Church at Home Resources – 19th of April, 2020

Hello everyone! Here I have presented some more resources for you to celebrate this Lord’s Day and worship at home, with the three core elements of family/household worship: reading Scripture, praying, and singing God’s praise. I am sorry that I don’t have a video for you today. I am currently in too much pain to record a video, but have recorded my sermon as an MP3 for you to play. Please share these resources with others if you can. I always put up the text of my sermons and reflections so that people who can’t play MP3s or videos might still be encouraged and helped by reading.

I hope you have a wonderful time of worship at home. Just remember, you are not alone. When we worship God, we join in with our brothers and sisters in the church all over the world and even with the heavenly choirs who are always praising the Lord.

Love,
John.

Read
Today we begin by reading John 20:19-31

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!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.’

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’

But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’

Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’

Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

An audio recording of my sermon. You can play it here, or download it.

Today we’re going to look at Thomas, or “doubting Thomas” as he’s sometimes called, and his journey to faith.

I don’t think Thomas really deserves the nickname he’s been given. Yes, he doubted. Who hasn’t? I don’t think he was an especially sceptical or cynical man. He returned to his group of friends and heard the good news. News that must have sounded too good to be true: “We have seen the Lord!” The same gospel the church proclaims today. We don’t preach that we’ve personally seen the resurrected Jesus in the flesh, but we preach the good news that Christ is risen.

Thomas was absent when Jesus appeared to the disciples earlier. They were all huddled in the room with the door locked. And Jesus appeared and blessed them, showed them his wounds and commissioned them to go and spread the gospel of forgiveness… and poor Thomas missed it all. So all Thomas has to go on is the message that he’s heard from the others. It’s many hundreds of years later now, but still today we proclaim the same message passed down from the original eye-witnesses. So in a way Thomas is like a person who hears the good news of Easter today — “Christ is risen!” — and he reacted like many do today. Thomas doubted in the same way that many people today doubt. I mean I believe now, but I doubted for a long time. For years! Much longer than a week, like Thomas did! And yet he’s called Doubting Thomas?!

Many people will doubt and dismiss the claims of Christianity, but while Thomas doubted, I don’t believe he was ever dismissive. Thomas stuck around. Even though it was a dangerous time when they had to keep the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders. Thomas admitted what it would take for him to believe and he stuck with the other disciples. He’s still there a week later, seeking, waiting, wrestling with his doubt, hoping to see Jesus for himself. And no doubt hearing the message again and again from his friends the whole time he was there. Thomas showed honesty and courage and a commitment to engage with the extraordinary claims of the gospel. And we call him “Doubting Thomas”, like we’re in any position to scoff!

“We have seen the Lord!” is a bold claim. Jesus is risen. Most Jews believed that God was going to redeem creation one day and that meant a physical resurrection. They believed in and hoped for the resurrection, but they expected it to be in a new age when God set all things right. That resurrection had happened now with Jesus, while the rest of the world continued on as it had done, was something completely unexpected. Jesus rising from the dead would mean that something from the new age of resurrection had broken into this age. People weren’t expecting that.

Peter once said to Jesus “We’ve left everything to follow you!” (Matthew 19:27). So when Jesus was crucified, died and was buried… then what? Left everything to follow him and now he’s dead. These people must have been feeling like their lives were over too.

So maybe the good news just seemed too good to be true. Thomas was no more doubtful than the other disciples. They all thought Jesus was dead too until they met him. Thomas just hasn’t had that experience yet. Thomas, like the women on the way to anoint the dead body of Jesus, was still in the place of mourning. He was still crushed.

Thomas was honest about his disbelief. Even if it meant that he’d be the odd one out amongst his friends he wouldn’t pretend. And Thomas, right at that moment, was different to them. Belief in the risen Christ is essential to the Christian faith. It’s at the heart of our faith. A faith that denies the resurrection is not Christianity.

You might believe that Jesus was a wise teacher or a good example, but if you believe he is not risen then whatever you believe it’s not Christianity. It’s not the good news of Jesus Christ. Thomas is to be commended for his honesty. There are many in Christian circles today — and even in positions of church leadership — who will either claim that the real resurrection of Jesus doesn’t matter, and there are many who will claim to believe in it when they don’t. Give me an honest unbeliever any day over a pretend Christian. That I can respect! Thomas was upfront and honest and he stuck around to wrestle with his doubts.

A week later Thomas received an answer to his wrestling and no doubt his prayers. Jesus entered the room even though the doors were locked. His body is a resurrection body, not just the old body revived but changed now so that the old limitations no longer affect him. He comes bringing the blessing of peace to all there, including Thomas. And it looks as though he may well have come just to give Thomas that experience that he needed to move him from doubt to belief. He shows thomas the exact things he said that he needed:

Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’”
(John 20:27, NIV, Anglicised)

He shows Thomas the wounds and invites him to touch them. I wondered why it was that Thomas thought it was so important to see and touch the wounds of Christ. Perhaps it was because the other disciples got to see them. Thomas goes further, he wants to touch them. He wants to see if this is really the one who died. Not an illusion or a lookalike, but really and truly the one who died and rose again. It’s interesting that we’re reminded in verse 24 that Thomas is also called Didymus, which means “twin”. Perhaps Thomas was used to being mistaken for his twin brother growing up and the thought entered his mind as he heard his friends say “We have seen the Lord!” that it was just someone who looked really like Jesus.

But no this is the real Jesus, the one whose hands were nailed to the cross and whose side was pierced with a spear. And he keeps those scars in his resurrection body. In those scars he shows us that God knows pain, God suffered and he is not ashamed of it. God paid a price to redeem his people and he doesn’t regret it. Seeing the scars brings joy to his disciples and moves Thomas from doubt to faith and to his most beautiful confession:

Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’
(John 20:28, NIV, Anglicised)

Thomas believes now and look how he believes! He leaps from doubt to the most beautiful true praise. Jesus is Lord! Jesus is God! My Lord and my God!

And Jesus accepts this worship because he is indeed Lord and God. His response is not to say “Oh no, you’ve gone too far there, Thomas!” He recognises this statement as a sign of Thomas’s true belief. Thomas says “My Lord and my God!” and Jesus responds:

Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’
(John 20:29, NIV, Anglicised)

This is belief, to know the crucified and risen Jesus as Lord and God.

Thomas has come to believe now because he heard the message and had the experience. Jesus says that those who have not seen, like Thomas and the other apostles have, and yet come to believe, are blessed. He’s talking about us. He’s talking about the original readers of John’s gospel who were not eyewitnesses to the resurrection and still came to believe. And modern readers too, like you and me.

And so John goes on to say why this book was written. The eyewitness accounts are there so that you might have the blessing of faith in Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, and have life in his name. This book was written so that you would have that message, so that you would know who Jesus is and believe in him and have life — true life — in his name. You are not second-class to the apostles and the eyewitnesses, you are blessed.

But what about those of us who have heard the message, and like Thomas, we doubted? You might be tempted to wonder why you can’t get a house call from Jesus like Thomas did. But I think that in a way we do have the same two things available to us as Thomas had, although not in quite the same way.

We have the apostolic witness and we have experience. Thomas received that apostolic witness from his friends the apostles. We can read it in the Bible. It’s the same message.

Thomas’s experience was to see for himself the wounds of Christ as he appeared to him and spoke to him. Where is our experience?

