God’s promises for the future & his presence with his people (Joshua 1)

– Geoff Milton

A change of leader in a church or workplace can be disruptive and cause us to be fearful and resist necessary change.

Here in Joshua 1:1-9, God’s appointed leader Moses had just died and his protégé Joshua had been commissioned by God to lead God’s people across the Jordan River and to take and occupy the Promised Land of Canaan (promised to Abraham’s descendants centuries before (Gen. 12, and see Deut 8:10-12). Joshua and God’s people were facing a daunting task and an uncertain future. What can we learn from this in our uncertain times?

1.Be encouraged to rely on God’s promises of blessing for his people

God promised his people a wonderful place where they would live in peace from their enemies, and be with God himself (v3-5.)

That promise was partially fulfilled in David and Solomon’s time but the complete fulfillment comes to us through Jesus and his death and resurrection and his return in glory and judgement to establish the new heavens and new earth (Rev. 21-22). Here God told Joshua , leader of God’s people, to rely on God’s promise to give them the Promised Land. They were to show strength and courage in this new phase of their lives, not by relying on their own strength but on God’s promises and power. Also notice that God did not want them to stagnate after Moses’ death. They were told to “get ready to cross into the land I am about to give them” (v2). For us, God’s promises continue to drive us forward to do what God tells us in his word and to go where he tells us to go, knowing that the place will be, in the end, perfect.

God is calling St Edward’s into new territory with the appointment of a new vicar, whenever that happens. The pandemic has changed so many things already and will continue to do so. How we live and worship as God’s people will change. The harvest fields of people open to the Gospel are changing (John 4:35). We don’t know what the future holds but we do know who holds the future – God himself, our loving Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, Saviour of the peoples of the world (John 4:42). So let us, the people of St Edward’s be “strong and very courageous” because God has promised his faithful people a wonderful future (v6, Rev 21-22) and God is always faithful in keeping his promises.

2 The encouragement of God’s presence with his people. God told Joshua to be encouraged about the future because “I will be with you” (v3, v5, v9). Bible scholar Ralph Davis says “Joshua is not told to grit his teeth and find inner courage. He is to be strong only because God is with him” (v9). This is a promise for ordinary Christians like you and me. In Hebrews 13:5-6 in the NT we read “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can mere mortals do to me?’”

Thus we see that the promise of God’s abiding presence is also for us. Davis says: “There is nothing more essential for the people of God than to hear God repeating to them amid all their changing circumstances “I will be with you and I will not forsake you”. These promises of God with us are repeated for instance at Jesus’ birth (Matthew 1:23). Jesus’ last words to his disciples in Matt. 28 were “Go and make disciples of all nations” (a huge and daunting task!). We can only ever do that because Jesus then promises his disciples and us in v28 “Surely I am with you always to the very end of the age”.

Dear people of St. Edward’s, I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that you are God’s beloved people for whom Jesus, Son of God, suffered and died. He has wonderful future plans for your good. He will continue to be with you. How wonderful is that! He will never leave you or forsake you. May God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you all forever more, amen.

Jesus’ care & power in the storm (Mark 4)

– Geoff Milton

In Mark 4:35 -41 we see Jesus and his disciples  experiencing a terrifying storm on Lake Galilee.  I can relate to this event because of my own storm experience when I was about 16 years old sailing a small dinghy across Pittwater in Sydney when a fierce storm struck and waves started breaking into the boat.  My father was with me and he was not a strong swimmer. The rudder clamp gave way so I could barely steer. By the grace of God we survived.

Jesus calming the storm in Mk. 4 teaches us some important lessons:

 1. Despite our fears, Jesus cares for us.

We don’t have to be caught in a literal storm to understand the truths of Mark 4.  We all go through storms in our life that threaten to overwhelm us. Currently the covid-19 pandemic is having huge health and economic impacts. But our storm could be different: another illness or the death of a spouse or losing a job or a breakdown in relationships or deep loneliness.

