Saved and Sent (Luke 8:26-39)

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The story of the Gerasene Demoniac in Luke 8:26-39 begins a bit like a horror movie. Jesus and his disciples get out of their boat after going through a severe storm on Lake Galilee. There they are confronted by a man possessed by so many demons that they identify themselves as ‘Legion’ which means ‘many’. This man had been driven from his home, was living among the dead in a cemetery, had broken chains that had been used to try to restrain him with superhuman strength, was naked and shouting at Jesus as he approached him.

We might not feel a strong connection with this story because it can sound very different from the reality of our lives. For most of us, our experience of the demonic is probably more from watching movies than day to day life. So when Jesus cast the demons into the pigs and then sent the man home to tell them how much God had done for him, we might think it’s a nice story but not really get anything out of it for ourselves.

However, if we look closer at the story, we can find that by casting the demons out of the man, Jesus did much more for him than we might initially see. Jesus freed him from the demons that were tormenting him. Jesus covered his nakedness, which is often associated with shame in the Bible, so that when the people found him at the end of the story, he was clothed (v35) showing that Jesus had covered his shame. Luke also tells us that the man was ‘in his right mind’ (v35), which means that his mental health was restored and he had control of his rational faculties again. Through his encounter with Jesus, the man no longer had to live in the tombs and the cemetery but was restored to the world of the living to resume his life again. In doing this, Jesus reconnected him in his relationships with his family and his community.

When we start to think about what Jesus did for this man in these terms, then it becomes easier to see ourselves in this story and to find God’s goodness in Jesus for ourselves. God is able to do all these things for us as well through Jesus’ death and resurrection for us. God can free us from our demons. These might be literal demons, or they might be other things which torment us. They might have names like Guilt, Fear, Regret, Addiction, Anxiety, Insecurity, and so on. God covers our shame by entering into our shame through the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus, and freeing us from shame by covering us with the clothes of Jesus’ righteousness and purity. God gives us the mind of Christ through the Holy Spirit so we can find a healthier state of mind and more control over our thoughts and mental faculties, which Paul says is a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:23. Jesus lifts us out from living among the dead as he gifts us with new and eternal life through his resurrection. Death does not define us through Jesus, but the new life of the Spirit of God which is given to us through faith in Jesus. This new life overcomes our solitude and loneliness as God brings us into new relationship with himself and incorporates us in the community of faith, the family of God, the living, breathing body of Christ in the world, also known as the church.

When we encounter Jesus like this and we find God’s goodness at work in us through the Holy Spirit, then we have good news to bring to the world. In the same way that Jesus told the man to return to his home and tell how much God had done for him (v39), Jesus also tells us to go into the world to tell people how much good he has done for us.

One significant thing about Jesus’s instructions is that he tells the man to go back to his home. The mission of God begins in our homes as we pass on to those closest to us how much God does for us by setting us free, covering our shame, renewing our minds, giving us new lives to live, and restoring us in our relationships and in community. God’s mission doesn’t stop there obviously, but it starts in our homes and families as we share with them what God has already done for us, as well as the promise of what God can also do for them in Christ Jesus through the power of his Spirit.

Jesus tells us to share with others what God has already done in our lives through Jesus. I wonder sometimes whether we have been told to go out and witness to others about our faith before we have encountered the goodness and power of God in our own lives. In this story, Jesus gives the man something good to share with others. The good news the man had to share was his story, the way God had been at work in his life. Before we start telling others to go out and tell others about Jesus, maybe some of us need to be finding the life-changing goodness of God in our own lives through a deeper relationship with Jesus. When we find his goodness for ourselves, then we have a story to tell that can bring good news to others.

It would be easy to finish this message by repeating Jesus’ last words to the man he had set free from Legion, and telling you to go out and tell how much God has done for you. I want to ask you a question first: if someone asked you what God has done for you, what would you say? Some people in our church have stories of what God has done for them in Jesus and are happy to share that story with others. God bless you as you bring good news to others. If you don’t have a story yet, or don’t know what your story is, I hope and pray that over time, God will give you a story to tell as he works in your life to set you free, cover your shame, renew your mind, give you a new life to live, and restore your relationships and community.

Then you’ll be able to tell others how much God has done for you through Jesus.

