The Darkest Day

For some of us there have been some very dark days over the last year. Whether that has been as a result of losing a loved one, or the delay of a much needed operation, or the loss of regular patterns of life, it has been a dark year for many.

Today we consider the darkness that Jesus Christ willingly went through in order to bring salvation for many. He was falsely accused, whipped and beaten, rejected by those to whom He had come and suffered the pain and isolation of separation from His Father. He died a cruel and painful death upon the cross. This was truly the darkest day for Jesus and it revealed the darkness at the heart of humanity, who willingly put to death the Light of the world.

Jesus had spoken to His disciples about the suffering He would endure, but they didn’t get it. They all fled when He was arrested and put to death. For the disciples it seemed that all hope was gone. We can feel like that too at dark times in our lives. It certainly looked like Jesus had lost and that He wasn’t the Messiah who the disciples were expecting Him to be.

Jesus had said earlier in His ministry that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). He Himself was that Seed, the One who would crush the serpent’s head (Gen 3:15) and through this death bring many others to glory. “..for the joy that was set before Him” of saving sinful people like us like us He “endured the cross, despising the shame…” (Heb 12:2). It didn’t seem that way at this point in time, but the cross meant that Satan was now a defeated enemy.

What does this mean for us in our lives today? Jesus has died and suffered the consequences of our sin. He, the sinless Lamb of God, has taken upon Himself the suffering that we deserve. All of us know that we are not perfect, that we have at times wounded other people with the words of our mouths and our thoughtless actions. Jesus’ death on the cross means that if we repent and ask God’s forgiveness, we will be heard and the new life of this Seed will be formed within us. We will no longer have to live in fear of being “found out”. We will instead have the assurance of Jesus’ love and forgiveness, His presence with us at all times, and be able to look forward to the new life of the world to come.

This was the darkest day, but praise God that this wasn’t the end of the story.


Touched by Glory

Have you ever been awestruck or dumbfounded by an amazing sight, sound or other experience? How has that left you feeling? Speechless? Moved with emotion? Something like this has happened to me on more than one occasion. At spring time earlier this year we were on holiday in the Lake District, about to board one of the boats on Lake Windermere. Looking around I was overcome with emotion at the awesome scenery surrounding us. There were mountains still with snow at the top; there were rolling green fields and hills; the trees and their new leaves were verdant; there were spring blooms adding splashes of colour all around; and there was the beauty of the lake itself. My eyes brimmed with tears and I praised God for the beauty of His creation and saw how small I was in that setting, but yet I knew He loved me.

This might give us just a tiny idea of how the disciples must have felt when faced with the glorified Jesus as He was transfigured before their very eyes on the mountain (Matt 17:1 – 8; Mk 9:2 – 8; Lk 9:28 – 36). We are told of how His face “shone like the sun” and His clothes became “white as light”. Not only that but Moses and Elijah appeared and were seen by Peter, James and John talking with the Lord. James and John remained silent but Peter bustled around and clumsily offered to make tents for the three figures.

Next we read that a cloud covered Jesus from view and the voice of God Himself spoke:

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.”

The disciples fell on their faces, dumbstruck, trembling with fear. This in turn makes me think of John’s vision of the Son of Man on the island of Patmos at the start of his revelation. John saw Jesus and describes Him in this way:

“in the midst of the lampstands [I saw] one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash round His chest. The hairs of His head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, His feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and His voice was like the roar of many waters….When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead.” Rev 1:13 – 17.

Notice the similar reactions between the three disciples with Jesus on the mount, and John during his vision. There was nothing to be said; all of them fell on the ground, faces in the dirt. I have met people and heard of people who say that when they meet God, if He exists, they’ll be giving Him a piece of their mind, railing against the perceived injustices of their lives. Will they really be shaking their puny fists in the face of God Almighty? No, all without exception will be down on the ground, trembling before unimaginable greatness. The Bible tells us that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:10 – 11)

Look at how the Lord tenderly deals with His disciples following the amazing experience of seeing His indescribable glory and hearing God Himself:

“But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise up and have no fear”. And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.” Mat 17:7 – 8

Similarly in Revelation following John’s collapse, the text says;

“But He laid His right hand on me, saying, “Fear not…”” Rev 1:17

It always moves me to think of Jesus in all His power and might bending down and tenderly touching His followers, telling them not to fear. For us who believe, although we will be awestruck when we finally see Him face to face, there will be a loving touch and a welcome into His kingdom. We will not be awestruck and dumbfounded out of fear, but out of holy reverence for our Lord Jesus, the One who suffered the indignities of the cross so that we might one day join Him in glory.

