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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.

Dealing With Temptation

Gardens in the Bible our often seen to be dangerous places. In the very first chapter of the Bible we are told that God made a garden and it was perfect. He put Adam and Eve in it and He told them that they could eat of any of the fruit He put in it except for the fruit of one tree he called, The tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Unable to withstand the temptation, and they disobeyed God and as a result physical and spiritual death came upon the human race. In a sense God has also placed us in a garden, what I mean by that there are temptations growing in the centre of our own personal situations also. How do you master temptation it, or just as important how do you stop it creeping up and taking you by surprise, and then mastering you. How is it that so many Christians are overtaken by temptation before they even noticed it creeping up on them? There is another garden in the bible and that Garden was called Gethsemane and what happened there is important because it stands as an illustration of how potentially we can all be overcome by temptation.

The first part of the passage begins with Jesus predicting something when He says; “You will all fall away”. Then he quotes a passage from (Zac 13:9), which says, when the shepherd is struck down the sheep are scattered. Jesus before he has even been arrested states He is going to be deserted, He is going to die and be resurrected again, but He will meet up with them again. So, even though they fall away and desert Him those actions will not end His relationship with them. He is telling them there can still be a reunion even after you mess up or fall away. Peter reply to Jesus is to say what you just said applies to everyone apart from him. His response is to say, ‘Even if I had to die with you, I will never disown you Peter is saying look Lord, that may be true of the others, but I am the exception to the rule.

The second part of the passage that takes us into the Garden of Gethsemane. From there Jesus selects Peter, James and John, and says, “you come with me” and he goes deeper into the garden among the olive trees and He says to them, “Stay here and keep watch.” We are then told he goes off to pray and becomes, “deeply distressed” to the point where and says,  ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death .

What is it that troubles Him? What makes Him deeply distressed? He is overwhelmed by something He refers to as “this Cup”. The expression “this cup” was used in the Old Testament (Jer 25) to describe the judgement cup of God on sin. Jesus fully understands what He must face. He is going to take upon Himself our sin, the sin of the world, so that the judgement of God might fall upon our sin, that he is bearing, so that we might walk free. Not just our individual sin, but the sin of every single human being who has ever walked this planet. A preacher I heard once said it this way, “Jesus choose to go to hell for you rather than go to heaven without you”. He choose to be separated from God, so we wouldn’t have to be.

The text continues; 37 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping (By the way this is the same Peter who just a moment ago said, “I would die for you. Willing to die for the Lord, one minute, but couldn’t even stay awake and pray and watch out for Him. How many Christians are willing to die for the Lord on Sunday morning, but “Spiritually fall asleep” Monday to Saturday”. The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” indeed. It was important that they did not fall asleep because the next verse tells us what happened next.

43 Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders. 44 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: ‘The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.’ 45 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, ‘Rabbi!’ and kissed him.

It was customary for a student to greet a teacher or a Rabbi with a kiss, so no one who have interpreted this as anything unusual. However, on this occasion, it serves as a single to the authorities as to which one is Jesus. So, Judas betrays the Lord with a kiss How do the disciple gets on now, will they stand firm and remain loyal?

 50 Then everyone deserted him and fled.

By verse 50 every one of them had deserted him, just as He has said in verse 27 ‘“I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”  That’s’ why I tied these passages together. It starts with a prediction and ends with its fulfilment. But in the middle of these events Jesus entreats them to pray, in order that, the might not fall into temptation and fall away. What this tells me, if you want to avoid succumbing to temptation, then pray before temptation appears. Pray as a way of warding off temptation. They didn’t pray when they should have, and they fell away. Instead of overcoming temptation, they were overcome by temptation. The way to overcome temptation is of through prayer. When the moment of testing for Jesus came He prayed and submitted to the will of God. Peter slept through what should have been a prayer time and because of that rather than endure the test, he failed. Jesus when facing an emotional crisis, prayed, and having prayed He was able to submit to the will of God. Peter didn’t pray, and he fell, and then he fled. Will you pray, so that you can stand up to temptation and so that you don’t fall when temptation comes?

