God Has Spoken

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:1-4

Hebrews stands out in the New Testament because there is no certainty over who wrote it or to whom it was written.  The best that can be done when it comes to determining the purpose of Hebrews is to pick clues out from within the text.  It seems like the letter is written to Christians who have been suffering and struggling for a while.  They seem to be losing their motivation to keep going in their faith despite their initial enthusiasm, and it seems that some of them have given up meeting together with others, and some of those who are left are thinking of doing so.  They are probably tempted to drift away from faith, and drift away from the community to ease their suffering and to have some earthly relief from their struggles in faith.  The letter is, therefore, designed to encourage and challenge these Christians to hold on tight to their faith and to stick with it.

Drift Away

When we think of something drifting away, we might picture a boat, that has come loose, or has just somehow got away, and is drifting by itself in a river or lake.   And this is actually likely what the author intends.  Later on in Hebrews hope in God’s promises, including the promise of salvation, is referred to as an anchor for the soul.   A drifting boat, however, has no direction or purpose.

For the last 4 months we have been in lockdown.  For some of us it may have been difficult to maintain our faith, or to remain part of a Christian community in these challenging times.  We might have found ourselves tempted to untie ourselves from the anchor of hope in God’s promises because We’re not meeting together the way we used to meet.  Everything has changed and the new things might be uncomfortable.  It is likely that we are getting close, now, to coming out of lockdown.  But our meetings together post lockdown will be different to what they were like in January and February of this year, so we might be tempted to untie ourselves from the anchor of hope in God’s promises, because meeting together might not seem valuable in the way it once did.

Or we may be tempted untie ourselves from the anchor of hope and to drift away for a very different reason.  Perhaps because life as a Christian in 2020 is tough.  Over the generations church attendance has diminished and Christianity has developed a bad name for a variety of reasons.  It can be hard to be associated with a group that others look upon so negatively.  The younger you are the more likely it is that members of your generation are wary of faith in Jesus, and in that environment, it can be tough to be part of a Christian community.  We are challenged not to drift away, though, because of who Jesus is, how great he is, and what we lose if we drift away from the promise of salvation.

God’s word in the beginning

Jesus is God’s word in the present time, which is described in verse 1 as these last days.  But this is the same creative word that brought the earth, and the universe, into being.  (Gen 1, John 1:1).  The words of God reveal who he is, and the earth and the universe themselves reveal something of the awesomeness of God for those who have eyes to see.

I, personally, am fascinated by the physics of earth and the universe; time and space.  I love reading books that explain things simply, or watching documentaries.  It’s mind-blowing stuff, and part of the reason behind my own faith in Christ.

Wisdom

The Continuity of Jesus being God’s creative word at the beginning of time, and in these last days can be found in Scripture’s personified character of Wisdom.  Jesus embodies God’s wisdom.  What can be said of wisdom can be said of Jesus.  God spoke through the prophets of old. But it is Jesus alone, fully God and fully human, who is able to reveal fully God’s faithfulness in his promises.  Jesus reveals God, not just in the words he speaks but in every aspect of who he is.  His words and is deeds.  God is revealed in his full life’s ministry, including his suffering, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension to God’s right hand and his title of ‘Lord’

Acts 2:36

It seems so very strange that someone like Jesus should be spoken of so highly, as ruling with God.  Afterall he died the most degrading way it was possible to die.  Why would someone who was crucified be regarded so highly by so many people so soon after his death?

I think the answer to that can be found in Acts 2, the passage that we have been studying together since Pentecost.  It was the experience of the Holy Spirit, and the distribution of the gifts of the Spirit; the signs and wonders that accompanied the apostles in their teaching, that convinced people that this Jesus had indeed been made both Lord and Christ – Christ meaning saviour.

Hebrews explains Jesus as Lord and Christ by saying Jesus ‘has provided purification from sins, and sat at the right hand of God.’  But for those to whom Hebrews was written, that message probably seemed to be contradicted by their suffering and ongoing conflict with the society in which they were living.  They are discouraged and dejected.

Jesus

They can have confidence in the salvation promised by Jesus because they had confidence in the law of Moses, and Jesus is so much greater than any prophet of old, and so much greater than angels.

The prophetic words in the Old Testament came from many different people.  Their personalities played a role in the words they spoke.  They were able to convey God’s words as far as they were able to grasp both God and the situations of the world in which they lived in.  God speaking in many times and in many ways meant God’s speech in those days was fragmentary and partial.  Although prophets sometimes demonstrated God’s words with prophetic actions, they themselves weren’t God’s word in the way Jesus is.

Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.  In Scripture God’s glory was his visible presence.  It was the way God’s power could be known and understood by human beings.  That glory was often associated with light in the Old Testament which explains why Jesus is the ‘radiance’ of God’s glory.  You can’t have radiance without light or light without radiance.  God himself becomes visible as he shines in Jesus Christ.  As God’s exact representation everything about Jesus, inside and out, represents God.

