Thanks for Sharing

I’d like to write about the night I became a Christian. Let me start with these verses from the Bible: “Surely you know that the people who do wrong will not inherit God’s kingdom. Do not be fooled. Those who sin sexually, worship idols, take part in adultery, those who are male prostitutes, or men who have sexual relations with other men, those who steal, are greedy, get drunk, lie about others, or rob – these people will not inherit God’s kingdom. In the past, some of you were like that, but you were washed clean. You were made holy, and you were made right with God in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). I love the thought that whatever you’ve done wrong, when you come to Jesus, He can clean you up and make you new – make you fit to follow Him.

That’s what the preacher talked about on 2 October, 1999. He listed various wrongs and one of them was envy. He told us: “Envy rots the bones” (Proverbs 14:30). I wonder what would’ve happened if the preacher had thought: “There are sure to be people here tonight who struggle with envy. Maybe I shouldn’t share that verse. I don’t want to upset anyone.”

As it was, he did share it, and it was a shock because I knew I was envious. My sister was having driving lessons and as a blind person, I was extremely envious of her. I remember thinking if what he said was true, my bones must be well and truly rotting away. For the first time, I knew that hell was real and if nothing changed, I was on my way there. But that uncomfortable feeling? That’s what made me reach out to God in prayer.

At the end of the preach, as everyone else sang a final song, I sat in my seat and told God I didn’t want to come to Him just out of fear of going to hell. That seemed to me a weak thing to do. I had never known God in a personal way or heard His voice in my heart before, but when I said I didn’t want to come to Him out of fear, I felt Him reply: “Come because I love you.” It was totally unexpected and completely life-changing, as that’s when I started following God.

Jesus prayed to God: “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17). The Word of God is true and absolutely authoritative. I want to thank not just preachers, but anyone who shares God’s Word in any way: In songs, school assemblies, hospital or prison ministry … Please, never stop sharing the truth. God loves the people He’s created. His love is available to everyone, and the world needs to hear that.

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Having my Say – “Home and Away”

You might have heard the Aussie soap “Home and Away” is supposed to have made history recently by introducing its first gay character. I was a big fan of H&A in the early days and have been watching it again in the last year or so. This homosexual teenager is only a guest on the show for a few weeks, thankfully, because I haven’t liked their approach. All his fellow-characters (even the older ones, who’ve made a stand in the past on moral issues) have made it very clear that homosexuality is part of who he is, and he has no choice in the matter. I think it’s very sad. They seem so afraid to offend homosexuals that they’re not prepared to let anyone have a different opinion.

As someone who believes the Bible, I know that in Genesis chapter 2, it talks about a man being united with his wife and the two becoming one flesh (Genesis 2:24). That’s how we were created to be: A man and his wife, not a man and his husband. The Bible goes into greater detail in the less quoted and less talked-about book of Romans. It tells us God’s revealed Himself to mankind through His creation; He’s plain to see, so people have no excuse for their wrongdoing (Romans 1:20). But because they ignored the greatness of God, because they didn’t honour Him or thank Him, He let them go their own way. They became immoral; women stopped having sex with men and had it with other women, and vice versa (Romans 1:21-27). When people dismiss the importance of knowing God, He takes a step away and gives them over to that lifestyle. It is a choice, and there is an alternative. People can honour God with their lives; show Him gratitude by living the way He wants them to live.

Personally, I think it would have made “Home and Away” much more interesting if Marilyn had struggled to accept Ty’s homosexuality. The fostering agency could have pressured her and John to accept it, but she could have genuinely felt (as she did with Irene’s surrogacy twenty years ago) that it was wrong to mess with nature. Wouldn’t that have made the storyline more balanced and given people something to think about?

Fully Accessible

Here we are, at the biggest celebration of the Christian year. We remember that first day of the week two thousand years ago, when some women came to Jesus’ tomb and found His body wasn’t there. Two men in shining garments tell them Jesus is alive! Luke elaborates later in the chapter and says it was a vision of angels (Luke 24:22-23). They say: “Remember what He told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that He would rise again on the third day” (Luke 24:6-7). I had never noticed that before. I always imagined Jesus talked to only His closest friends about going ahead of them into Galilee (Matthew 26:30-32; Mark 14:26-28), but no; it was the women as well.

