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From The Heart

Let’s celebrate

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What a great day this is! Celebrating 149 years of God’s faithfulness and blessing to our church. I’ve only been here 8 months, but I have a strong sense that we all are very privileged to be part of what God is doing here.

It’s very appropriate that we celebrate and rejoice over what God has done, and give thanks for the people he has raised up over the last 149 years. In many ways we stand on their shoulders. They have faithfully witnessed here in the CBD, taught and learned and lived out God’s word and pointed people to Jesus.

For generations people have come to know Christ, grown in Christ and proclaimed Christ through the ministry of Swanston St Church of Christ, and now CrossCulture. God has used this place to send hundreds of people throughout the world to take the Good News to people who haven’t heard. We have a good and godly heritage. Let’s celebrate and party!

But let’s also think about how God wants us to build on what we have. The need for people to know Christ, grow in him and proclaim him is still as urgent as it was in 1865. There are many more around us than there were then, and most of them know very little of who Jesus is and what He has done for us. The facilities and resources we have at our disposal are even better than they were then, and we have many more people to carry on this great work.

Let’s pray that God will help us as we seek to focus our efforts on working together to build up the body: in bringing people to trust in Jesus and in helping one another to grow to ‘the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Ephesians 4:13)

Happy Anniversary!

We serve a risen Saviour

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It must have been remarkable to have been there to see the risen Jesus. More than 500 people had that privilege, according to Paul (1 Corinthians 15). It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like. No wonder that they seem bewildered and didn’t quite know how to respond to him. I guess we would have been the same, had we been there.

According to John, Jesus appeared to his disciples at least 3 times. In all the appearances, His concern was for them – that they have his peace, that they believe, and that they carry on his work.

Remarkable and unique as the fact that Jesus is alive is, the command and commissioning Jesus gave his followers it that we bear witness to him and carry on his work of seeking and saving the lost. The fact that He is alive tells us that his work on the cross to pay the price for sin was effective and accomplished all that He and God planned. It means also that He lives to intercede for us – that right now He is asking God to bring about his good purposes in our lives and in the lives of those we reach out to. It’s a great comfort and impetus for us to live boldly as his ambassadors. We have been entrusted with the wonderful message of forgiveness and new life.

Let’s not withhold that life-giving message – it’s the power of God for salvation for our friends, family, neighbours and whoever He sends us to.

Jesus is Alive

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Jesus said to him, “have you believed because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
– John 20:29

The bodily resurrection of Jesus is not a spectacular event with crashing cymbals and blaring trumpets. No, the discovery that He is alive is like the quiet dawning of a new day announcing the defeat of the night. The risen Christ meets his friends personally and intimately at unexpected times and places, overcoming their grief and doubt. They are flooded with joy and peace as they move from sight to faith.

Mary Magdalene who first comes to the open tomb assumes the body is gone runs to share the disturbing news with Peter, who with John race to the tomb. After Peter and John return to their home, Mary who is consumed by grief has returned to tomb, she stoops down and sees the two Angels who enquire why she is crying? Then, not recognising “a stranger, supposedly the gardener”, Jesus asks “Whom are you seeking”? Then the risen Christ speaks her name – tenderly but with authority, “Mary”. It is the Shepherd calling one of His sheep, and Mary knows the voice. Then she turned to Him, falls at His feet and utters “Rabboni!” (Teacher)

Mary is now sent to “My brothers”! Previously they had been called servants in John 13;16 and friends in John 15;15, a new title for the disciples who have now become sons and daughters of the Father through Jesus’ death and resurrection v17. When Jesus speaks of “my Father and your Father, and My God and your God”, He is defining a whole new standing for believers in the “divine household”.

John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, out ran Peter and got to the tomb first, but he did not go in; he stoops down at the entrance and “peeps in”, seeing nothing but the linen cloths. Obviously there is no body. As soon as Peter arrives impulsive and courageous as ever, he goes in and sees the grave clothes lying neatly, all in place. “Still in the folds” as if the dead one had simply stepped out into life. Peter sees but apparently makes no response. When John enters v8 he sees and believes! The empty tomb and the folded clothes are quiet evidences for him that Jesus is alive. And John believes!

Then the living Lord joins the disciples who are gathered in fear behind bolted doors. These men who had deserted and denied Jesus were greeted with “Shalom” and a restored relationship, recreated and empowered by the Holy Spirit for mission as the “sent ones”. Their sadness is transformed to joy! Eight days later Thomas who had missed the first encounter with the risen Lord, is now with the others and Jesus again enters through closed doors to meet personally with Thomas and gently deals with his misgivings. Jesus offered Himself, “look and touch”! Thomas had no need to touch, he fell down before Jesus and cried out in adoration, “My Lord and my God”!

