving him to the mercy of the city. And worse still they don’t believe her and think she is mad.
These early Christians have been praying for a miracle and when it happens they don’t believe it but when they realise it is true even then they are amazed. How often are we just like them, we pray for something and then when God delivers we are amazed, as if we can’t quite trust him to come up with the goods.
Anyway eventually Peter is let in and he tells the story of his escape and says that they are to let James (obviously not the James that Herod has just killed but probably James the brother of Jesus) and others know what has happened. Peter himself doesn’t hang around because he knows that he is a wanted man and staying where he is puts the other believers in danger too. So off he goes, we don’t know where he went, Luke doesn’t tell us and maybe he has a good reason not to.
Next morning as you can imagine the jail is in uproar, the guards haven’t got a clue what happened to the prisoner and Herod is to put it mildly, not best pleased! He takes his anger out on the guards who he orders to be put to death and then it seems almost goes off into a sulk, leaving Judea and going to Caesarea.
More about Herod next week
Sunday 1st November 2020
Herod was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, so they went in a group to see him. First they convinced Blastus, the man in charge of the palace, that he should help them. Then they went to Herod and asked him for peace, because their country got its food supplies from the king’s country. On a chosen day Herod put on his royal robes, sat on his throne, and made a speech to the people. ‘It isn’t a man speaking, but a god!’ they shouted. At once the angel of the Lord struck Herod down, because he did not give honour to God. He was eaten by worms and died. Meanwhile the word of God continued to spread and grow. Barnabas and Saul finished their mission and returned from Jerusalem, taking John Mark with them.
Today we have followed Herod to Caesarea where he went to after Peter’s escape from prison. It has been suggested that he went there in a bit of a sulk and it seems that his mood or his temperament hasn’t really improved because we find him in conflict with the people of Tyre and Sidon. The Bible tells us he is angry with them but it doesn’t tell us the reason why, although from what we have seen of Herod I suspect it doesn’t take much to make him angry. What it does tell us though is the reason that they went to make peace with Herod and that was because they relied on getting their food supplies from his country, especially Galilean corn.
So the people of Sidon and Tyre got together and I presume sent a delegation to the palace. Obviously they knew they would need insider help to ensure that they got an audience with Herod so they enlisted the help of Blastus, who was the man in charge of the running of the palace. I’m sure he didn’t do it for nothing and that probably a bribe of some sort changed hands. However it was arranged, the day of the audience arrived and Herod made sure that he had dressed for the occasion.
Before being ordained as a Baptist Minister I worked as a manager for a Japanese company in Docklands, London, during the week I would put on my work clothes, usually a tailored suit and reasonably high heeled shoes, a bit of make-up (not too much) and then I was ready to go and face the office. The clothes I wore and the touch of make-up gave me confidence to do the job I was employed to do. This was known as power dressing because folk would look at me and see a manager not just a woman.
Herod would make sure that he was so regally dressed that no-one would have any doubt about him being king and in charge. However we do have to be careful that we don’t overstep the mark and think of ourselves more highly than we actually are, remember what Jesus said about the first will be last and the last will be first. Unfortunately for Herod when the people began shouting about him being a god and not a man, he didn’t correct them, he didn’t say ‘no that’s not right, there is only one God and it’s not me.’ He let them glorify him instead of passing the glory on to God and this was a big mistake.
In the book of Exodus chapter 20 where we find the Ten Commandments, God says right at the beginning ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me, so Herod couldn’t even plead ignorance because as the king of the Jews he should know. The outcome for him was that he was struck down with an illness right there and then apparently and it wasn’t a pleasant end according to verse 23 because he was eaten by worms and died.
If you are thinking that maybe this is just a story and not true then I have to tell you that it isn’t just in the Bible where we get an account of Herod’s death but also the historian of the time, Josephus apparently described in graphic detail the circumstances surrounding Herod’s death.
A nasty end for a nasty man I think!
Anyway our story doesn’t end there as Luke continues by telling us that the word of God continued to spread and grow. John Stott, a theologian says this about the passage we have just been looking at:
At the beginning of the chapter Herod is on the rampage – arresting and persecuting church leaders; at the end he is himself struck down and dies. The chapter opens with James dead, Peter in prison and Herod triumphing; it closes with Herod dead, Peter free, and the word of God triumphing. Such is the power of God to overthrow hostile human plans and to establish his own in their place. Tyrants may be permitted for a time to boast and bluster, oppressing the church and hindering the spread of the gospel, but they will not last. In the end, their empire will be broken and their pride abased.
