Saturday 29 April 2017

Luke 24

When this passage begins it is Easter Sunday and two followers of Jesus were walking along a road when they were joined by Jesus. They did not know who He was but they got into conversation, telling Jesus of events that had happened. Eventually they realised who He was, but Jesus suddenly disappeared. The two men made their way to Jerusalem and heard the Lord had arisen and they were able to tell of their experience.

The disciples were met behind locked doors for fear of being attacked when Jesus came in amongst them. The eleven men there were those who had shamelessly denied and fled from Him, denying they knew Him, yet Jesus was prepared to forgive them. This shows us that no one is too bad to be forgiven and offered salvation.

Jesus showed them His hands and feet to convince them of His real presence, and we know from John’s gospel that Thomas was not present and would not believe without proof. There are many people who just cannot accept that Jesus was physically resurrected, even some holding high office in the Church. Here we have testimony from men who lived with Jesus and gave us statements that Jesus was real, objective and physical, and we must be prepared to believe them over some academic sitting in a study somewhere, looking for some objection and probably the chance to make a (dubious) name for himself.

Those disciples were hard men, not likely to be deluded or kidded by an impostor. The Apostles Creed states ‘I believe in the resurrection of the body’ not ‘I believe in the resurrection of Jesus’. No one should recite the Creed if they cannot accept the physical resurrection.

An Anglican priest has no justification for doubting this. All ordained clergy swear to accept the Articles of the Church of England, one of which states’ Christ did surely rise again from the dead and took again his body with flesh bones and all things appertaining to the perfection of man‘s nature’. We are bound to honour this for the Bible expects us to believe in the solid, tangible resurrection. If we are going to be faithful to Jesus we must be prepared to believe He conquered death and as Lord of heaven and earth is One who can give life to the dead. It was long part of the plan of God that all that took place should have done so.

We are told that Jesus ate fish with them and instructed them in the Scriptures. He promises to send the Holy Spirit, but they are to stay in Jerusalem until they are filled with power. He then ascended back to His Father in heaven.

The fact that Jesus entered through locked doors indicates that His body must have been of a different kind to His earthly body. Paul in his Letter to the Corinthian Church explained this when he drew the analogy of a seed being planted to grow into a plant, and likens it to our one day being changed to a spiritual body. Paul went in to great detail to try and make this understood that our new bodies will be totally different to our old one.

An awesome duty has been placed on the Church to continue the mission Jesus gave to those first Apostles that they were to take the gospel to all people. Jesus wanted us to tell that forgiveness is real and available to those who will accept Him as Saviour. Most people of course will never confess to being a sinner they are confident in the misplaced belief that as long as they help others, and are honest and kind they have a ready made passport to heaven.

The Church has too often not lived up to our Lord’s expectations. The doctrine of heaven and hell is widely rejected as being positively unacceptable, with claims actually being made that all will be in heaven when they die. It is accepted that men like Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein etc, may not, but it cannot be told what will happen to them or where they will end up. The purpose of the Church is to proclaim the teachings of Jesus Christ, this is given in all four gospels, and if the Church does not rest on Scripture it has no function in life, and any such Church should be avoided.

Saturday 22 April 2017

The Gospel passage for this Sunday comes from John’s gospel in Chapter 20, and is the story of Jesus appearance to His Apostles in the Upper Room on the evening of the first Easter Sunday.

The Apostles were in the Upper Room, terrified in fear for their lives. This was because rumours had been spread around Jerusalem that they must have stolen the body and they feared the authorities might take action against them. The doors were firmly shut yet Jesus appeared in the room to their amazement, but also joy. This suggests that His body was a supernatural body, and so if we are to be like Him in heaven, our future bodies will also be supernatural. Jesus was giving a demonstration in confirmation He was alive. This was no animation of a corpse; it was Jesus in a new form of being which could pass through doors.

You can imagine the reaction of the Apostles who must have thought they were hallucinating, for most people do at some time have visions, especially if you are longing for someone whom you never expected to see. The Apostles were delighted to see the Lord however.

Jesus greeted them with the traditional Jewish greeting Shalom, words which mean not only ‘peace be with you’, but every kind of blessing. He then showed them His hands and side to prove that it was the same Jesus they had known when they were with Him, but by showing His wounds it verified that this was the Jesus who had been on the Cross and was now an alive person

Then Jesus gave them command saying, just as God had sent Him He was now sending them out to preach the gospel in His name. This is essentially and fundamentally what the Church should and must be doing, preaching the gospel that He left us and abandoning all the modern fancy ideas aimed at pleasing society. We don’t go out saying the Bible says…,but, I’ve got a better idea, we go in His name saying what He said.

