Jesus Helps Us to Judge by True Standards

A few weeks ago, I was heading home after the Sunday worship service here at WGLC, and since I park on the east side of our building, I drove through parking lot of the mechanic shop next door and I was going to turn right from there on to 88th Avenue. The traffic was very busy at that time, so I checked both ways for pedestrians, and then I looked to my left and waited, and waited and waited. Finally, there was a break in the traffic and I let my foot off the brake and began to accelerate. My eyes scanned back to the right so I could make my turn and that is when I saw the skateboarder who was about to pass in front of me. Fortunately, this skateboarder was very capable. He saw me begin to move and abruptly stopped, and danger was averted.

When I reflected on what almost happened, I realized that I believed an assumption that was not true. The view to the right is obstructed on that driveway, and I had assumed that no pedestrian could cover the distance on the sidewalk that I could see in the time that I had been waiting. I had never even considered the possibility of a skateboarder being on the sidewalk. A skateboarder could cover that distance in the fraction of the time someone walking would take. Because of my assumption, I was blind to how things really were and I did something that almost resulted in tragedy. That tragedy was averted, but my assumptions needed to change or, in time, the same thing would happen again, and next time the outcome might not be as fortunate.

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Photo by Raquel Martínez on Unsplash

Being willing to change our assumptions and beliefs is daunting because it is very hard work, and there are a couple of reasons why that is so. First, it often means uncovering things that we didn’t even know we believed, and those things do not tend to get uncovered unless there is some kind of pain or conflict in our life that draws our attention to it. Second, changing our assumptions and beliefs is hard because it means letting go of something that we have held on to for a long time, and that does not feel safe to us. But if we don’t do the hard work of examining our assumptions and beliefs and changing those that need to be changed, we will continually misjudge the situations we face, make bad decisions and, sometimes, that will result in disastrous consequences.

God wants something more for us than the life that we are now living. God wants us to see things how they really are so that we can make good decisions that not only help us to thrive at life, but also help others to thrive at life too.

Today we are going to be looking another story from the life of Jesus. But before we do that, we need pause for a moment and reflect on the word “judge” because it is a word that shows up in the reading that we are going to be looking at.

Decades ago, if you asked people which is the most recognizable verse from the Bible, the answer likely would have been John 3:16:  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Today, the verse that people are most likely to recognize as coming from the Bible is Matthew 7:1, where Jesus says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” No one likes to be judged, but people use this verse to say, “I can do whatever I want and you have no right to say anything about it.” But is that what Jesus really meant when He said this? Because in the passage we are going to look at in a few moments, in John 7, Jesus says something different about judging. He says, “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” (John 7:24) So in John 7 Jesus is telling us to judge and in Matthew 7 He is telling us not to judge. How are we supposed to understand what Jesus is telling us?

The first thing that we need to clarify is that there is both a broad and a narrow definition for the word “judge.” In the broad sense, all of us judge all the time. As we go through the day, on a moment-by-moment basis, all of us are assessing the situations we face and then we make decisions about how to respond to those situations based on our assessment. That’s what judging means in the broad sense.

But judging is also used in a narrow sense, such as when a judge finds someone guilty of a crime and sentences them to time in jail. Judging in the narrow sense has a connotation of condemnation.

So let’s turn to Matthew, chapter 7, verses 1 to 5. Here Jesus says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Mt. 7:1-5) Jesus is speaking about judging in the narrow sense, in the sense of condemning someone. When Jesus says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” what He is effectively saying is this: Do not put yourself above someone else and pretend that you know all that there is to know about them or that you know what their eternal destiny will be. When you do that, you are putting yourself in the place of God. God is the only One who knows all that there is to know about a person. God is the only One who will decide what a person’s eternal destiny will be. Let Me help you deal with the issues in your own life first, and then together we can help that other person deal with the issues in their life. But don’t put yourself above other people and don’t pretend that you are God.”

Now we turn to John 7:1-27 and we see in this passage that Jesus is in conflict with a group of Jews called the Pharisees. The Pharisees are often mentioned in the Bible as being opposed to Jesus, but there were many good things about them. They were upright, moral people. They believed many of the same things that Christians back then and today believe. The Pharisees believed that all of the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, was from God and was important to know and to follow. They believed that God will raise people from the dead on the Last Day, and they also believed in angels and other spirits.

But where the Pharisees and Jesus came into conflict was over the issue of how God saves people. The Pharisees believed and taught that only people who kept all of God’s commandments, not only those commandments that were written down in the Old Testament, but also of the laws that were passed down in the oral tradition, only if you kept all of the laws from God would be saved by Him. Jesus believed and taught something that was quite different. Jesus believed and taught that salvation was a gift from God, given through faith to everyone who believes in Jesus.

Even though many of the Pharisees opposed Jesus and some of them wanted to kill Him, Jesus still loved the Pharisees and He still reached out to them. Jesus knew that this was more than a difference of opinion about a theological issue. Jesus knew that because the Pharisees were focused on external obedience, they were blind to the more important issues that were prominent in people’s lives beneath the surface. Therefore, they were continually misjudging situations and making bad decisions. Jesus’ words to the Pharisees are words of love as He refers to judging in the sense of making decisions in everyday life and says, “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (John 7:24).

The event that started this conflict was when Jesus healed a man at the Pool of Bethesda. John records that event in chapter 5 of his biography of Jesus. The Pharisees considered healing to be work, so for them the most important thing in that situation, when Jesus encountered this man who had been ill for 38 years, would be for Jesus to keep the law and not heal the man on that day, which was the Sabbath, the Jewish holy day. Jesus was sent to seek and to save that which is lost (see Luke 19:10) and that included this sick man. For Jesus, the most important thing in that moment was to love this man into the family of God, and that is exactly what Jesus did by healing him.

Jesus knows that every human heart is broken in some way, Jesus knows that all our human natures are twisted and for us to try to keep God’s laws perfectly in an impossible task. It only crushes us when we try. Our external obedience is not what Jesus looks at, Jesus looks at the human heart. Because of the great darkness that He sees inside of each and every one of us, Jesus, the Son of God, became fully human so that He could take all of that darkness away from us and give us His light, His forgiveness, His place in God’s family, and His love. And this is only the first step in God’s two-part gift, because a day is coming when Jesus will come back to this world and make the salvation that He has already given us fully complete. Now we live in a broken and hurting world and our bodies age, break down and eventually die. Then we will live in a renewed and restored earth that is reconnected with heaven and we will have bodies that will never grow old, never get sick and never die. We are going back to the garden and this time we will have free and open access to the tree of life that stands at the centre of the garden.

Jesus loves you and accepts you unconditionally. You are a beloved, forgiven child of God. You have eternal life with Jesus and the Holy Spirit dwells within you. Your body is His temple. All of this is a totally free gift from God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Dear friends, I encourage you to fully open the gift of life that Jesus has given to you and live it to the fullest. What do I mean by that? There is a temptation to think that because Jesus has forgiven us, it is okay for us to keep judging things, that is, to keep using our old assumptions and beliefs to make decisions, just as we were doing before. But if we keep doing that we will always be misjudging situations, we will always be making bad decisions and we will never be able to live the rich, full, abundant life that Jesus wants to give us.

