Jesus our example

Click here to listen to the audio recording (better sound quality) of this 23-minute message. Or watch the video of the message on Facebook (sound not as great, but you get video; the message starts at about 31 minutes).

When we read the Gospels, we typically focus on what Jesus says – his teachings and parables. Or on his miracles. These are both good. But it is good also to focus on what Jesus does – his behaviour, his actions – because it is in these that we see God in action. And these actions become an important example for our actions.

Mark 6 is particularly rich in Jesus’ actions, and today we focus on three extracts from this chapters:
verses 7-13, 30-34 and 53-56.

  • v7. Jesus delegates authority to his disciples, drawing them in as partners in his ministry. This is not a dumping of tasks; instead, he gives them the same authority that he has, to cast out demons.
  • v8-13, 30. Here we see Jesus training and instructing his disciples. He does not merely send them out – he teaches them. When they return from their mission, they gather excitedly around Jesus to tell him how things went, and you can see Jesus listening and encouraging them as they share.
  • v31-32. Jesus sees that his disciples are tired and hungry, and that the excited crowds are giving them no time to rest. So he shows his care for them by inviting them to come away with him, by themselves, to rest. And they set off to an isolated spot.
  • v34. People follow them in their droves and Jesus sees that they are like sheep without a shepherd, and again he care for them. He has ‘compassion’ on them, which means he ‘suffers with’ them. He felt their pain. And so he begins to teach them many things.
  • v55-56. After the passage about the feeling of the 5000 and Jesus coming down the mountain to join his disciples in the boat during the storm, we read about Jesus healing many people. He continues to minister to them.

What do we learn from all this about how we should behave in the world as Christians. Five things:

  1. We need to see people – we need to look at them, notice them, see their hopes and fears, see their hunger and thirst. We cannot walk around with our eyes closed or directed to the heavens.
  2. We need to care for people – we need to have compassion with people, to suffer with people, to feel empathy with people. We cannot let our hearts become hard, even when it hurts to feel with others.
  3. We need to partner with people in the things we do in the world. We ought not work alone, but rather in partnerships and teams, where we give others a chance to grow and learn.
  4. We need to invest in other people, through training, mentoring and capacitating them. That investment reaps a return that can far exceed our expectations and can have rippled effects across the generations.
  5. And we need to minister to people, though teaching, feeding and healing. We need to be among those who help to meet the needs of people – education, food security and health are among the most basic needs of people, and yet often the most neglected.

Jesus is our example. Let us walk in his footsteps.

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Great is God’s faithfulness

Click here to listen to the audio recording of this 19-minute message. Or watch the video on YouTube. The whole Eucharist service is available (65 minutes), and the message starts at 20 minutes, and a song (Great is thy faithfulness) at 36 minutes. (With thanks to Symphonic Distribution Inc for not blocking the singing of this hymn.)

In Ephesians 1:3-14, Paul sets out in great depth and compact detail, his views on God and God’s relationship with us. This message is so timely in these days when we feel beset by Covid, together with the many other challenges we face in society. In a time like this, we need these words in Ephesians to take root in our hearts, where they grow and flourish. Paul’s writing is dense and compact, so I’ve extracted the words and phrases he uses and clustered them under three headings as follows:

The generous love of God

Blessed us, in the spiritual realm, very spiritual blessing, in Christ, in love, according to God’s pleasure, he has freely given us, redemption, forgiveness of sins, riches of God’s grace, bring unity to all things, under Christ, he lavished on us, according to his good pleasure.

These words speak about the extravagant, lavish, abundant, never-ending love of God that God pours out in a continuous and faithful stream into our lives. We are washed, saturated and soaked in the love of God. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that can separate us from this love.

God’s plan and God’s sovereignty

He chose us, before creation, he predestined us, according to his will, all wisdom, all understanding, he purposed, when the times reach their fulfilment, predestined, according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.

God is King. God is in charge. God has a plan, God’s will shall deliver on that plan, God is sovereign. Sometimes it may feel that God has lost control and we are floating free in the ocean, battered by the storms of life. But God is always in control, and we are always in the palm of God’s hand, even (perhaps especially) when it doesn’t feel that way.

