Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Church: Voice

 Sunday 31st July 2016

Jeremiah 31:27-37 (NLT)

 …   33 “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 And they will not need to teach their neighbours, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”…

John 10:14-30 (NLT)

  27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

1 Corinthians 12:1-11 (NLT)

 So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit….

 

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Our religion is to do good, to act in wisdom, humility and faith but above all to love. The church is a revelation of the heart of God- a community of forgiveness and welcome – a community where, together, God is known and loved. And we are to listen to God; God speaks his word to us and we are to obey it.

God’s word is not something we can grasp at and possess, it is a revelation that brings life in us. The word speaks in each of us to bring healing, to bring faith. God speaks his word in our midst to make his presence known in us, as individuals, and through us, as a community. The fruit of God’s presence is unity and peace.

God has placed his image in us; he has set his Spirit within us so that hearing God’s word we can act in faith. God speaks into who we are to redeem us and redeem the world through faith in his voice. This is no different to what we see in the heroes of the faith in the scriptures. Through their failings and lack of grace, those who heard God acted in faith. When God speaks, he pours himself into broken vessels, jars of clay, filled with precious water that overflows for the refreshing of the world.

However flawed we are, he is pleased to pour his message into us. God spoke to Abraham and he heard God tell him to sacrifice his only son, the son of promise. To sacrifice a human life is strictly forbidden to us but Abraham heard God call his name and speak. He was faithful to the voice he heard. Abraham was not different to how we are- he did not mishear, he heard and was obedient and acted in faith. God spoke through an angel and Isaac was spared. Abraham’s faith pleased God and it was counted as righteousness.

Abraham sacrificed a lamb, and the dishonour of human sacrifice was transformed by God speaking through an angel and Abraham choosing a lamb to sacrifice as a substitute. For Moses the blood of the lamb was a sign of deliverance from oppression and death. What God spoke through the angel transformed Abraham’s heart and the faith of Abraham was credited to him as righteousness.

So precious is God speaking to each of us; it is more precious than the voice of God brought by the angel. Jesus says we will know his voice and the prophet brings us forward in the knowledge that we have no need of a teacher. Paul calls us to love and to trust the voice of God, causing us to speak even in tongues we do not understand, but always acting as the angel of God for the building of the church.

Our building of our church needs to have no walls that cause division or ceilings that limit God’s voice speaking even in the brokenness of people’s lives. We are to be angels of the Lord speaking to transform vessels of dishonour so that they carry a message of honour.

The church is to be prophetic in our culture, speaking up for the weak and downtrodden. We need to speak words of healing into places of conflict. We must honour truthfulness and transparency and act for the good of the powerless and poor. Our gatherings must be united in diversity, our leadership being inclusive and representative- showing a heart of service. This is the legacy being the church will give to our localities and our nations.

What of us who know salvation, made alive by knowledge of the holy, perfected by grace? What of us who in the gathering discern the presence of Christ? What of us elect in Christ amongst the people- we, the humble and contrite of heart? What is our life together in the world?

In our twos and threes , we are to baptise and make disciples. We are to remember Christ, fully human, fully God, in the sharing of a simple cup and bread, gathered to a table. This is our life together in faith: baptism, discipleship and the sharing of Jesus through the feast that recalls the sacrifice of Jesus. Our sacrifice is one of praise; a life together through reading scripture, prayer and the sharing of the Lord ’s Supper. We are to do good and bless the world, redeeming our culture to creation’s values.

In our discussion, again we heard the picture brought of our mission being to be those who adopt into a family, embodying the message that God adopts us into his family through Jesus. We are to carry the message of abiding in God. We also heard in our discussion of the work of the deep brokenness of culture and how the voice of God with the scriptures and life together changes things, “not in swarms” but one by one.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Bound Lamb: Sacrifice

 

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By Unknownhttp://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/online-gallery/on-line-gallery/obra/agnus-dei-the-lamb-of-god/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=160338

Sometimes an idea grows in you and you know it will tease out of you a sense of truth. I struggle with the meaning of sacrifice but I know in exploring it and confronting it, wrestling with it, I will grow.

