Hebrews 5. 11 – 6. 12

Becoming

We’re all on a journey. We’re all becoming something: older, stronger, weaker, more confident, or less so…. Computer whizz-kids or out of our depth! And we’re all becoming more like Jesus or less like him. If you think you’re standing still, you’re probably going backwards! So what are we becoming?

The writer suddenly stops himself and says “I may be wasting my time telling you about the High Priesthood of Jesus, because “You’ve become dull.” (“you’ve picked up this bad habit of not listening” says the Message. NIV UK edition says “you no longer try to understand.”) In other words, “it’s difficult to get through to you because you have become sluggish in listening.” Lazy listeners. Not really bothered. Not really engaging. Wanting spoon-fed: “tell me what I’m supposed to believe and I’ll believe it!”

Now, I will always be the last person to say something like “if you don’t get anything out of this talk, it’s because you didn’t bother to listen properly”. I am always going to try to communicate the best way I can and I believe in getting people involved as learners. Dull preaching is a sin. But we need to learn to listen in a positive, engaged way, expecting something. Maybe something to puzzle out. Maybe something to surprise us not just confirm us in our existing views. And definitely expecting God to speak to us. So what are we becoming?

We should be becoming teachers.

By now you should be teachers…The writer doesn’t mean people with a “teaching ministry,” whether preachers or or bible-class leaders. Some people have a gift of teaching, and usually have a deep grasp of truth or a particular knack of making that truth understandable.

“By now you should become teachers” is about the plan of God for all of us as God’s people. It’s about a teaching role for every Christian. Christians teaching Christians. Discipleship.

All of us can potentially disciple others.  All of us should be able to disciples others. So I want to ask, who are you teaching? Who is learning from you? Who is looking to you for an example of how to live the life of a Jesus-follower? And who are you learning from? Its time to grow up. To take responsibility. The writer talks about milk and solid food. The basics, and the deeper stuff.

A crash course in Christian basics.

Chapter 6 verses 1-3 are the ABC; the first foundational stuff.

  1. Repentance from dead works. Turning away from wrong actions that lead people towards death.
  2. Faith toward God, which has to mean faith in the one he has sent, Jesus: Son of God, Messiah, who died for our sin, and rose again.
  3. Washing ceremonies or Baptisms. The word is plural – so suggests different ceremonies using water. But it’s difficult to imagine how you could talk about washings without thinking about Christian baptism.
  4. Laying on of hands, to receive the Holy Spirit, at the beginning of your Christian journey.
  5. The resurrection of the dead: Jesus’ resurrection, and how that promises us resurrection too. Jurgen Moltmann says “Hope for the resurrection of the body is not merely a hope for the hour of death but for all the hours of life.”
  6. And, eternal judgment: Jesus, the Messiah (Christ) who died, rose again and brings the Kingdom, will judge the world.

And that is the basics. What is involved in making a start as a Jesus-follower; what to expect at the end of it all, and how that affects us day by day.

So what is the solid food?

What is the teaching that carries us forward to maturity (Chapter 6 v 1)?

The idea that Jesus is a high Priest like Melchizedek is on the writer’s mind: it’s the obvious example, and as one example, it tells us a bit about “Solid food” is.

  1. It’s the whole of Scripture. Even the unexpected corners of the Bible, like the story of Abraham and Melchizedek in Genesis
  2. It’s big truths about things like who Jesus is. The Melchizedek story points to Jesus.
  3. The Melchizedek story deconstructs and reconstructs Jewish Christians’ ideas of “Priesthood”. Solid food disrupts and resets our thinking. It challenges complacency, that kind of lazy idea that we have god all neatly packaged like a do-it-yourself wardrobe.
  4. And solid food is not just theoretical. It’s practical. “Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use (literally by experience) have trained themselves (in the gymnasium) to distinguish good from evil”. (Chapter 5. 14)

Finally, why bother?

Why are the basics and the deeper stuff, the milk and the meat, important?

Chapter 6 v 4 should begin with the word “For”. It’s missing in NIV but there in the Greek and it’s important. That word for says “Here’s why this all matters…”

It matters because it’s impossible to sort out people who have faith, then lose their way in the faith and finish up opposing that faith. That sounds harsh. It sounds like God is saying, “You’ve had your chance you’ve met Jesus, and you blew it – so I’m finished with you!”

But….

  1. Remember that for Jewish Christians, to give up following Jesus would mean going back to a Judaism that was actively persecuting Christians! That’s why the writer talks about repeatedly crucifying Jesus. (Chapter 6 v 6)
  2. And even then, as one scholar wisely suggests, the writer “is stating a practical truth …as a matter of human experience”. Talking about whether rich people could get into the kingdom of God, Jesus said “What is impossible with people is possible with God.” (Luke 18. 27)
  3. This isn’t a judgement on people who have wandered away. It’s a warning to those who are in danger of doing so.

The point is, we as believers have had our eyes opened to the truth, have met Jesus (God’s amazing gift! ), received the Holy Spirit, been fed on the word and known the power of the coming Kingdom. (Chapter 6 v 4-5) We’ve had all that God offers: Light, Jesus, the Spirit, the Word, the Kingdom. It’s like God says “I’ve got nothing to add to that lot. If you’re looking for something better than that, it doesn’t exist.”

The warning calls us to do our part To respond to God’s grace with diligence, urgency, haste. (Chapter 6 v 11) “Don’t drag your feet” (The Message, v. 12). To imitate (v. 12) someone with a strong faith (learn from their example)! The thing to add to what God has done is exactly this: you do your bit. Engage with the gifts God gives.

So if you’ve got a bit lost, there is a way back – if you want it. Don’t drag your feet.

And if you’re feeling like your faith is losing its sparkle, do your bit. Be a disciple, a learner, and grow into someone who can help others to grow. Don’t drag your feet.

