Friday, April 28, 2006

B, Easter 3 - 1 John 3:1-7 "Junk Food Spirituality"

Text: 1 John 3:1-7 NIV

1 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. 4 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. 5 But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. 6 No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. 7 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.


Spirituality has received much attention in recent years. And with this renewed interest comes the practitioners of various forms of spirituality all claiming to have “the” secret formula to a happier life and spiritual enlightenment. They come claiming to have the elixir of life for peace, success, and meaning. There are many variants of this spirituality craze; unfortunately some of them exist in the church.

However, all of them are easy to discern. They all claim to be a better way, encouraging people out of the normality of life into an exclusive special experience. They encourage their pilgrims by over extending emotional hype. They become secretive and separatists in nature. And they all focus on the self—me—the ego.

So many leave the church to find this spirituality. But what type of spirituality really is it? Perhaps, junk food spirituality!

Some just leave and really go nowhere, thinking that they can have a spiritual life with God by themselves. “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian”, is their familiar mantra.

Then there are some that get caught up in new age spirituality born out of Hinduism or Buddhism; seeking enlightenment in the many variants of Eastern Meditation — seeking the god within, one would say. Unfortunately in the realm of new age/eastern thinking, there are a pantheon of gods, including Jesus Christ, deceiving many to believe Jesus can be worshiped at the same time as nature, or the self, or karma, or some other new age guru or fad.

And finally, there are those who claim to be Christian, but moved by the overwhelming mountain of spiritualities; and, their seemingly un-spiritual occurrences of everyday life; and, their desire to have an extraordinary emotional experience — they seek out organisations where likeminded individuals seek a divine encounter through the pampering and whipping-up of their emotions.

After these people have sought this spirituality they return, overwound and completely detached from reality. There is a real danger of them falling flat, as a result of the high to which they had previously been stimulated. Life full of hard knocks and troubles leads them to dwell on the climax of their heightened experiences. And then their addiction leads them on a dangerous path of deeds done to get back to the high place in which they once found themselves. And before they know it they find themselves working to feel holy, righteous, and justified before God. They find themselves completely bound by the Law; bound by what they must do or be to be a “hyper-Christian or a super-Christian”.

Or others come as advocates of this higher spirituality, telling people in the church that they have had an experience with the Holy Spirit. They espouse a superior knowledge of God and even a special fellowship and intimacy with him. They project themselves as special, free from the written word of God or above it. They become religious snobs[1], making others feel inferior — as if they haven’t really got the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, or salvation until they have the experience too.

Their so-called love makes others feel condemned rather than forgiven and built up in Christ. In their promotion of this “way”, wittingly or unwittingly, the logical conclusion of their newfound spirituality, wrongly encourages people to believe that the Holy Spirit, nor the Son, nor the Father are present in ordinary church services where the gospel is preached and the sacraments are administered.

John in his epistles addresses those who were in danger of succumbing to this type of spirituality. He addressed a small church in amongst a myriad of religiosities and spiritualities. And through John’s epistles God addresses us today as well. He calls you in his church not to walk away from him, having been made his child in baptism, and not to walk into the myriad of emotionally driven spiritualities of this age.

He calls you to walk free from sin; not to miss the mark and choosing a spirituality other than the one Jesus gives to us, through the bestowal of the Holy Spirit in his word, and, in the events Jesus himself instituted for us to receive the Holy Spirit and ultimately himself. He calls you to faith in his word, to repent, to receive forgiveness, to trust him, and to encourage others in his way and his means, the way and means of Jesus Christ.

And having called you to repentance, to be daily drowned in your baptism, and forgiven for the sake of Jesus Christ who has risen from the grave, God calls you to believe that you are his beloved children. You may not see it, feel it, or have great experiences of it, but you are called to trust Jesus, to trust his word, to know he was crucified for you, to know he was raised to life — giving you life, to know he sent the Holy Spirit through the water and the word to gather us to himself, and to know that we are gathered together by the Holy Spirit into him, and he in us, as we kneel to eat his body and blood in the bread and wine.

John tells us, “…you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—even eternal life. (1 John 2:20-21, 24-25)

So what do we do to those amongst us who are walking away from the Father’s love, the grace of Jesus Christ, and the true fellowship of the Holy Spirit? Do we tell them that it’s ok to stay away from the place where God’s word is preached and the means of receiving his free gifts are administered? Do we tell them they can be Christians without receiving the benefits Jesus gives us as we gather in his name? Or perhaps, we should slam the door behind them and never let them back in?

As tempting as these might be in our own sinfulness, the answer is: no! Rather we pray for them, asking God to open up opportunities so they might be brought back into his presence where they might receive forgiveness of sins and assurance of salvation through the things Jesus himself has put in place for our benefit. We encourage them back under, or for the first time, into, the grace of the cross and resurrection. Either way we never shut the door, we allow God to keep it open so the Holy Spirit might use us to bring those in, who are outside for whatever reason.

Being a Christian is not about emotional highs and being accepted by everyone. Its central tenet is not about warm fuzzy feelings and being everyone’s best friend; as to not offend anyone. No! The work of a Christian is the struggle of standing by our wayward brothers and sisters in Christ; our estranged family members and our pagan neighbours; doing the hard yards with them, not becoming one of them, but interceding on their behalf, speaking words of love to them, speaking the truth no matter how much it hurts to do so, so they might be brought into the grace that God has apportioned for all of us. And in this grace there is true peace!

After all God has done this for you! You are the wayward child God has come to rescue, and is in fact still rescuing. He came to you and me in flesh and has saved us through his own death and resurrection.

He doesn’t find our motives, emotions, or thoughts very appealing. In fact Jesus cried tears of blood because he had to be crucified as if he was one who thought like you or me, as if he was one who did things out of sinful motives like you or me, and as if he was one like you and me who measured a loving relationship with his Father by how good one felt.

But, on the other hand, he obediently followed his Father’s will, out of love for his Father and us. He didn’t come to be your best mate; he came to condemn sin in all of us and take it to the cross. He came to love us, and that is what he did; not through warm and fuzzes, but through pain, suffering, and the loss of life!

