Monthly Archives: April 2015
Readings: Acts 4:31-37; John 3:7-17
In the time of Jesus people lived under the tyranny of the Roman Empire. They were taxed by Rome, ruled by Rome, controlled by Rome and Roman soldiers.
It would be like having an army from another country taking over control of our lives. Imagine Australian soldiers taking over here – watching us all at every moment. Perish the thought. Especially if they could make you carry their packs for a mile at random. And if they were crucifying people outside New World Shop as a warning to us to behave.
You can imagine that someone would want to overthrow those Aussies and send them packing. And there would probably be some group who would train in the hills somewhere and plot to overthrow the oppressive occupying army. Singing “God defend New Zealand” would be banned by the oppressors, but people would sing it in secret, and honour the kiwi flag.
In Jesus’ time there were all kinds of people who took on the Romans. Lots of them were arrested and crucified. Look at Barabbas as an example.
Most of those young Jews who were regarded as Messiahs died by crucifixion. They were actually expected to wage war or terrorism against the Roman army. When they died, one of their followers would probably have taken their place, or found another messianic leader prepared for battle. Judas Iscariot was possibly a member of a group of these zealots who carried daggers. They were called dagger-men or sicarii. They carried sicae or small daggers under their cloaks and bumped people off.
Jesus is the only young Jew who was hailed as a Messiah – who was resurrected after crucifixion. The resurrection sets him apart.
If you look at the Acts reading today, the early church was a completely different community – even sharing their wealth so that everyone was looked after. They shared everything and really cared for each other.
What was their message though? Act 4:33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.
The resurrection of Jesus sets him apart from any other person claiming to be a Messiah.
And in addition, the reading from John shows us that Jesus is completely unique because of who he was:
Joh 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Jesus was the Son of God. There is no other who had that position. And, uniquely, he defeated the evil of the Roman tyranny with love and sacrifice. His Kingdom is completely different from the powers of this world – as they were then and as they are today. We see this especially in his conversation with Pilate when he was arrested:
Joh 18:33 Then Pilate entered again into the governor’s residence and summoned Jesus and said to him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
Joh 18:34 Jesus replied, “Do you say this from yourself, or have others said this to you about me?”
Joh 18:35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your people and the chief priests handed you over to me! What have you done?”
Joh 18:36 Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews. But now my kingdom is not from here.”
Joh 18:37 Then Pilate said to him, “So then you are a king!” Jesus replied, “You say that I am a king. For this reason I was born, and for this reason I have come into the world: in order that I can testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”
Joh 18:38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no basis for an accusation against him.
Joh 18:39 But it is your custom that I release for you one prisoner at the Passover. So do you want me to release for you the king of the Jews?”
Joh 18:40 Then they shouted again, saying, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” (Now Barabbas was a revolutionary.)
Jesus stands alone as one who was resurrected – and one who claimed to be the Son of God. He makes the most unique claims – like this spoken to doubting Thomas:
Joh 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Joh 14:7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you know him and have seen him.”
And to Martha when Lazarus died: Joh 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live, Joh 11:26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die [forever]. Do you believe this?”
And only he speaks of eternal life. We have eternal life through him now: Joh 17:3 Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
The most important thing I can tell you is this – you can know God through Jesus – you won’t perish – you will have this eternal life and relationship – you can have it!
Now. Because Jesus is raised – resurrected and lives forever. He is truth. As he says to Pilate: For this reason I was born, and for this reason I have come into the world: in order that I can testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” (John 18:37)
Joh 8:31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Joh 8:32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
We too can live forever. This is the truth. He is the truth.
He is alive and is here today. And if you allow him into your life – he will be with you always!
Readings: Matthew 28:16-20
So what do you make of this great commission? The ending of Matthew’s gospel reaches this climax.
Interesting that Jesus does not call it great or a commission. He does use the word “great” in relation to a commandment. I wonder if you can recall the one. Yes it is also in Matthew.
Mat 22:34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. Mat 22:35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: Mat 22:36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Mat 22:37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’Mat 22:38 This is the first and greatest commandment.Mat 22:39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Mat 22:40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Loving God comes first. The second is loving your neighbour. Those are commandments. This is a commission. It’s a sending-out. In Matthew 9:37 Jesus speaks about the harvest being plentiful, and the workers few. They were to ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers out! In Matthew 10 he sends them out – as part of the answer to their prayer – on a kind of practice or training run.