More to think about:

  • What questions do you have about this story? What doesn’t make sense to you or are you not sure about?
  • Do you find it easy or more difficult to talk about your faith to others? Why is that?
  • If you were the man in the story, would you have told others about what Jesus had done for you? Explain why…
  • I’m suggesting that when we look closer at the story, we can see that Jesus frees this man from what is tormenting him, covers his shame, renews his mind, gives him a new life to live, and restores him in his relationships and community with others. Is there something like any of these that Jesus has done for you in your life? Is there one in particular that you need Jesus to do for you? Or is there something else you need Jesus to do for you?
  • Do you believe it’s possible that a growing relationship with Jesus can help you find what you’re looking for? Share some thoughts about how that might happen… (please let me know if there’s any way I can help)
  • If someone asked you about what Jesus had done for you, what would you say?
  • Who is one person you can tell about what Jesus has done for you this week?
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Our Guide Into Truth (John 16:12-15)

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There was time when truth was simple. We were taught certain things at home, in school and at church that were pretty much consistent with each other and provided us with a degree of certainty about life. In our post-modern times, however, that has all changed. We are surrounded by a wide range of different ideas about who we are, our place in the world and what life is all about. This isn’t a bad thing because it can open us up to a much fuller and richer life in a lot of ways. However, working out what is true or not becomes a lot more complicated when a wide assortment of ideas and worldviews present us with conflicting messages.

One of the tools people use to work out what is truth for them is what they experience. When different voices give different messages about what is true, then people can rely on their personal experience to help them decide which can be trusted. For example, if an advertisement for a particular type of drink is telling me that one product tastes better, but another ad is telling me that their product has more flavour, then the best way to work out who is telling the truth is to try each of them. Our experience of those products will help us decide which is truth.

John talks a lot about truth in his gospel. If you’re wrestling with questions about truth, it’s worth reading John’s gospel and listening for the times when John refers to truth or raises questions about truth. It tells us that people were struggling with what was true in Jesus’ day as well as our own. Throughout his gospel, John points to Jesus as embodying God’s truth for us. then, in John 16:12-15, Jesus promises to send the Spirit of truth who will guide his followers ‘into all truth’ (v13a NLT).

It’s important to recognise that there are different kinds of truth, so we need to understand what sort of truth Jesus was talking about. For example, mathematical truths such as 2+2=4 are different from historical truths, such as Captain James Cook discovered Australia (which was what I was taught as a child, but which we know now isn’t the whole truth). Philosophical, religious and spiritual truths are different again, so we can’t just use ‘truth’ as a blanket term for every kind of truth.

When Jesus promised that the Spirit of truth will guide us into ‘all truth’, he was talking about the truth about God, our relationship with God, and how that relationship can shape the way in which we understand ourselves, others, our world and our place in it. One of the reasons why the Bible is such a large book is because this truth can be understood in a variety of ways and from a number of different perspectives. However, the basic truth of the Bible into which the Spirit of truth guides us is the good news of Jesus.

One way this truth can be expressed is what Paul writes in Romans 5:1 – ‘since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us’ (NLT). Through Paul’s words, the Spirit of truth guides us into the truth that we have been made right, or justified, by Jesus through faith in him. What this means is that everything that was wrong or broken about us has been put right through Jesus’ death and resurrection for us. Because we are made right again through faith in Jesus, we now have peace with God. God is not angry, disappointed or unhappy with us. God isn’t ignoring us or is apathetic towards us. Instead, because of what Jesus has done for us, we are in a new relationship with our Creator who accepts us, loves us, values us and cares for us as we are. As I said, the Bible communicates this truth in lots of different ways, but it is the good news of God’s unconditional love and grace for us in Jesus which is the truth the Holy Spirit guides us into.

We need the Holy Spirit to guide us into this truth because faith in the gospel doesn’t come naturally with us. There are people I know who have been part of the church their whole lives who still live with a deep sense of guilt or fear. We all need the Spirit of truth to be guiding us into the truth of God’s grace and love so we can live free from guilt, fear, shame or regret, and find the joy, peace, love and hope that Jesus gives us through the Holy Spirit.

As the Spirit of truth guides us into the truth of the gospel, then he also begins to guide others into the truth of God’s grace through us. Earlier I talked about how our experiences help to shape our understanding of truth. As the Holy Spirit guides us in the truth of the gospel, it shapes our relationships and faith communities so people can experience the reality of grace and Christ-like love in us. Through our relationships with each other, the words we speak to and about each other, and a culture of grace in our churches, the Holy Spirit can guide people into the truth of God’s grace by giving them the experience of grace. However good my messages, the church’s worship or our programs may or may not be, if people don’t experience the reality of the gospel in their relationship with us, then it won’t be true for them. However, when people are experiencing grace in relationship and community with us, then the Spirit of truth can guide them into the truth of God’s grace through us.