He spoke the truth about us (not a pretty thing), bore our sin on the cross (not an easy thing to do), and sent the Holy Spirit to lead us to him, not because he liked us, but because he loves us. In the purity and truth of these gospel actions there is true spirituality, truth, and peace.

In these days we struggle with sin. We are God’s children yet we are not fully aware of who we are as his children. The veil of sinful flesh still covers our lives making it hard to see the extraordinary image of Christ, first implanted in us when the Holy Spirit came to us in baptism, and who continues to feed us every time we hear the gospel preached and as we receive his body and blood in the bread and wine.

It is difficult to see the image of Christ in others too. But we know that God is there amongst those who do the right thing. And the right thing is this: trusting Jesus’ word and upholding his way as “the way” and not departing from the means he has appointed, and not shunning the Holy Spirit who calls gathers and enlightens us as we gather to have our sins forgiven and receive the gifts of peace as we live in this noisy chaotic world.

So hear from John again, and trust the words God speaks to us through these verses in 1 John 3. How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning (missing the mark, following other gospels believing they will get to God)[2]. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right (who receives Jesus and his means of grace which you have heard from the beginning) is righteous, just as he is righteous. (1 John 3:1-7) Amen.

[1]John G. Strelan, 1985, ChiRho Commentary Series - The Epistles of John, Lutheran Publishing House, Adelaide, page 9.

[2] My own emphasis added in brackets.

Friday, April 21, 2006

"Gospel of Judas" reviewed by Dr Stephen Haar

The media claims that the Gospel of Judas has the Church worried. But, the truth is we only wonder what all the fuss is about. We say, “Read the Gospel of Judas alongside the New Testament gospels to discover why.”

The Gospel of Judas consists mostly of a long conversation between Jesus and Judas, during which Jesus gives special and secret knowledge to Judas alone. Jesus talks about Gnostic deities and angels, and then asks Judas to betray him in an act of obedience so that his mortal body will be killed and he can be reunited with the spiritual world. Judas agrees to go to the high priests and betray Jesus. That’s the end of the gospel text.

This ancient manuscript lay for many centuries beneath the desert sands of Egypt before being found nearly 60 years ago. It was not lost, just buried. It was not suppressed by ecclesiastical figures, as in the Da Vinci Code novel, but withheld from public view by unidentified figures in the black-market antiquities trade. Their motive was not protecting the faith, or the advancement of historical knowledge, but greed.

The 26-page Gospel of Judas is part of a 62 page ancient papyrus book, containing several writings in Coptic and Greek language, dating from the 3rd or 4th century. It is an authentic ancient text, but not ancient enough to tell us anything new about Judas or Jesus. In fact, the text contains a number of religious ideas that would have been alien in the first-century, but became popular later in the second-century. An analogy would be to find a letter claiming to have been written by Ned Kelly in which he talks about the movie Star Wars and his collection of computer games. Historians will use such out-of-place clues to decide the truth of claims that the gospel represents the spoken or unspoken words of Judas.

The National Geographic release of the recently found ‘lost’ Gospel of Judas, on April 9, was accompanied with all the glam and glitz of a made-for-TV spectacular. The Society has plans for magazine articles, television specials, and a book to follow. With the credibility of National Geographic they will probably enjoy instant success. But like Hans Christian Anderson’s The Emperor’s New Clothes, the fabric of most claims about the Gospel of Judas is genuine fake.

A common saying is that we believe what we want to see. It is less often recognised, although equally true, that we tend to see what we believe.

The reason why some scholars and so many members of the press promote the Gospel of Judas as a giant leap in our understanding is that it fits with their theory of early Christian history as a battle between competing ideas about Jesus. On the one side stood those who called themselves ‘orthodox’ Christians holding the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. On the other side stood others, including the Gnostics, who had their own gospels. In the end the orthodox happened to win the battle.

The truth is that this theory is both simplistic and misleading. As we know from modern denials about the truth of the holocaust or the landing of man on the moon, the existence of conflicting ideas and debate does not demand equal weight and historical credibility be given to all.

On grounds of historical reliability the canonical gospels have no equal. They describe historical events that can be fixed to the first century. Their written form today has remained substantially the same since around 100 AD. Every shred of evidence we have from the first-century supports the claim that the physical life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was at the heart of earliest Christian belief.

On the other hand, the Gnostic gospels began appearing from 120 years after the life of Jesus, and were a reaction to mainstream Christian belief. They are remarkable for their lack of interest in history. Characters in their stories, like Judas, Peter, Mary, and Jesus are gurus of spiritual insight rather than people concerned with history and going about their everyday lives. In view of their literary character, it is impossible to suggest that they add or subtract anything we know about the historical Jesus or Judas.

The Gospel of Judas is by no means a new discovery. A second century Christian bishop, Irenaeus of Lyons, comments on this document in one of his writings. Irenaues claims it was written by the Cainites, a group belonging to the religious movement called Gnosticism. Gnosticism took on many forms, but most Gnostics taught a special knowledge (gnosis) was needed to release the divine spark in humankind to reach its full potential. The true nature of humankind was hidden and imprisoned in its physical body by an evil creator god. Like many other Gnostic groups, the Cainites taught that the Old Testament God was evil and hostile to the human race, so all physical realities of his creation needed to be rejected in favour of higher levels of consciousness.

As a result of this belief the Cainites turned all traditional beliefs and symbols upside down. For example, they despised the memory of Old Testament heroes and friends of God like Moses, considering them traitors, and revered Old Testament villains instead. They were especially fond of Cain, the murderer of Abel, and were given this name because of this affection.

One school of Cainite thought is that Jesus came to save the human race from suffering. In order to do so he had to suffer and die himself. The forces allied with the evil Creator God of the Old Testament, however, conspired to prevent Jesus from suffering; thereby stopping his work of salvation. By arranging the arrest of Jesus at the hands of the high priests, Judas becomes the hero in the sacred text of the Cainites called the Gospel of Judas.