How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds
In a believer's ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.

It makes the wounded spirit whole,
And calms the troubled breast;
'Tis manna to the hungry soul,
And to the weary rest.

Dear Name, the rock on which I build,
My shield and hiding place,
My never-failing treas'ry, filled
With boundless stores of grace!

Jesus! My Shepherd, Saviour, Friend;
My Prophet, Priest and King;
My Lord, my Life, my Way, my End:
Accept the praise I bring.

Weak is the effort of my heart,
And cold my warmest thought;
But when I see Thee as Thou art,
I'll praise Thee as I ought.

Till then, I would Thy love proclaim
With every fleeting breath;
And may the music of Thy name
Refresh my soul in death.

J. Newton


Jesus, Friend of Sinners

When you think of approaching the Lord to confess sin, what image comes to mind? Is your perception of God as an angry disciplinarian, keen to mete out punishment to you and make you suffer for your wrong-doing? Or do you picture a soft “sugar daddy” in the sky who really couldn’t care how you lived? Jesus shows us in the following account how he treats sinners who draw near to Him.

In John 8:1-11, we find Jesus teaching at the temple. Gathered around are all sorts of people listening and hanging on His every word. Into this scene, some scribes and Pharisees drag a woman caught in the act of adultery. They put her in the middle of the assembled crowd and wait for Jesus’s assessment of the situation. It’s a trap, of course, because these teachers of the law are looking to catch Jesus out. They want to prove their superior knowledge of the law and find fault with Him. We can guess that they cared very little about the woman herself.

Put yourself in the woman’s shoes for a moment. Yes, she’s done something wrong and she knows it, and now a large crowd of others know it too. She has to stand there and await whatever judgment they’ll pass on her. The man who was involved in the act isn’t there; only she has to face the stares of strangers and perhaps their scorn, outrage, or stifled laughter. The Pharisees openly declare that they’d like to see her stoned. We’re not talking a few little pebbles here, either, it would be the biggest stones they could find and it would prove fatal. Imagine her shame as the scribes and Pharisees tell everyone and the great Teacher Himself what she’d been up to.

Thankfully, Jesus knows the thoughts and intentions of the human heart. He knew the teachers of Israel were out to trap Him. Now consider their thoughts as the scene continues. Jesus didn’t say anything. Instead He got down on His knees and began to write in the dirt. What would have been going through their minds? They’d thought of a great way to test Him and hopefully find a charge that would get rid of Him for good. They were the true teachers in Israel, not this man who had come out of nowhere, albeit claiming to be the true Messiah. They weren’t buying that, not with their power and influence. But what was He doing? Imagine them shifting around awkwardly as the attention was drawn away from the sinful woman. Jesus drew Himself up and spoke, saying:

“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (v7)

Again, He bent down and kept writing on the ground. One by one they went away, interestingly beginning with the older ones. It’s so much easier for us to be harsh on sin in other people than it is to judge our own sin severely. Matthew Henry writes in his commentary;

“Whenever we find fault with others, we ought to reflect on ourselves, and to be more severe against sin in ourselves than in others….Let this restrain us from throwing stones at our brothers.”

Now, only Jesus and the woman were left behind. What did He have to say to her? Was He full of condemnation, or did He not care about her sin at all? In Jesus we find the perfect balance of mercy and justice. He turned to the woman and said:

“Woman, where are they? Has no-one condemned you?…..Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (v10, 11)

We can find that same blend of mercy and justice at the foot of the cross. Praise God that Jesus was willing to bear our sin and suffer in our place, so that we might be given new life through the Spirit by the grace of God!

"Jesus sinners will receive;"
Say this word of grace to all
Who the heavenly pathway leave,
All who linger, all who fall;
This can bring them back again,
"Christ receiveth sinful men."

Erdmann Neumeister (1671 - 1756)

Nicodemus, the Secret Disciple

Have you ever felt like a secret disciple? Perhaps you’ve followed Jesus for years and years, but hardly anyone knows about it in your day-to-day life. Here in the West, we have the freedom to talk about these things but there is a growing sense that speaking about our faith and being seen to have Christian values is to go against the grain of society and something to be kept quiet, lest we be seen to be “judging” people. Many workplaces have rules limiting how we might talk about our faith with colleagues or those who use our services.

