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Sunday message 8 March 2020 – Eternal Life

Readings: Psalm 121:1-8;  John 3:1-17

MESSAGE

 Do you have nice neighbours?

In our first home as a ministry family I decided to connect with my neighbours. The first neighbour was cautiously hospitable, but at the end of the visit mentioned that they didn’t really have much to do with neighbours.

Point taken. I didn’t persist after that.

Some people have terrible neighbours.

I sometimes muse that if we land up in a mansion in our Father’s house, what kind of neighbours will be land up with?

After all, we will be stuck with them for eternity!

Isn’t that what eternal life seems to mean?

Maybe the idea is simple terrible for you!

I mean they may be people in this building today that you might consider as potential eternal neighbours and then think “Nah!”

And if pets get to heaven what if that dog just keeps on barking for thousands of years?

When you look at the idea, eternal life is an interesting concept.

And its right there in probably the most famous verse in the Bible:

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.

So what it? What does Jesus say? John 17 in his prayer spells it out:

Joh 17:1  After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. Joh 17:2  For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Joh 17:3  Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

How do we get to that point – to know God and Jesus who was sent by God?

And what is it in John’s Gospel that got people interested enough to get to know Jesus the giver of eternal life?

I’m not sure that they started with the idea that we have about eternal life as an ongoing existence forever in heaven.

If we go back to John 1 – you may remember a man we encountered called Nathaniel.

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.

Th first idea we have in John about heaven is not to do with life after death, but heaven open in the present – in the life of his disciples.

If you were here when we looked at this, you may remember that we linked it to Jacob’s ladder in Genesis – where Jacob encounters God at Bethel – the name meaning house of God.

Jacob’s declaration after that dream was – surely God was in this place, and I didn’t know it.

The encounter with God is really the start of a relationship which Jesus calls “eternal life” – he says its not a future state but an experience in the present.

Now why do I start with that encounter with Nathaniel?

Well here’s my secret reason.

25 times in John Jesus introduces what he is about o say with this key statement:

In the NIV – it reads “I tell you the truth.” No it doesn’t mean he is misleading them on other occasions. It’s a bit like the Old testament prophets who when they say “Thus says the Lord” they were getting people’s attention because God was speaking through them.

Those of you who grew up with the King James bible will remember it as “Verily verily I say unto you” Or “truly truly”. Literally “Amen Amen”.

The first of those 25 times he uses the double amen –  truly truly – is to Nathanael – alerting him and others to a breakthrough from heaven to earth like Jacob’s dream at Bethel.

Follow Jesus – and heaven is going to break through.

People will know God again as they were meant to. And know Jesus too because he is God.

The next three of the 25 “amen amens” appear in our reading today.

And they’re pretty important.

Here we go:

John 3:3; John 3;5; John 3:11 –

  • Joh 3:3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
  • Joh 3:5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.
  • Joh 3:11 I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.

In the first two of these – there’s a clue you may miss.

If you’re not born again (or from above – it means both) you can’t see the kingdom of God.

If you’re not born of water and the Spirit (explaining being born again) you can’t enter the Kingdom of God.

The clue? The term “kingdom of God”. Matthew uses the other version of this – the “kingdom of heaven” – because of his Jewish readers or recipients of his gospel.

The water refers to baptism in water and the spirit refers to baptism in the spirit. Both are part of entering the Christian community – water baptism symbolizes the entrance into the physical body of Christ here on earth (the organization if you like). Spirit baptism is about being incorporated into the spiritual organism of the body of Christ everywhere.

I think we get the water baptism bit. The symbol of going under and coming up out of the water represents our dying to our old life and being raised up to a new life – participating in Christ’s death and resurrection. The water has various symbolic associations including cleansing and washing.

The spiritual baptism is referred to by Paul I a Corinthians 12:12

1Co 12:12  The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 1Co 12:13  For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

There are various other places where we are told that there is a spiritual life that we experience in Christ. Not the least of which is this in John 7:

Joh 7:37  On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Joh 7:38  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” Joh 7:39  By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

So when Jesus says: Joh 3:5  Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Joh 3:6  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. Joh 3:7  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ Joh 3:8  The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

it’s not surprising that Nicodemus is still stumped. He’s already tried to think of the new birth as going back into your mother’s womb – he clearly missed that one too. This time he says:

Joh 3:9  “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. Joh 3:10  “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?

