Easter Services

 

2010 Holy Week Services

SERMON SERIES:~ “Personalities of the Passion.”

“Palm Sunday” March 28th 2010

 

 

Meditation:  “The Fickle Crowd.”

1. Introduction

With the “Triumphal Entry”, we mark the beginning of the end for Jesus.  His entry into Jerusalem sealed His fate.  He could have stayed clear of the city; laid low; kept quiet; withdrawn to the far country of His upbringing and, by no longer troubling the religious leaders, He would have been allowed to live.  But this was not God’s plan, so it was not Jesus’ plan either. 

We see that this was a possibility that at least passed His mind in some form or another.  We are used to hearing at Easter time about the agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane where He prayed to the degree that tears flowed like blood from His eyes.  We are familiar with the words of the prayer, “Father, if it be Thy will, let this cup pass from me.”  And we are equally as familiar with the answer he gave Himself, “Yet, not my will but Thy will be done.” 

John does not have a garden scene in His Gospel, but he does have Jesus acknowledging the ordeal that was soon to come and John tells us that Jesus faced up to it with His expected courage.  “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘  Father, save me from this hour’?  No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.  Father, glorify your name!” 

But, before all this, we know Jesus entered Jerusalem – he went right into the heart of the lair of His enemies. 

At His entry, He was greeted by the cries of the crowd.  Who made up this crowd?

2. The Crowd

John’s Gospel tells us that the crowd was made up of many people who had come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover.  Each year, the population of Jerusalem would be swollen by many thousands of pilgrims who came for the festival.  John also tells us that the crowd who had gone to see Jesus at Bethany was also there – spreading the word about how Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead.  This encouraged even more people to throng to Him; to throng to see the wonderful miracle worker – much as people will crowd the city when a conquering sports team visits. 

So, the crowd was made up of faithful Jews who had come for the feast; it had at least some of those who were at Bethany when Jesus visited there on His way to Jerusalem; and, we find out later, it also contained Greeks.  These were a type of person who was called a “God fearer.”  In other words, they were Gentile converts to Judaism.  And, we need to remember, there were many such people throughout the Middle East – people who were attracted to the monotheism of the Jews and their morality. 

3. What were They Expecting?

What was this crowd expecting to see? 

Obviously, they expected to see a wonderful miracle worker; a man whose reputation had spread far and wide over the past three years; a man, it was rumoured, who had come to free His people from Roman occupation. 

The prophets had foretold such an event.  Indeed, John quotes one of those prophets – Zechariah.  We heard the section from which John quotes (rather loosely) in this morning’s Old Testament lesson:

9Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!

Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!

See, your king comes to you,

righteous and having salvation,

gentle and riding on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

10I will take away the chariots from Ephraim

and the war-horses from Jerusalem,

and the battle bow will be broken.

He will proclaim peace to the nations.

His rule will extend from sea to sea

and from the River to the ends of the earth.  

So, you see, the expectation built up by rumour and misunderstood prophetic writings led to a great misunderstanding.  When the people cried,

“Hosanna!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the King of Israel!”  

I have no doubt that they meant it all quite literally.  The word “Hosanna”had come to simply mean, “save.”  The people genuinely expected salvation from this person – but they expected political salvation, perhaps even military salvation.  They recognised that this great man must have the power of God on his side because of the wonderful things He had done.  Not just anybody could give life to the dead!  And so, the cry, “Blesses is the King of Israel!”was intended to give Him the title they thought He deserved.  At long last someone had come – in the power of God – to do what many others had tried to do in the past, but had failed.  There had been many uprisings against the Romans, but the Roman army had always crushed it.  Surely, this one would be different. 

4. Their Mistake

They made a big mistake, however.  And, I must say, Jesus didn’t help matters here either!

We know of times in the past when people tried to make Jesus a king and he refused and left them as He went away alone.  But here, He makes no effort to stop them crying out.  In fact, Luke tells us that, when the leaders told Jesus to make the crowd shut up, He replied, "I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." 

Jesus was saying they were right to cry out and acclaim Him as the King – but He also knew that they had it all wrong! 

Even Zechariah, if they had read him properly and fully, would have set them on a different and more correct path,

See, your king comes to you,

righteous and having salvation,

gentle and riding on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

This King is no military leader – He is gentle and rides on a colt of a donkey, not on a warhorse

This was the entry of the One the angels proclaimed to be the Prince of Peace at His birth. 

The crowd made a big mistake.  There’s an old saying: God made man in His own image; and man has returned the compliment!  The crowd made the mistake of making Jesus into the type of King they wanted – they were not satisfied with Him being the type of King He was!  A King who brought freedom from the fear of death, quite simply, was not what they wanted. 

5. The Crowd Turns

Crowds are dangerous things.  Only last week we heard of a crowd that became so incensed at a car race being cancelled that they attacked a Bob Jayne T-mart because Bob Jayne was the sponsor of the abandoned race.  As one crowd watched on (and took pictures) another crowd destroyed a man’s business. 

Crowds are dangerous things.  When they don’t get what they want, they can turn ugly. 

Crowds are dangerous things.  When some charismatic leader rises in their midst, they can create a Kristallnacht

And that is what happened to this crowd.  They changed from crying out,

“Hosanna!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the King of Israel!”  

To crying out, “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!”

Were they the same people?  I have no doubt that there were some of the same people in each group.  What had happened?  Jesus was not the King they wanted, so they decided He deserved to die for disillusioning them! 

6. Conclusion

We need to be wary of the “crowd mentality”, because it can very easily denigrate into “mob mentality.”  Crowds can be induced to destroy an innocent man’s business; crowds can be induced to destroy the property of one unfortunate group of people; crowds can be induced to call out for God to be murdered! 

We need to be wary of crowds – especially when they don’t really know what they are doing.  We need to be wary of crowds because they can, all too easily, be turned by a faulty logic or a jealous nature; or a threatened ego. 

We are not to be like the crowd that goes along a self-perpetuating road of destruction and injustice.  What should we be like?  Paul tells us:

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

6Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

7but made himself nothing,

taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

8And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to death—

even death on a cross!

We should be people who are not dragged along by “crowd mentality”; we should be people who consider things for ourselves in the light of God’s Word and come to our own decisions – not the decision of the majority, because that can be a destructive thing.  We should deny our ego and glorify God; we should serve, not destroy; we should be humble and seekers of ways to serve, not ways towards self- or crowd-promotion; we should be obedient to God no matter the cost. 

Paul ends his statement with the words:

9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

To conclude, I want us to think about a man who does not appear in our readings this morning – the man who gave Jesus the donkey.  Jesus sent some men to get the donkey and gave them some statements to make if challenged.  You know the story – or, you can check them out in Matthew, Mark or Luke – John, for reasons of his own, doesn’t record it. 