Hebrews 4.14 – 5.10:

Let us approach God’s Throne of Grace with Confidence

Did you know that the letter to the Hebrews mentions the word “priest” more times than any other book in the NY? And “high priest” more than any other book in the whole Bible! The idea we have already come across, of Jesus being our High Priest, is really central to understanding Hebrews.

So lets start with a look at “Priesthood” and how it works… we’ll find that in chapter 5.

A priest represents people before God. (verse 1. ) That’s a good basic definition. If you’re running a bit scared of stuff in your world, and want God to protect you, or if you know you’ve done wrong and need God’s forgiveness, then you find someone who will talk to God on your behalf, and (hopefully) you’re sorted.

What does that person have to be like? What qualifies a person to be a priest?

Firstly, “Humanity” (FF Bruce). A priest is “selected from among people”. To represent us, a priest needs to be one of us. An angel can’t do it. A picture on Zoom can’t do it, nor a little “hologram” like on Star Wars.

A priest should be pastoral – awareness of failing brings sensitivity to others’ failings.

A priest is appointed by God. God certainly didn’t choose Aaron because he was a great leader.

  • You don’t appoint yourself. In the time of the Judges, various people “set themselves up as priests” and sold their services to people who could afford to pay a priest. That didn’t produce godly leadership.
  • And the community doesn’t “choose” a high priest. During the last decades before the fall of Jerusalem, High Priests were appointed by Herod, by the Roman governor, and by popular ballot. None of that produced godly leadership.
  • God chose Aaron and his descendants. And in special times of need (because the family line didn’t always produce godly leadership either!) God chose others who were not from Aaron’s family, like Samuel.

A priest offers sacrifices for sin (normally, including his own!) (Because, when Aaron led the Israelites into sin by making the Golden Calf, he disempowered himself. it was Moses who prayed for forgiveness.)

A priest prays.

And how Jesus’ High Priesthood works…

He represents us before God – he has entered into Heaven so has “ready access to God” (Chapter 4 v 14, The Message)

He is fully human. He is in “touch with our reality” (Chapter 4 4 15, The Message): tempted in every way as we are – but without sin. He understands our struggles. In fact he’s ahead of us. We were tempted until we gave up. Jesus never gave up, so he was always tempted. (That makes him unique; it makes his once-and-for-all sacrifice effective!)

Jesus was appointed by the Father, like Samuel, not from the family of Aaron, but from the family of Judah and of David. And God designated (recognised) him as High Priest of the order of Melchizedek (a mysterious Priest who lived at the time of Abraham, way before Aaron and Moses.) Jesus didn’t just pop up and choose himself. And he wasn’t chosen by other people.

He is the sacrifice for sin.

And Jesus prays: how he prays! Our High Pries “Cried out in Pain” (Chapter 5 v 7, The Message). The writer is thinking about what happened in the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed before he was betrayed and arrested. Jesus cried out in immense pain and sorrow. He prayed with a sense of urgency and desperate need, as one facing an “overwhelming calamity.” (Thomas Hewitt) He learned obedience – literally to respond to God’s word – by what he suffered. And his prayers were answered. (v. 7) Not to spare him from death but to bring him through death. To be the source of salvation to those who obey him (literally “those who respond to his word”). And to gain that designation of High Priest of the Order of Melchizedek.

Now that we know what we have (Chapter 4. 14 The Message)… Jesus our amazing high priest…

Hold onto faith “Let’s not let it slip through our fingers” (Chapter 4. 14 The Message). And…

Let us draw near by faith, receiving mercy and grace. In the old Jewish faith, only the High priest could enter the Holiest place where the “Mercy seat” covered the Ark of the Covenant. But Jesus our great high Priest has direct access to the Father and – he gives that to us. We can approach the mercy seat, the “Throne of Grace.” We can come right into God’s presence.

O how shall I, whose native sphere is dark, whose mind is dim,
before a holy God appear and on my naked spirit bear the uncreated beam?
(Thos. Binney)

But that is exactly what Jesus has made possible for us!

And there, we find Mercy and Grace to help in our time of need. Are they two ways of saying the same thing? Maybe, but they bring out two different aspects of how God answers our prayers. Mercy means pity or compassion. It emphasises our need and how our heavenly father feels about that need. When we feel we’ve failed and desperately need forgiveness. When we feel there is some sort of overwhelming calamity and we’re desperate for God to do something. Some who called to Jesus for his healing said “Son of David, have mercy on me.” Grace means a favour or a gift. It emphasises the goodness, generosity and practicality of the one who gives.

To finish: another line from the Message: “So, let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.” (Chapter 4 v 16 The Message)

Let us pray

Lord Jesus we are in awe that you are “The High priest Who Cried Out in Pain”. Teach us how to pray. By your Spirit give us the boldness to approach the throne of grace in our need. May we know the mercy and generous practical grace of our heavenly father. For his glory, Amen.

Hebrews 3.1 – 4.13

Fix your eyes on Jesus”

1. Chapter 3. 1–6: The Greatest!

When I was a teenager in Bible class, we were taught “When you see the word ‘Therefore’, ask what it’s there for!” This chapter refers back to the Jesus who is greater than any prophet or angel. Greater than any other priest, but who understands our weaknesses. ”Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” So, the writer of this letter says, family of God, who share in a heavenly calling, when life is tough, when your old Jewish friends are telling you you’re all wrong to be following Jesus, and throwing you out of the synagogue and it’s kind of tempting to give up, what do you do? So family of God, when pressure from your partner, being busy, worn out, stuck in the middle of pandemic world, or a feeling of “what’s the point?”, tempts you to give up, what do you do?

Look at Jesus. Think about him. Fix your gaze on Him… (diligently, continuously, observantly). Meditate on him. Doesn’t the internet distract us? (“Ooh – a picture of a kitten – that’s cute!” Ooh – somebody’s dinner – that’s nice. Click here for free stuff – I’ll try that… er, no, they want my email address and bank details, perhaps not!”) We need that focussed and intentional discipline to ignore the distractions and put Jesus at the centre.

