Readings: Hebrew 1:1-3; John 1:1-5; 10-14
Do you get relatives coming for Christmas?
I noticed on SKY TV a suggestion from the Mental Health Foundation in Australia to help you get through the season in good shape:
MENTAL HEALTH RECOMMENDATIONS
- Sleep and relaxation
- Eating and drinking in moderation
- Keeping calm during family gatherings
- Doing good
Keep calm in family gatherings! A fair call. Just remember those this Christmas who have no family or whose loved ones are in care or in hospital and they can’t be together.
By the way there’s a lovely version of the serenity prayer when it comes to interesting people in our lives:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know its me. 🙂
Yes family descends. It often means a bit of work preparing for their coming.
Some family members inspire you to do a lot of cleaning and sorting. The house has to be tidy – perhaps for granny or your favourite auntie.
And on Christmas day if they all come along – well there’s all kinds of cleaning and cooking. That Christmas meal is heaps of work. Especially preparing things like turkeys or Christmas Ham. My favourite Mr Bean story is where he plays with the nativity set in a shop. But the craziest part of his Christmas adventure is when he gets a turkey stuck on his head. It can’t be that bad for us!
You’ve got to know what you are doing in the kitchen. And you’ve got to get ready for the day.
The truth is that we put a lot of time into preparing for Christmas celebrations – but how much effort goes into preparing for Jesus’ coming?
- It’s one thing if your gran checks if the house is clean and dusted.
- But Jesus’ coming means a lot of other things may need inspecting and cleaning up.
Jesus’ first coming as a baby is almost like “coming ready or not”. Very few people actually recognized his coming. And his own people did not receive him.
Mary and Joseph were prepared by angels bringing messages. Those revelations were quite frightening I am sure. The “wise” kings were alert and looking for signs. But there were to be risks for them too. Some like the shepherds got one of those “surprise” moments. All in all it makes sense that angels should say: “don’t be afraid!’
John’s gospel doesn’t talk about the birth of Jesus like Matthew and Luke. There’s no detail. But there is explanation. especially in these verses:
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:10-12)
We need to make sure that we receive Him. Look what happens when we receive – and believe;
He gives us “the right to become children of God’ Born of God.
So what does that mean?
1. No longer orphans or lost boys
It reminds me of the lost boys in the story of Peter Pan. There are a number of countries in the world where there are many orphaned children in homes due to the disasters of human conflict. And tragedies on our roads take parents away.
Becoming children of God is a wonderful blessing. Like the lost boys we too need to be found. Becoming children of God also means:
2. Having a really good father
Chris Tomlin has written a wonderful song called “Good good Father.”
The words are a good reminder of the Father’s heart:
I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think you’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whispers of love in the dead of night
And you tell me that you’re pleased
And that I’m never alone
The chorus follows and a brilliant second verse:
You’re a good good father
It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are
And I’m loved by you
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am
I’ve seen many searching for answers far and wide
But I know we’re all searching
For answers only you provide
‘Cause you know just what we need
Before we say a word
3. We also don’t have to be afraid…
Fear and anxiety dominate our lives so much today. The words of the angels still ring in our heads: ‘Do not be afraid”.
Our nation and many others have hundreds of thousands of people on anti-anxiety medication. Keeping calm is not easy even on a normal day, never mind when the relatives descend.
John who writes about us having the right to become children of God through Jesus the word who became flesh and made his home (literally pitched his tent) among us, also writes this in his first letter chapter 4 verse 18:
God’s “perfect love drives out all fear.”
Paul in one of my favourite passages also says this:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7.
These are the blessings of receiving this gift – the person of Jesus – whose coming we celebrate today.
A blessed Christmas to you all.
Readings: Isaiah 9:1-7; Phil 4:4-7; Luke 2:1-11
STORY: “Finders keepers.”
My dad had this policy at home – that if you left money around it was his. A kind of finders keepers thing.
I quite like it. People leave all kinds of things around here.
I think I’m going to be the “finders keepers” guy.
Take this little white box for example. It turned up on my birthday. Must be mine. Inside is this amazing mug.
