Together Series – Forgiveness

Readings for this week April 11 – 15
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings.

Together - Cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 1  – Who Would Stand a Chance?

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Psalm 30
Perhaps we struggle to offer forgiveness because deep down we haven’t been able to accept forgiveness ourselves? Perhaps I don’t deserve forgiveness!

The Psalmists would answer uniquivically, No! No one deserves forgiveness. In Psalm 130 the writer cries out to God from a very dark place, from ‘the depths’. The Message puts it:

If you, God, kept records on wrongdoings,
    who would stand a chance?
As it turns out, forgiveness is your habit,
    and that’s why you’re worshiped.

Mostly we like to think of ourselves as fairly ok people – no worse than anyone else, and better than many. But in God’s book none of us come up to scratch through our own efforts. Rather than wallowing in his dark place, the psalmist accepts his pitiable state but reached out in hope, based on the nature of God.

“But with you there is forgiveness” or “Forgiveness is your habit”. It’s part of God’s nature, an expression of his mercy.

It’s this same nature that God is intent on growing in us, so that forgiveness, the characteristic of offering undeserved mercy is something that will natually flow out of us, as children who reflect the character of their Father. We are to forgive, not because of the circumstances, or how we feel, but because we have seen and experienced forgiveness ourselves, and forgiveness is the character of God and by extension, the character of his people.

Questions to Consider
Why do we find it hard not to keep a record of wrongs?

Are we reluctant to let people “off the hook”?

Perhaps it would help to see forgiveness as handing the person over to God who is the perfect and just judge.

Prayer
Heavenly Father, may I never lose sight of how gracious and forgiving you have been to me. Develop in me the capacity to willingly offer forgiveness, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2  – Extending Forgiveness

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 6: 9-15
 “It was in a church in Munich that I saw him—a balding, heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives. It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favourite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown. ‘When we confess our sins,’ I said, ‘God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever. …’

The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room. And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the centre of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were! [Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent.]

Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’ And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women? But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze. ‘You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,’ he was saying, ‘I was a guard there.’ No, he did not remember me. ‘But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,’ again the hand came out— ‘will you forgive me?’

And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. For I had to do it—I knew that.

The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. ‘If you do not forgive men their trespasses,’ Jesus says, ‘neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.’ I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that. And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘… Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’ And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’ For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then”

-Corrie Ten Boom

Questions to Consider
“Forgiveness is an act of the will”. How do you respond to this statement?

Do I refuse to forgive because I want the right ‘feelings’ first? Reread Corrie’s experience in the last two paragraphs. Did feelings or ‘will’ have the upper hand? Can I expect God to do the impossible if I will not take the first step?

Prayer
Gracious God, help me to humbly accept your command to forgive others and make the conscious choice to forgive despite my feelings. Help me trust you with the hurt and disappointments that I carry. May a willingness to extend forgiveness become more and more a part of my character, through the power of your Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3  – The Rope

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Romans 12:2
One would like to think that after being able to forgive a Nazi guard from the concentration camp where her sister died, Corrie ten Boom would not have struggled with forgiving small issues between friends and family. But it was not so. Reflecting on forgiveness she wrote, “If there’s one thing I’ve learned at 80 years of age, it’s that I can’t store up good feelings and behaviour–but only draw them fresh from God each day.”

Following repeated disturbed sleep, rehearsing wrongs done to her, it was an elderly sexton whose advice helped:

““Up in that church tower,” he said, nodding out the window, “is a bell which is rung by pulling on a rope. But you know what? After the sexton lets go of the rope, the bell keeps on swinging. First ding then dong. Slower and slower until there’s a final dong and it stops.

“I believe the same thing is true of forgiveness. When we forgive someone, we take our hand off the rope. But if we’ve been tugging at our grievances for a long time, we mustn’t be surprised if the old angry thoughts keep coming for a while. They’re just the ding-dongs of the old bell slowing down.”

And so it proved to be. There were a few more midnight reverberations, a couple of dings when the subject came up in my conversation. But the force–which was my willingness in the matter–had gone out of them. They came less and less often and at last stopped altogether.

And so I discovered another secret of forgiveness: that we can trust God not only above our emotions, but also above our thoughts.”

Questions to Consider
Do I harbour angry thoughts? Try using the image of letting go of the rope, asking God to help you let go of replaying old wounds and unhelpful thoughts.

Prayer
Father God, I want to stop tugging on the same old grievances, and I am trusting you to renew my mind as I offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – They Don’t Know What They’re Doing

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 23:32-34
In speaking of unforgiveness we often use the image of holding on tight to something, or being unwilling to let go of a hurt or offence. Perhaps no image better reflects the opposite attitude of forgiveness, than Jesus hanging on the cross. His arms spread wide, nails piecing his hands; hands that had relinquished any sense of grasping or greed, any sense of entitlement or self preservation. More than any other solitary human being Jesus had a justifiable cause for feeling hard done by and mistreated. Yet in the middle of an agonising death he let go of any right to accuse or blame. Instead he lifts up to his Father those who rejected and insulted him, plotted against him and tortured him, and asked that they might be forgiven. He was not endorsing their choices, but rather acknowledging that they did not understand or comprehend what they were doing.

What a challenge for each of us to find it in ourselves to offer the same compassion in situations where we could instead choose resentment. How quick we can be to not only hold on to a hurt or insult, but then to also attribute knowing and malicious intention on the part of the person who offends us. Jesus shows us a better way. Jesus’ willingness to let go and commit all judgement to God was based on his understanding of the finite capacity of humanity and the infinite wisdom and mercy of his Father.

Questions to Consider
Have I ever hurt or offended someone without intending to?

Why then is it so easy to assume deliberate intent in others?

How can I choose to let go of offences? Who is hurt if I refuse to?

Do I trust God to deal fairly with an offender?

Prayer
Lord Jesus, even in the tragedy of the cross you modelled complete trust in your Father, his justice, his mercy, and his never-ending love. Help me not to add insult to injury by assuming the worst in others’ motives. Teach me in difficult situations to suspend my judgement and to hand others over to you. Show me how to relinquish resentment and with open hands offer forgiveness, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5  – How Many Times!

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 18:21-35
Isn’t there a limit? Isn’t there a point at which I’ve done enough in showing I’m the ‘bigger person’, willing to offer an olive branch? What Peter’s question is showing is that he is really only willing to put off revenge. He’ll forgive once or twice… but then it’s more than can be expected, and a cold shoulder, or worse, is more than fair! In essence, this attitude towards forgiving others is not forgiveness at all.

Jesus’ words are very strong here, and we would rather not face them head on. Seventy times seven? Don’t even think about counting, just do it, because there are consequences. He isn’t asking us to ‘forgive and forget’, acting as if nothing ever happened. At times hard conversations must be had and consequences spelt out. But, “the key thing is that one should never, ever give up making forgiveness and reconciliation one’s goal. If confrontation has to happen, as it often does, it must always be with forgiveness in mind, never revenge” NT Wright.

Forgiveness isn’t merely about what is offered to the other; it is about what happens in us. “Forgiveness is more like the air in your lungs. There’s only room for you to inhale the next lungful when you’ve just breathed out the previous one. If you insist on withholding it, refusing someone else the kiss of life they may desperately need, you won’t be able to take any more in yourself. The ‘heart’…if it’s open, able and willing to forgive others… it will also be open to receive God’s love and forgiveness. But if it’s locked up to the one, it will be locked up to the other” NT Wright.

Question to Consider
What do you make of this quote?

Prayer
Father God, change my heart. Show me where I harbour unforgiveness. May I be open to others and open before you, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Easter Series – Week 5

Readings for this week April 4 – 8.
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings.

Easter 16 - Booklet Front

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 1 – A Twist in the Tale

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 24:44
Jesus doesn’t come right out and say “I told you so”, but it must have been tempting. Time for explanations, to reveal plainly what was the case all along. Jesus explained to his disciples everything had happened just the way he said it would, even if his disciples weren’t able to understand at the time.

It was important for the disciples (and us) to understand the way in which what had happened to Jesus was an integral part of God’s plan for his people and his world. Jesus was not trying to piece together some kind of grand narrative out of the extraordinary events of his recent history. Those extraordinary events were the fulfilment of all that God had previously revealed to his people.

The story that God had been unfolding the whole time – right from the foundations of creation – was still unfolding, and his people were still a part of it. But it had taken twists and turns that even the most observant and zealous follower couldn’t see coming. And now Jesus himself was explaining to the “eyewitnesses and servants of the word” that everything that had happened had been in fulfilment of what had been written about him in the “Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Jesus himself showed his followers how scripture had been fulfilled – and they in turn passed it on to those who followed. And those who would follow. And we in turn faithfully pass it on to others who will follow us.

Question to Consider
Why do you think the disciples never quite understood or believed what Jesus had previously said about what would happen to him?

Prayer
Father God, thank you that by your Spirit you reveal yourself to us anew, and guide and inspire us in all we do. May my faithfulness mirror your faithfulness to us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – Intended All Along

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 24:45-48
One of the things Jesus wanted his disciples to understand was that the crucifixion was not some horrible mistake, or some sort of obstacle that needed to be overcome. Jesus wasn’t trying to make the best of a bad situation, or explain away an unpleasant event that everyone would prefer had never happened. His crucifixion and death were a necessary part of God’s redemptive plan for his creation, and he wanted to reassure his followers of that. Only through his death and resurrection are our sins washed away. Only now that this had happened could the disciples share the good news that repentance and the forgiveness of sins had come through the crucified and risen Christ.

