This article will be published a day or two after Easter Sunday so for followers of Jesus the events of the first Easter will still be fresh in our minds. Many churches on Easter Sunday will proclaim the festal shout:
“Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again!”
The connection between the first two statements and Easter should be obvious. But what about the last one: Christ will come again!
For a period of 40 days after Christ’s Resurrection on the first Easter morning, he appeared to his disciples many times, giving them convincing proofs that he was alive. At the end of that period Jesus went to a mountain with his disciples. While they were there a cloud came and took Jesus out of their sight and he ascended into heaven.
Understandably his disciples were dumbfounded and stood gazing into the sky watching as their Lord and Master disappeared before their eyes. Immediately two angels appeared and said: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
Traditionally the church celebrates this event on Ascension Day, 40 days after Easter. Nevertheless the Easter Festal shout anticipates Christ’s return because that is the climactic day that followers of Christ look forward to. That is the day when all our hopes and expectations in Christ will be fully realised. That is the day when all injustices will be righted, all pains will be healed, all sorrow will finally cease.
It is also the day when all mankind will stand before Christ to give an account for their deeds. His followers need have no fear of this judgement because Christ’s death has made a way for our wrongdoings to be forgiven. Not so for those who have not put their trust in him.
The joyful, festal shout on Easter morning is entirely appropriate because we look back with gratitude to Christ’s death and resurrection and look forward to the hope that this offers us. If you don’t yet have this hope then ask God to give it to you.
This blog post featured in the April 2016 edition of Hook Focus
Nestling between the book of Judges and 1 Samuel is the iconic tale of Ruth. At 4 chapters long it is one of the shortest books in the Old Testament, yet it provides a compelling narrative of apparently ordinary people as they face the ebbs and flows of life. The story contains tragedy and hope, romance and pathos, a hero and a heroine – it would form a good basis for a film synopsis. However, as we shall see through March as we study this book in more detail, there is much more to it than meets the eye.
The background for the story is the ‘time when the Judges ruled’, a time when ‘there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes’. Against this backdrop of ungodliness it is perhaps not surprising to see Elimelech attempt to save his family by fleeing the famine in Bethlehem in order to seek a better life away from God’s people in Moab. Sadly, far from improving, their situation actually gets worse and the womenfolk are left widowed, childless and destitute. Despite this chilling reminder that God brings judgement on those who wilfully disobey, we see hope for those who return humbly to him. We see God’s providential care for those who trust him. We see God’s care and interest for those who are weak and vulnerable: the widows, the homeless and the foreigners. We see a framework for society that catches God’s heart for the poor. We see bold faith being exercised by Naomi and Ruth. We see Boaz act with great dignity and compassion. This story is no primitive chick lit, or mere slushy romance but a powerful example of the difference between walking faithfully in God’s ways and doing things our own way.
Who will you identify with, Elimelech or Boaz? Naomi or Ruth? Primarily written to demonstrate God’s providential care for those in desperation, yet there is a twist in the tale that reverberates down to us 3,000 years later and means that you and I are part of this ancient but on-going narrative. Make time to read the whole book through before each meeting and allow God to change and shape your life as you trace the Road to Redemption.
This blog post featured in the March 2012 edition of Lifelines
The problem of suffering is one of the most common objections people will put forward against Christianity, arguing that a loving God would not possibly allow tragedy and disaster. Since the world is full of such events, they reason that there cannot therefore be a God. This is a huge area to explore and difficult to cover adequately in brief. It also makes all the difference in the world whether the tragedy is happening to anonymous people the other side of the globe or to people we know personally. My observation is that often the question is a smoke screen designed to divert attention away from a more fundamental issue that Jesus addresses when he responds to concern about ‘innocent victims’.
It was a commonly held idea in first century Judea that some people deserve bad things to happen to them. Jesus tackled this head on in Luke 13 when he spoke about the Tower of Siloam that fell killing 18 people. Jesus’ comment indicates that tragedy is neither deserved nor undeserved; in fact that is the wrong question. Rather than worrying about the whys and wherefores of tragedy in this life he focuses upon our need to repent in order to avoid a greater tragedy in the next life. Jesus doesn’t get engaged in an argument about whether God exists, or whether he is good. He doesn’t even really discuss whether the people who died were innocent or deserved punishment for their sins. Jesus sees these tragedies as a wakeup call to remind us that we will all one day die and face judgement. Twice in five verses he says: “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Hardly a statement epitomising 21st century political correctness!
I am aware that there are more pastorally sensitive responses that we can make; there are also more intellectually satisfying arguments that can be advanced. However Jesus takes us straight to the heart of the matter that, when we hear of tragedies like the capsizing of the Costa Concordia, whatever else we may say the most urgent message that people need to hear is that if they do not repent they will perish eternally. None of us knows the day when we will draw our final breath; the day when it will be too late to make our peace with God. So, when you hear of another tragedy rather than pondering “where was God?” it is better to ask yourself “am I ready?” and if not to repent.
If you read Hook Focus you will notice that I have written a similar article for the February edition. I have expanded those comments a little here as I am aware that they may provoke a reaction and that you might be asked questions about it. So be prepared!
This blog post featured in the February 2012 edition of Lifelines
On an almost daily basis we are confronted with tragedy. Some events, like the capsizing of the Costa Concordia, hit the headlines and become part of a national or even international consciousness. Other events are less newsworthy, though no less distressing for the individuals concerned. In both sets of circumstances, any of us may be called upon to give support and compassion to those affected, and it is often what we do rather than what we say that makes the difference.
Tragedies like this raise many questions, for example why does God allow bad things happen to otherwise innocent victims? There is an unwritten assumption behind this that some people may deserve bad things to happen to them. That was certainly a commonly held idea in first century Judea; an idea that Jesus himself tackled head on in Luke 13 when he spoke about the Tower of Siloam that fell killing 18 people. Jesus’ comment seems to suggest that tragedy is neither deserved nor undeserved; in fact that is the wrong question. Rather than worrying about the whys and wherefores of tragedy in this life he focuses upon our need to repent in order to avoid a greater tragedy in the next life.
How does this answer help us respond to tragedy now? Much will depend on how close we are to those going through the experience. The closer we are, the more love and tenderness will be required from us, in our prayers and through practical support. For all of us who are left behind however a tragedy can be a spur to make sure that our eternal destiny is secure. None of us knows the day when we will draw our final breath; the day when it will be too late to make our peace with God. So, when you hear of another tragedy, rather than pondering “where was God?” it is better to ask yourself “am I ready?”
This blog post featured in the February 2012 edition of Hook Focus