Why do these things happen?  The Bible’s answer is because we live in a world ruptured by sin (Gen. 3).  Since that time, as Romans 8 says, we wait for the creation to be “liberated from its bondage to decay” when Christ returns and establishes the new creation.

In Mk. 4:37 the waves broke over the boat so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was asleep in the boat (v38) and his disciples feared for their lives and woke him up saying “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

We may feel like that (God doesn’t care) if we lose our spouse, our health or our income. But to have that attitude is to let our fear overwhelm our faith in Jesus to care for us and rescue us, ultimately even through death.

In Mark’s Gospel we see Jesus’ care for his disciples and others again and again. He heals numerous people such as the paralysed man let down through the roof in Mark 2. He set people free from the clutches of evil spirits (Mk. 1:23). We see him forgiving people’s sins and sharing meals with outcasts. At the end of Mark he shows his ultimate care for all his people by willingly dying as our ransom payment in order to set us free from sin and judgement (Mk. 10:45).

Jesus does care for us, no matter how fearful we may be. In Luke 13:34, overlooking Jerusalem he says “Jerusalem … how often I have longed to gather your children together like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings but you were not willing”.  Tim Keller points out that this is a wonderful picture of protection and care. For the mother hen protect her chicks from sun and storm and predators with her wings. If necessary she will die so that her chicks won’t die – just as Jesus has done for us.

2.  Jesus not only cares for us, he is powerful to protect and save us.

In our own storms and distress in life we want not only someone who cares, but someone who is powerful enough to protect and rescue us. What we see in Jesus calming the storm is someone who is all-powerful to rescue us. In v38 we see Jesus’ amazing action in response to his disciples. He rebuked the wind and said to the waves “Be still!”  and then (v 39) the wind died down and it was completely calm!  What an extraordinary miracle!  He commanded a storm and it obeyed! He said to them “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith in me?” (v40).  Who has the power to calm a storm with a word except God alone who created the world with his word (Gen. 1). The conclusion is clearly that Jesus is the all powerful God of the universe.  The light began to dawn for the disciples and hopefully for us to in v 41.  They were terrified and said “who is this even the wind and waves obey him?” Throughout the New Testament the disciples’ faith in Jesus as Son of God continued to grow through difficult testing – just as steel is hardened by heat treatment.  That’s our journey too –  growing in faith in Jesus’ loving care and power, through our difficulties until one day we will be with him in the perfect new creation where there are no chaotic storms, evil, pandemics or death. 

 Meanwhile Mk 4 does not tell us that Jesus will instantly rescue us whenever we cry out to him.  Those who trust in Jesus will not be rescued from storms but through storms. In the inevitable difficulties of life we can only find ultimate security, safety and serenity in trusting in Jesus.  Through his death and resurrection he has defeated everything that cuts us off from his love.  Romans 8:35 tells us “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or the sword?  No! In in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us”.

Realistic encouragement from Jesus (Mark 4)

– Geoff Milton

If we are believing Christians, we are all involved in a vast worldwide enterprise, the Kingdom of God (v11). It concerns sowing seeds of God’s word, God-given growth and producing a bumper crop. In the Parable of the Soils (Mark 4:1-20), Jesus gives us realistic encouragement about the growth and harvest of the Kingdom of God.

In a small church it is easy to be discouraged about the spread and growth of the Christian gospel, but this parable gives us great encouragement that God will grow his kingdom, including in us and through us.

            In the parable, the farmer sows the seed of God’s word and we see a variety of responses and results. In good soil there is a bumper crop, but Jesus helps us to be realistic, pointing out the different impediments to the harvest in other soils.

Clearly some of Jesus’ hearers simply heard a farming story (v 1-8) and thought no more about it. But we see another group of people in v10, including the disciples and other people who actively ask Jesus to explain the parables, which he does (v11-20).

If we want to grow as Christians and be part of growing God’s kingdom, let us hear God’s word and ask for his understanding so we can bear his fruit in our lives.

So this parable has a very important spiritual message. A good question to ask ourselves as we consider it is “What soil am I?” and “How do I become good soil?”