Hence his description of the disciples as ‘witnesses’: Not only had they witnessed the events surrounding Jesus and his words and actions, but they were also witnesses to Jesus’ desire that they spread the good news about all that they had seen. The use of the word ‘witness’ shows that a major part of what Jesus expects of those who have seen and heard what God has done in and through Jesus, is to carry that news to others.

The use of the word witness here was to become more and more familiar as time went on, more familiar in the biblical text and more familiar in the early church and its world. It became a standard word to refer to the followers of Jesus: witnesses to him and to what he proclaimed.

Question to Consider
What difference is there between viewing the crucifixion as a mistake in need of explanation, and seeing it as a necessary part of God’s plan? How does our view change our response to it?

Prayer
Loving Father, help me be a better witness to your love and goodness, and proclaim and explain who you are and what you have lovingly done for your creation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – When is an Ending Not an Ending?

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 24:49-53
The ascension makes for a dramatic, eye-popping ending, but it isn’t really an ending at all – it’s a beginning, and not just because we can pop a couple of books over to the Acts of the Apostles and find out what happens next. At the close of the gospel the earthly ministry of Jesus is over; the focus now moves from what he did while incarnate among us to what his spirit-filled people will do in obedience to the task Jesus has laid upon them. The story will continue with the people of God taking the message of Jesus to the entire world.

However, this work is not work that they (and we) could do unless they were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, power “from on high”. The spirit that was at work in Jesus is the same spirit he now promises to his followers to continue the work he started. We do not see the coming of the Holy Spirit in this passage (that is something that Luke saves for the sequel!). But we do see the promise.

Jesus came to offer hope and life to all. Right from the start of his ministry we see time and again the fact that Jesus brings God’s blessing, and fulfils God’s promise to his people and to the world. The words of blessing and worship in these verses are entirely appropriate to this theme of the promise of hope and blessing that has come to the world and to all people through Jesus.

Question to Consider
What is important about the Ascension of Jesus? What is the significance of the Ascension for you? How it is intimately linked to the crucifixion and resurrection?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, thank you for your son. Thank you for the sacrifice of the cross, the resurrection of your son, and the new life in the Spirit that flows from this. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – “Peace Be With You”

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – John 20:19-20
Can you imagine the scene as the few remaining followers of Jesus fearfully huddle in their little room, starting at every sound outside the door, petrified they may be uncovered at any moment? Nervously chatting about what they have seen and heard throughout the day now ending? Mary Magdalene at the body-less tomb; Peter and the disciple Jesus loved rushing to see the empty tomb; Mary’s encounter with Jesus – the excitement, bewilderment and fear in the room would have been palpable.

And then Jesus himself appears in the midst of them! And the first thing out of his mouth is the utterly ridiculous phrase “Peace be with you.” At a time like this? When the dead are coming back to life and the living are being marked for death Jesus talks of peace. That they reacted with noticeable jumpiness and fear suggests they weren’t quite ready to hear that yet. Even with all they had already experienced, and the conversations some of them had had with Jesus, they still couldn’t quite believe he was really there – they still wanted to see his hands and side.

But Jesus comes bringing peace as he had earlier promised he would do (see John 14:27 and 16:33). It is through this peace that he brings that his followers will be able to do the work he has prepared for them. All that God has planned for his people to do is waiting to be begun. The peace of God that he brings prepares his people for the task. But peace isn’t all he bestows upon them. With his very next breath he gives them something even more powerful and wonderful.

Question to Consider
What does Jesus mean when he says “Peace be with you”? How have you experienced this peace in your life?

Prayer
Father, thank you for your peace that passes all understanding. Thank you that what you ask us is not beyond us when we walk with you. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – The Breath of the Spirit

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – John 20:21-23
It might seem contradictory, but one of the most freeing truths that we can grasp hold of – and let grasp hold of us – is the fact that we cannot do what God asks of us. We can’t. The task he sets before us, the task he commands us to undertake, is simply too much for us. We have no hope of pulling it off ourselves. If we ever need to be reminded of this fact, all we need to do is re-read verse 23: if you forgive someone’s sins, then they are forgiven them. But surely only God can forgive sins? Well, yes, only God can forgive sins but, staggeringly in this passage, the disciples learn that God is going to forgive sins through them. Unbelievable! The forgiveness or otherwise of sins is going to be in the hands of us, the followers of Jesus!

But notice one vitally important point. Power and authority to forgive sins was given to the disciples after Jesus had breathed his spirit upon them. It is God’s work that we do, and we do it under the direction and in the power of his spirit. We, as followers of Jesus, are to do in and for the world what we have witnessed Jesus doing in and for the world.

“As the Father sent me so I am sending you,” Jesus says. And he sends us with his spirit. We don’t have to try and accomplish everything Jesus did all over again. He has already done it. As N.T. Wright explains “There is all the difference in the world between something being achieved and something being implemented.” (John for Everyone, Part Two, Chapters 11-21) Jesus has achieved the victory over death and begun the work of new creation. We, in the power of his same spirit, are to implement this victory and new life throughout the world.

Question to Consider
What is the symbolism of Jesus breathing on them? What other breath does this allude to? Why?

Prayer
Lord God, thank you once again for the promise and the gift of your Holy Spirit, our guide and comforter and so much more. Help me live more of each moment in, and commit each thought to, your spirit. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Easter Series – Week 4

Readings for this week March 28 – April 1
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Easter 16 - Booklet Front

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 1  – Anticipation

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – John 20: 1-10
Mary Magdalene has raised the alarm and Peter and John immediately head for the tomb, wanting to see for themselves, wanting to know beyond all doubt what has happened to Jesus. Swiss painter  Eugene Burnard captures through posture and expression the complex flood of emotions of these two disciples.

disciples

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you study this painting, what reactions can you identify with?

Determination, desperation, apprehension, urgency, hope?

Peter rushes into the tomb and sees the linen still in place, undisturbed as if it has merely collapsed. But it is John, the Beloved Disciple, who enters second, who “saw and believed.” Later Thomas will refuse to believe until he sees Jesus for himself. Jesus grants him that opportunity but commends those who will choose to believe without seeing. For us, coming later on the scene as it were, John is an important rolemodel. He does not see Jesus in the garden, only the evidence of the graveclothes and the empty tomb. He sees that God has been at work through stone and fabric. He believes in a God who acts in history. John writes his gospel that we might also believe. “Jesus is not an idea whose ongoing validity finds a home in our ideas or our ethics. Jesus is a person – he is God incarnate in human history – and in coming history, he has left marks that we can see and measure and trust” Gary Burge.

Questions to Consider

This Easter ask God to meet you in a new way. What emotions might accompany such an encounter? Share these with God.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, as I contemplate your sacrifice on the cross, and your resurrection and reunion with your followers, help me to be open to meeting you in new, perhaps surprising ways. In your precious name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2  – Through Tears

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God

Scripture Reading – John 20:11-13
Mary has returned to the garden, to the empty tomb. Jesus is not there, but she has gone on loving and believing in him even when she doesn’t understand. She stands weeping, consumed with grief. And it is in the midst of such raw human emotions that angels are sent to greet her. “Woman, why are you weeping?” “They have taken my Lord away” she manages to reply.

Stand with Mary as she looks into the tomb, the place of buried hopes, of lost opportunities. Maybe you can stand in this place with someone else. There is an invitation to name the losses. They have taken away…my home, my husband, my children, my job, my rights, my dignity, my hopes, my life.

God meets us, not despite our grieving, but in the midst of our grieving.

Embracing Hope

Loving Gardner of Life
turn my time of sorrow
toward a season of hope.
I yearn to be free from sadness.
May the eyes of my faith
look beyond my loss
and see the promise of spring
that follows every winter.

Never-Ending Source of Hope
may the power of the Resurrection
assure me of future happiness.
I hold out my downcast spirit to you
and offer you my trusting heart.
I await the healing I need,
confident that your grace
will restore my inner peace.

Joyce Rupp

Questions to Consider

What did the presence of angels in the tomb help to emphasise?

How can it help to name our fears and sorrows?

When I am overwhelmed with sorrow, what has helped? Can I offer this to someone else?

Prayer

Heavenly Father, meet me in the sorrowful places of my life, or in the places of those I bring before you. Show me how to truly bring these to you and learn to look through the immediate pain to the reality of your unfailing presence, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3  – In a Spiced Garden

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – John 20: 14-16
She did not recognise him. Perhaps she still faced the tomb, or perhaps her eyes were still full of tears. Perhaps she just couldn’t recognise what she didn’t expect to see. A typical sequence in John’s gospel, Mary gets the wrong idea and it takes the one who came to be a light to the world, to “enlighten” her. Nor is she alone in such a mistake. The two on the Emmaus Road and the disciples fishing at dawn will not recognise the risen Jesus either. She assumes him to be the gardener, and even now, in her anguish, she is ready to serve her Lord and Master, offering to take his body away if only she is told where he is.

On one level she has got it wrong. On deeper level it is completely right. “Here he is: the new Adam, the gardener, charged with bringing the chaos of God’s creation into new order, into flower, into fruitfulness. He has come to uproot the thorns and thistles and replace them with blossoms and harvests” NT Wright.

We miss much of the imagery and symbolic links to Hebrew scripture which John’s first readers would have clearly seen. This garden was full of spices (19:39) and Mary meeting the one she loves and yearns to be with conjured up imagery from Song of Songs. The setting points towards intimacy and union and renewal.

Again the question is asked, “Why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” There is a hint that where she is looking and what she is looking for is not quite right. How easy it is for us to look for God in the wrong places, perhaps in the way we have always known. And to expect him to look and behave as we have known in the past. Jesus is hinting that something very new is here. And what was Jesus’ choice in revealing himself? Not through explanation or censure, but by relationship. “Mary.” This is the beloved coming to the loved one.

