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.

 

 

The Renewed Covenant

Text: Matthew 26:17-30

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

A week or two ago we got a letter at our house from the government of Ontario, the wonderful letter that comes every couple of years inviting you to renew the registration on your vehicle if you would like to continue to drive that vehicle in the province of Ontario. It’s not much of an invitation really, more of a warning. Pay or else. But once you pay your rights and privileges as a driver in this province are renewed.

I think of our gospel reading tonight kind of as an invitation for renewal like that. Not an invitation to come pay money to the government to get them off your back, but an invitation to renew the covenant relationship that our God has made with us. As Jesus shares the Last Supper with His disciples He says these words: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” These are important words. With these words it is as if Jesus is taking many threads from the Old Testament and twisting them together to form a solid rope of New Testament good news of salvation.

The Old Testament is filled with covenants. God makes a covenant with Noah, with Abraham, with the people of Israel, with David, and many others. Old Testament covenants are promises and relationships that God established with people. Blood was involved in many of these covenants, so much so that for us 21st century North Americans it starts to sound kind of gross and uncomfortable. In the book of Exodus, when God made His covenant with the people of Israel, blood was involved. Our Epistle reading today talks about this. The portion of the letter to the Hebrews that we read says, “When every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses (when Moses had read to the people all of God’s commandments), he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all of the people saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.’”

To our sensibilities this sounds disturbing to say the least. The sprinkling with blood is a little over the top for us. But it is in this blood that God makes His covenant, His promise with the people of Israel. They will be His people and He will be their God.

A very similar thing is happening when Jesus eats the Passover with His disciples and takes bread, breaks it and says “This is my body” and then takes the cup and says, “This is my blood of the covenant.” Just as Moses sprinkled the blood of the covenant on the people back in the Old Testament, here Jesus passes around the cup of wine which in a mysterious, indescribable way also contains His own blood shed for us on the cross, in order to establish and renew His covenant with you and me.

And this covenant is much better than the one that Moses mediated in the Old Testament by sprinkling the blood of goats and calves on people. There are two reasons why this covenant is better. First of all, this covenant is not just made with the blood of some animal. This is the blood of the Son of God. This is the blood of the man who was born of a virgin, whose birth angels announced, who successfully resisted the devil in the wilderness, who healed the sick and raised the dead, who died on the cross for the sins of the world, and who rose from the dead and ascended into heaven in triumph. This is the blood of Christ, the Son of God, and it forms the most glorious covenant imaginable with us.

Secondly, this covenant is not just a onetime thing, it is a repeated action. Every time we come to the altar this covenant is renewed and made new. Every time we come Jesus gives us His body and blood again and makes the covenant with us all over again. That might seem kind of repetitive, but it is incredibly necessary. It is necessary to renew this covenant again and again, week by week, because we break this covenant at least that often.

Breaking covenants with God is one of the things that human beings like us do best. Right after Moses sprinkled the blood of the covenant on the people of Israel he went up onto Mount Sinai and was welcomed into the presence of the Lord. He stayed there for forty days and forty nights. Down below, at the base of the mountain, the people got restless. After a while they started to wonder if Moses was coming back. Maybe he died up there on the mountain. So, down below being somewhat impatient, the people concocted a plan. They would build a golden cow and worship it. Just like that, so soon after the blood of the covenant had been sprinkled on them, they had turned away and developed a god of their own. A god more to their liking than the Lord who saved them from slavery in Egypt.

In the same way, not long after Jesus shared the Passover with His disciples and gave them His blood of the covenant Judas, one of the twelve, would betray Him. And Peter, the most zealous and enthusiastic of the twelve, would deny that He even knew Jesus before the rooster crows that evening. How quickly they turn away from the covenant!

We ourselves are no better, we turn from the covenant just as quickly. We go out from the altar, into the world, and we make gods for ourselves. We make gods out of money, happiness, pleasure, possessions, prestige, reputation, and all kinds of other things. We go from here and we betray our Saviour by returning to lives of sin and falling into the same greedy habits that have become so comfortable to us. We go from here and we deny Jesus and pretend that we don’t know Him when we are surrounded by those who do not believe. How quickly we turn our backs on the covenant that God made with us here in the blood of Jesus!

But that is the true beauty of this covenant. It is renewed again and again and it is founded on the forgiveness of our sins. The blood of Christ poured out for us is poured out for the entire world to forgive the sins of the entire world. We who have turned our backs on the covenant and broken the covenant with our thoughts, words, and actions, are invited to come back to the altar and receive the gift of the blood of the covenant again for the forgiveness of our sins and the renewal of God’s promise to us. Each time the covenant is made new again, no history is remembered, no past is brought up, only the blood of Jesus shed for our sins. Nothing else matters.