I wonder if this man knew what he was actually doing?

Max Lucado, in “And the Angels Were Silent” relates an event with far reaching consequences.  It is an incident that relates very much to the man who owned the donkey and it is something we should take on board as we live out our lives for God’s glory. 

He tells of a man that, probably, none of you have ever heard of: his name was Kimball.  Mr Kimball was a Sunday school teacher in Boston in the nineteenth-century.  He took the time to tell a shoe clerk about Jesus.  You don’t know Kimball, but you probably know the shoe clerk – his name was Dwight Moody.  Moody was converted and became an evangelist who influenced another young man, Frederick B. Meyer, who converted another man called J. Wilbur Chapman who became involved in the YMCA, who talked a baseball player called Billy Sunday into going to North Carolina to conduct a revival to which evangelist Mordacai Hamm was invited, and a young man in that revival gave himself over to Jesus – his name was Billy Graham. 

You see, it is individuals who make a difference.  It was an unknown man who enabled Jesus to enter the city of His death where He paid the price of your sins and mine; it was an unknown who indirectly allowed, arguably, the greatest evangelist of modern times to do his great work. 

We must be careful of fickle crowds; we must be committed to Jesus.  Crowds can rejoice, but soon turn on the one they celebrated.  Commitment to Christ can, on the other hand, give rise to wonderful blessings for the world and the Kingdom of God.

 

Monday 29th March 2010

 

Call to Worship:  Psalm 36.5-9.

5Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens,

your faithfulness to the skies.

6Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,

your justice like the great deep.

O Lord, you preserve both man and beast.

7How priceless is your unfailing love!

Both high and low among men

find?b?refuge in the shadow of your wings.

8They feast on the abundance of your house;

you give them drink from your river of delights.

9For with you is the fountain of life;

in your light we see light.

1st Bible Reading:  Isaiah 49.1-7.

1Listen to me, you islands;

hear this, you distant nations:

Before I was born the Lord called me;

from my birth he has made mention of my name.

2He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,

in the shadow of his hand he hid me;

he made me into a polished arrow

and concealed me in his quiver.

3He said to me, “You are my servant,

Israel, in whom I will display my splendour.”

4But I said, “I have laboured to no purpose;

I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.

Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand,

and my reward is with my God.”

5And now the Lord says—

he who formed me in the womb to be his servant

to bring Jacob back to him

and gather Israel to himself,

for I am honoured in the eyes of the Lord

and my God has been my strength—

6he says:

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant

to restore the tribes of Jacob

and bring back those of Israel I have kept.

I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,

that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

7This is what the Lord says—

the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel—

to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation,

to the servant of rulers:

“Kings will see you and rise up,

princes will see and bow down,

because of the Lord, who is faithful,

the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

Meditation:

This is the first of what are known as the “Servant Songs” in Isaiah (the others are: 42.1-4; 50.4-9; 52.13 – 53.2).  Given that – at different times – the “servant” can be seen as Isaiah, Israel or another (it depends on which commentator you take as being correct) what does the statement:

Before I was born the Lord called me;

from my birth he has made mention of my name.

have to say to us about such things as abortion and the euthanatizing of either children or adults? 

As we read back from Christian times to the Servant Passages, we can clearly see that they represent the coming of Jesus.  What does this say about the nature of our Lord’s mission? 

What does it say about those who see, in the Crucifixion, a failure? 

What does this say to you about God’s knowledge of what will transpire in the world?

2nd Bible Reading:  Luke 2.21-35

21On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.

22When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”?a?), 24and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”?b?

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout.  He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  27Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts.  When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,

you now dismiss?c?your servant in peace.

30For my eyes have seen your salvation,

31which you have prepared in the sight of all people,

32a light for revelation to the Gentiles

and for glory to your people Israel.”

33The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him.  34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.  And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Meditation:

We read in Leviticus 12,

6“‘When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering.  7He shall offer them before the Lordto make atonement for her, and then she will be ceremonially clean from her flow of blood.

“‘These are the regulations for the woman who gives birth to a boy or a girl.  8If she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering.  In this way the priest will make atonement for her, and she will be clean.’”

What does this say about the financial situation of Jesus’ parents when we read verse 24 (given that they were righteous people and not given to cheating God)? 

How willing are we to consecrate anything to God – let alone the first and the best? 

Simeon’s statement of praise is called the “Nunc Dimittis” and often forms a part of liturgical music settings.  What part of Simeon’s praise echoes a part in our passage from Isaiah? 

What does this say about the familiarity of the people of our Lord’s time with Scripture?  How does the familiarity of most people (even Christians) with scripture compare to this?  How does our own familiarity with Scripture compare with this?  What should be done about it? 

Meditation on: “Simeon”

Simeon– who rejoiced at meeting the Baby Jesus, yet who warned of a tragic future for Jesus, Mary and Israel.

1. Introduction

This is the very first time Jesus entered the temple.  In the next section of his Gospel, Luke relates the story of the twelve-year-old Jesus astounding everyone as He talked, questioned and, perhaps, debated with the temple teachers.  How many times in between He visited the temple and Jerusalem we don’t know. 

This was the time, however, for coming to the temple for the final purification of Mary and the circumcision of Jesus.  It is interesting to note, however, that none of the Gospel writers actually say that Jesus was circumcised.  There can be little doubt that He was, but it shows how little importance they placed on the fact – something that we should keep in mind when, in many of the Epistles, the battle is waged over whether Gentiles need to be circumcised before they could become Christians. 

Along with the purification was the obligatory offering – and the one our Lord’s family made was that of a poor family – which is something that needs to be addressed by those who say Jesus grew up in a mid to upper socio-economic environment.  Either the family was poor, or they were not very strict in their obedience to the Law and short-changed God.  I doubt the latter, so I would say that Jesus was not born into a wealthy class of family.

2. Jesus is Special

The episode of our Saviour’s presentation gives us much to think about. 

From a very early age – from the angelic heralding of His birth; the visit of the shepherds; His presentation at the temple at 8 days after birth and the response of Simeon and Anna – the fact that Jesus was special was clear to those who were open to God’s leading.  It would be reinforced when the wise men from the east visited at some later time. 

We live in a day and age when Jesus is no longer regarded as being special by the majority of people.  We put it down to a lot of things: media bias; the nature of TV shows and movies these days; the proliferation of books by the likes of Richard Dawkins and his fellow fervent atheists; a lack of morality in the community; a lack of parental leadership at home – and many, many more reasons could be put forward. 

