Today we remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, an event we now mark as Palm Sunday. It begins Holy Week on the church calendar. Each day of Holy Week has set readings based on the lectionary that can help us place ourselves in the emotional and spiritual roller coaster of Jesus’ last days before his crucifixion (see details in this newsletter).
One way to think about the entry into Jerusalem through Luke’s gospel is POSITION, PRAISE and PEACE.
POSITION– Jesus enters as a king. Much of the layered symbolism, reaffirms this from the use of a donkey (a fulfilment of an Old Testament prophecy), the laying down of coats, and the words joyfully chanted by the crowds “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”. I wonder, do we consider Jesus to be our ‘King’. What position is he in our lives? Are Jesus’ love and instruction more important than the coats on our backs?
PRAISE– As Jesus entered the Holy City “the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles (or works of power) they had seen”. What ‘works of power’ or miracles do you know Jesus has done in your life or the lives of other people? At the very least, think about his redeeming work on the Cross that we have focussed on over the last few weeks. When is the last time you talked out loud about it?
PEACE– Remember what the angels sang at the birth of Jesus? It’s in that well known Christmas carol, Hark the Herald Angels: Peace on earth and mercy mild God and sinners reconciled. Luke 19v38 has the crowd ushering in peace, thanks to Jesus. Jesus then weeps because the peace he brings won’t be recognised (v41). He’s referring to the wonderful work of reconciliation that will happen on the Cross, bringing God and humanity close and at peace. So, as we come to the Cross this Easter, let us make peace with God and each other.
See you next weekend for a great celebration of what the Cross means to us and the world!
The classic tale the Wizard of OZ is about Dorothy and her friends wanting to meet the great, powerful, wise “Wizard of OZ” who they hope with certainty will solve all their problems. The problem is they need to get to him by travelling a long treacherous journey following “the yellow brick road” to the emerald city and even then it takes quite some ritual to be able to eventually have an audience with the wizard who sadly turns out to be a fake anyway.
The LORD God is nothing like the fake wizard, however for the average Jew before Jesus it may have seemed like a long journey to get an audience with the Lord. To be cleansed of your sins, access to God before Jesus required ritual washing, sacrifices, burnt offerings and finally only a high priest from the family of Levi could finally enter the ‘Holy of Holies’ on behalf of all people and then only on one particular day of the year (read more in Leviticus 16).
Jesus changed all that by his sacrifice on the cross.
The New Testament book “Hebrews’ has perplexed some biblical interpreters as no-one knows who the author is or who they were writing too. Yet to ignore it is to deny us of a message that has been critical for the churches fuller understanding of the meaning of the cross (particularly the sacrifice of Jesus), the nature of Jesus and in helping us to more fully understand why many Christians have claimed throughout history that “Jesus saves you from your sins”. Today’s sermon will hopefully help us understand this more. I encourage you to read Hebrews chapters 4-10 yourself, maybe in the New Living Translation or with a good study bible.
This may seem a bit theoretical and ’teachy’ but the application is life changing and one we should never take for granted. Jesus is our high priest, our access to God, because of his sacrifice made once and for all, we can now boldly approach the throne of God. So “run the race of the Christian life with perseverance keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and the perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Over the last few weeks we have been looking at different ways the early church described the world changing events of the death and resurrection of Jesus. We have used such as Justification, Redemption and Reconciliation. We sometimes want to systemise these concepts, working out which one comes first and how they all fit together. I think it’s helpful to see this as the early church using more than one way to describe such a momentous event. Just like if I was asked to describe what it means to be father, I can’t simply answer with one word, it’s a privilege, a great responsibility, a loving relationship, a partnership, an amazing joy, a trial, I am leader, servant, teacher, student etc. no one term describes fatherhood and all are related. It’s similar with the cross. Each term adds another colour to the greater picture. The letter of Romans contains many concepts sometimes within the same paragraph. (see Romans 3:23-26 or Romans 5:1) Here’s a table that I hope helps describe a little more what each ‘colour’ is.
We are now
(Our legal status before God, thanks to the cross)
All knowing, merciful judge who loves justice and despises sin.
Condemned and guilty, deserving death.
Forgiven and righteous. Perfect and holy!
(We were slaves to sin but now are free)
The rescuer who sees’ our plight and is desperate to actively help.
A slave to sin. In a vicious cycle, trapped in moral decay and darkness. Without hope.
Redeemed, free, given hope, light and a future.
(enemies of God become friends of God)
The one who reaches out and wants to be our friend.
Enemies of God, going our own way, trying to hide from God.
Reconciled, forgiven, loved. We have the creator of the universe and the most powerful all-knowing God of life and wisdom and truth as our friend.
It’s Good News Sunday
In the themes leading to Easter, this week we focus on redemption. We are redeemed, which is good news indeed. The concept of redemption is to gain or regain possession of something through payment. In the time of Paul the idea of securing a prisoner’s release by payment or freeing someone from slavery was well known. In the Bible the Israelites, as God worked through Moses, were freed from slavery. In the business world the Greeks would have been very familiar with a payment in advance for a product as the guarantee that the full price would follow.
Jesus on the cross paid the price for our sin that we may be freed from our sin and start again. And that is certainly good news. As we explored last week we are justified, the guilt of sin has been removed through faith by God’s Grace. Furthermore, Paul suggests that our experience of the Holy Spirit in this world is a foretaste of what awaits and the guarantee of the full possession of the joy and blessedness of being with God in the spiritual realm. Our redemption not only sustains us in this world but carries the promise of the world to come.
It is good news Sunday for BCUC on a more practical level. At last count we have 47 people including 31 children attending Kid’s Camp Out (KCO). We are indeed fortunate that the life of our congregation is enriched by our children and privileged to be able to help nurture them in the Faith. Moreover, it gives us a great confidence in a bright future.
Well may Matthew Bridges and Godfrey Thring, the writers of the composite hymn “Crown him with many crowns” finish with the lines:
“all hail, Redeemer hail!
for you have died for me;
your praise shall never, never fail
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.