Reflection day 21- The Scriptures and the power of God
18 Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 19 ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. 21 The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. 22 In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. 23 At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?’
24 Jesus replied, ‘Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? 25 When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 26 Now about the dead rising – have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!’ (Mark 12)
There is a stirring account of faith, suffering and resolve in a Jewish book called 2 Maccabees. In the second century BC the Seleucid King Antiochus Epiphanes aggressively sought to impose Greek culture and religion on his territories which included Israel (in fact he claimed to be a god himself). Antiochus was very ready to use violence, torture and execution to achieve his aims but in Maccabees we read about heroic resistance. In one instance Antiochus was trying to force seven Jewish brothers to eat pork in violation of the Old Testament dietary laws and their own consciences. They were threatened, tortured and killed one by one because each refused to compromise. Their mother was present and she encouraged them to stand firm and finally was killed herself. Again and again these brothers and their mother spoke of their faith in the resurrection that was to come. For example these are the second brother’s last words, addressed to Antiochus: ‘Fiend though you are, you are setting us free from this present life, and the King of the universe will raise us up to a life everlastingly made new, since it is for his laws that we are dying’ (7:9). In the same way that Protestant Christians have treasured the stories in ‘Foxe’s Book of Martyrs’, Jews in Jesus’ day treasured these stories. The writer to the Hebrews might have had this very story in mind when he wrote, ‘There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection.’ (11:35)
But for the Jewish Sadducees who exercised political power at the time these accounts were a problem. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection or angels or spirits (Acts 23v8). And they only accepted the authority of the first five books in the Bible. In Mark 12 they come to Jesus with a contrived story about another seven brothers that is designed to ridicule the idea of resurrection. In the Old Testament there was an obligation for a man to marry his brother’s wife if his brother died childless. In the Sadducees’ story, in this way, one woman ends up marrying seven brothers one by one and then she dies herself. To whom will she be married in the world to come?!
Jesus replies, ‘Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.’ Whatever questions this might raise for us, it is clear that in that world to come where God’s people live for ever there is no need to populate the world with children. And we should probably also bear in mind that the church is portrayed as the bride of Christ in the book of Revelation and is profoundly conscious of his love. So, although personally I expect there still to be special friendships, the world to come is very different to the one the Sadducees imagined and scoffed at.
Jesus also quotes from Exodus 3:6 (a book the Sadducees accepted) where God says to Moses at the burning bush, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”. God does not desert those who trust in him when they die. He is alive, powerful and faithful and will raise them up physically in due course to that new life in ‘the new heavens and the new earth.’ (In the meantime Christians can be assured their souls or spirits go directly to be with Jesus – Luke 23:43, Philippians 1:23.)
Like all the questions Mark records Jesus answering in these days before his crucifixion they are relevant to what happens next. Jesus would die but rise again physically and be seen by many witnesses. His resurrection is a trailer for the final resurrection.
But Jesus’ words also challenge us as we face a dangerous epidemic. ‘Do we believe the Scriptures and the power of God?’
Jesus said to Martha, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ (John 11:25&26)
Reflection day 22- When Jesus returns
Mark 13 – 32 ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: he leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. 35 ‘Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.’
When will Jesus return? Certainly we should be longing for that day: ‘Amen. Come Lord Jesus!’ (Revelation 22:20) But when will it be?
Mark 13 (Matthew 24 is the parallel passage) is not an easy chapter to understand. In v2, to his disciples’ surprise, Jesus predicted the destruction of the magnificent temple in Jerusalem. This happened just as Jesus prophesied in AD70 when Jerusalem fell to the Romans after a Jewish rebellion. Most who have studied the chapter believe that at least some of the other events predicted by Jesus in this chapter (and possibly many of them) took place before AD70.
But, however we read this chapter, it’s striking that towards the end Jesus says, ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.’ As the eternal Son of God he knew everything, but, as the man Jesus his knowledge was limited. Only his Father knew when Jesus would return and bring to an end the present age. (You might like to compare Acts 1:6-8.)
In addition, if there are some events that await fulfilment (and there seem to me to be some – read 2 Thessalonians 2 for example), it seems clear that life will still be going on as normal as far as many people are concerned. ‘As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.’ (Matthew 24:37-39)
Jesus’ return will be a surprise and for many a shock. It will be as unexpected as a thief in the night, as a master who has been away for a long time suddenly returning home and discovering for better or worse what his servants have been up to, as a bridegroom appearing later than anticipated at midnight and some of the bride’s bridesmaids discovering all the oil in their lamps has burned up. Wedding customs were obviously different in those days but we get the point, ‘Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.’ (Matthew 25:13)
The fact is that more important than the question, ‘When will Jesus return?’ is the question, ‘What will I be doing when he does?’
