Sermons Blog

Welcome to our "Sermon" blog


You need never miss another sermon again, as every week they will be uploaded on to this Blog page.


And even if you do not regularly attend either of our Churches; in St Peter's Rhoose, or St Curig's Porthkerry, on this page you will find out what we learn each week: About the meaning of our bible readings, how we can better understand them, and how we can live our lives closer to God.

By porthkerryandrhoose, May 31 2017 08:30PM

Do you have box sets at home or use Netflix or Amazon Prime Video? Do you follow long-term drama serials on TV? If so, you may have noticed that many episodes start with a catch-up clip before the opening credits. My favourite drama series is the West Wing – yes, I own the box set, and yes, some of the discs have started to wear out! Many of the episodes begin with ‘previously on the West Wing…’ followed by a montage of scenes from previous episodes, or occasionally previous series. Sometimes, this is a just a chance to catch up if an episode has been missed – remember the series was broadcast before the days of TV on demand. But occasionally, scenes were replayed because they had a bearing on the episode that was to follow. Something that occurred in previous episodes was about to develop further.

Today’s section from John’s gospel has a flavour of the catch-up or recap about it. Some of the things he relates have been said before. However, the repetition is not merely a restatement in case his readers missed the point or failed to understand, the testimony given is going to be developed and there are new revelations about Jesus. Firstly, we have an incident among John the Baptist and his disciples which leads John to repeat his ‘I am not’ statement from chapter one. We also hear from John the Baptist, in his description of his own role in relation to Jesus, a model for Christian discipleship. Finally, we are given a glimpse of the Trinitarian nature of God as John affirms Jesus’ authority and demonstrates interaction between Father, Son and Spirit.

Let’s begin by looking at the incident between John the Baptist and his disciples, as described in verses 25-28. John’s disciples have been arguing with someone about ceremonial washing. From the nature of their complaint to John, it is quite likely that the person they were arguing with is a follower of Jesus. What is the nature of their complaint? V 26 tells us: ‘They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan – the one you testified about – look, he is baptising, and everyone is going to him.”’ There may be a certain amount of envy on the part of the disciples – that Jesus is becoming more popular than their own teacher John. However, they have also failed to accept or misunderstood John’s testimony about Jesus. They acknowledge that John told them about Jesus but haven’t grasped what John said about him. So John puts them right and reminds them of his first testimony. In v 27, John tells his disciples ‘A person can receive only what is given them from heaven.’ If Jesus is gaining followers – more followers than John as his disciples complain – then it is God’s will that it is so. John reminds his disciples (v 28) ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ He himself is not God’s chosen one but he has been sent by God as a witness to the one who is – Jesus.

Have you failed to accept some of the things you’ve been taught about Jesus? Are there things you’ve misunderstood? How do handle that sort of situation? John’s disciples were envious of Jesus’ popularity and complained to John about it. However, John doesn’t reject their questioning. He answers their questions and teaches them further, as we will see. If you are seeking understanding or struggling to accept something, it’s good to ask questions. Go back to your preacher for clarification; read the Bible passage again for fresh understanding; or ask a faithful friend with a good grasp of Scripture to help. Don’t complain like John’s disciples, but don’t leave your questions unanswered!

Next, we look at John’s description of his role in relation to Jesus and how it models Christian discipleship for us. He uses the analogy of the bridegroom and the friend attending him. In the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus refers to himself as the bridegroom, so the analogy is not unfamiliar now – though it may have been to John’s disciples. In John’s analogy too, Jesus is the bridegroom and John the friend who attends him. Just as the friend is a witness of the bridegroom’s marriage, so John the Baptist is now a witness of Jesus’ ministry. In v 29 John says ‘The friend attends the bridegroom and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.’ This may be another message for John’s disciples – that he is happy with Jesus’ success in ministry and in proclaiming the kingdom of God, and so should they be. In v 30 John goes on to say, ‘He must become greater; I must become less.’ John continued to fulfil God’s will for his life by testifying about Jesus after Jesus began his ministry but he continues to demonstrate the humility we first saw in chapter 1. John’s joy is not in a job well done of proclaiming the arrival of Jesus but in seeing Jesus proclaim God’s kingdom and in recognising that God has revealed himself to humanity in Jesus. This is a model of true discipleship for us.

