Tuesday 22 April – Great Commission

Scripture Reading:      Matthew 28:16-20 

Reflection from Sydenham Methodist

“The best of all is, God is with us!”

So exclaimed John Wesley with his dying words.  Having lived a full life, and borne much fruit for the kingdom of God, it is inspiring to hear that Wesley’s final thoughts were not on his accomplishments and achievements, but rather on the God he knew and served.  And what was the truth Wesley focussed upon, in his last moments?  The principle of Immanuel: God with us.  This truth changes everything.

Having journeyed through Matthew’s Gospel, we now arrive at the final words he records Jesus to have spoken.  The Rabbi and his ragtag band of followers are back in Galilee.  The trauma of the crucifixion is behind them.  Soon they will travel to Jerusalem, and on the Mount of Olives will see Jesus ascend to glory.

Knowing that His time with His disciples is short, Jesus sums up their mission, which will last the rest of their lives.  All authority has been given to Jesus and as a result He is commanding His followers to go into the world and make disciples, baptising them and teaching them to walk in His ways.  Their lifelong mission is our lifelong mission.  It is the reason why we as Church exist.  No matter our profession- or lack of one- each of us has this calling: to reveal God to the people in our lives.

But we don’t do it alone.  For Jesus Himself promises to be with us.  As He says elsewhere about His followers, “My Father will love them, and we will come to them, and make our home with them” (John 14:23).  What a privilege!

So wherever you find yourself today, may you know the truth Wesley cherished above all others:

Immanuel. God with us.

Prayer: Lord, we praise You for being Immanuel, the God who is alongside us.  We know that, because of the cross, You draw near to us in love.  Help us to experience Your presence more fully in our lives, so that we may be more like Jesus.  May your kingdom come, in our lives and through our lives.

For Your Glory. Amen

 

Monday 21 April – The Guard’s report

Scripture Reading:      Matthew 28:11-15        

Reflection from Mountpottinger Methodist

What did the guards tell the priests?  They reported that Christ’s body had disappeared, that there had been a violent earthquake, and that an angel of the Lord had come down from heaven and, going to the tomb, had rolled back the stone.  They also reported the words of the angel, that Jesus had risen from the dead.  The priests’ reaction is prompted by fear.  Jesus was a popular and influential leader, and they thought they had defeated his movement by having him killed.  If he was alive, and had gone to Galilee, all their efforts had been counterproductive.  They resolved to take the part of the story that could not be denied (that the body had gone) and bribe the guards to cover up the rest.  They are blind and deaf to God’s message in their preoccupation with what they see as the public interest.

Recent events in Ukraine show a striking parallel to this story.  An opposition leader disappears and is found weeks later in a forest.  He has clearly been beaten and tortured, and has even had an ear cut off.  The reaction of the authorities is to deny responsibility and to suggest that his injuries may have been self-inflicted in an attempt to discredit them. Just like the priests in our story they try to turn the blame onto the victims.

Covering up inconvenient facts is a common reaction, and sometimes leads to short term advantage, but the lesson of this passage is that it is doomed to failure.  The priests’ attempts to preserve their political influence worked for a time, but within a few years it had gone.  The disciples proclaimed the truth, and the Church went from strength to strength.

God wants us to accept the truth and not seek to explain it away because it doesn’t tally with our preconceived ideas and prejudices, and to be open to his word.

Prayer: God of truth, you made us and you know us through and through. Search us and try us, and show us who we really are. Forgive us that we are so often like the priests with our own agendas, preconceived ideas and prejudices. We close our ears to truths we don’t want to hear. We like to avoid those who challenge and disturb us and threaten our authority and influence. Help us to be open to the truth of God’s voice speaking to us through his word and through others. Give us the courage to proclaim the message of Christ’s living presence as God’s kingdom continues to grow. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.

Sunday 20 April – Resurrection

Scripture Reading:       Matthew 28:1-10  

Reflection from Knock Methodist

The passage begins with the two Marys, coming to the tomb to pay their respects to Jesus. This shows their adoration for Jesus as they were also present at the crucifixion and at the burial.

The earth shakes violently as if to announce the appearance of the angel as the stone is rolled away at the tomb. Maybe this earthquake was symbolic as the shaking ground loosens the soil to set something free?

The two guards at the tomb were probably chosen because they were strong and fearless and yet the sight of the angel in dazzling white garments, filled them with fear – so much, that they were frozen to the spot. A task they probably thought was easy, they were not able to do, becoming “like dead men” – and the dead man they were guarding had come back to life!

The angel tells the two Marys not to be afraid (sounds familiar!) and that Jesus has risen from the dead, inviting them in to see the empty tomb. The mystery of Christ’s resurrection could be compared to the mystery of his birth. There is no account of how Jesus rose from the dead, we are just told that it happened, just as we are told that Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit. The discovery of an empty tomb – no one witnessed how he actually got out – it was a miracle, just like the many miracles Jesus performed throughout his life.

It must have been an honour for the two Marys to be given the task of telling the Disciples the Good News. It also showed how much faith they had because they believed straight away that Jesus had risen from the dead. As had already been predicted, Jesus rose on the third day.

