As you drive or walk past those who are working (remembering advised Social Distancing if on foot) why not pray for them as they go past. Lift them in a silent prayer to God, He knows them and their situation. Those doing postal deliveries, refuse teams and utility workers, to name a few who keep our neighbourhoods working.
We have a growing prayer team here at Christ Church, if you would like prayer, please add it to the comments box. If it is for others please do not include personal details that could identify them to others.
This was titled as a prayer blog but really it is a daily bible reflection based on the New Testament readings for morning prayer. Where the readings may be changed, for a feast day, for example, the bible thread will be maintained for continuity. I do hope that out of these reflections you will find themes for prayer and your own reflection and study.
13/04 – John 20:11-18 is the appearing of Jesus to Mary Magdalene in the garden near the tomb. In John’s account Mary is distraught at the absence of Jesus and mistakes Him as a gardener. It is only when Jesus speaks that His true identity is revealed to her. On the instructions of Jesus she goes to tell the disciples what has happened. This time there is no challenging of her account, she is a trusted source. They must have been wondering what would happen next; would they see Him? Jesus spoke to Mary before using her name; then she did not seem to recognise Him. It was when Jesus got personal: “Mary” that it impacted her. The familiarity, perhaps? The way He addressed her revealed Him. Do we miss Jesus addressing us? How do we recognise Him interacting with us? How is He revealed through the Holy Spirit? There is probably no clear answer to that. If we are to be challenged by Jesus we need to hear Him and be able to understand His will for us. Something we have to do is check it out: was that Jesus? Turn to a trusted Christian friend or leader: does what we hear fit with who God is revealed to be (even if it doesn’t fit with our expectations or plans, the box we sometimes create for ourselves)? Did Mary really understand what Jesus meant by ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God,’ probably not fully. As the narrative unfolded so she would have come to understand more fully. Often it is in our unfolding journeys that we come to validate our encounters with God, the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. That requires us to keep an open mind and to trust what we hear, but most of all it requires us to step out in faith.
12/04 – John 20:1-10 is the reading we return to following Holy Week and Easter Week where the readings jumped between gospels. The last reading was from Chapter 18 and the arrest of Jesus. We have moved through the gruelling accounts around the crucifixion. Now we read of Mary Magdalene’s early morning visit to the tomb and her panic at finding it empty, and the subsequent sprint of John and Peter to check out the truth of Mary’s statement. Mary had told the two disciples “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” It is a statement of reality but also one of confusion, the true reality is not revealed till the next part of the chapter. The resurrection is central to the Christian faith. Without accepting that truth Jesus is kept within the tomb and has no power and authority, and we would be a people without hope. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthian church, in chapter 15 verse 14, writes: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” He adds in verse 19: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” However, the latter part of Mary’s statement “we don’t know where they have put him!” raises an interesting point: ‘we’ don’t know – was she not alone? But beyond that the problem for them is that they don’t know where He has gone, been put. For us, what glory! Jesus is not confined to a limited location. He is everywhere, available to all. Jesus can’t be put in some imaginary box; however, some would like to do that. Jesus should disturb us, challenge us, He is always outside the box. The question is do we allow Him to challenge us? If we don’t, shouldn’t we? As Easter people let’s look forward to Jesus disturbing us, empowering us and leading us.
As Good Friday ends – So now the silence . . . time on hold. Fear rippling through the ones He called. Confusion as God’s Son seemed silenced. A paralysis of inaction that could only result in hiding, comfort in unity, the bond of fellowship strengthened by grief, disciple or follower, man or woman, the spiritual darkness fell as the Sabbath rest came. The Sabbath day when God freed His people from oppression, called them out, through their doorways marked by the blood of the sacrificial lamb. History in disguise, reworked by God into their present. A new promised land awaited, as they waited, cowered in fear, unknowing. . . .For us a brief pause; like them, we don’t know what God plans for us, how that will work out, what loads we will be asked to carry, but we do know He stands with us as we stand with Him. Micah 7:7, 8(b) “But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Saviour; my God will hear me. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.”