I can only speak for myself. The word of God is my authority, but I didn’t always believe it. I had to see for myself how the good news of Jesus Christ was true. I decided I wouldn’t dismiss the Bible as just some old religious book, but would take it seriously. I mean if it is true then that changes everything, so it deserves to be paid attention to, it deserves to be wrestled with. I began to read it for myself and, as I did so, I prayed to a God I didn’t really know and I asked him, if he was there, if he was real, to help me to find him, to show himself to me.

And he did. He showed himself in the people that I encountered who shared their lives with me, who showed me what difference their faith made in their lives. They really lived like it was true. They lived like they were committed to grace because God had shown grace to them. And as I trusted in God and his word I began to live like it was true too. And as I did so I found that it was. I took steps of faith and found God right there, supporting me, growing me, changing me, challenging me to take the next step. I had prayers answered and the word of God coming to life to me, speaking to me, changing me

But you’ll never know the experience if you dismiss the message. Doubt it, okay I kind of expect that, but don’t dismiss it or you’ll miss out on seeing that this isn’t just some story about a wise and kind teacher who lived long ago and preached about love. This is the story of the One who is God, who was in the beginning, through whom all things were made, who came into the world to save us, to die for us. This is the story of the One who died for us and rose again. He is risen indeed and he offers life, true resurrection life, to all who will believe in him. This is the story of God’s redemption breaking into this world in the resurrection of Jesus.

I pray that even if you doubt, you would have the honesty to admit it and the courage to seek after Jesus anyway. That you would wrestle with it, listen to the message, pray for Jesus to show himself to you. If it’s true you can’t just let this pass you by. Thomas knew that and so he stayed with the other disciples in that room in Jerusalem, despite the danger, despite being the odd one out. He stayed and he wrestled and he prayed until he saw for himself that Jesus is risen indeed, and he believed and confessed him as his Lord and God. I pray that those of you who doubt would do the same.

For us who believe, do not forget the importance of our role. We are charged by God with delivering this message and living in such a way so through us people might come to know and experience God for themselves. The Spirit of Christ dwells in you and empowers you to witness to the gospel and manifest God to one another and to the world.

Pray

Lord Jesus, we thank you that you come to meet us where we are. Even when we lock ourselves up out of fear, you can enter into our lives and bring peace. We thank you for the blessing of faith and that we can know and worship you. Fill us now with your Holy Spirit and may he make us bold to share the gospel.

In times of darkness and doubt may we, like Thomas, refuse to give up and keep searching. May we press on and keep wrestling, and like Thomas may we know the reality of our risen Lord and God in our lives.

We pray for all those now who feel fear and those who feel doubt. Come and meet them Lord and turn their fear into joy and their doubt into praise.

Amen.

Sing

Some videos which you might find helpful to sing along to at home as you worship.

Church at Home Resources – 12th of April, 2020 – Easter Sunday

A very strange Easter Sunday since we all have to be at home. I have provided here some resources which I hope will help you to worship at home on your own or with your family. Below I hope you will find something to help you read and reflect on the Bible, something to guide you in your prayers, and something to encourage you to sing God’s praises today. We still have the most amazing reason to celebrate today, so rejoice! Christ is risen!

Love,
Rev. John.

Read

Today I invite you to read and reflect along with me from John 20:1-18. I will be reading it in the video below, but if you would like to read it in advance here is the full passage:

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!’

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped round Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’

‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ At this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus.

He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’

Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’

She turned towards him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means ‘Teacher’).

Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them that he had said these things to her.
(John 20:1-18, NIV, Anglicised)

Easter Sunday is the biggest celebration in the Christian calendar. This year we must celebrate it at home. This is a dark and uncertain time. We cannot ignore the seriousness of our situation, but we must also not forget our hope. One of the mottos of the reformation, especially dear to Calvinists, was the phrase “Post tenebras lux”. After darkness, light! 

Even now we have reason to celebrate. Because light has dawned. A light that will never go out. Our hope rests on what happened that first Easter Sunday morning. Our entire faith hangs on what happened that morning – if Jesus isn’t risen then none of this matters. But if Jesus is risen, then that changes everything, and we have a hope that nothing in this world can put out.

If Jesus is risen then what he taught about himself is true and his way is the way of true life. If Jesus is risen then something new has happened. New life and new creation has begun to creep into this world.

Let’s read the text of John 20:1-18, together. Stopping to reflect as we go. Verse 1:

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.
(John 20:1, NIV, Anglicised)

In the dark of the early morning, Mary Magdalene gathered her spices together and went to the tomb to anoint a dead body. Jesus, who she had followed to Jerusalem. Jesus, who had given her peace from her demons. Jesus who had promised so much. Jesus, who she had seen cruelly mocked and murdered in the foulest, most humiliating way the Romans had to kill a man. Jesus, who, for all of his teaching, all of his power, all of his promise, hung on the cross until he died – just like any other man would. Mary went to anoint a corpse, of that she was sure. She had seen his death with her own eyes.

Crucifixion was designed not only to kill a man, but to publicly humiliate him as he died slowly and painfully. Jesus died this death. He died slowly and painfully, naked and exposed to the mocking of the crowds. Mary saw this. 

He was dead. This was the cold, hard truth that Mary was sure of in the dark of the early morning. She gathered her spices to anoint the corpse of her beloved friend and teacher, the man who had changed her life. Her dreams were crushed, her Jesus was dead.

Most Jewish people at the time held to a belief in the resurrection. They believed that there would come a day, at the end of this world, when creation would all be made new and God would raise up all of his people. They believed that the physical things of this world were made by God and therefore mattered, and so that meant a bodily resurrection for God’s people on the last day.

But that day had not yet come. This was the first day of another week and it looked like it was going to be a very hard week. Whatever God might have in store for the future, the here and now looked bleak. Reality appears to move on, unstoppable, uncaring, moving over Jesus and his band of radicals. Whatever might happen on the last day, today was a sad day for Mary. 

There was no expectation in Mary’s mind that Jesus could have been resurrected. That would mean that something of the last day had been brought forward to the present day. Unthinkable. It would mean that the new creation had started to creep into this world. It would mean that heaven and earth were coming together. 

When Mary sees that the heavy stone covering the entrance to the tomb has been rolled away, she doesn’t think that Jesus is risen. As if it wasn’t bad enough that they have killed Jesus, now it looks like they have stolen his body! Verses two and three:

So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!’

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb.
(John 20:2-3 NIV, Anglicised)

Mary’s cry is not a celebration of the resurrection, it’s a cry that Jesus’ body has been stolen, because the thought hadn’t entered her mind that resurrection might be possible.

Christians make a very bold claim: we believe, and have believed and proclaimed since the beginning of our faith, that Christ is risen. Not that he continues on in our hearts in some sentimental way, not that he just “went to heaven”. We believe that something happened, on this first day of the week, that has never happened before. We believe that Christ rose – physically, actually, really – from the dead.

The resurrection was unexpected and unprecedented, but it happened and the church has proclaimed it from the beginning – Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

The resurrection may have been inconceivable to Jesus’ disciples on that first Easter Sunday, but it was not unexpected to Jesus. Jesus knew that he would be crucified and that he would rise again in three days. Jesus even spoke about his death and resurrection. Sometimes he spoke about it in metaphor, but Jesus also spoke very plainly. In Matthew’s gospel, chapter 20, it says:

Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, ‘We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!’
(Matthew 20:17-19, NIV, Anglicised)

You can’t get much more plain and explicit than that. Jesus knew what would happen, he was prepared for it. But to the disciples, Jesus’ resurrection was so inconceivable that they didn’t think that he could possibly mean that he would be raised from the dead.

