Day 37: Wednesday, 8 April – Nisan 14 5780 (Erev Pesach)

Day 37: Wednesday, 8 April – Nisan 14 5780 (Erev Pesach)

Colossians 1:21-22

You used to be far from God. Your thoughts made you his enemies, and you did evil things. But his Son became a human and died. So God made peace with you, and now he lets you stand in his presence as people who are holy and faultless and innocent.

God makes peace with mankind. Under the covenant of the Law the way you stayed holy was to be holy and righteous in everything you did. It was a struggle, and everyone failed. We failed because we are by nature sinful people.

We must clear up something that causes serious problems in accepting what I’ve just written. To say that we are sinful people is not to say that we are bad people. The vast majority of us strive to be good, and we can all think of some good people, people who shine out amongst us. We might want to be good, too – I don’t think many people choose to be bad. However, even the nicest people are by nature sinful. Being sinful is not an attitude, it’s a state of being.

We were born sinful, prone to failure and subject to the Law. By following the demands of the Law you find yourself constantly striving to achieve, and paying the penalty if you do not. It’s like being on the wrong side of the door, walking away from it and paying to get back.

There was a way back to God which involved payment in blood. The wages of sin is death. But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Jesus gave himself up to death, and in so doing paid the price that God demands. Jesus has brought about a new covenant with God. Kings attach a seal to a document to identify its authenticity. We sign agreements and contracts, our signature representing our commitment to whatever the document states. This new covenant between God and man is sealed by the blood of Jesus.

God has made peace with us – we are no longer under condemnation, no longer enemies of God, but adopted into his family. We may enter through the door that is Jesus. Being decent folks who are acutely aware of our own failings and who would prefer to pursue modesty lest we take a fall, we are apt to disbelieve Paul’s statement that before God we may stand as holy and faultless and innocent. If you have trouble with this it’s possibly because you have not yet let go of your sinful nature and handed it all over to God. Do not deceive yourself – you can’t handle it, you can’t sort it out, you can’t put it right yourself. And the silly thing is, God doesn’t expect you to. Reads the words above out loud until you are familiar with them and repeat them to yourself until you grasp in your heart, in your mind and in your spirit the amazing thing God has done for you in Jesus.

You do not now stand outside the door. In Jesus you stand in God’s throne room.

Watch, especially the ending

Are you celebrating Passover tomorrow?

Are there crumbs of sin that you still cling on to? How can you get rid of them?

Father God, I should come before you in fear and trembling because of the sin that you see in me. But you have loved me from the start, the very start of all creation, and planned and carried out an escape plan that releases me from the prison of sin. You sent Jesus to set me free. Amen.

Scripture taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.    

Paul

Day 36: Tuesday, 7 April – Nisan 13 5780

Day 36: Tuesday, 7 April – Nisan 13 5780

Colossians 1:19-20

God himself was pleased to live fully in his Son. And God was pleased for him to make peace by sacrificing his blood on the cross, so that all beings in heaven and on earth would be brought back to God.

We can get confused when we use the name God. I prefer to say “Father God” for the person, and “God” for the Trinity. For too many Trinity Sundays I’ve heard preachers give me the three-in-one shamrock/clover leaf or the 3-in-1 Oil examples, but they do not cut it for me – I continue to struggle with what I know to be true but can’t quite explain in my head or explain to anyone else!

That God should in some mysterious way become man, or that the Word should temporarily leave the Godhead in loving obedience, taking on a human form, and dying for me is beyond my comprehension. But I am forever grateful. And when I say “forever”, I mean exactly that.

Paul stresses that God lived fully in his Son, not partially. Jesus was in no way less than God. Even though he was fully human, he was also fully divine. You might imagine that a quart (to modern people, that’s slightly more than a litre) cannot sit in a pint pot (half a quart), i.e. Jesus cannot be both God and man, but he is. If he isn’t, then we’ve not grasped the extent of God’s love as expressed in John 1

God makes peace with mankind. Under the covenant of the Law the way you stayed holy was to be holy and righteous in everything you did. It was a struggle, and everyone failed. There was a way back to God which involved payment in blood. The wages of sin is death. But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Jesus gave himself up to death, and in so doing paid the price that God demands. Jesus has brought about a new covenant with God. Yet there are still people who think it is OK to put on a false humility and suggest that God might have done this for others, but they themselves are not worthy enough to receive this offer.

