An Easy Yoke (Matt 11:16-19, 25-30)

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When I was in primary school, our church used to have an annual picnic. One of the games we would play every year was the three-legged race. If you’ve never been in a three-legged race, the way it works is that you and a partner have your legs tied together, usually at the ankle, and you need to run together towards the end of the course.

It was hard learning how to move together effectively. We are so used to walking at our own pace and in our own ways that we found it difficult to synchronize our movements and find a rhythm so we could run the race. People who were able to find that rhythm did well and finished the race. Those who couldn’t just pulled against each other and ended up on the ground.

When Jesus talked about taking his yoke in Matthew 11:25-30 he was inviting us to learn to walk with him as his disciples. one way we can think of being yoked with Jesus is that it is kind of like running a three-legged race with him. When I was younger, I thought the yoke Jesus was talking about was something we carried individually, the kind that lay across a person’s shoulders with a bucket on each end. Since then I have learned that the yoke Jesus meant was the sort that two oxen would carry to help them walk and work together. Jesus is inviting us to be yoked with him, like we might have our legs tied together in a three-legged race, so that we can learn from Jesus to walk with him in the way of life he walked.

Being yoked with Jesus doesn’t come naturally to us and is difficult for us to learn. We like to walk our own way, going in the directions we choose, and moving at a pace with which we are most comfortable. Especially in our culture which worships our individual right to do what we want, be who we want, and go where we want, the idea of adapting our walk to fit in with others is virtually abhorrent. Our society’s creed of individualism teaches us that we should have the right to choose where, when, and how we walk in our own lives. The problem with this way of thinking is that if we each want to walk our own way, then, like in a three-legged race, we will fall over and probably get hurt.

When Jesus calls us to take up his yoke, he is inviting us to learn a whole new way of living from him that is radically different than our inward-focused, me-first individualism. Jesus’ call to discipleship means learning a way of living that doesn’t burden us with expectations, demands or rules. The religious people of Jesus’ day were really good at doing that. Jesus wants to teach us a different way that leads to rest for our hearts and souls.

A couple of weeks ago we heard Jesus invite us to be his disciples and learn a different way of living from him that involved taking up our cross in faith and love. In Matthew 11:28-30 he uses the image of taking up his yoke with him. This might seem like a burden, but the beauty of Jesus’ words is that he says that his ‘yoke is easy to bear’ and the burden he gives us is light (v30). This might seem like a contradiction, but Jesus is saying that he wants us to learn from him a way of life that is free from expectations and guilt, and full of his grace.

Eugene Petersen describes the new way of living that Jesus invites us to learn as ‘the unforced rhythms of grace’ (Matthew 11:29 MSG). As Jesus offers us his yoke, or as he ties his leg to ours for our three-legged race together, he is asking us to learn from him how to live with grace as our foundational reality. This grace isn’t something that we struggle or try harder to do, but in the same way that we can find a rhythm with our partner in a three-legged race, Jesus wants us to walk with him so we can find his rhythm of grace and it can flow naturally, in an unforced way, through our whole lives.

This grace works in two ways. Firstly, it is living in God’s grace for us in Jesus. There are lots of ways we can understand this grace: forgiveness, new life, redemption, salvation, and a home in the kingdom of heaven. We can also think of God’s grace as the way he gift us with a new identity as his children whom he loves, a place to belong in the body of Christ and the community of believers, and a new purpose in living for him and being part of God’s mission in the world. In fact, we can understand God’s grace as every good thing he gives us for life in this world and the next. God gifts us with everything we need because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for us which renews our relationship with our Father in heaven and gives us his favour. We can spend our whole lives learning more and more about God’s grace in which we live as we take up Jesus’ yoke and walk with him.

The second way we ‘learn the unforced rhythm of grace’ in our lives is in our relationships with other people. Grace isn’t just something God gives to us. It is also something we give to others. Again, we can think of this grace in many different ways, such as forgiving people who have wronged us, or accepting, loving, welcoming, and building up one another. This grace that we extend to others is having an outward focus on others in the faith that God will provide us with everything we need for Jesus’s sake. The ‘unforced rhythms of grace’ are identical to the way of faith and love that we talked about a couple of weeks ago, which lies at the heart of the New Testament letters to early Christian communities. It is grace which flows from God, through us, and into the lives of everyone we meet.

