EASTER DAY.  31/03/24.  Readings : Mark 16:1-8 & Luke 24:13-24


But they did not see Jesus.”  What an amazing statement!

They didn’t see him because he wasn’t there, but today there are all sorts of wild theories out there about what actually happened that first Easter.  Some think that Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross, he just fainted from the pain and the fatigue, and they thought that he was dead, so they took him down too early.


Others think that he did die, that he was buried, but that the disciples stole his body and pretended that he had risen again. 


Still others say that the disciples were hallucinating, and that Jesus didn’t really come back to life at all.  Still more genuinely think that the whole thing’s a myth, because Jesus didn’t exist anyway.


But the majority of people don’t give it a second thought, they just enjoy the chocolate.  


Let’s pray   Lord Jesus, at the moment your physical body couldn’t take it any more,   when you said “It is finished”,   when you bowed your head and gave up your spirit,   when the earth shook and the rocks split,   and when the sun stopped shining, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom giving us access into the Holy of Holies, into the presence of God, into His loving arms. 


And from the moment that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome discovered that there was no body to anoint, we have been able to join them in celebrating your resurrection.  


Help us this morning, as we come around your word, to fully understand the significance of Easter, and to bask in your mercy, your grace and your love.  Amen.


Much as I would like to get into some of those “wild” theories that I was just talking about, I’m going to resist the temptation, but I will come back to them briefly later. 


Jesus had been lodging in Bethany, only about 2 miles from Jerusalem, staying with close friends, Martha, Mary and Lazarus.  On Palm Sunday he rode the colt of a donkey into Jerusalem, that in itself a miracle, to the tumultuous acclaim of the crowds.

The next day during supper, to the consternation of some of the disciples, Mary lavishly poured valuable perfume on Jesus’ head.


Maybe this had been the final straw for poor Judas, maybe the apparent waste had been the thing that had triggered his cowardly betrayal.  We will never know.


Meanwhile Jesus was trying to cushion the blow for the other disciples by telling them what was about to happen, but either they didn’t understand, or they couldn’t understand, or they just didn’t want to.


Put yourself in their shoes ….


But then it did happen. What Judas did released a terrifying and unstoppable chain of events, and on Friday Lectio 365 graphicly described the physical torment of crucifiction that Jesus would have experienced. That evening we spent some time working our own way through those events, reminding ourselves of the horror, and allowing ourselves to feel some of those emotions.


And then, astoundingly, unbelievably, wonderfully, …, very early in the morning, those dear ladies got the fright of their lives. The tomb was not only open, it was empty.  What on earth was going on? They would instantly have come up with all sorts of ideas about what could have happened to the dead body, but did they, for one moment, think that Jesus was alive again?


We heard that they were afraid, but I imagine that their overall feeling was one of distress, and that’s why I just love what the angel said to them, so softly, so caringly. 


“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”  


Did you notice that he said “tell his disciples and Peter”.  Poor Peter, distraught that he could possibly have fallen into the trap of denying Jesus, had probably taken himself off somewhere, to be on his own, so the angel particularly wanted him to hear the good news too.  And what good news it was !

That same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.”  Oh, I just love this story, and some of you will have heard me preach about it, and other preachers too, I don’t doubt.

What I really love about it is when Luke says that it was when they were having supper together, that he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.  It was thenthat their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and as they did so, poooph, he disappeared from their sight.  They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”  Oh, how I wish I could have been there on that road. 

What did those two men do? “They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord hasrisen and has appeared to Simon.” Then Cleopas and his friend told what had happened to them on the way, and how they recognized Jesus when he broke the bread.  

When he broke the bread. How pertinent was that?

Going back to where I started, the point that I’m trying to make this morning was that there was no deception. The idea that Jesus didn’t die isn’t realistic.  The Romans killed people on crosses all the time and they knew what they were doing.  Added to which, unlike the other two being crucified with him that day, Jesus had also been beaten to within an inch of his life only a short time beforehand.  The soldiers could see that he was dead, but in order to prove the fact to themselves and to the authorities, they pierced his side with a spear.  The gush of blood and water gave them the medical proof that they were looking for. 


The idea that his body was stolen is equally ridiculous. Jesus’ execution had been high profile, and the tomb was being closely guarded for exactly the reason that the authorities didn’t want any monkey business, or any false news. 


As for mass hallucination, well that idea doesn’t hold any water at all. 