Jesus really is the Greatest. For the Hebrews, the first readers of this letter, Moses had always been the greatest. He was the original Apostle who came to bring God’s releasing word to God’s people when they were slaves, calling them on a journey to freedom and rest in their own land. But Jesus is greater even than Moses, Moses was a good guy, but Jesus is greater. He is our Apostle and leader.

Jesus is the Builder of the House (the OT & NT People of God, the “Redeemed Community”). Moses is really just part of that house. (v. 3) He is a faithful servant in that house. Jesus is the faithful Son and heir. (v. 5) Jesus is the Greatest.

So…. The writer says to these people who felt they had been thrown out for their faith in Jesus, “We are his household.” We are the community of faith. Jewish people think they are. But we are the People. Not Jews, Not Rangers Supporters. Believers in Jesus. And we are to…

Hold fast! What we are is utterly based on who Jesus is!!! We need to hold on to Him. Grasp, hold onto the boldness (or outspokenness) and boasting of hope.

2. Chapter 3.7 – chapter 4.7: Heart trouble!

How does that work out? Did you notice the repeated quotes from the Old Testament in the reading? “Do not harden your hearts” (3.8, 3.15, 4.7 !) and “They shall never enter my rest”. (3.11 and 4.4) The back story to all that is Moses’ story: leading God’s people out of Egypt, through the desert and into the Promised Land. In the New Testament, the Moses story is a favourite story of the early Church. It was over and over again, understood in the light of Jesus. He is the Passover Lamb who rescues us from Egypt. And following him is a journey to a Promised Land.

And part of that story is that after being rescued, the Israelites rebelled, moaned and complained – and suffered for doing so: in the end, a whole generation lost their opportunity to enter into the Promised Land. They wandered in the desert for forty years instead of entering into the rest God wanted them to have.

Do not harden your hearts. As they people were travelling through the desert, they became anxious and angry with Moses several times, especially when they had no drinking water. Not once but twice, God provided water from the rock. That story was important to the people in the Old testament, and was remembered in Psalm 95. It’s important for God’s people today too. So Watch out! (v. 12) The writer of Hebrews calls all this “a wicked (i.e. evil, troublesome), unbelieving heart that falls away, or turns away from God.” We need to be done with rebellion and complaining. And we need to be done with anxiety and fear and negativity because that is where the other stuff starts. We need to encourage one another, because discouragement is one of the worst forms of friendly fire. It is a real shot in the foot. And complaining causes discouragement. It discourages the people we moan about. And it discourages the people we get to join in with us. And it is possible to lose the blessings we have had, through that sort of heart trouble.

Does that hurt? If it does, it’s the Word of God, God’s living and active truth, like a sword; or like a surgeon’s knife, trying to cut away the rubbish in your life. If he cuts he cuts to heal and to bring us into his rest.

God had something better than The Promised Land for Israel. They were invited to share in his rest, his delight in a job completed. For us the Promised land is not heaven but the partially realised Kingdom. It is being seated in the Heavenly Places in Christ Jesus. It is intimate time with God, when you can know his love and begin to resonate with his heartbeat. Good news! God wants us to have “rest” like he did. A rhythmic life of working and waiting. Doing and delighting (Sabbath meanings include stopping, delighting or celebrating!) Don’t miss out. Don’t allow heart trouble – rebellion, complaining, unbelief, to push God away and rob you of rest.

So ask, what is anxiety or anger, fear or resentment, doing to your heart today?

Focus instead on Jesus.

And who can you encourage this week?

Acts 2: The Spirit and the Good News

Acts 2. 17-24, 36-40. The Spirit is Good News
The majority of the people who witnessed events on the day of Pentecost, hadn’t a clue what was going on. There were about 120 people praying in a room in a house when the Holy Spirit came. Within minutes that was spilling out into the streets, and before too long, as people came running, there were thousands seeing God at work, trying to understand it or explain it away, and listening to a Galilee fisherman (of all people) explaining what it was all about. (Or, fit it was a’ aboot!)

That’s a situation that is echoed today. We record these videos for a fairly small group of people who have a faith in Jesus, and have encountered God in a real and living way for themselves. But there’s a much bigger group who are scratching their heads, wondering what this Christianity thing is all about, and maybe figuring that there’s some other explanation for all this “god” stuff. I want to think about this from their point of view. That’s what Peter did. He wasn’t talking to the 120. he was talking to the thousands in the streets. He began by explaining….

Firstly this stuff that you are seeing, this Holy Spirit stuff, is connected with God keeping the promises he made through the Old Testament Prophets. It’s connected with God working out his plan to rule in his world for the good of everyone, old and young, poor and rich, black and white. That’s the first big principle: God is good and when God rules, things are good. (And when he doesn’t things are not so great!)

Secondly, Jesus and his life, death and resurrection are central to all this. His life shows a bit of what it’s like when God rules. He died a victim of the stuff in all of us that pushes against God’s rule, but God was at work in that. His resurrection defeats the sin and makes God’s rule a possibility, a reality. He’s the Lord – he’s God – and the Messiah – the promised King.

Thirdly, how we respond to Jesus now is vital. If that stuff is true, and God’s plan for the rest of history is focussed on Jesus, then we need to connect with Jesus. That’s the urgency in the people’s question at the end of Peter’s talk: “What shall we do?” We’ve spent that last five or six weeks thinking about what the Holy Spirit does: he refreshes us when we are thirsty for God; he shows us what God is like; he gives us God’s power; he enacts God’s Kingdom; he helps us in God’s mission and he creates togetherness among God’s people. But the big question is, “What should we do ?”
Repent. That means change. For the crowd Peter was speaking to, it meant no longer going along with the majority who were pushing against Jesus. A U-turn. A change of mind. A change of heart. A change in what matters to you. A change in who’s in charge. A change in the way you live your life. We’re pretty much used to “Change” in this pandemic season we are in. Staying home; distancing; wearing masks, ordering stuff online instead of walking into the shops. Some of it, we have struggled with it: we have grieved for not seeing relatives or friends. Some of it has been OK: some of our shut in folks have had more contact with Church, not less, because we are putting stuff on YouTube. So repenting means changing who’s in charge of your life… “OK God, you can be in charge of my life from here in. I can’t promise to be perfect, but I will listen out for your voice and do what you tell me.” The nature of that change is defined by the second thing Peter says.

