Tag Archives: Luke

A Word in Time: Saturday

This is my final contribution to the Methodist Church daily Bible study. Thanks to those who have commented on each day’s posts here.

Luke 9:46-50

True Greatness

 An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, and said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.’

Another Exorcist

 John answered, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not stop him; for whoever is not against you is for you.’

 

Psalm: Psalm 76 

Background

I recall a conversation with two elderly ladies bemoaning the way children had stopped going to what they called Sunday School. Interestingly, they hadn’t been to church for years either!

Their father had once been superintendent of the town’s largest Sunday School with 400 children each week. One of the sisters said: “And every Sunday they came, sat in rows on the floor and not one of them dared move. They were completely silent because they knew what would happen if they made a peep.”

I suggested it wasn’t much fun. “It wasn’t supposed to be fun,” she said.

Another church I know realised their work with children and families had virtually died and so began afresh, concentrating on babies and parents; building from the ground up. It started with radical welcome, games, new equipment and ensuring that the families always felt at home.

Over time and with much love the work has grown until more than 100 children a month – and their families – now engage with that church and hear the gospel in new ways. And it is fun!

As the disciples argued among themselves about who was the greatest, Jesus took someone who in those days didn’t count – a child – and shamed them into understanding the upside-down values of the kingdom of God.

To welcome someone who was discounted in the eyes of society was to open the door for God. It enabled God’s just society to be built and it disabused the disciples of the need to prove themselves better than each other.

What about us? Perhaps our church doesn’t have children but we may well have other marginalised people in or near us. As Jesus said: “the least among all of you is the greatest”.

To Ponder

  • What are the issues around greatness that challenge us in our churches? How can we make a difference?
  • Is Jesus’ message about children still relevant in a denomination where many churches no longer have a Junior Church or any children connected? If so, how might you and your local church convey that message?
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A Word in Time: Friday

Luke 9:37-45

Jesus Heals a Boy with a Demon

 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, ‘Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It throws him into convulsions until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.’ Jesus answered, ‘You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.’ While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

Jesus Again Foretells His Death

While everyone was amazed at all that he was doing, he said to his disciples, ‘Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.’ But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.

 

Psalm: Psalm 75:1-7
Background

Following directly on from yesterday’s passage Jesus and the disciples have come down the mountain after the Transfiguration and soon he would ‘set his face to go to Jerusalem’ (Luke 9:51), where he would be forcibly taken to another hill and crucified.

As soon as they had descended Jesus was confronted with an evil spirit, a family in need, questions of faith, healing and more demands.

Some of the disciples – ones we often refer to as the inner circle – had been with Jesus at the Transfiguration. Others remained below, apparently failing to help the father who is in torment over his son.

Some had heard the voice of God say: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35). But even after the child was healed, they still didn’t get it when Jesus says: “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands”.

It’s tempting to use that trite phrase that after every mountaintop experience you’re going to have to live in the valley. This story is about much more though.

The way of God was never going to be like a Marvel Comic movie – all blazing light and transformation into some kind of super being who strode across the world smashing down trees and mountains.

It was always going to be ‘my son, my chosen one’ speaking life and love to those in the brokenness of real life and who would then “set his face to go to Jerusalem” and that other hill.

To Ponder

  • Why do you think the disciples still found it so difficult to listen to Jesus and understand? How do we still struggle today?
  • How can we engage with people who live all their lives in the valley and never see the top of the mountain?

A Word in Time: Thursday

Luke 9:28-36

The Transfiguration

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

 

Psalm: Psalm 74:13-23
Background

If Mark is the newspaper reporter of the Gospel writers – he writes in short, sharp sentences with a degree of urgency – then Peter could be the TV reporter.

He liked to capture the moment, either with an instant opinion or soundbite, and here he seemed to want to create an image to lock in their experience on the mountaintop. If they make three dwellings, or booths, then there will always be a place where he and others can come back and remember that Moses, Elijah and Jesus appeared together.

There may be difficult days to come but Peter’s dream was that these dwellings could provide them with a bolt-hole – somewhere to be able to recall this holy moment and sit together reminiscing.

What he failed to remember was his previous assertion that Jesus is “the Messiah of God” (Luke 9:20). So shortly after being certain that Jesus is the one for whom all Israel has longed, he now wants to create a memorial that would say something completely different.

To have three dwellings – or shelters as other versions of the Bible put it – suggests that Jesus is no different in status to Moses and Elijah. And Peter wanted to lock that in stone.

Then, almost as if it’s a rebuke, the voice of God reminded the disciples: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (v. 35).