This becomes especially important in our ministry with the younger people of our congregation. What the Growing Young conversation essentially is about is how we can give others, especially our younger people, an experience of the truth of God’s grace in their relationship with us and our congregation so the Spirit of truth can guide them into the truth of the gospel. In a world where our young people come into contact with so many different ideas which claim to be true, when they experience the truth of God’s grace and love in relationship with us, then the Spirit of truth can guide them into the truth of the gospel and it will become true for them in a life-changing way.

Talking about truth is hard because there are any different kinds of truths and everyone thinks their version of the truth is the right one. I’m really thankful that Jesus promised to send his Spirit of truth to us to guide us into the truth of God’s grace and love for us in Jesus. As the Holy Spirit guides us into the truth of the gospel, the Spirit of truth will also grow and equip us so that he can guide other people, our young people especially, into the truth of the gospel.

More to think about:

  • How do you generally understand ‘truth’? Do you see truth in a simple way or as a more complex idea? Can you give an example of that?
  • To what degree do your experiences shape your understanding of truth? Are there times when your understanding of truth has depended on something you experienced? Have you ever believed that something was true even though your experiences gave you a different message?
  • In what ways have your experiences in the church or in life shaped your views on the truth of the Bible? In what ways have they been good or helpful? How might they have not been good or helpful?
  • How do you understand ‘the truth of the Bible’? What does that mean to you?
  • What is your view on thinking about the ‘truth of the Bible’ as specifically the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us? Is that too narrow? How can it help you understand the rest of the story of the Bible?
  • Do you find it easy or difficult to believe in the good news of Jesus? Can you explain why?
  • Have you ever asked the Holy Spirit to guide you into God’s truth? If you have, what happened? If you haven’t, would you be willing to try it?
  • How can you help someone experience the truth of God’s grace and love by showing them grace and Christ-like love today?

Babel Undone (Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21)

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Do you know what it’s like when you try to say something to someone but they completely misunderstand what you’ve said?

For example, I’ve lost count of the number of times people have thanked me for a message I’ve given in worship, and then told me something they heard which I didn’t think I’d said. I don’t read from a manuscript when I preach so it is possible that I said something I didn’t intend to. However, it is also possible that they heard something I didn’t actually say.

There is a branch of philosophy which looks at human language and why messages we try to give aren’t always the same messages which are received. There are a lot of factors which shape meaning which is why messages can be misinterpreted and communication is often confused. I think all of us would have experienced it in one way or another. Either we intend to communicate an idea which is understood in a different way, or we hear people say things they didn’t mean.

When this happens, I go back to the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9. This story gives us the ancient Hebrew understanding of why different languages exist and how people were dispersed to different parts of the world after the Great Flood. It also tells us why it can be hard to communicate clearly and why we often misunderstand each other. Not only was human language confused, but people of the same language group can also find it hard to understand and cooperate with each other.

This story is often connected with the story of Pentecost in Acts 2 in which God gave his Holy Spirit to the followers of Jesus. We read that when they received the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ disciples were given the ability to speak in other languages so that people from different parts of the Roman Empire could understand what they were saying. The disciples were able to tell people about the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection for them, calling them to repentance and faith in the forgiveness of sins, in languages they could understand. The result was that about 3,000 people were baptised (Acts 2:41).

One way in which we can understand the story of Pentecost is that the confusion of Babel was overcome as people heard the gospel in their own language and were brought together into a new community of one people in Christ. The divisions and confusion between language groups of Babel are undone as the Holy Spirit did two main things. Firstly, the Spirit miraculously gave Jesus’ followers the ability to speak the gospel in languages that people from other nations could understand. Secondly, the Spirit also gave the hearers of their message the ability to understand what they were saying and to believe the good news. All of this – the message of the gospel itself, as well as the ability to speak, hear, understand and trust the message – all come from the Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of the people of Jerusalem at Pentecost.

I pray that God would pour out his Spirit on the church today just like he did at Pentecost. In so many ways, God’s church is confused and divided because of our inability to hear and understand each other. in our own congregation, we have been working towards having a much more intentional discipling focus through connecting, growing, equipping and sending God’s people to participate in his mission in the world. We have also been looking at how we faithfully and effectively pass the faith on to our young people. Both of these emphases involve cultural change in our congregation. However, every now and then someone will ask me how my outreach or youth program is going. So I sigh, say a little prayer, and then begin trying to explain again that we’re looking at growing a church culture in which everyone is involved, not running a program for a just few people.