02/04 – As I sit down to write this, it’s Thursday evening; Jesus has washed His disciples’ feet before sharing the Passover meal together. Jesus uses challenging imagery as He shares bread and wine with them, imagery that was beyond their understanding at that time. Understandably tired, they go to a quiet spot where Jesus goes to speak with God, His Father, a painful prayer but one in which He releases Himself to do His Father’s will, wherever that leads. Then the quietness of the place was torn as a detachment of soldiers, along with some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees, came with weapons, led by Judas. The darkness was pierced by their torches and lanterns; as the violence of the world visibly broke in, with a kiss used for betrayal. Now the night has fallen, a darkness that attempts to hide the ‘True Light’, as fearful men fight to protect their own interests and the grounds of their understanding of what is right, but ignoring truth. If we dare to enter the reality of what is going on in this scene, perhaps we can risk stepping into the darkness that persecuted Christians are going through now, today. Perhaps they have walked out of their homes to be confronted by forces pitted against them, embedded in a misplaced fear of how Christianity may threaten their own belief system. We must join with God’s people to be part of the ‘smoke of the incense, that together with the prayers of God’s people, goes up before God’, as we pray for those who are persecuted, imprisoned, because they stand for Christ.
01/04 – The lectionary continues with the trial of Jesus from Luke’s gospel. However, traditionally this Thursday in Holy Week is the day we remember Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in John 13:1-17. It is a day when many cathedral churches across the country would normally hold services where priests are invited to renew their commitment to ministry. When we read the account of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples, at the end when He has finished He says “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you”. When we see a priest wash the feet of a few people in church on Maundy Thursday the recipients of this act are usually pre-selected and often only one foot is washed; it is a representation of something of greater significance that should touch us all. The challenge for us, as we reflect on this act of Jesus, is to take it, live it out and, however dirty or smelly the feet are, we should wash them! Jesus, the Son of God, knelt at the feet of those who trudged through the dust and dirt following Him to hear and see what He said and did. The Christian faith is based on service to others. It is a basis for our reaching out to others, not because we think doing good things for others will open some door to heaven or make us right with God, because it won’t. We do it because that is who we are, as disciples, called to give ourselves in service to Jesus. Forget the trappings and ritual of this day and focus on Jesus. The reality is there is a need for workers in the field to bring in the harvest. In Matthew 9:38 we are told to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field, but should we not be praying that God, the ‘Lord of the Harvest’, would send us out to bring in the harvest? Lord, enable us to work in the harvest field to bring people to You.
31/03 – John 18:1-26 covers the same events as the lectionary reading of Luke 22:54-end, almost the same number of verses. We read of Jesus’ arrest, the questioning of Jesus by the high priests and Peter’s denial of being a disciple of Jesus. There are slight differences, more happens in John’s account at the arrest of Jesus, Peter strikes Malchus, the servant of the High Priest, with a sword. John is more detailed, writing that Jesus was taken first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Luke writes more about the beating Jesus received and the way those holding Him mocked Him. Reading both accounts highlights the confusion that people must have felt; so much happening to the person that they had followed and seen do miraculous works, who taught about the kingdom of God and who many would have believed to be the Messiah. Different events become important to different people, in different ways; we witness that in recent events. The denial of Peter is easy to focus in on but we have already been told about Peter’s first reaction, to draw his sword. He had engaged with the arresting authorities, his fight and flight levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline must have been sky high; having engaged in fight, is it surprising self-preservation, flight took over? However, Jesus, during the questioning in front of Annas, said He had spoken openly teaching in the synagogues or at the temple. Nothing He said was in secret. If they wanted answers they should ask those who heard Him. They know what He said (though at the same time, we have Peter denying Jesus!). But those who held Jesus did not want the truth, they only wanted their own agenda to be achieved. Being reminded of the followers Jesus had would not have helped. Today with millions of Christians, academics and scientists among them, still people scoff at Christians and know Jesus only as a swear word. In some ways people who stand against Jesus now may not be that different from His accusers back then. But we should stand up to them, with respect and love, not always easy, but it is our calling. Let us stand calmly together as witnesses to Christ.