Finally in this chapter we are directed again to Barnabas and Saul and also John mark whose mother was Mary the lady whose house Peter went to after his escape from jail. Next week we will be journeying with them.
Sunday 8th November 2020
Today we remember those who died in the two world wars, those who have died since and also those in our armed forces who protect us today. Although we won’t be having our normal remembrance service I am listing below the names of the men shown on the plaque in the chapel who died in the service of this country, protecting the people and the values we hold dearly. You will notice that only men from the First World War are listed this is because in the Second World War no men from this chapel died.
To the memory of the men of this parish who lost their lives in the Great War 1914-1918
George W. Andrews Bennett Coote Alfred Coote George H. Cornell
Earnest Davey John Drane Jabez J. Gilbey Charles Goodwin
Leonard Gowlett Charles A. Gowlett Cecil Parish Ralph Reader
Albert E. Suckling Arthur W. Turner Earnest C. Wisbey George Wright
Their name liveth for evermore.
Come, let us turn to God, who is with us in all our sorrows, who weeps with us as we weep, who binds our wounds, and who lifts our eyes towards the eternal horizon. God is with us: let us turn to God and be people of praise in the story of our lives. Amen
In the church at Antioch there were some prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon (called the Black), Lucius (from Cyrene), Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the governor), and Saul. While they were serving the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said to them, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul, to do the work to which I have called them.” They fasted and prayer, placed their hands on them, and sent them off.
Having been sent by the Holy Spirit, Barnabas and Saul went to Seleucia and sailed from there to the island of Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues. They had John Mark with them to help in the work. They went all the way across the island to Paphos, where they met a certain magician named Bar-Jesus, a Jew who claimed to be a prophet. He was a friend of the governor of the island, Sergius Paulua, who was an intelligent man. The governor called Barnabas and Saul before him because he wanted to hear the word of God. But they were opposed by the magician Elymas (that is his name in Greek), who tried to turn the governor away from the faith. Then Saul –also known as Paul- was filled with the Holy Spirit: he looked straight at the magician and said, “You son of the Devil! You are the enemy of everything that is good. You are full of all kinds of evil tricks, and you always keep trying to turn the Lord’s truths into lies! The Lord’s hand will come down on you now; you will be blind and will not see the light of day for a time. At once Elymas felt a dark mist cover his eyes, and he walked about trying to find someone to lead him by the hand. When the governor saw what had happened, he believed; for he was greatly amazed at the teaching about the Lord.
So we find ourselves back in Antioch with Barnabas, Saul and other believers, some who are named and many others who aren’t and we are given an insight into their devotional life which included prayer and fasting as they worshipped the Lord and waited for instructions and guidance from the Holy Spirit. I’m not sure how long they waited but eventually they are told to set Barnabas and Saul apart to do God’s work. Now at that time they are not told what that work would be, so they continue in prayer and fasting until the answer is given and it is that they are to send both men, two of their main leaders off somewhere which ends up being Cyprus. Sometimes it can be hard to let people go, especially if they play a prominent part in the local church however they sent them off with a blessing.
Now Barnabas and Saul are on their way and have taken young John Mark with them to the port of Seleucia where they set sail for Cyprus arriving in Salamis where they preached the word of God and then crossed the island to Paphos.
So far so good, however when they get to Paphos they meet a self proclaimed Jewish prophet named Bar-Jesus who was a friend of the governor Sergius Paulus. Now this governor was interested in what Barnabas and Saul had to say about God but his magician friend also known as Elymas (according to Luke, his Greek name) tried to get in the way of the governors understanding and acceptance of the Good News.
We are then told that Saul confronts the magician with insight given by the Holy Spirit and says:
“You son of the Devil! You are the enemy of everything that is good. You are full of all kinds of evil tricks, and you always keep trying to turn the Lord’s truths into lies! The Lord’s hand will come down on you now; you will be blind and will not see the light of day for a time. At once Elymas felt a dark mist cover his eyes, and he walked about trying to find someone to lead him by the hand.
