Take My Life and Let It Be

Text: Romans 6:12-23

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Don’t close your hymnals! If you already closed your hymnal open it up again to hymn number 783 “Take My Life and Let It Be.” Sometimes a hymn can say things about our readings more clearly and succinctly than I ever could. Today is one of those days and we will use hymn 783 to help us understand what our epistle reading today is talking about in just a few minutes. Keep it open to 783. (If you are reading this after the fact the words to the hymn are printed in the text of the sermon)

Our epistle reading this morning is an important reading for us to consider. In these verses from his letter to the Romans the apostle Paul is talking about our new lives as Christians. He talks about how we have been brought from death to life by the death and resurrection of Jesus, how we have been raised up already right now to live and new life. This is the encouragement he has for us as we seek to live out this new life that God has given to us: “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” As new people, people who have been brought from death to life, Paul calls on us not to “present ourselves to sin” and encourages us instead to “present ourselves to God.”

That phrase, “present yourself…” is not part of how we normally speak in modern day English. The word there means to present yourself for service. The idea is something like “Reporting for duty.” Paul is telling us here to “report for duty” to God and not to sin. God is our master, not sin. We are to present our lives and everything in them to God in order to serve Him in righteousness rather than presenting our lives and everything in them to sin in order to serve sin and unrighteousness.

The first thing that might surprise us here is that Paul only presents two options. We might expect a third option, something kind of neutral. There is the good choice to serve God, there is the bad choice to serve sin, and we would expect there to be something in the middle that isn’t good or bad, but that is not what Paul says. There are two options and two options only. Either we serve God or we serve sin.

The obvious choice is to serve God. That is what we want to do and that is what Paul says we should do. The next thing we need to figure out is what that looks like. What does presenting everything that we are and have to God for His service look like? That is where hymn 783 can help us out.

Let’s look at just the first verse for now. “Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to Thee; Take my moments and my days, let them flow with ceaseless praise. The first half of that verse lays out this whole idea. “Take my life and let it be…” With those words we are offering our lives and everything that is in them to God and His service. The second half of the verse is where we start to see what that looks like.

“Take my moments and my days, let the flow with ceaseless praise.” So what is it that we are presenting to God here? Our moments and our days. Our time. We serve God with our time by offering up our moments and days to His service. Serving God with our time doesn’t just meaning doing stuff at church. This is not a plea for you to all volunteer more hours at church. Serving God with our time means simple things like praying, reading our Bibles, talking to friends and neighbours who are suffering in some way, spending time with those who need our love and care. It means using our time to give praise and honor to God. This is part of our new lives as Christians presenting ourselves to God for His service.

How about verse two of the hymn: “Take my hands and let them move at the impulse of Thy love; take my feet and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.” What are we presenting to God here? This time it is our hands and feet. Our actual physical bodies. We offer our hands to God to do the work of His love in this world. To work to provide the needs of others. To show love through the work of our hands. We also offer our feet to carry us out into the world to tell of His love. “How beautiful on the mountain are the feet of Him who brings good news!” the prophet Isaiah once said. Here we offer our feet as “beautiful feet” that bring the good news of Jesus to those trapped in sin. This too is part of our new lives as Christians.

Now for verse three: Take my voice and let me sing always only for my King. Take my lips and let them be filled with messages from Thee.” What part of our lives do we present to God with these words? Our mouths. Our words. Our voices. “Let me sing always, only for my King!” “Let my mouth be filled with messages from You!” Presenting ourselves to God means presenting our words to God for His service. Our words build up, encourage, and proclaim the message from God that sinners are forgiven, that we are forgiven, for Jesus sake.

Now verse four. “Take my silver and my gold not a mite would I withhold. Take my intellect and use every power as Thou shalt chose.” Silver and gold. Money. Possessions. Stuff. That is what we present to God here. Not a mite, not a penny, not a cent would I withhold. Like the time one, this is not a plea for you to give more money to church. Our giving is much more than that. In our new lives as Christians we give to the church to extend the Kingdom of God, but we also give to those in need understanding that whatever we have has been given to us from above. Our money, possessions, and stuff is a gift meant to be used in the service of God and our neighbour.

In just those first four verses we get a pretty good idea what it means to present “ourselves and our members” to God for His service. It covers pretty much everything. But as we think about this more one thing remains glaringly obvious: we can’t do it. We can’t follow through on this, we can’t serve God with everything we have. Sin always hold something back.

Do we really, willingly commit our time to God and His word or do our busy schedules get in the way? Do we really allow our hands and feet, our bodies in general, to be used for God’s glory or do we use them for our own glory? Do we really use our words to proclaim God’s goodness or do we use our words to tear down others and lift up ourselves? Do we really offer up everything that we have, holding back nothing, to serve God and our neighbour?

The answer to all of these questions is no, we don’t. Instead of presenting ourselves to God for serving and serving Him only we often serve ourselves and present ourselves to sin “ready for service.” Sin always hold back.

Thanks be to God that He does not hold back. Though we are unable to serve Him with all that we are and have He has served us with everything. God did not hold back, but gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. In Jesus God did not hold back but gave the fullness of Himself to us so save us from our own sinfulness.

Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Though we often fall short, though we regularly hold back, though we daily serve our sinful selves rather than serving God, Jesus has come to serve us in His death and resurrection. He died serving us. He rose from the dead serving us. Today as we come to the altar and receive His body and blood Jesus is serving us again with His forgiveness. He serves us with life everlasting, life that never ends.

 “Take my heart it is Thine own,” verse five says of the hymn says, “it shall be Thy royal throne.” This is the only part of this hymn that I would change. This verse makes it sound like we give our hearts to Jesus. The problem with that is that our hearts aren’t worth giving to Jesus. Our hearts can’t serve Jesus, sin holds us back. Our hearts are like a rust tin can, not worth anything. We don’t give them to Jesus, but Jesus comes along and takes that rusty tin can at the side of the road, pierces it through, takes it home, and makes it into something beautiful and useful: a forgiven heart that serves Him in love forever.

It is Jesus who does this, not us. He presents us to God for His service now and He will present us, perfect, holy, blameless, righteous, and godly, to our Father in Heaven on the day when He comes again to judge the living and the dead.

Let us pray using the words of verse six from the hymn: “Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store; take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee.” In Jesus name. Amen.

The Kingdom at Hand

Text: Matthew 9:35-10:8

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

When Jesus sent out His twelve apostles in our Gospel reading today He told them to preach this message: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” This is the same message that John the Baptist proclaimed out in the wilderness as he prepared the way for the coming saviour and it is the same message that Jesus preached as He set out to begin His ministry of teaching and healing. Now, as Jesus sends out His twelve closest followers He gives them this same message to proclaim, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

I love that message and I love hearing it echo through the teaching of John the Baptist, Jesus, and His disciples. I love it because of the immediacy that it brings. The kingdom of heaven is at hand, it is here right now, it is breaking into the world as we speak. It’s immediate.

For a number of months now we have had events coming up in our house that were a source of great anticipation. First, it was Olivia’s birth. For a while there Leah and I were fielding questions daily like “Is the baby coming today?” Then, after Olivia was born, the anticipation started building for her baptism because grandpa from Alberta was coming. For weeks we got asked, “Is Olivia getting baptised today?” or “Is grandpa coming today?” Then, the day after Olivia’s baptism it was Leah’s birthday. Once the kids figured that out it became, “Is it mommy’s birthday today?” Each time those questions were asked the answer was almost always “No, not today.” Then we would have to go over the number of sleeps or the number of days or review the days of the week in order to put the time of waiting into perspective.

I wonder, sometimes, if our life at Christians starts to feel that way too, like we are always waiting for and anticipating something that never seems to be happening today. Our eyes can get so fixed on what its down the road that we don’t see what is happening right here and right now. This is the great thing about the message that Jesus gives to His disciples as He sends them out, it is right here and right now, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

The kingdom of heaven is wherever Jesus is. When Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem the kingdom of heaven was there. When Jesus was baptised in the Jordan River the kingdom of heaven was there. When Jesus taught people, healed the sick, and raised the dead the kingdom of heaven was there. When Jesus was handed over to the chief priests, Pontius Pilate, and was led away to be crucified the kingdom of heaven was there. When He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven the kingdom of heaven was there. And now, when Jesus comes to us in bread and wine in Holy Communion, when we hear and read His Words, the kingdom of heaven is here. Where ever Jesus is the kingdom of God is there and powers of sin, death, and darkness can’t exist in that kingdom.