But the beloved disciple, John, when he sees the graveclothes lying there in the empty tomb, things begin to dawn on him. Verses 3-10:

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped round Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.
(John 20:3-10, NIV, Anglicised)

John, the beloved disciple, crouched looking into the tomb and he must have remembered the last time he stood before a tomb. Just days earlier he was in front of the tomb of Lazarus when Jesus raised him from the dead. Lazarus’ resurrection was not the same as Jesus’ resurrection. Lazarus was revived, returned to this present life, where he would again one day die. Lazarus was brought back from death, Jesus went through death and out the other side. When Lazarus was raised he stumbled out of the tomb and Jesus called for those present to unbind him from his linen. This time though, the grave clothes lie where Jesus lay. Grave robbers don’t take time to unwrap the body and leave the linen neatly back in place. The linen lays there as if Jesus had just passed through it.

The text doesn’t say that Peter believed yet, but John has come to believe that Jesus has risen like he said he would. That belief would go on to grow and develop as he met the risen Jesus, learned more about the nature of Jesus’ resurrection, and as he understood the predictions of Jesus’ death and resurrection in the Old Testament and saw that this was always the plan.

We’re seeing different stages of belief in this text. John has come to believe based on the empty tomb, that Jesus has risen like he said he would. Peter, we’re not too sure about. The passage doesn’t say that Peter came to believe then and there, but it does say that he went home, perhaps he went to think, to let things settle in. What Peter didn’t do is stick around to try to find the body. Mary however, is still convinced that Jesus is dead and that his body has been taken.

Verses 11 to 13:

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’

‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’
(John 20:11-13, NIV, Anglicised)

Those “men” hadn’t been there before, or had they? Mary, in her grief, does not seem to realise what’s going on. She doesn’t realise that this is a new and special thing, that what was unthinkable, unprecedented and unexpected has happened. Jesus is risen. The new creation has begun to creep into this world and heaven is touching earth at this place.

There’s someone behind her. Verses 14 to 16:

At this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus.

He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’

Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’

She turned towards him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means ‘Teacher’).
(John 20:14-16, NIV, Anglicised)

Mary doesn’t recognise Jesus at first, possibly because she just gave a quick glance and couldn’t make Jesus out through her tears. Seeing Jesus standing there was the last thing she expected. Whatever reason she didn’t recognise him at first, when she heard him call her name, her eyes were opened.

Snapped out of her grief and into belief, Mary was overjoyed and clung to her teacher. But she can’t continue to cling to him, she can’t hold onto the way things used to be. Jesus has given Mary a job – she is now the apostle to the apostles, sent to deliver the good news to them.

Verses 17 and 18:

Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them that he had said these things to her.
(John 20:17-18, NIV, Anglicised)

Pay very careful attention to the message Jesus gives Mary, because in this we can see that everything has changed because of what Jesus has done. Up until this point Jesus has referred to God as “the Father” or “my Father”, but now it is “my Father and your Father” and “my God and your God”. Something amazing has happened.

Jesus is risen and that means everything has changed!

Jesus’ crucifixion has dealt with our sin – the thing that separates people from God. He was punished in our place for our sins. He took the brokenness of his people upon himself and he rose again because God’s love is bigger than our brokenness. 

Whatever you think you have done that stops you from coming to God, the resurrection is proof that the damage has been dealt with, payment has been accepted and the battle to free us has been won. This is proof that God’s love is bigger than your biggest mistakes.

Jesus’ death in our place has repaired our relationship with God. Now to know and believe in Jesus and his sacrifice is to return home to our Father who loves us.

In the first chapter of this gospel, John writes:

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
(John 1:10-13, NIV, Anglicised)

Those who, through faith, follow Jesus have been adopted by God. Jesus refers to the disciples, not just as disciples, or even just as friends, but as “my brothers”. God is not just “the Father” anymore, he is our Father, your Father and my Father.

New life, new relationship, the new creation has broken into the present world. God is doing a new thing. Sin and death are defeated and we have a living Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ.

After darkness, light! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! From that first morning on, this message has gone out and the church has proclaimed it ever since.

May you all hear Jesus call you by name and may you, like Mary, proclaim the wonderful news that Christ is risen, in your words and in the life that you live, in the hope that you have. May the resurrection give you the courage to follow Jesus in the most difficult of circumstances, knowing that this world is not all that there is, knowing that even death is not the end. Knowing that the damage has been dealt with, the debt has been paid, the battle has been won and the tomb is empty.

Pray

Loving God, we praise and thank you for our great hope and the reason we celebrate today and every Sunday: Jesus Christ is risen! Thank you, Lord, that because of what Jesus has done we have been brought into fellowship with you. You are our Father in Christ and because of what he has done.

Even in dark times we have this hope, that you Lord are at work redeeming your creation and your people. Death has been defeated!

We pray that you would draw near to and comfort those who are finding these days especially difficult.

For those who are unwell we pray for healing and for strength.

For those who work to treat and care for others please protect them, continue to bless them with great skill and energy for their work.

For those who are working hard at finding new treatments please bless their work and grant them success.

For our leaders, please give them wisdom, courage and compassion.

For the most vulnerable people we pray for your protection.

Lord, help us to hold on to this bright hope that we have in Jesus during these dark days. May we never forget the wonderful truth of the gospel: Christ is risen!

In Jesus’ name we pray.
Amen.

Sing

Here are some Easter songs to help you to worship God this Easter Sunday

Church at Home Resources – 10th of April, 2020 – Good Friday

Read – Matthew 27:27-66

Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers round him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ they said. They spat on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means ‘the place of the skull’). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: this is jesus, the king of the jews.

Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!’ In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, “I am the Son of God.”’ In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).

When some of those standing there heard this, they said, ‘He’s calling Elijah.’

Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, ‘Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.’

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

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. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the Son of God!’

Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.

The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, “After three days I will rise again.” So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.’

‘Take a guard,’ Pilate answered. ‘Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.’ So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.
(Matthew 27:27-66, NIV, Anglicised)

Good Friday Reflection – God Forsaken

Jesus was nailed to the cross in the morning., “the third hour”, as it was known. 9 o’clock. After three hours of Jesus hanging there the sky went dark. Noon. Right in the middle of the day at noon, the sun refused to shine for three whole hours. At 3 o’clock, after 6 hours of hanging on the cross, Jesus cried out in anguish.

“…‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’… ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” 
(Matthew 27:46)

Six hours nailed to a cross, naked, beaten and scourged, abandoned by his friends. Jesus cries out with a deep anguish of the soul. Jesus, as Calvin wrote, “bore in his soul the tortures of a condemned and ruined man” (Institutes, II:XVI, 10).

God the Son, who has known an eternity of fellowship with the Father, an intimacy we cannot imagine, is now experiencing separation from his beloved Father as he takes our sins upon himself.

Jesus cried in his mother tongue a quote from Psalm 22, the prayer of one seeking justice and rescue in the face of cruel destruction. A cry of dereliction.

And a good question.

“Why have you forsaken me?”

Why had God forsaken him?

The short answer is: for us. Jesus was forsaken for us. But as we reflect on Jesus hanging there, unjustly suffering, weak, hurting, abandoned by his friends we can also see the truth that Jesus is forsaken with us and by us.

Jesus is forsaken with us. Forsaken by us. And to answer his question, an answer Jesus already knew, Jesus is forsaken for us.

Forsaken with us

On the cross we see Jesus forsaken with us. We see that God is not distant from those who suffer. God knows suffering. Our God is the One who was unjustly tried, falsely accused, mocked and beaten though he did no wrong. Betrayed. Abandoned by his closest friends. Rejected by those he came to save. Those feeling the sting of injustice, the ache of dereliction can know that God is not far. God is not just the God of the strong, the successful, the rich and smiling. Our God is the God of the broken, the weak, the betrayed, the abused. The God of those who cry out for justice.