Do you have the humility of John the Baptist? Can you see yourself purely as a messenger for God? Can you simply take joy in God’s revelation of himself in Jesus? These are indeed things to strive for, as all too often we feel the glory and pride of a job well done. We run the risk of elevating ourselves – or being elevated by others – to a status we don’t deserve and can’t maintain. In doing so, we mask the light of Christ and put God’s glory in the shade. If we are to gain the humility of John the Baptist then perhaps we should seek to emulate him in word and action. In word, we should give glory to God as John did: ‘He must become greater; I must become less.’ In action, too, we should seek to give glory to God rather than ourselves, so that all our actions point towards Jesus. We won’t always get it right but humility also comes from the ability to admit that we’ve got things wrong – and trying again.

Finally, we see John affirm the authority of Jesus and give a glimpse of the Trinitarian nature of God. This may be John the Baptist continuing to teach his disciples, or it may be John the Evangelist summarising this chapter. Either way, Jesus’ authority is affirmed through a comparison to John the Baptist in v 31: ‘The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who is from heaven is above all.’ There are echoes here of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in vv 12-13 ‘I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man.’ Now John tells us that ‘as one from the earth’ John the Baptist testifies to the things of God that God has revealed to him but Jesus, ‘the one who comes from heaven’ speaks of heavenly things – he speaks directly of the God who is behind the activity on earth. Furthermore, John says that to hear Jesus is to hear God. He says in vv 33-35 ‘Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.’ Jesus is not simply voicing a message from a distant God, he is God’s Son. Through these verses, we also see the interaction and relationship of God in Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit. Jesus has not just received God’s message, but also God’s Spirit – and ‘without limit’. Jesus also has the Father’s love and God ‘has placed everything in his hands.’ In these verses, we are reminded that heaven has been opened at the baptism of Jesus. The Son and the Spirit have both descended from heaven to earth, sent by the Father, who is the source of all things and who has given all things to the Son. That Jesus has received the Spirit without limit shows that he has full authority from God. It is with this authority that God’s gift of eternal life is offered, as in vv16-17 and here in v 36: ‘whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.’

Are you ready to accept God’s gift of eternal life? Have you already accepted it? It doesn’t require any grand gestures on our part and there’s no criteria to meet. We can come as we are because God asks us simply to believe in his Son. In a few moments, we’ll have an opportunity to declare our belief in God’s three-fold nature – whether for the first time, or as a reaffirmation. Will you take that step today?

Let us pray

Loving Father God, thank you for calling John the Baptist to prepare the way for your Son Jesus. Thank you for his witness and his example of discipleship. We’re sorry for the times when, like John’s disciples, we fail to accept or understand who Jesus is and the message of love and salvation that he brings and for when we fail to show true humility as John did. Give us the courage to ask questions to help us in our faith and help us to make Jesus greater and ourselves less in our words and actions. Strengthen our faith in your Son through your Spirit so that we may always be assured of your gift of eternal life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

By porthkerryandrhoose, May 31 2017 09:16AM

Manchester is a place close to my heart. It is the city where I grew up, it's where I went to my first pop concert and it's where 3 of my dearest friends still live with their families. My best friend Lisa has a 13 year old daughter whose favourite singer is Ariane Grande. For an hour or so on Tuesday morning I didn't know whether they were alive or dead. When I finally heard that they didn't go to the concert on this occasion there was no real sense of relief from the worry, as I knew that other children and their parents were there and their lives would be changed beyond measure.

It is very timely then, that today marks the first day of a prayer initiative coming out of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic church and endorsed by our own Welsh bishops, called Thy Kingdom Come. It is a phrase that many of us would have prayed many thousands of times over the years, coming as it does, near the start of the Lord's prayer. It's a prayer that Jesus taught his disciples when they were confused about how to pray. Luke 11:2 "Jesus said to the disciples, 'when you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.' Praying for the coming of the kingdom of God was right at the top of Jesus' priorities when it came to prayer, coming only just below praising the holiness of God.

