Jesus comes to us in the midst of our doubts.

Sunday the 23rd of April 2017

John 20: 19-31

Our readings from God’s Word in the season of Easter focus on Jesus’ appearance to his disciples after his resurrection. As I was thinking about this during the week, I was thinking about how for many people in our world the resurrection of Jesus is a stumbling block. It is okay to recognise that Jesus existed; it is okay to recognise that Jesus’ teachings have wisdom in them; it is also okay to recognise that Jesus actually died on a cross at the hands of Romans. But to say that Jesus actually rose again from the dead, well that is a different story. Many people have doubts about Jesus’ resurrection, including many people who claim to be Christians. It is one of those things that are very difficult to grasp, particularly in our modern scientific world.

This morning I am going to be looking at the account of Jesus’ appearances to his disciples, but more particularly his appearance to Thomas. Most people know the story of Thomas and that he doubted the resurrection; even non-Christians will use the phrase: “Don’t be a doubting Thomas”. The more I thought about Thomas’ reaction the more I began to think about what kind of person Thomas was.

We hear of Thomas earlier in chapter 11:16 as Jesus was about to head to Judea to raise Lazarus, and the disciples were trying to talk him out of it, since it was a dangerous place for Jesus to be. Thomas is the one who said: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” I don’t know how you hear him in what he said, but I wonder whether Thomas was resigned to the fact that Jesus was heading for trouble, and so Thomas, showing his loyalty, was going to go with him. Perhaps it shows us his bravery.

We hear of Thomas again in chapter 14 when Jesus is specifically talking about his impending death and ascension to heaven. You get the idea from Philip’s response that the other disciples have not got a clue about what Jesus is saying and perhaps remain silent, as they often did. Thomas however speaks up and says: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”(5)

I can see that maybe Thomas was a straight shooter, get to the point, practical type of man. He may not have much imagination or sense of mystery, but he does have an enquiring mind. And Thomas shows us that he is capable of asking the tough questions that maybe the others won’t because of their fear or embarrassment. The impression I get is that Thomas is a no-nonsense type of person. I suspect that many of us are like Thomas in this way. We take no nonsense, like to know what’s going on, want to have answers to our questions and are not afraid to ask them.

In today’s Gospel where Jesus appears to the disciples in a locked room, the disciples are there, all except Thomas that is. The bible does not tell us where he was, only that he was not with them. We don’t know where the disciples find him, but obviously they do and they tell him the news. And how does Thomas react to this news that Jesus has been raised from the dead? Perhaps we would expect him to be overjoyed, maybe shocked; maybe overwhelmed, but no, he does not react like this at all.

I believe that there is a real lesson here for us. As Christians who know the joy that we have because we know who Jesus is, I wonder whether our expectations of the people who do not know him when we speak of him are not realistic. Perhaps we expect others to react to the good news of Jesus with joy and happiness, and when they don’t it may leave us flat. It struck me that the way that Peter and other disciples reacted when Mary told them she had seen the Lord, was similar. They were not overjoyed, they did not run to the garden to find Jesus, rather they went back to where they had come from. There is something about their reaction that tells us, that in reality Jesus the risen Good Shepherd is the one who goes and finds his sheep, rather than them coming to find him.

Thomas, being the type of person he is, says: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”(25) Thomas is saying here that he will not believe until the conditions that he has set down have been met. I wonder if you and I have conditions on our faith. I will believe in Jesus if he does this… or if he shows me this… I will trust in Jesus when he does things to show me that he is real. Thomas was a man who wanted hard evidence, unquestionable eyewitness fact that Jesus is risen, before he would believe in the risen Lord.

A few years ago while we were living in Adelaide the local paper, The Advertiser, had a journalist ask: “Show me where God is then I will believe,” as a challenge to the Christians leading up to Easter weekend. Some clever person sent in a picture the following week of a group of Christians together worshiping, with a caption that said: “Here he is.” There are lots of people in our world that are like Thomas; they want hard evidence before they will believe.

Thomas was a man who did not put faith in people’s words, but wanted a solid sign before he would believe.