Paul says that all beings would be brought back to God. Would that include non-Christians? There’s no question that Christ died for everyone, and that his blood covers everyone. The distinction comes, to my mind, in the response of the individual. God has given us the free will to accept or reject this. Like a gift, you have to accept it, otherwise you do not have it. Accept it, and you have access to Father God through Jesus. Reject it, and you go away without.

Watch

Do you have a clear distinction between Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

Do you know each of these persons equally?

Are you aware that you were once far from God?

Do you believe that you have access to the throne room of God?

Father God, I know that when I accepted that Jesus died for me and saved me from sin and punishment, I was allowed to come into your presence in him. I pray for my family, my friends, my neighbours, my acquaintances who have not yet accepted this glorious gift. Give me opportunities for sharing my story, and the boldness and compassion to share it with them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Scripture taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.    

Paul

Day 35: Monday, 6 April – Nisan 12 5780

Day 35: Monday, 6 April – Nisan 12 5780

Hebrews 7:23-28

There have been a lot of other priests, and all of them have died. But Jesus will never die, and so he will be a priest forever! He is forever able to save the people he leads to God, because he always lives to speak to God for them.

Jesus is the high priest we need. He is holy and innocent and faultless, and not at all like us sinners. Jesus is honoured above all beings in heaven, and he is better than any other high priest. Jesus doesn't need to offer sacrifices each day for his own sins and then for the sins of the people. He offered a sacrifice once for all, when he gave himself.

The Law appoints priests who have weaknesses. But God's promise, which came later than the Law, appoints his Son. And he is the perfect high priest forever.

The task of the priests was to offer the sacrifices people brought to God. They were the ones, assisted by the Levites, who cut the throats of the animals, and released the blood onto the altar. No-one else could do this task – it was a reserved calling, or at least it was restricted to the descendants of Aaron. The Levitical tasks were carried out by the descendants of Levi. They were busy, and did not do other work. They were entitled to portions of the sacrifices as food for themselves.

Priests were a group apart from the others. John the prophet’s father Zechariah was from a priestly family and he went to Jerusalem from time to time when his family was due to officiate in the Temple. Read about it here. Like all the other priests, Zechariah died. But there is one Great High Priest who lives for ever. He is always there to intercede on behalf of his people. Unlike any other priest, this man, Jesus, was able to make an offering on behalf of all of us. This offering was not goats or sheep or pigeons or any other creature – none of these would appease God eternally.

His offering was himself.

A sacrifice without spot or blemish, and one that came as one of us, yet was without sin. His sacrifice of himself was a complete and perfect sacrifice. Jesus became both priest and victim.

His death was not a swift death on an altar, but a slow, cruel and painful lingering death on a cross. For three hours he was borne down by the weight of the sins of the world, desolate and totally alone. The One who had once been in loving union with Father God from eternity had now stepped as far away from God as was possible, for all that Father God could see was sin upon the cross.

Why did God allow this suffering? Why did Jesus have to die?

How do you relate to Jesus’ priestly roles of Great High Priest and sacrificial victim?

In the light of Jesus’ role, what is the purpose of a priest today?

Father God, you sent Jesus to fulfil the righteous demands of The Law. He died in order to save the world from both sin and its punishment. He died in order to save me from both sin and its punishment. Open my eyes to see this glorious gift that you freely gave me in him. Amen.

Watch – it’s hairy, but magnificent.

Scripture taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.    

Paul

Reflections for Maundy Thursday

Dear Everyone,

Julia, our Elder, has suggested the attached as something you might like to ponder over on Thursday evening. She has taken it from a book by Nick Fawcett.
We were intending to hold a number of Passover meals in homes around our Benefice, but that won’t happen this year.
Our Lent Reflections have been building up to Passover, and I hope that you might have time now to plan to arrange a meal for next year. There’s nothing to stop you, once the all-clear sounds, to practise hospitality, especially with those who are serving us during this time of crisis.
With Blessings,
Paul

Day 34: Saturday, 4 April – Nisan 10 5780

Day 34: Saturday, 4 April – Nisan 10 5780

Hebrews 9:25-28

Christ did not have to offer himself many times. He wasn't like a high priest who goes into the most holy place each year to offer the blood of an animal. If he had offered himself every year, he would have suffered many times since the creation of the world.