And the point of all that is that what happened that first Easter had been forecast on numerous occasions throughout the Old Testament.  It was forecast by Jesus himself. And the historical evidence that it really happened, just as it was recorded in the New Testament, is irrefutable. 

But people look for all sorts of weird and wonderful excuses not to believe, because being a Christian in western society today is just too inconvenient.  Well, I’m sorry, but they need to wake up and smell the coffee. They just need to get real. There IS life after death, and we get to choose where we want to spend it, amazing though that might seem.


Talking of smelling coffee, sometimes I look at what’s going on in the world and I despair.  Then I think, “Oh well, it doesn’t affect me personally, YET.  Just enjoy life while you can.”  


But what I should realise is that the world is not spinning out of control, even though all the evidence suggests that it might be.  God IS in control, and he did’nt send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. I should remember that whoever believes in him is not condemned, but that it is whoever does not believe, those people that I was just talking about, they stand condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.  This is the verdict, this is adapted from John chapter 3, as I’m sure you realise, this is the verdict: light has come into the world, but strangely people love darkness instead of light, and it’s because their deeds are evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” (John 3:17-21)


That, my friends, is the good news of Easter, and it’s OUR job to share it. 


Let’s pray,  Jesus, we have an expression that the best things in life are free, and it’s true enough, but THE one single BEST thing ever is certainly free – your forgiveness for sins, past, present and future, your infinite mercy, your unmerited grace, freedom.  That’s what your resurrection signifies, proves, promises, provides. How can we ever thank you enough? Amen. 

PALM SUNDAY 2024 – 24/03/24. Readings Matthew 21:1-11 (The triumphal entry) & Matthew 26:36-46 (Gethsemane)

In Jesus day all Jewish males were obliged to go up to Jerusalem at least 3 times a year, for the three pilgrimage festivals. One of those was the sabbath prior to Passover, which, as you know, was when they celebrated God's deliverance from bondage in Egypt. It was called the ‘Great Sabbath’ and on that day Jerusalem would have been full to bursting with people, particularly men.

It’s interesting, though perhaps not surprising, that ALL FOUR gospels recount Jesus entering Jerusalem that day, on a donkey, to the wild acclamation of the crowds who laid clothes and palm leaves on the road ahead of him.  

Fascinating though the events of that first Palm Sunday are, I want to talk about something that happened four days later, on what we now call Maundy Thursday. 

On Palm Sunday last year, we went into some detail about what happened at the Last supper, we didn’t, however, talk about Peter.  

Peter’s name is mentioned 27 times by Matthew, 22 times by Mark, 34 by John and 91 by Luke, 19 times in his gospel and 72 more times in the book of Acts. 

He was born in Bethsaida, a small fishing village, in a desolate area on the north-eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. That was also the home of the apostles Andrew, his brother, and Philip. It was where Jesus restored a blind man's sight, and not far from where Jesus miraculously fed the five thousand

Peter’s real name was Simon, until, that is, an incident that we’ll hear about in a couple of minutes.

He and Andrew were simple fishermen, even after the resurrection of Jesus. It was he, apparently, who owned the boat that Jesus used to preach to the multitudes.

He must have been married, although possibly widowed by the time he became a disciple, because Luke says that Jesus healed is mother-in-law.

According to Matthew, he and Andrew were Jesus very first disciples, and it seems clear from the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life that Peter was one of his closest friends, along with John and Lazarus, who, incidentally he had raised from the dead only about 10 days earlier, causing a huge stir, and not a little consternation among the Jewish leaders.

But let’s not digress. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, and after Pentecost, Peter went on to become one of the first leaders of the early Christian Church. Catholic tradition says that he was the first bishop of Rome‍, ‌and also as the first bishop of Antioch.

It is generally accepted that he was crucified in Rome, upside down, under the infamous Emperor Nero. 

All that to say that Luke records a strange conversation, an aside even, that took place during that Passover supper party. It’s quite short, and may even have been out of the earshot of the others.

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat.  But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”  But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

We’ll come back to Peter in a moment, let’s move on in time, just a little, to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus, after a long, lonely night of prayer, had just told His disciples “O.K. guys, up you get, let’s go, here’s the betrayer.”  Mark tells the story this way; 

Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man. Seize him and lead him away under guard.” And when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” And he kissed him. And they laid hands on him and seized him. But one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Mark 14:44-47 (ESVUK)


The full weight of Judas’ premeditated betrayal is seen in Mark’s description: he is one of the twelve, he greets Jesus as ‘Rabbi,’ that’s a Jewish person qualified to act as a religious teacher and a spiritual leader, and he kisses him. In those days, a kiss on the cheek was commonly used for greeting and would imply both friendship and acceptance.  Quite similar, I suppose, to what we do in France today.

