In the lead up to Easter, BCUC is looking at different ways New Testament writers explain what Jesus did at the cross – how the cross has changed the way we relate to God. Today we explore the biblical term “justification”. When the apostle Paul was writing to the early churches, the term ‘justification’ was one of his favourite ways of explaining the cross.
‘Justification’ in the bible is different to the way we might use the term. For example, my kids love telling Nicole and I their own justification as to why it’s OK to eat sugar straight from the cupboard or why it’s someone else’s turn to do the dishes. Remembering the letters of Paul were written in the first century, Paul is borrowing from an expression that would be more familiar to his readers which refers to ones’ legal status. In particular what is our legal status in relation to God? Just as we have been hearing in the news lately, even the crimes people commit decades ago are still crimes that need to be convicted and judged before a court of law. Time or good things done since then does not cover the crime. Justice is important in society and it is also an important characteristic of God.
Paul writes in Romans that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We can all be judged “GUILTY” in the court of God’s law. However, the good news is that with Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, a guiltless person took on the shame and guilt of us all and paid the consequence (the death penalty) for all of us. So, by faith IN Jesus, we are judged ‘justified’, guiltless, 100%, first class honours. When we are IN Christ, God judges and convicts us as if we are Jesus. That’s very cool! As Charles Wesley writes in that fantastic hymn ‘And Can It Be’:
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness Divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bart Ehrman, a modern agnostic atheist who has spent years studying the historical Jesus from a position of non-Christian, concludes: “He [Jesus of Nazareth] certainly existed, as virtually every competent scholar of antiquity, Christian or non-Christian, agrees”, and also “the crucifixion of Jesus on the orders of Pontius Pilate is the most certain element about him”.
It’s how we understand what happened at the crucifixion and three days afterwards that defines our Christian faith.
Its also historical fact that within a few months of Jesus death, his small group of friends began the extraordinary claim that their leader has risen from the dead, that he was the son of God, the long-awaited messiah and that he rose again to save all people. The early church understood this event as a universe changing action of God’s grace and love. They began writing letters to newly forming churches trying to understand and explain how Jesus death and resurrection brings salvation to all. We can read about it today mostly in Paul’s letters, 1 Peter, Hebrews, Johns letters and throughout the four gospels.
If you have ever wondered what it actually means when we hear the words “Jesus died to save us from our sins” and why that’s important to us then these next few weeks are for you. The death and resurrection of Jesus is so momentous that New Testament writers use lots of images and layered words to help describe its meaning, often drawing from terms familiar to the people of the day. In the lead up to Easter this year at BCUC we will delve into some of these explanations. Words like salvation, righteousness, redemption, reconciliation and sacrifice. We hope that we will gain greater understanding of just how amazing the cross is for us and the world. Then by the time Easter comes we can’t help but praise God! So in preparation start by reading through Romans and look to see how many times these words (and their variants) appear. Let’s get ready to learn more deeply together.
Have you ever climbed up a mountain?
It can be hard sweaty work. You need to have a certain level of fitness, pack the right gear, keep an eye on the path and be patient enough to keep putting one step forward, knowing you will get there eventually. However, once you make it the rewards are great, the sense of achievement, the open air free from distractions, the birds eye view. You’re on top of the world! If you make it with friends and family all the better.
The story from Luke (Luke 9:28-36) is about a trip up and down a mountain. Jesus took three of his best mates, went up a mountain to pray and had a dramatic encounter with God. In trying to describe the event later Luke writes that Jesus face changed and his clothes shone as bright as lightning. Then Moses and Elijah were there talking to him, a cloud enveloped them and a voice from the cloud said “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” Suddenly it was just Jesus and his buddies, back to normal. The story is also recorded in Matthew and Mark.
It’s one of the ultimate mountain-top experiences in the bible. They went there to pray and met God in an extraordinary, unbelievable way. The story says much about who Jesus is and his mission. Revealing the divinity of Jesus, like a veil is lifted up for just a moment. There are other significant biblical examples of meeting God on the mountain: Abraham, Moses, Elijah.
I think the metaphor of meeting God on a mountain is relevant to our Christian faith today. God still wants us to climb, to pray, to meet together, to come down transformed and be sent into the world. I think often we act like we’re passing mountains in a high speed train. We see them calling and we think “yes I really need to climb that sometime’. What does it take to make that time now, this week? We can travel with others but ultimately it can only be us that puts our feet forward stepping up the path one step at a time. Let’s make the time to meet with amazing, light covered Jesus.
Tough Love While preaching one the greatest sermons ever given Jesus said “love your enemies”. What is the opposite of ‘love’?
