In the life and ministry of Jesus there are many encounters on a daily basis that humanly speaking were unplanned. But they became opportunities to glorify God through the lives and circumstances of people in need. The message of the Gospel in the New Testament is very clear that we are a people in need of divine assistance –the only difference between human beings is that some are aware of their need of God and others are not! This means that some people are open to being helped and others are not! However, unless we acknowledge that we have a problem we will not be seeking a solution to that problem. It takes humility to face up to our situation and see our need to ask God for help in our daily lives. It takes self-discipline to send time each day reading His Word and praying to God. These short passages from the New Testament that we have read and reflected on already in the service have plenty to say to us about how we live our lives today approximately two thousand years later.
What do they say to us?
1. The welcome from Jesus (Matthew 11:28-30)
(a)The sovereignty of God the Father declared (Matthew 11:25-27)
5 At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what You were pleased to do. Who is in control? How often do we ask that question about things going on in the world? The list of situations that seem so confusing or complex and without an obvious resolution in the world seem to grow year on year; each of us can give our examples far too easily it seems. From war zones to countries with an endless cycle of terrorist attacks; to disturbing election results returning unlikely candidates to important offices let alone the complications of Britain’s relationship with Europe, are just some of these scenarios. There may equally be things a lot closer to home going on in your life at work or in your immediate family circle or even with respect to your individual circumstances. In these situations we can wonder why are you allowing this to happen to me, God? Asking the question is absolutely a good idea. It is at the heart of what education is about. However, there are many occasions on which we don’t get an answer. There are times when we understand what is going on in our lives, but in many other situations we have no idea. What an assurance it is that ultimately things are in God’s hands and under His control. Do you need to hear that today?
(b) The plan of God the Father revealed (Matthew 11:27)27 ‘All things have been committed to Me by My Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. How do we know what God is like? God is the Father is invisible (I Timothy 6:16: who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To Him be honour and might for ever. Amen) How do we know what God is like? In the person of Jesus Remember these amazing words from John 1:14: The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. What was John’s testimony? We have seen His glory… God wants us to know Him and sent someone who could clearly tell us how God loves us and wants to be our friend. Are you listening to Jesus? Do you ask Him to help you live for God?
(c) The invitation from God the Son offered to us (Matthew 11:28-30)28 ‘Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.’ Who is the Gospel for? Is it for the people who have everything sorted out? No! The very opposite for the people who know they need help! Are you struggling with life in general or some particular thing? Jesus says, let Me help you. You do not need to carry the burden alone, let me help you. The picture here is from the land around them with the familiar sight of a young ox learning to carry and manoeuvre the plough assisted and directed by an older one standing alongside it to ensure it succeeds in completing the task. Jesus promises to be there with you. You are never on your own. Do you need to hear that today?
2. The encouragement from Jesus (Luke 8:43-48)
(a)Taking our opportunities (Luke 8:43-44) As Jesus was on His way, the crowds almost crushed Him. 43 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. 44 She came up behind Him and touched the edge of His cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. There are many opportunities in life that only come once and we either seize them with both hands or we lose them for ever. There are many situations where it is not easy to know the best answer to give; maybe you are looking for a job but are not sure whether what is being offered to you is better for you than the one you already have? Maybe you have a place at university and you are offered a place at another college or university and you ask yourself –should I change or keep with what I have got? We cannot assume we will always have more opportunities to take. This is especially true with respect to the good news of the Christian Gospel. Today, if you have never committed your life to following Jesus, you have an opportunity to put your faith and trust in Jesus. None of us is guaranteed tomorrow. Will you take your opportunity to trust Jesus? This woman in the story was unwell and no doctor could cure her – in fact they had no medical means of making her better. Yet Jesus passed by and she believed that He could cure her and reached out to Him and Luke tells us: immediately her bleeding stopped. Life is not always so simple. Sometimes we pray for healing for someone and there is no change. Sometimes they continue living with the illness and on other occasions they sadly die. But praise God there are other times when we see amazing answers to prayer. But we need to ask. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount said these words: ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8) What do you need to talk to God about today?
(b)Confessing our faith (Luke 8:45-47) 45 ‘Who touched Me?’ Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, ‘Master, the people are crowding and pressing against You.’ 46 But Jesus said, ‘Someone touched Me; I know that power has gone out from Me.’47 Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at His feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched Him and how she had been instantly healed. In this case there was a miraculous healing and the problem went away for good. It does not always do that. Yet Jesus wanted her to do something. What was that? He wanted the person who had the faith to seek healing from Him to speak publically about their faith. Jesus wants His followers to be open about their faith and share it with other people. Sadly this does not mean that everyone you speak to will necessarily be interested in hearing about what Jesus has done in your life – but there are people searching for God and hoping they can find someone who can tell them more about Him. Are you asking God for opportunities to tell other people about Him? Stop and pray at the end of this service for who God wants you to speak to about Jesus – maybe even this week! Our faith is too good to keep to ourselves we need to pass it on.
