Talks at St. Peter's
It’s worth reminding ourselves that Easter doesn’t end with the empty tomb. The Easter story doesn’t end with Jesus appearing physically, bodily, to people. Because whenever you read the Easter story in all four of the gospels, the telling of the Easter story doesn’t end with the empty tomb or the appearances. There’s something more. And so whenever you get to the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew 28, we have the risen Jesus saying to his disciples, go into all the world and make disciples of all nations. You go to Mark’s Gospel and you go to chapter 16 to the end of Mark’s Gospel and you read this. Go into all the world and preach the good news to all of creation. You get to the end of Luke’s Gospel and Luke isn’t satisfied with one or two verses. He adds on an entire second book to describe how the disciples go into all the nations and make disciples and preach the good news to all creation.
We call it the book of Acts. And then we come to the gospel of John. And yes, in John, you have Jesus commissioning his disciples to go out into the world. But John has something more. John, as part of this commissioning tells us the story of Peter. Peter who had denied Jesus three times. John tells us the story of the restoration of Peter, the recommissioning off him and I want us to think about that this evening. And we pick up the story. If you’ve got your service booklets to hand, in John 21 and here’s Peter and some of the other disciples. They’ve gone fishing. Peter’s gone back to his former occupation. It’s worth noting. And it’s interesting because the scene in John 21 is very, very reminiscent of the first time, three years earlier, that Peter had met Jesus. Do you remember that story? Peter had been fishing all night. He had caught zip, but at the insistence of Jesus, he goes out again, this time in the blazing sunshine and they cast their nets out and what happens? They catch the most enormous catch of fish. And this has a profound impact on Peter. And he falls on his knees in the boat before Jesus. Do you remember what says to him? He says, go away.
Go Away from me Lord. For I’m a sinful man. And Jesus looks at Peter and makes no comment about the fact that Peter is a sinful man. Jesus knew that already. But instead begins to paint a picture for Peter of what his future’s going to be like. And he says to Peter, today, you will become… What? Fisher of men. And so this adventure begins. Peter becomes one of the central disciples, probably the inner three, Peter, James and John of the 12. Peter’s there at the raising of Jauris’ daughter. He’s there at the transfiguration. It’s Peter who proclaims for the very first time, Jesus, you are nothing less than the Messiah, the son of the living God. So Peter has been center stage for the three years of Jesus’s ministry.
But then, at the very moment that Jesus needed Peter most, what does Peter do? He denies it. Not only does he deny him, but he denies him to a teenage girl who’s a slave. So here’s Peter the burly fishermen, intimidated by a teenage girl and he denies Jesus. And the teenage girl says to him, yeah, you were, you were one of those guys. You were one of his disciples. And Peter point-blank just denies the very fact – nothing to do with them. You must be mistaken. And it wasn’t just once nor twice. It was three times. And so Peter has gone back to his former occupation, he’s fishing and he’s been fishing all night. And what does he caught? Absolutely nothing. So not only has he failed Jesus, but he’s a pretty pathetic fisherman as well, to be honest. So things are not going well for Peter. And then there’s a voice, there’s a voice from the shore.
Caught any fish? And you can probably imagine the disciples turning round to see who’s asking such a stupid question. A question you never ask a fisherman.
And then the voice says. Why don’t you try casting your nets on the other side? Advice that you never ever, ever give to a fisherman. But they do and what happens. The net is full of fish. And it’s John who twigs who the person on the shore is. Who is it? It’s Jesus and Peter who’s short on brains and big on enthusiasm jumps in and starts swimming to shore and just leaves the disciples to do all the hard work. And when he gets to shore, there is Jesus and what does he find? He finds a fire that’s been lit. He finds bread that’s been baking and fish that’s been frying. It’s as if Jesus was expecting them.
Can we just pause things there for a minute? Just press the pause button. I’m struck by a number of things so far in the story. I’m struck by the fact that Jesus knew where his disciples were. Jesus knew where they were, so this is Galilee. The sea of Galilee and Jesus knew where they were. I’m struck by the fact that Jesus knew what they were doing. I’m struck by the fact that he knew what their needs were, and happily met them.
I’m struck that Jesus wanted to help them. I’m struck by the practical way that Jesus meets their needs. It’s not a sermon this time. It’s a fire. Who doesn’t love a fire? It’s big, freshly baked bread in the morning. Isn’t that wonderful? I’m sure you get up in the morning and do that all the time. There’s something beautiful, about the smell of freshly baked bread. Now, I’m not so much sold on the frying fish. I have to say. Give me a bowl of muesli anytime. Fish in the morning just doesn’t do it for me. But maybe for the disciples, that’s exactly what they needed. But isn’t it really practical? And I think as Jesus met the needs of his disciples, I think we can be pretty confident this evening to say that Jesus does exactly the same for his disciples 2000 years later. So Jesus knows where I, am.
He doesn’t need Google maps. Jesus knows where I am and he knows where I am even if I have wandered off. Jesus knows what I’m doing. Even if I have gone back to the old ways. Jesus knows my needs and he knows the best way to meet them. Jesus wants to help me and Jesus wants to be with me. I think we can be pretty sure of those things tonight.
It’s at this point where the story goes from here – Jesus and all the disciples and it narrows down to Jesus and Peter. One-to-one, just the two of them together around the fire. And I’m guessing that for all of us, there will be moments in our journey with Jesus, in our walk with Jesus, that it will be just Jesus and me. There will become a moment where it will be important where it’s not just part of a congregation, but where it’s just me and Jesus, no one else
Watch out for those moments and when they come make the most of them. So it’s just Jesus and Peter and Jesus is very tender and he asks Peter three questions. Peter responds with three expressions of sorrow and Jesus recommissions Peter three times. Just want to look at those just briefly before we finish. So the three questions are actually just one question asked slightly differently. And you see the question there in verse 15. Jesus looks at Peter – Interesting how he calls him by his old named Simon-Peter. Simon, son of John. Do you see the question? Verse 15. Do you love me? Do you love me more than these? When was the last time somebody came up to you and asked you that question? I hope it wasn’t a stranger because it would have been really awkward if it had been a stranger. Do you love me? It’s an awkward question, isn’t it? Because actually the answer to that question, do you love me – that answer could potentially define the rest of your life. Because if somebody comes up to you and says, do you love me? And I say, no, I don’t. That’s going to be significant in that relationship. If I say yes, I do. That’s going to be really, really significant in that relationship as well.