Forsaken by us

We also see ourselves on the other side. Like his apostles, we too have forsaken him. Jesus was abandoned by his friends and we are reminded as we reflect on the cross that it shines back at us showing us all the ways we have abandoned him. Showing us the ugliness of our sin. We turn away from God to pursue our own agendas. So often when the devil, the world or our own desires call us one way and Jesus calls us the other, we choose to walk away from Jesus.

We are reminded to take sin seriously as we are shown the true ugliness of it. On the cross we see all our selfishness, cowardice, greed, lust, hatred, all of our sins. We know that this is why Jesus, the Son of God, died. 

Forsaken for us

Finally, the answer to Jesus’ question, why had God forsaken him? What for? Jesus was forsaken for us.

Jesus took upon himself all of this ugliness. All of our sin. Our greed, lust, hatred, cowardice, selfishness. Every wicked thought, word and deed. The brokenness of our hearts and all of ways we have sinned against each other and God. Jesus, who knew no sin, who loved God and had never turned away from him, took all of this from us and took it on himself. That was our cross and yet God the Son hung there.

And for the first time in eternity God the Son experienced what it is like to be separated from his beloved Father. Sin separates us from God and when Jesus, who had not sinned, took our sin on himself he felt that separation and cried out in pain the words of the psalm “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He was experiencing the consequences of our sin.

God himself experiencing separation and forsakenness for us. Such a horror it seems like even nature couldn’t bear to witness it. The earth shook and the sun refused to shine.

And why?

Because of the love of God. John 3:16 tells us:

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

God gave his only Son out of love for the world.

Jesus, God the Son, was born into poverty, because of love. Ministered because of love. Preached and taught because of love. Rebuked the arrogant and hypocritical because of love. Welcomed the outcast because of love. Rode into Jerusalem because of love. Accepted betrayal and arrest because of love. Endured beating and mocking and torture because of love. Hung on a cross because of love. Was separated from his Father because of love.

Because of love, Jesus took our sin, our rebellion and brokenness. He took it on himself and took it to the grave so that we could be free from it. He bore our punishment so that we could be spared.

On this Good Friday take some time to reflect on the cross and on the God who was forsaken with us, by us and for us. Know that Jesus endured this because of love, and in him, and because of what he has done, we can have forgiveness for all our sins and we can know God who loves us more than we can imagine.

Pray

What can we possibly say to God in response to the cross? The cross shows us that God’s love is greater than our sins. It shows us that God would rather undergo the pain of costly forgiveness than justly punish us for our sins. Perhaps you have never really thought about this before, or perhaps it has been a long time since you stopped to reflect on it; we all need to remind ourselves constantly of God’s amazing grace shown to us in the death of Jesus Christ for us. God has offered us forgiveness and fellowship with him, not as something to be earned by our good behaviour, but as a gift. Our role is to accept this gift. Accept God’s forgiveness and the gift of new life in Jesus Christ.

The cross shows us that our sin is so great a problem that Jesus Christ had to die so that we could be forgiven. The cross also shows us that God’s love for us is even greater, because Jesus Christ willingly died so that we could be forgiven.

Pray now to God. Confess that you are a sinner in need of salvation. Then thank him, because that salvation has come to you freely because of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for your sake on the cross.

Sing

It is right to rejoice and sing in response to God’s salvation. You might find this video helpful. First published in 1707, this hymn was originally written by Isaac Watts. The lyrics are written below.

When I survey the wondrous cross,
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God.
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

How to Pray

If you want to learn to pray, then you can do no better than listen to what Jesus said about prayer. Thankfully Jesus’ first disciples asked him plainly to teach them to pray and his instruction has been written down for us. It’s there for you to read in God’s word today, because God knows that we need help praying and he wants to help us.

Read Luke 11:1-13:

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’
He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:

‘“Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.”’

Then Jesus said to them, ‘Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.” And suppose the one inside answers, “Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.” I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

‘So I say to you: ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

‘Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’
(Luke 11:1-13, NIV, Anglicised)

The Importance of Prayer

Martyn Lloyd Jones, the famous Welsh preacher, one of the giants of the church in the 20th century, said that “prayer is beyond any question the highest activity of the human soul.”

Prayer is important! We know prayer is important because Jesus prayed. If Jesus, the Son of God, needed to pray, then we definitely need to pray! Jesus made time and space for prayer. It says in Luke, chapter 5:

Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their illnesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
(Luke 5:15-16, NIV, Anglicised)

Think of the kind of schedule Jesus had during his ministry travelling around. Think of his work. Imagine the things that Jesus would do in a day. Crowds following him everywhere. Disciples, eager to be taught, who had left everything to follow and depend on him. Teaching to be done. Proclaiming the gospel. Driving out evil spirits. Healing people, setting them free from bondage to injury or disease. He looked at all that work, all of that need and still he withdrew from it to pray. Prayer first.

Now I guarantee you, your job is not more important than the ministry of the Son of God. If he had to make time for prayer, then we definitely need to do that. If the Son of God needed prayer, then how much more must I need it!? Jesus never sinned. Never had to confess sin, never had to seek forgiveness for anything he did. I do. Every day! There’s a whole category of prayer that I need that Jesus didn’t!

We need to pray. Don’t just settle for praying when you’re scared about something or when you come to church, build it into your daily life.

God-Centred Prayer

So the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray, and he does, and we still have that teaching, thank God. And Christians all over the world, throughout the denominations are united in praying the prayer that he taught his disciples to pray.

When Jesus instructed his disciples to pray he gave us a prayer that exalts God and humbles us. Our first request is that God’s name would be made holy. Holy to us, holy in our communities, holy all over the world. We want people to regard God with reverence, awe and worship. 

The requests that we make for ourselves are simple humble requests that remind us of our daily need for simple things and how weak and sinful we are. 

The Lord’s Prayer shows us that good prayer is God-centred prayer. Prayer that exalts God and humbles us. Whatever version of the Lord’s prayer you use — Luke’s or Matthew’s (which has a little more detail), or the liturgical version you most often hear said in church — the focus of this prayer is on God. Hallowed be your name, Father. May your kingdom come. Not me and my name, not my kingdom, not anyone else, but God.

Even when we get to talking about ourselves the requests are simple, humble requests. We don’t pray that we might also be honoured and that our will might also be done. We pray just that we would have enough bread for today, that God would forgive us and protect us so that we can live the kind of life that glorifies him. This is a good prayer because it is a God-centred, God-exalting prayer.

Bad prayer is not God-centred. Bad prayer doesn’t even treat God like God. Bad prayer is the kind of prayer where you start with you and your desires and your will and you decide that you’re going to say the right words, with the right feeling in them, in the right place, and then it’ll work. You’ll get what you want. This is what I call “vending-machine prayer”. We treat God like a vending machine. Walk up, decide what you want, put the right amount in, press the right buttons and get it. And we get angry when it doesn’t work.

This bad kind of prayer people expect to work like magic like some kind of witchcraft. Say the right words, make the right sacrifice, dance the special dance, and you get what you want. But if that is your belief, who are you really trying to put in control? Who is really important if you pray with that sort of prayer? You! You get what you want because you pushed the right buttons, said the right words, went to the right church. That kind of false belief attempts to convince you that you’re in control. 

Compare that to the Lord’s prayer. Father, I am not in control nor do I want to be. May you be honoured, may your will be done. As for me, please give me bread and forgiveness and protection.

