- Acts 10: 34-43
- Psalms 118:1-2, 14-24
- 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11
- Mark 16: 1-8
How many men in history can claim to have had such a radical effect on the world as that man Jesus of Nazareth? While many may doubt the historical accuracy of the Bible, it’s impossible to ignore the striking effect of Jesus on those who witnessed his life, his death and his resurrection.
In our day and age, with the internet, television & radio, news travels in a moment. But 2,000 years ago, there were no mass means of communication. There was word of mouth, the news was passed on from village to village… And yet, we find in Acts we find Peter in Caesarea, speaking in Cornelius’ household, where he said:
“you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”
In the first Century after Christ, we find that the Emperor Domitian (in the second great persecution – not the first one under Nero), some 40,000 Christians were martyred. If forty thousand died in just this second phase of persecution, how far had Christianity spread in those first 100 years? It has been said that there may have been as many as five hundred thousand or a million Christians by the end of the first century. All of this, by word of mouth.
Try, for a moment, to put yourself in the shoes of those early Christians, living 100 years after Christ. The apostles were all dead. There was no one living that had been a personal witness to his life and death. There were no history books to refer to, cataloguing the life of Christ as a historical fact. There was actually no New Testament either.
So, why would they slip out at night, away from their masters and hiding from the Romans, to meet in caves and catacombs and darkened rooms? What did they expect to happen that was so different, so important, that it would attract them to risk their lives to hear of the gospel? What kind of church meeting would bring them out at night, against the threat of a government that was trying to kill them? If today it’s hard to fill a church when it rains, what would it be like if you thought you might be killed for coming on Sundays?
Forget about the paraphernalia, comforts and trappings that we have inherited from nineteen hundred years of church councils, traditions, theologians, translators & interpreters. Forget the creeds, the prescribed order of worship, the special church language, the hymnal, scholarly commentaries, or anything else that we may use to structure our services. What was so special about the events of Easter that it was worth dying for?
What is it that we celebrate today?
Today we celebrate the ultimate sacrifice of that man Jesus, who taught us:
Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.
His crucifixion was indeed the greatest act of sacrifice, perfectly demonstrating his teaching. But his death is not where it ends.
We are taught that there is no fear in death, because Jesus was resurrected from the dead. This celebration is not about Jesus hanging on a cross; we celebrate because we believe he is the Lord of life, that there is life after death, and that there is victory over death.
Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians emphasises the importance of the resurrection:
“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. … For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. … If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”
As followers of Jesus, we are to live in hope – not just a hope for a better world or life in this lifetime, but a hope for all eternity.
But I want to take this day not only to reflect on that ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made, believing until death that his sacrifice would be enough; I want us today to reflect also on the sacrifices of his life.
His daily walk was an example of the Golden Rule: doing unto others as we would have them do for us. He exhausted himself in giving to others: preaching the Kingdom of Heaven, healing, casting out demons, and comforting those who came to Him for help.
His life has been exalted as the perfect pattern for our lives.
But let’s be honest: sacrifice is not a concept that any of us truly enjoys. Yet the man we know as Jesus, sacrificed those things that we prize as “good” and “worthy”:
- Family, with all the joys and comforts that come with it;
- Ambition, wealth, prestige & popularity
- Position and other elements of success
How do we embrace being a follower of Jesus more seriously and focus on its core: the life of Christ? When considering how to live our lives and how best to demonstrate the love of Jesus and that we, are truly his followers, we should ask ourselves daily “What would Jesus do?”
Right now the phrase “What would Jesus do?” is being used by the Occupy Movement. It has been used by anti-war protestors in the question “Who would Jesus bomb?”, and even gone so far as to be the subject of the “What would Jesus eat?” biblical diet plan.
Many of us may be confused about how to imitate the life of Christ, when He lived in such a different culture, society and age as we live today. Some may argue that the Bible offers little detail about Jesus’ daily life when he wasn’t preaching or performing miracles; and others will mischievously point out that when he wasn’t doing that, he was hanging out in bars, with prostitutes and tax collectors or trashing the temple. (Perhaps that’s not quite the answer we’re looking for.)
Jesus’ purpose on this earth was to show us the way to establish a relationship with the Creator God, with the Divine. To open the way for us to be anointed by the Spirit, to do bigger and greater things. Jesus didn’t tell us to do what He did, He told us to do even greater things.
In the spirit of asking how we can better follow His example, it may be helpful to ask “What did Jesus do?”?
- He was humble and served others – no matter how much power and glory he had or was entitled to, this is the man who washed the feet of his disciples. Is your life characterised by a servant’s heart?
