Our Brother Jesus (Hebrews 2:10-18)

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What do you think it would be like to grow up with Jesus as your brother?

When I asked this question in worship on Sunday, people gave a range of answers. One was that it would be hard living up to his standards in things like behaviour or achievement at school. Another idea was that it would be great to grow up with him because Jesus would bring a lot of peace and joy to the family. Someone else thought that it would be frustrating because your parents might always be saying, ‘Why can’t you just be more like Jesus?’

I found it pretty hard to find background graphics for Sunday’s worship PowerPoint. I like to use a picture connected to the theme. When I searched for pictures about Jesus as our brother, however, there wasn’t a lot to choose from online. It’s usually easy to find pictures about Jesus as Lord or King or Saviour or other big, impressive titles, but there wasn’t a lot about Jesus being our brother. This surprised me because one of the most important aspects of the good news of the birth of Jesus was that he became human to relate to us as our brother.

Hebrews 2:10-18 puts this vital but sometimes neglected aspect of the Incarnation well when it says that ‘both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family’ (v11a). The writer to the Hebrews is pointing to Jesus as ‘the one who makes people holy.’ Jesus doesn’t just come into the world to be a perfect example of who we should be and what we should do. He isn’t the perfect older brother with whom our heavenly Dad is always comparing us, asking why we can’t be more like him. Jesus was born into the world to make us holy. He unites the holiness of God with humanity in order to give us the holiness of God to humanity as a gift. Jesus, in uniting himself with us, takes everything about us that is unholy, carries it to the cross and puts it to death so we can be holy people. Jesus, the one who makes us holy, gives us the holiness he possesses as God’s eternal Son as a free gift.

This changes who we are. The writer to the Hebrews goes on to talk about ‘those who are made holy.’ These are all the people who live in relationship with God through faith. By being connected with Jesus through faith, he makes us into holy people through the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The first and most important work of the Holy Spirit in us is to gift us with the holiness of God as the Spirit creates saving faith in Jesus within us. This fundamentally changes our nature. I regularly hear people say to me, ‘But pastor, I’m just a sinner’ when taking about the lives we lead. I understand and believe the doctrine that believers are simul justus et peccator (at the same time sinner and saint). However, we can also use or old nature as an excuse to justify behaviours that aren’t consistent with our new nature in Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Paul lists a range of people who do wrong and will ‘not inherit the Kingdom of God’ (v9) but he then writes, ‘that is what some of you were.’ In other words, our identity as sinful people is in the past tense. It is history because of the redeeming love of Jesus. Paul goes on to state that, ‘you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God’ (1 Corinthians 6:11 NIV). When Paul says that we were ‘sanctified’ he is saying that we were made holy, just as the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says. Our new identity is in Christ so while we might fall back into our old, sinful ways, our identity is not defined by them. We are made holy through faith in Jesus by the power of his Spirit. We are now the holy children of God!

That is why ‘Jesus is not ashamed to call (us) brothers and sisters’ (Hebrews 2:11b NIV). One of the more difficult things about family is that our sisters or brothers can often know things about us that we might be ashamed of. Sometimes we can also be ashamed to admit that people are members of our family because of things they’ve done or who they are. Jesus never does that. As the eternal Son of God Jesus knows everything, so he knows everything about us – even those things we are most ashamed of. As a flesh and blood human person, he is also our brother. Jesus is never ashamed of us or of what we have done. Instead, he uncovers our sin and our shame, brings it to the cross, dies with it once and for all so we can be forgiven for our sin and freed from our shame as he calls us ‘brother’ and ‘sister.’

I understand that sometimes our sense of sin and shame can be overwhelming, but Jesus is stronger and better. He died for our sin and covers our shame with his holiness. Even if the voices around us or within us want to make us feel dirty and unholy, the voice of God in the gospel of Jesus tells us that our brother Jesus is not ashamed of us. He makes us holy people so that we can live as God’s holy children in the world. When we find our identity in him and cling to who we are as God’s holy children, no matter what the world or even our own hearts might say about us, we can find such a strong sense of our identity and value that we can live guilt- and shame-free in the world, bringing that same sense of identity and freedom to others who are still struggling to find who they are and where they belong.

I wonder what it would be like to grow up with Jesus as my brother. In some ways, the letter to the Hebrews helps me answer this question. As our brother, Jesus makes us holy, gives us a new identity as God’s holy children, and is never ashamed of us or what we have done. Jesus gives this grace to us all so we can find a strong sense of who we are in him, we can find a place to belong in the family of God, and we can live a holy life to honour and praise our divine brother.

