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Sunday 8 May 2016, Easter 7 – Ascension Sunday

Readings: John 17:20-26; Luke 24:44-53

Message:

ascension

I love this cartoon. It shows up every year somewhere.

You’ll only really appreciate it fully if you’ve had a child with ADD grow up in your house.

I suspect the whole church may have Ascension Deficit Disorder.

  • We’re often missing it.
  • Missing the point.
  • Not seeing clearly how significant the Ascension is.

Thursday – Ascension Day – came and went – I mistakenly thought someone might pop in at church to pray sometime through the morning.

We miss the point of Jesus being Messiah King.

We had our Messy Church evening on Friday and looked at the 10 commandments. And we tried to get the kids tell us what mom’s ten big rules were, and what dad’s were. You know the drill for mom – make your bed, clean your teeth, go to the toilet before you go to bed. And dad’s rules – which include switch off that TV and less computer time please.

I suggested that the most important rule for dads to teach their kids is simply this: LOVE YOUR MOM. And of course God’s ten big rules include HONOUR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.

Jesus’ big rule is actually this – I AM MESSIAH KING. He is the “I am”. Look to me!

The whole of the Bible – all of life – everything that we do that has any meaning at all – has to be seen through that lens.

It’s like going to Specsavers. When you get these glasses on – it all makes total sense.

In Luke 24 (and I think you should  read the whole of this chapter) – in all the engagements with the disciples after the resurrection – especially the Emmaus walk – there is an attention deficit problem. That’s why he says to them in verse 25:

“How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Luk 24:26  Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” Luk 24:27  And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (It’s quite direct – and not very pastoral!).

Note that he speaks about himself here as the Christ – the Messiah – which means the King.

Here he says that the whole Bible is really about him.

  • When you start at creation – you have to recognise John 1 – that nothing was made that was not made through Jesus.
  • If you look at Moses – you have to see that Jesus is the perfect law giver.
  • If you look at any of the prophets – Jesus surpasses them all in clarity of message as he speaks God’s word – because he is the Word of God supreme.
  • If you look at any of the Old Testament characters – they are pointing to Jesus. Joshua shares his name but Jesus really brings us to the promised land. Joseph forgives his brothers – but Jesus forgives us all.

In fact, John Calvin’s most profound and moving writing has to be what he pens about “Christ in All the Scriptures, Christ for All Our Needs” in a preface to a translation of the New Testament in 1535. He puts it like this:

For, this is eternal life; to know one, only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent, whom he has established as the beginning, the middle, and the end of our salvation.

He [Christ] is Isaac, the beloved Son of the Father who was offered as a sacrifice, but nevertheless did not succumb to the power of death.

He is Jacob the watchful shepherd, who has such great care for the sheep which he guards.

He is the good and compassionate brother Joseph, who in his glory was not ashamed to acknowledge his brothers, however lowly and abject their condition.

He is the great sacrificer and bishop Melchizedek, who has offered an eternal sacrifice once for all.

He is the sovereign lawgiver Moses, writing his law on the tables of our hearts by his Spirit.

He is the faithful captain and guide Joshua, to lead us to the Promised Land.

He is the victorious and noble king David, bringing by his hand all rebellious power to subjection.

He is the magnificent and triumphant king Solomon, governing his kingdom in peace and prosperity.

He is the strong and powerful Samson, who by his death has overwhelmed all his enemies.

He goes on to say:

If follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone. For, he was sold, to buy us back; captive, to deliver us; condemned, to absolve us; he was made a curse for our blessing, sin offering for our righteousness; marred that we may be made fair; he died for Our life; so that by him fury is made gentle, wrath appeased, darkness turned into light, fear reassured, despisal despised, debt cancelled, labour lightened, sadness made merry, misfortune made fortunate, difficulty easy, disorder ordered, division united, ignominy ennobled, rebellion subjected, intimidation intimidated, ambush uncovered, assaults assailed, force forced back, combat combated, war warred against, vengeance avenged, torment tormented, damnation damned, the abyss sunk into the abyss, hell transfixed, death dead, mortality made immortal.

Isn’t that  brilliant!

You have to begin to see the victorious Christ – the Messiah King – at His ascension.