And he is also greater than the angels.  Jewish tradition connected the giving of the law on mount Sinai in Exodus chapters 19-31 with angels (Gal 3:19, act 7:53). Angels were seen as very powerful and they had high status in both Judaism and in the Greek culture of the time.  Even today angels have high status for many people – particularly those who are interested in spiritual realities but reject the Christian faith.  But no angel was declared formally a son to inherit rule or salvation.  Only Jesus is enthroned and exalted and given rule over the earth, and named Lord and Christ.

What we are set to lose (law of Moses)

For Jews it was important to follow the laws of Moses, and it was important to listen to the prophets.  It still is because Jesus is not disconnected with these Words of God but is instead their fulfilment.  But even before Jesus, as Hebrews 2:2 says, the words of God were binding.  They mattered.  If that was the case then it matters all the more to hold fast to the word of God who is Jesus.  Hebrews 2:3 doesn’t talk about disobeying Jesus, instead it talks about the need to not neglect him.  In other words, the need to be attentive to him.  He is our anchor of hope and if we untie ourselves from Him then we are neglecting God’s great plan of salvation and hope for us.  we are neglecting God himself: the one who created us and the amazing universe in which we live.  Jesus is the inheritor of the nations, and of the ends of the earth, and if we neglect him we neglect the most amazing inheritance.

How to Hold On

Jesus is our anchor, but it is also he who helps us to hold onto that anchor when we look to him.  Human faith begins with God’s word.  He calls us by name and we listen.  It is his promises that keep us going in faith.  His words are alive, they are active, and they do stuff in our lives (Hebrews 4:12).  His promises and words touch our hearts encouraging and challenging us.  Hebrews 1:3 tells us that his powerful word sustains all things.  Part of that sustaining includes sustaining our faith.  As His Spirit lives in us, He travels with us through all the ups and downs of life and faith.  And he is with us now in our own challenging times.  Faith comes from the message that is Jesus; and in continuing effective listening to that message.  

Hope V Expectations

Matthew 21:1-14

One of the few bits of freedom we have during this current pandemic is that we are allowed out every day for a little bit of exercise beyond our gardens, just as long as we keep our 2m distance from other people.  I am aware that not everyone is able physically (or maybe emotionally)
to get outdoor exercise. But for those who are, you might have noticed that we are surrounded by Rainbows.  Quite a large number of houses with children have put rainbows up in their windows.  

Back in the 80’s it was very common for churches to have images of rainbows up in their windows or on noticeboards.  A few still do, although the trend has now gradually dwindled out.  The church rainbows were accompanied by the words ‘There is hope’.  Although the rainbows in the windows of the houses during this time of pandemic are accompanied by the words ‘stay safe’ or ‘stay at home’ the meaning is much the same as the Christian rainbows of the 80’s.  They are symbolising that if we all stay safe and follow the rules, there is the hope that one day this will all be over.  The enemy of coronavirus will be defeated, and we will be able to meet together and hug each other once more.

The rainbow has long been a symbol of hope because if its place in Scripture. After Noah, and his family, and all the animals, got off the ark at the end of the flood, the Lord God promised his care over humanity.  In Genesis chapters 8 and 9 God places the rainbow in the sky as a sign of his promise that never again will he destroy all living beings. He tells Noah that as long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease. 

So, the symbol of the rainbow is a sign of God’s care over humanity; and life in general.  There is hope.  We will come out of the other side of this pandemic.  Last week there was a beautiful rainbow in the sky.  One of my sisters captured it beautifully. 

(c) Marguerite Adam

There is no doubt that for all of us, in some way or another, this pandemic is a difficult time.  And some will be finding it even harder than others. When times are difficult, we might find that we notice rainbows more, and allow them to lift our spirits with their beauty.

But hope and expectations are different things.  Sometimes hope is fulfilled in a way rather different to how we expected it to be.  Unmet expectations can result in sadness and heart ache.  But hope is more open and flexible.  Hope knows that everything will work out ‘in the end’ but places no expectations on when that end will be or what it will look like.  Hope is realistic.  And Hope lets go of our own need to take control:  In other words, hope lets go and lets God.

Today is Palm Sunday.  It is the Sunday when Jesus entered Jerusalem surrounded by a joyful crowd of Galileans who had come to trust in him.  They had become his followers across the time he had been ministering in Galilee, including during the course of this journey to Jerusalem.  These Galileans were filled with hope and joy in that moment.  To them Jesus was their Messiah, their King, and their prophet.  Though for many of them Jesus was going to fulfil their hope in unexpected ways.  And for some of them those unmet expectations may have resulted in their cries of hope on Palm Sunday changing to cries of ‘Crucify him’ a week later. 

Quiet Messiah

Until this point in time Jesus had been the quiet Messiah.  Whenever he had healed anyone, he had asked them to keep quiet.  That is important because in the first century Jewish world hopes and expectations of a Messiah or saviour were very high.  Although there was some variety in what the messiah would look like he would be God’s final, end time intervention in human history.  One common expectation, though, was that the messiah would be a King.  A King like David had been.  A King who would defeat the enemies of the Jews.  Including, and especially, the Romans who were at that time ruling over the Jews.

Not surprisingly, any claims or actions to be a Messiah, in 1st century Judaism, would have seen that person quickly eliminated by the powers of Rome.  Jesus encouraged people to keep quiet about his actions because it was just sensible to do so.  This is what Mathew 12 says about Jesus as the quiet Messiah.