As a blind person, I hear a lot about accessibility. So many times here, Jesus sets out to prove how accessible He is. Two of His followers have walked nearly seven miles from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus (Luke 24:13), and unknowingly talked with Him on the way. They invite Him in for the night and with the scent of bread in their nostrils, as Jesus breaks it to pieces, their spiritual eyes are opened and they recognise Him. Jesus disappears and straightaway they do the seven-mile walk all over again, going back to tell their story.

As they’re speaking, suddenly Jesus is among them. “Look at My hands. Look at My feet. You can see that it’s really Me. Touch Me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do” (Luke 24:39). Bringing in the sense of taste, He asks for something to eat and they give Him a piece of broiled fish. Then He opens their minds to understand the Scriptures. I would’ve loved to have been at that Bible-study!

Jesus wants to fill our intellect and all our senses. He’s God-with-us, who wants everyone to have access to the forgiveness He offers. “You saw these things happen – you are witnesses. You must go and tell people that they must change and turn to God, which will bring them His forgiveness. You must start from Jerusalem and tell this message in My name to the people of all nations. Remember that I will send you the One my Father promised. Stay in the city until you are given that power from heaven” (Luke 24:47-49).

Jesus gave convincing proofs He was alive, appearing to His followers over a period of forty days (Acts 1:3). Then comes the end of Luke’s gospel, and the beginning of Luke’s second book – the book of Acts. As His friends watch, Jesus ascends to heaven before their eyes, and they’re told: “Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday He will return from heaven in the same way you saw Him go” (Acts 1:11).

* * *

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series, taking us through Jesus’ life in the gospel of Luke. Happy Easter, and if you’re accepting for the first time that Jesus died so you could be forgiven, welcome to the family.

Hope that Doesn’t Disappoint

Today we remember the sacrifice Jesus made for us when He died on that cross. I don’t think I could retell it in a way that would do it justice, but three scenes from this chapter stuck out to me.

Scene one: The Jewish hierarchy brought Jesus before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, since their Law wouldn’t allow them to execute Him (John 18:31-32). When he found out Jesus was a Galilean, Pilate sent Him to Herod – the ruler of Galilee. We’ve seen before that Herod thought at one point Jesus might be John back from the dead, so he already knew of His existence. Luke says Herod hoped to see Jesus perform a miracle (Luke 23:8), but it wasn’t to be. He plied Jesus with questions, but Jesus refused to answer. Then Herod and his soldiers started insulting and mocking Jesus.

Scene two: Herod’s dismissed Jesus and sent Him back to Pilate, who wants to release Him. The Jewish leaders aren’t having any of it, so they incite the crowd to shout for Jesus’ crucifixion. “They shouted louder and louder that He should be crucified, and eventually Pilate capitulated” (Luke 23:23). John tells us Jesus carried His own cross (John 19:17), but He had already been severely beaten. Perhaps He was too weak physically to continue carrying it because according to Luke, as Jesus was led away, the soldiers seized a man named Simon and put the cross on him (Luke 23:26). Simon came from Cyrene (a city in northern Africa), and Rufus and Alexander were his two sons (Mark 15:21). Other than that, we don’t know much about him, but I can hazard a guess that as he came into Jerusalem from the countryside, Simon hoped for an uneventful Passover celebration. He wouldn’t have wanted to be ramrodded by a bunch of power-hungry soldiers into the brutality of that day.

Scene three: Jesus is nailed to a cross, and two criminals to crosses alongside Him. Both criminals start out ridiculing Him (Matthew 27:44), but I guess one felt a check in his spirit. As the first goes on cursing, the second speaks up. “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong” (Luke 23:40-41). All that’s ahead for them now is death, but the God-fearing one seems to have some concept of something more. I imagine his eyes locking with Jesus’ as he pleads: “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom”, and Jesus famously promised he would join Him in paradise. It’s a wonderful hope – that even if we haven’t known Jesus for the majority of our lives, if we turn to Him in our last moments asking to be remembered, He won’t fail us.

When Jesus is the centre of your hope, you won’t be disappointed.

On Monday, I did my first-ever open mic night at the Cavern Pub in Liverpool (amazing to be able to say I’ve sung at the Cavern!). I sang my song:
“You’re the only one who satisfies completely;
You’re the only one who never lets me down” …

Sometimes I might feel let-down because I haven’t got the things I’ve been hoping for here on earth, but in reality, He hasn’t let me down. I’ve always got the presence of Jesus. He’s never going to leave me; He’ll never expect me to cope with life on my own. Do you have that hope?