Questions to Consider

Am I ready to encounter Jesus in whatever way or place he chooses?

Prayer

Jesus, thank you that you know me by name, and that you cherish a unique relationship with me.  Give me eyes to look for you as you choose to appear, and a heart to seek you in whatever places you chose to work. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Intimacy

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – John 20:17, 19-22
In such an intimate scene, why does Jesus make this strange statement? While some translations have, “Do not touch me” the sense is closer to not “clinging to”, or “holding back” or “Don’t try to keep me, to possess me.” Very shortly Jesus will invite Thomas to touch is hands and side. He goes to some length to display that he is not ghost. So he cannot just be avoiding physical touch. Throughout John’s gospel Jesus has been clear that he came from the Father and is to return to the Father. Yes, he is the Jesus that they know, and yet he is different. In fact the whole world is different!

Jesus hasn’t returned to take up life as normal with his disciples. In fact, he is alive with a different sort of life altogether. Mary is being encouraged not to expect to relate to him as she had, to have him physically present as she had known him. In letting go of the old relationship what becomes possible is an even closer, immediate, and constant relationship. While he would come and go from the disciples for a time, he was completing his mission and was in the process of ascending to the Father. Only through this return to God would it be possible for an even more intimate closeness. Shortly Jesus would meet with his followers and initiate them into this spiritual intimacy through the coming of the Holy Spirit – Jesus’ Spirit. What Mary longed for in the garden would be realised in the Upper Room v22.

Questions to Consider

Do you think of God as near or far?

Ask God for a new intimacy and sense of his presence, closer than breathing, nearer than hands and feet.

Use the words of this old hymn as a closing prayer:

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
fill me with life anew,
that I may love what thou dost love,
and do what thou wouldst do.
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
until my heart is pure,
until with thee I will one will, to do and to endure.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5  – Witness

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – John 20:17-18
Reread this intimate and remarkable story of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene. She had gone alone in the dark of early morning to the tomb, only to discover it opened and empty. She had run to find Peter and raise the alarm. Returning again to the tomb after the disciples had left she is greeted by angels and is the first to encounter Jesus himself.

Throughout the gospel Jesus had spoken often of “the Father” or “my Father.” His followers had been “disciples” “servants” or “friends.” But something seismic has occurred. A decisive shift has been achieved. Jesus tells Mary, “Go instead to my brothers and tell them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” A new relationship has sprung into life.

Mary’s desire to cling to her Lord must be suspended for Jesus has a task for her. Mary is commissioned to be the messenger to the disciples. Rarely would a woman be tasked as a messenger, let alone be considered a credible witness. Jesus confers on her a deep honour. She is Mary of Magdala, and Magdalene connotes the Hebrew migdal or “tower.” This woman, once oppressed by demons and liberated by Jesus (Luke 8) now takes on a prophetic role, announcing the reality of the resurrection. Her message is, “I have seen the Lord!”

Five words, first hand evidence. Is this not the message each of us is charged with sharing? Granted, we may not have physically ‘seen’ Jesus, although there are many reports, particularly coming from the Muslim world, of Jesus appearing to individuals. But as we ‘see’ and experience Jesus at work in our own lives and those around us, this can be our testimony as well, “I have seen the Lord!”

Questions to Consider

Do I feel I am not a very good witness for Jesus? Talk to God about this.

Do I feel I need lots of clever answers to be a witness? Consider Mary’s message.

What is the difference between being “disciples” or “friends” and being “brother” or “sister”?

Prayer

Almighty God, I thank you and praise you for all you accomplished through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son, Jesus. I am humbled to be able to call you Father. May I be bold to share the truth of your life in me with those you wish to welcome into your family. In Jesus precious name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Easter Series – Week 3

Readings for this week March 21 – 25
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

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Day 1 – The Time of Death

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 27:57-61
In between the horror of the crucifixion and death of Jesus, and the miracle of his resurrection and the empty tomb, is a silent tomb. Jesus is dead. Hopes are dashed. Some people mourn the death of their friend and their dreams, and the death of the loyal, loving people they thought they were. Others neither know nor care.  Friday has been and gone. A body lies in a tomb. Life is gone, with nothing new in its place. Saturday comes and Jesus is still dead. So much for him and his promises.

There was a period of death for Jesus. He did not just die and then automatically spring back to life, a gone-one-minute-back-the-next event more akin to something from a magician’s stage act. Part of Jesus’ Easter experience is death, the fullness of death, the absence of death, the unavoidable committing of himself into the hands of God as he falls into the place where all must go but from where none return.

What are we to make of the silent tomb? What are we to make of Easter Saturday, the day in between, when God is silent and Jesus is dead?

Because death is part of his followers’ Easter experience and our Easter experience too. And not just at Easter, although Easter Saturday is a reminder that there are times when it seems that God is absent; when it seems like nothing has changed, or can ever change; when things are most hopeless. And that time is often brought home to us in death, whether the thought, or reality, of our own or someone else’s. Sometimes we do find ourselves in the midst of Easter Saturday, in the midst of death, and though we may not wish to, it is a day that must be walked on the way to Resurrection Sunday.

Question to Consider
When you think of the time that Jesus spent in the grave, what do you think of? Why?

Prayer
Loving Father, sometimes you seem so far from me. But even in the darkness of death I know you are there, even if I cannot see or feel you. Give me strength to make it through my Easter Saturdays. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – He Is Not Here

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 28:1-7
“He is not here.” Four very simple words, nothing out of the ordinary about them. We have probably heard them many times, in many different contexts, usually based around situations when someone is not home when visited or not around when called up on the phone. For us, such usage implies that the visitor or caller simply has the wrong place; they came to or called the place they expected the person to be, the most likely place to find them. They just got it wrong. With a bit more information and a slight change of plan, contact can be made and the person reached.

But in this passage “He is not here” is a shocking, world-shaking, gut-wrenching thing to hear. It is inconceivable that Jesus could be anywhere else. He is dead, he is buried, the mourners themselves were part of the burial. There is nowhere else for him to be. His body is in the grave – this is the way of the dead.

Imagine how horrible that initial “He is not here” must have been to the grieving mourners come to anoint the corpse of Jesus. The body of their loved one gone? What has happened? What would you think if you went to visit the grave of a recently deceased friend or relative, only to be told at the cemetery gates “He/she is not here”? Has there been an accident? A landslide? The grave desecrated, the body stolen? Grave robbers? What has happened?

Question to Consider
How do you think the women were feeling on their way to the tomb? Why might “He is not here” obscure the angel’s next sentence “He is risen”?

Prayer
Lord God, you are the God of the impossible, the God of surprise, the God we sometimes lose sight of because we don’t expect to find you in the people and places you dwell. Help me look further and deeper to see those unexpected times and places where and when you are. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – A Living Story

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 1 Corinthians 15:1-3
This is Paul’s origin story, his story of the origin of the people of Jesus. This is where we come from, says Paul, and this is what the community is founded upon – the crucial, all-important bedrock that defines the community’s existence. And this momentous foundation, this glorious new thing that God has done, is just the most recent – and wholly decisive – moment in a much longer story, a story found in the scriptures of Israel, the very scriptures that help explain why this event is so important.

The foundation is Jesus himself, and the transforming event that opens this next chapter of the story is the resurrection. The resurrection is the key for Paul, that will help tell the struggling Corinthians (and us, and all other followers of Jesus) who they are and whereabouts in God’s great story they currently are.

The Corinthians are in danger of forgetting the story and their place in it. Throughout this letter Paul has been trying to get them to see where they fit in the story, how Jesus was Israel’s messiah, and that they (and us), as messiah-led resurrection people, have an important part to play in the way the story will unfold from this point on. You are the messiah’s people, he tells them, living in the power and promise of his resurrection. Don’t forget that. Take it on board. Live in the light and power of his resurrection every day and all the little things that are currently distracting you and tripping you up will suddenly become clear. The resurrection changes everything – if you will let it.

Question to Consider
How does the resurrection change the story for you?

Prayer
Lord God, thank you for the resurrection of your son and what it means for us. Help me live each day in the power of the resurrection, offering myself to others in love, and inviting them to take their place in your story. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – This Is Real

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 1 Corinthians 15:4-11
The resurrection is an astonishing event to contemplate. It cuts against the grain of everything we know and experience as human beings. Death is final. There is no return. It is not the way of things for a human life to end, only to continue on afterwards.

But it happened. As incredible as it seemed at the time – and still seems now – it happened. This is something that Paul is at pains to point out to the Corinthians. He is passing on what he received, he is telling them exactly what was passed on to him, by the people who were there, who witnessed what had happened and reported what they saw, amongst whom – belatedly – he includes himself. All of them can corroborate what he is saying.

Paul is not some sort of lone ranger apostle out on his own, making up his own rules and his own Gospel. He is part of a community – one large community made of many scattered smaller ones – with a history and tradition of its own. A tradition that it seems many people were determined to question and undermine, especially when it came to the veracity of the resurrection.

So Paul tells the story again, and grounds the story in reality. The truth of the Christian story is not some nebulous, eternal truth wafting aimlessly and unfettered through the air. These are real events that happened, that were witnessed and reported.

Question to Consider
What do you think the disciples made of Jesus’ earlier statements about his resurrection? What is important about the fact that, at this point in the story, an explanation is still to come?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, thank you for all that you are and all you have done. Thank you for Easter and for your son. My words are inadequate – may my response be my life, given back to you in gratitude for your son. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – If No Resurrection, Then…

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 1 Corinthians 15:12-19
If the resurrection is not true, then all people are to be pitied. For if no resurrection, then this life – the here and now, this place, these bodies, this existence – is all there is. And therefore the only life that so many people have ever known and will ever know is a life of unremitting pain, poverty, anguish and loss with no hope of escape.

