“I am glad to commend Stephen Sizer’s ground-breaking critique of Christian Zionism. His comprehensive overview of its roots, its theological basis and its political consequences is very timely. I myself believe that Zionism, both political and Christian, is incompatible with biblical faith. Stephen’s book has helped to reinforce this conviction.”
To make John’s views on the Place of Israel more widely known I am reproducing his sermon here: Continue reading →
If you went in search of the village of Emmaus today, you would not find it. This Sunday, literally hundreds of millions of Christians around the world will hear the Easter story of the encounter between two disciples and the risen Lord Jesus on the Road to Emmaus. Few however, will hear mention of Emmaus today, or what has happened there in our lifetime. In an article published by If Americans Knew, Sacred Christian Site Emmaus Destroyed by Israel, Alison Weir writes,
“In 1967, after Israel launched its Six Day War, Israel expelled the inhabitants of Emmaus and obliterated almost all traces of the village, along with two other Palestinian villages nearby. This was part of the Israeli strategy, in the words of an Israeli historian, “to take over as much of Palestine as possible with as few Palestinians as possible” Israeli journalist Amira Hass describes Emmaus before it was levelled:
“Schools, mosques, an ancient church, olive presses, paths to fields and orchards, bubbling streams, mountain air, sabra bushes, carob and olive and deciduous trees, harvested fields, graves, water cisterns.” Israel then “brought in the bulldozers and destroyed and detonated and trampled. Not for the first time, not for the last. And the owners of all that beauty – the elderly, the children, the infants – heard and watched the explosions from a kilometre or two away.”
When the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross, how large was the remnant of Israel?
God had promised Abraham that his descendants would be like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore (Genesis 22:17-18). Through the history of God’s people recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures we see the Lord blessing and cursing his people according to their faithfulness (Deuteronomy 11:26-28; 2 Kings 17). Sent into exile first into Assyria and then into Babylon, on each occasion only a remnant returned.
So when Christ died on the cross, how large was the remnant? Where were the remnant who had acclaimed Jesus the Messiah just a week earlier on Palm Sunday? Where were the disciples? Where was Peter and the other Apostles? Who were present at the cross when Jesus died? Mary Magdalene, Mary his mother and the Apostle John. Did they understand what was happening? Were they singing ‘When I survey the wondrous cross”? No, they were weeping. They did not understand.
When Jesus died on the cross he was the sole remnant, the sole faithful remnant of Israel. This is crystal clear from Isaiah 53.
“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6)
Read verse 6 again. “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
When Jesus hung on the cross he was Israel. The remnant was reduced to one man, who died and three days later was raised to new life. In the resurrection narratives we read how Jesus forgives, restores and recommissions his remnant. First, of his apostles (John 20-21), and then after his ascension and bestowing of the Holy Spirit, on the Day of Pentecost, three thousand people of many nationalities were added (Acts 2:41). By Acts 4:4, the remnant had grown to more than five thousand men.
The promises God made to Abraham have and are being fulfilled in and through the Church of Jesus Christ. The Book of Revelation provides a vision of there ultimate fulfilment.
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10)
Was the coming of Jesus the fulfilment or the postponement of the promises God made to Abraham? The Scriptures are clear:
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
The remnant of God’s chosen people are saved by grace through faith and faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ, not race, not law, not works, but grace through faith.
The Cross. It struck fear in the hearts of the world. It was Rome’s ruthless means of control. Excruciating torture. Prolonged agony. Humiliating death. According to Roman custom, the penalty of crucifixion was always preceded by scourging. After this initial punishment, you carried your cross, or at least the transverse beam of it, to the place of execution. Besides the physical pain there was also the psychological torture. Because crucifixion was a public form of execution. The crosses were located by the roadside or at a crossroads. There was no hiding.
You were exposed to the jibes and insults of the people who passed by. Stripped naked, you were bound to the cross with cords and fastened with nails like these here. Roman nails, 2000 years old. Finally, a placard called the titulus bearing your name and your crime, was placed above your head. You would not die of hunger or thirst, but might hang on the cross for days. To breathe, you must stretch upward and stand to take the weight on your legs and off your arms and chest. So if your legs were broken, death would come mercifully swift from asphyxiation.
Beat the clock. Around the clock. Against the clock. Clock in. Carry the day. Once in a blue moon. From now on. In the long run Come of age. A day in the sun. The crack of dawn. Year in, year out. A month of Sundays. Hour of need. Full of the joys of spring. Now or never. The moment of truth. Better late than never. Make my day. Here today and gone tomorrow. A blink of the eye. Days are numbered. What do they all have in common? Time. We say, long time no see. Killing time. Wasting time. Behind the times. On time. Just in time. As time goes by. The nick of time. Do time. Serve time. A whale of a time. Save time. Good time. Ahead of time. No time to lose. The big time. High time. Time is money. Times flies. Crunch time. Out of time. Time for a change. Times up. I counted over 100 expressions for time. They all refer to chronological or sequential time.