30/03 – The reading from Luke set for this day covers Jesus’ prediction that Peter will deny him, Jesus praying on the Mount of Olives and finally the crowd coming to arrest Jesus; all that in 29 verses. John takes four chapters and seven verses to cover the same topics! Also John tells us how Jesus sought to reassure His disciples, He tells them that “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. Jesus tells them of the coming Holy Spirit: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.” Jesus talks about being the vine and God the Father being the gardener: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus prays for His disciples and all believers just before the group arrive to arrest Him. Those chapters are filled with valuable material that goes far beyond just a narrative of what happened; we are plunged into the cares and thoughts of Jesus, His love for His disciples and the warnings about the future they need to hear. “I have made you (God the Father) known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” It’s worth reading John chapter 14 through to the end of 17 and treating it as though you were part of that, because in a way we are. We are often told to pray, develop our prayer life, listen to God, but do we ever stop in silence and awe to think that Jesus is praying for us, each one of us? What prayer do you think He is saying now for you? Is it the prayer you really need, or may Jesus be praying something very different? How do we respond to the fact that the love God has for His Son, is the love He has for us? Why should God love us so? Jesus prayed “that I myself may be in them”; that is why. When God looks at us He sees His Son in us, regardless of our gender and imperfections. Humbling and encouraging, and yes, awe-inspiring. Let us take that sense of awe with us as we travel through Holy Week to Easter Day.
29/03 – The lectionary readings now change to Luke. However, the next reading in John’s gospel which we have been following, 13:1-17, takes us straight into the washing of the disciples’ feet, traditionally remembered on the Thursday of Holy Week, and we will come back to that. The Luke reading is about Judas and his move to betray Jesus and the last supper. John 13:18-30 is in a similar vein, with Judas being told by Jesus “What you are about to do, do quickly.” All this is in the context of the last supper. Jesus takes bread, dips in the wine and gives it to Judas Iscariot to indicate it is he who will hand Jesus over to the authorities. Even though Jesus did this in response to a question from Peter, relayed through John, the disciples seemed to miss the identification. For when Judas left they thought that as he was in charge of the money he had been sent out by Jesus to buy something. Sadly, betrayal of Jesus is not uncommon even today. It was with a real sense of sadness that I learnt of the conduct of Ravi Zacharias, and the failings of RZIM to hold him to account, and now how that organisation is in free fall, all the work that was achieved discredited, all the teaching by Ravi removed. It should be a warning to all leaders who think they can act with impunity, that in betraying the trust in them, they once again crucify Christ and discredit those who follow Him. “As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.” This period of Holy Week means many things to many people. There are various paths to walk as we draw near to Good Friday, different ways for personal preparation. But, whatever the path, the reflection, the book we read, we need to be brutally honest with ourselves and with Jesus in laying out those times when maybe Satan enters us. There’s no vaccine to protect us from that enemy, only the honesty to face our God with truth. But above all we need to repent, turn away from sin; and as we come to Good Friday, to stand, kneel, perhaps lie down, and thank God He was prepared to let His only Son take the burdens from us. We are not called to wallow in our sin, but to lay it down at the foot of the cross and gain our freedom, to become a new creation.
27/03 – John 12:37-end is reading where we are drawn in to understand a little of who does or doesn’t believe in Jesus. The words from Isaiah 6:10 about people being unable to “see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts” reveals the reality that not everyone can answer God’s call on them. The words of Isaiah 53:1 reveal the truth: “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” In our coming to have faith in God, through Jesus Christ, we have the arm of the Lord revealed to us, through the power of the Holy Spirit. In this reading we also have that interesting observation that many, even among the leaders, believed in Him, yet they feared losing what they had, and some ‘loved human praise more than praise from God’. Echos of the parable of the sower here (Matt 13:1–23, Mk 4:1–20, Lk 8:4–15), the seed germinates, but . . . Jesus is quoted by John as pointing out that all he does and says is from God the Father, and again affirming that He is the light that will draw people out of darkness. In all this, firstly, there is a need, a desire, a hunger, a will to escape the darkness. Without that, why leave the darkness behind? We have to show that changing to follow Jesus makes a difference, to be His people makes a new community, one that is worth the effort to be part of. Sometime the arm of God has been revealed, but people need help to understand, to interpret and to recognise that in their lives. We need to be those interpreters, a people who can reveal God to people. Talking about God, befriending people, may not be revealing God. We have to understand and recognise the point of need, doubt, confusion, and speak God’s love into that. The Holy Spirit can do the rest. Let us pray for the gift of discernment, the gift of listening, so we may hear the needs of people as we invite them to join with us.