For Thomas, he only had to wait eight days for his wish to come true. Jesus appears and speaks directly to Thomas. It is interesting to me that today’s reading doesn’t tell us that Thomas ever even touched Jesus’ wounds. I get the impression that once Thomas got a look at and felt the presence of the risen Lord, that he forgot all his conditions that he had made. Maybe in that moment when he saw Jesus the only thing he could says was, “My Lord and my God.” In other words, perhaps the presence of the risen Lord erased Thomas’s petty scepticisms and proofs and arrogant arguments. Perhaps Thomas was put in this place as he faced the glory of the risen Lord, and the only appropriate response was to confess him as Lord and God.

I don’t know about you, but I am envious of Thomas, because he had the opportunity to see for himself. I wish that I could have been there in that place to see. But then I hear Jesus’ words: “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

It is not lost on me that the challenge that Jesus gives Thomas is the same challenge that he gives all of his followers, including you and me. Are we going to let our conditions that we put before God, stop us from believing? Sometimes we have to wrestle with this question, just as Thomas did. But just as Jesus came to Thomas, as he came and sought Thomas out in the midst of his unbelief, Jesus does the same for you and me. In the midst of our struggles, doubt and ‘conditions’ Jesus the Good Shepherd seeks us out.

In Thomas, I believe we see how Christian discipleship comes about. It starts at the beginning of John’s Gospel and goes throughout. One person encounters Jesus. Then they share their experience with the next person, who may express some reluctance. Then that person experiences Jesus on their own, directly, and becomes convinced about him and then shares the news about Jesus with the next person. For example Andrew tells Peter. Philip tells Nathanael. The Samaritan woman tells the townspeople. “Come and See.”

After the resurrection, our resurrected Lord Jesus first appears to Mary Magdalene. She encounters Jesus, shares the news; the others don’t really believe it until they have their own experiences so that they can own the experience. They become convinced and then share it with Thomas. Like the other disciples, Thomas doesn’t come to faith until he has his own experience. The same is true for you and me.

It is okay to wrestle with faith in Jesus; in fact a part of growing in faith needs times of struggle and doubt. When these times come in your lives, I encourage you to look for Jesus the risen Good Shepherd as he comes to find you in the midst of them.


The Earthquake of the Resurrection

Matthew 28:1-10

Coming from New Zealand, I grew up being used to experiencing earthquakes. Some of the ones I have experienced are still vivid in my mind, as they have a lot of power to them and can have a significant impact. Last year as many of you know there was a big earthquake on the South Island near Christchurch that caused great damage. The thing about earthquakes is that they reverberate, which means that the earthquake is often felt far from its epicentre. Speaking to my dad, he was telling me that in this big earthquake, even though he lives on the other side of the Island, he felt the impact and the earth shook for 4 minutes, the biggest earthquake he had felt, which says something of the power of this earthquake.

In our modern world we know why earthquakes occur. We know that earthquakes happen because of the friction that occurs between tectonic plates under the ground rubbing against each other. But when we look, scripture earthquakes often indicated that the Lord was speaking to his people. For example, just before the Lord was going to give the Ten Commandments to Moses it says in Exodus 19:18, “Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain shook violently.” This is only one example of many with the earth shaking when the Lord spoke.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Easter has earthquakes. In his crucifixion account in 27: 51-54, right after Jesus died, it says: “51At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. 54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

And in this morning’s Gospel from chapter 28, after Jesus’ resurrection, and after the women had come to the tomb, it says: “2There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.”

At Easter our Lord speaks through the actions of his Son, and just like an earthquake reverberates and is felt far away, so too would this first Easter day. And it began with these women at an empty tomb of our risen Lord. “The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.”

The most powerful moment in history, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus from the dead, was seen and spoken of by just these few women at the tomb; it then spread to the disciples, then throughout Samaria, Galilee, the Mediterranean and beyond. And in fact two thousand years later it is still being spoken to us.

