What a beautiful occasion the Royal Wedding turned out to be; a time to be celebrated and enjoyed by the hundreds of thousands who turned out in London, and by millions of others across the nation and across the world.
In his address to the royal couple the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, spoke about our “generous God.” What an apt and accurate description of the One who not only created us, but also created the world for our enjoyment. Jesus Himself said, “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
The idea of God being generous is perfectly captured in the Hebrew word dayenu, which has its place in the annual Passover celebration. Dayenu means “it would have been sufficient.” As we consider the good things God gives, so we see His generosity in giving us far more than we deserve. Not only does He offer us His love, but also His forgiveness; not only a new start in life now, but also life in eternity; not only His help and strength, but He also fills us with His Holy Spirit. He is indeed “a generous God.” As the apsotle Paul writes: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance … and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Ephesians 1:18-19)
A great tragedy occurred in Kent on Monday. Matt Cranch, a young stuntman, performing as a human cannonball died when a safety net failed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.
Many people have a spiritual safety net that they beleieve will keep them safe in eternity. For Egyptian pharaohs it was the treasures that filled their tombs. For some today, their safety net is a belief in reincarnation, without any certainty that it will hold them. Of course wishful thinking doesn’t turn something that is supposed into something that is real. The atheist claims that there is no life after this one, but has no certainty; remember the 2008 atheist bus campaign slogan, “There’s probably no God.” The only dependable safety net is a real relationship now with the One who made us; knowing that as the Bible describes it, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deuteronomy 33:27)
A second tragedy occurred this week in Texas on Wednesday. David Wilkerson, a world famous author and pastor, died in a fatal traffic accident. Whether Matt knew where he was going or not, we don’t know, but David Wilkerson certainly did. He knew God personally, and had done for many years. You can read about his experiences with God and with New York gang members in his book The Cross and the Switchblade. God’s words were precious to David. Just as the Psalmist writes:
“Though I constantly take my life in my hands, I will not forget your law.” (Psalm 119:109)
In the UK we are in the middle of Easter weekend, the most important weekend of the year for those who have come to know Jesus. If you don’t know Jesus personally, you may wonder what Good Friday is all about, or you may know that it’s on this day that we remember the horrific death of Jesus on a Roman cross yet still call the day Good Friday. Why?
The answer can be found in two Jewish prophecies. Prophesying approximately six hundred years before the birth of Yeshua (Jesus), Jeremiah pointed to a New Covenant that would be established between God and the Jewish people. This New Covenant promised a relationship with God our Creator and complete forgiveness for those humble enough to admit they need it. That free gift of forgiveness, although originally for the Jewish people, is now on offer to all, so that all of mankind may have the opportunity to share in the love, forgiveness and knowledge of God.
“This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it upon their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremaih 31:33-34)
Just over a hundred years before Jeremiah, the prophet Isaiah also brought God’s message to the Jewish people. Chapter 53 of his book describes how the promise of God’s New Covenant would be established. Isaiah wrote that someone would take the place of us all, paying the price for my wrongdoing and yours, so we may know the forgiveness spoken of by Jeremiah and experience the love God has for us in our own 21st Century lives. Of course, even though God’s love and forgiveness are free, they need to be received. And how do you receive? Just ask, He won’t turn you away!
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:3-10)
The question of whether Good Friday was actually a Friday is for another time!
In his recent Channel 4 documentary on UK television, Niall Ferguson suggested that the “killer app”, the main contributor to the economic and material success of certain Western nations, particularly Germany, the UK and USA, has been the Protestant work ethic. Today however, we see the UK losing its place as a major player in the world at the same time as its population has become increasingly secular.
This success has not been shared to the same extent by predominantly Roman Catholic countries; take for instance the way the USA has outshone the South American nations. You may argue that Asian nations like China are now coming to the fore, but did you know that the Chinese church is growing rapidly? There are estimated to be 50 – 100 million Christians in China today. So why have the Protestant nations been prone to hard work? What has made the difference? I suggest that there is a direct correlation between hard work and a personal knowledge of the Bible. So what is the Bible’s attitude to work?
“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (1 Thess. 4:11-12)
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” (Colossians 3:23)
It may be called the “Protestant” work ethic, but the Jewish scriptures have the same emphasis:
“You people who don’t want to work, think about the ant! Consider its ways and be wise!”(Proverbs 6:6)
Given the Bible’s emphasis on hard work, it is strange to note that its main message, i.e. how we find peace with our Creator, is not based on work at all, but simply on faith. Paul writes to the believers in Ephesus:
“You have been saved by faith in God, who treats us much better than we deserve. You did not save yourselves; it was a gift from God. It was not the result of your own efforts, so you cannot boast about it.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
How many of us make the mistake of trying to impress God with our own efforts, rather than choosing God’s way, that of receiving His gift of love and forgiveness simply by trust?