Category Archives: Sunday Morning Sermons
READINGS: Psalm 107:23-30; Mark 4:35-41
On 3 December 1976 I was with a group of school friends in a cottage on the coast for a weekend celebrating the end of school. It was a lovely summer’s evening, and we went to bed safe and sound that night. At some time that evening looking over the calm ocean I felt led to pray for someone out at sea.
The next morning the paper was delivered, and we read the shocking headlines that a huge storm further down the coast – in an area appropriately termed the wild coast – had caused the sinking of a number of yachts. A friend from school was lost that night. The night I was let to pray. My friend Marc and the Captain of the vessel, Cloud Nine, drowned.
Some 15 years later in 1991, my wife and young son together with a friend went to see a vessel set sail called the Oceanos at our local harbour. A friend’s family had been on the vessel, and we remarked that it would be good to go on some kind of cruise. On the 3rd of August that year the Oceanos set sail from East London up the wild coast towards Durban. The ship headed into a 40-knot wind and 30-foot swells. The storm got worse so that waiters could not carry food without dropping it and things began to slide off tables. A series of freak waves it the ship and a plating of a pipe burst open and began filling a compartment with water. At 9.30pm an explosion was heard, and the ship lost power. It began to list badly.
Passengers went to the bridge and the crew were nowhere to be seen. The ships entertainer called Moss Hills used the radio phone to broadcast a mayday call and another ship responded. Sixteen helicopters were dispatched, and all the passengers taken off the ship, assisted by lifeboats from another vessel. The captain had abandoned ship and left the passengers to sort themselves out.
Mar 4:36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. Mar 4:37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Mar 4:38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
We’ve been through some pretty big storms in our lifetimes.
Not just physical storms, but also emotional, political, international and personal storms.
- The yacht Cloud Nine went down with her captain.
- The Oceanos’ captain got off the vessel before most of the crew and passengers.
- Jesus in this storm is asleep in the stern of the boat – on a cushion. The detail is intriguing.
I love Jesus’ response in this account in Mark 4:
Mar 4:39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
- The disciples didn’t cope well with the storm.
- They didn’t cope well with the sleeping Jesus either.
Jesus deals with the storm, then he deals with the disciples equally firmly:
- Mar 4:39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!”
- Mar 4:40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
I wonder what he would say to us in our storms?
- I know this for certain.
- He’s not asleep.
People have two favourite Psalms. Psalm 23 and Psalm 121. Psalm 121 helps us here:
Psa 121:1 A song of ascents. I lift up my eyes to the hills— where does my help come from? Psa 121:2 My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
Psa 121:3 He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; Psa 121:4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
God is not asleep on the job.
- And God doesn’t abandoned ship. Psalm 23 helps us here too:
Psa 23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
Fear not – God says to his people in scripture. The Lord will be with you. So too Jesus – I will be with you always.
- We need to trust him too. He still says: “don’t be afraid!”
Year’s back we used to teach our children a song about storms that went like this: When its stormy…. I am weak but God is strong, he rows my boat when things go wrong….
We do need to trust God completely.
But there is a deeper question here.
- It’s all about context.
- There were fishermen on those boats. They knew storms.
- This was no ordinary storm.
The passage ends in verse 41:
Mar 4:41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!
They were still working things out. (We know who Jesus was and is.)
The context is the rest of Mark’s gospel.
Jesus says to them
- (4:40):“Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
- Mar 4:41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!
Literally – “they feared a great fear”. About what? The storm? Yes, but probably also about the fact that this teacher rebuked a storm in the same way as he rebuked demons – like the very first act of power in Mark 1.
Unfortunately the NIV is too fuzzy here. The ESV captures it better:
Mar 1:23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, Mar 1:24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” Mar 1:25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!”
Mar 4:39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
Mar 4:41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
In Mark 1 the response of people to the exorcism is this:
Mar 1:27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”
When he exorcises the storm, look at the response:
Mar 4:41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
The context of Mark means that all of this is a revelation – even if it is a slow realization – of Jesus as something else altogether.
Go back to Mark 3 – remember last week the different groups:
- His family- he’s out of his mind.
- The scribes – he’s demon possessed and he’s doing this by the power of Satan – that he was casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub. The prince of demons.
- The people – the great crowd following them – he tells them that they would be his mother and brothers – if they did the will of God – which means listen to his words and act on them
The context of Mark has to include this verse:
Mar 3:27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.
Who is this? That rebukes demons and storms?
This is Jesus – the only one who can bind the strong man and plunder his house. Who can restrain his works and set the captives free.
1 John 3:8 supports this where John says: For this purpose Christ/the son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the evil one/devil.”
