”I want to make a real difference in this world, but how?”

My eldest granddaughter just returned from supporting a “Black Lives Matter” march, because she wants to change the world – or better put, she wants to change “her” world, because she doesn’t like the world she’s found herself in, and what it’s doing to her and to others. Not one bit.   

So she writes passionate articles too, against the irrational behaviour of people she believes should know better. High School also taught her how awful her own age group can be when they discover the power they have to wreck the lives and relationships of their class mates. So she’s really fired up. 

Her mother, meanwhile, is all for her daughter’s passion, but hopes she won’t go overboard with it, because it could turn into bitterness or disillusionment, or worse, into violent protest and jail, if her fired up girl doesn’t get the results she’s after. 

It’s a dilemma for both of them, which got me thinking about what the Holy Spirit was given for on Pentecost in the book of Acts. Was it to change the world? 

Just one chapter earlier, in Acts 1:8, Jesus told his disciples “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you,” which sounds like Christians would be making a real difference in the world. And that would include the children of Christians, because the promise of the Holy Spirit “is for you and your children” too, in Acts 2:39. 

So imagine telling my granddaughter: “Hey, kiddo, even Jesus promised you real power.” But real power to do what? Would she take the promise of power to mean getting into politics in a big way, or becoming a passionate lawyer fighting for justice, or going on massive protest marches to force change? And is that what Jesus meant too?

But history is chock full of people who are sick of the world they’re living in and they’ve tried to force change by revolution and violence. That was the Jews’ approach to getting rid of the Romans thirty years after Pentecost, which resulted in a horrific backlash from the Romans in 70 A.D.  

So what was this gift of the Holy Spirit for, and the power attached to it? 

Peter’s immediate answer to that in Acts 2:40, just after the Holy Spirit was given. was to “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” It wasn’t, “Now you and your kids have the power to change the world,” because that’s been tried by many Christians, but the world’s problems continue. Good is being done all over the world, yes, but a virus pandemic or economic collapse can undo years of progress, and remind us that even the best of human initiative and good intentions can only do so much. Meanwhile, hundreds of issues remain unsolved and unsolvable.  

So what was the power of the Holy Spirit given for? 

Again, it’s Peter who answers, this time in 2 Peter 1:4, when he writes, “Through God’s great and precious promises you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil human desires.”

And there, my dear granddaughter, is the great news of how real change happens, and how you can make a real difference in your world. And it’s the same answer Peter gave back on Pentecost too. And again, it’s not by human passion, revolution, or writing scathing articles exposing the world’s ills. That’s not where changing the world begins, my girl; it begins with a change in you. And it’s a change that enables you personally to “escape the corruption” caused by unsolvable human greed, lust and – as Adam and Eve demonstrated – our innate ability to self-destruct.

And how does that change in you happen? It’s in that “great and precious promise” of the Holy Spirit so you can share in God’s very own nature, and it’s totally his gift to you for simply believing this is what he sent Jesus to set up for us. And by what that divine nature does in you, you then “witness” to such power being available and what it’s for, just as Jesus said in Acts 1:8. 

What impact that now has on you and the people who know you, will create a ripple of change in their lives and yours, and who knows how far that ripple will spread? It won’t change the whole world, but it will make a real difference in the world where you are. So let that fire up your engine and see where it takes you….

“Come on, Grampy, let’s party”

In this year’s Pentecost sermon on the GCI website the question was asked: “Are we so indulging and enjoying the life of the Spirit that people think we’ve been drinking?” And two sentences later, “Would people mistake our church services for a party? Would they accuse us of being drunks and partiers like they accused Jesus?”

Both sentences were stirred by what happened on Pentecost in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit suddenly enabled the apostles to “declare the wonders of God” in several languages, which some people loudly scoffed at, however, accusing the apostles of drinking “too much wine.”  