Many, many years ago I was in a counselling session with a professional counselor with a married couple. And the professional, counsellor turned to the husband, pointing to his wife and said, do you love her? And everyone, every single person in that room that evening knew that how he answered that question, was going to define the future of their marriage. Do you love me, Is a profound and deeply significant question. And Jesus looks at Peter and says to Peter. Peter, do you love me more than these? I want to suggest to you tonight that that for each and every one of us, myself included, this evening, that Jesus asks us that question. That this question isn’t just for Peter, that it’s for me. And It’s for you. Jesus will come to us at some point and he will ask us. Clive, he may come to me and said, Clive, do you love me more than these? And he will come to you and he will say your name. And he will say, do you love me more than these? And can I say to you that your answer to that question, will define the rest of your life
Please note that it’s not do you love me? What’s the question? Do you love me more than these? And the question that Jesus is asking is, is your love for me greater than your love for anything else in your life? Clive is your love for me greater than your career? Clive is your love for me greater than your retirement? Clive is your love for me greater than your wealth? Clive is is your love for me greater than all of your relationships? Clive, do you love me more than these? You see in that question you have what the Christian faith is all about. Do you get that? The Christian faith is a worldview and it’s a beautiful world view. For me, the Christian faith makes sense of this world more than any other worldview. The Christian faith is a philosophy and it is a world defining philosophy. The Christian faith is a lifestyle. It’s a set of behaviors. It’s all of that. But before it’s any of that, it is a love affair. So here’s my first challenge to you this evening. Why don’t you play this out this week? As you live out this week, Monday through to next Sunday, live out your faith as if it’s a love affair.
And just mull that over. Reflect on that. Think that through. What does it mean for me today to love Jesus more than anything else? Think of it as a love affair.
This phrase defines for us what it means, what Christianity is all about because it says to me that my relationship with Jesus has to be the defining relationship above everything else. Above my relationship with my boss, my company, my wife, my kids, my desires. It has to be the defining relationship. If that scares you, don’t let it scare you because I promise you, I promise you, I promise you that as you love Jesus more than anything else, then everything else falls into place actually. And so there are three questions and they’re all the same question. Do you love me? And then not only do we have three questions in this passage, but we actually have three confessions, three expressions of sorrow. So if you’re looking at verse 15, Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these? Yes, Lord, he said, you know, I love you. And Jesus asks Peter that same question. And Peter responds with the same statement. Yes, Lord, you know, I love you. I just wonder what’s going on in Peter’s heart and mind as Jesus asks him those three questions. Here’s Peter who has failed big time and he knows it. And he hears these words of Jesus. Peter, do you love me? And probably deep down in Peter’s heart he’s saying, yes, Jesus, I know I do honestly love you. But you know what I’ve done to you. And Peter is wrestling with his failure right now. And I think in that statement, Verse 16 “Yes, you know that I love you”, I think behind that Peter is saying – I’m conscious of my failure. I’m conscious of what I’ve done to you, how I’ve failed you. But with all my heart, this is what I want more than anything else. Jesus, I want to love you.
I don’t know if you’re here tonight and you’re asking the question about what it means to be a Christian and I need to be careful how I say this, but I want to say that being a Christian is not about being perfect. Because the Peter who says to Jesus here, in John 21, you know I love you. We know from the acts of the apostles, he blows it again.
So loving Jesus isn’t about living the perfect life. Yes, we want to pursue holiness. That’s our goal. But in this love relationship in this love affair with Jesus, it’s going to be about vulnerability. It’s going to be about honesty. It’s going to be about confession. That’s why on a Sunday evening we always have a time of confession. Because that’s part of of walking with Jesus. It’s this ongoing recognition. I feel I’ve done it, yeah, I’ve sinned. I have sinned against God. I’ve sinned against my friends, my wife, there’s things I’ve done. There’s things I haven’t done. And I want to be honest with you, Jesus, about this, recognizing that in my honesty, in my desire to be open with you, that with you, there’s grace that with you, there’s forgiveness.
I want to want to tell you a story. It’s a small story, a brief story. But this, this happened to me this week. I want to tell you about somebody, and I can tell you about this person because you will not know who I’m talking about. I got a phone call from an old people’s home and it was quite a drive from Vevey. And so I drove to this old people’s home to meet someone who I had never met before and they had never met me. But they were looking for an English speaking pastor to come and visit them. And I walked into this room and that there was this person in a wheelchair probably in their 90’s stooped over with age.
There were some pleasantries. Nice to meet you. I’m Clive. Understand that you’re looking for and English=speaking, pastor. I’m happy to meet you. How can I help you? And this elderly person began to pour out an event that took place in their lives 50 years previous.
And I have to say it was an issue of significance. And they shared that with me. And I find it very emotional, on two levels, one that somebody would be willing to be so vulnerable and honest. And secondly, the thought that that person had carried that for 50 years. It’s incredible thought, isn’t it? And then they said this to me. Do you think God can forgive me? That’s why they had asked me to come. Could they be forgiven? And we talked. We talked about the death of Jesus on the Cross and resurrection and the empty tomb and what Jesus was doing as he was dying on the cross. And this person was a chorister in a choir in their younger years. And we talked about Handel’s Messiah. Cause I thought, I wonder whether you knew my Handel’s Messiah. And I said to them, do you remember that piece in Handel’s Messiah where you sing “And the Lord has laid on him the inequity of us all.” And we talked about how Jesus had taken all of our sin, the inequity of our sin on to himself. And this person in their 90’s stooped over with age, prayed a prayer of confession. Asked for forgiveness with the assurance that through the death and resurrection of Jesus that there is forgiveness even of the greatest sins. And as that person – their face lifted after that prayer there was tears but there was joy as well. And I think one of the reasons why John 21 is recorded for us of the restoration of Peter is recorded. It’s recorded for people who perhaps have carried something for years and have wondered, can I be forgiven? And Jesus’ restoration of Peter is an answer to that. And the answer is yes. Yes there is full and free forgiveness. Not just for Peter, not just for my friend in the EMS, but for us all, whatever it is, there is forgiveness.