The great lesson of this passage is wake up and pray before the temptation arises. Remember the Lord Prayer, “lead us not into temptation”. He is telling us to pray about temptation before it strikes, before we fall and mess things up. Don’t wait until your standing in the middle of the consequences of a wrong action before you start to pray.

Three ministers were talking about the appropriate position one should take for prayer. As they were talking a telephone repairman was working in the background repairing the church manse telephone system. One said I hold my hands together and point them upward. The second said real prayer should be conducted on your knees. The third said that they were both wrong, the only correct position for prayer was flat out face down on the floor. By this time the phone repairman just couldn’t keep quiet any longer and he said this. I discovered that the most powerful prayer I ever made was one I prayed whilst dangling upside down by me heals from a telephone pole 40 feet above the ground. Now I pray every day before I go up the ladder.

Hear me and hear me well if you find yourself spiritually hanging upside down 40 feet above the ground, then it’s definitely time to pray. However, in future resolve to always pray before you go up the ladder.

Let’s pray now.

Dealing With Guilt.

Are there thoughts in the back of your mind that trouble you this week? Guilt has a way of affecting us in ways that we are not even aware of.

There is a story in the bible about a man who had a guilty conscience and I suspect guilt can affect us, in the same way as it affected this man. It doesn’t matter that this man lived around 2000 years ago.

Herod had not personally known Jesus, but he heard about him and when he heard about Jesus, being a superstitious man, he thought that John the Baptist must have risen from the dead and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him. (Mark 6:14). How in the world did he reach a conclusion like that? The text tells us what other people were thinking at the time. (OHP 4) DR 15 Others said, ‘He is Elijah.’ (now the Old Testament did indeed say that Elijah would come again, in fact many people though John the Baptist was Elijah, but John the Baptist denied that, so) And still others claimed, ‘He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.’ 16 But when Herod heard this, he said, (No, that’s no right, this is) ‘John, whom I beheaded, (and) he has been raised from the dead!’(Mark 6: 15-17) We now begin to get an insight to how he has jumped to this conclusion. Herod was feeling guilty for having beheading John.One commentator said, “he believed John had come back from the dead to condemn him for what he knew was an illegal act”. (Mark 6: 17-18)

Herod Antipas, had converted to Judaism, whilst at the same time knowing the taking a wife of even a half-brother whilst the brother was alive was forbidden under both Jewish law and current social thinking. Even so he divorced his wife and then he married Herodias and that’s the beginnings of this series of events.  John the Baptist then comes along and basically says you know the Mosaic law forbids this. John the Baptist confronts him and says, just because you are king does not give you a get out of jail card for this offence. Herod’s reaction is to have him arrested However, “Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him”. (Mark 6: 19) Herod’s wife is furious that he had told her husband he had committed a sin by marrying her and she nurses a grudge and that leads to vindictiveness that in turn leads to the desire to kill him Herod was probably also aware that the people respected John the Baptist and he feared there might be an uprising if he had him executed. Mark 6 21-22 then tells us; Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests”.

This is not Herod daughter, it his new wife’s daughter, her daughter from a previous relationship, most probably the daughter of his own brother. For the daughter of a king, a Princess to come in and dance a sensuous dance in front of the great and the good including the leading men of Galilee, was scandalous. One commentator I read said, “She exposed and demeaned her daughter because such dances were the art of the professional prostitute only”. The mother is so angry, so vindictive, that when this birthday party happens she saw an opportunity to literally prostitute her daughter to gain control over her husband.

The men didn’t mind though, and neither did Herod after all it wasn’t his own daughter. Herod is so aroused by the dance, he says to his step-daughter; ‘Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.’ and he promised her with an oath, ‘Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.’(Mark 6: 22-23)

 This may sound outlandish, but do you think this is the first time a man in a group men drinking to excess have ever made an outlandish claim or promise.  Further proof that her own Mother had put her up to this and as when given the opportunity she quick as can be she says, right now, “Give me the head of John the Baptist”. Note the speed at which they act, they don’t give Herod much time to think about this or change his mind. Her entire focus is to eliminate the one man who had the courage to confront her with her sin, and to do it by any means no matter how depraved.