There are only three times in the Gospels when the voice of God speaks out loud – at Jesus’ Baptism (Luke 3:22), here at the Transfiguration and finally in John 12:27-28 after some Greeks ask to see Jesus. Each time God speaks it is to affirm Jesus as God’s beloved son.

Here it seems to make it clear that no one else stands in the same relationship: not even the heroes of Israel – Moses and Elijah.

To Ponder

  • Do we make the mistake of trying to ‘lock in’ our experiences of God? If so, how might we prevent this?
  • Are there holy moments that still sustain you in dark times? If so, what are they?

A Word in Time: Wednesday

Luke 9:18-27

Peter’s Declaration about Jesus

 Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’ They answered, ‘John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Messiah of God.’

Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection

 He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, saying, ‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.’

Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.’

Psalm: Psalm 74:1-12

Background

What is the mark of a true follower of Christ? Is it someone who can properly identify him or the person who gets on with the business of walking out a daily pilgrimage of faith?

In a quiet moment, Luke’s Gospel appears to have Jesus ask in an almost disinterested way if the disciples have been listening to the gossip about him: “Who do the crowds say that I am?” (v. 18). Could he be John the Baptist come back to life, or the great hero Elijah? Was it possible, the crowds were wondering, that another prophet was back among them?

Peter piped up that he has the answer: they are praying alongside ‘the Messiah of God’ (v. 20).

You might expect Jesus to have congratulated them for getting it right, but instead he begins to talk about suffering, rejection and his ultimate Passion. It’s as if the revelation of who he is unlocks the ability for the disciples to now appreciate what is coming their way.

More than that, they have to be confronted by the reality of discipleship. Jesus says: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it” (vv. 23-24).

Discipleship isn’t simply about knowing that Jesus is Lord and taking up the cross isn’t about putting up with some difficult, or even very tough, things in your life. Too often we trot out the phrase “It’s a cross I have to bear” when we talk about an inconvenience.

Jesus was calling the disciples, and us, to be prepared to die daily to their own desires in order to put God and the kingdom first: even at the cost of their own lives – just as he would give up his life for the whole world.

To Ponder

  • How does the Church in the West take up its cross daily?
  • Have we cheapened the idea of taking up our cross? If so, how? And what might we do to re-address this?
  • How do we renew the idea of daily discipleship?

A Word in Time: Saturday

This is my final Bible study in the Methodist Church‘s A Word in Time series for this week. You can join in the online discussion here.

Acts 2:42-47

42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.


“They devoted themselves … praising God and having the goodwill of all the people…” (vv. 42, 47)

Background

At the end of the Day of Pentecost, Peter found himself the leader of a new community of more than 3,000 people who were learning together how to follow this risen Jesus (Acts 2:41).

Groups could decide to align themselves around a set of rules, say the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), or find a new Covenant built on a gracious agreement to build relationships (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Here the people of Christ develop a set of ‘holy habits’* designed to strengthen the community.

So, as they meet every day, they work at:

  • biblical teaching
  • fellowship
  • breaking of bread
  • prayer
  • sharing resources
  • service
  • eating together
  • gladness and generosity
  • worship
  • making more disciples

As they devote themselves to each other and the flourishing of these habits, the community around them spots that there is something positive about this new group. They care for each other, their generosity spills out and becomes infectious.

A group that was by now numbering in the thousands was becoming more significant, but rather than cause alarm, we read that they had the “goodwill of all the people” because of their habitual practice of behaving like Jesus.

Luke tells us that “day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (v. 47). It was not just that people were keeping an eye on what the developing group was up to, but that new converts were joining in.

Faith in Christ is attractive when allied to a convincing change of life.

Holy Habits, a book by Methodist minister Andrew Roberts, is being used by churches and circuits throughout the Connexion. It explores the ten habits as a model for discipleship.

To Ponder

  • “Evangelism through being like Christ can be more effective than ‘speaking at’ people.” How far do you agree with this statement? Why?
  • How would you develop these holy habits in the life of your church? Which is the most difficult habit for you?

A Word in Time: Thursday

This is my Bible Study in today’s A Word in Time series on the Methodist Church website. You can join in an online discussion there too if you like.

Acts 2:14, 22-35

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.

22 ‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24But God raised him up, having freed him from death,because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25For David says concerning him,
“I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
26 therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
moreover, my flesh will live in hope.
27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One experience corruption.
28 You have made known to me the ways of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”

29 ‘Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.30Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
“He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his flesh experience corruption.”
32This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. 33Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. 34For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand,
35   until I make your enemies your footstool.’ ”


“This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.” (v. 32)

Background

The picture of Peter we get in the Gospels is of a man who wanted to match up to the example of Jesus but kept missing the mark. In his enthusiasm to speak he didn’t always think. His passion to walk with his master led him often to put both feet in it.