Right from the beginning of Jesus’ life in this world, evil was at work, as it always had been. Herod, when hearing that a king was to be born in Bethlehem, tried to kill him, sending solders to kill all the children in the region. Jesus confronted evil in his life leading up to the cross where he experienced the intensification of evil with his death on that cross. But the God who shakes the earth cannot be stopped from speaking his Word and life into our world. The story that begins with fear ends with overwhelming joy. Jesus’ birth is shadowed by many deaths, but Jesus’ resurrection from the dead brings the promise of the resurrection life for all.

When our Lord conquered sin, and death, by his death and his resurrection, it started an ‘earthquake’ that has been felt around our world for centuries. The resurrection of our Lord and the forgiveness that we now have from the chains of our sin have been changing lives, destroying death and indeed have changed the course of human history—not only the history of this world, but also changed the course of eternity.

I know that as we look around us, it seems as if evil is closing in on us again. We look at all of the churches that are near-empty, the churches that are closing, the direction that our world seems to be heading in and we wonder. Perhaps we wonder whether the effect of this earthquake has run its course. But it hasn’t, because the resurrection of our Lord Jesus is still rumbling in your life. The second reading for today from Colossians chapter 3 speaks these words to you and me: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Through your Christian life, in which you have been baptised into Jesus’ death and his resurrection, the power of Jesus’ resurrection is at work in your life. The power of the forgiveness of your sins is still at work; the power of his spoken words to you is still at work in your life. And as a consequence, these things are still at work in this congregation, this body of believers. Through this church’s life the earthquake continues to rumble and spread. The world looks at our lives as his followers, as we continue to point to Jesus and his resurrection.

And this is the hope that we continually cling to in our daily lives. No matter what we see going on in the world around us. No matter how discouraged we may become because to us it seems that the church is dying. I encourage you to stand firm knowing that the earthquake of Jesus’ death and resurrection will continue to be felt across the world until it is ended with a trumpet call, when death for all is finally overcome.

Finally, I would like to encourage you all to remember that our God often acts and moves in ways that we don’t often see or perceive. Often we are discouraged because we don’t see the bigger picture as God does. The Good News that you and I believe and hold onto began with a man afraid to marry his disgraced fiancée; it began with a fearful king who tried to kill potential rivals for his own power; but it ended with victory over sin and death and with overwhelming joy. It ends with these women following the resurrected Jesus’ command; a command to all of us; that is: Stop being afraid! God has defeated death. Rejoice, and share the good news! As we do this the earthquake keeps reverberating.

As we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ on this day I encourage you all to rejoice, because the power of his resurrection is still being worked out in your lives as his followers today.

Good Friday Sermon

Good Friday Sermon 2017

A few years ago I was out with some work colleagues at lunch. In our conversation someone asked if any of us had ever seen a movie so bad that it made us walk out of the cinema. The response of one particular person struck me. She said that the only movie she had ever walked out of in her life was Mel Gibson’s ‘The passion of the Christ’. I asked her why she walked out, and she said that it was too violent, so violent in fact that she found it highly offensive. As I thought about what this woman said, I thought to myself the cross of Jesus is supposed to be offensive!

I wonder if for us whether sometimes the cross has in some way lost its impact on us. Many of us have a cross on the walls of our homes; the cross is prominent in our church, as it should be. The fact that the cross is central to our worship is important as its presence gives focus to our altars as holy places. Many of us even wear a cross around our necks as jewellery. But does having these crosses make the impact they should? With its exalted status as the focal point of our faith, I wonder at times whether the cross has lost its power to scandalize us, to offend us, to wake us up. Perhaps we have lost somehow the reality that the cross was an instrument of extreme torture and death and in doing so lose the fact that Jesus went through this death for our sake.