So, this question is asked of the media: “What’s all the fuss about?” The claim that Judas received exclusive mystic revelations from Jesus is not unique in itself. The same claims are made about Thomas in the Gospel of Thomas. Also, there is no evidence that the Gospel of Judas enjoyed popularity as an alternative to the four canonical gospels, or that it was ever considered for inclusion in the New Testament. Still, along with others interested in the history of earliest Christianity and its environment, the Church welcomes the publication of this ancient manuscript and hopes it will not be the last writing from that period to reappear.

Instead of being troubled by the publishing of the Gospel of Judas, the church welcomes this opportunity for people read it alongside the New Testament gospels. Those who read will discover behind the hype and shine put on these Judas clothes there is nothing new that undermines what Christians have believed throughout the centuries.

For more information contact Dr Stephen Haar North Adelaide, SA

Saturday, April 15, 2006

B, Easter Sunday - 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 "Passive Power"

1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (with the original Greek passive “he was seen” put back in)

1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he has been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he was seen by Peter, and then by the Twelve. 6 After that, he was seen by more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he was seen by James, then by all the apostles, 8 and last of all he was seen by me also, as to one abnormally born.

9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.


Anyone who drives between Chinchilla and Dalby can’t help but notice the huge monolithic structure growing on the Brigalow horizon. This structure is surely one of the greatest achievements of this area. Massive amounts of steel have been welded and bolted together; tons and tons of concrete have been poured. This structure is certainly a monument to the ingenuity of our times; it’s a construction of humanity’s passion, potential, productivity, and power. And when finished, it will supply us with power from the rich coal resources mined from the Kogan Creek area.

Humans empowered to create electrical power, so we might be powerful and prestigious. The construction of the coal-fired power station at Kogan together with the gas-fired stations, being built along the Condamine highway, have brought many benefits to the Darling Downs. Employment opportunities have exploded in recent times; there has been a boom in the local economy. But so too, has the cost of housing, and rent. It seems that with all this power, the powerless, those not riding the crest of the financial wave, are being overpowered. The success of some seems to be the downfall of others. The power, passion, pride, and prestige that the power station might represent and bring to some, is resented by those who have had pressure increased on their purses.

Our society needs electrical power that is for sure. This is not a witch hunt on modern infrastructure or power stations; these are built because of demand. Rather they reveal things about who we are, as a self-centred society. More and more power is needed to power the consumables we buy, so we might appear to be more powerful as we power these appliances. However, the ugly by-products of humanity’s projects to provide us with power are, people’s dominance over the powerless, and our one-up-man-ship — having to have the best of everything. An imbalance appears very quickly in society. Life becomes more about me—“look at what I’ve got”—rather than about the wellbeing of our community’s weak — locally, nationally, and globally. The top dog proudly stands on a pyramid of beaten broken people.

Today we celebrate God’s power! His power is found in the passion of Jesus Christ. And this power is counter-cultural. It doesn’t work in the same way as does the power of humanity, whether it is collectively as a community, or individually through the achievements of one. The power of God is not revealed in success, potential, productivity, or in the collective power of the populace. No! The power of the passion; falls on the shoulders of one man, who became powerless and passive to all that went on around him. God’s power is found in the passivity of the passion; God’s power is found in the obedience of Jesus’ death, where in the tomb Christ had no power to bring himself back from death.

Before his crucifixion Jesus told his disciples, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45) Jesus told his disciples that power is not enforcing one’s rights over someone else, or keeping up with all the latest fads, but rather true power is trusting God’s power, in our weakness, in our service — in sacrificing our rights for the sake of others.

Death is the weakest state in which any person will ever be! None of us can do anything when we are dead. Yet this is exactly from where the power of God is revealed — from death in the grave. In Christ’s totally humiliated state he was dead; the Son of God, an eternal divine being, dead in a grave! Jesus listened to his Father, and so he was obedient unto death.

Imagine humanity saying, “Don’t build us more power stations! In fact we don’t need any more consumables, what we have is good enough. We will make do with what we’ve got. Save your electricity, save your coal, keep it for when we really need it.” At least a part of us would die if we gave up our most loved consumables. Humility has never been a strong point of humanity. Unlike Christ, we, with the disciples and all people, are more concerned with prestige and power.

However, Jesus is honoured now because of his submission. Saint Paul tells us of Christ’s passivity in his first letter to the Corinthians. Unfortunately most English bibles lose the passive emphasis which Saint Paul intends for his hearers. But listen as the passive emphasis is reintroduced, “For what I (St Paul) received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he has been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he was seen by Peter, and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he was seen by James, then by all the apostles, and last of all he was seen by me also, as to one abnormally born.” (1 Cor 15:3-7)

Jesus died! We know he was passive in his death. He said nothing against the accusations against him, nor did he nail himself to the cross. He was buried. He didn’t bury himself! Now praise the Lord, he has been raised from the grave. He was raised from the dead, something he had no power to do in death! He was seen. He didn’t rise from the tomb at Easter and reveal himself in a show of almighty power! Rather he was seen by God and by those whom God allowed to see him. Jesus’ power is revealed in weakness, both before and after his resurrection.

The passivity of the gospel is the source of great hope for us, for when we are dead we will not be able to raise ourselves either. The passivity of the gospel is also a great template for our lives as we move towards death. Our power is not in our productivity, prestige, or popularity. In fact while we focus on these things, Jesus is not to be seen. However, the power is in the passivity of the passion of Christ and his subsequent resurrection by God the Father, seen only by faith, which is also a gift of God. We are called to lay down our self assumed authority and power, surrendering ourselves to Jesus Christ, as he did for his Father. And the good news is this: That when we were powerless to lay down our sinful natures, God came to us in baptism. We don’t even need to have power or ability to be powerless before God. In his power God came while we were totally lost in our sinful natures.