When you see the ascension – you see the resurrection. You see the resurrection – you see the cross. You see the cross – and you see human sin. You see human sin and you see the fall of man. You see that and you understand the mess of the world and the need for hope. See that – and you see the need for a Saviour – one who can rescue us. Then you end up back at Christmas – with the birth of Jeshua – meaning “God saves”. You see that and you see people in relationship with God. You see that – and you see the point of life. You see the relationship people can have with God – and you see a better world where people get on and love like Jesus did.

And when you see that – you give thanks to God and worship the risen ascended Jesus – and not something else. All glory goes to Jesus! Not unto us! And it puts the ten commandments into perspective too – One God only, no idols, keeping His name holy – and keeping His day – this is all for Jesus too.

It’s all about Messiah – King Jesus.

He’s done all this – and he is the One who has to be at the centre of our lives.

Tim Keller – an American preacher in New York – talks about the deficit we have in our thinking about Christ the King in this way.

He tells the story of a British preacher John Guest who ends up living in American and visits Philadelphia and a revolutionary war museum – where he sees a sign that made him realise he really was in a different country.

It was from the time of the American revolution and on the wall in a pub or tavern. And it said this: “We serve no sovereign here”.

Keller goes on to say that democracy – and American democracy has got to be the most fascinating type in the world – has been described by C S Lewis as medicine and not food.

In Britain and Europe – and indeed the dominions like New Zealand where we are, Australia – and Canada – people still understand what it means to serve to a sovereign. In Asia people would see the benefit of respecting authority.

But not in America. America has sold us the idea of individual freedom more than any other power or philosophy. We all believe we have the right to veto everything.

If democracy is medicine and not food – what really feeds us?

Jesus hints at what really satisfies: John 4:34 – “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.

C S Lewis suggests that we were made to be ruled. And if we don’t acknowledge Jesus as King (as Tim Keller puts it) we will serve somebody. Or something. Human nature is such that If it doesn’t get food it will gobble poison. Keller suggests simply:

  • Obey him – treat Him as King.
  • Trust him – faith means trust at a basic level.
  • Rely on Him – prayer if anything is talking to him about our need of his help and support and purpose. Don’t say you believe in Him and depend on your career – or your family – or your stuff – to give you worth and meaning in life.
  • Treat him as a king in prayer; expect much – John Newton has a hymn that captures this well: Thou art coming to a King, Large petitions with thee bring; For His grace and power are such, None can ever ask too much; None can ever ask too much.

In the light of this, Jesus’ departing words make sense. Listen again:

Luk 24:44  Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Luk 24:45  Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, Luk 24:46  and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, Luk 24:47  and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  

The whole Bible story – salvation history as we know it since the story of Adam and Eve where God is a missional God looking for Adam – is about Jesus the Messiah King. It all points to him and focusses on Him. And it will end with Him too when he comes again.

And the disciples clearly had their work cut out for them –  telling this story. So Jesus says:

Luk 24:48  You are witnesses of these things. Luk 24:49  And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Luk 24:50  Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. Luk 24:51  While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. Luk 24:52  And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; Luk 24:53  and they were continually in the temple blessing God.  

The story of Luke goes on in volume 2 – what we know as the book of Acts. They are to wait those long ten days for the promised Holy Spirit. We’ll be here Tuesday and next Sunday to consider that.

But for today – take this home. The gospel ends with them worshipping Him – bowing to a Sovereign King. And this King who is so reliable and worth serving and obeying – is doing what He always does – we see him in verse 50 and 51 – blessing them.

Let Him bless you as you take Him anew as Messiah King.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 25 November – Christ the King

Christ the King.

Readings: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-134; Phil 2:8-15; John 18:33-37; Rev 1:4-8

I read an account this week of a Canadian lady who lives in two worlds, so to speak. Not heaven and earth – but in two countries. Her name is Cecille and she visits the United States dozens of times a day – when she makes tea, for example, or goes to the backdoor or the fridge. She reads and sleeps in Canada though. And she eats in Canada – because she sits at the north end of her dining room table.

The reason? Her house was already there in 1842 when politicians decided in London where the official boundary line would be. A citizen of Canada, she spends a lot of her time in another country while staying in the same place. Sound familiar to you?

It’s a great story and a kind of a parable of the Christian life for us.

Paul tells us in Philippians (not read today):

Php 3:18  For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.