Here comes the next “Amen Amen” – which in this case is a bit of a lecture to one of the most clued up influential people of the Jewish religious establishment:

Joh 3:11  I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. Joh 3:12  I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?

And just to lay it on the line even more – Jesus goes on to say:

Joh 3:13  No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 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.

It’s not just the angels at Bethel going up and down the ladder into heaven – or Nathaniel being told that he would see “heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

It’s the son of Man who is he prototype – the forerunner – who has come down from heaven and will go back to heaven – he will be the first to rise from the dead and live forever in a new resurrected body – and all of this ends with us looking up – not a Moses’ snake on a pole in the desert – but on Jesus on his cross.

If you don’t know that story – it’s in Numbers 21.

Num 21:4  They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; Num 21:5  they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” Num 21:6  Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. Num 21:7  The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. Num 21:8  The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” Num 21:9  So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.

They would have known the story.

Just as Moses lifted up that snake – a bronze one which they kept in the tabernacle as a sacred object -which Hezekiah later destroyed (2 Kings 18:4) because it became like an idol to them rather than a reminder that it was God who saved them.

Just as that snake was lifted up -says Jesus – so the Son of Man must be lifted up, Joh 3:15  that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. (v15).

And its here that we find the famous verse 16: 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.

To believe in Him you have to look to the cross – Jesus through his cross has become the new ladder opening up heavenly life to us now and keeping heaven open for us at he end. Eternal life says Jesus – is knowing God.

You can only know god through the access of Jesus on the cross. Tom Wright puts it like this:

Humankind as a whole has been smitten with a deadly disease. The only cure is to look at the son of man dying on the cross, and find life through believing in him. 

The cross is at the heart of John’s amazing new picture of who God is. He is now to be known as the God who is both father and son, and the son is revealed, ‘lifted up’, when he dies under the weight of the world’s evil. The cross is the ultimate ladder set up between heaven and earth. (Wright, Tom. John for Everyone Part 1: Chapters 1-10 Pt. 1 (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 33). SPCK. Kindle Edition.)

So poor old Nicodemus in that “amen amen” saying is roundly chastised really.

Joh 3:11  I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. Joh 3:12  I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?

“You people” is one way of getting people’s backs up – or taking on the whole lot of them. Its translated like his because it’s in the plural – it’s not just Nicodemus but all of his colleagues in the Jewish religious establishment that Jesus is addressing. Which is what he does again and again. If you don’t believe me look at John 8:

Joh 8:43  Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. Joh 8:44  You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. They plot to kill him quite early on.

People always oppose things that upset their religious organisations which make things tidy, clear cut, organizing and labelling things in nice little piles.

Nicodemus represented that kind of religious world of rules and categories.

Inconveniently Jesus comes along and talks about a new kind of life – eternal life – which is an experience of a kingdom where the spirit is on the move. Like a wind or a gale (the word for spirit and wind is the same) – things can be blown over or blown away.

In a similar way the earthquake in Christchurch did that when the church buildings were destroyed. The churches had to sit down and say -well what is it really about – who are we really?

They had no buildings to sit comfortably in.

So they had to look up.

It always helps to look up. To pray and seek God’s direction.

The Psalm today reminds us that people were looking up to the hills – of course there were high places – altars to false God’s on those hills.

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.

This is not greenie Psalm for us to go cavorting around the countryside and climbing up the hills like Maria in the Sound of Music.

The help comes from the Lord the maker of heaven and earth.

  • He is a God who creates and recreates.
  • And to know him is eternal life.

So when Paul says that noting separates us from the love of God – he lists all the troubles of life, spiritual powers, and of course he adds DEATH in there because it is still eternal life – we will still know God and be known by Him who knows his sheep by name.

  • Have you seen the Kingdom of God?
  • Entered it?
  • Been born of water and the spirit?
  • Received eternal life?

Amen.