Now when I read this it did strike me as a similar situation that Saul found himself in on the road to Damascus only this time he is being used as the instrument of God to – I won’t say punish – but it seems like more to open the magicians eyes by making him blind if that makes any sense. You see I wonder if it would make him repent and actually believe the Good News because of what he has experienced. Certainly it had a positive effect on the governor Sergius Paulus who we are told that when he saw what had happened he believed and was greatly amazed at the teaching about the Lord.
Confrontation is not something most of us like but as we have seen in this passage sometimes as Christians there is no other way around the issue we are faced with and we just have to have faith that God will give us the words we need for the situation we find ourselves in.
For Saul I wonder if this also had anything to do with him changing his name at that time to the Greek ‘Paul’ which would be of benefit when preaching and teaching among the Gentiles (non-Jews) which a greater part of his mission was.
Next week we continue travelling with Barnabas and Paul to Perga in Phamphylia.
Lord, help us to listen to you, to spend time in prayer seeking your guidance for our lives and actions. Help us to stand against injustice and to be strong in our commitment to serve you however and wherever you would want us to. Like the men and women of the armed forces who gave their lives for their country’s freedom, help us to be ready to fight for freedom to serve only you. Amen
Sunday 15th November 2020
God of all time, you made time and you entered time to be with us. The time that we find ourselves in at the moment is not normal time for us. Although last week we remembered those who gave their lives for our freedom we find ourselves in a time where our freedom is limited due to the Covid virus. However help us to remember that regardless of what is happening in our time- in this 21st century- that you are still the one in control of the time that you made and will eventually make all things new. Amen
This week we continue journeying with Barnabas and Paul as they travel to Perga in Pamphylia.
13 Paul and his companions sailed from Paphos and came to Perga, a city in Pamphylia, where John Mark left them and went back to Jerusalem. 14 They went on from Perga and arrived in Antioch in Pisidia, and on the Sabbath they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law of Moses and from the writings of the prophets, the officials of the synagogue sent them a message: “Friends, we want you to speak to the people if you have a message of encouragement for them.” 16 Paul stood up, motioned with his hand, and began to speak:
“Fellow Israelites and all Gentiles here who worship God: hear me! 17 The God of the people of Israel chose our ancestors and made the people a great nation during the time they lived as foreigners in Egypt. God brought them out of Egypt by his great power, 18 and for forty years he endured them in the desert. 19 He destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan and made his people the owners of the land. 20 All of this took about 450 years.
“After this he gave them judges until the time of the prophet Samuel. 21 And when they asked for a king, God gave them Saul son of Kish from the tribe of Benjamin, to be their king for forty years. 22 After removing him, God made David their king. This is what God said about him: ‘I have found that David son of Jesse is the kind of man I like, a man who will do all I want him to do.’ 23 It was Jesus, a descendant of David, whom God made the Saviour of the people of Israel, as he had promised. 24 Before Jesus began his work, John preached to all the people of Israel that they should turn from their sins and be baptized. 25 And as John was about to finish his mission, he said to the people, ‘Who do you think I am? I am not the one you are waiting for. But listen! He is coming after me, and I am not good enough to take his sandals off his feet.’
26 “My fellow Israelites, descendants of Abraham, and all Gentiles here who worship God: it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent! 27 For the people who live in Jerusalem and their leaders did not know that he is the Saviour, nor did they understand the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. Yet they made the prophets’ words come true by condemning Jesus. 28 And even though they could find no reason to pass the death sentence on him, they asked Pilate to have him put to death. 29 And after they had done everything that the Scriptures say about him, they took him down from the cross and placed him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from death, 31 and for many days he appeared to those who had travelled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now witnesses for him to the people of Israel.
32-33 And we are here to bring the Good News to you: what God promised our ancestors he would do, he has now done for us, who are their descendants, by raising Jesus to life. As it is written in the second Psalm, ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’ 34 And this is what God said about raising him from death, never to rot away in the grave: ‘I will give you the sacred and sure blessings that I promised to David.’ 35 As indeed he says in another passage,
‘You will not allow your faithful servant to rot in the grave.’ 36 For David served God’s purposes in his own time, and then he died, was buried with his ancestors, and his body rotted in the grave.