As I said earlier, this rhythm of grace doesn’t come naturally to us and often isn’t easy for us. We need to be life-long learners, disciples of Jesus who are learning from him what this grace looks like and how it works in all the varied circumstances and different situations of life. Carrying Jesus’ yoke, or being Jesus’ three-legged race partner, isn’t just a one-off decision. It means walking closely with him every day of our lives, listening to his word, watching the way he trusted our Father and treated people, so that we can live in the reality of his grace and we can live out his grace in relationship and community with others.

Which way are we walking in our lives? Are we being discipled by our individualistic culture, which tells us to walk where we want, how we want, when we want? If we are, how is that working out for us? Are we walking well, or are we stumbling or falling along the way? Are we ready to learn a new way of living, walking closely with Jesus and learning a new way of living from him as his disciples? Are we willing to pick up his yoke? Will we trust him enough to tie our leg to his and learn how to walk in his way, and not our own? Are we ready to learn the unforced rhythm of grace from Jesus?

More to think about & discuss:

  • Have you even been in a three-legged race? How did you find it – was it easy or hard for you? Why was that?
  • What makes it difficult to walk with someone in a three-legged race? What can help us walk together?
  • How might taking up Jesus’ yoke be like partnering with him in a three-legged race? Do you think the analogy works? Explain why/why not…
  • What do you think it might mean to take up Jesus’ yoke? How can we find rest in it? In what ways can it be ‘easy’ and ‘light’?
  • What do you think of Eugene Petersen’s description of taking up Jesus’ yoke as ‘learning the unforced rhythms of grace’? What do you think that looks like?
  • Would you say that you are ‘learning the unforced rhythms of grace’ from Jesus? Or are you walking in your own way at your own pace? Give reasons for your answers…
  • What might your life be like if you were learning the ‘unforced rhythms of grace’ from Jesus by taking up his yoke as his student? How might your life be the same? How might it be different?
  • If Jesus is asking each of us to take up his yoke and learn ‘the unforced rhythms of grace’ from him, then we can think of our congregation as a Christ-centred community of faith where we are all learning this new way of life in our relationships with each other. What is your reaction to thinking about ‘church’ in this way?
  • What will you do this week to walk with Jesus, take up his yoke and learn ‘the unforced rhythms of grace’ from him?

You can find a video version of this message at https://youtu.be/JNDH_rD9qQE

God bless!

The Trinity at Work (Genesis 1:1-2:4a)

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Since the beginning of time, people have looked at the world around them and wondered where it all came from. Every culture has had its own story or myth to try to explain the origin of the world and everything in it. Even in our own time, our culture is trying to explain the origin of the universe in scientific terms to understand where it all began and what its purpose or future might be.

I’m going to ask that you don’t discuss how long the Genesis 1 Creation Story took in your conversation about this message. Please take the advice of the Apostle Paul who warns God’s people ‘against quarrelling about words’ because ‘it is of no value and only ruins those who listen’ (2 Timothy 2:14). I believe that too much time and energy has been lost in arguments about how long a ‘day’ was in Jewish thinking. Because of those disagreements, we have often missed much of the good news that Genesis 1 can speak into our lives.

One thing we can miss about the Genesis 1 Creation Story is the way the Trinity is at work. It is true that the word Trinity never appears in the Bible. An early church leader named Tertullian began using it about two hundred years after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to try to communicate the mystery of the one God who makes himself known to us as three distinct but still unified persons. While the Bible doesn’t use the word Trinity, we can still see plenty of evidence of the One-God-In-Three-Persons throughout Scripture.

