Understanding Jesus – Raised from the dead

Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.

John 20:25

This morning we come to our last reflection on understanding Jesus.

As we consider Jesus resurrection, we are presented with yet another example of God’s grace. We might well have thought that Jesus would have expected instant belief and trust from his disciples. After all he’d just been through it would have been the least he deserved. Yet here we have Thomas being told the other 10 disciples had seen Jesus risen from the dead – and he refused to believe. ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’

Jesus comes to us through the fog of our doubt to help us believe

Jesus response was to say, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ The good news of the gospel is that Jesus helps us in our unbelief, he comes to us and he helps us to believe. It isn’t just Thomas who Jesus helps to believe. Listen to what Jesus said about you and me who have not the opportunity to put our hands into his wounds. ‘Because you have seen me you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’

The wonder of the resurrection is that Jesus still comes to us, reaching out scarred hands and feet helping us to believe in him. To understand Jesus is to understand that he has done everything possible that we would have forgiveness of sins and eternal life in the presence of God. He came to us, lived among us, he died for us and then when he was raised from the dead still, he comes to us helping us to believe. All he asks of us is that we would answer as Thomas answered. ‘My Lord and my God!’ (John 20:28)

Have we understood Jesus? If we have there can only be the one response. Let us join Thomas as we confess, ‘My Lord and my God!’

Prayer Lord Jesus, my Lord, and my God. So often I find it hard to believe. I have so many questions, so many doubts. I am tossed from one thing to another like a boat tossed on the sea. Thank you for how you come to me, reaching out, helping, doing everything possible that I would believe. Lord I believe, help my unbelief. Amen

Understanding Jesus – The Crucifixion

You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!

Matthew 27:40

If we are to understand Jesus, then we must understand the cross. While Jesus was suffering and dying on the cross, he was faced with insults. If you are the Son of God, save yourself. If you are the Son of God. This phrase should sound familiar to us because it is the same phrase the devil used while tempting Jesus in the wilderness. ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread’ (Matthew 4:3)

It seems that throughout Jesus life he was being asked to do things for himself to prove who he was. Ironic when we consider the whole purpose of Jesus life. ‘…and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ (Matthew 1:21) If Jesus had of proven his credentials by coming of that cross, he would not have been saviour. Jesus willingness to remain on the cross, to suffer and die is the proof that he is saviour.

Understanding Jesus is to understand he died to save us from our sin. We need to come to terms with the fact that we need to be saved from sin and Jesus death on the cross is the only way in which we can be saved. This leaves us with one question, how? In Acts 2:37 after Peter had preached his sermon at Pentecost the crowds asked, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ The answer Peter gave was, ‘Repent and be baptised, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ (Acts 2:38)

To understand Jesus crucifixion is to understand that he alone is the path to forgiveness and salvation.

Repentance is quite simply the turning away from a life of obedience to sin. By that we mean a life where our desires and wants take central stage to a life where God is central. We seek to be obedient to him. Of course, this does not undo the fact that we have been and are sinful. Trying to change how we live going forward in no-way makes up for what has already happened.

Something more then is required. Trusting in the finished work of Christ on the cross. To understand Jesus is to understand that it is only his sacrifice on the cross atones for sin, it is only his sacrifice on the cross that proves he alone is saviour.

The question then is how we will react to Jesus crucifixion. Will we mock totally misunderstanding why Jesus came to earth, or will we accept the wonderful gift of a saviour dying to deal with our sin?

Prayer Lord Jesus Christ, you are my crucified Saviour. Thank you. I confess that I am a sinner in need of your sacrifice. I confess it is only because of you that I can be forgiven. Forgive me please. I repent, I turn away from a life of selfishness and self-centredness. Lord Jesus be at the centre of my life and help me to live for you. Amen

Understanding Jesus – Praying for you

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.

John 17:20

In John 17 we have one of the most powerful parts of scripture as Jesus prepares his disciples for his arrest and death which is only hours away. When we think of the context of this prayer it is amazing. The weight of the world quite literally is on Jesus shoulders. He is aware of what is about to happen. Throughout John’s gospel Jesus repeatedly says the hour has not yet come.

Each time John presents Jesus in a situation where his life appears threatened or that the crowds might take him and make him king by force, we read the hour has not yet come. A reference to Jesus crucifixion. In John 12: 23, just before Jesus celebrates the Passover with his disciples, the eve of his arrest, we read him saying, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’ In John 17:1 Jesus prayed, ‘Father the hour has come.