But instead, near the end of time he offered himself once and for all, so that he could be a sacrifice that does away with sin. We die only once, and then we are judged. So Christ died only once to take away the sins of many people. But when he comes again, it will not be to take away sin. He will come to save everyone who is waiting for him.

It is one of the most difficult things to believe, for new and established Christians alike, that Christ offered one sacrifice of himself for our sins. If we think that we should on our part make some penance or payment for our sin then we have failed to understand the eternal truth that Christ’s offering of himself was a perfect and complete sacrifice. It happened at a single point in history but it serves for all eternity.

When Christ died, sin was pronounced dead. In Christ I am dead to sin – it has no power over me. Don’t think that it’s because I have some special higher-level power or relationship with God not open to others. Don’t think that you are somehow not worthy to receive this precious gift, because if you do you have failed to understand the eternal truth that in Christ we are free from sin.

Perhaps you think that sin is here to have mastery over us and we are still subject to it. We are not. Why then, you may ask, do people still fall into sin? Christ died for our sins – that’s an end to it. They were paid for, both in arrears and in advance. When we come to Christ in repentance for our sins then we may receive forgiveness as a gift. But we do not have to sin! If we think that sin will always get the better of us then we have failed to understand the eternal truth that in Christ we are free from sin.

Being in Christ means we are safe. When we abide in him, by inviting him into every aspect of our lives and by entering into his life in us, we in him and he in us, then all Satan sees is Jesus. Demons flee.

Do you believe that you are dead to sin, or that sin has some hold on your life? If the latter, how will you get this sorted?

Where do you stand in relation to Christ – in him, or outside of him? If the latter, then I already know your answer to the first question, and perhaps you should speak to someone about it?

Father God, in Jesus I am free from sin. Outside Jesus I am not. Like Peter, failing on the water, I cry, Help me Lord. Amen.

Sing along (soprano, bass) or listen

Power in the blood

Scripture taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.    

Paul

Day 33: Friday, 3 April – Nisan 9 5780

Day 33: Friday, 3 April – Nisan 9 5780

Hebrews 9:19-22

Moses told the people all that the Law said they must do. Then he used red wool and a hyssop plant to sprinkle the people and the book of the Law with the blood of bulls and goats and with water. He told the people, "With this blood God makes his agreement with you." Moses also sprinkled blood on the tent and on everything else that was used in worship. The Law says that almost everything must be sprinkled with blood, and no sins can be forgiven unless blood is offered.

We will continue for a few days on this letter. The author writes as a Jew to Jews. His intent is to show Jewish people that all of their God-ordained religious practices were in fact a preparation for the revealing of God’s Son Jesus.

The covenant that God gave to Moses was sealed with blood. The artefacts and structures were all sprinkled with blood. The blood would have left a stain on fabrics. It would find its way into stonework. The priests would be stained with it almost from head to toe. The Tent of meeting would be recognisable from the staining of splashed blood. Even those standing around were sprinkled. There’s a lot of blood in even a small animal. The ground around the altars would get quite squishy. The tang of blood would linger. It would be cleaner in a modern abattoir.

While we might find this all rather distasteful it is the significance of blood as a symbol of the life-force in an animal that reaches every cell to supply oxygen and nutrients that makes it literally vital. The offering of blood indicates that a sacrifice has been undertaken, that a payment in terms of an animal’s life has been made. It’s like a stamp duty payment, a seal, a bond, a guarantee. The Book of the Law may have been spattered with blood on the outside, but the blood seeps through and pervades the text, for just about everything relating to the restoration of man to God’s favour rests upon the sacrifice of blood to pay for man’s sin.

No sin can be covered unless it is covered in blood.

Watch

What is the writer leading us to? Can you figure it out before you read it?

Father God, you do not change. You are the same yesterday, today and forever. There is no shadow of turning with you. The Law still stands, and with it the sacrifice of blood to pay the price of sin. But you sent your Son, Jesus, to pay the price for all people for eternity, so that the righteous demands of the Law are met, and that we can come to your Throne of Grace. You sent Jesus to pay the price of my sin, that I may come, too. Amen.

