look back it now, and I think to myself “Why didn’t I see it coming, why wasn’t I more aware?”
Hope Valley...caving! Stuck...how did I get here?
When you’ve realised you’re in the middle of a big problem you’ve got no choice but to go back.
So I inch backwards…]
Then…you realise you’re in even worse trouble than you thought you were in.
I think that is in many ways the situation of the people in this city of Poseidon Antioch.
For generations, God had promised that we would bless the Israelite people who are descendants from Abraham…they were promised…
But here in the first Century, the overwhelming experience for the Jewish people is disappointment… reduced to small gatherings, banded together - in the Roman empire you kept your head down and your nose clean.
The Jewish nation was stuck…
So Paul, a Jewish man, who thinks he’s found the key to helping his countrymen, does what you do when you’re stuck and can’t seem to move forward to the promised goal - he inches them back through vital events in their history so they can see what went wrong.
On his scenic tour of memory lane (verses 16-23), he takes them to:
Slavery and escape from Egypt
The 40 years wandering in the desert - that was when they had a brilliant leader called Moses who took them by the hand - until he died.
The entering of the promised land - that when they had another brilliant leader called Joshua who took them by the hand - until he died.
And then there was the movement from tribal chiefs called Judges through to their first royal family, up to the great king David who took them by the hand and brought them into a time of spiritual and national prosperity - until (you’ve guest it) - he died.
Did you notice the theme?
When they had a good king or leader - the people prospered, and when they didn’t everything went wrong.
Romantic advice on the phone….
For the Jewish nation the stakes were higher when they lost their guide, left to their own devices the people got stuck…and here they were centuries on from the promises to Abraham and life was as bad as it had ever been.
It’s here though, we see the story of Jewish history and our story begin to merge, because like the Jews when we also don’t have a guide we get stuck.
Have you ever thought it was strange that in a world of such uncertainty, we find ourselves so frequently disappointed when our plans don’t work out.
How many of us are trapped in stories and cycles that continually repeat themselves in our minds, that quietly make us ugly from the inside out. Stuck.
Just like the Jews in the synagogue in this passage, we know we need help to flourish in life, to get unstuck from self-destructive behaviour and mind games, we also need someone to take us by the hand.
Earlier this year the Government published a report on the need to tackle loneliness:
more than 9 million people always or often feel lonely
around 200,000 older people have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month.
We get that don’t we. Life is too hard to live on our own, it’s why humans thrive in communities. We long for someone to take us by the hand.
Logs are rotten
The problem is our appointed guides let us down, and so we think we’re better off on our own.
So you let go of the hands of others and say to yourself:
“Ok, Then, I need to be my own guide.”
When I struggle with….
Joanna Wood, university of Ontario: three groups (3 months): mediate on self affirming statements; same statements but evaluate them, what is true and what is not; do nothing at all. (After 6 months): group 1 felt the worse
Can I say something controversial (seemingly backed up research) - you can’t successfully be your own guide in life.
You need someone else to take you by the hand.
New logs that can float the rock
By verse 23 we, like the Jews Paul is talking to, long for a guide who will not let us down.
That’s why verses 32-36 talk about a better David.
Psalm 2, which is 2500 year old prophecy describes a king who is the Son of God who won’t die, everyone thought it was talking about this great king David, and Paul in the big reveal says “No”, in verse 36 and 37: “David is dead but Jesus came back to life, which means he’s alive today, so Jesus is the one you’ve got to grab hold of.
Like Nic and Stu, when Jacky I had Reuben we went to antenatal classes, we asked friends about it, got the advice from family members.
Because there is importance in being with people who have been through it.
In difficult times of unknown we want to be led by the hand of someone who understands, but better than that, we want to be led by someone who has actually been through it and come out the other side.
Here’s the thing, only some of us will face the challenge of child birth, or cancer treatment or…
But we will all face death and death always matters to us because we enter death sure of one thing and unsure of something else,
That is we are all absolutely sure we haven’t lived a perfect life. More than that no one, if they’re honest, pretends they haven’t made a mess of it, much of their own doing.
It’s one of the great things about living in Manchester, people have a strong sense of justice: home of trade unionism, to was here the campaign for the vote for women started.
There’s a phrase in North, which has always stood out to me as a soft Southerner, and it’s not the difference between ‘tea’ and ‘dinner’ and it’s not the pronunciation of ‘scone’ or ‘scone’;
it’s what you say to someone who has made a mistake, more than that it’s what you say to someone who doesn’t acknowledge that they’ve made a mistake:
“you need to a take a long hard look in the mirror mate”.
It’s the idea, that if you pause and honestly reflect on your behaviour and motives, you’ll realise that you have not lived as you ought to have lived, you have not loved as you ought to have loved.
Manchester folk love justice, they value honesty, and they know they’re stuck.
The Bible calls those poor behaviours and ugly motivations, where we place ourselves above others through selfishness, where we haven’t lived to the perfect standards of love that the God who made us designed us to live by and flourish by - called sin.