Matthew 12:15-21

15 When Jesus heard about the plot against him, he went away from that place; and large crowds followed him. He healed all the sick 16 and gave them orders not to tell others about him. 17 He did this so as to make come true what God had said through the prophet Isaiah:

18 “Here is my servant, whom I have chosen,
    the one I love, and with whom I am pleased.
I will send my Spirit upon him,
    and he will announce my judgment to the nations.
19 He will not argue or shout,
    or make loud speeches in the streets.
20 He will not break off a bent reed,
    nor put out a flickering lamp.
He will persist until he causes justice to triumph,
21     and on him all peoples will put their hope.”

But the keeping quiet changed at the opening point to the final week before Rome crucifies him.  The people of Galilee had gradually come to see Jesus as a Kingly-Messiah, and as he approaches Jerusalem together with hundreds of the people that had followed him, he allowed them to praise him, and to declare him as King and saviour.

But Jesus had all this planned.  He allowed himself to be seen as a messiah and King but he does so in a way that counters Rome.

The other parade?

During Passover week the population of Jerusalem would about quadruple as Jews came from all over to celebrate.  In my research I came across a number of people mentioning a book called ‘The Last week’. I haven’t yet read the book, but it is by two scholars: John Crossan, and Marcus Borg.  In it the authors argue that there was another parade the same day that Jesus entered Jerusalem. Each parade entering on different sides of the city.

Every year at the beginning of the Jewish Holy week Pontius Pilate who was the Roman Governor, would March into Jerusalem to keep an eye on what the Jews were up to at the temple.  The Jews were celebrating their freedom from Egypt in the days of Moses, so the Roman governor marched in to the beat of drums.  He would be riding a horse and surrounded by soldiers dressed in leather as though ready for battle.  It was a parade to show force, and to show the Jews that although they were celebrating freedom, they were not free.  They were under the authority of the Romans.  And if the Jews were to rise up against Rome, Rome would quickly and forcefully put them back in their place.

Palm Branches

On the other side of the city, Jesus’s Galilean followers laid down palm branches.  This was a symbolic act.  They had come to believe that Jesus was going to bring their freedom from the Romans.  Roughly 170 years earlier there had been a great celebration to rejoice that Israel had been set free from its gentile oppressors of the time.  That celebration had included the waving of palm branches and signing of hymns of praise and thanksgiving. 

So, when Jesus enters Jerusalem the palm branches indicate expectations that Jesus will set them free from Rome.  The words that they use to praise him also show their expectations.  Hosanna is a term of praise but also had a meaning of being saved.  And son of David indicated their expectation of Jesus being their Messiah King like David who would rule in power and might, and who would free Israel from their enemies, like Rome.

Donkey (v horse)

Pilate’s parade had him riding on a horse into the city.  That was part of the symbolism of force and being ready to fight against the Jews and keep them from taking back their freedom.

While Pilate was on a horse, Jesus had arranged that in his counter parade he would be riding a donkey.  This was symbolic of a King arriving in peace as the quote from Zechariah shows.  Jesus was symbolising that although he was a King, and messiah, he was not intending on coming in force like Pilate.  He was going to remain the quiet and gentle King.  He wasn’t bringing war; he was bringing a revolution of the heart.

The Galilean crowds had their expectations but they most likely didn’t quite understand what Jesus was doing.

Temple/Healing

They might have expected him to stage a coup against Rome.  But instead  Jesus’ first move is to go to the temple.  Because here he is symbolising how he is the Messiah and the true meaning of putting hope in Jesus.

As Jesus and his followers entered Jerusalem the other Jews in the city questioned them.  As a Galilean Jesus was something of an outsider.  And entering Jerusalem is entering the centre of Jewish religion.  And it is here he has something to say. 

Matthew 21:12-14 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’[e] but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’[f]14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 

He challenges religious traditions that have become oppressive.  And he challenges religion that has lost sight of its true purposes.  The true purpose of the temple is for prayer and worship only.  And true worship includes and cares for the needy.  For those reasons Jesus turns the tables of the money exchangers, and then turns to heal.

In these actions Jesus is showing that the enemies he is coming to defeat are the enemies of oppression, injustice, sickness, suffering, and death.

Hope

But, just like Jesus was the quiet Messiah in his earthly ministry, he remains the quiet and gentle Messiah.  He doesn’t defeat these enemies immediately because he is gentle and merciful.  He works through love, and through time.  He won’t break off a bent reed, or put out a flickering lamp, because given the chance and the right care, these things may return to the way they were meant to be.  Jesus works in a gentle way that gives everyone the opportunity, to see the ways in which they might be damaging others.  Even the most wicked people are given opportunity to realise they are on the wrong side of the Kingdom.  He is a Messiah of patience, and of love, and of mercy as well as justice.  The healings of Jesus show that one day he will overcome sickness.  Concrete realisations of that hope come when we do see healings from time to time in the life of the church.

But, although the kingdom has begun, it is also not yet.