A question worth considering for a minute is, could Herod have got out of this? Could he have resisted the pressure to do this? Could he have found some way to get out of this. Maybe you could argue that he shouldn’t have made this stupid promise to begin with, but the fact is he did, and he then succumbed to social pressure. Herod was indeed a wicked man, but there is something else going on here. Herod was also a weak man and one can often lead to the other. Herod simply did not have the moral courage to do what was right. He crumbled under the influence of a wicked woman, combined with the social expectations and the peer pressure of those around him.

What should we do when we feel such pressures? We should recognise those pressures when them come and allow them to push us towards the Lord. It is when we lean on the Lord we are given the strength to resist those pressures Many of us have responded to peer group pressure in our lives. Many of us have gone and done things we shouldn’t have for fear of what others might say or think. Many people have done things far worse than they ever planned to do just because they feared the laughter or rejection of their so called friends. Even noted Atheist H G Wells noticed this when he said; “The trouble with so many people is that the voice of their neighbours sounds louder in their ears than the voice of their conscience”.

Herod has John the Baptist killed, out of moral weakness but the starting point of all this was when Herod jumped to the conclusion that John the Baptist had come back from the dead because he felt guilty. This story is really about the consequences of guilt and the catastrophic affects it can have if it is not dealt with.  The problem is when people are fearful, angry or guilty, they can’t think straight. Herodias was angry and that drove her to degrade her daughter and bring about the death of John the Baptist. When any of us are angry we are very inclined to not think straight and even do stupid or terrible things. The big point of this story is guilt because that’s what sin does for you it makes you guilty and feeling guilty also makes you not think straight and makes you more likely to do the wrong things and make more wrong choices.

It affects the way you think, it makes you react out of emotion and you stop making rational decisions. Unresolved guilt means you become conflicted in everything you do, and the voice of the devil in your ears tells you are a hypocrite. However, the good news for everyone is that there is a solution to guilt.

First and foremost, you need to trust the Lord, because when you do that you are given the ultimate defence against guilt. The bible is very clear about that when it says;

There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1)

Many Christians I know have trusted in Christ, however, when they fall into sin, feel guilty. So, what do you do when you’re a Christian and you sin. The first thing you should do is confess it privately to the Lord, because;.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

The word confess, just means to repeat something back. You don’t have to seek out a religious leader in order to do it either. In the case of sin, you just look at what you did, and call it what it is before the Lord. It wasn’t an error, it wasn’t a lack of judgement, it was sin. By confessing it out loud all you are doing is agreeing with what God already knows it is. The word confession confuses people, it just means your acknowledging what it is you have done and saying you don’t want to do it any more. It sometimes helps to do that with another Christian, but you should only do this if you have complete confidence in that person, so they can support you and hold you to account if you fall back into that particular sin.

 What happens if we refuse to live that way and refuse to acknowledge our sin:

10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make God a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 John 1: 10)

Be clear headed about these things do what 1 John 1: 9 says and, “confess your sins, and He will be faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness. Don’t pretend you have not sinned, when you know you have because in doing so you make God out to be a liar”. When you get it wrong just acknowledge it and make sure you don’t do the same thing again in the future. Don’t live in denial, confess your sin and go do what is right. Guilt is the most corrosive of things because it makes a person not think straight. People will bend there thinking process to the point of breaking rather than deal with their guilt. They will live in denial, they will rationalise, they will justify, to carry on doing what they are doing, rather than just do what’s right. That’s the key, choose your direction for your life. When it comes to moral choices, you also need to choose the right path. Choose to be free of Guilt and confess you sin before God Call it what it is and accept the path of repentance and forgiveness. Choose the right path, to release you from feeling guilty about your past, and to protect you, and prevent you from feeling guilty in the future. Choose the path every day of being and becoming a follower of Christ.

May God Bless you this week.

God always has time for you.

As a young child I often wondered how God could be in more than one place at one time. As a Christian you may be beyond asking such a question, but on other occasions I have heard Christian believers say. “There is no need to pray for me, you don’t need to trouble God with my insignificant problems, he has better things to do -He has a whole world to look after”.