The Communion of Saints (Ephesians 1:11-23)

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Since the early centuries of the Christian movement, followers of Jesus have said the words of the Apostles’ Creed together. This confession of faith serves God’s people in a few ways. It outlines the basic content of what we believe as Jesus’ disciples. It makes a declaration to the world of who we are and who we believe God is. The Apostles’ Creed also unites us with people around the world and across time who share our common faith. Confessing the Creed signifies that we belong to a community of faith that transcends time, space and denominational differences. It unites all Christians as one Church.

There is a lot in the Apostles’ Creed that we can reflect on and learn from. As we celebrated the Festival of All Saints on Sunday, there was one part in the Third Article that I thought it would be good to think about more: The Communion of Saints. It can easy to say the words of the Creed without giving much thought to what they mean. When we confess our faith in the Communion of Saints, however, there is a lot of depth in those few words.

Firstly, the Communion of Saints is about our identity. Most people that I talk to think of saints as people who have done a lot of good things in their lives. in a common way of thinking, sainthood is something we can aspire to and achieve by doing a lot of ‘good’ things. However, the New Testament gives us a very different idea of what a saint is. Six letters of St Paul begin by addressing the recipients of those letters as ‘God’s holy people’ or ‘saints’ (see Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:2). Paul explains in Ephesians 1:11-23 that sainthood or holiness was God’s gift to his readers when they were united with Christ (v11 NLT) through faith by the power of the Holy Spirit (vv13,14 NLT). Here and in other places of the New Testament we can read that God gives us his holiness as a gift through the Holy Spirit on account of what Jesus has done for us in his life, death and resurrection.

Sainthood, or holiness, becomes the foundation of our identity in Christ. No matter what the world, other people or our own hearts might say to us or about us, we can always come back to God’s promise to us that we are his holy children through faith in Jesus. In those times when our sense of identity takes a beating, or when we have a negative view of ourselves, God’s promise to us is that we are saints, his holy people, because of Jesus’ redemptive love for us which makes us new and clean.

This leads us on to the second important aspect of the Communion of Saints. If God has made each of us saints by giving us the holiness of Jesus through his Spirit, and if he has done the same thing for every other believer, then we are united as one in our faith. This is what Paul means when he writes, ‘the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself’ (Eph 1:23 NLT).

The Christian church, the body of Christ, is the community of God’s holy people which exists across time and space and into eternity. The words communion and community are closely connected, so we can think of the communion of saints as the community of God’s holy people. This community is the place where we can grow as God’s holy people as we encounter the reality of God’s love and grace in relationship with other believers. Following Jesus was never meant to be an individual exercise. Jesus’ command to love one another only makes sense when it is lived out in relationship with others. The communion of saints, then gives us a context to not only love other holy children of God, but to be loved by them so we can live together in the reality of Jesus’ life-changing grace.

This kind of community is vitally important in our time and place. I’ve heard it said a number of times that our digital age has made us more connected than ever before, but at the same time people are lonelier than ever before. People in the developed world are starved for real community where we can extend and encounter grace, love, forgiveness, hope, joy, and so much more through meaningful, Christ-centred relationships. Confessing our faith in the Communion of Saints means that we can find a place where we belong in a community of God’s holy people which transcends our differences and unites us as the living body of the risen Jesus in the world.

This brings me to a third aspect of the Communion of Saints. As the community of God’s holy people, we have a new purpose for our existence. We live in a broken world where people are alone and hurting, relationships are easily fractured, where virtual or fake attempts at community result in people feeling more isolated and lost. As God gifts us with his community of holy people, we have something good to give the people of our world. The Communion of Saints is also God’s gift to the world so that people can find a sense of who they are, where they fit and what they’re here for in relationship with God through their relationship with us.

The Communion of Saints is the community of God’s holy people that he calls into existence to praise and glorify him (Eph 1:14 NLT) by being part of his redemptive mission in the world. We can praise and glorify God by singing songs in worship, but we also praise and glorify God for his saving love in Jesus by living as God’s holy people in the world, bringing his goodness, grace and healing love to the people around us. God gifts his community of holy people in the world with the purpose of living in ways that are made holy through faith and love, and embracing others in the community of God’s holy people so they can find their identity, belonging and purpose through faith in Jesus and in relationship with us.