Will we be doing something that we’re ashamed of or unembarrassed about? Will we be doing those things Jesus has told us to do – whether it be carrying out our work conscientiously, helping the needy, praying, proclaiming the gospel or yes, taking the sensible rest that we need?
The fact of Jesus’ return should shape what we’re doing now. Martin Luther said, ‘There are two days on my calendar – this day and that day.’
Reflection day 23- When for God it’s not possible
Mark 14 – 32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ 33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34 ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’ 35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36 ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’
In Gethsemane Jesus was as near as a man can get to breaking point without breaking. ‘Deeply distressed’ is translated or paraphrased by others as ‘terrified surprise,’ ‘horror-stricken,’ gripped by ‘a sudden and horrifying alarm at a terrifying object.’ ‘Troubled’ originally meant ‘bewilderment’. ‘Agitated,’ says another translation. It describes ‘the distress which follows a great shock,’ says one commentator. And then Jesus himself says, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.’
We know crucifixion was a disgraceful and agonizing way to die. Still, Jesus’ prayer, ‘Take this cup [of suffering] from me,’ surprises us. Didn’t Jesus know he had to die? From the time of Peter’s confession, ‘You are the Messiah,’ in chapter 8, Jesus began to teach the Twelve plainly, ‘that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again,’ (8:31 and then 9:12,9:31, 10:33). He also explained why: the Son of Man came ‘to give his life as a ransom for many,’ (10:45). At the Last Supper in Jerusalem, just hours before Gethsemane, Jesus had broken bread and poured out wine and said, ‘This is my body… This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins,’ (Mark 14:22-24; Matthew 26:26-28). How can Jesus pray now for the cup to be taken from him?
The answer surely is that the full horror of the cross was now overshadowing him in a way it had not done before. All things being equal, the longer and closer a marriage has been, the more painful a separation or divorce will be. On the cross Jesus would experience an awful God-forsakenness. The beloved one would suffer the wrath of God. To the extent that Jesus loved God, loved communion with God, he shrank from this. His intense love for God meant the cross intensely horrified him.
And yet this is not all there is to Jesus’ prayer. We have the ‘Abba, Father’. Mark records the original Aramaic word Jesus used for ‘Father’ here. There is in Jesus’ praying a love, a trust, an intimacy unparalleled in the prayers of the Old Testament or later Judaism. And we have finally that perfect submission: ‘Yet not what I will, but what you will.’
Two points of application:
- i) There was no other way that our sin could be atoned for, the love of God demonstrated and the justice of God simultaneously satisfied. Mrs Alexander gets close to this:
‘There was no other good enough
to pay the price of sin;
He only could unlock the gate
of heaven, and let us in.’
There was no other good enough and in fact there simply was no other way. The suffering of Jesus’ on the cross should draw from us serious gratitude.
ii) Though we will not suffer like Jesus (Romans 8:38&39), Jesus’ prayer is still a model for us. Jesus taught us to pray, ‘Our Father in heaven’. We too can pray with confidence, ‘Abba, Father,’ (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). But we are also to pray in a completely God-centred way: ‘hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,’ (Matthew 6:9-10). At this time when we could become very self-absorbed may God help us to pray like Jesus.
Reflection day 24- Good Friday
From David Mortimer, one of our church elders
On this day in previous years people would be meeting in churches across the world to celebrate Good Friday, an extremely significant day in the Christian calendar. At Newtown we would be joining together after the service in fellowship, with coffee and hot cross buns. Why this emphasis on the cross? On Jesus’s crucifixion and death? What’s it all about? The Bible tells us all that we need to know:
It was planned – Jesus’s death wasn’t an unfortunate event, an accident, a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He wasn’t a victim of circumstances. It was all part of God’s plan – we see this from scriptures such as the promise to Eve in Genesis 3 v. 15, and the Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming Messiah, particularly throughout Isaiah, all of which were fulfilled. Jesus Himself spoke of His mission:
‘For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me’. (John 6 v.38)
‘From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life’. (Matthew 16 v.21)
Why did Jesus allow Himself to be arrested, tried, beaten, and to suffer an agonising death on that most barbaric of execution methods, death by crucifixion?