Three questions. Simon, Simon, son of John. Do you love me? Three statements of confession and finally, three statements of commission. And, I just love this because Jesus turns to Peter who had blown it, failed him big time and Jesus three times recommissions Peter and redefines his future. Peter thought the door was shut. Peter thought that it was over. Peter thought it was going to be fishing on the Sea of Galilee for the rest of his life. But Jesus says to Peter says, no, it’s not over. It’s not over, Peter. I’m recommissioning you. I have a future for you.
And he would say that to each and every one of us tonight. I have a future for you. I was in Romania, came back Saturday, week ago. I’ll tell you all about it at some point. Absolutely fantastic trip. But we were there with a bunch of 30, 40 teenagers and we took some adult men a men’s team, to Romania. And we were digging trenches and laying concrete floors and putting water into houses. It was just fantastic. But we had a speaker every evening and the speaker was primarily for the teenagers. And so the old duffers like myself, we all sat at the back row and listened. But one of the things that the speaker did at the end of some of his sessions, he sent these young people out and he said, I want you to go and sit by yourself for 15 minutes and I just want you to think about what we’ve been talking about it. And do you know, if it wasn’t snowing tonight, I might send you out for 15 minutes. But here’s my question to you. What is Jesus commissioning you to?
What’s Jesus commissioning you to? Now, some of you here tonight, have just said to yourself, he’s not commissioning me. He’s not commissioning me. You’ve just said that to yourself. You’ve just said to yourself that question is irrelevant to me. Can I just say to you that’s a lie? Just cast it out of your mind right now. So let me ask you that question again. What is Jesus commissioning you to. In your retirement, what’s Jesus commissioning you to? For the next week, for the next month, for the rest of 2019 what does is Jesus commissioning you to? What is he calling you to? And I’m forcing this a little bit because I’m guessing that for many of us, we would not even dare dream that God might commission us to something. But I want you to, I want to dare you to dream tonight that God may be standing before you tonight and commissioning you whatever age and stage you might find yourself in young or old. Jesus stands before you tonight and commissions you. And could I encourage you to spend some time this week and just ask that question. Lord Jesus so what are you commissioning me to right now?
It’s a dangerous question. It’s an exciting question. I wonder what that might be for you. Because the God who stood before Peter that day, who called Peter to love him more than anything else who spoke words of restoration to Peter and who give Peter a future is the same God who stands before each and every one of us tonight. And calls us to love him more than anything else, and who speaks words of healing and restoration and hope into the darkest recesses of our lives. And who gives us a future – gives you a future.
Tonight I want to follow on from Clive’s excellent Easter sermon.
If you recall he talked about how Jesus came to earth, died and rose again to save not just Men and Women but also the whole of Creation – of which we are a part, made on the same day as all the other animals but created in the image of God. Animals but set apart in a special way and for a special task, as we shall see.
Clive referred to the fact that the 22nd April, has been known since 1970 as Earth Day. Earth Day was started in protest at the damage done to the environment and humans by industrial pollution.
He urged us to think about Earth Day through the lens of the Cross. And reminded us that one day Jesus Christ will come again and usher in a new heaven and a renewed earth. There will be no more ‘thorns’ either for us or for creation. It is not just us being transformed, it is the world we live in. He invited us to live our lives today to reflect the new earth and heavens – our choices, words, actions – everything about us should be shaped by that vision.
And that is quite a task!
You will recall the fickleness of the crowds. On Palm Sunday they shouted Hosanna, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem. Just a few days later, Good Friday, they shouted ‘Crucify him!”.
But before we pass judgement on them, just stop for a second and think, what would I have done? It’s easy for us, sitting here tonight to say we wouldn’t have joined in the chorus ‘Crucify him!’ But how quickly do we sometimes jump on the bandwagon of popular opinion……without thinking. Social media nowadays doesn’t help. Only yesterday I heard a discussion about banning LIKES for kids. It is so easy just to press like and affirm or dismiss something.
Paul talks a lot about what he calls ‘working out our salvation with fear and trembling!
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying we work for our redemption – that has already been done for us by Jesus, but we do need to work on the transformation of our MINDS, as Paul puts it.
In Philippians 2:12/13 Paul writes: my dear people, ……….Your task is to work at bringing about your own salvation; and naturally you’ll be taking this with utter seriousness. After all, God himself is the one who’s at work among you, who provides both the will and the energy to enable you to do what pleases him.’
There must be no grumbling and disputing in anything you do. That way, nobody will be able to fault you, and you’ll be pure and spotless children of God in the middle of a twisted and depraved generation. You are to shine among them like lights in the world, clinging to the word of life.’
The phrase ‘working out our salvation’ does not refer to working to RECEIVE God’s gift of salvation. It means as NT Wright writes: ‘figuring out (with our MINDS) what this business of being saved means in practice.’ Someone once suggested it was like getting a new tool, game or musical instrument. Great but of no use if just leave it in the cupboard. We need to read the instructions and use the new thing maybe even take lessons. Just like the gifts God has given us – we receive them free but some of them take work and wrestling to work out how they benefit our lives. Not really surprising that it says ‘work it out with fear and trembling’. Many ethical issues today really do need to be well figured out with God’s help!
Our wonderful brains/minds seem to be – or have become – automatically wired to respond to things in the wrong way – wrong habits. Or do you have to really force yourself to be angry, resentful, envious, sarcastic etc.!
We have been ‘born again’ and we now need to ‘grow up’ and work on learning the new habits.
Paul talks a lot about growing in ‘love’ – this in Hebrew is not an emotion but a ‘thought out habit of the heart.’ It is about re-teaching the heart/mind to KNOW WHY it approves of something and why it disapproves of what it disapproves –
Individuals but also Crowds like the ones we have mentioned on Palm Sunday and Good Friday often just follow others without thinking through with the Spirit’s help what is really right or wrong. But Every choice we make makes a difference – let’s make sure it’ a positive difference – a kingdom difference.