So as we continue in this life, baptised into Christ’s passive death, we know there is no need for us to prove ourselves through popularity and power in this life. That in itself is liberating. We don’t need to keep up with the Jones; we don’t need all the latest gizmos and gadgets. Like Christ we can be passive; trusting only in God the Father’s love and justification, through God the Son’s grace and means, by the power of God the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith and fellowship.

We know that Jesus is risen! We know that he is glorified! And God calls us to trust him, even while we struggle, to be truly humble and to rid ourselves of our desire to be popular or powerful. God calls us to rest in the hope of our resurrection to eternal life. Just as Jesus trusted in God and was raised; we are called to trust in the grace of Christ so we too might be raised to life with him together with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Like Saint Paul, consider yourselves as the least in this life; instead point to the power of God in the resurrection. Bring glory to him. Know that by the grace of God you are what you are, and his grace to you is not without effect, even though we still struggle with sin in this life. When you work harder than all people—know it is not you, but the grace of God that is with you. Just as Jesus trusted and was raised from the dead; trust that you too one day will be raised from the dead to be glorified with him, but only because of his death and resurrection.

Today we celebrate God’s power in Christ over, our weakness, sin, and death. We are called to repent for our desire to be top dogs and hear that we are forgiven for Jesus’ sake. We live totally dependant on the Holy Spirit’s power, to bring us into the power of Christ’s death and resurrection, so that in hope, one day we will be powerfully glorified and live forever with our Father in heaven. Amen.

Friday, April 14, 2006

A few thoughts and observations on Good Friday in Australia.

This morning as I drove the 46 kilometres to Miles I was stunned by the amount of business open on Good Friday. As I drove from Chinchilla there were many industrial businesses open. I noticed men painting a sign at the golf course and another group sign writing a business in town. On my way home I noticed a person checking the railway tracks in a vehicle with those little train wheels on the front and back so they can travel on the lines. And there was the continuous stream of cars heading towards Roma for the “Easter weekend celebrations” which the town hosts.

Then it occurred to me that in recent years there are people absent from church. That may not sound very surprising; so let me explain. When I was a child there would always be plenty of fringe members who came to church on Good Friday, Easter Sunday, or on Christmas Day. But these days they don’t even come to these services. Less and less fringe members are coming, even at these special times in the church year. Christ is falling off the agenda for most people.

On the ABC this morning, I was told that the announcer was asking questions in relation to Good Friday, such as, “Are we good enough? What’s it mean to be good?” Sadly he interviewed church leaders who didn’t outlay the reality of Good Friday; i.e. none of us are good enough, we are sinners, left to our own devices we are bound to death. Jesus was the only one good enough but died for us, he was without sin but became sin for us. His death atoned for our sin, hence this dark day when God was crucified is paradoxically a good day, because we are spared the wrath of God and eternal death.

Good Friday is a day of clear and precise law gospel distinctions; i.e. our sin kills, our feeble attempts to save ourselves are but filthy rags to God. However, Jesus’ perfect obedience is given as a free but costly gift to us. It is costly because it meant the Son of God had to go to the cross so that we might be blessed unconditionally. But instead of proclaiming this central tenet of the Christian faith one minister carried on about taking Jesus off the cross, turning crucifixes into crosses; surely this is in total opposition to the reality of Good Friday – the centrality of Christendom.

Once when I was a kid I could turn the television on during Good Friday and watch a movie on the Passion, but all we see today is a bunch of advertisers passionately advertising their mammon.

It appears that a way to evaluate just where the conscience of our country is at, we can look at where and what society’s emphases might be on Good Friday. And from what I am observing, we are quickly descending, if not already descended, into rampant paganism.

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.

Pastor Heath Pukallus

Good Friday 2006

Thursday, April 13, 2006

B, Maundy Thursday - Exodus 12:1-14 "Passing into; Passing over"

Text: Exodus 12:1-14

1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, 2 “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. 3 Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. 4 If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbour, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. 5 The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. 6 Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. 7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. 8 That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. 9 Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire—head, legs and inner parts. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.

12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals—and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

14 “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.


There seems to be an anomaly in the bible. Tonight we are going to address it, because it has everything to do with the Passover celebration around the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. In the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke Jesus sits to celebrate the Passover meal with his disciples and institutes the Lord’s Supper at the Last Supper. However, in John’s Gospel the Passover meal is not celebrated on Maundy Thursday evening as it is in the synoptic Gospels.

We hear in John 18:28-29a, “…the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning (Good Friday), and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate came out to them. The Jews who held Jesus before Pilate on the day which became known as Good Friday, the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, wanted to stay ceremonially clean for the Passover meal that night. The Passover in John falls on the Sabbath which would begin at six pm on Friday and end at six pm on Saturday night.

This is also why the Sabbath in John is called a special Sabbath, because it was the Passover as well as the Sabbath. We read again in John, “Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.” (John 19:31-34)

When Jesus was hung on the cross on Friday afternoon it was the day of preparation for the Passover Sabbath. Between the ninth hour (three pm) and sundown (six pm, the beginning of the new day), Jesus was nailed to the cross and died, with, and, at the same time as, all the lambs which were being slaughtered for the Passover meal.

However, in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), the day of preparation for the Passover is on Thursday, not Good Friday as in John’s Gospel. The lambs were being killed as Jesus sends the disciples to prepare a room where they might eat the Passover, and as we know, institute the Lord’s Supper. We read in Mark’s Gospel, “The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover. When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. (Mark 14:16-17)

So we have two different accounts that place the Passover on different days. In John the Passover is celebrated on the Sabbath, after 6pm on Friday night, when Jesus is in the tomb. But in the Synoptic Gospels it is celebrated on Thursday evening, and Jesus eats the meal with his disciples instituting the Lord’s Supper, his body and blood physically present in the bread and wine, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

This difference is no cause for us to go into a panic that the bible is in error. Although the bible has historical elements to it, this is not its ultimate function. The bible is a theological document: God inspired Word about God from God for our salvation. In the bible we receive the truths of God; in the bible the truth of God’s plan for humanity’s salvation is revealed to us.

