The Death that Brings Hope

– Geoff Milton

What an unusual Good Friday and Easter !

On a recent exercise walk, Ann and I saw some beautiful examples of God’s creation and some bad examples of human nature being displayed. 

On the narrow path, coughing joggers passed close by, making no attempt to shield their mouths from others.

It was hard for me to believe, but we saw one man apparently trying to impress his young children by throwing a basketball at native birds in a tree. I asked him to stop it and he did. Why was he doing it? 

Several cyclists came tearing down the path going at least 30 km per hour. They could easily have smashed into a family with a child in a pusher or into an older person. I couldn’t believe this dangerous behaviour.

To me this healthy walk was like an experience of hell –  people pleasing only themselves and putting others at risk, endangering vulnerable people and even our wildlife.

 The current coron-avirus crisis has brought out the best and worst in people. And we only have to look in the mirror to see a sinful person.

Mark 15  shows us that Jesus died to take God’s righteous punishment for our sin. God is not only a God of love and grace, he is a God of justice. God’s perfect righteousness demands that our rebellion be punished and that is what Jesus’ death on the first Good Friday is about.

From Adam and Eve onwards, human inclination has been to reject God’s authority, which is the essence of sin. In his righteous judgement on that sin, God expelled the man and woman from the garden, cursed the ground and brought pain in childbirth (Gen 3). In Genesis 6 – 9 we see a growing avalanche of human sin which results in God’s judgement of the flood. God will not tolerate our rebellion forever and will judge our sin in his own time. If we have any spiritual insight into ourselves and others we will be able to see our rejection of God. 

God’s judgement on our sin is seen in Jesus’ desperate cry from the Cross “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?”  (Mark 15: 34). What was happening?

Through his suffering and death, Jesus took our sin on to himself and died in our place, causing himself to be separated from God his loving Father, hence his cry of abandonment. This was not just a symbolic separation, it was real and horrific, just as our sin really separates us from God. At that moment Jesus was paying the ransom for our sins (Mark 10:45), giving his body as a sacrifice for us (14:22-24) and drinking the cup of God’s wrath against our sin (14:36) . 

He was experiencing hell – so that we don’t have to. Hallelujah! What a saviour!

Yet in all this there is also a theme of real and certain hope and reassurance.  

For Jesus has paid our unpayable ransom for our sins.  

He has given his body as the sacrifice for our sin. 

He has drunk the cup of God’s wrath against our sin, so that we do not need to drink it.

Through trusting in Jesus alone, we are saved from the consequences of our rebellion against God.  Hallelujah!  Undeserved rescue from a hopeless fate!

As a result of Jesus’ death for us, we can now be a people of grateful hope, looking forward to the future, no matter what the difficulties of the present, looking forward to resurrection life with God and his people in the perfect new creation (Rev 21:1-4) .

Jesus has defeated death for himself and us as we see in Mark 16, and he invites us to take part in that wonderful life together, a life lived in praise and thanksgiving to God, starting now. 

Trusting God as we face ongoing struggles

The current coronavirus crisis is extraordinary in its impact. It has brought death and fear, put up barriers in everyday relationships, brought severe restrictions on travel, caused unemployment and the closing of many businesses, even the closure of community organizations such as churches and sports clubs which in Australia remained open and active during two world wars.

It feels like the “reset” button of life has been pushed on the world and everything has changed and has to be rebuilt. In such a situation it is easy to slip into a sense of hopelessness.

Yet Christians are called to be people of hope. Real and certain hope, trusting in God, rather than a desperate glimmer of hope.

