Thursday, April 30, 2015

Sermon Notes: Luke 24: 13-35 The Road to Emmaus

Normally, my sermons come from a fairly tight full script, although the preached sermon is never exactly the same as the sermon script which appears here. Last Sunday night in the Brooke Hall, I tried something a little bit different - a series of notes, pointers, reminders which were the basis of my sermon. I think I ended up speaking for longer (25 minutes), so perhaps I should be more structured and scripted!

Invite you to come for a walk with me tonight...
maybe a road you know well... you’ve walked it manys a time
road to Emmaus; road of confusion; road of disappointment;

We might think it would have been great to have been among Jesus’ first disciples
to be with him as he did his miracles
to be with him to hear his teaching
to be with him on that first resurrection day...

These two were there, in Jerusalem, two followers
they’ve heard the tomb is empty
they’ve heard that Jesus is alive
they’ve heard the good news... but you wouldn’t think it...

These two trudge home.
Hopes crushed
Dreams fading
confused, hurt, and lost
Talking it out, failing to understand

They’re joined by a stranger
At least, they think he’s a stranger
Eyes kept from recognising him
They look at him, but they can’t see him
Don’t know him

What are you talking about? the stranger asks
They stop, look sad, How could you not know?
Surely everyone is talking about this?
About what?!

Here’s what: They know the full facts
Jesus of Nazareth - prophet
delivered by chief priests and rulers, crucified.
We had hoped he would redeem Israel - didn’t think he’d die

They even know of the empty tomb
the message of the angels
the confirmation of the empty tomb
their friends didn’t see Jesus

(Imagine saying this to Jesus...)

Disappointment with God
hopes dashed because they can’t see Jesus

If I were Jesus, I think I would have said, it’s fine, it’s me, I’m here
but Jesus gives them the scripture before the experience
the explanation before the exhilaration

1. Seeing Jesus in the Scriptures
Jesus calls them foolish and slow of heart
haven’t believed all the prophets have spoken!

Q: Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?
Beginning with Moses
all the Prophets
all the Scriptures the things concerning him

God had promised beforehand that it would be like this...
so the wheels hadn’t come off the bus

2. Seeing Jesus in the flesh
In the house, stay with us (abide with us)
took, blessed, broke, gave - 4 verbs of 5000/Communion
recognised, see him, he disappears
Burning hearts, transformed lives,
return to Jerusalem, sharing the good news - they know it too

Same road, but it’s not the same attitude

Perhaps when things don't go the way we planned
when we fail to understand what God is doing
when we think all is a disaster
we need to see Jesus in the scriptures - to see what God has promised (and not promised)
we need to know that Jesus is with us - even if we can't see him right now

When you walk the Emmaus road of disappointment - look for Jesus, in his word, and in his presence.

This sermon was preached in the Brooke Memorial Hall, Brookeborough on Sunday 26th April 2015.

Sermon: John 21: 1-25 Do You Love Me?

This morning I want to think about our senses. We have five senses - what are they? Sight, sound, smell, taste, touch.

God has made us to (normally) have all five; all work together to help us experience life, to store up memories, and so on...

Some smells might take you back to some other moment, so I need some volunteers with a good sense of smell to know what these are:
- Talcum powder reminding you of when your children were small
- Aftershave or perfume - from your first date with your husband or wife
- For me, Scampi Fries take me back to a family holiday when I was 4, sitting on the steps outside the hotel in the Isle of Man, eating these horrible things!
- Another smell you might smell soon (if not already this year) - the smell of a BBQ, not a gas one, a real one, charcoal fire. Smell of summer, of fun, of delicious food...

Smell of charcoal fire brings back unpleasant memories for Peter. Doesn’t associate it with food and family and fun. He is brought back to a dark night, full of frightening things, when he warmed himself by a fire.

Peter needed this new experience by the charcoal fire - and we need to learn from it too. But before we look at it, I’ve got a Family Fortunes question about bbqs: Name a popular food on a BBQ? Answers: Sausage, steak, chicken, burger.

A right answer gets a ‘ding’, a wrong answer gets the ‘ugh-ogh’. The first night by the charcoal fire, Jesus had been arrested. Peter had said he was so brave, the rest of the disciples might run away, but not him. In John 18, he is asked three questions by the charcoal fire:

You are not one of his disciples, are you? (18:17) ‘I am not’

You are not one of his disciples, are you? (18:25) ‘I am not’

Didn’t I see you with him in the olive grove? (18:27) Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.