The storm – like the evil spirits he castes out – are powers which are agents of death and destruction. They work against human flourishing and wholeness. They destroy life.
Just look ahead to the next chapter – to Mark 5. This time it’s a man in the country of the Gerasenes with an evil spirit – and where does he live? In the tombs. In a cemetery. He’s brought back to life too.
And the woman with the issue of blood that bound her for 12 years is set free. All she has to do is touch is cloak. And what does Jesus say to her: Mar 5:34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
And then Jairus’ daughter is raised from the dead. It’s a great passage: They bring a message of death:
Mar 5:35 While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher any more?”
Look at Jesus’ response:
Mar 5:36 Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
- To Jairus: Don’t be afraid. Just believe!
- To the jittery nervous wreck (fearing a great fear )disciples in the storm from hell: Mar 4:40 “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
- To his little flock here. To you and me and our families and concerns. To us and our worries about this community and town and beyond:
Don’t be afraid. Just believe.
The strong man has been bound and his goods plundered.
When we eat this bread and drink this cup that’s what we area declaring!
- Death is defeated.
- Light has come to dispel the darkness.
- Life is ours.
That’s who this man is who calms the storm.
Readings: Luke 24:36-48; Acts 1:1-8
Did you ever hear any ghost stories in your childhood?
There were family tales of haunted houses, campfire stories, and even on our Sunday School picnics in the Methodist church, we would catch a train to this park for a day trip, and up the hill under the trees was this lonely grave – and there were ghost stories there too. My parents told of places where they saw ghosts. Usually someone had died unnaturally or prematurely in the places which were said to be haunted. And as kids in the mid 60s we were a tad terrified of the radio program that ran for 45 episodes called “The Creaking Door”. When you look at the titles of those stories, too many ghosts and scary things. Even Ghost busters only had 10 scary seconds in the theme tune, and the rest was quite cheerful. It was labelled as a supernatural comedy though. Our kids used to read “goosebump” stories, and loved terrifying movies as they grew up.
I’ve never seen ghosts. I’ve had a sense of the presence of evil, but never seen incorporeal spooky figures like Casper and his friends. Oh I did see dead people once but that was a side effect of medication after surgery. My only witness of a “ghost” ghost was in a play – watching Hamlet somewhere along the line. But in the real world, it is scary when dead people show up.
And so it’s not surprising that this appearance of Jesus in Luke 24, like the ones in John, got them spooked. They would have heard the women’s accounts (remember how they called them rubbish – nonsense – leiros is the word.” The two on the Emmaus road had come back with the news of their encounter. So it shouldn’t have been a huge surprise. Yeah right comes to mind.
Jesus materializes, and they’re not ready for it. Startled and frightened is an understatement in v24. (Old Afrikaans is nice – geweldig geskrik – or the Message “scared half to death”)
Fear is a reasonable human response.
You would have heard my cemetery stories – getting lost in Auckland once when at a meeting and my driver turning into a cemetery in the dark.
Or the old one of a guy who took a short cut through a cemetery and fell into a newly dug grave. He had to wait for sunrise, as you couldn’t really leap out of the thing. The next guy who fell in did leap out again when he heard a voice saying “good evening” in the darkness of the grave. That may be where the saying comes from “in for the high jump.”
The account by Luke goes like this:
Luk 24:36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” Luk 24:37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. Luk 24:38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?” (literally hearts). Perhaps he’d forgotten the bit about him being dead and buried.
Like Mary and Thomas last week, Jesus meets them where they are and gives them the opportunity to touch and see. Asking for something to eat settled the matter.
He quickly moves to the key issue. The fish finished, the teaching starts.
Like Cleopas and Mary on the Emmaus road he gives them this picture in broad strokes of the Messianic story going back to Moses, the prophets and the Psalms. Luke continues:
Luk 24:45 Then he opened their minds (νοῦς) to understand the Scriptures, Luk 24:46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, Luk 24:47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
He ends his classroom time with the simple “You are witnesses of these things.” (Luk 24:48)
Tell the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection – and get people to respond. Why? It’s all done for them to deal with their sins and mess. So with the resurrection story comes the missionary task: “repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”
In his second book, the Acts of the Apostles, the same job is outlined: Act 1:4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. Act 1:5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”Act 1:6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Act 1:7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. Act 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Not only does Jesus turn everything on its head in terms of death, resurrection, the place of the body (in the context of a dominant Platonic culture that focused on the spirit or spiritual as the important, diminishing the body), he turns their world upside down.
Up to now they went to Jerusalem for their festivals. To the temple. It’s a centripetal motion.
At is death the curtain of the temple is torn in two, as heaven breaks through again – God’s people after this take God’s presence with them into the whole world.