Jesus’s first century followers may well have had the expectations they placed in their Messiah dashed.  And Peter might still have been struggling with that when he cut off someone’s ear when Jesus was arrested.  He may have been still struggling to understand that the fight wasn’t against Rome, and that salvation is for everyone, not just the Jews.  He may have been struggling to understand that Jesus had to suffer as part of his mission, and that Jesus had to be gentle.

Expectations may be dashed but hope remains.

Because Jesus is gentle, salvation will take time.  In the meantime, as Mathew chapter 28 tells us, Jesus will be with us until that time is fulfilled.  And his Holy Spirit works in and through us, his people.

So, while there is hope in Jesus it’s not a hope that can be immediately fulfilled. It’s not a hope that sickness can be eliminated here and now; and our enemies destroyed here and now.

Instead it is a hope that people will gradually become more aware of their own ways of injustice, and ultimately change their actions and join Jesus in opposing injustice.

It is a hope that all forms of injustice will be overcome including religious injustice.

It is a hope for the transformation of hearts.

It is a hope that offers freedom to both the oppressed and the oppressor.

And a hope that there will one day be a healing of the whole of creation, when the Kingdom of heaven, which began in the ministry of Jesus, eventually comes in all its fullness.

In the midst of the darkness of coronavirus we have the opportunity to reimagine what we do and how we do it in order to show others the hope that we have in Jesus. 

We get an opportunity to rethink what we do and how we do it when we meet for church.

And when this is all over there might just be a few more flickering lights burning brightly, and few more bent reeds standing tall.

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

Luke 10:38-42. In the home of Martha and Mary

The story of Martha and Mary is the story of quiet, attentive, studious Mary, and busy Martha.  It’s a story I’ve often not paid a great deal of attention to.  I never considered myself anything like Martha.  I’m an introvert and naturally quiet and studious.  I love to sit quietly and learn by reading or listening.  I’m not naturally a doer.  I tend to ignore the housework as long as possible, preferring instead to read or write.  But I’ve come to realise that there’s a bit of Martha in everyone, including myself.  Many of you will know that at the end of January I found myself in Hospital being told I needed emergency surgery to remove my gallbladder.  It was that experience that caused me to realise that there is a Martha in me too.  I’ll tell my story about that in a bit more detail in a few moments.

In the story of Mary and Martha, Martha ends up a little bit angry at both her sister Mary, and her friend Jesus.  Martha loves Jesus and wants to care really well for him.  She wants everything to be just perfect.  She sets about with a whole load of various preparations to make sure that everything is done ‘just right.’   In her mind all these preparations are essential, but she ends up frustrated and anxious, there’s too much to do for everything to be ‘just right.’ 

When things don’t seem to be going well, and it seems there’s too much to do and not enough time to do it in, she starts to get angry.  Rather than looking to herself she gets angry at her sister.  Surely her sister should be helping her with all that needed done for Jesus and his disciples, not just sitting there listening to him.

Interestingly, though, it’s Jesus Martha speaks her mind to and not her sister.  She’s frustrated at Jesus too.  Because she knows Jesus, and because he’s her friend, she feels safe enough with him to just speak her mind.  I reckon that she was thinking that Jesus always does the right thing; he always sets things right.  She believes that what is right is a) that all the preparations must be done perfectly and to a high standard and b) that in order to ease her burden and actually achieve that high standard, her sister should be helping her out.  I reckon that it is for those reasons that Martha fully expects Jesus to take her side and challenge Mary to help her out and ease some of her anxiety. 

But Jesus doesn’t respond the way she thinks he will.  What Martha thinks is ‘right’ isn’t actually ‘right’.  And instead Jesus gently challenges her about how worked up she is getting about everything she thinks must be done.  And he suggests Mary has done the right thing by not worrying about so many things and spending time with him instead. 

There are two things I would like to draw out of this passage this afternoon. The first thing is ‘slow down’.  Based on many of the original Greek manuscripts, the New NIV as a slightly longer version of verse 42.  The longer version on verse 42 says ‘few things are needed, or one’. 

I believe that Jesus is telling Martha that there is no need to be doing so much, and worrying over getting all the preparations done just right.  Much less needs done than she imagines.  Jesus and his disciples are quite happy with the basics, there’s truly no reason for her to be rushing about, and every reason for her to sit down with Mary.  I think that sometimes we can get distracted with all that we think needs doing.  We fill our diaries full of all sorts of stuff that we think is important, and in the process don’t realise we’ve taken our minds off Jesus, and instead transferred it to a variety of random tasks that we assume are necessary. 

The second thing I want to bring out is ‘don’t be overly anxious to please others.’  Perhaps, Martha was trying to make Jesus proud of her for doing a good job in hosting all the guests, and maybe she didn’t even realise that was actually what she was doing.  It is possible that we can fall into a trap of trying to make Jesus, or even other people proud of us for all the work we do and how well we do it.   When that happens, we’ve taken our eyes off Jesus and his power in us, and become focussed on ourselves and our own abilities.

Those Scripture reflections came out of my own recent story.  At around 3am on the morning of Tuesday 21st January I was in A&E at Victoria hospital in Kirkcaldy with intense stomach pains.  By early afternoon that same day, I had received the news that I needed an emergency operation to remove my gallbladder, and that they would aim to do it the next day.