However, this is for certain, there is no inconsistency: Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday and was laid in the tomb, dead, before the Sabbath began at six pm. The Passover, on the other hand, is used as a tool to demonstrate to us two essential truths about the Son of God; the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. So what are they?

In the Old Testament (Exodus 12) we have heard that the Israelites were commanded to follow a ritual, in order that the angel of death would pass over them and their first born sons would not die. So they prepared in haste, slaughtering their lambs, painting the blood on the doorposts of their homes, and then ate the whole lamb before morning. When the Lord did descend he passed over the homes whose occupants had complied with God’s command, and into the homes of those who didn’t, striking down the first born with a plague.

And so we read in Exodus, “At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead. (Exodus 12:29-30)

Jesus sits with the disciples and institutes the Last Supper at the Passover celebration and remembrance. He gives us a meal that gives us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. The angel of death, God’s eternal wrath, passes over us. Every time we eat the bread and drink from the cup, the Lord’s death is proclaimed and we are reassured of his bodily presence with us. In fact, not only has God’s wrath passed over us, but the Son of God has passed into us. He is with us and in us. He has cleansed us: this is my body, this is my blood. This is the emphasis of the synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

But how he cleansed us becomes evident in the Gospel of John. The wrath of God passes over us, but not over Jesus. Just as the lambs’ blood on the doorposts and the ritual eating saved the Israelites and gave them freedom and exodus from Egypt, Jesus’ spilt blood gives us freedom from the tyranny of our sinful selves, the evil in this world, and the devil. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; that is the sin of everybody — Jew and Gentile, man and woman, child and adult. Jesus is the Passover Lamb, he was not passed over but died, so we are passed over and have life because of his death. We have become God’s first born Sons, through the death of his one and only Son, Jesus Christ.

As we come to Holy Communion tonight and every time, the reality of the Passover in John’s Gospel and the synoptic Gospels is a reassurance to us. Jesus is with us, he is the one who breaks the bread and lifts the cup of wine to our lips. God is with us; he instituted the meal and he distributes the meal. He is our Immanuel; God with us.

But he is the meal too. He is the innocent lamb slaughtered for us to eat; his innocent blood has stained the cross. The bread and wine is his body and blood; the doorposts of our hearts have been doused in the blood of Christ. We have no fear of death; God’s wrath has passed over us onto Christ. He bore all of God’s anger against our sin, on the cross.

Jesus is our Passover Lamb and he is the host of the holy meal inviting us to come and receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Amen.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Gospel of Judas "HYPE"