Now the real thing. It is a great commission. There is an expansive and all-pervading angle on this passage. A simple outline of the Great Commission could make use of the word “all”: all authority … all nations … all things (he had commanded them)… and always. There are all these “alls”!
Are they famous last words? I think so. We have to take Jesus’ words seriously here as a post-resurrection and last word instruction and a handing over of the baton, if you like..
And the amazing thing is that the eleven disciples took it seriously. Despite their previous jumping ship. They went to where they were told to go (as instructed by women!). They were obedient enough to show up as instructed by Jesus through the Marys after their visit to the tomb on Easter Sunday, if you recall last week’s sermon.
They took the commission seriously too. We know this from the extent of their mission in history later on. Ten of the eleven disciples gave their lives in time for this cause.
They are in Galilee – on a mountain as instructed. There are good and bad ones when it comes to mountain top experiences in this Gospel account. The Mountain of temptation (Matthew 4:8) is tough. (Mat 4:8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour). Then there is the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 onward), the transfiguration of Jesus on a mountain (Matthew 17), the final discourse or teaching on the Mount of Olives (Matthew 24 onward), and then, okay, the cross on mount Calvary (Calvary is the Latin for Golgotha which is the Aramaic for skull) – wasn’t a great time (Matthew 27).
Now (in Matthew 28) they were meeting Jesus again on this Galilean mountain. And Matthew writes this telling line: Mat 28:17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.
DOUBTING and GOING
The word for doubt here is interesting. It’s Distazo – to duplicate, to hesitate, to “stand in two places” – could it be like the modern idiom of sitting on the fence?
It’s only used twice in Matthew – guess where the other example is? Doubting Thomas? No. have a look:
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:27-31)
This is doubting Peter!
So what was this doubt all about? Interesting observations can be made about doubt.
Their doubts –
- – could have been about who he was in terms of identity (he had been dead after all, and others battled to recognise him)
- – could have been about who he was in terms of divinity (it must have been hard for Jewish men to worship a man in the light of their upbringing in monotheism).
- – or perhaps they were simply grieving and muddled up in their minds.
Despite that, they are still the eleven men he gives this commission too. Tom Wright in his commentary on Matthew notes that there is no other plan for this task. Jesus has “all authority.”
Wright writes this: People get very puzzled by the claim that Jesus is already ruling the world, until they see what is in fact being said. The claim is not that the world is already completely as Jesus intends it to be. The claim is that he is working to take it from where it was– under the rule not only of death but of corruption, greed and every kind of wickedness –and to bring it, by slow means and quick, under the rule of his life-giving love.
And how is he doing this? Here is the shock: through us, his followers.
It is a great commission! It is “great” in terms of the extent of the job given to them. It is all-encompassing. And life changing for all.
WHAT IS THE MAIN POINT IN THIS SO-CALLED GREAT COMMISSION?
Actually – we need to look closer at the verses involved:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
The most interesting word is the shortest. “Go!” Myron Augsburger says this: “Go there-fore,” under this authority, is even better translated, “Therefore, while going in the world, make disciples.” The emphasis in verse Mat_28:19 is on “making disciples,” this being the main verb of the verse; the others are subordinate: going, baptizing, teaching.
Yes- making disciples is the main verb. Do it while you are going. I would add wherever you are going! Augsburger continues: The word for “disciple” is mathēteuō, meaning a follower, a learner. As disciples we are always identifying with and learning from the Christ. Note that now they are not sent “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” but to the whole world, to all of the Gentiles, ethna, a universal mission of discipling. This is the beginning of Jesus’ reign, the sign that the Son of Man is in heaven.
I am curious about what would happen if we didn’t have Luke and Acts, that two-part work. Matthew does not speak about the ascension here. Simply about authority, and the commission. The task given to the followers of Jesus mean that he has done his bit – they are it! He has all authority – and therefore has every right to commissions us to do his work!
We are it! This is the first 11 if you like (using cricketing language). The All Blacks squad to play the world, if you like.
We are therefore to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
And we have the assurance: And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” It’s interesting that the Gospel in the very first chapter identifies Jesus as “Immanuel” – which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).
