Bloom where you are planted

 

Wherever you are, God has planted you there for a reason and a season. In your family. In your neighbourhood. In your workplace. At your seniors’ centre. At school. In the hospital or clinic. Playing sports. On the internet. God has you where you are for a purpose.

The Scriptures use the things of the natural world to reveal spiritual truths. Plants and trees and vines are images of our lives because they grow and reproduce themselves through their blossoms and fruit. Once we are joined to Christ through our faith in Him, we are enabled to reproduce His likeness through our lives as we allow His resurrection life to flow through us. Our job is to let this happen.

There are people everywhere we go who need our prayers and our love and our trust in the Lord to help them to know that Jesus is there for them—to help them to experience the presence, comfort and strength that the Holy Spirit brings into anyone’s life who will believe in Jesus.

God has given us a powerful implement in prayer. Everywhere we are, we can pray for others. When you see a bad driver—instead of cursing them—pray that they will not hurt themselves or others. When you become aware of some tragic or difficult circumstance in someone’s life, don’t be oblivious or get overloaded, pray that the Lord will help them—especially that they will see that the Lord cares and that they will receive the gift of faith so that they can come to Jesus and believe in Him. We have something so precious to give and God will use us if we let Him.

Prayer is the most important part of this process. You don’t have to stop to pray. You can pray quietly as you go about your business. You can keep your eyes open as you drive and pray. Prayers can be short and to the point. Let the Holy Spirit give you the words.

The next thing that is needed is the willingness to speak and act. Sometimes you just have to mention something in passing. Just say “God bless” or mention something about God or church in a positive way. We don’t need to force anything on others. We just need to be ourselves. Are God and your church an important part of your life? Would you share good news if you found a good medical treatment or a good television program or a good brand of some product? If you’re going to talk about God or church, make sure it’s in a positive context and that you are genuinely friendly and engaging. People will start to make subconscious connections that overcome the stereotype of Christians as odd, judgmental, self-righteous, harsh or just plain cranky. And if there is something you get a nudge to do, do it!

Sometimes we are tempted to think that we can only bloom effectively for the Lord if we are ordained and up front on Sunday morning or at least have some certificate to show we’ve been trained for something or if we go overseas on a short or long-term mission. Nothing could be farther from the truth. You are His agent right where you are. Don’t miss the opportunities that God gives you every day!

You can make a difference in this world every day—in the lives of the people around you. Bloom where you are planted! Prayer makes a huge difference. Words and actions led by the Holy Spirit and the love of Jesus have more of an impact than we realize.

Remember the words of Jesus: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit…” (John 15:5 New International Version, ©2011) May His Resurrection life flow through you today and always.

Don’t be afraid

Do not be afraid” said the angel Gabriel to Mary who was troubled by the angel’s previous words of greeting as he appeared to her (see Luke 1:26-38 ESV). So many times this is God’s message to individuals and to God’s people in general throughout the Bible. “Do not be afraid.” “Fear not.” The message comes through angels, visions, dreams, a voice from heaven, the Word of God Himself before His incarnation, Jesus during His time on earth, the Holy Spirit. And all these come to us as we reap the benefits of all these accounts written in God’s Word. These are written for us so that we will be released from the debilitating effects of fear.

There are many things that cause us to be afraid and fear comes in many forms. Sometimes fear is subconscious. We don’t always realize that hidden fear is what is driving us or troubling us. Sometimes fear is all too obvious and disrupts our waking hours and our sleep.

When God appears to people in various ways, their first response is usually fear when they realize it is God or a heavenly messenger of God. This happened to both Zechariah and Mary when angels suddenly appeared to announce miraculous births. But immediately the angels brought the reassuring words: “Do not be afraid.” Words from God create the very thing they speak forth. God created everything through His Word spoken. So when God says “Fear not”, He at the same time creates the ability in the hearer to be without fear. The hearer just has to allow himself or herself to believe and receive God’s creative Word.

Often we too are afraid to really come fully into the Lord’s Presence. This fear may be covered up with busyness and distractions. Will He really receive me with open arms in light of all my failings? What if He brings things to the surface that I am afraid to deal with? God’s love both accepts us as we are and changes us as we spend time in His presence. How awesome is God’s love! God the Father invites us to come in to His eternal throne room through the blood of Jesus which cleanses us from every sin, “known and unknown, done and left undone”. Here we can receive the love that alone casts out every fear (see 1 John 4:7-21 ESV especially verse 18).

Allow God to receive you just as you are with all your fears and other struggles and let His love flow in and over you as you rest in His presence. His love will deliver you from every fear.

Greg

Be Still

Ashbridges Sunset

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10 ESV). This short passage of scripture is so easy to commit to memory and so hard to remember to apply in everyday life. It goes along with “trust in the Lord with all your heart” as a verse that God brings to my attention over and over. It happened again yesterday (from a small bookmark tucked unobtrusively in the corner of a mirror) and when it did, I knew I needed to write about this simple but profound truth today.

It is so easy to get caught up in fretting about large and small things. In Psalm 46, the context is major upheavals such as war. We too may become concerned about many things including large scale political, social and economic issues and their implications both for the fabric of society and for us personally and our offspring. Often, we are concerned about personal issues including relationships, work, school, how to cope with the challenges of our current stage of life, losses of various kinds, health, money and so on. These things can preoccupy us and cause a sense of unsettledness and anxiety.

Constantly being exposed to outside stimulation from modern media can distract us from the kind of quiet that we need to be still and know that the Lord is God. This verse reminds us that all our concerns need to be given to the Lord and our main job is to learn to rest in Him—that He is indeed God and He alone can bear the weight of the world and all our individual and corporate struggles. He alone knows how He will work all things together for good for those who love Him, for those who are called according to His purpose (see Romans 8:28). This does not mean we are to be passive about life and to adopt a lethargic, “whatever” sort of attitude. But it does mean we are to have a different inner attitude about things which is not marked by fussing and fuming.