26/03 – John 12:20-36a is the reading, but in this section it is verse 35 that seems to stand out: “Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” There is so much darkness around in the world; just watching the news can be overwhelming. To feel the confusion and pain that is around can sometimes make it feel as though the darkness does overtake us, and it is true that in those moments it is hard to know where we are going. It really isn’t surprising that there are so many with mental health issues, some of which perhaps stem from a profound sense of detachment, of being lost with no anchor, and little or no hope. What can Jesus offer? We often refer to the start of John’s gospel: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness.” ‘The light for all mankind,’ and a light that remains. Jesus in this reading is predicting His death, but what He says goes well beyond that moment. We can walk in the light because the ‘light’ is always there for us. For that reason we can be, we should be, the ‘children of light’. We tend to think of that light as represented by a candle, but is that too limiting on God’s power in Jesus? Today even an LED work light is rated at 1 million candle power; it is easy to buy spotlights with a 40 million candle power rating, and the searchlights used during WW2 were rated at 800million candle power (candela)! When we are called to become ‘children of light’ is it one candle power or anything up to the most powerful light today of 9,129,000,000 candela!? Do we limit the power of Jesus in us? There is a real need for the power of God in the world today. Jesus is the light that reveals the darkness and dispels it. Let us truly serve as ‘children of light’ and take that light into the lives of others to give them hope and a way forward. Making disciples isn’t about numbers; it’s about changing lives.
25/03 – John 12:12-19 is the triumphal arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem, with the crowds gathering to greet Him: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!” Again, the restoring of Lazarus to life features as the word about it spreads and brings more people to Jesus. Not surprisingly, the Pharisees are moaning about their inability to stem His popularity, as in 11:46-47 where they ask “What are we accomplishing?” Now they reflect on their failure to trap Jesus: “See, this is getting us nowhere”. As we know, the more Christianity grows, the more resistance there is to it. Many countries demonstrate that fact; somehow the misunderstanding of the nature of Christianity engenders fear, a fear of a loss of control, which in itself acknowledges that Christianity is a force to be reckoned with. Today some live their faith as though it is a secret, perhaps an underground movement; that may be valid where Christians are oppressed, but not here in our liberal society. As we prepare for Palm Sunday, do we greet the day with a Hosanna!? Do we affirm Christ as King? Whether we do or not, maybe it is something we should do, each morning, during the day and in the evening – proclaim Christ as our King. Psalm 24:7 to the end: “Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is he, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty – he is the King of glory.” Let us live our faith, let us live with Jesus in our lives. Let us lift up our heads, open our hearts, so the King of Glory may come in.
24/03 – In John 12:1-11 we have Martha hosting a dinner in Jesus’ honour, with her brother Lazarus and sister Mary present. It was quite a draw for the local community. John uses the term ‘Jews’ as a catch-all phrase which would include scribes and those involved in temple life. They may have witnessed Mary pouring nard on Jesus’ feet, though John writes at the start of verse nine “meanwhile’. We then have the meal served by Martha, Lazarus reclining at the table and Mary anointing Jesus. Each has symbolism in the narrative as it unfolds. John uses the fact that nard is expensive (originating from the Himalayas) to expose the true nature of Judas Iscariot as being a thief. Mary’s anointing is indicative of Jesus’ death and burial. The Jews now also have Lazarus in their sights as it is because he is alive that more people are turning to Christ. Of course, after Jesus’ resurrection, more people turned to Him, and have done so ever since. This chapter perhaps marks the end of normality for Jesus as His trial and execution draw closer. However, all this is set in the context of a normal family meal, with friends, an opportunity to celebrate what Jesus had done for them. Fellowship over a shared meal has always been a Christian tradition, from the times of the early church and something that Jesus clearly did, and we should still do. We could invite non-Christian friends to share a meal with friends who are Christian and allow the conversation to turn to our faith in a non-confrontational way. Once we are able to meet together we will be getting our BBQ fired up and be hosting meals, we will invite our neighbours as well, to join with many of you in sharing not only food but our faith as well. Let us pray for the opportunities to share Christ as we share food with others, let us also pray that we have the courage to make that happen.