37 But this did not happen to the one whom God raised from death. 38-39 All of you, my fellow Israelites, are to know for sure that it is through Jesus that the message about forgiveness of sins is preached to you; you are to know that everyone who believes in him is set free from all the sins from which the Law of Moses could not set you free. 40 Take care, then, so that what the prophets said may not happen to you: 41 ‘Look, you scoffers! Be astonished and die!
For what I am doing today is something that you will not believe, even when someone explains it to you!’”
42 As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to come back the next Sabbath and tell them more about these things. 43 After the people had left the meeting, Paul and Barnabas were followed by many Jews and by many Gentiles who had been converted to Judaism. The apostles spoke to them and encouraged them to keep on living in the grace of God.
It now seems that there is a shift in leadership of the group of believers as Paul who is no longer known as Saul seems to take the lead and Barnabas is no longer mentioned by name but as we will discover later is in the group that Luke describes as Paul’s companions.
Anyway they sail from Paphos and get to Perga, in Pamphylia and it is at this point that John Mark leaves them and goes back to Jerusalem. I’m not sure why he didn’t stay with them but certainly in the future his departure will impact the relationship of Paul and Barnabas but that’s another story.
For now Paul and the others continue on to Antioch in Pisidia. Now this isn’t the same Antioch that they went to in Syria however it isn’t far from Paul’s home town of Tarsus. On the Sabbath they visit the local synagogue, just like when we are away from home and it’s a Sunday we go to the local church to join in the worship of God with other Christians. They listen to a reading from the Law of Moses and the writings of the Prophets and then they are asked by the synagogue officials to speak to the congregation.
Now questions often arise when I’m reading the Bible and the one that rose for me here was why they were asked to speak. Was it normal practice? In the chapel we don’t normally ask folk who have just dropped in off the street to speak to us on a Sunday during the service, however after reading the message Paul gave, maybe we should take the risk. Checking it out I discovered that this was customary at that time and it was suggested that maybe Paul and Barnabas in some way by their style of dress signified their status as qualified Jewish teachers. I suppose maybe a bit like me visiting another church on a Sunday morning wearing my dog collar. I’m not sure it was important but it just made me think that’s all.
Anyway it’s Paul who stands up to speak and begins by giving what I would call a sort of history lesson with a bit of a warning added to it – something new is happening and unless you join in you will miss out- type of thing.
He starts by reminding them that Israel was chosen by God and made into a great nation and how they were brought out of Egypt and then wandered in the desert for 40 years before being given the land of Canaan. He reminds them of the Judges and the kings beginning with Saul and leading on to David, drawing them towards Jesus.
Paul tells them the message of salvation has been sent to them and that the folks in Jerusalem didn’t understand this, so they killed Jesus unfairly and in doing so helped to fulfil the scriptures, but God raised him from the dead, he was seen by many witnesses and says Paul we are here to tell you the Good News.
Jesus rising from the dead is Paul’s main theme and he relates it back to what had been said in the Psalms and Isaiah. He reminds them of what the prophets warned when they said ‘Look you scoffers! Be astonished and die’ for what I am doing today is something that you will not believe, even when someone explains it to you.
The Jewish officials in Jerusalem didn’t believe, they felt threatened and therefore got the Romans to do their dirty work of crucifying the Saviour of the world. To be honest they played their part in the narration but they didn’t stop God’s saving grace being put into action. You see Jesus offered the gift of grace which was a free gift, paid for by his blood and suffering and the new world God is creating is about the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus is the way to forgiveness of sins, everyone who believes in him is set free from all sins, they are forgiven completely and forever which was something that the Law of Moses couldn’t do.
Tom Wright says, ‘The whole address was about grace, the great story of God’s amazing mercy to the world, to the human race, to Israel, now coming to its climax in Jesus. Stick with the story they say. Learn it, live it, live from it. Don’t imagine you can possess it. Let it possess you.
Times up, the service is over and Paul and Barnabas are leaving the synagogue but are invited to return next week by the people to tell them more. Also as they leave the synagogue, folk follow and the believers talk to them and encourage them to live in the grace of God
Hopefully you will be happy for me to come back next week to tell you more about when they return to the synagogue, but for now I hope and pray that you will know the presence of Jesus in your lives.
Sometimes Lord, it is good to look back so that we can see where we come from and how you have been working through the ages and our lives, to see in hindsight the bigger picture that you have painted, and to know and understand our part in its continuation. So help us to understand where you are coming from and also to accept the gift of grace that you offer. Amen
Sunday 22nd November 2020
This week we are again with Barnabas and Paul in Perga.
