Why do some people in our society accept the Gospel message while others do not? This was a great historical debate between, amongst others, John Wesley and George Whitefield. John Wesley was adamant that all people could be ‘saved’ while George Whitefield had different views. In our Gospel reading this week, Jesus seems to suggest there is some mileage in the latter’s views. Jesus says “You did not choose me, but I chose you..” However, we need to consider other things that Jesus said. Jesus is on record as saying that ‘the harvest is plentiful’ and also ‘go into ALL nations baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’. Whatever our views on predestination, what is clear is that God has not chosen to reveal to us those who are pre-destined. Therefore, we proceed to proclaim the Gospel by all the means that we can to all people that we can until told otherwise. Peter captures his Lord’s sentiment on this issue when he writes: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” It is our joy, calling and privilege to do nothing less!
1 John 5:1-6
How many wars or conflicts are caused by one group of people believing that they are different from others? In the Gospel reading assigned for today, Jesus addresses this whole issue of exclusivity. In Ancient Israel, many of the Jewish religious leaders believed that Israel was the only nation important to God. They believed that other nations were ultimately destined for destruction. Jesus made it clear that God’s sheep are not only from Judaism but also from the non-Jewish world. True, Jesus, for practical reasons, encouraged his followers to start with the ‘lost sheep of Israel’ but then made it clear that the Church’s mission was universal. Jesus stayed and taught in Samaria, praised the Roman centurion for his faith, told a story about a good Samaritan and declared that many from the North, South, East and West will sit down in the Kingdom of God. Lord forbid that we should ever think that our Christian faith is only for us and people like us.
1 John 3:16-24
The Gospel reading appointed for this week is Luke’s account of Jesus’ appearance to his disciples in the upper room. Luke includes the detail of the disciples actually touching Jesus and then Jesus eating with them. What is the significance of this? Perhaps there was a heresy circulating in the early church that Jesus had not fully risen in bodily form and was just a vision. The Gospel writers are emphatic about there being a physical, bodily resurrection. Today many people, including some Christians, still dispute the reality of a physical resurrection. Perhaps their thinking is that corpses do not come back to life and not even God can do this. This is a curious view to hold of the God who created a universe 100 billion light years in diameter and formed humanity from dust. Surely, the author and sustainer of all life could easily accomplish new life from death. The wonderful reality is that just as God did this with Jesus, He can accomplish the same with all of us who are in union with Jesus. However, for me, the real wonder is even more profound. The real wonder is that God bothered with us in the first place. Why, when we had rejected Him, did God do this for us? That is the real miracle. Let us continue to ponder that, this week.
New Testament Reading for this Sunday: Acts 3:12-19
Psalm for this Sunday: Psalm 4
Epistle Reading for this Sunday: 1 John 3:1-7
Gospel Reading for this Sunday: Luke 24:36-48
A work colleague in the Middle East once said to me that as he travels the world and meets new people, he has reached the conclusion that all people from all nations are basically good. Is he right? It is very tempting to sometimes think that. Does the devil want us to think that because it reduces the need for the cross? Of course, we only need to consider the plight of persecuted minorities (including Christians) around the world today to realise that not everyone is good. But is there also something fundamentally wrong with all of us? In the Bible passage from John’s Gospel assigned to this week, Jesus tackles this question head on. He says, “Now is the time for judgement on this world.” Clearly there would be no need for judgement if everything and everyone was indeed ‘good’. If we are too much in love with ‘this world’ with its shallow values, corruption and injustices, then Jesus’ warning to us is a stark reminder to change. As citizens of heaven our eternal home is elsewhere, and we should focus on those values, not ‘worldly’ values. However, as always with Jesus, there is hope, even in this corrupted world. He goes onto say that when he is lifted up (onto a cross), all people will be drawn to him. Praise God for this indescribable sacrifice. The power of the cross is as strong as ever and while people are not basically good, in Christ, they can become so.
It was John Newton, the famous 18th century hymn writer, who once said that he remembered only two things: firstly, that he is a great sinner and, secondly, that Christ is a great saviour. It is precisely this tension that lies at the heart of the Christian faith. Only when we realise our own sinfulness can we begin to grasp the breath-taking nature of God’s love for us. This is precisely the message of this week’s Bible passage from John’s Gospel, chapter 3. In this, the fourth Sunday of Lent, we see part of this love as Jesus wrestled with temptation for our sakes in the desert. Although it is not always culturally acceptable to talk about our sinful natures, the message from the Gospels is unequivocal. Men and women have chosen darkness and condemnation if they reject the light of Christ. Perhaps in our modern age we do not dwell enough on our sinful natures. Perhaps in our preaching and worship today we only focus on the love of God and not the wrath of God. Therefore, it is good to sometimes read old Christian books and sing old hymns so that we don’t get caught in the blind spots of our present culture. The amazing reality is that, because of God’s grace, we do not need to perish or stand condemned. Of course, it was John Newton who captured this truth so eloquently in his most famous hymn, ‘Amazing Grace’. This is a marvellous basis for reflection as we continue to journey through Lent.
Bible readings this week:
Psalm 107: 1-3, 17-22
John 3: 14-21
As Christians, is it ever right to be angry? Is it ever right to show hatred? In truth, most Christians shy away from these character traits. Perhaps, as children, we have been overly influenced by Sunday school messages of ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild’. In our churches, we emphasise love, forgiveness and ‘turning the other cheek’. Anger and hatred do not seem to be a feature of the modern church. Nevertheless, is there a place for anger and hatred in our Christian ministry? The Bible passage for this week, the third week in Lent, is the account of Jesus overturning the tables of the money lenders in the temple. This is one of the times in Jesus’ life where he demonstrates anger – profound anger. I wonder whether we, as modern day followers of Jesus, should be more angry. Angry at the injustices of poverty, homelessness, sex trafficking and countless other ills that confront our world. In a society where the gap between rich and poor is growing ever wider, shouldn’t we vent our righteous anger by speaking up against these divisions in our society? What about hatred? If we are simply passive towards social injustice then we will not be sufficiently motivated to act. If we hate injustice, we will have a greater incentive to put right the wrongs. Therefore, in answer to the question posed at the beginning, yes, I believe it can be right to be angry and to hate injustice. More importantly, this was precisely the attitude shown by Jesus as he confronted the social ills of his day where the bankers were ‘fleecing’ the poor people in the name of religion.