How can we be free from these inner and outer stresses and distractions that we all experience? Take time to be still and know that He is God. The New American Standard version of the Bible translates this passage as “cease striving and know that I am God.” Yet in the book of Hebrews (4:11), it says “strive to enter His rest”. The question is where do we put our effort? Is it in trying to figure everything out and trying to be or feel in control of every area of life? Or is our greatest goal to rest in God’s presence—to be still and know that He is God. Jesus said of Mary of Bethany that in sitting at Jesus’ feet in His presence listening to Him, she had chosen the best part.

It is in these times of turning to Jesus and letting go of all our concerns and resting in Him that we can receive His love and grace which will guide us, sustain us, heal us and sanctify us. One of the ways I find I can be still in the Lord’s Presence and receive is in quiet and contemplative reading of His word and other Christian writings. So I offer this writing to you in the hope that this will help you even now to enter his Rest and receive from Him.

With love and prayers,

Greg

Listening to music that draws me into the Lord’s Presence and letting it wash over me also helps me to be still and receive. May the following selection be a blessing to you.

Trust in the Lord

Pastor Greg“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5 NIV). This has been my theme verse since soon after I opened my heart to Jesus in 1982. After returning to the Lord, I was really struggling with a deluge of questions about everything and anything to do with God and the Bible and my life in relation to God. My mind has always been very active and I was having great difficulty resting in my new-found relationship with the Lord. In fact, the enemy of our souls was tormenting me with thoughts that in effect questioned God’s goodness and trustworthiness.

I came across Proverbs 3:5 and soon found it to be so helpful and applicable. Every time I started to fret and obsess about something or was bombarded by thoughts that seemed to be of both fallen human and demonic origin, I would say this verse aloud or to myself or read it silently. My wife Jen did a cross-stitch of it and it hung on the wall to be read every time the Holy Spirit drew my attention to it which happened often. I also was given a bookmark quoting it and it would leap out at me whenever I need to be reminded of this instruction.

Over the years the Lord has often and repeatedly spoken to my heart to trust Him. This has been about both large and small matters. This happened again last Friday night during the opening worship at the first session of “Intimacy with God” led by the Reverend Garth Hunt of our own St. George’s Church. I sensed the Lord saying I had a word. Then, as I sought the Lord, a single word came into my mind: “Trust.” The Lord literally meant a word. Sometimes God is very brief and to the point in His communications with us. No room for confusion!

I understood this word to be for this blog posting which is why I am sharing it with you. But it also turned out to be a theme for the “Intimacy with God” teaching by Garth. You can hear an audio of Garth’s very helpful teaching by going to www.stgeorgesonline.com/pursuing. Garth emphasized several times that you can’t have an intimate relationship with someone you don’t trust. So if you want to have an intimate relationship with God, you must learn to trust Him.

In my experience, it’s not automatic to trust God. I believe there are a couple of reasons for this. The first is our fallen natures. Though we don’t realize it except in retrospect, all human beings inherit a tendency to mistrust God. This is what it means to be fallen. The first people fell away from God and began to hide from God and feel estranged from God. Ever since, people have struggled in this area of trust.

Once I put my faith in Jesus, the battle around trust became clear. Before that, I was unaware of the battle. That’s what I mean when I say it was only in retrospect that I realized that this is the normal human condition. Such mistrust may be covered over with lots of rationalization which may show up as anything from atheism, agnosticism or belief in an impersonal force (I progressed through all three in that order) to religious activities focussed on our own abilities or good works rather than trust in God’s salvation and in His agent of salvation, Jesus.

The second reason for mistrust of God is that our lives are marked by both trust-building and trust-destroying experiences with other people. Sometimes breeches of trust may be small. Some are very serious. Some we may remember. Others are buried especially if they happened early in life. But on a heart level there are issues of trust versus mistrust based on our experiences growing up as well as in adult life.

Because of our fallen natures, we tend to project our trust issues onto God—especially if breeches of trust have involved parents or parent figures. The goodness of God’s Fatherhood is called into question because of disappointments with earthly parents and other parent figures. If these happen early, the child hasn’t really put these hurts into words so the issue is not in their conscious memory but is an unresolved and hidden emotional issue of the heart.

The solution to all this is to begin to choose to trust God with all your hearts—to believe that what His word says about Him is true. God’s Word, the Bible, consistently affirms that God is good! In the first letter of John (1 John 1:5b NIV), it is written: “…God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” This verse also helped me enormously. Just think of it, no darkness at all! Is there any room for ambiguity or confusion or question in John’s mind. No, none at all.

Don’t forget that John was the disciple who was the most intimate with Jesus because he was so responsive to Jesus’ love. If anyone trusted Jesus it was John and he was confident that Jesus was without any dark or hidden motives and that Jesus perfectly represented God—that Jesus and the Father are one (see John 10:30 NIV or ESV).

The whole witness of Scripture and of God’s people throughout history is that God is entirely trustworthy. We are to take God at His word and choose to trust Him for everything pertaining to this life and the next. We are not to base our trust on how we feel at any given time nor on outward circumstances. Trusting God is a moment by moment choice. As we make this choice and especially at crucial points in our lives, we find that God is indeed trustworthy and our faith is increased and our trust deepened.

This does not mean that things always work out the way you or I had initially hoped. But as we grow in trust we see that God’s purposes for our lives unfold. Often, we may not understand God’s purposes until later, sometimes much later and sometimes, I believe not until we join the Lord in heaven. But as we choose to trust God regardless of either inner feelings or outward circumstances, God enables us to in fact trust Him and to discover that He is entirely trustworthy and good. God always brings into being what He says in His Word if we will choose to act on what He says. Choosing to trust enables actual trust.

The second line of Proverbs 3:4 is crucial to this: “Lean not on your own understanding.” If we try to first figure everything out in our limited understanding, trust will be eroded and we will be on a shaky foundation. But if we choose to trust God and not rely on our own ability to figure everything out, trust will be built up and what we need to understand will be made plain at some point by God. Some things are beyond our current ability to understand and we can rest in God’s trustworthiness even and especially when we don’t understand.

All this helps us to be able to receive more of God’s love. Remember: helping us all to receive more of God’s love is my goal. We cannot receive if we don’t begin to trust. The more we choose to trust, the more love and grace we can receive and the more we receive the more we experience the gift of trusting God with all our hearts.