The next time you confess the Apostles’ Creed, I encourage you to keep some of these things in mind. There is a lot of depth in these few words. They talk about who we are as people who are gifted with Jesus’ holiness through his Spirit, where we belong as the community of God’s holy people, and what we’re here for as we praise and glorify God by embracing others in the community of holy people. The Communion of Saints is God’s gift to us. It is also his challenge to us. As we grow in relationship with him and with his people in this community, we also have the opportunity to gift God’s community of holy people to others.

Identity (1 John 3:1-7)

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If you were meeting someone for the first time and they asked, ‘Who are you?’ how would you answer?

I guess the first thing most of us would say would be our names. However, if that person was wanting to learn who you are and not just what your name is, then what would you say?

Many different influences all combine to help shape the people we are – our choices, actions, work, and relationships are just a few. However, to some degree or another all of these begin with the basic building-blocks of our identity which were given to us at birth. While our identity grows and changes over time and through our experiences in life, the foundations of who we are begin with those characteristics which were given to us by our parents and then shaped by our families.

These words from 1 John 3:1-7 can go a long way to help us discover our identity as they point us to a place where we can find who we are through a relationship with God. John tells us that God has given us his love by calling us his children because that is who we are! God pours out his love into our lives by wanting to be in the closest possible relationship with us, so he welcomes us as his children and gives us all of his perfect and infinite love.

We find the love John describes in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Through Jesus, God clears the way for a new relationship with him. God’s love for us is so great that he took on our identity by becoming human, and suffered more than we can imagine in order to remove every obstacle to becoming his children. Then, through the gift of his Holy Spirit, God our Father adopts us into his family and makes us his children.

God intentionally and deliberately seeks us out, chooses us and welcomes us into this new relationship with him as his children. God gives us a new identity as his children whom he loves unconditionally so we can find who we are in our relationship with him.
As we get to know Jesus, we also get to know who we are. Because Jesus is God’s own Son, when God adopts us, we begin to discover who we are as God’s children because he gives us the nature of Christ. This is what John means when he writes that God

has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is (v2 NLT)

John gives a glimpse of who Jesus is, and who we are becoming as God’s children, when he writes that ‘all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure’ (v3) and ‘when people do what is right, it shows that they are righteous, even as Christ is righteous’ (v7). These are two attributes that God gives to us when he welcomes us into relationship with him as his children: purity and righteousness. Basically, along with the gift of identity as God’s child, our loving Father also cleans us out and makes right everything in us that was wrong.

As God’s children whom he loves, then, our journey of faith is to grow into the identity he has given us. God has given us the basic building blocks to our identity as his children whom he loves. In all the circumstances of life, we can continually come back to this promise. However, there are a lot of other factors which shape us and form us into the people we are becoming.

That is why Christian community is so critical in our growth as God’s people. No one forms their identity in isolation. Instead, through our relationships as God’s family of believers, we are formed into our identity as God’s children as we experience the love God has for us in community together. Christian community is also the way in which we help others find their identity as God’s children through their relationships with us.

We need each other – to be giving experiences of God’s love for us in our relationships together and experiencing God’s love for us in our relationships together as God’s children. When we view our congregation’s Discipling Plan from this perspective, it helps us to think of our congregation less as an institutional organisation and more as a family who are growing in the identity God has graced us with as his children. God is connecting with us by making us his children and embracing us with his love, so that we can be connecting with each other as brothers and sisters in God’s family. We can all be growing in our understanding of who we are as God’s children and how his love shapes us in every situation or circumstance of life. As God’s maturing children, then, we can be equipping each other to live out our identity as God’s children in our relationships with others so they can experience the love of God our Father through us. God is then sending us out into the world as his children to bring his love to everyone we meet and to connect with others who haven’t yet discovered their identity as God’s children.

On Sunday three young people received Holy Communion, the family meal Jesus gave to us, for the first time. I wonder what will be the main influences in shaping their identities as they enter their teenage years? Will it be the shallow, individualistic, consumer culture of the society we live in? Or will we step up as their sisters and brothers in Jesus to help them find who they are as children of God who have been given the perfect, infinite and unconditional love of their Father in heaven?

Whatever age we might be, we are all growing into our identities. There may be times when we wonder who we are in the middle of the confusion and struggles of life. In the grace God gives us in Jesus, we can always be strong in what John tells us. Whatever is happening in our lives, we can see the great love God has for us because he calls us his children – and that is who we are!