As you come to communion tonight this is what Christ is doing, He is giving you His body and blood to renew His covenant with you. To make the covenant new and fresh again. To restore you as a child of God all over again. To make you clean and sinless all over again. Every time you come this happens again. There is no price for you to pay for this renewal, it has already been paid in full by Jesus.

“As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup,” the apostle Paul says, “you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” May we eat and drink this bread and cup as often as possible all the days of our lives so that this covenant may be renewed and made new in us to life everlasting. In Jesus name. Amen.

 

 

Listening to the Shouting

Text: John 12:12-19

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

People like to shout things. Maybe not everyone and maybe not all the time, but people like to yell. I’m not much of a shouter myself, but my family can tell you that when I am watching sports on TV in our basement and things aren’t going the way I’d like them to go everyone in the house will know about it sooner rather than later. I get fired up about things and I start shouting at the TV thinking that someway, somehow, they will hear me wherever they are even on the other side of the country, if I just yell loud enough.

It’s not just me either. Lots of people like to shout. I can’t tell you how many video clips I’ve seen on the news lately with people yelling. People go out to protest or something and they yell. Other people protest against the people who are protesting and they yell things back. A conversation of shouting breaks out. For many of us all the shouting in the world today is probably quite off putting, especially in the current political landscape. But, it can be a useful thing to take some time to listen to the shouting, we might not agree with any of the ideas and we might not like what people have to say, but when people shout like that they tell you what they really think. People don’t shout things that they do not believe are true. You find out what people really think when you listen to them shout.

That’s why it is worthwhile, I think, to listen to what people are shouting in our Gospel reading today because in those shouts, in the yelling and screaming, we see what people really think. Jesus is coming up to Jerusalem from Bethany, the place where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus live. Not long before, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead so there was quite a bit of hype around Jesus. As He left Bethany a crowd started to form. The folks from Bethany remembered what Jesus did and they were going to head up into Jerusalem with Jesus. As they make their way into town another crowd, this one from inside Jerusalem, hears that Jesus is coming. They pour out of the city and join with the crowd that has come out from Bethany to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem. Along the way this massive combined crowd is shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”

In their shouting we find out what these people really think about Jesus. First, they shout “Hosanna!” Hosanna is a Hebrew word that means “save us now” or “save us please.” These crowds believe that Jesus is someone who can save them, they believe that this is the reason Jesus has come. He has come to save them. They have seen and heard about how He gave sight to a blind man and how He gave life to a dead man. Clearly He has some kind of power to save and they shout at Him, “Save us now!”

Then they shout, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” Their shouting here tells us that they believe that Jesus comes in the name of the Lord. The Pharisees, after Jesus gave sight to the blind man, said that they do not know where Jesus comes from and, therefore, they cannot believe in Him. The crowds on Palm Sunday don’t have that problem, they believe that Jesus comes from God.

These first two parts of their shouting (“hosanna” and “blessed is he…”) are quoted directly from the Old Testament, from the book of Psalms, from Psalm 118. These are Bible words from the people of Israel, words that talk about the coming Messiah. God promised to send a Messiah and the people had been waiting for that Messiah for a long, long time. And here, when they see Jesus coming into town they pull out these words and shout them on the top of their lungs. This is the Messiah, they say, this is the one.

And, if there was still any doubt about what they think about Jesus, they finish it off with these words, “Even the King of Israel.” He is our king, they say. These people look at Jesus and see their saviour and their king and they rejoice because He is coming to them riding on a donkey.

The shouting we hear on Palm Sunday tells us what these people really think about Jesus. They couldn’t be much clearer than they are. They believe that Jesus is their Saviour, their Messiah, and their King. And they are right, He is all of those things. But the truly astounding thing is that there will be much more shouting still to come.

When Jesus gets arrested and put on trial the shouting is going to start all over again. But they aren’t going to be shouting for their King, Messiah, or Saviour to be set free, they will be shouting for Him to die. They will be shouting for a murderer named Barabbas to be released to them instead of Jesus. They will be shouting “We have no king but Caesar!” They will be shouting “Crucify Him!”

Why the change? Why do these people go so quickly from shouting to Jesus as their Saviour, Messiah and King to shouting for Him to die? It’s safe to assume that they believed what they shouted on that Sunday as He rode into town, so what changed?

There is no simple answer to that question, but it seems to me that these people realized some time during that week in Jerusalem that Jesus was not going to be the kind of saviour that they wanted. He was not about to overthrow the powers that be and give them their own country again like they wanted. Instead He went into the temple and started chasing out money changers and flipped over tables of people selling stuff. He wasn’t going to turn Jerusalem into the bustling, independent capital city it once was. Instead He told them that this city would be torn down to the ground one day. He wasn’t going to give them the glorious life that they were hoping for. He wasn’t going to give them what they wanted. They didn’t want the real Jesus, they wanted a Jesus who gave them what they wanted. Jesus was not that kind of saviour. Jesus still isn’t that kind of saviour.

