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The Great Commission

(Mark 16:19-20)

Have you ever been in a situation maybe reading a book or watching  a film and wondering how is this story going to end? You might even ponder the question is their going to be a twist in the tale, a surprise at the end. Sometimes when reading a book some people are tempted to read the final chapter instead to find out what’s happens in the end. Maybe for us, in this day and age, when we get to the end of reading the life of Christ, we are so familiar with what happens at the end, that this effects our reading of it from the very beginning. I am sure most of us, if not all of us knew when we started on this huge series through the life of that at the end he would be crucified, and he was going to die. We maybe even already knew that he was also going to be raised again and ascend into heaven.

All those events did in deed happen and are set out for us very clearly in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, however, the end of Mark Gospel account is full of surprises. Question have even raised because of the controversial nature of the text as to whether it should even be in the Bible. It almost appears to be teaching that we should be handling snakes and drinking poisons. This is a very challenging piece of scripture but it worth getting to the bottom of it.

I would like to begin by asserting that it should be in the Bible. Let me first explain why I believe this, and I will get to the other perceived problems as we progress. Sometimes if you have a modern translation of the bible (Like the NIV) usually before the last 11 verses there is a little Asterix directing, you to a footnote that says something like this.  [Some early manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have verses 9–20]. However, it is interesting to note that these verses appears in their entirety in the authorised, King James versions of the bible with no such footnotes or qualifications. Let me try and throw some light on these queries by first of all stating this text appears in every manuscript of the bible that have been produced except two. In those editions where the verses are missing there is still a blank space to draw attention to the fact that this is not the end of the book rather there is actually something missing from the end of this Gospel account. The two manuscripts that these verses are not contained in are dated around 350AD. However, the missing verses are referred to in the writing of a man called Arenaus who wrote in the latter part of the 2nd century, 150 years earlier. The text also appears in the writing of Justin Martyr who wrote about 100 years before those editions. The text appears in all the main manuscripts but although it doesn’t appear in a couple of early manuscript it does appear in writings about the gospel of Mark that were written approximately 100-150 years before those two manuscripts.

That’s the technical argument why Marks account doesn’t end at verse 8, but there is also a very practical reason why it cannot end there. If it ended at verse 8 the ending would be unnaturally abrupt, and it would be a completely abnormal ending. In fact, the final sentence of verse 8 isn’t even complete. (Mark 16:8)  Not a great way to end the gospel story is it? It’s hard to pick up in the English translation but in the original Greek text it actually ends with the word for…Anybody who knows anything about New Testament Greek knows you don’t end a sentence with for, it’s a bit like ending an English sentence with the word because. It’s just not reasonable because verse 8  exists to set up a situation where the apostles are scared and afraid. Verse 8 exists to set up the coming narrative where Jesus will appear to them one more time to help them overcome their fear and embolden them to go out and preach the gospel.

The text openings by telling us that Jesus appears too is Mary Magdalene.and she goes and tells the disciples. They are mourning, grieving and weeping and she comes in and says to them he is alive.  But 11 When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. How disappointing, they don’t believe her. Previously in Mark 9:it said A”s they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead”. A few weeks earlier he had told them this was about to happen, they did because they had even discussed it. (Mark 9: 10) Later in the chapter they were even told, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” (Mark 9: 31) The talk about it again later  in  (Mark 10: 32-34) That was at least three times they have been told, and by Jesus himself, and it still didn’t sink in and now Mary come to them and says I saw Him, and they still don’t believe. It would almost be amusing, if it wasn’t so important.

Jesus firmly rebukes them for this. (Mark 16:15) In spite of rebuking them for unbelief, please note he doesn’t say, “I am done with you lot”, he actually says, “I am just beginning with you”. Even though they are riddled with unbelief, they are still commanded to go into the world and tell the people of the good news of Jesus. Some of the people he is telling to go here I few minutes ago didn’t even seem to believe he has risen from the dead.  But he tells them to go anyway. He gives them a commission and then he makes a promise and then this is where the really big surprise comes (Mark 16: 17-18) He commissioned them, and make a promise, and then lists 5 miraculous signs. 1 Cast out demons. 2 Speak with tongues. 3 Handle snakes. 4 Drink deadly poisons. 5 Heal the sick.

What does that all actually say? Let me tell you what it most definitely does not say. It does not say these signs will follow all who believe, and it does not say these signs will always follow everyone who believes. What I believe is being said here is that these signs shall be seen among those who believe as a group within the family of believers worldwide these signs will be witnessed. He then tells us the purpose of these sign, “the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied It”(Mark 16: 20b) At the beginning of the preaching of the word, these believers, the Apostles, were given these signs to confirm the message. That is why throughout early church history the particular signs and wonders mentioned in these two verses are usually called “apostolic signs” or described as “confirming” signs”. In my opinion, these particular confirming signs ceased after the apostolic era. In fact, in the book of Hebrews it tells us this will be so; This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Heb 2: 3b-4) I believe there is biblical evidence to say that the signs not specifically mention later in the Pastoral letters as ongoing gifts of the spirit would in fact cease after the apostolic era and the truth of the matter is, they did. There is absolutely no question that in the history for the church “some” of these types of signs did not occur after the apostolic era ended.

However it is worth noting that the apostles where commanded  to, go “out and preach everywhere and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it. And that is what they did, various church traditions report the following about what the apostles did after receiving this command. The point I wish to make is they went everywhere, just as they were told everywhere. Mark finishes his gospel by saying these believers did what the lord told them to do.

The message of this closing passage is quite straight forward really, in that after Jesus arose, and he commissioned the disciples. He arose and told them to go preach the gospel to the whole wide world. Let me tell you what does not apply to us. Firstly, you do not have to drink poison, you do not have to handle snakes. Relieved! – Good Four of these five apostolic signs were reported as having been done in the Book of Acts. Apostolic signs and wonders are recorded for us in the book called “The Acts of the Apostles” for that very reason. However, what definitely still does apply to us today? “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation”.(Mark 16:15b). Mathew tells a little more in his account in that this commission is to preach the gospel to all creation, to the end of the age. Could eleven people on their own fulfil that commandment? Clearly not. That means this commission also apples to us today and it will apply to all believers always until this done.

I have suggested in this lengthy series and I shall say it again, if we think of ourselves then we will remain silent However, it if you think compassionately about others, and about the Lord then you will tell other what He means to you. If we remain silent, others will stay trapped in their broken lives. We should think of others and speak about what the Lord has done because if we remain silent, other remain trapped and if we speak, other can be set free.

Amen

The Significance of an Empty Tomb.

Mark 16: 1-7

It’s Saturday and it is after 6.00pm in the early evening and the Sabbath has ended. Three women have bought spices and they are on their way to anoint the body of Jesus. Clearly, they were expecting to find a dead body at the tomb, or they wouldn’t have brought the anointing spices.