When Jesus sent out the twelve this is the message that they carried with them. They went out into a world that was trapped under a very different kind of kingdom, the kingdom of death. Our epistle reading today said that “death reigned from Adam to Moses.” Beginning with Adam the kingdom of death took hold of this world and all the people in it. Adam sinned, and the reign of death began. Every man and woman after Adam including you and me sinned and the reign of death spread. Like a thick, gray fog, death covered over all people surrounding them with the hopelessness that comes from knowing that death is inevitable and there is nothing that we can do to avoid it. Generation after generation everyone’s life story ended the same way, “and he died.” From Adam to Moses and the people of Israel right on down to today the story remains the same. The kingdom of death surrounds us on all sides.

Into this dismal picture the disciples go out with this message, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Into the darkness of the kingdom of death they shout the good news that there is a new kingdom on the scene, a new way of life available to mankind, a new hope for those in the valley of the shadow of death: Jesus Himself, the kingdom of heaven. The Son of God has entered into our human flesh, put himself under the reign of death, and even allowed Himself to be put to death in order to destroy death forever by burst forth from the grave on the third day. On Easter the kingdom of death was put on notice, it no longer could hold mankind in prison forever.

The kingdom of heaven is at hand and you and me, we live in this kingdom now. We live in the kingdom of heaven now. Death is still a thing, it is still a reality for everyone in this world, but it has no power over you. Death reigned from Adam to Moses and death kept of reigning after Moses. But after Jesus death does not reign over you anymore. The devil, the prince of the kingdom of death, makes some bold claims and tries to convince you that he has some kind of power over you. He wants you to think that death is an unavoidable fate that you have to somehow try to avoid. He wants you to be afraid. But it is all a lie. You live in the kingdom of heaven now. You live in Jesus now. You have eternal life now. Death is not a fearful enemy waiting for you at the end of your life, for you death is a peaceful rest until the day when Jesus comes again to raise up your body from the ground. The kingdom of heaven is at hand, it is here right now, you are living in it, and in that kingdom death has no power.

Understanding this, understanding that the kingdom of heaven is at hand and that we live in it right now as Christians who trust in Jesus for salvation, changes how we see the world around us and especially people who don’t know about the kingdom of heaven. The world around us and the people in it are not just people going about their everyday lives and minding their own business. They are people who are living in the kingdom of death and don’t know that Jesus has brought the kingdom of heaven to us right here, right now by His death on the cross. They are dying in the kingdom of death without any hope. The last verse of the hymn we just sand before the sermon hits it on the head:

Let none hear you idly saying,
“There is nothing I can do,”
While the multitudes are dying
And the master calls for you.
Take the task he gives you gladly;
Let his work your pleasure be.
Answer quickly when he calls you,
“Here am I. Send me, send me!”

The multitudes, the people of the world trapped in the kingdom of death, are dying without the hope that we have in the kingdom of heaven!

What do we do about that? How do we bring the kingdom of heaven to the multitudes that are dying? Well the disciples were sent out by Jesus to bring the kingdom to the world. Jesus gave them authority to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons. Is that what it’s going to take? No, not really. Jesus gave the disciples the authority and power to do those things, but not us. We can’t do that stuff. Instead our task is much simpler, we point people to Jesus. Ultimately, it is Jesus who heals the sick, raises the dead, cleanses lepers, and casts out demons. It is Jesus who brings the kingdom of heaven to people. Jesus gathers people into His kingdom where where the sick are healed forever, where the dead are raised to life everlasting, where the lepers are cleansed permanently, and where there are no more demons or evil things to afflict or harm us. All we do is point people to Jesus and the kingdom that He brings.

A lot of people think that Christianity and the Bible doesn’t have much to say that is relevant to the world today. Maybe we are tempted to think that too. Jesus begs to differ. Jesus brings His Kingdom to you today. He rescues you from death today. He gives you life everlasting today. If you ask, “Is the Kingdom of God coming to me today?” the answer is “Yes, it has come to you today and will be yours forever. It’s here right now. In Jesus name. Amen.

Disciples of the Triune God

Text: Matthew 28:16-20

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

There is a wonderful parallel between our Old Testament reading today and our Gospel reading. In our Old Testament reading we heard how God created the heavens and the earth, the seas and all that is in them, the dry land, every green thing that grows on the earth, the birds of the air, the beasts of the field, and, of course, people. God made man, human beings, “male and female He created them” it says in Genesis 1. The details of God creating people comes out in Genesis chapter 2, but before getting to that one other important detail comes out. God says to Adam and Eve, the man and the woman He has created, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

Then, in our Gospel reading today from Matthew 28 we hear words from Jesus shortly before He ascends into heaven. After He rose from the dead He told His the women at the tomb to tell the disciples to meet Him in Galilee. Well they went to Galilee and so did Jesus. He appeared to them on the top of a mountain and He said these words to them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

On the surface these two Biblical stories might not seem to have much in common, but there is a parallel here. In Genesis 1 God spoke to Adam and Eve and told them to have children, reproduce, fill the world with human beings. In Matthew 28 Jesus tells His disciples something very similar. He tells them to make disciples.

If we hold up these two Bible verses side by side it can help us get a better understanding of what they are both saying. (In general this is a great way to read the Bible especially when we run into tricky parts we don’t understand. Let the Bible explain itself!)

If we look that these two verses together we will get a better understanding of what Jesus means in Matthew 28. Often times those words from Matthew 28 are called the “great commission.” Jesus is commissioning His disciples, sending them out, to make more disciples. This passage gets thought about as a command, something that God has commanded us to do. There is some truth to that, this is something that God has commanded us to do. Ignoring that command and doing nothing would not be right. But, there is more happening here than God commanding us to do something.

In Genesis 1 when God said “be fruitful and multiply” was that a command or a blessing? God certainly used commanding sounding language (“be fruitful”… not “if you want/feel like it be fruitful…”) but is this actually a command? No, it’s not. It is a blessing. It says so right there in verse 28, “God blessed them,” it says, “and God said to them be fruitful and multiply…” These words are a blessing, a blessing bestowed on humanity that they are given the ability to have children, to pass on a little bit of themselves to future generations.

So, with that in mind, when Jesus says “Go and make disciples…” is it really a commandment or a blessing? In the same way that God blessed humanity with the ability to have children, Jesus is blessing His disciples here with the ability to create more disciples.

The first blessing that we have here is that we are blessed with the ability to share our faith with other people. This is not a burden that should wear us down or an obligation that hangs over our heads and discourages us. As disciples of Jesus we have the opportunity to make more disciples. Whether it is our own children, our friends, our co-workers, or anyone else we all have Jesus blessing to share what we believe with them.

The second blessing here is that Jesus has blessed us with the ability to become His disciples ourselves. You and I we are disciples of Jesus and disciples of the Triune God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit when we were baptised. We are His disciples, His followers, His students, His sheep, His people. We are His. Baptism makes people, ordinary people like you and me, into disciples of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We saw this very thing happen right before our very eyes as Olivia joined the ranks of the disciples of Jesus standing there alongside each and every one of us who has been made into a disciple by baptism into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It may seem ridiculous that an infant as small as that could somehow be a disciple or follower of Jesus, she can’t speak, stand, or even hold her own head up, but that is what our God has done. He has made her, and the rest of us, His disciples through the water of baptism.

We seriously underestimate what a blessing it really is to be a disciple of Jesus. We take it for granted all the time. But, again, if we hold up what God says in Genesis 1 beside what Jesus says in Matthew 28 we will see what a tremendous blessing this is.

God formed Adam and Eve and the rest of us in order to be in a relationship with us. God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden. They were His people and He was their God. You could even say they were the first disciples. God openly invited Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, have children, make more disciples. But we know things in the Garden of Eden did not stay “very good.” Adam and Eve sinned. And then, when they were fruitful and multiplied, their children killed each other. By the time of Noah, God was sorry that He had created these people altogether. We know what happened in that story. And yet, God was not done with people.

