Good news is infectious isn’t it? You can’t stop talking about it. It just comes out. You don’t have to think about it. You don’t need training in how to communicate good news. The more immediate, personal and life changing, the more likely we are to want to share it. Its the same with Jesus. That is why on this, Good Friday, I would like us to spend a few moments contemplating Psalm 22, contemplate the cross of Christ. If people know one passage of the Bible, it is most likely Psalm 23. And yet I believe Psalm 22 is the most precious of all the Psalms, for it reveals the passion of God which made possible the promises of God contained in Psalm 23. No one can read Psalm 22 without being vividly confronted with the Crucifixion.
Did you watch the crime drama Maigret recently on TV? They were adapted from the novels by Georges Simenon and portrayed the French detective Jules Maigret. What made the new series stand out from previous ones, however, was the main character. The role of Mairget was played by Rowan Atkinson. I think Rowan portrayed Maigret very well indeed, but I kept expecting him to turn to the camera, open his eyes wide and grin like Mr Bean. That is the challenge for an actor portraying a serious role when he is associated with a very funny one. Rowan is in fact a very good hypocrite.
Around Easter time, a few years ago, I found myself in Bethlehem. I planned to spend the day with a Christian family in a village called Beit Jala near Bethlehem. Their land had just been confiscated. Their beautiful old olive trees are being bulldozed to make way for the 8 metre high Separation Wall. It was going to come within 3 metres from their front door and not only cut off all day light, but cut their whole village in half. The Hafrada or apartheid wall (that is what it means in Hebrew) has been ruled illegal by the highest court in the world, the International Court of Justice. But few are doing anything about it. So we did. But we never got to see the family that day.
As we walked down the hill towards their property we came face to face with a line of soldiers with guns and tear gas and sound bombs. And they were not about to let anyone through. They tried to scare us off by lobbying few sound bombs at us. And they succeeded in scaring us, temporarily. But we carried on walking toward them until we came face to face with these young soldiers. We assured them that we were unarmed and had peaceful intentions. We were not there to hurt them. We disagreed with what their government is doing. We wanted to see our friends on the other side of the road – please. They said no and after an hour or so we went home. I came back the next day with a friend and we managed to see the family and take these pictures.
I am still working through the rights and wrongs of civil disobedience. What do you do when you see people made homeless, widowed, orphaned? When you witness deep injustice, theft, exploitation? When you see a State abuse its power? And Christians justify this theft of land in the name of God? What would you have done? More importantly what would Jesus have done? I can tell you what he would not have done. Would he have picked up stones and thrown them at the soldiers? Would he have taken up a gun and forced his way through? No, of course not. But would he have ignored the suffering? Would he have walked by on the other side? I don’t think so. What was the point of the parable of the Good Samaritan? If you are not sure, you need to watch our film With God on our Side.
On a recent flight I read an article in the airline magazine about a rather unique watch called a Tikker. It doesn’t just tell you the time – it tells you how long you have left to live. The author of the article, Ben Hamersley writes, “Do you have any idea how long you have left, well, actually? In total? To live? I do. It’s counting down on my wrist as I type this. I have, according to my watch, 44 years, ten months, five days, six hours, ten minutes to go. Even less by the time you read this, of course, and the information is coming to me every time I glance at my wrist. I’m wearing a Tikker watch, calibrated against my date of birth, nationality and other pertinent things, and displaying a forever depleting time left to my, actuarially predicted, statistically average, time of death. The brainchild of Fredrik Colting – a Swedish former gravedigger…” Fredrik obviously had plenty of time on his hands. We all do, and one of the things I love to do on a flight is watch the map of the world going by and the timer ticking down to the arrival time. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have one for our life journey? Fredrik hits the nail in the coffin by observing,
The Book of Isaiah, written around 700 years before the coming of Jesus Christ, is quoted more times in the New Testament than any other book of the Hebrew Scriptures. Why is that? 754 of Isaiah’s 1292 verses are predicting the future. That means 59% of Isaiah is prophecy. Isaiah contains 11 direct prophecies concerning Jesus and it is cited or alluded to in at least 50 NT passages. Why? Lets find out. Isaiah 53 is so explicit in predicting what happened to the Lord Jesus it doesn’t need much by way of explanation. Indeed it became so obvious that Isaiah was referring to Jesus after he was crucified and rose again from the dead, that, as the Church separated from the Synagogue, Isaiah 53 was no longer read as part of the Jewish lectionary. There are five paragraphs, each of three verses, and it begins in chapter 52:13.
