Living BEYOND the difficulties

Our Easter celebrations have come and gone so quickly!

Back to our routines

“We stopped to celebrate Easter only a week ago, yet we are back into our normal routines before we know it.”

We stopped to celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ only a week ago, yet we are back into our normal routines before we know it. Yet, the resurrection is so profound its truths transform every part of our lives, and in a very real way Easter lives with us every day.

In his first letter to the believers living in Corinth Paul writes how “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, [and] that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). While his death dealt with our sins, God vindicated Jesus by raising him to life again. His resurrection changed everything.

It transformed Peter from a mistake-prone bungler who denied and disassociated himself from Jesus, into a bold provocative advocate who stood in front of thousands of people on the day of Pentecost and called them to repent. What changed Peter? He later wrote, “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). The resurrection radically changed Peter for ever.

Peter’s life demonstrates a powerful insight, that the resurrection is more than a victory to be celebrated it is a reality to be lived.

It’s not by chance that the early church began meeting on Sundays, the day after the Jewish Sabbath. Read More >>>

 

God’s Hidden Presence

On the morning of his resurrection Jesus walked through the near-empty garden unnoticed.
Well almost
.

The_Garden_Tomb_2008

The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem where some scholars say Jesus was buried. Click the image for more info

Had he not asked Mary Magdalene why she was crying he would have remained hidden. Then even as she answered Jesus’ question she didn’t recognise him. That is until he called her by name, then the recognition came. (John 20:11-18)

There is a mystery about the presence of God. In Matthew’s gospel when he relates the story of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” implying that if one is not pure in heart then God may be hidden from view. Although the Bible makes clear that God is present everywhere and in everything is God’s presence (for instance Psalm 139:7-12), the darkness of our heart distorts our perception.

St Ephrem

St Ephrem

The 4th Century theologian St. Ephrem the Syrian expressed it neatly in the following verse . . .

Lord, your symbols are everywhere,
Yet you are hidden from everywhere.
Though your symbol is on high,
Yet height does not perceive that you are;
Though your symbol is in the depth,
It does not comprehend who you are;
Though your symbol is in the sea,
You are hidden from the sea;
Though your symbol is on dry land,
It is not aware what you are.
Blessed is the Hidden One shining out!

St. Ephrem uses the word “symbol” in its ancient meaning >>>

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Why Have You Forsaken Me?

In these weeks leading up to Easter I am focusing on the “Seven Sayings of Christ from the Cross.”

This week it’s Jesus’ words of abandonment taken from Matthew 27:46, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which translated means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Hanging on the cross, his body in agony from the torture of crucifixion, Jesus uses the opening verses of Psalm 22 written by David to express the depths of his agony. But it was not the physical pain that was the source of his cry, although it was no doubt intense, it was something far deeper and darker. In that excruciating moment, he felt the unbearable painfulness that comes from rejection and separation.

Jesus entered into a place where, as Paul the apostle expresses it in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (NIV).

Suffering

“His suffering was a mirror of our sufferings”

Such is the mystery and the majesty of the salvation of humanity that we can’t possibly know the depths of what Jesus felt in that moment. We can however appreciate it in some measure. Why? Because Jesus was as human and you and I are. His experience was that of every human being. His suffering was a mirror of our sufferings.

There are times when many of us, perhaps all of us, have experienced dark times when it felt like God had abandoned us. Life was hopeless, prayers went unanswered and despair was overwhelming. It such moments we too cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

But that’s not where the story ends. Read More >>>

Pentecost: A Birthday!

The day of Pentecost is one of the most important days in the life of the church.

Just as each year you celebrate your birthday, at Pentecost we celebrate the birthday of the church. The events of that day so empowered a group of people and ignited such a passion in them that the effects are still felt in the world today. Have you ever prayed that God might do it again in your life, in your city?

Birthday candles, flame, wind

Just as each year you celebrate your birthday, at Pentecost we celebrate the birthday of the church.

On that day Jews from across the known world had gathered in Jerusalem for one of their annual celebrations. Only weeks before they had come for another festival, the Passover, when there had been a small disturbance when yet another messianic hopeful, Jesus of Nazareth, had been crucified by the Romans. His small band of followers were in hiding fearing reprisal and nowhere to be seen. There were rumours circulating that some people had seen Jesus alive.

Then, something unheard of took place.

Read More >>>

Avoiding that Final Journey?

Death is one of those things we avoid in any way we can. We fill our lives with things, we immerse ourselves in books, movies or other fantasies, we focus on our careers neglecting everything else, we party, play and distract ourselves from the impending, inevitable reality.

However, we don’t do death like we used to. Once afraid of ‘meeting their maker’, today people are resigned to there being no meeting at all. No longer afraid of going to hell, most are fearful of going nowhere at all.

Religious Candles and Cross

Often today’s funerals are not even about the person who died but about “managing our grief.”

Today people want to die quickly, preferably in their sleep. In the past when most people had a Christian worldview even if they were not Christians, they wanted to know when death would come so they could be prepared. “Prepare for what?” you might wonder.