Religious sacrifice appears barbaric- we do not indulge in ritual killing. We do not believe our future depends on rituals. Our freedom is maintained through punishment or the threat of punishment. Our politicians draw boundaries for our nation and join other nations to unite around what are considered fundamental boundaries of behaviour. In a wide sense, forces are engaged to maintain and enforce these boundaries. Sometimes we go to war to protect what we believe to be right. No ritual sacrifice is made to ensure success.

Freedom is won by ensuring that those who decide are independent of those who enforce and those who witness. In the UK we have parliament, the judiciary and the free press. Each binds each to rules of being and when they are truly independent there is a chance of peace. This peace is won against a backdrop of humanity’s inherent violence and self will. Punishment is directed against the forces of chaos. For this we sacrifice our freedoms and we sacrifice our soldiers.

The expression, “For the greater good,” is one with a deep meaning especially for those who wield power. People are convinced that through harm, even violence, good will come. The cause of defending our freedom makes the violent into heroes. We understand that there is no greater love than the love that willingly lays down its life for another. This makes sacrifice decent. For another to die for us is deeply problematic to us and we are desperately concerned that when lives are sacrificed, or we sacrifice the lives of others, the reason is justified. We sacrifice the innocent as collateral for the greater good but insist on it being proportionate and just.If not, then we will sacrifice the reputation of the decision makers, however innocent, so that justice is done and, if necessary, we punish the decision makers.

There is a just price to pay. We know there are those in the world who believe the sacrifice of our lives is a just price. We call them terrorists. The sacrifice of our lives pays the price for their sense of injustice and they are willing to sacrifice their own lives to take ours to redress the balance.

Every parent knows the sacrifice they would make for their family. They would give their very lives for their children and embrace death rather than see their child or partner killed. They would suffer rather than see their child want for anything. We understand this sacrifice. In our families we understand the need for justice and mercy.

For better or worse our sacrifices reveal what we hold sacred.

I think that if we stop and consider, we experience sacrifice more than we think and on this foundation we can built an understanding of the Cross.

Here are some ideas in the order they came:

The Bound Lamb: Violence

The Bound Lamb: Gift

The Bound Lamb: Love

The Bound Lamb: Identity

Perplexed

The Bound Lamb: Identity

010477865d247a2797339d68a1f63cb783ee712c01After Adam sinned, God walked in the cool of the garden and God called to Adam, “Where are you?” By the hand of Abraham, God commanded the death of Isaac; God called Abraham and he replied, “Here am I.” “Here am I, my son,” Abraham answers Isaac as Isaac calls him father and questions him about the sacrifice. When the Angel of the Lord calls to Abraham from heaven he answers, “Here am I,” and God stops the sacrifice. Abraham declares himself to God, Isaac and the Angel of the Lord: he is present to them.

God new only love for Abraham and Abraham loved his son. For God to test Abraham by commanding evil shocks us. God is good. This is the mystery in the Cross – the violence is a revelation of God’s goodness. True love is freely given and freely accepted. In the Unity of God, love is perfect and glorified. God does not command evil.

We exist: we live and love and have our being in time and place. We know purpose in love and in life. We know suffering and danger and are subject to both without distinction. Bad actions bring consequences and we see that these consequences also befall the innocent. Bad actions often bring prosperity.

If our faith allows us to believe this is as a result of the goodness of a loving God, in the midst of it we have the faith to say with contrite hearts, “Here am I.” This is me! In our wrestling with the collateral of existence, God places the Cross and in faith we know that his death is our life. He lives having conquered death and his victory is our victory. In him we repent and choose life, and the death we deserve is placed on him.

In Christ we are redeemed- his blood brings us near to God and we are made clean. Our faith answers his calling of our name, “Here am I,” reflecting the revelation of the person of God :“I AM.” This is our blessing, realising God’s image within each of us, we are alive in Christ and creation is blessed. Freed from sin and death, we learn to love, as the one who is Love lives in us. He makes himself present in us so that he is present to the world. Mercy is shown by God living in us.

By Christ taking the penalty for sin, we are freed to love. We are freed to love God and all humanity as we love our selves, “Here am I!” We no longer skulk afraid of God and answer the God who calls our name, “Here am I!” He became sin so that we might live, the “I” in us present to the “I AM” of God.