It’s obvious sometimes that the messages I’m trying to communicate are not the messages people are receiving. Maybe I’m not communicating them effectively. Maybe people aren’t ready or able to hear what I’m saying. Maybe it’s a combination of both. Whatever the case may be, the Tower of Babel still casts its shadow over our church as there is confusion of language and divided opinions.

At the heart of both our discipling plan and our ministry with young people is the gospel of Jesus. They both grow out of and are oriented towards communicating the good news of Jesus. Our discipling plan is about connecting people with the gospel, growing together in faith, being equipped for ministry and sending out to live as the presence of the living Christ in the world. Our work with young people is about embracing them in the grace of Jesus through our church community so they can find their identity, belonging and purpose in him and grow to maturity as children of the living God. All of this is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit who gives us new life in Jesus, words of grace and truth to speak to each other, the ability to hear and understand the gospel, and trust in the good news of Jesus through a living and active faith. We can put all the plans, strategies, programs and processes in our church that we like, but in the end we rely on the Holy Spirit to give us the gospel to speak in ways that others can hear and understand, and create the faith we need to receive and trust in the good news of Jesus.

When I gave this message on Sunday I wondered what messages people would take from what I said. That’s the problem with language which began at Babel – the messages we intend to give are not always the messages people receive. I’m so thankful for the Holy Spirit who gives us the ability to speak the gospel of Jesus in ways that people can understand, and gives us the ability to hear it, understand it and receive it in faith.

More to think about:

  • Has there been a time when someone has misunderstood something you’ve said? Explain what happened…
  • Has there been a time when you have misunderstood something someone else has been saying? Describe what happened…
  • How can the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9 help us understand why we can find it hard to understand each other?
  • How do you see God undoing the confusion of Babel when he gave the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ followers at Pentecost (Acts 2)?
  • Have you ever asked the Holy Spirit to help you hear the good news of Jesus in a way that you can understand and believe? What might happen if you did?
  • When was the last time you asked the Holy Spirit to help you speak the good news of Jesus to someone? Who do you know who needs to hear the gospel in their life?
  • What do you think might happen if we asked the Holy Spirit to help us understand other people better, especially our sisters and brothers in the church?

Dynamic Faith (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:1-11)

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The Apostle Luke gives us two versions of the story of Jesus’ ascension. One thing Luke 24:44-53 and Acts 1:1-11 have in common is that both of them have Jesus promising his disciples that they will receive power from the Holy Spirit. Christians celebrate the ascension of Jesus because he returned to the presence of his Father in order to be with his followers around the world and throughout time, and to give us power through his Spirit.

We can understand the word ‘power’ in a few different ways. Coming from Adelaide, a lot of people immediately think of one of our local Australian Football League teams, Port Adelaide Power. When many people of my generation and younger hear the word ‘power’ we often think of governments or other authority figures who use their ‘power’ for their own benefit or to control others. However, when the Bible talks about ‘power’ it means something different.

The New Testament word for ‘power’ is the same word from which we get our English words ‘dynamic’, ‘dynamo’ and ‘dynamite’. It means strength or an active force which makes things happen. When Jesus promised his followers that they would receive power from the Holy Spirit, he was telling them that he would send them his Spirit to give them the ability or strength they would need in order to do the work he was sending them to do.

There is a lot we could discuss about the power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers, but right now I want to focus on the task Jesus gave to his disciples at his ascension. In both Luke’s gospel and the book of Acts, Jesus told his disciples that they would be his witnesses. The Holy Spirit was to give them what they needed to witness to Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection, and to bring the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins to all people.

It is significant that Paul also uses the word for ‘power’ when he talks about what the gospel of Jesus can do in a person’s life. In Romans 1:16 he writes that the good news of Jesus is ‘the power of God at work’ (NLT). In the same way, in 1 Corinthians 1:18 Paul writes that the message of the cross is ‘the very power of God’ (NLT) for all who are being saved. These passages tell us that the Holy Spirit uses the good news of Jesus to work the power of God in us so we can be Jesus’ witnesses to the world.

The idea of witnessing to Jesus can be scary for a lot of Christians for a range of reasons. There have been a lot of programs and campaigns developed to try to help churches be more effective in our witnessing. I’m wondering, though, based on what Jesus says in the ascension stories, whether being his witnesses might be a lot simpler that we might think it is.

If the gospel is the way God gives us the Holy Spirit’s power, then it seems to me that living in the good news of Jesus would give us Holy Spirit power to witness to what Jesus has done for us. For example, Jesus says in Luke’s gospel that we will bring the message of repentance and forgiveness to all nations. When the Holy Spirit gives us the power to receive this forgiveness through faith, then the Spirit would also give us the power to forgive others in the same way. Witnessing to Jesus, then, means forgiving people who have wronged us in the Holy Spirit’s power just like God has forgiven us.