So, they are also discussing the practical problem of the large stone blocking the entrance that awaits them when they arrive at the burial site. These women knew about this stone and they knew they wouldn’t be able to move themselves. Therefore, on their way they were discussing among themselves how they might get someone to move it so that they could anoint the body of the Lord. But when they get to the tomb, this is what they see;  “that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away ”. Matthew identifies this young man as an angel. The women are alarmed, terrified some translations say. They were expecting a grave and a body, instead they get an empty tomb and an angel. The angels tells them to not be alarmed, for he is not here, he is risen. This verse also tells us that the angel confirms to the woman that they have got the right tomb and the reason he is not here he says is because, He is risen. The angel even points to the shelf and says, “see the place where they laid them”. In the gospel of John, we are told that what the ladies saw was not just an empty slab but discarded grave clothes. This was to show that the body has miraculously gone and not just been stolen, because if someone had stolen the body would they really have taken the trouble to remove the grave clothes before doing it.

This is what fully convinced them that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. They like us cannot understand the empty tomb unless they understand the resurrection of Christ. They like us cannot understand the significance of the death of Christ unless we understand that the empty tomb means resurrection. Jesus had told them that He was going to die for their sins however anybody could say that, even I could say that. Indeed, I might then die after saying that, you might think, “big deal”. How would you know someone had really done that, you wouldn’t if they just died like anyone else. However, Jesus did indeed say he was going to die for the sins of the world, but He also said he was going to come back again. Therefore, the empty tomb was telling us he did what he said he would do. The empty tomb is evidence of sins forgiven and demonstrates that this was not just an ordinary death on the back of an empty promise. It the evidence that Christ forgives sin.

The angel instructs them to go, tell his disciples and Peter.  I believe he specifically mentions Peter because Peter had just denied the Lord and at this point, he was set apart, probably depressed, no doubt ashamed of himself. Perhaps he even no longer even considered himself to be a disciple. There is a special message for Peter here, a message that says, “Peter you are forgiven”.

The unique message of this passage is, God forgives those who have sinned, always. Have you ever fallen away from the Lord, or did you ever once feel you were close to Him but are no longer so? I have good news for you right here, you can come back again. Good news because Christ is calling you back, calling you home. God is always willing to forgive you and calls you back into his service. God forgave me when I was a young teenage, but I wandered far from Him, but he forgave me again when I was 30 years old and called me back into service. Furthermore, he didn’t make me go through all kinds of torment to do that, he just reminded me that he had forgiven me, and He let me pick up on my discipleship we it had left off. The message of the empty tomb is forgiveness, and that Christians are not perfect, they are just forgiven.

The famous inventor Thomas Edison, the inventor of the electric light-bulb said that along with his whole team of men it took over 24 hours to make each of the first 6 individual light-bulbs. He talked about the first one he created, and when he finished it, he passed to a young apprentice to take it up stairs to the testing room. You can guess what happened next. He tripped and dropped it and it broke, it took the team 24 hours to make the second one. Do you know what he did with the next one…. He gave it to the same young lad.

That’s what God is like, so you messed up, OK, let’s try again. That’s what the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is all about, forgiveness. You can always come back and acknowledge your mistakes, acknowledge you sins, and he will forgive just like he did before.

God forgives sinners and God forgives sin. Do you know what the answer most people in this country give to the question, do you know for sure that if you were to die you are going to heaven. The number 1 answer is, “I hope so, I hope I have lived a good enough life”. Well I am here to tell you, its not about being good enough, it’s just about receiving a gift.

A friend of mine told me of a story when he was out one Sunday afternoon walking in his local park when he came across a man sitting reading  bible track. He said to the man, was he assured that if he died, that he knew he was going to heaven. The man said. I never could be good enough to get to heaven. This is what my friend said in reply; “Okay, if we accept that as true, however, if God were to make a special exception in your case, and give you salvation outright as a gift, would you then accept it. The man replied, “of course I would, who would be daft enough to turn down a gift like that”. That’s exactly what people do every day. The gift has been paid for, the gift can be yours, you just have to receive it.

In 1830 in America a man named George Wilson killed a government employee who caught him in the act of robbing the mail. Wilson was tried and sentenced to be hanged, however the President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, intervened and sent Wilson a pardon, but Wilson refused to accept delivery of the pardon. No one seemed to know what to do because of this, so Wilson’s case was sent to the equivalent of the supreme court at that time.  Chief Justice Marshall judged the situation and wrote the following conclusive opinion: “A pardon is a slip of paper, the value of which is determined by the acceptance of the person to be pardoned. If it is refused, there is no pardon”. George Wilson was subsequently hanged.

The death of Christ on the cross is the pardon God has sent but before it becomes our pardon, we must accept it in faith and obedience. We must accept that offer of forgiveness and accept the sacrifice made on our behalf Then we can live a life in the light of having received that wonderful gift…. Amen

Take Courage

Mark 15: 40-47

 Maybe you’ve been to a funeral and learned something about the person who has died that you didn’t know before? When attending a funeral, you can not only learn a lot about the person who has deceased, but also sometimes get added insight into their life by who chooses to attend. There was one particular funeral I believe there is something we can learn from if we look at the people who attended this particular event.

There were two groups of people at the burial of Jesus, or at least one group and another individual. A small group woman and someone called Joseph of Arimathea.  There are a number of places in the New Testament were this small group of women are mentioned but it is interesting to note that on each occasion they are mentioned Mary Magdalene is always mentioned first. Many bible scholars say this indicates that she was probably their leader. Another woman mentioned is also called Mary, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph. Then there is Salome and we are told elsewhere she ministered to the Lord with her worldly goods.

Remember at this point in the story there has been great hostility shown towards the Lord which has climaxed with Him being crucified only the day before. This suggest to me that these women should have been fearful after all the disciples fled because they were followers of Jesus and they probably thought they were next. However, the women had overcome that fear and remained faithful until the end. Their devotion to the Lord had meant that they had put him above their own personal welfare. They were faithful to the very end, more so than even the disciple.

Now we come to the second person in this passage, namely Joseph of Arimathea, “a prominent member of the Council”. That is interesting because saying he was a member of the council means he was a member of the Sanhedrin. Johns account actual tells us that he was in fact a disciple of the Lord, but keep it secret for “fear of the Jews” Here is a man who was a prominent respectable member of the ruling council of the Sanhedrin who had come to believe that Jesus was the Christ. However, he is understandably frightened of how his fellow members of the Sanhedrin might react if they knew this. The key statement, as it says in some translations that “he took courage” and “boldly” went before the council and requested that he might have the body of Christ. We see in this passage that Joseph stood up and spoke up for the Lord. However, he did more than just that, he stood up, he spoke up, and then he sacrificially served the Lord. He did so by taking down his body wrapping it in linen and placing it in a tomb.

On a practical level Joseph could not have removed Christ’s body from the cross all by himself, as a matter of fact, we are told in the gospel of John that Nicodemus helped him. Nicodemus was also a member of the ruling council, the one who secretly came to meet with Jesus in the middle of the night. There is a really significant sacrifice being made here because what is really significant in this is that they handled the body. For a Jew to handle a dead body meant they would have been disqualified from taking or participating in the Passover. On the eve of the Passover they did something that made them defiled in the eyes of their people and their faith group. So, they bury Jesus in a tomb cut out of rock and they roll a large stone against the door of the tomb.