One passage where we see evidence for the Trinity is in Genesis 1. We read that God created everything in the story simply by speaking. For example, in verse 3 ‘God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light’ (NIV). God spoke and his Word did what it said.
We can see the Trinity at work in Creation if we look a little closer at the story. Firstly, there is the Speaker who proclaims the Word that is spoken. Secondly, we have the Word itself which brings what is spoken into existence. Thirdly, the Breath of the Speaker carries the Word to do what is said. Whenever we speak, our breath carries our words to those who hear them. Genesis 1:2 has already introduced the Spirit of God to us. The biblical languages use the same word for breath, wind and spirit, so the Spirit of God is involved in Creation as the Speaker’s Breath which carries the Word to create what has been spoken.

This story continues to unfold when we read it through the eyes of the New Testament. The Apostle John identified Jesus as the Word which was spoken at creation who entered the world as a flesh and blood person (John 1:1-17). Jesus gave his followers a new relational way of understanding God by calling him ‘Father’ (John 5:18). Jesus also talked about sending his Spirit to his followers (John 14:15-17,26, etc) to be ‘with’ them and ‘in’ them (v17 NIV). Jesus expanded people’s understanding of God from the ancient Hebrew confession of ‘the Lord is One’ (Deuteronomy 6:4), to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit being the Three-In-One and One-In-Three God which we know as the Trinity.

From this point of view, we can see the Triune God at work in the Genesis 1 Creation Story. The Father is the Speaker of the Word who brings everything into existence. The Word proclaimed by the Father is the Son, Jesus, through whom all things were made and without whom nothing was made that has been made (John 1:3). The Holy Spirit carries the Word from the Father to do what the Father intends and what the Word itself says. When God created the heavens and the earth in the beginning, Father, Son and Holy Spirit was at work creating light where there was darkness, peace where there was chaos, and life where there was emptiness.

There is much more to this reading of Genesis than just a theological analysis. Because of the reality of sin in our world, we continue to see and experience the darkness, chaos and emptiness that was present in the beginning before the Trinity’s creative work. For example, we can see the darkness of racism, hatred and injustice in our world which caused the death of George Floyd in the USA last week, and has been highlighted by protests in that nation and around the world, including Australia. We have all seen how the COVID-19 pandemic has plunged our world into chaos and confusion as nations have tried to prevent the spread of the virus and keep their people safe. We can see darkness and chaos on a global scale, but we can also experience it personally. In lots of different ways, we can also struggle with darkness, chaos or confusion, or emptiness in our own lives.

When we acknowledge the darkness, chaos or emptiness in our own lives, the Genesis 1 Creation Story can speak so much good news to us. It tells us that the Trinity is still at work in the world and in our lives. The same Speaker continues to proclaim the Word which is carried by the Breath into our darkness, chaos, and emptiness to create light, peace, and life in us, just as the Triune God did in the beginning. The Trinity continues to be at work in our lives as the Father proclaims the Son who is carried by the Holy Spirit into our lives and into our hearts to create light, peace and life within us! When we believe that the Trinity was working in this way at the start of Creation, we can also believe that the Trinity is still at work in us and through us, bringing the light of perfect love into dark places, peace into our confusion and chaos, and life where everything seems empty.

The Word of God continues to speak the Trinity’s creative Word to us. It is the message of Jesus which proclaims love, forgiveness, mercy, grace, and every good thing that our hearts, our lives, our world needs in these dark, chaotic and empty times. We find this Word in the message of Jesus, the stories of the Bible, the letters of the early Christians who were living in this light, peace and life, sharing what they had found with other believers and helping them to live in the reality of the work of the Trinity in their own dark times. The Bible isn’t just old bedtime stories or information about God. It is the creative Word of God, proclaimed by the Speaker and carried by the Breath into our lives to create light in the darkness, peace in the chaos, and life in the emptiness.

What might it be like for the Trinity to be at work in you, creating light in the darkness you might be experiencing, peace in the chaos or confusion that might be going on within or around you, or life in any emptiness you might be struggling with? I don’t argue about how much time it took God to create the world, or how long a Jewish ‘day’ is anymore because we can miss the main point of the Genesis 1 story. This Creation account tells us that we have a God who speaks a Word of grace, peace and hope into our lives, and whose Breath carries this Word into our hearts, our lives and our world to create light and peace and life, just like in the beginning.