But, I wonder if these really are the cause – or are they more the effect of a lack of openness to God’s Holy Spirit?  Is it because – for quite some time now – we have closed ourselves off from God: closeted ourselves away in the confines of the world as opposed to the Kingdom of God; and closed our ears to the Spirit’s guidance that the media has become biased (who will speak up about the bias); the TV shows and movies will continue to show unseemly programmes (because such things are accepted as normal life now); Dawkins and his ilk will continue to have an audience because, as Peter wrote, they scratch the itching ears of those sinful people who are determined to reject God; parents have rejected the biblical guidelines for the raising of children and have adopted instead the politically correct modes of child-raising of the latest guru or government minister? 

3. Simeon was Special

Simeon was special too.  Simeon was a devout follower of God.  For his faithfulness, God promised he would not die until he had seen the long-promised Christ.  The Spirit had revealed to him the promise of God; the Spirit drew him to the temple that day; and Simeon revealed to Joseph and Mary what the Spirit revealed to him. 

No doubt, being a devout man, Simeon’s heart would be breaking by what he saw occurring around him at that point in time – both amongst his fellow Jews and also among the Gentiles that thronged throughout the land.  It couldn’t be otherwise because he was so well attuned to God’s Spirit that he knew the world was living in an ungodly way. 

This raises a question for we Christians to answer – are we attuned to God’s Word enough to recognise the total waywardness of the world?  Are we angry with the world because of the way it is heading – as no doubt Simeon was?  You see, Simeon knew what God was planning:

“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.”

Do we hate the sin of this world as much as God hates it – and He hated it so much that He sent His Son into the midst of this sin to overcome it and to pay our penalty for our part in it? 

If we recognise the sinfulness of the world; if we are angry about the sinfulness of the world; if we hate the sinfulness of the world – then what are we doing about it?  You see, a big part of the world’s problem is that those who should be speaking out the most about the state of the world have allowed themselves to be shut down and shut up by believing the lies of the world such as:

  • we can’t speak about religion;
  • we can’t point out people’s sins,

because we might hurt their feelings! 

What are we going to do about it?

Further to the specialness of Simeon, it is interesting that the shepherds had bowed down before Jesus; later the oriental kings bowed down to Him also; but, Simeon held the Christ-child in his arms ; to his breast – near his heart.

He was the first (outside of Mary and Joseph and, perhaps, a few close family members and friends) to be in intimate communion with the Saviour.  Here was baby Jesus – the God/Child who would grow into the God/Man in an intimate situation with a prophet of the old school. 

Simeon was overjoyed at the fulfilment of God’s promise to him and declares himself ready for God to take him in death.  He considered his life had run its course; he had been faithful to God - and God had shown Himself as being faithful to Simeon.  Simeon could cry out in amazed joy,

29“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,

            you now dismiss?c?your servant in peace.

30For my eyes have seen your salvation,

31              which you have prepared in the sight of all people,

32a light for revelation to the Gentiles

            and for glory to your people Israel.”

That was it.  There was nothing more he wanted from this life – now he wanted to be with God.  But, before he could finally cast off this life, he had one more thing to do – he had to give Mary a message:

34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.  And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

How it must have cost him to utter these words after the ones he had just proclaimed.  How it must have pained his heart to know that the mission of this beautiful child was to end in suffering – not just for the babe, but for His mother as well. 

We all have a message to proclaim.  We all know what God has said about those who have rejected Him and have fallen into step with the ways of the world.  The world is under the control of the prince of this world – Satan - but, do we ever talk about this openly?  Do we ever tell those we love, but who don’t love Jesus, that they are doomed – that our faith can’t save them, but Satan’s power can destroy them? 

Simeon’s last words weren’t words of joy and relief - they were words of forthcoming pain and grief.  But they had to be said.  We have words that need to be said – when are we going to say them?

In about 30-odd years, Jesus would be in an intimate relationship with another prophet: His cousin – John the Baptist.  John was the very last of the Old Testament prophets. 

We will meditate more on this tomorrow night. 

*  Simeon was an old, faithful servant of God.  He is described in Luke as being, “…righteous and devout.  He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.”  Whether you are young or older, could you be described in the words: “righteous and devout”?  If not, why not?  If not, what can you do to change so that these words could be applied to you? 

*  Peter ends his Second Epistle as follows:

3First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.  4They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?  Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” .

8But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  9The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

15Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.  …

17Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position.  18But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  To him be glory both now and forever!  Amen.  

Bearing in mind what Peter says about the Second Coming and what is said about Simeon in relation to the First Coming – how do you stack up against Simeon as far as patience with God is concerned? 

*  Simeon, in the “Nunc Dimittis” says, “… now dismiss your servant in peace.”  It seems obvious that he was saying that he was now ready to die.  Are you ready to die?  Are you happy to commit your immortal life to God now?  How much do you really trust God’s promise of forgiveness in Jesus and life everlasting? 

*  Simeon tells Mary that “a sword will pierce your own soul too.”  The “too” means that it will pierce Jesus’ soul (i.e. the Crucifixion), but, Mary will suffer as well.  How comfortable are you with telling people bad news – even if it comes from God’s Word?  Are you willing to tell an unsaved person they are doomed to hell if they don’t accept Jesus as Saviour? 

 



b Or love, O God!  | Men find; or love! | Both heavenly beings and men | find

a Exodus 13:2,12

b Lev. 12:8

c Or promised, | now dismiss

c Or promised, | now dismiss

 

 

Tuesday 30th March 2010

  

Call to Worship:  Psalm 77.13-15. 

13Your ways, O God, are holy.

What god is so great as our God?

14You are the God who performs miracles;

you display your power among the peoples.

15With your mighty arm you redeemed your people,

the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

1st Bible Reading:  Isaiah 40.1-11. 

1Comfort, comfort my people,

says your God.

2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

and proclaim to her

that her hard service has been completed,

that her sin has been paid for,

that she has received from the Lord’s hand

double for all her sins.

3A voice of one calling:

“In the desert prepare

the way for the Lord?a?;

make straight in the wilderness

a highway for our God.?b?

4Every valley shall be raised up,

every mountain and hill made low;

the rough ground shall become level,

the rugged places a plain.

5And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,

and all mankind together will see it.  For the mouth of the

Lordhas spoken.”

6A voice says, “Cry out.”

And I said, “What shall I cry?”

 “All men are like grass,

and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.

7The grass withers and the flowers fall,

because the breath of the Lord blows on them.

Surely the people are grass.

8The grass withers and the flowers fall,

but the word of our God stands forever.”

9You who bring good tidings to Zion,

go up on a high mountain.

You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem,?c?

lift up your voice with a shout,

lift it up, do not be afraid;

say to the towns of Judah,

“Here is your God!”

10See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,

and his arm rules for him.

See, his reward is with him,

and his recompense accompanies him.