I believe a lesson to be learned in all of this is that we too need to overcome our fears. Fear of the crowd or  what people might think can stop us in our tracks, it certainly stopped the disciples, who in a matter of a days had all turned and fled. It had stopped Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus from standing up prior to this point.

So, what’s the solution when we feel challenged or afraid. Should we wait until the fear subsides before we take courage or is taking courage the solution to the fear. Perhaps we are called not to wait until the fear is gone, but to speak when we are afraid. Paul writing in 1st Corinthians 2: 3-5 says;

 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

Take heart and be courageous but please note this is not an arrogant attitude, haranguing people of there status before a holy God. This is a place of humility, coming in weakness, with great fear and trembling. Paul himself says he came to them in weakness and in great fear and trembling. He didn’t wait till the fear subsided, he took courage and spoke authentically even whilst he was afraid.

That I believe is an important part of the lesson of this passage. Were the woman afraid? Probably. Was Joseph afraid? Definitely because the text says he was, but neither of them let their fear control them. Courage is only courage if you are doing what you are afraid to do, there can be no real courage unless you are afraid. Next time you are afraid, try taking courage, and do the right thing whilst you are afraid. Sometimes we need to look fear in the face and take courage in spite of being in great fear and trembling. You don’t need to rely on persuasive words, you just need to get out of the way and let God demonstrate it through His Spirit’s power Because regardless of any loss we might experience today a day will come when because of that courageous step you will stand before the God who created this universe and because one day you will one day stand before the king and be given your reward.

Amen

A New Year Resolution You Can Actually Keep

New year is a time when many people make resolutions saying this time, I will keep it. People resolve to do that because it’s a New Year, and people in some way also want to feel renewed. Sign-ups for new Gym Membership go through the roof at this time of year. Others, people resolve to stop smoking or to try and reduce or control their drinking. There are plenty of diets to choose from, you can go low calorie, low fat, low carb, or low sugar. How about the straight forward “No more chocolate in 2019, until reach my target weight”. On the first of January this nation collectively will promise to lose over a million kilograms of fat. Hundreds of thousands of miles will be run on streets, treadmills and cross trainers. Millions of cigarettes will be forsaken, for the first few days of January anyway. For many however this year’s resolutions will fall the same way as last year’s resolutions. People will try and change, but most will fail to do so.

What is the Christian view of how we can really change our behaviours? All these changes in life and behaviours I have described are minor and superficial in comparison to the Christian view of a just how changed a new you can really attain. The question we perhaps need to ask perhaps is how can we make a resolution to change that we can really believe in?  Around 3000 years ago a man called Isaiah wrote; “We all we like sheep have gone astray, we turn each to his own way”. (Isaiah 53:6) What I believe he is simply telling us is that all of us fall short, we all get things wrong. We get things wrong by nature, and we get things wrong by choice. However, the Bible tells that we can actually gain a new nature when we make Jesus Lord of our life. The Apostle Paul told us this when he wrote: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here”. (II Corinthians 5:17) The Message is that if you have trusted Christ then you are given a new nature.

The word nature used in the Bible can also be translated as ability, or perhaps an even better translation would be capacity. This shows that there are always two options. One is to live according to the old nature, what the Bible calls “the Flesh” in other words the old capacity we had, or we can choose to live according to this new nature God has given us. If we focus our mind on the things of the old nature, we will see our personality and drives develop in that direction and those who set the mind on things of God will by nature then experience real spiritual growth. The fact of the matter is we can all choose to live one of two ways, we can carry on living according to the old nature, or we can live according to the Holy Spirit of God. If you have trusted in Jesus Christ and handed your life over to God you have a new nature, but you will still have some old habits. The problem is we bring some of our old destructive drives and desires with us, even when we have a new nature bestowed upon us by God. We are told that what we have here is a new capability but how can we grow in that new capacity and live according to God’s plan for us. Generally, in life we all follow our emotional desires and do what they tell us to do. Maybe on an emotional level we need to say to ourselves I’m going to change my emotional drives. I’m going to choose to focus on things of the Spirit rather than on things of the flesh. Instead of focusing on guilt, or fear and anger, I’m now going to focus on love joy and peace. Instead of focusing on my physical craving. I am going to allow myself to focus on my spiritual needs and allow God to renew me that way.

To be a new you in the New Year, you simply need to allow God to renew your life. The Apostle Paul when writing to the Christian church in Rome refers to this issue when he said; “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will”. (Romans 12:2 NIV) This transformation is not about cramming more and more knowledge into our brains, it’s about “understanding and applying” the basic truths we are being taught. God said; “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts”.(Isaiah 55:9 NIV) This is the heart of what it takes to really change our lives. We now need see things from God’s point of view, we all need to integrate God’s plan and purpose into our lives.

The things of the Spirit are revealed primarily by the word of God. The life and spoken words of Jesus have always been the 1st point of call for Christians who want to know and understand the will of God in their lives. What you take in, what you think about, what you meditate on, determines the way you think, therefore, to be renewed you actually need to be renewed emotionally and mentally in the way that you think and that is an everyday ongoing process. It’s not a single event once a year like a New Year resolution it’s a commitment to the way you think, all the time. That’s why the Psalmist wrote; Blessed is the one who delights is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law, day and night. (Psalm 1:2 NIV) This means that when you encounter a difficult situation, your mind should automatically try and think, what is the Christ-like approach to this situation? What would Jesus do? It’s a whole new way of thinking. It’s sad that as human beings we all have the capacity to fly in the Spirit and yet so many chose to crawl along in the old nature. We have the capacity to be joyful, yet we often choose to be bitter or disappointed. We have the capacity to love yet we let ourselves be drawn to hate. We all live in a culture surrounded by many negative influences and perhaps we grow up in an environment where we were expected to crawl. If you want to be a New You in the New Year, we need is the power to make new choices.

There is an application of the will involved here. This passage talks about taking off, and putting on, that’s all about making a choice. It’s all about acting in free will and choosing actively to do something different. It’s all about the decisions we make. Perhaps your old nature has driven you to make the wrong choices in the past, but at least now you can choose to take the higher route, you can now choose to fly instead of crawl. You can choose to repeat the mistakes like you always have or you can choose to listen to the prompting of the Lord. The trick is to live by God prompting but also to rejoice in doing it. Not just when things are going well, but also when things are tough because that’s when it really matters. That’s living in the spirit and choosing to fly when you might have previously have only been able to crawl.

Let me issue you with a challenge for the new year if you want to be a new year, a better you in the New Year? Are there parts of you that need to change this year? Do you need to be renewed? I know I do. The way to have a new you, is to have a new nature, a new mind set on new better choices.

Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so, we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.”.

(II Corinthians 3: 16-18) The Message

I’m asking you to renew your emotions this year. I’m asking you to renew your mind and to renew your choices this year but to do it by submitting your life to Jesus and allowing him to place His nature, a new nature in you. No longer following the prompting of the old nature that used to dominate your life. Rather following the new promptings of the Spirit of God.

The you might have a truly Happy New Year.

