Friday, April 14, 2006

Easter Convention 2006: The Powerful Rescuer

It's been a crazy few weeks, the sort that make you wish for more hours in a day, but great fun so that you say,"O God, though it is far better to be at home with you, don't take me just yet!". And you thank him for the strong wind that has been speeding the boat along; exciting Bible studies to prepare, people that are slowly but perceptibly growing under God's hand and word, evangelistic events coming to fruition, fellow travellers carrying each other's burdens along the same road, encouraging research for talks and seminars, meeting Christians from all over the world and learning how God has worked in their lives... And you thank him for the opportunity to serve him by serving others, knowing and finding great pleasure and satisfaction from the eternal value of doing all these things.

Ah, but is all this enthusiasm empty? A passing fad that afflicts the emo and the gullible?

Well, it all starts at the first Good Friday. But why is Good Friday good? And how can anyone who isn't sadistic rejoice in the agonising death of one man on the cross?
Easter Eggs
Thanks to G who made it and R who snapped it
This is David Jackman's third and final talk (or some parts of it anyway) in the English Presbytery's Easter Convention 2006 series:
The Powerful Rescuer (Romans 5:1-11)
I want to ask: why is Good Friday good? All over the world, people celebrate this day.

Nobody will deny that Jesus was a remarkable man. He went all over feeding hundreds of people from a few loaves of bread and a few fish, he stilled a storm, he demonstrated divine power. He spoke words no one else had heard before. Then he was betrayed by one of those closest to him, falsely convicted and then hung on a cross to die.

As Jesus was dying on the cross, a most agonising and shameful death, it appeared to his enemies that they had won. It appeared that surely, evil had triumphed and death had conquered him.

So how can Good Friday be good?

Good Friday was a unique event in human history that changed our whole world, our whole reality. Paul fervently believed that it was something to boast about. It shapes the central purpose in our lives. It is something we think about constantly and we very much want to pass it on to future generations.

1. Our Confident Future (Romans 5:1-2)
We have a glorious future which is certain in God. This is not for everyone. It is only for people who trust in God, people who approach him as if we had nothing to be ashamed of. But of course we have something to be ashamed of. We are sinners. We don't recognise him as the authority in our lives, as God. That's why there is a state of hostility between us and God. That's why we try to hide from him and hope that he doesn't bother with us.

Gaining Access to God
But now with Jesus' death on the cross, those that believe have access into grace. Now we can enter God's presence trusting and forgiven.

I have been here in Singapore for 6 weeks now, and I was pleased that while I was here, the Queen came for a visit. Now, although I am Her Majesty's loyal subject, she didn't know I was here and didn't ask me to tea. Supposing I wanted to meet her. How would I do it? I could send her a letter saying that I would like to meet her. I could telephone her. I could go wherever she went and hold up a big card saying "David Jackman would like to meet you". And soon the special service would have me on their list and make sure I get nowhere near the Queen.

If that is true of an earthly monarch, how much more true is it of the king of kings? How can we saunter into his presence and say,"God show yourself to me"?

That's why Good Friday is good. Wouldn't you like to know when you put your head on the pillow that you are forgiven by God?

Well, you need a pretty high point score for that don't you? That's not what the Bible says. We don't depend on our own performance but on Jesus' records. That's what gives us acceptance. It is no vague hope. This morning, we rejoice in the heavenly hope.

Suppose we are at a wedding rehearsal, and I say to the bride about the wedding day,"I hope it will be a good day". I am saying that it would be nice if it is a good day, but the chances are 50/50 (or in England, it is even less than that). What if I say to the groom,"I hope the bride will turn up on the wedding day". He'll say,"I certainly hope so!". By that, he doesn't mean that it would be nice if she turned up but the chances are 50/50. This hope is certain because everything up to now suggests that this will surely take place. This is Christian hope.

2. Our Current Foundation (Romans 5:3-8)
"We rejoice in our sufferings". What does that mean? Not grin and bear it. The hope of glory is produced as a result of the suffering process.

How the Process Works
What is happening in our lives is that our sufferings, our afflictions, make us trust God more. We are driven back to our Bible, to God's word. This is how these characteristics are produced. When we become Christian, we do not float to heaven on flowery beds of ease. No. It is a fallen world and we all suffer. But this is how the Holy Spirit works in our hearts.

Why the Process Works
The only place we can find hope in a hopeless world is in God. God loves us even to the point of giving his Son to death on the cross.

Romans 5:6-7 says we are weak and powerless. We are ungodly, unrighteous, we do not love the Lord our God with all our mind and heart and strength, we do not love our neighbour as our self. But Christ hung on that cross so that you and millions of others will have access to God.
Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7-8)
By the cross, Jesus gave us access to God. On the cross, Jesus did more than what any one of us could or would have done.

During our stay here, we visited the Changi Prison and it reminded us of World War II. Ernest Gordon wrote a book called "Miracle on the River Kwai". He was a prisoner-of-war during the Second World War and was forced to work at building the Burma railway. Morale in the camp was very low: life was miserable, there was little food and there were diseases. One day, a party went to the railway to work. After work, they lined everyone up and the tools were checked. It was found that one of the tools was missing. It was a pickaxe. The Japanese were very angry because someone had hidden it away to esacpe. They questioned the whole party but no one confessed to taking it. So the temperature was raised and the Japanese said they would kill every member of the party if the guilty party did not own up. Then one man broke rank and admitted that he had taken the pickaxe. He was instantly killed on the spot. When they got back to the camp, the tools were counted again, and it was realised there had been a mistake in the first count. No tool was missing. Then the men raised that their companion had died for them. They suddenly realised that they were worth dying for and gained a new dignity and new purpose. After the war, many of them became Christian because they saw in that man what Christ had done.

But there is a difference. The difference is that this man died for his friends. Jesus died for his enemies. When Jesus said "it is finished", it was not that he was finished, but that his task was accomplished. When he said that, the veil in the temple (which symbolised that God was so holy, people in their sinfulness could not approach him) was torn into two. It was torn from top to bottom - not bottom to top as if ripped by the hands of men (although no human hand could tear it, as thick as it was) - but top to bottom by the hand of God. Now we can have access to God.

All Jesus' righteousness was put to our account, and our sin on his account. Martin Luther described this as the Great Exchange. He because our sin. Faith is saying "this is for me", "I will make this rescue my rescue".

3. Our Constant Focus (Romans 5:9-11)
We can rejoice in God. On the last day, when we have all to give an account of ourselves to God, if we are trusting in our own record, we will surely fail. But if we are trusting in Jesus' record, we are not only saved but we are rejoicing in God. We are reconciled, reconnected, so God can be the focus of our lives.

This must have a response. It is not just knowing but doing something about it. Turn to him in simple, personal trust. When we do this, we get all the blessing in this life - the hope of glory of God in heaven.

I have become an expert on the 171 bus in Singapore. When I first encountered it, I had to find out where it went. I could read the notice board. I could the bus driver "where does this bus go to?". I could get up the bus and poll the passengers "does this bus go to Orchard" and they'd think "not another tourist!". But I wouldn't have gone where I wanted to go if I didn't get on the bus.

It is the same for Christianity. On this Good Friday, take a good appropriate step forward.

Easter Convention 2006: The Passover Lamb
Easter Convention 2006: The Sinless Sufferer
Easter Convention 2006: The Powerful Rescuer


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