The Lord’s Prayer is our model for good prayer.

Persistence

What else does Jesus say about prayer. In verses 5 to 10, Jesus tells a little parable to illustrate the point that we should be persistent in prayer:

Then Jesus said to them, ‘Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.” And suppose the one inside answers, “Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.” I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

‘So I say to you: ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
(Luke 11:5-10, NIV, Anglicised)

It’s a strange parable. So are we supposed to just nag God into submission? Is this saying that God doesn’t really want to help us but he will if he has to in order to get rid of us so he can have some peace?! No! Please don’t take that away from this story.

The point is simply this: ask, seek, knock, be persistent. God is not a reluctant neighbour, the whole rest of the Bible argues against that. God is your Father in Christ. 

This story is told to a people living in a culture where hospitality to guests who have arrived was so so important. If you travelled somewhere in this country you didn’t stay at a B&B, you stayed with your cousin or other relative. If someone came to you you were obliged to host them and feed them and if your neighbour needed help you helped them. Because in these communities you had to look out for one another.

So if this happened to you, you absolutely would go knocking on your neighbour’s door in the middle of the night. And you’d keep asking as long as you needed, because to not look after your guest was such a shameful thing. You’d keep asking and asking and asking. And if you’d do that to a reluctant, sleepy, unwilling neighbour, why would you not do it with God. God does not sleep. God is not too busy for you. God always has what you need. God wants you to come to him and ask!

So persevere! Keep asking. You don’t know why things are taking longer, but it’s definitely not because God wants you to go away. God may be telling you to wait. But if you’re sure what you are asking for is good, if it is in accordance with God’s will, then keep asking. That builds faith, because every time you come and ask you are reaffirming your trust in God and your belief that he can help you.

The Good Father

Jesus also encourages his disciples to trust God:

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’
(Luke 11:11-13, NIV, Anglicised)

Jesus says: “If you then, though you are evil…”. I didn’t always appreciate him, but I  have a great dad. I’m a father myself now and I try to be the best dad I can be. But the best dad in the world is still a sinner, and compared to God they pale in comparison. God is better than our most loving, most wonderful earthly fathers. So we can trust God. Trust that he loves us and will take care of us. Trust that when we ask for a fish he will not give us  a snake. 

There will be times when we will pray and it will sure feel like we got a snake or a scorpion.

“Please, please don’t let it be cancer.” And it’s cancer.

“Please, Father, heal them.” And they die.

And that feels like the worst bite or sting. It feels like venom in your veins when all you wanted was something good. But what Jesus is saying is, no, this, even this, isn’t a snake. This isn’t a scorpion. Even if it feels like it now. God is a good Father and he doesn’t give his children poison. 

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who  have been called according to his purpose.”
(Romans 8:28, NIV, Anglicised)

We are his children, and whatever he sends our way will ultimately be for our good. Although we can’t always see it, God is working for our good, because he is our Father.

No matter how much it hurts, remember that God is good. We don’t know why every horrible thing happens, but God knows. We must trust that he is a good Father, better even than our best, and one day we will rejoice.

Prayer is important, good prayer is God-centered, persistent and trusting. Those are the principles of good prayer, but we must do it. Christians should pray, you cannot live the Christian life without it. You cannot grow in your relationship with God if you do not speak to him. Birds fly, fish swim, Christians pray. It is essential to the life of a disciple of Christ.

So take some time and pray. You can pray short little prayers or spend an hour in prayer with Bible reading and meditation. Pray God-focused prayers with humility, perseverance and trust in the love of God and his power.

Again, I am more than happy to help anyone who needs it in this area.

Church at Home Resources – 5th of April, 2020 – Palm Sunday

While we must stay apart during this pandemic we are still the church and we can still worship. We can still have special times of worship at home with reading, prayer and song. Today I have provided some additional videos and crafts that I hope will help you to worship from home.

Read

Today, Palm Sunday, we will be reading about Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem in John 12:12-19.

12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
‘Hosanna!’
‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’
‘Blessed is the king of Israel!’
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written:
15 ‘Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.’
16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realise that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.
17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!’

(John 12:12-19, NIV, Anglicised, 2011)

Children’s Crafts

To help children engage with this story you might enjoy creating their own paper palm leaves to celebrate our King Jesus. Click here for instructions and a template. For younger children, this simpler template might be easier.

Reflection

This is Palm Sunday when we remember Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and being hailed by the people. It’s also the start of the week when Christians around the world focus on the passion of Jesus’ Christ, his suffering for our sake. Things are coming to a head. This is the peak of Jesus’ popularity and the peak of the opposition to him. This is the week when he will be hailed as king and crucified as a criminal.  

The movement following Jesus has grown, and crowds of people are flocking to him. They’ve heard his teaching with authority. They’ve seen his signs and wonders. He has even raised a man from the dead, his friend Lazarus. 

Meanwhile, his enemies, the chief priests and pharisees have increased their opposition to Jesus and decided that he must be done away with. They are plotting and looking for an opportunity to kill him. 

Jesus enters Jerusalem at festival time, in the days leading up to Passover, when pilgrims are gathering in the city. There’s a great sense of religious zeal as well as cultural and national pride. This land might be occupied by the pagan invaders from Rome, but it is still Jerusalem, the city of the temple of the living God, and we are still God’s people. 

And here he comes! This one they have heard so much about! He healed people, he taught with authority and great wisdom, he’s worked signs and wonders, he’s even raised a man from the dead. God must surely be with him! Could he be the Messiah, God’s chosen king that his people have waited so long for? They grab palm branches and go out to greet him and celebrate his arrival. Suddenly this is like a parade! 

But why palm branches? Palm branches would have been common and readily available to wave to greet Him and throw down on the road to cover it. But there’s more to it than that. 

About 200 years earlier Jerusalem was freed from pagan foreign invaders – not the Roman Empire that time, but the Seleucid Empire. A Jewish man named Judah Maccabee defeated the invaders, liberated Jerusalem and rededicated the Temple to the Lord.  

When Judah rode into Jerusalem in triumph his followers welcomed him by waving palm branches. The palm branch was a national emblem of the Jewish state and even appeared on coins. The palm branch stood for the nation of Israel, free from oppressors and invaders and independent once again. 

So, you can see the expectations that many of the people would have had. Maybe this is the one who will liberate us from the Romans, lead his people in battle against these pagan invaders and restore the glory of Israel. 

But Jesus isn’t riding into Jerusalem on a warhorse. He isn’t leading an army. He’s not riding in to take his place on a throne and wear a golden crown. Jesus rides on a humble donkey. He leads his disciples, ordinary folk called to be peacemakers and to love their enemies. He rides in knowing that this week he will be raised up, not on a throne, but on the cross. He will not wear a golden crown, but a crown of thorns forced on him by his torturers. Jesus knows that all this is in store for him and he willingly approaches. He knows that in a few days he will be betrayed and abandoned, arrested, beaten and killed and yet he rides on, closer and closer to the cross. Because that’s why he came. He came to save us by taking our punishment and dying in our place. 

As the crowds waved their palm branches and celebrated the true king they shouted  
‘Hosanna!’ 
‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’  
‘Blessed is the king of Israel!’ 
(v. 13) 

What does “hosanna” mean? Hosanah comes from two words in Hebrew meaning “save now!” or “please save!”. It’s an urgent cry for help, and it comes from Psalm 118. Verse 25 of Psalm 118 goes like this:  “O LORD, save us; O LORD, grant us success.”

That cry for help is immediately followed by God’s answer to that cry. Verse 26 says:  “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you.”