That news really upset me because in my head I had two weeks ahead filled with really important and exciting stuff.  I wasn’t meant to be stuck in a hospital, I was meant to be at home getting the house ready for two members of the Baptist board of ministry to visit myself and my husband the next evening.  I was also meant to be preparing a sermon and then preparing for the board of ministry interview itself, which was to be on the 30th January. 

For me, getting to the board of ministry was a key step in becoming a recognised Baptist Pastor and it was a goal I had been trying to reach for a few years.  And just when it was all about to happen, I was in hospital being told I needed an emergency operation the next day. 

Then, a few days after the operation I was told that having had an operation my board interview had been deferred – all the way until August.  It felt like a huge wind had just ripped through the next two weeks of my life and blown down and shattered all my hopes and plans.  Then, with everything blown down I felt empty, and I felt angry at anybody or anything I could be angry at.

The truth is the world didn’t fall apart because I ended up in hospital for 5 days, and then needed to rest for some time after.  Gil took the sermon I had been meant to do that Sunday.  And it’s OK that I never got to board of ministry on January 30th.   But I also realised that I had been overly anxious to please the board members, including being anxious to get my home in order on top of other preparations.  

I was absolutely devastated about the deferral, and the truth is I’m still struggling with it.  It hasn’t been at all easy for me to let go of the rush to get to my perceived goal.  I need to let go, sit at the feet of Jesus and trust that everything will come together.  I need to trust Jesus to bring everything together and stress less about being anxious to please the board.

Although I’ve generally not considered myself a rusher, God is continuing to gently whisper to me to slow down. Slow down the rush to board, but also slow down my every day pace of life.   In order to slow down we have to realise that fewer things are needed than we realise.  When I was in hospital, I was inspired by the slow pace of life for hospital patients, although at first it took a bit of getting used to.

A week after my operation my Husband and I went on a day trip to Lindisfarne. Also known as Holy Island, Lindisfarne is associated with ancient Celtic saints and is cut off from the mainland of Northumbria for several hours every day at high tide.  It’s a place people often go to spend time with God.  But it was a Thursday at the end of January and so Almost everything was closed.  It was a really windy day that day, and I did reflect on how it had felt like a wind had swept into my life and just cleared everything away.  But I was inspired by the slow pace of life on the island. So slow that the whole Island felt able to more or less hibernate in winter.

In Luke this passage comes straight after the parable of the good Samaritan.  In that context I don’t think this passage is saying do nothing, just sit and Jesus’ feet.  Instead, I think it is saying learn what is important and do that, then sit at my feet.  We need to drop the optional stuff, because when we drop the optional stuff, we have more time to give our best and be there for the people who need us. 

We can get mixed up and think that ‘doing things’ and doing things well is what Jesus wants, when, in fact, the truth is that he wants us to slow down, spend time with him, and stop being anxious about so many things. If we are anxious about all that needs doing, we rush the time sitting at Jesus’ feet and feel we must get up and move onto the next thing or our whole schedule will end up late.  When we try to fill our days with lots of stuff, we have to go fast to fit it all in, but rushing around just tires us out.  In order to go slow we need to have less activities each day.  It’s OK not to have lots of stuff to fill our days.  And as I’m at the point of being mostly recovered now, and able to return to all my old activities bit by bit, including sport, I’m having to work harder to keep my pace slow.

So, to end I thought I would leave you with two questions:

Is there anything you are doing that you don’t need to be doing?

Is there anything that you are anxious and worrying about that you shouldn’t be worrying about?

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

Focus on Word and Spirit

James 1:16-25 Eph 6:17 Eph 1:13-19

Focus on Word and Spirit

Today we are continuing our New Life series on the armour of God in Ephesians 6 with the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.  We are now onto the F of new life.  The sword is about focusing our hearts and minds on the Word and the Spirit.

The sword of the Spirit is intimately connected with the helmet of salvation.  If we were to translate the Greek of Ephesians 6:17 into English keeping the word order the Greek we would get something like this. ‘and the helmet of salvation accept, and the sword of the spirit which is the Word of God.’  The one verb ‘accept’ is used once for both the helmet and the sword and comes between them.  They are given to us together as gifts for us to gratefully accept.

We looked last week at how that verb for accept has the sense of gratefully receive as a gift.  The helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit are there already and we are simply asked to receive the gift.

You might know someone, or maybe even you are someone who isn’t the greatest at receiving gifts.  Someone who isn’t great at receiving gifts sometimes struggles to receive the gift that is given maybe thinking they’re not worthy to receive it.  They might try to give it back to the giver, because they don’t want to accept it.

When God gives us a gift though, we are asked to acknowledge that we are valuable, that we deserve it, and to freely and kindly accept the gift.

The connection between the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit.

The first thing I want to look at this morning is the intimate connection between the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit.

Last Sunday with Gil we looked at salvation and at three things we are saved from.  We’re saved from death to eternal life, we are saved from self-improvement on our own strength to the gift of new creation, and saved from being outsiders, to being included in God’s people, fully accepted by Him.  We are given a new identity.  In his commentary on Ephesians 6:17 Darrell Bock writes that ‘Salvation and the Word are related because the word is the message about salvation in Jesus Christ.’ 