Only a matter of hours earlier Jesus had predicted this moment, though he hadn’t said exactly when it would take place, or who would be the perpetrator.  When Judas had got up and left the room before the meal had ended, the others probably thought he had gone to answer a call of nature or pay the bill, or something like that. They didn’t really give it any thought as they eventually got up from the dinner table to move out to the garden, to enjoy the cool of the evening, and the quiet peacefulness of the place, because they were clearly shocked when he appeared out of nowhere, among the olive trees, some of which are thought to be still there by the way, leading a group of priests and soldiers into the garden.

What the other disciples must have felt in this moment would have been immense. Judas, let’s remember, wasn’t just an acquaintance, or even a friend; he was one of them. They had been in ministry training together for THREE YEARS. 

For goodness’ sake, what on earth did he think he was doing? Had he gone off his rocker? 

Betrayal by those closest to you can be one of the most painful and challenging things we face in life. Loved ones who let us down. Friends who hurt us. Family members who fail us when we need them most. 

In the shock of the moment, we’re told, one of those who stood by drew his sword. According to John, that was our friend Peter.  Perhaps those comments that Jesus had made to him earlier in the evening were beginning to sink in. 

How easy it is for betrayal and fear to lead to anger and violence. We don’t carry physical swords, but we can very easily become aggressive with our words. The old adage is true: hurt people hurt people.  

Doubtless this is why Jesus’ brother James, later wrote “When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. …. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.  

Jesus was carted off to spend a night of what only be described as a living hell. Abuse, illegal trials, beatings, and more abuse.  While that was going on Peter sneaked into the courtyard, where he was recognised by a young girl, and where once again his humanity got the better of him, and he denied even knowing Jesus, not once but three times. 

Later, Jesus forgave him and declared that he would be the foundation stone of the church, which, as we have heard, was indeed what happened. 

We’ve all read this story many times, and perhaps we have said to ourselves “How could Peter have been so stupid, so fickle, so unfaithful, so stupid … ?”

But if we put ourselves in his shoes, we might not have done much better.

When we each have a few quiet moments later today, let’s ask ourselves whether the words we choose and the way we talk to others, the way we treat them, the way be use our resources, the way we live, do they also, sometimes, deny what we believe about Jesus? 

And then let’s take that opportunity to apologise, and to recommit.

On Friday evening we’re going to spend an hour quietly reflecting on the crucifiction and then next Sunday we’re going to celebrate the most extraordinary victory the world has ever witnessed.

Let’s pray. Father God, as we recognise the hurt places in our own hearts, where we have been betrayed or harmed by those we trusted, we ask for Your healing hand to help us process that pain in a way that doesn’t hurt others, but rather leads us deeper into an intimate, growing and flourishing relationship with You. Thank You for Your faithfulness: With our whole hearts we put our trust in you, once again, today.  Amen.


Lent 5 – 17/03/24.  Readings Ephesians 3:14-21 and Ephesians 5:1-2, 8-11 & 17-20

If you had to use one single word to describe what happened on Good Friday, what would it be? Pain? Humiliation? Agony? Grief? 


Or would it be “love”? John 3:16 that I quoted last week tells us that “God so loved the world, that he gave his one, and only son, …


John’s gospel is, among other things, a call to discipleship, and, in order to explain what that should look like he quotes Jesus also saying, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.(NKJV).


Love is one of the fruits of the spirit listed in Galatians, and therefore the topic of one of our Lent Bible studies. But, as we look towards the world changing events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, love also has to be one of the underlying themes of Lent.


On Wednesday, at the Lent group, we talked about faithfulness.  God’s faithfulness to us, ours to him, and ours to other people, be they fellow believers or not. Faithfulness, we decided, is a demonstration of both integrity and love.

The way that we love one another, therefore, demonstrates the depth of our faith, and that’s perhaps why, as we’ve just heard in Ephesians, when Paul prayed for his fellow believers, he prayed that God would “strengthen them with power through his Spirit in their inner being, and that Christ would dwell in their hearts through faith; so that they, being rooted and grounded in love, would be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height of the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge; that they might be filled with all the fullness of God(adapted from Ephesians 3:17–19). With each passing day, Paul wanted God’s people to become more and more like Christ.