To all nations. And from the centre outwards, rather than the other way around. A centrifugal movement.
The truth is, the modern church, whether our kind with its historical roots and story, or the modern no name brand versions, is still doing the centripetal thing – getting people to move towards a place where it all happens. In stead of a Temple it’s a center of entertainment often. We still worry about how to get people in here.
The movement is outward looking. It was that which he opens their minds to: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, Luk 24:47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. Luk 24:48 You are witnesses of these things.
In our Acts reading it goes like this: Act 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
They weren’t expected to do this from a position of weakness and fear. They would be empowered by the Holy Spirit. “… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses…”
Our motto as a church is always to be ready to give a reason for the hope that we have. Not because of a government policy, or a vaccination against a pandemic, or the movement to save the planet or whales or dolphins.
Hope comes out of resurrection. And the resurrection of Jesus is the story with a great ending. It’s the victory dealing with the mess of our past and the guarantee of the success of our future.
Resurrection is at the centre.
In fact, it was a requirement of the first apostleship – being a witness to the resurrection. So when Judas is replaced in Acts 1:22 Luke explains “For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” They elect Matthias.
In Acts we will find that they always focused on the resurrection. Peter’s sermons in Acts,2,3,4 and 5 culminate in the story of the resurrection. As an example, in Acts 5 Peter declares:
Act 5:30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. Act 5:31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. Act 5:32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.
I love the account in Acts 17 when Paul is in Athens. I’m always excited about Athens – you may have noticed. Act_17:18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.
It’s the heart of everything. The spirit of God who raised Jesus to life transforms us and empowers us to tell the story and live it out.
- We’re still in the coming- in mode – agonizing over who we can invite to church.
- We’re actually people who GO. And people on the GO.
- We go out of here every week back into the mission field.
In my last parish back in our old country, I put a sign up above the door which you could see as you left the building: “You are now entering the mission field”. When we went back a couple of years ago, it had been replaced with a more permanent one than my laminated bit of paper.
And we have all we need to share the story. And we need to know the story well too. Our job while we’re in this building is to get to know the story well.
It’s our job. Being witnesses. Together and separately – every day until we are not able to get out there anymore.
Then we can do it on the phone, on-line, by email. We can still pray for those who need the love of Jesus to help them see the point of life.
We are to be witnesses as long as we have breath.
- And will they end up here on a Sunday? Maybe not. Probably not if we don’t include them in our ordinary lives.
- And if they come along, they probably wont stay if we’re still cliquey and don’t open our lives and homes to them.
- And they’ll never get anywhere unless we are witnesses. Someone has to tell the story. There’s a whole generation who don’t have a clue what it’s about.
We’re probably better at sharing ghost stories or the latest gossip or bad news than the story of Messiah Jesus who overcame death and the grave.
And will ultimately transform everything.
And we’ll never be effective witnesses without the power of the Holy Spirit enabling us. And if it was anything that transformed them from lock-down in their upper room to going all over the world for Jesus and risking and often giving up their lives, it was the Holy Spirit’s power transforming their fear to faith. Their powerlessness to passion. Amen.
READING: John 20:19-31
Joh 20:30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.Joh 20:31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
It’s been a good Easter. I don’t even know what that means – but people say it’s been good. A friend of mine in the US who is a pastor said is was good because they had record attendances. Well Post CovId – posts lockdown – for some just getting together was good.
For pastors and minister types, you know it’s been good when you are pretty worn out for a few weeks afterwards. Maybe that’s why hey call this Sunday low Sunday.
Was it good for those first followers?
Peter – yes, we saw that he got special mention after his failure. Tell the disciples and Peter, says the angel. He appeared to Peter, says Paul. Jesus the forgiver.
For Mary his mother – well we don’t hear from her but we can assume she was less heart broken than before. And even if he wasn’t going to be around for a long time – he’d organized John his friend to look after her in the long term. Jesus the pastoral planner.
For Mary Magdalene, well she thinks he’s the gardener. He calls her by her name – and that makes the connection. She then calls him Raboni – which means teacher. It makes her a real woman disciple in a context where women general were left out. Jesus the kind and compassionate one.
And then there’s Thomas. Poor bloke. All those questions he asked. And just his luck he wasn’t there when Jesus first appeared to them I that locked room. I have no idea where we went. Maybe he was catching up with his twin – if his twin was Lydia or maybe another unknown person. So when he hears their story, you can’t help but sympathise when he is less than convinced.
A week later there’s this lovely detail from Jesus – just as he meets with others where they are, he connects with Thomas. For each demand, one writer puts it, there’s a command from Jesus. The order isn’t perfect, but it’s all there – “precisely and fully” (Hendrikson Baker NT Commentary on John).