23/03 – John 11:45-end again reveals the fear of the Pharisees. The news of Jesus bringing Lazarus back to life was too much for them; as people turned to Jesus they lost more of their authority and power. It is interesting that their fear of what the Romans may do if Jesus was allowed to continue turned out to be a prediction of what would in fact happen, but not because of Jesus. John turns us from that future to the future prophesied by Caiaphas, the high priest. He prophesied that: “Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.” This seemed to give them even greater reason to kill Jesus. They thought they were protecting the Jewish state and people. Caiaphas was suggesting that Jesus was a required sacrifice to save the Jewish nation. They could not understand what they were part of, how Caiaphas had been right, but not in the way they thought; Jesus would be a unifying power, because He would defeat death and bring salvation. The Jewish perspective in the meeting of the Sanhedrin is not the same as ours, knowing as we do the outcome of their actions and the glory that would be revealed in the resurrection. However, it should make us cautious about rushing into decisions without reflection. The Pharisees were panicked and the action they took was what they wanted. John tells us of the words Caiaphas said “he did not say this on his own”; the inference is that God was in it. Do we look for God in our decisions? Do we look for God when we seek to find answers, or a way forward? God can use others sometimes to direct us even if we don’t agree; waiting and discerning God, to see if He is in it, is important. Let us pray for the gift of discerning God every day, no matter who our conversations are with; remember Numbers 22:22-30, Balaam’s donkey.
22/03 – In John 11:28-44 we have the account of Jesus bringing his friend Lazarus back to life after four days in the tomb. The NIV version of John’s account of Jesus’ reaction plays down the strength of that reaction: “He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” The Greek word is that used for a horse snorting, it carries the emotion of annoyance or anger. Much discussion has been made of what it was that Jesus was angry at, but the consensus seems to be that the fallen nature of mankind, of the resulting sin and death that was and is ever present, made Jesus angry, as one who wept over Jerusalem, and here in this account weeps twice, once with Mary and again at the tomb. Jesus knew the Father’s love for people and felt the pain of their rejection. As Christians we have to juggle the loss we feel when someone dies, with the hope of the resurrection to come; it can be a path of conflicting emotions. ‘Why?’ can so often be the lingering question when we face loss, especially when it is sudden or preventable. Jesus was clearly struggling with His emotions. However, it was not over the death of Lazarus, as Jesus knew that He would bring His friend back to life. Jesus feels the pain of loss when He is rejected, when people whom He calls sin. Jesus longs for the creation He initiated at the beginning with God the Father, to come to perfection, where: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) Jesus Himself will minister to us, as the new order is revealed. Our ministry to those who have lost loved ones has to be tempered by the need to share the hope that is to come, to share the image of the compassion and care that Jesus has for everyone. When we return to a time when personal contact is allowed, let us share the hope that is to come through Jesus, always praying ‘Your kingdom come’.
20/03 – John 11:17-27 includes the passage where Jesus says: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” This was spoken after Martha says she knows that Lazarus will rise again at the resurrection, but Jesus is asking more than a profession of belief in the resurrection; He is seeking to know if Martha understands where the source of that resurrection comes from. She does: “Yes, Lord . . . I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” In Luke 10:28-42 we read about the encounter with Jesus when Martha opened her home to Him and His disciples and she became annoyed with Mary because she did not help. We understand also that further on in John’s gospel Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume. We also know that Lazarus had a special friendship with Jesus. So clearly the understanding of who Jesus was, by the three, Lazarus, Martha and Mary had developed. However it is interesting that Martha has a clear understanding of what Jesus could do, and through whom He did it: “I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Mary, as we read in the next section, falls at Jesus’ feet, weeping. Perhaps the busy Martha had a better understanding than Mary, the one listening at the feet of Jesus. Could it be possible that by engaging with the practical nature of service Martha has come to understand the teaching of Jesus better? So often it is the application of what we learn that crystallises what is learnt, and makes it more meaningful. Being active in service to Christ stimulates our growth as we emulate Christ; serving Christ in that way is known as incarnational ministry. However, our mandate to preach the gospel in word and action is central to our mission, as Paul showed in his life dedicated mission, ministry and proclamation of ‘the word’. May we be empowered by the Holy Spirit to live our lives for Christ, in Christ, and proclaim Him in all we do.
19/03 – John 11:1-16 is where Jesus receives the message about Lazarus from Martha and Mary: “Lord, the one you love is sick.” (Worth thinking about that when remembering John writing ‘the disciple that Jesus loved’.) Jesus knows the outcome of this sickness and decides to wait until He is aware that Lazarus has ‘fallen asleep’. Jesus also knew that the sickness would not end in death because He would restore him to life. Was Jesus going to use the raising of Lazarus to reinforce His words: “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.” (5:21)? The disciples followed the general pattern and did not understand what Jesus was saying. However, after the intervention of Thomas, the disciples decided to follow Jesus back to Judea, even though a short while before the Jews there had tried to stone Him. Thomas was so far off the mark when he said: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (Lazarus or Jesus?) The messages that Jesus was giving, since the start of chapter 5, have been misunderstood or misinterpreted by most of the listeners. In this we had the healing of the blind man; now we have Lazarus being brought back to life. Jesus said in 10:37: “Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” We find out the reaction to this miracle later. Let us always look for the truth, the deeper meaning of what Jesus says, especially in John’s gospel which is so deep. Jesus is really revealed. Maybe it is worth going through the gospel and highlighting the things Jesus says about Himself as signposts when we feel adrift and need to find our way.