Jesus’ call was, and still is, to “ your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,(Matthew 5:44, NKJV). It’s a challenge that we must take seriously. But that can only happen through the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. That’s what enables us to turn the other cheek when we are wronged, and to learn to forgive “seventy times seven”.


In his book “The Triumph of Christianity”, historian Rodney Stark reports on two devastating Greco-Roman plagues (probably smallpox) that left many of their victims dead. Pagans, he said, were “throwing infected members of their own families into the streets even before they died, in order to protect themselves from the disease.” Many fled for their lives. Yet Christians fearlessly remained in place to nurse the suffering, bury the dead, and to lovingly minister to those in need, even at the expense of their own lives. 


“Christ’s love in us” he says “is a way of being, a way of thinking, a way of acting, and a way of living that is counterintuitive to those who have not experienced his grace.” 


Tertullian, a second-century scholar, reported that citizens of Rome, with amazement, would proclaim of the first Christians, “See how they love one another!” 


Justin Martyr, another early Christian philosopher, wrote, “We who used to value the acquisition of wealth and possessions more than anything else, now bring what we have into a common fund and share it with anyone who needs it. We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies.” 


In Christ, the sins of selfishness and pride are replaced with patience, humility, and a deep rejoicing because Christ has shown us, through love, the way to obtain true freedom. “Therefore, be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma(Ephesians 5:1–2)


This is what we are all called to do.  This is what we all try to do … but we don’t always succeed.  


But when we don’t succeed, when we trip and fall, God is gracious.  He picks us up, dusts us down, and lovingly gives us another chance.  That’s grace!


We are about to hold our Annual General Meeting, so that’s all I’m going to say this morning, except that the AGM is the moment when, each year, we look back at the year behind us, at what we have done, and what we have failed to do, and we look forward to what we plan to do in the future. 


But how do we do that? How do we measure what we’ve done, and what we haven’t, what we think we should do this year, and in the future?  Can I suggest that it might be by the way that we love one another, and thereby demonstrate not only the depth of our faith, but also God’s unconditional love, the love of Christ that Paul told the Ephesians and the Philippians “surpasses knowledge (NIV) or “passes all understanding” in King James parlance, and especially by the way that we demonstrate that love to those who have yet to experience it?


Let’s pray …. Father, we live in a world where physical and spiritual loneliness has become an epidemic impacting the mental and physical health of thousands.  At the creation of the world, you declared that it was not good for a person to be alone. You made us for community and for purposeful relationships. 


Father, we live in a world where, rather than bringing us together, the virtual world of social media and the internet is actually pushing us apart, and where the decline in wellbeing is resulting in a decline in participation in the church, where even Christians take part in church less and less. 


We pray that, as we meet this morning, you would guide our discussions and be present in our decisions, so that your church in Mirepoix would become a place of welcome to both Christians and non-Christians alike, expressing the love of Jesus and the good news of the gospel message to our local community.  We ask this in Jesus’ eternal name, Amen. 

Lent 4 – 10/03/24 – Readings: John 3:1-8 & John 3:9-21

You may not have heard of someone called René Robert. He was a Swiss photographer renound for taking pictures of Spain’s most famous flamenco dancers.

On 22th January 2022, while on one of his nightly walks around the busy Paris neighbourhood where he lived, he slipped over.

Unable to get up, he lay on the cold pavement for nine hours until a homeless person, a modern day “Good Samaritan”, called the emergency services. 

But sadly too late. René had hypothermia and couldn’t cling on to life. Over the course of those nine hours no passerby had stopped to check why he was lying on the pavement. Not one. 

But one, just one, would have been enough to save his life.

I was talking, last week, about Jesus’ focus on building his church, and about what that means for us. We also looked briefly at the parable of the Good Samaritan, a story about love that goes beyond the call of duty.

Today, as we continue to walk through Lent, let’s take another look at that love. 

An American missionary couple in Paris, let’s call them John and Jane, recently said “France is now the fourth largest atheist country in the world, and because of that most people have lived their entire lives and never even heard the gospel message of Jesus. 

Think about this for a minute, in France there is only 1 church for every 30 000 people and for most people, not only will they never meet a Christian, they will never even walk into the same room as one. The only way that they are aver going to hear about Jesus is if someonegoes and tells them. 

But people here want nothing to do with Jesus. If we were to invite someone to church, they would say “no”. So instead we invite them for dinner. We use hospitality, and relationships with people to introduce them to us, but with the hope of ultimately introducing them to Jesus. We have found often that people first must belong, before they can believe. We have to build the right to be heard. First they share their story with us and then we can share ourstory with them.”