The commentary suggests this: “In order to see how precisely and fully the demands of Thomas are met, we must place the words of Thomas and those of Jesus next to each other.”
Have a look:
|The Demands of Thomas||The Commands of Jesus|
|1. Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails,|
2. And put my finger into the place of the nails,
3. And put my hand into his side,
4. I definitely will not believe
|2. See my hands|
1. Bring here your finger.
3. And bring your hand, and put it into my side.
4. And no longer be unbelieving but believing.
Jesus’ response to Thomas brings about a confession of faith that is pretty powerful and complete:
Joh 20:28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
And here John expands Jesus’ reach to us too:
Joh 20:29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
And then he pretty much wraps up his gospel:
Let’s remind ourselves of some of the key passagaes we havea looked at. Look at the references to life and believing.
It starts in John 1:1:
Joh 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Joh 1:4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. Joh 1:12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…
Remember the conversation with Nathanael: Joh 1:48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Joh 1:49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Joh 1:50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” Joh 1:51 He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
And Nicodemus: Joh 3:14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, Joh 3:15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God So Loved the World 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.
And the woman at the well: Joh 4:14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Joh 8:12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Joh 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (abundant life). (the good shepherd teaching).
Joh 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; Joh 11:26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this? (To Martha)
Joh 12:32 But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men/people to myself.” (looking to the cross to find life and healing, like the snake in John 3:14).
Joh 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (In response to Thomas)
Joh 17:3 Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (in prayer)
In John’s gospel what follows is the Easter story. If you missed it, read chapters 18-19 again.
Here we are in chapter 20. He is life – he is alive again. Speaking to these followers of his.
And to Thomas.
“Stop doubting and believe.”
Why? The whole point of this whole book John) is summed up:
Joh 20:30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. Joh 20:31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Jesus – God saves. Believe in his name. He is everything. The I am. Remember Joh 8:58: “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”
Thomas got the message – I am the man.
Just for a bit of fun – although this is serious – here’ a great song about Thomas “ I am the man Thomas”. by Ralph Stanley. Bob Dylan made it famous, singing it nearly 60 times.
It’s a great way to start guitar – only needs two chords. Bluegrass is a great country style. Someone said: , “Bluegrass is to country what heavy metal is to rock and roll.”
Art and music capture various aspects of Thomas’ journey to faith.
Here is Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys – live:
And a younger version of the song and a faster tempo: The Petersens: https://youtu.be/XVDs4N5Avdg
THE LYRICS INCLUDE:
Oh, I am the Man, Thomas, I am the Man
Look at these nail scars here in my hands
They pierced me in the side, Thomas, I am the Man
They made me bear the cross, Thomas, I am the Man
They laid me in the tomb, Thomas, I am the Man
In three days I arose, Thomas, I am the Man
They pierced me in the Side, Thomas, I am the Man
They made me bear the cross, Thomas, I am the Man.
Do you believe he is the man? The one? The “I am”.
It’s a great question.
Don’t be unbelieving, says Jesus. Believe.
The service of Tenebrae, meaning “darkness” or “shadows,” has been observed since medieval times. In a candle-lit church Christ’s suffering is commemorated through Bible readings and songs. Candles are put out one by one as the congregation listens to the story of Jesus’ suffering and death. At the end of the service the Christ candle is lit again, in hope and anticipation of the resurrection on Easter Sunday. We leave in silence after the lighting of the candle, as we reflect on the events and Jesus’ obedience and sacrifice for us.
Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 11:1-11; Mark 15:16-39;
MESSAGE: HOW DID IT COME TO THIS?
It was just a week really. Things change so quickly. From Palms to Passion.
- A year ago we went into a level 4 lockdown after two days’ notice. It was the anniversary of that day on Thursday. Things change very quickly.
- Many things have changed.
- Successful businesses are gone.
- Long standing meaningful jobs have disappeared.
- Around the world families have been devastated as people of all ages and stages have died.
- Families have been torn apart. A friend of mine landed in the country a couple of days before lockdown and hasn’t seen his wife and children since. They are stuck in another country with all the family’s possessions in a container going nowhere.
- Hopes have been dashed.
We deliberately have both the so-called palms and passion stories on this 6th Sunday in Lent.
In many churches there is a celebration with children waving palm branches.
A friend of mine had a couple of addresses to go to this week to take Palm branches from people’s homes – to decorate their church. I guess It’s best to get the addresses right, otherwise you could be in trouble for wrecking people’s gardens.
The jump from Mark 11 to Mark 15 is a few chapters, but not many days and a whole shift in the balance of power.
