When we spend a lot of time praying for others, have you ever wondered how other people pray for us? Have you ever wondered how Jesus prays for us? Fortunately, the Bible records very clearly one prayer that Jesus prays for all believers. It is found in this week’s Bible reading from John’s Gospel. In the space of four verses, Jesus prays five times for the same thing. He prays that all Christians will be united. This is his over-riding desire for His church in this passage. Unity does not mean uniformity. It does not mean that we must organise worship and church in the same way, so what does it mean? The clue comes when Jesus likens unity to the Godhead itself. Just as the Godhead is united in an unbreakable and perfect harmony of love, so should the church be. There should be no criticism of other sincere and authentic Christians. Rather, we should love, support and respect them in the name of Jesus Christ. What is the rationale for this unity? Again, Jesus addresses this in the passage: “May the church be one so that the world might believe.” Few things are as much of a turn-off to non-Christians as disunity in the church. If the church can’t agree on its fundamental message, why should people outside the church take the message seriously? It is a sobering thought. Therefore, let us be united in love as we move towards the day of Pentecost next week.
Who is the Holy Spirit? Many Christians love Jesus (because He died for us), have a deep respect for, and fear of, God (because He is awesome) and a monumental ignorance of the Holy Spirit. In a famous book, John V Taylor described the Holy Spirit as the ‘Go-between God’. In the Bible passage assigned to this week, Jesus gives us two clear roles of the Holy Spirit. Firstly, the Holy Spirit will teach us ALL things. That is, ALL things. There is never a time when the Christian can say that he or she knows everything. We need to keep learning and keep exploring the riches of God. The Holy Spirit will help us in this task. This is particularly important for everyone in Christian leadership and discipleship. How can we lead and disciple others unless we are moving forward ourselves? Secondly, the Holy Spirit will remind us of everything that Jesus has said. The Holy Spirit will constantly bring to our minds the teachings of Jesus. Further, He will enable us to interpret this truth and so apply it to our situation in 2019. God is on the move and we need to be on the move with Him and the Holy Spirit will help us in this journey. He is the ‘go-between’ us and God in Christ. As such, He is a vital and indispensable part of the Godhead, without whom we cannot be effective. That gives us a glimpse of who the Holy Spirit is.
What is heaven like? Some Christians are concerned that it might just be one eternal Sunday morning service. Is this likely? The Bible says remarkably little about heaven given that it is the ultimate destiny of every believer. Perhaps the reason is that the reality of heaven is so mind-blowingly wonderful that no words or images can begin to capture it. One attempt to explain what heaven is like can be found in this week’s New Testament reading from the book of Revelation. The writer has a vision of God coming down to re-create the earth into a perfect world. Perhaps like the world that God made for humanity to inhabit before the fall. In this new world there will be everything that is familiar and beautiful without the tears, pain, toil, sickness and death. A perfect world where God is in charge and the devil, pride and selfishness are banished for ever. A world where all creation lives in perfect harmony with each other. This is consistent with other themes of scripture. Is this likely? Ultimately, we don’t know. Just as the day and hour of Jesus’ return is unknown, so too is how God will engineer the transition of our mortal bodies from death to eternal life. What we can be sure about is that heaven will not be a never-ending Sunday morning service.
What or who do we listen to? News alerts as well as social media provide us with a range of information about the world we live in. Indeed, the President of the USA uses twitter to communicate with the world his thoughts without it being filtered by the media beforehand. The problem with such a vast array of information across the internet is that it is hard to discern fact from opinion or even truth from fake news. Who do we listen to? In the Bible passage this week from John’s Gospel Jesus says: “My sheep listen to my voice”. But discovering what Jesus is saying to us is sometimes difficult. If our actions are being met with opposition it may be that God is not opening doors for us or, alternatively, it may be that we are doing exactly what God wants and the devil is therefore interfering. Both these scenarios are possible. So, how do we listen to Jesus? Certainly, God may be speaking through those close to us: family, friends and church members or leaders. Then there is also the possibility that God is using our conscience to speak to us. Finally, there is what the Bible says. However, even here, the Bible says many things about many topics. So, what is the answer? The best answer is an ongoing daily relationship with the Lord, grounded in Scripture, prayer and faith in an all-powerful and all-loving God. To listen with our whole being to a God who is closer to us than we realise by all means possible remains our calling and our delight.
Who do we love above all others? For most people the answer to this question might be a husband, a wife, a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a daughter, a son or some other relative or special person. What about us? This was the question put to Peter by Jesus beside the Sea of Galilee in our Bible passage this week: “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” What precisely did Jesus mean? Was he pointing at the time to the boat, the nets and the fish that they had just caught? Was he pointing to the other disciples? Do you love me more than your career? Do you love me more than your friends? Although, there is no mention of Andrew being there, John’s Gospel does mention two other disciples which might have included Andrew. Do you love me more than your brother? For the Christian, we are called to love the Lord before anything or anyone, including biological family. Two more things must be said. Firstly, note the grace of the Lord. Peter, who had denied Jesus three times, was given the opportunity to be fully restored by a threefold declaration of love. Secondly, following this declaration of love, Jesus gives Peter, and all of us, a task. Peter’s task was to look after other believers. Here too, we have a vital calling for it is in genuinely loving God’s people that we demonstrate our authentic love for the Lord Himself.
To whom or to what do we submit? As citizens of the United Kingdom we, quite rightly, submit to British law and, for the moment at least, to European law. It is sound Christian teaching that the Church should fit into all aspects of civil and criminal law within the country where it is based. But, what if that law contravenes God’s law? Should Christians speak out, risk imprisonment and then be rendered impotent? Or, should Christians be ‘wise as serpents’ and seek to influence things for good from within? What does the Bible speak into this? Well, of course, the Bible says many things but, in this week, the week following Easter week, the New Testament passage is highly informative. The ‘council’ (ruling authority of the day) ordered the Apostles to stop telling the people in Jerusalem about Jesus. The reply by the Apostles is simple and direct. Peter replied: “We must obey God rather than human authority.” Peter then goes on to spell out the facts, clearly and with respect to the high priest who is questioning him: “The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by crucifying him.” Extra-ordinary courage from Peter which incensed the high priest who wanted to kill them all. However, that was not what happened. Following the advice of a pharisee called Gamaliel, the Apostles were released. The reasoning of the Jewish council was if Christianity came to nothing, then it wasn’t worth getting angry about. If it flourished, then not even all the legal and spiritual leaders of Israel could do anything about it. Of all the weeks of the year, Easter time is when Christians in the UK can speak out, even at the risk of upsetting people, if not (yet) breaking the laws of the land.