Imagine for a moment, that you are in a conflict with someone else. I am asking you to think of a conflict because it is when we are in conflict that our true beliefs and assumptions rise to the surface. When you are in a conflict, what is the most important thing for you? If you are like me, when I get in a conflict the most important thing that rises up within me is for me to be right. When I let that be the most important thing in my life in that moment, I will sacrifice everything else in order to make that happen. Now here is another question: When I do that, when I allow me being right to be the most important thing in the middle of a conflict, who am I being most like, Jesus or the Pharisees?

I am being like a Pharisee.

Jesus is calling us to suppress and shed our old Pharisee ways and embrace loving other people closer to Jesus at the most important thing in our lives. It doesn’t mean that we won’t have conflicts, but it will change our conflicts into opportunities to love other people closer to Jesus. We still speak truth, but we speak it with a different motivation because we want the person with whom we are in conflict to grow closer to Jesus, and we do it in a different way because we love them, and we speak the truth with love.

This is why Jesus called all people in the Christian Church to love one another. It is not easy to love someone when you know some of their faults and foibles, or when you have been hurt by something they said or did to you, or by something they said about you to others. But God uses that hard work of loving our sisters and brothers in Christ to help us examine our inner beliefs and assumptions and change them. It is through the hard work of loving our fellow sinners in the Church that we grow to become more loving people. And prepares us for the even greater task Jesus has for us of loving the world. We are part of the Body of Christ in the world, and it is through us that Jesus will share His saving love with the world. When loving other people closer to Jesus is the most important thing to us deep down in our heart, then we will make much better decisions. Jesus helps us to judge by true standards. Amen.

(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church at Langley BC on May 6, 2018. It is based on John 7:1-27.)



Facing Offense: Let Jesus Be Your Source of Love, Strength & Truth

Years ago, when I was still farming, I accidentally hit my thumb with a hammer and the pain I felt was so excruciating that I was certain that I had broken my thumb. So, I went to the doctor to get it checked out. After looking at it, the doctor explained to me that my thumb was not broken and the pain I was experiencing was from the pressure of blood building up under my thumbnail. He told me that he was going to have to poke a hole in my thumb nail to relieve the pressure and that would ease the pain. I wasn’t sure if I really believed him, but by that point I was in so much pain, I was willing to try almost anything, so I said, “Ok.” What the doctor then did was get a bunsen burner, a plier and a paper clip, and after unfolding the paper clip slightly, he put it in the pliers and held the paper clip over the flame and heated it until it was red hot. Then he pressed down in the centre of my throbbing thumbnail with the point of the glowing paper clip and burned through the nail. After a few moments, that red hot paper clip burned all the way through my thumbnail. I jumped and gave a little yelp as the hot paper clip hit my tender flesh and blood spurted out of the hole. The doc was right. Immediately, I began to feel relief from the pain and eventually that thumb healed up just like it was before. And I would not have minded the whole process quite so much, but I’m pretty sure he let out a little chuckle when I jumped because of the pain of that paper clip.

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Photo by Ian Keefe on Unsplash

Sometimes, you have to say or do something that might cause another person pain before you can help them, like that doctor did for me. Another example of a situation like that is when a mother takes her child to a clinic for a vaccination. However, in adult to adult encounters, we don’t like doing anything that might cause someone pain and offend them. Now we should not be obnoxious, but this reluctance to offend results in us being relationally paralyzed because it is impossible for us to go through life without offending someone else. All of us are sinners, so we cannot avoid doing or saying something in the wrong way. It is part of the nature of communication that we cannot say or do things in a way that they will never be misunderstood. All of us are broken, so we cannot avoid reacting when our personal heart wounds are touched, not can we avoid touching someone else’s personal heart wound because we don’t know what they are. We are all individuals with our own personal thoughts, personality and experiences, so there will always be times when others disagree with us, even if what we are saying is true. You cannot avoid offending other people. When avoiding causing an offense becomes the main thing in our lives, we withdraw from social interactions and we guard what we say to limit the likelihood of that happening, but then we become less than our true selves when we do that and we are not really helping others in the process.

This reluctance to offend has also had a negative impact on our culture. Our culture has become more concerned about likes and dislikes than about truth. And when truth disappears, then next thing to go is compassion. Once I witnessed an accident where a motorcyclist was injured because he clipped the back corner of a car and the first reaction of the woman driving the car was to be offended because her car was scraped. We live in a culture where we greatly value the opposite of offending people, we want people to “like” us to the point where we will compromise moral, ethical or even legal boundaries to get the likes we seek. About ten days ago, an Australian judge sentenced a Canadian woman, Mélina Roberge, to eight years in jail for trying to smuggle 95 kilos of cocaine, worth about $20 million, into Australia on a cruise ship. Mélina and her partner in crime, Isabelle Lagacé, smuggled the drugs to finance their well-photographed trip to various exotic locations around the world. There was no concern about the impact those drugs would have on the people who used the. During her trial, Mélina told the court that the purpose of the trip was to gain more acceptance on social media. The judge, Catherine Traill said, “It is sad they seek to attain such a vacuous existence where how many likes they receive is their currency. She wanted to be the envy of others. I doubt she is now the envy of others.”

We and our culture are in trouble. Culture was given by God to humanity to help humans thrive in this world. But our culture’s aversion to offending people makes us unable to deal in truth. As a result, we are like a party boat floating down the Fraser River without an engine or a rudder. Everyone on the boat is partying up a storm while they slowly but surely drift out to sea.

But God wants something more for us and for our culture than the morass in which we now find ourselves. God knows that the way to change a culture is not by using political power from the top down. The way to change a culture is by changing one life at a time through a relationship with His Son, Jesus. God wants all people to thrive at life through a relationship with His Son Jesus, but for that to happen, people need to know the truth, even if it offends them.

So let’s take a look at our reading for some help on matters like this. If you have a Bible or Bible app on your phone, please turn to John 6:60-71. In this passage, Jesus finds Himself in a situation where what He has said has offended others, and let’s see how he handles the situation.

What caused the offence was something that Jesus said a little earlier when He told  people “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them to life on the last day” (John 6:54).

Now, there are two ways that someone can be offended: They can misunderstand and be offended, or they can understand correctly and be offended. At first, Jesus’ Jewish listeners misunderstood Him and were offended. They took Jesus’ words literally and thought that He was promoting cannibalism, something that would have been very offensive to Jews because of clear prohibitions in the Jewish faith against cannibalism and drinking blood. And we know that Jesus was not speaking literally because He said, The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe” (John 6:63-64). Jesus is telling His listeners that His words have spiritual significance that goes far beyond their literal meaning.

So what did Jesus mean when He said that unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood, we will not have life in ourselves? Why was what He told them so important that He was willing to take the risk of offending them? Jesus was telling the people that, in Him, God was doing something that He had never done before. God wrapped Himself in human flesh and blood and became a human being to save everyone from our headlong rush towards self-destruction. But as great and wonderful a gift as Jesus is, that gift means nothing if we don’t bring Jesus into our inner world and let Him reign there. Jesus’ words may have resulted in confusion at first, but then, even after He explained Himself and people understood what He said, people still were offended. In verse 66 we read, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” Jesus had gathered a crowd, but now the crowd betrayed Him.