The Predicted Saviour: The Servant’s Role (52:13-15)
The Rejected Saviour: The Servant’s Life (53:1-3)
The Representative Saviour: The Servant’s Suffering (53:4-6)
The Crucified Saviour: The Servant’s Death (53:7-9)
The Glorious Saviour: The Servant’s Resurrection (53:10-12)
The Predicted Saviour: The Servant’s Role
“See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness—so will he sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.” (Isaiah 52:13-15)
I have a problem with suffering. I am sure you do also. A couple of years ago I experienced some of the worst pain in my life and I ended up in hospital. I knew the medical reasons why I was suffering but that didn’t make it any easier. If God wasn’t going to answer my prayer and take the pain away, I wanted to die. When the pain had gone I changed my mind. We struggle to keep their faith when confronted with pain or illness or death.
The problem of suffering is therefore a question we have something in common with our friends. The answer to our question should therefore help them as much as ourselves. For some it is an intellectual and theoretical question about the existence of God and problem of evil. For others it is a present and personal experience. The answer we give will greatly depend on the context. Our culture finds the issue of suffering a huge problem. The presence of pain and evil in the world leads many to question the existence of God. David Hume, the philosopher put it like this:
“Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?” (David Hulme)
Here is how C.S. Lewis framed the dilemma,
‘If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both. This is the problem of pain in its simplest form.’ (C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain)
Disney’s animated film Frozen 2 has apparently already grossed more than $1 billion in box office sales. I am looking forward to seeing it with a selection of grandchildren over the Christmas holiday. The original Frozen, is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story of the Snow Queen. The story set in a northern paradise called Arendelle, an idyllic village on the shores of what looks like a Norwegian fjord. Princess Elsa has the power to turn everything to ice by a simple touch but cannot control her ability. She has a young sister, Princess Anna, and they are very close. But one night, while they are playing, there is an accident. A wound to the head leaves Anna with a streak of white hair. A wound to the heart however would, we are told, be fatal. As a result of the accident, their parents decide to separate the sisters.
When Elsa becomes the teenage Queen, at her coronation she loses control and freezes the whole village. In desperation Elsa runs away to a mountain in isolation. Anna is as outgoing and fearless as Elsa is afraid and reserved. She is determined to find her sister and unfreeze her village. But that is just the beginning of the adventure. While Walt Disney may not have intended it to be, the Christian message is more clearly explained in Frozen than in any other Disney fairy-tale. Christian principles and presuppositions are implicit throughout the movie. Let me highlight three:Continue reading
Did you realise that once broadcast, TV signals begin an endless journey outward into the cosmos at the speed of light? That means our earliest TV broadcasts are probably travelling through star systems more than 400 trillion miles from earth. Do you realise that our neighbours living 60 light years away are watching the first episodes of the Lone Ranger in black and white. 50 light years away they are now watching Bonanza. 40 light years away they have moved on to the original Star Trek series. 30 light years away they are able to watch the Dukes of Hazzard. Just 20 light years away it’s the Sopranos. Those only 10 light years away are being blessed by countless episodes of Lost. Scientists tell us that the further away your neighbours live, the more likely they are to hold outdated, inaccurate and stereotypical views of you.
As a young man I once visited an American friend serving with the US military on Lakenheath Airbase. As I left the base, on the perimeter wall, hidden from the main road and the gaze of British civilians, I saw a large sign, about 40 feet long with lettering two feet high. Intended for US military personnel only, it read “Danger – you are now entering a war zone.” It was probably intended to improve their survival rates driving on the wrong side of British roads,
I’ve thought a lot about that message. “Danger – you are now entering a war zone.” I would be tempted to hand a similar sign over the entrance to a Church. I just can’t decide whether to put it on the inside for those leaving or the outside for those…
“Follow me, Vicar, into the red zone… Life is too short, and my time left too precious…This is why I shall not be going to church any more. I’ve never been a fan of the baby Jesus, but now, as the summer of middle age begins to fade, I can no longer tolerate the interminable hymns and the dreary psalms and the saccharine lectures on peace and imperialism and recycling from beardy in the pulpit. In the past I could sit on my hands and bite my tongue and count the seconds, knowing that soon I’d be released into the fresh air. But today I just don’t have the time to waste and I’m filled with a sometimes uncontrollable urge to throttle the vicar, goose the organist and make a break for freedom through the vestry….Me? Well, since I believe you should live life and not spend half of it in church, preparing for death, I’d take the Mazda, warts, beeps and all, every time.”
That’s how Jeremy Clarkson introduced the new Mazda CX-7 in the Sunday Times
recently. Although I’m already a fan of Mazdas, Jesus was right, when he said “you cannot serve both God and money” or in the case of Jeremy, “You cannot serve both God and cars.” I would love to have a one-to-one with Jeremy and find out whether, like many other people, he has been turned off Jesus by the caricature of Christianity he may have encountered.