In Mark 11 Jesus is fully in control. Quite a bit of the passage is about Jesus telling the disciples exactly what to do to set up this provocative procession. The first six verses are all about the task given to these two disciples to get the right colt for Jesus to ride on.
Mar 11:1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, Mar 11:2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. Mar 11:3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly. ‘”Mar 11:4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, Mar 11:5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” Mar 11:6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go.
The actual Palm Sunday procession is just recorded in a couple of verses:
Mar 11:8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Mar 11:9 Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Mar 11:10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” “Hosanna in the highest!”
And then there’s this brief look around at the Temple in verse 11:
Mar 11:11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went to the temple. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
The reading for Passion Sunday is much longer of course.
From Palms to the Passion – things change so quickly.
How did it come to this?
If you think about it, like two acts of the same play, all the characters are there throughout.
- The authorities on Palm Sunday – Roman soldiers would have been keeping an eye out for trouble at the festival.
- The religious authorities when Jesus came riding into Jerusalem – they would be there looking over their domain where they had such powerful influence and vested interest.
- And the people were there. The crowds. Adulation and great excitement.
In Act 1 there is a king riding into town, cheered on for the good he had done.
In Act 2 there’s a man suffering and dying on a cross between criminals, convicted of doing nothing but good really.
- Acclaim turns to mocking.
- Honour to humiliation.
- The bright light of Palm Sunday is snuffed out by the darkness of that Good Friday.
What were they doing in the days in between?
What will we be doing in the days in between?
I remember years when we had services of some sort every day through this week. It was called Holy Week. We were quite willing to go each night and reflect.
On The Friday we used to have a morning service and then a shared three-hour one from midday to 3.00pm. Three hours in church is not nearly as challenging as three hours on a cross.
- Easter Saturday was fairly subdued.
- On Easter Sunday we got up early and rode on our bikes to the beach to greet the risen Son again.
These days we might get the same 20 to 30 loyal people at Tenebrae.
More on Good Friday – although because it’s not the same as the years before, many might just do their own thing.
And another group of loyal people will be up at dawn on Easter Sunday..
In that first holy week I imagine that in the days in between some people would have been oblivious of what was happening behind the scenes. The plotting and the scheming. I doubt the idea of paying Judas to betray Jesus was the only way they thought of to capture him. People go to great lengths to retain power and control, and keep themselves out of harm’s way.
The characters on Palm Sunday all turn up at his Passion.
- Soldiers spit and strike and spurn.
- Passers by shale their heads and mock.
- The religious rulers taunt him.
- There are the few loyal ones there too. Women mainly.
- A poor African man called Simon is forced to carry Jesus’ cross – he is coerced and must have wondered what he had done to get that lousy job.
HOW DID IT COME TO THIS?
Do we take it all seriously?
And in our own lives and our church life, when people lose interest and enthusiasm, when they forget all that Jesus went through for them, the same question can always be asked
- How did it come to this?
- Many have drifted away over the years and months.
- They no longer make special preparations to gather here and in local churches around the world.
- Through the COVID year they have fallen out of good worship habits.
- The King is still here. We still meet with Jesus the king.
And there are also some questions that even the Palm Sunday passage asks us today.
- Are we ready to put our property at his disposal? (The Lord needs it)
- Will we obey even if the orders puzzle us? (Wander in and take the colt you find and walk away with it? Like my friend this week randomly going into people’s gardens and cutting up Palm leaves from their plants.)
- Will we go out of our way to honour him? (branches and our clothes spread on the road to welcome him?)
- Do we still welcome him in our lives today?
There’s a great Graham Kendrick song we’ve sung a few times here over the years.
Make way, make way, For Christ the King In splendour arrives
Fling wide the gates and welcome Him Into your lives
It has this last verse:
We call you now to worship Him
As Lord of all
To have no gods before Him
Their thrones must fall!
Do we take it all seriously?
Or following Tom Wright’s questioning, has our Christian commitment become domesticated and trivialized in our devotion to Jesus, that we him mainly as someone to help us get what we want, or do our own thing with a little comfort thrown into the picture?
Jesus still claims us for his own and calls us to follow him.
Life is just as challenging for us. There are still soldiers who abuse their power and bully and torment or make fun of people – just as there are bullies at school and at work. And religious and state leaders who cling to power.
He has a claim on all of them too. Whether they see him on a donkey or on a cross, the question is: what will they do with Jesus the Son of God?
And those characters in the story at the cross. What were they thinking?
Who stands out in the account for you?
Tom Wright also says this: The Roman centurion becomes the first sane human being in Mark’s gospel to call Jesus God’s son, and mean it. Yes, says Mark to his possibly Roman audience; and if him, why not more? (Wright, N. T. Mark for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.)
