Stop Doubting!

“A week later his disciples were in the house again,
and Thomas was with them.
Though the doors were locked,
Jesus came and stood among them and said,
“Peace be with you!”
(John 20:26)

Reflection:
The first time that Jesus appeared to the disciples, after His resurrection, Thomas was not with them.

It was to be a long week before his opportunity came, a week in which he might well have felt himself to be rather an outcast. He might have also wondered whether he had forever missed his opportunity. But such was the love and grace of Jesus that He presented Thomas with an occasion in which he could see and feel the reality for himself. Thomas was convinced,

“Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:27-28)

It is always hard for us when others appear to have had dramatic personal experiences of God, or of something miraculous happening in their lives, or of God speaking to them in clear and certain ways – and we don’t. We might also feel like outcasts, excluded from God’s ‘inner circle’, and just not good enough. We can so easily give up or resign ourselves to living on the fringes of Christianity, as second class citizens – tolerated but not loved.

Nothing could be further from the truth! Jesus did make Himself real to Thomas. Thomas was convinced and acknowledged the reality of Jesus person, resurrection and divinity. Jesus would not want any of His disciples, then or now, to be less certain than this. He did, however, indicate that not everyone would have the same visual experience.

“Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)

There are more ways of ‘seeing’ Jesus than with our eyes. He can reveal Himself to us in many ways. His intention always, though, as it was with Thomas, is that it should be in a way that is meaningful to us. He really does want us to believe and not to doubt. He wishes to establish a personal relationship with each one of His people one in which it is true that ‘My sheep know My voice.”

One of the ministries of the Holy Spirit is to make Jesus real to us. As we soak prayerfully in the Scriptures, open ourselves in prayer, and seek to live His way that will happen. And, of course, we should pray that Jesus will become more real to us – not in terms of a blinding and frightening revelation such as happened to Paul, but in a quiet and deepening inner knowledge that He is indeed both with us and within us – always.

Response:
Trust the word and ask the Holy Spirit to give it life within you.

Prayer:

Come Lord Jesus and live within me, all of me – and help me to know and respond to You. Amen.

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(Picture: Easter Lily)

God’s Peace

“On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the disciples were together,
with the doors locked for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood among them and said,
“Peace be with you!”

(John 20:19)

Reflection:
The disciples were afraid and behind locked doors. Having seen Jesus arrested, tortured and crucified, having themselves fled, they had been living with fear and huge uncertainty for days. Now they had heard that Jesus had risen. This might well have added to their torment.  Where was He, and what would His attitude be towards them – especially in view of their actions?

There are few mental torments greater than those that concern our having failed someone important in our lives, and in a major way. The agony of waiting for the impending confrontation, heightened by our racing imaginations, can tear us apart. We cannot bear the thought of being sent away in despair and humiliation – of being not good enough, having failed to live up to expectations, especially when the person concerned is the Messiah! They would have heard the terrifying teaching that one day the Messiah might well say to certain people,

“I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:23)

Suddenly Jesus was there standing amongst them – notwithstanding the locked doors. We do not know all that He said to them, or what they said to Him. But the words that are recorded tell us all that we need to know both for that meeting and for our own lives.

“Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you!”  (John 20:21)

This really was the peace of God that passes all understanding. It is a peace that has absolutely nothing to do with our deserving or earning it, or of the situation in which we find ourselves – but everything to do with the love, grace and power of our great Father and most wonderful Saviour. The text records that they ‘were overjoyed’ to see Him. It shows us that his love for them and acceptance of them was complete.

We all face fears that we have let Jesus down, that we do not live up to the standards that we believe He requires of us, and that we are like timid mice in the face of the increasing darkness of the world. All of that may be true. However, the most important truth for us to grasp and absorb is this – Jesus love for us is total and unconditional. He is completely committed to us and the work to which He has called us. When we fall or fail, or even think that we have, He is there with us to forgive, heal, empower and raise us up so that we can step out again with Him on the The Road of Love – the Way of Christ. He will work in all things for good and will never leave us or let us be taken from Him. Once we are His we are His forever. We do need to believe it.

Response:
Pray for a deeper belief and trust in the love of God for you.

Prayer:

Holy Spirit, please continue to pour the love of God into my heart –and help me to know it and trust it above everything else in the world. Amen.

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Love Me?

“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”
(John 21:15-17)

Reflection:
Jesus never gave up on Peter, even with His foreknowledge of the denial. For Jesus both knew where Peter’s heart was, and also the potential of the man once the Holy Spirit was in his life. Unlike so many humans who judge Jesus did not base His opinion on one moment in time. He took a far longer and deeper view, influenced also by His insights into the heart of the person concerned. Like the potter Jesus knew and accepted that true craftsmanship took time and the preparedness to deal with any faults that might appear in the process. Jesus remained committed to Peter.

With incredible grace and love Jesus is described as raising Peter from the depths of sin and despair and entrusting him with a new life and purpose within His kingdom ministry. Where Peter might not have been surprised to have found himself discarded he instead found himself forgiven, accepted and included. He was not asked to promise any great commitment or results – there was only one question that Jesus wanted him to answer for both of them – “Do you love Me.?” Of all the questions that He might have asked this was the one that Peter could answer honestly and completely – for He knew that Jesus already knew the truth – “Yes Lord, You know that I love You.” It was all that Jesus wanted and needed. And the thrice repeated question and answer dealt with the three earlier denials.