Be baptised in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. Baptism uses water as a way of representing, embodying stuff that is happening inside us. That includes two things. Firstly, identifying with Jesus. To be baptised is to side with Jesus. It is to say “Jesus is Lord!” And secondly, being forgiven, acquitted, declared not guilty, for our sins.

Repentance is our change of heart. Forgiveness is God’s change of heart towards us. And forgiven we receive the Holy Spirit: God’s transforming power moves into our lives. I’m going to sum that up in a wee prayer in just a minute. But that inner stuff can’t be totally private and personal. Peter says “be baptised”… which isn’t practical under lock down.

But we need to do something that calls someone else to witness that we are turning our lives over to God. Billy Graham was wise with his catchphrase “I want you to get right out of your seat…” We need to do something, not just just pray a prayer to god in our hearts.

So here’s that prayer:

Lord God, thank for sending Jesus in to our world. Thank you that he showed us what it’s like when you rule. Thank you that he was willing to die to deal with sin – the rubbish inside us that pushes back against your rule. Thank you that he rose again in victory. We turn our lives over to you. We want Jesus to be our Lord. Please forgive our sins and give us your Holy Spirit. May his power transform us. Amen.

If you have prayed like that for the first time, do something. Stand up; Thank God out loud. And tell someone. Email your minister of vicar. Or email the Church address and tell us.
And may God bless you!

Acts 2: The Spirit and togetherness

Events on the Day of Pentecost begin with all the Jesus-followers, “together in one place”. It begins with togetherness. The words “in one place”, translate an interesting phrase that we need to look at. It is an unusual phrase that is actually impossible to translate: if you try, you get “upon the same” which clearly doesn’t make sense in English. The same phrase is used in verse 44: “all the believers were together.” So that’s helpful: I believe it’s the most useful translation, and it makes verse 1 mean, “they were together together.” Not just together, but together together. Properly together.

There’s evidence that this phrase that is translated “together” had already a specific technical meaning for people of faith. It’s sometimes about place. It’s sometimes about time. it’s sometimes about purpose. It’s, I suggest, always about identity. It’s about belonging.

So what’s interesting first of all, is that the Holy Spirit came, when the Jesus followers were together together, in one place, at one time, with one purpose and one identity. Unity, togetherness, belonging, attracts the blessing of God. (Ps 133) God fills individuals with his Spirit. But he comes, reveals his manifest presence, to the Church together.

So in the power of the Spirit, the Church shares the Good News, in the languages of the people round about, and, as Dawn said last week, people turned to Jesus. And to this togetherness thing, this new community that was more than an number, a crowd, but was doing life together, God added three thousand people. The conversion was the Holy Spirit’s work and the baptisms that followed must have been amazing. And for this community, this new thing that the Holy Spirit was causing to burst out, doing life together meant….

The Apostles’ Teaching” … Learning together. This wasn’t a bunch of people who were enrolled on a correspondence course. They weren’t sitting through hours of lectures. They weren’t being filled with facts about the Hebrew meaning of hesed (covenant love). They were told about the practical ways that Jesus had demonstrated that love. And, by example, how they could demonstrate that love too. Verse 43 tells us that the Apostles were doing many signs and wonders. The Apostles’ teaching was Jesus’ teaching. And Jesus’ teaching was never only theory.

Fellowship.” … Sharing together… Sadly we have reduced that to a cup of tea after church on Sunday mornings. The Greek word kiononia means having something in common. Now you could say that they had Jesus in common. But look at what fellowship meant for the early church: they were together and had everything in common. To have fellowship means sharing the whole of life, together. It’s not just about about living in the same households (although it could be for some people). It’s about sharing the whole of life together, wherever and however we live our own family lives. But it does mean that we can’t see one another in need.

Breaking of bread and prayer” … Worshipping together… This breaking of bread thing was rooted in the Passover: and the passover wasn’t something that happened in the temple. It happened in people’s homes, since the very beginning of the nation of Israel. You could say that by making Breaking Bead a core Christian practise, Jesus determined that some of our worship is meant to take place in the home. The early Church shared food including the bread and wine that was used to remember Jesus. That was done in homes not the temple. And the prayers were not just the Temple prayers though they still went to those. . On the day of Pentecost the believers were praying in a room in a house. In Acts 4, threatened with persecution, they prayed, in a “place” presumably a house. In Acts 12 the church prayed in someone’s house. And yes, they would rendezvous in the temple courts day by day. Meeting and celebrating life together. Joining in stuff that was happening in the temple, (including the set times of prayers). But also meeting in their homes.

You can’t split what the Church did into three or four or six practises for a healthy church. Yes there were things they did: learning, sharing, eating, worshipping, praying. But these activities flowed into one another. They did these whenever and wherever they were.

But there’s more… The same word crops up again in verse 47: most of our English Bibles say “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved”. That’s what happened but it isn’t what the Greek says. The Greek uses the words “added to their number” exactly NO times in Acts 2. What the Greek says here is “The Lord placed on the same”, those who were being saved. Try “together” for size: “The Lord placed together, those who were being saved.” In other words, he placed them together with those who were together already… That’s the Spirit’s plan for growth in the Church. The Spirit comes when we are all together (v. 1). But when the Spirit comes, he brings us together (v.44) not necessarily in one place, but in shared life. And as he does that, he adds into our shared life, those who are being saved. So let’s guard that precious togetherness: it attracts the Spirit; it’s the work of the Spirit, the new thing he wants to burst out; and it is the strategy of the Spirit for mission.

