WHY SHOULD I BE BOTHERED ABOUT EASTER?

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Many people will be looking forward to the long bank holiday weekend as a welcome break from work, a time to see family and friends and perhaps treat one another to chocolates and Easter eggs – not really understanding what Easter is all about or why it could be significant to them.

In order to really understand Easter, we need to take a ‘deep breath’, open our Bibles and contemplate the first few chapters of the book of Genesis. Now many people will immediately dismiss the Bible as religious ‘mumbo-jumbo’, saying hasn’t science dismissed all this as rubbish – and don’t we now accept human-beings came into being through a process of evolution? To which I would want to say, well you can ask those sort of questions if you would like, but that’s not really what the Bible is about! Many scientists are quite happy Christians because they accept that the Bible doesn’t really speak in terms of science at all but in terms of theology. It’s more concerned with ‘why’ the world is as it is, rather than ‘how’ it came to be. Theologically speaking, the opening chapters of Genesis explain how God initially created a perfect world, but it was spoilt by the foolish, self-centred decisions of human beings (namely Adam and Eve) who thought that they knew better and wanted ‘to be like God’. This wilful disobedience (which the Bible calls sin) led to the world becoming less than perfect, knocked off balance and ‘out of kilter’ by arrogance, wickedness and greed – qualities which spoil not only our human relationships but our relationship with God himself. In other words, the world is not as God originally intended. It is as Christians describe it – fallen – and if you doubt it, then all one has to do is look at the news on our television screens. Genesis therefore speaks to our humanity, and most people having read it, if they are honest with themselves, can identify with it saying – that’s me!’

The rest of the Bible is really a ‘love story’, describing how God goes to great pains to rescue us from this world of sin and put things right, and its hero is Jesus. For in the Old Testament, we see how God is constantly trying (initially through the people of Israel) to call people back to himself and to a ‘righteous’ way of living, but time and time again the people fail because the strangle hold of sin is simply too strong. Although we often learn from our mistakes, we can’t put things right by ourselves. The Bible may tell us that ‘if our hand causes us to sin, we should cut it off, or if our eye causes us to sin we should pluck it out’ (Mark 9.42f) but as Jesus makes clear, the heart of the problem is the problem of the human heart – and we can’t cut out our heart! So, Jesus steps in, showing us not only how to live a better life, but how we can positively change our hearts when we put our faith and trust in him, demonstrating just how extraordinary God’s love for each and every one of us is by his own death upon the cross. He takes upon himself the punishment that our sin deserves – sparing us from it, for as the old hymn makes clear ‘there was no other good enough to pay the price of sin; only he could unlock the gate of heaven, and let us in’.  All we need to do, to be forgiven, is to trust that Jesus died for my personal sin – and say thank you.

But that’s not the end of the story, because three days later Jesus rose from the grave – a tremendous and astounding event witnessed by so many of his friends and disciples, demonstrating once and for all that he was indeed the ‘Son of God’ who died to save the world – and that’s the message of Easter. Now, of course it doesn’t take a moment for us to appreciate that the world is still sinful and still needs to change, which is precisely why the Gospel message is still so needed and so relevant for our modern world today, still speaking of a future hope when all will be ultimately put right when Christ returns – but in the meantime, the world as we know it changes ‘one heart at a time’. Please let one of them be yours!


“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection” Philippians 3.10

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IF SEEING IS BELIEVING – WHY DON’T WE?

On February 11th 2016, scientists around the world jumped for joy as they announced that they had detected ‘Gravitational Waves’ produced by the spinning and collision of two black holes more than a billion light-years from the Earth! The news was greeted with euphoria as it finally confirmed the prediction made by Albert Einstein 100 years ago in his Theory of General Relativity and supported by Professor Stephen Hawking’s work relating to black holes. The discovery was hailed as a landmark because it will revolutionise the way that we think about the creation of the universe and our continued understanding of it. The discovery is remarkable because Einstein himself had thought that gravitational waves would be too weak for anyone to detect – and yet the scientists have done it, and the evidence is there for all to see. Seeing is believing!