The truth is that what we remember on this day is not nice. This is not a good news story that we remember on this day. We hear and think about Jesus being abandoned by those close to him; his being bullied by the chief priests; his standing before Pilate; the ferocious anger of the crowd yelling, “Crucify him!” We hear and think about the brutal violence that was dished out to Jesus, violence that is beyond our imaginations; and we remember his brutal death. And in this we remember that Jesus, the innocent one, was punished and went through all of this for our sins. Isaiah 53 says these words about Jesus: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth”

As Jesus was being subjected to this unthinkable violence he was silent. In taking on the sins of the world, our Lord was silent. Many who are the victims of violence in our world do not speak out, they suffer alone, are unable to speak openly, but for Jesus to be silent when he could easily speak suggests that there is more going on here. The violence that many suffer in this world is not a result of their choices, the same is true for Jesus, but for Jesus it was different. It is easy to see Jesus here as a victim, that things just happened to him and that he had no choice in the matter, but the reality is that he did. He chose to walk this path. What makes the brutal violence that Jesus suffered even more remarkable is that Jesus knew that it was coming. He knew what he was going to have to walk through. This was no easy choice for Jesus to make. In fact he really wrestled with whether he was going to follow through with it and there is no doubt that if wanted to he could have decided not to go through with it; he could have chosen a different path. There is a moment when we see Jesus really wavering. You see this clearly in Matthew’s account of the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane where we see Jesus wrestling with his Father. Jesus prays “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” In that moment he does not want to go through with it, and yet he says, “Yet not as I will, but as you will”.

Being silent in the face of violence many would see as a weakness, but for Jesus his silence is a sign of his strength. It is a sign of his confidence in his Father’s plan. It is a sign of his trust. For Jesus this decision to walk that horrific journey to that cross was a decision as to where he was going to follow his Father’s will. And he had already decided that he was going to. Jesus did not need to defend himself because he made this decision knowing what was about to happen and what was in front of him: knowing that he would face the desertion of his disciples and feelings of abandonment; knowing that he was going to face the abuse of chief priests and hard-hearted religious leaders and face their false accusations; knowing that he would have to face the anger and the total rejection of the people before Pilate; that he was going to walk through extreme physical suffering; that he would have to face a very brutal death by crucifixion.

And knowing all of this, he silently chose to be obedient to his Father. The fact that Jesus followed his Father’s will and made this choice so that you and I would receive the benefits is incomprehensible.

Our world easily deceives itself by thinking that violence is the responsibility of others. But what Jesus’ journey to the cross clearly shows us is what our sin is capable of: the power games, cruelty, abuse, brutal violence, mockery and injustice. All of which we see all around us today. No matter how much we as humanity want to deny it, these things exist because of our sin, the very sin that Jesus was taking to that cross.

As Jesus was hanging there on the cross he spoke. And what he said shows us something of God’s heart. In today’s Gospel reading in verse 26 it says: “26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home”. Here is Jesus hanging on a cross in extreme pain and suffering, yet he speaks words of comfort to his mother and his disciple. He was thinking about them even in the midst of his suffering. This is taken further in the Gospel of Luke, where it was not just his mother that he was concerned about, but all of us, even his enemies. As Jesus was hanging on the cross in Luke 23: 34 it says: “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’” Even as he was hanging there he was thinking of and interceding for those who had treated him with such cruel violence.

As Jesus died on the cross that day it showed the extent of God’s love, in that he loves his people so much that he gave his only Son Jesus and that Jesus willingly chose to obey his Father’s will and gave his very life for us so that our sins may be completely and freely forgiven. Through his sacrifice the very thing that hardens our hearts, our sin, is taken away so that we can be in a right relationship with our God. This is the very reason why Jesus so determinedly went to that cross, so that you and I can be right with God, so that our sins are not a barrier between us and that we can have access to God through what Jesus has done.

John’s first letter chapter 3:16 says: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

Knowing all that Jesus went through for our sake should compel us to respond to him by seeking to follow him, walking in the path that our Heavenly Father wants us to walk, and seeking to follow Jesus by laying down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Jesus’ death on that cross should not be just navel gazing and marvelling at what he has done for us, though we all need to do this from time to time, but as Christians and followers of Jesus it calls for us to respond to others in their need, and not to become complacent, just as he has responded to our deepest need for salvation and life.

