With Remembrance Day this past week we have probably all been thinking about lives lost in warfare. The poppies pouring out of the Tower of London, filling the moat with a sea of red to commemorate the start of World War 1 a hundred years ago. There are names and reminders on plagues and in the windows of this church, on Firs Field, in Monkton Combe, South Stoke, and across the land of those who fought in that war and paid the ultimate price of sacrificing their lives for the sake and freedom of our own.
Sainsbury’s launched their Christmas campaign this week too, perhaps controversially by focusing on the sacrifices of World War 1. And Sainsbury’s advert is a good place to start because is a good contrast to the act of grace that was Jesus’s sacrifice.
There is a beauty and a helpful act of remembrance within in the film Sainsbury’s have made about the Christmas truce between British and German troops. I’m sure you know about the time fighting ceased for a brief moment as they sung Silent Night and played a football match together on No-man’s Land.
Unfortunately the advert comes with 1 uncomfortable truth: they want us to associate the good feelings it might generate with their company, and in turn to persuade us to spend our money this Christmas in their supermarkets instead of their rivals.
In short it is no act of grace. Sainsbury’s want something in return.
Jesus offered something instead.
He offered a chance for reconciliation with our creator God, our Heavenly Father.
He dearly wants us all to accept His offer but He won’t, He can’t make us accept it no more than Sainsbury’s can make us spend our money in their stores. If we accept Sainsbury’s offer their salaries and shareholders get paid, if we accept Jesus’s offer He gets nothing more than the satisfaction of seeing another lost soul found.
It was, it is, the ultimate act of grace.
Jesus didn’t have to lay down His life. It might have been the fundamental reason, the cornerstone even, of His mission on Earth, but He didn’t have to.
He could have been excused for giving into the fear that He expressed in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before His crucifixion. For sure, humanity would be incalculably poorer and lost as a result, but He had already laid foundations that could have transformed society to some extent without His sacrifice.
But He knew that that what we needed, what the world needed, was a way out of the cycle of rebellion and reconciliation that had typified life up to that point.
He knew that God wanted to offer us a way out and Jesus knew that He was that way out.
And whilst we might romanticise or sanitise laying down a life for someone else, it is anything but romantic. Yet just as peace came out of the sacrifices of the soldiers 100 years ago, hope, love and reconciliation came out of Jesus’s sacrifice.
He proved that it was unlike any human sacrificed when he rose from the grave. You see, without completing the return journey to sit at God’s right hand Jesus’s mission, and the offer He came to bring about, would not have been fulfilled.
Whilst the peace that the sacrifices of World War 1 brought was temporary, Jesus’s offer was permanent.
We can accept it at any time, right now.
If you have not yet responded to the fact that Jesus laid down His life so that you could have not a temporary but a permanent, an eternal, home and relationship with God who loves you dearly and wants to help you find your true purpose, fulfil your potential and to live life to it’s fullest, then please don’t leave church today without responding.
There was something that struck me as I read today’s passage over these past few weeks, that so little was recorded about such a monumental event.
Reading the Bible it is easy to get the impression that Jesus was resurrected and ascended to Heaven a day or two after. He certainly could have done that if He had wanted do. After all, With His resurrection Jesus had achieved most of what he had set out to do.
All He had to do was get seen by a cross-section of society for news to spread that what He had testified to before His crucifixion was indeed true. With His ability to draw a crowd Jesus could have achieved that very quickly, so He could have ascended to Heaven a day or two after being resurrected.
But he didn’t. Jesus stayed for 40 days!
And isn’t as though many of them are even recorded and reported in the Bible. We only get the briefest of glimpses into that period.
Luke tells us about Jesus meeting with Mary, Mary and Joanna near to his tomb, and then with Cleopas on the road to Emmaus, both meetings happening before He met with the Disciples. John adds a bit more to the record, telling us about Doubting Thomas and catching fish with Simon Peter (before reinstating him by the fire on the beach). But that’s about it.
Why so little recorded about what happened during Jesus final 40 days physically roaming around this Earth?
Did Jesus stay 40 days simply to tie in with past events and prophecies: Noah and the floods; Moses on the mountain with God; 40 years in the wilderness; and His own periods of fasting and tempting to a few?
I think there’s a lot more to it than number and event synchronicity, but this isn’t a sermon on Biblical numerology! And much as I have some thoughts I could share with you about why Jesus stayed for 40 days, you would really be staying late tonight if I did!
Suffice to say that, to me, Jesus’s staying around for 40 days was a gift of unhurried and simple friendship, a time with the Disciples not burdened by the need to achieve any task or goal.
Jesus hadn’t finished when when He ascended to Heaven. His mission had one final chapter, and it that chapter He had one more gift of grace to give us.
God knew how fickle we humans could be. Although the offer opened up to us by Jesus’s sacrifice was a permanent one, God knew that our ability to respond to it in a lasting fashion was a transient thing.
Left to their own devices some of those that heard accounts of what happened may have responded and taken up the offer Jesus had put on the table. It would still have been recorded in the Bible but as the Old Testament shows, humanity would have in time forgotten and ceased to respond to Jesus’s ultimate gift.
God knew we needed something to keep us going, a continual trickle of motivation to oil the linkages between us and Him.
He also knew that the world needed to see more examples of His miraculous and transformative power for people to take up that offer until it was right for the new Kingdom to come.
So 10 days after Jesus had ascended to Heaven God sent the Holy Spirit. Read Acts 2 and you will see how the Kingdom of Heaven broke into our world to act as the messenger and carrier of God’s power.
It was another gift of grace. Nothing was requested in return. There were no demands made. But there was and is an obligation.
But if you truly appreciate a gift you cannot help but show your appreciation. If you like a piece of music you will want to share it with your friends because you will want them to enjoy it too. Nor if you truly adore a gift do you keep it in its box, you take it out and use it to its full potential and purpose.
If the Disciples had said “well that was a cool party trick, what’s next?” would have shown that they didn’t appreciate the gift, that they hadn’t been transformed, similarly if they tried to keep the Holy Spirit to themselves.
Thankfully they didn’t. Thankfully they, and some of the people who witnessed them speaking in languages they couldn’t possibly have known, shared the gift with others, who shared it with more people still, over and over again.
They carried on the work Jesus had started.
People heard, people saw, people believed then and do now.
Like a Friendship Cake, Jesus’s gift of transformation and eternal life is a gift that keeps on giving. It is never removed from the shelf and replaced with a newer model, it is the same gift now as it was 2,000 years ago.
It is a gift I was given and it is a gift I hope you have or will accept.
And if you have, or when you do, don’t keep it in a box; open the gift, take it out, love it, appreciate it, use it… and others will be given the gift too.