God the Father would send the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to once and for all restore His creation to what it was meant to be, to bring back these lost and wayward creatures (you and me!) into a relationship with Him. By His death on the cross and rising from the tomb that is what this Son has done for us. As Jesus stood there on the mountain and said, “Go and make disciples…” the work was complete, the relationship was restored and now the good news could go out to all the earth. With these words we see that God desires all people to be His disciples the way that Adam and Eve were in the beginning and He has made that possible for all people. Through baptism, through the teaching of His Word, He makes more disciples. Through baptism and through His Word He makes us disciples.

For me this brings to mind the words of Psalm 8. Psalm 8 says,

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
                what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

 

Compared to the rest of creation, the world, the stars, the moon, and everything else, human beings seem pretty puny and insignificant. That alone might make us ask God, “What is man that you are mindful of him and care for him?” But there is still more to it than that. Puny, insignificant human beings like us are also rebellious, violent, and evil. By all rights God ought to not care about us at all because most of the time we don’t care about Him at all. And yet, despite our wickedness, despite our sin, our God is mindful of us, He cares for us, He sent His Son to die for us.

You are a disciple, a follower, a student, a friend, a child of the Most High God, the creator of the universe, the sustainer of everything that exists, the Saviour of mankind, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

On Trinity Sunday we rejoice and marvel at the incomprehensible nature of God. Three in one and one in three. That is indeed a great mystery. Just as great, however, is the mystery of this God’s love for us. Though we are by no means worthy or fit, He has blessed us by making us His disciples.

Living Water for You

Text: John 7:37-39

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”

To be honest, when I think of Pentecost this is not exactly the kind of Scripture reading that comes to mind. When we think of Pentecost we think more about fire than we do about water. Fire is what appears over the heads of the disciples, not water. The altar paraments are red today because of the fire theme. Not much about Pentecost reminds us of water. But, in our Gospel reading today that is where Jesus takes us. We might not think of the Holy Spirit right away when we hear Jesus talking about this “living water,” but John tells us here that Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit.

This reading is helpful for us on Pentecost because it helps us think about who the Holy Spirit is for. We could very easily read the Pentecost story from Acts 2 and feel like it really has nothing to do with us. Have any of those things that happened in Acts 2 ever happened to you? Has your home ever been filled with a loud rushing wind caused by the Holy Spirit? I doubt it. Have you ever had tongues of fire appear over your head and stay there? Doubt it again. Have you ever started speaking languages that you don’t even know while telling people the good news that Jesus has risen from the dead to win salvation for everyone who believes in Him? Again, I doubt it. These things have never happened to you and probably never will happen to you. Does that mean that the Holy Spirit is not for you? Absolutely not.

The beauty of what Jesus says in our Gospel reading today is that it makes it abundantly clear that these kinds of things don’t need to happen to you. Jesus lays out for us very clearly who the Holy Spirit is for. “If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink,” Jesus says. If anyone is thirsty let him come, Jesus says, and out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. Anyone who is thirsty, that is who the Holy Spirit is for. If you are thirsty this living water, the Holy Spirit is for you. Jesus invites you to come to Him, to drink, and be satisfied.

But what does it mean to be thirsty? We obviously aren’t talking about literal thirst like when you’ve been working outside on a hot day and need a drink. This is a different kind of thirst. This is a thirst for something that we don’t have and can’t have on our own. This is a thirst for forgiveness, for new life, for God to come and dwell with us and in us.

The best example of this kind of thirst in the Bible that I can think of is Psalm 51. Aside from Psalm 23, Psalm 51 might be the most well-known psalm. It’s the “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” psalm. It’s a psalm of David. A psalm that he wrote after he had done some terrible things. He had taken another man’s wife, he had lied to try to cover it up, and he had had her husband killed. Afterward, when the guilt, shame, grief, and sorrow caught up with him he wrote Psalm 51 and prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” Right after the “create in me” part David prays, “Cast me not away from your presences and take not you Holy Spirit from me!” This is thirst. This one of the most tragic scenes in the whole Bible. David, the boy who had been chosen by God to be king of Israel, who with the Lord’s helped downed Goliath with rocks and a sling shot, under whom the Lord had built a glorious kingdom, is now left begging God not to take the Holy Spirit from him. David is thirsty for forgiveness, thirsty for God’s love and mercy, thirsty for the Holy Spirit.

When you feel this kind of thirst, when you feel guilt over something you have done or something that you haven’t done, when the weight of years of mistakes starts to pile up and become overwhelming, when you feel that pang in your conscience over something you have done, when you start to think that God could not love, forgive, or accept a person like you, Jesus’ words are for you. “If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink.”

The Holy Spirit that Jesus pours out on Pentecost as living water is for thirsty people. The Spirit is for people who are thirsty and know that they cannot do anything about their sin on their own. People who know that by all rights God should have nothing to do with them, but desperately want to have His Spirit dwell in their hearts. Like David, the living water Holy Spirit that Jesus promise is for people who are left with nothing else other than begging God for His forgiveness. “Take not your Holy Spirit from me!” David cried and Jesus answered, “Come to me and drink. I will fill you with the Holy Spirit. Anyone who believes in me out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

We might underestimate what a precious gift this is sometimes. We take the living water of the Holy Spirit for granted. But if we look in the book of Revelation we see something that puts this all in perspective. There, in the last chapter of the book, John writes this: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.”

Here John is talking about the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, the place that Jesus Christ has prepared by His death and resurrection for everyone who believes in Him. At the heart of this city, this image of heaven that John sets before us, is a river. Flowing, bubbling, splashing right down Main Street through the centre of town is the river of the water of life. It flows out of God’s throne and gives life to all who live there. From this living water the tree of life that was there back in the Garden of Eden (not the bad one, but the one that they couldn’t eat from anymore after they ate from the bad one) grows. Everything, every creature great and small, gets its life from these living waters that flow through the city.

When Jesus offers up living water He is offering to you and me this same water that flows through the heavenly city. Jesus offers to have this water flowing in and through you, pouring out of your heart into the world around you. It’s a glorious gift and it is free.

An amazing little detail caught my attention this week as I read over the Pentecost story. I had never noticed or paid attention before to what the disciples of Jesus were doing when the Holy Spirit was poured out on them. In fact, I had never even realized that what they were doing even gets mentioned. Luke tells us there that when the Holy Spirit was poured out on them the disciples were sitting in a house.

If you’re like me then you might be inclined to think or feel that in order for something as fantastically significant like the sending of the Holy Spirit to happen the person to whom the Spirit is going to be sent would have to be doing something significant or meaningful, not just sitting around. You’d think that this kind of thing would only happen when they had prayed a particularly powerful prayer or something. Or maybe the Spirit would only come after they had done some particularly generous act of love and charity. Or maybe the Spirit would come when they had studied the Scriptures with an extra degree of attention and focus. You’d think they would have to be doing something right for this to happen, but all it says here is that they were sitting, waiting, doing nothing.

What we see happening here in the Pentecost story and in the rest of our readings is that Jesus pours out His gifts, His Spirit, His living water not on people who have earned it or worked for it, but on people who are just thirsty, people who are lacking something, people who are in need. Jesus pours out His gifts us not because of who we are or what we are doing, but because of His love for us.

Jesus has poured out His life giving, living water Spirit on you. The life giving water that flows through the heavenly city which our God has prepared for those who love Him now flows in and through you. The Spirit is for you. The water is for you. New life is for you. Forgiveness is for you. Eternity is for you. “Let the one who is thirsty come,” Jesus says a little later in Revelation 22, “let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” It is all yours, freely given, because Christ died for you. In Jesus name. Amen.

Staring into the Sky

Text: Acts 1:1-11

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our reading from Acts today reminds me a bit of a scene from the movie Mary Poppins. I loved that movie when I was a kid and have enjoyed watching it a few times with my own children. The scene I have in mind occurs right after Mary Poppins has been hired to be the nanny for the Banks children. She proceeds to go upstairs to where the children are, but Mary does not simply go up the stairs. No, Mary rides the banister up to the second floor defying the rules of physics and the rules of etiquette. The two children, Jane and Michael, are waiting at the top of the stairs when Mary arrives and they are both stunned. Michael, the younger brother, is standing there with his mouth agape in awe at what he had just seen. Mary Poppins quickly and calmly quips, “Close your mouth, Michael, we are not a codfish,” and proceeds to lead the children to their playroom.