More to think about & discuss:

  • What is your favourite thing about Creation? For example, sunsets or sunrises, autumn leaves, newborn babies, the beach, or something else? Spend some time discussing or reflecting on why you like them so much…
  • Do you ever wonder where everything came from? What does the Genesis 1 Creation Story say to you about God who created it all? (again, please don’t start discussing how long God took or what a Hebrew ‘day’ might mean; you can talk about that another day…)
  • What are your thoughts about finding the Trinity in Genesis 1 as Speaker, Word and Breath? Does it make sense to you? Is there anything about it you’re not sure about?
  • Before God started the work of creation, there was darkness, chaos and emptiness. Where can we still see these in our times? In the global situation? In our own lives personally?
  • In Genesis 1 the Triune God creates light from darkness, peace from chaos, and life from emptiness. Discuss or reflect on the idea that God is still doing the same today. Is that easy or more difficult for you to trust? Why or why not?
  • Where are you experiencing darkness, chaos or confusion, or emptiness in your own life? What might god be saying to you through his Word to create light, peace, or life in you? In someone else’s life?
  • At some stage, go for a walk outside. Look at and listen to creation. Wonder where it all came from as you reflect on the Genesis 1 story. If God can create all this beauty and wonder from darkness, chaos and emptiness, what might God’s Word and Breath be able to create into you?

You can find a video version of this message at https://youtu.be/dSTlQc50vGo

God bless!

 

Clever Stories or Eyewitness Accounts? (2 Peter 1:16-21)

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In our home we have a few bookshelves which are overflowing of books. On one particular set of shelves I have a variety of different kinds of book. Of course, being a pastor, there are theology books, but I also have books on philosophy, history, some graphic novels as well as classical and more contemporary novels.

There are many people I know who would place the Bible in the fictional literature part of my bookshelves. The popular perception of the Bible among many people in our time and place is that it is more like a novel than a record of actual historical events. That might be because many of the stories in the Bible don’t seem to connect with people’s experiences today. Maybe it’s because we are so used to books about superheroes, wizards or other mythical characters that the stories in the Bible seem to be more like fantasy than reality. People might possibly see the Bible as a fictional piece of writing because the promises it communicates seem too good to be true.

There are some significant differences between the Bible and other books on my shelves. For example, the Bible wasn’t written by just one person, but by many people over thousands of years. The Bible doesn’t just tell a nice story but contains different genres of literature such as historical stories, poems, legal writings, and personal letters. I can read a novel a couple of times and still enjoy it, but I’ve been reading the Bible my entire adult life and I still find something new and helpful in it for my life. Most of the authors of the books on my shelf made money from their work, but a lot of the authors of the books in the Bible paid for what they wrote with their lives.

From what we read in 2 Peter 1:16-21 it seems like there were people in the earliest days of the Christian movement who were questioning whether the stories Jesus’ followers were telling could be trusted. In their day, too, these stories seemed to some people to be made-up works of fiction. However, in these verses Peter stated that what he was sharing with the believers weren’t ‘clever stories’ (v16 NLT) like a fictional novel. Instead, Peter had witnessed the ‘powerful coming’ of Jesus and ‘saw his majestic splendour’ with their own eyes.

We have an example of what Peter witnessed in the story of Jesus’ transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9). When Jesus went up the mountain with Peter, James and John, he gave them a glimpse of his heavenly glory as the Son of God while he talked with Moses and Elijah, two of the most important Old Testament prophets. The story sounds like it belongs in a fantasy novel. We don’t normally see people’s faces shine like the sun and their clothes become as white as light while they talk with people who had lived more than a thousand years ago (Matthew 17:2). So when the disciples started telling people about what they saw, I can understand why their audience would be skeptical about what they were being told and question its truth.