Your first thought was most likely ‘hate’. Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel observed, “the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference; for at a minimum, to love or hate someone is to have intense emotions toward them.”
I like to always think of love as being far more than an emotion but rather a very hard-working verb. It’s an action. So the opposite of this is- inaction, not noticing, not caring, not having any emotional attachment. Obviously with 7.7 billion people in the world we can’t notice and love everyone. However, if Jesus is talking about our enemies, it’s not too much of a stretch to consider these will be people that we already have a relationship with. How can we love them rather than show indifference?
In my experience most people want to get along and be friendly with those around us. Especially within church circles. What then causes us to have ‘enemies’, or people we might choose to avoid? Often it is past hurts or pains.
I find it amazing that despite so much controversy, conflict and politics within the history of the church, the church as an organised body of Christ still exists 2000 years later. How is this so? A few reasons – Jesus said he will never leave us; the help of the Holy Spirit to bring peace; the message of the gospel of Jesus is so compelling that it overcomes all conflict; and finally Jesus forgives and loves us, then taught us to go do the same.
Forgiveness is like the reset button for any relationship. Its more than a few empty words.
Ken Sande in his book “The Peacemaker: A biblical guide to resolving everyday conflict” describes forgiveness as a decision to make four promises:
“I will not dwell on this incident.”
“I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.”
“I will not talk to others about this incident.”
“I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.”
How might we at BCUC love each other, our families, our work colleagues, our neighbours more?
Rather than show indifference to those we struggle to be with can we find enough strength from the Lord to get enough courage to encourage them, to make their day better even though you expect nothing gracious in return? With the grace of God I hope we can give it.
Your brother in Christ, Benji
One of my favourite biblical images of growing in our faith and our relationship with Jesus is that of a tree. The prophet Jeremiah, when giving a message to the Isrealite people to hold onto God said this…
“Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.
They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8
The very first Psalm reinforces this imagery.
“Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.” (Psalm 1:1-3)
One of my aims and hopes for my own Christian walk is to always be growing into something like the majestic River Red gums that line the creeks of Burnside rather than a prickly weed growing in a desert. I usually begin each year around this time spending some time quietly in prayer, usually in a National Park, asking God what do you want me to focus on this year? What do you want me learn? Speak Lord your servant is listening! Sometimes I get a clear focus very quickly, other times it takes a while to get clarity, but I trust that every year the Holy Spirit will reveal some theme for the growth or fruit to come from my discipleship tree. I wonder what area of your life is God prompting you to grow into this year?
Your brother in Christ,
What a joy and privilege it is to be serving as the minister here at Burnside City. I’m enjoying getting to know people’s stories and more about how we as a church operate. If you’re new to BCUC like me and my family, welcome! I am confident you will be met by a generous and loving congregation who are passionate about this place.
Colette reminded me of a scripture during the week from Exodus 33:7-11 when Moses would go into the “tent of meeting” and inquire of the LORD. V11 says that “The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.”
As I meet people, one of the question’s I have is how is your relationship with Jesus going? Would you be able to describe it in the same way as Moses, speaking to the LORD as one speaks to a friend? Is it growing and flourishing or is it stagnant? What helps you get closer to Jesus? Worship, preaching, prayer groups, house groups, serving, personal devotions, bible reading?
In this week’s reading Jesus is about to call some of his disciples, he’s preaching to the crowds from a boat and he asks the local fisherman to go and fish out in deeper water. Although they expect to get nothing they find they catch more fish than can fill the local Barnacle Bills. Jesus has a tendency to layer spiritual meaning over practical things. What does is mean for us at BCUC to push out into “deeper water”? I wander how are we growing deeper in our relationship with Jesus? I’m certainly not Moses but would love to have that same deep intimacy with the creator of the universe. What about you? As it says in James 4:8 “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” As we begin a new season at BCUC what steps can we take individually and together to push out into deeper water and draw closer to God.
Why not look up one of my favourite prayers from Ephesians 3:14b-21. Try and memorise this prayer during the week and use it for yourself, your family, someone at church and a friend or neighbour.
LOVE IS ………
The thirteenth chapter of first Corinthians is probably the favourite wedding text of all time – and with good reason.