Greg

 

“God moves in a mysterious way” is a wonderful hymn by William Cowper. Cowper led a very emotionally pain-filled life, yet the words he penned demonstrate his deep trust in God. The folowing verses are especially helpful.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense but trust Him for His grace.
Behind a frowning providence (outward circumstances), He hides a smiling face.

Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His works in vain.
God is His own interpreter And He will make it plain.

Listen to Lori Sealy perform “God moves in a mysterious way” in the video below.

Receiving God’s love

Pastor Greg“This is love: not that we loved God but that God loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10 NIV)

Love starts with God. We as creatures made by God must receive everything from God. It is only because of our fallenness that this is not obvious. We are not the source: God is.

Yet we are commanded to love God! How is this possible? Without God it is impossible. The commandments are given to us to show us what God desires but also to show us that we are unable to do what God asks. This helps us to see that we need God to love God. As those who have believed in Jesus as God’s unique Son and have received him through the Holy Spirit into our hearts, we now have God living in us. We begin a life-long process of being receivers of God’s love so that we can love God more and more in return.

This same pattern can be seen with children. Infants must first receive love from their parents. Infants and young children are completely dependent on their parents and even as they get older they still need regular infusions of their parents’ love and support. Infants who do not receive such love and care eventually become withdrawn and unresponsive. Children who have to grow up too quickly or are traumatized by those who should be nurturing them have underlying deficits and hurts that can make it hard for them to receive love.

You may remember the fall of the very oppressive communist government of Rumania late in December 1989. Afterwards, severely neglected children were discovered in state-run orphanages. They had received so little care that they were terribly damaged in their ability to respond. Both their intellectual and social development were seriously impaired.

As good parents and caregivers of children we do not expect our children to love us without first receiving our love. Similarly, when we become children of God the Father through faith in God’s Son, God knows much more than we do how much we need to receive His love. We need to learn to become receivers of the Father’s love. Like needy children, we need to receive regular infusions of His wonderful, perfect and transforming love.

Because we have previously not fully known God’s love (before turning to Christ) and especially if there have been deficits or traumas in our experience with parental figures and others, we may unwittingly resist or not know how to receive God’s love. We may feel afraid or unworthy or have difficulty believing or trusting God’s goodness and faithfulness. Our fallen natures are not tuned into God’s love and the hurts of our lives may hinder us temporarily but our new natures are increasingly able to receive. The more we choose to receive, the more we can receive. And God’s love heals the very areas that make it hard to receive in the first place.

My own heart yearns to love God and to desire to seek Him. But I also realize that my heart can be lethargic, weighed down and easily distracted from this goal. I have been asking God to draw me–to give me a greater desire for Him. He is answering as He has before by pouring in more of His love and more of His nature. My main task is to receive and to go on receiving. It is His love that draws me to Himself and makes me want to both receive more and give love back to Him and to others.

Greg

Prepare for the Harvest

Pastor GregLast Sunday (February 10), Pastor Paul spoke on the following passage from the Gospel according to St. Luke, chapter 5:

5 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:5-10 NIV)

As I reflected on this passage, I was again struck by the portions I have marked in bold print. Notice that Jesus uses the experience of catching fish to illustrate the task to which He was (and is) calling His followers—the task of finding people who will respond to God’s call and be caught up into God’s Kingdom: i.e. “catching people”. Two things stand out.

First, Jesus makes it clear that, though they caught nothing on their own, when they fished under His direction and grace they caught an overabundance. At another time, Jesus says this explicitly (John 15:5 NIV) “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Second, there is the dramatic picture of catching so many fish that their nets begin to break and then the boats became so full that the boats began to sink! What is the meaning of this part of the analogy? I believe it gives us a picture of moves of God that bring in so many people that the existing church structures are strained to the breaking point and would break if it were not for God’s provision. One of my parishioners in Montreal was from Kazakhstan, a former republic of the aggressively atheistic Soviet Union. After the fall of communism, she described a great move of God in her country in which she and many of her countrymen came to believe in and follow Jesus. She described a time when many new congregations sprang up led by relatively young believers. Similarly, we see in the Book of Acts how the early church grew exponentially. The Bible also makes it clear that there will be an unprecedented harvest of souls at the end of this current age. (See, for example, Revelation 7:9-10.)

We don’t know precisely when such a move of God will come to the western world but you can be sure our time will come as God does not play favourites (Acts 10:34) and He is never early or late but always on time.

In this kind of scenario, we will have exactly the opposite problem from the one we have now: from a dearth of people in church to an overabundance that is so great as to threaten our capacity to handle it. Instead of worrying unduly about any current issues, let’s individually and corporately decide to prepare ourselves as best we can and by God’s grace and leading to be useful to God and His Church and to play the unique part for which each one of us is being called and equipped by the Holy Spirit for the harvest to come.

Lent is a good time to think and pray about how God would want to prepare you for service to bring in a great catch. The word Lent comes from the Old English lencten or lengten meaning lengthen (as in the lengthening days of spring): it is a time to stretch oneself and get out of ruts and comfort zones and unhelpful distractions by being more open to being filled, led and gifted by the Holy Spirit.

The following passage from Isaiah 54:1-8 gives us great encouragement:

54 “Sing, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
burst into song, shout for joy,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband,”
says the Lord.

2 Enlarge the place of your tent,
stretch your tent curtains wide,
do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
strengthen your stakes.

3 For you will spread out to the right and to the left;
your descendants will dispossess nations
and settle in their desolate cities.

4 “Do not be afraid [as Pastor Paul reminded us lastSunday]; you will not be put to shame.
Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.

You will forget the shame of your youth
and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.

5 For your Maker is your husband—
the Lord Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of all the earth.

6 The Lord will call you back
as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—
a wife who married young,
only to be rejected,” says your God.

7 “For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with deep compassion I will bring you back.

8 In a surge of anger
I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord your Redeemer.

This was one of the verses I alluded to in my recent sermon on the Church as the Bride of Christ. I think it all ties together in the above passage. We may feel God has left us and our country of Canada on the back burner spiritually. But get ready: this is a temporary state (like the winter before the spring) during which God has been preparing us for the stretching and glorious times to come!