If no resurrection, then no chance for God to right wrongs and offer comfort to the oppressed and rejected, so many of whom are no longer here and therefore beyond any help that may be given here and now.

If no resurrection, then no judgement, which at first glance might seem somewhat appealing, but without judgement there is also no mercy and no justice either, as these things come together.

If no resurrection, then no promises of God can be believed – no promise of eternal life, no promise of new creation, no promise of all things put right under the sovereign lordship of the Creator God.

And we are to be pitied even more than all others. For if no resurrection, then all that we believe is founded upon a lie, and all that we preach, speak, act, live is founded upon the same lie. The resurrection is promise, is hope, the revelation of the heart of God’s plan for the whole of creation.

The empty tomb, the discarded grave clothes, the risen body of Jesus, the wounds in his renewed flesh – the resurrection is real, it is true, and all that it signifies, entails, promises, is also real, is also true.

Question to Consider
How would your life be different without the reality of the resurrection? How does the resurrection play out in your daily life?

Prayer
Sovereign Lord, thank you for the promise of the resurrection. Thank you that you are a God of promise, who offers hope and life for all people and all creation through your son. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Easter Series – Week 2

Readings for this week March 14 – 18
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings.

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Day 1  – Watch With Me

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 26:36-38
As we approach the culmination of the Passion, the act that will accomplish the redemption of the world, it is a moment of divine intervention, God’s act alone. And yet at the same moment Matthew paints a most poignant glimpse into the very humanness of Jesus as he faces going to the cross.

We have seen Jesus sad at various times throughout his life. We have sensed his frustrations, his anger, seen tension within his family, yet he has always remained the strong figure ready with a story, a word of encouragement or command, and always holding up the vision of the Kingdom of God. It was the disciples who had problems and questions; Jesus was the one who had the answers. Yet here in Gethsemane we see a man alone, struggling to face the horrors that are coming his way. And in his aloneness he asks his disciples to stay close. Taking the three closest to him a little further on he doesn’t even ask them to pray, only to “stay here, and keep watch with me.” Jesus turns to his Father, but he also needs his friends to sustain him at this moment of greatest need.

We may not have considered how Jesus, the Son of God, could have had such needs. Here we gain a little more understanding of the incarnation, God coming to us as a human being, vulnerable and needy. In our own vulnerability and need it is good to be able to call on others to wait and watch with us. Words aren’t always necessary or even desirable. It is the presence of others that comforts and strengthens us. Do not be afraid to be present in someone’s suffering because we fear not having the right words. Just being there can be gift enough.

Questions to Consider
Is it surprising that Jesus reveals his grief and aggitation to the disciples?

What might Jesus have hoped for from his disciples?

When has someone’s presence meant more than their words?

Prayer
Lord Jesus, you shared your whole life with your friends. Help me share my life with a few that I trust, and also be willing to just be present and wait with those who need comfort and support, relying on the help of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2  – My Fear, Your Will

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God

Scripture Reading – Matthew 26:39
Jesus had embraced his mission to be obedient to his Father; his mission to reveal the love of the Father to a broken and rebellious world. Early in his ministry he had faced temptation in the wilderness, the option of taking what was rightfully his through power rather than through sacrifice and suffering. Now in Gethsemane, when he knows “the hour is at hand” for him to suffer and die, he again faces the temptation to reject this path. He falls to the ground in a posture of abject humility bringing his very real human fear and grief before his Father. “Jesus has demonstrated a complete confidence in his Father’s sovereign power and perfect will throughout his life, so at this moment of greatest temptation, he turns to his Father for guidance” Michael J Wilkins.

Here we have the supreme example of honesty and trustfulness in prayer. Jesus could be completely real with his Father because his relationship was secure. Do we realise that God offers us just such a relationship, where pretence and formality are not necessary? A relationship where our honest and raw emotions do not threaten God.

While the prospect of pain and death was dreadful, it was the prospect of separation from the Father that was the greater horror. In being the one who had no sin, being made sin for us (2 Cor 5:21) Jesus faced an alienation he had never known. As we come to God in prayer it can be easy to fear an alienation, a gulf that seems insurmountable. In truth, there is no gulf, no alienation, for Jesus, through his death and resurrection has bridged the gap and has brought us near (Ephes 2: 15-22).

Questions to Consider
How important was knowing God’s will in Jesus’ ability to face the future?

How can we learn God’s will?

Having faith is not the same as pretending. Discuss the need for honesty when talking with God.

Prayer
Heavenly Father, help me come to you in honesty and humility, ready to share my feelings and fears. Help me pray with Jesus, “Your will be done”, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3  – Watch and Wait

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 26:40-41
They couldn’t stay awake. They couldn’t wait and watch with Jesus. Take a few minutes to sit down with the disciples:

Its pitch dark. The only sound is the gentlest of breezes rustling the olive trees.

You draw your cloak around you and watch Jesus walk off through the trees.

Suddenly he falls to the ground and the silence is broken by deep sobs, like you’ve never heard before. This is your Master, your leader, but showing a vulnerability you’ve never seen in him before.

What are the questions that arise in your mind?

Do you feel helpless….scared….confused?

Did you think Jesus, the Son of God, could be so emotional?

Do you think Jesus has doubts about his mission?

Do you try to come up with solutions?

How do you try to pray?

What do you ask God to do?

What do you hold onto?   What do you let go of?

Why is waiting so difficult? What does it ask of us?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, teach me how to wait with you. Show me what things I have to give up, and how I resist not being in control. Let my willingness to spend time being still with you be a sign that I am open to allowing you to work in my life, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


 Day 4 – Learned Obedience

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 26: 41-44
Jesus returns to his sleepy eyed disciples. Addressing Peter, The Message reads, “Can’t you stick it out with me a single hour? Stay alert; be in prayer so you don’t wander into temptation without even knowing you’re in danger. There is a part of you that is eager, ready for anything in God. But there’s another part that’s as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.” Jesus knew that while they were currently only tempted to sleep, very shortly the temptation will be to deny knowing him at all. Here he compares the human spirit and its aspirations with human nature that is impacted by sin. Willingness and weakness so often go hand in hand.

We all know the frustration of desiring to live by ideals and in harmony with God and others, but so often failing to meet our own good intentions let alone God’s standards of grace and forgiveness. Jesus is trying to teach his disciples, and us, that it is through the apparent simplicity of watching and praying that we are able to submit our own will and develop obedience to God’s will. Being still involves the very difficult act of surrender. Michael Wilkins writes, “Spiritual disciplines of watching and praying enable the spiritual heart to direct all aspects of a person’s human nature so that the entire person is obedient to God’s call.”

As Jesus prays alone for a second time, there is a conscious recognition that this last and greatest test, this cup, will not be taken away. Being attentive to his Father has produced an acceptance and recommitment, “your will be done.” Later in Hebrews we read that Jesus “learned obedience from what he suffered” Heb 5:8. The disciples have not learned obedience – they are still sleepy.

Questions to Consider
Do I make time to just wait before God? What is difficult in doing this?

Who is in charge in prayer times?

When have times of suffering taught you valuable lessons?

Prayer
Lord Jesus, thank you for being our model, for your utter dependence on your Father, your willingness to surrender and be obedient even when that obedience led to suffering and death. Holy Spirit help me in waiting before God, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5  – Divine Inevitability

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 26:45-46
In The Divine Comedy, the medieval poet Dante has his hero journey from Good Friday through to Easter Sunday. Along the way he visits the souls in Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. One of the characters encountered expresses her complete joy in the statement, “In His will is our peace.” It is a reflection of Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”

This is also the lesson Matthew draws out in the final chapters of his gospel. Jesus’ mission has been carried out amidst duplicity and political manoeuvring. The crowds hail him as a miracle worker one moment, then deride and curse him the next. It appears that Jesus ministry is spiralling out of control. The religious elite plot to take his life, one of the twelve betrays him, the others deny him, and the path of humiliation and death seems inevitable. “Yet behind the scenes God holds the spiral firmly in control. The events will transpire tragically, but not hopelessly because divine inevitability controls the outcome” M J Wilkins.

What are the areas we face that seem to be spinning out of control? Are we tempted to judge things as hopeless, the way the world judges by appearance. Or can we exercise the eyes of faith and encourage ourselves by saying “divine inevitability controls the outcome.” Jesus did not deny the suffering that lay ahead for him. But he looked through it and beyond it, “who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame” Heb 12:2b.

Despite a myriad of power plays and manipulations Jesus had unswerving confidence that ultimately God was in control. The sure lesson of Gethsemane is that we must follow the known will of God when we cannot see what is unknown. Peace is found not in having control of our circumstances, but by committing ourselves to the will of God. In His will is our peace.

Questions to Consider
What is the danger in leaning on our own understanding?

In what specific area do I need to “acknowledge God” today, trusting him to make the path ahead straight?

Prayer
Almighty God, I hand over all my circumstances to you today, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Easter Series – Week 1

Readings for this week March 7 – 11
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Easter 16 - Booklet Front

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Day 1 – My Body Broken for You

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Luke 22:14-20
What can be so often overlooked about the Last Supper is that it was a Passover meal. Paul didn’t just make this up; nor did Jesus. What Jesus did was take a pre-existing celebration and invest it with new meaning. Jesus and his disciples were following Jewish tradition which was in turn based on the biblical command to remember Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and the beginning of the journey to the Promised Land.

Bread and wine were important elements in the traditional Passover meal. Jesus took these symbols of Israel’s rescue and added new meanings connected with his own approaching death – meanings that would not be fully revealed and understood by the disciples until his resurrection.