Hard to Take?

There’s so much in Luke 22 that I want to just focus on its three main characters: Judas Iscariot, Peter, and Jesus.

Judas: We start the chapter with his agreeing to betray Jesus. Luke doesn’t tell us why, but in all the other gospels, this happens after an incident at Bethany. Jesus has returned to the home of Martha and Mary, and their brother – Lazarus. In John 11, an illness took the life of Lazarus and Jesus raised him from the dead. That’s why when Jesus arrived at Bethany, a dinner was given in His honour and Mary, still full of gratitude, poured expensive perfume on His feet (John 12:2-3). Some of the guests were indignant. The perfume was worth nearly a year’s wages and they thought she had wasted it (Mark 14:4-5), but Jesus told them to leave her alone; she had done a beautiful thing (Mark 14:6). That’s when Judas goes to the priests to ask about betraying Jesus. Judas loved money, and Jesus’ attitude to it offended him.

Peter: He and John were sent to prepare the very last meal Jesus would have with His closest friends here on earth. The meal begins and as they eat, Jesus talks to Peter, using his old name. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32). Peter protests that he’s ready to be imprisoned and even to die, but Jesus knows better. By the end of the chapter, Peter has denied knowing Him three times, just as predicted. Peter’s also the one Jesus had to chastise for fighting when He was arrested (John 18:10-11). Doctor Luke is the only gospel-writer to tell us Jesus healed the servant after Peter cut off his right ear with a sword. What was written about Jesus had to be fulfilled, but Peter took exception to the way things were playing out.

Jesus: After eating supper, He goes with His friends to a familiar place of prayer – so familiar, in fact, it’s the place Judas has arranged to betray Him. Jesus encourages them to pray, then goes a little farther away to bring His request to the Father. “Please take this cup of suffering away from Me. Yet I want Your will to be done” (Luke 22:42). He surrenders His life to God and at that point, an angel comes and strengthens Him. This strengthening leads to more earnest prayer and Luke puts his doctor-hat on again, saying Jesus is in such agony that He sweats drops of blood – a medical condition called hematidrosis (when someone’s under extreme stress, capillaries in the sweat glands can break, mixing blood with sweat). But while Jesus agonised in prayer, His friends were falling asleep. They were exhausted from grief and hadn’t come to the point of surrender, like their Master. “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray,” He says, and along come His adversaries. When Peter fights to try to prevent His arrest, Jesus commands: “No more of this.” Jesus was mocked by those guarding Him. They blindfolded Him and demanded to know who struck Him. He was well able to answer the question and shut them up, but He didn’t. Jesus went through all that He had to, in order that God’s Word would be fulfilled and He would become the price paid for the wrongs of many people (Isaiah 53:11).

Judas took offence; Peter took exception; Jesus took it all in His stride.

What about us? Are we offended by Jesus? Do we take exception to the way He works? Or will we, as individuals, take Him into our hearts and surrender to what God has for us?

Look Up

My absolute favourite verse in this chapter is Luke 21:28: “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” It inspired a song I once wrote, and it’s an encouragement to every Christian.

‘When these things begin to happen’ refers to the things Jesus had been speaking of: The destruction of the Jewish temple, and the run-up to the end of the world. Many will claim to be the Christ; nations will come against each other; earthquakes, famines and diseases; dreadful sights and miraculous signs from heaven; believers brought to trial by the authorities; persecution even by close family; distress for pregnant women and nursing mothers; signs in the sky; storm-tossed seas; confusion and anxiety on the earth. Do any of these sound familiar? From the time Jesus was taken up into heaven after His resurrection until now, we’ve been in the last days; in limbo if you like, as we wait for Jesus’ return.

A verse that’s always puzzled me has been Luke 21:32. It says: “This generation will not pass from the scene until all these things have taken place.” But all these things haven’t taken place! The world hasn’t ended, and all of the generation Jesus was talking to (even John, who lived to quite an age) have passed away. “Birth of the Church” explains the word ‘Generation’ can also mean race, Jesus’ point being that the Jews will remain as a people until all these things have taken place. That makes much more sense.

This is a word to me as much as anyone that when we’re faced with wars or natural disasters, trials, problems in our relationships, or any kind of difficulty, we can do as Jesus says: Look up; lift our eyes, because our redemption (the time of our freedom) is drawing near.