“Let me tell you about my friend Betsy,” said Jane, “I met her at a birthday party. There was a bunch of kids running around, it was crazy, super-loud, really hard to have a conversation. So we decided to meet for coffee. In our conversation it came up that I was a Christian, and Betsy immediately said “Stop, don’t you dare talk to me about God.” 

So I changed the subject and we started talking abut the weather and about our kids, and just left it to a very basic conversation, but it was really good and we decided to get together again, to take our kids at the playground together, to meet with our husbands, to invite them over for dinner. We had really good conversations, good quality time with each other, but never did I mention God again. Over time she just poured out her soul and one day said “thank you so much for caring for me and reaching out.”

They witnessed our Christian testimony as they saw how we lived. For instance, we would say grace before meals. We got to know them both well, and about two years after we met Betsywe got this phone call from her and she said “Can we get together? I have to ask you a question.”

So we got together with her, and as she sat in our living room she said “OK. Here’s my question. Because my husband is African, and I’m European, and our kids are bi-racial, everyone treats us differently. But in the two years that we have known you, never once have we felt that you treated us differently. Why? What makes you different from anyone else that I have ever met?”

She asked us that question, and we said “Well, we believe that God loves us, with an unconditional love, regardless of where we’re from or what language we speak, or where we grew up, or what our skin looks like, or the makeup of our family. God loves us regardless, and because of that we want to love you with that same unconditional love.

And so we were able to tell her about Jesus, and her response was this, I’ll never forget the words she said. “This is the most refreshing thing I’ve ever heard. You are the most refreshing people I’ve ever met, this is the most refreshing conversation I’ve ever had.” She must have used the word ‘refreshing’ 7 or 8 times. 

That’s a long way, in two years, from “Don't you dare ever talk to me about God” to “The unconditional love of God is the most refreshing thing I’ve ever heard.”

And so, yes, France is hard, people are aggressively against religion, but when they encounter the true love of God, that hardness is broken. And that only happens over long, consistent, faithful presence in people’s lives. The people here are worth it, and Jesus is worth it, whatever surrender, whatever sacrifice that might require, because the people here may never hear unless someone takes the trouble to tell them.”

Isn’t that a beautiful story? 

One of the best known verses in the Bible, possibly THE best known, and which we heard this morning is this “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

The Message translation renders it this way “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.

That comes from the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus, the one that we heard earlier. It’s not really a “Lent“ story ‘per se’ because it happened way back, even before Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist. But in a way it is because it’s what Lent is all about.

If you have children, you’ll know how precious they are to you. If you only have one, he or she is even more precious.

God gave his for René Robert. God gave his for Betsy. God gave his for my next-door neighbours, although they have yet to grasp it. 

Why did God do that? Because “he so loved the world”. He loved the world with a love that is unconditional, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free, a love that goes way beyond the call of duty.  That’s why, in just a moment we’re going to sing “There is a Redeemer, Jesus, God's own Son, precious Lamb of God, Messiah.”

Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, you have filled your world with beauty: Open our eyes to behold your gracious hand in all your works; that, rejoicing in your whole creation, we may learn to serve you with gladness; for the sake of him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. 

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lent 3 – 03/03/24 – Readings: Matthew 16:13-21 & Luke 10:25-37

During Lent we’re taking a sort of bird’s eye view of what was happening in Jesus’ life in the run-up to the crucifixion. Last week he “resolutely set out for Jerusalem”, where he knew he would have to meet his unenviable fate.

The passage that we just read from Matthew is very similar to the one we read from Luke two weeks ago, but Matthew tells us something that Luke didn’t, and that is that after Peter had declared Jesus to be the Messiah, he said to Peter “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

I will build my church That was now Jesus focus.

Last week we looked at the Transfiguration, and then at the rather surprising comments that Jesus’ made to three men who wanted to become followers.

In the relatively short period between the Transfiguration and the Last Supper, Jesus told lotsof parables.  We can’t say exactly how long that period was, Bible scholars have different takes on the precise time line. But the very fact that Jesus knew his time was limited, and in view of what I just said about him building his church, by telling these parables he was effectively laying the foundation stones. They are therefor particularly relevant and pertinent today.