The particular Greek word used for ‘word’ in Eph 6:17 means a verbal message. In Ephesians the gospel is a verbal message about salvation that is spoken to us and which we believe. It is the message that gives us our new identity as new creations.

Ephesians 1:13 says ‘And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.’

Our identity as new creations is accompanied by the seal of the Holy Spirit.  When Paul wrote Ephesians being sealed was a mark of identification or authentication’.  Have you ever been to an event where you’ve received a stamp on your hand when you pay to go in.  The stamp authenticates you to be at the event.  If you’ve sneaked in you won’t have the right mark stamped on your hand and you’re at risk of being spotted without the mark and thrown out.

So when we hear and believe the message of salvation in Jesus Christ, we are marked out as authentically included in Christ with the Holy Spirit.  In other words, we automatically receive the sword of the Spirit when we hear the word.  The word and the Spirit go hand in hand, they cannot be separated.

James (17-21)

In James too, the word is the gospel of Jesus, and James confirms that we have already received the gift of the word.

17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created…

That is that God our Father has given us the gift of being a new creation in Him through the word that we received.  If we are given a new birth as new creations, this word in James is the gospel of salvation, just as it is in Ephesians.  Then James says

‘21 …humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.’

James, like Ephesians, confirms we have already received the word.  James uses the term ‘planted in you’ to confirm that we already have the word.  We automatically receive the word as part of our identity as new creations in Christ, and yet, just like Ephesians we are asked to humbly accept this word.  The Greek verb behind ‘humbly accept’ in James 1:21 is the same Greek verb as for accepting the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God in Ephesians 6:17.

It is the power of God in that word which gives it the ability to save.  The Holy Spirit is the power of God.   Alongside the helmet of salvation, you have received the sword of the Spirit.  It is yours; you are worthy of it, God has given it to you, yet we are still asked to humbly accept as a gift, something which we have already been given.

Fighting against.

There is a purpose to the armour of God.  Gil spoke last week as the helmet of salvation giving us protection through the practical application of the message of salvation.  The sword, adds more detail to that message.

If we know we have a sword but don’t accept it as a gift it does nothing for us.  we could just set is aside saying I’m not worthy of this, or hold it by our sides doing nothing with it, thinking ‘I can’t use it.’  The sword which is empowered by the Holy Spirit does more than carry the power to save us.  It carries with it the power to apply the gospel to our lives as required, as the Holy Spirit makes God’s word in whole of Scripture effective in our lives.

In Scripture there is a constant tension between already and not yet.  We know the battle has been won, and yet we also know that we sense ourselves to currently be in a spiritual battle.  We feel attacked on all sides.  We feel angry about things, or anxious about things.  We see pain and suffering in the world all around us, near us in our own lives and families, and further afield in the world.  The battle is against spiritual powers, not against people, but it is the sword of the Spirit that allows us to defend ourselves against the spiritual attacks we experience that make us angry, anxious, or upset.

Accepting the sword of the Spirit is about discipleship, it is about an openness to God’s presence and the Spirit’s work in helping us understand the gospel and applying it to our lives.

Eph 1:17

I already mentioned Eph 1:13, ‘And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.’  But Paul goes on after that to talk about his prayers for the Ephesians, In v17 he says ‘I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.’

Paul’s prayer is that their belief develops within them so that increasingly the Spirit helps a person know God more, and practically apply that knowledge in wisdom.  It’s not a giving of the spirit for the first time, but a prayer that they would be awakened to the Spirit’s role in revealing wisdom and revelation to them. 

James 1:19, 22-25

Although James doesn’t speak of the word as a sword, but rather about something planted in us that we graciously receive, he confirms that the next stage is discipleship.  We grow in our application of that word, and our ability to keep anger and frustration at life at bay, as we remain open to the presence of God in our lives.  James challenges us not give a brief glance at God’s word revealed to us in Scripture, and then ignore it, but rather to look intently, and do something about it.  He uses the example of a mirror.

I could look into a mirror and see that I had a dirty splodge on my chin, food between my teeth, and greasy hair, and then just walk away. If I then went out to meet up with friends like that, then the whole looking in the mirror thing would have been pointless.  Either my friends would joke a bit about my appearance, or they would say nothing out of politeness, but either way I’m not really doing myself good by going out looking a mess.  But If I looked in the mirror and responded by taking a shower and brushing my teeth, then looking in the mirror was of value, and I’ve done something about it.

If we move the mirror analogy to God’s word we could open the Bible and read James 1:19 which says 19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

We could say to ourselves, that was nice, but then instantly forget it, and then an hour or so later get into a big argument with a family member because we misunderstood something they said and then got upset and angry.

Or we could say to ourselves, God wants me to listen carefully to people and be slow to get angry, so that I don’t get angry without reason, and damage my relationships.  Then an hour or so later when a family member says something that hurts, ask them ‘what did you means by that and why did you say it?’ and after listening for a while realise that it was a misunderstanding, and not get angry or upset.

That is what James means by looking intently.  We read or listen, we take note, we learn, and we respond.  We take time to listen to what the Spirit is saying to us in and through the word.