In v14 the seed/word is sown i.e. the message of the Gospel of Jesus, Son of God – who he is, what he has done through his death for our sins and resurrection, and how to respond with repentance and faith (1:15).

In v15 we see that some people are like seed sown on a hard path – they hear about Jesus but Satan immediately snatches away the message like a bird pecking a seed. That is probably not us if we go to church regularly, but some may come to church to please others, or tick “Christian” on the census and it all washes over them with no impact.

Others are like seed sown in shallow rocky soil (v16). Here the seed springs up in the warm damp soil, they are pleased about it, but they have no deep roots and when trouble or persecution comes, they wither away. It is easy to say “I would never be like that” but we should seriously ask ourselves how we would respond to active government spying on and suppression of Christians, as happens in numerous countries.

We need to ask God to help us develop deep roots that help us follow Jesus when under pressure i.e. to be good soil not shallow soil.

Surely being like the thorny soil (v18) is the biggest issue for Aussie Christians. Such people hear the word of God but worldly things choke the young plant – the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and desires for other things, making it unfruitful for the kingdom of God. How easy it is in Australia today to be focused on getting more and more stuff and a bigger barn to put it all in (Luke 12) or more and more leisure experiences or more worldly achievements so that life with God is choked. Let’s ask ourselves: Is Jesus first in our lives? – or is it more stuff and more wealth and more worries? If so, we need to get rid of the thorns and weeds choking our growth as Christians and live firstly for Jesus.

But can we really expect a bumper crop of 30 fold, 60 fold or 100 fold what we planted? When I was studying theology at Ridley College, God put the college chaplain, Harrie Scott-Simmons, into  my life. He spent most of his time discipling young ministers to be. We studied the Bible and prayed together, he encouraged me to pray daily for the little youth group I was helping to lead and he gave me Christian books. He helped many people in the same way. It was a small, quiet ministry. But let’s do some maths. Say Harrie discipled 3 people each year and each one of them discipled 3 more and so on. That’s 3 in the first year, 9 in the second year, 27 in the third year and an astonishing 59,000 after ten years! A bumper crop indeed! Let us be good, deep, rich, fertile soil that bears much fruit for God’s glory!

Looking forward to the life to come (Part 2)

– Geoff Milton

Many Australians don’t like to think about death and what lies beyond death. Many assume there is no life after death, others assume when we die we will, like nice Uncle Harry, be “up there” smiling down on us all, or if Uncle Harry was a murderer we hope he will “rot in hell”.

But the Bible’s teaching about the life to come (for Christian believers) is that it is a wonderful, indeed perfect experience and something we can look forward to and long for, even while we enjoy the good things God has given us in this life.

Last week we looked at what the Bible says about the life to come and saw: 
1. We will live in an entirely renewed creation, the “new heaven and new earth” (2 Peter 3:13) in the presence of God.

2.We will have wonderful new strong resurrection bodies (Romans 8:23, 1 Cor.15).

3. We will enjoy celebrating being with Jesus our Saviour and his people in the beautiful new creation (Rev. 19:9, Rev. 22:1-2)

4. It will be a social life, never lonely (Rev 21:24).

But there’s more!

5. The life to come will be a responsible life

Having satisfying tasks and responsibilities seem to help us thrive as human beings. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden had responsibility over the earth, plants and animals of God’s creation, and were called by God to “work the Garden and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15).

I think we tend to wither a bit if we have no tasks or responsibilities serving God and serving others. So we can rejoice that we will have satisfying responsibilities in the life to come.

Rev. 22:3 describes how we will be serving and worshiping God in the new creation. That will include musical worship – and we will all sing in key and play music perfectly, even if we can’t in this life!

The parable of the ten servants (Luke 19:11-26) gives us the idea of responsibility in this life being carried over and scaled up into the new creation.