Sunday 28 August 2016 – The Lord’s Prayer part 3: Your Kingdom Come

Readings: 1 Corinthians 15:16-28; Matthew 6:9-10; 31-33

Sermon:

Praying for the Kingdom to come.

We’ve talked about God as Father – this heavenly Father – and what it means to make his name holy in our lives.

The focus of the prayer we call the “Lord’s Prayer” thus far is about honouring and adoring this amazing God.

So close to us – yet so different and perfect – holy is the word we use.

The transition to the next concept may seem all too familiar to us. After all we can pray this prayer blindfolded and without really thinking about the words and their meaning.

  • A Father, loving and faithful
  • A holy God before whom we cry like Isaiah “woe is me” because we are unholy
  • And now a KING.

Images of royalty – singing “God save our gracious Queen” – the idea of a King Charles verses a King William – all these come to mind.

And on Wednesday the world will think again of the tragic death of Princess Diana – and at the same time thinking people will wonder why people made so much fuss, when one considers aspects of her lifestyle.

The current Queen has a much greater sense of duty and decorum – of being worthy of the role she has faithfully carried out.

But what about God as King?

  • If it’s his Kingdom we are to pray for – then he is the King.
  • How do you feel about that?

When you wander into this place on Sunday (whether on time or not) – in the presence of the King – do you think our approach is worthy of his Kingly honour?

Or are we more like people in a shopping mall or a market? Just a thought.

And so three thoughts on how we respond to this:

PRAYING FOR THE KINGDOM TO COME –  

Firstly:

  1. positions us differently as his subjects.

John the Baptist, and Jesus, spoke about the Kingdom being near. For John the preparation required that people clean up their act. The axe was at the root of the tree – a symbol of judgement.

For Jesus – his ministry ushered in the Kingdom – which was effectively a declaration of war on the powers of darkness – sin, sickness, and sedition if you like. Sedition or revolution – the usurping of power – symbolised by Satan himself who rebelled and was cast out of heaven because his behaviour was not fitting for that holy place.

And Jesus spoke endlessly about this Kingdom – near us, within us, and described in the many parables as a new force with upside down qualities like the first being last, the last being first, and the greatest being servants of all.

If his Kingdom came in Christ – and we are to pray for it to come – we suddenly find ourselves with a different agenda – to line up our lives with the values and standards of this King.

And since the death and resurrection of Christ – and His exaltation – Jesus is the King – the one with the name that is above every other name – whom we worship and obey.(Philippians 2).

Praying for the Kingdom to come as Christians positions us differently – we are no longer self-serving. We serve Him. We obey Him.

And we do this until the end – whatever generation of Christians is around at the end. Paul gives us a glimpse of how this Kingdom will be wrapped up. Just as there is a succession process in the House of Windsor – there is one in heaven too.

Listen again: 1Co 15:22  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 1Co 15:23  But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 1Co 15:24  Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.

1Co 15:28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

PRAYING FOR THE KINGDOM TO COME – 

Secondly:

  1. positions us differently in the community of the Church

You have to read Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians to understand the implications of Christ being King and head of the church.

We talk about his often – how we are members of His body – that each part matters – that all gifts are valuable – that we are to build each other up in love.

All we do here – the things we reflect on today in the AGM reports and plans for the future – are actually not about a club having a meeting to pat ourselves on the back each year – they are actually because we want to glorify the King, obey Him, and see his Kingdom touch the lives of others.

As we have said before – the church is the only organisation that exists for an invisible head and for it’s not-yet-members – whom we want to see enter into the life of the Kingdom of God.

And Christ is the head of the church. We have to be connected to Him. (And not like a headless chicken running around  – they eventually fall over.)

All we do together and for each other – is to the glory of the King.

  • Our first priority is always WORSHIP. As the shorter Westminster confession says in its very first question: 

           What is the chief end of man? (What is the main purpose of people?)

           Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

  • And we have to listen to what he says. King Jesus commissioned his followers to proclaim the gospel to everyone – here at home and beyond to every nation. PROCLAMATION.
  • King Jesus commissioned us to make disciples and teach them to live by his teachings. DISCIPLESHIP.
  • King Jesus gave us the new commandment to love each other – declaring that people would know we are his followers by our love. That’s what drives our pastoral care in our FELLOWSHIP. It’s not keeping members happy like a club. It’s care that is linked to DIAKONIA – ministry or service of those in need in the community too, the hungry, homeless, lonely and depressed.