James’s mirror analogy of looking and then forgetting is like us having the sword of the Spirit, but not using it.  we are attacked Spiritually as life goes against us, and we take all the blows against our armour, and the stabs that get our weak spots, because we don’t know how to hold up the sword in defence.

Or we could use our gift – taking care to think about what we see in the Word and understand it.  Then we can block the blows from the spiritual forces of evil, with our sword of the Spirit, as the Spirit helps us apply truths to our lives.

The living sword

Although James describes the word of God as law in v25 this is not dead law.  It is living and powerful.  As Hebrews says ‘the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword…and it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

This sword is living for two reasons that are found in James 1 v25.  It is the perfect law, and it is the law that gives freedom.  Together these show that it is the Holy Spirit living in our hearts that gives the word of God it’s living power.

Perfect: Jeremiah 31:31-34

The regulations and laws of the Old testament were weak and unable to make anyone perfect or free.  Hebrews 7 18 The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.

But Hebrews 7goes on to say in v28 that the Son, that is Jesus, has been made perfect for ever.

The better hope that we have is Jesus.  The perfect law then is the new covenant which Jeremiah wrote about in advance.  Jeremiah 31:31-34

31 ‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord,
    ‘when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
    though I was a husband to them,’
declares the Lord.
33 ‘This is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,’ declares the Lord.
‘I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.

James tells us that the word is planted in us.  Like the new covenant it is written in our hearts.

Freedom: Romans 8

The most important thing to note about what James says though, is that this looking intently into this perfect law is about freedom.  If we feel forced and required to do something then we aren’t doing it in freedom, we’re doing it because we feel like we are slaves to the Word.  And that takes us back to the helmet of salvation.  We’re saved from death to life, saved from trying to do things in our own strength, and saved from being outsiders, by being made new creations, as God’s people through new birth.  We are released from the pressure of making ourselves perfect, because Jesus has already done that on our behalf.

This freedom, though, is not about us now being careless about how we live our lives.  The perfect law is written on our hearts because the perfect law is the Holy Spirit living in our hearts, the Spirit we all have planted in us from the first moment we believe.

Psalm 40:8 says, I desire to do your will, my God;
    your law is within my heart.’

When God’s word is in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, we want to do God’s will.  We therefore have freedom to do the very thing we want to do.  We want to Please God.  And since it is the Holy Spirit living is us that defines us as Children of God, we are free to make mistakes along the way without fear, because our hearts are set on living by the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.

All this is Romans 8

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,[b] God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.[c] And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires

11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of[e] his Spirit who lives in you.

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ 

How do we accept the gift of the sword?

James asks us to look intently into the Word.  The Greek word carried the idea of bending over to inspect something carefully.  The looker knows there’s something important to be seen and tries to make sense of it.  It may be like a puzzle, or mystery, and understanding it probably won’t come easily or all at once.  But the main thing is the desire to understand the important thing.  It’s a word rarely used in the New Testament.   But it is used to for Mary, and John, and Peter when each look into the empty tomb of Jesus trying to make sense of what has happened. The Holy Spirit only helps us understand mysteries when we are ready to understand them.

And because the sword of the Spirit that is the word of God lives in our hearts at all times, the Holy Spirit may enable us to apply the word at any time of day or night.  We might wake up with a sudden thought of something that will enable us to live well.  I believe that the Holy Spirit might guide our minds and hearts in understanding and revelation even while we’re dreaming, doing dishes, or reading a novel or watching TV.  It may even be a TV program that helps us understand something more of God.

I can’t accept that; I can’t use that?

To return to our introduction.  This gift of the sword of the Spirit is for you.  If you think ‘nah, that’s not for me, I don’t understand Scripture, then know this: It is for you.  You are worthy of it.  You are able to receive it.

The word is the gospel of Salvation in Jesus Christ as proclaimed to us, so whoever you are, the Holy Spirit will enable you to understand God’s word however it comes to you.  It may be in Scripture, or it may be through other people proclaiming the message of Scripture while you listen.

Anyone can do this, because the Holy Spirit knows us and works with us:  With our unique personalities, abilities, and experience.  The word and the Spirit work together in such a way that the word is applied uniquely to us, and it is able to cross all the boundaries that separate people and cultures across time and space.  It can also be applied at the group level to us as a church, and to families, and even to towns like Rosyth as the Spirit leads.

Jesus used memorised Scripture to refute the devil when he was tempted in the wilderness, and memorising bits of Scripture is always a useful thing.  But not everyone is able to memorise scripture and that’s OK because it isn’t actually necessary.  What is necessary is simple openness to God.  Desire to do God’s will, and openness for the Holy Spirit to do just what Paul prays for the Ephesians in 1:17. that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.

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

Walking: Ephesians 6. 15

Walking: Feet fitted with the readiness of the Gospel of Peace.

See also Isaiah 52. 9-14, Luke 10. 1-9

How do we walk through a world that is big on dangers and small on signposts? In a world where just this week we have had news of of the Coronavirus outbreak, the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and frightening increases in certain violent crimes in our cities? Fires in Australia and a swarm of locusts 37 miles long and 23 miles wide in Kenya. In a world whose environment is falling apart, a world with so many divisions and prejudices and inequalities. How do we walk through this jagged and slippery and scorpion infested terrain?