But significantly it put him in the front row.

The picture we get in Acts is a completely different one. Set on fire by the Holy Spirit, Peter is now a confident advocate of a new reality: “this Jesus … raised up”.

The way he begins his address, generally understood as the first Christian sermon, is in itself a testament to the change brought about by the coming of the Holy Spirit: “Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say” (v. 14).

If we follow Luke’s narrative, Peter had been waiting in the room barely an hour ago for the promise of Jesus to be fulfilled (Acts 1:8) and now he is addressing a mass of people in the Jewish nation’s greatest city. He is not just appealing for their attention, he is commanding it.

If his manner is bold, then the content is staggering. Peter tells them that their hero king, David, is nothing more than a mouldering pile of bones in a grave (verse 29), but he and the disciples have been witnesses to something far greater.

He knew that to prove his case he needed witnesses – his own testimony would not be enough. He calls Scripture to his defence, indeed the very King David he has dismissed as a dead corpse: not as a king but as their greatest Psalmist – using Psalms 16:8-11 (in verses 25-28) and Psalm 110:1 (in verses 34-35).

Peter tells them that what they were witnessing had been God’s plan from the start, King David had been in on it and the disciples were witness.

To Ponder

  • How can the Church tread the fine line between boldness and arrogance when preaching the resurrection of Jesus?
  • The change in Peter and the disciples was evidence of the Spirit’s coming. How do people see the change in your life?

A Word in Time: Wednesday

This is today’s study in the Methodist Church’s A Word in Time series.

Acts 2:1-21

2When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 “In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”


“Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?’” (vv. 5-8)

Background

Here we are, on the Day of Pentecost, bystanders at the moment Jesus had promised the disciples would come (Acts 1:8). The Holy Spirit had invaded the room where they were waiting and now they had spilled out into the city among the crowds.

Jerusalem was bulging at the seams because it was festival time, and the air was filled with all the languages of the Jewish people. Suddenly the crowd realised that a bunch of uneducated Galilean fishermen were making themselves heard – everyone understood!

Luke (the writer of Acts) tells us that the onlookers were “bewildered” (v. 6), and “amazed and astonished” (v. 7) at this phenomenon. How could it be?

For those with quick enough wits, their minds would go back into the Jewish Scriptures and a story of the people trying to build the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) to reach into the heavens where God dwells.

God said: “Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech” (Genesis 11:7). By an act of God, the people were divided from each other through language. Now in Jerusalem, by an act of God, the words that Jesus’ followers were speaking made sense to all who would listen.

Luke stresses that these were the devout Jews, gathered in the city to worship. It is to them that Peter stands and declares that the day promised by the prophet Joel has dawned (verses 17-21, quoting Joel 2:28-32). The Holy Spirit is on the move, uniting young and old, female and male … “every nation under heaven” (v. 5).

To Ponder

  • What languages should you and the church use to share the Good News with your neighbours? How do we learn to communicate better with unreached people groups?
  • How can local churches improve their interaction with people who don’t speak ‘church-ese’? And what can you do to help?

A Word in Time: Monday

This is today’s Bible study in the Methodist Church’s A Word in Time series.

Acts 1:1-8

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me;5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ 7He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’


“… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (v. 8)

Background

Living in an age where fake news can travel around the world before the truth has got its boots on – to misquote an old saying – we know only too well the power of communication. Knowing how to get your message out – whether it’s a political campaign or an advertising slogan – is essential if you want to get people on your side.

As Jesus comes to the end of his time on earth, he has been giving the disciples an intensive course in missiology ready for this moment. They are convinced now that he really has risen from the dead, but need a bit more understanding about what comes next.

The answer is not ‘go’ but ‘wait’. Why? Because good communication needs the right network and it isn’t in place yet.

The “promise of the Father” (v. 4) is the gift of the Holy Spirit and a promised power to witness to the truth of the Resurrection and the new reality of the kingdom of God to change lives.

It’s only a matter of days before the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Then the disciples understand exactly what Jesus meant by saying “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”.

The Galilean boy band will be in on the start of a world tour: beginning where they are but spreading out on the coat tails of the expanding Roman Empire – the very occupiers who have tried to crush the Jewish people. From Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and into the known world the story of a risen Messiah rockets as believers tell it.

Within a very few years the story of Jesus had reached Britain … the ends of the earth?