Have ever felt that your problems are too insignificant for God to worry about. I would like to speak into that perspective, because there is something that happened when Christ walked on this earth that vividly illustrates a response to that way of thinking.  Mark chapter 5 is an interesting section of scripture, no less because it starts by telling us a story about the ruler of the local synagogue and his sick daughter. Then in the midst of that story the narrative is suddenly interrupted by the actual intrusion of an sick woman into the proceeding. A woman suffering with what we would today call an uncontrollable haemorrhage literally pushes her way into this story.

Jesus again finds himself surrounded by a large crowd pressing in to get his attention, when then ruler of the local synagogue comes, and we are told he pleads with Jesus saying,

“My little daughter is dying. Please come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live.”

However, this story is put on hold because the crowd “thronged” Jesus, and then;

 “A certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse”.

This lady had a problem that was very, very serious not just physically but socially, as well. The physical problem is obvious she suffered from continual bleeding. The social problem was that according to the Mosaic law a woman who was bleeding was declared ceremonially unclean and anybody she touched or came into contact with was also automatically ceremonially unclean. These two seemingly separate narratives together show a massive contrast in the people Jesus interacts with.  We have a ruler of the synagogue a highly respected member of the community. A man who would have been in charge of maintaining the rules to insure the community remained ceremonially clean. In juxtaposition to that we have this woman who is a social outcast and had been ceremonially unclean for at least 12 years because of her illness. Worse even than that because the text tells us she had suffered at the hands on doctors, she had spent all her money and was no better, in fact she had got worse. She understandably felt hopeless, but then….

“She heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment.  For she said, “If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well.”

She had probably heard he was healing the sick, but it seems to me her first thought was probably, “I can see he is in the middle of dealing with the ruler of the Synagogue”. I don’t want to interrupt him, he is too busy with important people. What if, she thought, I just touch the hem of his garment as he passes by, that will be enough. So, with a mustard seed of faith she makes her way through the crowd and she touched Jesus, and this happened…

 “Immediately her bleeding stopped, and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.”  

Jesus responds to her by saying;

“Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your affliction.”

 Notice he called her “daughter”, then he says, “your faith has made you well”. There is much more going on here than just a physical healing.

At this point the narrative goes back to the ruler of the synagogue and some people come from his house and tell him, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?”

There was never even a thought that anything more could be done about this, they knew he could heal, but it had never even entered their minds that he could raise the dead.  “As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not be afraid; only believe.

Jesus take just three disciples with him to see the daughter of Jairus, his inner circle, so to speak, Peter James and John. When they arrive, the family are just beside themselves with grief because they believe she is dead.  Jesus’ response to this situation is he says, “The child is not dead but sleeping.” Let me be categorically here, this girl is dead, really dead! However, if that is so, when why did Jesus say, she was sleeping. This is because in the New Testament, the death of a believer in Christ is said to be no more than soul sleep.  When Lazarus had died and had been entombed for four days, the word Jesus used then is the same as the one used today, on both occasions he said they were asleep. The literal translation of the word cemetery means sleeping place. (from the Latin coemētērium or the Greek koimētḗrion a sleeping place).

Jesus then takes the girl by the hand and says, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.  Then this happens

 “Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. And they were overcome with great amazement. But He commanded them strictly that no one should know it and said that something should be given her to eat.”

In both of these current situations there is more going on in these situations that just physical healing. Sometimes Jesus worked miracles as a way of confirming who he was and authenticating his message. Sometimes he just healed people out of compassion. However, sometimes he did it to communicate spiritual truths. Physical healing was on some occasions an illustration of spiritual healing and salvation. At the point of healing Jesus called the woman, daughter? That’s because he did more than heal her physically, he spiritually adopted her. Furthermore, he said, your faith has saved you. Granted he had saved her from the effect of the disease, but these words also echo spiritual salvation. This woman was not only healed, this woman at that moment was made right with God, she became a child of God.