Jesus knows he is about to be taken, falsely accused, mocked, beaten, and killed. Yet he takes the time to pray for his disciples. ‘I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.’ (John 17:9) It is not only his disciples Jesus prays for, he looks beyond them into the whole of time and in John 17:20 prays, ‘My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.

The Albert Memorial is a reminder of the love between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Jesus prayers are a living memorial of his love for his people.

Do you struggle in your faith? Do you struggle with life and wonder how you will cope? Do you question how people can say it will be OK? Here is the answer, regardless of what we are facing; difficulties at home; struggles with one sin or temptation; sadness; ridicule; persecution; doubt; Jesus has prayed and is praying for you.

This was not a one of prayer, Paul writing to the Romans said this in 8:34, ‘Who then is the one who condemns? No-one, Christ Jesus who died – and more than that, who raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

To understand Jesus is to understand that he does not look at un in despair, or from a distance, he looks at us and prays. He strengthens us because his prayers are in the perfect will of the Father. Whatever your experience of life, church, prayer – know this. To understand Jesus is to understand that he is praying for you.

Prayer Lord Jesus thank you for the reality that I do not face this life alone. Thank you that you are not distant or separate from me. Thank you that you do not look on my life in despair. You look at me and pray. You pray for those things I struggle with. You pray into my hurts and fears. You pray for those things that endanger me. Lord Jesus, thank you for your prayers.

Understanding Jesus – The way

Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me…’

John 14:6

If we are to understand Jesus, then we must understand there is a reason for him. We understand there is a reason for doctors. When we are sick, we go to see the doctor because it is clear the doctor is the person with the knowledge and expertise to treat whatever is wrong with us. Jesus compared himself to a doctor in Mark 2:17. Jesus after calling Levi (Matthew) as one of his disciples went on to his house to have dinner with him. Matthew was a tax-collector and so it wasn’t surprising many of his guests where also tax collectors.

Jesus said, ‘I am the way the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.’ Is it foolishness to ignore the way especially when it is signposted so clearly?

Jesus was criticised for eating with such people and in response he said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are ill. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

In the past weeks we have thought about our own sinfulness and how we can never overcome the problem of our own sin. We need a doctor, but not a medical doctor – a spiritual doctor. The only one who is qualified to deal with our sin problem is Jesus.

Are we trying to deal with sin in another way? Are we hoping it is not that big a problem and so it will just go away? Do we think it is such a big problem that it cannot be dealt with and so we have given up and lost all hope?

Jesus said ‘I am the way the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.’ The cross is the remedy for all sin, big and small. It is the only remedy. Jesus said he was the way the truth and the life in the context of preparing a heavenly place for the disciples. (Read here) Jesus is the way to the Father and we access that way through believing in him.

We believe in Jesus by trusting he is the way to the Father and so we follow that way. There is little point going to the doctor and being told we need to take this medicine or that and then not taking it. When our condition worsens, we can hardly blame the doctor or the medicine. It is our fault for not following the way laid out for us. To trust in Jesus is to follow him, to be obedient to his teaching.

Jesus said, ‘I am the way the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father expect through me.’ Will we follow that way, have our sin dealt with or will we continue our own way with a worsening condition?

Prayer Lord Jesus, this morning I commit to following your way. Your way of repentance and change, your way of trust and obedience, your way of humility and love, service and sacrifice, love, and mercy. Lord help me to hear your call to follow and give me the courage to keep on following. Amen

Understanding Jesus – believe in me

Whoever believes the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

John 3:36

If we are to understand Jesus, then we need to understand what it means to believe in him. Over and again in scripture we are told to believe. Jesus himself said in John 14:1 ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.’ What does it mean to believe because James (Jesus brother) said ‘You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.’ (James 2:19)

There is a difference in believing that Jesus is real, God is real and believing in Jesus and believing in God. James is telling us that the demons believe God to be real. There is proof of that in the story of Jesus casting out the demon legion. (read here) The demon, or demons, instantly recognise Jesus and know who he is, ‘What do you want with us Son of God?’ (Matthew 8:29) they ask. The demons believe Jesus is real and that he is the Son of God.

People believed in the strength of the walls of the Tower of London. Sheltering behind them for safety.

I don’t think anyone would argue for one minute that this knowledge of Jesus was a saving knowledge. None of us are expecting to get to heaven and find a reformed demon named legion. The fate of these demons was sealed when they rushed the pigs of the steep bank, drowning in the lake below.