For us on Palm Sunday, on the verge of Holy Week with Good Friday in view not far down the road, it is worthwhile to ask ourselves what kind of saviour we are looking for. What kind of saviour do we want?

Do we want a saviour like Jesus or do we want a saviour who meets our expectations for what a saviour should be? Do we want a saviour who gives us the best possible life with health, wealth, and happiness right now or one who promises us a better life beyond this world? Do we want a saviour who pats us on the back and tells us we are doing a good job on our own or who points out our sin so that we see that we need Him to die for us? Do we want a saviour who will fix the problems in our lives right now so that we can be happy or one who promises eternal happiness? Do we want a saviour who will take our suffering away right now or do we want a saviour who will suffer for on the cross and invite us to take up our cross and follow Him?

If we want a saviour who will fix this world or our lives or make us feel good about ourselves right now and not a Saviour whose sole purpose is to take away the sin of the world, then we will be disappointed on Good Friday just like the people in Jerusalem were disappointed after Jesus rode into their town triumphantly. If we want that kind of saviour then Good Friday isn’t going to make any sense. It won’t be good at all.

Jesus has come to be our Saviour from sin. This is what Jesus is about, this is what Jesus does, this is the kind of Saviour Jesus is. He is not a political hero, He is not the world’s greatest life coach, He is not our genie in a bottle who gives us what we wish for. He is our Saviour from sin who will die on a cross for us. This is what we really need. We feel like we need a lot of other things, but this one thing is what we really need.

If we want a Saviour who saves us from sin and death, who will rescue us from the power of devil and even save us from our own sinful selves, then we will never be disappointed in Jesus because this is what Jesus always does for us. This is the reason that Jesus bled and died on the cross for us. This is the kind of Saviour that Jesus is and always will be. He is our Saviour from sin, our Messiah, and our King, just like the people on Palm Sunday said.

The remarkable thing about the shouting on Palm Sunday and Good Friday is that when the people start shouting “Crucify Him!” They really are saying the same thing that they said on Palm Sunday, “Hosanna, save us now!” When they crucify Jesus (when we crucify Jesus with them!) that is exactly what He is doing, saving us now. Saving us from sin, saving us from death, saving us from the devil. So yes, crucify him, save us now, because that is the kind of Saviour He is. In Jesus name. Amen.

Someday? Today!

Text: John 11:1-45

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

I want to start off this morning with a warning. You pastor is going to be pretty tired over the next few months. At least, I hope it’s a few months. And no, I’m not talking about the baby that is coming to our house in a month or so. There will be tiredness from that too, but I am talking about something else. You see, my hockey team made the playoffs this week. For the first time in 11 years the Edmonton Oilers will be playing hockey when the regular season ends and will have a shot at the Stanley Cup. And, because the Oilers play out west most of their games start pretty late. I’m going to be a little tired as long as they keep playing.

11 years may not seem like that long of a time, but the last time the Oilers were this good I hadn’t gone to university yet. It was the year after I graduated from high school. I hadn’t even met Leah yet, I wasn’t even considering becoming a pastor yet, and I worked at a home hardware selling plumbing and electrical supplies to people. It was a long time ago, I can hardly remember what it is like to have my team in the playoffs.

Throughout those 11 years of waiting I tried to remind myself that it would have to happen eventually, someday they would break through and be a winning team again, someday. But at times that “someday” seemed pretty far away. It seemed that “someday” might never come. But someday is here, right now, staring me in the face. In a couple weeks the Oilers will be playing playoff games, it is going to happen. Until it does though, until they actually start playing the games, it’s going to be hard to get out of “someday” mode and realize that “someday” really happening right now.

I was wondering this week as I thought about our Gospel reading today if our faith gets into “someday” mode sometimes. Do we get to the point of seeing our Christian faith as a “someday” kind of thing that will matter someday in the future or make a difference someday in our lives rather than a right now, everyday kind of thing? I think this does happen to a certain degree. We talk about a lot of “somedays” here at church and the Bible talks about a lot of “somdays” and we can get so distracted by all the things in life that demand our attention that we start to push off our faith as something we will get back to “someday.” In our Gospel reading today though Jesus directs our attention away from “someday” to right now so that we can see what He is doing right now and trust in Him right now for our salvation right now.

Jesus’ friends Mary and Martha call Jesus to come visit them in Bethany right away because their brother Lazarus is sick, really sick. Lazarus is dying. Jesus gets the message, but He delays a couple days before He even starts the trip. When He finally does arrive at Bethany and the home of Mary and Martha, Lazarus is already dead. In fact, Lazarus has already been dead and laying in his tomb for four days. When Jesus arrives Martha says to Him, “Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

Jesus responds, “Your brother will rise again.”

