Greetings to you! Today is the last Sunday of Pentecost and it is also a Sunday when our Sunday School children are participating in this service. We move into a season of Advent from the coming week. As we head into advent, we are reminded of “The kingly glory of Jesus on the cross”.
How do we understand Jesus as a King in all his glory while he was suffering the death of a criminal on the cross? It seemed like it was just the opposite of any kingly glory as Jesus was stripped naked and only had a crown of thorns on his head. Yet, on the other side, he was indeed the king of glory.
The death of Jesus Christ on the cross is of central importance to the Christian faith. Through Christ’s death, sinners are reconciled to God and to their fellow human beings. So, what makes us see the kingly glory of Jesus on the cross? Two major themes of forgiveness and living hope are seen through the cross. We will look at these two themes this morning.
Luke records for us that two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they come to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals – one on his right and the other on his left. The name of the place was Golgotha in Aramaic, which meant skull. The place looked like a skull because of its protrusion from the earth. Jesus was placed between two criminals one on his right and other on his left. Whenever a criminal was crucified, normally one would hear curses and abuses, particularly on those who crucified them and on others as well. Sometimes even their own parents were cursed for bringing them into the world.
When we look at Jesus who was also crucified on the cross his very first words were, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus is interceding for the forgiveness of his enemies even while on the cross. This reveals his kingly glory that even in the midst of his intense suffering he was able to look out for the good of others. The cross brings about reconciliation. It breaks down every barrier and creates a new humanity both to Jews and Gentiles and to each one of us.
Forgiveness is not such an easy thing and our frequent criticism of others gives us temporarily a superior position and feeds our confidence: and so, it easily becomes a means of elevating ourselves by putting down someone else. We indulge in gossip because of the appallingly irresistible desire for increase in prestige, which comes from being in possession of a morsel of news that no one else knows, and imparting it generously to an animated and attentive audience.
We find it difficult to forgive and for some of us it is like a drug that gives power. However, Jesus sets the example for us by forgiving his enemies. This morning we are called to forgive one another and start afresh because of the cross. Forgiveness is an unnatural act because our whole being wants revenge. However, we are to follow the path of Christ in order to forgive others. Whether it be a brother or sister, husband or wife, friend or a co-worker, we are called to forgive.
The second thing that the kingly glory of Jesus reveals on the cross is the living hope that he invites every repentant sinner to. While Jesus was hanging on the cross, one of the criminals mocked him saying, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
But the other criminal rebuked him and said, “Don’t you fear God! since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” The second criminal recognised who Jesus was and pleads with Jesus saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
This criminal in the last moment of his life recognised who Jesus was and that he was indeed the king of glory who would reign forever. Sometimes, when death faces us, everything becomes crystal clear. He knows that somewhere in the future that these tables would be turned and this defeated man of Nazareth would be the one who would rule in glory. He rides into death on the back of this new found hope and trust. And therefore says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingly power.”
These two things of forgiveness and a living hope, calls us to respond to this king of glory. We are to practice this unnatural act of forgiveness in our lives. We are also to hold on to this living hope which says ‘No’ to death. The power to say ‘No’ to death is the same power that enables people to say no to all the penultimate endings of various kinds that are imitations of death, like an ended love affair, disgrace, marriage break down, break down of relationships between siblings, parents, incapacitating illness, bereavement and all such experiences that seem to say, “All is over.”
However, the death and resurrection of Christ gives us the hope that this is not the end. What makes it possible for people to defy the voice of death in the evil day is the presence of meaning. May we hold on to the forgiveness and the living hope that Christ has given us and experience his kingly glory in the days to come.
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The theme for our morning’s meditation is, “God works in unexpected ways to fulfil his purpose”. There are many times in our lives when God takes us through strange ways in order to fulfil his own purposes. We see that happening in the life of Jesus himself.
The Jewish leadership thought they had put an end to Jesus by crucifying him on the cross. However, God used it to fulfil his purposes of dying for the sake of the whole world and rising again on the third day. God works in our life for the good of our salvation. Whenever we go through trials and tribulation God allows that, so that he can refine and purify us.