In both cases it was their faith that made them well. Jesus is on his way to heal the dying daughter of a highly respected leader of civil society, and he stopped to heal a social outcast. (Who had faith). Jesus always pauses to pay attention to those who have faith. The critical part of this story I believe lies in recognising the contrast between the highly respected member of society and this social outcast. She was nobody, he was a somebody. He was wealthy, she was broke. He was important, she felt unimportant, but they both had faith. She may have even felt too unimportant for Jesus to care about her, but she didn’t let that thought have the final say. This man was a highly respected member of the community, but he has humility enough to say to Jesus, help me, please come to my house.

Maybe sometimes you too think, I’m not important enough to trouble God with my problems. That may sound self-effacing but maybe that’s just another way of saying, God doesn’t care about me.

Yes he does. Just have faith.

The Lord has time and pays attention to anyone who believes in him. In this case both the poor old woman and the wealthy influential man with the dying daughter had faith, and Jesus paid attention to them. God’s got time for you, and all you have to do to get his attention is to believe in Him and ask him to help.

Amen

Dealing with the Demons in Your Life

(Mark 5: 1-20)

People sometimes speak about the demons in their lives. It’s not an expression I like to use, because I actually believe it is factually incorrect when it come to the life of a Christian believer. Many people who say this usually mean that there is something unhealthy in their lives that is controlling them. In Mark’s gospel accounts Jesus is seen to deal with real demons If we look at one of the episodes when he deals with a demon possessed man perhaps we can learn something that will help us deal with those areas of our lives where we feel we are not in control.

Jesus and the disciples had got in a boat and had set off to cross the lake to the other side during the crossing Jesus calmed a storm and now we find them across the lake to the east to an area of the Gerasenes. When they arrive, they encounter someone who is described as having an unclean spirit. This is a man who is profoundly disturbed, he is also violent to the point where people have felt the need to tie him up in chains and even those chains did not hold him. He broke free and he headed for the hills where he lived amongst the tombs, and he would cry out night and day. To make matters even worse, he is cutting himself, self-harming. This man is out of control, violent and was now living wild among the tombs.

There is no evidence in the bible that people get demon possessed against their wills. This situation doesn’t happen without the person somehow cooperating in it. The bible clearly forbids anything to do with messing around with the demonic forces or what we today would call the occult. In the Pentateuch the book of Deuteronomy lists demonic activities that you should not participate in because of the potential consequences. Things like fortune telling, card reading, and seances are all forbidden because they are spiritually dangerous. Today there are those who openly admit to being participants in things like witchcraft and Satanism and are unashamed to say so. Such people are inviting intensely dangerous spiritual consequences upon themselves similar to what we see Jesus dealing with here. However, demon possession described in the bible is a completely different thing from what we today usually recognize as mental illness today.

However, the Bible is clear that all of us are at risk of becoming susceptible to coming under demonic influences. Let me give you a couple of biblical standards to see what it actually means to come under demonic influence. It may be slightly different that you imagined. The book of Timothy gives us a litmus test of what being influenced by the demonic is.

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. (Tim 4:1)

One form of demonic influence is the teaching of false religious doctrine. We cannot afford to get complacent even Peter was accused of giving voice to a doctrine inspired by Satan himself. Jesus had just told him  “I am going to Jerusalem, I am going to be killed, crucified in fact, and I am going to be raised from the dead”. And Peter then says, “no, no Lord. that not going to happen”. You’re not going to be killed, none of these things are going to happen and Jesus says, “Get thee behind me Satan” Any doctrine of faith that excludes the death and resurrection of Jesus, Christ himself said it is inspired by Satan. Is there any other way we can be influenced by a demon?

‘In your anger do not sin’: do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. (Ephesians 4: 26-2)

  This warning is not saying we can never be angry, there is such a thing as righteous anger, but we should never let anger fester because if we do we give the devil a foothold? The bible is telling us if you let the sun go down on anger or unforgiveness you open yourself up to being influenced by the devil. By allowing bitterness or anger to fester for more than a day you invite demonic influences into your life. If you hold a grudge, or harbour unforgiveness, you are coming under demonic influence.