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Yet, however great the discovery of gravitational waves might be, it surely pales into insignificance compared to the discovery that was made by some women two thousand years ago, when they found that the tomb used to place the dead, crucified body of Jesus was empty, and that Jesus was indeed alive. It sounds completely astonishing, astounding and fanciful, and just the sort of thing that might be the product of the over active imaginations of some rather hysterical, grief stricken women! In fact, it’s a story that could be easily dismissed if it wasn’t for the fact that their story was corroborated by others – many others, and neatly summarised by the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Christians at Corinth (I Corinthians 15.3-8). There were of course the women, but then there were the disciples, and Peter; a crowd of 500, James (the brother of Christ and later leader of the church in Jerusalem), the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and finally Paul himself, but perhaps the most telling, poignant and significant encounter was with Thomas. Thomas had been absent when the risen Christ had first met with his disciples, and upon hearing their exhilarating news, he refused to believe it, saying, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my fingers where the nails were, and put my hand in his side (the dead body of Jesus had been speared to prove death), I will not believe it.” (John 20.25). Like many others, I am so glad that this account has been recorded for us, because it shows a man who would not allow his heart to rule his head but wanted tangible proof of a story that would have seemed just as incredible in his day as it does in ours. Strikingly, when the Lord eventually appeared to Thomas, and he was invited to physically examine Christ’s wounds, we are not told that he did so, instead he immediately knelt before Jesus, proclaiming him to be “My Lord and my God”. Seeing was believing and seeing Christ before him was more than enough! Every doubt, worry and anxiety was blown away by this incredible and unique experience.

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The problem for us is, that we weren’t there, and many therefore refuse to believe. We will believe in the existence of gravitational waves simply because we are told by scientists that we have empirical proof, but what could be more substantial than the testimony of those who saw the risen Christ with their own eyes, embraced him, ate with him and were able to share in other forms of fellowship with him? These people were witnesses and many were prepared to die themselves on the basis of their experience and what they had seen with their own eyes. But we may protest, and therefore shout all the more loudly that rising from death is just impossible for human beings, to which my answer (along with that of so many others) is – precisely. This man, this ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, although fully human, was more than that – he was also divine. He was as the Bible puts it, ‘the Son of God’. So, unless we are prepared to ignore all the evidence to the contrary, we have to accept that this event too was of cosmic significance and totally revolutionises the way we look at the universe and our place within it.
May I take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy and meaningful Easter.

“Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” John 20.27

500 PEOPLE CAN’T BE WRONG – CAN THEY?

Josh McDowell, a Christian minister and author once spoke to a student saying:

“If I prove to you beyond a shadow of a doubt that Christ was raised from the dead and is the Son of God, will you consider Him?”

The immediate and emphatic reply was “No!”1 

Why are so many people so dismissive even before they’ve given Christianity a chance? Is it because they don’t know the Gospel story or because they can’t accept it to be true? In many ways perhaps both of these are true, because it is increasingly clear that fewer and fewer people have any sort of religious background or contact with a church. Put simply, their parents didn’t go to church, so neither do they! Others dismiss religion as being the by-product of a by-gone age hardly credible for today’s modern thinkers, and recent books such as The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and God is not Great by Christopher Hitchens reinforce this negative stereotype. Yet the main reason why some people tend to dismiss Christianity ‘out of hand’ is, ironically, not because it’s ‘proven’ to be false but because it might actually be true and if it is true then it’s a challenge!  Books such as the The Dawkins Delusion (Alistair McGrath) and Evidence that Demands a Verdict (John McDowell) have easily shown just how misguided and superficial these popular works by Dawkins and Hitchens are and yet if Jesus really did rise from the grave as at least 500 biblical eye-witnesses maintain (1 Corinthians 15.6) then Jesus has to be the ‘Son of God’ and his resurrection proves that all he ever said and did was true! If this is so, then it has to be the most profound piece of news that this world has ever known and requires a response – a response that requires each one of us to reconsider, take stock of our lives and reassess who we are before God, the world and each other; a response which many will find profoundly disturbing and uncomfortable as it shakes up their cosy world view, which is precisely why so many people tend to dismiss the Gospel story out of hand, not because it isn’t true, but because it suits us.

Today’s media tends to give us instant eye-witness access to the incredibly significant events (both good and bad) which shape our modern world and we seldom doubt the testimony of those who were actually present. Why then, are we so ready to dismiss the eye-witness accounts of those who saw the resurrection, just because they lived in an age prior to the internet?

I would therefore like to invite each person to honestly consider and reflect upon their own attitude towards Christ and their understanding of the Easter story, and to genuinely ask themselves if they have given the Gospel (meaning good news) a fair and open hearing. It is my hope that many will discover a new sense of peace and perspective as they do so.

 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news and said: “I have seen the Lord!” John 20.18

1 McDowell, Josh: Evidence for Christianity. Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006, S. 14