Bethlehem and the Shadow of the Cross (Luke 2: 1-7 & Mark 15: 33-39)

The Christmas story tells us that God is with us now, the incarnate God made real in the vulnerability of a child and later in the agony of a dying man on a cross. The Word became flesh and did indeed dwell among us full of grace and truth. We can see in the helplessness of a child born in humble circumstances the prequel of a life which embraced the rejected of society and overthrew the man-made structures of both religious and secular power in favour of the justice and love of God.  The Advent story shown us God embracing all humanity in a invitation is offered to all of us. No longer need we feel God is remote and far off because now we can imagine a new intimacy with God, and a new openness to others, because He became one of us.  Understanding the facts that Jesus came to earth as a baby and died some 33 years later is one thing.  However, knowing the significance of that life and death is quite another. The significance of that one life, means that even in the nativity story the shadow of the cross falls upon the manger in the stable. Whilst many people in the world know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and he died crucified on Calvary, most still don’t know what that really means.

Marks Gospel tells us; account tell us that Christ had hung on the cross for six hours, and for the last 3 hours the whole land has been covered in darkness, Then, “at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. This is the only time in the New Testament where Jesus calls God, God, at all other times He addressed Him as Father, and this is significant. The big question this raises is in what way did God the Father forsake God the Son? The answer is that it was at this point Jesus became our sin and died for the sins of the world and therefore because of that sin God the father by necessity had to turn away. However, the point at which we recognise that Jesus Christ did that for us is also the point at which we as believers, become Children of God. When we understand that Jesus Christ died for our sins and trust in him then, at that precise moment we become Children of God. To say that same thing another way is to say that God becomes our father on that day and if we become His children. When Jesus Christ died for your sins it was in order to enable

In Mark 15:37 it tells us, “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last”. We are told in John Gospel that it was at this point Jesus cried “it is finished”. Furthermore, Luke also added that Jesus also said, “into your hands I commit my spirit” The important point is illustrated by what happens next. “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom”. Jesus dies, and the temple veil is torn. This is one of the deeply significant things about the death of Christ, but in order to fully appreciate it fully you have to understand something about the tabernacle and later the temple.

The whole tabernacle structure and area is teaching the whole nations was that if you were an ordinary man or woman you didn’t have access to God. If you were lucky enough to be a man you could get part way there, and if you were a priest, you could go into the Holy place. However only if you were a high priest could you actually enter into the Holy of Holies, and the presence of God, and he could only do that on one day, once a year. The tabernacle was portable place for the presence of God to dwell amongst his people which was carried around and constructed anywhere and everywhere they paused to rest.

Later the tabernacle was replaced by a permanent structure called the temple. The whole area around the Temple buildings is called the Court of the gentiles, anybody can visit that area, but if you were a gentile you could only go there but no further. Passing through the main gate and you could then enter what was called the women’s courtyard. Jewish men and woman could both go into that courtyard, but not the gentiles and the woman could go no further than that. However, beyond that was the court of the Israelites, and only men could go there. Then just beyond the slaughter tables and the alter lay the court of the Priests, and guess what you had to be a priest to go that far. Then again beyond that was the building that was the temple proper. Within this temple proper you first entered through the vestibule into the holy place, then beyond that up some steps you entered into the Holy of Holies. These two compartments of the temple proper were separated by a veil, and it is this veil that is being talked about here. A veil that was about 30 feet wide and estimated at about 45 feet high. Just like the tabernacle, the whole edifice said that all of us can only go so far. If you were a gentile, you could only go so far. If you were a woman you could go a little bit further but only go so far. If you were an Israelite, you could go a little bit further but only go so far, and even if you were a priest you could only go so far. Once again only the high priest could enter beyond the veil, into the holiest of holies, into the presence of God, and then only once a year. One man on the whole of Gods creation, and only once a year could enter into the presence of God, in that one particular place.

However, at the moment that Jesus died on the cross we are told that that barrier, that curtain was torn from the top to the bottom. That which separated people from the presence of God was torn wide open. When Jesus died everyone man and woman on this planet, that day and every day thereafter was invited and offered a welcome into the presence of God as Gods special children. We just had to cry out in repentance and faith to enter in. The death of Christ and the tearing of the veil represents the fact that believers can now enter into the very presence of God, and you can do it today, even this morning. Prior to this it was one man (The High Priest) on one day (the Day of Atonement), once a year. However, this means that every believer can now enter the presence of God not just today, but in every minute of every day.

This ripping of the veil made God not only our father but is made God “Abba father”. “Abba” is a term of endearment and equivalent to our term Daddy, it indicates intimacy and trust. In other words, your father God is now approachable. Under the Old Testament system God was not approachable by everybody, the presence of God was limited to one person once a year. The arrival of Jesus is the beginning of the opening up of an initiation to approach God as our father without fear.

As well as being approachable, Abba Father is now available Previously before the coming of Jesus, access to God was limited not only physically to one man, but it was also limited geographically to one place, ‘The Holy of Holies’. God presence was literally penned in.

In John Chapter 4 Jesus speaking says this;

“Jesus replied, ‘believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem……. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks”. (John 4: 21-23)

God is no longer accessible by a particular location, He is accessible in Spirit and in truth, anywhere. God is now available wherever and whenever you need Him. God has made himself approachable, but remember you still have to approach him. He may be available any-time and anywhere, but you still have to go to Him. Remember back in the day, when you wanted to call someone you had to find a phone box or go home. Well God has given you a spiritual mobile phone, he has placed it on/in your person and you can call him any-time. Abba Father is now not just approachable, he is now available. When you approach Him, you will never get a engaged signal, and you never get a answering machine message telling you to call back later. Call upon him when you need Him, and he will answer you all the time.

Why do you think he did all this, why did he rip the veil from top to bottom. Why do you think he make himself approachable and available? Perhaps it’s because, He wants to hear from you. He wants to hear from you because He is your loving father, and He wants to hear from you, and He wants to help you. He just wants you to talk to him and lead your life according to the direction you gain from spending time with Him.

God is now your Father, and because Jesus Christ came and walked this earth, and then died for our sins, we now have the opportunity to call upon God not just as Father, but more so as “Abba Father”. Anywhere, any-time, an yplace. Now and always.

I wish you a happy and peaceful  Advent

Advent – Are You Ready

Advent—Are You Ready

Malachi 3: 1-4 & Luke 3: 1-6

How do we know Christmas is just around the corner?  Is it because next year’s holiday brochures start coming to you through the post? Or is it because they’ve started advertising the Boxing Day and New Year sales on the TV. The consumer mentality tries to overwhelm us and demands a fever pitch of activity. Through TV and the media, advertising, we are always called to desire the next big thing and to plan and book are purchases. One event follows another, Christmas it seems is just another in a long line of annual sales opportunities. Rather than being filled with hope and joy, many wait in a state of anxiety, or cynicism, or even stress.

In all of our business, we sometimes miss the gift of just waiting an being called to take time out, to not be drawn into the things of the world. To try and step aside from the drives of our modern day and to stop and ponder the deeper things of life and of this advent season.

  • We too should take time to prepare.
  • We too should take time to think.
  • We too should take time to pray.

We too should take time to be properly ready for the amazing, earth shattering event that was the Incarnation. How should we live out the Advent journey. Advent is a time for preparation, a time to ‘get ready’ for the momentous arrival of our Incarnate God. The emergence of John the Baptist in the Gospel of Luke was a crucial point in time in the Gospel narrative. He places these events historically by giving us four different anchor points.