Nicodemus went to visit Jesus under cover of night to ask Him some very important questions about His identity. He was a Pharisee, one of the ruling members of the Jewish religious class. You might think that after spending his life in the Old Testament scriptures he of all people would recognise the Messiah when He came. He knew there was something different about Jesus and His teaching, recognising that God was with Him, but He didn’t see who Jesus really was.

‘”Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”‘ John 3:2

Jesus began speaking to Nicodemus about the need for a second birth from above, but it was hard for him to grasp exactly what this meant.

‘”How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”‘ 3:4

He failed to grasp that Jesus was talking about spiritual realities. Nicodemus and all who will follow Jesus must be born again of the Spirit, otherwise we remain spiritually dead. Jesus was shocked that Nicodemus was a teacher of Israel yet had never understood these things. He spoke of His forthcoming death on the cross and how He would give Himself so that all who believe in Him “should not perish but have eternal life”.

Later on in John’s gospel we read about Nicodemus binding up the body of Jesus after the crucifixion along with another secret disciple, Joseph of Arimathea (19:38-40). Jesus must have become very precious to Nicodemus for him to do that, and his actions have been recorded for all time.

What about us? Perhaps fear has kept us from speaking up when we’ve had opportunities and we’ve felt a sense of failure. Nicodemus went on to be used by God as we saw in his actions in tenderly caring for the body of Christ. Is there a way we can show forth the preciousness of our Saviour to the watching world? There is hope and life to be found in Him alone and people around us need to know about it.

“ Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:14-16

Journeying Through the Storms of Life

I don’t know about you, but the closest I’ve come to knowing how the disciples might have felt when they were out on a boat in a storm was a rough crossing on the Sea Cat to the Isle of Man. That was pretty unpleasant but nothing like being battered by wind and waves in a small basic boat. No doubt there weren’t any life preservers at that time, nor would there have been a local lifeboat crew ready to ride out and come to the rescue!

Jesus had told His disciples to travel to the other side of the lake (Mark Ch4 v35; Luke Ch8 v22), but on the way across a fierce storm arose. Jesus was so tired that He’d gone to sleep. The terrified disciples did all they could to battle through the storm. The gospel writers tell us that waves were crashing over the boat and it was in danger of being completely swamped by water (Mat Ch8 v24; Mk Ch5 v37; Lk Ch8 v23). We can imagine how scary that would have been, and those with sailing experience will understand a lot more how quickly things can become dangerous.

We might not have been caught in a storm at sea, but all of us will face stormy seasons in our lives. We can’t avoid it, it’s part of our human condition. One such difficult time happened for me in 2017. Leading into that year I had a sense of dread about what lay ahead. My Dad was terminally ill, and around Christmas 2016 I looked at him and just knew he didn’t have the physical strength to go on much longer. He had lost so much weight and was so thin. He tried to hide it and keep going, but I saw what was happening. I wanted very much to avoid those coming painful months, but I couldn’t. Not only that, but my daughter who had been suffering with life-limiting anxiety and phobias was starving herself. She too grew thinner and frailer before my eyes. I felt totally helpless in the face of these circumstances. I could only cry out to God and ask for His help and strength to get me through.

Well, for the disciples on the lake there was good news. Jesus may have been sleeping but He was there. They shook Him awake in a state of panic, saying,

“Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” Lk Ch 8 v24

Jesus got up and scolded the wind and waves, saying “Quiet! Be still!” (Mk Ch 4 v39). This had an immediate effect and all became peaceful and calm around them. Jesus asked them why they were so afraid and why they didn’t trust Him. The problem is it’s so easy to be caught up in the storm that we lose sight of Him and His power and love for us. Circumstances can be overwhelming, but Jesus is much greater than those waves that threaten to flatten us.

The thing about storms is that they pass. Sometimes the effects continue, but the fearsome thundering and scary waves die down. We may feel that Jesus has abandoned us, but He is still there exactly as He was in the calm waters. Seek Him out and ask for His strength and help; He promises never to leave us nor forsake us, whatever life throws our way.

For me, 2017 came and went. My Dad did die and went home to be with the Lord; my daughter came through her GCSE year, was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder and given medication which helped her a lot. The Lord provided help and support through my church family, a Christian counselor and a charity befriender specifically helping those with struggling children. I had to go through that storm, but Jesus never left me.

Fear not, He is with thee, O be not dismayed;
For He is thy God, and will still give thee aid:
He'll strengthen thee, help thee and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by His righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters He calls thee to go,
The rivers of grief shall not thee overflow;
For He will be with thee in trouble to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

(Verses 2 and 3 of How Firm a Foundation, by Richard Keen c.1787)