Read More >>>

There’s Something About Jesus

Like many others leaders of messianic movements, Jesus’ life was nothing special when it ended as many of them did with a crucifixion. He was another dead leader with a band of

Resurrection

The Jesus they followed was alive!

disillusioned and scattered followers. But something happened. Before long numbers exploded and over the next 300 years they spread across the entire Roman Empire.

What was the difference? This Messiah was alive.

The Jesus they followed was alive

For nearly two thousand years Christians have . . .   Read More >>>

Goodbye Tall Poppy

Australia, many suggest, is one of the most egalitarian countries in the world. The heart of egalitarianism is treating all people as equals with any inequality, whether it be economic political, civil or social, being removed.

In Australia, rather than address our Head of State as Monsieur Presidente, as the France do, or Mr President, as they do in America, we just call them John, Kevin or Julia. Egalitarianism is so ingrained in our psyche that women were first able to vote in Australia, our unions are the oldest in the world and we are the forerunners of the eight-hour working day, equal rights, pensions and other social benefits.

Daisy in Field

Our “tall poppy syndrome” cuts down any who thinks of themselves above or better than the “average”.

Egalitarianism, it seems, began when Australia was one big prison and further developed under the colonial culture. It is evident in our value of “mateship” and in our irreverence for established authority. We expect people to behave with humility and not think of themselves better than others. Our “tall poppy syndrome” cuts down any who thinks of themselves above or better than the “average.” We are particularly critical of any authority that is pompous and appears out of touch.

From the beginning of white settlement the Australian church and its leaders have struggled within this environment and found it difficult to connect. The leadership looked out of place coming from the upper and middle classes of Anglican England when the convicts were primarily from the lower class or Catholic Ireland. As the convict colony developed into a nation and society became settled and diverse, the church found a place, albeit, still uncomfortable within the harsh and alien Australian environment.

It is no surprise that today the church is still considered old and out of touch. Australians remain suspicious and distrustful of the church’s motives. When our leaders comment on social issues such as poverty, land rights, taxation reform etc. they are told not to interfere but rather stick to things religious. Visiting Christian speakers often remark about the hardness of the Australian soul to the gospel.

“Authority, he demonstrated, is a responsibility not a ‘privilege’.”

Despite the difficulties the church faces there is much that Jesus modeled and taught that can connect with our egalitarian and anti-authoritarian ways. Jesus taught that authority and power are to be used for the benefit of others, not personal gain. Authority, he demonstrated, is a responsibility not a ‘privilege.’ Jesus never used authority for personal advantage but lovingly served to others. In fact, he was critical of the pompous displays of the religious authorities and reacted strongly against any inequalities.

To the “average” person of his day Jesus did not come across as pompous or authoritarian but rather as one who was for them. He did not stand aloof condemning, but was willing to share a meal with tax collectors, sinners, outcasts, and untouchables.

This Easter most Australians will take a holiday without reflecting on why it exists. They will not recognise in the death and resurrection of Jesus, a condemnation of the misuse of authority. They will miss the reality that he disarms authorities. They will not understand that this demonstrates once and for all the correct use of authority (Col 2:15). Sadly, they are unaware that all authority has now been given to Jesus (Phil 2:9-11) and he will one day return to set the world aright.

While Australian egalitarianism and anti-authoritarianism often leads Aussies to reject Jesus, there is something in these attitudes that should draw people to him. Let us pray that the Spirit of God may move in Aussies this Easter and that they may see in Jesus a kindred spirit rather than an authoritarian master.

Stephen L Baxter

Resurrection Sunday – New Life!

Did you know that the word Easter comes to us from the word “eastern” or “easterly?” That was the direction that a worshipper from the west should face when they reflect on the place of their redemption – namely Jerusalem.

From the Bible there is little evidence that Jesus was worshipped before the resurrection, yet it is certainly clear he was afterwards. In one of Paul’s early letters written to the church in Corinth around 55 AD, we read the famous Maranatha prayer, “Come O Lord”. Here Paul uses the Aramaic expression Maranatha giving us an insight into the prayer life of the early Jewish followers of Jesus. They knew he was alive and longed for his return just as he promised.

The resurrection had changed their lives completely. They hadn’t seen the resurrection, only the angels saw that, but they had seen the resurrected Jesus. This was no wishful thinking that came true in a dream or a vision. No, the focus in the Bible is that Jesus took the initiative and “appeared” before his disciples. In fact 1 Corinthians 15 says he appeared to a number of different groups and individuals at different places times in different places, even up to 500 people at one time.

On Easter Sunday we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. It stands as the focus of our faith as we join with millions through history and around the world in celebrating the bodily resurrection of Christ. Without the resurrection there is no faith and reason to worship. But with it everything is changed. Death has been defeated, and victory over sin has been declared.

This is the hope of the world, the promise of new life for everyone, everywhere. May your life and family be full of this hope today and throughout the coming year.

Stephen L Baxter