That’s why this verse is so important for us, not only in verifying the story of Jesus’ transfiguration but validating the whole Bible. These are not stories people made up for fun. They didn’t make any money out of what they wrote like a modern novelist. Instead, the authors of the biblical books were so convinced about what they saw that they put their lives on the line for it. They were so convinced about the truth of what they had seen and the difference it can make in people’s lives that they would rather die than retract what they had written. That’s what is different about the Bible – it was written by people who had seen the events they had written about, or had talked with people who had witnessed them first-hand, and they were willing to die for the truth of what they had written. Can you imagine any author of a modern best-selling novel being willing to do that?

Not only were the writers of the Bible convinced of the historical truth of what they had written, they also witnessed the differences it made in people’s lives. Peter urges his readers to ‘pay close attention’ to what the prophets had written ‘for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place’ (v19 NLT). He seems to be referring specifically to the message of the prophets of the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah among them, who pointed forward to the coming Messiah who would bring God’s redemption, justice, peace and glory to the world. There are a range of ways we can understand the idea of ‘prophetic messages’ but here Peter is pointing us towards those messages in the Bible that direct us towards Jesus. He is the light of the world who brings life to all who trust in him, so when we hear the words the prophets wrote which the Holy Spirit inspired, the Holy Spirit uses those words to create faith in Jesus and to bring the light of his salvation to our hearts.

That is why it is so vitally important for us to remain in God’s word and to be listening to what God is saying through it. These aren’t just some nice stories to tell our kids. They’re not even stories that just teach us to live in good ways or to make good choices. These stories are eyewitness accounts of the glory of God which is revealed in Jesus. When we connect with these stories, the Holy Spirit fills us with the glory of God which Jesus revels to us and drives out the darkness in our hearts and minds. We can then bring the glory of God which we encounter in Jesus – his love, mercy, grace and all the goodness of God – into the lives of other people and into what can often be a very dark world. As the glory of God shines in us through the presence of Jesus by his Spirit, we can bring his glory into all the circumstances of life and all the situations we might find ourselves in.

I can’t prove to anyone that the stories we read in the Bible are true. What Peter does, though, is give us two good reasons why we can believe they are true. Firstly, he was there, on that mountain, and he saw with his own eyes the glory of God revealed in Jesus. Secondly, he saw the difference the message of Jesus made in people’s lives as it drove the darkness from them and the Holy Spirit filled their hearts and minds with the light of God’s joy, peace, hope and love. Why would he make these stories up when he had nothing to gain and they cost him his life?

Stories like the Transfiguration made a profound difference in Pete’s life as he witnessed the glory of God revealed in the grace, love, peace and hope Jesus brings. They can still do the same for us…

Living in the Light (Colossians 1:11-20)

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Since the beginning of time, the battle between light and darkness has been one of humanity’s most common and powerful stories. We see it from the Creation story of Genesis 1 where God overcame the darkness by speaking light into existence, right through to the battle between Jedi Knights and Sith Lords using the light and dark side of the Force in the Star Wars movies.

For Christians, the battle between the darkness and the light reached its culmination in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. When Jesus was born, the one who personified the light of God came into our world which has been made dark through sin and evil. Jesus entered the darkness of human existence to bring us light, exposing the darkness that lives within all people and driving it out through his love and grace. When Jesus went to the cross, he carried all that is dark in the world and put it to death. This was symbolized by the darkness that fell for three hours as the Son of God was crucified. When Jesus was raised to new life on the third day, he brought the light of eternal life to all people in a similar way that the rays of the rising sun expelled the darkness of the night. The victory of the light of Jesus’ life over the darkness of sin and death is the good news that we receive in faith and which gives us new life as God’s people. Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God

has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
(Colossians 1:13,14 NLT)

The tense of the verbs Paul uses is significant. He writes that God has rescued us, and he has brought us into the kingdom of Christ. These are events that have happened in the past and which now determine our current reality.

However, wherever there is light in this world there is also shadow. While we might be living in the Kingdom of the Light of God’s love and peace, we can still encounter the darkness of sin and evil in a range of ways. For example, the darkness can still overshadow us when we experience fear, judgment, guilt or face the reality of death. I’ve known too many Christians who have been brought into the Kingdom of Christ but still live in these and other dark shadows.

