Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Good Friday?

It is quite common to hear preachers build sermons or talks around why we call Good Friday good, when something indescribably bad happens. And the main thrust is that, even though the events that we remember are terrible, the results are amazing.  Because Jesus died, we can, if we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10v9), then we can experience a renewed and restored relationship with God, our Creator and Sustainer. Or to put it as Paul puts it, we are saved.

That would be a ‘Good Friday?’ talk. This blog is a ‘Good Friday?’ blog        .

Now, the traditional view of the Easter weekend is that Jesus was crucified in the afternoon of the Friday, buried in the evening, stayed in the tomb on the Saturday, and was raised back to life on the Sunday morning.  As the Jews measured their days from sunset to sunset, then this is only really 1½ days in the tomb. But this isn’t what Jesus was expecting himself.  Listen to some of the things he himself said about his death.

For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12v40 ESV)

Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple [meaning his body], and in three days I will raise it up." (John 2v19 ESV)

Now, you might be able to stretch an argument, however shaky, to say that Jesus was in the tomb for parts of three days – but you can’t say that he was there for three nights. So, is Jesus lying, or mistaken? Of course not!! So we must be missing something!!

Consider, then the following verses.

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. (Mark 16v 1 ESV)
Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. (Luke 23v56 ESV)

If you try and put those two verses together, it is quite hard. The women prepared spices before the Sabbath, but bought them after the Sabbath…?

This only really makes sense if Mark and Luke are referring to different Sabbaths. I am not going to go into the full technical explanation, but the Passover festival which the Jews remembered every year was classed as a Sabbath, but it did not have to fall on the same day as the weekly Sabbath. Passover was the festival that marked the beginning of the Exodus, when the Jews left slavery in Egypt, headed for the Promised Land. There was to be a special feast, when the Israelites would kill a lamb, and this was completed before sunset on the day before the Passover. If you want to read more, this is to be found in Exodus 12.

So, Jesus was killed on the day before the Passover Sabbath, which would have been a Thursday. After this Sabbath, the women went to buy the spices, and prepared them the same day, but finished the task before sunset, when the weekly Sabbath started. After the Sabbath, in the morning, which would be Sunday, they took the spices to anoint the body; but they didn’t find a body.

Jesus was crucified on a Wednesday, and placed in the tomb before sunset, which marked the beginning of the Passover Sabbath. This was entirely fitting with the way the Israelites had to prepare the Passover Lamb, and Jesus is elsewhere in Scripture called ‘the Lamb of God’. So the three days and nights that Jesus was in the tomb were Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Don’t forget though that the Jewish day runs from sunset to sunset. This means that Jesus would actually have been raised sometime after the sunset of the third day – it wasn’t noted that his body had gone until the morning, but this doesn’t mean that this was when he actually was raised.

But why is this important? Well, of course, the most important thing is that we remember why Jesus died, and what this means – and I will return to this in my next post.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Christmas in July.....??

Some good friends of ours spent several years in Lesotho in Southern Africa, and we had the privilege of visiting them for a couple of weeks. 

When they came back, we had a special service to give them the opportunity to feedback to the church some of the work they had been involved in, and tell some of the stories. In the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas comes in December, and most missionaries from the Northern Hemisphere can't get used to this, and so will have a special Christmas in July, which is the wintertime there. Bearing this in mind, we decided to have a 'Christmas' service here last July - complete with a fellowship lunch, where members of the church ate a Christmas lunch in the church after the service. My friend, Sam, led the service, and I was invited to preach.

In preparing the sermon, I wanted to try and select a passage from the stories that we generally hear at Christmas time, the Nativity Narratives, but I also wanted to preach on a verse that taught us how we should respond to mission work as Christians.

I decided on a passage in Luke chapter 1, which contains the following verse. 

Blessed by the LORD God of Israel.....[He] has raised up a horn of salvation for us. Luke 1vv68, 69

I looked at the image of the horn, and how it relates to a demonstration of God's power, among other things. One way in which this power of God is beneficial to Christians is in mission work. One of my points was that mission exists solely because people don't worship, and as Christians are supposed to make disciples of all nations, then there are just three types of Christian when it comes to mission work - Christians who go to different cultures, Christians who send missionaries out, and disobedient Christians. 

I had written this sermon, and had read through it several times, as I usually do, but it wasn't until I was standing in front of the congregation that I was particularly challenged by the words I was saying. I felt that through the sermon I was preaching, God was speaking directly to me, challenging me about what was stopping me going overseas. And the only answer I could give was 'Nothing!'

And so started the period of enquiry that we are still going through. We are exploring a couple of options, and speaking to organisations who may be able to support us, but we are particularly sure that God has given us a very clear conviction that we should serve Him in this way. We just need to work on the finer details.......

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The beginning..........

This blog is being written to record a journey. My wife and I, along with our two girls are embarking on a trip, and although we don't yet know where we are going, or, indeed, exactly when, we do know that we are going. This blog will chart this journey of discovery. I will soon write a record of how we came to know we were going on this journey. 

The reason for this journey is straightforward - we believe we are being called to serve God overseas. In writing this blog, I want to produce a record of the wondrous provision of God to my family, as we seek to do his will. The title of the blog is taken from a book in the Old Testament which is concerned with how early Jews coped in the face of a locust swarm which devoured crops and left the nation literally with nothing. God declares that to the people who call on His name in spite of the disaster that has faced them that he will provide grain, wine and oil and they will be satisfied. Now we haven't faced a locust swarm (not yet, anyway......!!), but we all believe that God will give us everything we need as we embark on this journey, and that we will be thoroughly satisfied by his provision.

God provides in many ways, and we, as a family, can already testify in many different ways to this provision. In Ephesians, Paul writes that 'in the coming ages, [God] might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness to us in Christ Jesus' (Ephesians 2v7, ESV). Well, we are in 'the coming ages', and we worship a God who loves to give, and we worship a God who is creative in his giving, and we worship a God whose giving is inexhaustible. And when he gives, his children are satisfied - that is our experience so far, and this blog will record how this continues to be true!