““Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you’, or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – he said to the man who was paralysed – “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God.”
In Luke chapters 5 to 8 we see Jesus at the height of His powers: strong, without fault, and compassionate: yet this is the one they crucified. In these chapters we see also see the gathering religious storm that killed Him. We also thought about what might be called a rhythm of both the Bible and the season of Lent: being humbled before being lifted up. Jesus was brought very low indeed before He was lifted up: to death, and you can’t get lower than that. But Jesus rose on high; and He’s alive and present by the Holy Spirit. He is God through whom all things were made, and to prove it, He raised the paralysed man and a Roman centurion intuitively called him “Lord”. So should we, and receive Him as Lord.
“The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’””
After His baptism, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness where He was tested by the devil. The enemy urged Jesus to feed His appetites with inappropriate things, exercise worldly power to avoid the way of the cross and to parade Himself in a proud display, but Jesus remains resolute. These temptations are “common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13) and, in overcoming, Jesus becomes our example in our struggles with temptation. The Good News is that when we fail and fall, He is faithful and just to forgive.
Apologies for the poor sound quality on this recording
“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7)
Having identified core values from the example for church in Antioch (Acts 11 and 13) as Distinctively Christian, Authentically Spiritual, Strategically Missionary, Truly Generous and Ethnically Diverse, we concluded last Sunday with the sixth and final core value, which is Growing. The church in Antioch grew in two ways. First, it grew in number. Believers scattered by persecution, arrived in Antioch and told the good news about Jesus with a great number turning to the Lord (Acts 11:21 and 24). Second, it was growing in faith. With the visit of Barnabas and Saul, disciples were taught for a whole year growing not only in number but also in Christian maturity. As we conclude this series, and consider our application of these six core values, let’s be a people who speak unashamedly about Jesus – the main attraction and source of transformation. Let’s also be a people compelled to Christian maturity, not those who remain on the infancy of milk but enjoy the full table of God in solid food (as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 3). And in all this, let’s remember that we must seed and water in co-operation with God but understand that it is Him who makes things grow.
“The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” 1 Samuel 17:37
David and Goliath is like a Superhero origin story. David came from relative obscurity, as a young man, to defeat the Philistine, Goliath, and so began his journey to become King over Israel and the ancestor of the winner of the ultimate victory, Jesus. David’s strength and power however only had one source and that was God. And it was by God’s strength that he was able to overcome Goliath. In our daily lives we often face Goliaths, whether that be our health, our finances, our relationships or our livelihoods. But the call from this story is to trust in a living God who wants to give you the strength to overcome those Goliaths in whatever form they take. David defeated Goliath by trusting in God and by God’s strength alone, let us be prayerful people who believe in a God who can do the same to our Goliaths today.
“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.” (Psalm 139:7-8)
Many of you will know that just less than two weeks ago I travelled to Israel. It’s a very special place, bringing the Bible to tangible life and the places we visited both spiritually and emotionally very moving. But the danger of visiting these holy places is that you can easily become too religious and believe they are the only places were God is encountered. During my travels, I witnessed pilgrims touching the stone where Jesus it is believed Jesus was crucified and wrapped for burial. At the mount of olives, I was compelled to touch an olive tree that Jesus clearly did not touch and at least one father dunked His children in the Jordan River very much against their wishes for some kind of special blessing or anointing from the Lord. But God is not only found in these places. As the author of Psalm 139 knows, God’s presence is everywhere. Whether we are experiencing the heights or the depths, whether we find ourselves in the east or the west, God is accessible. Jesus says, in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” And Paul writes, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” So whether you are in the heights or the depths, remember that God is accessible to you. Call out to Him even in the darkness valley.
Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. (Acts 11:20-21)
There’s no getting away from the fact that UK society is reshaped by the movement of people from different countries and continents. What it means to be British is being reimagined but at the same time, we must recognise the reality of xenophobia, fear and unconscious ethnic bias. The Bible makes it clear that all people, whoever they are, wherever they’re from, are made in God’s image. Humanity is one family. But the Bible also speaks of diversity within the oneness.
Within Antioch, a city riven by ethnic tension, Christians from all different backgrounds came together to demonstrate a new way of living. They lived in unity, but they lived differently. The church in Antioch both accommodated diversity yet transcended above it. Maybe because their ethnicity was no longer the ultimate signifier of identity, Christians were first called Christians in Antioch.
For CBC to be a truly ethnically diverse church, we need to become a community where everyone shares in mission, leadership, worship and ministry. It means learning to be flexible and adaptable. But what about other forms of diversity we see in society? The challenge is bigger than welcoming ethnic diversity but is to be a radically inclusive church: A church that welcomes everyone in our community, whoever they are, whatever they look like, whatever their age or ability and regardless of the things they do or have done.