The sacrifice on the Cross, its shock, its foolishness reveals God as sacrifice, satisfies the demands of justice so that we may know peace and mercy. Why? This is our place of wrestling. In the story of Abraham we can wrestle with the dissonance of the command. Our faith is that God is the God who provides. The Cross is the provision so that we are holy as he is holy, perfect as he is perfect.

Our faith in the Lordship of Christ; his life death and resurrection, restores us to life. In Jesus Christ we are healed. The righteousness of Christ is our righteousness; his death is our death and through our faith in his Lordship we are created new, born again, dead to sin. In him we bless the nations revealing God’s goodness. Because of his sacrifice our sacrifice is one of praise. Because of Jesus we can worship God in spirit and in truth.

We need to embrace the story of who we are. Our work is to believe in God as loving Father. How can he lay us on the pyre of judgement and wield the knife of our death and love us? We are free to accept as true that God loves us. Faith alone enables us to accept that, in the Cross, God takes his wrath upon himself and justice is served.

In our wilfulness, we are free to accept we deserve only death: in our being we are free to accept we are the objects of pure love. The Cross resolves this as the One, through whom we and all that is created has its existence, answers, “Here am I” to the “I AM” of God. Jesus bears the full fury of death and hell we deserve and defeats it. God provides the atoning sacrifice: himself! And the wrath is turned away: death is defeated. I AM declares, “Here am I” and in perfect obedience to the Father confronts death – but…

The Bound Lamb: Love

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The idea that our salvation is achieved through sacrifice is unsettling to me. I can see God in the life of Jesus, a sacrifice- a gift to us- a perfect life lived in the Son. In Jesus, God in the form of man, God the Father shows us his love for us and how precious his image is in us by sending us his Son to walk among us. The unsettling part is the Cross being the end of that life, not the goodly old age of a life lived perfectly and our faith in that being our salvation. The victory over sin and our atonement for that sin are made perfect in the Cross not just the life lived without sin by Jesus. The Cross is included in the righteousness our faith wins.

Jesus, God in a body, lives life, pure and perfect, in a world subject to God’s judgement and experiences, in his innocence, the wrath of his Father against sin. He walks with us, but in redeemed peace, showing the Father’s heart, through forgiveness and compassion; a life full of self-giving. The mystery is that the love of the Father for the Son and the love of Jesus for God his Father, is made perfect on the Cross.

I understand Jesus, as a man bears the perfect Image of God, confronting and experiencing the power of evil- the wrath in creation- battling spiritual powers in the heavenlies. I can see, coming to understand this, and perfectly following the will of the Father in his humanity was the Way Jesus followed. Truly he carried God’s image and was the new Adam from his birth, redeeming humanity from sin, but the mystery is that he is also the Lamb slaughtered from the beginning. Our faith is that the Cross reveals sacrifice is an attribute of God; total, grace-filled, self-giving is perfected on the Cross and we see God.

It is revealed that the will of the Father was perfected because Jesus was obedient, even to death on the Cross. In the story of the bound lamb, we see in Isaac and Abraham a measure of what obedience is. We see Abraham, our father in faith, obedient, trusting in the will of the Father speaking in him. Isaac was the sacrifice God speaking in him demanded. Isaac meekly obeyed his father Abraham to the point of lying on the pyre and being bound.

God intervened and provided a lamb for the sacrifice. Isaac did not die and God’s promise to Abraham through Isaac was fulfilled in his faith, as we believe by the birth of Jesus. God’s promise to us is that he loves us to the point where our faith in Jesus as Lord wins for us the blessing of his image in us through the gift of the Spirit; eternal life. This is the blessing promised to Abraham. In Christ we are redeemed, our sin is atoned for and we live eternal life.

The God of eternity, eternally pours himself out in love and so we have all creation. In his resting, his peace, every choice and chance become authentic and in its being is his image. In humanity this image is totally loved and freed to love; freed to choose life. Self-willed Adam chooses death. In Adam we are called to hear God and walk with him, working in creation to subdue and create through our fruitfulness in obedience to God. This is the eternal blessing of the image within us. Yet our pride of heart and our grasping after our own will separate us from this love and purpose, so our existence is futile. But God has committed to redeeming the life he has put within us, revealed in God speaking through the story of Noah. God does not give up on humanity.