To Ponder

  • How difficult is it to wait when you have a message you want to share? What can be gained by waiting?
  • What networks do we ignore at our peril?

A Word in Time: Sunday

This week I am providing the Bible study notes on the Methodist Church’s website at A Word in Time. The overall theme for the week is The Gospel of the Spirit and the studies link to the daily readings and prayers in the Methodist Prayer Handbook.

I will repost each day’s reading and reflection here as well.

John 20:19-31 (NRSVUK)

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.


“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’” (v. 21)

Background

The work of mission doesn’t wait. Resurrection day hasn’t finished and the risen Jesus is already reminding the disciples that this new reality is not served by hiding away in their meeting room.

The writer uses that strange phrase “the doors of the house … were locked for fear of the Jews” (v. 19) when we know that those behind the locked doors were themselves Jews.

Who are they afraid of? The NIVUK Bible renders “fear of the Jews” as “fear of the Jewish leaders” which makes more sense. Mob rule stirred up by those who had engineered the crowd’s chorus of “Crucify him!” (Mark 15:11-15) would have frightened off most people.

But as they hide behind the locked doors the disciples encounter something even more scary. How do you handle a risen Jesus?

The writer of the Gospel doesn’t give us any of the lead-in that Luke has in Acts 1. There the disciples are sent to wait in their room (Acts 1:4-8) for the gift of the Holy Spirit while Jesus ascends to heaven.

In John’s Gospel, the risen Christ appears on the evening of Resurrection Day, breathes the Holy Spirit on his friends (verse 22) and signals the start of the new outreach campaign: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (v. 21).

Yet again the battle between dark and light, which has been a constant theme throughout the Gospel, is prominent. The people of God can’t hide away when there’s work to be done.

The disciples are now a sent people: apostles. They are no longer locked away, but released with a new story to tell.

To Ponder

  • Can you think of something the Church needs releasing to do but feels ‘locked up’ about? What is it?
  • Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit on the disciples as the work of mission begins after the Resurrection. How can we show resurrection hope in our communities?

Why is Jesus so difficult?

Jesus is so difficult to follow. The problem with him is that just when you want him to conveniently approve of something you do he says just the opposite.

So just as America – “one nation under God” – celebrates the death of Osama Bin Laden the words of Jesus, uttered on a middle-Eastern hillside and recorded in Luke’s Gospel in the Bible come back to haunt them.

27 But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
    28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you.
    29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic.
    30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.
    31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
    32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them.
    33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that.
    34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners’, expecting to be repaid in full.
    35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
    36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

That’s just not in the US rhetoric now, at least not in the public rhetoric.Obama image

“Rot in hell,” says the he

adline.

“It’s a good day for America,” says President Obama.

“Obama 1, Osama 0,” said one banner.

But Jesus won’t let it go; the Bible won’t let it go. As Brian McLaren says on his blog: ‘Joyfully celebrating the killing of a killer who joyfully celebrated killing carries an irony that I hope will not be lost on us. Are we learning anything, or simply spinning harder in the cycle of violence?’

I remember reading Barack Obama’s first book with a rising sense of hope that here was a leader who would be different; who would be a man of moral purpose. Now as I hear him utter the same things previous world leaders have said – including past and present British Prime Ministers – my heart sinks.

Where is the change I hoped for, and would have voted for if I was American?

And then a little voice whispers in my ear as I sit comfortably in a British coffee shop – well, ironically an American coffee shop in Britain! ‘Do you remember what the church in Corinth was told?’

1 Corinthians 10

Warnings From Israel’s History
 1 For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea.
    2 They were all baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.
    3 They all ate the same spiritual food
    4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.
    5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.
    6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.
    7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.
    8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did— and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died.
    9 We should not test the Lord, as some of them did— and were killed by snakes.
    10 And do not grumble, as some of them did— and were killed by the destroying angel.
    11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfilment of the ages has come.
    12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!

It can be so easy to point the finger from the comfort of my coffee. I am still uneasy – more than uneasy, I am deeply disturbed by the kind of triumphal scenes being paraded at the death of Bin Laden.

I also know, however, that it’s too easy to point a finger and claim to be prophetic and at the same time be on the brink of an equally-catastrophic failure of my own. I may not have ordered anyone’s killing but I don’t have the weight of the Western world on my shoulders each day.

It is the duty of every follower of Christ to speak out against injustice and to remind the world that the crucified carpenter would not let violence be the answer. But we also have to guard our own hearts. As someone used to remind me – every time we point our finger at someone, three others point back at ourselves.