The Crucified Christ – stumbling block, foolishness, or wisdom?

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The death of Jesus is something that demands a response. The event itself was surrounded by all sorts of machinations, political wranglings and power struggles. People on the day responded very differently, even amongst the Jewish leaders. The majority screamed for Jesus’ blood. “Crucify him!” was their shrill cry, over and over again. They manipulated the spineless Pilate to bring it about, in spite of his instinct that it was unjust. But there were a few who thought otherwise. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, both leaders of the Jews, were prepared to go public in their support of Jesus. They made sure that he had a proper burial.

The apostle Paul, reflecting on it when writing to the Christians in Corinth, reminds them that the core of our proclamation is Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23). To the Jews it was a stumbling block. Something they tripped over. They couldn’t conceive of a Rescuer/Messiah who would end up dying as a criminal. For the Greeks, it just didn’t make sense – it was foolishness. That is the response of many in our godless age. Why should someone innocent be punished for the sins of the guilty? A good question indeed!

Paul continues in the next verse: but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:24). Through the death of Jesus the power of God is displayed in dealing with sin and Satan – overthrowing their hold on those who believe. Also the infinite wisdom of God – it is at the cross that the justice of God is totally satisfied, his holiness supremely displayed as sin is completely paid for. And in equal measure, his infinite love, compassion and grace is perfectly expressed as Jesus dies, the innocent for the guilty, the worthy for the unworthy. How wonderful to be a recipient of that kind of love and mercy.

I trust we all have a week overflowing with thankfulness as we continue to ponder on the sacrifice of our great Saviour, and live out our trust in him.

Walking towards the cross

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When you read the account of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, the one thing that strikes you is his clear-sightedness and determination.

Attempts to shield him from the coming sacrifice are swept aside. He tells those who come to arrest him to let the disciples leave (John 18:8); he tells Peter, who wants to fight off the corrupt people who are after him to put his sword away and rebukes him “Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (v11).

In the face of the most obvious lack of any coherent case against him, he makes no protests or defence. The nearest he gets to giving an answer is to say that his kingdom is not of this world. It’s clear that he hasn’t done anything wrong, but the clamour of the crowd is to crucify him.

Jesus knows that it’s the plan and purpose of God to save his people through his sacrifice on the cross, so he keeps walking toward that sacrifice – unswervingly, deliberately, lovingly. And he keeps on doing it, right to his last breath.

How we need to thank Jesus for being so determined to open up the way back to God, the way of forgiveness and rescue from sin. We live every day experiencing the benefits of his extreme obedience. And we bask in the warmth of his unconditional love.

Let’s keep on living out our thankfulness to him in what we do and say and think, and so point others to our great Saviour.

It’s to your advantage that I go away

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This statement (John 16:7) is amongst the parting words of Jesus, as He prepares his disciples for the separation that must soon come. It must have been hard for them to hear that. What possible advantage could there be in Jesus leaving them after three years of sharing his life, preaching the kingdom of God, seeing him do marvellous things, all of which showed them that He was the beginning of something big. How could it possibly be advantageous for him to disappear at this vital point?

The first and biggest advantage is that He is going to open up the way for them (and us) to be forgiven and have all the benefits of his perfect life, sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection. To do that, He has to go away to the cross.

The second is that, after the resurrection, He is going to the Father. There, as the God-man who has been tempted in every way just as we are, He will sympathetically plead our case with the Father. He lives forever to intercede for us. Heb 4:14-16; 7:25)

The third advantage (the one he talks about in John 16) is that when He goes, He and the Father will send the Spirit, the Advocate, Helper, the One who comes alongside, the Counsellor. He will not just be with a limited number of people for a short period in time/space, but will be with all his disciples – always and forever.

We are the fortunate and privileged recipients of these wonderful advantages. Let’s thank our great and generous Lord, and live and witness in the power of the Helper He has given each of us. That’s how we’ll bring him glory in a dark and difficult world.

Without me…

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Jesus makes a remarkable statement to his followers just before he goes to die on the cross. Apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5). If this was to come from the lips of anyone else, we would take it as extremely egotistical and self-promoting. On what basis is Jesus making such a massive claim? The answer is in the other things he says when he makes that bold claim.

He talks about them being made clean by the word that he has spoken. His unique role as the one who will make the sacrifice that will bring cleansing from the guilt and power and penalty of our wrongdoing means that without his intervention, we are eternally lost. In a real sense, in terms of becoming pleasing to God, we can do nothing without him. Whatever we do to fix up our present and past shortcomings and rebellion will never deal with the problem. We need him to clean us.

