As we've looked at Good Friday as a household I have been amazed again at God's goodness. That seems a bit funny as you read the narrative of The Passion. Jesus dies a brutal death. And before that he is beaten and whipped and spat at. He carries a wooden cross and is nailed to it. He is mocked by those around Him. I have in the past got stuck at this being the goodness of Good Friday - that Jesus would take so much so that I could be forgiven.
But in preparing for the Good Friday service, I have re-read the gospel accounts and discovered more to it. Jesus heals the guard’s ear in Gethsemane. He asks for forgiveness for the very people subjecting Him to such brutal torture. He hears the criminal on the cross next to Him recognise Him as Lord and gives him eternal life. Even in the most desperate of circumstances, Jesus’ nature of love is still at work – it is who He is.
Having experienced the loss of my son James, re-reading the gospel accounts I also found myself thinking of what Mary and Jesus’ close friends must have felt. Can you imagine how Mary must have felt watching her boy being nailed to a cross? Having to trust somehow as he took his last breath that God had a plan. Having to hold on to hope – that what Jesus had spoken of was absolutely going to come to pass?
Then I read something that I'd never really noticed before that made me think about hope in death:
Matthew 27: 51-53
"At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life" (emphasis added).
Good Friday is about sin and being justified so that we can have relationship with God - absolutely - but it is so much more. In one moment, we were given unfettered access to the kingdom of God once and for all. In one moment, death was beaten - and Jesus hadn't even been resurrected yet. There is that saying; ‘it’s Friday but Sunday’s coming’ – but in this passage, God showed me the hope that is in the midst of death and pain.
Thanks to the cross, both me and James now get to take part in the Kingdom of Heaven - on earth and in heaven. It is pretty mind blowing isn’t it. The good of Good Friday for me isn’t just that Jesus went so far for me – or the revelation that He was so committed to relationship with me that even if I was the only one on the planet, He would have gone to the same lengths. Or that sin was dealt with once and for all. All of those things are indeed absolutely awesome. But after everything we have gone through the last few years, discovering the hope of heaven in the middle of death has truly broadened my grasp of Good Friday. I can sing with confidence that lyric 'Now death where is your sting? Our resurrected King has rendered you defeated', and I don’t have to wait for Sunday to come. Be encouraged – you don’t have to wait either.
Written by Jo Macinnes
Matthew 26:20-25, 47-49
What must it have been like for the disciples at this point? What a week they were having.
They'd seen the crowds welcome Jesus, but it was the welcome of a people whose expectations were of a conquering, warring messiah who would overthrow the Roman occupiers.
Some of the religious rulers had even tried to stop the crowds praising Jesus, they knew the significance of what was happening and how it may be interpreted especially at Passover time, and this could literally be revolutionary. But in all this misplaced expectation and worry, Jesus came not as a warring messiah, but as a King, the prince of peace, riding a donkey, fulfilling prophecies made many years before.
And they had witnessed his encounter in the temple, challenging the religious authorities, alerting people to the truth that the temple and all it represented was not as it had been intended. It wasn't the light to the world it was supposed to be, but instead had become exclusive and rigid- striving for a piety that would place heavy burdens on the people of God - Jesus challenged this. He challenged the authority of those who claimed to represent God and he'd started telling stories about a vineyard that hadn't been looked after by the caretakers.... the religious rulers knew he was talking about them
Also however, as he lived out this final week, some were beginning to recognise him for who he was, the children at the temple giving praise, the woman who poured the expensive jar of perfume over him, honouring Jesus, worshipping him
And now comes today's events, a Passover meal, a meal they would all have been fully aware of, a meal that recalled how God had rescued His people and set them free…..then Jesus adds a twist.
He identifies himself in the story, this story of redemption now somehow includes Jesus, this wine is his blood, this bread is his body, His blood shed for the many, his body broken to enable the forgiveness of sins.
And then he talks about someone about to betray him – what a week to be around Jesus?
And the finally, away from the city, from the bustle of the Passover crowds, the authorities take their chance, and they are led to Jesus by one of the people closest to him – a friend. Judas had somehow managed to walk closely with the Son of God, and yet had also managed to miss the whole point of who He was.
This can’t have been what the disciples thought following Jesus would be like? With the events of Easter Sunday not yet known – this must have been a dark time for them.
What about us – how do you and I respond when following Jesus doesn’t look the way we thought it would? When things don’t turn out the way we expected they would.