And Martha says, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Martha believes in Jesus, Martha believes in what Jesus has come to do. Martha believes (just like we do) that Jesus will come again on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead. Martha believes that Jesus is the promised Saviour. Martha believes in Jesus. But Martha is stuck on someday. Someday, when the Last Day comes, her brother will rise again.

Martha isn’t wrong. This is exactly what Jesus has promised to us, He will come again and all who have died and been laid in the ground will hear the voice of Jesus and they will get up and walk out of their tombs and those who believe in Christ and trust in Him for the forgiveness of their sins will be taken into the new heavens and new earth that God has prepared for those who trust in Him. Martha is right on point here. She gets it. But, at the same time, she does not understand the whole picture. She has made a mistake, it is a pious, well-meaning mistake, but a mistake nonetheless. She is stuck on someday. She looks at Jesus and does not see that He is not just good news for someday or a saviour for someday, but a saviour for today, for right now.

Jesus responds to Martha’s very correct and well-meaning words about the resurrection on the Last Day by saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die?”

These words from Jesus give hope for the future, but they are not only for the future. “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus says, present tense, right here, right now. This is not just hope for someday this is hope for today. And then we know what Jesus does next, He walks up to that tomb where Lazarus’s dead body has been laying for 4 days, He commands them to roll the stone away, and then He calls Lazarus out of the tomb and Lazarus walks out. That day, at that very moment, Martha and Mary and all the other people who were gathered around to see Lazarus walk out of that tomb saw what Jesus meant, they saw who Jesus is, they saw the hope that Jesus gives for today.

I think we lose sight sometimes of the hope that Jesus gives us for today and we forget what Jesus is doing in our lives right now. We fall into the trap of thinking that Jesus only makes a difference someday in the future, when He really is working in our lives right now! How often when we go home from church on Sunday are we really, truly aware that we have just heard Jesus speak to us (not just the pastor!) in His Word and forgive us our sins? Or how often when we walk away from the communion rail on a communion Sunday are we really marvelling at what Jesus has just done, feeding us with His own real body and blood? These are things that Jesus is doing for us right now, this is not someday stuff, it is happening right now. But do we see it? Most of the time we don’t.

Jesus is the resurrection and the life for you right now. You have forgiveness today. Our epistle reading today talks about the present tense reality of what Jesus has done on the cross for us. Paul says, “There is now (at this very moment) no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1Now there is no condemnation for your sin, now there is forgiveness, now there is life, now there is freedom, now God pours out His love for you and does not condemn you for the wrong that you do but freely and joyfully forgives you for the sake of Jesus who bled and died for you on the cross. Now, not just someday, now.

You have eternal life today. Someday your body will die, but you will never really die because Jesus says that everyone who lives and believes in Him will never die. You might look at your life now and think that this doesn’t seem like eternal life or that if this is eternal life then maybe you don’t want it. But Jesus has a wondrous eternity of life in store for you and you are already living in it now. You live in Jesus and He lives in you. You believe in Jesus because He has given you faith. This means that you will never die. You are living eternal life now!

You have a new life today. Jesus changes your life now. Our epistle reading today also says that those who are “in the flesh” cannot please God (Romans 8:8-9). Sinners can’t do the things that please God, they are trapped by sin and death instead. But you have been set free from Jesus, you have died with Jesus, and the old sinful flesh does not hold you anymore. You have a new life, a life in the Spirit with the Spirit of God living in you. In this new life you can, thanks to Christ, do the things that please God. This is your new life!

Jesus makes a difference in Your life right now and makes you a new person who lives this life by faith in the Son of God who died for you, a person who loves their neighbour and prays for enemies and freely gives of themselves because Jesus loved you first and gave His life for you.

Like Martha we often don’t see the implications of what Jesus has done in our life right now. We don’t see what Jesus is doing today. We get caught up thinking about someday and fail to see what is happen right before our eyes. Someday will come, the day will come when Jesus really will raise our bodies from the grave just like Lazarus, but until someday comes we are not left without hope. We are not orphans waiting for Jesus to come back. Until that someday comes we live in the Jesus who died and rose for us. He has forgiveness for you today, eternal life for you today, and new life for you today. Your faith is not just for someday, it is for today and so is Jesus your Saviour. In His name. Amen.

Are we also (still!) blind?

Text: John 9:1-41

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

The question that the Pharisees ask Jesus at the end of our Gospel reading today intrigues me. John tells us that “some of the Pharisees near him heard [what Jesus was saying] and said to him, ‘Are we also blind?’” They aren’t talking about physical blindness, these Pharisees know full well that they can see. They might not have 20:20 vision, but their eyes are not blind. But they ask Jesus, “Are we also blind?” This is one of those places where you wish you could hear the tone of their voice. They could have said these words in a kind of indignant kind of way almost laughing at what Jesus was saying or they could have said them quite sincerely in a concerned kind of way, “Are we also blind?” We don’t know how they said those words, but it is a question worth asking ourselves too, are we also blind?