- He glorified God – In all of Jesus’ teachings, he doesn’t speak of Himself, so much as of God and God’s Kingdom. His purpose on this earth was to re-establish our relationship with the Creator God.
- He lived a life of prayer, meditation and constant communion with God. As if points one and two weren’t hard enough, I truly struggle to take the time to stop everything and just be still. Many of you know me as “the Prayer Lady” – but that doesn’t mean it’s any easier. I’m not talking about those prayers were you have a list of petitions that you put before God, those ones where we try to convince God that we want Him to uphold our agenda, and bless our ambitions (I’m quite good at those ones! They fit into my way of working and thinking). I’m talking about that prayer and meditation where you have a private two-way conversation with the Spirit. That time where you stop everything else and get quiet, open your heart and mind, elevate your spirit, care for another and become one with the Universe, reaching out for God, where you bow Yourself humbly before the supernatural and inquire of the Creator, stop thinking, analysing and planning and just listen; and then make sure that you test the spirit & nature of anything that pops into your mind.
- And lastly, Jesus lived a life of sacrifice – He gave of his time to others, He gave of his energy to others, He laid his hands on the sick and worked till He was exhausted. And his final sacrifice completely changed the world’s religions in a way none of us could ever have imagined.
For me, the following phrase sums up the life and example of Jesus “Not my will but Thine be done”.
It’s that life that relinquishes and unclasps our grubby little fingers that are tightly grasping our possessions, money, hopes & expectations, and then demanding that God uphold our plans. It’s understanding that our wants don’t come first, and understanding that it’s the Divine Way, not “my way”.
Today, we remember Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. We give thanks to God for his gentle mercy and untiring love. We give thanks to Jesus for His ultimate sacrifice and for his pattern of how to live our lives: saying “yes” to the Divine, and “no” to our own selfishness. We learn today the meaning of sacrifice and surrender. We learn today that we are given enough grace to do what our Creator has planned for us to do – whether that be serving a meal to a homeless person, buying uniforms for needy children, taking a meal over to widows and those without families to support them, or contributing to our society in any other way.
The pattern of the Christian life we are to follow, demonstrated by Jesus, provides us with unadulterated peace in our relationship with the Creator God. It’s one in which we may have to learn obedience through suffering, and submit to the will of the Divine. Heaven is waiting for those who have gone through Gethsemane, who have finally handed over the reins of their lives, and let go. No longer stubbornly refusing to submit, hoisting clenched fists defiantly in the air… but humbly saying to the Spirit: “not my will, but Thine be done.”
That will be the moment in which we begin to do greater things than even Jesus did, as we were put on this earth to do by our Creator.
Let us pray:
Grant us the strength, Lord God, of body and of spirit, to offer you the sacrifice of our lives.
So often we find ourselves apologising to you for our abbreviated prayer life; and yet you draw us into your presence, as you did the disciples at Gethsemane. You ask us to share in your life and to play our part. You ask us to watch and pray, so that we might not fall into temptation. And yet, so often in prayer our thoughts are distracted by sounds or circumstances, or diverted by trivial concerns. We carry our baggage with us, rather than leaving it at your feet.
Come Holy Spirit: dispel the darkness from our minds and open our eyes. Revive our drooping faith, our doubts and fears. Kindle in our hearts the flame of everlasting love.
Grant us each the strength to be still and know that you are God. Speak to us through the grass of the meadows, through the trees of the forest, through the valleys and the hills. Speak to us through the rain, thunder and lightning, through the waves of the sea, through the dew of the morning and the peace of the evening.
God of gods, in Thy mercy, in Thy love, be with us now. We know and we speak of Your love and ask that you help us to put away, for this hour, the cares of this life; so that we may know in truth your presence.
Let us each find that place of the inner vision and through Your Spirit let us hear the wondrous secret. Through Your mystic insight, cause a spring of knowledge to well up inside us, a fountain of power, pouring forth living waters, a flood of love and of all-embracing wisdom, like the splendour of your eternal Light.
Creator, open our hearts to peace and healing between all people; open our hearts to provide and protect the children of this earth; open our hearts to respect for the earth of which we are guardians and the gifts that it grants; open our hearts to do greater things than those done by Jesus in his brief 33 years on this earth.
God who sees all things, in our consciousness, let us find happiness in the love of Thee. Fill us with love towards our fellowman. Make us worthy to serve our fellow men throughout the world, especially those who live and die in poverty & huger. Let our life, our words, our deeds, bring the joy and happiness of Jesus to each person that we meet, day by day. Give to our fellow man, through our hands, this day their daily bread and by our understanding, give them love, peace & joy.