I need a new coffee mug here at work. And it’s got some writing on it. Bible things which fit into the theme for the day and that pink candle which represents joy. It says “The joy of the Lord is my strength” from Nehemiah 8. What joy to find such a treasure.
It reminds me of the parable in Matthew 13 – about the man who found treasure hidden in a field – who hid the treasure and went and sold ALL HE HAD to buy that field. Jesus says of that man “in his joy he went…” The people I witnessed in Greece who had come to faith in Jesus – those refugees – you can imagine their joy too. It’s not about Greece – its about the GOSPEL – the good news of great joy changing lives.
(Hopefully the owner of the mug will claim it! Better not leave things lying around here in the future!)
So let’s talk about joy today.
So how joyful will your Christmas be?
And what is the right word to describe Christmas anyway?
If you say Happy Christmas, then what do you say for New Year?
Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year sounds strange.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year sounds sensible. And you do want some merriment after all. No one wants to be like Ebenezer Scrooge.
This 1984 version has George C Scott as Scrooge. Here he is at his worst: I mean Scrooge, not George C Scott!
Not a Merry person is he. It takes some scary visits from ghosts to change Scrooge.
But what about us?
The answer lies in having Jesus at the centre. In our hearts?
Yes, in that our hearts are the seat of our emotions. Perhaps the centre of our wills too? We are certainly told to love the Lord our God with all our heart at least.
Love and peace which are represented by the first two advent candles are broad concepts with many associated ideas that may or may not be based in spirituality.
Joy on the other hand seems a bit more focused.
In Sunday School we sang songs like ‘Joy Joy Joy with joy my heart is singing” and it seemed criminal not to clap as part of the song’s celebration.
Like “I am H A P P Y”. You can’t really sing it and be miserable.
Singing, by the way, does improve your mood and generate good brain chemicals.
Research indicates that people feel great after singing together probably from endorphins (a pleasure hormone) or oxytocin, another hormone. They’ve found that GROUP singing decreases depression and feelings of loneliness.
So it is a good thing to sing! Join a choir! And positive songs area probably more helpful.
The Sunday School songs we sang as kids are about one aspect of joy.
Joy joy joy with joy my heart is singing goes on to say joy joy joy, his love to me is known. My sins are all forgiven, I’m on my way to heaven, my heart is bubbling over with his joy joy joy.
The New Testament scholar Tom Wright rightly asks the question – what about what happens in the meantime – between this celebration of forgiveness of sins and going to heaven?
The Bible does not just talk about salvation as our destination at the end of life.
It has much to say about how we live in the meantime. It has rich pictures of what joy is in a broader sense.
It involves situations, people, relationships, and especially the work of the Holy Spirit.
For example in Paul’s writings:
- For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:7);
- May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13).
- But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal 5:22 – 23).
Through forgiveness of sins by the cross and the work of the Spirit we have access to God – Paul in Ephesians 2 writes about the consequences of the cross: Eph 2:17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. Eph 2:18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
The in-between time if you are a person who thinks of salvation as being qualified to go to heaven – is actually the real relational stuff now.
There is JOY in this relationship with God NOW through the work of the Holy Spirit who makes God real to us as Paul says to the Roman readers: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (ch 15)
JOY IS ALSO SEEN WHERE PEOPLE REACH THEIR POTENTIAL IN CHRIST
Writing about the Thessalonians – in the earliest of his letters to the one church that gets things right he says:
For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy. (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).
Seeing people reach their full potential in Christ IN COMMUNITY brings joy to Paul – and to me. And to others.
SO WE HAVE JOY IN US THROUGH GOD’S POWER – AND JOY IN US WHEN CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES REFLECT JESUS FULLY
If we have this joy from the Spirit and are a source of joy because of changed lives, people may be joyful when we come into a room rather than when we leave it! We talk about this church being a lighthouse for people. The fact is we are the church wherever we go -our joy and peace and hope should shine.
So when we hear the message of the angels, joy is right up there as a key sign of the coming of Messiah Jesus: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (Luke 2:10).