Jesus body, like the bread, was broken for us. The Passover bread was unleavened because it was made without yeast. Yeast needs time to work and in their necessary haste to leave Egypt the Israelites had no time to let their bread rise. Yeast is also a symbol of sin and corruption. It gets everywhere, spreading and growing all through the dough. Even the appearance of the unleavened bread would have been a reminder of Jesus’ broken body. As David Guzik explains, “The unleavened bread used at the Passover meal had the scorch-mark ‘stripes’ and holes from baking that looked like ‘pierce’ marks. In the same way, the body of Jesus was broken for us. He was without sin (as the bread had no leaven), and his body bore stripes and was pierced (as the bread appeared to be).”

Question to Consider
What does the Lord’s Supper mean to you? Why?

Prayer
Lord God, as we enter the Lent period before Easter, help me focus upon you and the sacrifice of your son. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – A New Covenant

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (verse 25). Many people seem to think the new covenant completely obliterates the memory of the old covenant, as if the old covenant was nothing more than a bad dream that should never have happened. But in the same way that the Eucharistic meal springs forth from the Passover celebration, the old covenant is the seedbed for the new. God made a covenant with Israel, blessing them with his benevolence and the gift of the Law. They were to be his people and a light to the nations, the beginning of his solution to the plight of a world weighed down by sin and corruption. Even though they failed in this rescue mission, from within their midst came the One who would save the world from destruction, reconcile the world and its people to its Creator, and teach God’s people how to be true agents of his love and grace.

Through the actions of Jesus, this new covenant was enacted from within the story and symbols of the old. Through the actions of Jesus the elements of the Passover were transformed into the communion celebration and remembrance of his sacrifice. One of the cups used in the Passover meal was the cup of redemption. This is the cup Jesus refers to, taking this idea of redemption from Egyptian enslavement and forging a new covenant, made in and confirmed by his blood, between God and his people – his people now redefined by their allegiance to Jesus. This relationship established through the old covenant is transformed and broadened through the new covenant in Jesus’ blood.

Question to Consider
What is your understanding of the old covenant and the new covenant?

Prayer
Father God, thank you for becoming like us, and for going all the way and dying like us too. Thank you that there is nothing that we can experience that you have not also experienced. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – A Different View

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Matthew 27:46
In the 2004 film The Passion of the Christ, one of the main characters focused upon during the torture and crucifixion of Jesus, was his mother Mary. As Jesus was tried, beaten and crucified his mother, at various times, cleaning up the blood shed during his whipping, following in his wake as he was lead to Golgotha, grieving for him each step of the way, and finally cradling his body after he had been taken down from the cross.

This focus on Jesus’ mother was not only heart-rending in and of itself – the pain and suffering of a mother helplessly witnessing the torture and humiliation of her child, her first born, her promise – but such parental focus also served as a powerful analogue for God the Father’s view of the suffering of the Son.

Through the representation of the pain and anguish and loss experienced by Mary the mother, the viewer is invited to imagine the loss and anguish experienced by the Father. Through the eyes of Mary we are opened up to the experience of God the Father. What is God the Father feeling as he looks upon Jesus on the cross, bleeding, hurting, dying? What is he thinking as the blood soaks the hillside?

“Why have you forsaken me?” Jesus cries. Jesus feels alone and abandoned. Does the powerlessness of Mary to do anything match the abandonment that Jesus feels from his Father? Or does the presence of Mary highlight the difference: God is absent but she is there; Jesus cannot feel the Father’s presence any more, but he can see his Mother there, and as the Gospel of John records (19:26-27) even looks to secure her care for after his death.

Question to Consider
What do you think God the Father experiences during the crucifixion?

Prayer
Almighty God, your ways are often inscrutable to us but your identification with us is there for all to see. Thank you for being ‘God with us’. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – Bearing the Scars

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – 1 Peter 2:24-25
There was nothing special about the physical characteristics of the death of Jesus. Crucifixion was not a special method of execution; it was the standard Roman way of killing any condemned criminals, not just would-be Messiahs. And the Romans didn’t invent crucifixion, they merely perfected it as a method of torture and capital punishment.

There were so many ways you could die on a cross: acute shock from blood loss; dehydration; stress-induced heart attack; becoming too exhausted to breathe; asphyxiation; or heart failure leading to cardiac rupture. Nails were driven through nerves, insects would land on open wounds and eyes. And while being beaten and whipped was not a necessary part of the procedure, the extra punishment and torture inflicted by the soldiers would have caused excruciating pain even if you weren’t nailed to a cross afterwards, providing ample opportunity for wounds to tear and reopen.

So when Jesus said “This is my body, broken for you” to his disciples at their final meal together, it was perhaps somewhat of an understatement. Almost no part of his body would have free of the trauma of torture. His flesh would have been a mess of bruised and lacerated flesh, sliced muscle, snapped tendons and ligaments, and leaking blood. The pain would have been unbearable. Yet he bore the pain, bore the punishment and the wounds so that, as 1 Peter 2:24 says, “we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.”

Question to Consider
How have you experienced the healing power of the sacrifice of Jesus in your life? How has it made a difference for you?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, I am humbled before such love, it is almost incomprehensible that you would do this. All I can do is kneel before you and praise your name, and your love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – Easter Questions

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Spend some time meditating on a question (or questions) that may have special importance for you at this time.

What kind of universe – and what kind of God – requires the torture and sacrifice of an innocent man in order to be reconciled to its Creator?

What kind of God would take on human form in order to suffer our punishment in our place?

If you were standing with Jesus at the foot of the cross just as he was about to be crucified, what would you say to him?

Put yourself in the disciples’ place. What would be going through your mind after Jesus’ arrest?

What did God give up for you? What did you give up for God?

What will Lent look like for you this Easter and why?

What does the broken body of Jesus say to those today living with broken bodies, and with the broken bodies of others?

‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.’ Is this true for you?

What makes saying ‘But not my will but yours be done’ so hard for you?

What do the scars of Jesus mean to you?

Jesus still bore wounds post-resurrection. What is the significance of this?

Prayer
Loving Father, sometimes you seem so absent, so far from me and so unable to help me in my time of struggle. But even in the darkness I know you are there, even if I cannot see or feel you. Give me strength to make it through the times when I feel your absence. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Revelation 21 – 22

Readings for this week February 29 – March 4
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings

Revelation - booklet cover 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 1  – Approaching the End

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 21:1-8
We are coming to the end, the culmination of all John’s visions. Yet is it really correct to call it an end? Speaking of the end of history C.S. Lewis is often quoted from The Last Battle saying “all their adventures…had only been the cover and the title page: now, at last, they were beginning chapter one of the great story…” Less well known is his book Voyage to Venus in which the hero asks Tor the King about the end. “The end?” he said, “Who spoke of an end?…Your thoughts are unlike ours. About that time we shall not be far from the beginning of all things.” And Ransom said, “But what you call the beginning, we are accustomed to call the last things.” “I do not call it a beginning,” said Tor the King. “It is but a wiping out of a false start in order that the world may then begin…Or as a man setting foot on an island may make a false step. He steadies himself and, after that, his journey begins. You would not call that steadying of himself a last thing?”

John is tasked with describing the indescribable. Imagine the people of an isolated tribe, oblivious to technology, trying to describe a computer or a cell phone or an aeroplane. The words at their disposal would be inadequate. What is central to all this description, is that this beautiful new city, the symbol for the people of God, is to be God’s dwelling place. From way back in Exodus 24 God’s intention and desire was to dwell with his people. In the coming of Jesus we talk about the “incarnation” – God dwelling in human form. Here in Revelation what God did in Jesus (incarnation) he is doing on a cosmic scale. We do not go to be with God; rather God comes to be with us. In one of the most beautiful and tender passages of scripture, it is God himself who will wipe away every tear. Death, mourning, crying and pain are removed and God himself says, “I am making everything new!”

Questions to Consider
Do I fear an end rather than expectantly look for a beginning?

What would “God dwelling with us” mean?

Prayer
Loving Father, fill my heart with hopeful expectation, and remove any anxious fear of the future. Help me catch the joy and excitement of John’s vision, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2  – A Cinderella Story

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God

Scripture Reading – Revelation 21:9-27
John goes on to describe this glorious city that comes down from heaven. Its dimensions form a perfect cube, so it is clearly “constructing a symbolic universe, not an architect’s design” NT Wright. It would be about the size of the moon, or roughly the same square area as the Roman Empire in John’s time. It is the shape of the Holy of Holies in the temple. But as John notes there is no temple in this city, for the whole city has become the dwelling place of God.

This city is the Bride of Christ, the people of God. That it comes from heaven, complete and holy, tells us that it is never something humans can construct, but is God’s work, always his gift of grace and love. It is in fact something of a Cinderella story – the slave girl turned bride. And while it is a picture of our ultimate future, it also peeps through into our present reality. For if Jesus is the centre of this new reality, and Jesus is not merely a future reality, then something of the city of God, the people God loves and who become the spotless bride of Christ, can be glimpsed now. How does this happen? Through our worship and our witness – two of the main themes that thread right through the book of Revelation.

There is hint here also that the redemption God is bringing about is not merely for human ‘souls’ alone. He writes “the glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it.” There is a redeeming of human civilization, accomplishments and creativity. This should encourage us to value our everyday work. This too can be done for God and his glory (Col 3:22-24).

Questions to Consider
How does knowing that the completion and perfection of the church, the people of God, is God’s work, encourage us?

Why is there such an emphasis on worship and witness throughout this book?

Will human art and culture be part of eternity? Discuss.