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There are 3 chapters of Luke left and we’re approaching Easter. I’ll aim to post alternate days this week, so we can read the last chapter on Easter Sunday.

Behind the Questions

In the previous chapter, Jesus was zealous for the temple, driving out the animal-sellers with the rebuke that they were turning it into a den of thieves. Now the priests, teachers of the Law and elders (I’ve nicknamed them the ‘Religious trinity’) come to Him with a question. They want to challenge His authority, so they ask who gave Him the right to do these things (Luke 20:2). Jesus responds with a question of His own about His relative, John the Baptist. “Did John’s authority to baptise come from heaven, or was it merely human?” He already knows they’ll avoid answering, but His question makes them search their hearts. What do they believe about John, and therefore about Him?

Jesus then launches into one of His stories, this time about tenants looking after a vineyard. When the harvest was due, they attacked those who came to collect it on behalf of the owner. Finally they killed the owner’s son, who was heir to the estate. Jesus concludes with another question. “What do you suppose the owner of the vineyard will do” (Luke 20:15)? He’s explaining the kingdom of God to them. God’s kingdom is the vineyard, but those leaders who are in charge of it will be displaced in favour of others because of their shameful treatment of Jesus. They’re well aware He’s using the story against them (Luke 20:19).

In their annoyance, the leaders send out undercover spies. Pretending to be honest, they ask about paying taxes to Caesar, but really they’re trying to trap Jesus so they can report Him to the Roman governor. He cleverly answers by holding up a coin with Caesar’s image on it. “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” They’re stunned into silence.

Next, it’s the Sadducees’ turn to question Jesus. I learnt from “Birth of the Church” that Sadducees don’t subscribe to any of the Pharisaic traditions. They pin their faith solely on the writings of Moses, from Genesis to Deuteronomy – the first five books of the Bible. Deuteronomy 25:5-6 states that if two brothers live together and one dies leaving his wife without children, the other should marry her, and their firstborn son be considered the son of the dead brother in order to carry on his name. That’s why in an attempt to disprove resurrection from the dead, the Sadducees take this to the extreme. If a woman marries seven brothers and all of them die, whose wife will she be at the resurrection? Jesus responds, and also proves from Moses’ writings that there really is a resurrection (Luke 20:34-38).

No one dares ask Him any more questions, but Jesus has one final puzzle. To get them thinking more deeply, He asks how the Christ can be David’s son when David refers to Him as Lord. “The LORD said to my lord, ‘Sit by Me at My right side until I put Your enemies under Your control’” (Psalm 110:1).

What’s behind the questions we ask? Are we challenging people? Trapping them? Trying to disprove something? Or do we have more positive motives?

Truly Seeing Jesus

This chapter seems filled with the constant presence of a crowd. First, at Jericho, we meet Zacchaeus who’s too short to see over the crowd and climbs a tree. Jesus famously told him to come down and was welcomed into his home. Zacchaeus recognised Jesus as Lord of his life when he offered to give half his possessions to the poor and make repayments to anyone he may have cheated (Luke 19:8).

Next, Jesus tells a story to illustrate that God’s kingdom’s not going to come immediately. As the story puts it, a nobleman goes on a long journey, during which time some say they don’t want him as their king. When he returns having been crowned, there’s no good in store for his enemies. Luke makes the effort to tell us the crowd was listening to every word (Luke 19:11), and it’s just as well.

Jesus’ story is so important because the very next thing we see is Him entering Jerusalem as King. Hundreds of years before, God’s spokesman Zechariah foretold that Jerusalem’s King was coming, humble and riding on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9). Now into Jerusalem comes Jesus, peaceably and riding on a donkey. If He hadn’t prepared people, it would have been easy to think this might be the moment when everything reached its fulfilment. On Sunday, Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem will be remembered in churches all over the world. It’s called Palm Sunday because as Jesus rode along in the centre of the procession, some spread their clothes on the road while others used tree-branches to give Him the red-carpet treatment (Matthew 21:8-9; John 12:12-16).

But as He came towards Jerusalem, the truth was inescapable: Not everyone would be as receptive. Within days, the establishment would have Jesus hung on a cross. He wept at the realisation. “Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you” (Luke 19:43-44). This did physically happen in 70 AD. Jerusalem was invaded by the Romans and the Jewish temple destroyed.