The Great Reversal Part 8

Maundy Thursday

The Great Reversal

The Last Supper: Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial, The Garden of Gethsemane

Mark 14:17 In the evening Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 As they were at the table eating, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, one of you eating with me here will betray me.”

Mark 14:19 Greatly distressed, each one asked in turn, “Am I the one?”

Mark 14:20 He replied, “It is one of you twelve who is eating from this bowl with me. 21 For the Son of Mana must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!”

Mark 14:22 As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “Take it, for this is my body.”

Mark 14:23 And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood, which confirms the covenanta between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice for many. 25 I tell you the truth, I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.”

Mark 14:26 Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.

Mark 14:27 On the way, Jesus told them, “All of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say, ‘God will strikes the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’

Mark 14:28 But after I am raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.”

Mark 14:29 Peter said to him, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will.”

Mark 14:30 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, Peter—this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny three times that you even know me.”

Mark 14:31 “No!” Peter declared emphatically. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” And all the others vowed the same.

Mark 14:32 They went to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and Jesus said, “Sit here while I go and pray.” 33 He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he became deeply troubled and distressed. 34 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Mark 14:35 He went on a little farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. 36 “Abba, Father,”a he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

Mark 14:37 Then he returned and found the disciples asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? 38 Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

Mark 14:39 Then Jesus left them again and prayed the same prayer as before. 40 When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open. And they didn’t know what to say.

Mark 14:41 When he returned to them the third time, he said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But no—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!”

Spring is a great time of year.

The crocuses are in bloom and the tulip leaves are pushing through the ground. The earth comes alive. Soon it will be time to enjoy the garden.

The thought of relaxing in a nice garden brings pleasant thoughts to most of us.

But in our reading we find Jesus far, far from relaxed, in the garden called Gethsemane.

We have just heard that:

Jesus has shared his last supper with his disciples. He has inaugurated a new covenant using bread and wine as symbols of his own body and blood.

He has predicted Peter’s denial.

And then they all, except for Judas, have retreated to the garden of Gethsemane to camp for the night.

Verses 32-33:

“And they came to an olive grove called Gethsemane, and Jesus said, ‘Sit here while I go and pray.”

33 He took Peter, James, and John with him, and He began to be filled with horror and deep distress.”

 

Jesus, like the Old Testament King David, is surrounded by body guards, if you will, in the midst of battle… but this time , it is with two rings of prayer support.

On the outer edge of the garden are the eight disciples, Inside his closest friends, Peter, John and James.

Jesus’ prayer reveals an inner struggle and sorrow at what lay ahead.

It is a struggle somewhat similar to the temptation in the wilderness.

‘My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.”

Many times the Psalms had given Jesus words to express his prayer.

On this night, he partly quotes from Psalms 42 and 43:

‘O God my rock,’ I cry, ‘Why have you forsaken me? Why must I wander in darkness, oppressed by my enemies?’ Their taunts pierce me like a fatal wound. They scoff, ‘Where is this God of yours?’

Why am I discouraged? Why so sad?

I will put my hope in God!”

These Psalms accurately express the soul’s deep longing for God…at the same time they end with an affirmation of faith in a God who vindicates.

A God who is with us, in the time of trial.

So it is at this crucial moment Jesus expresses His anguish and he shares it with his three best friends.

Verses 35-36:

“He went on a little farther and fell face down on the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by.

36 ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you.

Please take this cup of suffering away from me.

Yet I want your will, not mine.”

 

In Jesus’ day standing with hands lifted was the usual posture for prayer, we can only guess the anguish of his soul as he fell with his face to the ground praying.

And Yet at the same time, he trusts God enough that he can call on him in the most intimate of ways, Abba, Father.

Is there another way?

The answer is no;

It is not possible for Jesus to be the Saviour, Lord, Messiah, God with us, and avoid drinking the cup of suffering.

This moment of greatest intimacy with his Abba Father, his desperate prayer to an all powerful God who could save him, is also the moment that clinches His fate. He must face the cross.

‘Yet I want your will, not mine.’

This sums up all of Jesus’ life and ministry.

Obedience to His Abba, Father, and that obedience was perfected on the Cross.

We should remember that Prayer and obedience are two sides of the same coin.

“Then He returned and found the disciples asleep. ‘Simon!’ He said to Peter. ‘Are you asleep?

Couldn’t you stay awake and watch with me even one hour?

38 Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you. For though the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak.”

The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.

We know it only too well.

So Jesus rebukes the disciples for falling asleep on the job.

We can never trust in the strength of human nature.

“Then Jesus left them again and prayed, repeating his pleadings. 40 Again he returned to them and found them sleeping, for they just couldn’t keep their eyes open.

And they didn’t know what to say.”

Even the usually vocal Peter is lost for words.

Verses 41-42:

“When He returned to them the third time, He said, “Still sleeping? Still resting? Enough!

The time has come. I, the Son of Man, am betrayed into the hands of sinners.

Up, let’s be going. See my betrayer is here!”

Like the three temptations in the wilderness the third visit to the sleeping disciples gives a sense of finality and completeness.

There is no turning back now.

‘Enough!’

The crisis of decision is over, Jesus has pushed through in prayer.

However just then, Judas the betrayer arrives with his own group.

We know the story:

Jesus will be abandoned by all of them, betrayed with a kiss, and taken captive in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Let me say this as we close:

There is another Garden that figures prominently in the Bible.

Of course it is the Garden of Eden.

It was the home of the first man, Adam.

The New Testament writers describe Jesus as the Second Adam.

Jesus: the second Adam, went into Garden of Gethsemane to restore what the first Adam had lost in the garden of Eden.

The first Adam sinned in the garden.

Jesus took this sin upon himself in the Gethsemane garden.

The garden of Eden had the tree of life.

Gethsemane brought Jesus to death on a tree.

Adam’s sin forfeited his right to the tree of life and brought death to all mankind. He who was crucified on the tree conquered death and by His resurrection restored the tree of life to all who believe.

The beautiful garden where Adam fell has long since disappeared but there is a wonderful reversal coming!

Jesus who suffered in our place, alone in Gethsemane, will restore ALL things!