This is a post from Rev Cwirla, a Confessional Lutheran Minister in the USA. (To go to his blog site click on the title of this post.) And I forward it to you due to the hype the media has given "The Gospel of Judas" in Australia in recent days.
To use the word of a famous rooster, Foghorn Leghorn, "Well BBQ my ham hocks!" Looks like we'll now have to grill those hocks over a couple pages of papyrus!
Friar Puk
Holy Monday
National Geographic is hyperventilated over the recent publication of the so-called “Gospel of Judas,” a gnostic gospel which vindicates Judas, the betrayer of Jesus. Timing, of course, is everything in our media age. The National Geographic special announcing the blessed event will be aired on Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week. This puts National Geographic in the same category as that great scholar and social critic Bill Maher who took delight in bashing Christians on Christmas Eve on his moronic talk show “Politically Incorrect.” The LA Times, southern California’s leading supplier of bird cage lining, gives The Gospel of Judas front page first column coverage this morning. Given the media’s penchant for being “fair and balanced,” I will look for a special from National Geographic on the immorality of Mohammed around the start of Ramadan. For those who think the Da Vinci Code is scholarly and who get their historical theology from National Geographic specials, let me remind you that the Gospel of Judas is not exactly news in Christian circles. Irenaeus (AD 130-202), the bishop of Lyon and a student of Polycarp (who studied under the apostle John), mentions it in his encyclopedic “Against All Heresies,” where he writes:
Others again declare that Cain derived his being from the Power above, and acknowledge that Esau, Korah, the Sodomites, and all such persons, are related to themselves. On this account, they add, they have been assailed by the Creator, yet no one of them has suffered injury. For Sophia was in the habit of carrying off that which belonged to her from them to herself. They declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with these things, and that he alone, knowing the truth as no others did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal; by him all things, both earthly and heavenly, were thus thrown into confusion. They produce a fictitious history of this kind, which they style the Gospel of Judas. Irenaeus goes on to describe a bit of Cainite theology for the unenlightened: I have also made a collection of their writings in which they advocate the abolition of the doings of Hystera. Moreover, they call this Hystera the creator of heaven and earth. They also hold, like Carpocrates, that men cannot be saved until they have gone through all kinds of experience. An angel, they maintain, attends them in every one of their sinful and abominable actions, and urges them to venture on audacity and incur pollution. Whatever may be the nature of the action, they declare that they do it in the name of the angel, saying, "O thou angel, I use thy work; O thou power, I accomplish thy operation !" And they maintain that this is "perfect knowledge," without shrinking to rush into such actions as it is not lawful even to name. The Gospel of Judas is one of many “gospels” written under the name of an apostle, like the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Philip. They may as well be the Gospel of Moe, Larry, and Curly for all their authenticity. These are the works of various sects of gnosticism, a pernicious heresy that crept into Christianity like a virus in the latter part of the first century and turned into a full blown disease in the second and third. The Gospel according to St. John (I’m talking about the actual Gospel according to the real St. John) has the beginnings of gnosticism in full view, as do the later epistles of Paul along with Jude and Peter. The Cainites were a fun bunch whose hero was Cain, the murderer of his brother Abel. It only stands to reason that they would come up with a Gospel of Judas, making the cursed betrayer of our Lord into a martyr for the cause. The caustic lawyer turned theologian Tertullian of Carthage turned his acidic pen on the Cainites in the opening paragraph on his treatise “On Baptism” where he writes:
Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life! A treatise on this matter will not be superfluous; instructing not only such as are just becoming formed (in the faith), but them who, content with having simply believed, without full examination of the grounds of the traditions, carry (in mind), through ignorance, an untried though probable faith. The consequence is, that a viper of the Cainite heresy, lately conversant in this quarter, has carried away a great number with her most venomous doctrine, making it her first aim to destroy baptism. Which is quite in accordance with nature; for vipers and asps and basilisks themselves generally do affect arid and waterless places. But we, little fishes, after the example of our Ichthus Jesus Christ, are born in water, nor have we safety in any other way than by permanently abiding in water; so that most monstrous creature, who had no right to teach even sound doctrine, knew full well how to kill the little fishes, by taking them away from the water! Apparently, the Cainites didn’t think much of Baptism. I especially like how Tertullian refers to believers as little fish swimming in baptismal water with their Great Fish, and he calls the Cainite female preachers “vipers, asps, and basilisks” who hang out in dry, waterless places. Darned good writer, that Tertullian. Expect the usual blather from the ignorati who pass themselves off as religion editors in the media, not to mention enough hot air emanating from anti-Christian circles to ween us from dependence on foreign oil. The LA Times glowingly reports, “Many consider it the most important archaeological find since the Dead Sea Scrolls were unearthed in the 1940’s.” That might be a bit overstated. In general, the gnostics believed that the material world was created by a bunch of lesser gods who imprisoned the spirit in a material body, from which one must escape through the acquisition of secret knowledge (gnosis, hence “gnostic”) from certain “enlightened” teachers in order to ascend to the Divine. Most gnostic were ascetics, denying the body every possible pleasure. Some practiced a form of “spiritual marriage” in which they did not have sex, though a few managed to produce “spiritual” children nonetheless. They drank water only and abstained from wine, even at their version of the Lord’s Supper. (This was before the days of grape juice, which was invented by Dr. Thomas Bramwell Welch in the 19th century). Now you see why Paul advised Timothy “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” (1 Timothy 5:3). In the same letter, Paul referred to the early gnostics (proto-gnostics, actually), when he wrote: Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, through the pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and enjoin abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. (1 Tim 4:1-5) Gnostics were very “spiritual,” in all the wrong senses of the word. They saw the body as a pop can from which the real you has to escape in order to become united with the divine. I’ve heard similar sentiments at “Christian” funerals. Gnosticism is by no means dead in our day; it just masquerades as various “spiritualities,” none of which are of the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel of Judas, Judas is the only disciple “in the know” (gnosis) while the other eleven are in the dark. Jesus tells Judas, “Step away from the others and I shall tell you the mysteries of the kingdom. It is possible for you to reach it, but you will grieve a great deal.” So Judas is the enlightened one. Now you understand why John tells us “it was night” when Judas went out to betray Jesus. Jesus also is purported to have said to Judas, “You will exceed all of them [the other disciples]. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.” There’s the old body as a pop can business. Jesus had to die in order to escape the prison of his humanity, and Judas was going to give Jesus a helping hand by handing him over to the religious authorities. Now you understand why John makes such a big deal out of “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” You also see why everyone is touching the resurrected body of Jesus and making a big deal about His wounds. No disembodied “spirit” on the first Easter Sunday. There is also no mention of Jesus’ death and bodily resurrection on the third day in the Gospel of Judas. What do you need a resurrection for, when you can be pure spiritual gas? Biblical scholar ("biblical scholar" is academic code language for "people who deconstruct the Christian faith") Marvin Meyer, director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute at that bastion of orthdoxy Chapman University in Orange, CA, notes with scholarly optimism, “Hopefully, this will give us more reason to continue that discussion...and to determine what might be the enduring legacy of Judas.”
1 I expect his next work will be entitled “The Enduring Legacy of Benedict Arnold.” Meyer, who translated the Gospel of Judas into English for National Geographic, found the work to be deeply inspiring. "It says that to follow Jesus means to waken to one's true humanity and to find that spark of what it truly means to be human before God."2 That would be a very gnostic way of looking at it. Christians need not let such “findings” spoil their Holy Week or dampen their Easter joy. These works were well known in the early centuries and were amply refuted. You may want to spend a little quality time with Irenaeus and check out what he has to say about the various gnostic sects of his day. Also good bedtime reading is Kurt Rudolph’s Gnosis - The Nature and History of Gnosticism. Findings such as the Gospel of Judas are important historic evidence for the various ways in which the Christian Gospel was perverted in the early centuries following the apostles. Scholars have expressed doubt over the veracity Irenaeus’ catalog of heresies. The finding of a genuine copy of the Gospel of Judas from the second century is a powerful vindication of Irenaeus. Irenaeus wasn’t exagerating. There really were wacko groups that wrote and believed this stuff! But hey, who are we to talk? We have UFO cults and Scientology. The Gospel of Judas, Thomas, Moe, Larry, and Curly also remind us of the importance of the apostolic Word, the record of the first century eyewitnesses to the resurrection recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. You’ll notice that these are called “The Gospel according to...” not “The Gospel of....” There’s a reason for that. There is but one “Gospel” of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God Incarnate, who died for the sin of the world and rose triumphantly and bodily on the third day. The canonical tradition gives us four perspectives on this one Gospel, not four distinct gospels. There will always be perversions of the Gospel by those who would proclaim another gospel and another way to salvation except through the narrow door of Jesus’ death and resurrection. That’s why we have to be on our toes. Heresies are like viruses. They never really go away. They only go into remission, waiting for an opportune time to flare up again. In these grey and latter days, we can expect the gnostic virus to flare up with a vengeance, along with every other way people have invented to deny that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and to scandalize the little ones of faith. Have no fear. Jesus has overcome the world and its religion. And that’s no secret. The apostle Paul gets the last word:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel — not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9)
Edited on: April 07th, 2006 6:42 pm; Rev Cwirla

Saturday, April 08, 2006

B, Palm/Passion Sunday - Mark 15:6-15 "Barabbas"

Text: Mark 15:6-15

6 Now it was the custom at the Feast to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.

9 “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, 10 knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.