You see there the other reference to this psalm in the crowd’s cheering. The urgent cry for help is immediately answered by God so this has turned from a cry for help into a cry of celebration to rejoice over the help that God has sent. 

How does a cry for salvation become a celebration? Because they people are so confident in the faithfulness of God. God will save his people. He will not abandon them. God is faithful and he loves you with a love that will not let you go. 

Many in that crowd that hailed Jesus as king and waved palm branches and shouted “hosanna” were surely disappointed when in a few days’ time they saw this king hanging on a Roman cross. It must have looked like failure. But the greater surprise is this: it was no failure at all. This was the victory of good over evil. This was the God’s chosen faithful king being faithful even to death. This was salvation, not just from some earthly powers but from the powers of darkness that have kept humanity enslaved for every generation since the beginning.  

Jesus has saved us by taking our place. We cry hosanna in celebration that our King, the king unlike any other, the true King has indeed saved us. If we put our trust in Jesus Christ, our debt is paid, our sins are forgiven and we are raised, along with him, to new life. Life to the fullest. Life that will never end. 

Shout your praises today – your hosannas – to the God who saves. Remember today and all days that our faithful King is indeed triumphant. He has the power to save, so call on him. 

Pray

Faithful God, we pray in these strange and anxious times for help. Help us to have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and his victory over the darkness. Help us to trust not in our own performance or strength, but in Jesus and his sacrifice.

Protect us Lord and continue to help and provide for us, so that soon we will be together rejoicing again.

We pray today for those who grieve. May they be comforted by the knowledge, that you God do not stand apart from suffering. You are the God who draws close. You are the God who knows suffering. You are the God who comes to rescue us from the darkness.

We cry “hosanna” to you, knowing that you answer prayer. You are our Saviour God.

In Jesus’s name we pray.

Amen

Please remember that today, Palm Sunday, 5th of April, between 3 and 4 p.m., there will be a special hour of prayer throughout churches in Ireland. Click here for more information and for a guide for prayer.

Sing

I encourage you to sing your worship at home. You may find these videos useful to sing along to.

Benediction

The grace today is said by our lovely sister Christine. I encourage you to send in your own video.

Knowing the Biggest Story

Key to properly understanding all of the little stories of the Bible is seeing how they fit into the big overarching story of the Bible.

The Biggest Story: The Animated Short Film is a great way for kids (and grown-ups) to get to know the story of the Bible. It’s free to stream until the 12th of April and I think it could really benefit you and your family as you read the Bible at home.

Click here to watch The Biggest Story:The Animated Short Film.

Your Bible Reading Toolkit

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

Following on from Sunday’s sermon, this week is “reading week”, where I hope to give you help and encouragement to read the Bible for yourself. I hope you find the following links helpful. The Bible is an incredible gift, evidence of God’s love for us and, very importantly, it is for you! The Bible is not just for scholars, or experts, or super-saintly people who never doubt or sin or make mistakes, it’s for us all.

Bible Apps and Websites

The most important thing is that we read the Bible, it doesn’t need to be from a fancy, leather-bound, ornate edition. There are many very beautiful looking Bibles sitting on shelves gathering dust. It doesn’t matter how fancy your Bible is if you’re not reading it. Reading from a website or app is just as good and I myself have found them very helpful. Here are some free apps and websites I have experience with.

  • The Bible App, by YouVersion is available for Android and iOS. It includes the Bible in many different translations. This app also has some great reading plans, short plans lasting only a few days as well as plans that will take you through the whole Bible in a year. They also make a Bible App for kids with interactive games and stories.
  • BibleGateway is a website I’ve been using for about as long as I’ve been a Christian. It has many different translations in multiple languages as well as reading plans.
  • The Bible Project. I love what these guys are doing! They create excellent animated videos to help people understand the Bible. I am a regular user of this website and a supporter of their ministry.
  • Biblia provide Bible translations for you to read online, as well as access to reading plans and to commentaries. It’s a useful tool for deeper study.

Regarding translations, I know it is easy to get lost in the sea of choices available on these apps and websites. Most will default to a popular English translation like the NIV or ESV, both are fine. If you’re wondering what we use regularly in church it’s the New International Version (NIV for short), which I think is a good translation and very accessible for daily reading. The NIV is what I use for my own daily reading, but for more in-depth study I will use other English translations as well as the original languages. You don’t have to do that. Like I said, this isn’t just for scholars or experts, but for everybody and the most important thing is to just read the Bible yourself.

If you have any questions please just let me know! I would be delighted to help you out! Seriously, that’s not an exaggeration, I am a big Bible nerd and I love helping other people to get to grips with the Bible.

Rev. John.

“Read” – Psalm 119:9-16

This reflection was addressed to the Bailieborough Group by Rev. John O’Donnell on the Sunday the 29th of March 2020. This was the second Sunday we could not meet together for worship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first time I read Psalm 119 I was only a baby Christian. I became a Christian at the age 22 and I had a great desire to read the Bible and read Christian books that explain the faith. I read Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis, I read the Screwtape Letters also by Lewis, I read What’s So Amazing About Grace by Philip Yancey, I read Basic Christianity by John Stott, I tore through books and committed to reading through the Bible as well. In those early days I would read a chapter from the New Testament in the morning and before I went to sleep at night, I would read a psalm. And that routine was going great with a nice short bit of reading before bed at night with the psalms. That was until the night I met Psalm 119, not knowing what I was in for. Psalm 119 is huge. It’s an acrostic poem there is a stanza for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet and in the original Hebrew each verse within a given stanza also begins with that letter. 176 verses in all. This is a masterpiece. I started reading thinking that I would just have another short psalm to read before sleeping that night but ended up reading all 176 verses od Psalm 119. I was not prepared. But I still couldn’t fail to notice just how much love there was in this psalm for the word of God. This psalm, which we’re only reading a portion of today, is a celebration of the word of God. Let’s read Psalm 119:9-16 now. 

One of the most important theological concepts that Christians hold to is the concept of revelation. God reveals himself to us. God reaches out to us, allows us to know things about him. We believe that if we know anything about God it’s because he has shown us. It makes sense really. If there is an all-knowing, all-powerful Being it’s not like we’re going to be able to get one up on him and find out something he doesn’t want us to know. 

So, we believe God has revealed things about himself to us. God reveals himself in some way to all people everywhere. Psalm 19 tells us about how God’s creation is constantly declaring his glory whether we listen or not. 

“The heavens are telling the glory of God; 
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. 
Day to day pours forth speech, 
and night to night declares knowledge. 
There is no speech, nor are there words; 
their voice is not heard; 
yet their voice goes out through all the earth, 
and their words to the end of the world.” 
(Psalm 19:1-4) 

We are surrounded by God’s self-revelation.  

The very fact that there is something (anything!) rather than nothing should be a sign to us that Someone made this, Someone is in charge here. And we get these signs because God wants us to get them. 

That kind of revelation we call “general revelation”. It’s general — everyone gets it and you get the general idea that we are very small and something bigger than us is going on, there is a Creator, there is a Lord. But it won’t tell you all that a human being needs to know. We need a more direct, more specific type of revelation in order to truly know our Creator and know what it is that we need to know in order to be the kind of creatures he created us to be. 