As Clive said, we need to let our choices be shaped by that vision of the fully restored Kingdom, that our lives today reflect the coming new heavens and renewed earth. All Humans are very special in God’s eyes, I love the way in the Shack, ‘God’ says, ‘I am especially fond of you’ – but says it of every human being! But I also believe that God didn’t create us just to sing his praises, but also to work with him – in the creating business!
How often do the songs we sing suggest that the goal of Christianity is to leave earth behind when we die and go to ‘heaven’. The early Christians had a completely different priority. For them Jesus’ death and resurrection was truly the launch moment of something NEW. The launching here on earth of God’s new creation, the start of the fulfilment of what Jesus had taught them to pray: ‘that God’s kingdom come ‘on earth as in heaven.’
That Jesus rose bodily from the dead is important because it affirms our PHYSICAL bodies. Jesus died to restore our true full HUMANNESS –which had been lost by Adam and Eve’s disobedience – and resulted in the very earth being cursed by their actions.
We are now living in Kingdom time –which will be fully established when Jesus returns to claim his kingdom and re-new heavens and earth.
The resurrection of Jesus is also the affirmation of the goodness of creation, and it is the means by which we are re-claimed, redeemed, reconciled to God. AND the gift of the Spirit has been given to help us to become the true human beings we were supposed to be. WHY? So that we can at last begin to fulfil the mandate given us at the beginning – to look after the garden.
In Genesis 1.27 we read that God made HUMANS (male and female) in his image, to rule over the earth. In ancient days, kings and rulers would erect statues of themselves everywhere they ruled to remind people who the boss was! In a similar way that was what humans were to incorporate as well – signposts to God’s ownership and bringing glory to HIM. That probably reminds you that all through the Bible we read how God’s people were called again and again to be rulers and priests.
The wise rule of humans over God’s world, is in fact what being in ‘God’s image’ is partly about. Humans were appointed by God, to reign over God’s creation, to be God’s representatives on earth! If we represent a loving God and are made in his image then our calling is to show love and wisdom toward the rest of creation of which we, too, are a part – albeit with a special responsibility. A responsibility that we will only fully be able to fulfil when we rise again with new bodies after death.
But a responsibility that we are called to start living now! As our collect today put it : ‘grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness that we may always serve you in pureness of living and truth.’
We find the the early Christians vision of the ultimate goal of all things would be In Revelation 21:2 there we read of ‘new heavens and new earth, the RE-newal of all things, the new Jerusalem ‘coming down from heaven to earth’ A world flooded with the joy and justice of the creator God. A world truly ‘transformed’.
The Bible opens with God assigning a particular vocation to humans: that they should look after God’s creation and make it fruitful and abundant.
AND the Bible closes with a scene in which this has come about only far more so. No, we won’t be going to heaven to sit on a cloud and play harps! In the renewed heavens and earth there will be new vocations and jobs – the ultimate fulfilment of those given to HUMANS in the first place.
We often have difficulty reading the Book of Revelation and yet it shows us a vision not only of all creation renewed and rejoicing, but of human beings within it able at last to bring the praise which all creation offers to its maker and at last to fulfil that dominion – that wise stewardship over all the world that God intended right from the beginning.
The point is that on that first Easter morning when the very earth quaked as Jesus’ rose from the dead, the Age of the Kingdom dawned and is here – even if when we look around the state our poor world is in and wonder – God has indeed through his Son reclaimed us and given us back our original status as image bearers – of true HUMANNESS through his Grace.
And as Paul in his letters is constantly urging us that means ACTION, HERE AND NOW. We must live our lives now based on that future vision – Paul talks about anticipating the new life NOW in the present. The ‘earthing of heaven’ has begun and we as born-again Christians are called to learn to live as we will eventually live – not by obeying lots of rules and regulations. Jesus told us plainly what to do, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul AND – with all your MIND. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’ (Matt. 22.36-40)
This doesn’t happen overnight and ONLY happens when we are prepared to ‘deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus.’ That is what PAUL is so passionate about helping us to do.
We all know about the Fruit of the Spirit and the 3 virtues of Faith Hope and Love. But these don’t grow automatically – they have to be learned, cultivated through hard persistent work. That is the meaning of ‘denying ourself and taking up our cross.’
Rom. 12 and Phil. 1 tell us quite plainly that the more spiritual we are, the more clearly and accurately and carefully we will think our actions through, particularly about what the completed goal of our Christian journey will be and hence what steps we should be taking, what habits we should be acquiring, as part of the journey toward that goal, right now.
We won’t be fully human if we leave our thinking and reasoning behind.
In the words of St Paul, let us pray:
‘This is OUR prayer: that our love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that we can figure out properly things that differ from one another, so that we may be blameless and innocent
for the day of the Messiah, filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus the Messiah to the glory and praise of God. Phil. 1:9-11
In the opening chapters of the Bible, Genesis one, two, and three paints a picture of a perfect place. I wonder, can you imagine a perfect world, a perfect world, a perfect place? Women and men lived side by side with God in a perfect relationship, perfect relationship with God and women and men lived side by side with each other in perfect friendship. And not only did women and men live side by side with God and with each other in perfect friendship, but they lived in a world, planet earth, which was itself perfect. In this perfect world there was no need for teenagers to go protesting about climate change. There was no need for David Attenborough to give inspirational talks. There was no need to glue yourself to Jeremy Corbyn’s front door. It was a perfect world. And then it all went horribly wrong. Women and, and men decided that they could do better than God, that they could improve on God, and they decided that they were the best place to decide what was right and wrong.
And that decision, the consequences of that decision were devastating, absolutely devastating. No longer would they live side by side with God because that friendship was now spoilt and and, and that friendship with God would feel cold. It would feel distant, it would feel broken. Even their relationship with each other. They began to be wary of each other. They’d be in competition with each other and not only did their decision impact their relationship with God and with each other, but it impacted the the world that they lived in and and one of the consequences of that, and these are the words of, of Genesis 3, was that they would start to experience thorns and thistles. But part of the consequence of a broken relationship with God was a broken relationship with the earth. That something decision about breaking relationship with God, twisted planet earth and Genesis 3 uses the word thorns to describe that.