Obviously we aren’t talking about actual physical blindness either. Our gospel reading was the story of a man who was born physically blind, from the day he was born he had never been able to see. But this story is about more than that, this story is about spiritually seeing who Jesus is and believing what Jesus has done for us.

Jesus opened the eyes of this blind man and then he became a bit of a local celebrity. All of a sudden everyone wants to talk to this formerly blind man, everyone wants to know how this happened. It’s just good that CNN and other news networks like we have today weren’t around then because they would have wanted a piece of him too.

First it’s the neighbours, they want to find out how this happened. They aren’t even sure if this is the same blind guy, maybe he just looks like him or maybe it is some kind of trick. Then they take him to the Pharisees. They want answers too, how did this happen? Then they call in the man’s parents. Is this your son? Was he blind? If he was blind how can he see now? The parents don’t know, ask him, they say. And finally they take him back to the Pharisees again, explain it one more time and no lying this time, how did you get your sight? Who did this?

All the way along one this stands out in all of this: almost no one believes this man’s story. Even if they did believe they aren’t about to speak up about it. Despite all the explanations that the formerly blind man gives, no one is taking what he says seriously. Everyone else is blind to what Jesus has done. They are blind, but they just don’t know it.

That is the tragedy of the question that the Pharisees ask Jesus, “Are we also blind?” because the answer is yes, they are blind, but they don’t know it. They are blind, but they think that they can see and that is a problem. Jesus says to them, “If you were blind you would have no guilt, but no that you say ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.” If they understood that they were blind they would believe in Jesus and trust in Him, they would be forgiven, but as long as they think that they can see on their own they refuse to trust in Jesus and their sin and guilt remain.

What about us, are we also blind? A better question for us might be “Are we still blind?” We are Christians who believe in Jesus, our blindness is probably not the same as that of the Pharisees and other people in our reading today who refused to believe that Jesus opened the eyes of the blind man. We believe in Jesus and likely don’t doubt that He could do something like that. No, our blindness isn’t quite like that, but are we, the church going Christians that we are, still blind?

Our answer to that question is yes and no. Christ has opened our eyes and given us faith to believe in Him, but we struggle everyday with blindness. At the end of our service today we are going to sing hymn 744, Amazing Grace. I picked that hymn for today because of the line: “Was blind but now I see.” Those word make I sound so simple. I was blind, but now I see. The blindness is over now. But if we are being realistic we realize that things aren’t nearly that simple, blindness is not just in past for us. Our present and our future aren’t just full of perfect spiritual sight and vision either. We are still blind.

We are blind when, like the neighbours of the man whose had his eyes opened, we want more proof to back up our faith. The neighbours ask the man who used to be blind where Jesus is, they want to see him for themselves. They want more proof. The blindness inside of them and inside of us is the same. We want proof sometimes too. Wouldn’t that make believing easier? Our demand to see more is the result of our blindness.

We are blind when, like the Pharisees, we think that we have things figured out for ourlseves and we know what God ought to do and how God ought to work. The Pharisees say “We know that this man (that is Jesus) is a sinner.” They know that about Jesus and they know that He does not meet their expectations for what God should be doing. We have the same kinds of thoughts. We think we know what is right, what is fair, what is just, and what God ought to be doing for us. We expect God to dance to our tune. But Jesus doesn’t dance to our tune or conform to our expectations. Instead, He goes and defies our expectations about what God is and does and dies on a cross and forgiving us. We are blind.

We are blind when, like the parents of the blind man, we are afraid of what believe in Jesus will mean for us. The parents are dragged into this whole ordeal, but they insist they don’t know who did this or how it happened because they are afraid of what might happen to them. They are afraid of being ostracized and kicked out of the synagogue. We share this same fear. What will people think about us if we talk too much about Jesus or faith? This fear will cause Peter to deny Jesus and the other disciples will fall away too. This fear is blindness.

These are just a few examples of the blindness that can creep in on our faith and there are many more that we could talk about. We are blind when we speak harshly against other people because we fail to see that they are have been created in the image of God just like us. We are blind when we hold grudges because we fail to see that we have sinned just as badly if not worse. We are blind when we are not thankful for all that we have because we have failed to see that it all comes from God. We are blind when we don’t see the needs of others because we can only see our own needs and desires. We are truly blind.

But, at the same time, we are not blind. We are not blind because Jesus has opened our eyes. He hasn’t opened our eyes to see and understand how the universe works or to know the answer to every question, but He has opened our eyes to see the one thing that matters: what He has done for us. The blind man in our story today insists again and again that He doesn’t know exactly how his sight came back, he just knows what Jesus did. “He put mud on my eyes and told me to wash. I washed and now I see.” All he knows is what Jesus has done. That’s all he needs to know. Christ has opened our eyes to see what He has done for us. He has opened our eyes to see the cross where He took our blindness, our sin, upon Himself and destroyed it for us forever.