Why do you think that was? We're not given the reasoning behind it, but surely it's because the world that we live in can be a very difficult place. It's a place where men do strap bombs on themselves and then walk to a place where thousands of women and children are gathered before blowing themselves up. It's a place where parents punch and shake their babies so much that they die, and then try to cover up their cruelty by pretending the baby has died on a bus. It's a place where an uncle can kill his daughter and refuse to tell her grieving parents where he has buried her, even after he is imprisoned for her murder. Jesus knew that living in this world was tough. He said "In this world you will have trouble" and he faced that trouble head on as he was beaten and nailed to a cross. This is the world that we live in. But Jesus said 'Pray Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.' God has promised to bring his kingdom to earth when he makes all things new, and we are to pray for that day.

As we pray, there are 2 pitfalls we must avoid. The first is assuming that God's kingdom will come just by him tidying up a few things here on this earth. If we're honest, that's what we want God to do. To fix this broken planet. It's what the disciples wanted too. In the account of Jesus' ascension in Acts 1 they asked 'Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?'. They thought God's kingdom would come on earth if Jesus dealt with the Romans who were terrorising them. Do we think God's kingdom would come on earth if only he got rid of all the terrorists and 'bad' people? Jesus said that wasn't the way it would be Acts 1:7 "It is not for you to know the times or dates the father has set by his own authority." It wasn't yet time for God's kingdom to come in all its fulness, and it hasn't been the time yet. But that doesn't mean that we don't see glimpses of God's kingdom breaking through as we pray. In the midst of the terrible tragedy there were also stories of great bravery and kindness. The homeless man who held a woman as she died, the Muslim and Sikh taxi drivers who spent the night driving people to safety, the woman who gathered up scattered children and led them to a local hotel. They are just tiny glimpses of what God's kingdom will look like when it comes. And as we pray 'thy kingdom come', we look out for these glimpses of God's kingdom in our own lives. God isn't a distant deity cruelly holding back his power while he waits for the right time to show it. He is our loving heavenly father who hears the prayers of his children.

The other pitfall to avoid is losing hope. It can seem such a distant dream, that Jesus will return and make all things new. It has been almost 2000 years since he left. But Ascension Day is the reminder that it will happen. In Acts 1:11 the angels say "Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken from you into heaven will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven". In his old age, Peter reflected on the promise saying "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance". The delay isn't a cruel disinterest, but a patient kindness, waiting for people to turn back to him. Don't give up hope, the Ascension is the promise of the return.

So let me encourage you over the next 10 days to spend just 10 minutes each day praying. Many of you will have had these little leaflets on Sunday, and I have more here. The idea is that you find a quiet place and time where you can sit and be still. You read the Bible verse for the day off the card and reflect on it, asking yourself the question which is written next to it. Then you pray the special 10 day prayer followed by the Lord's Prayer. Pray and watch to see what God will do, in your heart and in the world around.

I'll pray the 10 day prayer now: Father God, your Son taught us to pray for the coming of your Kingdom. teach us how you are leading us, strengthen us for bold service, unite us in love for your Son and the world. Amen.

By porthkerryandrhoose, May 31 2017 09:15AM

A fortnight ago in our Together service we had a bit of fun doing Spot The Difference. I've got another one for us to do today. Here it is: [Jesus and Nico vs Jesus and Samaritan Woman]. There are lots of differences, not least the length of Jesus' hair. But that's not important right now. What I want us to notice is the spot the difference John has set up for us in chapters 3 and 4 of his gospel. If you turn back in your Bibles to John chapter 3 it will jog your memory. There we met Nicodemus. He was just the sort of person you would expect to be in God's good books, especially if you were thinking as a 1st century Jew. He was a man, he was an expert in the law, well to do and morally upright; a religious leader. Yet Jesus said some astonishing words to him v3 "No-one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again" v5 "No one can enter the kingdom of heaven unless they are born of water and the Spirit." No-one, not even you Nicodemus. Not even you upstanding church person. Yet there is a way in. John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Whoever believes. In John chapter 4 we meet a 'whoever'.