We can witness to Jesus in other ways, too. When the Holy Spirit gives us the power to believe that God loves us for Jesus’s sake, then the Holy Spirit also gives us the power to love others in the way Jesus teaches. When the Holy Spirit gives us the power to trust in God’s grace for us in Jesus, then the Holy Spirit also gives us the power to extend that same grace to others. When the Holy Spirit gives us the power to trust that God accepts us because of what Jesus has done for us, then the Holy Spirit also gives us the power to accept others in the same way. I could go on and on, going through each of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23) or Paul’s definition of Love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a) to show how the Holy Spirit gives us the power to trust in God’s goodness and the power to display his goodness in our lives and in our relationships.

The ways in which we live our lives and treat other people are much more authentic and effective ways to witness to Jesus than preaching on a street corner or knocking on doors. There will be times when we will be asked to explain why we live in ways that are different to other people (see 1 Peter 3:15) but even then Jesus promises us that the Holy Spirit will give us the words to say (see Matthew 10:19; Mark 13:11; Luke 12:11). We really don’t need to stress about being Jesus’ witnesses because the Holy Spirit will give us the power we need in whatever opportunities God might give to us.

I would encourage anyone who is intimidated by the possibility of witnessing to others to start with the gospel. Where do we need God’s grace in our lives? Are we looking for forgiveness or healing? Are we lacking love, acceptance, hope or something else in our lives? When we find what we need in Jesus, in his suffering and death for us, or in his resurrection from the dead, God encounters us through the gospel, giving us his Holy Spirit and the power we need to witness to Jesus, not as a theological idea but as our lived reality.

Obviously there’s a lot more that can be said about the power of the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives, but that’s for other times. As we celebrate the ascension of Jesus, it is good for us to remember that we are witnesses to his grace and love in the world. Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit who gives us the power to both believe in his grace and to live out his grace in all our relationships.

That can be a powerful witness.

More to think about:

  • What do you think of when you hear the word ‘power’? Does it usually mean something good for you or not? Explain why…
  • What comes to mind when you hear people talk about the ‘power of the Holy Spirit’? In what ways have people told you the Holy Spirit’s power is shown?
  • Do you find it easy or difficult to witness to Jesus? Why is that?
  • What do you think about the idea that the way we live our lives can be a powerful witness to Jesus? Would you agree or disagree? Explain why…
  • Believing in the gospel does not come naturally for people, but we need the Holy Spirit’s power to believe. Would you agree or disagree? Give reasons for your thoughts.
  • Sometimes the most effective witness to Jesus we can give is how we treat people and by forgiving, loving, accepting and showing grace to them just like Jesus does to us. Do you agree that we need the Holy Spirit’s power to do that? Explain why…
  • To whom can you witness to Jesus by forgiving, loving, accepting or showing grace in some form to this week? Don’t forget to ask for the Holy Spirit’s power if/when it gets difficult…

No More Night (Revelation 21:10,22-22:5)

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Riding a motorbike at night can be a challenging experience for a few reasons. Firstly, a rider needs to see where a corner is going in order to take it well. This is difficult at night when the headlight only shows what is in front of the motorbike and not around the corner. Another challenge is that you never know what’s in the dark, beyond what you can see in the headlight. The possibility is always there that a kangaroo, wombat or something else might emerge from the darkness in front of the motorbike and cause an accident.

When I was riding my motorbike home from our District Pastors’ Conference last week along a dark country road, I gained a better understanding of why my children like to have nightlights on while they sleep. The dark can be a scary place. As both children and adults, we are naturally afraid that there might be things in the dark that can harm us. Whether they might be kangaroos jumping out from the side of the road or monsters living under the bed, we have a natural tendency to be afraid of things we can’t see but could still hurt us in some way.

A major idea which runs throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is that the dark represents the place where evil lives. I can understand why ancient people, living without the aid of electric lights of any sort, would see the dark as the place where monsters, demons or other forms of evil exist. It reflects our natural tendency to fear what we can’t see and to be afraid of the dark.

As we continue to read John’s vision of the New Jerusalem descending from heaven to establish God’s home on earth, we can see that there are a number of things that are missing from the holy city. John describes how this city has no temple (21:22), no sun or moon (21:23), no night (21:25, 22:5), nothing that is impure (21:27 NIV) or evil (NLT), and no curse exists there (22:3). Each of these are significant and really deserve a message in themselves to explore their meaning properly, but what struck me as I read this passage is that John mentions that there will be no more night more than once. The vision he gives is that there will be no more darkness in the holy city because the glory of God and the light of the Lamb will be the source of its light (21:3).