Jesus’ disciples are left in a similar situation, I think, as they watch Him ascend into heaven. As unnatural as it seems for someone to ride up on a bannister, it is even more unexpected to watch someone disappear on clouds of glory into heaven. The disciple are left with that codfish kind of look on their faces, jaws dropped, staring up into the sky as they watch their Lord, their teacher, their friend disappear from sight into heaven.

Like Mary Poppins, someone comes along to snap the disciples out of their awe and to redirect their attention to the matter at hand. Two men appear dressed in glowing white robes, the same kind of “men” who were there at the tomb to tell the women that Jesus was not there because He is risen from the dead, these men are angels. The angels say to the disciples, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” It is as if they said, “You are not codfish, gentlemen, close your mouths, stop staring at the sky, and get back to reality.”

But what is so wrong with looking up into the sky as Jesus disappears from sight? It’s hard to blame the disciples for staring up into heaven the way that they did. If I were in their shoes I think I would do the same thing. Airplanes from the warplane heritage museum flew over on Victoria Day and I stood there staring into the sky watching them. They are just airplanes (really cool old planes, but just airplanes) and I stood there watching them. Surely if I saw Jesus ascending into heaven I’d be staring at that too and for good reason.

If there ever was a good reason to stare into heaven it is to see Jesus ascending. Ascension Day doesn’t get the attention that other Christian holidays get. We don’t treat it the same way that we treat Christmas, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, or Easter Sunday. But this is an important event. At Christmas we celebrate Jesus becoming a man like us. We call Him Emmanuel, God with us, and He really is with us. He is human like us in every way. That hasn’t changed now that Jesus has died and risen again. He is still fully human, a man just like us, and as Jesus ascends we see something amazing, a man, a human being with flesh and blood, skin and bones just like you and me ascending into heaven and sitting at the right hand of God. That might not seem like a big deal at first, but it is. Human beings like you and me have no right to ascend into heaven or be in the presence of God, let alone sit as His right hand. And yet that is what the Son of Man, Jesus, does. He ascends into heaven and lifts up your humanity, your flesh and bones, your body and soul, to be with Him in eternity. When we think about Jesus ascending, when we watch Him disappear from sight with the disciples who were there, what we see is our own human life going up to life everlasting. That is worth staring into heaven to see, but our eyes can’t stay there. The angels come to us too and point us back out to the world we live in.

Getting back to reality would be important for the disciples because before He had ascended Jesus had given them a great responsibility: “You will be my witnesses,” Jesus said, “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” You will be my witnesses. These disciples, these men who had seen the miracles that Jesus had performed, who had heard Him teach, who had travelled with Him for three years around Palestine, who had seen Him die on a cross, and who had now seen Him risen from the dead; these disciples who had seen all of these things would now be His witnesses.

But you can’t be a witness of Jesus is you just spend all your time staring up into heaven. That is why these angels come along to bring the disciples back to reality. If their eyes are left gazing up into the sky then they won’t be able to be witnesses of Jesus. In order for them to be witnesses of Jesus their eyes need to be looking at the world around them, the people around them. In order to be witnesses of Jesus to other people the disciples would have to see those other people, they would need to get to know them, they would have to know the cares and concerns of those people, they would need to know who they are and what their life is like. They would need to shift their focus and see the people all around them.

The disciples had this unique call directly from Jesus to be His witnesses. We haven’t been called in the exact same way or to the exact same thing, but as Christians we are all called to be witnesses of Jesus. This means, just like it did for the disciples, that our eyes need to be focused on the people around us. If we are gazing up into heaven or anywhere else we won’t see the people around us to whom we have been called to be witnesses of Jesus. If we don’t see our neighbour, if we aren’t taking the time to look at them and notice them, then how can we be witnesses of Jesus to them?

Last week when my dad was here he preached about our tendency to look back into the past and get nostalgic rather than seeing what is happening right before our very eyes. That is one of the ways that our focus gets taken away from our role as witnesses of Jesus in this world. There are other ways too.

We can get caught up looking into heaven like the disciples did if we get too hung up on trying to find the answers to big questions that we have no business worrying about. It’s like the disciples when they wanted to know if this was the time when Jesus would restore the kingdom to Israel. Jesus said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority.” We get caught up in trying to figure out things that are really none of our business.

We can also get caught up looking at ourselves. We get too focused sometimes worrying about our own needs and wants and making sure that we are happy that we don’t even notice people around us. Sinners are self-focused and self-absorbed. That is just how we are. Again, we are looking in the wrong place.

Instead, we have been called to see the people around us and be witnesses of Jesus to them. For each of us that might look different. For some of us it might mean boldly telling people about Jesus and sharing Bible verses with them. For most people, however, that might not be too comfortable. But we are also called to be witnesses of Jesus simply by loving one another. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,” Jesus said, “if you love one another.” Loving one another, loving our brothers and sisters in Christ and loving our friends and neighbours in the world, is one of the greatest ways that you and I have the opportunity to be witnesses to Jesus. By loving one another we show the world the love that Jesus has first shown for us becoming a servant to us and giving His life for us. But, if our eyes are distracted (whether we are caught looking up, down, in on ourselves, or anywhere else) we will not see the people around us let alone love them.

In our lives as Christians our eyes are moving all over the place. We look up to see what Jesus is doing and we look out to see the world around us. We look to Jesus, see Him healing, teaching, dying on a cross, rising from the dead, and ascending into Heaven. We look and see what He has done for us. Then, directed by Jesus we look out to the world around us and people around us to see where we, the disciples of Jesus in this world, can serve our neighbour. We see Jesus and we bear witness to Jesus. May this be the pattern for our lives, looking at Jesus and looking out, so that we can see Him and witness to Him every day of our lives. In Jesus name. Amen.

Holy, Royal Priests

Text: 1 Peter 2:2-10

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our risen Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

A few months ago I visited a Roman Catholic elementary school. It was a Wednesday during Advent or Lent, I can’t remember which, but we had a service that night so I was wearing my clerical collar. I was visiting the school because they were having a “faith fair” (like a science fair, but with religious themed projects). I always feel awkward visiting schools because I’m not a parent of any of the children who go to school there and nowadays there are different rules and regulations for visitors to schools and places like that. I walked in the front doors of the school and looked for the office or something like that where I should sign in as a visitor. I didn’t see anything like that right away so I started walking down the hallway. All of a sudden I heard a somewhat panicked voice from behind me say, “Excuse me sir!” It was the school secretary, turns out I had walked right past the office and the sign-in sheet without noticing. I turned around to look and when I did the secretary saw my collar. Right away she said, “I’m sorry Father” and had me sign the guest register. The rest of my visit to that school as I made my way around the faith fair in the gymnasium I got called “Father” at least 15 to 20 times and each time I tried to explain that I’m actually a Lutheran pastor, not a Catholic priest. What I learned from this whole ordeal was that if you want to fly under the radar at a Catholic school don’t where a clerical collar in there.

You probably have never been mistaken for a Catholic priest like I was. If you have been I would like to hear the story. Unless you’ve been running around masquerading as a priest or telling people that you are one someone calling you a priest it would probably be a pretty strange situation. And yet, that is what Peter calls all of us in our epistle reading today. He says that you are a “holy priesthood” in verse 5 and a “royal priesthood” in verse 9. You are a priest, believe it or not.

If that sounds strange, and I am assuming that it does, then we need to take some time to think of our identity as Christians; who we are and what we do. Peter calls us priest here (all of us, not just pastors) because that is part of our identity as Christians. If thinking of ourselves as priests seems strange then it means that we have forgotten a bit of who we are and what we do as Christians. We have forgotten part of our identity.

If we are going to reclaim this bit of our identity as Christans and realize who we are as the people of God there are two questions we need to answer: “How did this happen?” and “What do we do now?”

How did that happen? How did we become priests? Thankfully, Peter explains that for us a bit in verse 4 and 5 of our epistle today. He says, “As you come to Him (Jesus!), a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood.” As you come to Him, Peter says. As you come to Jesus this is what Jesus is doing in you. Jesus changes who you are as you come to Him. This should not be a surprise. You don’t come to God in human flesh who died on the cross and rose from the dead and expect Him to leave you just as you are. No, Jesus changes you. Jesus changes you into a priest.