But it looked like they really had been at a party, drinking and celebrating. So was this what the Holy Spirit did to people? And if so, can it happen to me too, then, where I’m “so indulging and enjoying the life of the Spirit that people think I’ve been drinking”?

Well, it’s possible, yes, because Hebrews 6:4 says I can “taste the heavenly gift” when “sharing in the Holy Spirit,” which can fill me “with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8). It made me think of the great celebration at the end of World War 2, when people were beside themselves with joy at the war finally ending, and they were free at last. They were yelling and dancing wildly in the streets, behaving like they were drunk too.  

But isn’t that what being free does to people? It’s like winning a lottery worth several millions and in a flash all your financial worries are over. For a few glorious moments you’re “drunk” with joy. 

Well, all our worries are over too, since receiving the Holy Spirit. We’ve entered a whole new world of “the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21) as the Holy Spirit ”transforms us into the likeness of Christ” (2 Corinthians 3:18). It’s meant to fill us with an “inexpressible and glorious joy.” 

And I got a clue what that looks like when our 6 year old granddaughter came to stay with us for a week. She was ecstatically happy to be with us, but what on earth could we do to keep her occupied and happy for a whole week?  She had the energy of three nuclear power stations, while I tottered in her wake on worn out batteries. Would she be so bored by Day 2 that she’d be crying for home?

By Day 6, however, she was still happy. She scampered down the front path each morning as happily as she did on Day 1, because to her wherever Grampy was going it would be a good day. And if all Grampy could manage was a trip to the library where he fell into a chair in a semi-coma and read a newspaper, it was still fine with her, because just being with Grampy was enough.

Her trust and contentment in whatever we did together was a joy – and a wonderful illustration for me of “the life of the Spirit.” Like Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:8, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

In other words, we have no idea where the Spirit’s taking us, just like my granddaughter had no idea where I was taking her each morning, but in her mind it was guaranteed to be good. Grampy knew where he was going and that was all that mattered. She felt utterly free, which enabled her to scamper into each day in total trust and contentment.

And according to Jesus we have such a “Grampy” too. He said as much in John 14:16-18, that the Holy Spirit would be our everyday guide and companion. Where the Spirit takes us we do not know, but he knows – and for my granddaughter with me as her guide and companion that was all that mattered. Every day coming up, therefore, would be a good day. And it created in her an inexpressible and glorious joy. 

It dawned on me after that week with her that God has put us in that same spot too, that every day coming up is going to be a good day in some form or other because of the Holy Spirit. We have no idea how, or in what way, but as Romans 8:28 promises, “God works for the good of those who love him.” 

So, “Come on, Grampy, let’s party,” was my granddaughter’s attitude to each new day with me. Not a bad idea for my new days with the Holy Spirit too, I thought. 

What a different Dad I became

For years I wondered what Jesus meant when he prayed in John 17:11, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – the name you gave me – so that they may be one as we are one.”

But how, I wondered, could the Father give Jesus his name? Only the Father could be called “Father,” surely. Should we now call Jesus “Father” too, then, if the Father gave Jesus his name? 

But then it dawned on me that the name the Father gave Jesus reflected who and what God is, because the name the Father gave Jesus was “Son.” In other words, God is not a single entity, he’s both Father and Son. When we say the name “God,” then, it means a relationship of Father and Son. And that’s backed up in the last part of the verse that says, “so that may be one as we are one,” or that we may be in relationship just like God as Father and Son are in relationship.  

And it’s in our relationship of oneness that we come to know the Father and Son relationship that God is. Which all sounded very nice and theological, but what did it actually mean in my everyday life? What difference did it make knowing this is what it meant?    

Well, if we could be “one as Father and Son are one,” what difference could that make in me as a Dad to my son? At the time I still had a ten year old son at home too. So I looked into the relationship the Father had with his Son, which fortunately, was summarized by Jesus right here in John 17.

And it began with Jesus’ statement in verse 2, For you (Father) granted him (me, Jesus) authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.”  