Let’s get to know her. In v6&7 we find her coming on her own to draw water from the well at midday. Now going to the well was hard work. I think we forget how heavy water is. It’s only when I go camping and I have to fill up the big canister that I remember what women have to go through in countries without running water. It is hard. So you wouldn’t go at the hottest point in the day. You would go in the morning or the early evening when it was a bit cooler. This woman has come at the hottest time. Why? Well, getting water wasn’t all bad. The well was the meeting place so you’d get your water and have a good natter, catch up on the village gossip. This woman doesn’t want to meet up with anyone. She’s a social outcast.

There’s something else about her too. She’s a Samaritan. From the Jewish point of view that is completely beyond the pale. You see the Samaritans were a group of semi Jewish people. They were made up of the people who were left when Israel was taken into exile by Assyria and they intermarried with the local pagan people. But the die had been cast when the united kingdom of Israel had divided and the northern tribes had turned to idolatry under king Jeroboam. and had set up a new capital and a new centre of worship. In fact she brings the question of true worship up with Jesus in v20. It was a hot topic and this woman was on the wrong side of the debate.

But that’s not all. Her lifestyle leaves a lot to be desired (v17,18). In the days when people could be stoned for adultery this woman has had 5 husbands and is living with a man she’s not married to. All in all she is just about the least likely person to be in God's kingdom.

But just as we had a surprise about Nicodemus we’re about to have a few surprises about her.

First surprise, Jesus speaks to her v7. Now I don’t know about you, but if there is someone I don’t like or someone who seems a bit unsavoury to me, the last thing that comes into my mind is to go and speak to them. But Jesus speaks to her v7: “will you give me a drink?” The woman is startled. Apart from anything else she is a Samaritan woman and Jesus a Jewish man. He isn’t allowed to speak to her! Yet he does. Jesus breaks all the social customs to start a conversation with her. And that tells us a lot about God’s attitude towards people. There is no-one off limits to God. And that’s worth remembering. Jesus didn’t just call the nice upstanding citizens he also called the cheats and the fraudsters and the sexually immoral.

But he does more than just talk to her. Surprise number 2: he offers her something. V10 “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water”. At first she doesn’t know what he means, just like Nicodemus when Jesus told him he had to be born again. It’s all a bit cryptic. Living water? All she can think of is water that she won’t have to come and get from the well again. But Jesus means a whole lot more than just physical water. In between services I always need to get a glass of water – leading and preaching is thirsty work and a glass of cold water just does the trick. My thirst is quenched. But by the end of the next service I’m thirsty again! It only satisfies to a point. But there is a deeper thirst inside each one of us. It’s this thirst that Jesus offers to quench “everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again but whoever drinks the water I will give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water that I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life”. This wasn't a new promise. Isaiah 55:1 "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters . . . come to me, listen, that you may live". But it was made to the Jews. Here it is for whoever. Whoever drinks the water. To everyone who will open their heart to him, he will enter in and be with them forever. Love, hope and peace that nothing else can match.

There's a deeper level of meaning going on here too. John 2 was all about a wedding, wasn't it? Jesus took on the role of bridegroom and made more wine appear. In 3:19 John the Baptist calls Jesus the bridegroom. Today's meeting happens at Jacob's well. If you know your Bible history, who did Jacob meet at a well? His wife. In Song of Songs, Solomon calls his bride "a garden fountain, a well of flowing water" (4:15). All this talk of living water is a bit like a proposal. Now if Jesus was going to propose to a woman, what sort of woman would it be? Surely not this one! She's had 5 husbands already and the one she's with now she hasn't even married. Yet on the spiritual level that is exactly what he's doing. The image of Jesus as the bridegroom and the church as his bride is a frequent one in the New Testament.

And this offer truly is for everyone. You might look at the woman and think ‘Jesus is new to the area, maybe he doesn’t really know what she’s like’. But he knows all right. In V18 he says “you have had five husbands and the man you now have is not your husband” and the woman is astonished. And it’s this that convinces her that Jesus is the Messiah. He knows her. And Jesus knows us too. He knows our past, He knows the things no-one else knows and he still loves us. In spite of this woman being a social outcast from the wrong religion with a dodgy personal life he still loved her and offered her the relationship with him that leads to eternal life. And he offers it to us too. No-one is beyond the pale to God.