This news of Te Harinui.
They needed it back then – because like all religious groups, you can get so fixated on how you do things – your systems and rules – that you lose the point of why you are there.
When Jesus came his people rejected him (John 1:12) – the very people who had both the law and the prophets available to them.
For example, talking to the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection (remember their trick question about the lady who’s husband died and she married the brother – who also died… married the whole lot of them the poor woman…) Jesus says:
Mat 22:29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.
And of course to the teachers of the law – well they hardly brought joy into peoples’ lives. So Jesus says to them:
Luke 11:46 Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
“good news of great joy” was needed.
The religious leaders didn’t bring joy. The Roman occupiers didn’t either.
Jesus’ way of bringing Joy confounded them of course. On the cross. Rather than the obvious hope they had of a Messiah who would defeat their oppressive Roman occupiers.
So to go back to my story of finders keepers at the beginning – and the lovely cup I found here at church.
The writing of the cup reminds us that this joy is not the same as a Merry Christmas or a Happy new year. The joy of the LORD is our strength!
So we end with Paul’s injunction – his command that we be joyful in Philippians 4:
Php 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Php 4:5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Php 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Php 4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This joy is in the Lord- in the relationship – not in our circumstances – and the peace of God comes along as part of the package.
That is good news of great joy for all of us.
Have you found it? If you haven’t don’t delay – and ask for help to do so.
May the joy of the Lord be your strength. Amen.
Readings: Isaiah 7:10-15; Matthew 1:18-25
CALLING PEOPLE NAMES
What were you called as a child? Yes I know you were named Larry, Peter or Susan.
But you must have had other names. Or called other people names. Children can be horrible. Ok forget the mean names. What about the nicknames?
I was called various names through my school years. They weren’t all nice, but some were a good description of me.
This passage from Matthew is really important when it come to names – and what people are called.
The angel makes it clear – speaking to Joseph about Mary:
Mat 1:21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
That in itself would be enough. What a powerful name. Meaning “God saves”.
Hallelujah – what a Saviour – is what we sing at Easter.
Jesus – Joshua – is about Jesus and his mission.
But Matthew goes on. He is writing to Jewish readers and wants them to understand how Jesus fits in to the bible they had – and the prophets’ predictions
So he says: Mat 1:22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:Mat 1:23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”
Of course back in Isaiah’s time – they expected someone to come and help them.
But the prophecies often had multiple applications.
Jesus was the ultimate Immanuel.
This is Immanu – el in Hebrew.
El – is the word for God. Immanu – means with us.
You would have heard some of the other names for God in history.
Jesus – is what he would be named on his birth certificate. Immanu-el – is what they would call Jesus. A very powerful name. And “called” name. (You see it on forms today – the name you like to be called by)
GOD WITH US.
That description changes everything for us.
The rejection we face
GOD WITH US.
GOD WITH US.
Fighting around us
GOD WITH US.
Never to leave us or forsake us – is what he says.
The moment Jesus comes into that manger – in fact from his conception – GOD WITH US.
The world is never the same.
We went to two concerts last Christmas.
- The Bach Musica Concert in the City hall.
- And the Morning Melodies at the Bruce Mason.
In both concerts they were singing about IMMANUEL. God with us.
The City Hall concert included Puccini’s Mass – with the whole of the Nicene Creed sung.
These lines got my attention. This amazing bass-baritone was singing in Latin of course;
Passus et sepultus est; Et reurrexit tertia die.
Died and was buried; And rose again on the third day.
But this was the line that got me before those \wo. I thought – if only I could talk to him afterwards – and say, ‘do you know the one of whom you were singing?”
Because it says; ET HOMO FACTUS EST – AND BECAME A MAN.
All those people were hearing about Jesus -Immanuel – God with us.
And at the Mason theatre – we sang another Charles Wesley hymn:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel
Those hundreds of people were signing about Emmanuel.
I was praying – Lord – show them who you are in reality.
Now we know this already.
And we know Him as God with us.
Or at least we are discovering Him as God with us.