The Christian who was faithful in God’s service in this life will be “put in charge of ten cities”. This is also an incentive to be serving the Lord in this life “doing everything for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).  Paul also speaks of believers in the next life “judging” the world (1 Corinthians 6:2, Matthew 19:28). Rev. 22:5 describes how we will “reign forever” over the new creation, as intended from the beginning (Psalm 8:4-6)

All this means we will be satisfyingly occupied, but without the thorns and thistles, droughts and floods and frustrations of this life!

6. The life to come will be a God centred life.

“I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Rev. 21:3-4).

A life centred on God in God’s presence will be a perfect life. We don’t experience that fully in this life because we still live in a world ruptured by the effects of human sin past and present. However we do have glimpses of the perfect life to come. The birth of a child, a perfect wilderness landscape, a sublime piece of music or work of art, a wonderful meal and sparkling conversation, uplifting worship or prayer, all these things are pointers to the life of heaven.

God has promised this perfect life to all people who turn from sin and turn to Jesus and trust him as Saviour and Lord.

Let’s rightly long for this perfect new creation with God and his people. May we let the light of this promised future guide us in this life, even though this life will pass away. As we prepare ourselves, as God’s children, for the life to come, let us, as we are urged in 2 Peter 3:11-14, live holy lives, God centred lives, peaceful lives that are “pure and blameless” as we look forward to the Day of Christ’s return and the life of the new creation.

Looking forward to the life to come

– Geoff Milton

If we see much of the news media we may feel surrounded by infection, death, fear of others, loneliness and financial stress as well as sorrow over the violent protests spreading from the US.

Although life is not like that for most of us, we may still be experiencing anxiety.

In this sort of world, don’t you long for something far better? Don’t you long, with a God given longing, for the life to come, what we often call heaven, where we will be free from the effects of sin in this world – death, disease, injustice and violence?

The Christian Gospel meets our deepest longings for, through Jesus’ death for our sins and resurrection to defeat death, he has done everything necessary to bring Christian believers to the life of heaven – all those who repent and believe the good news of Jesus our Saviour (Mark 1:15).

So what will the life to come be like?

1. Living with God and his people in the new heaven and new earth

We will experience an entirely renewed creation “a new heaven and new earth where righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13), living with God (Rev. 21:1-4). This means there will be a joining of heaven and earth in this new creation and there we will live in the presence of God, full of joy. So let’s forget forever the cartoonists’ version of heaven with lonely people wearing angel wings sitting on clouds plucking harps and being bored. Our life to come will be in a perfect new creation. It will be a rich and varied life, a social life with other believers, full of beauty and the joy of God’s direct presence. It will be life to the full, with all God’s people, joyfully worshiping and serving and enjoying life without all the terrible effects of sin mentioned above. What a glorious future Christ has won for us!

2. Perfect strong resurrection bodies

The life of the new heaven and new earth will be physical and perfect. Whatever aches and pains and disabilities we now have, then we will have perfect, new, strong, capable resurrection bodies. Christ has defeated death for us as the first fruits and when he returns in glory and judgement, “those who belong to him” (i.e. all those who believe or trust in him) will also be resurrected to the life of the new creation (1 Cor 15:23). Do you count yourself among those who belong to him? If not, don’t leave it any longer! Turn to him in trust and obedience.

There will be a physical new creation – a new or renewed earth (2 Peter 3:13). We will receive our new resurrection bodies. We will never get sick or become old or frail. Our resurrection bodies will be “raised in strength” (1 Cor. 15:23). Won’t that be absolutely wonderful !

Can you remember when you were at your physical peak? Maybe at 25 or 30? Our resurrection bodies will be like that but far better -forever! As a young man I enjoyed squash, tennis, water-skiing and sailing. What did you enjoy? We and all believers will be fit and strong again like that. The original creation was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). We will have resurrection bodies that are “very good”. I can’t wait.