In one way I’m not entirely happy with this picture of eternity. No night usually means no sleep, and, as a father of young children, I really like my sleep! This makes me wonder, then, whether John had something in mind other than a literal picture of heaven when he described this never-ending day…

If darkness in the Bible represents the place of evil and other things we can fear, then it is possible that the absence of the darkness of night in the holy city can mean that everything of which we can be afraid has been driven out by the glory of God and the light of the Lamb. Imagine what that would be like – a life where there is nothing to fear because everything that can harm us has been driven out by the light of Jesus. There will be nothing to fear anymore because the light of God’s grace, forgiveness and love will illuminate every corner, under every bed, every roadside, every place where darkness lives. In the same way that turning on a light drives darkness out of a room, the presence of God and the resurrected Jesus with his people brings light to the whole city and drives out the darkness. There is nothing to fear because everything is brought to light by the truth of the gospel. All that remains is the goodness of God given by the Holy Spirit.

At this point it is important to recognize that there are two main ways in which people interpret John’s revelation. One is that John is giving us a picture of what will happen at the end of time and the eternity we have to look forward to. However, another way of interpreting Revelation is that John is revealing to us what our current reality looks like from God’s perspective. From the first point of view, we can look forward to an eternity with God where there will be nothing left to fear because the light of God’s goodness will drive away all evil. If we take the second interpretation though, recognizing that God’s presence is with his people now through Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit, can these words also mean that we can find freedom from fear as the light of Christ gives light to our heats and lives right now?

Fear can stop us from living the life that Jesus gives us through faith in his resurrection and the gift of his Holy Spirit. However, like riding along a country road in the dark on my motorbike, most of the things we fear aren’t actually there. The light of Jesus, the Lamb of God, can actually illuminate our lives to show us that most of what we fear doesn’t exist, and Jesus is stronger than the darkness. He entered the darkness of this world in his crucifixion and defeated the darkness in his resurrection, showing us once and for all that we don’t need to be afraid because of his victory. Through faith in Jesus, the light of his forgiveness, grace and love drives all darkness out of our hearts and lives so there is no place left for evil to hide. We can live every day in the light of the Lamb who was slain and is risen again, and the peace which comes from faith in his goodness and grace.

More to think about:

  • Can you imagine what it would be like to live without fear in your life? Discuss with others what it might be like or write out your thoughts…
  • What is your biggest fear right now? Why are you afraid of it?
  • Does whatever you fear actually exist? Or is it the possibility of something going wrong which might not actually be there, like a kangaroo on the side of the road?
  • How might the light of the death and resurrection of Jesus help you to see what you’re afraid of differently? How might things look in the light of the forgiveness, grace, love and mercy that Jesus gives us?
  • Sometimes, shadows disappear when we get closer to the light. How might you be able to get closer to the light of Jesus so the darkness or fears you experience can be driven out?

Heaven Comes Down (Revelation 21:1-6)

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What do you think heaven will be like?

There are lots of ways people answer this question. If people believe in a life after death – and it’s important to acknowledge that an increasing number of people in our society think that there is nothing after we die – then our picture of what that life looks like can vary a lot from person to person.

When I was growing up in the church, the picture I had of heaven was a kingdom in the sky where we would be living in clouds, singing old hymns with a pipe organ in a vast heavenly choir. To be honest, as a teenager it didn’t sound like the kind of eternity I was hoping for. In fact, if heaven was singing old hymns for ever, I wasn’t actually sure I wanted to be a part of it.

Thankfully, Revelation 21:1-6 gives us a very different picture of heaven to what I had as a teenager. It tells us that in eternity ‘there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain’ (v4) because the brokenness of life in this world will be gone for ever. This is an eternity that we can all look forward to, as pain and suffering of every kind is eradicated once and for all.

What can be challenging for those of us who have grown up with the ‘heaven in the clouds’ picture of eternity is where John tells us we will spend the afterlife. Instead of being taken up to God’s kingdom in the sky, John says quite the opposite. He doesn’t see people going up into heaven. John sees heaven come down to earth.