44 The next Sabbath nearly everyone in the town came to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; they disputed what Paul was saying and insulted him. 46 But Paul and Barnabas spoke out even more boldly: “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. But since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we will leave you and go to the Gentiles.
47 For this is the commandment that the Lord has given us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, so that all the world may be saved.’” 48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the Lord’s message; and those who had been chosen for eternal life became believers.
49 The word of the Lord spread everywhere in that region. 50 But the Jews stirred up the leading men of the city and the Gentile women of high social standing who worshiped God. They started a persecution against Paul and Barnabas and threw them out of their region. 51 The apostles shook the dust off their feet in protest against them and went on to Iconium. 52 The believers in Antioch were full of joy and the Holy Spirit.
We find Paul and Barnabas back in the synagogue on the following Sabbath, as were most of the townsfolk because they were interested to hear more of what the visitors had to say, especially after what they had heard or been told from the previous week.
However there were some who weren’t so pleased to have them back; Luke says, the Jews. However I don’t think it can be all the Jews, in that place at the time, because at the end of last week’s reading Luke writes that some Jews followed Paul and Barnabas after the service had finished. He also says that Paul encouraged them as well as the Gentiles to keep on living in the grace of God – therefore it seems that at least some of them had believed and received God’s grace already, so maybe it was a majority who weren’t happy.
Apparently the reason for them being unhappy was that when they saw the crowds they were filled with jealousy. Why? Well possibly because Paul and Barnabas were pulling a bigger crowd than they did but maybe it went a bit deeper than that.
The trouble is that when the scriptures are translated into a different language, sometimes the original meaning can be slightly changed. One theologian says that maybe instead of the word jealousy we should use the words righteous indignation or zeal.
Taking it this way, we might understand that the anger and displeasure of the Jews, may have come from the deep seated belief that they were the chosen people. They were the people who had retained their distinctiveness and purity and kept God’s laws regardless of the persecution they suffered. Therefore it may have seemed to them unlikely or some kind of compromise for the Gentiles to be allowed into their world and maybe it was just something they couldn’t get their heads around. This made me think about the elder brother in the story of the Prodigal Son who wasn’t happy when his wastrel brother returned after spending his inheritance and was welcomed back home by his father.
Anyway whatever the reason, the Jews were in an argumentative mood, they disputed what was being said and were insulting to Paul. It didn’t phase him though and we are told that both he and Barnabas spoke out even more boldly. In fact Paul told them, ‘that it was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you but since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we will leave you and go to the Gentiles’, surely comments that were bound to wind them up even further.
And then he says – this is the commandment that the Lord has given us – I have made you a light for the Gentiles, so that all the world may be saved. The Jews were a people, chosen by God, who were to be an example to other nations however here they seem bent on rejecting the Good News of Jesus. But not so the Gentiles who we are told were glad and praised God when they heard this.
We are also that told the word of the Lord, the Good News spread everywhere in that region. However the Jews weren’t going to let it rest there, so they did a bit of stirring up amongst the powerful men of the town as well as the Gentile women of high social standing. Power and money as always are formidable enemies and low and behold Paul and Barnabas are persecuted and thrown out of the region, probably with a certain amount of violence I suspect.
As we come to the end of this chapter we find the apostles doing what Jesus himself had instructed the twelve disciples to do when he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God as described in three of the gospels, Matthew 10:5-15, Mark 6:7-13 and Luke 9:1-6 and that was to shake the dust from their feet as they left in protest against them.
However the believers in Antioch were full of joy and the Holy Spirit, so even though Paul and Barnabas were made to leave, the Holy Spirit couldn’t be made to leave the hearts of the believers and God’s word would continue to be spread.
Next week they travel to Iconium and we will discover what happened there.
Thank you Jesus that the Good News continues to be spread all over the world and that the Holy Spirit is still entering many hearts for the first time and continuing to work in the hearts of the faithful. We pray for those who find it hard to believe your message of salvation and hope and we ask that you help us to share with others our experience of you and the message you bring. Help us to encourage them to invite you into their lives so that eternal life – the life of the age to come – can begin for them now. Amen
Sunday 29th November 2020
The Lord created the heavens; he is the one who is God. He formed and made the earth, he made it firm and lasting. He did not make it a desolate waste but a place for people to live in. It is he who says ‘I am the Lord and there is no other God.’