Scripture taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.    

Paul

Day 32: Thursday, 2 April – Nisan 8 5780

Day 32: Thursday, 2 April – Nisan 8 5780

Hebrews 9:11-14

Christ came as the high priest of the good things that are now here. He also went into a much better tent that wasn't made by humans and that doesn't belong to this world. Then Christ went once for all into the most holy place and freed us from sin forever. He did this by offering his own blood instead of the blood of goats and bulls.

According to the Law of Moses, those people who become unclean are not fit to worship God. Yet they will be considered clean, if they are sprinkled with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a sacrificed calf.

But Christ was sinless, and he offered himself as an eternal and spiritual sacrifice to God. That's why his blood is much more powerful and makes our consciences clear. Now we can serve the living God and no longer do things that lead to death.

We move to the Letters of the New Testament. The writer of Hebrews lays out how Jesus came from and through the faith of the Jews to take on the highest roles on himself. The letter compares Jesus with the High Priest, the one person in the faith who was allowed to come into the presence of God on behalf of the people.

Once a year the High Priest went into the inner sanctum of sancta, the Most Holy Place, the place where in the old days the ark of the covenant rested. He had to be ritually clean and covered with the correct clothing before he entered lest he incur God’s burning anger. He probably entered in fear and trembling.

He offered in that place the blood of a sacrifice on behalf of the people. Any high priest who understood his role would be very glad to get out alive.

The writer tells us that Jesus entered a better tent, a heavenly holy place to make an offering of blood – his own blood. While we may find the whole blood thing a little distasteful (perhaps some kosher and halal practices leave us uncomfortable), it is the blood of Jesus, real blood, human blood that we claim over us to free us from sin. The Great High Priest was also the sacrificed Holy Lamb of God.

In the book of Revelation John sees a great company of people dressed in white. “Who are these?”, he asks. He is told that they are those who have washed their robes white in the blood of the lamb.

What are the thoughts in your mind when you receive bread and wine at Communion?

How does the concept of Jesus’ blood sacrifice make you feel?

Father God, I may find it easier to consider Jesus’ suffering and death once a year on Good Friday, knowing that it won’t be long before Easter comes. Yet his blood, shed for me on the cross, is a timeless and constant symbol of sacrificial love for me. Thank you, Father God, for sending Jesus. Amen.

Watch

Watch

Scripture taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.    

Paul

Day 31: Wednesday, 1 April – Nisan 7 5780

Day 31: Wednesday, 1 April – Nisan 7 5780

Numbers 9:6-11

Some people in Israel's camp had touched a dead body and had become unfit to worship the LORD, and they could not celebrate Passover. But they asked Moses and Aaron, "Even though we have touched a dead body, why can't we celebrate Passover and offer sacrifices to the LORD at the same time as everyone else?" Moses said, "Wait here while I go into the sacred tent and find out what the LORD says about this." The LORD then told Moses to say to the community of Israel: If any of you or your descendants touch a dead body and become unfit to worship me, or if you are away on a long journey, you may still celebrate Passover. But it must be done in the second month, in the evening of the fourteenth day.

John 18:28

It was early in the morning when Jesus was taken from Caiaphas to the building where the Roman governor stayed. But the crowd waited outside. Any of them who had gone inside would have become unclean and would not be allowed to eat the Passover meal.

John’s account suggests that the Passover meal had not yet taken place when Jesus was arrested, so perhaps Jesus’ meal with his disciples might not have been a Passover meal. There’s plenty of discussion on this, and you can make your own mind up.

Jesus was sent into the governor’s house alone. All the other Jews stayed outside lest they pick up some uncleanness from entering that heathen building. The rules stated that if you were unclean in any way you were not allowed to take part in the meal at least on the appointed day.

The implication is that uncleanness renders you unfit to worship. Uncleanness is based on bad hygiene. The Old Testament lists many different ways in which a person can become unclean, many of them relating to contact with something that may threaten personal or public health. Contagious diseases would clearly be a source of uncleanness. Lepers were herded off to colonies. Women were kept at bay from others for a few days each month, and those who worked with some animal products would be kept apart.