Mark 2. 1-12

“Here is healing and forgiveness” – Graham Kendrick

What’s the story?

So these guys bring their friend to Jesus. I wonder what they expected or wanted in the encounter. To get him healed? To get him forgiven? Or just to have an encounter with Jesus? There were massive obstacles in the way: a crowd too dense and jostling for them to be able to get through, especially carrying a paralysed man on a sleeping mat. So they go up onto the roof. They dig through the mud and wattle roof, oblivious to the situation downstairs ; bits of clay landing on people’s heads… Oblivious to the fact that the owner of the house would be angry. Eventually they are done. There’s a big enough hole that they can get their friend through, There’s more than likely a space round Jesus since everyone has been avoiding the rubble falling from the roof.

Jesus responds to faith.

Faith is visible: Faith is the substance or guarantee of things hoped for, the proof, compelling evidence of things unseen. (Hebrews 11. 1) Evidence cannot be insubstantial. It has to be seen or heard. When CIS find that drop of blood or strand of hair at the crime scene, it’s something visible. It is photographed, put in the plastic bag sent to the lab. These guys showed their faith, by taking their friend to the place where Jesus was ministering. By overcoming the obstacle. So how do we show faith? How do we respond to the obstacles to what we believe God is beckoning us to or promising us?

Jesus responds in ways that may surprise us. “Kid, you sins are forgiven.” I don’t know what the four men had faith for: probably healing. And you could say that what Jesus said started the healing process. But that is not what Jesus, in the first instance, spoke into their friend’s life: his first word was about forgiveness. You have to ask, “Why did Jesus start there with this man?” I have a subtle sense that this was not only his main need (that is always true) but that it was his first sensed need. It is at least possible that his sense of guilt, was the very thing that prevented him from having a vibrant faith.

Jesus ruffles feathers and reveals facts

Immediately the Pharisees and law-teachers and glowering at Jesus and whispering to one another, “Who does he think he is. Only God can forgive sin.” They were right, of course. Nobody can do that, except God. It’s blasphemy. It’s wicked. it’s wrong. But Jesus said it. The lawyers had a logic that said “chapter and verse, plus evidence of lawbreaking equals a conviction!” But Jesus countered that with a logic that more than equalled that of the lawyers. “Which is easier – to talk about forgiveness or to get a man like this back on his feet?” With the words of forgiveness and the word of healing, he demonstrates who he is. Jesus wasn’t simply declaring God’s forgiveness. He was giving God’s forgiveness… He was acting as God. I’ll show you that I have the right to forgive sins…

How to keep yourself away from God in one easy lesson – just in case you want to know… be good. Be so good you don’t need God. Prove that you’re so good by always pointing out the error of other people’s ways. And if need be prove how good you are by pointing out the error of God’s ways, too. Jesus says (verse 17) I haven’t come to call the righteous but sinners.

Jesus restores fully.

And for that minute or so, as Jesus deals briskly and angrily with the Pharisees, this paralysed man is lying there on his mat on the floor, surrounded by rubble from the roof, and people staring at him. I wonder what he was thinking? What was going on inside his head? But then Jesus turns to the man again, and says, “Get up, roll up your mat and go home.” And immediately, he does.

Jesus did it. He healed the man. He didn’t just heal part of him: making him better but leaving him with a black hole of guilt in his heart. Or forgiving his sins and leaving him to struggle on destitute and helpless. He heals every part of the man’s life. One scholar says “healing is a sacrament of forgiveness.” I like that. May we be channels of Christ’s healing in our world today as we pray for people who are ill, who look after the sick, as we pray for peace for neighbours and friends. And may that healing be a sacrament of forgiveness: a sign to men and women that God’s heart is open and waiting to say to people “Your sins are forgiven”.

Amen

Mark 1. 35-45:

” Healthy Healing”.

(And the Coronavirus)

Emotionally healthy Spirituality.

Jesus moves from a busy Sabbath (in the synagogue he set a man free from a demon, in Simon’s home he healed Simon’s mother-in-law, and at evening, on the doorstep he healed people with all sorts of diseases)… next morning people are looking for him. Peter is embarrassed. He doesn’t feel able to deal with this: he hasn’t done the Prayer Ministry Course yet.  So they go to look for Jesus (literally to hunt him down) and find him in the desert. Capernaum was cultivated at this time so not a desert in the way we understand it…… The Greek word is eremon which means out in the middle of nowhere: that is an isolated place. (It’s the word from which we get the English word “hermit”) . Jesus was like a hermit, Seeking a place to be alone in prayer.  Silence & solitude are keys to healthy living.  They are part of the way Jesus lived, and arguably kept himself well.  Jesus’ ministry was busy, full of people and service; but it didn’t involve activism.  

Every “Yes” is a “No”.

When they find him, they say, “Jesus, what are you doing? The crowds are waiting for you.  You got to come back into Capernaum.”  And Jesus says “No! Let’s go somewhere else…”  When Jesus says “I must preach in the other towns and villages”, he doesn’t mean to make the choice between preaching and healing. It’s the choice between staying in Capernaum and going to the other towns and villages. He knew a “Yes” to Capernaum would be a “No” to somewhere else. And a “Yes” to going to the other towns and villages meant a painful “No” to Capernaum.

Every “Yes” is a “No”. Jesus wasn’t domesticated or sentimentalised into becoming the local “healing guy”! A focus on mission flows from healthy spirituality… But every “Yes” is a “No” to something else. In this case, going around the other towns meant NOT responding to the vox pop in Capernaum.

With limited energy, a “Yes” to reaching out to our community may sometimes mean a “No” to things that take up our time and energy and maybe are familiar to those of us who are regulars here… But constantly saying “Yes” to what is familiar to us, will mean saying “no” to mission.

This is why I’m here!

