Sunday 26th April 2015 – Phil Baul at St Michael’s & St Barnabas
Readings – Acts 4:1-12; John 14:15-27
OK I hope you have all had a good nights sleep and are now fully awake. Why? Because this mornings reading from John’s gospel is going to take your full concentration. We will not fully grasp what Jesus is telling us, through John, unless we are fully awake and concentrating.
So where to start? Can I assume that you recognise that God is infinite and we as human beings are finite? By that I mean the only way we will fully grasp what God is trying to tell us, is if we allow the Holy Spirit to come and open up our minds and hearts and reveal to us the scriptures and give us understanding. So let us pray for that.
I’m going to start at the end of the reading from John, where Jesus gives His disciples this wonderful promise. John 14:27 … Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
This I think is a good place to start as we need to understand where God is coming from. If we look around our world how much peace do we see? If we are honest in human terms not much, the terror of ISIS, the terrible drownings off the coast of Libya, the wars all around the Mediterranean and across the world -leaving the violence aside, there is also the economic war that is going on with people across the planet just trying to survive. So where is the peace God promised?
This I believe is a prime example of us trying to understand God’s meaning with our finite minds. Jesus said Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
“I do not give to you as the world gives.” I tried to find a clever way of explaining this bit but I could not put it better than Alister McGrath.
“Secular ideas of peace may include an absence of conflict, but cannot bring any comfort or peace of mind in the face of death. The peace that Jesus offers brings hope in the face of death, and a reassurance that His love will never let His people go. For this reason the disciples, and those of us who believe and trust in Jesus, need not be troubled or afraid. Once more this is not wishful thinking, but an assurance based upon the power of a loving God.”
This whole passage is God’s reassurance, through the words spoken by Jesus, “These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” God is promising another Counsellor, the Holy Spirit. Christians will not be on their own in a hostile disbelieving word, we have Jesus with us through the presence of the Holy Sprit.
OK back to the beginning of John’s reading. How many of us here are parents? Next question how many of us have had our children or grand children tell us they love us? Something special when it is a grandchild, isn’t it? Stay with me, how often have you asked either a child or grandchild to do something and they haven’t done it or they argue with you about your request? If you;re anything like me, when that happens there is a sense of disappointment.
Have you ever told God you love Him and have you ever let God down by not doing what you should? Looks like I’m not on my own – most of us fall into that camp, yet Jesus says, John 14:15, ‘If you love me, keep my commands’. So if we are disappointed by the disobedience of our offspring, God must likewise be with us when we let Him down.
Please don’t get depressed over that thought, no please don’t. Let me reassure you that God is not disillusioned with you. Why? Because He had no illusion about you in the first place, not just you but the whole of humanity. God’s greatest gift to us is free will. We can choose to obey or disobey God, same as our children can respond in the same way.
That is quite simply why God had to send Jesus to rescue us, to stand in our place, to receive the punishment our disobedience deserved by dying in our place on the cross. That is the good news of the gospel, that by belief and trust in what Jesus achieved for us all by His death and resurrection, we will have eternal life, the peace that we heard about earlier.
But before we receive that eternal life we have to live and work in this world and if you are still here, which looking at you, you still are, God wants to work with you, through you and upon you to use you in this world to tell others of the good news of the gospel and to bring glory to His name.
Now picture Corporal Jones, for a moment – though if you have never watched Dad’s army you will not get this – one of his catch phrases was, ‘Don’t panic Mr. Mainwaring!’ Don’t panic at the thought of God using you to tell others about Him, unlike Corporal Jones.
Jesus tells us in John 14:18, I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Then Judas asks a natural human question, ‘But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?’ Jesus responds with this truly wonderful and powerful promise, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
We are not on our own. Chris and I have just returned from a Church Army gathering where we had Paula Gooder, a wonderful theologian, sharing her thoughts with us -a very inspiring few days. Anyway, she challenged us to look at the great commission in a different way. I’m sure you are all familiar with it, from Matthew 28:19 … Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, followed by the promise that Jesus will be with them – and us – to the very end of the age.
Paula believed a better translation would be, come instead of go. If Jesus has promised to be with us we are not journeying away from Him but journeying with Him. So Jesus’ invitation is for us to come and work with Him, not to go out on our own. That to my mind makes a huge difference in our understanding of the challenge Jesus gives us at the end of Matthew’s gospel. If we are willing we are walking hand in hand with Jesus through the presence of the Holy Spirit, to do God’s will.
Plus, here is another wonderful promise from God through Jesus. John 14:26 … But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. I said at the beginning we need to be willing to have open minds and hearts. The reason? So that we can hear, see and receive what God has planned for us.
Let us move onto the reading from Acts. I love Peter, I mean he is such a wonderful character, so full of enthusiasm, so human, why put one foot in your mouth when there is room for two?
Yet he was the disciple who first recognised who Jesus truly was – Matthew 16:16 … Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Then in just a few verses this happens: Jesus has told them he will have to suffer and die. Matthew 16:22 … Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’ 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’
Poor Peter elated with the earlier discovery but deflated with having been used by the enemy. Then again telling Jesus at the last supper he would never deny Jesus only to remember the words Jesus told him that he would deny Him three times and he did. To be with the other disciples in a state of confusion and fear, John 20:19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders.
This is the person Jesus called rock on whom He would build His church! Matthew 16:18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
Is this the same Peter in the Acts reading? We find a transformed Peter working with John. No longer in fear but outworking God’s plan for him. Was Peter now perfect, making no mistakes? I doubt that, but Peter is now a powerful tool in God’s hand to be used to spread the gospel. Why the difference?
Here’s another quote from Alister:
comforter – the root meaning suggests someone who encourages, reassures and stimulates believers to do things which they otherwise could not do. Without such divine assistance, Christians would be unable to live and work effectively for God in the world.
Acts 4:8 … Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: ‘Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is ‘“the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.” 12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.’
The difference is the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Peter and John are being empowered by God’s living presence, as He promised. They like us have an amazing co-worker.
If we were to read on in the Acts reading, we would find that the authorities, despite the healed man standing there, refused to believe that Jesus was who He said He was, the Messiah. They also recognised that Peter and John were unschooled ordinary men. Peter and John would have learnt all about the Messiah and the promises associated with Him from the Rabbis.
They should have known who Jesus was by their reading of the scriptures, but because of their lack of openness of heart and mind, they were by passed and God is using unschooled, ordinary men.
So as I close let me encourage you to look round at your fellow pilgrims gathered here, unlike Peter and John though, they have probably all been schooled, but like Peter and John they are ordinary men and women, who if they let the Holy Spirit really use them will see God do amazing things with them and through them to His glory and the furtherance of the Kingdom of God. Amen.