A wife came into a counsellor’s office full of hatred toward her husband. “I don’t only want to get rid of him, I want to get even. Before I divorce him, I want to hurt him as much as he has me,” she cried. The counsellor suggested an unusual plan “Go home and act as if you really love your husband. Tell him how much he means to you. Praise him for every decent trait. Go out of your way to be as kind, considerate, and generous as possible. Spare no efforts to please him, to enjoy him. Make him believe you love him. After you’ve convinced him of your undying love and that you cannot live without him, then drop the bomb. Tell him that you’re getting a divorce. That will really hurt him.” With revenge in her eyes, she smiled and exclaimed, “Beautiful, beautiful. Will he ever be surprised!” And she did it with enthusiasm, acting “as if.” For two months she showed love, kindness, listening, giving, reinforcing, sharing. When she didn’t return, the counsellor ‘phoned her. “Are you ready now to go through with the divorce?” “Divorce?” she exclaimed. “Never! I discovered I really do love him.” Her actions had changed her feelings. Motion resulted in emotion. The ability to love is established not so much by fervent promise, as often repeated deeds.
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, “Do not waste your time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbour – act as if you do. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love them. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking them more. If you do them a good turn, you will find yourself disliking them less.”
…… THE GREATEST
Body of life
In my final week here at BCUC it is apt that the Corinthians reading is about the body. As a minister I have always known my task is to help the church be healthy as the Body of Christ.
This does not happen when I am successful. It happens when I do things that allow the Spirit freedom to work in the lives of the congregation members. If I preach well and you say nice things I feel good. If through the door my preaching opens, one or more people go deeper in their relationship with Jesus, then something important has happened. As the body of Christ in this place, all are called to go deeper in Christ, all are called to deeper discipleship, all are called to deeper service, and all are called to share in the glorious liberty of the children of God.
The Holy Spirt is at work in the people of the congregation, and that is where the church is, so the measure of the church is not the minister/pastor but the spirituality and discipleship of the members. I like Benji and I hope you will also. Remember though, that he is not responsible for the success of the church, YOU are. He is not the Saviour, there is only one, Jesus Christ. So do not put too many expectations on Benji, let him be what he is, a man committed to serving Jesus as he follows his call.
And you should also seek to follow your call as disciples and give the Spirit free reign in your lives and the life of this congregation.
In July last year, the national Assembly of the Uniting Church, agreed to mark the Sunday before Australia Day as a Day of Mourning in which Uniting Church congregations across Australia reflect on the effect that the arrival and settlement of Europeans has had on Australia’s First Peoples and our identity as a nation.
As the President of the Assembly, Rev Dr Deirdre Palmer explains:
“Remembering our history is an important part of our journey toward reconciliation as First and Second Peoples.
Our declaration of a Day of Mourning allows us to stand together in remembering the truth of our history, and honouring the culture of Australia’s First Peoples, their families and the next generations.
I will be joining Uniting Church members in lamenting, saying sorry and asking for forgiveness, for the past and current impacts of colonisation and dispossession of Australia’s First Peoples.
As the Uniting Church we affirm that ours is “a destiny together” acknowledging the wrongs of the past and the present and committing ourselves to take action to bring about a more just Australia.
As the Uniting Church we hear Jesus calling us into the light of reconciliation.
I pray that our Church and our nation will continue on this journey of confession, forgiveness and working toward justice and healing”
The full text of the President’s remarks can be found at https://assembly.uca.org.au/day-of-mourning
Sometimes I feel there should be a law against January. You know, the post-Christmas and New Year’s blues; the recovery from overeating and still failing to go on a healthy diet; over-spending and the dread of facing all those bills; maybe the feeling of guilt for having not contacted someone; along with the struggle to motivate yourself enough to get on and do the things that need doing. In addition to all our ‘inner-personal’ struggle, there’s still our awareness of all those ‘outside struggles’ in the larger community, as well as in the wider world. When we combine all these and other pressures, anxieties, and struggles, no wonder we sometimes feel a tad ‘down in the dumps’ at this time of year.
Isaiah 43:1-7 focuses on the Israelites who were ‘down in the dumps’; they were depressed; they were fearful. Their hopes and dreams of the future had all but dried up and disappeared. But then comes a wonderful, uplifting message of Good News from God, overflowing with love and hope, restoration and deliverance, affirmation and acceptance:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. I will be with you… For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour. …you are precious in my sight, and honoured – and I love you…
What a fantastic message – uplifting and full of hope! God comes to Israel in one of their most depressed, vulnerable moments. God comes when they feel down and out and fearful. God assures them that they have not been forgotten; they are indeed very special to God; they belong to God; they are loved by God; they need not fear.
Often we need to be reminded that God remains vitally interested in us; that even if we can’t see Him at work in our lives, we can be assured that God is still at work in us by his Spirit, and will bring us to Christian maturity – for that is his promise. At the beginning of this new year with its uncertainties, remember – we are loved by God and God is with us.