In that verses I just read Peter uses the example of stones. He talks about Jesus as a “living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious.” This is picking up on a big theme from the Old Testament. In fact, Peter quotes the Old Testament a bunch of times here showing us that Jesus is the stone the builders, the people and their leaders, rejected by putting Him to death on the cross. But even though He was rejected, God has made this Jesus the cornerstone, the base and foundation, of His Church. “Christ is our cornerstone, on Him alone we build.” We sang those words at the beginning of our service today. But there is more than that going on here. Peter also says, “As you come to Him, you yourselves like living stones are being built up.” You, you are being built up like living stones. Jesus is the living stone, the stone rejected and killed but raised from the dead after three days in the tomb, and as you come to Him, as you are drawn to Him by the power of the Holy Spirit, as you hear His word and eat and drink His body and blood, you are being built up like living stones, like Jesus, on the foundation of Jesus. You are part of God’s building project for His Kingdom. You are a living stone.

I like to think of it this way: It’s like we are by nature useless stones that are not good for any kind of building at all. We have cracks and flaws. We are misshapen. Our corners are far from perfect. We are weak a brittle, we break too easily. We are not suitable for building. But as we are brought to Jesus we are changed from useless stones that are good for nothing into stones with a purpose, stones that can be used for building and not just any building, but the holy, spiritual house that God Himself is building. Jesus changes us.

By nature we are nothing like priests. We are not deserving of that title at all and we are not capable of carrying out the work of a priest. We are not worthy of that title. But Jesus, changes us. Through His death He has forgiven our weaknesses and our flaws. He lives in us and because He is in us we are new creations, new people. Though we don’t look like it or feel like it then, we are priests of the Most High God, each and every one of us, because that is who Jesus has made us to be.

If that is who we are then, what is it that we should be doing? That’s the second question. Again, thankfully Peter clears that up for us too. He says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” This is your purpose, this is your work as a priest of God: to proclaim His excellencies, His glory, His saving might because He has called you out of the darkness of sin and death and has brought You into the light of Jesus, the light of forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation.

Jesus has called you out of the darkness. He is the light of the world that the darkness cannot overcome. On the cross darkness seems to have won the day, but by the darkness of His death on the cross the darkness of Your sin has been flooded with His light. As the light broke that Easter morning, Jesus rose from the dead brining light to this fallen, broken world. Jesus has brought this light to you. You live in His light. He has not called you out of the darkness just to bask in the light, however. He has called you out of the darkness so that you too might call others out of the darkness by pointing them to Jesus, the light of the world who endured the darkness of death for us.

Part of the problem that we have is that we think that this kind of thing is just the pastor’s job. It’s just his job to tell people about Jesus. But that is not what Peter is telling us here. We are all priests. You, me, and everyone else who has been brought to faith in Jesus. We have come to Jesus and He has transformed us from useless rocks into living stones, from sinners lost without a hope in the world to priests living in the light with a hope for this world and beyond. We all have the glorious task of proclaiming this good news of what Jesus has done.

Last weekend I attended a workshop in Toronto called “Every One His Witness.” There was a lot of stuff in that presentation that I hope to talk with you about at some point, but the most striking point of the whole workshop was this: That God uses people like you and me to carry out His purpose, His will in this world. We know that God wants everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, He tells us that in His own word. The amazing thing is that God uses sinners like you and me to do it.

You are a priest of God who has been called to proclaim the goodness of the God who saved you by His death. If you feel unfit or unqualified for this work then you are right. You are not qualified. You are not fit for the task. But God uses unfit, unqualified people like us all the time. He takes useless rocks like us and makes us living stones. He makes us His priests. This is our identity. This is who we are. Let us live in that identity, in Jesus our Saviour, through all our days. In Jesus name. Amen.

Emmaus Exiles

Text: 1 Peter 1:17-25 (also Luke 24:13-35)

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

As these two disciples walked down the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus things seemed pretty bleak. This was not a pleasant evening walk, this wasn’t a nice stroll with friends; this was a defeated, depressed, discouraged, retreat from the holy city of Jerusalem back to their homes and families. They had followed Jesus with much joy and optimism expecting to see the world change before their very eyes and now they were left with nothing. Or so they thought.

Little did these disciples know that Jesus Himself would show up and walk with them. In fact, even when Jesus did approach them and join them there on the road the still did not know that it was Him. Their eyes were kept from seeing Him or recognizing Him, Luke tells us. It was not time for them to recognise Jesus, not yet.

Though they did not recognise Him, Jesus joins right in on the conversation that they are having as they walk this dismal road. “What are you talking about?” Jesus says to them. Shocked by the question and with deep sadness showing on their faces they reply, “Are you the only person who was visiting Jerusalem this weekend who didn’t hear about what happened?” They can’t believe that anyone in town could possibly be unaware of everything that happened. Of course, Jesus knows what happened but He wants to hear them explain it to Him. He wants to hear how they understand everything that has happened.

They say to Jesus, “[The things] concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,  and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”

Right here, in these two little sentences we hit the heart of their sadness. “Our chief priest, our rulers, delivered Jesus to be crucified,” they say. “It was our chief priests, our leaders, who orchestrated this whole thing,” they say, “our political and religious leaders had Him crucified, but we had hoped He was the one to redeem Israel. Our leaders, our rulers, our culture rejected Jesus, but we believed in Him.” For these men who had believed in Jesus they now see that the rest of their world, the rest of their culture did not believe in Him the way that they did.

This is a sentiment that we can relate to, I think. We too live in a world that does not think the same things about Jesus that we think. Our leaders and our cultural icons have not orchestrated the death of Jesus, but they don’t believe what we do about Jesus. Not anymore. Our culture doesn’t much care for Jesus to be honest. This can leave us as Christians feeling alienated from the world around us, from our culture, from our community, and maybe even from our own families.

Our epistle reading today talks about this too. Peter calls our lives in this world “exile.” He says, “If you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile…” Peter is saying here that our lives in this world are lives in exile, lives lived in a world that is not our home, that is not friendly to what we believe, and doesn’t really understand what we believe about Jesus. This is our life. We live in exile. We are foreigners and strangers living in this world.

For the disciples on the road that day this was a depressing, discouraging reality especially since the Jesus that they had believed in was now dead. They watched Him die on a cross and could not believe, despite what others had said about His tomb being empty, that Jesus could be risen from the dead. As they walked and as they talked to Jesus without recognizing Him their faces were downcast and sad. There seemed to be no hope anymore. But then Jesus started speaking.

You’d think that Jesus would try to comfort these poor men as they walked and talked because they were so discouraged and disheartened by everything that had happened. But that is not really what Jesus does at all. Instead, Jesus said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”

You fools, Jesus says, don’t you understand that this is how it had to be? Don’t you understand that this was the plan of God all along? Don’t you understand that this is exactly what the prophets in the Old Testament said would happen? How slow of heart to believe can you be?

These disciples were so busy wallowing in self-pity and feeling sorry for themselves that they failed to see the very thing that had happened right before their own eyes. They had hoped that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel, they said, and that is exactly what Jesus had done in His death on the cross. He had redeemed Israel! Better yet, He had redeemed the entire world! Yes, the world had rejected Jesus, their own people had rejected Jesus, they had carried out their wicked and evil plans to have Him put to death, but in all of that, in the rejection, hatred, and even in His death, He had won the victory and redeemed the whole world from the power of sin and death.

We too, as individual Christians and as a church, can often feel discouraged and depressed by the way we see things going in the world around us. The world around us rejects Jesus and refuses to believe that He has redeemed us from sin or that He has risen from the dead. We are exiles in a world that does not believe what we believe. We could very easily become discouraged by that, we could give up hope because of that, we could wallow in self-pity and feel bad for ourselves because of that, but we would be missing the whole point; we would be missing the reality of what Jesus has done in this world for us.

Jesus did not come into this world to be the successful triumphant king that the crowds wanted on Palm Sunday. He did not come to redeem people from God with a great show of worldly power and might. He did not come to win a popularity contest and entice everyone into believing in Him. He came to die on a cross and save us from our sins. In the same way, Jesus does not promise that our lives in this world are going to be a successful victory march. He does not promise that His church in this world will always be loved by everyone. He does not promise to make us, His people, fit in with the world. He makes us exiles in this world, strangers in a foreign land, waiting for a kingdom yet to be revealed. That is our reality.