So the story leaves us with some important challenges. If you are someone who thinks that because of your good church credentials God should let you into heaven, Jesus says no. If even a top guy like Nicodemus needs to be born again, then so do you. But if you are someone who thinks 'I'm not good enough for Jesus. I don't know enough. I keep messing up. My life is a mess'. Jesus says come, be my bride, drink of the water of life. And if you are someone who knows Jesus already, and is in that precious relationship with him, then let today's passage challenge you about how you view other people. Who is beyond the pale for God? The militant atheist? your muslim or Hindu neighbours or work colleagues? the drunken hens and stags staggering around Cardiff on a Saturday night? No. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." How will that inform your prayers this week?

By porthkerryandrhoose, May 18 2017 08:56AM

Every so often a new piece of information is discovered which changes the way we understand things. A quick search of the internet shows new discoveries in genetics, archaeology and vulcanology which completely change the received understanding of how early humans lived, how the body works and how the earth functions. Sometimes discoveries like this are merely interesting; other times they change everything.

In our journey through John, we've already seen Jesus overturn the tables on religious practice. In today's section we see him teaching something which overturns the whole understanding of who is in God's kingdom, or in simpler language, who gets to heaven. But far from it being new teaching, we'll see that the evidence was there the whole time.

Let's look at the reading together. We're going to begin by asking the question 'what type of people get to heaven?'

If you'd have asked a Jew that question at the time of Jesus, he would have said 'a Pharisee'. They were the ones who made sure they were always at the temple or synagogue, they knew the law well and they kept it perfectly. They were the good guys. And of the good guys, you couldn't get better than Nicodemus. Not only was he a Pharisee, he was also on the ruling council. It's hard to find an equivalent in Christianity, but he'd be the one at every church event, volunteering with the refugees and representing his deanery on the Governing Body. After the events in the temple he comes to see Jesus. The upright Jew, visiting the radical, checking him out, maybe to bring him back in line. Not unexpected, you might think. But John gives us a clue that all is not as it seems. v2 "He came to Jesus at night." At the very least, making an official visit at night would be unusual. It could be an indication that Nicodemus has come for another reason, off his own bat and doesn't want to be seen. Perhaps Jesus is already toxic for the establishment. But there's also something else going on here. John, in his gospel, contrasts light and dark. Light is where Jesus is, dark is where the bad stuff is. Nicodemus is very much in the dark. His opening question, though it sounds good, seems to be heading towards a 'but': v2 "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him" and Jesus responds almost before he's finished, with a quite astonishing statement v3 "Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again." It's like saying 'Nicodemus, everything you've achieved so far is nowhere near what you need for my kingdom. You need to rub it all out and start again'. There's no chance of a patch up job, work a bit harder, do a bit better. The only option is to start again. The message is: even the best of the best isn't good enough. This is staggering. It was hard to take in then and it's hard to take in now, in a world where we are taught from our earliest days that being good and working hard is the way to success. Even Nicodemus, the top religious man, had to start his life again from scratch; be born again.

Understandably he questions Jesus v4 "How can someone be born when they are old? Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother's womb to be born?" It sounds like he's being a bit facetious. Obviously a grown man can't go back to being a baby in the womb. But if it's not a physical birth Jesus is talking about, what is it? He explains v5 "Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit." The new birth is a spiritual birth. Human parents can only give birth in a physical way, but God gives us birth in the spirit. After all, it's not our physical body which is the problem.

Nicodemus is still puzzled. 'How can this be?' v9, so Jesus gives him a gentle reprimand "You are Israel's teacher, and you do not understand these things?' Though his religion didn't teach it, Nicodemus should have known because it was there in the scriptures all along. Ezekiel 36:26-27 "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you." All those centuries ago, God had promised that he would come and change people's stony hearts into hearts of flesh. He promised his Spirit. Nicodemus should have known. He was the teacher of Israel. We should know too, even more clearly than Nicodemus, because we have had Jesus' words in our scriptures to read all of our lives. Yet don't we often see things just as Nicodemus? Be good, go to church, work hard and we'll probably be OK, we hope, fingers crossed? Yet Nicodemus, the best of the best needs to start over, so where does that leave the rest of us?