The Father trusted his Son so much he “put him in charge of everything human so he might give real and eternal life to all in his charge” (verse 3, The Message). 

What a wonderful way for a Dad to treat his son, I thought. So why not try that with my own son, that I trust him too, regardless of how well or poorly he was doing. It was risky, yes, because for years his school report card wasn’t anything to write home about, but trust is what the Father did with his Son, so on that I’d base my relationship with my son too. I simply trusted him to take charge of his life, and to my deep delight it caused all sorts of wires to hook up in my son’s brain that turned him into a scholar student by graduation. It was my first real insight into the difference the relationship of God as Father and Son made in this life of ours, and I liked it very much, because look what happened when played out in the every day relationship between me and my son. 

So what else, I wondered, was tucked away in John 17 that described the relationship between the Father and Son? Well, the Father gave Jesus a massive challenge (verse 6), which he knew would stretch Jesus way beyond his human ability to fulfill, so he provided Jesus with the equipment (“the words,” verse 8) to fulfill it. Well, that’s a great way to go too, I thought, because it applies brilliantly to the tough years of my son’s teenage when he’d face challenges way beyond his abilities to cope with as well. 

So, what my son needed was my “words” too, then, which I interpreted as giving him endless encouragement. So I drove him to school every morning during his teenage, a six minute trip in which I would try to make him laugh and start his day off on a positive, happy note. And it was brilliant, because it created a relationship we have both treasured ever since. 

And it was on just those two things, trust and encouragement – that Jesus clearly treasured in his life too – that changed me as a Dad. What a different Dad I became. 

And the result of that relationship I now had with my son was the same as the relationship between the Father and his Son too, because in verse 11 Jesus says, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – the name you gave me – so that they may be one as we are one.” Their Father/Son relationship would “protect” the disciples through whatever the world would throw at them. And how true that proved to be, because as Jesus said in verse 12, “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me.” 

And my son too was kept “safe” through High School, because of our relationship as father and son. He was able to rise above, and not be drawn in or perturbed by, the attitudes of “the evil one” (verse 15). 

It was all so real, a taste of “eternal life” in the here and now, from simply “knowing God and Jesus,” verse 3, as Father and Son.    

How do I explain what I believe in to somebody totally new?

As an immigrant to Canada in 1972 I had no idea what it meant “to be Canadian,” or how to become one. So I asked, and I was told, “Learn how to ice skate.” 

Well, that made things nice and simple, so I threw on a pair of ice skates and flung myself onto the ice at a local skating rink to make myself Canadian. Two steps out, however, I instantly went horizontal and crashed to the ice with a body jarring thump.

I clearly needed somebody to explain to me in terms I could understand as a total novice how this skating thing worked, starting with something as simple as how you stay vertical for more than two steps. And frustrating though it was that I couldn’t become a Canadian right away, it gave me a vital clue when introducing someone to Christianity. 

Becoming a Christian is just like being an immigrant, because in Christianity a person is entering a totally new world as well. Start them off simply too, then, which is exactly what Paul did in Acts 17 when introducing total novices to Christianity in Athens.  

Weird though the Athenians were with their 30,000 statues to empty gods, they did at least believe in supernatural beings. On that point, then, Paul could connect with them, which he did by complimenting them on being “very religious,” verse 22. People today might not like to hear that, of course, because of the jaundiced view of religious people on TV and movies, but like  those Athenians, people today are seeking something, anything, that lifts them above the drudgery of everyday life.

For some, just like the Epicureans in Athens, it means partying and trying to get as much personal enjoyment out of life as possible. For others, like the Stoics in Athens, it means enduring life, stoically trying to “grin and bear” whatever life hits them with. 

Either way, God is a total stranger, just like the “Unknown God” of verse 23. So we’re in much the same situation today as Paul was in Athens, trying to explain the Christian message to people who were seeking, but had no idea about, or even interest in, the real God.  