Jesus then turned to His twelve closest disciples and asked, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (v. 67) Just because someone is close to you is no guarantee that they won’t be offended by something that you say or do. But Peter gets it. He knows the precariousness of human existence and he has munched on the Bread of Life, so he knows the gift of life that Jesus has given him.  Peter responds to Jesus’ question by saying, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (vv. 68-69)

Jesus accepts Peter’s answer, indicating its truthfulness. And why wouldn’t He, after all, Jesus had chosen these twelve followers Himself. But here is the key: Jesus chose these twelve followers and He invested His life in them, even though He knew that Judas would betray Him, Peter would deny Him and all of them would desert Him when the temple guards would come to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Jesus intentionally made Himself vulnerable to these broken, betraying people. Jesus was both secure in and motivated by the love that He shared with His heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit to speak the truth to those He loved even though it was likely to offend them. Standing on the truth, Jesus knew that He was the only way of salvation offered to the world by God, so He had to tell the people. Jesus also knew that offence is sometimes the necessary prequel to acceptance, that people often kick back against something that threatens to turn all that they have thought and believed in the past upside down before, with time and the Holy Spirit, it settles in their heart and they know it to be true.

Jesus made Himself vulnerable to broken, betraying people like us because of truth and love.  Jesus knows the truth about us but He loves us too much to leave us the way that we are. Jesus comes to us and tells us the truth about ourselves through the Bible. The truth is that there is brokenness, betrayal and darkness in our lives just like there was in the hearts of the first followers of Jesus. It is painful to hear that truth about ourselves, but that pain prepares us for the greater truth that Jesus also gives us. In Jesus, God’s love has wiped away all our sin, guilt and shame on the cross. With Jesus there is no barrier between us and God, no condemnation from God, only unconditional love and acceptance. You have a close, intimate relationship with God the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Live life in this world for any length of time and you will be sure to experience betrayal: a boyfriend who dumps you, a business partner who takes advantage of you on a deal, or a friend who shares a deep, dark secret that you have told to no one else. But there is one thing that will protect your heart from being torn in two when that betrayal comes. And that is to rest in the pure, faithful love of Jesus. Jesus knows and wants what is best for you, He will never let you down and you are forever safe with Him. And when your heart is resting in Jesus’ love and Jesus is living His life through you, then you will have the courage you need to love other people enough to tell them the truth, even if it offends them and they then decide to betray you. You will be sad about their departure, but it will not threaten you because you have all that you need in Jesus. You will be free, free to speak and live the truth with love for God and for the world.

Then we will be people that can make a lasting difference in this world. And as more and more and more people believe in Jesus, the culture we live in will be transformed as Jesus’ followers fulfill their role of being salt and light in this world. And it all starts with each of us letting Jesus be our source of love, strength and truth. Amen.

 (This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church on Langley BC on April 29, 2018. It is based on John 6:60-71.)


The Bread of Life: Who or What is Setting Your Thermostat?

We have several people living at home right now and sometimes that results in some challenges. One thing that sometimes causes problems between us is that there is a wide variety in how the heat is distributed in the different parts of our house. The master bedroom and one of our daughter’s bedrooms are located over the garage, so those rooms are often cold in the winter. However, while we are freezing, the boys’ bedroom downstairs gets so hot that they have trouble sleeping at night. So one of the things over which we sometimes have contention in our home is the thermostat. What is that thing going to be set at? Who is going to set it? Which room do we want to have at a comfortable temperature when we set that thermostat? These are all important questions in our home.

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Photo by Moja Msanii on Unsplash

Just like there is a thermostat for the furnace in a house, we could say that there is a thermostat for the human soul. For all of us there is something that adjusts the drive and direction of our lives. There is something that determines where we focus our lives, how much energy we burn and how much heat we produce. The question is: Who or what is setting the thermostat of your life?

Some people believe that we are driven by our appetites, that our inner desires that determine what we do and where we go. There is even something called Appetite Theory which some counselors use in their counseling practices. What they do is help people to understand what their appetites are and then guide them in ways to appropriately feed those appetites. The idea behind this theory is that we tend to be happier people when our appetites are satisfied.

The problem with this theory is that it fails to account for the fact that people hunger for something more than what the things of this life can satisfy. When God created us, He built eternity into the human heart, and though we try to fill our longings with things or people or experiences, we soon find ourselves hungry again. So we keep going back again and again to get food for our soul and we end up becoming addicted to gifts from God that He meant for good—things like food, medicine, technology or relationships. Our lives then become toxic because it is our addictions that are setting the thermostat of our lives.

But God wants something more for us than the life that we are now living. God wants us to thrive in life through a relationship with His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is who we really need for Jesus satisfies our hungry soul. In John 6, verse 51, Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If you eat this bread, you will live forever. The bread that I will give you is my flesh, which I give so that the world may live.” (John 6:51) So what does Jesus mean when He says “I am the living bread that came down from heaven?

The first thing that will help us to understand what Jesus is saying is to realize that God uses familiar necessities to teach us about eternal necessities. God uses the familiar, ordinary things that we need in everyday life—things like water, bread and breath—to show us the deep truths that are important for us in our forever life with God, which we have already started living.

When God does this, when He uses familiar necessities to teach us about eternal necessities, God is saying to us, “You know that you need these familiar things—you know that you need water, you know that you need food, you know that you need breath—but I’m trying to tell you that you are more than a physical body with appetites that need to be met for you to survive. You are an eternal being with a body and a soul and I created you for life with me. Your needs go much deeper than food, clothing and shelter. Your soul needs things that only I can give you.”

God continues, “When your soul hunger is satisfied by Me, everything will be different for you. For then you will be living life with a soul that is satisfied in Me, so you won’t be pulled in multiple directions by your unsatisfied hungers. You soul will be centred in Me, so you will have both roots to keep you anchored and direction to keep you on track when others try to lead you astray. You soul will have life in me, so you will be dependent on nothing, other than me. I am faithful and you can live your life in confidence knowing that I am always with you and you are forever safe with me.”

Though God communicates all these things through the word pictures that He uses like bread, water and breath, each of these metaphors communicate something slightly different. Breath can only come from a living being, so when God breathes the breath of life into the first human, He is giving him life from His own life (see Gen. 2:7). After Jesus rose from the dead, when He breathed on his followers and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22), Jesus was giving His followers supernatural life with the Holy Spirit from the supernatural life that He has in fellowship with the Holy Spirit. The use of breath shows us that we need life from the living God.

Water is a necessity that comes from the ground or from a flowing river. It is not something that we can create or produce. So when Jesus uses water to communicate about the gift of life He gives, He is emphasizing its mysterious supply. For example, He uses the word picture of an artesian well when He said to a Samaritan woman at a well, “The water that I will give them will become in them a spring which will provide them with life-giving water and give them eternal life.” (John 4:14) The use of water shows us that we need a continuous abundant supply of life within us from God, but how He does this is a mystery to us.

Bread is a different kind of necessity from breath or water, for it is the product of natural growth and some processing. Bread starts with a grain seed that is buried in the ground and then becomes a plentiful harvest of more grain. That grain is crushed so that its goodness can be released. The flour that is produced by crushing the grain is then cooked with an intense fire so that it becomes something altogether different, something more fragrant, nourishing and pleasing than it was before. The bread that results becomes a reliable source of life for others.