The events of Joseph’s life in the Old Testament show us how God is in control of all things and brings salvation and real hope in what seems a hopeless situation (read Genesis 39-41). Joseph had been sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, taken to Egypt where he was wrongly accused of attempted rape and imprisoned. He helped other prisoners and even in prison, the Lord was with Joseph and he gained the warden’s favour (Gen. 39:21). Joseph always acknowledged God as the source of any help he could offer (40:8). Yet he languished in gaol for two years, with no hope in sight. Then God intervened swiftly, Joseph was asked to interpret the Pharoah’s dream, which he did, giving all credit to God (41:16). Then in Gen. 41:33-40 we see how Joseph was raised up by Pharoah to be his Prime Minister, effectively in control of the whole nation. He married a wife and raised a family, an impossible dream while he was in prison. God used him mightily during a famine to save the lives of many people including the people of Egypt and his own family in Israel.

Phil Allcock comments:

“There is no such thing as hopelessness when God is involved. He can transform even the darkest mess in the briefest instant. He does it here with Joseph. He did it supremely with Jesus: taking him from cursed death and cold tomb to resurrection glory in an instant. We can and must, trust this God as we face our chronic struggles that so easily breed hopelessness. Even if he does not change our circumstances now, one day we too will go from dead and buried to eternally alive in paradise!”

Let us remember God’s resurrection power shown in Jesus:

“By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also”. 1 Cor 6:14.

Let us pray that God will sustain our faith in his resurrection power as we pray about this situation where hope seems far away.

Geoff Milton 4/4/2020

God has not abandoned us

God has not abandoned us in these difficult times.

The Bible tells us:
“Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” says the Lord (Hebrews 13:5).
We really need to hold on to these promises of God for his people. 
God intends us to hold onto these promises  to sustain us when we are going through hardship.

Psalm 23 has been a psalm of great comfort for many over the centuries.
Here is the traditional version:
“1 The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.”

We are the Lord’s sheep, often feeling harassed and helpless. 
Can you imagine a flock of sheep in open country, vulnerable, not knowing where to go or what to do?
That is like us. 
But it is very comforting to look to the Lord as our Good Shepherd. 
He knows us each by name, he calls us to himself, he guides and protects us and provides for our needs.
Jesus describes himself as our Good Shepherd in John 10:11-16. He knows us, protects us and lays down his life for us on the Cross to save us. 
Let us listen to his voice now and always and trust in him – have faith not fear.

Some things to do:
* PRAY, telling God about your concerns and asking for his help. 
Perhaps writing  out your prayers will help you avoid distraction
* THANK God for the good things that are happening for you and others
* ASK for our prayers for you, your family and others (contact St. Edward’s through the “Leave a message here” link on the Home page)

Rev Geoff Milton
Locum Minister

FACING TEMPTATION as a Christian

We all experience temptation. It is not a small matter, for when we are tempted, our own evil desires entice us into sin which leads to spiritual death if we do not seek God’s forgiveness through Jesus (James 1:14-15).

So we should beware when we start thinking “Why shouldn’t I have this?” or “I deserve this” or “Everyone else is doing it”. That is excusing our sin & ignoring God’s warnings.

Australian Christian writer Tony Bird says that when facing temptation:

1. Know that we will fail without the grace of God to strengthen us (see 1 Peter 1:5 “We are shielded only by God’s power”).

2. Pray for wisdom in times of temptation, perhaps wisdom to flee from temptation. (Gen 39).

3. Hold on to the promises of scripture. eg “God is faithful and with every temptation he will provide a way of escape so that we are able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

4. Seek the help of Jesus who can rescue us from the evil one (Matt 6:13)

5. Share our difficulties and ongoing struggles with temptation with other trusted Christians  who can uphold us in prayer and hold us accountable to deter us from giving in to temptation

-Geoff Milton (Locum Minister)

Genesis: A Revelation

This morning we begin a three week series in Genesis ch’s 1-3. No doubt your curiosity will be aroused about what ‘my position’ will be on the relationship of Gen 1 to evolutionary theory. There are basically four views which Christians make. The first is to reject evolution and assert that the world came into being in six literal days. The second, assert that the evolutionary view negates Gen 1 and therefore science has proved it wrong. The third is to attempt to blend them together in many ingenious ways (Days become evolutionary epochs.) This does no justice to either Gen 1, or the contribution of evolutionary theory. Basically all three views miss what was obvious to the people of God who lived before the development in the 17th and 18th century in the West when the scientific world view developed and a precise, literal reading of literature (including a religious text like Gen 1) began to dominate.