Violence, sin and death are clearly seen in the crucifixion account of our Lord; there is no way of escaping it, because this is the reality of life that we live in this sinful world. In order for Jesus to conquer death and sin it meant going through this. And it is here that the heart of the matter is. Jesus went through all of this, to conquer sin and its violence which leads to death, once and for all. Jesus went through this so that you and I could have life. He went through all of this so that you and I could have complete forgiveness of sins.

On this Good Friday I encourage you to meditate and think about these things.











Maundy Thursday Sermon

1 Corinthians 11: 23-26

On this Maundy Thursday, when we are thinking about the very night that our Lord Jesus was sitting with his disciples around a table where he first instituted Holy Communion, it makes sense that tonight I am going to preach on the epistle reading from 1 Corinthians 11.

One of the strengths as Lutheran Christians is that traditionally we have been very strong in the area of teaching the faith. To have the right teaching is important to us as it helps us to live our Christian lives knowing what we believe and why. If I was to ask you, ‘Why do we come to Holy Communion?’ you would all be able to answer me quite well. But if I was to ask you, ‘What happens in Holy Communion?’ many would find this question harder to answer. This is the question that I would like to focus on this evening.

As we are a church community who partakes of the Lord Supper regularly, you will know the words that are spoken. But have you ever thought about the first words that are spoken in the words of institution. “Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night he was betrayed…” Jesus was having his last Passover meal with his disciples, the very ones who would betray him. We know that Judas betrayed Jesus and handed him over to the authorities for money. But he was not the only one who betrayed Jesus this night. Peter made the bold claim that he would not deny the Lord, but he did. The disciples who had followed Jesus, been with him, known him, received from him, were in a short amount of time going to abandon him and leave him on his own. These disciples that were full of all the right words, but in reality cowards, were the ones sitting with Jesus at that table. Before we condemn these disciples though, we need to realise that we are also like them coming to the same table. Yes we are Christians and followers of Christ, but we are also sinful people. We too like the disciples, run from Jesus at times; we don’t listen to him; we give up on him when the going gets tough; we too can often say the right words, but underneath in our hearts we can be cowards like them. Yet it is to the disciples and to us that Jesus gives his body and his blood. Many people tend to think that being a Christian is living the perfect life and that we come to communion because of our faith, but this is not true. Jesus gives to us his body and blood because we are sinners and he strengthens our faith through this. None of the disciples were worthy to receive the body and blood of Jesus that night, just as none of us are worthy to receive now. But he gives it to us.

St Paul says: “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (v.26). Tomorrow on Good Friday we remember the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus on that day as he was crucified. As his body was beaten and broken; as his blood was shed on that cross for all our sins. On that day he gave his body and his blood for you and me, yet it is in this meal at the Lord’s table that you and I receive what he did for us. You see as we come to the altar, we eat and drink his body and blood that was given and shed for you and me. In Holy Communion we receive all that Jesus has done for us on that cross. Jesus comes to us in the midst of our sin and gives us his gifts that he won for us. He gives us strength and he gives us faith; he gives forgiveness; and he gives us life. Every time we partake in Holy Communion we proclaim the Lord’s death: meaning all that he has done for us through his death on that cross, you and I now receive.

This reading also says we proclaim his death “until he comes”. We all know that Jesus has been resurrected from the dead; we know that he will come back again at the end of time. We know that we live in what is sometimes called an in-between time. We live between Jesus’ ascension and also his second coming where we will be called home to live with our Triune God in heaven. But one of the remarkable things about our worship services, where Holy Communion is partaken of is that at this very altar, Jesus comes to us and gives us now here in the present, what we will also receive at the end of time. In this meal the future that we will have with our God, one in which there will be forgiveness, peace with God, healing, and life eternal, all because of what Jesus has done on the cross, is given to us every time we come to this altar.

It was no accident that Jesus instituted Holy Communion right before he walked down the path to his death. The path where he took on all of the world’s sin onto himself, as he carried all of our sins to that cross, so that God’s anger and punishment that should be directed towards us, now is laid on him; where the death that we deserve was instead given to Jesus. Because he won the overall victory over sin and death, and they do not have any power over him, he is able to give us life with our God. In Holy Communion he comes to us and he gives us this life, by giving us himself.