The curse will be lifted, the lion will lay down with the lamb (Isaiah 11:6-8), the dry lands will disappear, the earth will yield her increase abundantly (Amos 9:13), and Jesus will reign to bless His people in his forever kingdom in heaven. (Rev 21:3).

Rev. 22:1 Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. 2 It flowed down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.

Rev. 22:3 No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him, forever.

 

Contrary to popular opinion, the Christian vision of the future is not “other worldly”. It is “new worldly”.

St. John’s description of the new garden in the book of Revelation, is God’s original earthy dream, brought to completion, because of Jesus.

The Great Reversal Part 7

Palm Sunday

The Great Reversal

Matt. 21:1 As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. 2 “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.”

Matt. 21:4 This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said,

Matt. 21:5 “Tell the people of Jerusalem,

‘Look, your King is coming to you.

He is humble, riding on a donkey—

riding on a donkey’s colt.’”

Matt. 21:6 The two disciples did as Jesus commanded. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt to him and threw their garments over the colt, and he sat on it.

Matt. 21:8 Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 Jesus was in the centre of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,

“Praise God for the Son of David!

Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Praise God in highest heaven!”

Matt. 21:10 The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked.

Matt. 21:11 And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Matt. 21:12 Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. 13 He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”

Matt. 21:14 The blind and the lame came to him in the Temple, and he healed them. 15 The leading priests and the teachers of religious law saw these wonderful miracles and heard even the children in the Temple shouting, “Praise God for the Son of David.”

But the leaders were indignant.

16 They asked Jesus, “Do you hear what these children are saying?”

“Yes,” Jesus replied. “Haven’t you ever read the Scriptures? For they say, ‘You have taught children and infants to give you praise.’

17 Then he returned to Bethany, where he stayed overnight.

I realized, this week that I had prepared at least 30 Palm Sunday sermons over the years.

Many of us have heard this story so many times, we approach it with a certain amount of ‘Been there, done that, got the Palm Sunday T-shirt.’

When I approach a familiar story like this, I have to ask myself the question: What is surprising about this passage?

It is obvious isn’t it, A king riding a donkey.

Just imagine if we went to the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, or Washington DC, or Buckingham Palace and saw the different leaders, riding into town in the most run down vehicle.

The newspapers would be all over this.

“Look the queen of England is riding in Pastor Paul’s car.”

A king on a donkey?

Not to mention another great surprise, the king is now, going into a church, and starts throwing things around, even, driving some people out.

What kind of loving, welcoming, inclusive saviour do we have here on Palm Sunday?

What is going on?

What we will discover this morning is not only the complete reversal of what a king should be like, sometimes he does shocking unlikely things… but more important, this Messiah, King Jesus is the fulfillment of amazing promises made hundreds of years before his arrival.

We find Jesus entering the city, not on a royal chariot, nor on a mighty warhorse; there are no slaves to serve Him. He arrives, instead, humbly, riding on the colt of a donkey.

The word of explanation from the Old Testament is the key.. in verses 4 and 5.

By the way, sometimes you hear people complain that the God of the old testament, is different from the God of the new testament.

You cannot have one without the other.

Listen to the words of the Old Testament prophet Zechariah, “Rejoice greatly, O people of Zion! Shout in triumph, O people of Jerusalem! Look, your King is coming to you.

He is righteous and victorious, yet He is humble, riding on a donkey – even on a donkey’s colt…

His realm will stretch from sea to sea…

I believe what we are seeing here on Palm Sunday is a dramatic …prophetic… reenactment.

Just as A picture is worth a thousand words.

His action is speaking louder than a thousand words.

When Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, Matthew points out the connection between his action and the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy.

So this word of explanation from the prophet Zechariah is key.

A humble King,-fulfilling prophecy.

Then Jesus goes straight way to the Temple courtyard.

It is a busy place, merchants have arrived with their wares, it is filled with livestock, doves, lambs, and the tables of the money changers .

Passover pilgrims have traveled from all over.

They have come to make a sacrifice and to worship God in remembrance of their liberation from Egypt many centuries before at the Passover.

We pick up the story at verse 12

Matt. 21:12 Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. 13 He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”

Jesus’ mission in Jerusalem was not to begin a holy war against the Romans as some, even His Disciples, may have wanted. They thought that their Messiah King would lead a revolution and get rid of the Heathen Romans from the Land.

But, It was Jesus’ own people, everyone, needed a revolution…a reversal in their hearts and minds.

How could Jesus make them see where they had gone wrong?

Well, the Prophet King, in Jeremiah-like fashion again enacts a judgement that would not easily be forgotten.

Like a shepherd He picks up some rope and drives out sheep and oxen.

What Jesus said, and did, by overturning the tables, was a ‘prophet of old’ rebuke of what the Temple had become.

It was just as provocative as His entrance into the city.

Both were a fulfillment of prophetic Scriptures.

Both were an authoritative, public demonstration of God’s Kingdom breaking through in a way that would grab people’s attention.

In this instance, Jesus quotes partly from Isaiah 56:6-7 “I will also bless the Gentiles who commit themselves to the Lord and serve Him and love His Name, who worship Him and do not desecrate the Sabbath…because my Temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

Isaiah’s vision spoke of a time when all the nations, the Gentiles of all people, would join themselves to the one true God … the outcasts, outsiders, the least, the last, and the lost would be gathered …with ….His chosen people.

What does that say to us today?

What is our mission?

Jesus also quotes partly from Jeremiah 7:9-11, the full quote is:

“ Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and worship Baal and all those other new gods of yours, and then come here in my Temple and chant, ‘We are safe!’ – only to go right back to all those evils again?

Do you think this Temple, which honours my Name, is a den of thieves?”

The Temple had been so corrupted by the pursuit of economic gain that it had become an obstacle to true worship and prayer.

It was meant to be the very centre of Holy Spiritual life.

To Jesus it looked more like a place where robbers and anti-Roman thugs and revolutionaries hung out.

The Jewish laws demanded that people needed to exchange their various currencies, mostly Roman imperial money which had graven images of Caesar on them, into a special kind of “temple money” before they could buy the animals that were needed for the atonement sacrifice and Passover meal.

