April 12th

EASTER

GOOD FRIDAY 10th April

‘You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5: 6-8).

Approach and Adoration

‘God our Father, today in remembrance and awe we tread the holy ground of Calvary: this place of abandonment that has become the scene of our adoration, this place of suffering that has become the source of our peace, this place of violence that has become the battlefield in which love is victorious.

Father it is with awe that we count again the cost of our salvation. Words cannot be found to utter our thanksgiving. Accept our silent adoration; in Jesus’ name.’

Hymn

 

1 My song is love unknown,
my saviour's love for me;
love to the loveless shown
that they might lovely be:
but who am I, that for my sake
my Lord should take frail flesh and die?

 

2 He came from heaven's throne
salvation to bestow;
but they refused, and none
the longed-for Christ would know:
this is my friend, my friend indeed,
who at my need his life did spend.

 

3 Sometimes they crowd his way
and his sweet praises sing,
resounding all the day
hosannas to their king:
then 'crucify' is all their breath,
and for his death they thirst and cry.

4 Why, what has my Lord done
to cause this rage and spite?
he made the lame to run,
and gave the blind their sight:
what injuries! yet these are why
the Lord most high so cruelly dies.

 

5 They rise and they must have
my dear Lord done away;
a murderer they save,
the prince of life they slay!
yet willingly, to shame he goes
that he his foes, from this, might free,

 

6 Here might I stay and sing
of him my soul adores;
never was love, dear King,
never was grief like yours!
this is my friend in whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.

 

 

In quiet reflection confess your own sins and the sins of the world, and wonder again at God’s love in Christ as you meditate on the words of the hymn above.

Sermon. ‘The Cross'

The Bible is rich in describing the many facets of The Cross. I want to explore two of these here.

The Cross speaks of our being justified before God. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 5:1 that ‘we have been justified’ through Christ’s death. Justification is a legal term. If you went to court and were acquitted, you were justified.

This image makes us realise that we are not right with God as we are.  We may follow the Government’s advice about social distancing and keep on the right side of the law. We consider ourselves to be good neighbours. We deliver food parcels or applaud those who do. These are of course good and right actions. But they do not make us right with God.

The Bible describes how God is holy. He is utterly pure in thought and word, free from any sin and evil. His very being is ‘the outshining and outpouring of purity, truth, righteousness, justice, goodness and every moral perfection’ (Bruce Milne). So men and women are separate from Him because of their sin. Our sin is not first against other people. Our sin is essentially an attitude of rebellion and hostility towards God. It is seen in Adam and Eve; a disobeying of Him and going our own way. That underlying attitude accounts for all the evil and wrong doing in the world, and leaves us all guilty before and separated from a holy God. God places his finger on the thoughts, intentions and imaginations of the heart and mind, and not simply on overt actions. See Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount’ (Matthew chapters 5-7).

The Lord instituted sacrifices in the Old Testament to overcome this separation. In so doing the people were dependent on Him for their cleansing, forgiveness and reconciliation with Him. The New Testament witness is that these sacrifices prefigured/anticipated the sacrifice made by Christ on the Cross in order to reconcile us to God. (Hebrews chapter 9 & 10:1-18)

Our plight is this: we are guilty and separated from God because of sin. However, we can be justified and therefore reconciled to Him through the cross:

Two people went through school and university together and developed a close friendship. Life went on and they went their different ways and lost contact. One went on to become a judge, while the other went down and down and ended up a criminal. One day the criminal appeared before the judge. He had committed a crime to which he pleaded guilty. The judge recognised his old friend, and faced a dilemma. He was a judge so he had to be just; he couldn’t let the man off. On the other hand, he didn’t want to punish the man, because he loved him. So he told his friend that he would fine him the correct penalty for the offence. That is justice. Then he came down from his position as judge and he wrote a cheque for the amount of the fine. He gave it to his friend, saying that he would pay the penalty for him. That is love.

That is an illustration of what God has done for us. We are guilty before Him. Justice demands we face his judgment, but in His love, God, in the person of his Son Jesus Christ, paid the penalty for us (Romans 3:26). So we now have a choice. Do we accept Christ’s death on the cross as the payment for our sins and so be justified before God, or, on the Day of Judgment, face God’s just judgment for our sins?

Today accept the cleansing, forgiveness and reconciliation He has provided for you through the Cross: ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes on him shall not perish but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16)

The Cross also shows us that God is involved with our suffering. This truth speaks powerfully into the present time where many are fearful about being infected by the coronavirus and know of others who have been.