My prayer for you this Advent and Christmas season is that you discover fully what it means to know Him RIGHT IN THE CENTRE of your life – whether things are tough or easy sailing – may you know Him and his hope, peace, joy and love.
There’s more than one way to be a minister. The question is – are we reaching people. It all starts with relationships…
Reading: John 20:19-31
I was talking to someone about how short this week was.
It seemed shorter for me. Tuesday was a write-off. I did mindless things like fixing stuff.
I didn’t even have the energy to tidy my desk though. That seemed too much.
I’ve often wondered why they call this Sunday “low Sunday” – this and the one after Christmas I think. Maybe the preachers are just flat from being flat out.
So we had this conversation – what if you just put a video on and watched in instead of a sermon?
Or if the preacher got up and said – “nothing to say today”.
Which reminded me of this story.
In a small Catholic seminary, the dean asked a first year student to preach one day in chapel. This novice worked all night on a sermon, but still came up empty. At the appropriate time, he stood in the pulpit, looked out over his brothers and said “Do you know what I’m going to say?” They all shook their heads “no” and he said “neither do I, the service has ended, go in peace.”
Well, the dean was angry, and told the student, “You will preach again tomorrow, and you had better have a sermon.” Again, the novitiate stayed up all night, but still no sermon. When he stood in the pulpit, he asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” All the students nodded “yes” so the preacher said “Then there is no need for me to tell you. The service has ended, to in peace.”
Now, the dean was livid. “Son, you have one more chance. Preach the gospel tomorrow or you will be expelled from the seminary.” Again he worked all night, and the next morning stood before his classmates and asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” Half of them nodded “yes” while the other half shook their heads “no.” The novitiate said “Those who know, tell those who don’t know. The service has ended, go in peace.”
This time, the dean just smiled. He walked up to the novice preacher, put his arm around his shoulders and said “Hmmm…those who know, tell those who don’t know? Today, the gospel has been proclaimed. The service has ended, go in peace.”
So, another friend and I looked at this passage for today.
There are so many choices. Things we could look at.
- Like why the door was still locked a week later. When most of them had seen Jesus the first week. And why does one translation say the door was locked the first week and shut the second? (NRSV). Is the same word. Do translators have too much power?
- What was Jesus doing when he breathed on them? Was this John’s description of Pentecost? (Genesis 2:7)
- Do we really have the power to forgive peoples’ sins or not to forgive them? Is this where the Catholic idea of absolution comes from?
- Is this the actual birth of the church?
- Was Thomas really a doubter? Or was he just someone with Sherlock Holmes kind of talents.
- Did he have a twin? Was his twin like Thomas? Did he believe or doubt? Or she? Could his twin have been Lydia of Philippi who traded in purple cloth? (Acts 16:19)
- Why did Jesus keep saying “Peace be with you”?
- What about verse 30? What were those other signs that are not recorded?
- Do we have life in his name? Is this the abundant life he spoke about before in John 10:10? Is it abundant – “life to the full?” Or are we actually riding on empty?
(I love the Bishops Bible that preceded the KJV – “I am come, that they myght haue lyfe, and that they myght haue it more aboundauntly.” (1576)
SOME THOUGHTS THEN
Last week we saw how Jesus called Mary by name – and how that opened her eyes to see he wasn’t the gardener.
This passage records these two visits by Jesus in a locked room a week apart.
In the first visit he breathes on them symbolically. The word for WIND and SPIRIT are the same here.
This is worth looking at a bit more carefully.
It follows their commissioning – As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.
Before his ascension and before the day of Pentecost – without a fuss – he turns the disciples into apostles – sent ones.
And empowers them.
If you are a reader of the whole of John’s gospel, you would join the dots.
From chapter 14:
Joh 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command. Joh 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— Joh 14:17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. Joh 14:18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
Joh 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Joh 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
In chapter 15:
Joh 15:26 “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.
And chapter 16:
Joh 16:13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.
All of these verses sound a bit more dramatic than just having Jesus breathe on you.
You can understand why some people think this is a first instalment of some sort. Because Pentecost is far more dramatic isn’t it. And life changing.