11He tends his flock like a shepherd:

He gathers the lambs in his arms

and carries them close to his heart;

he gently leads those that have young.

Meditation:

*  The words, “Comfort, comfort my people” are not an offer of comfort, but a double imperative – in other words, God is instructing that His people be comforted.

*  Given that God would be the One who was responsible for His people being sent off into exile in Babylon, what does this say about the nature of God’s chastisement of His people?  How does the passage,

4Sing to the Lord, you saints of his;

praise his holy name.

5For his anger lasts only a moment,

but his favour lasts a lifetime;

weeping may remain for a night,

but rejoicing comes in the morning.

Reinforce your opinion?

*  When trouble occurs, people often say, “Where is God in all this?” or, “How can a God of love allow these things to happen?”  Such people find trouble in the world to be a barrier to their belief.  Is this a fair judgement?

*  God, through Isaiah uses a very familiar metaphor to describe Himself at the end of this passage - what is it?  Meditating upon this metaphor, what does it do for your relationship with God?

2nd Bible Reading:

1In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea 2and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”  3This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the desert,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord,

make straight paths for him.’”?a?

4John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist.  His food was locusts and wild honey.  5People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.  6Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

7But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?  8Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  9And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.  10The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

 

“I baptize you with?b?water for repentance.  But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

The Baptism of Jesus

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John.  14But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

15Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.”  Then John consented.

16As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water.  At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him.  17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Meditation:

*  If someone walked into our church dressed in some outlandish fashion, what would you do?  Would you welcome them (even though they might smell)?  Would you sit next to them to help them negotiate the service?  Would you pay attention to them if they started telling you that you were a sinner in need of salvation? 

*  If you had met John, what would have been your reaction to him? 

*  John (like his cousin Jesus would later) showed no fear or false reverence towards the Pharisees and Sadducees – despite the fact that, though they might not agree or even like them, the rest of the people did.  If you encountered someone whom everyone else stood in awe of, but knew they were sinning and needed salvation, would you speak up? 

Meditation on:“John the Baptist”

1. Introduction

Despite the fact that they were related and that their ministries were so intertwined, John and Jesus only met twice – once at our Lord’s baptism and the time when John announced that Jesus was the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. 

Although, it could be argued that they actually met three times – if you include the visit of the Pregnant Mary went to visit pregnant Elizabeth and, 42In a loud voice she [i.e. Elizabeth] exclaimed: ‘…  44As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.’”  [Luke 1; NIV]

There were many similarities between John and Jesus: their families were related (they were cousins); both births were miraculous; both were proclaimed to have divinely appointed ministries; both met their deaths at the hands of the powerful in the land – yet neither were deserving of those deaths. 

Just as Jesus was destined to be great in the land – indeed throughout the world, so was John.  At his birth, Zechariah said of his son,

76And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;

                for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,

77to give his people the knowledge of salvation

                through the forgiveness of their sins,

78because of the tender mercy of our God,

                by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven

79to shine on those living in darkness

                and in the shadow of death,

to guide our feet into the path of peace.”  [Luke 1.76ff; NIV]

2. John’s Mission

One of the reasons for there being little contact between the cousins is that it appears that, very soon after his birth – at least as soon as he could survive on his own – John took himself off into the wilderness.  The wilderness was - at one and the same time – a place of deprivation, testing and enlightenment. 

There was much to be afraid of in the wilderness.  Wild animals; difficulties in scrounging enough food to eat (we are told that John ate locusts and wild honey – not the sort of cuisine that would win first place on “My Kitchen Rules”! 

It was in the desert that the Children of Israel were tested and found wanting – and so they were turned out into the wilderness again by God until the older generation had died and the younger generation was prepared to enter the Promised Land. 

But, at the same time, one was cut off from normal social intercourse in the wilderness, so it was possible to spend much time meditating upon things.  For the likes of John the Baptist, this would be a time for meditating upon God’s calling and requirements. 

It is interesting to note that the Gospels tell us that, as soon as he was baptised by John, Jesus Himself was led by the Spirit into the desert.  There he encountered thirst and hunger; there He, no doubt, prayed and meditated; there He encountered the temptations of Satan. 

John’s ministry began with a “bang.” 

4John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist.  His food was locusts and wild honey. 5People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

7But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.  10The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

John, like His cousin Jesus, was not a respecter of persons.  He really didn’t care for their so-called reputations.  It was their heart that mattered to him, and the dark heart of the Pharisees and Sadducees did not impress him at all.  It comes as no surprise that the people began to wonder if he might just be the Messiah they were awaiting.  John disabused them of this wrong notion and in so doing displayed a humility we would do well to emulate.

19Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.?a?”

21They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

He answered, “No.”

22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

23John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”?b?

24Now some Pharisees who had been sent 25questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

26“I baptize with?c?water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

28This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.  [Jn. 119ff; NIV]

Jesus, however, said that John was Elijah (not reincarnate, of course, but in function).  In saying this, Jesus was not refuting John’s denial as such.  What this displays is that we are not to assume a role or position of authority and respect – such positions are to be bestowed upon us by God. 

Jesus’ estimation of John is:

11I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.  12From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.  13For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John.  14And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.  15He who has ears, let him hear.  [Matthew 11.11ff; NIV] 

But, despite John’s recognition of his inferiority to the One who was to come, Jesus – the true Messiah – came to him to be baptised (this was a display of our Saviour’s solidarity with fallen mankind).

There was another encounter (as opposed to a meeting) when Jesus was walking along and John proclaimed the famous words, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  [John 1.36; NIV]. 

Though gradually fading into the background, John continued his mission – a mission which, when he took on Herod, led to his death. 

In relation to the claims that John and Jesus were competitors, it is interesting to note that Jesus did not begin His mission until John was imprisoned.  When John was killed, Jesus began his preaching ministry in earnest – starting up where John left off, proclaiming the need to repent because of the nearness of the Kingdom of God.  By this, Jesus verified that John’s mission was on the right track – in other words, John had been obedient to God’s call. 

*  John the Baptist was a prophet; he was a prophet before the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ was fully implemented; therefore he was the last of the Old Testament prophets.  Jesus says, “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”  What does this say about John’s ranking in relation to the other OT prophets?  What does this say about our Lord’s opinion of those who believe in Him?

*  John did not elevate himself above his station in life.  John was happy to pay ‘second fiddle” to Jesus.  Does a situation of subservience sit well with you in your heart of hearts (be honest here, no one else need know your answer)? 