When it comes to suffering God is not some impassive observer. Rather God was ‘in Christ reconciling the world to himself’ (2 Corinthians 5:19). Jesus death on the cross reconciles us to God yes, but it was God the Son who suffered so. God became one of us; he suffered in all the ways in which we suffer. He does not just know about suffering- he has suffered himself. We need to hear that when we question God in the face of our own suffering. The following is called ‘The Long Silence’ and illustrates the point well:

 

The Long Silence

At the end of time, billions of people were seated on a great plain before God's throne. Most shrank back from the brilliant light before them. But some groups near the front talked heatedly, not cringing with cringing shame - but with belligerence.

"Can God judge us? How can He know about suffering?" snapped a pert young brunette. She ripped open a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. "We endured terror ... beatings ... torture ... death!"
 
In another group a Negro boy lowered his collar. "What about this?" he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn. "Lynched, for no crime but being black!"

In another crowd there was a pregnant schoolgirl with sullen eyes: "Why should I suffer?" she murmured. "It wasn't my fault." Far out across the plain were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering He had permitted in His world.

How lucky God was to live in Heaven, where all was sweetness and light. Where there was no weeping or fear, no hunger or hatred. What did God know of all that man had been forced to endure in this world? For God leads a pretty sheltered life, they said.

So each of these groups sent forth their leader, chosen because he had suffered the most. A Jew, a Negro, a person from Hiroshima, a horribly deformed arthritic, a thalidomide child. In the centre of the vast plain, they consulted with each other. At last they were ready to present their case. It was rather clever.

Before God could be qualified to be their judge, He must endure what they had endured. Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth as a man.

Let him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted. Give him a work so difficult that even his family will think him out of his mind.

Let him be betrayed by his closest friends. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured.

At the last, let him see what it means to be terribly alone. Then let him die so there can be no doubt he died. Let there be a great host of witnesses to verify it.

As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the throng of people assembled. When the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence. No one uttered a word. No one moved.

For suddenly, all knew that God had already served His sentence.
Anon.

 

The realisation that God has suffered in Christ also encourages us to go to Him in our painful circumstance and pray, knowing he fully understands and is willing to help and strengthen us: ‘Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need’ (Hebrews 4:16). ‘Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you’ (1 Peter 5:7). Take time to do that now.

 

Easter Sunday 12th April

Today we celebrate the Lord’s resurrection from the dead.

 

 

Hymn.

See what a morning, gloriously bright,
With the dawning of hope in Jerusalem;
Folded the grave-clothes,
Tomb filled with light,
 

As the angels announce Christ is risen!
See God's salvation plan, wrought in love,

Borne in pain, paid in sacrifice,
Fulfilled in Christ, the Man, for He lives:
Christ is risen from the dead!
 

See Mary weeping, 'Where is He laid?'
As in sorrow she turns from the empty tomb;
Hears a voice speaking, calling her name;
It's the Master, the Lord raised to life again!
 

The voice that spans the years,
Speaking life, stirring hope,
Bringing peace to us,
Will sound till He appears,
For He lives, Christ is risen from the dead!

 

One with the Father, Ancient of Days,
Through the Spirit
Who clothes faith with certainty,
Honour and blessing, glory and praise
To the King crowned
With power and authority!
 

And we are raised with Him,
Death is dead, love has won,
Christ has conquered;
And we shall reign with Him,
For He lives, Christ is risen from the dead!

 

 

 

Prayer.

Lord Jesus, what have you not suffered? What have you not given for us? We can never comprehend you. But we can love you and wonder at the depth of the darkness which you entered on the cross, and the depth of the love which held you there.

But today we see clearly that death is swallowed up in victory. Lord Jesus Christ you are risen from the dead. And we are risen with you. Lord lead us this morning into a deepening appreciation of these truths. May our lives never deny this eternal life, this peace and hope and joy you bring- for you are risen and we are risen with you. Praise and glory to the God of life who is stronger than all kinds of death. Halleluiah. Amen.

 

Reading. John 20:1-18

Sermon. ‘From Despair to Hope’

I would like us to think this Easter morning about the wonderful revelation that was given to Mary Magdalene on the first Easter morning. Who was the first person Jesus appeared to after he was raised from the dead? One of the inner ring of his disciples, Peter, James or John? Or any one of the twelve? No, it was Mary Magdalene. Mary was the first person to see the risen Jesus. She was the first to hear his voice; the first to speak to him and be given a message to pass on to the others. In that culture a woman’s testimony was thought to be worthless, any evidence she might be able to bring to prove the truth of something was discounted. But Jesus chose to reveal himself to her first of all.