So when my non-religious 19 year old granddaughter asked me what I believed in, completely out of the blue one day while eating a hamburger in a restaurant, I immediately thought of Paul’s approach here in Acts 17.

He started off, even with those highly sophisticated philosophers in Athens, with something so simple. He talked about God as the Creator, verse 24. So I did that too, by asking my granddaughter where the hamburger she was munching on came from. Did it float down from out of space and land on her plate, or what? No, it was made for her by a chef in the kitchen.

It was “check mate,” first move, because all I had to do next was ask her how this world came into being too. Somebody had to make it, because anything made, hamburgers or universes, needs a maker, right? 

And what if her hamburger was really tasty too, and it had been beautifully presented on the plate, with obvious pride and love by the chef, wouldn’t she want to know more about the chef and what else he could do? The same with this world, in how beautifully it has been presented by its “chef” and maker too. 

“So,” I said with a flourish, “that’s what I believe in, a God like that, who’s jolly well worth knowing, and especially when he looks upon us as his kids whom he deeply loves as well.” It was a page right out of Paul’s book in verses 27 and 28. 

In asking the question, then, “How do I explain what I believe in to somebody totally new?” I admit to blatantly plagiarizing Paul in his opening gambit with those seeking but totally ignorant people in Athens. He kept it so simple. 

And fortunately there were Canadians willing to start me off so simply too, in having me learn how to ice skate. “You’ll love it when you get it too,” I was told, and the same can be said of Christianity. There is a sting to it too, which Paul added in Acts 17:30-31, but that was like telling me as an immigrant I couldn’t be a Canadian without wanting and attempting to be one. 

But what made that “wanting and attempting” so much more appealing was being given something like learning to ice skate that made me feel like I was a Canadian. And that was a leaf right out of Paul’s book too, because he told those Athenians they too could feel like they were the Creator’s much loved children by simply reaching out to him and discovering he wasn’t far away at all, verses 27-28. 

And that’s the same for anyone entering the brand new world of God and Christianity. “Just seek him and you’ll find him, and you’ll love it when you do.” It’s so simple. 

A practical, provable, everyday miracle…

Tucked away in John 14:1 Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” As a disciple of Jesus, therefore, there is no need for me to be flustered, anxious, discouraged or depressed. Like my wife’s tea cup says, I can “Keep calm and carry on.”

Well, I’m not one of life’s “keep calmers.” It’ll take a miracle every day for that to happen. But that’s exactly what Jesus promises in John 14:6 when he tells Thomas, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” 

Jesus has just explained in verses 2 and 3 that he’s “going to prepare a place” – for his disciples in his Father’s house. And after he’s done that, he’ll “come back and take you to be with me so that you also may be where I am.” And then in verse 4 he says, “You know the way to the place where I am going.”  

And that’s when Thomas pipes up and says, “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going, so how can we know the way?“ And how many times have I felt that too, when I haven’t got a clue where Jesus is taking me, or the church? My heart gets easily troubled when that happens. 

So I’m glad Thomas expressed his frustration, because Jesus comes up with his amazing answer in verse 6, that he is “the way.” In context he means “the way” to where he is with the Father, or “the way” to the place in his Father’s house where he resides. And Jesus is now opening up that way to Thomas and the other disciples, so they can be with him where he is to experience life with the Father as he, Jesus, is living it.   

No wonder Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled,” because he is now providing his disciples with a way right into the dimension where he and his Father are. As a disciple of Jesus, then, does that mean I can enter that world too? And enter it every day, as well, because I need that. But how do I know I’m entering it? 

Well, that takes us to Jesus saying he’s also “the truth.” In context, the truth he’s talking about is having the power to lift his disciples into the world he’s living in, because that’s the power the Father has given him. As Jesus himself said in verse 10, it’s “the Father, living in me, who is doing his work,” the proof of which was “the miracles” he was doing (verse 11).