*  Jesus told this mini-parable:

8“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honour, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.  9If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’  Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.  10But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’  Then you will be honoured in the presence of all your fellow guests.  11For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  [Luke 14.8ff;NIV]

How does this relate to John the Baptist?  How should this relate to you? 



a Or A voice of one calling in the desert: | ``Prepare the way for the LORD

b Hebrew; Septuagint make straight the paths of our God

c Or O Zion, bringer of good tidings, | go up on a high mountain.  | O Jerusalem, bringer of good tidings

a Isaiah 40:3

b Or in

a Or Messiah. ``The Christ” (Greek) and ``the Messiah” (Hebrew) both mean ``the Anointed One”; also in verse 25.

b Isaiah 40:3

c Or in; also in verses 31 and 33

 

Wednesday 31st March 2010

 

Call to Worship:  Psalm 62.1, 2, 5-8, 11, 12. 

1My soul finds rest in God alone;

my salvation comes from him.

2He alone is my rock and my salvation;

he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

 

5Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;

my hope comes from him.

6He alone is my rock and my salvation;

he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.

7My salvation and my honour depend on God?a?;

he is my mighty rock, my refuge.

8Trust in him at all times, O people;

pour out your hearts to him,

for God is our refuge.  Selah

 

11One thing God has spoken,

two things have I heard:

that you, O God, are strong,

12and that you, O Lord, are loving.

Surely you will reward each person

according to what he has done.

 

1st Bible Reading:

6One day the angels?a?came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan?b?also came with them.  7The Lordsaid to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.”

8Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?  There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

9“Does Job fear God for nothing?”  Satan replied.  10“Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has?  You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.  11But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

12The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

13One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 14a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were ploughing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, 15and the Sabeans attacked and carried them off.  They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

16While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

17While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and carried them off.  They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

18While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 19when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house.  It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

20At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head.  Then he fell to the ground in worship 21and said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,

and naked I will depart.?c?

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;

may the name of the Lord be praised.”

22In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

Meditation:

The word “satan” means “accuser.”  It is the role of the accuser to “… roam[ing] through the earth and going back and forth in it.”  In doing so, he brings accusations against the inhabitants of the earth.  It seems that satan could be given another name – “the spoiler.”  He seems (literally) hell-bent on spoiling everything God has done.

*  Should God be condemned for allowing Satan to afflict Job? 

*  How powerful is Satan from the information contained in this passage?

2nd Bible Reading:

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.  He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

4Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.’?a?”

5The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.  6And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendour, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.  7So if you worship me, it will all be yours.”

8Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’?b?”

9The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.  “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.  10For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you

to guard you carefully;

11they will lift you up in their hands,

so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’?c?”

12Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’?d?”

13When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

Meditation:

Satan here sets about to short-circuit the “Christ-event.”  It is in his best interests that Jesus fall into line with him before they have to take each other on in a literal life and death struggle – a life and death struggle that will thwart Satan’s goals. 

*  What would have been the result of Jesus caving in to Satan? 

*  What does it mean to you that Jesus was tempted just as you are (see Heb. 2.18; 4.15? 

*  Does the obvious power of Satan make you doubt God’s goodness? 

*  Does the obvious power of Satan make you feel more dependent upon God?

*  What do you want to say to Jesus as a result of his resisting Satan? 

Meditation on: “Satan”

  • One of the greatest achievements that Satan has pulled off is to convince so many (including Christians) that he doesn’t exist.  A foe that slips under the radar is a foe that can achieve much. 
  • It comes as a shock to many that Satan makes appearances in the OT: 1 Chronicles 21.1; Zechariah 3.1f; Psalm 109.6.  He is more often mentioned, however, in the NT. 
  • We first encounter him not so long after God has pronounced His creation to be “very good.”  We should not underestimate the coincidence of this timing as Satan has set himself up over and against God and all who belong to God.  Since creation belongs to its creation, Satan was, one could say, “duty bound” to wreck it. 
  • The next-best-known OT story about Satan comes from Job. 

6One day the angels?a?came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan?b?also came with them.  7The Lordsaid to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.”

8Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?  There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

9“Does Job fear God for nothing?”  Satan replied.  10“Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has?  You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.  11But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

12The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

  • There are a couple of things to note here: (1) Satan’s pointless life outside of finding fault (or, implying fault); (2) the way he almost accuses God of buying faithfulness; (3) the fact that God puts restraints on Satan. 
  • There is another thing to note from the Book of Job - Satan failed:

20At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head.  Then he fell to the ground in worship 21and said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,

and naked I will depart.?c?

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;

may the name of the Lord be praised.”

22In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

  • There are several names used for the prince of evil: Satan, the devil, Beelzebub (or Beelzeboul, or Beezeboul), the ruler of this world, the prince of the power of the air. 

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.  He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

No He didn’t, He said, 15The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.  16And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” 

2The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

  • We must never be taken in by Satan as he is a sly fox.  He knows us better than we know ourselves (though, of course, not as well as God knows us).  He knows that if he approaches most people with a full-on obvious frontal assault, they will see through his plan and – as often as not – reject it.  So Satan uses subtle approaches – often, as in the Garden, corrupting God’s Word just enough to make it sound plausible to break it.  This is the approach he took with Eve (see Genesis 3).  Once doubt is sown, sin mostly follows. 
  • Job was another challenge to Satan, because “[t]his man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.”  A challenge too good to pass up. 
  • Note that Satan is numbered among those angels who have access to God and who converse with Him.  He is called “the adversary” and this is exactly what he does.  He actually opposes God and all who love and serve Him.  In the case of Job, Satan accuses God of being so protective of Job that, if he were struck down with tragedy, he would turn from God and curse Him. 
  • If Adam, Eve and Job were irresistible to Satan, how much more so was the God/Man Jesus Christ?  All three Synoptic gospellers record the event – though, for some reason best known to him and to God, John doesn’t.  Mark’s version is a short and pithy 92 words covering both the baptism and the temptation:

9At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  10As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.  11And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” 

12At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, 13and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan.  He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.  [Mark 1.9ff; NIV] 

  • Satan has seduced biblical heroes: Peter (Mt. 16.23 and Lk. 22.31f) Ananias (Acts 5.3).  Satan seduced Judas and led him to betray Jesus. 
  • Peter warns us to resist the devil by remaining firm in our faith (1 Pet. 5.9) and James says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” [Jas. 4.7] and Paul warns us not to give the devil any opportunity (Eph. 4.27) and to put on the whole armour of God to protect ourselves from his attacks (Eph. 6.11). 
  • If we are not frightened of Satan then we should be.  There is no doubt, he is more powerful than we are.  He is deceitful and can even appear “as an angel of light” [2 Cor. 11.14]  But he is not as powerful as God – and that is the truth we need to hold on to in order to continue in the struggle against this powerful enemy. 
  • Leon Morris in his article in The Illustrated Bible Dictionary says, “The witness of the NT then is clear.  Satan is a malignant reality, always hostile to God and to God’s people.  But he has already been defeated in Christ’s life and death and resurrection, and this defeat will become obvious and complete in the end of the age.”