12 “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them. 13 “Crucify him!” they shouted. 14 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” 15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.


Barabbas, a criminal, a known trouble maker, also known as Jesus Barabbas; incarcerated for insurrection. Pontius Pilate, a politician, the Roman authority of the day; with a political nightmare on his hands. Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Man and proclaimed by Pilate to be “the King of the Jews”; stands charged with many crimes. The Jewish leaders - the Sanhedrin, Rabbis, and Priests, those responsible for upholding God’s Law; hold Jesus before Pilate with many unsustainable charges. And the fickle crowd, those without a conscience; whipped into a frenzy by the Jewish leaders.

These are the players in this critical time where the fate of two hangs in the balance; where the fate of humanity hangs on what happens to Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus Barabbas. What happened to these two depended on a few simple questions and traditions. Jesus Barabbas or Jesus of Nazareth: Did the right person get the right punishment?

Earlier Jesus Christ had been brought before the Sanhedrin in what can only be explained as a kangaroo court. The conclusion is foregone as Jesus is accused by the rabble of rabbis and ratbags. The Jewish leaders were desperately seeking to quash the influence of this man from Nazareth, whose prophesies and teachings were making clear to the Jewish populace that their leaders could not counter the wisdom of this carpenter from Nazareth, whom many proclaimed to be even greater than King David. Jesus Barabbas or Jesus of Nazareth: Did the right person get the right punishment?

The high priest is outraged by Jesus of Nazareth, as he claims not only to be the messiah, the anointed saviour, the Christ set aside by God to save the fate of the Jews, but that he is the Son of Man having access to God Almighty. The high priest asks, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am, and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:61-62) Jesus tells the truth but the high priest rips his clothes and cries out “blasphemy”! Jesus Barabbas or Jesus of Nazareth: Did the right person get the right punishment?

Jesus refers to himself as the “Son of Man”. In Mark’s Gospel this happens fourteen times. He never refers to himself as the “Son of God”, that is for others to proclaim. In fact the title “Son of God” appears in Mark only four times, in the introduction (1:1), by the demons twice (3:11 & 5:7), and by the Centurion at the foot of the cross after Jesus’ death (15:39). And God the Father announces that Jesus is his Son twice, at his baptism (1:11) and on the Mountain of Transfiguration (9:7).

Jesus of Nazareth is God the Son. In the privacy of his prayers and in the Garden of Gethsemane as the apostles slept, Jesus reveals his intimate relationship with his Father. We read in Mark 14: “Jesus fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’” (Mark 14:35-36) Just like any child in danger he cries out, “Dad, help me!” Jesus Barabbas or Jesus of Nazareth: Did the right person get the right punishment?

We don’t know much about Barabbas. Some traditions know of him as Jesus Barabbas. He was caught up, in some way, with rebels who had sought to lead an insurrection against the authorities. The text mentions murder, but we are not even sure if it was him who committed any acts of murder, or if he was involved with others who did. But what we do know is that he was held by Pilate and was guilty in his association with others who were rebellious.

But we also know Jesus is innocent! Pilate does too! Knowing full well Jesus is before him out of envy, Pilate asks the Jewish leaders, “‘Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?’ But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.” (Mark 15:9,11) And so Pilate released Barabbas and had Jesus flogged and sent to his crucifixion to please the crowd. Jesus Barabbas or Jesus of Nazareth: Did the right person get the right punishment?

There’s a strange irony with these two men as their lives hang in the balance before Pilate. Jesus of Nazareth, is an earthly name, so too is the “son of man”, and we know of his humanity as he pleads, in anguish and sweat, to Abba – his Father in heaven. Jesus is the Son of God, he is the Christ, he “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8) Jesus the Son of Man; the Son of God; the servant of humanity!

And then there is Barabbas. Think about his name; bar-abbas, bar-abba. Jesus Barabbas, has the Aramaic name which literally means “son of abba”, “son of the father”. So before Pilate stood Jesus of Nazareth — the Son of God, who called himself the “Son of Man” and Pilate himself called “King of the Jews”, who prayed Abba Father in innocence before his impending death. And also Jesus Barabbas, “Jesus son of abba”, “Jesus son of the father”, who in violence and rebellion looked to his own rights and strength, becoming involved with murderers, rather than call on his namesake Abba, our Father in heaven. Jesus Barabbas or Jesus of Nazareth: Did the right person get the right punishment?

We might rightly say that Barabbas should have been nailed to the cross. After all he was the criminal. He hung out with murderers; if not was a murderer himself. He deserved death! On the other hand, Jesus of Nazareth was innocent. He is the Son of God. He is without sin. He was betrayed by everyone; disciples, priests the public and Pilate, rabbis and Romans. Did the right person get the right punishment? Of course not! Barabbas should have died and Jesus Christ shouldn’t have been nailed to the cross.

But how would it benefit you if Jesus Barabbas was nailed to the cross, and Jesus of Nazareth was set free. Barabbas hanging between the other criminals and dying on the cross would have done nothing for you or me, or anyone. In fact if Barabbas went to the cross, you and I should have too. We are as guilty of sin as was Barabbas.

You might think, “Yes I’m a sinner, but I’m not as bad as Barabbas. Barabbas was really bad, he was a murderer”. Well we’re not sure if he was or not, it’s ambiguous, but either way he was guilty and so are we. We are murderers and adulterers in God’s eyes — even if we hate or lust, so Jesus tells us. Before God the ambiguity disappears and we stand with Barabbas, guilty of sin, sentenced to death. Jesus Barabbas or Jesus of Nazareth: Did the right person get the right punishment? You and me or Jesus Christ: Did the right person get the right punishment?

Jesus was the right person for the job. He is the only one who could have atoned for our sin. He was the perfect spotless lamb sacrificed in our place, bearing the sin of the world. He is the Christ but he became a servant as the Son of Man — the servant of humanity. He made the ultimate act of service; falling silent as our sinful cry together with the din of all humanity sung out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” And so he was crucified for your sake and mine.