Jesus then when parting He again said ‘peace be with you’ as a form of good-bye, and then breathed on them. At His baptism the Holy Spirit was poured out on Jesus, and He now tells the Apostles as God had given Him the Holy Spirit, He (Jesus) was giving them the power of the Holy Spirit to go out and tell the world about His offer of eternal salvation, for all who accepted and believed in Him. If anyone did not, they were condemned eternally.

Jesus has passed on this mission to the Church all down the ages to go out and speak for His message, so that when people hear that message from us, they are indirectly hearing the words of our Lord.

Jesus also said He was giving them the Holy Spirit in which they could forgive people’s sins, or if necessary to refuse to do so. It is from this passage that the Churches of Catholic persuasion, Roman or Anglican, claim authority to pronounce absolution. This is contrary to Scripture which teaches that only God can give forgiveness, and there is nothing in the Bible that I can find which supports priestly absolution.

Every Christian can seek forgiveness from God directly, but if we are considering wanting to make a confession of sins and seeking assurance, then for good order and discipline one could reasonably state a priest is the person to approach rather than just any member of the Church. I have known instances where people have met for study groups and during the meeting been invited and encouraged to speak out on personal troubles, which is quite seriously unwise as there is no moral demands on friends to keep confidentiality. There is no doubt that by talking out a worrying matter, it can ease one’s mind, but a priest (or ordained minister) is the one who should be approached, bound as he is not to reveal any confidence.

What Jesus is meaning is that when the Apostles were convinced a person had truly repented of their sins and accepted Jesus as Saviour, they could be assured God had forgiven them; but if as on a later occasion when Peter was not assured of a person’s sincerity, they could not be given assurance of forgiveness.

The Church has to a large degree lost its purpose for being; we are here to preach the gospel, but there is a greater desire in many places to be more busy in social activities as well as political. Bishops were very active in advising how to vote in the Brexit referendum, and some are now participating with advice how to vote in the coming election. If they were as active in advising how to fill the Churches, which are emptying at an alarming rate, they would be fulfilling their proper day job.

God wants us to be out into the world doing what Jesus did. At His baptism, God sent the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove on to Jesus so that He could go in the name of God and make disciples. Now Jesus is sending us out in the power of the Holy Spirit to be His hands and feet and voice.

This chapter will not be fully explained in some Churches today as there will be a problem, namely that there are clergy who do not believe in the physical resurrection. A man who had challenged the resurrection was some years ago, being consecrated into his Office as a Bishop in York Minster. Later the same night a bolt of lightning struck and blew out the rose window of the Cathedral.. When this was suggested to be God venting His anger, that was mocked and ridiculed by the liberal establishment, yet there was no such experience in any other part of the city.

You are holding the Annual General Meeting here this morning and a principal stated function of the Parish Church Council is to promote mission in the parish. Without a fixed spiritual leader this is a difficult task, but we hope it will soon be resolved and the function can be exercised. One essential for every Church I have always believed is to emulate business. Firms spend millions on advertising their product; we are in the Lord’s business and have what no other business can offer.

At this first meeting of Jesus with the Apostles, Thomas was not present but he was told by the other Apostles what had taken place, and Thomas being known for his scepticism refused to believe them. He stated he would never believe they had seen Jesus unless he placed his hand and finger in the wounds. Thomas was just and ordinary bloke who didn’t know the full story and wanted proof. A week later however he is back with them in the Upper Room when Jesus again appears and Thomas realises his lack of faith and makes the confession with the deeply committed words, ‘my Lord and my God’. AND he never did put his hand or finger near Jesus’ wounds.

Jesus then said words which resonate powerfully today. ‘Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.’ . People now will say about a passage you can’t expect me to believe that, it is now 2017. Yet they will believe many things even harder to understand. If I press 13 buttons on my mobile phone I will within seconds speak to my son in China, the words flying across thousands of miles across millions of other messages being transmitted. Explain that. You drink white milk taken from a black cow which eats green grass without working it out. Why do people limit the power of God? But they do.

We must not criticise Thomas, it must have been hard to believe that someone so cruelly put to death should appear alive, it was a unique act in all history and people do have imaginary visions. How many times have you heard people telling of having seen tears fall from a statue, or of people being touched on the forehead and then falling to the floor in convulsions at some charismatic meeting?