I mean if you carry on from our Messy Church talk on Friday about Peter – you would have to add that Peter preached that ONE big sermon in Acts 2 that was the launch of a new bold person in every possible way.
TWO OTHER THINGS TO FOCUS ON TODAY:
- “Doubting” Thomas.
Was he really a doubter?
Think about John 11. This is the first time Thomas is mentioned and we get some real insight into the kind of person he was.
This is the story of the raising of Lazarus. Mary and Martha had sent Jesus word that their brother Lazarus was close to death. They lived in the small village of Bethany very close to Jerusalem. Look at verse 7. Jesus tells his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
Look at what the disciples think of this idea in verse 8. “Teacher,” the disciples answered, “just a short time ago the people there wanted to stone you and are you planning to go back?” (We can read about these stoning attempts in chapter 8 and 10 of John).
They thought he was crazy to even consider going back there. Perhaps they were on the verge of deserting Jesus. But then Thomas speaks out in verse 16:
Thomas (called the Twin) said to his fellow disciples, “Let us go along with the Teacher, so that we may die with him!”
Thomas rallied the wavering disciples here, convincing them to go with Jesus to Jerusalem.
Whatever else we may say about Thomas, he was not a coward. He was willing to go with Jesus to Jerusalem knowing full well that it just might cost him his own life
Apart from his track record of courage, one thing gets my attention today:
It’s this – that Jesus was deeply and personally interested in him so much that in the second appearance he speaks to him directly. He recognises Thomas’ need.
And I think translations which say “stop doubting and believe” get it wrong.
It literally means – “do not disbelieve but believe”. Don’t be an unbeliever. That makes him no different from the rest. The rest of the disciples. And us. We all have these journeys as we come to faith.
2. Peace be with you.
Do you need His peace?
We’ve talked before about the power of grief.
Jesus repeats this peace greeting because they would have been slow to recover from this terrible and unjust Good Friday death.
Watch the passion of the Christ again – the movie.
You don’t walk away from that kind of event feeling peaceful.
They needed some assurance. And so do we.
He still speaks to us – don’t live in unbelief. Trust me.
Here – let my peace uphold you.
And we too are sent – commissioned – to go in His name and share his peace.
And at the heart of our mission IS forgiveness.
W receive it. We celebrate it. We model it. We extend it to others through grace.
And we don’t always dish it out too quickly because we have to remind each other that our sins as human beings are actually serious. Deadly serious. Serious enough for Jesus to die for them.
It’s no surprise that ‘repent’ was part of John’s preaching (the baptiser), Jesus’ message, and Peter’s and the other apostles.
We have to turn away from our old ways and turn back to God again and again.
He says to you too today:
Don’t stay in unbelief. Trust in me (Jesus).
Peace be with you.
Reading: John 20: 1-18
We went to a memorial service recently. On Waitangi Day actually. We were able to take some of our friend’s ashes and scatter them in the garden of the church in the city.
The interesting experience for me happened when we first arrived. We were walking around the grounds and I passed the gardener who was on his haunches digging away in one of the beds. Amazing – I thought – on a public holiday too. He had an old floppy hat on, and typical non-descript gardening gear. Not your Sunday best.
When I walked past him a second him he got up – and I discovered I knew him very well. And had done so for over ten years.
I couldn’t help at that moment thinking of Mary at the tomb.
“Thinking he was the gardener…” (v15) – she asks Jesus where his body was.
It raises questions for the curious mind. What was Jesus wearing?
His burial gear was in the tomb.
She doesn’t recognize him at all.
Did he look like a gardener?
Or is this the stuff that happens when you’ve lost a loved one and your mind plays tricks on you.
Grief does strange things. I remember a good friend who died at 19. I was his youth leader. Yes, I know you find that strange – I was young enough once to be a youth leader.
I’d seen Duncan after he died. I went with his parents to support them at the viewing.
So, I knew my mind was playing tricks when I thought I saw him a couple of times in a crowd. Or in public place.
It’s like a fog when you grieve.
The responses of all the disciples are understandable over that weekend.