So, Jesus could make such a promise to his disciples, that they could experience life as he’s living it, because the Father had given him the power to make it happen. It was an undeniable “truth,” because his disciples could see the power Jesus had in the miracles he was doing. But Jesus then drops the bombshell that his disciples could experience that power too, because not only could they “do what I (Jesus) have been doing,” but “even greater things,” verse 12. 

What a promise, that Jesus’ disciples could experience the power of the Father doing miracles in them too. And not only what Jesus himself had been doing, they’d also be doing “even greater things,” meaning millions of people through the ages would witness these miracles in Jesus’ disciples, and the fruit of those miracles in his disciples being an untroubled heart in a world full of troubles. And it’s when that untroubled heart happens to me, that’s how I know I’m entering the world Jesus is living in.

It’s meant to be an undeniable “truth” proving Jesus really is “the way” to being with him where he is. The only question remaining for me, then, is how does Jesus make it possible and real in my life? 

And that takes us to Jesus saying he’s “the life,” as well. In context, Jesus is saying he’ll do “whatever you (his disciples) ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father,” verse 13. 

All it takes for the miracle to come to “life” and reality in me, then, of entering Jesus’ world and experiencing life as he’s living it, is asking Jesus for it. And why ask Jesus? Because this is what he’s dedicated his “life” to, in making his Father’s love and plan for humanity come alive to “bring glory” to his Father. And how that love and plan of the Father come alive is in the everyday lives of Jesus’ disciples, as Jesus fills us with his “life” and the dimension he lives in, the fruit of which is the miracle we experience of an untroubled heart in a trouble filled world.   

Jesus does not promise his disciples a trouble free life, but what he does promise is the practical, provable, everyday miracle of a trouble free heart in this life – for simply trusting that he’s “the way and the truth and the life.” We can, therefore, according to my wife’s tea cup, “Keep calm and carry on.”   

Hearing Jesus’ voice – and knowing it’s him

A rather revealing video has three youngish millennials yelling at a flock of nibbling sheep to get their attention. But the sheep show no interest at all, and keep nibbling, heads down. When the shepherd then appears and calls to the sheep, their heads immediately rise, nibbling stops, and the sheep come running to him. 

These sheep aren’t dumb at all. They know the voice of their shepherd when they hear it, and respond only to him. And that’s hugely important because they depend on their shepherd for a constant supply of food and protection. 

And it’s that analogy that Jesus uses in John 10 to describe his sheep – those who look to him as their shepherd to provide them with food and protection. And it has much to do with hearing and knowing his voice, verses 3 and 4: “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his sheep by name….and his sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” 

But how do sheep come to know their shepherd’s voice? By the shepherd talking to them, in a language all his own. It could be a loud sing-song voice, or weird animal sounds, or a “strange laughing call” as one observer put it, but the sheep take notice, because every word their shepherd speaks to them is for their benefit. 

And isn’t that the reason Jesus gives for following him and listening to his voice too, when he says in verse 10, “I have come that my sheep may have life, and have it to the full”?  

Take into account that “life to the full” for sheep in first century Palestine meant surviving very nicely on little tufts of grass poking up through the rocks in the desert wilderness, because that was the only place sheep were allowed to roam and eat. But a good shepherd knew where those tufts of grass were, and his sheep could get their fill of them every day. And in having to follow their shepherd closely for those precious tufts, it meant he was close by to protect them too. So even though life for both sheep and shepherd seemed tough in a desert wilderness, in the hands of a good shepherd it worked brilliantly in meeting the sheep’s needs “to the full.” 

And that’s the promise we have for trusting in Jesus as our shepherd and hearing his voice. But how do we know it’s his voice we’re hearing, and not the voice of some impostor – like the “thieves that come only to steal, kill and destroy,” that Jesus talked about in verse 10? 

Jesus’ answer to that is in verse 14, when he says “I know my sheep and my sheep know me” – and both points are extremely important in the relationship between sheep and their shepherd. 