Prayer
Holy God, let me be inspired with something of how you view your people. Help me open myself to your work of redemption and cleansing. Teach me to catch a glimpse of your glorious future here and now, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3  – Healing the Nations

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 22:1-5
 This great story began with a man and a woman in a garden. A river flowed out from the garden and in the middle of it was the Tree of Life. Disobedience and self-will saw the couple banished from the garden, and denied access to the Tree of Life. Here at the end, we stand in a garden city with a mighty river flowing from the throne of God. Countless multitudes inhabit the city and along the banks of the river stands the Tree of Life producing an unending crop of fruit, and whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. Again God’s victory stretches beyond just personal salvation for the individual. The gates of the city open to north, south, east and west – open to all people. This not a static picture, there is still work to be done. God accomplishes an ethnic reconciliation. The leaves are to bring healing, so that Revelation 21-22 not only answers the problem of Genesis 3, but also those of Genesis 11 at the tower of Babel.

“The whole of Christian theology is based on the goodness of creation, yet the goodness of creation consists partly in this, that it points beyond itself to the new creation. It isn’t the case that the new creation was an afterthought, a Plan B once the first creation had gone so badly wrong. Human sin has meant that God’s eventual design has had to be arrived at by a long, winding and often tear-stained and blood-spattered route, the most important tears and blood being those of God himself, in the person of the Lamb. But, as with the triumphant conclusion of Exodus, so with Revelation, the goal is achieved by the power of sheer mercy and grace, the mercy and grace through which creation is not abolished but fulfilled, not thrown away and replaced but renewed from top to bottom” NT Wright.

Questions to Consider
Why does Revelation picture a garden city, not just a return to a garden? What does a city imply?

Pray for Christians involved in working towards peace among the nations.

Prayer
Father, I praise and worship you as I see the promises within this book that you will indeed redeem this world and bring healing and peace among people. May your glory be seen as we commit ourselves to the vision of your kingdom, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)  


Day 4 – Invitation

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 22:6-11
The hope of Israel, the cry of the prophets, had been for Yahweh to come to them. Here at the conclusion of John’s Revelation God himself speaks, “Look, I am coming soon!” There is urgency in this book. There is promise and warning and blessing for those who keep hold of these words. As we have seen, God’s intention is to dwell with his people. “The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” Habakkuk 2:14. NT Wright comments, “This is the goal towards which so much of scripture is pointing, a goal forgotten by those who imagine that the whole aim is to leave earth behind and go to heaven instead.”

John ends with an invitation to come to Jesus. Why?

1.    This message is true. Rightly understood the message of Revelation makes sense of John’s world, and of ours. The angel assures John that these words are trustworthy and true.

2.    He is coming back. Peter wrote to encourage the young church, “Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come…They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?”…But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance….But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.” 2 Peter 3: 3-4, 8-9,13.

3.    Jesus alone deserves our worship. The angel tells John that he is only a fellow servant. The apostles would not accept adulation from their hearers (Acts 10:26). Neither Buddha nor Mohammed, nor any great spiritual teacher has accepted worship. We should come to Jesus for he alone deserves our worship.

Question to Consider
Do I need to come to Jesus again, acknowledging who he is?

Prayer
Come Lord Jesus, embolden me to share the truth of your gospel, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5  – The Spirit Says “Come!”

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 22:12-21
Two more reasons to answer the invitation to come to Jesus:

4.   He will judge the earth. Jesus has been appointed as judge, and he carries a reward. There seems to be a strange comment about those doing wrong to continue and those doing right to continue. This isn’t an exhortation to keep doing wrong, but rather carries the sense of resignation, “Let it be so…” People will make choices, but there are severe consequences.

5.   Jesus cleanses from sin. It is as if each of us has a robe that reflects the choices we have made. No earthly detergent or self effort can remove the stains of sin; only Jesus’ own blood can make us clean and righteous before God. And in the end those excluded from the company of God’s people have done so by their own decision. “…it is not God who excludes anyone. We exclude ourselves if we choose a lifestyle contrary to the values of the kingdom of God” M Robertson.

In case we focus only on the Father and Son, it is the Spirit who makes the final invitation. How do we see this play out in our lives?

1.   We sin and feel miserable. It is the Spirit gently prompting us to come to Jesus to be made new.

2.   An inner stirring or aspiration that there must be more to life. It is the Spirit wooing us to accept all the Father has graciously offered.

3.   People meet Christians and sense that there is something different about them that they don’t have. It is the Spirit that attracts others (2 Cor 3:14-15).

Finally, there is a warning not to tamper with the message revealed in this book. Coming to Jesus is not a multiple choice package. We cannot pick the parts we like and leave those we find difficult. There is great sacrifice and suffering, cost and endurance will be required, but there is ultimately great reward and blessing. Finally, there is comfort and joy and communion with the God who loves us with an undying ferocious love that will be for all eternity.

““Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”

Question to Consider
How have you experienced the invitation of the Holy Spirit?

Prayer
Almighty God, I commit myself to you again today. Continue to draw me to yourself through your Holy Spirit. In the name of your Son. Come Lord, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Revelation 19 – 20

Readings for this week February 22 – 26
Click here for a pdf of this week’s readings.

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Day 1 – The Rider on the White Horse

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 19:11-16
We now start to approach the climax of the book of Revelation, as evidenced by the appearance of the rider on the white horse – and there’s no mistaking who this rider is. It is Jesus the Lord: “Faithful and True”, Word of God”, “King of Kings and Lord of Lords”; all these magnificent names testify to the character of Jesus, at the same time as hinting at the fact no name can do him justice. He is beyond compare, beyond all that our thoughts and language can express.

Jesus is described as dressed for battle as he takes the field against the four horseman of the apocalypse. This is the moment when the final countdown to the consummation of the victory won by the Lamb begins. We have seen over the last couple of weeks that the victory has already been won. But now John’s vision is moving, swiftly and irrevocably, towards the ultimate climax, when Satan, and evil, and sin and all that would oppose God and spoil his creation will be finally and ultimately disposed of. The power of the beast is running rampant in the world, but now the full power and sovereignty of God – reflected in the names of Jesus – will be unleashed, cleansing and purifying creation as prelude to all things being made new.

As has been the case all along, we have been called to take sides in this struggle, to be engaged with Jesus, side by side with him on the ‘battlefields’ of this world – his world – as he combats the powers and principalities that devastate his earth, flout his rule, and oppress the people he loves. Jesus rides out, and calls us to go with him.

Question to Consider
Read again the description of Jesus in Revelation 19:11-16. How do you reconcile this with the picture of Jesus we find in the gospels?

Prayer
Lord God, give me the strength and courage to stand with you in the fight against all that opposes you. No matter the outcome for me, I know that ultimately the victory is yours. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 2 – The Battle Belongs to the Lord

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 19:17-21
The battle belongs to the Lord; the result, despite what many may think, is a foregone conclusion. Today’s reading clearly shows us this. The armies of the beast and the false prophet no doubt think they have come together of their own volition in order to wipe out God’s people and even defeat God himself. But they are wrong. God is ultimately in control and has summoned them to battle in order to defeat them. The outcome is certain.

In verses 17 and 18 an angel summons all the birds of the air to prepare to come and feast on the flesh of all those who dared to take the field of battle in opposition to Jesus. This particular supper – “the great supper of God” as the angel calls is – is in direct contrast to the wedding supper of the lamb mentioned earlier in the chapter (verse 9). The earlier feast is a magnificent celebration; this one is carnage. The earlier feast was symbolic of the final consummation of the Creator God’s reconciliation with all creation, God’s glorious, gracious sharing of himself with his people. This battlefield feast symbolises the crushing destruction and utter annihilation of all that defies and opposes God.

The forces of evil do not – and cannot – win. The beast, who right throughout human history has demanded and coerced people to give up their allegiance to God, and the false prophet, who has deliberately deceived people and led them astray with lies, are both thrown into the fire. All are defeated by the majestic, all-conquering rider on the white horse, who has always fought against the forces that oppress, destroy and devour. All the powers of evil and darkness are destroyed.

Question to Consider
What has been your experience of hearing teaching on Biblical passages of judgement such as this one?

Prayer
Almighty God, the victory is yours. Thank you for your triumph, thank you for your victory over evil, thank you that we do not have to suffer forever under the weight of those powers who oppose you. In the name of Jesus in whom we have the victory, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 3 – Reigning for a Thousand Years

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 20:1-6
This passage is quite popular with a lot of people who have (unfortunately) misinterpreted it. The thought of reigning in power over all the earth with Jesus for a thousand years is very attractive to many people: Jesus will return and will reign, with some of his followers, for 1,000 years. Others, even attempting to view it symbolically, see the thousand years as representing the reign of the church (but are then hard pressed to say exactly what this means or what it will look like). It’s just a shame that this is not what John is saying here. (Vision language, remember?) This is the only passage in all of scripture that mentions this ‘millennium’. Though that doesn’t dilute its standing as inspired scripture, it should give us pause in hanging an entire view of the future on this one verse (especially without seeing how it matches up with (and is interpreted by) other parts of scripture).

John has used numbers symbolically throughout this book. While it is not at all strange that he has included a nice round number like 1,000, it would be strange if he suddenly wanted us to interpret it literally, in contrast to all the other numbers he had previously used for their symbolic value.

At this point in the vision, an exact, itemised, inarguable interpretation of this passage is probably beyond us (certainly for a one page reading!). However we can definitely hold on to the central points that John has made crystal clear for us, the victory won by the lamb and the call to us to share in this victory. We do this by faith, even in the face of suffering because God will ultimately act to bring all things to a good end.