What then does it mean to believe in Jesus?

We find the answer in John’s account of Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night (John 3:1-21). We should remember that Nicodemus was a religious man, a sincere man. He believed in God, he knew who God was and he longed to serve God. He even recognised Jesus as being from God. (John 3:2) Yet despite this Jesus famously said to him, ‘Very truly I telly you, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again.’ (John 3:3)

What on earth does this mean. The answer to this question is the answer to our question of what the difference is in believing there is a God to believing in God. It is the answer to the question of believing Jesus is the Son of God to believing in him as the Son of God. It is the difference in Nicodemus believing Jesus was sent from God, and that God was with him, to believing in Jesus as being sent from God and God being with him.

Here is the difference. Trust!

Legion, the demons that James told us believed in God, even Nicodemus at this point in his life – they all believed God to be real, but they did not trust him. The demons because they were so filled with suspicion, hate and pride couldn’t trust anyone. Nicodemus trusted in what he did, his goodness, his worthiness rather than trusting in the fact he would never be worthy and so he needed Jesus righteousness.

To believe in Jesus is to trust that only Jesus can make us right with God. It is to rest in Jesus. I like to use the picture of an armchair. We spend all day working hard and when evening comes, we sit in our favourite armchair. We pull the lever that makes it recline. Our feet are lifted off the ground, we sink into the chair and rest – trusting entirely in that chair. So, it is with Jesus – we realise our salvation can never be earned and so we stop working for it, resting secure and at peace in what Jesus has done for us. To understand Jesus is to believe in him.

Prayer Lord Jesus for so long I have simply believed you are real. I have known who you are, but I have never trusted you. Jesus I no longer want to simply believe you are, I want to believe in you. Help me to trust you. I know my own righteousness will never be enough and so I need you. I believe only you can make me right with the Father. Teach me to rely on what you have done that I may rest secure in the salvation that only you can offer. Amen

Understanding Jesus – the lost son

“Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.”

Luke 15:29

On one level it is easy to sympathise with the older brother in this parable. Who among us wouldn’t be annoyed if we worked hard all our lives while one of the family was seen to squander the family wealth? Who wouldn’t be annoyed if that same person came home to a hero’s welcome, an extravagant party and expense, costing the family yet more wealth? Who wouldn’t be annoyed if all this happened and we hadn’t even been given the finance for even the simplest of celebrations with friends?

This is not a parable about family fairness or how money should be inherited. This is a parable that forces us to ask who am I? Yesterday we were asking the question who is Jesus?

As we reflected on Jesus, we discovered he alone is the Messiah who deals with the problem of our sin. This is central to understanding Jesus. Jesus is grace, he is mercy, he is forgiveness. Jesus is precious. So much so he cannot be earned but only received as a gift. Jesus is priceless.

In this parable the lost son returns home after a life of waywardness and sin. He returns knowing he is not worthy of being called a son and so he hopes simply for the status of servant. Such is the joy of the Father to have his son back he is not only welcomed but welcomed with all the trappings of inheritance and of being an heir. A servant does not receive a ring or robe, a servant is not honoured with the fattened calf. Only an heir, a son. This is grace, this is how we are welcomed into God’s family when we come knowing we cannot possibly deserve sonship, hoping only to be a lowly slave – yet we are welcomed as heirs.

The elder son in this parable on the face of things is much more sensible. He has stayed at home; he has worked hard. Whereas the younger son came to know he was not deserving of his fathers love or favour, the older son believes he is worthy. He deserves to be able to celebrate; he deserves to inherit his father’s wealth and position. This sense of entitlement leads to bitterness and resentment. This older son cannot bear to see his younger son returned, welcomed, or celebrated. All the older brother can see is what is his being taken from him.

The older son has not understood grace. He has not understood that he has already received a fair wage for his work. He has been fed every day, received a roof over his head. This older son does not understand he has received all he is due. His failure to accept grace, to rejoice in the grace others received ironically keeps him out of the very party he complained of not being able to have.

What is our approach to Jesus? Do we come to Jesus believing he owes us something for what we have given to him? We have attended church, paid our offerings, helped the poor, we have been good people, or at least we haven’t been as a bad as some people. All this means Jesus must surely owe us, he must surely welcome us.

The lesson from this parable is that if we come to Jesus hoping to get what we deserve, what we have earned or what is due to us then we have already received all that Jesus has for us. The recognition, the credit, or the position in society; how others think of us. This is our reward, and this is what we receive.

