Purpose of the Passion

Preached on: Sunday 13th March 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: John 3:1-16
Location: Blackbraes & Shieldhill with Muiravonside

Let us come to God in prayer before we think about His word. Let us pray:

Come Holy Spirit and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit and bind up our hearts and open our eyes.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

I wonder what are your earliest memories of church? What are your earliest memories of church? My own memories include going to church with my family, standing beside my dad, maybe even being held by my dad, and him singing the hymns out fairly loudly – which is probably where I get that habit from – I remember juice and biscuits after the service along the tables with other boys and girls, and just such a hubbub of conversation and activity there, I remember getting dressed smartly, I remember sitting with my Gran when we moved church. I don’t really remember much of what the minister said, which hopefully won’t be your experience today! I wonder what you remember? What your earliest memories of church are?

They could be very well tied-in with this building. These memories we are fond of. Many of them are good and they make a lasting impression upon us. These memories probably shape our view of what church is about and of what church means to us. For most of my early life I probably associated church with these memories. It was about going to a building, it was about doing certain things, it was about wearing certain things.

But then, at the age of 19, I became a Christian. That was when my faith became truly alive and real to me. Up to that point I believed in God but that belief made very little difference to my everyday life. In fact, life was becoming more and more selfish such that during my teenage years I was hurting others around me as a result. But then came a crisis moment and I came to truly know Jesus and not only did I change, but my understanding of church did as well.

In our passage today we see a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, and in that passage Jesus says ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again’. Then later he says ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. No one can see, whoever believes.

Jesus is not simply teaching moral truths and spiritual truths, he’s talking about people, he’s not talking about an organization or a building or a place. Jesus is talking about people.

And that’s because the church is made of people. Jesus came to earth, He came to die on a cross for people, people like you and me. The church is made of people and we know this, we know this because we sing this. Do you remember the song:
‘I am the church. You are the church. We are the church together.
The church is not a building. The church is not a steeple. The church is not a resting place.
The church is a people.’

The church is made of people. It’s why Jesus came to die. It’s why His resurrection is important because His resurrection proves there is hope for people, for people like you and me.

I know we know this. I realize it sounds like something from Sunday School but have we followed through the logic of what this means? It means the church is broader than us, the church is broader than here. There is, in fact, no them and us. There is only the church.

As a result, this means we have a great security and we have belonging. We don’t just belong to Muiravonside or Blackbraes & Shieldhill Parish Church. There is a place for us in any church and every church should stand in solidarity with one another, across congregations, across boundaries, even across continents. Isn’t that what we see when we pray for the persecuted church. So many of our brothers and sisters persecuted for their faith and yet we join in prayer for them and we don’t care what ethnicity they are, we don’t care what nationality they are, we don’t care what denomination they are, we simply pray for them. We join in prayer across all man-made boundaries for our brothers and sisters in Christ because the church is made of people. That’s why Jesus came. That was the purpose of His mission and His passion. This means we belong to something bigger. We actually have a greater security than we may ever have realized.

But is the church made up of just anybody? Or, let me put it another way, how can someone be part of the church?

Do we become part of the church by attending? Do we become part of the church by giving or becoming a member?

I think we probably all bring assumptions to our faith. We all do. And the same was true in Jesus’ day as well. And the same was true of Nicodemus. We read of Nicodemus in verse one ‘Now there was a pharisee, a man named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.’ As a pharisee he obeyed the strictest of rules, he sought to honor God in every way imaginable, he wanted to know exactly how to apply God’s law, and he followed those rules very strictly. He was for this, highly esteemed. He would be seen as a truly righteous man and through years of study and self-application, he has gained a position on the Jewish ruling council. Nicodemus has ticked all the boxes. He assumes his place in God’s family and kingdom. He assumes he is in; he is safe.

But as the dialogue shows, we can assume the wrong things, we can trust the wrong things and by doing that, we gain a false sense of security.