So, Peter tells us today, “conduct yourselves with fear (in the fear of God, trusting and loving Him above all things) during your time of exile.” Peter’s words here encourage us to see beyond the dismal scene around us that would discourage and dishearten us and to look on the reality of what God has done. We have been bought out of this world by the precious blood of Jesus. That is why we are exiles in this world. That is why the world looks down on us. We don’t belong here. Jesus has bought us out of this world with His blood and this is not our home. We have faith and hope in something beyond this world, the eternal glory that comes from Jesus.

In the meantime, as we live in this world as exiles here is what we are to do: “love one another earnestly from a pure heart,” Peter says. Love one another because Christ has loved you. Love one another because Christ has bought you with His precious blood. Love one another because You have been born again in the water of baptism and that is what we have been born again to do. Live your life as an exile, a stranger, a foreigner, doing something that is really foreign and strange in this world: loving one another.

And, Peter says, when the world gets discouraging remember this, “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of the grass. The grass withers, the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” The Word Peter talks about here is the good news, Jesus is risen from the dead. That word remains forever. This world will die. That good news never will.

Those disciples were confronted with that good news on the road that day. Finally, at the end of the day when they sat down to eat with Jesus and He broke bread (shared Holy Communion!) with them, they recognised who He is. What did they do then? They ran back to Jerusalem to tell the others. They were still exiles, they were still among the few who believed in Jesus and they still lived in a world that did not care for Jesus much, but they had this good news and they shared it. So do we. Jesus is risen from the dead. We are foreigners, exiles, and strangers in this world, but we are foreigners, exiles, and strangers with good news to share. Our Lord is risen from the dead and we will rise with Him. In Jesus name, Amen.

The Most Precious Thing You Have

Text: 1 Peter 1:3-9

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Last Sunday people all over the world gathered together just like we did to celebrate the joyous good news that Jesus is risen from the dead. For most of us it was an Easter pretty much the same as any other. For some people though it must have been different. Christians in Egypt gathered together to celebrate Easter just 6 days after bombs went off in 2 churches on Palm Sunday killing upwards of 47 people.

After I heard about what happened in Egypt on Palm Sunday I was curious to see what these people and their churches would do about Easter and the celebrations around the resurrection of Jesus. I read in a news article this week that some of the celebrations were toned down a bit, the receptions and parties that are normally held on Easter Sunday were cancelled this year, but the main service, the Easter Vigil mass on Saturday went ahead as scheduled. The people came, the Word of God was read, the body and blood of Jesus was distributed in Holy Communion, and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus was celebrated. The article that I read was quick to note that the events on Sunday (the parties and lunches…) were canceled because they did not seem appropriate during a time of morning. They were not cancelled for safety reasons or in an attempt to avoid another attack. Instead, in defiance of what would seem to be common sense, Christians all over Egypt gathered on the Saturday night before Easter just like they had done 6 days earlier on Palm Sunday. That is amazing. The courage of these people is incredible. One article I read tried to put it in our perspective, it would be like going to church on Easter not knowing if you would make it home for Easter dinner or not.

Why bother, though? Why bother putting yourself in harm’s way like that just for one Sunday service even if it is Easter Sunday? Would we, North American, western, Christians like you and me do that? Would we go to church if the possibility of physical harm or even death loomed as a potential reality? I’m not so sure we would. All kinds of things much less serious than terrorism and death keep us from going to church. You and I can’t even begin to relate to what those people were faced with. We are not and never have been threatened with anything like that. Why did they bother?

The best person to ask that question would be one of those people who left home and headed over to church Easter Saturday and stood shoulder to shoulder with fellow Christians celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. But since they are not here for us to ask them we have to be satisfied with whatever we can come up with for ourselves. I would suggest that these Christians were so bold to go to church even if it meant they might lose their lives for it because they understood something that Peter says in our epistle reading today much better than we do. Peter says this: “In this (God’s salvation for you in Jesus) you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Why bother going to church if it might cost you your life? Because your faith, your Christian faith, is the most precious possession that you have in all the earth. It is more precious than gold as Peter tells us here, it is more precious than your own life. And Church, what is happening right here and right now, is the place where that precious faith is fed and nourished and given to us so that it can survive in a hostile and dangerous world that is filled with much greater threats that terrorists with bombs strapped to their chests. Faith is so precious and valuable that it is worth facing those kinds of risks just to have it strengthened.

What makes faith so precious though? What makes faith worth so much more than gold or even our lives themselves? Faith itself is not precious. There is nothing precious about faith or believing in something. Faith is not precious because it is some kind of virtue that makes God happy. Faith is not an attitude or an outlook on life that you choose for yourself. Faith is not something that you do.

In our Gospel reading today we heard Jesus say this to Thomas, the disciple who doubted that He was risen from the dead, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29) For you and me those words kind of feel like a pat on the back. We haven’t seen Jesus and yet we believe in Him, Jesus is talking about us here. He is saying that we are blessed, we did a good job. But what if we take that word “blessed” in a different direction. What if, instead of patting us on the back and saying “Good job, thanks for believing in me!” Jesus was really saying, “Look at the blessing that God has given to you! You believe in me even though you have not seen Me! What a wonderful thing that God has done for you! Blessed are you!” Blessed are you because God has done this for you, He has given you the priceless treasure of faith.

This faith is a priceless treasure because it clings to Jesus. Jesus told His disciples that if they only had faith like a grain of mustard seed then they would be able to move mountains into the sea (Matthew 17:20). Jesus does not mean here that faith itself is so powerful. He is not saying that if they just believed enough or believed in themselves they could do it. He is saying that if they even had such a tiny amount of faith IN HIM it would change everything. Faith in Jesus is a precious thing because Jesus is precious. Jesus is risen from the dead. He died on the cross carrying my sins, your sins, the sins of the entire world, and He rose from the dead after three days. Because He is risen your sins are forgiven and God’s wrath against sin is taken away.

The faith that God has given to us and blessed us with is precious and valuable because it takes hold of Jesus. Just like Thomas who touched the hands and side of Jesus and felt the nail marks and spear marks or like the women who ran away from the tomb that Easter morning after they had heard the good news from the angel and met Jesus on the way, fell down at His feet, grabbed His feet, and worshiped Him. Our faith, the faith that God has blessed us with, grabs on to Jesus. When we come to communion Jesus lays His body into our mouths and hands. He pours His blood shed for us into our mouths. When this happens our faith takes hold of Jesus again. We grab on to Him and don’t let go.

The faith that God has given to you is precious because of what it brings to you. Because your faith takes hold of Jesus and clings to Him it brings eternal life to you. At the end of our epistle reading today Peter calls this the “outcome” of our faith, “the salvation of our souls.” Your faith is the most precious and valuable thing in the world for you because it brings you salvation for your soul. Peter says here in this epistle reading that faith is more precious than gold because gold, even though it is refined and purified with fire, still perishes eventually. The brilliance of gold wears away, its shine fades, dents and scratches appear. Eventually it does not look as bright and beautiful as it once did.

This faith is much more valuable than gold. Your faith is tested, refined, and purified just like gold by the trials and struggles of this life. The imperfections are removed by the struggle of life as God purifies your faith in Him. That faith, unlike gold that has been purified but still perishes and wears out, will last forever, it will never perish. God who has made that faith, purified that faith, and sustained that faith will bring it to completion on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will be faithful to that faith He has given you and He will raise your soul and body to new life. Unlike gold that perishes, faith that clings to Jesus “will never perish, but have eternal life.”  

Your faith is precious. This is a precious gift that you have been given: you know Jesus and what means that He died and rose again for you. That is the most precious thing you own. It is more precious than gold or silver, more precious than your home or possession, more precious that your family or memories, more precious than your life itself. It is a precious thing that you have been given. This gift is so precious that it brought Christians in Egypt to church just a week after such a violent attack and it is so precious that it will bring you up out of this wicked, violent, and evil world into life everlasting. In Jesus name, Amen.

The Easter Difference

Text: Colossians 3:1-4

Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our risen Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

I read an article the other day, it was an interview with a former bishop in the Church of England actually who has written a book called, “The Day the Revolution Began.” I haven’t read the book, I only just heard about for the first time just a day or two ago, but the title of the book intrigues me. “The Day the Revolution Began.” I find that title intriguing because the author isn’t talking about what we normally think of as revolutions (The French Revolution, American Revolution, Industrial Revolution). Instead, he argues that Easter, the death and resurrection of Jesus, was a revolution, a decisive turning point in history. In short, the book argues that Jesus rising from the dead changes everything.

