Service talks, thoughts and reflections

Sunday 15th March 2020

Hebrews 3 (GNB)

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. He was faithful to God, who chose him to do this work, just as Moses was faithful in his work in God’s house. 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. Every house, of course, is built by someone—and God is the one who has built all things. Moses was faithful in God’s house as a servant, and he spoke of the things that God would say in the future. 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.

 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. 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. 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.  

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. For somewhere in the Scriptures this is said about the seventh day: “God rested on the seventh day from all his work.” This same matter is spoken of again: “They will never enter that land where I would have given them rest.”  

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. 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.” 

If Joshua had given the people the rest that God had promised, God would not have spoken later about another day. 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. Since he himself is weak in many ways, he is able to be gentle with those who are ignorant and make mistakes. And because he is himself weak, he must offer sacrifices not only for the sins of the people but also for his own sins. 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. 

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.”
He also said in another place, “You will be a priest forever, in the priestly order of Melchizedek.”  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. But even though he was God’s Son, he learned through his sufferings to be obedient. 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 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. And if someone asks you why you are doing that, say that the Master needs it and will send it back at once.”

So they went and found a colt out in the street, tied to the door of a house. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders asked them, “What are you doing, untying that colt?”

They answered just as Jesus had told them, and the crowd let them go. They brought the colt to Jesus, threw their cloaks over the animal, and Jesus got on. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches in the field and spread them on the road. 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. Pilate questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “So you say.” The chief priests were accusing Jesus of many things, so Pilate questioned him again, “Aren’t you going to answer? Listen to all their accusations!” Again Jesus refused to say a word, and Pilate was amazed. 

At every Passover Festival Pilate was in the habit of setting free any one prisoner the people asked for. At that time a man named Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder in the riot. When the crowd gathered and began to ask Pilate for the usual favour, 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.

Luke 24:1-12

Very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, carrying the spices they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the entrance to the tomb, so they went in; but they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. They stood there puzzled about this, when suddenly two men in bright shining clothes stood by them. 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? He is not here; he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and three days later rise to life.’”

Then the women remembered his words, 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.

Luke 24:13-35

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.

Luke 24:36-49

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

Luke 24:50-53

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

Acts 1:12-26

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. 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. 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; that he was buried and that he was raised to life three days later, as written in the Scriptures; that he appeared to Peter and then to all twelve apostles. Then he appeared to more than five hundred of his followers at once, most of whom are still alive, although some have died. 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.