This tells us that so that we are free to love, we are also freed to choose death. In Adam we choose death and are eternally lost to God. But God does not give up on us because he loves us.

In my imagination, we are Isaac, willingly bound by our own nature. Abraham is the father we love and trust and he is about to slaughter us. The law of life and death in Abraham will take our lives. God steps in and Abraham looks up and sees the lamb. The law of life and death is fulfilled in slaughtering the lamb. Jesus is our lamb and God is pleased. The lamb takes our place and dies instead of us. We are no longer subject to death at the hands of Abraham and we live. Death is defeated- Isaac walks free. The life that Isaac has is the gift of the blood of the lamb. The lamb’s life becomes Isaac’s life.

This strange story helps us understand the nature of obedience and how we are to walk with God. God is pleased to work in and through Abraham: God is glorified in faith and obedience to his speaking within us. God will use our spirit’s to move us on into a deepening understanding of faith and does not leave us alone. He will act to affirm us in our faith, testing our obedience to his voice within, and lead us to a more perfect understanding of himself by revealing his eternal will. Isaac is us and, in the sacrifice of the lamb, the lamb becomes Isaac and the mystery of our faith is that this is eternally true and is the freedom that enables us to love God. The Cross takes into itself this story. The Cross takes into itself the story of creation. The Cross is where God’s love is glorified. The Cross shows us perfect love. The Cross is where it is all heading.

Love is only love if it is authentic. If love is to be authentic there has to be a choice and to not choose life is to choose death. Love is not pleased by the death of the object of its love. This is the dreadful position Abraham finds himself in. Isaac is the embodiment of the promise and the story is that the word of God to Abraham is to slaughter Isaac. In God there is love- for love to be authentic the object of God’s love must die. The image of God in every person must suffer death.

God provided Abraham with a lamb which Abraham chooses to sacrifice in the place of Isaac. Isaac receives back his life in the death of the lamb. God is pleased with Abraham and Abraham fulfils the word of God to slaughter Isaac by slaughtering the lamb. So that the choice to love is authentic there must be death- we must be freed to choose death. The penalty of the gross sin of not obeying God is death. The sting of death exists because of love.

This is what we see on the Cross. We are the object of God’s love in which all life exists; outside this love is death and God’s love is so deep for us, his holiness is made perfect in his wrath at un-holiness which would separate us from him. We rightly call God a jealous God in this. Our sin carries the penalty of God’s wrath and his image in creation works this wrath through the freedoms in creation; the very freedoms that allow love. Faith speaks to us of freedom and calls us to repent and atone so that we may be at peace with the God of Love. Jesus is the lamb that atones for our sins and bears the death we deserve. God provides the One who will bear the penalty as he is the lamb who is slaughtered from the beginning. In the Cross the eternal sacrifice of God is revealed. Through the Cross we are moved on to a deeper knowledge of forgiveness, atonement and living the forgiven life. God loves the world through the Cross.

On the cross the penalty for Sin is borne, and we are moved on in faith because the One on the Cross is God, offering his life so that we might live. The life of Isaac becomes the life of the lamb. Isaac’s life is restored because Abraham in faith slaughters the lamb.

God knew only love for Abraham and Abraham loved his son.

 

The Bound Lamb: Gift

 

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A sacrifice is the giving of a gift- the best of our crop; the first of our flock; the precious flour of a cake given from a meagre larder. We know when we give a gift to someone our hope is that in it a person will know that we care for them. We hope the gift will not only show them what we think or feel about them but is a gift just right for them, showing we have understood who they are.

Our sacrifice to God is a gift- a gift to give thanks to the person of God; a way to restore and confirm our relationship- to say sorry or give thanks. As Christians our sacrifice is Christ himself and we are called to be humble and contrite, and offer a sacrifice of praise. We are invited in our offering of faith to live sacrificial lives and through the Spirit the offering is transformed by grace in Christ to goodness – an expression of a will transformed in to God’s will – to participate in the endless grace of God’s giving self: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Before God’s being and unapproachable holiness we are undone. What gift could we give? How could we present a gift to God that could say to God, this is who I believe you to be, and I am sorry for how I have been towards you? What gift could restore within us a sense of who we are, blessed and loved, and who God is, our merciful Father? How can we recover that blessing? Receive the ever present grace of the Fatherhood of God? We cannot! But the Father runs towards us in our acknowledging this and turning to him. As we turn to him we find him waiting with a splendid coat and a ring and he prepares a feast for us and he causes us to stand assured of his love for us.