Jesus is the Bread of Life because He was crushed by the weight of the cross that He carried for us, but through that crushing cross, God’s life-giving salvation was released into all the world. Jesus is the Bread of Life because He was baked by the intense heat of suffering for the sins of the whole world, but through that suffering we get to enjoy the sumptuous flavour of God’s forgiveness. Jesus is the Bread of Life because He is both the Son of God from heaven and the seed, or descendant, of the first woman, Eve, and like a wheat seed, He was buried in the ground, but that has resulted in a bountiful harvest of people who have life because of Him.

There are things that we need that we can only get through Jesus, things like forgiveness, a new identity as a beloved, forgiven child of God, and unconditional love and acceptance. We need the meaning and purpose that comes from knowing that Jesus helps us to live a life that really matters, not only now but also for all eternity.  We need the sure and certain hope that comes from knowing that one day Jesus is going to come back to this world and make us and all things right and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. Our soul hungers for these things and Jesus is the Bread of Life that gives them all to us for free as we trust in Him.

With Jesus as the Bread of Life that nourishes our souls, we naturally let Him set the thermostat of our lives. With Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, we do not need anything else, so we naturally let Him determine the drive and direction of our lives. And with Jesus feeding the core of our being, He will produce light, heat and energy through our lives that will be far, far beyond anything that we could hope to generate on our own. As we rest in Jesus and He works in and through us, He will set the temperature of our lives at just the right setting to make an eternal difference in the lives of others.

Today, on this altar, the Bread of Life is with us. Jesus tells us that in this sacred meal of Holy Communion, He is present in the bread and the wine with His Body and Blood. Jesus wants to nourish you, encourage you and give you more new life through this special meal which we will soon enjoy. Jesus wants to feed your hungry soul. Amen.

(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on April 22, 2018. It is based on John 6:25-59.)





God Forms Us Into Special People

It’s been a tough nine days to be a human being. A week ago Friday, we began to hear reports of a serious bus crash in Eastern Saskatchewan involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team bus. Eventually we learned that there were 14 fatalities and a fifteenth member of the team died the next day. On Sunday a very emotional vigil was held at the Elgar Petersen Arena in Humboldt. On Monday morning, we heard the news that two hockey players had been mixed up and one player thought to be dead was alive and another declared alive was actually dead. Wednesday brought more sad news as team trainer, Dayna Brons, succumbed to her injuries. The funerals began on Thursday when broadcaster Tyler Bieber was laid to rest. Three were held on Friday, another three on Saturday, and there are more funerals to come.

The Humboldt Broncos bus crash has touched some people because of their connection to hockey and others because of their ties to Saskatchewan, but it has touched all of us because we are human. These were young people, healthy and vibrant, with so much more life that they could have lived.       What hope is there for the human race when life is abruptly cut short for so many who are young and strong? All of us know that life is not supposed to be like this, but reality has shown us that it is. We can hide in our comfortable homes, or bury our minds in our fancy phones, but we cannot escape the fact that we human beings are mortal. Death has been woven into the fabric of every human life since our first parents stepped out of God’s grand design and decided to try living life on their own terms.

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Photo by Jean-Pierre Brungs on Unsplash

But God has never given up on the human race and through the gift of His Son, Jesus, God has changed our destiny so that we are not condemned by our faults and failures, so that death is no longer the end of life, and so God’s plan to renew and restore this broken world can begin and then eventually reach fulfillment.

We can see evidence of God’s plan in chapter six of the Gospel of John. One thing that is important to remember about this chapter of this biography is that all the events recorded here take place with Passover in the background. John tells us in verse 4, “The Jewish Passover Festival was near.” Passover was one of three great Jewish festivals and 2,000 years ago, when the Jewish Temple still stood in Jerusalem, every Jewish male was required to travel to Jerusalem for each of these three annual festivals and worship at the Temple.

Passover was important because it commemorated what was, up to that point, God’s greatest act of salvation in all human history when He brought an estimated 2.4 million Israelite slaves out of Egypt. Now Egypt was a world super power at that time.  God did this act of salvation by bending nature to His will, in other words, He did miracles such as turning the Nile River to blood and causing plagues of frogs, gnats, flies and other things. What God was doing as He did this was showing everyone that the false gods and all the power and the glory of Egypt meant nothing in comparison to the one true God.

Then God showed that He has power over life by sending a final plague of death for every firstborn male in Egypt, including humans and livestock. But God also provided protection from the Angel of Death who would come to claim his own. Each family would choose a Passover Lamb that would give up its life and its blood and everyone who marked their doorframes with its blood would be safe. The Angel of Death would see the blood, pass over their homes and they would be set free from their bondage in Egypt.

Note that it didn’t matter what nationality you were, or how good, wealthy, powerful or good-looking you were. None of those things would save you then. None of those things will save you now. All that mattered centuries ago on that one special night was whether one heard God’s message and then believed Him when He said that the blood of a lamb would save them.

That very night, the Israelites marched out of Egypt and as they left, they asked for and were given gold, silver and other items of great value. A world super power was brought to its knees. In one night, Egypt lost her workforce and her wealth.

God’s miracles did not end with the departure from Egypt. That large group of people needed a lot of food to survive, so God did an amazing feeding miracle where He regularly supplied a special food called manna for forty years so that the people would have enough food to eat during their time in the desert.

God also did some amazing miracles that involved water. He parted the water of the Red Sea to provide an escape for the Israelites from the Egyptian army that was pursuing them. Then God allowed that water to return to its normal place and swept away the enemies of His people. God also provided water from a rock at Horeb (see Exodus 17) because there was no other water source nearby and you cannot have life in the desert without water. When the Israelites sojourn in the desert came to an end, God parted the waters of the Jordan River during flood season to allow all those people to come safely into the land that He had promised to give to them.

Through all these miracles that God did—saving people from death through the blood of a lamb, giving life through water that makes a way where there is no way, and feeding hungry souls with bread that came down from heaven—through all these things God was not patching up human existence so it could continue going forward as it always had in the past. God was doing something new. God describes what He is up to through the prophet Isaiah. Here is a portion of chapter 49 from the book of Isaiah from the Message:

“And now,” God says,
this God who took me in hand
from the moment of birth to be his servant,
To bring Jacob back home to him,
to set a reunion for Israel—
What an honor for me in God’s eyes!
That God should be my strength!
He says, “But that’s not a big enough job for my servant—
just to recover the tribes of Jacob,
merely to round up the strays of Israel.
I’m setting you up as a light for the nations
so that my salvation becomes global!” (vv. 5-6)

God also says:

“When the time’s ripe, I answer you.
When victory’s due, I help you.
I form you and use you
to reconnect the people with me,
To put the land in order,
to resettle families on the ruined properties. (v. 8)

God had chosen for Himself a very particular group of very ordinary people and He was using the feeding miracles, the water miracles and the lamb miracle to form them into a very special people who would then be a light to the whole world, so that everyone could know that God has written a new ending for human life and now, the final chapter opens us to reveal to us a new world in which everyone has healing and wholeness, a home and peace.