In Revelation 21:2, John writes ‘I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven’ (NLT). He then goes on to tell us,

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.’ (v3 NLT)

John locates our eternity on earth, not in the clouds. I understand that the Bible gives the impression of heaven being ‘up there’ in passages such as Jesus’ ascension (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:9) and when Paul writes to the Christians in Thessalonica about Jesus’ return on the last day (1 Thessalonians 4:16,17). I don’t believe that these writers contradict each other because sometimes the Bible describes the same truth from different points of view. John’s perspective, as he relates his vision of eternity to us, is that God’s kingdom will descend to earth and God will establish his eternal reign, restoring the world to the way God intended it from the beginning.

In the next two chapters of Revelation, John gives us a fuller picture of what eternity will be like. If you’re interested in his vision of heaven, please read Revelation chapters 21 and 22 and let me know if there’s anything in there you would like to discuss or aren’t sure about. For now, though, I just want to focus on the idea that heaven comes down to us and what that means for us as followers of Jesus as we live a life of faith.

For some Christians who have held to a ‘kingdom in the sky’ picture of eternity, the world doesn’t matter. They can see it as a broken and evil place which God will eventually destroy. This idea of the material world being corrupt and sinful has lead people to wrongly think that we don’t need to take care of the world and we can do nothing as we wait for God to take us somewhere better. So over the course of history, some ‘Christians’ have sat around, waiting for heaven to arrive, letting the world get worse and worse.

If, however, we take the message of John’s revelation seriously that God is making all things new (v5), then we need to start looking at the world around us through different eyes. If God’s plan of salvation includes restoring all of creation to its original condition, then we have a part of play in God’s plan. Jesus announced God’s coming kingdom at the start of his public ministry (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15). Jesus’ miracles were evidence that God’s coming kingdom was breaking into the world through Jesus to make things right again. Every time we pray the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, we ask that God’s kingdom would come to us and our world (Matthew 6:10; Luke 11:2). The coming of God’s kingdom isn’t just something that will happen at the end of time, which is the way some people read Revelation. God’s kingdom comes to us in Jesus now. He is the presence of the living God among us (Matthew 1:22,23) who makes his home with us (both John 1:14 and Revelation 21:3 use the same word when talking about God ‘tabernacling’ or dwelling with us).

While we wait for Jesus to return to establish his eternal kingdom, the heavenly city of the new Jerusalem, we have an important role to play in God’s mission to restore the world to its original condition. God’s kingdom of heaven is coming into the world right now, and one of the ways it does that is through us, the body of Christ. God is calling us to participate with him in making all things new as we live like citizens of this kingdom. In Revelation, John gives us a picture of our eternal future. As we wait for its fulfilment, God calls us to live like this is where we have our home, this is where we belong, and this is what we have to look forward to. Our job as the people of God is not to sit around, waiting for him to take us to heaven. Instead, God saves us and calls us to be citizens of the new Jerusalem, God’s presence in the world, making all things new, just like God intended life to be in Genesis 1.

How can you be part of God’s work in the world this week through what you say and do? How can you work with God in bringing his heavenly city into your homes, where you work, your schools and universities, your sporting or social groups, or wherever God might lead you? As people whose home is the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, we are part of its coming when we live now like we will live in eternity, trusting in God’s goodness and grace to us in Jesus and loving others in the same way he loves us. When we live in faith and love, we are part of God’s coming kingdom and we share in its coming reality now and for ever.

More to think about:

  • What do you think heaven will be like? Spend some time reflecting on or discussing your thoughts. If you are more artistic, you might like to draw or paint what you imagine heaven to be like…
  • What surprises you about what John sees in Revelation 21:1-6? What doesn’t seem to make sense?
  • What is similar to what you imagine heaven to be like? What is different?
  • What is you reaction to the picture of eternity being spent on a restored earth which God has made new where life will be what he intended from the beginning? What do you like about that picture? What doesn’t sit comfortably with you?
  • If this is how we can view eternity, how might it change the way you see the world around you? Is it worth restoring? Share your thoughts on why you think that…
  • If we will spend eternity in a world which God has restored to its original condition, how might you be able to work with God in making ‘all things new’… in your home & family? in your paid or unpaid work? in your relationships? in your church? in the wider community? in other ways…?

Listening to Jesus – Again (John 10:22-30)

 

John 10v27 sheep 02

A few months ago I flew to Melbourne for a day to talk with people about a position I was offered there. After arriving at the airport which is on one side of the city, I needed to drive to the church offices on the opposite side of Melbourne. I don’t know my way around Melbourne very well, so I hired a GPS with my rental car. I knew that I needed to listen carefully to the GPS as it guided me through the busy Melbourne streets if I was to arrive at my destination. If I didn’t pay proper attention to it, I knew I would get lost.