In this morning’s reading for us from Luke’s gospel, we see that Jesus worked in unexpected ways to fulfil his purpose in the life of Zacchaeus. This incident comes immediately after Jesus heals a blind man outside Jericho. Luke records for us that Jesus was passing through Jericho and a man by the name Zacchaeus was there.
He was a chief tax collector and wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was and because he was short, he could not see over the crowd. So, he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him because Jesus was coming along that way.
Since Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, he was hated by the Jews because he was working for the Romans and collecting tax from the Jews. Most of the tax collectors were corrupt and charged much more that what they ought to have done. The fact that Zacchaeus was rich makes us presume that he too, like others of his trade, was not honest in his dealings.
Even though Zacchaeus was a rich man, he was not happy. Inspite of being a chief tax collector, his money was not able to quiet the turmoil in his soul. Power and position could not satisfy him. There was a deep thirst within his soul yearning for God.
Many a time we find ourselves in a similar situation. We have all the money and the resources, but we do not have peace in our lives. We are searching and looking for peace to fulfil this vacuum in our life. Zacchaeus too is a seeker like us. He wants to see Jesus and find out if he could indeed satisfy his inner most thirst and therefore, he runs to the Sycamore tree.
When Jesus reaches the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” Jesus called Zacchaeus by name. it was a personal call. Similarly, Jesus calls each one of us by name in order to fulfil his purposes. It was also an urgent call because he was asked to come immediately, for the Lord wanted to stay at his house on that day. Zacchaeus obeyed immediately and came down and took Jesus home.
Jesus continues to call each one of us today. He wants to come and reside in our homes and in our hearts where he can dwell with us forever with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus went to the house of Zacchaeus, it was a sign of fellowship, friendship and forgiveness.
Zacchaeus repented of his sins after his encounter with Jesus. He immediately tells the Lord that he would give half of his possessions to the poor and if he had cheated anyone, he would repay them four times. The people grumbled that Jesus went to the house of a sinner.
But Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Jesus continues to transform sinners in unexpected ways to fulfill his purposes. May we too allow God to work in our life in unexpected ways so that his purposes can be fulfilled in and through our lives.
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Greetings to you in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Today is a very special day for us as we have the confirmation of 23 of our young people who have been preparing themselves over the past 8 months to understand what it means to be a follower of Christ and the cost involved in it.
Today, they will make a public proclamation that they have indeed accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour and would be willing to take up the cross, deny themselves and follow him daily.
They will make their own solemn promises that they would pray and read the Bible regularly and grow in the knowledge of Jesus and discern his will for their lives. According to their promises they would strive to live a life of joyful obedience to God and of love and care of others.
Today is also a special day because immediately after the service we have our annual fete where the whole church has come together as a team in order to have a great time of fun and fellowship and raise funds for our projects.
The promises that these confirmation candidates make before God and you their witnesses today cannot be fulfilled by their own strength. In the Old Testament reading from the book of the prophet Ezekiel the Lord says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you, your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”
God has promised to give a new heart and a new Spirit to those who put their trust in Jesus. It is only through the transformation of the heart that we will be able to follow Jesus faithfully. The transformation of the heart is the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
In the Epistle reading taken from the letter to the Romans, Paul reminds us that if the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells within us then, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to our mortal bodies through his Spirit that dwells in us.
Therefore, we are to walk according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh. We are called to put to death the deeds of the body through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the same Holy Spirit who bears witness that we are the children of God. We are called to mortify our sinful self and live a life of honesty, integrity and holiness.
In the Gospel reading Jesus tells them that if the disciples loved him they would keep his commandments. Obedience is the mark of a disciple. Many a times we know what is right but we do not do what is right because of sin living in us.
We are however promised the presence of the Holy Spirit to be with us and strengthen us. Jesus says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
The term ‘Advocate’ which Jesus gave to the Holy Spirit is a very appropriate term. An advocate pleads our case before a judge and makes us appear in good light. Similarly, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us on our behalf before the Father. He is also the Sprit of truth because the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth and holiness. The world is oblivious to the Holy Spirit because it cannot see him nor does it know him. However, the Holy Spirit resides with every believer.