All of us will, to a greater or lesser extent, experience failure and unfaithfulness in our lives – to ourselves, to others and especially to the Lord. The wonder of our relationship with our Lord Jesus is that He is always there with us, urging us to get up again, leading and empowering us through the Holy Spirit, and encouraging us to have another go at life. This is the life He has for us, in His way and with the revelation of His truth. He is the God of life, the resurrected life, and it all starts and continues with love – His love for us and ours for Him.

Response:
Today He holds His hand out to each one of us, inviting us to leave the past behind and to enter into a deeper life with Him – the God of the resurrected life.

Prayer:

Thank You Lord Jesus for Your death and resurrection for me. Please help me to love You more and more and in that love to walk with You into the life that You have prepared for me – both here and in eternity – trusting You for all that I need. Amen.

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(Picture: Artist unknown)

From darkness to Light

“I have seen the Lord!”
(John 20:18)

Reflection:
Mary Magdalene’s breathless and breathtaking revelation to the disciples was beyond imagination. Suddenly the cross and the grave were to become not huge symbols of sadness and defeat but essential milestones on Jesus journey to glory. We are not called to always remember Him as a twisted, bleeding body on a cross, nor as an invisible sadness behind a gravestone. Instead there is now an empty tomb – and we are called to engage with Him as the glorious living victor over sin, death and evil.

Jesus had once called Lazarus out from the tomb and into life, and told those with Him to remove the grave clothes, setting him free from the embrace of death. Now He was calling His disciples out of the death they had suffered through His death, away from a fixation on His grave, out of the spiritual and emotional wrappings of grief and into the new life that He had prepared and won for them. As important as His death was, and still is for us, it is only fully understood in the context of His resurrection. He died for our sins and to remove the barrier between us and God – and rose to give us life.

Jesus calls each and every one of us today to come to Him. To come out of the dark tombs in which we find ourselves, away from the graves of love and hope, up from the sepulchres of sadness and sin, deserting the vaults of failure and despair. Not only has His stone been rolled away. The stones of our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual crypts have been removed as well. It is the risen Christ now who calls to us. He does not call us to leave our prisons behind us to seek a new existence, He calls us to come to Him so that He, and He alone, can give us life – a life that is not found with or through any other person or thing.

We do not seek Christ now at His death. We do not weep at His grave. We find Him in the everyday gardens of our lives, in the rooms in which we live and the roads along which we travel. Christ is with us always.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, a new journey has begun in Your death and resurrection. Help me to live out the freedom of Your forgiveness, the beauty of Your light and the depths of Your love – to the wonder of Your glory. Amen.

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Jesus Burial

“Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus.
Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there”
(John 19:38-42)

“The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment”
(Luke 23:55-56)

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(Picture: Entombment of Christ – Titian – Louvre, Paris)

Everlasting Arms

“The curtain of the temple was torn in two.
Jesus called out with a loud voice,
 “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
When he had said this, he breathed his last”
(Luke 23:45-46)

Reflection:
The curtain of the Temple was torn in two – from top to bottom. This was the curtain that hid from view and entrance the Holy of Holies – the place where the presence of God dwelt. Only the High Priest was allowed to enter, and then only once a year on the Day of Atonement. Now, finally, the barrier had been removed through the birth, life and death of the Lord Jesus. The way to God was opened for anyone who would enter through faith in Christ.

Jesus then died with the loveliest of prayers on His lips.  Barclay tells us that this prayer from Psalm 31 was taught by Jewish mothers to their children for them to say as they prepared for sleep. Jesus added just one word to it, the word ‘Father.’ And as He sang it out so He sank gratefully into ‘the everlasting arms.’

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Jesus had died.

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I Thirst!

“Later, knowing that all was now completed,
and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled,
Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”
A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it,
put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant,
and lifted it to Jesus’ lips”
(John 19:28-29)

Reflection:
There are three things that stand out in this great passage.

The first is the very real humanity of Jesus. The pain and suffering that He went through was very real. After the hours of hanging on the cross and the terrible exertions of trying to ease the pain and the sense of suffocation His throat would have been parched – and there was still one more thing to do and say.

The next is His aching spiritual thirst. His sense of abandonment by God would have struck Him to the very depths of His spirit – as the waters of Life flowed away from Him and the waters of death rose up inside of Him. He would have longed for the thirst-quenching return of the Holy Spirit whose presence He had enjoyed through His years of ministry.

Finally He still had to drink the cup of suffering down to the very dregs. This was the cup about which He had prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Now He thirsted for the last few sips so that everything might finally be completed.

“My Father,
if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away
unless I drink it, may your will be done”
(Matthew 26:42)

In body, spirit and will Jesus cried out for relief – not for the suffering to be taken away but that it might be completed. For right to the end He never lost sight of His purpose which was to glorify God by being obedient to and completing His will.

And when you and I twist and turn in an agony of spirit, yearning for the living waters of the Lord to come and wash us, cleanse us, revive us, liberate us and bring new and fulfilling life, remember that there is One who fully knows and understands our pain. At such moments, as we long to shed the old and embrace the new, He is very close to us.

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