It brings us to another question: 'Who then can go to heaven?' If the Bible teacher, all round good guy can't, who can? Jesus' answer is simple: anyone can, through him. v13-15 "No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.[e] 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,[f] 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” The precedent was all there in scripture, in Numbers 21:4-9

"They [the Israelites] traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea,[c] to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

6 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8 The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

But now, rather than a snake on a pole being the focus of salvation, it will be Jesus, through the cross. Not our own goodness or hard work or piety, but Jesus. And this is wonderful news, especially for those of us who know we're not good enough and feel it deeply v15 "everyone who believes may have eternal life in him."

In case we have missed it, Jesus spells it out in one of the most famous verses in the Bible: John 3:16 " For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." God doesn't sit in heaven weighing our good deeds against the bad like the ancient religions believed. He isn't calculating the karma of our actions. God loves us so much that he gave his son for us. The God who rightly brings the judgement also sends the saviour.

We live in a world that is very quick to condemn. Someone makes a mistake in public life and they are hounded. The internet and social media mean that nothing can ever be forgotten or wiped clean. We think that God is like this too. Yet v17 "For God did not send his son in to the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." Living a life without God at the helm sets our lives on a certain trajectory. If we are living for ourselves, whether that's a hedonistic lifestyle of sex, drugs and rock and roll or one where we've never done anyone any harm, the road leads away from God's kingdom v18 "whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only son". The salvation is there, like a rubber ring bobbing next to the arm of the drowning swimmer, and if it's not taken the consequences are severe. But the way to God's kingdom is there, it's through Jesus, and it's open to all.

Did Nicodemus respond? We’re not told, but when we see him standing up before the Jewish council and speaking in Jesus’ favour (7:50) and then when we see him helping Joseph of Arimathea bury Jesus’ lifeless body (19:39), I think we know. The bigger question, though, is what will you do? You can float around the things of God, you can be interested, you can be a good person, but if you don't start your life again with Jesus and let God bring you to new birth in the Spirit, you are still on the path away from God. You are loved so much that Jesus died for you. Will you believe in him and take your place in his Kingdom?

By porthkerryandrhoose, May 9 2017 10:26AM

If I asked you to describe Jesus, I wonder what words you would use? What’s your image of him? I hear a lot of talk about approaching situations in the way Jesus would, but often they seem to be based on a very limited view of him: the Sunday school ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild.’ And he ends up being a bit like a cross between a jolly grandfather and Santa Claus: benign, smiling indulgently no matter what his children get up to. It’s a comforting picture, but one which ultimately lacks any power or authority at all. Is this really the Jesus we see in scripture? Even a quick look into these starting chapters of John’s gospel shows us that it couldn’t be further from the truth.

The last time we were in John’s gospel, we saw Jesus behaving with generosity and kindness towards a couple whose wedding was going disastrously wrong. They had run out of wine and Jesus stepped in to turn gallons of water into the very best wine. It was an exciting and memorable day. But straight away, John tells us a very different story. We know that he has deliberately moved this event to the beginning of his gospel as the other 3 gospel writers very firmly place it during holy week. Why has he done it? Let’s look at the passage together.

It was Passover time and Jerusalem would have been buzzing with visitors. Everyone wanted to be in the city for the festival and to make their sacrifices in the temple. Jesus went too, but when he stepped into the temple he was horrified at the sight which met his eyes. Instead of people having time and space to worship God, the temple courtyard was filled with people and oxen and sheep and pigeons. Money changers were sitting at their stalls, and the whole area looked like a busy market place. Jesus was angry. So angry in fact that he made a whip out of cords and drove them out of the temple. He upturned the tables and scattered the coins of the money lenders. It was a dramatic scene. Can you imagine the noise? Shouting, bleating, squarking, clattering. And Jesus said to those who sold the pigeons “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” This is no mild, accepting, ‘let’s talk about it’ Jesus. Jesus was angry. Now at some level we do understand righteous anger. When something terrible happens, like refugee children being sold into the sex trade or their bodies harvested for organs, we get angry. And if someone we know isn’t angry about it, we begin to wonder if something is wrong with them, if they have a heart for others at all. It is right to be angry about wrong doing, though of course we have to be very careful about how we deal with that anger. If it’s right for us, how much more is it right for God to be angry about the wrong things in the world. What sort of a God would he be if he just carried on smiling kindly while bad people terrorised others? Not the sort of God I would be interested in following, anyway. Jesus was angry. But the big shock in this passage is that Jesus didn’t direct his anger towards the ‘sinners’ in the big bad world outside. He directed it towards the religious people. What was going on?