This is not a trick question. What day is it today? Easter Sunday. See, it wasn’t a trick question you thought it was! It wasn’t a trick question. Today is Easter Sunday. Does anybody know what day tomorrow is? And the answer’s not Monday. Does anyone know what special day tomorrow is. So today’s Easter Sunday, tomorrow is Earth Day, tomorrow is Earth Day. The 22nd of April, every year since 1970 has been Earth Day. The day that we are encouraged to think about how we live on earth. How our decisions, our choices shape the earth that we live in. You may have come across an environmentalist her name was Rachel Carson. She was way back in the 1960s. And, and the sorts of things that we’re experiencing today, she was talking about way back in the 1960s and she said this. In nature, nothing exists alone. In other words, my decisions today impact you and impact this world that we live in.
So here’s my question. What does Good Friday, the day that Jesus died, Easter Sunday, the day that we celebrate that Jesus has risen and Earth Day have in common? How are those connected?
On Wednesday I flew to Paris and I had a meeting there and I arrived really early. The flight from Geneva was at 06.35 in the morning. I had to get up at 3.30. I would not recommend doing that too often. And so I was in Paris by 9.30. And can you guess where I went to? I went to see Notre Dame. I’ve got a confession, I have to say I’ve got a confession to make the metro station, at Notre Dame was closed. And so I had to get off at the metro station after it. So I came up and was completely disorientated. I had no idea where I was and I saw what I thought was Notre Dame.
And so I stood there and I looked up at it and there were other people looking up looking up at it as well. So I thought to myself, and this has to be Notre Dame. And then I thought you know what There’s not much fire damage to that church. And it suddenly dawned on me that it wasn’t Notre Dame and it was 500 meters over there. So I made my way over to Notre Dame. It’s just a tragedy to see it, a 950 year old cathedral, thankfully not destroyed, but in a real mess. One of the things that Notre Dame held was an ancient Christian relic. It was the, It was the crown of thorns and I don’t believe it was the real one, but they held a, a crown of thorns that certainly was knocking on the door of a thousand years old. Anybody from a royal family around Europe that came to Notre Dame was given a thorn from the crown of Thorns.
But it was, it was saved, thankfully from the fire. I found myself thinking about the crown of thorns. Jesus is being tried and the Roman soldiers aren’t being particularly nice to him. And they, they create this crown of thorns and the thorns and the, they put it on his head and, and uh, they place this crown of thorns on his head. And I began to reflect upon that and I began to think about Genesis 3 and how thorns, were a, a consequence of a broken world, consequence of my decisions, my rebellion against God. And here is Jesus, on the cross wearing what? Crown of thorns. And I find that quite, quite profound. And, and it made me think about what was Jesus doing as he was hanging on the cross and, and I think think Jesus was wanting to say, there’s something along these lines. These are my words, by the way. Do you remember the choice that was made in the garden? This is Jesus speaking the way I think Jesus might speak. Do you remember the, the choice that was made in the garden? Do you remember how it changed everything? Even your relationship with God, your relationship with each other, even your relationship with the planet? Do you remember how as a consequence of your choices thorns appeared? Well, today I’m going to take the consequences of your decisions upon myself. And he wears the crown of thorns.
Any any CS Lewis fans here? And Any CS Lewis fans? Do you remember the lion, the witch, and the wardrobe? So the children are in Narnia they’ve come through the wardrobe they’re in Narnia and they find it’s winter. It’s always winter and never Christmas. Imagine living in a land like that. But then Aslan comes and what begins to happen to winter, it begins to melt. And it becomes what exactly? Spring and summer. Aslan comes and creation begins to be restored. Jesus is on the cross. He’s dying. He’s dying for me that I might be forgiven. He’s dying, that I would be restored, but not only me and not only you, but in fact the whole of creation, the whole of creation. Of course Good Friday isn’t the end of the story. You fast forward to Sunday and the tomb’s empty. Jesus has stepped out of the tomb.
He was dead, but he’s now alive. It’s as if the, the curse way back in the garden is beginning to be reversed and he steps out into what? He steps out into a garden. Mary actually mistook Jesus for a gardener. Isn’t it interesting? He steps out into a garden and the power of the resurrection, the Cross and the resurrection begins to take effect. So there’s Mary thinking that Jesus is dead, overcome with grief, meets the resurrected Jesus and her grief is transformed. About a couple of hours later, Jesus, the resurrected Jesus, is on the road to Emmaus. There are two disciples. They’re completely consumed by despair. They think Jesus is dead. It’s all over. Jesus meets them and their despair is transformed to hope. About a week later, Thomas is in the upper room. Thomas has said if I need to stick my finger in a side and my finger in the wounds and then I’ll believe and Jesus, the resurrected Jesus, meets Thomas in the upper room and his skepticism and his doubt, is transformed into vibrant faith. The resurrection is beginning to have an effect. I just wonder whether you’re here tonight and maybe you’re struggling with grief or maybe you’re here tonight and you’re struggling with despair or maybe you’re here tonight and you’re struggling with doubt.
What we need is the resurrected Jesus to meet us. There was Peter, of course, wasn’t there? Peter who denied Jesus. Peter who said, Jesus, I’m going to follow you wherever you go. And then ends up denying him, the broken Peter, the Peter who was struggling with guilt and remorse. And Peter meets Jesus, the resurrected Jesus, on a lake shore. And Jesus takes that guilt and that brokenness and that sin and forgives Peter. And maybe you’re here tonight and you’re wrestling with those issues. Well, the resurrected Jesus is here tonight with mercy and grace and forgiveness.
But that’s about us, because I want to suggest to you this evening that in this day when we are wrestling with the issues of a planet warming up, plastic everywhere, I want to suggest to you that there’s a profound connection between Easter Sunday, the resurrection of Jesus and Earth Day tomorrow.