18/03 – In John 10:22-end Jesus remains in the hot house of peoples’ discontent about what he has been saying. People were really wanting Jesus to come out and say that He was the Messiah. His cryptic message was just not understandable or convincing; but if that was the case why were they wanting to stone Him for blasphemy, saying “you, a mere man, claim to be God.” They do not accept His words and even though He performs miracles they won’t believe the evidence. What more can He do? He leaves and goes back across the Jordon, to the starting point, the place He encountered John the Baptist. Many people joined Him and reasoned that John the Baptist had identified Jesus as God’s son and on that testimony they were going to believe, because “all that John said about this man was true.” Yes, Jesus did have disciples who followed Him in varying numbers, who followed Him because of what he did and said, but that original encounter with John still had power. We should not allow our lives and relationship with Christ Jesus to be such that it has no impact on others. There are times where we may think we are not effective as beacons of hope, but even in times of difficulty and sadness our steadfast faith in Jesus is a light to others. Even though John the Baptist identified Jesus he still had questions and had to send his disciples for confirmation (Luke 7:18-23). Let us not doubt our effectiveness as messengers of the Good News, we may never know the seeds we plant or the lives we change when working with the Holy Spirit. Silence should not be an option, we all have a message. Let us strengthen each other to share it.
17/03 – In John 10:11-21 Jesus continues the metaphor of the Good Shepherd, who is faithful to His sheep. Again this causes division, since 6:42, where people were divided because some could not get past the fact Jesus was the son of Joseph. Since then this is the fourth instance of division, but again the miracle of the blind man having his sight restored is mentioned as a reason to believe Jesus. Jesus brings all who know Him into the picture when He says: “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” Jesus talks about willingly laying down His life and picking it up again: “I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” These quotes are testimony to the work Jesus was to do, and has done, for those within the sheepfold. Jesus is the one and only gate-keeper for the flock; those tasked with being gate keepers Jesus compares to the hired hands who run away and care nothing for the sheep. They are of course those who are part of the priestly tradition of the Jewish faith. Jesus comes in to correct the fact that those tasked, since Moses, have abandoned God’s People. Jesus is the only true Shepherd. However, we should bring sheep to Him by living out His example. Yes, that nun was dressed in a distinctive habit, so was easily identifiable. Do we behave in a way that identifies us to the world? In sharing our faith, by inviting people to the church, maybe to share some refreshments and have a chat, we would be building the numbers who acknowledge Jesus as their Shepherd. As we plan for the future we could be making a list of people we know who we could invite to Cafe Hub to share in simple hospitality. Let us pray for those who will supply the refreshments and staff the facilities as the opportunity arises.
16/03 – John 10:1-10 is the well-known passage about Jesus being the gate to the sheepfold. It is of course a challenge to the Pharisees who view themselves as the appointed gate-keepers to the Jewish people. However blunt Jesus seems to be, the Pharisees again miss the point; they really are very blind! Jesus has to reframe the point, becoming even more direct: “I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers”. Jesus continued: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” It does reveal how intransigent people can be when convinced that they are in the right. The thinking of the Pharisees was shaped by the legalism of Mosaic law, so they thought they had the law on their side. Jesus clearly operated outside the law, as they saw it anyway, so they were firmly fixed to their viewpoint and it’s not surprising they wouldn’t budge. Did Jesus know He was up against an immovable force? Is what He says to them a message to other listeners? Perhaps by bouncing off the Pharisees the message was amplified and gained more attention. Today, that kind of confrontational approach would not be acceptable, so it is not one open to us. Is there an alternative model? We can simply put our message out there to a non-specific audience, but in a way that promotes thought. Inviting questions that result in discussion is a valuable way forward, and that is an objective of apologetics; that is the putting forward of Christian reasoning to rebuff arguments against Christianity. It is a skill set that, as a church, we need to develop. Do pray if you think that may be a calling for you.