Questions to Consider
Verse 3 talks about the devil being set free for a short time at the end of the age. Read 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8. Do you think this is what Paul is talking about here? What do you understand by the devil ‘being set free’?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, help me be an agent of your love. Help others see in me the love you have for them, and hear of the ultimate reconciliation of all creation that you will bring about. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 4 – One Final (Useless) Fling

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 20:7-10
Just when we thought it was all over. Just when we thought there was nothing more to do except break out the glasses and crack open the champagne. The forces of darkness were defeated and Christ was reigning. And we all lived happily ever after, right?

Not quite. This is the final onslaught of the forces of evil, when Satan rises up one last time to confront and deceive the nations of the world, in one last desperate throw of the dice. He was bound for a thousand years (the period of Christ’s reign), but now he is free to wage war against God and attempt to lead the people of the world astray one last time.

But as we have already seen, he cannot win. With all that has gone before, there is no other outcome possible. He is soundly defeated and joins all the other forces of evil and sin and darkness in the lake of fire.

And one of the key things that this entire passage of scripture shows us is that his defeat is brought by God. It is God’s doing, God’s intervention that accomplishes the final defeat of Satan. There is nothing accidental about it; it is not the result of human endeavour or ‘historical inevitability’, or any other force or event. God does it. He makes good on his promises. The evil that had opposed him and sought to ruin his creation and enslave his people is stopped in its tracks, defeated, judged, and destroyed. Their annihilation – and God’s victory – is absolute.

Question to Consider
Some people seem to understand spiritual warfare as a kind of dualism, an equal conflict between the forces of good and evil. What does this passage say about that?

Prayer
Loving Father, thank you for your promise of the absolute defeat of evil. Help me remember the ultimate victory won on the cross by Jesus, and one day to be finally consummated when the Kingdom comes in all its glory and completeness. Help me remember this vision when it seems so far away in the circumstances of my life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5 – The Death of Death and the Book of Life

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 20:11-15
Judgement awaits us all. Books will be opened, records will be perused, accounts tallied up and scales weighed. What each person has made of their life and done with their time will be assessed. Even though this scenario often fills people with dread, for those who belong to Jesus it need not – it should not – be a vision that inspires fear and trembling. Because one of the books that will be opened will be the book of Life, where the names of those who belong to Jesus, who were steadfast through suffering, and who remained loyal to his call, are to be found.

It is the book of Life. Amongst the judgement of people described in this passage is also the judgement and final punishment of death itself. In his poem Death, be not proud, John Donne ends with the line, “And death shall be no more; Death, though wilt die.” It may seem strange, even contradictory, to talk of death dying, but that is exactly what is promised here. Paul talks about it too, in 1 Corinthians 15:26: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

Death, while something that happens to us all and therefore something that is an inevitable part of life as we live it now, is not to be accepted as the final end, the last result, or our final destination. Death itself has been judged and found to be utterly powerless in the face of God’s love. Death is an enemy that Christ has defeated. In his gospel, John records Jesus saying “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25).

Question to Consider

How does the thought of the judgement of all things make you feel? What is the relationship between judgement and mercy?

Prayer

Heavenly Father, thank you that death is not the final word, that in you we will be resurrected into eternal life with you. Your love and grace know no bounds and cannot be defeated. Thank you for your faithfulness to us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 

Revelation 17 – 19

Readings for this week February 8 – 12
Click here for a PDF of this week’s readings.

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Day 1  – Babylon the Great

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 17:1-8
John is telling a story of two cities: Jerusalem and Babylon, the bride and the prostitute. Babylon is symbolic of captivity; an alien place that contradicts all the values of God’s kingdom. But why the image of a prostitute? The whole book centres on the Creator and his creation, coming to fulfilment in the picture of Christ as the Lamb with his bride, a marriage of loyalty and loving faithfulness. Throughout the Old Testament Israel is pictured as a bride; most poignantly in the sad story of the prophet Hosea, grieving over, and restoring his unfaithful wife. This is likely the background imagery that John draws on. So, Babylon, the whore, is the antithesis, an extreme contrast to what God intended for humanity. A parody of a cherished bride, so near the truth and yet so very far from the reality, a relationship distorted and corrupted.

The Roman world, like all imperial systems, thrived on sexual irregularity. John “sees this behaviour, and the corruption of God’s ideal of male-female marriage, as an accurate telltale sign of the corruption of the human heart which, springing from the worship of idols, can only be cured by the heart-changing operation which results in worshipping the true God” NT Wright. The outward appearance of the woman is very fine, dressed with gold and precious stones, but the relationship is all wrong. She sits on a beast which symbolises any state which denies humans freedom, and demands the allegiance which belongs to God alone. This ‘beast’ comes and goes, as empires rise and fall and new tyrants appear to repress people in new ways. In John’s time Rome was the clear and present danger symbolised as Babylon. We need eyes to see where the power of the beast is manifest in our own time.

Questions to Consider
So much of John’s language focusses on relationships. What does this tell us about God’s priorities and desires for us?

Prayer
Holy God, help me look through the confusing details in John’s vision and catch your heartbeat that longs for true relationship with us. I pray for the strength to not settle for a pseudo spirituality, or surface commitment, but for careful discernment to see where my allegiance is, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


 

Day 2  – Contour Lines

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 17:9-18
Anyone who likes looking at maps knows about contour lines, which indicate valleys and hills and the steepness of slopes. But none of us go looking for these lines as we walk the countryside; we recognise that they are merely symbols to help depict reality. John’s symbolism is somewhat like contour lines. He speaks of 7 hills, which could well represent Rome which was perched on 7 hills. But in the next breath he says they are 7 kings. We see a fluid use of symbol that should discourage us from trying to pinpoint 7 actual kings or emperors. More likely they stand for a completeness or totality of the political powers that align themselves with the beast, coming and going as part of the present human experience. Ten more kings are mentioned which should be a clue that John’s intention is not that we puzzle our way through a specific list. They are, however, ultimately God’s instruments as evil turns on itself and self destructs.

What is crucial to see in this passage is that two dangers work together against God’s people. The beast stifles freedom and represses people, but the prostitute seduces, tempting and drawing people away from God. And what seduces? Money, sex and power. For over 40 years in Eastern Europe Christians were repressed, their liberties denied. In the West Christians gave thanks for freedom from such persecution. Yet tragically much of the West has been seduced by wealth and power and personal comfort. Materialistic empires promise luxury, but deliver slavery. John is warning of two very different threats, both of which may materialize at different times and in different guises.

Question to Consider
How do we read the contour lines of our society? Are we even looking?

What is the danger in trying to name specific people/organisations/nations to match the images used in revelation?

Do I fear persecution but underestimate seduction?

Prayer
Eternal Father, I worship you as the one true God, who was and who is and who is to come. Challenge me through this difficult book to take seriously the dangers of aligning myself too closely with the world’s values. Open my eyes Lord, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


 

 Day 3  – Come Out!

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 18:1-8
In Genesis 11 we read of the people who built a great tower to their own glory. But God confused the languages, and Babel was left to crumble and fall. Here in Revelation 18 is the lament over the ultimate fall of Babylon the Great. Once again the pinnacle of human achievement comes to nothing when it defies God and goes its own way. What of our own economic and political systems? Any system that does not reflect his justice and fairness, God will ultimately overthrow. “Human arrogance and oppression, and the wanton luxury and vice to which they lead, will not have the last word. God will have the last word, and creation itself will hear this word as a word of freedom, a sigh of relief, a flood of glorious light (verse1) let in upon a darkened dungeon” NT Wright.

We should note that vengeance is not brought about by God’s people, for vengeance is far too dangerous a weapon to be handled by mere humans. This is God’s work, and the tragic end of empire is only what it has brought upon itself.

“Come out of her, my people” is the insistent cry from heaven. This echoes the cry of the prophets to the people of Israel exiled in Babylon when the time of deliverance came. But how do we remove ourself from a system that completely surrounds us all the time? “We do so by not adopting its values – and the values of Babylon are money, sex and power” M Robertson.

Question to Consider
How do you respond to some Christians who opt to literally and physically remove themselves from the world system, living isolated lives?

In what practical ways might we be in the world but not of the world (John 17)?

What is the biggest challenge for you in identifying and avoiding the unhealthy values of our society?

Prayer
Father, teach my heart to value what you value, and to love what you love. May the way in which I live speak to those around me as loudly as the words I use, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)   


Day 4 – Cry Freedom

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 18:9-24
There is a film out in theatres at the moment called The Big Short. It tells the shocking story of the 2008 global financial crisis triggered by banking scandals and collapse in America. Millionaires became paupers overnight, some 8 million lost jobs, and the reverberations were felt around the world. Few saw it coming, few were left unaffected. But this is nothing compared to the crisis pictured in this passage. Systems once relied upon are suddenly gone. All that was once luxury, pomp and splendour is turned to smoke and ashes. John describes the fine commodities brought from the ends of the earth – no one is unaffected. But hidden amongst the despair of kings, merchants and traders, among the ruins of luxury goods are human bodies v13. Slavery was how the Roman Empire worked; buying, selling, abuse of human beings as just one more commodity. For when you worship idols, they will demand a sacrifice. Slavery was the grim reality of John’s time; it remains a grim reality in our own.

However, John believed in a God who set slaves free. Mirroring the language of Exodus he writes of Jesus, saying, “and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation” 5: 9. This is cause to rejoice v20. In the most revolutionary message the world has ever heard, “God has taken sides with the victims of Babylon – the persecuted, the weak, the poor, the exploited and the abused” M Robertson. This is the glorious triumph of Revelation. The day is coming when God will respond to the cries of the oppressed. In the meantime his people are called to stand alongside all who are exploited by the power and values of Babylon.

Questions to Consider
In what ways is slavery clearly seen and in what ways subtly hidden today?

In our community who needs people to stand alongside them?