Three ugh-oghs. Three denials. Peter says he doesn’t know Jesus. Isn’t connected to Jesus. Doesn’t follow Jesus.

Jesus died on the cross the next morning. Peter had let Jesus down. But on the Sunday, Jesus was alive again. He met with the disciples on Easter Sunday, and the following Sunday. But then Peter didn’t know what to do. He decided to go fishing, back to his old work, back to what he knew best. He had let Jesus down. Surely Jesus didn’t want him now?

They fished all night. Caught nothing. A stranger on the beach shouted to put their nets on the other side, and they caught a huge number of fish - 153. John realises it is Jesus, so Peter swims to shore to meet him.

Jesus has the beach barbecue, the charcoal fire, with bread and fish. And Jesus simply asks three questions. Or rather, one question three times. How will Peter answer this time?

Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?
Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.
Simon son of John, do you truly love me?
Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.
Simon son of John, do you love me?
Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.

Jesus knows the answer, but he echoes the denials. He asks three times, to take away the denials, and restore Peter.

Jesus hasn’t finished with Peter. Failure is not final. We might mess things up, we might say things that we regret, but with Jesus we can come back to him and find forgiveness. And more than that, Jesus still has a job for Peter to do...

Feed my lambs... Take care of my sheep... Feed my sheep...

Peter leads the church; writes bits of the Bible; becomes an under shepherd working under Jesus the Good Shepherd.

Perhaps you have messed things up with Jesus...
Perhaps you have pretended that you don’t know him, when the heat comes in school, work, with friends, with family...
Perhaps your words have claimed that you’re not his follower...

Jesus will bring us back to him. Jesus asks the question: Do you love me?

This sermon was preached at the Family Service in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 19th April 2015.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Sermon: Luke 23:43 Cross Words: Assurance

If there’s one thing the United Kingdom excels at, it has to be the pomp and ceremony surrounding the monarchy. Even if you’re not into the royals, you have to concede that Britain shows the world how to do royalty. It’s one thing to watch the big state occasions on TV - the state opening of Parliament, when the Queen travels in her carriage with the soldiers forming an honour guard; or the Royal Wedding a few years ago. It’s even better to stand outside Buckingham Palace, and watch the changing of the guard; or to visit the Tower of London.

In one of the exhibitions, the Crown Jewels are on display. You walk through a series of corridors showing the coronation, giving the details of the various items, and then you find yourself in a darkened room. You step onto one of those travellator thingies, and it takes you slowly past the crown jewels. Spotlights are carefully positioned to make the diamonds sparkle. The precious stones are dazzling; it’s almost enough to take your breath away.

When we think of a monarchy, of a kingdom, of a king, it’s the United Kingdom we think of. Ceremony and splendour, pomp and circumstance. We expect to see a king high on a royal balcony, adoring crowds waving and shouting. We expect the king to wear a crown of gold, dressed in the finest of robes. We expect the king to be powerful, commanding, and regal.

When we come to the foot of the cross, it’s the last place we expect to find a king. A man in weakness, struggling to breath, his hands and feet nailed to the wood. A man who is naked, except for a crude crown of thorns pressed into his head, and a scarlet robe of his own blood. A man who is high, held by a cross, watched by (apart from a few friends and relations) a hostile crowd who shout insults at him.

Almost every verse in our reading tonight contains the idea of Jesus being a king, but what kind of king is found on a cross? The crowd and the rulers sneer at him (35). ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’ The Christ, the Messiah, was the long promised King God would send to defeat enemies and bring in his reign of prosperity and peace. The hope was that the Christ would be an all conquering, kick the Romans out kind of king. That might have seemed possible on Sunday, but those hopes have long gone. This Christ has found himself on a Roman cross. The enemy has won. He can’t even help himself now, even though he seemed to help other people. That ‘if’ is a stinging rebuke, a declaration that this is no king.

The soldiers join in the chorus. They’re used to crucifying criminals, thieves, petty political prisoners, the odd rebel. But this is special. This is one to write in the diary, a story to remember to tell back at the barracks later. One of the men we crucified today, haha, he even thought he was the King of the Jews! That’s what we do to pretenders to the throne. King of the Jews was no match for King Caesar’s men. They mock him. They offer him wine vinegar, a sour, foul tasting drink to quench his thirst. They join in the chorus of ‘if’ - ‘if you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’ (37).