- In Mark 11 Jesus is fully in control. With every breath he pushes on in obedience to Jerusalem and his cruel end.
- By the end of Mark 15 he has relinquished all control, and his breathing his last. Heaving his body up for each rasping breath.
- But without jumping the gun, three days later there was a rush of air and life-giving oxygen into his dead lungs, and he roared to life again like a fire that appears to be dead but rages when the bellows pump in new oxygen to burn.
Through this week we will focus on the struggle unto death.
On Easter Sunday we will see life again and reflect on the implications of resurrection for us. The next Act of the play – The story of this King.
What will you do with this Jesus?
1Co 15:1 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. 1Co 15:2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 1Co 15:3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 1Co 15:4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 1Co 15:5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. 1Co 15:6 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. 1Co 15:7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 1Co 15:8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. 1Co 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 1Co 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 1Co 15:11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.
Mar 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. Mar 16:2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb Mar 16:3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” Mar 16:4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. Mar 16:5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. Mar 16:6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. Mar 16:7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'” Mar 16:8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
MESSAGE: “AND PETER“
We mentioned on Thursday night how depressing it must have been for Jesus.
It’s hard to imagine what was going through Jesus’ mind that night. But consider this:
After the institution of the Lord’s supper, we read these words:
Luk 22:21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. Luk 22:22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.
- His disciples of course question among themselves who it could be. As if unmoved by this shock announcement, they then debate which of them was considered to be the greatest. So he has to teach them about serving again.
- And then, just to add to the pretty daunting scene, he predicts that Peter would betray him. Peter replies, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”
- They go to the mount of Olives – to Gethsemane, where Jesus prays. And of course, they fall asleep.
It’s interesting that Jesus in Gethsemane was so troubled. Mark tells us: “he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. Mar 14:34 “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,”
Someone said that he was troubled because he knew what was coming. We on the other hand get anxious because we don’t know what’s coming.
What must have been really troubling was how these disciples would cope.
Especially Peter – who would still have to lead the group.
Mar 14:27 “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ Mar 14:28 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Mar 14:29 Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” Mar 14:30 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” 31 But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same.
There’s something quite nice about the message given to the women at the empty tomb:
“You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. Mar 16:7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter…
And Paul, in our reading from 1 Corinthians 15 says this: 1Co 15:3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 1Co 15:4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 1Co 15:5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.
Peter, some suggest, might have been a Zealot. I’m not convinced about that. But he is the one who takes out his sword and cuts Malchus’ ear off in the garden.
I think what Peter didn’t understand was the idea that Jesus would suffer and die. He argued about it from the beginning – straight after his confession of faith ”you are the Christ” – rebuking Jesus.
Graham Greene in one of his later novels Monsignor Quixote, has this Spanish priest Father Quixote in debate with the communist ex-mayor of their town. I guess triggered by the mayor’s Marxist utopian ideals, the priest has a dream. In this dream, in short, Jesus doesn’t die on the cross but calls down legions of angels who get him off alive. Everyone is happy, and the whole world rejoices and bows down. There is no death, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday and resurrection. When he wakes up, the priest is relieved that it didn’t happen like that. He would have been without a job.
The point is – easter would be meaningless for us if there had not been that awful day when our Lord Jesus suffered the agony of the cross.
Think of all the pagan easter symbols which are in Spring in the northern hemisphere.
- If flowers didn’t die, seeds producing new plants wouldn’t matter.
- If rabbits didn’t get old, you would need new baby bunnies.
- New life only means something because the old life dies.
- Spring following spring would not mean much either. Light is useful because of the dark.
Peter wanted it all to be successful. He had to fail to learn to grow stronger and face the greater challenges that would await him. He’s the New Testament Job in a sense. Only Luke records these important words of Jesus to Peter: 31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.
Peter was never able to read Martin Luther sadly. One writer puts it like his:
Luther suggests that if all were quiet and one had the promise of peace and prosperity, then one could be sure that the devil was very near.
If on the other hand it appeared as tough all hell were breaking loose and one were likely to suffer pain and hurt, one could be very sure that God was very near.
Luther’s view was that it is the cross of Jesus that enables us to be realistic about the way things really are.
Father Quixote’s dream is a nightmare for him because his ministry would have no meaning for anyone. In fact, no one would remember who Jesus was. Another messianic dot in history.
William Lane in his commentary writes:
Were it not for his resurrection, Jesus of Nazareth might have appeared as no more than a line in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, if he were mentioned at all. The witness of the four Gospels is unequivocal that following the crucifixion Jesus’ disciples were scattered, their hopes shattered by the course of events. What halted the dissolution of the messianic movement centered in Jesus was the resurrection. It is the resurrection which creates “the good news concerning Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God” – which is what Mark’s gospel starts with.