I want to suggest to you that actually Jesus didn’t just simply come and save me – and I’m so glad he did, but he’s actually come to save the whole of creation, the whole of creation. And I hope that as we leave Easter Sunday and enter tomorrow, that as we think about Earth Monday, that we think about it, through the lens of the resurrection and the Cross that actually Christ has come into our world to transform not only me, but that one day, one day he will usher in a new heaven and a new earth. A perfect place, Eden coming back and in this place there will be no more of these thorns. And I hope that inspires you to live today in a different way. That actually you would live in such a way that reflects the new heaven and the new earth that’s coming, that the choices that you make and the impact of those choices have upon the environment. Those choices would be shaped by that vision of the Cross and the resurrection and the new heaven and the new earth.
Chapter 19, Luke’s Gospel, the story of Palm Sunday, Jesus entering into Jerusalem, Mark’s retelling of the story of Jesus has been moving on a pace. And suddenly here, Luke 19, verse 18, Luke puts the brakes on the story of Jesus his retelling of Jesus, slows down. And Luke now goes into fine detail for as he describes the remaining days of Jesus’s life. Luke is slowing down because he wants to place great emphasis on the last week of Jesus’s life. And we want to take a cue from that as well. We want to slow down and make the most of the next coming days because the events that Luke is about to describe the events of Holy week, the events of the last seven days of Jesus’ life are some of the most significant for us as Christians. The Last Supper crucifixion and the resurrection. And Luke wants us to pay close attention to them.
And as we move into the last week of Jesus’s life, Luke wants us to know that Jesus is in control. And so we have at the very beginning of this palm Sunday story, an incredible emphasis on a donkey. Why you may ask, why does Luke take almost one third of his retelling of Palm Sunday, why does he give it over to a donkey is a great question to ask because within a matter of maybe three or four verses Luke repeats five times Jesus telling his disciples to untie the donkey. Why? Why all this emphasis on the donkey? Yes, donkeys are cute. Donkeys are cuddly, donkeys are lovely, but Luke is trying to tell us something because actually way back in Genesis, there’s this obscure verse that talks about the one who will come, a descendant of Judah, who has the authority to untie the donkey. All the way back in Genesis and Luke as picking up on this and by emphasizing the discovery of a donkey and the untying of a donkey, he’s wanting to tell us two things. A, that Jesus is this descendant of Judah, the Messiah that the Old Testament prophesies and that he’s in complete control. But what’s about to unfold over the next six or seven days, particularly around the crucifixion is not an accident. It’s not a mistake. This is something that Jesus has been living towards, moving towards deliberately. And in fact, planning.
It’s not a mistake. It’s something that Jesus has planned for. And in this story of that first palm Sunday, we have two very sad things that unfold in this story. And I want us to look at this passage through the lens of those two sad things. And here’s the first one, is that people don’t understand what’s going on. People don’t get what Jesus is doing. And so for Jesus to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey is a very clear and conscious disclosure of who he truly is, that he is the king, Israel’s long awaited king, and as he enters riding on a donkey, he comes, he’s regal, but he’s not threatening. He’s powerful, but he’s not using that power to start a revolution. He receives a ticker tape welcome of sorts. People take off their jackets and their coats and they throw it on the ground. They lift palm branches off the trees, they begin to swing them like flags and they begin to sing one of the Passover psalms, psalm 118. But they don’t understand what’s going on.
You do not cheer someone who is going to the gallows. You do not cheer someone who’s going to the scaffold. They don’t get what Jesus is coming to do. They misunderstand. What’s the answer? It’s a misunderstanding. The answer to misunderstanding is scripture. Scripture interprets for us what Jesus is doing. And just for the moment this evening, I want to look at a particular part of the Old Testament. Please don’t groom, this is going to take up two or three minutes. We’re going to look at the prophet that is most quoted during the last week of Jesus’s life. So here’s a question for you. There’s a prize to this. No, there’s not. I’m only joking. Who’s the most quoted profit in the last week of Jesus’s life? Anybody?
So it’s Zechariah, Zechariah. So just listen, just listen to this. So here’s Zechariah. This is about 750 years before the first palm Sunday. Okay. Zechariah chapter nine, verse nine. Rejoice greatly. Daughter of Zion, shout daughter of Jerusalem. See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious lowly and riding on a donkey. Jesus rides on a donkey and he does it deliberately to state I am. Zechariah’s king. I am the one that was prophesied. That’s nine verse nine. Here’s 11, verse 12. I told them, if you think it best, give me my pay, but if not, keep it.
So they paid me 30 pieces of silver and the Lord said to me, throw it to the potter. The handsome price at which they valued me. So I took the 30 pieces of silver and threw them to the potter at the House of the Lord. Does that sound familiar? So what was Judas paid for betraying Jesus. 30 pieces of silver. And so he didn’t keep it. Did he? Cause once he realized that he had betrayed an innocent man, what was that money then used for? Buying the field called the potter’s field. That’s 11, 12. Here’s 13 verse seven awake sword against my shepherd. Against the man who’s who is close to me, declares the Lord Almighty. Strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered and I will turn my hand against the little ones. Gethsemini. Jesus is arrested. Shepherd struck. What are the disciples do? They run. I think it’s Matthew who quotes Zachariah 13 to explain what’s going on. This is Esther by the way. She’s lovely. You can meet her afterwards. 12 verse 10 and I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, a spirit of grace and supplication. And they will look on me. The one they have pierced. Jesus on the cross. Pierced hands. Pierced feet.
And then that’s followed by 13 verse 1. What will be the result of the one whom they have pierced? Zachariah 13 verse 1. On that day, a fountain will be open to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem cleanse then from sin and impurity. Incredible isn’t it? There’s an English hymn writer called William Kuyper who wrote a hymn and titled there is a fountain and the first verse is this. There is a fountain that I see filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s vein. The sinners, sinners plunged beneath that blood lose all their guilty stains.
So the crown as Jesus rode in to Jerusalem that day misunderstood what they were doing. They were cheering and go on, go for it. Whereas Jesus was coming, riding on to die. And the Bible helps us understand that particularly Zachariah. Jesus was coming in as the king to end all kings. The Messiah, not coming to establish a political throne becoming to bring forgiveness from sin for each and every one of us. And we, we celebrate that tonight when we share communion together. So the first sad thing is misunderstanding that. The second sad thing, and this is the last thought from this passage is rejection. Jesus is coming in, riding on a donkey, proclaiming himself as king and Messiah. And this last appeal ends up being rejected by the Pharisees.