Php 3:19  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.

Php 3:20  But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,

Php 3:21  who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Citizenship in heaven. And yet we live totally absorbed with the things of this world. And when Jesus’ ministry got going He preached about the Kingdom coming! In their midst!

We live in two Kingdoms.

Today’s Gospel reading

In the Gospel reading today Pilate and Jesus are talking about Jesus as King but they are talking about different Kingdoms.

It’s a fascinating conversation that John records for us. Listen again.

Joh 18:33  Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Joh 18:34  “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

Joh 18:35  “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Joh 18:36  Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

Joh 18:37  “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Pilate would have no issue with the idea of Jesus as King of the Jews. A bit bizarre, that’s all. Not a threat. He’s just a bible teacher from a small town.

Pilate is a pragmatic politician. He tries to figure this out and therefore asks a great question:

“What is it you have done?”

Of course this doesn’t really help him, because Jesus’ answer is couched in language and concepts of the other world – another reality – the other “Kingdom” to which he belongs:

Joh 18:36  Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

That is troublesome really for Pilate. He can only respond with “You are a king, then!”  One can only imagine what he was thinking. You are a king -or not. What on earth are you talking about?

Jesus makes it as clear as he can for this Roman: He answers:  “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

I had this great discussion this week with one of our elders about a verse in Matthew which goes like this:

Mat 7:6  “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. (If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.)

Well maybe this is an example of a tremendous truth that simply goes over someone’s head – because they’re not there. There is no way Pilate was going to understand the truth of Jesus and his Kingdom.

We live in these two worlds then. And what people believe about Jesus (in the Christian family) swings between these two worlds in a sense. There are those who believe that it is our job to make Jesus Lord and King of this world – so they fight for truth and justice.

And they are right in a sense – even if they become nutter activists. They plunge into the affairs of this world – or worse still spend all their time debating the affairs of this world – the politicians, the political parties, the social issues of poverty and corruption. Some just talk about the stuff all the time – using the social media or any opportunity to debate causes. They don’t always get involved of course.

One can’t dispute the fact that God calls people to be social reformers. The William Wilberforces of this world are a gift to all – it was he who spent his whole life fighting slavery. Watch “Amazing Grace” sometime and you will get what I mean.

And then on the opposite extreme there are those who spend all their energy and time focussing on spiritual matters – the Kingdom of God and its benefits for us as Christians – with equally unbalanced ways of doing things that are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.

BOTH ARE REAL AND NECESSARY

Both worlds are real and necessary. Don’t we pray each week” Your Kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”?

If our Canadian lady who lives in her house which straddles a national border were to spend all her time at the backdoor or at the fridge (in America), she would not get to sleep at all (which she does in Canada).

It is a pretty strange kind of way to live, but Christians are a peculiar lot anyway. The old KJV calls us a “peculiar people” which is rather nice. (1 Peter 2:9 – meaning his own possession).

Extreme 1

We can’t retreat permanently from the world and spend our time “in church” gazing upwards and enjoying being with the Lord all the time. Not normally at any rate (although God does call some people to a permanent retreat at times).

We do need to look past the obvious and life and stare into the eternal – we need to be in relationship with Jesus our King because he is not only the one who gives us our orders, but he is the one who empowers us and gives us all we need to be his people in the world. And he calls us to get involved in the world of pain, suffering, hunger, disease and heartache.

Extreme 2

Likewise we can’t spend all our time in the struggles of this world, as that too would mean half the job done. We are to be there with a purpose – and point people to the other Kingdom – to the King who in the most amazing way defines everything that makes sense about Kingship. A Christian who doesn’t point people to Jesus and the gospel becomes a political or social activist and no longer a servant of the Kingdom of God.

WHAT MAKES A GOOD KING?

Since Prince Charles came to visit with his old friend and now wife Camilla, the debate about royalty has started up here again.

And the basic question is this – “what makes for a good king?” What kind of King would this be?