They knew he was dead.
It would have torn their hearts in two.
Sometimes we live in that kind of fog – of protracted grief and sorrow – not only because we mourn our loved ones – because we have all kinds of losses we still mourn.
- For immigrants – the country of our birth.
- For those of us who feel the weariness of aging – we mourn our youth.
- For those whose marriage had died – there is mourning for lost love.
- For those who feel alone – there is grieving for the years when we really enjoyed intimate close friends.
- For those who suffer – we mourn the loss of those care free days when getting out of bed was pain free and worry free.
- For children changing school or moving home there are real losses too.
They all have their own kind of fog – those emotions.
Which makes the Easter story even more powerful. Even when people in their pain cry out that God is unfair and that if he were so loving he would understand our agony and do something about it – Easter tells us that he does and that he did.
He does understand, and he did do something.
Jesus took all this mess and agony on the cross.
He really does understand our pain.
And like Mary in the garden – our focus can be wrong.
Mary didn’t need to go to Specsavers.
You often see what you expect to see. Or you don’t see what you have ruled out as a possibility.
What changes this?
He calls her name.
Joh 20:16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
It is one of the most beautiful moments in the whole of Scripture.
In her complicated life hearing Jesus speak her name before was a sacramental moment of grace – she was drawn into a new life and community by this amazing appealing attractive man who drew all kinds of people to himself – the ones needing healing, the ones who made holes in the roof – those Greeks who were wanting to see him – tax collectors, outcastes, rejects.
Many heard him speak their name.
“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” (Luke 19:5)
She knew that voice. No wax in those ears.
This is that intimate voice and a personal address.
Not a distant cosmic Lord but a close, loving address from someone who knows our deepest needs, our histories, our dreams and our losses.
It sounds a bit like John 10 – that passage about the Good Shepherd:
“The sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3). Thereafter the Good Shepherd says, “I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14).
It’s not surprising that Mary recognizes the risen Christ when this Good Shepherd’s voice is heard calling her name.
Let Jesus call your own name, and the name of whoever you’ve brought with you, whoever needs his love and healing today.
Maybe for the first time – or maybe if it’s a long time since you heard his voice.
He really is alive and speaks today.
For Easter to be real we all need to hear the good shepherd speak our name.
We become part of this Easter community. That is what church really is.
A people of the resurrection who know Jesus now. And who know His voice.
A people whose grief is healed, whose fog is lifted, and who know what their purpose is – glorifying God, enjoying Him forever, and sharing the good news of Easter every day.
- That Christ has died.
- Christ is risen
- Christ will come again.
For now, we live in that waiting zone, living for him until he comes. –
Reading: John 12:12-19
So – its Easter morning. You would have expected a service at sunrise. When you were small you might have had an Easter egg hunt in the garden.
You climb out of bed and go downstairs.
And you see a Christmas tree and Christmas presents, with Easter eggs hiding behind them.
You rub your eyes, scratch your head – and go back to bed thinking this is a dream.
Try again 10 minutes later – and yes, it’s true. Someone’s got Easter and Christmas muddled.
You wonder why. What does this mean? What are they trying to tell you?
That’s exactly what makes Jesus’ triumphal entry so interesting.
It was the spring – it was Passover time. There were things you did at Passover – remembering the rescue from slavery and the blood of the lamb on the doorpost which saved people from death – and you celebrate their rescue from bondage.
And Jesus rides into the city on a donkey and people are waving palms.
This is a mid-winter thing happening in the spring. Like Christmas and Easter together.
Although it’s the wrong time of the year, the symbols of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem go with Hanukkah– which John has already mentioned in 10.22. (Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter)
When Judas Maccabaeus defeated the pagan invaders and cleansed the Temple in 164 BC, his followers entered the city waving palm branches in celebration (1 Maccabees 13.51; 2 Maccabees 10.7). (Tom Wright)
We were talking about these extra books called the apocrypha just recently – a whole series of them you don’t find in the Protestant bible.