The Lord turns his attention to the demons, or to be more accurate they turn their attention to him.

When he (That’s the demon possessed man) saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. (Prostrated/submitted) He shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!’  For (This was because) Jesus had said to him, ‘Come out of this man, you impure spirit!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ ‘My name is Legion,’ he replied, ‘for we are many.’ 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. (Mark 5: 6-10)

Jesus’ conversation is with the demons, not with the man. Don’t torment us they beg and don’t send us out of the area. This passage makes a point of saying this man lived “among the tombs”. Therefore, what the demons are saying is don’t caste us out of this area because we are at home among the tombs. They then make a third request of Jesus.

11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, ‘Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.’(Mark 5: 11-12)

Please note, the demons didn’t know what Jesus planned to do, the demons have no insight into the plans or purposes of Jesus. It’s good to know the devil doesn’t have any idea of the future plans or purposes of God. That’s a great comfort to me, and it should be to any Christian. The bible teaches that Satan cannot control our minds. Satan can only influence or react to what we do, he cannot make us do anything, but that also means you can’t blame him for your incorrect choices. He can encourage you to make wrong choices and tempt you to journey in the wrong direction, but you are always responsible for the choices you make. Satan’s plan has always been to spiritually destroy and he usually does this one of the two ways. Either by getting you to accept lies or false teachings or by getting you to hang on to anger and unforgiveness that you just won’t let go of it.

Jesus allow the demons to go into the pigs in order to demonstrate to everyone watching, (Including the owners of the pigs) that the demons had now left the man and after momentarily residing in the pigs before then destroying themselves. The people watching are amazing and recognise the power of what has just happened.  However, they don’t say to Jesus, come with me to our area, we have also got some crazy people you can help? No, the just said, leave. Get out of here, just leave.

What follows is remarkable, When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting (Not running around anymore), sitting there, dressed (not naked anymore) and in his right mind; Not running around cutting himself) and they were afraid. Their reaction is to say to Jesus, get out of here, go, and go quickly.

Why do they want Jesus out of their area so quickly? Money, it’s all about money. Jesus is destroying the local economy. What does it matter that we had a demon possessed man as long as you don’t disturb our economic system. So, the tell Jesus to leave and we see that is exactly what Jesus did.

Jesus gets in the boat and makes ready to leave and the previously demon possessed man, but he, “begs to go with him” However, Jesus says no, Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ Go home, to your friends and tell them about the compassion that God has shown you this day. The man does what he is told, he goes away and tells those in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him.  Decapolis means ten cities, so he didn’t just go home, he didn’t just tell his friends, he told everyone in the whole region of the 10 towns and cities where he lived. This man who was radically changed and then in obedience to the Lord he went and told everyone what had happened to him.

If this story tells us anything, forget all the extra stuff about demons if you like, it tells us Jesus has the power to change lives. Did you notice what the people tried to do to solve this mans problem, they chained him up? However human power will not overturn or contain a spiritual problem. Jesus still takes over and changes lives. God still changes people through the words of Jesus. God still changes people by speaking to them through his word and He still has the power over anything that you feel might overwhelms you. If some area of your life needs to be dramatically changed by God, then you need to look in his word. To draw back the forces of darkness, to banish demonic influence, all we have to do is saturate our mind with the words of God. He can do it by his words, and through the power of his Holy Spirit.

God still changes people, today. When God does changes you, he wants you to start telling people about it, including friends and maybe even family. Going to you friends, or worse still, your family is the hardest thing to do but only by doing that will are able to demonstrate what has really happened to.

Here’s a way to demonstrate a changed life, here is how to do it’

Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, (Philippians 2: 14-15 NKJV)

Want to be different from everyone else in the world, quit complaining. Quit arguing with people and quite holding onto unforgiveness or any grudges you might have. If you can demonstrate you live a peaceful calm life, free from conflict and that you have an inner peace within, then people might think something has really changed in you. Live out the changed life God has called and empowered you to live and when people see that it tells them that he has the power to change their lives. Show others what Christ has done for you, and you can show others what Christ can do for them.

Amen