That’s a nice thought, that Jesus rising from the dead changes everything, but is it true? Does Jesus rising from the dead really make a difference? You might be thinking to yourself, “Of course it makes a difference, why else would I be here!” or you might be thinking to yourself, “I’m not sure that Jesus rising from the dead actually makes a difference at all, to be honest.”

If you fall into that latter line of thinking, if you are not sure sometimes (or all the time, for that matter) whether or not Jesus rising from the dead actually makes a difference in your life I don’t blame you. I don’t blame you because it doesn’t always look like Jesus rising from the dead makes much a difference in my life either. Contrary to what some people might tell you, Jesus rising from the dead and you believing in Jesus does not mean that there are no more bad days. It does not mean that you will always feel happy and never struggle with anything in life because you believe in Jesus and He is risen from the dead. It does not mean that no bad things will happen to you or to people you care about. For this reason, it is not outside the realm of possibility and it should not be unexpected for every Christian to ask themselves from time to time, “Does Jesus rising from the dead actually make a difference?” Because it sure doesn’t feel like it sometimes.

Maybe it doesn’t feel like it, but Jesus rising from the dead does make a difference. In our epistle reading today from Colossians 3 Paul says this about Jesus being raised from the dead and what it means for you: “If you then have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set you minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Yes, Paul is saying, Jesus rising from the dead makes a difference.

Jesus rising from the dead makes a difference because you have risen with Jesus. Our epistle reading starts off with Paul saying “If then you have been raised with Christ…” “If you have been raised.” The implication is that you have been raised with Christ. You have been raised from the dead already with Christ to be a new person; a person set free from sin and death; a person who has been perfectly and totally forgiven; a person who lives a life filled with the love of Jesus. Anyone who believes and is baptised has died with Jesus and has also risen with Jesus. You have died with Jesus and you have risen with Him. That makes a difference.

Jesus rising from the dead makes a difference because it changes our perspective on life in this world. Jesus rising from the dead reorients the way we think about life in this world. Dead people don’t rise, that is not how the world works, but Jesus is risen. Jesus rising from the dead opens our eyes to a new reality that we could not have seen otherwise.

In our gospel reading we see the difference that Jesus rising from the dead makes in the lives of people like us who believe in Him. The women go out to the tomb early in the morning to finish the job of burying Jesus. You can imagine that there is a degree of grief and sorrow in their hearts as they make their way out to the tomb. But before they can get there the earth under their feet starts to shake and an angel of the Lord appears and rolls away the stone from the tomb. The guards posted to keep an eye on that tomb fall, brave men who should stand strong in the face of danger, down like dead men they are so afraid. If the soldier are falling down with fear the women were likely scared too. The angel says to them, “Do not be afraid, He has risen.” The women rush away from the tomb still afraid, Matthew tells us, but also filled with great joy. Jesus being alive makes a difference for these women. Their fear remains to a degree, but with that fear is great joy. Their joy comes from knowing that their Saviour, the one on whom they had pinned their hopes for salvation, is not dead. He is alive and He brings joy. Jesus rising from the dead makes a difference.

What difference does Jesus rising from the dead make for you?

Before we stumble around trying to make up an answer to that question for ourselves, Paul provides us with the answer in our epistle reading. “If you have been raised with Jesus (which as we talked about already, we have) then set your mind on the things that are above.” Jesus rising from the dead sets our mind on things that are above and changes how we see our lives day by day in this world. We still live in the world, but our lives are oriented around the central, joyous fact that Jesus is risen from the dead. That makes a difference.

When we struggle in life, when we suffer, when we get sick, when every thing seems to be going wrong, when life goes off the rails and nothing makes sense anymore Jesus risen from the dead makes a difference. We see in Jesus risen from the dead that this life and the stuff that burdens us here and weighs us down is not worth comparing to the future glory that has been prepared for us in Christ (Romans 8:18). On Easter we see the glory of Jesus, a glory that will be ours on the day when He raises our bodies too. We also see here that because Jesus is risen from the dead we have no reason to doubt God’s love for us. Trials and tribulations will not take away the love that Jesus poured out on the cross or that shines forth from the empty tomb.

When we grieve Jesus risen from the dead makes a difference. As Christians we do not grieve like other people. We still grieve but we grieve with hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). Like the women running from the tomb our grief is paired with great joy. Our hope and joy in the midst of grief comes from knowing that we will be reunited with those we loved in this life in the life yet to come.

When we mess up and fall short of God’s glory, when we sin, Jesus risen from the dead make all the difference. Jesus paid the price for our sin on the cross and His resurrection is like the receipt that confirms that full payment has been made. To show us that our sin is taken away God the Father raised Jesus from the dead. He lives and we know we are forgiven.

As we live our lives in this world Jesus risen from the dead makes a difference. He has already raised us to new life and has set our minds on things above. He sets our minds on things like compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, bearing with each other in love, and forgiving one another (Colossians 3:12-13). Jesus risen from the dead changes how we see each other and lifts our heads up above the anger, hatred, and violence of this world to see the new reality that is ours because our Saviour lives.

When we die Jesus risen from the dead makes a difference. We likely still fear death. I think that anyone who says that they don’t fear death at all is lying at least a little bit. But our fear is combined with joy, just like the women at the tomb. Our fear is combined with joy because we know that Jesus will come again and give life to our dead bodies. When Jesus comes again our bodies will probably be lying dead in the ground and may have been there for a long time. But on that day Jesus will call out our names and our bones will get up from the ground and Jesus will breathe the breath of life into our dead bodies and we will live. This knowledge, this good news changes everything.

Jesus rising from the dead changes everything. It changes everything for you right now and forever. It may not seem like much has changed, it may not feel like it, but it has. You have risen from the dead with Jesus and you have changed. In Jesus name. Amen.

Meditations on the Passion of Jesus

First Passion Reading: John 18:1-11

When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.”10 Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

Devotion: “Violent”

As Jesus is arrested we begin to see some of the worst that humanity has to offer. Not just other people, people a couple thousand years ago on the other side of the world, but all people. You and I included. We see here the worst that is in us beginning here at the garden of Gethsemane.

In this first stage of Jesus’ passion we see the violence and anger that is inherent in human beings like us. The soldiers, chief priests, and Pharisees led by Judas come to find Jesus. They come with lanterns, torches, and weapons. They come armed to fight. They come prepared to beat back any resistance. They come with weapons to arrest the man who has never laid a finger on anyone to harm them. They come to arrest the one person whose touch is able to heal and save rather than cause pain and injury.

It’s not just the ones who don’t believe in Jesus either. As the arrest starts to go down Peter pulls out a sword and lashes out at the mob that has come to arrest Jesus. He cuts off a man’s ear!  In the gospel of Matthew Jesus says to Peter at this point, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

Like the mob that has come to arrest Jesus and like Peter, this anger and violence lurks in our hearts too. This anger and violence lashes out with words and actions at those we dislike, those we perceive to be a threat, those who see the world differently than us. This same violence lives in us.

For violent and sinful hearts like our own there is good news today. Christ has endured the worst violence that this world, our sin, and the devil can dole out. He has endured the cross and has won forgiveness for the anger and violence that lurks in us. His death paid for our violence.

 

The Second Passion Reading: John 18:12-27

12 So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. 13 First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 14 It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people.

15 Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16 but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. 17 The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18 Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.

19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.”22 When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?”23 Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” 24 Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 26 One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27 Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.

Devotion:“Fearful”

The violence still lingers here. When the officers who arrested Jesus don’t care for the way that He answers the questions the high priest asks Him they lash out again and strike Him. But Peter, who not long before lashed out with a sword and cut off a man’s ear, is not so bold anymore. He has moved from one extreme to another.

Now, rather than boldly standing up for Jesus and even trying to fight for Him, Peter is left cowering in fear. Violence and anger gives way to terror and fear. Just as Jesus had predicted, before the rooster crows Peter denies that he even knows Jesus three times. To the servant girl at the gate he says, “I am not one of His disciples.” To the others standing around the fire warming themselves he says the same thing. To a servant of the high priest who was related to the man whose ear Peter had cut off just a short while before Peter again denies. And the rooster crowed.