PRAYING FOR THE KINGDOM TO COME – 

Thirdly:

  1. positions us differently in terms of our priorities in life.

At a basic level – He says

  • “…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matt 6:33)
  • When you pray say: “Your Kingdom come” (Matt 6:10)

And then we have the rest of our lives revisiting his teaching on the Kingdom.

He didn’t speak so much about the Kingdom for fun.

Just a couple of his declarations about the Kingdom for today:

  • Joh_3:3  In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” IT’S A SPIRITUAL KINGDOM TRANSCENDING ALL BARRIERS.
  • Mat_18:3  And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. IT’S A KINGDOM THAT IS ENTERED THROUGH FAITH AND TRUST – LIKE THE TRUST OF A CHILD.
  • Mat_19:24  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  IT REQUIRES PAYING A PRICE WITH NEW VALUES – WE HAVE TO DECIDE WHETHER STUFF MATTERS OR THESE SPIRITUAL TRUTHS AND VALUES.
  • Luk_9:62  Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”  IT REQUIRES COMMITMENT AND ENDURANCE.

If we get out our bibles each week – and look for one parable or teaching on the Kingdom – perhaps we may begin to grasp the depth and width of what it’s all about.

We will surely see the difference. So will others.

For now – are we really seeking the Kingdom first?

Amen.

 

Sunday sermon 16 August 2015 – Secret Disciples, and Jewish insomniacs

Sunday 16 August 2015

Readings: John 3:1-21; John 19:38-42

We had a great time here at Tuesday church on Tuesday – and started thinking about this passage from John 3. Nicodemus is the man here – a member of the ruling Jewish Council – who comes to see Jesus at night. Perhaps he has insomnia. Perhaps he doesn’t want to be seen with this controversial preacher from Galilee.

What I love about the interaction they have is the way Jesus gives answers to questions that are not asked. But they are questions that need answering! I think if he showed up here, the same thing could happen. We might think we have relevant questions or comments – but really what matters is what he says. After all, he knows best does he not?

On Wednesday at home group we were talking about which gospel is best recommend for new Christians to read. Rob Harley in his talk suggested John’s gospel. Some of us had different views – preferring Luke for historical accuracy with his sequel in Acts, or Mark’s Gospel for brevity.

John in this gospel account takes us on this amazing journey of signs and responsive teachings by Jesus. Things progress quite quickly at the beginning.  There’s a prologue in chapter 1. Then there’s John the Baptist identifying Jesus. Then Jesus’ encounter with his first followers. Then there was the interesting engagement Jesus has with Nathanael.

In chapter 2 there’s the first major sign Jesus does at a wedding – turning water into wine (with his mum getting involved!). There must have been others. In any case he cleanses the temple in chapter 2 as well – and at the end of the chapter John lays out the difficulty here: Joh 2:23  Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. Joh 2:24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. Joh 2:25 He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.

And in the very next chapter (chapter 3) John gives an example of a particular man:  Verse 1 reads: Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council.

The water into wine sign, together with whatever else Jesus had done, certainly got this specific man going – this Jewish guy with the Irish sounding name. Listen to what he says (after knocking on the door where Jesus was that evening):

He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3:2)

You always wonder what people are up to when they say something nice about you, and follow it by a “but there’s this problem…”. Jesus gets to the heart of things. I love the response – “I tell you the truth”.  Those “verily verily” sayings (as translated by the KJV).

This has to get your attention. Tom Wright translates it like this: ‘Let me tell you the solemn truth,’ Wright, Tom (2002-10-18). John for Everyone Part 1: Chapters 1-10 Pt. 1 (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 27). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

Joh 3:3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

The question was – which we talked about on Tuesday – if you were to live your life again, would you do the same things – follow the same career, or do things differently? In the conversation I had with my son – who asked me this very question – I was clear that I would not want to go to school again. He was surprised – he thought I liked school. I didn’t like the bullying. What he didn’t know was that I was always the youngest in my whole grade. That can be tricky.