Here’s the passage from the second book of Maccabees chapter 10, reading from verse 7:
2Ma 10:7 Therefore, carrying ivy-wreathed wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving to him who had given success to the purifying of his own holy place. 2Ma 10:8 They decreed by public edict, ratified by vote, that the whole nation of the Jews should observe these days every year.
After the temple was cleansed in 164 BC, Judas Maccabeus and his family became kings of Israel.
Jesus and his followers were combining Hanukkah and Passover – declaring that Jesus was the true King coming to claim his throne AND at the same time he would really set people free. He is the new Passover lamb as well – they just didn’t know it yet.
And the final sign that sealed the matter was the raising of Lazarus. He was set free from death!
That’s why the two verses before this passage and the last three verses of today’s passage are so important:
Joh 12:10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, Joh 12:11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.
Joh 12:17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Joh 12:18 Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him. Joh 12:19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”
The raising of Lazarus was the last sign and the hour had come. We talked about that last week.
Palm Sunday seals the destiny of Jesus.
People connected the dots because of the palms. Not just the Jewish community who would have remembered Hanukkah, but the Romans and Greeks would have all recognised the significance of the Palms as a sign of a victory parade.
Like a flag raising parade when the battle is won – it has huge significance. The enemy’s flag is lowered, and the conquering army’s flag is raised.
It’s a powerful provocative statement. And on a donkey – not a huge white horse. They would have remembered the prophecy in Zechariah 9:
Zec 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Palm Sunday is the triumph of the love the God – yes.
But the means of victory – we know looking back the way of achieving victory would be painful to say the least.
FOCAL POINT TODAY
I’d like us to focus on one verse today:
Joh 12:17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word.
Witnessing is a central part of discipleship – of following this amazing man called Jesus of Nazareth.
Giving testimony to what he has done.
Spreading the word.
- Have you testified this week?
- Given testimony?
- Have you been a witness?
V17 – they bore witness to Lazarus’ raising –
Do we talk about the resurrection?
It is the separating point between us and other religions– the dividing line – the ultimate sign of Jesus’ power and authority, his divinity, his supremacy – and of course it leads to his ascension when he is enthroned again on high.
It’s the greatest story worth telling.
Because it brings the greatest sense of hope.
Are we ready always to give a reason for the hope we have?
Our Mission in the newsletter these past weeks has been this; “Always prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have”
Hope – in the face of the greatest enemy – death.
WE DO THIS IN WORSHIP EACH WEEK
- We wave Palms every week!
- We cry Hosanna!
- Worship is exactly that – celebrating King Jesus
– Celebrating the triumph of the cross
– Celebrating the power of the resurrection
– Celebrating the glory of the ascension.
– Celebrating the love of the Father
– Celebrating the promises that apply to us – our inheritance that will outlast all the other shiny things that fascinate us.
Peter puts it like this (we shared this in our call to worship today):
1Pe 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 1Pe 1:4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 1Pe 1:5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
Palm Sunday takes us into this week called holy week.
I’ve asked today how we can make this a different week.
I don’t know how you’re going to do that.
But you can’t ignore the power of the events.
I hope that you take the time to remember at the various opportunities we have to remember what God has done for us to establish this inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.
I pray that we can really discover for ourselves that he was and is the true king, the true rescuer, the bringer of true freedom.
As we watch his progression into Jerusalem, and on to meet his fate, we must ourselves be drawn into the action, and the passion, that awaits him.
And we must ourselves become part of the means by which his message goes out to the world. (Tom Wright)
The victory was won for us by a young man nearly 2000 years ago.
Our closing hymn captures the profound nature of this day.
1 Ride on, ride on in majesty
as all the crowds ‘Hosanna!’ cry:
through waving branches slowly ride,
O Saviour, to be crucified.
2 Ride on, ride on in majesty,
in lowly pomp ride on to die:
O Christ, your triumph now begin
with captured death, and conquered sin!
3 Ride on, ride on in majesty
the angel armies of the sky
look down with sad and wondering eyes
to see the approaching sacrifice.
4 Ride on, ride on in majesty,
the last and fiercest foe defy:
the Father on his sapphire throne
awaits his own anointed Son.