One of the great temptations that we face as Christians in this life is that we think that we can live life as a Christian on our own. That when we struggle with sin that we somehow have the ability to overcome the sin in our lives. After all Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. We stand forgiven before God because of Good Friday. The reality is that we continually need Jesus to give us all that he won for us that day, as we still battle our sin each day. We need him to continually come to us and strengthen us in faith; build us up; assure us of our forgiveness before God. It is in Holy Communion that Jesus does this. In other words we as Christians need to come to the altar with open hands and receive all that he promises to give us. Often the evil one gets in people’s heads and tries to convince them not to come, because they are not worthy because of their sins. But this is precisely why we need to come and receive from him because through it he gives us faith and strength. The problem is rather when people come to Holy Communion thinking that they deserve to receive from him.

So I encourage you to regularly think about Good Friday when you come to Communion, even when it is not the Easter season, and to reflect on all that Jesus is giving to you through his body and blood.

Theology of Glory vs Theology of the Cross

Sunday the 9th of April 2017

Matthew 27: 32-56

On October the 31st this year many churches, and of course our church, will be celebrating the beginning of the reformation of the Christian church. It is five hundred years since Martin Luther wrote his now famous ninety-five theses, which was to go on to have a great impact, not only on the church, but society as a whole. Some of the most significant after-effects came from Luther’s ability to see the world through the lens of Jesus, rather than the lens of our humanity. One of his most famous teachings is what he calls the ‘theology of the cross versus the theology of glory’. Now I suspect that some of you may have heard of this; others may not even know what I am talking about, and others may think, what does this mean? So in my sermon today I am going to unpack this in a way that I trust will highlight this very important teaching of Luther.

This morning on what is sometimes known as Passion Sunday, in our Gospel reading we have heard the crucifixion account from Matthew. Jesus’ death on that cross for our sins, and the sins of the world, is something that we know and have heard and that we believe. The crucifixion of Jesus is at the heart of our Christian faith; without the death of Jesus, there is no forgiveness of sins. But this morning I would like to look at this crucifixion account from a different angle.

In Matthew chapter 20 as Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem for the final time, and he had told his disciples for the third time what was going to happen, that he would suffer and die on the cross, Matthew says this: 20 “Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favour of him.21 “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” 22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

As I read the Gospels I get a sense that the closer it came to going to Jerusalem for the last time, the more the disciples knew that this was going to be the deciding moment for Jesus. And so James’ and John’s mother comes to Jesus and asks for special treatment for her sons. The expectation that Jesus is going to be entering his kingdom is on her mind. But it tells us something else. She knew that Jesus was going to be a king; she knew that he would rule, and she wanted her sons to be in on the action. But what kind of king was she expecting? I suspect that being a typical Jew of that time, she would be expecting Jesus to be an earthly king, who would rule with power; who would rule with justice; who would keep the Jews safe from their enemies; who would bring peace and prosperity to the people so that they did not have to suffer anymore; who would bring relief to those who were poor in that country. This woman was thinking about the benefits that this king would bring to her and her nation and she wanted her children to be a part of it. This is an example of what Luther calls the theology of glory. We want a king to be what we want and expect; we want from a king one who will glorify our expectations and wants and needs.

When we think about Jesus as a king, what kind of king do you and I want Jesus to be? Perhaps we want Jesus to come and fix all of our life problems, to fix the government maybe, to stop the craziness of the world at the moment. Perhaps we want Jesus to be a king of action, a king who will bless us and give us peace and prosperity and safety. Maybe we want Jesus to be a king who demonstrates his power. The problem is that the focus of this way of thinking is on us; thinking about Jesus as the king we want him to be, the king who will do our will.

As Jesus is crucified and is hanging on that cross, there is a sign above his head that reads: “this is jesus, the king of the jews.” And who is next to him, but two sinful criminals, one on his left and the other on his right. This is not insignificant I believe.  Jesus is the true king in that he trusts his Heavenly Father fully, so much so that he was willing to go through and drink the cup of extreme suffering, so that others can be saved. Jesus is the king who dies for the sake of his people, so that they can live.