A couple of weeks ago, we looked at the beginnings of Samaria. It struck me then how different the world would have been if Jeroboam had trusted in and made God his security. Now I’m having a similar thought. What a different week it would have been if Jerusalem had recognised Jesus as her Saviour! No one plotting to kill Him; no betrayal; no trial; no death … Perhaps time and the world would have ended, giving way to the new heaven and new earth that Christians look forward to today. It’s all speculation of course, because it didn’t happen that way. Jesus died, and took the sins of the world on Himself.

Jerusalem didn’t acknowledge the saving power of Jesus and faced the physical consequences, but in a spiritual sense, it’s the same for us. Paul talks of being spiritually dead, but made alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5). To experience what Jesus has for us, we need to be like Zacchaeus and give Him carte blanche over our lives. If you were in that crowd on Palm Sunday, would you have recognised Jesus?

Like a Child

What kind of person do you have to be to receive the kingdom of God – His reign and influence in your life? Jesus tells us in Luke 18:17: “Anyone who doesn’t receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” Four examples in the chapter illustrate His point. Think of a four-year-old child as you read these.

Example one: The widow who kept coming to a judge with her case, until he gave her justice because he was worn out by her constant pleas. “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to His chosen people who cry out to Him day and night? Will He keep putting them off? I tell you, He will grant justice to them quickly” (Luke 18:6-8). When small children ask their parents for something, they ask anticipating that they’ll get it, not that it’s going to take months or years. Do we have faith to come to God in that way?

Example two: A religious leader and a tax collector – one reeling off his many achievements, while the other beats his chest in sorrow and appeals to God for mercy. Children don’t have a long list of accomplishments to their names; all they can do is depend on the adults around them to give them what they need. It reminds me of the line in the song: “Empty-handed but alive in Your hands”.

Example three: Jesus encouraging the rich man to sell what he had. Children don’t own entire houses in which to horde possessions; they live much more simply. Are we content with food and clothing (1 Timothy 6:6-8), or is what we have never enough?

Example four: The blind man, begging at the roadside. There was no welfare system back then. Someone with a disability’s only option was to beg; they had nothing to offer. Similar to the tax collector, all this man could do was appeal for mercy, and he got it. He received his sight.

Let’s come to God in childlike trust – not depending on anything of our own, but completely on Him. Let’s receive what He’s got for us.

The Suffering Servant

The end of Luke 17 really shows Jesus’ divine nature and His humanity. Jesus talks to His followers about the return of the Son of Man – a title He used for Himself. “People will tell you, ‘Look, there is the Son of Man,’ or ‘Here he is,’ but don’t go out and follow them. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other, so it will be on the day when the Son of Man comes” (Luke 17:23-24). I imagine this being similar to the time they caught so many fish, and Peter asked the Lord to go away from him because he realised his sinfulness. It must have overwhelmed them sometimes – being in the company of one who was human like them, but at the same time so glorious. Jesus’ return’s going to be visible to everyone – the sky lit up from one end to the other!

But in the very next verse He says: “First the Son of Man must suffer terribly and be rejected by this generation.” I was struck by this. We’re now into the last third of Luke’s gospel – the last part of Jesus’ life, and He brings up the subject of His suffering and rejection. All-knowing, He sees all the mockery and the physical pain He’ll have to endure; and glorious as He is, it doesn’t take away His suffering.

“My life is poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax, melting within me” (Psalm 22:14).

“His face was so disfigured He seemed hardly human” (Isaiah 52:14).

These are just some of the things Jesus went through for us the day of His death.

One thing about Jesus dying for me is that He’ll always understand suffering. I’ll never have to go through the depth of agony that He did, but as we heard from Jesus a couple of weeks ago, students are not greater than their teacher (Luke 6:40). In order to share in His glory, I need to share in His sufferings. I mustn’t shrink from this. “If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it” (Luke 17:33). Jesus tells us to remember Lot’s wife – a woman right back in the book of Genesis. The city where she lived was destroyed. She and her family had an opportunity to escape, but she looked back at what she was leaving behind – and turned into a pillar of salt! Because she looked back, she lost her life and her future.

I never want to forget the suffering Jesus went through for me. “For the joy that was set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2). As I share in His sufferings, may my focus be on the joy that’s waiting for me in heaven. Jesus is a great example to follow.