So, God reached out to specific people, giving them instructions and guidance and revealing more about who he is, what he is like and why he created us, to them. We call that kind of revelation “special revelation. God directed this special revelation towards one particular person in a tribe of pagan people, a man named Abram: 

“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’” 
(Genesis 12:1-3) 

The man believed and obeyed, and God made a nation from him. That nation in turn God revealed himself to, so that they could show the world what God is like and bless all the families of the earth. God revealed himself, in direct speech, by inspiring prophets and dreamers, musicians and poets. And the highest point of this revelation is when God himself came among them. The fulfilment of God reaching out to us, by coming among us as one of us, as Jesus Christ, to live, die and rise again for us so that we can have fellowship with him. Jesus is the high point of God’s self-revelation. 

God reveals himself to us, shows us who he is and what he wants of us, because he loves us. He is always reaching out. Always seeking the lost. And the people of God, your brothers and sisters long ago, took these stories and treasured them and wrote them out. These stories of God’s interaction with them. God inspired them, guided their thoughts by his Spirit, to reflect on it and write about it. And it’s collected here in the Bible, the word of God. 

We must treasure it. Because in the Bible God shows us who he is, what he is like, who we are and what we are for. Because God loves us. When you hold the Bible or look at it, even just then, I want you to know that it is evidence of the great love that God has for you. Because everything we know about God, we know it because he wants us to know it, because he loves us. 

Because God created us and is always reaching out to us in love we must listen to what he says. There are so many voices that we will encounter in life but the most important voice we must listen to is the voice of God, our Creator, who loves us and wants us to know him. 

So, our text begins with the rhetorical question and answer: 

“How can a young person stay on the path of purity? 
By living according to your word.” 
(Psalm 119:9) 

This psalm is there to teach the reader. The “young person” here is the student, the disciple, the one who is eager to study God’s word and learn about him. This isn’t just for young people. The student wishes to keep their way pure and so the teacher instructs them to obey the word of God. What does it mean here to keep your way pure? 

 
Let’s look at some nearby parallels. Purity is paralleled with seeking God and not sinning against him: 

“I seek you with all my heart; 
do not let me stray from your commands.” 
“I have hidden your word in my heart 
that I might not sin against you.” 
(Psalm 119:10-11) 

A pure life is a life directed towards God. A life of seeking God, listening to him and obeying him. It’s the life of one who desires to be what God created them to be, who desires fellowship with God. Our Creator has spoken, he has reached out to us in love to tell us who he is, who we are and what we should do with the life he has given us. We must listen and obey. 

The psalmist loves God’s word, treasures it in his heart, declares it with his mouth, delights in it as much as in all riches. Look at the things this person asks of God: 

  • Verse 10: “do not let me stray from your commands.” 
  • Verse 12: “teach me your decrees.” 

They long to obey and learn more! Because they have found in God’s word a way to live the life that they were made for. They have found in God’s self-revelation, the love of God, a true relationship with God through his living word. And they rejoice in it, they praise God and his word! 

Praise be to you, Lord; 
teach me your decrees. 
With my lips I recount 
all the laws that come from your mouth. 
I rejoice in following your statutes 
as one rejoices in great riches. 
(Psalm 119:12-14) 

Do you think it’s a bit unusual to delight this much in the law, the ordinances, the decrees?We might think some rules are very important, we might agree with them. But when was the last time you rejoiced over the speed limit? Or when your software updates and you have to agree to the new terms and conditions. Do you read those and celebrate? Of course not! 

The difference is this is God’s law. God speaking into our lives to teach us and correct and call us on to something better, to that godly life where we walk closely with our Creator. That’s why these ordinances are treasured. 

Have you ever had an amazing teacher? Perhaps someone who taught you about something you were really interested in. They would teach you the right way to do things. They’d give you exercises to practice. They’d correct you and tell you when you were wrong. And you were grateful for it! You celebrate their instruction, the rules they placed on you, because they were wise and they helped you to do this thing that you love. 

So, the psalmist is glad of God’s decrees and statutes. He rejoices in the law of God, because it teaches him how to live the life that he was created for. 

We need this. We need to see God’s instruction as an act of God’s love for us, his little creatures. God cares enough about us to tell us the right way to be human. God’s instructions are not meant to put you down, but to put you on the right path. 

So what should we do? Verses 15-16: 

I meditate on your precepts 
and consider your ways. 
I delight in your decrees; 
I will not neglect your word. 
(Psalm 119:15-16) 

Get into the habit of the word. Read it, meditate on it, delight in it, do not neglect it. Here’s the practical advice: Decide you are going to read the Bible every day. Read every day. Not just your favourite passages either, and don’t jump about reading one verse from here, a couple of verses from there. Remember these are books, read them like books. If it helps you, get a reading plan and stick to it. For most of the history of Christianity most Christians couldn’t even dream of being able to read the Bible every day. So if you miss a few days don’t beat yourself up. But at the same time, since we have such great access to this amazing treasure, let’s make use of it. 

Family Worship

This reflection was addressed to the Bailieborough Group by Rev. John O’Donnell on Saturday, 28 March 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the current situation while we’re all sheltering in our homes, waiting out this pandemic, trying to flatten the curve and prevent the spread of the Coronavirus we can’t gather together. That means no meeting up for Sunday service. It means no Sunday School for the kids. It means no Bible Study or prayer meeting at the manse. I miss it. I miss seeing you all. I miss the children. I miss having you in my home and I miss dropping round to visit you in your homes. For the moment we must learn how to do church differently. 

I want to encourage you to practice family worship. Perhaps you already do that. Perhaps you need a little encouragement to get started. Or maybe this is a strange concept to you. But wherever you stand I want to encourage you and to help you with this practice. 

Family worship is a bit like handwashing I suppose. It’s something that we all should be doing anyway, but now in the current climate we can see just how important it is. 

At the end of the book of Joshua, Joshua spoke to the people and told them to stop wavering and choose who they will serve. Will they continue to run after the pagan gods of the nations, or will they worship the Lord? Joshua said: 

Joshua 24:14 ‘Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshipped beyond the River Euphrates and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’ 

God’s people are commanded in Deuteronomy to make God’s word a part of their daily life and to teach it to their children: 

Deuteronomy 6:6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 

Our faith is not just something we practice for an hour on a Sunday in a special building. That kind of religion would certainly not survive this lockdown anyway. So, I want to encourage families to practice the faith at home together. Parents, you are the ones primarily responsible for teaching the faith to your children. That is a huge responsibility. But what I want to do is hopefully make this seem a little less intimidating and show you what a joy and a privilege it is. 

Timothy, our son, is three, so this year Sarah and I have been really trying to establish a routine of daily family worship together. We call it “Bible Time” in our home. I’ll tell you how we do it and what our experience has been, but you may end up doing things differently. This will have to be tailored to your situation. Maybe you don’t have kids. Maybe you have older kids. Maybe you have kids with special needs. You’ll know best how to adjust things for your setting. 

The 3 basic elements of family worship are: 

  1. Reading God’s word together 
  1. Praying together 
  1. Singing together 

Pick a book of the Bible and read through it together. If you have young children, you’ll probably want to focus on the stories of the Bible. The gospels would be good in that case. You’ll also maybe want to use a good Children’s Bible to keep things accessible for kids. 

You don’t need to be an expert in the Bible. You don’t need to prepare a study. Just open the book and read it together. 

Then pray. Keep it simple. I would encourage you to pray for something that came up in the Bible reading. For instance, if you’ve just read about Jesus healing someone you could pray that God would protect and heal someone you know about, or that God would help you to be kind and compassionate like Jesus. 

After the short prayer you can sing. Sing a hymn or worship song perhaps related to the passage, or one that the kids will know, or one that you really like. Don’t worry about singing the same song a few days in a row, that’s fine. Some people might feel a bit awkward singing, but this is an important part of Christian worship. God’s people have been a singing people from the beginning. You don’t need to be a great singer. This isn’t a performance. If you can sing Happy Birthday you can do this. 