Then God placed His chosen people on the crossroads of the ancient world so that every polytheistic pagan world power that passed through the Promised Land would learn that there is one group of people who worshiped one God who offers hope and salvation for all.

As amazing as God’s salvation story is so far, it is only the prequel. Because God’s special people were the fertile ground from which God brought forth the One—the single, solitary person who do all that ancient Israel did and so much more. The miracles of the ancient past—the Lamb, the water and the bread—all point forward to the Special One that God promised, the Messiah. And this Messiah would also do miracles—miracles involving bread, water and a lamb—and the miracles that the Messiah would do would link to those in the ancient past and show that He is the ultimate light of the world who saves from death, gives freedom from bondage, and feeds and nourishes our hungry and thirsty souls.

The passage that we are looking at today is the water miracle of John 6. Just prior to this, Jesus proved that He was the Messiah by doing a feeding miracle when He fed 15,000 people with five small loaves of bread and two fish. Then Jesus sent His twelve closest followers home by boat across the Sea of Galilee while He went up into the hills to pray. He was probably exhausted by all that happened that day, and He was likely also dealing with personal grief over the recent news that His cousin, John the Baptist, had been beheaded by King Herod. Once again, evil had risen up in this broken world and had its own way. In times of grief, there is no better place to be than alone with our heavenly Father.

The Sea of Galilee is actually a lake and it is the lowest freshwater lake in the world. Set in the Rift Valley and surrounded by high hills, powerful windstorms can quickly develop over the lake and the disciples were caught in one of these windstorms after they left the shore. The lake is 23 km from north to south and 11 km from east to west, so when the disciples managed to travel 5 or 6 kms after several hours of hard rowing against the wind, they were in the middle of the lake where the wind would have been the strongest, the waves the highest and the water was the deepest.

Then they saw Jesus walking on the water coming toward them. As fearful as they were before because of the storm, they were more terrified now because seeing a ghost back then was thought to be a sign of impending doom, and that is what they thought they saw when they were looking at Jesus walking on the water in the middle of the storm.

But then Jesus calmed their fear-filled hearts with these words, “It’s me. It’s all right. Don’t be afraid.” Those words that have been translated as “It’s me” or “It is I” in some translations are the same words that God spoke to Moses from the burning bush when He told Moses His name. “I Am” was the way that God identified Himself, and it is fitting that “I am” should be God’s name because God is the source and sustainer of all existence.

So when Jesus said to His followers “It is I. Don’t be afraid” He was not only saying “It’s me.” He was also saying, “I’m God. You don’t have to be afraid when the storms of life threaten to overwhelm you. I am the Great I AM. I have the power to give life, I have the power to set free, I have the power to protect and provide, and you are forever safe with Me. You don’t have to worry when storms come upon you because I am always with you.”

Then and only then, were the disciples willing to invite Jesus into their boat. Sometimes we are just like those disciples. We have to be terrified before we invite Jesus into our lives or into the situation that we are facing.

Now I could end the sermon here and say, “Have a nice day!” But there is more to God’s salvation story. For each and every one of you is part of another group of ordinary people that God has gathered. And that group of people is called the Church.

God has saved you from death and set you free from bondage through the blood of another Lamb, the Lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the whole world. That Lamb of God is Jesus, who died on the cross to set us free from our bondage to sin. Jesus rose from the dead and He uses the water miracle of Holy Baptism to give you a new life with Him that will last forever. Jesus nourishes you in that new life through the feeding miracle of Holy Communion, a sacred meal in which Jesus gives us His Body and His blood along with the bread and the wine.

Imagine what it would be like if every person in the world knew Jesus as their Lord and Saviour and then, when tragedies like this happen everyone would have the sure and certain hope of resurrection life through Jesus! God has a plan for making that happen and that plan is you. Our heavenly Father is forming you into a special people called the Church so you can be a light for the whole world that points to Jesus and says, “Yes, there is pain and suffering and toil and death now. But there is a Lamb that protects from death, there is water that gives life and there is bread that satisfies when nothing else will.” Jesus has saved you for more than yourself. Jesus has saved you for the world. And you rest in Jesus and let Him live His life through you, you will become a mirror that reflects Jesus’ love into a broken and hurting world.

You and I are just like every other human being in the world, we live, we grieve, we suffer, and we die. But because of Jesus, we are also a special people, unlike others in the world. For we have hope in times like these and that makes all the difference. For we believe what is written in 1 Thessalonians 4:14, “Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.” Amen.

(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on April 15, 2018. It is based on John 6:16-24.)

A New King and a New Kingdom

Years ago, when I was in my Grade Twelve year, my Mom and Dad took me and my siblings to Disneyland. And one of the many things that I noticed there was that things were valued differently there. My prior experience with amusement rides had been in midways at exhibitions and in those places, you need to buy a bunch of tickets which you give to the ride attendant before you get on the ride. But at Disneyland, they have set things up so that you only need to pay one time at one place and that is when you go in through the front gates and then all the rides are free. So, among the seven of us in our family, only my Dad had any pain because he paid for us all to get into the park and the rest of us had no pain at all. And another way in which I noticed that things were valued differently was with the arcade games, for not only was it cheap to play on them, it only cost a dime, but the games were set up so that you could actually when at the games, and both of these are significantly different from how arcade games functioned outside of Disneyland at that time. Disneyland was a realm where things were valued differently than they were outside of that realm.

A realm is a certain area where a certain thing or person rules and/or sets the standard of how things are done. From the world of literature, we can say that, prior to a visit by two short people with hairy feet, Mordor was the realm where Sauron ruled. Sauron ruled over Mordor and set the tone for how things were done in that area. Another word for realm is “kingdom” but we don’t use that word much today, at least in the sense that it was meant many years ago.

But we do live in realms today. And we can say that in the realm in which we live, the way that things are valued is that more stuff in our hands is better. And in this realm, which we could call “the kingdom of the world,” there are three main kinds of stuff, which are money, power and attractiveness or good looks. And in this world, there are “haves” and “have nots.” There are those who have one or more of these three things and there are those who do not. Those who “have not” get beat up by the world’s way of valuing things and people. And even those who “have” according to the standards of the world will eventually lose by the world’s standards because as we get older, our good looks will deteriorate, our power will fade because we won’t be able to do the things that we used to do and our money will be taken away from us when we die, if not before.

Lion by Luke Tanis-454346-unsplash
Photo by Luke Tanis on Unsplash

When Jesus came into this world, He not only came to save us from our sins, which He did, He not only came to give us eternal life with Him, which He did, He also came to introduce a new reality, a new realm, a new kingdom into this world. And just as things are valued differently inside Disneyland than they are anywhere else, so also things are valued differently in Jesus’ kingdom than they are in the kingdom of this world. As was already mentioned, in the kingdom of the world, more stuff in our hands is better. In the kingdom of Jesus, more stuff in Jesus’ hands is better because small things in Jesus’ hands have infinite worth. Therefore, with Jesus as our King, we always have hope, whether we never had much, or we used to have lots, but lost it, we can be confident that our meagre possessions, our unimpressive abilities and even our ordinary lives, such as they are, all have infinite worth in the hands of Jesus. And what makes this even more extraordinary is that Jesus can use the small things that we give Him to create immense blessings for others.