15And I will put enmity

between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and hers;

he will crush your head,

and you will strike his heel.”

*  Do you really believe that Satan exists? 

*  If your answer to the above is, “No”, what is behind the sin in the world?  Does sin find its origin in God? 

*  If your answer was “Yes”, what is your attitude to sin?  Does the existence of Satan mean that you can sit back and say, “The devil made me do it”, and not accept responsibility for your own deeds? 

*  If Satan really exists, how are you going to take a stand against him?  Are you strong enough in yourself to resist him?  To whom are you going to turn to find strength and support?

 



a Or | God Most High is my salvation and my honor

a Hebrew the sons of God

Satan means accuser.

c Or will return there

a Deut. 8:3

b Deut. 6:13

c Psalm 91:11,12

d Deut. 6:16

a Hebrew the sons of God

b Satan means accuser.

c Or will return there

 

Thursday 1st April 2010

Maundy Thursday

 

Call to Worship:  Psalm 2. 

1Why do the nations conspire?a?

and the peoples plot in vain?

2The kings of the earth take their stand

and the rulers gather together

against the Lord

and against his Anointed One.?b?

3“Let us break their chains,” they say,

“and throw off their fetters.”

4The One enthroned in heaven laughs;

the Lord scoffs at them.

5Then he rebukes them in his anger

and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,

6“I have installed my King?c?

on Zion, my holy hill.”

7I will proclaim the decree of the Lord:

He said to me, “You are my Son?d?;

today I have become your Father.?e?

8Ask of me,

and I will make the nations your inheritance,

the ends of the earth your possession.

9You will rule them with an iron scepter?f?;

you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

10Therefore, you kings, be wise;

be warned, you rulers of the earth.

11Serve the Lord with fear

and rejoice with trembling.

12Kiss the Son, lest he be angry

and you be destroyed in your way,

for his wrath can flare up in a moment.

Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

 

1st Bible Reading:

17In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good.  18In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it.  19No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.  20When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else.  One remains hungry, another gets drunk.  22Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in?  Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?  What shall I say to you?  Shall I praise you for this?  Certainly not!

23For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  25In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  26For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

27Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  28A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.  29For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.  30That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.  31But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.  32When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.

Meditation:

*  What do you think Paul means when he says, “When you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, …”?  Do you think that this charge could ever be laid against you? 

*  The following sentences are often left out of the preliminary to the Lord’s Supper: 27Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  28A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.  29For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.”  Do you think they should be left out?  If so, why?  Do you think they should be read?  If so, why? 

*  Do you think you come to the Lord’s Table with a sense of worthiness, or a sense of worthlessness?  Why do you feel this way? 

*  If you were told that the Lord’s Supper is a way of confirming God’s grace and love as shown in Christ Jesus, does this make any difference to the attitude you bring with you to the supper? 

2nd Bible Reading:

1Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, 2and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people.  3Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.  4And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus.  5They were delighted and agreed to give him money.  6He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.

7Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.  8Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.”

9“Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked.

10He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you.  Follow him to the house that he enters, 11and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’  12He will show you a large upper room, all furnished.  Make preparations there.”

13They left and found things just as Jesus had told them.  So they prepared the Passover.

14When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table.  15And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  16For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfilment in the kingdom of God.”

17After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you.  18For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

19And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

20In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.  21But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table.  22The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.”  23They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.

24Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.  25Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.  26But you are not to be like that.  Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.  27For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves?  Is it not the one who is at the table?  But I am among you as one who serves.  28You are those who have stood by me in my trials.  29And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

31“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you?a?as wheat.  32But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.  And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

33But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

34Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

35Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”

“Nothing,” they answered.

36He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.  37It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’?b?; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me.  Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfilment.”

38The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”

“That is enough,” he replied.

39Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.  40On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”  41He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”  43An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.  44And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.?a?

45When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow.  46“Why are you sleeping?” he asked them.  “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

47While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them.  He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”

49When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?”  50And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.

51But Jesus answered, “No more of this!”  And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.

52Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs?  53Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me.  But this is your hour—when darkness reigns.”

54Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest.  Peter followed at a distance.  55But when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them.  56A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight.  She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with him.”

57But he denied it.  “Woman, I don’t know him,” he said.

58A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”

“Man, I am not!”  Peter replied.

59About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.”

60Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!”  Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed.  61The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.  Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.”  62And he went outside and wept bitterly.

63The men who were guarding Jesus began mocking and beating him.  64They blindfolded him and demanded, “Prophesy!  Who hit you?”  65And they said many other insulting things to him.

66At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them.  67“If you are the Christ,?a?” they said, “tell us.”

Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68and if I asked you, you would not answer.  69But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”

70They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?”

He replied, “You are right in saying I am.”

71Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony?  We have heard it from his own lips.”

23 1Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate.  2And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation.  He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ,?b?a king.”

3So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.

4Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.”

5But they insisted, “He stirs up the people all over Judea?c?by his teaching.  He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.”

6On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean.  7When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.

8When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had wanted to see him.  From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle.  9He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer.  10The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him.  11Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him.  Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate.  12That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies.

13Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, 14and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion.  I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him.  15Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death.  16Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.?d?” 

18With one voice they cried out, “Away with this man!  Release Barabbas to us!”  19(Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)

20Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again.  21But they kept shouting, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!”

22For the third time he spoke to them: “Why?  What crime has this man committed?  I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty.  Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.”

23But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed.  24So Pilate decided to grant their demand.  25He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.

Meditation on: “The Twelve (especially Judas)”

*  Do any of the Disciples cover themselves with glory on this night?  Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.”  Think on it for a moment. 

*  How much concern were the disciples showing towards Jesus – especially considering that He had told them –many times – of what awaited Him at Jerusalem? 

*  It had been a draining day for the disciples – but were they being selfish in falling asleep whilst Jesus poured His heart out in prayer?  Would you have been more supportive? 

*  How much inconvenience are you willing to put up with for the sake of your Saviour?  Are you willing to risk your reputation among your friends by being seen as a Christian?  Are you willing to run the risk of rejection by telling your friends and family unpleasant truths about themselves and their relationship with God?  How much time are you willing to give up in order to worship and serve God? 

*  Judas was a thief.  Judas was a traitor.  But, Judas was an important part of God’s plan of your redemption and mine.  Do you feel any sympathy for Judas?  Do you think that Judas has had too much “bad press”?  Do you think Judas was a mere pawn and had no say in what he did?  Do you think you will see Judas in Heaven? 

*  Was Judas the only one responsible for our Lord’s death?  How do you feel about the crowd that had cried out in joy at the Triumphal Entry, now baying for Jesus’ blood? 