From the days of Moses, God had always had a special place where he would meet with his people. In the desert it was the tabernacle, in the city the temple. Though he was so holy that only the high priest got to go into the area closest to him, the holy of holies, the rest was set aside for the priests and then the ordinary men and women to draw close to him. It was a special place where the presence of God rested. It was a place for sacrifice, for worship, for simply being with the God who had made them. But religion had taken over. Animals which had to be perfect to be offered to God were only deemed perfect if they were sold by one of the temple suppliers. The money for offerings couldn’t have caesar’s head on it, as it was a graven image, so the people had to pay their dues in temple money exchanged at a price. So rather than a humble meeting with God, the temple became a place of spiritual and financial transaction. People couldn’t come and worship God unless they were able to pay and had jumped through the priests’ hoops. It was a terrible twisting of God’s laws which shut people off from him. No wonder Jesus was angry.

As the disciples watched the events, they remembered the words of a psalm “Zeal for your house will consume me”. It’s Psalm 69, a psalm of David. It was one of the psalms which pointed forward to the Messiah, the king whom God would send. And they made the connection. This cleansing of the temple as we call it, was a prophetic act by God’s own king.

But it was more than that too. The clue is in what happened next.

“18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body.”

The disciples weren’t the only ones who knew that Jesus wasn’t some crazed madman on a rampage. “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” The Messiah would have a way of proving who he was. Jesus’ answer was perplexing “Destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days.” Unsurprisingly, the Jewish leaders replied “It has taken 46 years to build this temple, how could you build it in 3 days?”. I’m with them: it’s taken us over a year to try and get St Curig’s limewashed even! But of course he wasn’t talking about the physical temple. Jesus was telling them something far more profound. John, with the benefit of hindsight and the Holy Spirit’s guidance explains it to us “But the temple he was speaking of was his body”. Jesus’ dramatic act in the temple did more than shake up the corrupt practices in the temple; it pointed to a far more important truth: Jesus was going to be the new temple. Instead of going to a physical place to meet with God, after the cross and resurrection, people need only go to Jesus to meet with God. He is the mediator and advocate, the Word made flesh. Right at the start of his gospel, with two dramatic events, John is showing us two important truths about Jesus: he is the new wine of the kingdom, bringing in the Messianic age and he is the new temple, the new place to meet with God.

This was so monumental, that the Jewish leaders didn’t get it and the disciples only understood after Jesus’ life and ministry had unfolded. But we have the benefit of their understanding, and it changes everything. No longer do we have to worry about which bits of the church are ‘holy’ or whether it’s right to have teas and coffees in church. The house of God is Jesus, and that gives us a far more important challenge. How do we respond to him? The disciples believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken (v21), but others had a far more superficial response. They saw his signs and believed, but the faith only lasted as long as the exciting signs continued. Jesus wouldn’t entrust himself to them because he knew what was really in their hearts. What is in your heart? Are you trusting in Jesus as the word made flesh, the place to meet with God, or do you only trust him while he’s reassuring you with signs?

So a dramatic and challenging reading from John this morning, but one which acts as a vital corrective to us. Wrongdoing and sin makes Jesus angry, especially if it’s happening within the church, and stopping people from meeting with him is particularly serious. This same Jesus has the authority to speak on these matters because he isn’t just a teacher or a prophet, he is the Word made flesh, the new temple, the place where we meet with God. Not gentle Jesus meek and mild, but someone far more important. How do you respond to him?

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