As followers of Jesus we too find ourselves in times of darkness
Tempted to run
To deny we know Jesus
To be so close to Jesus, yet miss the point of who he is
We can identify with the disciples in this
His way isn't easy
We know about Easter Sunday – the events of this week were leading to this amazing day when the fullness of God’s plan was revealed, but at this point in the week, and especially tomorrow on Good Friday, that day wasn’t known about yet, and things must have seemed very dark.
We wish we could get to Easter Day - live in it always. And in a very real sense we do, we live this side of the resurrection of Jesus, death has been conquered, it no longer has a hold on us, God has made things right. We can have deep friendship with God.
But at this point in our reflections, it’s worth remembering that we don't get to Easter Sunday without the events of the days of this week.
It’s worth being reminded that as followers of Jesus we aren't immune to difficult and dark times – to times when the urge is to run from or even to betray Jesus.
Look at Jesus. What was it that allowed him to journey through these days and be obedient to his father’s will?
It was his understanding of the Father, of how loved and precious he was to him. It was knowing that his Father’s plan, although hard, was good, and would prevail
Obedience came from his trust in his father, “yet not my will, but yours”
We want to get to Sunday, but to do that often depends on our experience in the darkness.
How we face our fears, sense of loss, dashed expectations.
Do we, like Jesus, trust our heavenly Father? Is God good? Do we believe that Sunday is coming, that although ‘there may be pain in the night, joy comes in the morning?’
“A Christian is never more standing in the footsteps of Jesus than when he or she is faced with a dark and difficult situation yet still responds in obedience, not my will but yours” - CS lewis
Then in our weakness his power is made strong
Who is God? Do you trust him?
Jesus looks at us with love
He has gone before us, he walks with us now,
His hand is open, our choice is simple, but not easy
When we take communion – we are reminded of all that Jesus did, that he went the way of the cross for us that we might know Him and know life
Let’s go forward acknowledging he is good, give him who we are, choose to feed on him – trusting in that goodness, that he will lead us through the difficult times as well as the good times, trusting and knowing that the way of the cross leads to resurrection
If we can do that then our prayer can simply echo his prayer,
“Jesus lead me, I take your hand; not my will but yours”
Written by Mike Rutter
Matthew 26:6-13 (Jesus anointed at Bethany)
The bold and courageous devotion that a woman showed just a few days before Jesus’ death is to be remembered and admired alongside the gospel of salvation. They go hand in hand. It’s a glimpse in to a covenant relationship. That’s what Jesus is saying. It’s incredibly symbolic and highly significant, so what is it that is so precious here?
Here we have Jesus and close friends resting around the table in the afternoon, maybe in that lull after lunch, staying in the cool of the house.
John identifies the woman as Mary, Martha and Lazarus’s sister, but here she is left anonymous. Jesus knew her, it doesn’t matter that we don’t. She appears with the alabaster jar in her hands. It contains perfumed anointing oil that is worth nearly a year’s worth of wages. It has been inherited, passed down from generation to generation, symbolising the wealth and longevity of that family. The jar was sealed closed so the long neck of the jar had to be broken and the oil to be used on just one occasion.
She knew the significance of this oil and yet behind closed doors while they were resting together, she walked straight up to the Messiah and poured it all out for Jesus, she anointed his head with it.
Why? How could she do it? Because she knew he was worth it. Her eyes were open to the truth of who he was and what he said and showed.
She stepped over the threshold in the face of anger and great offense in that culture. In those days, the act of anointing a head with oil would have been for a priest or prophet to do in the coronation ceremony of a king for example. Here we have an unnamed woman in the nontraditional position of a high priest.
You can imagine her heart pounding as she walked towards him, knowing that those around her were likely to be enraged, but her fear of God was so pure and strong that she cared more about what God thought of her than the others.
They responded among themselves: “Why this waste?”
She was prepared to ‘waste’ what was profound to her. To them, it was foolish, to him it was amazing.
He responded: “Why trouble the woman? She’s done a beautiful thing to me.”
They held her in the judgement seat until Jesus intervened and broke up the gossip and passive aggression that was going on on the other side of the table and he took her straight out of that seat and he affirmed her straight away because that’s what he’s like. He shielded her with his favour in that moment as David wrote in Psalm 5.
God’s intention is to bring us back to the place of intimacy that we first saw in Eden. She is declaring exactly that, anointing his head with her oil: “All I have is yours. All I am I give to you”.