5 Ride on, ride on in majesty,
in lowly pomp ride on to die:
bow your meek head to mortal pain,
then take, O God, your power and reign!
Robin Mark has a song that helps us anticipate and appreciate what he has done as we close:
Readings: Romans 13:8; Matthew 18:15-20
How were you with triangles? Not the musical instrument you played in the primary school orchestra. That usually meant you had limited musical skills. 😊
I was thinking geometry. Equilateral triangles are the only type I remember off hand.
And then there are the triangles you see in soap operas. They are usually more complicated.
Most of us avoid those.
School kids sometimes have friendship problems that involve triangles. Friend A likes you but then likes friend B more, and the poor kid who is friend C gets ditched by A.
So how are your friendships doing? Hopefully well. We do value friendships that are long-lasting and steadfast.
In this modern generation people have on-line friends too – because people are so mobile the internet helps us to keep connected.
On Facebook, you can unfriend them when you are fed up. Just a click of a button. Mind you, his generation of school kids break up by text anyway. Crazy world. No more Dear John letters.
In my generation, people are more likely to neglect people and just drift away. Or more move away. Usually to another continent.
Communities and families.
In close communities like a family or church there is a good chance that people can fall out over something rather trivial that grows and grows out of all proportion.
Or worse still, something really bad happens and it’s a painful separation or estrangement.
Jesus gives this method in Matt 18 to fix that. It obviously mattered to him when people wronged each other.
We fail in this most times. It’s the triangle that we often slip into.
- We don’t go to the person directly when things have gone wrong.
- We tell someone else.
If someone complains about someone, the first question we should ask is simply this: have you spoken to them directly? If not, its gossip. (I’m sure you’ve NEVER had that happen to you.)
There’s a saying that goes – “don’t allow someone rest their gun on your shoulder.”
If you do:
- Suddenly there are three people.
- Your friend – their friend they are fed up with – and you.
- And your friend drags you into something the two of them need to fix.
Of-course Jesus gives a way to sort it out if the person doesn’t respond.
The real challenge is for us not to get sucked into triangles.
Ironically – whether there are two or three who come together in His name – what does He say in verse 20? He is in the midst – with them. Where Christians are – Jesus is.
And if we took that seriously, we would watch what we said about people in general. We would certainly avoid gossip. Or scandal.
COMING TO THE TABLE
When we come to the Lord’s table it’s a good idea to reflect on relationships and perhaps resolve to make things right.
Paul in the reading from Roman 13 puts it like this:
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.(vs8).
And this is even more important:
Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (vs.10)
So what is the way forward? This is what Jesus says:
Mat 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. Mat 18:16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ Mat 18:17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
There is a place for a triangle or a quadrilateral setup. If they don’t respond to you appeal to sort out something that is wrong, you can take one or two others along to show it is serious. If they are unrepentant, you tell the whole community – mainly I think so they can pray about it and realize that it matters. If that doesn’t help -you cut them off. Treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
The wonderful thing is that Jesus always kept the door open for tax collectors.
The hope was always reconciliation and restoration.
Like a family, you’d want the estranged member to come back so when you have those family meals they are at the table.
- For most things, I reckon we can resolve things.
- The little foxes that cause trouble are often things we can compromise on. Or at least forgive.
And so – if I hear you mutter about anyone, I will probably not say – “have you applied Matthew 18 sister?” That’s a bit too weird.
I might say “please don’t rest your gun on my shoulder” just to remind you of today.
Paul goes on to say:
Rom 13:11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.
Rom 13:12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.
You might think – ah this is not so bad. Probably not considering what he deals with in the next verse: Rom 13:13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery…
But he also adds at the end of verse 13: not in dissension and jealousy.
He ends this passage with this: Rom 13:14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
That’s quite good really. Jesus becomes our covering. It along with Colossians 3:12: Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ. After all – whatever you do to the least of his brothers you do unto him (Matthew 25).
That includes taking pot shots at each other.
Best have the right kind of triangles or groups with the right focus: “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”