*  How do you feel about the religious leaders?  

*  How do you feel about Pilate? 

*  How do you feel when you recognise that your sins led to Jesus’ death? 

The Lord’s Supper

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  [Mat. 11:28,29]

Beloved in the Lord, listen to the words of the institution of the Holy Supper of our Lord Jesus Christ, as they are recorded by the Apostle Paul.

I received from the Lord what I passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without recognising the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgement on himself.  [1 Cor. 11: 23-29]

 

***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***

Read during the distribution of the bread:

 

14When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

17After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

19And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

 

Jesus said: “Take and eat: this is my body.  Do this in remembrance of me.

 

Romans 5:6-11

 6You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  7Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  8But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

 9Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through Him!  10For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!  11Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

 

1 Corinthians 5:7

7Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are.  For Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed.

 

Isaiah 53:4-6 & 10-11

4Surely He took up our infirmities

and carried our sorrows,

yet we considered Him stricken by God,

smitten by Him, and afflicted.

5But He was pierced for our transgressions,

He was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him,

and by His wounds we are healed.

 6We all, like sheep, have gone astray,

each of us has turned to his own way;

and the Lord has laid on Him

the iniquity of us all.

10Yet it was the Lord's will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer,

and though the Lord makes His life a guilt offering,

He will see His offspring and prolong His days,

and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand.

11After the suffering of His soul,                    

He will see the light of life and be satisfied;

by His knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,

and He will bear their iniquities.

 

John 10:11; 15b & 27-28

 11"I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

15b and I lay down my life for the sheep.

27My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  28I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.

 

***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***

Read during the distribution of the wine:

 

20In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. 21But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.” 23They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.

 

Jesus said: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

 

1 Corinthians 15:55-57

 55"Where, O death, is your victory? 
      Where, O death, is your sting?”  56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  57But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Colossians 1:19-20

19For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, 20and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.

 

1 Peter 1:3-5

 3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

 

Revelation 22:1-5 & 20-20

 1Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2down the middle of the great street of the city.  On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month.  And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  3No longer will there be any curse.  The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.  4They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  5There will be no more night.  They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.  And they will reign for ever and ever.

 20He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming soon."
  Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.

 

***   ***   ***   ***   ***   ***

My thanks go to Rev’d Peter Barber who read these Bible passages during a Communion Service he presided over at a Pastors’ Retreat group for providing them for reading at the “Maundy Thursday” Communion Service.



 

 



a Hebrew; Septuagint rage

b Or anointed one

c Or king

d Or son; also in verse 12

e Or have begotten you

f Or will break them with a rod of iron

a The Greek is plural.

b Isaiah 53:12

a Or Messiah

b Or Messiah; also in verses 35 and 39

c Or over the land of the Jews

 

Friday 2nd April 2010

Good Friday Service

 

Call to Worship:  Psalm 22. 

For the director of music.  To the tune of “The Doe of the Morning.”  A psalm of David.

 

1My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me,

so far from the words of my groaning?

2O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,

by night, and am not silent.

 

3Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;

you are the praise of Israel.

4In you our fathers put their trust;

they trusted and you delivered them.

5They cried to you and were saved;

in you they trusted and were not disappointed.

 

6But I am a worm and not a man,

scorned by men and despised by the people.

7All who see me mock me;

they hurl insults, shaking their heads:

8“He trusts in the Lord;

let the Lord rescue him.

Let him deliver him,

since he delights in him.”

 

9Yet you brought me out of the womb;

you made me trust in you

even at my mother’s breast.

10From birth I was cast upon you;

from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

11Do not be far from me,

for trouble is near

and there is no one to help.

 

12Many bulls surround me;

strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.

13Roaring lions tearing their prey

open their mouths wide against me.

14I am poured out like water,

and all my bones are out of joint.

My heart has turned to wax;

it has melted away within me.

15My strength is dried up like a potsherd,

and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;

you lay me in the dust of death.

16Dogs have surrounded me;

a band of evil men has encircled me,

they have pierced my hands and my feet.

17I can count all my bones;

people stare and gloat over me.

18They divide my garments among them

and cast lots for my clothing.

 

19But you, O Lord, be not far off;

O my Strength, come quickly to help me.

20Deliver my life from the sword,

my precious life from the power of the dogs.

21Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;

save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

 

22I will declare your name to my brothers;

in the congregation I will praise you.

23You who fear the Lord, praise him!

All you descendants of Jacob, honour him!

Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!

24For he has not despised or disdained

the suffering of the afflicted one;

he has not hidden his face from him

but has listened to his cry for help.

 

25From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;

before those who fear you will I fulfil my vows.

26The poor will eat and be satisfied;

they who seek the Lord will praise him—

may your hearts live forever!

27All the ends of the earth

will remember and turn to the Lord,

and all the families of the nations

will bow down before him,

28for dominion belongs to the Lord

and he rules over the nations.

29All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;

all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—

those who cannot keep themselves alive.

30Posterity will serve him;

future generations will be told about the Lord.

31They will proclaim his righteousness

to a people yet unborn—

for he has done it.

 

1st Bible Reading:  Isaiah 52.13 – 53.12. 

This is the fourth of what are called the “Servant Songs” of Isaiah (the other three are: 42.1-4; 49.1-7; 50.4-9).  This, more than any of the others, describes the “Suffering Servant.”

As you read through this passage, meditate upon the following matters:

*  What does it say to you that God was so resolute about sending His Son that He prophesied it hundreds of years before it happened? 

*  How accurately do you think this passage describes our Lord’s sacrificial death on your behalf? 

*  53.4-6 are, to me, especially poignant verses.  When you read these words, how does it make you feel?  Amid the shame that it incites, do you also feel a sense of relief that God loves you so much as to call upon His Son to endure this for you?  And what does it say about Jesus that He willingly endured this agony for you? 

*  What do you think 53.10-12 refers to?

2nd Bible Reading:  Romans 8.12-21. 

1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.  3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.  And so he condemned sin in sinful man, ?4?in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” 

*  Paul says, as a result of this statement, “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.  …  But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.”  This means that, yes, we will still die physically (unless Jesus returns before we die) but our spirit will live until Jesus returns to reunite our spirit and our bodies in the resurrection body.  What does this mean to you?  What about your life right now – does it show this type of spiritual life, or are you still living in the sinful way of the world? 

*  What do the words of verses 15-17 mean to you?  How will they change the way you live your life now? 

*  Has the death of Jesus, in other words, had any effect on the way you live your life?  If not, why not!? 

3rd Bible Reading:  Luke 23.26-56. 

*  Let the words of verse 34 sink in.  If this is what Jesus says about those who are crucifying Him, what do you think His attitude is to you? 