Mark’s gospel ends with these words: Mar 16:8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
- That stone, the tomb, the young man in white – mix that with the grief and torment of those three days, and you would understand their response.
- And in any case people didn’t believe women in those days. They were not accepted as witnesses in a law court.
Luke writing his historical account puts it like this:
Luk 24:9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. Luk 24:10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. Luk 24:11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. (I preached on this in Easter 2019 – how their words seemed like rubbish. Leyros is the word. Literally a load of …. I’m sure you remember!)
Mark’s account makes sense. He was a disciple of Peter – so would be thinking about his mentor. And he of course ran away naked from Gethsemane. He would have been sympathetic with the terrified women.
The resurrection is first importance stuff, says Paul in the reading from 1 Corinthians we heard.
- The failure and restoration of Peter is a great help to us when we fail.
- The hope of resurrection is hugely helpful in a pandemic where people are dying in their droves.
- The promise of Easter – victory over death – is our only hope when we stare into the grave, or face our own mortality, or the challenge of aging or degenerative diseases..
- The power of the resurrection now means we live life in the light when things are dark, in spring when it is winter, and in permanent daylight saving when the night is long. We can steal Ben King’s words then: “When the night has come; And the land is dark; And the moon is the only light we’ll see; No, I won’t be afraid; Oh, I won’t be afraid; Because we know you will be there for us!” (The orignial song has: Just as long as you stand, stand by me).
He is risen indeed. Peter had to hear this. So do we.
(Shared at Northern Bays Churches combined service)
Reading: John 18:28 to John 19:16a
Joh 18:28 Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. Joh 18:29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?” Joh 18:30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.” Joh 18:31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” “But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected. Joh 18:32 This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled. Joh 18:33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Joh 18:34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?” Joh 18:35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?” Joh 18:36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” Joh 18:37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Joh 18:38 “What is truth?” Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. Joh 18:39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” Joh 18:40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.
Joh 19:1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. Joh 19:2 The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe Joh 19:3 and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in the face. Joh 19:4 Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” Joh 19:5 When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” Joh 19:6 As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!” But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.” Joh 19:7 The Jews insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” Joh 19:8 When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, Joh 19:9 and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. Joh 19:10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Joh 19:11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” Joh 19:12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” Joh 19:13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). Joh 19:14 It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour. “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews. Joh 19:15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered. Joh 19:16a Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
Years ago there was a popular children’s song that went: “deep and wide, deep and wide, there’s a fountain flowing deep and wide”. The chorus went “jump right in, lose your sin”. Often the little kids needed some help and teaching on what “losing your sin” meant, – especially when they got the words wrong and sang “jump right in, lose your skin”.
In this reading today, Pilate was really trying to save his own skin. He had to keep the peace and prevent rioting or revolt, more than anything else, to keep his job and future career path open. Ironically in this passage Jesus says to him: “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. That especially applied to the high priest Caiaphas who also had vested interests to do with influence and power. It’s fascinating that just six years after Jesus’ death both Pilate and Caiaphas were removed from office and deposed.
In today’s reading Jesus’ “religious” trial by Caiaphas is over, and they take him to Pilate. Verse 28 continues: By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.
There’s this curious standoff. The Jews won’t go it to Pilate’s unclean gentile home. They’re obsessed about staying clean to eat the Passover, (keeping their rituals) but strangely they’re okay with getting Jesus killed. Earlier in Pilate’s rule there had been widespread protesting because they had objected to the Roman standards his soldiers brought into the city bearing the Imperial image. Pilate gave in and had the standards removed. Ironically, the last thing the high priests say in this passage is this: “We have no king but Caesar,” (19:15). They’re happy to compromise for the sake or retaining power and control.
So Pilate would have been wary of them. He’s forced to shuttle in and out of his palace as he tries to solve this problem of Jesus. Early shuttle diplomacy. A bit like the kids’ “in and out the window” song. Except it was a grand set of doors I imagine.
1. He goes out outside to speak to the Jews (Joh_18:29-32).
2. He goes inside to question Jesus. (Joh_18:33-38).
3. He goes outside again and tells the Jews they had no case against Jesus (Joh_18:38-40).
4. He goes back inside and has Jesus flogged and mocked. (Joh_19:1-3).
5. He goes outside again to say he finds no basis to condemn Jesus, who is then brought out wearing the crown of thorns and purple robe. Pilate declares: “behold the man” (Joh_ 19:4-7). They yell out that he must die because he claimed to be the son of God
6. He’s afraid now and goes back in, taking Jesus with him and asks him: “Where do you come from?”. (Joh_19:8-11)
7. Lastly, Pilate brings Jesus out again and says: “Here is your king!” (Joh_19:12-15). He gives in and has him crucified.