Surrender is not a popular word, is it? Almost disliked as much as the word submission. It implies losing, and no one wants to be a loser. Surrender evokes unpleasant images of admitting defeat in battle, forfeiting a game, or yielding to a stronger opponent. The word is almost always used in a negative context. In today’s competitive culture we are taught to never give up and never give in. So, we don’t hear much about surrendering. If winning is everything, to surrender is unthinkable. We would rather dwell on winning, succeeding, overcoming and conquering not yielding, submitting, obeying, or surrendering. It is ironic then that surrender is at the heart of the Christian faith.
Palm Sunday is all about surrender. Jesus rode on a donkey not a horse. Jesus came in peace not war, to surrender not conquer. Jesus came to give his life as a ransom sacrifice, to be the Passover lamb, to make atonement with God. And when some in the crowd laid their coats on the ground, it was a sign of their surrender to him. Because surrender is the natural response to God’s grace and mercy. Our surrender is called many things in scripture: consecration, taking up your cross, dying to self, yielding to the Spirit, presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice. What matters is that we do it, not what we call it.
“To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilisations. To boldly go where no one has gone before!” I’m sure you know these are the opening lines from the iconic TV series Star Trek. At the beginning of every episode, Captain James Kirk of the Starship Enterprise says “Space: The final frontier”
Most of us will never get to test that frontier but there is another frontier we all face with a 100% certainty. Death is usually the last thing we want to talk about and yet it comes to us all, sometimes prematurely. And too many people are ill-prepared. When a loved one in mid-life is diagnosed with inoperable cancer, your world is turned upside down. Your faith is tested. Your priorities and hopes for the future are changed, instantly, radically, irrevocably. And so by the way does your circle of friends. Invariably it gets smaller, but I’m thankful for those who have stuck with us over the past five years, who have encouraged us to persevere.
How good are you at memorising information? Probably better than you realise. I suspect over the years you have memorised hundreds of messages without realising it. Let me test you. How many of these messages you can complete? And for a bonus point, can you remember who said it.
To our members we’re the fourth…emergency service: AA Bread wi’ nowt …taken out: Allinsons. Vorsprung durch… technik: Audi The United Colors of… Benetton: Benetton The taste of… Paradise: Bounty The World’s Favourite… Airline: BA Go to work on… an egg: Egg Marketing Board A glass and a half in every… half pound: Cadburys And all because the lady loves… Milk Tray A pint a day helps you… work, rest and play: Milk Board The man from Del Monte he… say yes: Del Monte Put a tiger in… your tank: Esso Hands that do dishes can feel… soft as your face: Fairy Liquid No FT… no comment: Financial Times The best a man… can get. Gillette Guinness is… good for you. Guinness Refreshes the parts other… beers cannot reach: Heineken Beanz Meanz… Heinz Graded grains make… finer flour: Homepride Have a break. Have a… Kit-Kat Never knowingly… undersold: John Lewis Because you’re… worth it: L’Oreal It does exactly what it says… on the tin: Ronseal Diamonds are a girl’s… best friend: De Beers. And lastly…
They say you never get a second chance at a first impression. But first impressions can sometimes be rather superficial. And that is also true when people think of Jesus. What were your first impressions of Jesus?
My first memory of Jesus was around the age of six when I first attended Sunday School. I remember two things: Singing the chorus, “Jesus loves me this I know…” and a large painting of Jesus on the wall. Jesus was holding a lamb in his arms surrounded by lots of little children my age – except strangely unlike my Sunday school class, they were all different colours. There was an African child, a Chinese child, an Indian child, a Native American child and many others that were different to me. But I do remember, reassuringly that Jesus had long golden hair and a blond European complexion. My first memories were of a white Jesus and for many of us that is our unconscious default view we carry we carry with us through life. Comforting it may be until we encounter someone with a different religious heritage. William Blake described the dilemma we face.
My first parish as a young enthusiastic priest was St John’s, Stoke, in Guildford, Surrey. It is situated next door to Guildford College. In my time there as Rector, we held occasional events for students and faculty. Previously I had spent four years working as a student pastor so when the chaplaincy of the college fell vacant I asked my Bishop whether the two posts could be combined. We heard nothing for months. Eventually when I pressed the Archdeacon, I was told that it was considered inappropriate for an evangelical to be appointed as the chaplain to an academic institution. Then when I proposed undertaking a part-time post graduate degree I was asked by the Director of Training, rather cynically, was I going to buy it from America? That was all the motivation I needed to pursue a Masters from Oxford and then eventually a PhD.
I can therefore relate to how the Apostle Paul must have felt when he was mocked by the Christians in Corinth for his lack of eloquence or oratory skills. Let me read to you from John Stott’s book “Calling Christian Leaders” (IVP)