It is really important to notice how Jesus healed this man of his blindness: Jesus put mud on his eyes and sent him to wash in the pool and his eyes were opened. This has baptism written all over it. Jesus has washed us too and has opened our eyes to believe in Him. He put the Holy Spirit into our hearts when we were baptised so that we could believe in Him. He opened up our hearts that day to believe the Good News that He has taken away our blindness and our guilt so that we could live eternally with Him.

We gather here every week to have our eyes opened again. The blindness is still there inside of us because sin is still inside of us, the world is still a dark and sinful place, and the devil still loves to try to drag us back into the dark. We come here because the blindness is creeping in again. We come here because or faith grows weak and weary out in the world. We come here to have Jesus pry open our eyes and again and remind us of what He has done. We are just like the two disciples who walked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus after He rose from the dead, they did not recognize Jesus at first, but when they sat down for supper with Him and He broke bread their eyes were opened. When we gather here and see Jesus break bread and feed us with His own body and blood our eyes are opened again to see the one things that matters: what He has done for us on the cross.

So, are we still blind? Yes and no. We are blind because we are sinners. Our hearts have doubts, our minds question faith, and fear makes faith seem like a bad idea. But Jesus has opened our eyes to see Him and because we see Him we know that He has taken away our guilt and our sin. We know that He is our Saviour. We know because He has given us faith to know. As we struggle with the blindness thanks be to God that He opens up our eyes and gives us faith to believe. In Jesus name. Amen.

“He told me everything I ever did…”

Text: John 4:4-42

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

How many people in the world know, or have known, everything (and I mean everything) about you? Maybe it’s your spouse or a friend or maybe even a child. But do they actually know everything? Do you want them to know everything? Or would you rather keep a few things under wraps so that no one else knows about them?

I think it is fair to say that we all have some things in our lives that we aren’t too proud of and would rather not let other people know about. Maybe a thought that ran through our head that was a little beyond what we would be comfortable telling other people about or maybe a word that we said to someone in private but really regret now and hope never comes up again or maybe some actions in our past that we’d like to just forget. Whatever it is, we’ve all got some kind of skeletons (big ones or small ones) in our closet that we don’t want people to find out about.

But why? Why don’t we want other people to know these things about us? What are we hiding from? The simplest answer, I think, is that we are worried what other people will think about is if they know who we really are. If they know what we did that one time or what we said or what kinds of things go through our heads they might not look at us the same way they did before, they might not love us the same way that they did before. If they knew who we really are they might not want to be with us anymore.

These kinds of thoughts must have been in the background for the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well in our Gospel reading today. She certainly has secrets that she is hiding. She has things that she does not want the world to know. That is why she comes to the well at the “sixth hour” which means around noon at the hottest point in the day. You only come to the well then if you are trying to avoid people.

Jesus shows us here though that there is nothing that is hidden from Him. Despite whatever efforts this woman might make to keep her past deeds a secret and whatever we try to do to keep our past a secret, Jesus knows what is going on. As they talk there at the well Jesus asks this woman to go and call her husband. There really is no reason to do this, nothing in the conversation to this point would necessitate getting another person involved, but Jesus has a point to make. “Go and call your husband.”

The woman is taken aback by what Jesus says. In this one little sentence He has gone and put His finger right on the sore spot that she is trying to cover up and hide. With this one request He has put her on the defensive. She has to throw up some walls to try and protect the secrets that she does not want out in public. “I have no husband,” she replies.

It’s not a lie, but it’s not quite true either. “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;” Jesus says, “For you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” She has had five husbands in her life and right now she is with a man who is not her husband. We don’t know how she ended up going through husbands like this. They could have died or they could have divorced her. Women in those days couldn’t divorce their husbands, only husbands could divorce their wives, so it might not have even been her fault. We just don’t know. But we do know that she is currently with a man who is not her husband. Jesus’ words even leave the possibility open that this man is actually someone else’s husband, but maybe not. Either way, it is not a good situation and the woman is not proud of what she has done.

How does the woman respond? At first, she tries to deflect at first and change the topic. Understandably, she doesn’t want to talk about these aspects of her past with a stranger at the well. But that is not the end of the story. After the disciples come back to the well and see Jesus talking with this woman, she runs into town, leaving her water jar behind, and tells people (the same people she was trying to avoid by coming to the well at noon!) to come and see this man who told her everything that she ever did. “Could this be the Christ? The Messiah? The Saviour?”