3. Believers will enjoy good physical activities in the beautiful new creation

We shall eat and drink and celebrate together at the marriage supper of the Jesus the Lamb (Rev. 19:9). The river of the water of life will flow from the throne of God and the Lamb through the middle of the great street of the heavenly city and “the tree of life will bear twelve kinds of fruit” (Rev.22:1-2). It is reasonable to say that these expressions refer to real physical things and are not symbolic, and refer to real banqueting, real wine (Lk 22:18), real rivers and trees. These are just some of the wonderful features and experiences to look forward to in the perfect new heaven and new earth. (More next week).

But above all, the life of the new creation will be characterised by being in the presence of God himself. We will see his wonderful face (Rev. 22:4). Come Lord Jesus !

(To be continued)

Coronavirus as a wilderness experience

-Brian Rosner (au.thegospelcoalition.org)

…What, then, is God doing when we find ourselves in the wilderness? Moses, in a text that Jesus turns to in his own wilderness experience, answers the question:
“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you. (Deuteronomy 8:2-5)
God does three things for those stuck in the wilderness.

  1. God Tests Us
    God uses the wilderness to determine “what is in our hearts” and discover the limits of our obedience. Sadly, Israel failed the test, instead testing him ten times (Num 14:22) in return, by grumbling (Exod. 14–17; Num. 11) and committing idolatry (Exod. 32; Num. 25; Deut. 9:7).
    Times of difficulty lay bare the condition of our hearts. In our present wilderness we do well to be vigilant against the sins of sloth, selfishness and self-indulgence, along with grumbling and idolatry. This is a time when the false gods of nationalism and greed enlist new worshipers. It is a time to take stock and to rediscover what really matters , for “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21).
  2. God Provides for Us
    The good news in Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness was that God provided manna, quail, and water from the rock. He continued to lead them, despite their disobedience. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.
    Troubling times can cause us to doubt the goodness of God. The key thing is to notice and celebrate the evidence of God’s kindness and continued care—even amidst the hardship and adversity. We might remember to be thankful for the necessities of life, modern medicine and health professionals, continued contact with family, friends and colleagues in new ways, more time to notice birds and lilies , online church , and so on. In the wilderness, it is natural to lament what God has taken away; we should also thank God for what he gives us.
  3. God Forms Us as His Children
    God used Israel’s time in the wilderness to humble the nation, “as a man disciplines his son.” God turned the various tribes of former Egyptian slaves into a nation. At the end of their wilderness experience they had become one people, under one God, with one national goal: the conquest of Canaan. God can use the discomfort and privations of the wilderness for our good. His ultimate purpose is to conform us to the image of his Son.
    Problems arise for our life stories when something unexpected—we might even say, unscripted—comes along. This COVID-19 crisis is such a time. No one saw it coming, and the upheaval is so enormous that many people feel like they have lost the plot and are acting out of character. One thing’s for sure, we’re all keen to start a new chapter of our lives!
    Nevertheless, it is good to remember that extended periods of restriction, isolation and deprivation appear regularly in the story of the people of God. What is God doing in such times? He is revealing our hearts. He is providing for us and reassuring us of his goodness. He is forming us as his children.