I reckon the best answer about the decisions you make comes from the wife of Billy Graham when speaking on prayer. She said something like this: “I am glad that God didn’t answer all my prayers. If he did I would have married the wrong man – more than once!”

Nicodemus’ question is reasonable – if you think only in terms of this world and the one shot we have at life. He says this: Joh 3:4 “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”

This time he gets a real answer to his question – with an upgrade. Not only will you not see the Kingdom of God (which is the heart of Jesus’ teaching and the first major request in the Lord’s Prayer which shapes what we pray for afterwards too).

You won’t enter it either: Listen again:

Joh 3:5  Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.

Joh 3:6  Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

Joh 3:7  You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’

Joh 3:8  The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

 This bright lad with all the training is left scratching his head:

Joh 3:9  “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

And this time he gets a real lecture:

Joh 3:10  “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?

Joh 3:11  I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.

Joh 3:12  I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?

The rest is history – as they say. John 3:16 forms part of that lecture that Nicodemus gets. Of course what we don’t know is who told John so that the story of the man who came to Jesus at night turns up in John’s gospel.

Like Thomas later in the gospel, questions get thorough answers in John’s gospel. Great teaching comes out of bad interviews. (Remember Thomas – when Jesus talks about where he is going in John 14:

 Joh 14:4  You know the way to the place where I am going.” Joh 14:5  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Joh 14:6  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Thanks Thomas.

We don’t hear much more about Nicodemus. He appears once in John 7 where he sticks up for Jesus on the basis of natural justice. He gets shut down.

Joh 7:43  Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.

Joh 7:44  Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.

Joh 7:45  Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

Joh 7:46  “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards declared.

Joh 7:47  “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted.

Joh 7:48  “Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him?

Joh 7:49  No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”

Joh 7:50  Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked,

Joh 7:51  “Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?”

Joh 7:52  They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”

Joh 7:53  [Then each went to his own home.

And then there is Jesus’ funeral. Listen again to what we heard in the second reading today:

Joh 19:38  Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away.

Joh 19:39  He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.

One gets the feeling that it’s like sending too many flowers to a funeral – maybe out of regret.

Nicodemus – still recognised as the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night.

Joseph of Arimathea is there: Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. Secret disciples. And the one that came to see Jesus by night.

Was Nicodemus a disciple?

I’m not really sure. Luckily for Joseph John wrote his gospel quite late in the piece. If Galatians was the earliest book in the New Testament to be written – John’s gospel is probably the last. Had it been written early – I guess Joseph of Arimathea would have lost his category of one of the earliest secret disciples!

It is a challenge for others too – for the wrong reasons. Later on in John 12 we read:

Joh 12:42  Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue;

Joh 12:43  for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.

I recommend you read John. Listen to Tom Wright on this book:

The gospel of John has always been a favourite for many. At one level it is the simplest of all the gospels; at another level it is the most profound. It gives the appearance of being written by someone who was a very close friend of Jesus, and who spent the rest of his life mulling over, more and more deeply, what Jesus had done and said and achieved, praying it through from every angle, and helping others to understand it. Countless people down the centuries have found that, through reading this gospel, the figure of Jesus becomes real for them, full of warmth and light and promise. It is, in fact, one of the great books in the literature of the world; and part of its greatness is the way it reveals its secrets not just to high-flown learning, but to those who come to it with humility and hope. (So here it is: John for everyone!). Wright, Tom (2002-10-18). John for Everyone Part 1: Chapters 1-10 Pt. 1 (New Testament for Everyone) . SPCK. Kindle Edition.

Epilogue:

Of course there is this final question. We know that you can’t be a secret disciple in some places. And daily people are being martyred for being Christ followers.

And in some places it is wise not to publicise your faith – especially if you put others at risk.

What about me and you? Are we also lurking in the night or being secret followers of Jesus? Perhaps we are also John 12:43 followers unwilling to confess our faith publicly – as John puts it – “for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.”

Are we going to be remembered like Nicodemus and Joseph? Or would it be better to be remembered like Nathaniel or perhaps Thomas.

Its worth reading John’s gospel to reflect on this.

Amen. Amen.