We turn now to John 6:1-15 and look at an event that is often called the Feeding of the 5,000. The first thing that we notice is that there is a Crowd. In John 6:2 we read “and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick.” This large crowd had gathered because they had seen or heard about the miracles Jesus had done to heal the sick. John calls these miracles “signs” because through these miracles brought healing to people who needed healing, the main purpose of the miracles was to point to Jesus and show that He was Who He said He was, He had the authority to do what He was doing and teach what He was teaching, and to show that Jesus was ushering in a totally new reality, a new realm, in which “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Mt. 11:5). Now is there anybody who does not want to live in a kingdom like that?

If we turn to Mark’s account of the Feeding of the 5,000 in Mark 6, we see that Jesus began teaching them: “So he began teaching them many things” (Mk. 6:32b). And this is a pattern that we often see in the Gospel accounts where Jesus does miracles and then He teaches the people because Jesus wanted people to be deeply rooted in the new way of living that He was sharing with them.

Going back to John’s account, the second thing that we notice is that there is a Crisis: When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (John 6:5). This was a very large crowd. We are told that there was 5,000 men plus women and children, so there was probably about 15,000 people there that day. It was late in the day, about the time when people normally eat, so they are likely getting hungry. The crisis is about how to feed all these people.

And Jesus’ followers do what any of us would have done. They present solutions out of what they know, which is the kingdom of this world. This leads to a Clash of Kingdoms as solutions from two realms are presented. And the first “kingdom of this world” solution that Jesus’ followers present is to send the people away to get food. Mark describes this for us in Mark 6:35-36: “By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” And Jesus’ response to this proposed solution is “You give them something to eat” (v. 37).

Now Jesus is not being difficult or stubborn here. He realizes that this is a teachable moment and He wants to teach His disciples, and us, something that is very, very important. And what Jesus wants to teach us is that there is a difference between how things are done in Jesus’ kingdom and how they are done in the world. And Jesus wants us to know, and even trust, that things are valued differently in Jesus’ kingdom than they are in the kingdom of this world.

Jesus’ followers then offer a second “kingdom of this world” solution, which is raise money to buy food. Back in John’s account, we read, Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (John 6:7). Some translations translate the value mentioned in this passage as “two hundred silver coins” or “two hundred denarii.” Each of these coins would be a day’s wage, so we could say that is about $30,000 in today’s money and using that amount to try to feed 15,000 people would only enable you to get a small order of fries for each person and that would be if you were ordering from the $2 menu.  It would not be enough to satisfy their hunger.

Philip is implying, by the way that he presents his solution, that he doesn’t really believe that such a solution is possible. This is probably much more money than they have in the common purse that Jesus and His disciples shared and given the lateness of the day, there wasn’t enough time to raise more money to buy food. What Philip is really doing is protesting against Jesus’ suggestion that the disciples give the people something to eat. What we can learn from this is that the kingdom of this world does not really have solutions to the problems of this world.

It is only when the powerlessness of the kingdom of the world is made evident do people become open to Jesus’ kingdom. Now that His followers are open to a new possibility, Jesus presents a real solution to the crisis which comes from His kingdom. John describes the scene for us:  Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up,“Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” (John 6:8-9). Here we have an insignificant person. While children were valued in this culture, their contributions were not. You had to be an adult to make a contribution that counted for something in those days. We have insignificant resources, that is, the boy’s lunch of five small barley loaves and two fish. We have insignificant quality. It was only poor people in that culture that ate bread made from barley flour. The upper classes ate bread made from wheat flour. In the kingdom of this world, there was little value here. And yet, look what happens: Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). The Good Shepherd made the sheep lie down in green pastures.  Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.  When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. (John 6:10-13)

This is a feeding miracle like the miraculous supply of manna in the desert for the Israelites after they left Egypt several centuries before. God is telling the people that there is something special happening here with Jesus.

The baskets referred to here were containers that people in that time took with them on a journey to carry their food. A lunchbox or a backpack would be something similar today. The gathering of the unused food resulted in each of the disciples having their traveling food basket filled for their ongoing journey with Jesus. What Jesus did is bless an insignificant gift of insignificant quality from an insignificant person and use it to miraculously feed thousands of people and have enough extra food for the disciples to eat in the days ahead. This miracle was so significant to the early church that it is the only miracle besides the resurrection to be included in all four biographies of the life of Jesus. This means that there is something very important for us here.

And I think that the important thing in this passage for us today is this question:  Who is going to be your king? I don’t mean a king in the way that the people who ate that day meant it when they wanted to make Jesus a king by force. They didn’t really want Jesus to be their king. They only wanted His bread. All of us do this sometimes. We don’t really want Jesus to be our king, we only want the good stuff that Jesus can give us.

Consider one feature of how the Christian Church was described when it was brand new. Luke tells us in Acts 2:42, They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Now consider the Housing Crisis that exists in the Lower Mainland of BC. We have a large crowd of people living in the Lower Mainland, 2.5 million by some estimates. Housing values have risen so dramatically that there are two classes of people in the Lower Mainland. There are “haves,” those who purchased real estate 10 or more years ago, and the “have nots,” those who didn’t purchase real estate or only did so recently. Now consider this question: How are the younger generations going to afford to pay the cost of social programs for aging boomers like myself and also afford the cost of housing for themselves and the families that they will want to have? What kingdom are we going to trust in and rely upon as we seek to develop solutions to this crisis, the kingdom of the world or Jesus’ kingdom? Here is the thing that will happen whenever we face a crisis: it will expose the idols that we have in our hearts. I know that the attitudes that I have in my heart around this issue are exposing my idols because what I want is to hang onto all the value that I have in my home, so I can have all that I need for the rest of my life. But that attitude indicates that money is my god, not Jesus.

The kingdom of this world does not have solutions to the problems of this world. What this world needs is a new kingdom with a new King. It starts with you and me and it starts today. Jesus is inviting you to turn away from your idols, to lay down your desire for and your trust in the things of this world and trust in Him as your King above all else. He wants you to live in His kingdom where small things in His hands have infinite worth and Jesus uses us and our small things to bring immense blessings to others.

I can remember where I was on December 30, 1986, when I first heard the news of the bus crash of the Swift Current Broncos in which four hockey players were killed. And I think that all of us will all remember where we were when we heard the news about the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. The Swift Current crash was terrible. The Humboldt crash was far worse. Fifteen people have lost their lives and several others are in hospital with severe injuries. When a tragedy like this happens, it can seem overwhelming to us because there is nothing that we can do to bring back those people who have lost their lives.

But we are the Church and we actually believe that Jesus has the solutions to the problems of this world. We believe that small things in His hands have infinite worth and that Jesus uses us and our small things to create immense blessings for the people of the world. We believe that Jesus’ kingdom really exists and one day Jesus is going to bring His kingdom to fulfillment and, on that day, the blind will see, the lame will walk, the deaf will hear, and the dead will rise.

So, my encouragement to you is to be the Church, to reflect Jesus’ love into the world around you. And as you do that, you will give others hope. Amen.

(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on April 8, 2018. It is based on John 6:1-15.)

