“I am sending you.”

Gospel of John 20: 19-23 (NIV)

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Suddenly this mission that Jesus announced to his disciples was laden with new meaning. They had of course heard it before; only seventy-two hours previously Jesus had prayed aloud to the Father : “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world” (John 17: 18). That, however, was before the fearsome ordeal of his passion and death. Now they beheld him with new eyes; this One who stood in their midst was more than their “Teacher and Lord”, he was the resurrected Son of God.

“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” This restatement of their mission held an ominous edge. Formerly they had been sent out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick (Luke 9: 2). When others who were later sent as workers into God’s harvest field returned, they reported back to Jesus with joy (Luke 10: 1, 17). The “sending” now commanded by Jesus carried a new inference. They must be prepared to face the same hostility as did their Lord: betrayal, accusation, false conviction, torture and death.

“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Do you know that Jesus requires his twenty-first century disciples to accept the same mission? “As the Father sent Jesus” means there is an expectation of the same obedience which our Lord demonstrated in Gethsemane: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22: 42). We who call ourselves disciples of Jesus – are we willing to surrender everything to him, including life?

Jesus repeated to those locked in the upper room, “Peace be with you!” With the mission of Jesus comes the promise of his peace. This may not be peace as the world understands peace. It is, however, that real peace which flows from the certainty, the conviction, not only that we are doing his will but that we do it not in our own strength but in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Peace be with you as you set out deliberately each day to follow him.

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A Grain of Wheat

Gospel of John 12: 20-26 (NIV)

20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.”

Jesus has presented a two-sentence parable (verse 24). Using an example from the plant world, as he did with the parable of the sower (Matthew 13: 3-8, Mark 4: 3-8, Luke 8: 5-8), he demonstrated how, for multiplying growth to occur, the source of that growth must be sacrificed. His parable was apt in describing not only his own life but also in describing what is expected of all who would follow him.

He knew that the hour had come for him to be glorified. Being lifted up on the cross was not in any way glorious but it was the only means by which his mission, given him by the Father, could be accomplished. Being raised from death was glorious; it was a vindication of his Father’s will and a defeat for Satan. Being taken to the Father in his ascension was the ultimate glorification of the Son of Man – until he returns in glory!

The grain of wheat which has to fall to the ground and die refers not only to Jesus but also to us who believe in him. Self is sacrificed for the greater good. Sacrifice for the followers of Jesus need not necessarily mean that all must endure a premature and cruel death. It can refer just as much to the willingness to forego the gloss of the present age in order to live upright lives as Christ-focussed examples to others. The sacrifice Jesus referred to in verse 25 is a willingness to love others ahead of self, to seek the common good, to proclaim the Christ who died, is risen and has ascended in glory, to a world that prefers to ignore this call to faithfulness and to Godly living.

Hating life in this world is not a reference to a desire for self-pity or self-harm. The contrast of extremes, love and hate, emphasises the seriousness with which Jesus regards his summons to us to follow him. The obedience he calls for is not to be lukewarm, dependent on our whims and on whether we continue to feel comfortable while doing what he requires of us. Total obedience requires the servant to be wherever Jesus happens to be, hanging on a cross or rejoicing in the Father’s presence.

Are you willing to be that grain of wheat, capable of bringing forth a crop but only if you yourself no longer remain in the mould of this world?

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Peace which transcends all understanding

Epistle to the Philippians 4: 4-9 (NIV)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

In the context of the proximity of the Lord’s return (“The Lord is near”, verse 5b) the Apostle Paul instructed members of the church in Philippi how they were to conduct themselves. His points are as valid today for disciples of Christ:

  • Rejoice in the Lord always. This requires conscious effort. We are to be joyful in our Christian hope, demonstrating in thought, word and deed our joyous hope despite the stresses and disappointments of this damaged world.
  • Do not be anxious about anything! Putting aside anxiety requires conscious effort too. We are to look beyond immediate concerns and those sources of continuing anxiety to the promise of eternity with God. If we truly trust Jesus to be Lord of all and if we allow God to be God and to exercise oversight over the matters beyond our control – and even those within our control – we can be less intimidated by what seems likely otherwise to terrify us.
  • As we surrender concerns to God in prayer, he allows his peace to descend on us. That peace, if you have it, will guard your heart and mind. If you know that peace, you will know why Paul has called it a peace which transcends all understanding.
  • Paul then urged the Philippians, and us, how to direct our minds. We are to think about things such as these: whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable and whatever is excellent or praiseworthy.
  • Paul knew that what occupies our minds will then determine our actions. He had already commanded that the gentleness of those who love Jesus is to be evident to all. Everything he taught or commanded is to be put into practice.

For members of the church of God on earth, awaiting the return of Jesus in glory, we know how we are to think and how we are to act. For, as Paul said, “The Lord is near.”

  • Rejoice always. Let your gentleness be evident to all people you encounter.
  • Do not be anxious but pray and petition God with thanksgiving.
  • Think on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.
  • Having applied hearts and minds to such thoughts, then do them. Put them into practice.
  • Ask the God of peace to guard you and those for whom you pray with the peace of God.

We pray:
Our Heavenly Father, prepare our hearts and minds to follow more closely your Son Jesus Christ, to love you more and to live joyful, thankful and compassionate lives which will bless those around us. Keep us pure in thought, word and deed, that your name will be glorified and that we may be with you in your eternal kingdom. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

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Righteousness for everyone who believes

Epistle of Paul to the Romans 10: 4-13

Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: “The man who does these things will live by them.” But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord”, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Here the Apostle Paul expressed concern for his fellow Jews who continued to live under the Law. In showing that Christ is the culmination of the law, Paul drew on the Hebrew Scriptures. In referring to Deuteronomy 30, Paul intended that the Jews would recall Moses’ challenge in verse 15 and again in verses 19-20: “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction,” and “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life. …For the LORD is your life.”

Just as Moses offered those two alternatives, Paul presented the Jews with two alternatives. According to Paul, there was the Law under which the people of Israel had laboured for centuries without ever being able, through their own endeavours, to satisfy a holy and righteous God. The alternative was Jesus Christ, as Paul said, “the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”

The Jews could opt to stick with the Law and rely on the repetitive temple sacrifices to try to please God or they could accept the once-and-for-all-sacrifice of Jesus Christ as a perfect atonement for sin and could put their faith in him. Paul urged his readers to choose life, to choose to trust in Jesus Christ.

Today some believe that good behaviour and living selflessly for others should be sufficient to earn a place in heaven. That resembles trying to live by the Law, totally obedient always to God’s decrees. Some believe that, if somebody had consistently lived “a good life”, God should honour that person but that is not what the Bible teaches. It is contrary to Paul’s message to the Romans. Trying to earn a place in heaven through “good works” is futile. None of us is without sin; any such effort is doomed to fail.

Paul repeated what God had been saying all along: to be considered righteous, one must turn to the only “righteous one” and put full faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Then do good works, not because you need God’s favour but because you already have it!

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Jesus feeds the five thousand – why?