Responding to Jesus the King

– Geoff Milton

JESUS’ CALL TO FOLLOW HIM. (READ Mark 1-2)
Reading Mark 1 -2 about Jesus calling people to follow him reminded me of how he called me as a young man. I was very involved in lay ministry at my local church, felt God’s call to some sort of training, started one Bible subject part-time at Ridley College and suddenly I was hooked! His call was authoritative. I felt I must do this full time. God in his grace provided me with a part-time job and I put myself through college.
In Mark 1:16, Jesus is walking beside Lake Galilee and calls 4 fishermen to leave their fishing and follow him. They responded at once (v18), such was his authority. In v15 he had proclaimed to the crowds “The Kingdom of God has come near (in Jesus the King), repent and believe the good news” (about Jesus).
Jesus the King, bringer of God’s kingdom, called then and calls us now to repent (do a u-turn back to him) and believe or trust in him and to follow him – as we see with the four fishermen. Our challenge is the same – to put Jesus, the King and Saviour, as Number 1 in our lives, not just as a hobby or an interest, but the focus of our lives.
“Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all” as the hymn puts it.
Jesus’ authority in his teaching and authority over evil
Jesus’ authority in his teaching was amazing (v27), unlike the limp, unconvincing teaching of the teachers of the law (v22). Jesus demonstrated the authority and truth of his teaching by defeating evil when he met a man with an evil spirit (v23). He ordered the spirit to leave the man and it came out with a shriek. Jesus’ teaching authority was established with power. Jesus has the same authority today to set people free from evil, be it spirits, addictions or spiritual blindness. He replaces evil with the Holy Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness etc (Gal. 5).
Perhaps in the stress of the pandemic, you feel Jesus’ call to re-examine your life priorities and follow him more closely. Obey the call ! -perhaps in more frequent and heartfelt prayer (see Jesus’ example in v35). I have been personally encouraged by the prayer of many at St. Ed’s, including prayer for me. Thank you! Perhaps Jesus is calling you to more prayer and care for fellow St. Edward’s members or for those who have drifted away. Jesus said in v17 “Come follow me and I will send you out to fish for people”, a fishing metaphor for fisherman talking about drawing people into God’s family, God’s Kingdom, for their blessing by God. This has been happening at St Ed’s in this difficult time!
Jesus’ authority over sickness
In v30 Simon’s mother in law was sick with a fever. Jesus took her by the hand, helped her up and immediately she was strong enough to prepare a meal for them. Jesus the King has authority over sickness. There will be no sickness or pain (or death or sin) in the heavenly Kingdom!
Jesus’ authority to forgive sins
Later, in Mark 2:1-5, Jesus not only heals the paralysed man, he also meets his deepest needs – he forgives his sins (v5). The healing is an outward sign of the man’s inner forgiveness. Jesus firmly
announces his authority to forgive sins (2:10) “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”. Then to remind us of the expected response, Mark describes how Levi the probably wealthy tax collector, left everything and followed Jesus, just like the four fishermen (2:14). These are examples for us to follow.
Jesus is calling us to follow him wholeheartedly. Jesus is God’s rescuing King with all God’s authority who came to bring the Kingdom of God to the world. He calls us to follow him fully, starting now. As I have mentioned that may include prayer, or simple care such as a phone call, or generous giving, as many at St. Ed’s are doing or using your admin. skills or practical skills to serve Jesus by serving others or reaching out to people searching for God. Jesus is God’s King, his Kingdom is good. Why wouldn’t we follow him wholeheartedly?

GOD’S GOOD NEWS

-Geoff Milton

GOOD NEWS. Despite the restrictions, there is some good news at the moment. This week my tennis club reopened. Maximum ten players at a time, but it is a start. You may have good news, such as being able to visit grandchildren, or holding on to your job.

But many people yearn for deeper good news: spiritual good news from God.

In an interesting development worldwide for those churches running services online, many more people are viewing these services than ever came to the church buildings for a service.

At a time when many of the foundations of the world are crumbling due to the pandemic, let’s look at God’s good news in Mark 1.

1. JESUS is the focus of God’s good news

In Mark’s Gospel chapter 1, Mark goes straight to the point. It is like a news article, main point first, details next. Please read Mark 1:1-15 as we go along.

v1 God’s good news is firmly focussed on Jesus, Son of God, Messiah (God’s rescuing King). Can we trust him? God has prepared the way for his coming. He sent John the Baptist (v4), a prophet of God, to prepare people for Jesus’ coming. John the Baptist had been prophesied about in the Bible by Isaiah 600 years earlier (v2-3). John prepared people when he called people to repent of their sins and be baptised as a sign of repentance and of God’s cleansing from sin and forgiveness (v5).

Perhaps under the current restrictions we are more aware of our own sins – selfishness, temper, lack of self-control etc.

One Christian counsellor used this example: the old basketball in the shed may look OK but when you pump it up and put it under pressure, we see the cracks opening up. We can be like that. John called for people to prepare for God’s coming King by seeing their lives through God’s eyes and repenting or turning away from their sins and being baptised. There was a massive response to this call with huge crowds going out to prepare for the coming of God’s King, Jesus Christ (v5).