We can all feel a bit lost at times. Some can feel like there’s no way out of feeling lost and alone. There are a lot of voices in our society that promise to be able to lead us into a full and satisfying life. Any promise of help to guide us into something better can sound like good news to us as we search for meaning in our lives, or a sense of identity, belonging or purpose.

Jesus comes to us to lead us into a better life when he says, ‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life’ (John 10:27,28a NLT). Jesus knows that life can be hard and he also knows what it will take to get us through it, to be able to find ourselves, our place in the world and a reason to live. Like my GPS guided me through the streets of Melbourne, Jesus can guide us through the craziness and confusion of life to find security and peace. Jesus is able to do this because he has lived the human experience, he has suffered at the hands of the worst life can throw at us, and he has emerged victorious in his resurrection. As the One who suffered, was crucified and now is risen from the dead, Jesus teaches us to listen to him, to follow him, and to find the life that God intended for us from the beginning.

What makes the voice of Jesus different from the others I’ve heard is that speaks unconditional grace to me. Every voice I’ve heard which promises life has told me that I can find the life I want if I make my life all about me. They talk about what I have to do, how I can achieve what I hope for, what I can have if I place myself at the centre of my existence and make everything about me.

When we listen to the voice of Jesus, though, he teaches a different path. In the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus teaches us that the way to find life is to put God at the centre of our lives by loving him with all our hearts, minds, bodies and souls, and loving others as ourselves (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28). In John’s gospel Jesus, teaches us to love others in the same way that he loves us (John 13:34,35). That means that we can only love others when Jesus’ love is at the centre of our lives, shaping us and all we do. Paul explains the way of Jesus as living in faith and love (Galatians 5:6) – trusting that God will give us with everything our hearts, minds and bodies need for life in this world and the next for the sake of Jesus so we can focus on the needs of others. The New Testament talks a lot about the way of Jesus to help us apply it to different situations of our lives, but it can be understood most simply as trusting Jesus with every aspect of our lives by keeping him in the centre of our lives, and learning to love others in the same way that he loves us.

What makes the way of Jesus so difficult for us is that it is completely counter-intuitive. The voices which tell us that we can do it ourselves connect with people because we like to keep ourselves at the centre of our lives and think that we can find our own way. Jesus is the only voice I’ve heard that offers to do for me what I can’t do for myself. Learning to listen to his voice and trust what he says enough to live like it’s true isn’t easy for any of us. That’s why living as a disciple of Jesus, following the way of faith and love he teaches, is really hard for us. However, Jesus promises that when we listen to him like sheep listen to their shepherd and follow in his way, he will lead us into a better life which will never end.

A couple of weeks ago we listened to John telling us that he wrote his gospel so that we might believe in Jesus as the Messiah and find life in his name (John 20:31). I asked how I can help you find that life. In John 10:27,28 Jesus tells us that finding life begins with listening to him. We’ve talked a fair bit about listening to Jesus in our congregation recent months. I wonder how many of us are taking the time to listen to him, or how well we’re hearing Jesus’ words of grace and truth to us.

So I would like to make an offer to people who are connected with our church. If you are feeling lost, or if you know someone who is feeling lost, or even if you would like to explore the life Jesus promises us more, I would like to start meeting with you to learn to listen to Jesus through the words of the Bible, so that we can be following him together as he leads us into the life he has for us. Of course, I can’t meet with everyone individually on a regular basis, but if you want to learn to listen to Jesus to follow him into the life he has for us, let me know and we can look for a way to do that together.

The GPS I hired in Melbourne got me to where I was going. I need Jesus every day to guide me in his way of faith and love so I can find the life God has for me. We can all feel a bit lost at times. As we travel through life together, by listening to Jesus’ words of grace and truth and following in his way of faith and love, God will bring us into his life which is stronger than death and which never ends.

More to think about:

  • Do you use a GPS to find where you need to go? Why / why not?
  • What are some of the ways you have heard people say we can find a better life? Do you think they are right? Explain why you think that…
  • Do you make time to listen to Jesus’ voice regularly? Why / why not?
  • There are different ways people say we can listen to Jesus’ voice. What might be helpful or not helpful about learning to listen to Jesus’ voice in the Bible?
  • I’ve suggested that the simplest way to understand the way Jesus teaches is faith in him and love for others. Do you think that is an accurate way of summarizing the teaches of Jesus and the New Testament? Explain your reasons for that…
  • How might your life be different if you put Jesus at the centre and learned to live in his way of faith and love? What might change? How might life be better? How might it be worse?
  • How can I help you to listen to Jesus’ voice and follow him…?