From death to life

Outside the empty tomb

Today we remember the culmination of a battle won, we celebrate a great victory. It’s a victory that has changed the course of history and dramatically altered the quality of life of millions on this planet, yet strangely is understood by so few.

Almost two thousand years ago, and documented by a variety of historians of the time, Jesus died on a Roman cross outside the walls of Jerusalem; but His death was planned before the world began. In fact He said that He came to give His life as a ransom. It was to be a divine exchange: Jesus’ perfection sacrificed for our guilt, that we may go free, forgiven, accepted and cleansed for all eternity.

Death is a formidable enemy. It is something that none of us can avoid, but it was helpless against Jesus. Yes, He succumbed to death, but that was His choice. It could not hold Him, as hundreds of witnesses at the time could testify (1 Corinthians 15:6). He rose from the dead, even keeping an appointment in Galilee that He made before His death (Matthew 26:32; John 21).

Throughout His time on earth, He frequently spoke about life; not just humdrum, everyday life, but a new quality of life that continues into eternity, and that is on offer to all who will put their trust in Him. John, one of His closest followers, records His words: “I came to give life with joy and abundance.” “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” “Whoever trusts in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life.” “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

However, Jesus didn’t just talk about it, He fought the battle with death and came out the victor, and because of what He did two thousand years ago, we have the opportunity today to receive that free gift of life, life in all its fulness, life for all eternity.

To find out more, check out: Time to Change.

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In hot pursuit

Bradley Wiggins
Bradley_Wiggins (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Sporting fervour has been at its height in the UK over recent days, and not just because of the coming Olympics. The triumph of Great Britain’s Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome caught the nation’s attention as the two cyclists powered to victory in France’s premier sporting event, the Tour de France. Wiggins’ success is a tribute to his hard work and sportsmanship. This year Wiggins became the first person ever to win the Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie, the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de France in a single season. His next challenge is, of course, riding for Great Britain at the London Olympics, but there is one Olympic cycling event that he won’t be able to take part in, and that is the 4km individual pursuit, an event in which he won gold in Beijing in 2008. Following a decision by the International Olympic Committee in December 2009, the individual pursuit has been excluded from London 2012 and from future games.

The individual pursuit consists of two cyclists starting on opposite sides of the track at the same time, and aiming to complete the distance in the fastest time. In so doing the two riders pursue each other, and if one rider manages to catch the other, he or she is declared the winner.

The sense of being pursued is not just confined to cyclists however, whether it’s a celebrity pursued by their fans, a citizen by “the taxman” or a rogue trader by their customers many have undergone what can be an uncomfortable experience. On her website, EveryStudent.Com, Marilyn Adamson admits to being pursued by God. A one-time atheist, Marilyn admits that the God question deeply troubled her. She wanted to disprove God’s existence once and for all, and thereby gain peace of mind, but she eventually came to realise “that the reason the topic of God weighed so heavily on my mind, was because God was pressing the issue.” She continues, “It was as if I couldn’t escape thinking about the possibility of God. In fact, the day I chose to acknowledge God’s existence, my prayer began with, “Ok, you win…” It might be that the underlying reason atheists are bothered by people believing in God is because God is actively pursuing them.”

It is difficult to escape the possibility or the evidence of a Creator. We are surrounded with natural beauty, power and grandeur. In the Greek scriptures we read, “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made …” (Romans 1:20)

We are relational beings, we need human contact. So it is not surprising to think that the One who designed us is also relational, and has made us precisely so that we might know him. In the 1st Century Yeshua (Jesus) declared that we were made for a relationship with the Divine, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Yeshua the Messiah, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

Are you being pursued by your Creator?

The Passover Lamb

The Cross
The Passover Lamb

Tomorrow is Good Friday, the first day of the Easter weekend. Cadbury’s Creme Eggs have been in the shops for months, and families are packing for the Easter getaway.

This year Easter falls at the same time as the Jewish festival of Pesach (Passover). In fact that famous Easter meal, the Last Supper, was actually a very Jewish Passover meal, where a Jewish rabbi and his twelve students recalled the miraculous deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. This meal was a bitter-sweet occasion for the rabbi as only he knew that he would leave there to face torture and death. It was to be his life for ours, his goodness and purity for our wrongdoing and rebellion. Just as Jewish people around the world remember the Passover lamb that gave its life to save the lives of others, here we have Jesus – his real name was Yeshua – who had lived a spotless life, but gave it so that others may be free, forgiven, accepted and loved by their Creator. In so doing he fulfilled the prophecies of the Hebrew King David and the prophet Isaiah.

Another rabbi, Sha’ul, or Paul the apostle as he’s more commonly known, writes about this event, but in doing so he leaves a challenge for us all.

“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t only look out  for your own interests, but take an interest in others too. You must have the same attitude as that of Yeshua the Messiah:

“Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to, 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! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Yeshua every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Yeshua the Messiah is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:3-11)

The Secret Millionaire 2

Three crosses
He gave everything

A divine secret millionaire (see previous post), who offers us at his own expense a loving relationship with our Creator, may sound too good to be true, but think again about the key points.