Their emotions were mixed with both fear and joy, but the fact that the two women hurried off to spread the news shows their great joy. How must it have felt to have actually met Jesus on their way to spread the Good News? This appearance is just actual proof to the two Marys that he had actually arisen. They probably didn’t need evidence as they were women of faith but this just reaffirms it. They recognise him immediately and fall to his feet, holding them in adoration. Jesus tells them himself  not to be afraid and to go and spread the news.

From this, the Resurrection, we can learn that Jesus is the Messiah. It also gives Christians hope that there is life after death.

Alleluia, Alleluia, Give thanks to the Risen Lord,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Give praise to His name.

Saturday 19 April – Burial of Jesus

Scripture Reading:     Matthew 27:57-66

Reflection from East Belfast Mission

“Were there two shooters the day Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated?” “Was the attack on the twin towers actually a US government plot to plan an attack on Iraq?” “Was the SAS in Paris the night Diana, the Princess of Wales was killed in a car crash and were they complicit in her death?” It seems the pages of our recent history are littered with what we have come to know as “conspiracy theories”, those stories peddled by media and TV channels or those magazines that we never read but we always find lying around waiting rooms or staff lunch tables. Conspiracy theories thrive because somewhere inside us, we may not trust other people or have had our trust betrayed.

The last part of today’s reading reminds us of the nature of conspiracy and mistrust. The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and asked that Jesus’s tomb be properly secured. Why? Because those disciples will come and steal Jesus’s body and then claim he had risen; Jesus, whom they called the deceiver, the one who could not be trusted.

Trust or more accurately a lack of trust is possibly the one thing that can undermine any relationship. Google “betrayal of trust” and you will find examples of cases of abuse whether familial or institutional; infidelity in relationships; thefts from vulnerable people by those trusted to care for them. Trust is fundamental to any healthy relationship. A lack of trust closes doors, it limits possibility and potential. Not being able to trust restricts our view of the world and lessens the ability of our imagination to consider the implausible.

Counter the Pharisees with the women mentioned in the passage. It might have been grief at the loss of Jesus or pure devotion or the need to prepare the body that had them sitting at the tomb that evening. Or maybe, just maybe as the women sat at the tomb, they knew – they trusted – that Good Friday was not the end of this story.

Friday 18 April – Crucifixion and death

Scripture Reading:     Matthew 27:33-56  

Reflection from Dundonald Methodist

Bearing shame and scoffing rude

In my place condemned He stood

Deserted by His friends, Jesus makes the lonely journey to the place of crucifixion. Wracked by the pain and agony of His flailing He could no longer carry the cross, but staggered along as Simon- a visiting pilgrim from N. Africa- was forced to carry it for Him.

At Golgotha He was nailed to the cross amid the insults, taunting and isolation; no words of comfort or sympathy for Him. Dignity was gone and He suffered the inhumanity of the bystanders and those on the crosses on either side of Him – those to whom He had come to bring the good news of a loving and merciful God.

As Jesus hung on that cross His anguished cry, demanding all of His failing strength  and spirit, reached out to His Heavenly Father. To the amazement of the onlookers and passers by, as noon approached, instead of the earth being flooded with sunlight-  darkness fell. The God of all creation has heard the cry of His obedient Son and assured Him of His presence. That anguished  cry had not gone unheeded.

Do we find, or even seek to find, God in the depth of our suffering, be it physical, mental or spiritual? Like Jesus, at our lowest point, we may think that God has forsaken us. But, from the passion of Christ, we learn that our Heavenly Father has not abandoned us; He is there with us, in Christ, and will enable us to come through our trials with our faith strengthened by His presence.

Lifted up was He to die

“It is finished,” was His cry

Now in heaven exalted high

Hallelujah! What a Saviour

Thursday 17 April – Trial, Soldiers mock Jesus

Scripture Reading:      Matthew 27:1-32                   

Reflection from Braniel Methodist

The passage refers to innocence on 3 occasions.  Firstly Judas realising the effect of his betrayal of an innocent man leads him to hang himself.  Secondly Pilate’s wife has a dream and urges her husband to have nothing to do with that innocent man and thirdly Pilate himself washing his hands in front of the crowd declares that I am innocent of this man’s blood.

This makes me think of the innocent blood of the Lamb, our Saviour who bled for our sins.

The passage also refers to responsibility on three occasions.

Firstly the chief priests weren’t interested in Judas’s plight and claimed that that was his responsibility when he threw the 30 pieces of silver back at them.  Secondly Pilate washing his hands and declaring to the people in effect it’s your responsibility, nothing to do with me and thirdly the people accepting the responsibility of calling for Jesus’ crucifixion with the words his blood is on us and our children.

Lastly the passage highlights the different treatment of Jesus.  Firstly by the chief priests who were determined to get rid of this threat to their authority by condemning him having him bound and led away to Pilate for execution. Secondly Pilate who really tried to get Jesus to clear his own name and later asked the crowd “Why do you want to crucify Him? What crime has he committed?”  Unfortunately he feared the people and gave in to their ill conceived  wishes.  Lastly the soldiers whose job it was to carry out the execution decided to have some fun at Jesus’ expense and mocked him, spat on him and  called him “The King of the Jews”.