Sunday sermon 21 December 2014 – children of God

Reading – John 1:1-14

MESSAGE

John 1:11-14  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 — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Whose son are you? Who do you belong to? To whom do you belong? Whose child are you?

In the movies people are often labelled as son of a something or other! You can use your imagination – especially if you are a cowboy movie fan.

We’re a funny old community – those of us who have made New Zealand as our home. Very strange really.

It’s a bicultural nation. Made up of people of the land, and people of the treaty.

It’s fast becoming one of the most multi-cultural places to live, especially in this city.

So you often have to write down your ethnicity, when you fill in various forms. And that too makes no sense, because of the fact that you may be recognised as an ethnic European who was born in Africa, for example. And a permanent resident here.

John’s gospel today divides the world into two different groups. Listen to verse 11 and 12:John 1:11  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. John 1:12  Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…

  • His own – who did not receive him. Jesus was Hebrew, Semitic, born into a Jewish family.
  • Those who received and believed – who become children of God.

This new family identity does not depend on ethnicity or language, or even citizenship or permanent residence.

Verse 13 continues: John 1:13  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

A Spiritual birth. A spiritual identity. That’s the key.

In Chapter 3 John records the words of Jesus as follows: John 3:3  In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

A better translation is this from the NRSV: Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 

“Above”  – refers to God of course – we are to be His children.

Who are you then? Who do you belong to? Which of these two categories? Those who receive Him or those who don’t?

If you haven’t figured that out – this is a good time to do so!

Christmas carols tell the story well.

O little town of Bethlehem – a favourite by Phillips Brooks – has these lines:

How silently, how silently

The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born in us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel

And then there’s this great carol by Charles Wesley:

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings

Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Whose child are you? This last verse refers both to resurrection life and new birth!

When you’ve figured that out – then your life’s purpose is redefined – things can never be the same again.

What wonderful news this Christmas! What a wonderful faith!

Amen.

11 May 2014 – Mothers’ Day message

Readings:

 1 Peter 1:17-23;  John 15:9-12

Message

I thought we could start today with a job advert. You may enjoy this – especially if you have had some difficult job interviews like me.

Interview

Yes we need to salute mothers. Especially because of the laws that operate in the world of mothering or parenting in general. Here they are:

“Murphy’s Laws of Parenting.” See if you can identify with any of these:

1. The later you stay up, the earlier your child will wake up the next morning.

2. The gooier the food, the more likely it is to end up on the carpet.

3. The longer it takes you to make a meal, the less your child will like it.

4. A sure way to get something done is to tell a child not to do it.

5. For a child to become clean, something else must become dirty.

6. Toys multiply to fill any space available.

7. Yours is always the only child who doesn’t behave.

8. If the shoe fits . . . it’s expensive.

9. Backing the car out of the driveway causes your child to have to go to the bathroom.

A story then to bring us back to biblical truth:

I came across the story of Mary Jane Kurtz. Mary Jane says that when she was a young, single mom with four children, it was difficult to get them all ready for church on Sunday. One particular Sunday morning as the children started to complain and squabble, Mary Jane stomped from one room to the other, saying out loud why it was important they go to church as a family and have a good attitude. Suddenly, she noticed all four children huddled together and laughing.

“What’s so funny?” Mary Jane asked.

“Mom,” they said, “every time you slam down your foot, smoke comes out. It must be the wrath of God!”

In reality, it was the powder Mary Jane had sprinkled in her shoes. But it worked. She says they made it to church on time that morning and practically every Sunday thereafter.

Edward K. Rowell, 1001 Quotes, Illustrations, and Humorous Stories (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing, 2008), p. 330.)

We know that ordinarily stamping your feet does not get the results you want in any part of life. Certainly not at work – not in the church – and especially not in family relationships.

In fact the standard for relationships in the Christian community is quite high.  Today’s reading from Peter is a case in point:

1Pe 1:17  Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.

1Pe 1:18  For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers,

1Pe 1:19  but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

1Pe 1:20  He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.

1Pe 1:21  Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

 1Pe 1:22  Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.