His disciples had abandoned Jesus, but Mary was still present at the Cross. Mary had watched Jesus die, felt the agony. Finally she followed his body to the tomb. Early on that first Easter morning, though burdened with grief, she showed great courage and determination, and set out for the garden.

But when Mary reached the tomb, she saw the stone had been removed. It seems she didn’t go into the tomb herself, instead she ran to tell Peter and John the disturbing news.

Peter and John hurried to the tomb. (3-9), they wished to see for themselves and looked inside….

A Sunday school teacher once asked the children in his class to bring plastic eggs on Easter Sunday, each one filled with something that symbolised the meaning of the resurrection. The day came, and the teacher took each child’s egg in turn, opening it and making a point of amplifying and reinforcing its message. One child had a tiny flower, and the teacher spoke of the new life that springs forth at Easter. Another egg contained a crayoned picture of Christ, and the teacher spoke of that. Another had a small nail, and the point was made about the nails of the cross. Another had a round pebble that represented the stone that had guarded the tomb. But the teacher was dumbfounded when he opened the egg of seven-year-old Brian, a mentally-challenged boy, and found nothing there. But not to worry, Brian himself spoke up and announced: “It’s full of emptiness- just like the tomb of Jesus”

When Peter and John looked inside the tomb they saw it was empty. That the tomb was empty is a major evidence for the truth of the resurrection. The preaching and rapid growth of the early Church are unexplainable apart from an empty tomb.

Could the body have been stolen? There was no opportunity for the body to be stolen. A huge stone was rolled in front of the tomb and a guard placed around it in case his body be stolen. The soldiers would be under threat of death if the body disappeared. But here on the third day the tomb is empty. And who would take the body even if they dared? The Jews and the Romans had no reason to take the body, they wanted an end to the idea that Jesus was the Messiah or a King to rival Caesar. They would have loved to have disproved the resurrection of Jesus by producing his dead body, but they couldn’t do it. The disciples? We need to remember these people were frightened, they had forsaken Jesus. But after Jesus appeared to them they went all over the Mediterranean world preaching God had raised Jesus from the dead. They wouldn’t have done that if they knew it wasn’t true. If they had made it up. Men and women lie if they stand to gain something. What did the Apostles gain: imprisonment, torture and death! It is inconceivable that the dynamic growth of the Church and its total lack of fear could have arisen from deceit.

This was no lie. The dramatic transformation in the disciples can only be explained by Jesus appearing to them. Neither was his appearance restricted to a few. Jesus appeared to various groups of people over a forty day period. In 1 Corinthians 15:6, Paul reports that Jesus appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time…most of whom are still alive”- he is saying- if you don’t believe me ask them! The tomb was empty because Jesus rose from the dead as he said he would.

Actually, the tomb wasn’t quite empty. Peter saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus head. The description suggests the cloth still retained the shape of Jesus’ head. It was separated from the linen that had covered Jesus’ body. Jesus resurrection body had passed through his grave clothes. The materials were left lying there. When John saw this sight he believed.

Do you pride yourself on not believing anything unless there is strong evidence for it? Good. Have you the courage to look into the historical evidences for the Resurrection? I recommend Josh McDowell’s ‘Evidence that demands a verdict’ which outlines these and other evidences for the truth of Christianity.

John and Peter returned to their homes, and we have this picture of Mary, having returned to the tomb, standing outside it. (10-18)

Mary is crying. Her great love for Jesus is poured out in her grief. She peers into the tomb and sees two angels. Such is the depth of her grief I don’t think she realised these were angels. She was so blinded by her own tears, her own heart ache and sorrow that she couldn’t perceive who they really were.

The angels do not go straight to the good news of the resurrection; they are sensitive to Mary’s distress and ask the question designed to draw her out of her grief “Woman, why are you crying?” Perhaps they ask this because they want Mary herself to remember what the Lord had said. Jesus had spoken about his rising again on the third day. But Mary, along with the other disciples had not remembered his words. She says to them “They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him”. Mary is totally focused on the fact Jesus’ body is missing. She assumes that Joseph of Arimathea had his workmen move Jesus to a more permanent sight. She can only think in terms of natural/material explanation.

Then Jesus himself speaks to her and is gentle and humble, he asks the same question as the angels and even prompts her further to think about who she is missing. But she can only see her loss. She thinks Jesus is the gardener and he has moved the body.