This will all take only a few moments, but it’s so important in terms of nurturing your faith and the faith of your children. Don’t try to be a perfectionist here. Consistency is key. Those of you with young children especially, don’t worry if your kids seem uninterested or easily distracted. Timothy sometimes switches off or goes to play with Lego or something and what I do then is… let him. He’s three! There have been days when I wondered if this had any impact on Timothy at all, but there have been other days when Timothy has sat up on the couch, unprompted, opened his children’s Bible and waited for us to begin, before I was even ready. There have been great conversations about Jesus and God that seem to have come out of nowhere. It has been a joy. 

Like I said earlier, this is a bit like handwashing. It’s something we should always have been doing, but in these days, it has become more apparent just how important family worship is. So, I encourage you to engage with this practice. Do it imperfectly, messily, awkwardly, but do it. God blesses our sincere attempts to worship him and seek his presence in our daily lives. You will be surprised what a joy and a blessing this can be. 

Over the coming Sundays I hope to give a reflection on each of the 3 core elements we find in family worship: reading scripture, praying and singing. I hope that will help you to see the importance of these practices and feel equipped to do them together in your own home. 

Psalm 91 – Our Fortress

This reflection was addressed to the Bailieborough Group by Rev. John O’Donnell on the Sunday the 22nd of March 2020. This was the first Sunday we could not meet together for worship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read Psalm 91 on BibleGateway.com

When I was a little boy I went shopping with my mother. I got distracted for a second and when I looked up she was gone. This was just my local Dunnes and she was probably just on the other side of a rail of clothes. I was only “lost” for the briefest of moments, but to me, back then, this was a crisis! I can still remember that sense of panic and doom. When you’re that age your parents are everything. They’re your security, your refuge, your fortress. 

Everybody needs a fortress, we all need security, not just little kids. Our big problem is that we seek our security in the things of this world, rather than our Creator. In the Old Testament we read about how Israel kept running to false fortresses instead of God. They ran to false gods, to powerful nations, they leaned on their own strength.  

We do the same thing today. We seek security in our wealth, our beauty, our intelligence, our health, our strength. We seek security in the approval of others, or in being part of a powerful group. All these are just things of the world, they are not God and so, even if they might be good things, they can’t give us the security only God can provide.  

Psalm 91 is a mini sermon, written to point us to the only one who can truly provide that security that we all deeply need. It calls us to put our trust in God and look to him and him only for our ultimate security. May we dwell in the shelter of the Most High, the shadow of the Almighty, and may we be able to say of God “My refuge and my fortress” (vv. 1-2) 

The message of Psalm 91 is that those who trust in God will not be let down.  

There is nothing that God cannot deliver His people from. The dangers of night or day, attack or illness. God will protect. 

You might object: Is this Psalm saying that those who love God are invincible? That nothing bad will happen to them? Or if you look at it another way it sounds even worse – does this mean that those who are suffering must not be loving God properly?  

I really don’t want anyone to think that if you or your loved ones are suffering it means that they just aren’t trusting enough in God.   

It’s important to remember that the Psalms are poetry and this poem is a celebration of the faithfulness, goodness and sovereignty of God. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive lesson on suffering or blessings.  

It’s also important to remember to read this in conversation with the rest of Scripture. And you’ll find all through the Bible faithful people who suffer. Abel, who was murdered by Cain, Job who loved God but went through terrible suffering, the apostles and early church disciples and martyrs – even God himself: Jesus Christ. They all loved God. They all knew suffering. 

There will be hard times in life.  Even in Psalm 91 we are told that there will be trouble. Verse 15: God himself says “I will be with him in trouble,”. There will be trouble, but God will be with us. 

So, what can we say about security for those who run to God? We can say this – Psalm 91 says it, and the rest of Scripture agrees: Christian, God will not let you go. God will be with you. God will hold you safe in His love. Everything else may let you down, but God will not. Your health may fail you, you may lose your wealth, your family and friends may even desert you. But God will not, He will never. God is our refuge and fortress. We are safe with Him. 

Let’s look at some reasons to trust God that this Psalm shows us. 

Number 1: God is sovereign. God is in control. This psalm describes God as “Almighty” and “Most High” in the first verse. Nothing can push God around. Nothing can force his hand. Nothing can overwhelm him. Nothing gets the jump on God. Even on the world’s darkest day, God was still in control. After Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to be with the Father. Peter addressed the crowds in Jerusalem and said that Jesus, whom they crucified and God raised up was handed over to them “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (see Acts 2:23) No matter how bad things look, God is in charge.  

Number 2: God is Good. Verse 8 tells us that God punishes the wicked. Verse 10 tells us that he protects from harm and disaster. God is good. When you’re in trouble or scared it’s good to know that someone is in charge, but power and control aren’t everything. A tyrant and a righteous ruler might be equally powerful, but only one is good. To run to someone for security you need to know that they are good.  

Finally, Number 3: God is loving. The knowledge that God is in control and that God is good give us some good reasons to us to trust Him, but still this isn’t enough. Power can be something that we run away from if it is not accompanied by goodness. But goodness too can also cause us to flee – or want to avoid it.  

More than 700 years before Jesus, the prophet Isaiah had a vision. He saw God seated on a throne and surrounded by angels praising Him. The angels called out to each other and praised God’s holiness and power and glory. Isaiah saw this vision of perfect power and perfect goodness and holiness.  

His response was:  

“‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’”  

(Isaiah 6:1-5). 

 When Peter met Jesus he saw that Jesus came from God. Peter knew that God is holy and good. 

So, he fell before Jesus and said  

‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ (Luke 5:8) 

When faced with the goodness of God we can’t help but notice our sinfulness. We may understand that God is in charge and trust that He is good, but we still will not come to God unless we get it into our heads and our hearts that God loves us. We need to believe in the grace of God. That God loves those who have not earned that love and never could. 

 Psalm 91 doesn’t just use the image of a strong fortress to portray God’s protection.  It says in verse 4 that God  

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge;”  

(Psalm 91:4).  

God is like a bird protecting its young under its wings. God protects those who trust in Him because they are His children and He loves them. 

The Psalm concludes in verses 14 to 16 with direct speech from God about those who love and trust in Him.  

‘Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him;  

I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. 

He will call on me, and I will answer him; 

I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him. 

With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.’ 

(vv. 14-16) 

In Christ, God has delivered His people out of sin and death. He protects us so that nothing will ever separate us from Him. He answers when we call and is always with us – even on the darkest days.  

In Christ, God satisfies His people, saving them to a life that never ends. We all have our fortresses. We all run somewhere. We seek strength somewhere. We seek protection somewhere. But only God is sovereign over all. Only God is truly good and holy. And no love compares to the love of God. 

God called and called and still the people would keep wandering away from Him. So what do you do when your child won’t come when you call? What do you do when your sheep has gotten itself lost You go get it! This is what God did. God’s response to us always going to the wrong places was to come and get us. When Jesus came He came for the lost.  He came for those who had sought shelter in the wrong places.  “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (see Luke 19:10). This is what we believe – that God came to get us when we wouldn’t come to him. 

That is the message of the cross – not only that God wants us to seek Him, but that God Himself came seeking us, died to rescue us from our lostness and bring us back to God and rose again to give us new life in Him. And those who trust in Him, who trust in Jesus and His sacrifice for us, God will never let go. 

May you know God as your fortress in these strange and anxious days. May you know that he is sovereign, good and more loving than you can imagine.