• The television secret millionaires used their money to the greatest advantage, not by spending it on themselves, but by giving it away.

• Yeshua (Jesus) came willingly to this Earth to take on a very basic life, and a very brutal death, but by taking my place, and yours, He has secured an eternal future for all who receive His offer of forgiveness and new life.

• Compared to the Creator of the universe who am I? I do not have the matchless beauty, the supreme intelligence, the awesome power, and yet if He thinks I am worth coming to this Earth for and suffering so much, I must be someone very special and of infinite worth.

Realising that you’re special, realising that you’re loved, and knowing that peace with your Creator is offered to you as a free gift may sound very comfortable and easy. We really can trust Him for our future, but following Yeshua is challenging. What else do you expect from someone who gave His life in the service of others, and calls you to follow Him? It takes more than clicking ‘Like’ on the Jesus Christ Facebook page. Yeshua calls us all to turn from our old ways, forget about ourselves and put Him first.

Jesus said, “If anyone wants to be My follower, he must forget about himself. He must take up his cross and follow Me. If anyone wants to keep his life safe, he will lose it. If anyone gives up his life because of Me, he will save it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)

The Secret Millionaire

Millionaire surrounded by money

How many of you have watched the TV programme Secret Millionaire? Each programme focuses on a real millionaire, who leaves his or her luxury home and family for ten days, and moves to a rundown urban area. While living alone and incognito in a very basic house, they spend their time volunteering with three local charities. Often they find themselves caring for the sick or feeding the hungry, supporting needy children or comforting the bereaved. At the end of ten days, they reveal their true identity to the charities and to needy individuals, and give away thousands of pounds (or dollars) of their own money. Many of the charities they help are struggling financially, and the millionaire’s gift is often the lifeline they need to survive.

It struck me recently that this is the very essence of Christmas. Approximately two thousand years ago – but not in December – the Creator of the universe left behind the riches of His spiritual home, to live a basic life incognito, while he healed the sick and fed the hungry, welcomed the children and comforted the bereaved (by bringing their dead back to life). At the end of His time here, He gave the most expensive gift anyone could give. He gave His own life to pay the debt we all owe to our Creator. None of us has lived a perfect life; no one has a totally clear conscience – except Yeshua. So out of His immense love for us, He took our place to buy our forgiveness and secure our future. As Rabbi Sha’ul of Tarsus (the apostle Paul) wrote, “You know the generous grace of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah. Though He was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty could become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

Following the filming of the TV programmes, rather than abandon their charities, many of the millionaires return to provide help and support on an ongoing basis. In the same way Yeshua calls us into an ongoing, loving relationship with Himself. He promises “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

Missing the point?

starry skies
From beyond starry skies

“Surely there’s more to life than this?” Many people have a sense that this is not all there is, that outside of this material world, that beyond the blogosphere, the shopping malls and the celebrities – and indeed beyond the poverty, injustice and suffering of this world –there is an intelligence, a presence that we cannot see. Some scour the skies for evidence of alien activity, some avidly research psychic phenomena, some are in continual contact with their spirit guides. Many spend their lives searching for what works, others for what is true.

Two thousand years ago, approximately 4 BCE, someone came to this earth, was born, grew up and lived for over thirty years as one of us, but his supernatural signs and miracles showed that he was someone very special. His wisdom, teaching and authority were far beyond that of human reason. His claims about himself were either ludicrous or true. He claimed to have lived in eternity before the world began (John 17:5); he claimed not only to be the way to God (John 14:6), but that anyone who had seen him had seen God (John 14:9). He not only predicted his own death (Matt 12:40; 17:9), but also his future return in power (Matt 16:27; 24:30).

Surely someone who came with so much love, so much wisdom, so much mystery, must warrant a closer look. If not, we may miss the evidence we’ve been searching for, and spend our lives always looking but never finding the spiritual satisfaction we’ve been seeking. As a Jewish rabbi once wrote:

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17)

May you discover the real meaning of Christmas, and in so doing find LIFE itself!

Eternity’s treasure

pearl
The most valuable pearl

A suitcase containing nearly one million Australian dollars was left in a Sydney restaurant last week by a “really nervous” man, who was later arrested by police. He was then taken to hospital for unspecified treatment, while being kept under police guard. The legal owner of the money is as yet unknown.

Two thousand years ago, Yeshua (Jesus) told a story about a merchant who didn’t lose everything, but who sold everything to gain just one very valuable pearl. We, who seek spiritual meaning and fulfilment in our lives, are likened to that merchant, who gave his all to possess this most beautiful treasure. The pearl, of course, represents Yeshua himself.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matt. 13:45-46)

A personal relationship with Yeshua is the world’s most valuable possession. Beyond cost, it cannot be bought; it cannot be earned. It is a free gift given by Yeshua to all who are prepared to humble themselves and put their trust in Him. His love, acceptance and forgiveness are the only possible things we can take with us into eternity. The jazz singer, Helen Shapiro, who herself came to trust Yeshua as Messiah and Saviour, sang of Him as “Eternity’s Treasure – the Pearl!”