It was absolutely necessary – Jesus’s death was the only way in which our most fundamental problem could be solved – that of indwelling sin. Isaiah tells us that ‘we all, like sheep, have gone astray, each one has turned to our own way’ (53 v.6); like a wandering sheep we were far from God, unable to find a way back to Him, too caught up in our own sinful preoccupations. We could not save ourselves – left to our own devices we would ultimately perish. Our sins – the wrong thoughts, motives, desires, words and actions – would lead us to destruction. Such things are offensive to a holy God; there was only one way that matters could be put right, and that was through a sinless One taking the judgement due to us.
That’s what Jesus did on the cross. He hung there, in anguish of body and spirit, bearing the weight of our sins. ‘In my place condemned he stood, sealed my pardon with his blood’. No wonder He cried: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matt. 26 v. 46). It was absolutely necessary for the bond between Father and Son to be broken for our salvation to be procured, for the greatest rescue act of all time to be completed.
It was fully accomplished – no half-measures. All of our sins were laid on Him. Nothing was left undone. He loved us so much that He gave Himself for us. Jesus’s words from the cross: ‘It is finished’ (John 19 v.30) speak of a job well done, a task fulfilled to the uttermost. This was a victory cry, a confirmation that all had been fulfilled – mission accomplished. This wasn’t the whimper of a defeated man, whose life had been prematurely cut short in an ignominious way – no, this was the cry of the Saviour, the Messiah, the All-Conquering One, who had reconciled man to God. No wonder the centurion at the foot of the cross declared: ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!’ (Mark 15 v.39). This senior Roman soldier had grasped the truth – only God’s Son could give His life in the place of sinful men and women. He knew that he had witnessed something extraordinary that day, that first Good Friday. Jesus’s death was attested to by many eye-witnesses, as His resurrection would be. He really died; He laid down His life. It was just as He had said.
What is your view of the cross? Of the man who hung and suffered there? Is He just a misguided man to you, or a victim of circumstances, or will you join with the countless millions worshipping Him today, who know Him to be Lord and Saviour?
Think on the words of this old hymn and give thanks to God for His wonderful salvation:
There is a green hill far away,
outside a city wall,
where the dear Lord was crucified
who died to save us all.
We may not know, we cannot tell,
what pains He had to bear,
but we believe it was for us
He hung and suffered there.
He died that we might be forgiven,
He died to make us good,
that we might go at last to heaven,
saved by His precious blood.
There was no other good enough
to pay the price of sin,
He only could unlock the gate
of heaven and let us in.
O dearly, dearly has He loved!
And we must love Him too,
and trust in His redeeming blood,
and try His works to do.
(Cecil Frances Alexander 1818-95)
Reflection day 25- Dead and buried
‘For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…’ (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
Another sad and hard thing at this time is the constraints on funeral arrangements. The guidelines suggest only ten mourners should be present. To those who have lost a loved one suddenly and unexpectedly and who were unable to visit them in hospital during their last days on earth, this is an added sorrow – though we understand the reasons for the restrictions.
It is worth remembering then that not only was Jesus’ death a shock to his disciples but there was the added complication of how to recover the body of someone convicted of rebellion (which would normally be left to rot on the cross or thrown by the soldiers into a common grave), where to bury the body and when to wrap the body in the customary burial cloths and rub in the perfumed oils which covered the smell of decay. Jesus died on Friday afternoon, a few hours before sunset and the next day was a special Sabbath when no work was to be done.
What happened, of course, was that Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy member of the Sanhedrin, accompanied by Nicodemus, asked Pilate for Jesus’ body and with Pilate’s permission recovered it from the cross. Then they wrapped it, with myrrh and aloes, in strips of linen. Next, followed by some of the women, they laid the body in the new tomb Joseph had volunteered as a burial place. Finally, they rolled the heavy stone down into its groove across the entrance to the tomb. The anointing of Jesus’ body was done in haste but the women were ready with spices and perfumes to go early to the tomb on the first day of the week (Sunday morning) and complete the task properly, although the stone would be a problem. But they rested on the Sabbath.
The burial of Jesus receives surprising attention in the New Testament. Every gospel describes his burial and there are references in Paul’s letters too. Jesus’ burial:
- i) Underlines Jesus really died. If his spirit was with God his Father, his body lay in the tomb.