Prayer
Almighty God, we long for the day when all evil and injustice is banished. Thank you that you are the righteous judge and you will bring justice on this earth. Help us as a faith community to be people who champion the cause of right, and are prepared to stand with those who are disadvantaged and oppressed. In your glorious name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)


Day 5  – O Happy Day

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 19:1-10
With a shout of Hallelujah! we reach the climax of the great story, the moment that all history has been heading towards. The image of marriage between God and his people is threaded right through the scriptures. It is framed by the ancient Jewish wedding customs, which helps us understand God’s intentions.

Firstly a betrothal is announced. This is more binding than our modern day ‘engagement’. Then the bride price is paid, as is still the case in many cultures today. On the day of the wedding the groom goes to the bride’s home, without announcing the exact time of his arrival. Lastly lavish festivities celebrate the marriage. These can go on for many days. Can we see the pattern in scripture? The people of Israel “wooed in the wilderness, married at Sinai, unfaithful for many generations and eventually cast away, but then wooed and won all over again in a covenant renewal that would result in the renewal of the whole creation” NT Wright. The bride price?

“From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride.

With his own blood he bought her and for her life he died.”

The bridegroom’s arrival? Jesus’ return, while expected, is at an unknown time. But then what a celebration! It will go on and on, and everyone is invited. Again a fluid imagery pictures us as Jesus’ bride but also the guests at the wedding. The invitation is an act of grace alone. The ‘fine linen’ fit to be worn for a wedding represents the righteous acts of God’s people. Yet these also are given as gifts of God’s grace. Jesus spoke of a wedding and the need for appropriate clothing (Matt 22). We cannot go on our own terms. It is only God’s gracious provision that invites, cleanses, clothes and embraces us at his great victory and celebration.

“Every virtue we possess and every victory won.

And every thought of holiness are his alone.”

John rightly falls to his feet in worship. Yet even here he is in danger of idolatry, for he is tempted to worship the messenger (the angel) and miss the message. The final message, both warning and invitation is “Worship God!”

Question to Consider
Do I suffer from the worry that I haven’t “done enough”? Spend some time with verse 6-8. Ponder God’s generous gifts to us.

Prayer
Almighty God, I worship you today. Yours is the glory and power, and you reign supreme. Come Lord, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

Revelation 11-15

Readings for this week February 8 – 12
Click here for a PDF of this week’s readings.

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Day 1 – The Woman and the Dragon

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 11:19-12:18
One of the problems people sometimes have with the book of Revelation is working out who is who; working out whom or what is being represented by a particular symbol or character. Here we meet two of the central figures of the remainder of the book: the woman and the dragon. And thankfully, John gives us a clue as to who they are.
Verse 5 says that the child born to the woman will “rule the nations with a rod of iron”. This references Psalm 2 which, as we saw in Rev 11, John is using to refer to Jesus himself. So does that make the woman Mary, the mother of Jesus? No, it doesn’t quite work as literally as that. The figure of the woman symbolises a couple of predecessors from the Old Testament. The first is Israel herself, God’s people, forever struggling to stay loyal to God, to bring forth his plan for the world, the people from whom the Messiah will arise. The second figure is possibly that of Eve, the mother of the entire human race, from whom will come the seed who will “crush” the serpent’s head (the Messiah again).
We will learn more about the dragon later on. But we have seen enough in this short passage to note that the dragon is a powerful heavenly being determined to wage war on the woman and her children. And yet, as is proclaimed in verses 10-12, the dragon has been cast down, defeated, vanquished. John wants his audience to know where they stand in the cosmic drama: that they are to celebrate and live the victory that has already been won. Though the dragon still rages and terrifies, and though more persecution will come, the people of God, through their Lord Jesus, can be assured of the victory.

Question to Consider
How do we live the reality of God’s victory in the midst of persecution and suffering? How do we support those being especially heavily oppressed?

Prayer
Heavenly Father, thank you that in you we already have the victory. Help me live in the light of that victory in all I do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


 

Day 2 – The Power of the Beast

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 13:1-10
It was obvious to the early Christians that the beast of their day was Rome – Rome, whose power and wealth were visible everywhere, whose armies appeared invincible, and whose emperors were now demanding to be worshiped as Gods. But the beast was not only Rome.  In John’s time, Rome was only the most current – and powerful – manifestation of the beast’s power. There had been others and would be others again in the future, as the subsequent tide of history has shown. The 20th century itself has seen many appalling manifestations of the power of the beast. What 21st century examples do we see now?
Many people expend a lot of time and effort trying to work out exactly which governments and rulers are represented by the heads and crowns of the beast, as if such identification will give them a detailed road map of future events. But this is to miss the point.
The power of the beast has the potential to arise anywhere, not because governments of any and all forms are evil, but because they have the potential to fall into evil, to try and usurp the power and rule what is God’s alone. God-given government can claim God’s rule for itself and whenever it does so what is manifested is the power of the beast. Christians must be wary of this. When governments begin claiming for themselves what is rightfully God’s – when the beast demands to be ‘worshipped’ – Christians must resist the power of the beast, by looking to Jesus as the preeminent example of non-violent resistance to the beast and all forms of its coercive power.

Question to Consider
What are the subtle ways the power of the beast is visible in our world today? How can we stay alert to it?

Prayer
Lord God, help me be alert to the power of the beast, and the way in which the forces of this world try and pull us away from you. Give me wisdom to see and strength to resist. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


 

Day 3 – The False Prophet

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 13:11-18

Now there is another beast, like the first beast but in service to it. This second beast is the false prophet – false in that while he looks like a lamb, he sounds like a dragon. His purpose is to divert people’s devotion away from God towards the state – towards the first beast. Many people seem intent on trying to identify this false prophet with a particular individual but, remembering the symbolic language of vision, the false prophet represents any ideology or religion that can divert worship away from God.
The message of encouragement that John’s message brings can also be diluted by the popular myths and misconceptions that swirl around the idea of the mark of the beast and the number 666. To bear the mark of someone simply means to belong to them. The false prophet is trying to lure people away from God, and this to mark them as belonging to and serving the beast, rather than allowing them to bear the mark (or seal, remember chapter 7:3?) of God. The number 666 is representative of this false mark. It is a symbol, a human symbol falling short of the perfect holy number 7 which represents the Spirit, and multiplied many times to show the seemingly ubiquitous nature of evil.
This passage speaks powerfully, to those living under repressive regimes and murderous tyrants, of the power and majesty of God, who has not – and will not – abandon them. But it also speaks to those in the West, who labour under the power of the insidious presence of greed, consumerism, hedonism and other forces that try to pull our focus away from God.

Question to Consider
What are the false ideologies that divert our attention away from God? How do they do this? Why are they so powerful? How do we resist them?

Prayer
Almighty God, help me “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


 

Day 4 – With Every Breath

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 14:1-13
There is never any reason for God’s people to cease preaching the gospel, no matter what the circumstances. Many people see Jesus as a sort of superhero who will fly down from heaven and rescue us from the evils of this world, taking us back to paradise while the earth burns. It is not surprising that such a mentality leads these people to keep quiet, keep their heads down and mouths shut while hiding in wait for Jesus. Yes, as we have read many times so far, God will rescue his people. His victory – and his people’s salvation – is assured. But it will come in the midst of hardship and suffering, amidst terrible persecution.
Yet even in these times of trial and tribulation, we are still to preach the gospel. We are still to share the love of God for his creation and testify to God’s unquenchable desire for all people to return to him. John intends the loud voice of the angel to represent the preaching of the gospel, the faithful witness of those who are being persecuted.
The beautiful vision of worship we see in verses 1-5 will be a part of the new reality of God’s redeemed and restored creation at the consummation of all things. But we are not to shelter in our bunkers (churches), averting our eyes from the world around us while waiting for Jesus to return and rescue us. The gospel is to be preached, his love is to be shared with every breath, until our dying breath.

Question to Consider
Why is sharing the gospel in times of persecution so important? What happens if we don’t?

Prayer
Lord God, may I never be far from your love, and may your love never be far from my lips. In all things, at all times, may I share your love with others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)

 


 

Day 5 – Two Harvests

Silence, Stillness and Centering before God (2 minutes)

Scripture Reading – Revelation 14:14-20
Today we see two pictures of two very different harvests – at least, two very different harvests when taken from the point of view of what is being harvested. The first harvest of wheat is described in fairly normal terms: the harvest is ready and so is reaped. Harvest time would naturally be a time of great celebration for the people. This all seems perfectly normal.
Until we get to the second harvest, which is not so pleasant. Grapes are harvested and poured into the winepress but what pours from the press in a vast flowing tide is not wine, but blood, stretching in a river several hundred kilometres long. Is this God’s righteous punishment of the nations? Is he finally destroying those who oppress his people? Well, no. Vines and grapes and wine are often used in scripture as an image for Israel, for the people of God. This is a further image of persecution and suffering. Hence why the winepress was trodden outside the city. If this was God’s judgement against the rebellious nations, we would perhaps expect the press to have been at the heart of the city. But the wine-pressing takes place outside the city. Think of Jesus, crucified outside the city, or Stephen, dragged outside the city to be stoned to death.
God’s time will come. He will bring his people safely home. The evil and rebellion of his creation will be transformed into praise. Though there will be much pain and suffering, God will still triumph and bring his people through all trials to salvation. Though the time is yet to come, this message is one of hope and encouragement to all those who currently suffer. Our God will prevail and his people will be rescued and vindicated.

Question to Consider
What do the two pictures of the harvest mean to you?

Prayer
Loving Father, you suffered so that our sufferings might be like yours. Help us remember that being your people means joining in your sufferings and with all who suffer. Amen.

Conclude with Silence (2 minutes)