How is this possible? The offence of sin against God is so deep and our condemnation complete. The depth of the Father’s love understands this and he provides the sacrifice that reveals who he is and who we are in him- this is Christ. Christ lives his life, alive for us and shows the depths of love that we are called to, by offering this life as a sacrifice to God. God gives himself as a gift to us so that we can, in faith, offer the life of Christ as our sacrifice to him for our sins.

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The sacrifice of Christ is sufficient to robe us in righteousness so that we can participate in the feast of God’s goodness. Our faith in Christ to cleanse us and to heal us is our turning back to God.

Jesus’ sacrifice in life ended in death on a cruel cross. The perfect sacrifice of Christ’s life was nailed to the cross. In his life he bore the wrath of God- God’s judgement on a cruel and violent world- and all hell was placed on him as God gave him over to the principalities and powers that ended his life. The authorities nailed him to the cross- they did not know God- they rejected Jesus and he prays: forgive them because they do not know what they are doing. God’s will in Christ was that those who drove the nails into him, who crowned him with thorns and mocked him after scourging him, would be forgiven! In death Jesus descended in to hell; in victory over the principalities and powers, rose again, and ascended into heaven. Our faith is he took our punishment for sin in his death so that we might escape death.

In faith we present the perfect gift of Christ to God. In presenting this gift we say- this is the life you have called us to and this is who you are. In believing in Christ as our saviour we are made free to offer a sacrifice of praise. There is no other gift we can offer except our lives, knowing that in Christ his life is our life. There is no more we can offer. God himself provides the sacrifice and our life is made whole in him: restored and forgiven. The impossible is made possible as we offer our sacrifice of faith and are forgiven, washed and restored.

 

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The Church: Salvation

Sunday 24th July 2016

Psalm 95

Matthew 19:13-26

1 Timothy 4

1 Timothy 4:10
(ESVUK)

10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially of those who believe.

As the church we are the heirs of God’s promise to Abraham, that through his family the world would be blessed .

Genesis 12:3 (ESVUK)

I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

This was the purpose of the faith of Israel and the foundation of all the other promises. We inherit this promise to show God’s glory. In Christ, the source of all blessing, we are made perfect in our lives; in our childlikeness and in our wealth, because by him our hearts are made right. We are part of Abraham’s family of blessing. Through persecution and suffering in our bodies and through our compassion we are a light to the world. As the church we bless the world by being the bearers of truth, in word and in what we do. We are lovers of peace and those who do good works. We are made perfect in Christ to bear witness to him who reveals the Father. In him we are called to a life together, part of Abraham’s family.

There will be those who form the structure and keep the traditions of the family. There will be those who oversee, who serve and those who teach and preach. There will be those called out to minister. But Jesus teaches that true worship isn’t confined to a place, a mountain, a certain city, a temple but amongst those who worship in spirit and truth. Jesus identifies himself not a system as the way, the truth and the life and it is in his person that we know the Father.

As the church, those elected by God to be a blessing in Christ, we need to be aware that if we locate Jesus in a place or amongst a particular gathering we run the risk of placing him on the periphery of our lives. If we locate him in a building or system he is no longer in the world he came to bless. Jesus teaches us to be as he is, in the world but not of the world. The church as the body of Christ is the blessing of Christ in the world. We are called to be in the world but not of the world.

The church, the elect chosen in Christ, is to be the light to the world. We are found in the dark places of the world, not separate from them. In our buildings and structures we can become separated from our calling. We are gathered in truth to do good works prepared for us. Our buildings are to serve the community and if they are in the wrong place we should leave them or find a purpose for them that serves the community around them.

If we see the church as our leaders and our holy places, we are actually a beacon of hopelessness, separate and useless. Our hierarchies and venues carry the message and should serve the truth and good works, teaching the good news of salvation in Christ. We as his people are to redeem the time and have a ready answer to share the source of our hope so that it is clear we are in the world but not of the world, drawn into its futility. The Spirit will reveal what this looks like, but how often we fall into futility and allow our system of being to give us license to be of the world. Do we embrace the system in our backbiting and hunger for influence, where leaders and members demand honours like the rulers and leaders of the world, sitting in honoured places with special privileges? The church of our own making is an idol, our doctrines are idols and our gatherings are idols if we think that through them we know God.