This brings us to a fourth view: Gen 1 is a theological document, virtually a type of creed. It states truths which cannot be scientifically confirmed; but truths which are grasped only by intuition, the result of God’s revelation. Gen 1 tells us that the God who creates this world is the same God who later redeems Israel and revels himself to them as the LORD. Gen 1 states that humanity is not an evolutionary accident, but the pinnacle of God’s work; we are made in his image. This confers value on all of us, irrespective of gender, race or type. In contrast, the ancient kings asserted they were made in the image of their god who protected their cities.

Importantly, Gen 1 teaches us that the gods of the ancient world, the sun, moon and stars which were believed to control human destiny, were created by God. (They are not given names to show God’s power over them.) It is he who controls their destiny and ours. Another teaching of Gen 1 is this creation is good. Christianity is therefore not about escaping from this world, but living in it with our Creator.

Temptations and their Purpose

The three temptations of Jesus in the wilderness have passed from being a biblical story into the realm of folklore. Movie producers have found them a fertile ground to create an image of Christ as a disturbed, almost madman who undergoes hallucinations. The temptations were recast in the movie, ‘Jesus of Montreal’ (1989) to feature a modern Jesus being tempted by a publicity agent, who seeing his charisma, tempted him with the offer that he could become a TV star, with cooking shows, books and on speaking circuits. The empty materialism offered was quickly unmasked by Jesus, refused and then overcome. And there are the vivid, sometimes lurid art works of the Middle Ages, of images of Jesus fighting off the Devil. All these miss the point.

He is tempted after his baptism to ‘battle harden’ him (a phrase the army uses), to prepare him for his ministry when he will be tempted to take the easy road and avoid the cross. Second, the response by Jesus to the temptations are instructive for us. He saw them for what they were and then justified his response by quoting Scripture three times. Note that each time he quoted from Deuteronomy – which recounts Israel’s experience of their wilderness temptations and the Lord’s instruction to them. Third, he draws upon the right Scripture for the right situation. Often when we face a problem, we use Scripture with the right motive, but with the wrong text resulting in theological confusion. Jesus had been trained in the use of God’s word and it protected him.

Now Everything Had Changed

This Sunday we celebrate the transfiguration of Christ on what is traditionally believed to be Mt Carmel (Lk 9:28-36). Everything remained the same for the three disciples present. He was still human and their friend, but now everything had changed. They had seen his glory. He was, as his miracles had suggested, God in flesh. Furthermore, his teaching about his coming suffering, death and resurrection just before his transfiguration, now had to be taken seriously (Lk 9:21-26). His death would be for a purpose and that purpose has been the central reason for the church’s existence from then on.  Even after we are glorified (Rom 8:18-25), we will still  be singing praises to God the Father and the Son, for his infinite gift of his Son that we glimpse in the transfiguration of Christ.

The transfiguration exploded the disciples expectations of just seeing things as they are, thinking nothing else is possible. We can do the same. We can assume that our emphasis of Christianity or our understanding of it, is the true one. The transfiguration blew that assumption up too for the disciples. Now they knew without doubt, that Jesus’ teaching about his coming suffering, death and resurrection was going to happen, and it would be for a purpose (Luke 9:31). They are told by God’s voice, no less, to ‘listen to him’, (Jesus) not the religious leaders of their day which offered a different messiah (Luke 9:35). We too, are invited to see things differently and be changed. 

Loving our Enemies

Does Jesus expect us to do the impossible in our dealings with people? He tells his followers: love your enemies, pray for those who mistreat you; if someone seizes your necessities like a coat, give them more – like your inner clothing as well (Luke 6:27-31).