The Stone Has Been Rolled Away

When I was younger and living on the farm with my family of origin, picking rocks was one of my least favourite tasks on the farm.  Back then, the way that we picked rocks is by taking a tractor with a front-end loader out to the field. One person would drive the tractor while 2 or 3 others would walk and pick up rocks and throw them in the bucket. When the bucket was full, the pickers would rest while the person driving the tractor went and dumped the bucket on a rock pile. For some reason, it was often a hot and windy day when we picked rocks, so the dust would fall off the rocks, swirl around and get in your eyes as you picked the rocks and threw them into the bucket.

Empty Tomb B

But there was a reason why we picked rocks on the farm and this reason was that rocks could cause a lot of damage. We would use a machine called a swather to cut the crop and lay it in windrows to dry. There were cutter bars on those swathers and rocks would break the knives on those cutter bars so we would lose valuable time as we stopped in the middle of harvest to repair the broken knives.  But the worse thing that could happen would be for a rock to get into one of our combines.  Combines were the most expensive machine on the farm and if a rock every got inside a combine when we were picking up the swaths it could cause thousands of dollars of damage. But what was even worse was that the combine would out of commission for days or even weeks until repairs could be made. We only had a short season to gather our crop before winter came so the delay caused by damage from a rock could result in the loss of a year’s work. That’s why we picked those rocks.

We could think of our lives as being like a field and all of us have rocks in our field.  These rocks come in many different sizes and shapes but all of them can cause damage at the core of our being.  All of them can disrupt our lives and they all have the potential to destroy our lives and the heritage we leave behind for others.

Today I am inviting you to consider only one of these rocks, but it is perhaps the biggest and most destructive rock of all.  It is the rock of fear.

Fear is a powerful rock because it shows up in so many different situations.  And human beings are particularly susceptible to fear because we can imagine fear in the future and we can remember fear from the past. Animals only deal with fear when it rises up in the present, and then they either fight or flee, and then they rest after the danger passes. In contrast to animals, the life of a human being can be controlled by fears such as the fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of pain, or the fear of dying – just to name a few.

Maybe fear is a big rock in the field of your heart.  If that is the case for you, I want you to know that my goal is not to cause you more fear.  My goal is to point you to Jesus, who lived and died and rose from the dead to set you free from all your fears!  Jesus came to give you a rich, full abundant life.  So I pray that He will help you to have a few moments of insane courage to face your fears in the safety of His infinite and unconditional love for you.

To see how Jesus deals with the rocks of fear in our lives, the Bible passage that we are looking at on this Easter Sunday is found in Mark, chapter 16, starting with verse 1. And very quickly we encounter a large rock.  Back in first century Judah, the dead were washed, wrapped in linen, placed in tombs carved out of rock.  The Jews did not embalm their dead but they would wrap spices in the linen cloth and anoint the body with perfume as an act of love and devotion for the one who died.  After a year, the tomb would be re-opened and the bones, which would be all that was left after a hot, Middle Eastern summer, would be placed in a bone box and inserted into a niche carved in the wall of the tomb.  The bone boxes of several family members could be stored in the same tomb.

The entrance to the tomb would be sealed with a wheel-shaped rock that rolled in a channel carved in front of the tomb.  With tomb rocks, size mattered.  A poor family could only afford a small rock, while wealthy families usually had large, heavy rocks carved to seal off their tomb entrances.

Jesus was poor, without even a bed of His own on which to lay His head.  But after His horrific death on the cross, Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy follower of Jesus, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ bod.  Joseph took a great risk in doing so, because the bodies of executed criminals belonged to the Roman government.  Pilate agreed to Joseph’s request and Joseph not only saved Jesus’ body from the indignity of being thrown on the Jerusalem garbage dump, he and Nicodemus also bought about 75 lbs of myrrh and aloes (John 19:39) and lovingly wrapped them around their friend and Saviour.  Then the two men rolled the large, heavy stone down to its track and the entrance to the tomb was sealed.  That was Friday evening.

Now it was early Sunday morning and Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome were in a hurry.  They had bought more perfumes and ointments when the shops opened up after the Sabbath was over at sundown on Saturday. They wanted to get to the tomb as soon as they could to anoint Jesus’ body with their sweet-smelling gifts of love before decay made the task impossible.

But then they thought of the rock.  They asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” (v. 3)

Here’s the thing about our fears: They can be barriers between you and the ones you love. When our fears are in the driver’s seat of our lives they can drive us to do things that hurt the people we love, or they can put on the brakes and stop us from taking the risk of opening ourselves up more to the people around us.

The women need not have worried for God’s love had rolled the rock away.  You see, God’s perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18).  For us, there is no fear of punishment, for Jesus has taken all of the punishment for all our faults and failures upon Himself.  There is no fear of death because Jesus has defeated death for us.  There is no fear of rejection, because our Father in heaven unconditionally accepts us.  There is no fear of loneliness for Jesus has promised us that He will always be with us.  There is no fear of the unknown future because we know the God who holds the future, and we know that He loves us and only wants what is best for us.  There is no fear of pain because we know that we have a Saviour who suffers with us through our pain and, because of what Jesus has done and will do for us, we know that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  (Rom. 8:18). God’s love rolled the big stone away from the entrance of that tomb so we could look in and see what Jesus has done for us to defeat our fear.

Now you might be saying to yourself, “Those are nice sounding words, but I believe in Jesus and I still have fears.” And if that is what you are thinking, to you I say, “I agree. I also still have fears. Lots of them.” But there is a difference between feeling a fear and being controlled by a fear.  And the reason why our fears have so much power over us is because we believe that they will destroy us.

In her book, Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, Susan Jeffers writes that underneath all of our other fears is one great big fear that says:

If X happens, I will not be able to handle it.

Because we don’t believe that we will make it through such an event, we do everything in our power to prevent it from happening, and so our fears control us.  I realized years ago when I thought about my fears, one of my great big fears was that I could do everything within my power, and yet it was still possible that Susan, my wife, could fall out of love with me and leave me.  Now Susan was giving me no reason to fear such a fear.  But the big rock of fear in my heart was driving me to be more controlling in our relationship which would make her leaving me more likely to happen.

Only when I was honestly able, with God’s help, to say to myself that, if such a thing did happen, I know that Jesus would somehow get me through that, only then did my great big fear stop controlling me.  It was still there, but it was no longer driving the bus of my life. In other words, the remedy to our great big fears is faith.

So what is your great big fear?  What is the fear that lies underneath of all of your other fears?  Do you fear death, so you do all in your power to put if off?  Do you fear loneliness, so you cling incessantly to anyone who comes near you?  Do you fear rejection, so you do all you can to please the people around you?

Take courage from Jesus’ resurrection, and with His help identify the Great Big Fears in your life.  And then let Him help you to see that He will carry you through whatever situation you fear.

As we continue following the women to the tomb, we see that there is an ironic twist.  The history-altering event designed to drive away all human fear ends up causing more. As the women got closer to the tomb, they saw that the stone had been rolled away.

“As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.”  “Don’t be alarmed,” he said.  “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified.  He has risen!  He is not here.  See the place where they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee.  There you will see Him, just as He told you.’
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb.  They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”  (v. 5-8)

When Jesus rolls away the big fears that have been driving and destroying our lives, it is a fundamental change that can truly scare us.  It seems so new and foreign that it can actually feel unsafe to live without fear.  But that is exactly how Jesus is inviting you to live as He says, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in me.” (John 14:1 NKJV) Jesus is inviting you to live in freedom, and though that can be scary, I encourage you to ask Jesus to give you the courage to do it.