The teaching is about obedience to the words of Jesus. In fact Paul speaks of obedience too in his discussion of the gospel in Romans 1, in the light of the authority of Jesus and his commission to his followers. Here it is:
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. (Romans 1:1-5)
And we have the same apostolic mandate – we follow the teaching of the apostles.
Paul again in Ephesians says this: He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:17-22)
This is not just a commission for preachers, evangelists, elders. We are all part of it! Paul spells out how it was to work in his letter to Timothy: The key discipleship verse is this one: 2 Tim 2:2: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”
THE DISCIPLES HAD TO CHOOSE TO FOLLOW – despite their doubts – and they accepted the commission and challenge – ultimately giving their lives for this cause.
Today many in church still doubt – or sit on the fence – when considering what the implications are for coming out as a follower of Jesus. We have lots of doubters in the church today – in the sense of the meaning here of the word – being in two places.
THE PERSECUTED CHURCH – and there a lots of Christians being killed every day – has to have nerves of steel and great courage to declare that they are followers of Jesus. Disciples. Under his tutelage. They would know, as we know, this passage from Matthew 10:32-33 “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.
Of course we know the bigger picture – in theory anyway. During these 40 days there were all these encounters with Jesus before his ascension – and of course his instruction to wait for the gift of the Father.
It was at Pentecost that the power fell – and the commission was launched with a bang – literal sound effects and fireworks. Tongues of fire and the sound of a mighty wind. We know this. This is the biggest part of the bigger picture.
We are commissioned – and empowered – if we respond to this today. And we are disciples too – learners who at the same time make other disciples and teach them as well.
Baptism is probably the public coming out signal and ceremony. In the name of God as we know him. And even into the name of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
How about it? Amen – you agree? Maybe. Depends. Well perhaps you need to get off the fence?
PRAYER OF THE DAY
God of action, you sent your disciples into the world preach, teach, and make disciples of all nations. Make us instruments of proclamation, so that all might know of the love you have for humanity. We pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen.
Readings: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Matthew 28:1-10
Message – Facing Jesus again:
Have you ridden in a hearse before? I have, over the years. I’ve had to help funeral directors load people into the back too.
My piano was a gift. I was playing piano at a conference, and and member of our church years ago came up to me and asked if I had a piano at home. An odd question to ask a pianist. I confessed I did not. “We have two” she said. “we would like to give you one of them.” Very biblical, not so.
We discussed how to move the piano while arranging another friend’s mother’s funeral. It had to travel about 110 kms to our town. “I can do that” said my undertaker friend. Sure enough the piano arrived in a van marked “Saffas” a funeral company. Interesting look from the neighbours. It wasn’t a hearse thankfully. Kind of a mortuary van. One can only imagine the neighbours peering over the fence.
Here’s one of my favourite stories about hearses. True story. A Methodist minister was asked to conduct a graveside service for a member of his church. The only problem was, the cemetery was more than an hour and a half away from the church. The minister wasn’t feeling well so he decided to ride with the Funeral Director in the hearse. In the front seat.
By the time they arrived at the cemetery, the flu had invaded completely and he said he felt terrible. Feverish and sick, he made it through the service, but he was starting to look like most flu victims, like death warmed over.
As they headed back home, the funeral director suggested the minister stretch out in the back of the hearse. It had curtains and nobody would see him. The minister thought it was a good idea and promptly fell asleep.He awoke when the vehicle stopped. Taking a few minutes to fully awaken, he slowly sat up and drew the side curtain to see where he was. He was face to face with a petrol station attendant, who was surprised and shocked to see a body in the back of the hearse staring back at him.
With all the colour drained out of him and his eyes as wide as saucers, the petrol pump flew into the air, and the attendant ran on shaky legs back into the gas station, while the funeral director tried to catch up to explain the whole situation.
We’re not really used to dead people getting up again. Not from a grave, a hearse or a mortuary van!
And even if the disciples had actually believed Jesus, they weren’t really hanging around the tomb to see the “what if” scenario. What if he does rise?
Death has that terrible effect of shutting down possibilities like that. It is very final.
But these women seem to be keeping an eye on things – according to Matthew. Verse one tells us this: Mat 28:1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. And in the previous chapter, chapter 27, they were there too. They were at the cross, the burial and back on the third day. Have a look:
As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. (Matthew 27:57-61)
Here’s the fascinating thing. You know we’ve talked before about Jesus eating fish on the beach and also appearing in locked rooms? Well here – let me read it to you again:
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. (Matthew 28:1-3)
What doesn’t happen here? They witness the stone rolling back. You would expect Jesus to come out – a bit like Lazarus. But no. He doesn’t.