*  Which of the two thieves do you think most represents your attitude to our Lord’s death?  Remember, we can heap abuse on Jesus as much by what we don’t say and do as we do by what we do say and do. 

*  The last words of Jesus, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” reflect the words of Simeon as he beheld the Christ child.  What will be your last words do you think? 

Meditation:  “Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea”

1. Introduction

Even now, as we gather to worship God on this Good Friday 2010, people are gathering outside the gates of the Royal Easter Show.  They are gathering to cry out as they ride the rides; to get sick as they eat their way through food that they would not ordinarily even consider eating; to spend money they say they don’t have on show bags worth $20 or more. 

When I was growing up, the Royal Easter Show respected the Easter part of its name and didn’t open on Good Friday.  Now, however, though it still goes by the name of the Royal Easter Show, they refused to allow the Bible Society to put in a “Jesus all about life” stall – because it was too religious!

This is just one example of how Australia has fallen from being a Christian nation. 

I can still remember when you couldn’t even sign a cheque on a Sunday – it was a legal document and legal documents were illegal if signed on a Sunday.  I can remember when you couldn’t go into a hotel unless you were a bona fide traveller.  I can remember when the only trucks allowed on the roads of a Sunday before night fall were those carrying perishable goods. 

Sport on a Sunday – it wasn’t even considered a possibility. 

Sunday was the Lord’s Day – the day when we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus.  Now, for Christians, there is no such thing as a holy day that is given recognition by the state – other than in the form of a public holiday. 

2. Good Friday 101

Anyone starting a tertiary education starts with the particular subject – say, Theology 101.  This gives the basics of what will be studied for the rest of the course – it is an introduction which begins the gaining of knowledge in order to pass exams. 

So, here is Good Friday 101: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  [Romans 5.8; NIV]

If you don’t grasp this, then you won’t understand anything else about the Christian faith.  The Christian faith is all about what God has done for us, and what we should do in loving response.  Our response is just that – a response.  We can never earn God’s love; God never demands that we be perfect before He loves us.  God’s love is a free gift to sinners like you and me who don’t deserve it. 

Once you understand this, then you a far on the way to a change of life that is, to say the least, startling. 

3. Nicodemus

We first meet with Nicodemus when he comes to Jesus one night – in the dark.  There are two possibilities for his coming after dark.  One is that he may have thought that this was the best time to find Jesus alone so he could talk with Him.  The second is that he was afraid of being seen talking with Jesus because those he hung out with – his fellow members of the Jewish ruling Council, the Sanhedrin – would have been very displeased to say the least if they knew he was meeting Jesus alone.  I think that it is most likely that the second was the real reason. 

The second time we hear about Nicodemus is when the chief priests and Pharisees sent the temple guards to bring Jesus in.  John records in his Gospel:

45Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

46“No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards declared.

47“You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted.  48Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him?  49No!  But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”

50Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51“Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?”

52They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too?  Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”  [John 7.45-52; NIV]

Nicodemus seems to be coming out of his shell a little.  Perhaps he had had time to think on his conversation with Jesus and had heard more about what He was doing and saying.  Perhaps Nicodemus is starting to leave the dark behind and enter at least into dim light. 

The next time we hear of him, however, he has come out into the open. 

38Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus.  Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews.  With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away.  39He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night.  Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.  40Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen.  This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.  41At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid.  42Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.  [John 19.38ff; NIV]

This was it!  No longer a closet Christian – Nicodemus was out in public displaying his faith – and at a dangerous time at that.  The religious leaders would have been livid at his actions; his friends would have shunned him; he would, most likely, be kicked out of the Sanhedrin – even, perhaps, out of the temple.  We really don’t know what happened – because this is the last time we hear about him. 

But, this is enough.  The man afraid of shadows has come out into the open and declared himself for Jesus! 

4. Joseph of Arimathea

But, what about this Joseph of Arimathea bloke?  Where did he come from? 

Though secular writers make much of him – even saying he was Jesus’ uncle and took Him to England - we only have two references to Joseph in the whole Bible – and both are related to the burial of Jesus.  He comes out of nowhere, and disappears into obscurity.

Mark tells us:

42It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath).  So as evening approached, 43Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body.  44Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead.  Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died.  45When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph.  46So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock.  Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.  47Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.  [Mark 15.42ff; NIV]

John gives us the only other reference to Joseph:

38Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus.  Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews.  With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away.  39He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night.  Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.  40Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen.  This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.  41At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid.  42Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.  [John 19.38ff; NIV]

Not much to go on, but we can learn some things about him from this scant evidence. 

Joseph was wealthy.  He must have had authority because, as Mark tells us he, “went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body.”  Not just anyone could walk up to the Roman Procurator and ask for a criminal’s body to be released to him – but Joseph of Arimathea did. 

Something else we learn was the he was a seeker after truth “who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God.”  He was a follower of Jesus, but in secret “because he feared the Jews.”

5. Nicodemus and Joseph

So, both Nicodemus and Joseph were tuned into Jesus – but secretly so.  What an incredible turn around, then, to find them – despite their fears and, even , at a more dangerous time, coming into the open and declaring their devotion to the crucified Jesus.  These men passed Good Friday 101 with flying colours. 

God really does incredible things with people He takes hold of. 

He turns fishermen and tax Collectors into devout followers; He turns fearful, secret followers into full-blown openly confessing Christians; He even took Saul who was out to destroy the Christian Church, renamed him Paul, and turned him into one of the greatest evangelists this world has seen. 

God has plans that don’t revolve around monetary gain; God wants us to devote our lives to Him and not to be like the rest of the world and ignore the Christian faith.  God wants us all to be Christians; He wants Australia to be a Christian nation once again. 

What is God doing in your hearts right now?

Is He making you think a bit more about this Jesus stuff? 

Is He taking the crucified Jesus and beginning to make you see your need of Him?

Is He, perhaps, calling you out of the darkness of being a secret follower into the light of being a devoted follower and servant of the Saviour Jesus? 

Is God speaking to your hearts now?  What is He saying? 

More importantly, what are you saying to Him? 

 

***   ***   ***

 

*  We first meet Nicodemus in John 3.  He came to Jesus by night – possibly because he would find Him alone and free to talk at that time, but, most likely, because he was afraid of being seen visiting Him.  What type of change do you see in the man here? 

*  Joseph of Arimathea is said to be “a member of the Council (i.e. the Sanhedrin), a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action.”  Judging by the spices he provided and the fact that he had a tomb, was rich and had become a follower of Jesus.  John adds that he “was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews.”  How much courage do you think it took for Joseph to go to Pilate and ask for the body of Jesus? 

*  If you are a “secret” follower of Jesus – keeping it hidden from family and friends out of fear of ridicule, don’t you think it is about time that you “came out of the closet”?