But the money changers were cheating the people, taking this Holy occasion as an opportunity to gouge the worshipers.

Doves or pigeons were what the poor people, especially women, would buy as they couldn’t afford grander sacrifices.

And that was the area of the worst corruption.

The whole scene was an offence to the piercing eyes of Jesus and totally dishonouring to God.

The Temple layout had several courtyards of increasing Holiness. The money changers set up shop in what was the outermost court of the Gentiles where anyone could enter. These outsiders, who believed in and worshiped the Hebrew God were considered to be unclean so they were not allowed into the inner court where the Chosen People of God worshipped.

How ironic!

The outsiders, were the ones who were thought to be unclean!

As mentioned earlier, The old testament prophets would sometimes dramatically enact a message of warning or prophesy in order to get their point across and make it memorable. You can imagine the fuss after Jesus turned over the tables.

What cleansing would Jesus have to do today were he to come to His church in North America?

What gods would He find us worshiping?

One greater than the temple had come and Jesus has enacted God’s righteous judgement on it and its shallow worship.

No amount of external piety practised in the temple could make up for not only cheating others but of cheating God out of true repentance, true worship, and a truly changed heart.

Money wasn’t the problem but the commerce of worship was… but that wasn’t the only problem, or even the main problem.

verse 14

Matt. 21:14 The blind and the lame came to him in the Temple, and Jesus healed them. 15 The leading priests and the teachers of religious law saw these wonderful miracles and heard even the children in the Temple shouting, “Praise God for the Son of David.” But the leaders were angry.

They asked Jesus, “Do you hear what these children are saying?” “Yes,” Jesus replied. “Haven’t you ever read the Scriptures? For they say, ‘You have taught children and infants to give you praise.’”

At the time, anyone with a physical defect was not permitted in the temple with the rest of the community. They too, were the outsiders, the unclean, but Jesus healed them. Once healed they would report to the priests and then they would be allowed back into the community and into the main temple worship.

The people who had been rejected were now healed. The people who had been kept out were now welcomed in.

These healings of the blind and the lame were another prophetic enactment, but this time, of God’s mercy.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for He has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see…” Isaiah 61.

If the temple worship didn’t meet God’s approval neither did its leaders.

How ironic, that it is the blind and lame, considered outcasts, the little children, considered to some as a nuisance that recognize the Lord.

Earlier Jesus expressed thankfulness that truth was hidden from the wise and learned but had been revealed to babes. And so, Jesus is happy to hear the children praising in the way they had heard everyone do as he entered the city; ‘Hosanna to the son of David.’

What did the Temple leaders think of all this attention Jesus was getting? They were angry that Jesus was allowing this irreverent display within the temple.

Another irony; they didn’t seem to mind the money changers and all that corruption, commotion and disruption in the Temple as if that was not irreverent!

But Jesus, relying on the word of God, points out from the book of the Psalms 8:2, that God has ordained that children and even infants would praise him.

It is another fulfillment of Scripture.

So, For the observant, all this proof-texting of the Old Testament Scriptures was an admission and confirmation of Jesus’ Messiahship.

It summed up everything Jesus was doing, His mission, but the Temple leaders were indignant and jealous, which ultimately led to Jesus’ death.

Palm Sunday reminds us of this….

But it also reminds us that worship sometimes stirs things up.

Jesus saw the false worship and the sacrificial system as something that had it’s days numbered.

A greater sacrifice, once and for all, is just days away.

Within a week Jesus would be crucified.

We hold our breath for the greatest prophetic re-enactment a week today.

So…. we have seen that the truly surprising and almost shocking point of the story is that Jesus was and is the fulfilment of all that God was and is doing now.

If Jesus were to arrive today, what would he have to do to grab the church’s attention?

What would he say?

Is there a table, as it were, that would need to be overturned?

Now ask yourself ……the same the questions.

The Great Reversal Part 6

The Great Reversal

Part 6

Jesus Teaches on Serving

Matthew 20:17-28

Matt. 20:17 As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside privately and told them what was going to happen to him. 18 “Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Mana will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die. 19 Then they will hand him over to the Romansa to be mocked, flogged with a whip, and crucified. But on the third day he will be raised from the dead.”

20Then the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus with her sons. She knelt respectfully to ask a favor. 21 “What is your request?” he asked.

She replied, “In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”

22 But Jesus answered by saying to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?”

“Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!”

23 Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup. But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. My Father has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.”

24 When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant. 25 But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 26 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. 28 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Imagine three different situations:

Driving in a limousine:

House cleaning service:

Breakfast in bed:

Sounds good doesn’t it?

What were you thinking about?

If you are like me, you are probably… siting in the back of the limousine, not… driving it.

You imagine someone who has been hired to come and clean up your house, not one of the cleaners.

You are being served Breakfast in bed, not the other way round.

Most of us when we think about service, we think about someone serving us.

The reading from the gospel shows us Jesus’ Great Reversal in this whole issue of servanthood.

Our passage begins with Jesus foretelling his gruesome suffering and death on the cross.

When you think about it, it is one of the most ironic places in the bible when after Jesus foretells of his suffering, a caring parent asks for a place of prominence from Jesus for her boys.

But Jesus has to correct her, her two sons, his disciples… and us, about the nature of true servanthood.

Let’s take a closer look:

20 Then, (meaning right after Jesus tells them about the cross) the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus with her sons.

She knelt respectfully to ask a favor. 21 “What is your request?” he asked.

She replied, “In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”

In other words, “Give them a place of prominence. Honour them, by serving my sons.”

As a parent I can relate to John and James’ mom. She is a good Jewish mother.

We want the best for our children.

However when we think of being honoured, we do not usually think about servanthood.

Some New Testament scholars maintain that she may have been Jesus’s aunt Salome, Mary’s sister, and the two sons would be cousins to Jesus so perhaps that’s why they wanted special treatment and ask to take the top seats in the Kingdom of God.

The request shows us what the two disciples had in mind when it came to power and leadership. They wanted to be first, they wanted to be more powerful than the other disciples. In fact by asking to be Jesus’s left and right hand men they might have even been imagining ruling over the other disciples. Achievement and ambition are difficult attitudes to weed out.