The true church is people working towards peace with one another and working for peace with their neighbours, blessing those around in Christ. It looks like people standing for truth that in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is reconciliation. It will be amongst those who honour people called out to serve, to lead, to preach, teach, evangelise and who gather and care for people. This will not be confined to a time and a place or a person and always, always point away from itself to the Father so it is truly called the church of God.

So to the text 1 Timothy 4:10. It teaches us that we as believers are assured of salvation and Jesus is the saviour of all people. Our reading of Matthew shows us that Christ is sovereign in salvation not us. We do not get to choose through our doctrines or traditions who is saved or not saved; salvation is by faith. Our place is to pray that all may be reconciled to God in Christ without distinction and to serve all- to teach and admonish, provide for, pastor and serve even if there is no love returned and even more so when people appear to be enemies. Jesus shows the way on the cross, asking that even those who killed him would be forgiven; where is our faith here?

In our meeting and discussing we learned that perfection is not an end point but a state of being in Christ realised through our lives, a matter of the heart and, quite powerfully, we were reminded of the image of the family:

When we welcome people into our families they are welcomed on the basis of a shared life. We are saying; you are part of the love that is amongst us and we will extend to you the same care as we extend to the whole family. When you come to our home or to our table, you come on the basis that you are family and as family you will come to know and respect our ways of being, our traditions and enjoy them with us. But first you are family.

We also shared that we are called to a life together, not meeting together, and us meeting cannot substitute for life. The church meeting is our sitting down together and should not be neglected, but we are calling people, with Christ, to a life together not to a meeting. We want those who join us to be joined to our life together not the home and traditions we live in. Coming into our home is because we are family and Jesus teaches to those whose security is their home:

Luke 9:57-58 (ESVUK)

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

 

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Footnotes: Or by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves

 

 

English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

 

The Bound Lamb: Violence

01b555eb613f0f3ee24d6d5c99a34e26c23254d399Do we see the sacrifice of Jesus as an act of violence on the part of God? To describe Christ as being a sacrifice, to our sensibilities is offensive. We do not live in the West in a culture where blood sacrifice is part of our mental framework. We are, for example, removed from the daily animal slaughter made on our behalf so that we can enjoy a Burger. We would not see the taking of these lives as of religious significance though we do care about cruelty.

What did the people hear in the time of the early church when Jesus was described as a blood sacrifice? Their mental framework included, whether Jew or Gentile, animal slaughter as a religious act. For the Jews they had been taught that they were to bring an offering to the Temple to give thanks and atone for their wrong doing. For those with means it would be the best of their flocks or the first fruits of the harvest. For others it would have meant the lives of turtle doves or bringing a couple of cakes. All had the same value and each was a sacrifice signalling to God their need and their obedience to God. They had a need for forgiveness to be at one with God and they had gratitude for God’s provision.

We need forgiveness as the condition of our hearts is that we are wilful and proud. Before God we are broken and poor in spirit. Each day brings troubles. Each day we infringe God’s blessing and other’s freedom. We know suffering in ourselves and compassion draws us out and we feel the suffering of others. We are subject to change and chance and we know pain and guilt. It is so clear that we live under a cloud of self-inflicted harm in what we do and what we don’t do; the way we treat our planet and the people around us. This is our context- we miss the target of the good we know. The prevailing wind in our times is helplessness and anger. We spend our energy on trying to control and effect our own happiness as nations and as individuals. In so doing, as often as not, we do harm and violence.

In our hearts we know the measure of our actions and reverence law and pursue duty. We try our best. But to be happy and to become our best selves we need to be at one with the reality of our sin and can’t brush it under the carpet. We also know that in our struggles we have much to be grateful for. But we need peace. The peace we seek needs to go beyond our everyday experience; beyond our understanding, as the issues are so complex.

The state of goodness- to know peace- is at our hearts. It is our wills in harmony with God’s will. All is well. It is this peace that Christ gives. It is this peace that Christ breathes into us through the Holy Spirit. It has always been so.