This is the kind of king that Jesus is. He is a king who is willing to walk in suffering for the sake of others; he is a king who gives up his life for others; he is a king who is willing to die a criminal’s death on a cross, a death that all people deserve, so that we do not have to. This is a king who does what we are not capable of because of our sin. He is a king who trusts his Father’s will and is willing to follow him where he leads; this is what Luther calls the theology of the cross.

Our sinful hearts don’t like this kind of king. It is easier to want a king in our own image, than one who takes the punishment for our corrupt sinful hearts. Jesus is a king who comes to us in our darkest moments in life, when our sins overwhelm us and says, ‘I have taken care of your sins; you are forgiven because of me.’ Jesus is a king who seeks out sinners, the ones who are lost, who have rejected him. He is the king that seeks out us.

The people in the crowd called out to Jesus, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In other words show us your power. It says: 41 “In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.”

These people wanted to see a theology of glory moment; they wanted to see Jesus use his power to save himself to prove to them who he was. Even though they had admitted that they had seen him save others. A king without power would not suit their image, so they mock him.

They say, 43 “He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” It is here that the greatest irony is seen. The very fact that Jesus was on that cross was precisely because he trusted his Father; it is because of his love for his Father and us that he did not throw himself down off that cross. At that precise moment he was trusting God more that they could ever know or realise. Those around him could not see this. We still find this two thousand years later in the world we live in. How many people accuse God, curse him and mock him. How many people say, ‘I can’t believe in a God that allows suffering;’ or ‘I can’t believe in a God who…. .’ How many people treat our Lord as if he has no relevance to their lives because in their view he is impotent? They want a king of glory, but we know that we have a true king, who is the king who went to death on a cross for us.

Luther says, “If you want to look for God in this world, you will find him on the cross.”

As we come into this Passion Week leading up to Easter, we think about Jesus and who he is and what he has done for you and me. I encourage you all to look at the cross and see. For me this is the high point of our year, because it is here at this time that we see just how far our Triune God would go, out of his love for us, to save us from death and hell because of our sins. It is here that we see the true heart of our God, that his son Jesus does not come in our own image, but comes to us to suffer and give his life for our sins to set us free to have life, not only here but also life eternal.



Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life

Sunday the 2nd of April 2017

Ezekiel 37:1-14 & John 11

The year 2004 was a significant year for me in my life as two major events occurred which changed me. The first one was the birth of my oldest son Josiah. There is nothing that prepares you for the experience of seeing the life of a new person that God has created coming into the world. Even though he is now much older I find myself still thinking about that time, thinking about how it brought happiness and changed my life for good.

Three months later a very close friend of mine who I grew up with in New Zealand died of a heart attack. This man, named Kevin, was a lot older than me and in some ways was a father figure in my life, someone whom I loved and who I cared very deeply for. Kevin was the first person that I had personally known, and had a strong relationship with, to have died so I really did grieve his loss. The other thing that made this hard was that Kevin was openly not a believer in Jesus, which made my grief even more difficult. I distinctly remember looking at Josiah and holding him in my hands after Kevin’s death and thinking: ‘life is so fragile’. For me 2004 was a year about life and death.

The prophet Ezekiel, in our first reading today, knew all about death as he was surrounded by it. He was a prophet at a time when the people of Israel, had been conquered, and were almost at breaking point. He knew the result of God’s punishment of death and captivity for his people because of their sins. Those who were still alive were suffering in their captivity in Babylon because of their arrogance, pride, self-conceit, and, in general, their refusal to trust their God. These people had been decimated and knew full well what it was like to feel hopeless and defeated. For many of the Israelites they were living with such hopelessness that they were waiting to die.