They hear that the cried singing and cheering on Jesus, and they turned round to Jesus and say, Jesus, this is a bit too much. You’ve gone too far. Silence them. They’re rejecting him. And Jesus responds to them with the statement that if they don’t sing, if they don’t praise, the very stones will lift up their voices in praise. Inanimate objects understand what’s going on and you don’t get it, you’re rejecting me. It’s an uncomfortable thought isn’t it, that Jesus divides opinion. Some follow him, some submit their lives to him, others reject him wholesale. And you see that in the the Ministry of Jesus leading up to Jerusalem. Some people submit themselves to him. You see that wonderfully in the life of Peter. One day Peter’s minding his own business. He’s been fishing all night. He’s cleaning his nets by his boat.
Jesus walks up, commandeers the boat as a pulpit, stands up and begins to preach. Peter washes away thinking, well, once the sermon’s over, that will be it. I can go home fishing all night. I need my bed, I need my breakfast. And then Jesus turns to him at the end of the sermon and says, Peter, let’s go fishing. And perhaps deep inside Peter’s going, oh no, I just want to go home. But he says, okay, Lord, let’s go fishing. And Jesus goes, out onto the boat with Peter and Jesus whose never fished in his life turns to Peter and says, see, just your net over there. And within minutes the boat is jam packed full of fish. And Peter takes one look at Jesus and falls on his knees in the midst of these fish. And he says to Jesus, go away from me. I’m a sinful man.
And do you know what Jesus says to him? Peter, you’re right. No, he doesn’t say that to him actually. He says to him, Peter, today, come follow me and I’ll make you a fisher of men. And Peter lays it all down and follows Jesus. Submits to him. And there are people who Jesus, they just see him here the call to follow him and run after him. But then you get somebody like the rich young ruler. Do you remember that story of the rich young ruler? He comes to Jesus with an amazing question. What must I do to inherit eternal life? Brilliant question. And Jesus says, go away and sell all you have and come follow me.
And do you know what happens? He looks at Jesus and he walks off. Jesus divides opinion and here he’s dividing opinion here on this palm Sunday. People are praising him. The pharisees are rejecting him. I want to suggest to you that we all face the challenge of wanting to push Jesus away. I was speaking to a friend of mine the other day, Wonderful Christian lady. She’s got a young child and she’s got three daughters under three and, and Phoebe at this particular stage, Phoebe was a young baby and quite demanding. And, it was my friends habit to get up in the morning and to pray and to read the Bible. And when you have the three kids so young, that’s really, really hard. And she was telling me that she was just got to that point.
She was just exhausted. And, and she felt drawn to, to pray and to open her Bible and just something within her was saying, no, it’s just too much. No, I don’t want to do that. I just want to just rest. And she felt as if she was just pushing Jesus away. And then a thought came into her mind and she said, she began to sing, she began to sing worship songs and, and uh, and, and that sense of, of wanting, to push Jesus away a little bit, just began to dispel. And that sense of longing to be with Jesus began to grow in her. And I don’t know whether that’s been your experience, that maybe you’ve come home from work and, and the thought of going back to your small group or maybe you get up on a Sunday morning and you just want to lie in bed. And it’s just – Jesus, I just need my own space. And the answer to rejection. The answer to pushing Jesus away in this passage seems to be praise. That as we open our hearts and our minds to worship the lord, that actually we, we draw near to him as James says. And as we draw near to him, he draws near to us. Whether that is, whether praise, praise in our own quiet times by ourselves, or whether that’s gathering together as a community to praise him.
The opposite of rejection is praise. So we have in this passage two sadnesses. The sadness of misunderstanding and the sadness of rejection. And what’s the answer to misunderstanding is to get into the scriptures and alow the scriptures to help us understand what Jesus is doing for us. And whenever we feel tired and we’re exhausted and maybe our quiet time or our small group or churches is a bridge too far, maybe the answer to that attitude, to that challenge is praise. It’s lifting up our voices, lifting up our hearts to the Lord.
So if you have your service booklets open, I would love us to look at that little Gospel passage from John 12 and I find it a beautiful and moving story. It’s one of the features of John’s Gospel that John presents Jesus from the point of view of Jesus meeting normal people. He interacts with human beings and here we have Jesus interacting with Mary of Bethany. This is a special passage. It’s six days, maybe six or seven days from Good Friday. At the very beginning of the passage, in verse one, John tells us that it’s close to the Passover. Six days before the Passover that feast where the children of Israel would remember that great escape from captivity in Egypt, that great escape entering into freedom and to moving towards the promised land. And it was six days before the Passover would be celebrated that evening when Jesus would gather his disciples together, break bread, drink wine.
And that very night he would be arrested and the next day crucified. And so it’s against that background. It’s against the background of Good Friday and Easter Sunday that John tells us this story. And what happens? Well, a supper, a dinner has been thrown, in honour of Jesus, probably marking the incredible event of Lazarus being raised from the dead. We’re in John 12. If we went back to John 11, there’s the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead. Martha, Lazarus’s sister, she’s serving and Lazarus is reclining and who can blame him? But then Mary appears and she begins to pour a lotion an expensive perfume, about 500 mills, over the feet of Jesus. I need to make a confession tonight. I love aftershave. That is one of my weaknesses. And whenever I’m passing through airports, I do tend to walk over to the section of the aftershave you knew the bottles that are open I’ll take anything that’s free.
But I am always surprised just how expensive aftershave is. Nothing compared to perfume, I would imagine. But we’re told here that Mary has taken pure Narda. It’s like a lotion, a perfume lotion. And she takes 500 mills. Now what’s 500 mills? It’s about three quarters of a bottle of wine isn’t it? Isn’t that 500 mils? And again, whenever I put a bit of aftershave on its a drop or two, I know nothing about perfume but that’s a drop or two when it comes to aftershave. But here is 500 mills. Now ladies, can you imagine going home tonight and taking your most expensive perfume? Usually it’s about a hundred mils – 50 to a hundred mils. And imagine pouring that over someone’s feet. Now a couple of things maybe you would think to yourself, this is my most expensive perfume. What on Earth am I doing? But I would imagine your house probably for the next two weeks, would smell of nothing other than that expensive perfume.