2. The good news of Jesus’ POWER TO TRANSFORM us. In v8 we see what God’s King will do. He will baptize or immerse people in the Holy Spirit of God. The powerful Holy Spirit will renew and remake people and empower people to serve God. And we see that happening in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost. One implication of this is that through Jesus sending the Holy Spirit, we can receive the fruit of the Spirit in our lives – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22f). That is good news isn’t it? Jesus is not just offering the latest human centred self-help program. This is God’s renewal program and salvation program, empowered by God’s Holy Spirit. Perhaps if you are a Christian you can see how God has changed you over the years. Bad habits controlled or weeded out, and new, good, Godly habits strengthened. That’s good news!

3. God’s Good News in Jesus calls for our RESPONSE.  See v15 – Jesus says “The time has come, the kingdom of God has come near” How? through the coming of the King – Jesus, God’s Good News in person. Jesus calls all people to respond to his coming (v15) by repenting – turning away from our sins and believing the good news that Jesus is God’s rescuing King, Son of God, forgiver of sins through his death, sender of the renewing Holy Spirit.

If you are already a Christian believer, turn again in repentance and faith to Jesus, God’s rescuing King and ask him to continue to refine and renew your life through the powerful Holy Spirit.

If you have never believed or trusted or turned to Jesus, do it now! Max Lucado uses the illustration of a father in a swimming pool urging his two young daughters to jump in, and he will catch them. One jumps in, trusting in her father, and is full of joy in her father’s arms. The other is afraid and backs away out of fear of the worst. Will you trust in Jesus? Act on God’s GOOD NEWS!

Fear, faith and future

– Geoff Milton

FEAR. When the future is unknown and when important things in life are cut off, we can become disoriented and the future may feel bleak. Some of that is happening to many people today because of the pandemic.

Personal tragedy can do the same.

When my mother died of cancer at the age of 61 at the same time as he retired, my father’s world fell apart. Two major pillars of his life were knocked out from under him. Something similar may have happened to you.

You may feel like that now, or have felt a bit like that in the past. You may feel far from God, alone and facing an uncertain future. You may feel like Jesus’ disciples in John 14:1-7. Jesus had just told them that one of them would betray him, that Peter would disown him and that he would be with them for only a little longer (referring to his imminent arrest, death, resurrection and ascension to heaven). Their lives were about to be turned upside down, like being in a car crash.

FAITH. In John 14:1 we see that Jesus understands their distress (and ours).

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe (have faith in) in God, believe also in me”. Jesus was challenging them -and us- to trust in the Father’s heart of compassion for his people (as seen in Israel’s history) and to trust in Jesus’ heart of compassion for his people. They had experienced Jesus’ compassion in his earthly life and it was about to be fully expressed in his suffering and death on the Cross, in order to bring us to God.

            Trusting only in human solutions in difficult times may lead us to disappointment. Let us by all means pray for the development of a Covid-19 vaccine, but there are no guarantees about when or if that will happen. But trusting in God’s goodness and Jesus’ death and resurrection to cleanse us from sin and to give us eternal life with God, is guaranteed to work. Jesus will bring those who believe to a perfect future. As we trust Jesus, faith will replace fear in our hearts and minds.

Like the thief on the cross next to Jesus in Luke 23, we need to put our trust in Jesus to rescue us in all circumstances, even from eternal death. The thief did that very simply: “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom!”. And Jesus promised him “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise”. And that was not an empty promise, for Jesus defeated death for himself and all who have faith in him at his resurrection.

We see that same explanation of saving faith in v4-6 of John 14. Thomas said to Jesus “Lord we don’t know where you are going so how can we know the way?” Jesus explained that the way to be with him is by having faith in him and him alone. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.” Putting v1 and v6 together, Jesus is asking us, even in the face of death, to trust in him alone to come and take us to be with the Father in our heavenly home. If you have never trusted in Jesus to save you from sin and death and hell, please, please do it today. Tell him you are sorry for ignoring him, thank him for dying to pay the penalty for your sins and ask him to forgive you and to give you the Holy Spirit to help you live Jesus’ way.