I don’t write this to make anyone feel bad about it, but to recognise that in our human condition it can be hard for us to live fully in the light. We can tend to think that the darkness we experience in any form is just the way it is and nothing can ever be different. So, like people who have been kept in the dark for too long, we can feel safe and comfortable in the dark, believing that there is nothing beyond it, and that this is just how it is.

But what if life didn’t have to be this way? What if, instead of living in the darkness of fear, judgement, guilt or death, God intended something better for us? As his people whom he has rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into the Kingdom of Christ, what if it was possible to live more and more in the light of his love and grace through the power of the Holy Spirit? What if, instead of living in fear, we could find joy? What if the good news of Jesus could actually set us free from the darkness of judgment in our lives? Where guilt casts its shadow over us, what might life be like if we could find forgiveness in the reality of Christ’s Kingdom? All of these and more would contribute to a life that was fully lived in the light of God’s grace, love and peace which we find in the good news of Jesus.

Where do you live right now – in the darkness of fear, judgment and guilt, or in the light of joy, freedom and forgiveness? I’ll say it again: I don’t want anyone to feel bad or guilty about experiencing darkness of any kind in their lives – it is a reality of living in this world and just plays into the devil’s hands when we focus on the dark. Instead, I want to help people see that the light of God’s grace and love has come to us in Jesus. Through him, to use Paul’s words again, God has already ‘rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of his Son’! We don’t have to live in the darkness any more because the light is already here!

Where do you want to live – in the dark or in the light? This is our journey as disciples of Jesus. He calls us to follow him from the dark into the light of the joy, freedom and forgiveness that he gives. We can learn a new way of living from Jesus where we can find increasing joy, freedom and forgiveness by leaving the darkness behind and keeping our eyes fixed on his love, peace and hope through faith in him. As we hear Jesus speak words of good news to us through the Bible, as the Holy Spirit grows faith in us, maturing us as God’s children and making us more like Jesus, then the light of God’s grace will shine brighter within us and others will see the goodness of God in us.

In some ways, the battle between darkness and light seems to be very simple. However, more modern interpretations have shown that sometimes the difference is harder to distinguish. Where would you prefer to live – in the dark or in the light? I understand that sometimes it can seem safer and more comfortable to stay in the dark, or at least in the shadows. However, God has already ‘rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.’ Jesus calls us to follow him into lives that experience the reality of that light so others can find his light in us.

Where would you prefer to live?

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?

The Light of God’s Glory (2 Corinthians 4:3-6)

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There are plenty of ways for us to communicate in a digital age. We can send text messages, email, use social media of various types, video call, or we can even use more traditional technology and talk with someone on the phone.

However, there is nothing quite like seeing someone face to face if we are going to really get to know them.

When we see someone’s face, we get a lot of information that aren’t there when we use electronic communication. There have been a number of times when I’ve been trying to say something to another person through text message or email when my words have been misinterpreted because the other person couldn’t see the look in my eyes, or hear the inflections or tone in my voice. When we talk face to face, there are a lot of things in our faces and voices that not only help to communicate clearly, but give the other person a better understanding of who we are.

The same is true in our relationship with God. Hebrews 1:1 tells us that there were lots of ways God communicated with his people over the centuries, especially through the prophets that he sent to his people. There were a few occasions in the Old Testament when we are told that some people were able to see God (eg Exodus 24:9-11) but generally God spoke with his people through mediators because God’s holiness meant that people could not see God and live (see Exodus 33:20).

That is what makes the Transfiguration of Jesus an amazing event. When Jesus took Peter, James and John up the mountain and revealed his heavenly glory to them, they were seeing something that very few people had ever seen. Jesus gave his three closest disciples a glimpse of his heavenly glory to help them understand who he is. While Jesus is an ordinary person according to his humanity, his transfiguration showed his followers that there is much more to him than meets the eye. Jesus was the presence of God with them. He brought the fullness of God’s goodness to them so they could know God face to face rather than having to rely on what others said about God or who they thought God might be. In the face of Jesus, we see the face of God – not what God looks like, but who God is.