So Mary ticks the most expensive perfume that she has and Jesus is reclining, he’s probably has his feet to the outside and his, his arms and head facing the table where the food is and she pours the lotion over his feet. And if that isn’t the crowd stopper what happens next? Probably silences the room because what she will do as a, as a Middle Eastern woman, her hair will have been tied up because a Middle Eastern women traditionally will have tied up her hair, and she will have had some sort of way, probably a bow or something that ties it up and she will, she will untie the bow and her hair will fall.
If you knew anything about Middle Eastern culture in Jesus’s Day, the only time that you ever a woman ever untied her hair was in the presence of her husband. She unties her hair in the presence of Jesus, the one that she is most devoted to the one that she loves the most.
And she begins to wipe the additional lotion from Jesus’s feet with her hair. It’s a very powerful image.
It’s a very beautiful image. At All Saint’s, like here at Saint Peter’s, we have stained glass windows and one of the stained glass windows we have is of Mary wiping Jesus’s feet with her hair. And sometimes we have school kids who come in and they want to know about the age of the building and the shape of the building. And we always show them this stained glass window. And the girls particularly, I say to them, what’s happening in that window? And they look at and say, that’s weird! There’s a woman drying that man’s feet with her hair. That’s odd! What’s going on there. And it’s this story. John Chapter 12. And I wonder what you make of it. What do you make of that? Jesus is going to tell us later why Mary did what she did, that he’s going to tell her that, that Mary has grasped something, that Mary has understood something, something to do with Jesus and something to do with the Passover. And her action is an action of preparation. We’ll come back to that in a minute.
But the house is silent. Mary is wiping Jesus’s feet with her hair. In Middle Eastern houses in Jesus’s Day, the the lowest servant, the servant who was on the lowest rank was the one who washed your feet whenever you walked into the house. So if Denato was a landlord in the middle east in Jesus’ Day, and you walked into Donato’s house, he would have a servant and that servant’s responsibility would be to wash your feet. To wash off the dust and the grime and the dirt because obviously in those days you wore sandals. You didn’t wear socks. And here’s Mary, not only in this amazing act of devotion, but she’s putting herself in the place of what? The lowest servant. At Jesus’s feet.
Sometimes acts of devotion look foolish to some. And here’s Judas in the second half of the story, Judas criticizes Mary and Jesus sees Mary pouring out this lotion on Jesus’s feet. And what does Judas think? Well, what a waste. And he offers a plausible objection. He says we could have taken that expensive perfume, we could have sold it and we could have given the money to the poor. Interesting contrast, isn’t it? The, the worship of Mary and the criticism of Judas. We’re meant to see that contrast. Mary kneels before Jesus’s. She gives him the most expensive things that she has in this act of devotion. And Judas interprets it as a waste. Couple of thoughts for you. And then we’re finished this evening. I want us to think just for a moment, about Mary’s costly devotion. And I want you to see that picture of Mary placing herself in the place of a servant, the lowest servant and expressing her devotion to Jesus through this incredible lavish act of generosity.
She gives him the most, most expensive thing that she has. And I want us to think for a moment, a bike. Just this word, devotion.
I wonder where you would think about that word in your own life. Maybe I could ask you, what are you devoted to? What is it that you’re devoted to? And I want to invite you to think that one of the things that we’re called to as Christians, is to be devoted to Jesus, is to be devoted to Jesus and the part of following him is this act of devotion, this expression of devotion, this expression of love. And I wonder what might that look like for me and what might that look like for you? It may not involve perfume and it may not involve hair and it may not be physically at Jesus’s feet. Clearly that’s challenging, 2000 years later. But I wonder what an act of devotion might look like for you to Jesus. I think about what my wife Yvonne. And and one of the ways in which Yvonne expresses her devotion to Jesus is through music. And so sometimes I’ll come into the house and I will hear a Yvonne singing, down in the bedroom or down in the basement. And I know what she’s doing. She’s actually singing worship songs to Jesus. And that’s her act of devotion. For you, it might be, writing poetry. It might be going for a walk and telling Jesus just how wonderful you believe he is, but I want us to think in terms of devotion. What does our devotion look like to Jesus? Mary’s devotion. The second thing I want you to think about is Judas’s reaction, John tells us, if you have a look in the Bible passage, the motivation behind Judases words. If you have a look at verse four. “But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected. Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages. He did not say this because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.”
So actually Judas’s motivation wasn’t look at the poor. We need to feed them. Judas’s motivation was that money I could have helped myself to it. And you have this contrast of Mary giving everything and Judas wanting to take. Often we ask ourselves this question and, and we’ll, we’ll face it again in the next two weeks, is why did Judas deny Jesus? Why did he betray Jesus? And some have of wondered whether he became politically disillusioned with Jesus, but actually the only reason that we’re given in scripture was the reason why he betrayed Jesus was because Judas was greedy. He loved money more than he loved Jesus. And John wants us to get this contrast. Love of Jesus, love of money.
And that question. What is Clive Atkinson devoted to? Am I Mary? Am Judas?.
And finally, Jesus’s intriguing defense of Mary. It’s very interesting. If we have a look at verse seven how Jesus reacts to Judas’ words. Do you see it there? Verse seven. “Leave her alone.” Now, I don’t know whether it was a “Judas leave her alone” or was it “leave her alone.” I suspect it’s actually the latter. He’s coming to the defense of Mary and that verse seven is actually quite a challenge to translate. It was, he says, leave her alone. It was intended that she should save this perfume, perfume for the day of my burial. What an interesting one. And that brings us back to why did Mary do what she did?
She clearly had glimpsed, something clearly had understood something about Jesus, that Jesus had come to die and she got it. And so she prepared him for his burial. She prepared him for his burial. So three Fs for you this evening. Follow Mary’s example. Be devoted to Jesus. Flee. That’s my second death. Flee Judas, his love of money. And thirdly, focus. Focus on Jesus’s death and why he died for me. And for you.