And yet the one who stood alone amongst the guard was the cleanest, the purest, the only unblemished, sinless man who ever lived. Well might those who arrested Jesus stay away, for in his presence their sinfulness would be exposed.

What is the greatest uncleanness of all that bars you from worship (clue: Psalm 51)?

Father God, as I consider who I am, I am all too aware of the sin that gets in the way of a relationship with you. In Jesus you cleanse me from my sin, you put out all my misdeeds, you give me a new, clean heart and renew the presence of your Spirit within me. Keep me from ritual holiness and false religion. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Scripture taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.    

Paul

Day 30: Tuesday, 31 March – Nisan 6 5780

Day 30: Tuesday, 31 March – Nisan 6 5780

Mark 14:22-25

During the meal Jesus took some bread in his hands. He blessed the bread and broke it. Then he gave it to his disciples and said, "Take this. It is my body." Jesus picked up a cup of wine and gave thanks to God. He gave it to his disciples, and they all drank some. Then he said, "This is my blood, which is poured out for many people, and with it God makes his agreement. From now on I will not drink any wine, until I drink new wine in God's kingdom."

This is Mark’s account of the event. It is a slimmer version, and perhaps a little cryptic. What is the significance of the bread being Jesus’ body?

Both accounts include Jesus telling his disciples that this is the last meal he’ll have with them in this format. Luke’s version tells us that there will be a Passover Meal in the Kingdom of Heaven at which Jesus will once more be present. Mark tells us that there’ll be no more wine until Jesus drinks new wine in God’s kingdom. So does Matthew’s account.

John’s account is very different. It covers many chapters of John’s gospel. The last supper is first mentioned in chapter 13. I encourage you to read this and the following chapters. Many words of Jesus are recorded by John as being part of that last supper and their significance is enhanced by them being final words of Jesus, words of encouragement, of hope and truth.

Was this the only thing Jesus is recorded as having said at that meal?

Father God, enrich in the full aspect of Jesus’ last Passover, from his actions, his declarations, his words, his prayers. Allow these to suffuse the experience of Communion for me and my church. Amen.

Watch

Scripture taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.    

Paul

Day 29: Monday, 30 March – Nisan 5 5780

Day 29: Monday, 30 March – Nisan 5 5780

Luke 22:14-20

When the time came for Jesus and the apostles to eat, he said to them, "I have very much wanted to eat this Passover meal with you before I suffer. I tell you that I will not eat another Passover meal until it is finally eaten in God's kingdom."

Jesus took a cup of wine in his hands and gave thanks to God. Then he told the apostles, "Take this wine and share it with each other. I tell you that I will not drink any more wine until God's kingdom comes."

Jesus took some bread in his hands and gave thanks for it. He broke the bread and handed it to his apostles. Then he said, "This is my body, which is given for you. Eat this as a way of remembering me!" After the meal he took another cup of wine in his hands. Then he said, "This is my blood. It is poured out for you, and with it God makes his new agreement.

We may forget that, while Jesus’ last supper with his disciples was a Passover meal, the elements that Jesus picks up on are the thin bread and the wine.  Jesus takes bread, blesses it and shares it out. He later takes wine. Over these two quite elemental items Jesus makes the comparison with his body and his blood. Bread broken. Wine poured out.

The disciples had not yet fully grasped the link between Jesus’ mission and the suffering he would shortly be undergoing. Jesus was already in a heightened state of awareness of what was about to happen. We see the mental anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane, we can imagine the prophecy that he will give to Peter regarding his impending acts of cowardice, we can imagine Jesus watching Judas depart from the scene. Others would be unaware of the tides and currents ebbing and flowing in Jesus.

This was an unusual Passover. The traditional components were overlaid with a new Passover sacrifice – that of Jesus himself.

Watch

Why did Jesus not make something of the other main meal element – the lamb?

Do you approach Communion as an individual? How might Jesus beckon us to Communion?

Father God, I can often get carried along by the liturgical commemoration of the Last Supper as I come to Communion, and may also make this event something private between Jesus and me, as I pray privately during the administration. Challenge my customs and broaden my outlook, I pray. Amen.

Scripture taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.    

Paul