Understanding the nature and character of God through the person of Jesus became critical for the Apostle Paul. When he wrote to the Christians in Corinth, Paul described the ‘glorious light of the Good News’ being the ‘message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God’ (v4b NLT). For Paul, seeing God’s glory in the face of Jesus means that we can know God and have a relationship with God through the person of Jesus. He gave a glimpse of this glory to Peter, James and John in his Transfiguration, and to us as we hear this story. As Paul says, if we want to see God’s glory, the place to look is the face of Jesus (v6).

We see the full glory of God not so much in the transfigured face of Jesus, but in the human face of Jesus. That is where we see a God who does what no one else has ever done. Jesus is different from every other religious, philosophical or political figure I have ever come across. He reveals to us the glory of a God who meets us in our broken humanity. Jesus shows us a God who doesn’t try to explain why people suffer in the world, but instead enters into our suffering. In Jesus we meet a God who would rather die than see his children separated from him by sin and death. Jesus shows us how high, how wide, how long and how deep God’s love is for us by sacrificing everything for us on the cross. In the resurrection of Jesus, we see that God’s love is stronger than death, and nothing in this world can overcome God’s love for us. The ‘glorious light of the Good News’ (v4) of Jesus shows us a God who is compassionate and kind, who forgives sinners and justifies the unrighteous, who does everything to reconcile with those who have turned away from him and restore broken relationships. The glory of God we can see in the bruised and bloodied face of a crucified man is the glory of the God who sacrifices everything in love for people who deserve it the least but need it the most.

This is a very different way to think about glory. Usually we think about God’s heavenly glory, seated on his throne, surrounded in light with angels singing his praises. When Paul points us to look for God’s glory in the face of Jesus, though, he wants us to see the glory of the God who suffers with us, who suffers for us, who gives everything out of love for us. Paul wants us to see the face of the God whose love is stronger than anything in this world and who promises us something better than what we are experiencing right now. As Paul knows from his own personal experience, seeing this kind of glory in the face of Jesus can change our lives.

To see God’s glory in the face of Jesus gives us a new way to connect with God. We don’t need to find our way to heaven to try to connect with the Divine, or to try to find some spark of the Diving within us. Instead, God makes himself known to us through the person of Jesus. Just as every good relationship means spending time face to face together, when we grow in our relationship with Jesus, and with the body of Christ that is our Christian family, we also grow in our relationship with God. This growth equips us to live as people who carry the light of God’s glory into the world by living and loving others the same way Jesus did, full of forgiveness, compassion, mercy and grace. This connection, growth, equipping and sending is what it means to live with the light of God’s glory in us.

We can try to get to know God in lots of different ways, but most of them are like trying to get to know someone through text messages, emails, social media or even phone calls. There’s nothing like seeing someone face to face. In Jesus’ transfiguration, we see God’s glory face to face as we encounter the God who sacrifices everything to overcome the distance between us and who gives us new life as the people he loves.

Salt, Light & Righteousness (Matthew 5:13-20)

salt-and-light

Could you imagine a world without salt or light?

Salt and light are such integral parts of our lives that it is impossible for me to imagine what the world would be like without them. Light is necessary for all life as it gives us warmth, the ability to see, and even life itself. While maybe not so critical for life as we know it, I would miss the person in our local chicken shop asking me if I wanted chicken salt on my chips. We all know how important salt is to bring out the flavour of food. However, in the ancient world salt was also important in preserving foods and healing wounds.

So when Jesus says to his followers that we are the salt of the earth and light for the world, he is saying that we are not optional extras that exist on the outer fringe of society. Jesus is saying that we are critically important for the world to have sight, warmth, the flavour of God’s goodness and grace, preserving it against evil, bringing healing, and even being necessary for life itself.

To be salt and light is to be God’s life-giving presence in the world, bringing his goodness and righteousness to the people around us.