“For this I have come out…” To preach in all the villages and towns. The word “preach” here is “to announce”. What was Jesus announcing? Simply “The Kingdom of God has come near to you!” To announce the Kingdom includes healing. It is for the lost, it is for all the villages (literally village-towns; those overgrown villages that were still not important enough to have a city wall). It is for all the people.  Not for Jesus’ own comfort, fame or enrichment. For the Kingdom.  

“So he travelled”… There is a connection between purpose and action. Knowing why he had come, Jesus set off around the whole of Galilee, preaching, and throwing out demons…and (one of Mark’s favourite words) a guy came to him who had leprosy and Jesus touched him and he was immediately healed. … so healing was part of the Kingdom package for Jesus.

A sense of purpose and an active reorientation around the call of God on one’s life, come from solitude. Time with Father helps us to focus on what is important!

Dealing with mystery. 

So let’s look a bit closer at the conversation with this guy… he says “If you will, you can”.The Man emphasises the “you can” (and shows faith) .. but there is the issue of “if you will”.  And in fact Jesus has the will to heal. He responds from deep inside: some translations (& Greek texts) have “pity”. But anger is the preferred reading. (Did that come from Jesus’ prayer life too?)  He touches the man, to show two things. First, that that he is God the Son, and therefore above the Law and the disease itself. And secondly, to show compassion to the victim who was “untouchable”. He says “I will. Be clean! ”Healthy healing holds the tension and the mystery between “you can” (Jesus has the power) and “you will” (Jesus has the sovereignty). 

So Healthy Healing involves Dealing with mystery. It means catching the compassion of God for the broken & his outrage at the existence of evil and the suffering it causes. Do we need to catch some of that anger in the face of our global health crisis in 2020? Understanding that God can. It means understanding that he wants to. And on the occasions when healing doesn’t happen the way we expect or want, accepting that there are no easy explanations.

Focus on The Kingdom

The touch of Jesus makes the man clean – immediately, visibly… Woohoo! But then Jesus gives him a stern warning. Before celebrating and telling everyone, he had to go first to the Priest – as the law said – and get officially certified free from his disease.

The OT law gives detailed instructions of how priests should perform a close examination of the skin, checking for any sign that the disease was still present. I believe it is a good rule, to say you are not healed when the person who prays for you says so. You are healed when your Doctor says so. Healthy healing is OK about medicine.

Until The man had been pronounced clean by the priest he couldn’t properly rejoin society, find work, or worship in the synagogue or the temple. Jesus is concerned for the man’s social, psychological & spiritual well-being. Healthy healing isn’t overly concerned with the spectacular but is concerned with the whole person.

That would have made Jesus’ life easier: being pronounced clean and offering the sacrifices, was an eight-day process, involving bathing, shaving the head at the beginning and end of the process and partial isolation. Jesus could have been miles away before the news broke. Jesus doesn’t want to become the local “healing guy” in Capernaum – or anywhere else.  Healthy healing is about the Kingdom.

Healthy Healing maintains a focus on The Kingdom. As such, it flows from a disciplined walk with God that puts purpose into action, It can handle the mystery, and it cares for the whole person.

© Gilmour Lilly March 2020

Mark 1. 21-34

A Healing communityintroduction

Introduction

This “Healing Service” idea is a bit of a new thing for us as a Church… So if you’re visiting – or even a regular worshipper here – and wondering what we’re going to get up to, I want to reassure you. It may be new thing for us here in Rosyth – but we’re not doing something new and freaky, we are getting back to our Biblical roots because the healing Ministry goes right back to Jesus himself… It’s not new for him.

But it was once. When Jesus started his work, this Healing thing was quite unfamiliar, fresh, and new. So today we are looking at how Jesus started. It’s a kind of exciting, fun-filled first day or two of work… and if we learn from Jesus and let his way of doing things set the tone for us, there’s nothing much to be worried about – right?

Community

They went to Capernaum. First word in the NIV is “They”. Actually, the first word in Greek is “And”… but there is an “and” at the beginning of every paragraph, sometimes every phrase (27 in our reading!); and plenty of “immediately”s thrown in (5!). Mark tells his story with breathless excitement and childlike simplicity and enthusiasm. The whole story flows from one episode to another.

So they went to Capernaum. “They” were Jesus, and four fishermen, Simon, Andrew, James and John. Jesus had just called these guys to follow him – that means to become apprenticed to him as their Teacher – and promised that he would help them become “fishers of men”… They, two pairs of brothers, were the first members of what was to become a new community of people committed to doing life with Jesus, and learning from him about God and copying his way of life and working.

So this healing stuff takes place in community… it’s not just about Jesus and it’s not just about a few people with particular gifting. As we explore this subject over the next few weeks, we are looking at the Church as a healing Community.

Authority

Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach: as soon as he opened his mouth, people were amazed at his “Authority”. I wonder what he said? We have a hint in verse 15: when Jesus started, Mark sums up his message like this: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.” “the Kingdom of God is at hand; it’s right here. And it’s Good news. Come back to God and believe it!” He has authority because he brings God’s kingdom. He doesn’t just talk about it as a theoretical thing that’s coming one day. He announces that it is here.

The Authority was that of the Kingdom of God. His whole life’s work was about the Kingdom. His whole identity was about being Messiah, Christ, the rightful Lord of this kingdom. 

He has authority to speak and teach, interpreting the Law & Prophets. He has authority over spiritual entities that are causing distress to an individual. He has authority over the physical world. He has an authority over the lives of people, to command or to call.  That could be a scary thing except that Jesus’ authority is itself under authority… baptized, tempted but standing firm, his are a safe pair of hands to carry authority! He uses that authority to heal someone who is unwell. People wonder what’s going on because healing, as work, on the Sabbath day was against the Jewish law. But Jesus’ authority is bigger than that. Bigger than legalism.

Jesus gives his apprentices authority, today… and it is safe, so long as we are under his authority!