If you are the king, because we know you’re not. What king ends up on a cross? Only a defeated one. They continue their mocking by the sign above his head. You see, when the Romans crucified you, they wanted to make sure you wouldn’t make the same mistake. This is what happens to criminals, so don’t do the same. Jesus’ notice says this: ‘This is the King of the Jews.’ (38). Here’s how we deal with delusional king types. Don’t try the same yourself!

As if that wasn’t bad enough, one of the criminals crucified with Jesus hurled insults as well. ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ If you’re a king, then can’t you get us out of this? Notice how everyone so far has told Jesus to save himself... the irony, is, that for Jesus to save anyone else, he cannot save himself. It doesn’t stop the criminal’s cry. Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!’

The other criminal, well, he was different. Out of all the accusing voices Luke records, the other criminal doesn’t hurl abuse. He recognises that he is getting his just desserts - the punishment fits his crime. Listen to what he says: ‘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.’ (40-41).

He probably heard Pilate’s verdict of innocence. He had walked along the road with Jesus, as they carried their crosses. He had listened as Jesus prayed forgiveness for those who crucified him. He sees that there is something different in this man.

There are no trappings of royalty. Everyone else thinks this king is just a joke - perhaps even an April Fool - something to mock, something to laugh at. But this criminal recognises Jesus as his king. He stakes his faith on the kingdom of Jesus. He makes a royal request: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ (42)

It seems outrageous. It almost defies belief. This man still thinks that Jesus is going to come into his kingdom? That a man who struggles for breath will utter royal commands? That a man who is pinned to a cross will sit on a throne? That the man who is mocked will be honoured? That the man who dies in shame will reign in majesty? Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

You know what comes next. But find yourself standing at the foot of the cross, watching as this takes place. The criminal has uttered astonishing words. But they are followed by even more amazing words: ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’ (43)

I tell you the truth - this is King Jesus’ solemn word and promise. This isn’t just an empty promise made to give false hope to a dying man. This is the truth, from the God-man who is the truth. Today - on this very day, not at the end of time, not after a lengthy spell in purgatory, not after you’ve gone through hoops and hurdles, today. You will be with me - the dying thief and his dying Saviour, personally, in spirit, together, not drifting in soul sleep or a ghostly angelic presence, you will be with me. Where? In paradise - in perfect peace, in the presence of God, where there is no more pain or suffering, just the joyful knowledge of God. What a promise!

So often we think that becoming a Christian is something complicated. As if there was a checklist of things to do - get baptised, go to church, pray, give, read your Bible, go on a mission trip, join the cleaning rota and a million other things. This criminal did none of them. He simply did what the scripture says: Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Our hymns put it so well. The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives. Or, in that other hymn, There is a fountain filled with blood - The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day, and there have I, though vile as he, washed all my sins away.

Jesus gives this wonderful promise of assurance - you can be sure of your place in heaven. You can be sure that you have been saved, if you have made Jesus your king, and trusted in him. What a great encouragement! What a wonderful promise of assurance. Even in his dying moments, this man turned to Christ, and found salvation in Jesus. Yet the first bishop of Liverpool, JC Ryle, urges us not to think that we can wait till our last breath to call on Christ: ‘One thief was saved that no sinner might despair, but only one, that no sinner might presume.’ There were two criminals crucified, but only one turned to believe, the other continued to reject Christ.

This word of Jesus brings a challenge to us tonight. We hear the Lord speaking this to the dying thief. But have we heard this promise for ourselves? Have you the assurance that when you draw your final breath, that you will be with Jesus in paradise? If not, then seek the Saviour tonight. Look at your king, crucified for love of you, to bring you safely in, and bow your knee. Surrender to him. Call on him, and find salvation and assurance.

But perhaps you’ve been a Christian for a while. You have trusted, but you’re wavering in your hope. The knocks of life have made you doubt your destiny. The promise of Christ has been forgotten, drowned out by the other voices. Listen afresh, as your King speaks. Be assured that you will to quote 2 Peter 1 ‘receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 1:11).

Listen to the Lord Jesus as he answers your cry - Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’ Amen.

This sermon was preached at Cross Words, the Holy Week mission in Brookeborough Methodist Church on Wednesday 1st April 2015.