22 But Jesus answered by saying to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?”

“Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!”

What is this bitter cup of suffering?

There are references to it in the Old Testament; Images used by prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah.

In Isaiah 51 the image of a cup containing the wrath of God was used to express what had happened to God’s people after the destruction of Jerusalem.

The prophet says, “Wake up, wake up, O Jerusalem! You have drunk enough from the cup of the Lord’s fury. You have drunk the cup of terror, tipping out its last drops.”

This passage and many like it speak of what happens when the One Holy God is grieving over a very sinful and evil world. He steps in to give the wicked and arrogant the just reward for their evil deeds.

It’s as if God’s Holy anger is turned into a dark, potent wine and poured into a cup that rebellious people will be forced to drink, down to its last dregs. Quite a somber and scary picture!

But hold on, there is an amazing reversal coming.

It is the Son of God himself who is going to willingly drink the cup of God’s wrath in our place, for our sins and the sins of the whole world!

Jesus knew full well what is going to happen to him. The humiliation, desertion, the betrayals, the suffering on all levels.

I’m sure you have all experienced these things at one time or another yourselves, so you know at least partially how that feels.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, further on in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says His soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. He asks His Heavenly Father if it is at all possible, to let this cup of suffering be taken away from Him.

It’s the ‘Please Lord, no.’ prayer.

How difficult it is sometimes to pray, ‘Not my will but yours be done, Lord’….. as Jesus ultimately did.

You can’t help but be amazed by Jesus’ patience as he stares down death on a cross… while at the same time his followers are bickering about worldly ambition.

At this point the disciples don’t realize what it all really means for them. They are thinking power and prestige; a throne of their own. They wanted to be first.

23 Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup. But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. My Father has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.”

James and John feel confident that they will be able to endure the cup of suffering… and indeed as Jesus has prophesied here so they do.

Later on in the bible we discover that James was martyred quite early on by Herod Agrippa in Jerusalem.

St. John, though spared a martyrs death, was banished to the isle of Patmos for the remainder of his long life.

But in the immediate future we know they will all run away and desert Jesus to drink the cup of suffering alone.

Jesus tells them that only His Heavenly Father knows who will sit beside Him.

It shows that not even Jesus (at this point) is privy to everything His Heavenly Father is doing, and that’s ok with Him.

It’s not His ‘right’ he says to make the choices the disciples are asking of Him. His Father has a plan. Jesus doesn’t know every detail but He trusts and humbly obeys His Heavenly Father in everything, even unto death. That in itself says everything.

The conversation is overheard by the other disciples.

Verse 24: “When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant.”

The other disciples are angry, they are annoyed, not because they have a different idea of greatness, but probably they want the best places… themselves.

The two brothers just spoke up first.

The disciples are jockeying for position and power. They are behaving in a worldly way, all wanting to be first, all wanting to be important.

Had they forgotten the sermon on the Mount? Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the lowly…Jesus, as we know, reverses that whole concept of first and last.

Peter had been thinking about greatness in the Kingdom and Jesus answered, as we saw last week, in the Parable of the vineyard workers.

Verses 25-28:

“But Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that in this world kings are tyrants, and officials lord it over the people beneath them.

26 But among you it should be quite different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must become your slave. 28 For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many.’”

So this is the crux of the matter. Jesus has tried several times to get His message of what the Kingdom of God is going to be like.

Jesus ministry has begun: The Kingdom is coming on earth as it is in Heaven;

The light is breaking through the darkness.

But it’s so different from the world.

Greatness in the eyes of the world is determined by status and power. Greatness in the eyes of God is determined by serving and sacrifice.

I find it interesting that of all the titles that Jesus uses about himself, the one he uses most often is the “son of man”.

In Daniel chapter 7 we find A majestic figure called the son of man, given absolute sovereignty and rule over everything. It says this:

Dan. 7:13 As my vision continued that night, I Daniel, saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed.

It is the portrait of a majestic mighty figure!

One you would expect to be served:

And yet Jesus, comes to serve others, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

He came to serve, to serve you and me.

He looks at you and discerns what your needs are, and he finds joy when he serves you and me.

It is such a reversal of what the world is like and yet ages ago, once again, the prophet Isaiah saw the truth.

Speaking of the suffering servant Isaiah writes…

“He was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed!….And because of what he has experienced, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for He will bear all their sins.”

Jesus is going to Jerusalem. He knows what fate awaits Him there. He goes willingly. He is following the biblical model of Kingship, not the world’s model. The biblical model is the kind where the King is the servant, who gives up his very life as a ransom, a payment, for the world.

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” We are reminded of this every Sunday at Holy Communion.

verse 28 again:

28 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Some translations have:

28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Verse 28, just as……… I know it seems like a small detail. But what I think Jesus is trying to say is this:

“You think service is being served, no, no, no, true service is about laying down your life, for someone else. Just as I will do for you.”

In other words, Jesus has a very high standard for the way we are to live our life. I know I am preaching to the converted I am just reminding all of us.

I believe we are to be intentional in developing a lifestyle of service.

What does it mean to serve like this?

At home?

With my family?

With friends?

With outsiders even?

We can only live like this, when we are captivated, and filled and captivated once again, by the grace and love of Jesus.

So we need to pray.

The Great Reversal Part 5

Lent 4

The Great Reversal Part 5

The Vineyard Workers Matthew 20:1-16

Matt. 20:1 “For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.

Matt. 20:3 “At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. 4 So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. 5 So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing.

Matt. 20:6 “At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’

Matt. 20:7 “They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’

“The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’

Matt. 20:8 “That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. 9 When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. 10 When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. 11 When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, 12 ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’

Matt. 20:13 “He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage?

14 Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. 15 Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’

16 “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.”

“It is not fair.”

If you have had children, you probably heard them say that at some time.

But For some people, their entire way of looking at the world is through the lens of fairness.

I am talking about the way we sometimes compare ourselves to other people.

Be it by the way we look, or how much money we make, or how we measure success.

Some people come to the conclusion that they have ended up in life… in… last place and it’s just not fair!