  1. 15th year of the reign of Tiberius.
  2. When Pontius Pilate was governor. of Judea
  3. When Herod the Great was Tetrarch of Galilee
  4. During the priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas.

Luke discloses this hugely important moment in a time and place of recordable history and having anchored the event in historical, political and religious contexts, Luke then gives authenticity to the appearance of John the Baptist  by quoting verses from the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 40:3-5).

When a king proposed to tour a part of his dominions at that time, he sent an ambassador, a courier before him to tell the people to prepare the roads. It is clear in Luke’s eyes that John is the ‘courier’ of the King. In the historical, political and religious contexts, the people needed to be prepared, to be made ready. That is John the Baptist’s task, but his preparation is not about roads and, mountain paths or rough tracks.  These are metaphors – which would be well understood and very familiar to the people of that day. What is being called for here is a “preparation of the life and of the heart” This metaphor was easy for them to understand at that time for they recognised the significance of preparing for the arrival of the King. John the Baptist’s task is to open everyone to be both the necessity and the opportunity to be truly ready for the arrival of the King of kings. When you are ready, he’s saying, only then will you know what salvation really means, and when you realise what it’s all about, you will know that Christ is closer than ever before.

What steps might we take to be properly ready? How might we avoid falling into a litany of the ‘doing’ things for Advent. When God came amongst us in the person of Jesus 2000 years ago, he did not come to set in motion a list of things to do. Rather God came to show how divine love could change our lives. John the Baptist’s task was not to prepare physical roads and paths, to smooth rough tracks and make travelling easier for the people of Israel. His message was to prepare our attitude of faith, and not by the busyness of doing stuff!  God came in human form to a stable in Bethlehem not to start a set of traditions that we always have to keep up. Neither did he come to set us a catalogue of impossible things to do or achieve. God came to offer us forgiveness and fullness of life.   The Incarnation is about who we are and what we are and how we are, and not what we do.

We should always choose to focus on the meaning not the activity, however, this thinking about meaning won’t just happen by accident.  It only happens when we deliberately make time and space to focus on the Lord.  If we don’t use this preparation time well, we’ll just be swept along by the things of this modern world and miss the real meaning altogether. Don’t be so busy you don’t have time to pray, or to do your daily devotions and certainly don’t be so busy so that you don’t have time to visit a friend or a neighbour. We must remember, to be ‘ready in the heart’ for the coming of the Lord.  We have to take time to prepare, to take time to look for the wonder, the light and the life that is to come. We have to be ready to see, to know, to experience how amazing this Christmas incarnation stuff really is. Take time to receive the God-given gift of life in all its redemptive fullness, or else, we might miss it!

It is all too easy consumed by our mobile phones or computers or newspapers; carried along without looking around us; consumed by our troubles, or our self-centerdness. Let’s take time to be amazed at the wonder of it all, because when we do all of that, we will know how wonderful Christmas actually is. At the heart of all the Christmas TV adverts we see, I think there is a real sadness. When we turn Christmas just into a cute message about Christmas bears or family get together’s we miss the main point. The sadness I fell is because they make Christmas too small, from confining it, trapping it, or wrapping it up in only what we can know or understand.

The truth about this Advent Season should points us to a Christmas which is mind-boggling, remarkable, world-changing, cataclysmic, unbelievable. Don’t make it too familiar, and don’t allow it to be too ordinary, or to be too small. Be amazed, but most importantly be changed. Be transformed and share this Good News.  For then we will know how wonderful this season actually is.

In Conclusion

The Advent season extends an invitation for us to watch and to wait. To wait for the coming of the King and to wait for the Christ who comes in new ways into the very messy stuff of our lives. But not just once a year, because advent invites us to wait for the God who will always shows up.

Those of you who are familiar with mobile phones, and tablets, and laptops, and desktop computers, will know about the tyranny of the  “update”, When a message flashes up on your screen, “UPDATE AVAILABLE”  Right in the middle of doing something important. a pop up appears which says something along the lines of “DO YOU WANT TO INSTALL THIS UPDATE NOW. OR POSTPONE TO A LATER DATE OR IGNORE IT”. Right in the middle of our busy and we think important lives, we get a message. How many of us ignore it? How many of us postpone it? How many of us shout at our computer screen? Advent tells us that in the middle of our busy time of preparing for Christmas, a message comes …  an update …  a different way of taking on board the Good News. An important update because it is an opportunity for a “re-start” to occur, a new beginning to initiate.  Will we grumble that it’s annoying?  Will we ignore it because we feel it is irrelevant to us, or will we postpone accepting it until it’s convenient to our busy schedule? Or will we pick up the message, take it on board, and perhaps even to say to God, “Install it now” please Lord. Come Lord Jesus and do it now! The Message has been given, the upgrade is available, download and install it today.

Real encouragement can be found in the celebration of Christmas if we wait and listen and approach it correctly. For it is at heart a celebration proclaiming that God has come and that God will come again for those who are looking to and waiting for him….

Amen

The Mocking of Jesus

Being Mocked – Mark 15: 16-32

 There was a lot going on in that passage and a lot of it happening in quick succession. First the soldiers mock and beat Jesus, then he is crucified and both during his crucifixion and as he lies dying on the cross He is continually ridiculed and mocked. The passage then ends with not only the religious leaders ridiculing him but random people and even the other people crucified beside him also mocking Him. At almost every interaction Jesus has with people through these last tragic events involves people mocking him and this seems to me one of the main points that Mark wants to make in his account of these events. It seem to me that God, through this passage, Mark wants us to know something about the consequences of mocking people.

Other parts of the New Testament focus on this area also. We are warned against it by Jesus whilst during his Mount of Olives message. Peter in his 2 Epistle warns us that mockers will come in the last days and people continue to mock today, they mock both Christ and Christianity, and they mock Christians. I don’t mean they just question our faith, yes, some do that, but I mean people sometimes ridicule the Christian faith and they mock the Lord and sometimes they even make fun of us. I want to ask some questions of this text this morning. Like who is doing the mocking? Why are they doing it, and what does it mean. I also want to ask is if we too are mocked then how should we handle it?

In verse 16 soldiers led Jesus away into the palace and called together the whole company of soldiers. They take him to the courtyard of the Roman fortress that is built at the side of the temple grounds and they call out the whole garrison of soldiers. At this point he is surrounded by a very large number of Roman soldiers and Verse 17 then tells us;  They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him and they began to mockingly call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!”. They also put a crown of thorns on His head combining mockery with brutality in one action. Interestingly the focus of their mockery is the claim that He is “King of the Jews”; Jesus is so physically weakened by His scourging and His beatings he crumples beneath the load and the soldiers force somebody on the spot to carry the cross for him.

Then they bring Jesus to a hill called Golgotha and they crucify him. There was a tradition among the woman of Jerusalem that they would offer victims of crucifixion wine mixed with myrrh to help deaden the pain slightly of what was to come. But in this case, Jesus refused it. One commentator I read said Jesus did this not because he desired to suffer any more than necessary, but because He wanted to go into the presence of His father with his eyes wide open. Then we are told they separated His garments and hang Him on a cross, and from there He would have watched as they cast lots for the only thing he owned, a cloak. Then they put a written notice of the charge against him reading: the king of the Jews.