There are two things that are relevant for us the conversation between this governor and Jesus. Being united from different church families today is not just important because Jesus prayed back In John 17 – “Father make them one” – and “may they be brought to complete unity – that the world may know you have sent me.” Unity is also important because the two main issues that he and Pilate talk about are more relevant now than ever before: Who is Jesus? And What is truth?
Pilate was probably amused that a prisoner in such a predicament could claim to be a king. He eventually says, “you are a king then!” But when the Jews complain that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, Pilate is afraid and asks this key question: “where do you come from?”. Jesus doesn’t reply – he’d already told Pilate “My kingdom is not of this world”.
Firstly, Who is Jesus?
A king with a Kingdom which is “not from this world” rather than “not of this world” in that it’s not purely a spiritual thing – it’s a Kingdom that has broken into our world already beginning with Jesus’ ministry. We are also told to pray “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” because this is what it’s all about. Each new believer becomes a will-doer of God and a worker in the Kingdom sharing the good news of the Kingdom. Jesus as King and Lord (which means God) is more than a theory. He has a claim on the lives of men, women, and children today – he calls them all to follow him.
In this post-modern age where people want every viewpoint to have equal validity, Jesus’ claim to be God and the way back to God might well upset people. But just as Jesus was not afraid to debate this with authority, nether should we. We need to be united in our witness in the world as to who he is. At the very least we need to be giving a reason why he gives us hope.
Then secondly, What is truth?
The question “what is truth?” that Pontius Pilate asks is key to our witness today. At school, university and in society in general solid objective truth is disputed. In some current educational theories, people make their own truth and meaning.
As Christians from all kinds of backgrounds, we need a united witness to say – but wait a minute. Just from a logical point of view – two opposite things can’t both be true. This is really important for our values, morals, ethics, relationships, and a host of other things.
Pilate was so obsessed with keeping the peace and his job, that he missed the point of it all. Truth was staring him in the face. Jesus was and is the truth.
Of course, some would say that Pilate’s other mistake was to ignore the truth when he didn’t listen to his wife who warned him when he was sitting on the judge’s seat with this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” (Matthew’s gospel).
We are called to work together for this king in seeking and extending his kingdom. And it means boldly speaking truth when we have the opportunity. Surprisingly, people are more open than we think. And more in need of help, purpose, meaning and confidence in life in this crazy covidised age of uncertainties and disappointments.
When we get to know this King Jesus and follow him, our lives become more purposeful and meaningful, which is a great antidote to the struggles of this age, of uncertainly, anxiety, pointlessness, and depression. We can live through anything when we have someone so captivating and inspiring to live for. Truth that’s at least worth serious debate.
If the struggles of this age are getting to you, talk to someone who can pray with you to find a way forward – in the way, the truth, and the life that Jesus the King offers.
behind the stone
unmoved by light and love
Wounds congealed by
saving blood so dry and dead
not yet revealed to be
the cleansing stream
that fell on mercy’s seat
Hushed by pain
for love and light
to stream again.
Dear heart that reached
to touch the ones cut dead
by scorn and hate and dread,
so quickly wrapped and hid.
You wait for wind
new breathe of life and power
to blast away
and see those lungs
roar into life of praise
and purpose once again.
the stone aside
the seal prized open
now for life to live again.
(Robin Palmer 2021)
Sunday @ BBP 12 July – The Parable of the Sower – Church family updates, testimonies and the Parable of the Sower with Sean Cloete preaching.
Sunday @ BBP 19 July – The leaven – One of Jesus’ very short parables – the parable of the yeast in Matthew 13. Rodney Ramsay shares how the Holy Spirit has inspired people through the ages. In Mat 13:33 we read: ‘He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”‘ Just as the leaven expands , so too “… the Kingdom of heaven (and those who represent and proclaim it) has a dramatic effect on human society.” (The Gospel of Matthew, R T France, 2007). Rodney gives great examples in history of Christians who have impacted the world.
Sunday @ BBP 26 July – Kingdom Parables – Sunday’s prayers, family news, readings and message about the kingdom parables in Matthew 13. Seeds, plants, birds, wheat and weeds, and being witnesses where we are in the world. Is the Kingdom the focus of your life? Your treasure? Your all?
Sunday @ BBP 2 August 2020 – because they count we connect with them through the week. God with us. There are many reasons why people become disconnected from the local church. Some have been wounded along the way. Others are still trying to figure out things about God. We are to be with them in their life situation because that is our mission field. Listening and loving and being available to help them in the right direction. A look at aspects of Incarnational Mission.