And what Jesus says, He helps Nicodemus to see things more rightly and to see where he can find life and hope and so Jesus says ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they’re born again.’ He goes on to say ‘just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’

Jesus is saying that life is to be found in Him. We are to trust in Jesus. It is this that qualifies someone to be in the kingdom or not, to be in the church or not, to believe in Jesus, to trust in Jesus is what ultimately allows us to belong or not, to His church because the church is made of people who trust in Jesus.

I wonder friends, is that where your trust is? Or have we trusted in other things?

Have we maybe trusted in the denomination, in its strength and size, and its legacy? Have we trusted in the building? That as long as the building’s here, as long as the walls stay up, and the roof is intact, everything will be okay? Have we maybe derived a false sense of security from these, just like Nicodemus? And as the future of these things that we’ve put our trust in seems more uncertain, have we responded like Nicodemus does to Jesus? Twice Nicodemus says ‘How?’ ‘How?’ ‘How can this be?’

And maybe you’re asking the same question with all the uncertainty you face because your trust is not in Jesus, it’s been in something else, you’ve assumed the wrong things.

So, maybe this Easter season, maybe in this journey towards the cross anew this year, maybe amidst all you’re facing, God’s invitation is for you to trust Jesus more deeply, to trust Jesus more truly, maybe even to trust Jesus for the first time, not so that you can get your own way, not so that everything will be okay, but, as you trust in Jesus, you might find a greater peace and hope and joy, even in the darkest of times.

For a number of reasons these past few weeks, I’ve been reminded of the story and life of Corrie Ten Boom and if you don’t know her story then at the end of April, Brightons is hosting a production of her story called ‘The hiding place’ which is based upon the book of the same title ‘The hiding place’. I encourage you to get a copy of the book or to join us down at Brightons for that production at the end of April and we’ll let you know of more details. Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch Christian and in her young adult life experienced World War II, her herself, her sister and her dad were in fact taken by the Nazis to concentration camps because they helped Jews escape from the Nazis. And her story speaks of how it is possible to keep trust in Jesus even in the darkest of times, even in the horror of such circumstances.

Corrie didn’t always trust perfectly, her sister did more often actually, and it was her sister’s influence that helped shape Corrie, helped strengthen Corrie, helped refine Corrie’s trust herself. And Corrie lived through that when her sister and father did not and she would go on to inspire many others to trust in Jesus, to trust in the way of Jesus, and to see the church grow. Because the church is made of people who trust in Jesus. And I wonder friends, does that describe you?

But maybe you’re wondering ‘Well, what kind of trust are we talking about? Is this a kind of trust where you just grit your teeth and get through to the end? Is it a kind of trust where you’re simply holding on and you’re simply fulfilling duty? I’m not sure it is, and it’s certainly not that kind of trust that got Corrie Ten Boom through her experience either. It was something other than duty, it was something other than just sheer doggedness and sheer human strength, it was something other, it was something of which Jesus spoke about in our passage today where he says ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son.’ For God so loved the world.

If the church is made of people and those people have come from the world to believe in Jesus, to trust in Jesus, then do you know what that means? The church is made of people loved by God as well. The church is made of people loved by God.

I wonder friends, do we know that? Do we believe it? Have we received it for ourselves? Do we actually know that God is for us, for you personally?

He’s proven it. He’s proven it to the greatest degree he possibly can. He sent His one and only son to die for us. God is for us.

Now, it can be hard to hold on to that in a broken world with all that is going on and all that is changing in our world and in our local context. It is said that in our day we are in a grey zone, a period of time between the eras when things are changing, when things are in flux when the world as we know it is disappearing before our eyes. Being in that grey zone is unsettling, it is disorientating, it is scary. I’m sure you feel it like I do as well.

And maybe God’s invitation this Easter is to perceive His love more fully and to receive His love more deeply.

As we journey towards Easter together, reflecting on the cross, reflecting on the reasons that Jesus came and the purpose of His passion, may we see the love God has for us. May we see the depth and height and breadth and length of the love of God for you, not just for the world, but for you. For you.