‘Clothed in Christ’ (Romans 13:11-14)

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There is a lot of truth in the saying that you should never judge a book by the cover, In the same way, there is usually more to people than what you see. However, there are times when you can tell a lot about who people are and what they do by the way they dress.
For example, you can probably tell that a person is a fireman by the way he dressed, and that his job it to put fires out. A person dressed in surgical scrubs is probably a surgeon who operates on people to help them heal. Someone in a sporting uniform will most probably be an athlete who competes in a particular sport. Depending on the sport, what that person is wearing might even tell you the position that person plays in the team or what her role is in the team.

In each of these cases, there will be consistency between what a person wears, who they are and what they do. You wouldn’t want a person dressed like a fireman to do surgery in the operating theatre. A sportsperson dressed like a surgeon probably will not compete to their full ability. And there is no way you would want to fight a fire dressed like a netballer or footballer. What we wear can say a lot about who we are, and what we do.

When Paul encourages the Christians at Rome to be dressed in Christ, he wasn’t giving them fashion advice. Paul was encouraging them, and us, to find a new sense of who we are and what we are on earth to do through faith in Jesus. Through his death and resurrection, he covers our sin, shame and guilt and gives us a new identity as children of God. Through faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit washes us clean of everything that makes us unacceptable to God, to others and possibly even to ourselves and covers us with the goodness and purity of Jesus. When God looks at us, he doesn’t see our flaws, mistakes, failures or regrets. Instead, because we are covered in Christ, he sees us as his children, whom he loves and with whom he is pleased (see Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). In the same way that what they are wearing can tell us who a fireman, surgeon or sportsperson are, so being clothed in Christ tells us that we are God’s children who receive all of Jesus’ goodness as his gift to us through the Holy Spirit.

Just as it makes sense that a fireman, surgeon or sportsperson does will reflect who they are, so the way in which God’s children live our lives needs to be consistent with being dressed with Jesus and who we are in him. It is absurd to think of a fireman in an operating theatre, or a surgeon on a netball court, or a footballer fighting a fire. It makes just as little sense for the children of God to live in ways that are different from who we are as people who are clothed in Christ’s goodness. That is why Paul writes,

‘So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.’ (v12b,13 NIV).

Paul is urging us to be clothed in the goodness of Jesus so our lives show who we are as God’s children.

When we live faithfully as God’s children, we bring the light of God’s goodness into a world that is often very dark. As we begin the season of Advent, in the coming weeks we will be remembering God’s gifts to us of peace, hope, joy and love. People who live in our world, who live right next door to us, or maybe even live under our own roof, often need a greater sense of peace, hope, joy and love in their lives. As we live in ways that are consistent with our new identity as people who are clothed in Christ, we can bring the light of God’s peace, hope, joy and love into their lives through what we say and what we do. By being covered with God’s goodness and living good lives that are consistent with who we are, we are the means by which the peace, hope, joy and love of God enter into the world and bring light into people’s lives. Christianity isn’t about following a set of rules to get into heaven, like a lot of people imagine. Instead, the Christian faith is about finding a new sense of who we are as people who are covered by Christ, and then living in ways that reflect our new identity as God’s children so God’s goodness and love can come into the world through us.

We all put clothes on each day. This week, as you get dressed, remember that God gives you the goodness and love of Jesus to put on each and every day. Jesus covers each of us and gives us a new identity as children of God whom he loves and with whom he is pleased, even before we do anything. In the faith that you are clothed with Jesus with all of his goodness and purity, live each day as God’s child and bring the light of his peace, hope, joy and love into the lives of everyone you meet through all you say and do.

More to think about:

  • What are some other examples of how the way a person is dressed can say something about who they are and what they do?
  • Do you agree that it is good for there to be a consistent message given by what a person wears, who they are and what they do? Can you explain why you think that way?
  • What does it mean to you that you are ‘clothed in Christ’? How can that make a difference to your understanding of who you are as a child of God?
  • The beauty of the Christian faith is that being ‘clothed in Christ’ is not about conformity, but finding a sense of identity in Jesus. In what ways can you be ‘clothed in Christ’ without losing a sense of who you are as an individual?
  • If it is good for how us to be consistent in how are dressed, who we are and what we do, how might you be able to show that you are ‘clothed in Christ’ this week?