1Pe 1:23  For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 

Love one another deeply, from the heart – is a challenging requirement.   And Jesus lays it on thick too in the Gospel reading we heard: 

Joh 15:12  My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

The Jesus’ love thing is simple – it’s the servant thing – the foot washing at the last supper being a model for this attitude. We know what it entails – but are not that great at it.

These are huge expectations to love has he loves – (Jesus) – and to love one another deeply – from the heart.

This stretches us – often making us feel rather guilty! The downside is that people don’t want to talk about the reality of their family life. It’s too messy and often worlds apart from the standard. Our matters of the heart – our deepest emotions – are sometimes rather painful!

“If you just knew my heart” you hear people saying. And rightly so. The prophet Jeremiah ominously noted many, many years ago:

(ESV)  The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?  (Jeremiah 17:9)

(ANV)  Die hart is bedriegliker as enigiets anders, hy is ongeneeslik; wie kan hom verstaan? 

ASV)  The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it? 

(MSG)  “The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out. 

(NRSV)  The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse–who can understand it? 

You can see from the various translations that the prognosis is grim. How on earth is it possible for us to love one another deeply, from this kind of heart?

Well the context of this requirement gives us some insight into the process:

1Pe 1:22  Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.

1Pe 1:23  For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

You can’t really have sincere love for your brothers in the Christian family, or love one another deeply – from the heart – without the process of purifying yourself by obeying the truth.

1Pe 1:22  Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. 

Verse 22 can also be translated as:

(ESV)  Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for asincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart,

Sincere love here is very specific. The word is ἀνυπόκριτος –  anupokritos (without hypocrisy). Unfeigned is the old word. Authentic.

It’s the one quality people seek today. And yes there are people seeking truth. They want down to earth genuine people to tell them. No bulldust.

And they can spot love that is pretence. Feigned, phoney.

And it fits with Jesus’ command in John 15: Love each other as I have loved you.

Jesus was clearly authentic – listen to these words written by an unknown author:

Jesus was the personification of love. He loved everyone whom He met. He reached out to the sick, the blind, the crippled, the lonely, the widows, the poor, the dishonest tax collector, the Roman officer, the children—everyone whom He encountered, He loved!

In my words now – He had huge issues with hypocrisy – warning against sounding your trumpet when you do a good dead, praying in public, fasting and showing off about it. You know the teaching – don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing – pray in secret – fast without looking miserable and so forth… 

In order to have this unfeigned or authentic love – Peter outlines two things that are needed:

  1. Purify our souls

The purification that Peter speaks of is in the context of the biblical understanding of holiness. In Levitical law purification the killing of a sacrificial animal and the sprinkling of blood on all that was to be cleansed (Lev 8:15) all that was holy (1Ch 23:28) the priests and Levite and even the people of God (Neh 12:30)

Peter is obviously referring us to the cleansing that we can experience through the precious blood of the Lamb without blemish and without spot who was foreordained before the foundation of the world (1Pe 1:19-20). That lamb is Jesus Christ.

He is very clear that the saviour is a sacrifice for our sins. His letter begins with these words:

1Pe 1:1  Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,

1Pe 1:2  who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

And of course in this passage:

1Pe 1:18  For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers,

1Pe 1:19  but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

We need the cleansing – sprinkling of his blood to cleanse us! And then…

It’s interesting of course that we are to purify our souls – purify our lives through obedience to the truth! That means openness to do it God’s way. Because, Peter says: 

  1. You have been born again

1Pe 1:23  For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

People always think of Jesus’ words in John’s gospel when they think of being “born again”.

Here it is in Peter as well. We are born again through the living and enduringword (logos) of God.

So when it comes to this matter of getting our hearts right.

The purification – the new birth – come from Him.

Without Him – we are in trouble.

With divine intervention – we can be changed.

If we let Him in – the Word of God, Jesus, and if we let His words cut into those deep places – things happen. The writer to the Hebrews puts it like this:

Heb_4:12  For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

THE SINCERE LOVE

The love without hypocrisy is a possibility. Through lives shaped by the Word of God – changed through the Word and the Spirit. God’s love becomes real in us and our communities.