People make fun of Christians and say things like we use God as a crutch. In other words, they mock us for relying upon and being upheld by the Lord. They are of course absolutely correct in what they say. The next time someone says, your faith is a crutch. Try saying, yes. Perhaps then ask what they use for a crutch, is it a bottle, drugs, shopping, an affair. You might want to add, you know what, I like my crutch, better than you’re crutch.  We are then told, they crucified him between  two rebels, and the mocking continues, this time it is the passers-by who mock him. They say, save yourself and come down, and He choose to save us and stay up there. William Booth the founder of the salvation Army said; “It’s the fact that He stayed on the cross that makes me believe in Him”. The mockers wanted evidence He was the Messiah by coming down from the cross. Those who know Him as Lord  recognise that it was His staying up there that made Him our saviour.

The Chief Priests mock Him. The Religious teachers mock Him, and even those crucified alongside Him mocked Him. Saying “He saved others”. Again, in the very mocking they mock him by saying exactly what He did. Even the soldiers who nailed Him to that cross heaped insults on Him as well. They all get in on the act, almost everyone in this passage in one way or another is seen to mock, make fun or insult Jesus.

Why does Mark draw attention to all this Mocking and abuse al this insulting? I believe is the main point is to show Jesus endured the mocking in order to continue doing the will of God. In simple terms, he endured the ridicule and he didn’t come down from the cross even though He had the power to do so, in order that he might continue to follow the will of the father. Jesus was mocked by religious sinners,  Jesus was mocked by ignorant sinners and, Jesus was mocked by condemned sinners. So, here is the lesson. When you are mocked for being a believer, consider the source of the ridicule.  Are they mocking because they are jealous, or are they mocking because they are frightened. Or are they mocking because underneath they feel convicted and want to project their feeling onto someone else. Are they in fact ridiculing you for something that is actually true. Are they mocking you because you love the Lord, because you rely on the Lord. Are they by ridiculing you, really just ridiculing the Lord. Like so many before them have done for over 2000 years.

Sometimes when we are mocked or mistreated or misunderstood, we naturally get upset.  Jesus never respond to such verbal abuse. He did not listen to their demands that he come down from the cross. Jesus didn’t respond in the way they wanted, because they weren’t asking in a genuine way, and even if he had responded in the way they asked it would not have taught them anything. One of the lessons I believe this passage teaches is that we are not to listen to or respond to those who make fun of what we believe or who we believe in. Their ridiculing of the Lord should remain their problem, not something that become our problem or at worse something that influences what we believe. So, accept that, and don’t get discouraged, however, don’t get distracted. If you start living your Christian life as a reaction to them, you will not only get discouraged but you may get distracted from doing the work of the Lord. As believers it may be a hard message to hear but in a spiritual sense we need to stay on the cross. Imagine Jesus had listened to His mockers, and Jesus has responded to His mockers and done what they said. Imagine he had saved himself, and not us. If He had come down off that cross none of us would be sitting in this church here this morning. This room and this community of people would not even exist…. worldwide.

The lesson to learn from all this is that if you pay attention to, or listen to the wrong message, then great damage can be done, not only to you but to other believers. So, don’t get distracted, don’t listen to the mockers, just remain committed to doing the work of God regardless of what other say or do. Continue to follow Jesus in your work life, in your home life and in your personal life

Amen

The Greatest Trail in History (Mark 15:1-15)

Every day in Towns and cities the length and breadth of the UK trials are held both large and small. Most of these go unnoticed but once in a while the media will pick up on a case and it will be called something like the trial of the decade or even the century. If you live in America, the O J Simpson trial  a few years back definitely met that criteria. However, I want to talk about a trial that took place 2000 years ago, one that I sincerely believe was the most important trial in the history of the human race. This trial stands head and shoulders above all others in terms of significance and although it happen 2 millennia ago it is as relevant today as it was the day it happened. This is the last of the six trials and it is the most significant and it takes place before someone called Pontius Pilate.

The opening verse picks up the narrative the next morning when both the whole teachers and the elders in fact the whole council of Sanhedrin”, are meeting together. We are told they tie Jesus up and take Him and hand Him over to Pilate. They had to do that, because if you recall they had already decided to have him killed, and they didn’t have the power or authority to carry out that sentence. Therefore, they hand Jesus over to Pontius Pilot because being the Roman Governor, he was the only one who had the power to issue the order to put Christ to death. The problem is the Sanhedrin had found him guilty of something that although under their law made Him worthy of capital punishment. However, it did not meet the criteria under Roman law to warrant execution. In the Jewish trial the charge had been blasphemy, but what could they say to the Romans authorities that would enable them to execute him.

The hand him over telling Pilate he was claiming to be a “King of the Jews”. This would have been significant to the Romans because if they thought that someone was trying to usurp the authority of Rome and claim to be a king that was very serious indeed and even worthy of execution. So, Pilate asks Jesus, “are you the King of the Jews”. Jesus response is a very straightforward, “You have said so”. John’s Gospel gives us much more detail (John 18:36-37) but  because of this interaction with Jesus Pilot he reaches a conclusion spoken later in the chapter when he says, “I find no fault in him. It seems that Pilate concluded that Jesus was not a dangerous revolutionary and therefore was no threat to Rome. Having failed on their first accusation of something serious enough to warrant execution the chief priests come up with other false accusations. Luke Gospel tells us the detail; (Luke 23: 2-5)

Now as well as being a false king Jesus now stands accused of corrupting the system and telling the people not to pay their taxes and raising insurrection. The Sanhedrin make another accusation,  So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.” But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed. Jesus simply doesn’t answer their charges. He may have chosen to remain silent because he wanted to allow the false accusers to make their claims and thereby reveal their true motivations. However, his main reason for remaining silent was so he could fulfil the will of God both in prophecy (Isa 53) and by doing so fulfil his plan for the redemption of the whole human race. He accepts all that will come to pass as from the will of God. This tells me sometimes being patient is just waiting on Gods time to fulfil his promises no matter how difficult or unjust the circumstances.

Then the plot thickens because we are told  Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. This extra twist in the story adds a deep significance to the narrative that is often overlooked. The festival referred to here is the Passover, when a prisoner chosen by the people would be released. Barabbas, a man actually convicted of being and insurrectionist, a guilty prisoner will be set free. Someone whom we would today describe as the leader of a terrorist group. So, Pilate qualifies this by double checking with the crowd again in verse nine. Pilate recognized that this whole situation was being driven and motivated by the chief priests out of envy and self-interest. Pilot gives them another final opportunity to offer something a little less that the death penalty, but the crown respond again by saying. 13 “Crucify him!” they shouted. 14 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”  The crowed are baying at this point, they are no longer interested in thinking about what he might or might not have done, they are just crying “crucify him” every chance they get. Other Gospel writers tell us that at this point Pilate actually washed his hands of this whole grubby affair an again said, “I find no fault in him”. Finally, 15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

 Jesus is innocent, and Barabbas is guilty of murder and insurrection, but the crowd manipulated by the religious leaders want the lawbreaker set free and the law keeper crucified, and Jesus took Barabbas’ place. Barabbas deserved to die under the law, but Jesus being crucified in his place meant the guilty one could walk free. Ring any bells for you? What was true of Barabbas is true of all of us, as well. When we look at the cross, what we should say is that should have been me. We are all lawbreakers, for everyone of us have not lived up to God’s standards.  The difference is sometimes we think we are getting away with it because we haven’t been caught yet, but does anyone know you the way God knows you.