Roman soldier’s footwear. Author unknown. Shared under Creative Commons 3 license

We need the right shoes! Or rather, the emphasis is on the feet not the shoes. We need beautiful feet! Paul is deliberately referencing Isa 52. 7, which we sang earlier in the service and which will help us understand what Paul means. Paul speaks about having our feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. And “fitted” literally means “under-bound” which is a perfect description of a benefit a Roman soldier derived from wearing the official army boots which were like hobnailed sandals!  Tough thick leather soles bound on to the feet and lower legs with thongs. Footwear like that was tough & hard-wearing for marching and fighting, but cool enough for a hot climate. It’s ever so practical and everyday. You weren’t ready for duty until you had under-bound your feet. So here’s something else we need to carry with us every day in 2020. If we are to walk safely and effectively through our world we need to have her feet “under-bound” with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

So I’m not talking about the Ministry of silly walks (We had to have a Python reference in the week Terry Jones died!) There are three things that need to affect the way we walk among people in our world. Readiness, Gospel & Peace.

  1. Readiness… for whatever comes. The word means prepared, available for use, properly equipped, standing by for action. I used to think this meant “readiness to tell the gospel of peace”: and that’s part of it, but not the whole story. The NIV is right: it’s readiness that comes from the Gospel of Peace… What has the Gospel done to you? How has it affected you? I know we need to rest: as I was preparing this after a late night and an early start (I woke at 4.30 and couldn’t get back to sleep!) one of my readings was Psalm 127: “It is in vain that you rise early and stay up late, eating the bread of anxious toil.” (I laughed at God’s sense of humour!) I know, and don’t want to underplay, the importance of waiting on the Lord, quietness, silence, and soul-care. Iit’s vital, not optional. But we need soul-care not so that we can have super-pampered souls. We need soul-care because we are called to mission and service. Jesus took the twelve off on retreat after a time of busy mission. Does the Good News result in your being a slouch or a servant? Readiness comes from the Gospel!
  2. Gospel: what does “Gospel” mean?  It means Good News. What was and is the Good News? It begins with “Our God reigns!” (Isa 52. 7) It continues in Jesus’ own ministry with “The Kingdom of Heaven has come!” (Lk 10. 9) and then after the death and resurrection, it shouts “Christ (the Messiah, the King) died for our sins, was buried, and raised” (1 Cor 15. 3) and “Christ in you (gentiles) the Hope of Glory!” (Col 1. 27) The Good news inevitably leads us to the Kingdom, the rule of God. There are not multiple Gospels. Paul is clear about that in Galatians 1. So you can’t separate the Good News that “Our God reigns” from the Good News that Messiah died for our sins and rose again. The kingdom has come. That is Good news for lost people. It is good news for a broken world. Is your life affected by the Good news? Is your Gospel good news?
  3. Peace. Again, in the Old Testament, peace, Shalom, is an idea of cosmic harmony. (And for Jewish people it still is). It is the idea that, when God’s people are looked after by God, everything is at peace: the nation has peace instead of constant wars. The people are at peace with one another, with their land, and the created order is at peace with itself (lions eating grass like cows, children putting their hands into snakes’ nests and not getting bitten, in Isa 11. 6-9, and 65. 25). Peace is both Vertical & horizontal.

In the New Testament, that promise is fulfilled in Jesus. When Jesus comes he proclaims the Shalom of God: healing the sick is not just something Jesus does to draw a crowd. It is a sign that God’s Kingdom has come because it is part of God’s Kingdom. (Lk 10. 5-8) And When Jesus comes, he is looking for people of peace: people who are hungry for that sense of harmony and obedience to God.

So when Paul reflects on Jesus, he says things like “He is our Peace.” (Eph 2. 14f; Col 1. 19-21) For Paul, peace with God, results in peace with each other, across dividing walls of hostility. And for Paul and many like him, the greatest, tallest division was that between Jews, and everyone else. The Jews believed themselves to be God’s uniquely chosen, loved, favoured people. They were privileged to have a law that showed them how to be clean. And they believed that everyone else was far away, outside God’s family, and dirty to boot! In Christ, Jew and non-Jew are reconciled. And then, when God makes everything new, at the end of time, the leaves of the tree of life bring healing to the nations. (Revelation 22.2)

So we need the readiness that comes from the Gospel of peace. We have peace with God, and that is good news! We understand what it is to be bridge-builders over the grand canyons that divide people, to be reconciled to each other with all our differences, and to be seeking the cosmic harmony, the shalom that God gives, not just for one nation but for every nation, the whole world that God loves. And that is good news. The good news is about peace with God and each other. The kingdom brings peace. The good news is peace and the peace is good news.

And that readiness, is readiness to walk together at peace and under God’s rule. It is readiness to live in our broken world, in a way that reflects the life we have received in response to the Good News of peace. To walk together, and among people, as peacemakers, grace-bringers, Kingdom-seekers, hope-stirrers, joy-sharers and care-givers.

© Gilmour Lilly January 2020