  • It is unconditional love – without strings attached.
  • It is serving love – always there for you.
  • It sounds very much to me like a mother’s love is like this!
  • Maybe mothers have a foretaste of this love.
  • Maybe that’s why there are always more mums in church than dads.

But mums also need to stamp their feet like the mum with powder in her shoes!

The wrath of God in view!

Thank God for mothers who have guided us and prayed for us – and helped us to discover the grace of Jesus and His great love – the love that works out its purpose in us!

Praise God for mums!

Amen!

Tuesday Church sermon 9 April – Born again

Reading: John 3: 7-15

I love to read about Nicodemus. He comes to Jesus at night – possibly because of privacy or secrecy (Jesus was a controversial person in the ruling Jewish Council) – possibly because he was a prayerful student who studied late at night – who knows really?

I also love the details about Jesus’ burial – in John 19:38 – Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away.  John 19:39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. So good to see that Nicodemus does become a disciple!

The idea that you can be born again is perplexing to him. But Jesus is clear: You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.”

When Nicodemus says: ‘How can this be?’  – Jesus is more direct: 10 ‘You are Israel’s teacher,’ said Jesus, ‘and do you not understand these things?

So are you? Born again?  Jesus says – You should not be surprised at my saying this!

It’s very clear that the Christian life is about a new beginning. Two things are very clear from today’s reading:

  1. It’s a work of the Holy Spirit – a spiritual rebirth!
  2. It involves the cross!

1. It’s a work of the Holy Spirit – a spiritual rebirth! We are born of the Holy Spirit – listen again to Jesus:

You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’

The word for spirit and wind are the same in both bible languages.  In the NT it is pneuma – here are various English words that come from this. The point is – you can’t actually see the wind, but you can see its effect. So too the Holy Spirit.

We don’t talk about the Holy Spirit enough. It is through the Holy Spirit that we receive assurance of faith (Rom 8:16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.) We experience the love of God through the Spirit: Romans 5:5 – because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. We are told to be “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18 – Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,) which is about on ongoing relationship with God who is spirit (John 4:24 – God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” ) and who empowers us with his transforming presence.

And it all begins with the spiritual rebirth – we are to be born again (from above) and born of the spirit – a touch and regeneration by the spirit – a bringing to life of our spirits so that we begin to experience the things that are in a different realm – the realm of the spirit. That realm – using another word for realm – is the Kingdom of God.

The Christian life is a spiritual life!

2. The Christian life also involves the cross – there is no escaping Easter here!

John also records these words of Jesus: 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’

This spiritual life – being born again by the spirit – also involves our being saved from a life of sin and death and being launched into a life in the spirit.

This is also referred to as “eternal life” and it is found in Jesus (verse 15  – “that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him”).

The reference to Moses is interesting here. The Israelites were in trouble – condemned to die because of their sin – which interestingly was not the breaking of the 10 commandments directly, but GRUMBLING. Listen to the account from Numbers 21:

Num 21:4  They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way;  Num 21:5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Num 21:6  Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.  Num 21:7  The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

Num 21:8  The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”  Num 21:9  So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

Grumbling against God and against God’s leaders gets people into trouble! They looked to the bronze serpent – and they were saved from death!

The parallel is clear. The bronze snake was lifted up – just as Moses lifted that symbol up in the wilderness, so to the Son of Man was to be lifted up “15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

They confessed their sin and asked for prayer – and Moses prayed for them. “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.  ” (Numbers 21:7.) We too look to the cross – and confess our sin! Well we should.

And of course this story is told to Nicodemus as a warning. One commentator, James Philip, puts it like this:

This was surely one element in Nicodemus’ situation: his was a willing blindness. He did not want to see the truth about the necessity for rebirth, because seeing it would have been at that point much too costly a thing for him. He resisted the truth because his heart was in rebellion against God, as much as the Israelites were. (James Philip was the minister of the Holyrood Abbey Church in Edinburgh, Scotland. He died in 2009. A great pastor-teacher)

That’s a warning to us when we say “oh we don’t need to be born again! We don’t need this Holy Spirit business. We’re just fine!

We need to really seek this fullness of life – the new birth – the fullness of the Spirit – a full understanding of what eternal life is – with our eyes firmly fixed on the cross.

Amen.