This woman is taken aback that Jesus knew these kinds of things about her, but what is even more remarkable is that even though He knew all of this about her and knew the kind of baggage and history that she had, Jesus had spoken to her and offered her living water that would well up inside of her to life everlasting. Before this conversation at the well Jesus already knew everything about this woman and in spite of what He knew about her He revealed to her that He is the Christ, the one who is to come, the Saviour who will take away the sin of the world. Jesus looks at this woman knowing exactly who she is and exactly what she has done and out of love, mercy, and grace offers her the forgiveness of sins and living water welling up in her to eternal life. Jesus is not downplaying her past and the mistakes that she has made (instead, He drags them out into the open and calls attention to them), but still He loves her so deeply that He would offer this life giving water to her.

Christ Jesus knows everything about you too. Nothing you have done or will do is hidden from Him. He knows the number of the hairs on your head and He knows the things that you don’t want anyone else to know. He knows the things that you especially don’t want Him to know. And yet His love for you is so deep that He would go to the cross for you, die for you, rise for you, wash you in your baptism, and feed you with His own body and blood in communion. His love for you is so deep that He would forgive you even for those things that you don’t want anyone to know.

This is what Paul was talking about in our epistle reading today. In Romans 5 he says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were still sinners, while we were caught up in sin and unable to save ourselves, Christ died for us in order to forgive each and every one of our sins. This forgiveness is a wonderful and beautiful thing. It sets us free from guilt and shame. It sets us free from trying to strive to make up for the wrong that we have done. It sets us free to live in peace and joy loving and serving our neighbour.

It is important to notice from this story though that this forgiveness that Jesus offers does not ignore sin, it does not pretend that sin never happened. That is not what forgiveness means. Forgiveness does not mean sweeping things under the rug and pretending that no one saw it. Forgiveness means Jesus confronting sin face to face, staring it in the eyes, and hearing Him say, “I forgive you.”

Jesus does not ignore the sinful life that the woman He meets at well is caught up in. He doesn’t say to her, “You’ve gone through a few husbands, that’s ok, divorce and adultery are no big deal.” He doesn’t say, “Don’t worry, who knows what’s right or wrong in the world these days anyway.” He doesn’t say, “The world has changed it’s not as big a deal as it used to be.” Jesus simply lays out the facts, “You have had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband.” Sin is sin.

Just like the woman at the well, Jesus doesn’t hid the fact that you have sinned. We might like to try to hide those kinds of things, but Jesus doesn’t hide them. Jesus also doesn’t make excuses for us or downplay what we have done to make us feel better. Instead, like it or not, Jesus brings your sin, your past, out into the light of day. He points out our sin so that we see it for what it is. We may not have had five husband or wives, but we are just as guilty as the woman at the well was. But nothing about that sin and nothing about that past changes His love for you. Into the brokenness, into the sinfulness, Jesus pours out His blood shed for you on the cross that covers all of your sins and leaves you clean and holy with His righteousness and holiness.

“Come see the man who told me everything I ever did (especially the bad stuff!)” the woman said to the people in town, “Though I am a poor miserable sinner He spoke the most gracious, loving words that I have ever heard! Could He be the Christ?!” Yes, He is the Christ, the Son of the living God and He has taken away the sin of the world. Repent, believe the Good News, Jesus Christ has died for you and taken away your sin and guilt. Believe in Him and rejoice, your guilt is taken away your sin is covered. In Jesus name. Amen.

Lifted Up For All to See

Text: John 3:1-17

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

“Look where you want to go!” That is what the driver instructor kept saying to me when I was learning to drive. At the time I wondered what she was talking about, it seems pretty straightforward to look where you want the car to go when you are driving. You want to go straight, look straight. You want to turn left, look left. But I learned one day a little while later what she really meant. I was driving with my dad in rural Alberta in the middle of January and, while trying to make a left turn, put the car into the deep, snow-filled ditch. I realized as the car was getting pulled out of the ditch that I had stared right at the ditch once I realized that I might hit it. Sure enough, the car went right where I was looking.

If you watch the show “Canada’s Worst Driver” you can see how this works too. They teach people to “look where they want to go,” but most of the drivers on the show don’t get it. They end up driving right into the obstacles that they are trying to avoid because their eyes become fixated on them.

Looking where you want to go is great advice for driving, it could save your life, but when it comes to our Christians faith Jesus has a very different idea about where we should be looking. Earlier in the service we spoke/sang the gradual: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, let us allow our eyes to become fixated on Him not looking anywhere else. Especially, let us fix our eyes on Jesus as He hangs dying on the cross because that is where we see our salvation.

In our Gospel reading today Jesus is talking with a man named Nicodemus who is a Pharisee. This whole conversation that Jesus has with Nicodemus in John 3 is really quite fascinating, but I’d like us to focus on something else that Jesus said while talking with Nicodemus. Just before the John 3:16 part Jesus said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whoever believes in Him might have eternal life.”