Grace is understanding Jesus has so much more for us, so much more we do not deserve. Grace is understanding this is freely given not to those who demand their worth, but to those who come to him knowing they are unworthy.

Who are we?

Prayer Lord Jesus, help me to understand who I am and what I deserve in order that I would understand who you are and your graciousness towards me. Lord Jesus I thank you for all you have done for me. I do not deserve your sacrifice, your mercy or grace. I deserve only to be under your command, your judgement and yet you have made me an heir. Lord Jesus thank you… help me to understand. Amen

Understanding Jesus – who is he?

Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say I am?’

They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.’

‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’

Peter answered, ‘God’s Messiah.’

Luke 9:18-20

This is probably one of the most important questions in scripture. ‘Who do you say I am?’ We have spent a lot of time during this Covid-19 lockdown reflecting on scripture, God, Jesus, and salvation.

Biblical reflections during the Covid-19 lockdown

The purpose of these reflections has been to help us think through how we would answer this question. ‘Who do you say I am?’ The answer we give has incredible implications for how we live our lives and our adoption into sonship for all of eternity.

On Tuesday we reflected on how Jesus came into our world, the holy to the unholy to overcome the chasm sin created between man and God. If we have accepted the idea that we live in a fallen sinful world and indeed that all are sinners, (Romans 3:23) then at the very least we need to accept the idea that because of that sin we someone or something to bridge the gap separating us from God.

n Tuesday’s reflection we used the image of Tower Bridge spanning the Thames to visualise the extent of the gap to be bridged. There is a problem with this image, and it is this. A bridge can be built by constructing two sides at once, with both construction crews meeting in the middle.I am old enough to remember the Channel Tunnel being built and the ceremony when the French drill and British drill met in the middle making one tunnel.

The problem we have in thinking about how spanning the gap sin has created between man and God is that we cannot start building from our side. We cannot meet God in the middle, we are completely reliant on God coming to us. Paul writing in Romans 7:18 talked of how there was no good in him and even though he knew what he should do he could not do it.  

It is only the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ that enables our sin to be dealt with and atoned for. It is only Christ who redeems us, literally buying us back from sin, removing the barrier separating us from God meaning we can have the life eternal scripture speaks of.

‘Who do you say I am?’ The answer to this question has eternal consequences. If Christ is not the Messiah then either we are lost in our sin and hopelessness as we try to bridge a gap we cannot overcome, or we are not sinners and have nothing to worry about.

Experience alone would suggest we are sinners and our longing for something more, something we can never attain would suggest we cannot bridge the gap to God.

If Christ is the Messiah, then he provides an answer to both our sin and longing. He gives hope and purpose to life as we have something to look forward to. If Christ is the Messiah, then the question becomes have we received by faith, have we done more than simply acknowledge with our mouths but acknowledged this in how we live, trusting in him for that forgiveness of sin and certainty of eternal life.

Who do you say I am?

Prayer Lord Jesus this morning I confess you are the Messiah. God’s holy Son, the one who was without sin, made sin for me. I confess you to be my Redeemer, my Salvation, my Hope, and my Security. I confess you to be my Lord. Lord Jesus I submit my life to you. Amen.

Understanding Jesus – his teaching

But to you who are listening I say: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Luke 6:27-31

To understand Jesus teaching is to understand all that Jesus has done for us. In the April 27th reflection we thought of God as creator and how that meant he had the right to be obeyed.

To understand God as creator and therefore as having the right to our obedience is to understand just how much we have insulted God. Paul talks about how we were once alienated and enemies of God. (Colossians 1:21-23)

What must it feel like for God to be alienated from the creation he loves.

When Jesus taught love for enemies, doing good to those who hate you, blessing those who curse you and praying for those who ill-treat you and turning the other cheek or giving your shirt when someone takes your cloak. He was not teaching something he wasn’t prepared to do himself. The culmination of the gospel is Jesus sacrifice and submission to the mistreatment of the Jewish authorities ending in the cross.

Remember all of this for the people Paul described as being once alienated and enemies of God – we only need listen to the mockery Jesus faced even as he hung on the cross. ‘…and they divided up his clothes by casting lots… the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself…”’ (Luke 23: 34-35)

Understanding Jesus is to understand that our approach to life, to people and to insults changes. It is to humble ourselves, taking on the likeness of Christ who did not see equality with God as something to be grasped but humbled himself… (Philippians 2: 5-8)

In what way do our relationships need to change? In what ways do we show a lack of love, a lack of humility, prayer for our enemies. In what ways can we be a blessing to those who make life difficult for us?