As a practical joke sir Arthur Conan Doyle (The writer of Sherlock Holmes) is said to have send a telegram to 12 of his closest and most influential friends. The telegram had just 4 words on it – Flee – all is revealed. Within 24 hours 6 of those 12 friends had left the country. The plain truth is, God knows everything, and by the way fleeing the country won’t solve the problem. However, although we are guilty like Barabbas, also just like in Barabbas’s case, Jesus took our place.

It is ironic that the greatest atrocity committed by humanity, ever, the killing of the Son of God, at the same time brought about the greatest blessing ever to humankind. When Pilate asked him, are you King of the Jews, he answered, “it is as you say”. When the chief Priest accused him of all kinds of things, He remained silent. Jesus knew there was a time to speak and a time to remain silent.

May I suggest we should do the same. May I also suggest we in fact usually do the exact opposite of what we should. We speak when we should be quiet, and we don’t speak up when we should. We are silent when we should witness to Christ, and we speak out when we should not.

I Cor 15, that great chapter on Love, it says love does not express itself rudely. Sometime even in defending our position we focus to much on being right and not enough on helping the other person find truth Love does not give us the right to prove we are right if it damages someone else search for God.  Silent service of others is I believe the most powerful expression of the love of God in Christ. In the final analysis knowing when to speak and when to keep silent is actually all about love. It’s the hallmark of mature love. James in the third chapter of his letter tells us if we can control our tongue and know when to speak and when not to speak, we are then able to control our whole body and our whole personality. The next time you face false accusations the response of your lips will may well be the evidence of how Christ-like you really are. The voice of a spiritually mature person speaks the loudest by being silent when all around them the gossip rages and tongue waggle.

Amen

Learning the lessons of Failure (Mark 14: 66-72)

We all know people who have failed at one thing or another, failed in their job, failed in their business, failed in their marriage. Unfortunately, these same things happen to all sort of people, Christians and non-Christians alike. Spiritual failure is the most serious type of failure because a failure in your Christian life means an ever-widening distance between yourself and God and even a possible slipping into to sin. Even people who have know the Lord a long time still sometimes fail, and even Christian leaders fall and sometimes fall big time in the glare of publicity. I hope your response to that it’s not to sit back with a smug attitude and say, tut, tut, I would never do that or even have a judgemental attitude.

This passage talks about out one of the classic cases of failure in the bible and hopefully we can learn something from this particular example of failure. The passage is a straightforwardly recording for us of the events that took place around Peters three denials of the Lord. The very fact that he is there means we must give Peter some credit because we found out a few verses back that “all forsook Him and fled”. Therefore, before we you’re too hard on Peter please recognise that he had at least come back and was hanging around the edge of the events unfolding and just by being there he is potentially putting himself in harm’s way.

The servant girl in verse 66 refers to Jesus as ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ probably reflected a judgemental tone, because Nazareth was seen as a little backwater town that didn’t get much respect. Peter responds by saying, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’ve never heard of Him”.. This is Peter’s first failure, in fact this is a climax of a series of failures Peter has in the last week of Jesus’ life. At the beginning of the chapter when Jesus first predicted this happening Peter vehemently denied it. He literally said, “I would die first before I would do such a thing”. He even dared to compare himself to the other disciples and say that they might fail, but he wouldn’t. In the context of Peters whole life yes this was a moment of failure but please note his failures did not mean he did not have a future as a believer. There is a huge difference between failing and being a failure and that is a lesson worth learning here

The servant girls speaks again, the first time she spoke directly to Peter, but the second time she spoke to the group and says to them, ‘Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.’ His accent also gave him away. Contemporary historians from that period tell us that the Galilean s had a very strong rural accent, so much so that they were forbidden from saying the benediction in the synagogue. We can see that one failure often leads to another. One lie never stands alone, because you often have to back it up, or cover your tracks with another deception. The most fascinating thing about this story I think is that Peter was so convinced that he wouldn’t do this, “I’ll die first” he had said. However, we all are capable of falling away from the Lord or getting into serious moral entanglements. Peter demonstrates for us very clearly that determination is not the key thing. Maybe you have done something in the past and are determined to not do it again and you think because you are determined, that is going to help you not do that again. Nobody was more determined that Peter, but the issue is not determination, the issue is dependency. The Apostles Paul and what he said in his second letter to the Corinthian church, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (Cor 12:10b). It’s your dependence on the Lord that will make and keep your strong, not your determination. That’s why the Lord through the Holy Spirit in the very same chapter told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you”.

It is not the determination of the human will, it is our dependence on divine grace that keeps us from making mistakes or even falling away. You will notice there has been a progression in the accusations, the stakes get bigger and bigger as more and more people are drawn into the lie. In Luke’s account of the same events there is one extra little phrase (Luke 22: 60b-62) but I believe an important one. It says, “Jesus didn’t say a word, He just looked, and Peter knew”. What a powerful moment that must have been for Peter. I do not see a look of guilty accusation here, I see a look of grace. I also see a look of sadness combined with forgiveness. It seems to me when Jesus looked, he said I am saddened, but I want you to know that although you failed today, it doesn’t mean you are a failure. The text then tells us Peter went out and wept bitterly (KJV). However, because the text tells us he wept, I believe he got it, and because he got it, he also got forgiven and his failures did not define him as a failure. Falling into sin, falling again into sin means you have failed, but it does not mean you are a failure.

Let me sum this  by making a couple of observations. The New Testament was written over  a period of about 40 years, starting with the book of James written about 20 years after Jesus’ death and ending with Revelation sometime between 75 and 95AD around 40-60 years after the death of the Lord. We also have some contemporary writings written alongside the bible texts, one of these is by a man who talks about being related to and knowing Phillips daughter. Therefore, he is very close to writing at the same time the later books of the New Testament are being written. He says that to a great extent the Gospel account of Mark was just Peters preaching material transcribed. He claims Mark witness and listened and wrote down a great deal of what Peter said and much of it is recorded in his gospel account. Three other very early fathers of the Christian faith also held this view, people like Tertullian of Carthage, Clement of Alexandria and Irenaeus. If they are correct, then Mark is recording the fact that Peter through these texts is publicly admitting he failed. Another observation worth taking is the Gospel of Mark was written to Christians living in Rome and at that time the Christians were facing things similar to what Peter faced. They were going through the beginning of what would become a full-blown persecution, which means they would be being challenged to deny the Lord all the time. These writings must have been very helpful and encouraging for them.