- ii) The gospel writers may want us to see an allusion to Isaiah 53v9:
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death…
If so, Jesus was not buried in the grave with the wicked he would have been assigned to, but rather in the tomb of a rich (and a good) man.
iii) As we thought yesterday, we see the moving love, loyalty, courage and generosity of Jesus’ followers. However bewildered and shattered they were, they did what they could for the one they admired so much and loved so deeply. That ought to speak to us.
- iv) Jesus’ burial is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15 (above) and in two passages referring to baptism.
‘We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.’ (Romans 6:2-4 and see similarly Colossians 2:11-12)
Christians are united to Christ. When he died, we died; when he was buried, we were buried; and of course when he rose we rose to live a new life. But ‘buried with him in baptism’ underlines that our old sinful life is over. Just as clearly as Paul teaches that we are justified by faith in Christ alone, he also teaches that our old life is ‘dead and buried’. It is impossible for a Christian to go on sinning as he or she did before.
- v) The burial of Jesus prepares the way for Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday, for the stone rolled away, the folded grave clothes, the empty tomb and the appearance of Jesus in flesh and blood to his disciples.
‘The tomb in which He lay
Lies empty now and bare;
The stone is rolled away,
No lifeless form is there:
The sting is drawn from death and grave,
For Christ is risen, strong to save!’
Reflection day 26- ‘Peace be with you’
‘Peace be with you!’ (Luke 24:36, John 20:19,21)
The first words of the risen Jesus to his disciples were very necessary and precious:
- i) They were not to think this was a ghost! (Luke 24:37) Their beloved Master and Messiah was really, physically alive again. He had flesh and bones and could be touched. He ate in their presence. Jesus was and, friends, Jesus is alive.
- ii) These were words of forgiveness and kindness to disciples who had failed him. They had promised they would never disown him, that they would die with him, and yet every one of them had fled (Mark 14:31,50). No doubt they felt guilty and ashamed, but, in these words, Jesus expressed his abounding love and grace. Perhaps today we are conscious of our sins and failings and feel we cannot look Jesus in the face. May the words of Jesus bring us renewed peace and stir our love for him.
iii) Jesus’ words gave courage to disciples who were frightened of dying. The disciples had regrouped that evening but had ‘the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders’ (John 20:19). They were terrified they might come to the same end as their Master. But from hereon the resurrection of Jesus – and the certainty of their own resurrection – gave the disciples courage to proclaim the gospel even when it meant persecution, suffering and death. Peter writes in his first letter, ‘Praise 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, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.’ (1:3-5) I love the way Peter is fast asleep in prison in Acts 12 the night before the day of his planned show trial and execution. The illustrious angel has to strike him on the side and wake him up!
‘Lo! Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb;
lovingly he greets us, scatters fear and gloom.’
Reflection day 27- ‘My Lord and my God’
From Paul Barton, one of our church workers
John 20 – 24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus) [Thomas, in Aramaic, and Didymus, in Greek, both mean twin], one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’ 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ 27 Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ 28 Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29 Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’
Doubt is an experience common to all people. Some people are hindered greatly by doubt; some see it as a springboard to life; and others see it as an obstacle to be overcome. The Bible has something to say about the cause of doubt and provides examples of people who struggled with it. One such person is Thomas.
John 20: 24-29 records the account of Thomas who doesn’t believe the report of his friends seeing Jesus. Thomas wants the physical proof and touch to help him overcome his unbelief in the risen Lord so that he could believe this good news of his Master’s victory of death, v25.
One whole week passes by before the disciples were again in the same house in the locked room. I wonder what Thomas thought during that week. I’m sure his thoughts were still focusing upon the real grief he was experiencing. Maybe he was asking why did Jesus appear to them and not me? Did He really appear or are my friends making it up? Thomas lacked confidence and considered his friends account unlikely – that is doubt.
The remedy for doubt is faith. Jesus was going to give Thomas a huge dose of faith, face to face. In vs 26-27 Jesus appears again in the middle of a locked room and speaks directly to Thomas after greeting the whole group “Peace be with you!” Jesus, knowing Thomas’ human frailty resulted in weakened faith, accommodated Thomas. Jesus showed him grace. It is important to note that Jesus did not have to fulfil Thomas’ request. He was not obligated in the slightest bit. But Jesus knew Thomas’ weakness, just as he knows ours, so he graciously met Thomas’ request in v25.