And you cry. I cry. When your world is hit hard by some grief or disappointment, when that happens to my world, that’s how we initially respond. You only see the loss. You feel the pain of it and that pain threatens to rob of any spiritual perspective. For Mary, Jesus was her world and her world had just fallen apart. Nothing made sense any more. And that’s the way it feels for us. There are many things that can happen to make us feel this way. Here are just a few: Emotional pain. When our best efforts seem to meet with little success, redundancy which threatens self-worth, rejection, being forsaken by others-especially when we are forsaken by our spouse or other family members, or we are distressed because of their condition, or those times when we face hostility, attack, opposition. Then there is physical pain, sickness or limitation. We are so aware of that pain in these present times. Intellectual pain- when we face some doubt about our Faith. The pain of bereavement, the pain Mary felt, is perhaps the hardest of all. And when one or more of these come into our lives it’s tempting to despair. To feel a void, an emptiness. The temptation to think the Lord has left the world to manage on its own, he’s left me to manage on my own. At worst the feeling that God is dead, that I have nothing more than the memory of folded grave clothes and fleeting memories of better times in my Christian walk with the Lord. And our thinking becomes one track- the pain itself, and since these circumstances are often outside our control, we look for someone to blame, somebody to hold responsible- Mary says “they’ve” taken him away. Our thinking becomes mundane and hostile. We are consumed with it and can see nothing else.

But the reality is that there were angels in front of Mary, and the Lord himself was directly behind her.

And in your pain, at first you too are blinded by your grief as Mary was. But in reality it’s at those times you and I need to know the Lord is near. At those times He is closest to us:

Never doubt his presence, even though you can’t feel him or see him at the time. He keeps his word- ‘Never will I leave you or forsake you’

The Lord is near. How else does He take you from despair to hope?

Jesus calls you by name. Jesus said to her ‘Mary and now she knew who it was. God loves his creation, the life he has created- plants, animals, people. He loves his church, and he also loves each of us as individuals. You and I are not random specks of insignificance thrown up by the cosmos. Each of us is created in God’s image, and although we are marred by sin, He has set his love on us. You are of great worth to Him. He gave up His life to rescue you. If you had been the only person in the World, He would have still given his life up for you.

It is the continual experience of us Christians that those times when we are most tempted to despair, we hear the Lord speak to us in a personal way. He calls my name.

He speaks to you through one of his messengers- not necessarily an angel, but by His Spirit through His Word. Perhaps a teacher or friend but you know Christ himself is talking to you. The Good Shepherd has called your name, so much so that you know he is still in control, and he is still leading you on in love.

I remember speaking to another Minister. His daughter had died in tragic circumstances. He admitted the pain was terrible, he knew he and his wife’s lives would never be the same again. But he also knew the Lord was the only one giving him any hope at all. Their comfort was coming through the Lord and His people as they rallied round and supported this man and his wife. Although he could not understand it, he saw a wider control at work. Clues that give him encouragement. He said the last time he saw his daughter she had given him a book about heaven. And the day he discovered she had died, he had been preaching about working through grief.

And this incident brings us to the purpose of the resurrection. By raising Jesus from the dead, God was vindicating all Jesus had claimed and taught. By raising Jesus God was showing everyone ‘Yes, this is my salvation. There is no other way that you can be put right with me and with one another. Not through your own merit or human philosophy. This is my salvation that I have provided for you.’ And then we are in the position to derive the greatest comfort of all. For His resurrection is the promise of our own- for all who believe on Him:

‘We believe that Jesus died and rose again: and so it will be for those who died as Christians; God will bring them to life with Jesus. Thus we shall always be with the Lord. Comfort one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4: 14, 18)

‘For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:40)

Receive Him and the salvation He has accomplished for you at great cost to Himself. Such love for you and I, so undeserved. The risen Lord is near and He calls you by name.

Hymn

 

Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son;
endless is the victory, thou o'er death hast won; angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away, kept the folded grave clothes where thy body lay.

Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son,
Endless is the victory, thou o'er death hast won.

 

Lo! Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb;
Lovingly he greets us, scatters fear and gloom;
let the Church with gladness, hymns of triumph sing ;for her Lord now liveth, death hath lost its sting.

Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son,
Endless is the victory, thou o'er death hast won.

No more we doubt thee, glorious Prince of life;
life is naught without thee; aid us in our strife;
make us more than conquerors, through thy deathless love:
bring us safe through Jordan to thy home above.

Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son,
Endless is the victory, thou o'er death hast won.