I encourage you please, to try and make the time between now and Easter to dig into God’s word, to meet with Him in prayer. Maybe you can invest some time reading through the Gospel of John, maybe read a bit of a chapter a day or one chapter a day, whatever you feel you can manage. That through this gospel, this gospel where we find such truths as we’ve seen today, you can grow in your knowledge of God’s love, you can grow in your appreciation of God’s love, a love that drove Him to send His one and only Son into the world, to die on a cross for you, for you. Because, ultimately, that’s why Jesus came, that was the purpose of His passion. It was the reason for His journey to the cross, to have a church, a church made of people, a group of people who trust in Him, and know the love of God.

May we be such a people now and all our days come what may. I pray it may be so.
Amen.

The way of the Cross: step forward

Preached on: Sunday 14th March 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here21-03-14 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Mark 8:27 – 9:1
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word:

Come Holy Spirit, lead us in the way of Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit, reveal Jesus to us.
Come Holy Spirit, with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name,
Amen.

When you were younger, did you ever play that relay race where you would take two steps forward and then one step back? I remember playing that in the Cub Scouts and it’s harder than you think. It’s not natural. It doesn’t come easy, and so when I was a Scout Leader and playing it with Beaver Scouts, who are younger than Cubs, they would struggle, often bending the rules because they just want to go forward.

I wonder if that’s a picture which could capture how you feel or have felt about your faith?

Maybe you were making progress, two steps forward, but then something came along and it forced you to take a step back, and in some cases you might even have taken several steps back.

We imagine the life of faith, don’t we, to be a constant, upward, positive journey – forward step after forward step – when the backward steps do come they take us by surprise and, because no one prepared us, and few of us are open enough about our faith, then we struggle and our faith becomes undermined, even in a detrimental way.

I think Peter would know some of that experience himself. Up to this point in the book of Mark, Peter has been watching and listening to Jesus and he, along with the other disciples, has been asking ‘Who is this?” “Who is this whom even the wind and the waves obey?” “Who is this who heals and teaches with such authority?”

As they journey with Jesus, they hear what others are saying. They hear the whispers, the rumors, the questions. They’ve maybe been asking them themselves and slowly, ever so slowly, the pieces start coming together, and Jesus discerns it’s the right time to ask a question or two.

“Who do people say I am?” The answer given is largely positive and makes sense but it’s not quite there yet, because the crowd hasn’t spent as much time with Jesus as the disciples have.

So, Jesus presses them further “Who do you say I am?” Peter answers “You are the Messiah, the Christ?” Well done Peter, two steps forward, you’ve figured it out!

So, now Jesus begins to teach them the true nature of what it means to be Messiah. He discerns that they are ready to hear this and the way he will go.

We read these words earlier, “Jesus then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed, and after three days rise. Again he spoke plainly about this and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”

The Messiah must die. The way of Jesus is the way of the Cross, and so, Jesus is the Messiah who will give his life for others.

But this is too much for Peter, because Peter, as with all his contemporaries, expected the Messiah to be a king-like figure who would rid Israel of Roman occupation and bring Israel back to its glory days. So, how can Jesus speak of suffering? How can he speak of dying? If he dies he cannot be the true Messiah and so Peter rebukes Jesus. Peter seeks to impose his perspective, his agenda onto Jesus, because Peter’s concept of Jesus as Messiah is too narrow.

In the space of a few minutes Peter suddenly takes a backward step and, with the rebuke of Jesus, maybe he even takes a couple of steps back. What’s striking here is that it is Jesus who causes Peter to take those steps back. We might say, even, it is Jesus who undermines the faith of Peter. Yet Jesus does this so as to lead Peter to a higher and truer faith. There will come more steps forward but first Peter must step back so that Jesus can help Peter know the Messiah truly.

This has been the case for people across the centuries. Paul would one day say “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”

The secret of Jesus identity is not that he was the Messiah but what he came to do as the Messiah, and the way in which he would accomplish this. His way seemed weak, seemed foolish, to many, a backward step, an undermining of faith, but it is the way of Jesus.