Fear paralyzes. Fear immobilizes us. Fear leads us even to deny the Lord who bought us with His death on the cross. The fear that we see in Peter here is a fear that lingers in our hearts too. It flairs up when we aren’t sure what the people around us would think of us if we told them what we really believe about Jesus, if we let them see who we really are, if they knew that we are Christians. Like Peter we also deny Christ. We deny Christ with our words when we don’t speak of Christ when the opportunity presents itself (even by telling ourselves that there was no opportunity) and when we fail to love one another as Christ has loved us first.

For fearful cowering disciples like us there is also good news today. Good news that Christ did not cower in fear, but carried on to the cross to die for fearful disciples like us. By His blood He has redeemed us from our sins of fear and given us new life. Stand tall, therefore, bold, forgiven in Christ.

 

The Third Passion Reading: John 18:28-40

28 Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 30 They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” 31 Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” 32 This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them,“I find no guilt in him. 39 But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” 40 They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.

Devotion: “Skeptical”

            As Pilate enters the scene for the first time we are confronted with something different. An outsider, a non-Jewish person, someone who has no baggage or history with Jesus. Pilate is confronted here with a problem, should he believe the crowd or believe in Jesus? Can he really believe that this is some kind of heavenly King who has come to earth or will he have to side with His own people who have rejected this so called king?

Pilate’s skepticism about Jesus shines through in these words: “What is truth?” He has gone back and forth with Jesus, tried to understand Jesus, but Jesus remains elusive for Pilate. Jesus says that He has come into the world to bear witness about the truth. Jesus has already told the people that He is the Way the Truth and the Life. He bears witness about the truth and He is the truth. What is the truth? That God would send His Son into the world to redeem and rescue the world from sin. But, does Pilate believe that truth?

“What is truth,” is all that Pilate can say. This “truth” seems pretty farfetched. Is there such a thing as truth in the world anyway? Isn’t truth subjective, doesn’t truth mean something different for everyone, could there be just one truth? Yes, there is one truth, Jesus is that truth. But are we able to accept that truth or do we want our own truth? Pilate is skeptical and so are we. Truth sounds great as long as it agrees with what we already think is true.

For skeptics there is good news today too. Christ died for skeptics in order to show us the truth that He would go so far as to give His own life on a cross to show His love for us and save us from sin. This is a truth worth believing.

 

The Fourth Passion Reading: John 19:1-16

Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”

12 From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” 13 So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” 15 They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” 16 So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.

Devotion: “Authoritative”

            The trial with Pilate continues. After Jesus is beaten, flogged, mocked, and crowned with thorns Pilate questions Him again, “Where are you from?” But Jesus does not answer. “Don’t you know that I have the authority to crucify or release you?!” Pilate demands. I have the authority, don’t you know that, I am in charge here! Answer me! Jesus responds simply, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given to you from above.”

Pilate can’t let go of his authority. He has earned His position in life after all. He is the governor of the entire Roman province of Palestine. He has worked his way up through the ranks with his work ethic and determination. He has earned this authority and feels that Jesus ought to respect that authority. He wants to do what is best for Jesus, after all.

Who has the authority? Who has the authority in your life? At first we might be quick to say, “Well in my life God has the authority, He is number 1.” But when God’s authority starts to crowd our own sense of authority we might change our tune a bit. We fall back into saying things like, “It’s my life; I’ll do it my way.” It’s not that we don’t love God, we just don’t want Him telling us what to do all the time. We don’t want His authority over us. We’ve earned what we have (our way of life, our station in life) and we aren’t planning on giving it up any time soon. “Don’t you know,” Jesus says, “that whatever authority you have comes from above?” We are power hungry, like Pilate, and hold on to whatever authority we can get our hands on.

For authority obsessed people like us there is good news for us today. Christ laid aside His authority as the Son of God and willingly took on the role of a servant. He washed the feet of sinful men like us who argue about who is the greatest. He died a criminal’s death for sinners like us. His death paid for our power hungry struggle. He reigns on high so that we can lay aside whatever authority we think that we might have and follow Him, our King.

 

The Fifth Passion Reading: John 19:16-24

So they took Jesus, 17 and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek.21 So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic.[a]But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom,24 so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,

“They divided my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”

So the soldiers did these things.

Devotion: “Greedy”

Pilate hands Jesus over to be crucified and the soldiers lead Him out to Golgotha. He carries His own cross out there and is nailed up with two criminals, one on either side. At the foot of His cross the soldiers remain. The majority of their work is done, Jesus hangs there on the cross dying. Now they have to decide what to do with His clothing though. Most of the garments are easily split up among the four soldiers, but Jesus tunic is different. It is one solid piece of woven fabric from top to bottom. It would seem a waste to split up and destroy such a garment, the soldiers decide, so that cast lots to see who will get it.

Here we see the blindness of greed. These soldiers seem not to care about the fact that they have just nailed a man to the cross to die (not just any man either, but the Son of God!), but they do care about this garment. They wouldn’t want to destroy a fine piece of fabric like that but they have no problem destroying a human life. Greed drives them in their game of casting lots to covet this clothing that by all rights does not belong to them. It is greed that drove Judas to betray Jesus. For 30 pieces of silver he handed over His Lord and Master.

Greed drives us too. Greed drives us to pursue more and more for ourselves even if it might be to the detriment of others around us. Greed drives us to accumulate things for ourselves even if they might not actually belong to us. Greed makes us covet the things that others have. Greed blinds us to the value of people, to what God is doing, to the love the God shows us in His Son.

There is good news for greedy people like us today too. The good news is that Christ, willingly surrendered not only His clothing, but every possession He ever could have owned, and even His life for your sake. He died for our greed so that we could be set free from greed to love one another. He freely gives everything to us so that we have no need to accumulate things.

 

The Sixth Passion Reading: John 19:25-30

25 But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Devotion: “Helpless”

            Something changes now. We don’t see the sinfulness of humanity here. Instead we see the helplessness of humanity. We see the helplessness of a woman whose son is hanging on a cross dying. We see her grief; we see her fear; we see her uncertainty about what her future will hold without her son to care for her. But Christ, in the midst of the helplessness provides an answer. He looks at His mother Jesus said, “Woman, behold your son.” And looking at the disciple whom He loved Jesus said, “Behold, your mother.” Jesus provides help for the helpless.

For you too Jesus has provided help in the midst of helplessness. If you feel helpless, if you feel alone in this world, if you feel the burden of your sin and do not know where to turn for relief, Christ has an answer for you. Having made arrangements of the care of His mother, Jesus says, “It is finished!” and He bows His head and hands over His Spirit.

Just as Jesus appointed the disciple whom He loved to care for His mother in His absence, Jesus hands over His Holy Spirit to you to care for you. Jesus does not leave you alone as an orphan, He does not leave you without help. He pours out His Spirit in His death to be our help in the midst of sin and darkness. This Spirit draws us back again and again from the edge of oblivion into the good news of the cross. The Good News that Christ died for the helpless, for sinners who could not help themselves. Rejoice dear friends, in your helplessness there is a helper, the Holy Spirit of Christ our Lord.

 

The Seventh Passion Reading: John 19:31-42

31 Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”

38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus[a] by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds[b] in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

Devotion: “Looking Upon Him”

With Jesus’ final words from the cross, “It is finished!” His work was truly complete. Nothing now remained to be done. He gave up His spirit and died. With that the soldiers re-enter the scene. They aren’t tossing dice over His clothes anymore. Now they are making sure that each of the men crucified that day is dead by breaking their legs. When they come to Jesus they do not break His legs because He is already dead, but they pierce His side just to make sure. Suddenly, from His side flows a stream of blood and water. The life of Christ poured out for the salvation of the world. All this happened, John tells us, to fulfill the Scripture that says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”

With all the characters who appear along the way during our Lord’s Passion, with Peter, Pilate, the soldiers, Mary, and everyone else, this is where we are left on Good Friday, looking upon the one that we have pierced. It would seem to be a dismal, depressing scene. A scene devoid of hope. A scene full of guilt for what has happened. But we need to remember the words of John the Baptist, “Behold (look!), the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Looking upon Him whom we have pierced means looking at Him who has taken away our sin.

In His passion we see the worst that man can offer, the true nature of our shared sinful condition is on display. We are confronted here with our own attitudes and conceptions, we see our own sinfulness here. But we also see the One who has dealt with our sinfulness once and for all. As His body hangs there on the tree the good news is as real as it could ever be. Your sin is taken away, your guilt is covered, you will live forever with God in eternity. In Jesus name. Amen.