For a shepherd to “know his sheep” he has to know each sheep’s personality, which he shows in the names he gives them. Sheep have a wide variety of personality types, from cute to downright ornery, so there are lots of names to choose from, like “Touchy” for the sensitive one, or “Butt head” for the bully. 

And Jesus also “calls his sheep by name,” verse 3. So, does he have names for us that fit our personalities too – just like we have affectionate nick names for our kids?  

As parents we also adjust our treatment of each child according to his or her personality. So do good shepherds with their sheep. I watched one shepherd make sure his most hesitant sheep got its dose of food by feeding it first, which the shepherd needed to do because the bully sheep in the flock grabbed the bucket out of his hand, and even got the bucket stuck over its head.  

So Jesus knows his sheep, but his sheep have come to know him too. How? According to Jesus it’s by an ongoing process, which he describes in verse 9: “I am the gate, whoever enters through me will be kept safe. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.” He’s describing exactly what it was like for sheep in the desert hills. Every night they’d be corralled in an open space surrounded by walls with an opening at one end that had a door, or gate, through which the sheep would enter for protection at night, and then exit through to “find pasture” during the day.  

Jesus says he’s that door, or gate, so it’s through him we constantly enter and exit for protection and “finding pasture.” And the only way we come to know he’ll do that for us is to trust him. Sheep have to do that with their shepherd, and so do we. And that takes time. But it’s after we’ve experienced again and again how he keeps us safe from evil and fed on the pasture of his word that we come to know him. It’s the old adage of “trust him, and see.” 

And Jesus guarantees he’ll be a shepherd to us. We then learn by trusting him day in and day out that he is that perfect shepherd. It starts with listening to his voice, speaking to us so personally through his word, and it continues to the point we recognize his voice so well we won’t be caught out by, or even take the slightest notice of, an impostor.    

”What kind of answer is that?” 

What would I, or even could I, say to the grieving families of those who had relatives murdered by the Nova Scotia shooter? Or to those who wonder why God would allow such a horrible thing to happen? And what would I say to my kids too, or to anybody’s children for that matter, why the God I believe in allows good people to be killed? Where’s the “good news” we preach in all this?

What a dilemma, because if I can’t answer those questions as a Christian, people have a right to ask, “Well, what’s the point of Christianity, then?” If Christians can’t come up with decent answers to these pressing questions, then why turn to Christians for answers to anything? 

But even C.S. Lewis had trouble answering why his wife had to die from cancer at age 45 after only four years of marriage, leaving him with her two young boys to bring up as well. None of it made sense to him. So he went looking for answers, and there’s a poignant scene in the movie Shadowlands (starring Joss Ackland as C. S. Lewis, not Anthony Hopkins), when Lewis storms out after his wife’s funeral and shouts at Harry the vicar who’s just said, “it’s only faith that makes sense of times like these,” to which Lewis replies, “No, I’m sorry, Harry, but it won’t do. This is a mess, and that’s all there is to it.” 

But what kind of answer is that? Imagine saying that at a funeral: “Let’s just face it, folks, what happened in this person’s death is a mess, and that’s all there is to it.” But if that’s all that Lewis – with his immense brain power and knowledge of Scripture and the resurrection – could come up with in answer to why God allows premature death and horrible things to happen to good people, where does that leave the rest of us in what we say to the bereaved? 

We probably feel some pressing need to say something comforting and meaningful, but what? So I’ve been wondering of late how Jesus would answer the inevitable and justifiable questions raised by a premature or shocking death that doesn’t make any sense to people either? 

And that’s when Luke 24 came to my rescue, because to two despondent disciples shuffling along the road to Emmaus, Jesus’ shocking premature death did not make sense either. He wasn’t supposed to die (verse 21). Everything about Jesus had raised the hope “that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (verse 21). And even the news that Jesus had been seen alive again wasn’t enough to settle their minds. It was all so frustratingly confusing. In Lewis’s words “it was a mess, and that’s all there was to it.” 