In the Old Testament book of Numbers in chapter 21 we find the story that Jesus is talking about here where Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness. The people of Israel were on their way to the Promised Land that God was giving to them, but it was not a straight forward trip. Because the people were scared to enter the Promised Land and did not trust God, God made them wander in the wilderness for 40 years. As they wandered around in the wilderness the people often got frustrated with God because they did not have things the way that they wanted them. On this occasion, like many other occasions, the people complained that they did not have any food or water. The people complained against Moses, their leader, and against God. “Why had God brought them out here to die in the wilderness?” they wondered to themselves. Well, God had something in mind for these complaining and rebellious people. He sent snakes, poisonous ones, “fiery” ones, deadly ones, and whenever anyone got bit with one of these snakes they died. A lot of people died. Finally, after many snake bites and deaths the people realized that they had sinned by complaining against God like this and not trusting Him to provide for them so they asked Moses to pray for them and ask God to take the snakes away. But, kind of surprisingly I think, God did not take the snakes away. Instead, God gave Moses some instructions. Moses was to make a snake out of bronze and set it up high on a pole, whenever one the of the people of Israel was bitten by one of the snakes they could look at the snake on the pole and they would live.

One of the remarkable things about that story is that God uses the very thing that was terrifying the people and even killing them as the source of their salvation. Snakes were biting the people and killing them so God told Moses to put a snake on a pole for the people to look at and be saved. They didn’t need to look where they wanted to go or look away from the danger, but instead God had them look right into the eyes of the very thing that they wanted to be saved from and see their salvation.

And now, in our Gospel reading today, we are called to do the same. As He talks with Nicodemus, Jesus says that just as the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness “so must the Son of Man be lifted up so that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” Like the serpent that was lifted up in the wilderness to provide salvation to those who had been bitten and were dying, Jesus must be lifted up on the cross to provide salvation for us from sin and death. Jesus calls us to fix our eyes on Him, to look at Him lifted up on the cross, and see our salvation.

If we try to understand Jesus without the cross, if we try to ignore the ugliness of what happened there we will miss the point and understand Jesus entirely. The cross is everything. Looking where we want to go, fixing our gaze and our attention on something else, can’t save us. Positive thoughts can’t save us, generic faith that things will get better can’t save us, and distractions can’t save us. On Jesus dying on the cross can.

Nicodemus has seen many things from Jesus. He starts of his conversation with Jesus by saying, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God because no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Nicodemus and his friends have seen the things that Jesus can do. They have seen the miracles of Jesus, the healings, and they are impressed. Surely only someone with God on his side could do the kinds of things that they have seen Jesus do. But Nicodemus does not understand the cross, he just sees the “signs,” the miracles. He looks at Jesus and sees a teacher from God, not a Saviour, because he hasn’t seen the cross yet. But he will. Nicodemus will see Jesus lifted up. In fact, he will be one of the ones to care for the lifeless body of Jesus when they take Him down from the cross. Nicodemus will help bury Jesus. Then, and only then, will Nicodemus truly understand Jesus. Only when we look at the cross when Jesus suffers and see the lifeless body of Jesus laid in the tomb do we see who Jesus really is. Only when we look at Jesus hanging there and dying do we see our salvation.

Like the people of Israel in the wilderness we have been bitten by the serpent. Satan, the crafty serpent who led Adam and Eve into sin in the Garden of Eden, has bitten us too with his deadly poison of sin. We sin daily in thought, word, and deed. We do not love our neighbour as ourselves and we do not love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We don’t obey God’s commandments. Just like the people of Israel out there in the wilderness we grumble and complain against God when things don’t go our way. Like them we don’t trust God to provide the things that we need and we worry that our daily needs won’t be met. Because of this we are dying. That is a fact that no one can deny, we are all dying. People might argue about the sinful part and suggest that we are all generally good people who try our best, but no one can deny death. That is a reality for all of us. We can try to run from it, but we will never escape. We are born, we live, we die. That is the undeniable pattern for human life. But Jesus has interrupted this pattern.

Jesus invites us to look at Him suspended up high from a cross, bleeding, and dying and see our salvation. Like the serpent in the wilderness He invites us to look at the very thing that terrifies us, the very thing that we are trying at all costs to avoid, death itself, and be saved. Jesus invites us to stare death in the face on the cross and know that through His death we are set free from death. He invites us to look as His death and see our own death happening right there. He has taken our death for us so that our own death becomes nothing to fear, we fall asleep to this world and wake up in the glorious, life giving, out-stretched, nail marked hands of Jesus who is risen from the dead.

So let’s fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, as He hangs on the cross dying. Because right there in His death we see our salvation. And when death comes around and rears its ugly head, whether it is our death or someone else’s, let’s fix our eyes on that cross and know that our Saviour bled and died for us so that we could live. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son” and allowed Him to be lifted upon the cross and die for us so “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Amen.