Jesus wanted to show the Apostles, and by extension to Christians through the ages, that His was a tangible bodily resurrection, and there was much evidence to prove so. The resurrection has been attested to by witnesses both inside and out of the Church. It has never been doubted there was an empty tomb, so where did the body go. Would men risk their lives without confidence and personal experience?

Of course the liberal lobby in the Church today would prefer to go with the doubters and suggest it was a theoretical and spiritual resurrection rather than a physical one. The Bible, God’s divinely given Word, is sadly challenged too often. Is God not to be trusted?

Far too many submit to the universal belief that all will go to heaven so we don’t need to believe Jesus died just to save those who accept Him as Saviour. God however allows us all free choice, but we will have to live with the choice we make, and one day those who doubt that a personal commitment to accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour is necessary, will have a consequence too awful to contemplate.

John ends his chapter telling there were so many other stories he could have told about Jesus and His life and works, but he has obviously selected those with the greatest spiritual significance and for the prime purpose that all who read his gospel may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.

When you receive Communion this Sunday you are part of a tradition which has been passed down from that Upper Room. Many people have tried, and are now trying harder than ever to take Christianity out of public life, but while empires have come and gone, the Christian Church has survived, and millions and millions of people have found their lives enriched by their faith, and the words of Jesus are still relevant, ‘the gates of hell will not prevail against it’. There may be resistance in this ands other Western nations, but in Africa, China and beyond there is massive turning to the Lord Jesus.

Sunday 16 April 2017

The Reverend Eric

Easter Day

This Sunday we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus as countless millions have done so over the centuries, but we face a battle to proclaim our message as secular extremists try to create a spiritual vacuum. Our message is that Jesus Christ is the One who died on a Cross for the forgiveness of our sins and rose again on the third day. That is unique feat which no other religion can match.

The story begins with Mary Magdelene, the one who loved Jesus dearly because of the help He had given her, being last at the Cross and first at the tomb crying bitterly. She ran for Peter who with John ran to the tomb, and John being the younger got their first, but he let Peter enter the tomb being the stronger character. They realised Jesus must have risen as He had foretold, for there were no clothes present.

We notice here two believers, one gentle and reserved as John, whilst Peter was always more impulsive and decisive, each revealing their devotion in different ways. There is room for all characters in the Church. The men left the scene, but Mary stayed and was rewarded when she became the first person to meet the risen Lord. Jesus spoke one word to her and she flung herself at His feet. He told her to go and tell the disciples what she had found.

This is what Easter is all about, the real spiritual message that Jesus rose from the dead, not the money making enterprise it has become. Easter is celebrated to remind us that when our days on this earth are over we have the assurance we shall live with our Lord if we have accepted Him as Saviour. The resurrection is the foundation of Christianity.

Whilst there is much about our faith that is respected by people who are not practising Christians, such as being forgiven of sin, hearing that God is love (very popular), but they think that is a free for all without any commitment. They will come to Church for a baptism and make all sorts of promises simply because it is a necessary requirement, but they don’t take things seriously or literally. Things are not made any easier by the irresponsible liberals within the Church who themselves question much of the faith.

If someone had said a hundred years ago that we could sit in our homes and by watching a box in the corner of the room show events then happening on the other side of the world; or that by taking a small handset pressing a few buttons you could speak to someone in any part of the world they would have been deemed to be insane. Yet it happens every day man made, and we still question what the Almighty God can achieve.

If Easter had not happened; if Jesus had not been raised from the dead, then we have no faith. Christianity rises and falls on the resurrection of Jesus. This has been proclaimed down the ages and if not true, the Bible writers would have lied and millions of people would have made great sacrifices in the cause of the faith in vain. Why would educated men like Paul, and down to earth fishermen lie when they had nothing to gain by doing so? Paul had a brilliant mind, one of the finest minds of his day and was a determined opponent of Christianity, yet God convinced him and in consequence Paul suffered very much for the sake of the gospel.

If Jesus had not been raised there would be nor forgiveness, we would have no future, but the evidence is overwhelming in favour. First century witnesses and documents tell. We have testimony from men present at that time that the resurrection of Jesus was real, objective and physical, This is what the Church has always believed in over two thousand years of Christina witness that has sustained the hearts of millions.

The Apostles Creed does not say I believe in the forgiveness of sins and the spiritual resurrection of Jesus, it says I believed in the resurrection of the body. When liberals challenge this they do so in spite of all the evidence.

After the resurrection we find the Apostles preaching openly and fearlessly, and suffering violently for doing so. Men do not invent stories to be put in prison and get beaten up, or hung on a cross like Peter.