In fact the whole trial and crucifixion is about this issue. Even from his birth it was clear that Jesus was to be a king:

  • Mat_2:2  and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” The wise men present him gold – fit for a king – as one of his gifts.
  • Early on he is identified in this way: Joh_1:49  Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”
  • Then they tried to make him king here – when he fed the 5000 with a boy’s lunch (potential to solve world food shortages!): Joh_6:15  Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.
  • And of course about Palm Sunday when he road into Jerusalem – John quotes the Old Testament: Joh_12:15  “Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” (Quoting Zechariah 9:9)

THE TRIAL AND CRUCIFIXION

  • And as the trial progresses we hear Pilate saying: Joh_18:39  But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”
  • And then the soldiers: Joh_19:3  and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in the face.
  • And the story continues:  Joh_19:12  From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
    • Joh_19:14  It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour. “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
    • Joh_19:15  But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!” “Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked. “We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.

 Joh_19:19  Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.

The question is – what kind of King?

In his human life – a servant king – touching the untouchables, restoring the broken, dying on a tree for our sins.

In his RESURRECTION raised in glorious splendour – the one who is to be worshipped as Lord, the one before whom every knee shall bow.

There is Jesus the human and Jesus the Divine. And His Kingdom had its effect on those around him as the future broke into the present – the sick were healed, the dead raised, and demons – evil spirits – defeated.

We live in between the then and the not yet – our now is a battle as we try to resist the devil who wants to suck us back into his kingdom of darkness.

Peter –who tells us to resist the devil – also writes this (which we have referred to already in regard to the word “peculiar”):

1Pe_2:9  But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

KINGDOM CHOICES AND CALLING

Let’s not be duped into thinking that this is just a question of choosing to be nice rather than unpleasant. Sometimes we reduce the Christian journey to a matter of ethical choices – like those who make Jesus a good teacher and no more.

This is war. The darkness and the light are at war with each other.

The truth prevails. As it will in every human conflict. Those who try to manipulate the truth will be exposed.

WHICH BRINGS US BACK TO PILATE IN TODAY’S READING

Pilate tried to crucify the Truth!

Putting a crown of thorns on Jesus and a mocking sign “The King of the Jews” would not change that. And in a fascinating twist Pilate was in fact announcing the truth about Jesus.

  • Pilate embodies the opposite of Jesus’ Kingdom. He controls and keeps the peace so that he will keep control and therefore keep his job. He lords it over people. He kills Jesus.
  • Jesus on the other hand empowers others and washes the feet of those he leads.
  • Pilate’s rule brings terror, even in the midst of calm.
  • Jesus’ rule brings peace, even in the midst of terror.
  • Pilate’s power comes from Caesar and is temporary.
  • Jesus’ authority comes from God and is eternal.

And from the cross Jesus is the suffering servant in the complete sense. Forgiving them. And even caring for them by creating a new community – when he appoints John as Mary’s son and Mary as John’s mother, this is more than just a family and friend thing. It’s a whole new community of love that is greater than family ties, gender, race and earthly citizenship. It’s the church that is being born – God’s family on earth – and the people who are showing forth the Kingdom.

So this is “Christ the King” Sunday.

All this information about Jesus and what he did to achieve our salvation and freedom is known to us. Paul reminds us that as a result of his death, he is exalted as Lord of all. Listen again:

Php 2:8  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Php 2:9  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,

Php 2:10  that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

Php 2:11  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

And so much in the New Testament is shaped by this passage from Daniel 7:

Dan 7:9  “As I looked, “thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze.

Dan 7:10  A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened.

Dan 7:13  “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.

Dan 7:14  He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

IS HE YOUR KING?

The bottom line is this: Is He our King? Or do we serve others? Are we really passionate about His Kingdom? It influences who we are and everything we do. Listen again to John in Revelation 1:5-6:

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

THE KINGDOM IS ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS

One commentator puts it this way:

We are made a kingdom (RSV). John gives us here a fascinating insight into the kingdom theology of the New Testament. The kingdom of God is not seen in the New Testament in territorial terms, but rather in relationship terms. “It is the Kingly Reign of Jesus Christ” (Bonhoeffer).

Ordinary and garden-variety people who receive the love and freedom from Christ are the ones who, as we are willing to become Christ’s servants (Rev_1:1), thereby become His very kingdom in the world.

The apostle John continues: Rev 1:7  Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.

Rev 1:8  “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Those who don’t believe will see eventually. In the meantime we live to praise His name and to proclaim His Kingdom – living it out in community here in this place.

May this truth be real for us today.

Amen.