Prayer Lord Jesus, thank you for how you have loved me, done good to me, blessed me, prayed for me. Thank you for how you gave me so much more than a cloak or a shirt, you gave your life. Lord Jesus teach me to do for others what you have already done for me. Amen.

Understanding Jesus – has come near

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’

Mark 1:14-15

One of the most common questions Christians are asked is about what heaven will be like. There is something in us that wants to know the detail of things unseen, things promised. What will heaven be like?

In may respects this is a valid question. Jesus himself wanted us to understand at least a little of the importance of this question when he taught us to pray, ‘your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ Whatever heaven will be like we are being told to look for heaven on earth. It’s not just Christians who look for heaven on earth. Belinda Carlisle sang, ‘They say in heaven loves come first. We’ll make heaven a place on earth.

The reason the details about heaven are so vague is because we can’t see heaven until we have passed through death. There is a barrier, no-one can see beyond. Jesus parable about Lazarus and the rich man highlights the severity of that barrier in Luke 16:19-31. Lazarus, a poor man who begs for crumbs from the rich man’s table dies and is taken to Abrahams side (heaven). While the rich man who, hadn’t been sympathetic to Lazarus in life, also died but he was taken to Hades where he was in torment.

When the rich man looked up and saw Lazarus at Abraham’s side, he wanted his brothers to be warned not to make the mistake he had made. He was told that was not possible. Everyone had the same warning, the same knowledge. There is a chasm separating heaven from earth – we cannot see into glory. The reason for this is that Heaven is made holy because it is God’s dwelling place, while we have made our world unholy because of our sin and so like oil and water the two cannot mix.

Tower Bridge spanning the chasm that is the Thames

This chasm cannot be bridged, the unholy cannot cross to the holy.

To understand Jesus is to understand that to overcome this chasm the holy had to come to the unholy. Jesus came into our world; he became one of us. ‘The kingdom of God has come near.

This is good news. Are you aware of your unholiness and unworthiness? Do you hang back from approaching God? Are you fearful about coming into the presence of a holy God? The good news of the gospel is that God knows how you feel. He understands your fears and knows they are well founded. Therefore, Jesus came into the world. He draws near to us because we cannot draw near to him. To understand Jesus is to understand he draws near to us because we can’t draw near to him.

The question this leaves us with is will be accept this good news and accept the invitation into Jesus presence?

Prayer Lord Jesus, what words can I offer to say thank you for how you have not only reached out to me, but you have drawn near to me. Thank you for breaching the chasm caused by my sin. Help me to come into your presence, to rest in your presence, knowing that you have invited me in. Amen

Understanding Jesus – Promised Saviour

Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.

Luke 2:29-32

Over the last couple of weeks, we reflected on our understanding of God. Part of a proper understanding of God is an understanding of his holiness and our sinfulness.

Image showing how weeds and beauty grow together. Taken at Moneydig Manse
Weeds growing in among the beauty of God’s creation

Sin is a not a new problem, it is as old as creation itself dating back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. (Read here) The introduction of sin changed this world in three ways. The first was a barrier between man and God. Man was expelled from Eden where he once walked with God in a close relationship. (Genesis 3:24) The blessing of that close relationship was removed and instead of work being a pleasure it became hard and difficult. (Genesis 3:17-19) The final impact sin had on the world was that God made a promise.

It was the serpent who deceived Adam and Eve (although this did not diminish their own personal responsibility for their actions). God’s promise was in the form of a warning to the snake and hope for mankind. ‘You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.’ (Genesis 3:14-15)

In this promise God was saying that one day the woman would have an offspring who would stand against the serpent. That although the serpent would strike out against him still, he would crush the serpents head. This is a promise that one day the damage of sin would be addressed, the author of sin would be destroyed. Jesus is the fulfilment of that promise.

Simeon held the infant Jesus in his arms and praised God because he understood the significance of Jesus arrival. A promise made at the beginning of time was being fulfilled. He understood salvation from sin had finally arrived.

Do we understand the significance of Jesus?

Prayer Lord Jesus thank you for how you have crushed the head of the serpent. Thank you that you are the long-promised salvation, the light to Gentiles like me, the revelation of the Father – thank you that you are the glory of the Father. Forgive me Lord for not always understanding your significance, importance, or your necessity for my life. Lord Jesus, may I praise you and worship you as Simeon did all those years ago. Amen