But it’s more than that for those followers who will carry on his work in a hostile world. They need his life and empowering to live for him and to bear the fruit that will last. That is why he urges them so strongly to remain in him. Apart from him they will shrivel up and die and never bear the fruit that he appointed them to bring forth. With his life surging through them by his Spirit, they will bear lots of fruit – their own lives transformed as they abide in him and live for him, and the lives of those that he will reach through them.

This is the reality of following Jesus – we are totally dependent on him. That is why our vision as a church – to know Christ, grow in Christ and proclaim Christ, has him in every part of it – apart from him we can do nothing. Let’s keep him central to all that we do individually and together.

Intolerance as the new tolerance

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In the public square Christianity is increasingly labelled as intolerant. Part of the reason for this is that a subtle shift has taken place in the way ‘tolerance’ is understood and defined. Whereas tolerance once meant ‘accepting the existence of different views’, now it is increasingly being understood as the ‘acceptance of different views’.

As Don Carson rightly points out, ‘To accept that a different or opposing position exists and deserves the right to exist is one thing; to accept the position itself means that one is no longer opposing it. The new tolerance suggests that actually accepting another’s position means believing that position to be true, or at least as true as your own’.

Of course, the new tolerance is itself intolerant because it cannot and will not tolerate any worldview that doesn’t accept all other worldviews as equally true. It’s not surprising then, with this new tolerance gaining wider acceptance, that Christianity is increasingly labelled as intolerant. After all, Jesus did say to his disciples “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14: 6). However, in the context of John’s Gospel Jesus’ words aren’t meant to confront the faulty, relativistic worldview that lies behind the new tolerance, but comfort troubled and anxious disciples. According to Jesus he is the only way to God because he is the only one who speaks and embodies the truth about God, he is the only one who has the very life of God in himself, and he is the only one who has dealt with the problem of sin and death and the devil, so as to bring sinful people back to God. Certainly Jesus’ words do confront the new tolerance, but are they true? If our answer to that question is ‘yes’, then Jesus’ words aren’t simply an apologetic against a faulty worldview, but a comfort to troubled and anxious disciples as they keep proclaiming the truth about him and maintain their trust in him in the midst of a hostile world.

Let’s continue to make Jesus known.

Upside down leadership

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There are so many things in the Bible and in the life of Jesus in particular that challenge us and seem to turn our way of thinking about the way the world works on its head. John 13 is one such incident. The whole idea of people knowing where they fit in the hierarchy of society, workplace, the family, the community, the church, is turned upside down in one act, when Jesus, the God-man, stoops and washes his disciples’ dirty feet.

It was no doubt an awkward moment for them. It was a task that needed to be done, but there was no servant or slave to do the job and no-one wanted to make the first move. The disciples knew from the teaching of Jesus what He thought about how they were to lead – by serving. But like us all, hearing something and translating it into action are two different things. Jesus gives them a powerful illustration that clearly drives home the point.

What is at the bottom of this is what is driving Jesus to the cross. It’s love – living totally for the benefit of the other. Serving, servant leadership, self-sacrifice, whatever name you want to give it. But the essence is a massive shift from living with an inward focus to living with an outward focus. Giving ourselves to live for the glory of God and the good of others.

May God give us the humility and grace to live this way in our homes, workplaces, church, and wherever He sends us, so that we reflect the love that Jesus had towards us, as He took on himself our dirt and died in our place on the cross.

What drives you in life?

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What drives you in life? What’s your highest priority? For some the answer to those questions might be tied to work, while for others it may possibly be family life, or friendships. The list could go on and on. Of course, how we answer those questions reveals a great deal about what we think is most important.

Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus has made many references to his ‘hour’. Everything in Jesus’ life has been moving towards this hour, and now, in John chapter 12, the hour finally arrives. The ‘hour’ is the hour of Jesus’ death. Why was this hour so important to Jesus? In a very real way this hour was troubling to him, so much so that there’s a sense in which he would have liked to have been delivered from it. The pain, humiliation, and self sacrifice of the cross were daunting to face. A moment’s reflection and it’s not difficult to understand why Jesus found it so troubling. However, there was something even more important to Jesus than being delivered from the horrors of crucifixion. Something drove Jesus’ life and shaped his decision – there was a priority by which all others were set. ‘Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name’ (John 12: 27-28). To bring glory to his father’s name meant more to Jesus than life itself. As Jesus obeyed his father and went to the cross, he brought glory to God by revealing his holy character. There God’s hatred toward sin was revealed. There the ruler of this was defeated. There the grace, mercy and love of God were on display.

As followers of Jesus, we too are called to lay down our lives and live for the glory of God. But, in practice, what does that look like for us? Actually, at a basic level it’s really quite simply. Just as Jesus displayed God’s glory in obeying his father, even to the point of death, we too bring glory to God by listening to his word and following what he says no matter the cost. Let’s encourage one another to live for God’s glory this week by listening to his word and obeying what it says.