The doubt Thomas experienced in the face of the heart-breaking loss of the One he loved is not unlike our own when facing a massive loss: despair, heartbreak, and exceeding sorrow, all of which Christ empathises with – Hebrews 4:15. But, although Thomas did in fact doubt the Lord’s resurrection appearance, once he saw the risen Christ, he proclaimed in faith, “My Lord and my God”. Jesus commended him for his faith, although that faith was based on sight.
As an extra encouraging note to future Christians, that means us today, Jesus goes on to say in v29 – ‘blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ He meant that once He ascended to heaven, He would send the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who would live within believers from then on, enabling us to believe that which we do not see with our eyes. This same thought is echoed by Peter, who said of Christ, ‘Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls’ (1 Peter 1:8-9).
Although we have the Spirit within us, we can still experience doubt. This, however, does not affect our eternal standing with God. True saving faith always perseveres to the end just as Thomas’ did, and just as Peter’s did after he had a monumental moment of weakness by denying the very Lord he loved and believed in. How can we persevere to the end? He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus – Philippians 1:6. Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith – Hebrews 12:2. Faith is the gift of God to His children, and He will mature and perfect it until He returns.
How do we overcome doubt on Monday 13th April 2020? We go to God in prayer when we experience doubt, crying, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:17-27). Doubting Christians have two things doubting Thomas did not have—the indwelling Holy Spirit and the written New Testament. By the power of both the Spirit and the Word, we can overcome doubts and, like Thomas, be prepared to follow our Lord and Saviour and give all for Him.
Reflection day 28- ‘The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases’
From Clive Gullett, one of our church elders
18 So I say, “My splendour is gone
and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”
19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.” (Lamentations 3)
Despite the situation we are experiencing at present, horrific for some and simply frustrating for many others of us, we have never the less known some wonderful blessings in the midst of the goings on. For one, we have been able to enjoy the lovely summer weather and God’s wonderful creation has been illuminated. For another, we have not suffered a dearth of God’s word. Thanks to those who have phoned with encouraging scriptures, preached on zoom, set up zoom, prayed, shopped for others and generally sought to help, we have been blessed.
However, no doubt there are cases even within our own fellowship, where anxiety and dark thoughts have existed and the tempter has been at work.
In addition to the preached word available to us, particularly from Mark speaking Sunday by Sunday and in the daily thoughts, I listened to a sermon on line of a well-known preacher now deceased. The title ‘Daily Grace’ took my attention from the list of recorded sermons and it brought to mind the old chorus – ‘the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases’ and the message spoke from Lamentations 3 and more specifically from verses 18 to 24. I won’t write them down here for sake of space but have a look at the whole chapter
Briefly, the theme is that Jerusalem is devastated and ruined, to the state that the prophet writing here is distraught and in utter darkness. It seemed also that the very presence of the God of Israel had departed and left him. All around the enemy gloated and mocked.
Maybe here in Chesham now, or maybe within your experience you know of such suffering, darkness of soul and a feeling of abandonment.
The prophet lists in verses 1-20 all his thoughts – have a look and list them – from feeling God has driven him away, walled him in, to remembering affliction, bitterness and gall.
THEN – in v 21 he purposely makes a stand and engages his thoughts in a positive way and this is where we are reminded of the chorus which is based on this scripture:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
His mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning, new every morning:
Great is your faithfulness O Lord,
Great is your faithfulness – take another look at verse 22-23.
The lament of, ‘where is God?’, turns to an abrupt and glorious change.
I cannot express the relief and delight and assurance that was highlighted in this message in a short space here. Sufficient to say – peruse on verses 21-24 and remember – the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases and His compassions are new every morning, great is His faithfulness.
When you awake each morning, sometimes maybe with foreboding thoughts, as you sit on the edge of the bed, seek to engage your heart with the positive thoughts that these verses express.
Reflection day 29- Have you no scar?