Today is the first Sunday in Advent and Advent is a time of expectation and hope. “Advent” means “arrival” or “coming,” and it prompts us to pause and remember why Jesus came at Christmas. Although most of us know Advent as a time of anticipation and expectation of the birth of Christ it actually began as early as the 4th and 5th centuries as a time of fasting and prayer for new Christians. Advent lasts for four Sundays leading up to Christmas and the Advent season not only symbolizes the waiting for Christ’s birth but also for his final return. Advent is a special time of year and we would do well to embrace it and reflect on its purpose.
As we journey through Advent we will continue to walk alongside Paul and Barnabas for the moment as they preach the Good News; the Good News that was proclaimed by the angels at the birth of Jesus.
The same thing happened in Iconium: Paul and Barnabas went to the synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of Jews and Gentiles became believers. But the Jews who would not believe stirred up the Gentiles and turned them against the believers. The apostles stayed there for a long time, speaking boldly about the Lord, who proved that their message about his grace was true by giving them the power to perform miracles and wonders. The people of the city were divided: some were for the Jews, others for the apostles.
Then some Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, decided to ill treat the apostles and stone them. When the apostles learnt about it, they fled to the cities of Lystra and Derbe in Lycaonia and to the surrounding territory. There they preached the Good News.
In Lystra there was a man who had been lame from birth and had never been able to walk. He sat there and listened to Paul’s words. Paul saw that he believed and could be healed, so he looked straight at him and said in a loud voice. “Stand up straight on your feet!” The man jumped up and started walking around. When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they started shouting in their own Lycaonian language, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us!” They gave Barnabas the name Zeus, and Paul the name Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. The priest of the god Zeus, whose temple stood just outside the town, brought bulls and flowers to the gate, for he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice to the apostles.
When Barnabas and Paul heard what they were about to do, they tore their clothes and ran into the middle of the crowd, shouting, “Why are you doing this? We our ourselves are only human beings like you! We are here to announce the Good News, to turn you away from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven, earth, sea, and all that is in them. In the past he allowed all people to go their own way. But he has always given evidence of his existence by the good things he does: he gives you rain from haven and crops at the right times: he gives you food and fills your hearts with happiness.” Even with these words the apostles could hardly keep the crowd from offering a sacrifice to them.
Some Jews came from Antioch in Pisidia and from Iconium; they won the crowd over to their side, stoned Paul and dragged him out of the town, thinking that he was dead. But when the believers gathered round him, he got up and went back into the town. The next day he and Barnabas went to Derbe.
So the same thing happens here in Iconium as it did in Antioch with the apostles sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ and some people believing and some just so blinkered that they couldn’t accept it. The people are divided and even the miracles the apostles did, couldn’t persuade the unbelievers. Finally Paul and Barnabas get wind of a plot against them and so don’t hang around but move on to Lystra.
In Lystra as they preach and teach Paul notices a man who can’t walk and discovers that he has been that way since he was born. As Paul studies the man, he can see that he believes what they are saying and because of this belief Paul is able to heal him. In fact Paul just tells him to stand up straight and the man doesn’t just stand up we are told he jumps up and starts walking around.
This miracle has an unexpected and welcomed effect because the people now believe Paul and Barnabas to be gods and arrange for a sacrifice to be made to them; even the priest of Zeus comes along to perform this.
I can imagine both Paul and Barnabas saying, “Whoa, hang on there; you can’t be doing this, we are only men not gods. There is only one God and that’s the one we have come to tell you about,” No wonder they are distraught and tear their clothes, this could become a disaster. Do you remember Herod in chapter 12 he didn’t reject the cries from the people about him being a god and instead accepted the glory which didn’t bode well for him as he died shortly afterwards.
Paul on the other hand, although he was stoned and dragged out of town after folk ganged up against him, survived and went on to continue spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.
The Good News that came into our world when Jesus was born at Christmas and as we journey through this time of Advent let’s reflect on what his birth means to us and how he influences the way we live.
Prayer: Creator God as we begin this time of Advent, help us to reflect on your love for us which is so intense and so great that you sent your Son Jesus into this world as a tiny baby to save us. Amen