This is why discipleship is so important. Jesus connects his followers’ lives as salt and light in the world with keeping God’s laws. Jesus says that he did not come into the world to ‘abolish’ God’s commands but instead ‘to fulfil them’ (v17 NIV). He is pointing to himself as the one who perfectly obeyed all of God’s commands and lived the perfect life that God wants us to live but are not able. Jesus then gives us his perfect life through faith in him. In keeping God’s law, Jesus also points to God’s law as the way to live which brings his salt and light into the world. As we learn to live in ways that please God, and as we teach others to do the same, our lives are the means by which God’s warmth and live, his flavour, healing and preserving love enter into the lives of the people around us and our relationships.

Learning to live in the way God wants and teaching others to do the same is also called ‘discipleship.’

This leads us to live in ‘righteous’ ways. One way we can think of ‘righteous’ living as living in right ways and in right relationships with God, other people, creation, and even with ourselves. Jesus sends the clear message that we need to be living in right ways which are in step with what God wants. His message in verse 20 is that our righteousness needs to be greater than the people who dedicated their entire lives to knowing what God requires of us in his law, and then keeping every aspect of that law, no matter how small it might seem.

When I talk with people about his verse, their usual reaction is that we will never be good enough. We are usually aware of our lack of righteousness – the ways in which we have failed to live up to what God wants. None of us are perfect, so Jesus’ teaching that our righteousness needs to be greater than the religious elite of his day can make us realise that, if it just depends on us, we fall a long way short of being the salt and light God wants us to be.

That is why we need Jesus, who is our righteousness through faith in him. The reason Jesus fulfilled God’s law (v17) was to give us grace – to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves and then give us the benefit of what he has done. This becomes the central message of the Apostle Paul in his New Testament letters. He argues God makes us righteous as a gift through the work of the Holy Spirit. By uniting us with Jesus, the Spirit of God communicates Jesus’ perfect life and righteousness to us so that his righteousness becomes our righteousness. For example, in Romans 4:5 Paul says that

… people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners. (NLT)

In other words, when Jesus tells us that we need to have a righteousness that is greater than the religious elite of his day, he is encouraging us to look to him as he gifts us with the righteousness that we cannot achieve ourselves. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ perfect righteousness becomes our righteousness and we are given a righteousness which is greater than all the ultra-religious people who tried so desperately to keep God’s laws in Jesus’ day.

The life of Jesus’ disciples, then, is not about trying to become righteous to get to heaven. Instead, we are given the righteousness of Jesus so we can live in right ways, so others can see the goodness of God in all we say and do, and so they can praise God for his goodness and love (v16). This is one way to think about the mission of the church: to be living righteous lives as people who are made righteous through Jesus so others can experience the goodness of God and glorify him for his goodness.

As we listen to the teachings of Jesus in this part of his Sermon on the Mount, we can think of being followers of Jesus like this:

Discipleship is…
… learning to live in right ways so we become God’s salt & light in the world.

Jesus wants to teach us a new way of living which depends on the righteousness he provides for us through his fulfilment of God’s law. This shows itself through living in right relationships with God, other people, creation and ourselves. When we are living rightly through faith in Jesus, the goodness of God enters the world through us, giving it the flavour of God’s grace and the light of new life in Jesus through the Holy Spirit.

More to think about:

  • Can you imagine a world without salt? Or without light? Describe briefly what each would be like?
  • Do you think of yourself as God’s salt & light in the world? What do you like about Jesus’ words describing your purpose in the world? What do you find difficult about it?
  • Jesus makes a clear connection between being salt & light and living the way God commands us to. Do you find it easy or difficult living in the way God wants? What helps you to live this way? What makes it difficult?
  • Do you think of yourself as a ‘righteous’ person? How can God’s promise through the Apostle Paul about God’s gift of righteousness in Jesus help you to live a right life?
  • As a person who is made right again through faith in Jesus, are there areas of your life that need to be made right? Maybe ask God for the Holy Spirit to show you what needs to be made right again, and to give you the grace to say & do what’s right, so people can see your good works and praise our heavenly Father…