Our place as God’s beloved

You also were included, you were marked in him, with a seal, (the sign of Christ), a deposit, a guarantee, an inheritance, God’s possession, adopted, sonship.

God holds us firm. God has marked us with the seal of the Spirit. We were marked at our baptism with a cross, the sign of Christ – that sign does not fade or dissolve. God can spot us in the largest, densest crowd. God knows those who are his own – he does not lose sight of us. He has adopted us as ‘sons’ – as those who receive the full and complete inheritance of God, even though we are not God’s own offspring. We are utterly precious and valuable to God.

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Thorn in the flesh

Click here to listen to the audio recording of this 22-minute message. Or watch the video on YouTube. The whole Eucharist service is available (59 minutes), and the message starts at 14 minutes.

What is Paul’s thorn?

  • Our English translation ‘thorn’ could be a thorn/splinter, or a stake/spike/pole, or anything pointed – differing views on which is more likely – a stake implies something shattering and devastating, while a thorn implies a low grade but constant irritation/infection
  • Could be ‘in the flesh’ or ‘for the flesh’, i.e. ‘for the inconvenience of the flesh’
  • ‘Flesh’ can mean the physical body, in which case the thorn would be some physical malady, e.g., his poor eyesight, possible epilepsy, maybe malaria, migraines. Paul seems generally strong, resilient, tough, so a physical ailment seems unlikely.
  • Paul’s appearance – some disfigurement that made him ugly.
  • Flesh also means our human nature, particularly in Paul’s writings, so this could be some aspect of his human nature, mostly probably pride.
  • ‘Sins of the flesh’ are almost always understood to be sexual sins, so this could be a sexual sin or temptation that Paul grappled with. But it would not have to be so narrowly defined – it could refer to any and all sins or temptations to sin.
  • It could the persecutions Paul suffered – the repeated attacks on his ministry, which could well have felt like a thorn in the flesh. Numbers 33:55 has a parallel: “But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live.”
  • The thorn as a ‘messenger of Satan’ might best support the thorn as persecution. Other passages speak of Satan impeding God’s work: 1 Thes 2:18 – “For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way.”
  • “To torment [or buffet] me” suggests this was a long-term issue, not just a temporary one. The Greek word means “to strike a blow with the fist” or “to maltreat” in a way that brings shame, humiliation and indignation. Jesus was himself humiliated by the beatings he endured before the crucifixion.
  • He later refers to his ‘weaknesses’ – it the thorn the weakness, or does the thorn cause weakness?
  • We really don’t know what the thorn was and whether it was a thorn or a stake. If it was important that we know, Paul would presumably have told us. Let’s consider than any and all of these could have been his thorn or stake, and that for us, it can be any or all or others.

How did Paul handle or make sense of his thorn?

  • Paul prayed for its removal, three times, but it was not removed. God declined his repeated request. God does not always give us what we want.
  • But the response he got from God seems to inspire him, not discourage him.
  • God’s response – ‘he said to me’ – is in the perfect tense, it is a past tense that is definitive – what God said was definitive at the time, and remains definitive in the future, that “God’s grace is sufficient”. It was almost tattooed on his hands.
  • He is unworthy, unnecessary, dispensable = our human condition
  • Yet, God chooses to work with, in and through him because God chooses to do so = grace
  • The more dependent he is on God (i.e. the weaker he is) the more God is free to shape and use him (i.e. grace) and so he ‘boasts’ and ‘delights’ in his weakness, so that Christ’s power will rest on him. ‘Rest on him’ is shekinah in Hebrew: literally, “may pitch his tent upon me” or “may tabernacle on him”
  • This is not a masochistic spirituality! It is a recognition that Christ can and does work in and through his frailties and keeps at bay any pride/boasting: Any delight Paul gains is ‘for the sake of Christ’, not for the challenges themselves.
  • ‘Then I am strong’ implies ‘strong in the Lord’, not ‘strong in myself’. He is ‘weak in himself, but strong in the Lord’.
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