What do you think this means then? Perhaps this – He didn’t need the stone to be rolled away for his resurrection. They needed the stone rolled away to see he wasn’t there!
The guards are still there. The next verse puts their military prowess on the line: Mat 28:4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. They are spooked by the angel. Do they faint? It certainly seems so.
The women hold their ground. Perhaps their watching – their vigil – is more than just bringing spices to the tomb (as in Mark). Matthew sees it differently. Perhaps they had an expectation?
By the way, Jews in those days believed that the soul kind of hung around the body for three days – and then moved on. Just saying. One of those interesting things. And people prayed at the tomb – even in the tomb – for a week. So the spices were helpful. Archaeology has revealed tombs with a part dug down inside, made lower, so people could stand upright in the tomb and pray. Jews stood and prayed.
That’s the girls for you. Always on the lookout. Happy to tell the story. Teach boys and girls and you will always find the girls have much more to say!! (No I’m not sexist!)
THE GIRLS ARE TO TELL THE BOYS
So the girls are instructed by the angel (that caused the big burly Roman soldiers to pass out in shock)
- Not to fear – he knew what they were up to (verse 5) “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.”
- What has happened (verse 6) “He is not here, He has risen, just as he said!”
- Have a look at where he lay in the tomb (verse 6) “Come and see the place where he lay.”
- Where he was to be seen – in Galilee (verse 7) “He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee.”
Off they go: Mat 28:8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.- the boys – where to expect him (verse 7). Off they go.
But just in case an angel’s instruction is not enough, Jesus appears to them too – while they are on the run: Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:9-10)
IT’S A FACINATING ACCOUNT. Imagine this. So you’re one of those men/boys – disciples. The A team – mainly men – who had not done that well (one betrayal, one denial, one hanging around, on running off and leaving his clothes behind).
And these women (both Marys – see Mark 16:1 – When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.) … these women pass on the message from Jesus: “Jesus says – go to Galilee – you will see him there.”
O dear. Do we want to see Jesus – after we failed him? We ran away – denied him, and one of the team betrayed him and we didn’t even see that coming.
- What are we going to say to him? How awkward! We really thought that we knew Judas as well!
- If this is true – is he really alive? Or are the Marys losing their minds?
Matthew stands alone in this respect. Only here in this gospel do the women see, touch and worship Jesus. (verse 9)
And the word for worship takes us all the way back to the beginning of Matthew.
The men obviously listen and go to Galilee – Galilee of the gentiles (Isaiah 9).
And about that “worship” word. It is the gentile magi – the so called wise men – who “worship” baby Jesus with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The word for “worship” is the same here. It means to bow down and to kiss.
Worship is the appropriate response for the women. The men will work it out in their own ways – from Peter’s restoration to Thomas’ touching his wounds.
And the special, unique factor in this account is verse 10. The women are met and encounter Jesus in a way that works for them.
For the boys – there is this unique authority in this instruction. I will read it again – listen up! What do you think the key is?
Mat 28:10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
There’s no other place where this happens where he speaks of them as brothers (apart from John 20:17). A preacher called Mark Trotter puts it like this: Something as deep and mysterious as the Resurrection of our Lord has many levels of meaning. But Matthew wants you to consider this one. It reveals a God whose love for us is like a parent’s love for a prodigal child. Even if we reject God, God will never, never reject us. And if we do evil things, then God, out of God’s love, will find a way to make something good come out of it.
Like the reconciliation in the Old Testament between Joseph and his brothers: “as for you, you meant it for evil; but God meant it for good.”
You could put it like this: Go tell my brethren, [who fell asleep instead of watching and praying, who betrayed me, or who ran away] that I will meet them in Galilee, [to forgive them and give them new life.]
There are a series of resurrection appearances – appropriate for all. Paul records in 1 Corinthians 15. Listen to what he says again:
Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Corinthians 15:1-8)
How about you? Have you had an encounter with the risen Jesus? My prayer is that you certainly do! You can – in prayer, in faith and trust, in communion – in whatever way is appropriate to you, you can meet him as he did the women and men back then.
Take the time to meet Him!