(c)The reward of stepping out in faith (Luke 8:48)48 Then He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace. What a blessing as Jesus honoured this lady in public. In Matthew 10:32-33 He said: ‘Whoever acknowledges Me before others, I will also acknowledge before My Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns Me before others, I will disown before My Father in heaven. What a joy for this women who had come to Jesus totally at her wits end. Life was barely worth living as she struggled through, simply surviving. We can have hard times too. God never promises us an easy life. However, we are blessed by God when we seek to live in a way that pleases Him and points other people to Jesus. Don’t be afraid to let people know you are a Christian and seeking to live for Jesus. God will bless you for your willingness to be open about your faith. However, there are a minority of people who will be critical and may say some unkind words to you for doing that, but don’t be put off by that. God will give you the strength you need. In what situation this week do I / you need to ask God for the strength to cope?
3. The power of Jesus (Luke 5:17-26)
(a)Thinking of the needs of others (Luke 5:17-19) One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal those who were ill. 18 Some men came carrying a paralysed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19 When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. It is so easy just to think of our needs. I want….! It can be amusing when a little toddler is saying I want… but if that little one grows up into a young person or an adult or an older person and is still speaking and thinking in the same way then it is very sad. Most of us have limited amounts of money and time and opportunities, but do not forget how encouraging it can be for someone in need to have another person coming alongside them. I thank God for the many times over the years I have been aware of the generosity of people in this congregation to others both within and outside the congregation and in a wide variety of different ways. I am sure there are many times I and other people here know absolutely nothing about what you may have done to bless someone else –and that is absolutely right. We don’t do it to parade how good we are. We want to follow Jesus and along the way encourage other people to live for Him as well. Here these four friends could not do what they wanted to happen for their friend. This did not stop them doing what they could do. This is very important. How often do we give up doing something because we think what is the point? The little I can do won’t make any difference. Here all these four friends could do was take this man to a meeting where Jesus was speaking. What matters is that Jesus did the rest! You and I cannot save someone, heal someone or do a whole lot of things that they need to happen. The question is this: when you feel God prompting you to do a little thing for someone in His name – will you listen to His prompting?
(b) An unexpected blessing (Luke 5:20-21)20 When Jesus saw their faith, He said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’21 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, ‘Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ I don’t think for a moment these four men expected this to happen or even asked Jesus about it. All they could see was his need of healing of his paralysis. Yet Jesus saw a more fundamental need in this particular young man’s life. Just think about the prayers we pray for someone in need. We only know a tiny bit of what is going on in someone’s life. But God knows everything – even our prayers for one thing may be used by God to bless someone in some other area of their life, because He knows what we need. Jesus made this point with respect to our prayers for ourselves in Matthew 6:8: … for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. The Christian life is far from boring. We serve an amazing God. As we trust Him unexpected blessings can come for ourselves or for other people through us doing the little thing God prompts us to do. Who was the last person you sought to help and who was blessed in some way by your obedience to God’s leading?
(c) A remarkable miracle (Luke 5:22-26)22 Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, ‘Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23 Which is easier: to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up and walk”? 24 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ So He said to the paralysed man, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ 25 Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. 26 Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, ‘We have seen remarkable things today.’ Wow! This is amazing! Listen to these words the great apostle Paul was praying for the Christian in the church in Ephesus in western Turkey. Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, 21 to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians3:20-21) What can you pray for with expectancy for someone else this week?
4. The challenge from Jesus (John 5:1-9a)
(a)Nothing changes here? (John 5:1-5) Sometime later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie – the blind, the lame, the paralysed 5One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. There is a lot we do not know about this situation. We often assume but cannot be certain the man had been there most of his life, but it was clear he had been there doing virtually nothing for years! But because nothing had happened in the past that he wanted to happen he had given up expecting anything to happen in the future. Sadly there are churches where no-one is seriously praying for God to change things, for people to come to faith in Him or some other need to be met. It is a profoundly sad situation. What are your hopes and expectations for this church in the next twelve months? What are you praying will happen in the next year? What are you willing to do to be in part an answer to your prayers?
(b)I am responsible! (John 5:6-7)6 When Jesus saw Him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, He asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’7 ‘Sir,’ the invalid replied, ‘I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.’ It was not a stupid question. Jesus respected the man enough to ask this open question –empowering the man to take his opportunity- or not- as the case may be. We can miss out on blessings from God that He has planned for us if we don’t ask Him in faith- personally and collectively. It is your responsibility and mine to pray for God to work in our lives and circumstances. It is your responsibility and mine to step up and do the work He has provide for us to do in His service and through which lives are being touched by God.
When there is a need to ask – what can I do? Not always thinking who else might do it!
(c)Jesus makes all the difference (John 5:8-9)8 Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. God will do what we cannot do. He is the ultimate answer to our prayers. God wants to work through YOU this week! Take a few moments to ask Him – how can I make a difference for you this week? Then live with an expectancy of seeing God at work in your life and in our church, both for our good and ultimately for His glory, Amen.