Among them were the parable of the Good Samaritan, the parable of the Rich Fool, the parable of the Mustard Seed, the Narrow Door, the Great Banquet, the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, the Lost Son, the Shrewd Manager, the Rich Man and Lazarus, the Persistent Widow, and the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. I’m sure that there were others. You’ve certainly heard messages about many of them, maybe all of them. We spent 10 weeks looking at some of them ourselves, not many months ago. 

But before we move on to any parables today, can I bring is back to where we were at the end of last week because it’s one of those foundation stones.

Luke had recorded Jesus as having said something to his disciples, just before he took Peter, James and John off to witness the transfiguration. Both Matthew and Mark recorded it too, so it must have made quite an impression on everybody. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 

This year I’ve been really enjoying Every Day with Jesus. Quite co-incidentally, commenting on this same statement this Monda, it said this: “These are not words that fit comfortably with today’s culture; on the contrary, we live in a world in which we are encouraged to put ME first, to AVOID any kind of sacrificial living, and to follow our OWN feelings and desires. This attitude is the narrative of history, with the devil himself persuading people that a world where we are absent from God is best. Take what you want, do what you like, YOU are more important than anyone else.

We are surrounded by questions such as ‘Why not do what I want?’ ‘What harm can it do?’ ‘Aren’t we entitled?’ ‘Aren’t we free?’ And yet we find that one in four people are in therapy, four out of five people started this year in debt, and the Doomsday Clock sits at 90 seconds to midnight. 

The Doomsday Clock, by the way, (I had to look it up in Wikipedia), is a symbol that represents the likelihood of a human-made global catastrophe. 

EDWJ goes on: “This doesn’t sound like a life in control. Where is the joy? Where is the deep peace? A life absent from God is a life not being lived. In John 14:6 Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life”. He encourages everyone to surrender their old life and to receive His new life; to hold our hands up and let go of the vanity of this age and enter his grace and love.

To deny yourself means to put God first. It does not mean that you’ll miss experiencing and appreciating good things in life, but it poses two questions ahead of our desires: “Lord, what is your will in these things?” And “Lord, what would you have me do?” 

And yes, sometimes he will say ‘no’ to our desires. At times we will feel a conviction to make choices that go against the flow. There will be moments when the Bible is clearly telling us how to live, and there will be days when it feels like His leading is like carrying a cross. But every time we surrender and follow, He will lead us into His goodness, which satisfies far more than anything we can create. 

This is a perfect introduction to the Parable of the Good Samaritan which Jesus told, along with others, to talk about showing love and mercy to win the hearts of the unsaved. You know it well, I’m sure. 

But of all Jesus' parables, none has worked its way deeper into Western consciousness than this one, with the possible exception of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The expression "good Samaritan" is often used to describe someone who goes out of his way to help someone else.

Jesus was talking to a religious lawyer that he met somewhere in Judea, a man who would have been skilled in interpreting the Jewish Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. 

Although he answered Jesus’ question about the greatest commandment correctly, Jesus immediately saw the man's motive, which was to expose Jesus' apparent naiveté in contrast to his own sophistication and intellectual prowess. That’s why he asked Jesus a very picky andphilosophical question "And who, exactly, is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29b)

So Jesus immediately dreamt up this story about a man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, the one that we’ve just heard. 

Traveling alone was dangerous in those days, the robbers on the Jericho road were known to be desperate men who would attack you just for the value of your clothing. But that wasn’t the point that Jesus wanted to make. 

If any one of the passers by in the story should have stopped and helped that poor man, you would have expected it to be the priest. But he didn’t, he was more concerned about his spiritual purity. 

The Levite could have been expected to stop and help too, but he didn’t either. Instead it was a Samaritan, a member of a people who were particularly hated by the Jews of Jerusalem in Jesus' day. They were looked upon as half-breeds and heretics, and so the Jews did everything they could not to associate with them. 

For Jesus to portray the Samaritan as the caring person, after a priest and a Levite had failed to show any care or mercy, must have been intended to be especially biting to this man who considered himself to be among the pillars of Judaism.

No, the parable wasn’t about the dangers of traveling alone, nor was it really about helping people in need. It was about the temptation that we all face to make excuses. It was also about self-justification, about racial prejudice and about letting oneself off the hook. And of course it is also about love that goes far beyond the call of duty.

Let’s think about that for a moment. ... Are we guilty of making excuses, … of self-justification, … of racial prejudice, .. of letting ourselves off the hook?

Last week we said that true discipleship requires four things, self-sacrifice, discomfort, different priorities, and focus.  Maybe we should add a fifth, love that goes beyond the call of duty.