You might think that this freedom from fear may work for others, but not for you. I want to tell you that there is no one who is beyond God’s fear-conquering love.  When his fears drove Peter to deny that he even knew Jesus three times in Jesus’ time of greatest need, human logic says a proper response to such betrayal would be banishment.

But thankfully God’s logic doesn’t work like ours.  God’s love pursues Peter and he alone is given special mention by the angel in white.  It’s as if the angel is saying, “Make sure you tell Peter, I want Peter to know that Jesus has risen and there is nothing to fear.  Make sure that Peter knows this.”

Dear friends, maybe your fears have driven you to do things which you deeply regret and you feel far from God. I want you to know that Jesus has risen from the dead.  There is nothing to fear.  You can come home to God and He will welcome you with open arms.  The stone has been rolled away.

(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018. It is based on Mark 16:1-8.)

Our Place in God’s Story: Restoration

A week ago Wednesday, on March 14, I was getting ready to leave early the next morning to drive to Alberta, along with Susan and some of our children, for my nephew’s wedding. And one of the things that I really needed to do before I left was to deposit a cheque in the bank. So I tried to go onto the bank app that I usually use for such things and my password wouldn’t work, even after several tries. Then I tried to log on through my laptop, but that didn’t work and I got a message saying that I should phone a certain phone number. I checked online and saw that my local branch was still open, so I drove over there and arrived a few minutes before they were going to close. To my surprise, the teller could not even get into my account and he advised me to phone the Fraud Department of my bank. I tried doing that but they had closed for the day about 2 hours earlier.

Wedding by Irina Kostenich-555449-unsplash
Photo by Irina Kostenich on Unsplash

Then one of the customer service reps came out of her office and offered to help. She phoned the Fraud Department, but they did not answer her call either. She went online and was able to take a look around and see what was going on in my account and things looked normal. I was feeling somewhat anxious and confused. I was in a bit of a dilemma, but I did not know why.

Finally, after double-checking my ID and several other things, the Customer Service Rep said, “I am going to unlock your account. I have taken your deposits several times.” She knew me and she was both able and motivated to make things right for me, and so she did.

This is something that all of us need. All of need someone who knows us, and who is both able and motivated to make things right for us. Though most of us can perpetuate a façade of keeping things together, for all of us there is an undercurrent of brokenness beneath that façade. Deep down, at the centre of our being, though we try to hide it, all of us are broken people. And, in spite of our best efforts, that brokenness surfaces from time to time in unexpected ways.

Last Thursday morning, I was going for a run early in the morning when I encountered a young man wandering aimlessly in the middle of the street. I asked him if he was okay and he said, “Not really.” Then he told me that he thought that his girlfriend committed suicide the night before. She sent him a picture on her cut wrists on Instagram and ever since he was not able to get a hold of her. How does have any hope in the midst of a situation like that? Well, if you believe, like Stephen Hawking did, that the brain is a computer that will stop working when its components fail, and that there is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers, that such things are nothing more than a fairy story for people who are afraid of the dark, then there is no hope.

But God has given us a different story, a better story, which gives us hope regardless of the situations we find ourselves in. In God’s Great Story, He created everything good, so that all things functioned according to God’s design and in harmony with God and each other. Then all of Creation was corrupted when our first parents disobeyed God and we have been struggling with sin, death and brokenness ever since. But even in the darkest moment of human history, God gave a promise that He would send a Saviour that would redeem the world and restore all of creation to its original goodness in the end.

And today marks the beginning of Holy Week, that time when we remember Jesus’ triumphant journey into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, reflect on His journey to the cross for us on Good Friday, and then celebrate with exuberance Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday.

And the reason that we celebrate on Easter Sunday is not only because Jesus has won forgiveness for all our sins, which He has, and not only because Jesus has defeated death for us, which He has. The really big reason that we celebrate on Easter is because Jesus’ resurrection proves that God’s plan of restoring all of creation has already begun. By rising from the dead, Jesus has ushered in a new creation, a new dimension of reality, a new realm of being, which is permeating throughout the old creation like yeast permeates throughout a large bowl of dough, as one by one, people trust in this amazing Good News that Jesus is making us all and all things new.

When we trust that Jesus is our Saviour, He brings us into this new realm of being and makes us new creations on the inside, even though our outside is passing away. And we know that one day Jesus is going to back to this world to make us and all things right. That just as Jesus rose from the dead with His old physical body restored and renewed as a resurrection body that will last forever, so also Jesus will raise us from the dead one day and our old physical body will be restored and renewed as a resurrection body that will be good and whole and it will function as it should.  ‘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.” (Rev. 21:3-4)

The value of a great story does not depend on its ability to give hope. It depends on whether it is true or not. Of all the major faiths in the world, only Christianity rests entirely on whether a single event happened in history or not. That single event is the resurrection of Jesus. As the apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth:  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. (1 Cor. 15:17-18)

But we believe that God’s Grand Story is true and we believe it because we believe that the resurrection of Jesus actually happened. Earlier in his letter to the Church in Corinth, Paul wrote:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Cor. 15:3-8)

What Paul is saying to his readers is check this out for yourself. Ask some of the people who actually saw Jesus after He rose from the dead because many of them were still alive at the time Paul wrote this.

And I say the same thing to you: check things out for yourself. Of course, those original witnesses are no longer alive, but there are people in our own time who have done a rigorous investigation into the truth of whether Jesus’ resurrection happened or not. I am referring to people like Gary Habermas, who wrote the book “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus,” and Lee Strobel, who wrote “The Case for Christ.” Check things out for yourself and see what the evidence says. Then decide for yourself if you think that God’s Grand Story is true or not. And if you become part of God’s New Creation yeast that is infecting the dough of this dying world, then you will have hope, even in the midst of the most hopeless situations, because Jesus has promised us that He is making all things new. As Paul wrote in a later letter to the Corinthian Church: Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. (2 Cor. 4:16)

March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, was a day that was filled with reminders of God’s Restorative work. First, in the morning, through the waters of Holy Baptism, Jesus began His new creation work in my grand-niece, Stella. Then in the afternoon, my nephew, Travis, married his fiancé, Molly, in an old, country church that had not been used for many, many years. There was no heat and no power. But there was lots of people and lots of love. And something very special happened in that run down old building as a bride was united with her husband. It became a holy moment in a holy place, something that those of us who were present will likely never forget.

Today, Jesus has a holy moment in a holy place for you. He is the Lamb who was slain for the redemption and restoration of the whole world. He is inviting you to trust that He will carry you through whatever challenge you face and not only save you, but also restore you. Anywhere you are can be the holy place where this happens. Anytime can be the holy moment when your story is joined to God’s Great Story. God’s Story is a story of hope, not only for us but also for the whole world. As we rest in Jesus and let Him live His life through us, He will help us to bring that hope to the world around us. Amen.

(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on March 25, 2018. It is based on Revelation 21:1-8 & 22:1-7. For pictures of Molly and Travis’s wedding by Marsha Peacock Photography, click here.)