This is courageous intimacy and she is full on. A few days later, Jesus poured out his life for her, for you. He is full on. What she did gives us a picture of our covenant relationship:
The way you devote yourself and what you have and the way you express your worship to Jesus looks different to the person beside you. Don’t worry about them. He doesn’t see you as a waste and he doesn’t see what you give as a waste either, but instead it is beautiful in the eyes of the King. I know because he says so.
He wants you, all of you, because he loves you, all of you. There is nothing that needs to get in the way of your devotion to him. No circumstance, nothing in your past, no tradition, not what seems logical and wise in the world’s eyes.
He gave his all, boldly, so we get to do the same.
He saw what she did as beautiful and he said that it will be admired whenever the gospel of salvation was proclaimed in the whole earth.
Are your eyes open like hers to know his worth, over what you deem to be of great value?
Do you know that what you give to him is not wasted on him?
Are you bold in your expression of worship?
Let your eyes be opened to see and ears be opened to hear this truth now in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Written by Steph Hilton-Turvey
Mark 12: 1 -12.
Has God offended you recently?
It is easy to miss the truth that our Lord was not passive in his confrontations with the religious leaders of his day. He was quite deliberate and intentional in his attacks on their unacceptable behaviour and they took great offence at this.
In the same way, we can easily forget that many of the most frightening images of God’s anger and judgement are found not in the Old Testament but in the New and many of these were brought to us by the Lord Himself during the last week of His life. Conversely, many of the most intimate and loving images of God come in the Old Testament.
This last point is significant here because it reminds us that the people the Lord is addressing in this passage were not unknown to Him; He is addressing Israel, the apple of His eye, the nation with whom He has entered an eternal covenant to love and protect. But beyond this, He is addressing an even more unique group chosen to reveal His love to His chosen people, namely the priests and religious leaders of Israel. These are the beloved of the beloved, yet this does not preclude them from the Lord’s anger. And so it is with us.
Hence, we can see that this story is deliberately targeted at this uniquely privileged and divinely appointed group.
It begins with a very familiar situation, with an absentee landlord. Having built his vineyard, he leaves the country but at harvest time he sends his servant to collect the rent, paid for with the first fruits of the harvest. It could well be that some of Jesus’ hearers were tenant farmers themselves and so when the tenants in the story refuse to pay their dues, the audience has some sympathy. The story becomes even more appealing when the tenants refuse to pay a second servant sent by the landlord. Now, however, the story begins to take some surprising turns. First, the landlord sends a yet another servant but this one is killed. The crowd would begin to grow uneasy as it senses that the tenants may have gone too far this time and are in danger of suffering the landlord’s wrath. Thereafter, each servant sent by the landlord is either beaten or killed. Finally, the landlord does something unheard of, he sends his son to collect the rent. The situation for the tenants is now critical. This is the man who will one day become their landlord, their only hope is to fall on their faces before him and plead for mercy. But, to the crowd’s amazement, rather than pleading for mercy, the tenants kill the son. The shock would be palpable. What were they thinking? They have destroyed any hope of receiving mercy from the landlord and can expect only judgement and punishment, which is what happens.
So why was this so offensive to the religious leaders? Well, in the Old Testament, a vineyard was always used as an image of God’s people. As the representatives of God’s people, it was the priests’ role to ensure that every offering due to the Lord was brought to Him but the Lord is clearly accusing them of not doing this and openly rebelling against all those the Lord had sent to correct their errors. As if to reinforce the message, Mark immediately follows up this story with one about Jesus discussing the payment of taxes to the Romans. He finished by commanding the Jews to pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s but to pay to God what is God’s. This is exactly what the religious leaders were not doing.
For us, this story highlights the same inclination to rebel against God’s right to rule over our lives. So often we are inclined to take the role of landlord as opposed to that of tenant, to be the master not the servant and, just like the tenants in the story, it is only when the Lord addresses us face to face about these matters that our true motives are brought into the light. It is when the Lord makes specific demands on us that, just like the tenants and the religious leaders, the attitude of our hearts is revealed.
During Holy Week we are reminded that, when the Lord confronts us in this manner, there are only two possible outcomes; we will confess Him or we will curse Him, we will adore Him or dessert Him, we will crown Him or we will curse Him.
May the Lord grant us the grace to heed the warning in this story and to confess, adore and crown Him as Lord of all our lives this Easter.