And in a City like ours that prizes justice, and honest self reflection: “take a long hard look in the mirror” - then we know when we face death we’re in trouble.
But what we as a city don’t know, is if there is a God waiting for us the otherside who will hold us to account.
and that’s why verse 37 is so striking: the claim is that Jesus is God, that’s why he didn’t stay dead, he is the God of justice who will hold us to account,
and, he the one we’ve been looking for who understands the pain of life and the loss of death and the preciousness of living, and he can take us through the great unknowns - because he’s been through it first.
Thai cave… they were stuck, ……
Verse 38 is our “Tuesday 10th July” moment. Jesus who has been through the dangerous unknown, calls to us, I’ve been through the worst of life, I’ve been through death, he offers us his hand and says come with me and I promise you’ll be safe.
Vs 38: 38 “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.
In other words: Jesus lived the perfect life, died on a cross to take the just punishment for our sin and was resurrected back to life - take the hand of the one who understands you and knows how to bring you home.
And this is all a free gift to you through accepting the forgiveness from Jesus. A forgiveness of ‘every sin’.
A forgiveness that would be impossible to achieve on your own.
Margarta Laski: “I envy you Christians because I have no one to forgive me.”
My Jesus says: “Recognise the crisis you’re in. Admit you’re stuck. Take my hand, receive forigveness, and know with certainty I will never leave your side, no matter what unknowns you pass through.
Benjy is ….years old, and life ahead of him is full of wonder and unknowns…doesn’t the idea that the one who pulls the strings of the universe taking his hand through all that is ahead of him, a wondrous comfort. That is an invitation to you too.
There are two responses to this invitation in verses 44-52.
The first one is rejection:
In Verse 45, we’re told that a significant group reject him. And it’s not polite rejection either, they’re furious, I guess in common jargon, we’d call them: “haters”. It’s not merely described as disagreement but abuse.
But in verse 46 Paul gives us a fascinating insight:
“We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.
Did you see that, “ do not consider yourself worthy.”
I think, if you’re a Christian or not a Christian, we’re all surprised at that statement aren’t we.
Everyone is in agreement that the most offensive part of the Christian message, is that no one is worthy to stand before a good, perfect and just God.
I always thought, that if you’re a Christian it means you agree: you’re not worthy and so have accepted that you need Christ.
And if you’re not a Christian, you think you are worthy and if there is a God, you’ll be fine - so you have no need of Christ.
But, Paul says: the reason people reject Christianity here is because they have (literally) judged themselves to be undeserving of a restored relationship with the God who made them.
I did meet a man once at a church event who stood in the shadows at the back…
Paul suggests that some of you are in this guys category, that you have taken a good long look yourself in the mirror and the reason you’ve decided to go your own way in life is because you think God won’t have you.
You’ve got in your head that if you were stuck in the cave, on Tuesday 10th July, you should’ve been left to find your own way out.
If that’s you come back to verse 38:
8 “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.
Look, I don’t know what you’ve heard about Jesus outside this room, but the Jesus I know, says: “I don’t care what you’ve done, I’ll pay it all on the cross if you let me, just take my hand!”
But what’s the difference between those who reject Jesus and those that take his hand?
On the surface very little and in reality everything.
You see, verses 46-48 tells us that gentiles meaning non-Jews, now also have access to the gospel, everyone is invited to become unstuck and take the hand of Jesus.
So if both groups feel unworthy, why does one reject and the other accept?
Look with me at verse 48:
48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord;
In other words, they knew that they shouldn’t be there, they know they don’t deserve it, but they’re willing to trust Jesus’ promise that he’ll keep them safe anyway.
Jacky on the plane…
Our Jesus invites everyone by faith to be with him on the top table and no one deserves to be there, but they get to stay and enjoy it, because he gave us his word.
“Yes” you might say, “but does it work, does taking Jesus’ hand and letting him guide me through life really work?”
Look at verse 52, the disciples are......and yet they are…”filled with joy and with Holy Spirit”.
Let me apply this to Christians for a moment, some of us have forgotten what this joy from God is like. I know I often do. Perhaps we have vague memories of how this used to be but we wouldn’t use that word to describe us now.
If that’s you, let me call to you to remember: who you are, who he is…
How our Jesus wouldn’t go to the length of the ordeal to die on the cross and be raised from the dead for you, only to let go of your hand, when your: job goes bad, relationships turn sour and your medication doesn’t work.
No, our Jesus keeps hold of us, as he promised, just like verses 49-50, that’s why we have a joy even in uncertainty.
Let me finish with this question to us all:
‘When you’re stuck in the uncertainty of life, whose hand do you grasp?’
This is our ‘Tuesday 10th July Moment’ where we know we’re stuck, in crisis, Jesus extends his hand to rescue us.
Will we shrink back into the darkness try to make our own way out, or grasp his hand and find a permanent forgiveness and unshakable joy?