Friends, have we recently experienced the backward step of faith ourselves? Maybe because of the pandemic. Where are you going? Maybe because of the changes coming for the Braes churches. Is this really what you want God?

Maybe it’s in a personal area of life. Don’t you love me God?

Maybe you feel like you’ve taken a backward step, that your faith has been undermined and it might raise the question of whether belief in this God, belief in Jesus as God, is foolish and weak.

I wonder, in the midst of your questions, in the midst of all you are wrestling with, are you willing to allow Jesus to change your perspective of Him? Are you willing to allow Him to undo the easy answers? Will you allow him to lead you to a higher and truer faith even if difficulties remain or lie ahead?

We too, like Peter, can begin to take steps forward once more, and to do so we simply need to keep journeying with Jesus. We keep giving him our time in prayer, through reading the scriptures, in worship, or solitude. We keep journeying the way of Jesus even amidst the dark night of the soul, and one day, one day light will come, hope will arise, pieces might fit together, not with easy answers, but with a higher and truer faith in Jesus the Messiah who suffered to give his life for you and for me.

In our reading today, Jesus sought not only to mature Peter’s faith, the occasion gave Jesus the opportunity to speak to the wider crowd as well, and help them see that He wasn’t calling them to a revolution against the Romans, no, His way, the way of the Cross was also for His disciples, for any who would follow Him and seek life through Him. Jesus said “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Forever whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.”

To follow Jesus and find life through Him, to belong to the way, is to give your life for Jesus. We might think that to follow Jesus is to give our life away for others, after all that’s what Jesus did, but this is not what Jesus says, he says “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Why does Jesus say this? Is he an egotistical Messiah?

Well Jesus taught, in line with the old testament, that the first commandment, the first, is to love the lord your God’s with all your being with every area of your life. The second is to love others. And when we get the order of our loves right then we are able to love rightly. As we love God’s and receive His love, we can grow then and truer and purer love for others. For as we learn to deny self, as we follow Jesus, then we are better placed to love others sacrificially.

Jesus is not seeking a minor adjustment to our lives. Here we are called to the way of Jesus, to the way of the Cross, but we cannot do that if we do not love Jesus and show that love by giving our lives for Him. What is more, do you know what can happen when we love others first or even seek to do good without reference to Jesus? Well, it can lead us to think we deserve God’s blessing. We might think to ourselves “God, I have loved others surely I deserve salvation?” or we might think to ourselves as well “God, I have loved others so why am I facing these difficult times?”

The way of Jesus is the way of the Cross. He is the Messiah who will give His life for others. To follow Him, to follow in the way of Jesus, is to give your life for Jesus. When we get this wrong we build a wrong perspective of Jesus, we put our agenda on Him and we turn Him into a genie God or a slot machine God, a God for the good times and a God who must make our life go our way.

Sometimes when we picture Jesus like this and then experience an event which forces us to take a backward step, we can become stuck in that backward step, I think, maybe because we understood Christianity as something other than loving Jesus first, something other than giving our lives for Him.

This has been a problem across the centuries such that in the 15th century a Christian writer named Thomas à Kempis said this:

“Jesus today has many who love His heavenly kingdom, but few who carry His cross. Plenty of people He finds to share His banquet, few to share His fast. Everyone desires to take part in His rejoicing, but few are willing to suffer anything for His sake. There are many that love Jesus as long as nothing runs counter to them, many that praise and bless Him as long as they receive comfort from Him but, should Jesus hide from them and leave them for a while to draw them into deeper relationship with Himself, they fall to complaining. Those who love Jesus for His own sake, not for the sake of their own comfort. Bless Him in time of trouble and heartache as much as when they are full of consolation.”

Brothers and sisters, we journey with Jesus towards Easter. The Jesus who is Messiah, who would suffer and die as Messiah, came to die as Messiah, and as people who belong to the way, Jesus bids us come follow Him, give our lives, our love to Him, that we might walk in His way and carry our cross in our day.

I pray it may be so,

Amen.