FUTURE. In v2 Jesus looked to the future beyond death for those who believe in him. “My Father’s house has many rooms — I am going there to prepare a place for you”. This is not about looking forward to a room in a heavenly palace. Rather the emphasis is on the privilege of living in God’s presence – with God our Father, with Jesus, with God’s people (see v23 -Jesus and the Father making their home with those who love Jesus). Jesus preparing a place for us is not about him building extra rooms and making the beds. He prepared a place for us by going, dying on the Cross to pay the penalty for our sin, defeating death and ascending to heaven to be with the Father. In v3 he promises “I will come back” (referring to his second coming) “and take you to be with me …where I am”.

May this rock-solid promise sustain you in this present crisis and even when facing death. Through faith in Jesus our saviour, our perfect future is absolutely assured.

Jesus our shepherd

– Geoff Milton

I enjoy the writing of Australian humourist Banjo Patterson. In the short story “The merino sheep” he describes the merino’s life focus on ruining the farmer who owns the sheep. For instance, says Patterson, the sheep “will refuse to run from a bushfire” but instead end up “rushing round and round in a circle until the fire burns them up” and “If sheep are put into a big paddock with water in three corners of it, they will resolutely crowd into the fourth corner and die of thirst”.

The current pandemic crisis shows us that though we are smarter than sheep, we may be more like sheep than we care to admit. Certainly we are very vulnerable physically, and sometimes unwilling or unable to protect ourselves from harm.

One of the great images of Jesus in the New Testament is that of the Good Shepherd. (John 10 – please have it open in front of you).

Jesus is the good shepherd and “his sheep listen to his voice” (v3). Although the religious leaders rejected Jesus, many of the ordinary people listened to him and responded, as with the blind beggar in John 9:38: “Lord I believe”. If you are a believing Christian, make the time to read God’s word and listen to the voice of Jesus your shepherd.

Jesus the shepherd “calls his own sheep by name” (v3). Eastern shepherds would call their sheep by name as we would call a pet. Jesus calls us his sheep by name, that is, personally. He knows and calls and guides each one of us personally and individually. You or I are not just anonymous Christians, just one of a huge flock. Rejoice in the deeply personal relationship you have with Jesus and pour out the depths of your heart to him in prayer. He is your good shepherd, he knows your personal history, your strengths and weaknesses, joys and sorrows. What a blessing to have such a shepherd!

Jesus our shepherd provides us with direction in life for the big things and small everyday things “He … leads them out” (v3) and “goes ahead of them” (v4). Jesus taught that the essence of life is following him and having a living relationship with him, rather than following a set of rules. In these current times, when so many things in life have been upended, and old certainties have disappeared, it is wonderful to have the rock-solid certainty of following our good shepherd, whom we can trust to bring us protection and blessing and sure and certain hope for the future.

What are these blessings of our good shepherd?

Through trusting in Him we “will be saved” (v9) from threats and dangers and also from the lostness brought about by sin (Luke 15:1-6). Jesus does that by laying down his life for the sheep (v11) through his death on the Cross.

Another blessing he brings the flock is that “They will come in and go out, and find pasture”(v9), that is he provides us, his flock, with security and nurture and provision for our physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Perhaps, looking back on your life you can see how Jesus your shepherd has done just that, in the ordinary and extraordinary experiences of life. I can look back on my life and see how Jesus has guided and directed me to jobs, churches and relationships and provided for my family’s needs in good times and bad. I can see with wonder how he drew me to himself through a series of Christian friends and their faithful prayer and sharing of the Gospel of Jesus’ death for my sins. All these blessings of Jesus our shepherd are described in v10 as “life to the full”, glimpsed in the Garden of Eden and in the visions of Revelation. As followers of Jesus the Good Shepherd, that is our future too.