I want to make it clear at the outset that there is a place to fight for fairness. There are real injustices in the world; like poverty and inequality that as Christians we have a responsibility and a call to minister to.

But what I mean are the times when we almost stamp our feet childishly, and say to God “It’s just not fair!”

Jesus tells a story that reverses and challenges our ideas and feelings about fairness.

Let’s pray first:

Our gospel reading this morning touches on the issue of fairness, and… about the great reversal of grace.

In the bible, the vineyard has been an image for representing God’s people.

There is a moving passage in Isaiah 5 which describes God as a vineyard owner who is upset that even after all the care He has given His people, His precious vineyard, it has still produced bitter, wild grapes… instead of sweet, cultivated ones.

He could not find good fruit in his vineyard.

It is likely that our text today would have struck a familiar tone with Jesus’ listeners, but… the ending is a total reversal.

It is intended to show us that God’s thoughts and ways are very different from ours especially in light of this whole issue of fairness.

Jesus had a way of telling stories, where we sometimes find ourselves relating by the end of it, to the wrong sort of people.

Verses 1-2:

“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like……..

In other words, this is how the kingdom of God works…

For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard.

2 He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work.

Jesus is using a story to illustrate what God is like, and of course the various ways people interact with God.

It’s time for the grape harvest.

A storm could ruin the harvest so timing is crucial.

The work day begins at dawn 6 am and ends at sunset. 6pm

The pay, a denarius, is actually very generous, especially for an unskilled labourer.

So, There is something strange about this employer.

The employer could have sent someone else. Instead he takes the initiative and goes searching for prospective employees himself.

He cares about their situation. He wants to give them work and …a generous reward.

Verse 3-4

3 “At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing.

‘Standing in the middle of the market place’ was the equivalent of waiting in the unemployment line or attending a job fair.

This employer, the vineyard owner, is an unusual employer, as I mentioned.

He doesn’t just go out once……to seek out these people , but He goes out repeatedly through the day.

He’s persistent.

He doesn’t give up.

He searches until, he finds them.

6 o’clock in the morning, 9 am, noon and even 3 o’clock in the afternoon he is out hiring people.

Is the harvest that big? Are the workers so few.

Does the vineyard owner just want to help people out?

Maybe both?

What is Jesus saying about God in this parable?

What is the Kingdom of Heaven like?

Maybe we need to look at the last group of people to get hired, because I think the story is building to a dramatic conclusion.

Verse 6:

Matt. 20:6 “At five o’clock that afternoon, (meaning there is only 1 hour in the work day left)

He was in town again and saw some more people standing around.

He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’

Their answer is revealing.

“They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’

In other words, no one wanted them.

We might guess that they are hungry….They are unemployed, having nothing productive to do, and as the day drags on, they might even be losing hope.

Perhaps they were the kind of people other employers tried not to hire; the ignored, invisible, unremarkable the lowly?

Matt. 20:8 “That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first.

The timing of the payment, at the end of the day was customary in Jesus time; so that the workers could buy their families food for supper.

But, Paying the last workers first was probably told purposely by Jesus so that the first workers in the story would see how much the one hour workers got paid.

Again the employer does something very unusual;

The big surprise to everyone is that he pays the 5 pm guys, the very same amount as the ones who started working at 6 o’clock in the morning!

The last, who have worked only one hour get paid the same amount as those who have worked all day!

They all got a full days wage. The same reward.

What an amazingly generous employer!

But not everyone is happy about this:

10 When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage.

11 When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, “It’s just not fair.”

12 ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’

Doesn’t that sound similar to the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son?

Verse 13:

The Vineyard owner answers, “Friend (Hetaire, in the Greek).

That should get our attention, I will tell you why in a moment.

In effect the owner is saying this: ‘Friend, can I show you an agreement you signed this morning?

You agreed to work for (a hundred dollars), correct? “Yes.”

“ I thought you did. “

“It’s a very good wage for a days’ work, is it not?”

“So, what are you complaining about?

Are you demanding that I tear up this agreement you willingly entered?”

The vineyard owner is telling them, in a nice way, they are in the wrong.

That is why I mentioned The word, friend, hetaire.

It is used three times in Matthew’s gospel.

In each case the recipient is in the….wrong. (Matthew 22:12 and 26:50) Judas is one of them.

The Vineyard owner is fair, generous and kind.

Life is unfair sometimes, but God is never unfair.

From Romans 9:14, “What can we say? Was God being unfair? Of course not! For God said to Moses, “I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose. So receiving God’s promise is not up to us. We can’t get it by choosing it or working hard for it.”

 

Jesus’ simple story about workers in a vineyard suddenly becomes charged with an incredible reversal.

Last part

Verses 14-15 basically say, No matter how long or how hot the day. No matter how hard the work, there are no claims on God to owe us anything more than what he has already given us, which is everything.

His grace is everything.

The story touches on fairness, but it is more about the Amazing Grace of God.

All the workers in the story were equally UN-deserving of the vineyard owner’s generosity.

So, Who’s to complain?

The question arises, Who were the disgruntled workers that Jesus is addressing then?

Well, they may have been the Pharisees, and religious leaders, they often came under fire from Jesus.

The disgruntled ones may have been the chosen people of Israel. After keeping all the laws of Moses for 2 thousand years they now see the Gentiles, outsiders being welcomed into the Kingdom of God by Jesus. He even welcomed tax collectors and sinners.

Even the Disciples themselves may have been the ones Jesus was referring to.

Remember when they were complaining to Jesus that they had given up all to follow him. Shouldn’t they get more from God than everyone else?

Jesus’ message is clear.

Our place in God’s Kingdom does not depend on our worthiness, or even our good works.

It all depends on the sheer undeserving favour of the only One who is perfectly good and who accepts those who could never be good enough, or work hard enough. It is all about grace.

We find the very same message in Ephesians 2:8-10. When the apostle Paul writes…..

‘God saved you by His special favour when you believed. And you cannot take credit for this; it is a gift from God….’

One day, you and I will stand before our God as workers in his vineyard:

Now Imagine standing before our Holy God and demanding of him: ‘Give me what is fair, give me what I deserve.’

Are you comfortable with a fair God? Or a Gracious Lord?