Sunday 19th April Service
Welcome Matthew Foy
Talk Brenda Pegman - to hear it read by Janet Crawford click here
Opening prayer: Lord guide my lips and my words, so that they are pleasing to you, my strength and my redeemer.
Good morning everyone. Last week Rev. Matthew took us on a daily journey of Jesus’ path towards the cross and then our joyful celebration of the risen Christ on Easter Sunday, taken from the Gospel of Matthew. Our reading today taken from Acts 1 v 1-5 begins where the Gospels leave off, with Luke giving us a report of the actions of the apostles and the work of the Holy Spirit, after the ascension of Jesus, beginning first in Jerusalem. The Church is established and growing rapidly, then, faced with intense persecution, believers go out into the surrounding areas, and because of this dispersion the gentiles, (that’s us) also get hear the Good News and many, many, people become new believers.
Luke gives us an historic account covering the 30 years after the ascension on how the news of salvation spread throughout the countries, even as far as the Roman Empire. These ordinary people preaching, with human frailties and limitations were empowered by the Holy Spirit, and it turned this world upside down.
But let us go back to the lead up to the crucifixion of Jesus, and his suffering and death on the cross, then his burial:
We read in the gospels that during Jesus’ ministry his twelve often argued with each other, and struggled to always understand what Jesus was teaching them. He was betrayed, denied three times, was sentenced to die, flayed, crucified, pierced with a sword after his death, and placed in a tomb. But what happened next changed his followers from men cowered and afraid, to people so empowered they stopped at nothing, even death, to spread the word of God and his Kingdom.
Why,...... because on the third day after his crucifixion our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead....and let me make this very clear......not resuscitation, then rehabilitation... but resurrection!! Our entire Christian faith is based on the firm evidence of this resurrected Jesus as a real event in history.
So what evidence do we have for this event? Tom Wright in his book “Simply Christian” says
· First- all the gospels, when they write about the crucifixion, agree that Jesus had truly died.
· Second- Jesus really did reappear, not as a battered, bleeding survivor, not as a ghost, but as a living bodily human being, although somehow different.
· Third- Jesus’ risen body had many of the same properties as an ordinary body (it could talk, eat and drink, and be touched) but it had others too. It could appear and disappear, and pass through locked doors. Jesus really was bodily alive after three day later, in a transformed body.
When the apostle Peter was preaching in Jerusalem in the year AD 33 he gave this as the most important evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Peter says “it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24) So why was it impossible for death to keep its hold on him – Jesus claimed to be equal with God the Father because he was God, death could not finally defeat him. Peter even quoted from Psalm 16, written thousands of years before Jesus was born, that God would not abandon Jesus to the grave: “nor will you let your Holy One see decay,” adding that the Psalmist King David “spoke of the resurrection of Christ”
Mark tells us that Jesus himself promised that he would rise again “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men, they will kill him, and after three days he will rise” (Mark 9: 31) and John said that Jesus promised that he would return to heaven: “in my father’s house are many rooms....I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). Jesus had to rise from the dead to keep this promise, he came to defeat death, and give eternal life to all who trust in him, these were no empty promises.
We do have eye witnesses to the resurrection:
Author Brian Edwards writes that: All four Gospels claim that it was women who first saw Jesus alive, and this is an important thing to remember. Jesus treated women and men with equal honour and dignity but did this in a strong male-dominated society, as Jewish leaders considered women to be inferior to men, and this was the general attitude of the Pharisees and Scribes in the first century AD. A woman’s word was certainly not as important as that of a man, and that is actually what happened when the women told their story of an empty tomb to the disciples.
First eye witnesses ... Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene at the Tomb, in Matthews’ gospel we are told that Mary was sitting opposite the tomb when Joseph of Arimathea, laid the wrapped body of Jesus into it, and she watched as he rolled a big stone in front of the entrance. Pilate also put guards on the tomb to ensure no-one would steal the body. It was Mary and others who were first that morning to witness the now empty tomb, grief stricken and crying she turned to go and a voice spoke to her “Dear woman why are you crying” thinking it was the gardener asked “where have you put him and I will go and get him” “Mary” Jesus said, and as she turned to him, cried out “Master!!”. Can you imagine being in Mary’s place, in total shock and elation seeing Jesus alive and standing in front of her, desperately wanting to go up to him and touch him, but being told No!!
We are experiencing those feeling now, because of this vicious virus, not being able to touch, hug or kiss our loved ones, or even in some cases unable to say a proper goodbye, this separation is hard, but saving lives.
Jesus understood Mary’s feelings, so gently asked Mary to take a message to the disciples. What happens then.....Luke tells us “they did not believe the women because their words seemed to them like nonsense” (Luke 24:11) Peter and another disciple rush to the tomb to see for themselves.
Second eye witnesses.... Jesus joins two of his followers walking home from Jerusalem back to Emmaus, also in shock at losing a man they loved in such a brutal way. They also did not recognise Jesus, even though they talked together as they travelled and then invited this stranger to stay with them. It was not until he blessed and broke bread in their home, that their eyes were opened, then, Jesus disappears. They also had seen the risen Lord, so rush back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples.
Thirdly - many eye witnesses... Jesus that same evening appears suddenly in the locked upper room and speaks to his disciples, shows them his wounds, eats and drinks with them, disappears and comes back another time when his disciple Thomas was in the room. Jesus appeared many times to his disciples in different places, wanting to equip them with further teachings in order that they would be ready and able to take the Good News out to all the people.
The apostle Peter before his own martyred death left on record, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eye-witnesses of his majesty”.
So brothers and sisters, the evidence for the resurrection cannot be denied, Jesus came to take away our sin and to change our lives, and because of his total sacrifice, dying on the cross, and his resurrection, we now have a firm relationship with God that grows stronger as we continue to learn more about what God wants to do in our lives. We are all facing such a crisis in this world, and lives are being lost on major scales, we are also separated from each other, cut off and isolated, but are we?........I say to you, let us all remember that we are:-
United in our faith,
United in our prayers,
United with other Christians all over the world,
United in our love for one another,
United in our faith, and our trust in God, who is the creator of heaven and earth.
This does not mean we are immune to sadness, illness or loss, but we do believe that Jesus died and rose again, John writes “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.
Jesus is alive today, ready to hear us when we call on him, he listens and responds, what a saviour, and what a promise.... that a new eternal future is ahead of us.