So now that he has taken our place, we like Barabbas have been saved from eternal death. But even greater than this is the fact that through the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, we now are children of the Father. Jesus took our place and we his. Jesus cried out Abba Father, but obediently allowed himself to be crucified, and we inherited the name Barabbas, guilty of murder but now made sons and daughters of Abba — our Father in heaven. Jesus Barabbas or Jesus of Nazareth: Did the right person get the right punishment? Yes he did, and because of it, we have received life eternal with our Father. Amen.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

B, Lent 5 Midweek - 2 Cor 6:10b-c "Poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing everything"

Where is your wealth? With God or with the world? What does it mean to be poor? We hear texts such as the Beatitudes in Matthew 5, Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:3) What is poor in spirit and why do they receive the kingdom of heaven? When you die will your riches be left behind or will you finally inherit them? Where is your wealth and riches, on earth or in heaven?

Here is another question: Are you content to be nothing? Do you prefer to be seen as one of the haves or as one of the have nots? Are you one who likes to be known? Perhaps you like to make yourself known, blowing your trumpet in an attempt to gain some status in society. But does all our self-centred boasting allow us to possess anything more than nothing?

Tonight is the last of the Lenten series of sermons. In the last five weeks we have examined Christ’s great exchange with us, and the practical implications of this switch-a-roo. We have seen Christ walking to the cross, a walk you and I should have made. He walked alone bearing the sin of the world, even though he was without sin. He received all the terror and horror of God’s wrath when he was nailed to the cross, and left to die alone, so we might become the righteousness of God. We have heard Saint Paul’s plea to the Corinthians, on Christ’s behalf, to be reconciled to God not taking this grace in vain. In fact, being Christ’s called representative, this is my plea to you as well: Be reconciled to God; do not receive God’s grace in vain!

So as we move from the regular Lenten pattern, to Palm Sunday and into Holy Week, we are well prepared to see and understand more clearly the actions of Jesus Christ on the cross. He has taken our place as the afflicted scapegoat bearing all the injustice and sin of humanity, and wrath from God, on the cross. We have plainly seen the lengths to which God went, to swap our waywardness with Jesus Christ’s willingness. And we are called to trust and cling to the willingness of Jesus actions and presence in this life, so we might be with him forever in the next.

This brings us to the last of the phrases in 2 Corinthians 6. Let’s hear it in context: We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As God’s fellow workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 5:20-6:1,3-4,7,10)

We return to the questions on what it is to be poor and what it is to be nothing. Paul proclaims in the first half of the phrase that he and Titus are seen as poor yet making many rich. How do they do that; how can they make anyone rich, men who struggle to survive from day to day? We know they have come to the Corinthians as servants of God, speaking with truthful speech in the power of God. They have come with the weapons of righteousness in the right and left hand.

What are the weapons of righteousness that you brandish in your day to day lives? What were the weapons Paul and Titus wield? What was Jesus’ defence system as he walked to the cross? And what is his arsenal today?

Pride, prestige, power, understanding, good works, feelings, accomplishments – all frequent our hands as the weapons, which—we would like to think—bring us some sort of righteousness. But in fact these are the very things that close us off from God and from radiating the love of Christ to others. These things temp us to ridicule, redefine, and replace the very things Christ has put in place for us to receive him. Pushed aside are his gracious means of salvation in favour of the many riches the world offers as righteousness. These riches make us full, full of ourselves, leaving no room for Jesus or his vicarious death and victorious resurrection in our lives.

However, we all know to be full of yourself, rather than being filled with the grace and truth of God is a deadly temptation. And we all know the weapons of righteousness that Christ offers us, are always on offer, calling us to repentance and giving us eternal life with him.

Jesus is our example and he is the one who now walks with us in this life. He came as one who was the poorest of the poor, but in his denial of divine power and his reverent submission to his Father, he was given the strength to walk to the cross. In fact everything Jesus did he did as an obedient Son, never taking his Father’s name or will in vain. He was taken to the cross, seemingly without integrity, seemingly without status, seemingly without any righteousness, as if he had taken God the Father completely in vain. But in this poor afflicted human state was God the Son who had become sin for us, even though he was without sin. What a wretched broken poor and lowly sight he must have been as he allowed himself to be led to the cross. But it is this act of grace we are called to trust and not receive in vain.

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6) Thank God those filthy rags now rest on the cross. Sin will no longer sweep us away in eternal death. The poverty, shame and wretchedness of Jesus’ humiliation and death are now our riches. Our hope is in the weapons of righteousness, given to us by Christ in his word, full of grace and truth. We are provoked by the Holy Spirit to see our sinful nature and repent. The Spirit gives us the power to perceive the righteousness of the cross, and he whispers the sweet words of forgiveness, as he gives us God the Son, who once was poor and afflicted in death but is now risen glorified and all powerful in heaven and on earth.

We are poor in spirit, we know who we are, and yes, it is painful! But in our poverty, in our inability to buy or boast our way into heaven, we have been given the riches of heaven. It has been given to us by Christ in the way he has set out for us in his word. God has worked in the poverty of your parents, or through those struggling in his seemingly clumsy church, and through the poorness of his pastors. Just as God worked through Paul and Titus in the Corinth church to reconcile it to himself, God works through earthly means and appointed people to place you in his righteousness.

In worldly measures you might appear as not amounting to much – maybe as having nothing and being nothing. The church might appear as dull and lifeless; a conglomerate of poor pathetic people holding onto nothing. But know that you possess the most profound riches in Christ; only recognised in faith and fully revealed in eternity. God thought of you and me to be more than nothing, even though sin had reduced us to nothing. In fact he thought so highly of you and me, even when we were nothing, that he sent his one and only Son to die for us so we might have the full riches of God’s grace in eternity.

Jesus became poor so that we might be made rich. He was reduced to nothing, even being stripped of his clothes, so that you might possess the assurance of eternity, and one day be robed in the wealth of righteousness, forever face to face with God. Amen.