‘From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.’ (Galatians 6:17)
These marks were not some mystical bleeding wounds on Paul’s hands and feet as some have claimed; they were the accumulated scars and injuries of persecution. Paul could still refer to the awful suffering he endured on his ‘first missionary journey’ near the end of his life (2 Timothy 3:11). In his second letter to the Corinthians, chapter 11, when defending his ministry, he catalogues the things he has endured – imprisonments, floggings, ‘Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea…’ There was also the strain of constant travelling and of living in almost continual danger. He had laboured and toiled and gone without sleep. Often he had been hungry and thirsty; sometimes cold and naked. And then there were the mental and emotional pressures that arose from his concern for so many churches and Christian brothers and sisters. In the next chapter he relates his ‘thorn in the flesh’. Whatever that was Jesus would not remove it. He told Paul, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ (12:9) Power in weakness is a theme, if not the theme of this letter.
Amy Carmichael was born in Northern Ireland in December 1867. Converted in her teens she worked with the poor in Belfast and later, after her family moved to England, in Manchester. She believed God was calling her to missionary service overseas but was repeatedly rejected by missionary organisations on medical grounds. Eventually she arrived in India in 1895. She was suffering from Dengue Fever and many thought she wouldn’t last six months. In fact she would labour there for a further 55 years.
She wrote honestly about the difficulties she faced, including the indifference of many Hindus to the gospel. Early on she discovered the awful abuse of children (girls but also boys) in Hindu temples. In Dohnavur she founded a home to care for those who escaped. The children called her ‘Amma’ which means ‘mother’. The ministry developed beyond expectations.
In 1931 on one journey to a Hindu village, a village strongly opposed to the gospel, she fell into a pit which had been dug where it never should have been. The injuries did not heal well and she hardly left her room for the next twenty years of her life, though she cannot be said to have been inactive.
Amy Carmichael was a prolific writer, including of poetry. Here is one and I have only slightly modernised the language:
Have you no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear you sung as mighty in the land,
I hear them hail your bright, ascendant star,
Have you no scar?
Have you no wound?
Yet I was wounded by the archers, spent,
Leaned Me against a tree to die; and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned:
Have you no wound?
No wound? No scar?
Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,
And piercèd are the feet that follow Me;
But yours are whole: can he have followed far
Who has nor wound nor scar?
As we recall the events of the first Easter we are to remember that Christ is both our Saviour and pattern in life. As Paul taught the Philippians, to know Christ and the power of his resurrection must also mean fellowship with him in his sufferings (3:10). Have you or I no scar?
Reflection day 30- Can’t wait!
‘Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.’ (Psalm 27:14)
When will the Government begin to unlock lockdown? When will children be able to return to school and shops to open? When will I be able to meet up with my friends for a coffee, have a swim, or go away on holiday? When will we be allowed to worship together again? The police reckon that the longer the lockdown continues the more it will be violated. They are almost certainly right.
We are not good at waiting. Queuing for 40 minutes to get into Sainsbury’s has been made manageable for many because they have more time on their hands and the sun is shining. Delivery slots are nevertheless coveted. In general, we live in an instant society in which we expect our desires to be satisfied quickly if not immediately. Usually everything we want to eat and drink is available in a supermarket and there are those ready meals we can bang in the microwave and plenty of fast food outlets if even that is too much. We are used to nearly instantaneous messaging. Paul reminded us recently of the frustration some people feel when the two blue ticks have appeared on WhatsApp! ‘They’ve received my message and read it but haven’t replied!’ We are offered instant credit because we can’t wait to save up and buy things. Some people, who can’t wait, use dating apps to meet strangers for the most transitory of relationships.
Certainly there are things we long for: an end to exams, a certain job, a home of our own, a close friend, marriage, children, better health, the conversion of ones we love, revival. To be with Christ is better by far (Philippians 1:23). At times of sorrow especially, or in moments of heartfelt adoration, perhaps we have longed deeply to be with the Lord now. But it is not ours to hasten the day of our death or to determine the day Jesus returns.
Although sometimes there are things we can and should do, at other times we can only wait for God to act. The Bible says we need to learn to wait for him, praying to him, trusting in him. Impatience leads to frustration and reckless decision-making. God knows that often it is best for us to wait for things:
- i) what we think good for us would actually be harmful
- ii) we may not be ready for something yet, even if we think we are
iii) waiting deepens our appreciation of something when we do receive it
- iv) waiting patiently means learning to reflect and depend on God’s wisdom, power and love
- v) in learning to wait patiently we enjoy quiet peace and strength
- vi) in waiting patiently we glorify God
Some old friends of ours used to say, ‘Blessings delayed are blessings increased’. I believe that’s true both in this life and eternally. May God help us to wait patiently for him to act.