Yet in the midst of this time Ezekiel receives a vision. He saw a vision of a great defeat in a battlefield valley, where the bodies of those killed had not been buried but allowed to decay. This was a brutal vision of death. Ezekiel right in the midst of this vision of death receives this command:  “prophesy to these bones” (v. 4). This would have seemed ridiculous, as there were not even any ears to “hear the word of the Lord” that he was to speak. But the word that Ezekiel was to speak, was not his own. No, this word that was spoken is the word of the one who is the Creator, who at the beginning of the World in Genesis 2: made flesh and bones from the face of the earth, awaiting the breath of life; the one who breathed life into his created people. The Lord says to Ezekiel “This is what the Lord God says to these bones; I will cause breath to enter you and you will live” (v5). Ezekiel spoke the word as the Lord said and “… the breath entered them and they came to life and stood on their feet, a vast army.” (v10). God’s word brought life to the dead.

In the Gospel reading from John two women, Mary and Martha, just lost their dear brother Lazarus to death. They knew what it was like to grieve for the death of a loved one. They knew what it was like to lose all hope. Even though our Lord was there, too late in their opinions, Maratha says: “Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died” (John 11: 21). You can almost hear her grief.

Right in the middle of her grief over her brother’s death Martha hears Jesus say “Your brother will rise again”, and she responds by saying “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” But Jesus responded “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” Notice that Jesus did not just say that he is the resurrection, but that he is the resurrection and the life.

Our Lord Jesus Christ is life and he speaks words of life to us. Mary and Martha got to see this as they witnessed Lazarus rising from the dead and in chapter 12 they were even feasting with him again. He had indeed come to life because Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life, spoke the word of life to him.

In Ezekiel’s vision, those dry bones were restored to new life and new hope. When the people believed that it was the end for them, that all was lost, and that they were cut off from the Lord (v. 11), God spoke his words of restoration and hope. He will put his Spirit within them, and they shall be restored to their land and live in hope and joy. He united and he restored the whole house of Israel. All hope is not lost in their hopelessness. God speaks and his word accomplishes the purpose for which he sent it. God was speaking his Word of life to a people who were lost in despair.

We all know that death eventually comes to us all, no matter how much we want to deny it. And we know that death is the result of sin. As it says in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”. As you and I look around us we hear and see that people who believe that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life, are often laughed at, persecuted, or in some places in the world even murdered.

His church is under constant assault from Satan and his demons. With all of the political correctness in our society the church is under pressure to get with the times. And so, we are tempted to conform to the world, cutting off ourselves from Jesus once again. We all know hopelessness and despair and being cut off from Jesus in our sinful lives. And yet, he comes and speaks his word of life to us again and again in these places.

It is in these places that he speaks his world of life and hope to us. The same word of life that brought the dry bones to life in today’s Old Testament reading is the same word of life the speaks to you and me today in our Lord Jesus Christ, as He is the resurrection and the life.

In order for Jesus to be raised from the dead, he had to die. There can be no resurrection without there first being a death. In order for there to be eternal life, death had to be conquered. So our Lord comes to us as the Shepherd-King who humbles himself and allows himself to undergo the greatest suffering, by taking our sins on him as the Lamb and was killed for us on the great battlefield of sin. And he rose again to life. This is not a life and death story; rather it is an account of death and life.

Because of Jesus resurrection from the dead that we celebrate at Easter, Jesus brings us life in the midst of our dying from our sins. He speaks his words of life to us, words that bring forgiveness, hope and life. And he speaks to us the promise of our resurrection with him from the dead. The resurrection is coming: that is the goal, and it brings hope to a hopeless people, not just death but resurrection. Our God who we worship is a God of life. He comes to us, he breathes his Spirit on us and he brings new life to us, even in the midst of our sins he comes to bring this life.

When Lazarus died and was raised again by Jesus, this was a sign that was to point to the one who would die and be raised for all sinners. Jesus is the one who had the authority to lay down his life in death, but to also rise again to life. And he did this for you and me so that we might have eternal life through him.

Often when we think about our sins we can become discouraged and down hearted because that’s all we see, but I encourage you to see that even in the midst of your sins the one who is the resurrection and the life; the one who has the power to bring life out of death through his word; is the one who is speaking that life to you today in your life.