The main point here I believe is this, Peter sinned, Peter failed, Peter fell way below the standard the Lord set for him and he failed, he falls away and sins. He didn’t just tell a lie, his lie involved him denying the Lord Jesus Christ 3 times. Jesus’s right hand man, one of His key representatives on earth, denies him, three times. We all can fail and fail big time, but the lesson taught here is, God forgives, God restores, big time. The Lord forgives sinners, the Lord restores sinners, but most importantly the Lord also uses restored sinners. The Lord here restored Peter and used Him to win 3000 souls to Christ less than 2 months after these events. Peter denied the Lord Jesus just 1 day before he was crucified then 50 days later at Pentecost, he uses Him to establish the church through the preaching of the Gospel. Salvation is a free gift, trust in Him and you are forgiven of your sins for life, however, you may still sin. But even if you fall into sin just fall to your spiritual knees and cry out in sorrow and He will restore you, sanctify you, and use you because God is in the forgiving business. I have failed many times in my life, but by the grace of God He does not see me as a failure. Maybe when I do fail with God’s grace, I might still learn something, but God doesn’t abandon me, he just wants to reveal to me how he might have a better plan for my life, better than the one I am currently following. God says to us, I don’t want you to fail but when you do, I will tell you what I told Peter, failing does not mean you are a failure. It just means if you come back to me, I will forgive and restore you.

Let’s Pray.

An Unjust Justice System

Throughout history governments have established judicial systems that seek to see that justice is done in their particular societies. In order to ensure the system works they put rules in place. For example, we have a legal system in the UK that assumes an accused person is presumed innocent unless proven guilty. Overall, I believe our system works very well, but unfortunately even the best of systems don’t always work. Sometime the very system itself lets people down we can all think of examples, but what can be extremely serious is when people working within the system themselves are corrupt. When that happens the justice system itself can become unjust? This is the background to what particularly happened to Jesus Christ when He was put on trial, because not only was His trial unjust but it was also illegal. What I would like us to do is look at that trial and I particularly hope we can learn a spiritual lesson. If you don’t get hold of this then you might experience some real feelings of grief and injustice in your life.

When considering this passage, it is helpful to know about this setting in that the Sanhedrin has a problem, and their problem was huge. Back at the beginning of the chapter we were told, The Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. (Mark 14:1) This shows you how corrupt this trail already was, they had already reached a verdict, but they needed to show some semblance of a trial, so they needed witnesses. According to Jewish law in order for somebody to be condemned for a capital offence there had to be at least two witnesses and those two witnesses had to agree. However, they could not get even two independent witness to testify against Him and even when they called false witnesses, they could not get their statements to agree and that was their problem. They could drag up people who were willing to speak against Him, but they could not get them to agree and say the same thingBecause of this problem they cannot prosecute a case that might involve the death penalty. Although there were false witnesses willing to say He said He would destroy the temple but as verse 58 tells us; “Yet even then their testimony did not agree” (Mark 14:58) How do you convict someone of a capital offence deserving of death if you don’t have witnesses.

Then the High Priest steps up, the one who would be the prosecutor of the case and asks Jesus, ‘Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?’ 61 But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. (Mark 14:60-61) Jesus response or lack of response takes a little explanation. Helpfully Matthews account throws some light on the matter for us. “Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, ‘Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?’ 63 But Jesus remained silent. The high priest then said to him, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’ (Matthew 26:62-63) The High Priest is seen to put Jesus under oath, and that was illegal. Under Jewish law you couldn’t put somebody under oath and ask them to testify against themselves. What the High Priest wants here is for Jesus to incriminate Himself. Jesus could have said they did not have the correct witness testimony against Him He could have said He was not guilty of saying what they said He said, but he remained silent because He was fulfilling prophecy. He was bringing to pass exactly what the Old Testament said would happen concerning the coming of the Messiah in Isaiah.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.

(Isaiah 53:7)

Jesus just said, nothing, then The High Priest asked him; ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ He remains silent when the false charges are bought against Him but when asked (under oath) if He is the Messiah, He says;  ‘I am,’ said Jesus. ‘And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ He then tells them that not only is He the Messiah, the Son of God, but that one day they will see Him sitting on the right hand of God and returning from heaven in great power and glory to set up the kingdom. Just as spoken of in Daniel 7:13. Here is the critical moment of the trial. He is asked the question under oath are you the Messiah and are you the Son of the most high God? And Jesus replies, “I am”. If Jesus had said no to this question, the trial would have been over, and He could probably have walked out a free man and he could have escaped the cross. However, he replied, “I am” and by doing so He signed His own death warrant.

Now comes their verdict. 63 The high priest tore his clothes. ‘Why do we need any more witnesses?’ he asked. 64 ‘You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?’ They all condemned him as worthy of death. They all condemn Him to death and to make it worse listen to what happens next;  65 Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, ‘Prophesy!’ And the guards (Officers of the Religious Court , not military guards) took him and beat him. They spit and hit him, and it is the officers of the court who are doing it, maybe even the High Priest himself

Let me also sum up this passage by saying, yes, the proceeding were illegal, but more so than perhaps you might even imagine.

The religious leaders violated their own laws.

  1. For a Sanhedrin decision to be valid the Sanhedrin had to meet in its own court area – They did not do this, they met at Capias’s house.
  1. All criminal cases must be tried and completed during the daytime – This again was not the case, they met at night.
  1. Criminal cases could not be tried during the Passover – The opening verse tells us this trial was conducted during the Passover.
  1. If the verdict was guilty a night must pass before the announcement of the sentence so that any feelings of mercy might have time to arise – They did not do that either.

These were the rules of the Sanhedrin and in the eagerness to destroy Jesus, they broke all of their own rules and more.

I believe there is an important lesson that we can all learn from this. And that is…. There is no perfect justice in this life, and the life of the saviour is an illustration of that fact. There is no perfect justice in the world financially, politically, socially or even sometimes judicially. Even in our British judicial system, which I do believe is one of the best in the world. Injustices still go on, on a daily basis. The question we should actually ask, is what do we do when that happens? Have you ever been treated unjustly? What are we to do, when we experience or witness injustice? I think it is rather interesting that Peter was in the side-lines whilst all this was going on, so how did he react.

 

Well, we can know how he reacted because he wrote a letter later some years later and he gives us an insight into what he learned that night.

22 ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ 23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 ‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’ (1 Peter 2: 22-24)

Remember Peter personally witness the trail of Christ, who was unjustly committed, tried and executed, but in all of that Jesus did not retaliate. Jesus suffered vicious verbal abuse and painful torture mocked and forced to carry His own cross and crucified to death. Yet through it all he did not get angry insult anyone or threaten to get even. He did not even attempt to verbally convict those who tried Him of their legal errors. Here is the lesson for us. He just committed himself over to the only one that can judge justly. He handed over the judgement of sinners to God whilst at the same time handing over himself to death to die for the sins of mankind that they might have the opportunity to live a forgiven and righteousness life. If we are made righteous in Christ, then we can leave the injustices of this world in the hand of the only one who is able to judge the sinners and the guilty.  Here me and hear me well, injustice is a fact of life, but when we are treated unjustly don’t curse the situation, don’t even curse the accuser if there is one. Just appeal to the highest court of all, the one and only God who is able to judge all things and leave it in hands.

Let’s pray.