The violent sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross achieves this peace. This is the mystery at the heart of Christianity. Jesus is fully human; fully submitted to the will of the Father. Grace teaches that what he has achieved has been achieved for us. The sacrifice of his life on the Cross brings us peace. Jesus giving his life up willingly on the Cross is the offering brought by Jesus on our behalves to God. In Jesus, God himself offers himself as an atoning sacrifice for humanity; being fully human he transforms the violence of the principalities and powers against his body into a sacrifice that reveals God and brings peace to the creation. Through his submission and death, all wrath is stilled and calmed and peace is victorious. The silence of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, in the face of death silences the Law: the goodness that is God’s alone brings peace so that the Law is fulfilled and brought to its end, perfected, in Christ’s obedience to the Father.

The Law and the consequences of the Law- the wrath of God- were visited on Jesus by the principalities and powers. They met pure goodness. A fully human will, at one with the will of God, endured forsakenness and death, the sting of the Law. Such love! A love that knows and trusts the faithfulness of God and embraces God’s will, triumphs in God’s wrath and brings peace where there is violence.

The wrath of God is his justice and mercy, brought to its fullness in the sacrifice of Jesus. To take a human life is pure evil. The judgement on the murderer is death. The taking of life demands the loss of life. This is the wrath of God. Through the agency of creation the wrath of God against all un-holiness is worked out.

Jesus did not deserve the wrath of God- he was sinless. Even though he was fully God he did not grasp at equality but, fully human, was born, suffered and died a cruel death, a death because of our wilfulness we deserve. Being fully God the mystery is that he bore the fullness of God’s wrath as, in his humanity, at the hands of the principalities and powers, he was slaughtered. The mystery is that in Jesus, God grafts humanity into himself and the power of Jesus’ actual death is that it pays the price of all God’s wrath for all sin. Death is the price of the just and merciful wrath of God against all sin.

The mystery is that Jesus defeated death and rose to new life, the first fruits of all humanity who by faith, receive forgiveness for their sins because of the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus Christ’s victory is made our victory by faith! We are given new life in him and, through the Holy Spirit, a taste of eternity’s blessing; peace and reconciliation to God.

As the Church we are the elect, chosen to bring the blessing of the peace of Christ to the world. The church stands as a lamp that cannot be hidden; a city on a hill. We are the salt that brings savour to the creation. This is our privilege, the treasure found in heaven- the seed sown in eternity. We are those who follow Christ, a harvest, the first fruits of which is Christ. We make our election sure as we bring Christ’s blessing in to the world. We are to bless those around us, a remnant of the blessing that was for all humanity. Restored to this blessing and forgiven we know new life and become the life that blesses the world. Elect for God’s purpose- in Christ we are redeemed to that original blessing God purposes in his creating. We are those who bring peace even in persecution, even in our own suffering and death. We are those who persevere in love in the face of continuing wrath, safe in the victory over wrath won on the Cross of Christ.

Yes, Christ is the fulfilment of the sacrificial system- God offering himself to himself so that in Christ we can offer an acceptable sacrifice of praise. His goodness becomes our goodness. Truly the pure in heart see God and know his tender mercies. The wrath of God is turned away and transformed to peace in Christ. The Lord is good to all! In this life and in the next, Christ has the victory. His mercies never end and great is our reward in his presence. There is no condemnation in him and he will not abandon us to the gates of hell. Nothing can separate us from the love of God- wrath will not prevail. We are blessed. We are blessed. We are blessed.

All nations will bow the knee as Christ comes again in victory- some will suffer loss but Christ has set a limit to the suffering for the sake of the elect we are told. This is God’s heart revealed in this world. When heaven and earth are made one, there will be no pain or hurt, all tears will be wiped away, as all creation is redeemed in Christ it is written. Will all people be saved?

God has the power to save all people and on the Cross all sin is dealt with. His love has no end, but there is a lake of fire for the final destruction of the principalities and powers. Will those conformed to the principalities and powers follow them to destruction? The truth is that in our wilfulness this is where we start and we need to offer a sacrifice of praise for the provision for forgiveness in Christ and, through faith in his having made the final sacrifice for sin, we can offer our lives as a sacrifice to God.

We cry, your will be done oh Father! You turn mourning into dancing.