Written by Mark Dowdeswell
Matthew 21:12 – 16 (Jesus cleanses the temple)
Seriously startling and stunningly shocking events. One man, three groups of people. Three authorities, one king.
In two further demonstrations of his kingship, following his ride the previous day into Jerusalem on a donkey as the promised Davidic Messiah, the Son of David, Israel’s king (Zechariah 9:9), Jesus, firstly, purifies the temple, and, secondly, he heals the impure, namely the blind and the lame.
We cannot ignore the irony of this. The temple authorities had allowed the ‘impurity’ of questionable practices of the merchants (exchanging money and selling animals for offerings) to take place within the temple, and yet they forbade the blind and lame from entering the temple precincts because they were deemed to be impure.
Merchants had set up a market in the court of the Gentiles (the one place within the temple precincts where foreign visitors/pilgrims could worship, and pray to, God). In this noisy and ungodly place, the nations of the world had to compete with these merchants to worship the one, true, living God. The poor were exploited because they were charged exorbitant rates as they exchanged forbidden Roman coinage (bearing the image of the emperor) for temple currency. Furthermore, the foreign visitors were overcharged as they purchased pigeons for their offerings.
Jesus’ removal of these dishonest and disrespectful practices was a sign of his kingly authority to purify the temple, to restore it to its place as a house of prayer for all nations. The previous day, Jesus had demonstrated that he was indeed Israel’s promised king. Now, in this incident of cleansing the temple, Jesus demonstrates that he is king of all nations (Isaiah 56:7), because he will allow nothing or nobody to get in the way of allowing the nations to worship and to pray to God.
Jesus calls this market a “den of robbers”. In the context of Jeremiah's prophecy (Jer. 7:9-11), the "robbers" in view were nationalist rebels (the meaning of the Greek word, ‘lestai’ used by Jesus here), not the merchants exploiting the poor and visitors. The authorities had turned the house of prayer into a stronghold of Jewish nationalism that dishonoured the temple while they, the leaders, maintained a superstitious respect for the temple and its traditions. A house of prayer had become the meeting-place of deceit, dishonour and disrespect. The first group – merchants who exploited the poor and vulnerable.
The second demonstration of Jesus’ kingship was his healing of the blind and the lame who came to him in the temple (Mt.21:14 – “And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them.”). Here, within the temple, the healing of the blind and lame functions as a further ‘sign’ to authenticate the gospel message and to show that, in Jesus, the Kingdom of God had come. The second group – the sick.
Despite the purifying of the temple and the healing in people’s lives, the religious authorities still sought to divert attention from themselves and from their responsibilities. What better than to turn against the least and the voiceless, namely the children? But, ironically, the children were not voiceless – it was they who were recognising and honouring Jesus, as they cried out in praise, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Mt.21:15). Perhaps, the authorities thought that they could pressurise Jesus into telling the children to be quiet. The temple was after all the home of many traditions - of respectability, of dignity, of restraint! Maybe, the authorities were fearful of upsetting the Roman soldiers. Maybe, they were furious with Jesus because he had stopped a source of income (however questionable), and therefore they sought to take out their irritations on the children. Jesus refuses to silence the children, and his response is a masterstroke.
To the experts, Jesus asks, “have you never read Psalm 8:2 – “Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies.” (NIV 2011)?” There are occasions when God takes the weakest, the least, the voiceless, the powerless, and, through them, he communicates to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear something that is truly from his heart.
Psalm 8:2 speaks of praise that is directed to God. But, here in the temple, the children are directing their praise to the Messiah, the Son of David. By using Psalm 8:2 to justify the children’s praise, Jesus’ response can only be explained if he held that he should receive praise given to God. Jesus does not silence the children, nor does he deny his divinity. Here, through the crying out of the ‘voiceless’, we see the Messiah proclaimed, the third demonstration or declaration of Jesus’s kingship within the temple. The third group – the children.
Yes, seriously startling and stunningly shocking demonstrations of Jesus’ kingship. And three authorities: the temple authorities, the Roman authority, and God’s authority. Things are on course to come to a conclusion in a few days time! But, for now, the king exercised his authority within the temple.
So, how do these events relate to us this Holy Week?
Am I part time, or am I all in, for Jesus?
Are there areas of my life that are questionable and/or dishonest?
Do I need to cleanse my heart of any attitudes or actions that dishonour God, that prevent me from being all in for Jesus, that prevent Jesus from being Lord and King of my life?