PrayerWe thank you Lord that you shed your blood for our sins.  Help us to accept our responsibility to make disciples and love others.  Amen

Wednesday 16 April – Before Sanhedrin

Scripture Reading:      Matthew 26:57-75                         

Reflection from Bloomfield Methodist

Isolated, abandoned, facing certain death, Jesus stands before His persecutors.  He neither fights His corner nor counters the false accusations against Him.  He humbly accepts His Father’s will, knowing there is no other way.

And I find myself marvelling again that the Son of God should stand there for me, taking my sin and guilt on Himself.  In humility and love, the Prince of Peace dies in my place to seal my peace with Almighty God.

  1. Then even Peter, who said he never would, denies Him.  How could he?  He walked with Him, he sat at His feet and learnt from Him, he witnessed the miracles and the faithfulness of God.

And then I look at myself.  How often have I done the same?  Oh, maybe not in so many words – but in my attitudes, in that lost opportunity, in the fear of speaking truth into a hostile world …

Later, in His love and mercy, Jesus will forgive Peter.  His threefold commission to His fearful follower will cancel out the threefold denial.  He will restore Peter’s peace and fellowship with God.  Then a Spirit-filled Peter can spread the Good News of the kingdom in confidence and power.

And so He has forgiven me, restored me, and promised me all the joys of heaven.  He has made me fit for purpose.  What have I done to deserve this?  Nothing, absolutely nothing.  The Lord of all creation has done it for me.  He loved me so much that He gave up everything for me.

And so He stands, awaiting the end which will, in fact, be the beginning, the Sacrifice to end all sacrifices and open wide the floodgates of heaven.

PrayerBefore such love and mercy I can only kneel and worship my Saviour and my Lord.  Thank You, Jesus!

Tuesday 15 April – Gethsemane

Scripture Reading:     Matthew 26:36-56 

Reflection from Sydenham Methodist

Jesus prays fervently (v39, 42 – 43).He confides his anxiousness to God at the prospect of the coming events.

He’s at a crossroads where there’s the easy way out OR the hard choice that Jesus knows to be right. His conversation with God highlights the humanness qualities inherited in his human form but he stays true to the will of his Father.

Imagine yourself in front of God with your hands stretched out before him. You are also at a crossroads. Your choice is to ‘Dip in and out of Christian activities as suits your lifestyle’ OR ‘Dive in completely to do the will of your Father’. What choice do you know to be right?

Be honest with God and tell him your thoughts. He loves you and wants you to confide in him.

How many times have you heard the words in V41 that says that ‘The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak’? This was certainly the case for the disciples that night and we are no different. Peter and the 2 sons of Zebedee fell asleep 3 times when they were asked to keep watch and pray (v40, 43, 45). Also when Jesus was arrested, the disciples feared for their lives and fled.

Jesus didn’t reject them. From this we can take heart that God will not reject us when do the wrong thing.

The well-meaning Simon Peter (John 18:10) instinctively leaps to Jesus’ defence and cuts off the ear of a servant of the high priest (v51). He’s not aware of the big picture (v52 -55).

We as Christians are often not aware of the big picture. Don’t let our hearts rule God matters.  Spend time with God and deepen your relationship with him. You’ll find that his work will flourish through you in ways you never imagined.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, work in me so your name may glorified in its fullness. Amen

Monday 14 April – Judas agrees to betray Jesus

Scripture Reading:      Matthew 26:14-35 

Reflection from Mountpottinger

a.   Judas Agrees to Betray Jesus

The first couple of verses provide us with an insight of how Judas was approached by the chief priests; it then proceeds to highlight how much it would take for Judas to, as the verses describes it, “hand over” Jesus. The most striking aspects of this are that the request for Jesus to be handed over came from within the ‘church’ and that Judas “watched for an opportunity to hand him over.”

  1.    The Last Supper.

In verse 18, Jesus knows his time his near, but yet mentions it as if it is a minor detail, so much so that the Disciples don’t question him. Jesus then confronts the disciples about who would turn him in. Even at a stage, when he knows his death is coming, he still seems to give the person who was going to turn him in the time to openly admit it. However, when Judas lies to him, Jesus has little if any response and says, “You have said so”.

  1.     Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial

The overriding aspect of the final section is the conviction Jesus has that that all the Disciples will deny knowing him. The disciples were maybe not fully aware of the task they were going to undertake without the help of Jesus.

The passage highlights the problems Christians face when following God in terms of temptations. For example, the drive for fame or fortune or lust could see you turn your back on God. It will not always be easy following God. Being the light on the stand that so many of us seek to be may be a lot more difficult in practice than people think.

Prayer: Dear God, I thank you for the sacrifice you made for us by sending your one Son to die for us at the hands of the cross. I pray that we as a community within East Belfast would be able to stay strong for our love for you, no matter what temptations are put in are way and no matter if we are the only voice in the crowd that we will shout your praises loud enough so that everyone can hear. Amen.