Reality

All is not well in the synagogue. Here is a man with an unclean spirit. Forget the horror movie language: “Possessed”. The Greek says in an unclean spirit, and JB Phillips wisely translates “A man in the grip of an unclean spirit”. Whether is was connected with haunting memories from his past, or guilt, or something he had done or something done to him, something had left him out of control. He was “Deeply disturbed” (The Message) but that doesn’t tell the full story. He was in this spirit and the unclean spirit was in him. And he wasn’t the only sufferer. Jesus helped people like him again, and again, and again. These were supposed to be the people of God. How come there were so many of them with dark, disturbing, impure, demonic stuff in their lives? How come one of these guys could sit through the synagogue worship… only to interrupt when the new young Rabbi started to teach. It’s as if his very presence and holiness blew its cover.

The reality was and is, that there will be people around us who are messed up. Sometimes with physical things. Sometimes with mental and emotional things. Sometimes with spiritual things. Sometimes with a mixture of all of them. And the reality is that for some of these people, healing takes a long time. Long enough to disturb us and embarrass and label us. Jesus preached the Kingdom of God. That Kingdom is the rule of God, breaking into our broken world. But the reality is that only at the end of time, will everything and everyone be healed. Until then, we get foretastes of healing – foretastes of heaven – like Marnie sending samples of her cakes in to the staff in the bank across the road. There’s more to come. Not just nibbles but whole cakes. So we get nibbles of healing – with a whole lot to look forward to the other side of the road.

And diversity.

After the synagogue, they go to Simon’s house. Simon’s mother in law has a high fever (Dr Luke tells us). Jesus takes her by the hand, and she is instantly healed of and gets up to make them some food. Then at evening (when the Sabbath is over!) out on Simon’s doorstep, crowds come, with all sorts of ailments, including those pesky unclean spirits. And he healed them and drove out the demons. (Don’t think you have to be in Church to pray for healing!)

Different people; different problems different responses. Jesus never went after demons that didn’t exist. He healed the sick and threw out the demons. The response was entirely appropriate to the individual and the suffering that they presented. And it was the kingdom of God. Signs not just as evidence of the kingdom, but as embodiment of the Kingdom.

So we want to be a healing community. We want to exercise the authority Jesus has given us. The reality is that we can’t promise instant or total healing. But we can promise that whoever you are and whatever you are struggling with today, we will meet you with respect, we will try to show Jesus’ love to you, and we will pray for Jesus’ touch in your life.

© Gilmour Lilly February 2020

Identity: The Helmet of Salvation

Eph 6.17 (with Eph 2. 1-13)

Paul identifies things we need, in order to survive and thrive in our world. He’s been likening these to the soldier’s kit in these verses. Wrap yourself up in truth, let it Nurture you. Put on righteousness to guard your heart, so you Express God’s character; Underbind your feet so the Gospel of peace defines your Walk. Hold the shield of faith: Lean on Jesus. These are ways we need to do to live, in the power of he Spirit, letting God transform us. Paul begins fresh here, with a new verb, a new sentence structure

“Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit…” This week we look at the Helmet of Salvation. The sword of the spirit will be next week. The verb “Take” is not the same as the one used about the shield of faith. That was about picking up the shield. Here, it is literally “Receive the helmet of salvation (as a gift)”. Welcome what God offers you. it’s there, in front of your nose. Receive it!

So what is this “Salvation thing?”

In Eph 2. 1-13, Paul talks about what it means to be saved. It implies:-

  • being rescued from death and brought to the safety of new life. (v. 1-5) Jesus is the resurrection and the life. His victory over death changes everything. Apart from him, we are all not just facing death, but dead already: helplessly adrift morally and spiritually. But he has saved us us from that death, and given us life, through Jesus’ death resurrection. We are not just looking forward to Heaven. We are already seated there. (v. 6)
  • from effort and self-improvement, to the gift of new creation. (v. 8-10)
  • from outsiders to insiders (v 10-13) The Christians in Ephesus , as gentiles, were looked on as outsiders by the Jews. If they wanted to know the Jews’ One God (and many did) they were still outsiders and often treated as such.

Salvation means new life. It means new hope. “I’m gonna live forever!” It means new power. I can live differently, because I am a new creation, God’s handiwork. And not only has he re-made me, he’s already made the good stuff I can do. It means new identity. I am no longer an outsider but fully accepted by god. I have a whole new identity.

If you have never really trusted Jesus, you can receive that gift of salvation today, right here and now. The people in Ephesus Paul wrote to, had already received that salvation! God offers it to you and all you need to do is receive it in trust and surrender to Jesus.

But if the people in Ephesus had already received this Salvation (as Paul says in Ephesians 2. 1-13), how can he then say “receive it” when he’s talking about putting on the armour?

Paul uses an unusual form of the word “salvation” in Ephesians 6. 17. (For those who are interested it is soterios, instead of the usual soteria). And that suggests it is “Applied Salvation.” It’s that thing the God has done, of moving us from death to life, from earth to the heavenly places, from futile gut-busting effort, to knowing his power; it’s that thing he has done that makes us a full member of God’s family, with a transformed identity and a transformed life. It’s all that, applied in our lives to enable us to move in God’s power. The salvation Jesus gives us, impacts our lives in so many big and small ways, time and time again. Receive salvation, worked out in your life.

Paul is deliberately referencing Isaiah 57. 17 which uses the same, unusual word as the Greek Old Testament. Remember who was the first person to take the breastplate of righteousness? The Lord (Isaiah 59. 17) Well, along with the breastplate of righteousness, God wears the helmet of salvation. He goes out to apply his salvation as he rescues his people. And here’s an interesting thing. In the Hebrew language in Isaiah, the helmet of salvation is – listen carefully – Kova Yeshua. Does part of that sound familiar? Yeshua, Jesus, God in human form, is our salvation.