Written by John White
It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I started to understand the significance of the lent period - I think it is a great time for us as a church to press deeper in to God and to let go of things that hold our attention. It’s a time of recognising how much we need God, and in recognising that need it is about removing from ourselves the things that hinder us and the things that distract us from focussing on Jesus so that we can run the race of pursuing Jesus with all the perseverance that we have - Romans 12.
We see when Jesus goes in to the wilderness having been baptised that he doesn’t eat or drink for 40 days, and he gets hungry. Jesus throws off the very thing that physically keeps humans alive, because he knows that he is only truly alive when he is filled with the Father’s love and overflowing with the Holy Spirit. John 10:10 talks of how the enemy comes to steal kill and destroy but how Jesus comes to give life in it’s fulness. Jesus recognised that he needed the fulness of his father in order to live an abundant life. What are the things in your life that steal your gaze from God? Where is the enemy trying to steal kill and destroy? Why not take a moment to welcome the fulness of life that Jesus came to give you, and resolve to seek his face above all other things?
In the time of lent we should also be picking up things that draw us deeper in to God’s glory. What I felt like God has been saying to me is that he longs for us to be radiant with his glory just like when Moses went up the mountain and dwelt in God’s presence. When Moses came down the mountain the Israelites couldn't look at him because he shone with God's light. Psalm 34 says that those who look to him are radiant. I long for a church radiant with God’s glory, to walk in to Philly on a Sunday morning and for the glow of God’s glory be almost blinding. So seek him. Look to him. Need him in every moment. What does it look like for you to go up to the mountain? For me I am going to pray each day for a different friend who doesn't yet know Jesus that they will come to know the loving father I know! For you it may be committing to more fervently spending time with Him. Let the spirit lead you in to this time of wilderness now, and just think, am I seeking God with all I have, do I know my need for him?
The backwards thing about this is that you don’t realise how much you need Him until you start seeking him with your whole heart. Once you start looking to God in every moment you realise how you NEED him. This is something that God has put on my heart for this church during this time of lent, that it will be a time where each one of us becomes so desperately in need of him that we can’t help but seek him with all we are. In Matthew we are told that Jesus was hungry, that in his time of weakness he was tempted, and this is something that we should be aware of over lent. 2 Corinthians 12 tells us that in our weakness his strength is perfect, so during this time don’t be afraid of weakness because this is a time where God wants to bring healing and restoration in our lives. Give God time to work in you - let him in to the places where you have pain, the places where you are struggling. What we so often forget is that the God of heaven is on our side, he is for us - Romans 8 - and often it’s so easy to ask: why am I in pain; why am I struggling in a certain area; why is there hardship in my life if God is for me?
I urge you to be bold, and to be courageous, to trust that God’s plan is good, and to allow him in to that pain and that struggle and let him work, because when we ask why we put up a barrier between us that stops God from working in us the way he wants to. Be heavenly in the way that you live your life, don’t conform to the pattern of this world that plays the victim at every opportunity but press in to God in the midst of the struggle. Let your mind be transformed that you proclaim each day that God is your healer, your restorer and your strength.
Where in your life do you feel weak? Give those things to God. Some of us may need to say sorry for blaming God for those things, and some of us may just need to ask God to break in.
I heard a quote the other day that said “God will always fulfil his promises to you, but he is not obligated to fulfil your potential”. It is a relationship that we have with God. If we are not giving to him, seeking him, needing him and longing for him then God is not obligated to fulfil our potential. Your potential is your responsibility.
I believe everyone is anointed for great things. I believe everyone is called to a holy calling. But not everyone presses in to that.
Jesus knew that to achieve all that he had come to achieve he needed to be saturated in the father’s love. Saturate yourself in God. He will always complete his promises to you. When you seek him, you will become radiant. When you go after him you will see your potential fulfilled and his plans becoming reality in you. I believe that this is going to be a time where your God given potential begins to grow and grow and grow, as you seek him, as you commit to spending time with, as you recognise your need for him, you will rise towards reaching your potential.
Lent is such a great opportunity to decide to give more of your time to Him. To recognise that without God we are dust, and that as it says in John 15:5 that apart from him we can do nothing. But it’s also a great time to realise that nothing is impossible with God, that we have the God of heaven on our side. So let’s press into him with all we have this lent time, let’s throw off what hinders us and holds our gaze, let’s embrace our weakness and let him in and lets go up the mountain in whatever way that looks like and spend time in his glory.
Written by Joel Hamer