15/03 – John 9:18-end is the outworking of the spiritual link between the narrative from chapter 7:14 to the healing of the blind man. Though the neighbours, and people who knew that the blind man had been a beggar, questioned him about his healing, some even doubting it was the same person, they struggled to accept it. Again, this is a Sabbath day healing so the Pharisees are keen to trap Jesus one more time. The poor blind man has to keep repeating his story and being questioned, to the point that he gains the high ground. The blind man really does have his spiritual eyes opened before Jesus talks to him at the end. Through his questioning by the disbelieving Pharisees, he had clearly convinced himself as to who Jesus was, not a sinner as he was being told. The telling comments are: “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again?” was followed quickly by “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” The Pharisees turned on him with the put down that it was also him, the healed blind man who was the sinner. The insults they ‘hurled’ at him seemed to have made him stronger. Finally, Jesus meets with him again, having heard what happened and asks him, “do you believe in the Son of Man?” To believe, the healed man has to know who it is that he should believe in: “Who is he, sir?” Jesus then identifies Himself and the man professes his faith and follows it by action: “Lord, I believe,” and “he worshiped him”. It seems that some Pharisees were still present and Jesus highlights their blindness even though they claim to see. The question “Are we blind too?” is accusational because as far as they are concerned they’re not. Perhaps rejection of the reality of the man’s healing and all Jesus had been saying about himself before compounded their sin; their guilt remained. The Pharisees and others had fixed ideas; their inability to see and hear what had unfolded was their blindness. This is so true of people today; they have fixed ideas and expectations and are often blind to the truth. (Think about the impact of conspiracy theorists and false news.) Spiritual darkness is all too present, only prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit can make an impact. We have to be a praying people as we engage with people we meet.
13/03 – John 9:1-17, is the start of the account of Jesus healing the man who had been blind from birth. Before, Jesus had been dealing with spiritual blindness; now we discover parallels in physical blindness and healing. In verse 4 Jesus says: “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Interesting that John writes ”we must’ do the works of him who sent me’. We could assume this is to include the Holy Spirit, but could it be a call to us? Jesus was sent by God and He says later in 14:12, “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these”. The other thing that is interesting is that this healing was incomplete until the blind man acted as instructed by Jesus. It was when he washed his eyes in the Pool of Siloam that he ‘came home seeing’. He could have ignored the instruction and stayed blind, but he listened and acted and was healed. How many times have we not acted when perhaps we felt instructed by Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, to do something? If Jesus’ statement in verse 4 is inclusive, it is an invitation by Jesus to be part of His ministry. Some would read that it was only when Jesus was in the world that He was the ‘light of the world’, but we know that through the resurrection and the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is still in the world and remains the ‘light of the world’. Many who did not know who Jesus was have encountered Him and come to believe in Him. So this reading challenges us to act by being part of God’s plan and by being active in whatever ministry God has given us, and we all have one, though sometimes that changes. May God guide us to do His work in the world and to embrace our ministry in His name trusting in Him, who is the ‘light of the world’.
12/03 – John 8:48-end is a continuation of the narrative about who Jesus is and His relationship with God the Father. In this Jesus really ups the stakes, he has already said: “If you were Abraham’s children, then you would do what Abraham did. As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me” (v39). Jesus has suggested that even their father Abraham would not accept what they are thinking of doing, so how can they call themselves ‘Abraham’s children’ or the ‘descendants of Abraham’ (v33). Finally Jesus evokes the story of the call of Moses in Exodus 3:14: “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” To the people around Jesus, who knew their scripture, Jesus saying “before Abraham was born, I am,” was the ultimate blasphemy, so no wonder “they picked up stones to stone him”. Jesus has pulled the rug out from under them and having removed the basis of their faith He positions Himself as being God – “I AM”. There is the stumbling block for so many, then and now. People are happy to believe that Jesus existed, that He was special, a great man and teacher, but God – that is a step too far for them. A lot of people believe in God but to place Jesus as an integral part of God is too difficult to comprehend. People accept that Jesus died on the cross, but believing He rose from the dead is a stretch too far for them. Perhaps spiritual blindness? We are tasked to somehow help people over, or through, these barriers. Challenging people to look at the questions they have and to seek answers is a good way, giving people books or DVDs that deal with those issues, such as ‘The case for Christ’ is one way. Let us equip ourselves to help people deal with the issues that act as road blocks to faith. May God help us discern the needs people have to come to know Jesus.