God put on Yeshua, Jesus. He sent his eternal, only begotten Son into the world. He entered our world in Christ, to deal with our sin and bring us into God’s Kingdom. In the battles we face, we are to receive applied salvation. Applied Yeshua. We are not just “Saved” we are “being saved” and it is still a gift from God. So today, receive salvation afresh. What bit are you missing out on? What bit of salvation is not being applied in your life today? The assurance of eternal life, or that your sins are forgiven?. Receive it. The power to live for Jesus? Receive it. The assurance of sonship, of your new identity? Receive it. Afresh. Today.

Leaning on Jesus: the shield of faith

Ephesians 6. 16 with Hebrews 11. 32 – 12 .3

Exercise: either leading someone blindfold around the room, falling backward into someone’s arms, or sharing something about yourself – maybe something embarrassing – but nothing too intimate or personal. The catcher, the leader, and the listener, have to play by the rules: no dropping the other person; no bumping them into something, and no telling what they have told you.

That is an exercise in faith. In trust. So who or what were you trusting? The person: the catcher, the leader, the listener.

Faith

In this text, “faith is the confident trust in and receptiveness to Christ and his power that protect the whole person.” (Andrew Lincoln) Faith in other words is trust in a Person not belief in a concept, or an idea. And faith is not an energy or force that makes things happen: even in the story of the withered fig-tree, when Jesus says faith can move mountains he tells his followers “Have faith in God” (Mark 11. 19) It’s always that way. Paul talks about faith a lot. In almost all of his letters, he at least once defines that faith as “Faith in Christ”. Faith means trusting the real person called Jesus. It means saying to Him, “I believe you are real. I believe you are God’s Son and died for me. I believe you are able to look after me in all I am going through. So come Lord Jesus, journey with me and work out your wonderful plan in my life.” And Paul says that faith is like a shield…

The shield

Roman Shield picture
Roman shield. Public Domain image

In Ephesians 6, there is no word for “belt” and no word for “shoes”. But there is certainly a word for shield. It is the Greek word pylum or (Latin scutum), the large shield 1200mm tall x600mm wide (4ft x2ft6in), made of wood with a thick coating of leather and a metal band to strengthen the edges. This chunky piece of equipment was carried into battle along with the rest of the soldier’s kit. It protected most of the body: head chest, and thighs. It could be used to link the soldier with his fellows in a manoeuvre called the testudo or tortoise, which allowed a whole platoon to advance under a hail of arrows or stones. Before battle, the leather coating was soaked in water – to repel burning missiles. So it took some carrying. But it could be used either individually or together and having a “Boss” (a big piece of bronze) in the middle, it could do some damage to the enemy as well

That gives us some ideas as to how we are to use our faith in the big fight we have against the bad stuff in our world: how to lean on Jesus and what to expect as a result.

We use faith both individually and together. And both as a form of attack and defence. And with it, you will be able to douse all the burning arrows of the evil one.

The fiery darts

So what are these flaming arrows? Fire was regularly used in ancient warfare; and it was as brutal then as it is now. People defending a fort would throw down boiling water, or red hot sand (particularly vicious). On the attack, catapults, crossbows or longbows could be used to propel burning arrows, bolts or javelins. These were designed not only to injure but cause panic, which resulted in soldiers throwing away their shields.

Doubts?

So what are these burning arrows? I was brought up to think they were simply doubts. I used to think this verse meant that when doubts come (and they do) we need to turn up the volume of our faith, to drown these things out. I no longer think that’s right. Rather, as we face our doubts, we affirm what we know to be true about Jesus and about our relationship with him. Faith isn’t believing the opposite of what the facts say. It is holding all of the facts together. And doubt isn’t the same as unbelief. Peter once walked on the water with Jesus, but when he looked at the wind (Matt 14. 30) he forgot the facts he already knew about Jesus. (Fact: waves are made of water, they can knock you about and drown you. But also fact: he had already walked on the water and Jesus was still doing so.) But Peter wasn’t bothers by the waves: it was the wind that made him panic. (Doubt can be irrational!) It wouldn’t have been faith to say “There are no waves!” But it would have been unbelief to say “Jesus can’t help me right now!”

Here the burning arrows represent every type of assaults devised by the evil one. And he loves to use arrows: things that come upon us suddenly. That includes doubt. But it includes lots of other things too. Things inside like that bad thought, that panicky fear,or despair, that loss of control, of temper or appetites. Things outside: that image, that temptation, that wrong teaching or criticism or direct attack.

Faith enables believers to resist and triumph over such attacks, so that, whether they are internal or external, they don’t make us panic and throw everything overboard; they don’t disrupt our relationship with Jesus; the difficulties may or may not disappear, but they don’t destroy us on the inside. They bounce off or are doused by the shield of faith. Faith takes hold of God’s resources in the midst of the onslaught of evil and produces the firm resolve which douses anything the enemy throws at the believer.

Some of the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11 and 12, changed their circumstance through their faith. Others simply found the strength to face the bad stuff.

Take it with you

We need to carry our faith with us all the time. That confident trust in Jesus. It may feel wobbly in our hands. But in reality this faith thing is solid. It can’t be pulled out of shape. Paul says, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep what I have entrusted to him…” (2 Tim 1. 12)

So we pray for healing, but we trust in Jesus in such a way that if he doesn’t heal, we still know we can rely on him. And we will come and ask him for healing another time, for another person. Once a man came with his poorly wee boy to the disciples for help, but they couldn’t do anything to help. Then Jesus arrived and spoke to the man, and encouraged him to have faith. The man answered “Lord, I believe, help me overcome my unbelief”. Sometimes faith is simply the ability to say that to Jesus.

So take the shield of faith. Take it in your hands, pick it up again. Feel its weight, its solidness, the coolness of the damp leather. Determine for yourself that in all that happens, you will lean absolutely on Jesus, because he is solid, reliable, and utterly good. And that faith in him, will make you able to survive whatever the enemy throws at you.

© Gilmour Lilly February 2020