Just as we have frowned in disbelief, caught our breath and then worked out how we can minimise or even evade the literal meaning of what he has just said, he then unloads even more demands which seem unlikely to be realistic.

He puts his finger on three of our common expectations that we have in our dealings with others. It is no credit to us if we love those who love us. Nor is it a demonstration of our ‘love of neighbour’, when we do good to those who do good to us, or we lend to those we expect repayment. Jesus points out even your average, happy, secular person will do the same (Lk 6:34). If I love those who love me, what’s so good about that? Everyone does that.

Jesus wants us to move beyond doing things for others out of selfinterest or our expectation that we will be repaid in some way. (It’s only fair that they should we think.) We are to lend  (even to our enemies), without expecting them to give anything back (6:35). Why? Why are we expected to ‘go the extra mile’? (Matt 5:41)

Because we are to express by our treatment of others, what our heavenly Father’s treatment is of all people. He is merciful and kind to the ungrateful and the wicked (6:35) Our sense of fairness is not the same as God’s. Our values are to mirror those of our Lord, who gave himself to sinners and loved his enemies (1 Peter 2:12, 21). 

Sermon on the Plain

This morning’s Gospel reading is traditionally called, ‘the Sermon on the Plain’, because Luke reports that Jesus came down to deliver his sermon on ‘a plain’ (Lk 6:17). Much of the material in the sermon is identical to ‘the Sermon on the Mount’ which is in Matthew’s gospel (Matt ch’s 5-7). However, subtle, but significant differences of emphasis exist between Luke and Matthew’s accounts. Each reflects the interest by the Gospel writer to present Jesus as either a rabbi who is superior to Moses (Matthew’s account), or the prophet teaching his disciples how they are to live as one of his followers in a society which is rich, powerful and persecuting them (Lk 6:22, 24, 26). For example, Luke contrasts those who are poor (6:20), with the rich who Jesus denounces. In contrast, Matthew’s account has ‘the poor in spirit’ (Matt 5:3).

What is significant in Luke’s presentation is that Jesus’ teaching is addressed to the broader group of disciples who are contrasted with the crowd (6:20). His teaching is therefore for those on the inside, who have heard the call to follow and not the general public. He makes a shocking contrast between the rich and poor and pronounces judgement on the rich in four ‘woes’ (6:24-26). The ‘blessings’ are upon, and also it should be noted, for the poor, the hungry, those who weep in despair and those who are marginalised (6:20-22). This is Jesus being the prophet. He has announced that a division is already being made between these two groups and he has shown his hand. Judgement is coming on the rich who do not respect God’s poor yet claim to be God’s people (see also James 5:1-6).

Belonging and Believing

Simply put, being a disciple of Jesus isn’t about behaviour modification. Christianity is not a self-help program to happiness or perfection. If that were the case, we are going to be failures, because I don’t know anyone who is sinless. Yet often our church culture pushes behaviour modification as the primary goal of our faith. We expect people and our society to accept our values as norms when they are not.

Reading the gospels I am struck by how often Jesus invited people to belong to him first. He entered into relationships with others, regardless of where they were spiritually or morally. He did not discriminate against what part of society they belonged to. He ate with people who were the outsiders of their society and befriended tax collectors, prostitutes, the despised rich (like Zacchaeus), or foreigners like the woman from Syria. Once they felt a sense that they could “belong”, Jesus then invited them to follow him, to “believe”. After they chose to believe, he would ask them to “become transformed” by the values he taught and demonstrated. These values are ones like sacrifice, sharing, compassion for the outsider and foreigner; patience, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. (Gal 5:22). This behaviour is an expression of living out the reality of God’s kingdom in daily life. It is also an expression of the abundant and fruitful life from the Holy Spirit living out in us.

Today’s story of Jesus calling his first disciples in Luke 5:1-11, demonstrates this process to belong, believe and be transformed by Jesus.