As these young people come forward and the Bishop lays his hand on them praying for the anointing of the Holy Spirit, may we too pray that God would not only anoint them but anoint each one of us afresh this morning so that we too would be empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit transformed twelve ordinary people that the gospel has reached the ends of the world.
We pray that these 23 young people may truly be used by God to bring about transformation in our world.
When we look at any successful army operation, one of the key factors for success is the intelligence reports one has. If the army is fully aware of where the terrorist camps are and have all the logistical details, then it is easy to plan a surgical strike and destroy the enemy.
A thorough knowledge of the enemy is essential in order to win a war and to defend oneself. It is the same principle in the spiritual arena as well. A thorough knowledge of the enemy is essential in order to overcome the attacks of the evil one.
If we underestimate the enemy and we see no need for God’s armour then we will be quickly defeated and destroyed. One of the key weapons used in the war with Satan is prayer, persevering prayer. Just like the military intelligence is important to win a war, so also preparation in fervent and persevering prayer is important in the spiritual warfare.
In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul is encouraging the Christians to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. He encourages the Ephesian Christians to put on the whole armour of God, so that they can stand against the devil’s schemes. Paul brings to mind that our real fight is not against flesh and blood but against the demonic, against Satan and all the principalities and powers.
In order to understand the enemy that we are up against, we need to remember that he is a powerful enemy. In fact, Satan is called by Jesus himself as the ‘Ruler of this world’. (John 12:31) and John’s statement shows that ‘The whole world is in the power of the evil one’ (1 John 5:19).
These texts do not negate the decisive conquest of the principalities and the powers by Jesus on the cross, but indicate that the devil and his army are usurpers and have not yet been destroyed completely. The devil is powerful and can do signs and wonders. Witchcraft, jadu, tona, voodoo, tantriks and occult are all real forces of darkness which have power to affect people. As followers of Jesus we may encounter people who have been affected with such spirits and we can only drive them out when we persevere in prayer.
The second thing about these evil powers is that they are wicked. The devil and his forces use their power to destroy people. These forces of darkness have no moral principles, no honour code and will use ruthless means to attack people.
Thirdly, Paul also reminds us that these forces of darkness are cunning which shows a combination of tactical shrewdness and ingenious deception. They pretend to be like an angel of light. No wonder he is called the ‘ancient serpent’ who seduces us into compromise and deceives us into error rather than attacking us openly.
Paul then goes on to tell us how to be prepared to combat these forces of darkness. He suggests putting on six items of spiritual armour to stand firm against the devil. Firstly, the belt of truth. Satan does not like truth.
Deceitfulness and falsehood are all the very fingerprints of Satan. What Satan hates is the truth and therefore truth is important for the believers. The second thing that he tells us to put on is the breastplate of righteousness. This righteousness comes from being in a right relationship with God. We are also called to live a morally upright life.
Cultivating truth is a way to overthrow the devil’s deceits and to cultivate righteousness is the way to resist his temptations.
Thirdly, he says ‘Put on shoes that will be ready to proclaim the gospel’. In other words, Paul is telling the believers to testify to others about the good news of Jesus Christ which in turn will strengthen our own faith.
Fourthly, he asks us to take the shield of faith to quench the flaming arrows of the evil one. When we do this, God himself is a shield for us. Faith takes hold of the promises of God and helps us to overcome those attacks.
Fifthly, he asks us to put on the helmet of salvation. Forgiveness, deliverance from Satan’s bondages, adoption into God’s family will help us to stand firm.
Finally, he says to put on the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. The Holy Spirit can only operate according to the Word of God and therefore, we are to soak ourselves in knowing God’s word.
All this has to be soaked in prayer. We see that in the next three verses Paul uses the word ‘Prayer’ three times. It is essential for us to persevere in prayer in order to bring about change in our own life and in the life of our church and in the lives of others. May God truly help us to persevere in prayer.
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