Through centuries that have followed, brilliant men and women have experienced the same fellowship and power in their lives, in addition to peace of mind. They were not simple minded people but some of the greatest scholars of their day.

Thank God there was an empty tomb for it proclaims that death is the door to eternal life. Let us always remember that Jesus never changes, He is the same yesterday to today for ever, and will take care of all who believe and put their trust in Him.

May you have a happy and blessed Easter

Friday 7 April 2017

Sunday is Palm Sunday the beginning of the most holy week in the Church’s calendar. All four gospel writers tell the story of that first momentous week,the Lectionary selects Matthew's version this year, but I prefer Mark. Let us turn to Mark in Chapter 11.

The Chapter opens where Jesus is about to make the final stage of His life’s journey which will end at the Cross, and He plans it with great detail, sending two of His Apostles to arrange for the donkey on which He will ride into Jerusalem. In the course of the next few days He would celebrate the Last Supper with His Apostles, see one of them betray Him, face a mock trial and be sentenced to death, led to the Cross and crucified.

During His earthly ministry Jesus sought to withdraw from public attention and did what He had to do quietly, often asking people He helped not to tell; now He is deliberately seeking attention as He rides into the city at the greatest public festival of the Jewish year to proclaim Himself to be the Messiah. This was the feast of the Passover, so revered as a memory of when God led the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt, and when most people would be in the city. Jesus will fulfil the purpose for which He came when He will surrender His life in order that we may have eternal life.

His works had become well known and the crowds greeted Him with shouts of Hosanna, which means ‘save us’, seeing Him as the one who would lead them to glory in world conquest. When they realised this was not His mission, the same crowds would later in the week shout’ ‘crucify Him’.

As with every Bible passage there is a meaning and a message for us to-day. Just as the Jews then rejected Jesus, so do so many people now. But God allows us free will to make a decision to be with Jesus or not. Even those who claim to be Christians can be lukewarm and allow their commitment to grow cold. It is not enough to pay the odd visit to nod to the Almighty at Christmas, Easter or to a baptism service. Everyone has to take responsibility for the way they respond to the Lord.

There is an American story about a young man who painted a portrait of his friend shortly before the friend died. The young man took the portrait to his friend’s father, a rich man, who offered him a huge sum of money, which the young man refused. Some time later the father died and all his priceless possessions were auctioned. The first item up for auction was the portrait, which no one showed any interest in except the father’s old black servant. He offered a few dollars, all he had, and got the painting. The auctioneer to everyone's surprise closed the auction. The father’s will said ‘he who accepts the son has everything’. We can reject the Son as they did at Jerusalem all those years ago and in doing so reject our eternal future with Him in heaven.

I read a story of a Minister counselling a couple with married difficulties. At one point the husband said in anger to his wife, ‘I have given you a new home, new car , …and so the list went on.’ The wife answered, ‘yes that is true, you have given me everything but yourself.’ The greatest gift you can give for another is yourself, and that is what Jesus did, gave Himself.

The action of our Lord demands a response, and we all need to ask ourselves if we stood before the Lord today and we were asked why we should be allowed into heaven, what would we say. It is easy to say I am a Christian, 95% of the population believe as long as you are honest, kind and helpful to others you have a passport to heaven. It can be very hard to be a Christian when so many organisations, government and public busybodies try to suppress your faith under pain of some sanction. How Jesus would weep over society today as He wept over Jerusalem. Jesus Christ lovingly and finally kept God’s law and voluntarily paid sin’s price at Calvary, and He did it for you and for me.

A famous actor attended a meeting and was asked to recite a piece of literary art. He offered to say the 23rd Psalm if an elderly preacher present would do so after he had finished. The actor recited the psalm with much dramatic emphasis, as you see those actors doing so on religious programmes on television. The preacher then recited in a rough broken voice and when he had finished received prolonged applause. When someone asked the actor why he thought that was so, the actor said, ‘I know the psalm, he knew the shepherd’. Do you know the shepherd ?

For so many people the Cross has little relevance beyond being a fashion accessory. They may make an odd mistake, but at heart are good and to suggest they are sinful and need forgiving is a step too far. The message of the cross is that we must humble ourselves and surrender to God which is an affront to many people.

There is a little limerick which reads
Next time I pass my Parish Church
I'll pay a little visit.
So when at last I'm carried in,
The Lord won't say who is it?

We learn from this account of history that we have to do more than just pay a passing visit. When we appear before Christ on the last day He will not ask if we had occasional thoughts about Him. The question will be, did we accept Him as our Lord and Saviour.