So what did Jesus do? Well, here he was, freshly resurrected from the dead, the most dramatic event in the history of humanity, he’s just been given total authority over everything in the entire universe by his Father, and he’s just celebrated a victory parade in heaven over all his adversaries. And what does he do? He joins two men on their walk. And he doesn’t swoop down in a fiery chariot with an army of angels either; he’s dressed as a fellow traveller, and he asks a couple of questions that get the two men to voice their troubles while he listens attentively. 

We see Jesus, then, zooming in on these two men with their inevitable and justifiable questions in a clear demonstration of what his resurrection had now opened up to us humans. It was exactly what Jesus had promised to do too, when he told his disciples in John 14:18, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” 

But look how he came to them. In all the billion things he could have done, now that he’d been resurrected and had the power to shake the world to its roots, he focuses on two men having trouble finding answers to questions troubling them, by being there for them, because this is where he wanted to be. Not up in heaven chucking lightning bolts, but down here again in the mess of life with us. 

And there was my answer to those deeply troubled by shocking and premature death. It’s not talking about the resurrection coming in the future, but what the resurrected Jesus will do for us now. He will come to us, and in such a way he draws out our questions and provides us with answers. And all we need do is see him in that light, exactly as revealed in Luke 24, that Jesus is at his resurrected happiest settling our minds personally.

He loves being with us, happily knocking on our door every morning looking forward to spending the day with us, and answering any questions we may have, because he promised that too: “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” And what better than being able to ask for answers to deeply troubling questions? 

It doesn’t change the obvious, that life now really is a mess and that’s all there is to it, but we now have the resurrected Jesus doing what he loves most. It’s travelling along our road with us, knowing what we’re thinking, and settling our troubled thoughts. And to those who say, “Yeah, but, what kind of answer is that?” I can only say, “Try him and see.”  

“So, what has Jesus’ resurrection done for you, Dad?” 

It’s a question my kids have every right to ask me: “Hey, you’re a Christian, Dad, so everything you believe hinges on Jesus being raised from the dead, so what obvious difference has his resurrection made in your life?”

And other than their Mother, who better to ask? Here am I, their Dad, an average chap who’s spent most of his life steeped in Christianity, so what have I got to show for it that might just make them say, “Well, yeah man, that makes sense; cool”?  

Can I explain, then, how the resurrection of Jesus has played out in my life in terms that would be easy for my kids to understand and relate to – and maybe come up with some dramatic evidence for them too? 

So I went back to what happened right after Jesus was resurrected to see if there were any helpful clues there, because surely that was the best time of all for Jesus to introduce the differences his resurrection would create. He was fresh out of the grave, causing a massive ripple that dead people could actually come back to life again, so it’s obvious that people would want to know what on earth was going on, and what dramatic things might happen next.

But Jesus doesn’t do anything dramatic next. He simply says to his disciples, “Don’t be afraid” in Matthew 28:10, “Peace be with you” in Luke 24:36, and he gives his disciples the authority to forgive and not forgive in John 20:23.

In response to this amazing miracle of his resurrection, then, Jesus wants three things to happen to his disciples: that first of all they have no fear, that secondly they experience peace of mind, and thirdly that they make forgiveness their priority. And because this was now the resurrected Jesus speaking he clearly meant what he said, and because of his resurrection he clearly had the power to make all three possible. 

So if I’d been there at Jesus’ resurrection I would have heard him say all three of those things to me, and therefore that he intended them to happen to me too as one of his disciples, as a direct result of his resurrection. Have those three things happened to me too, then?  

Well, I’d never actually thought about it in those terms before, but I have to admit that, looking back over the last fifty plus years since knowing about Jesus’ resurrection, I have called out to him many times to calm my fears and give me peace during times of overwhelming stress, and dozens of times I’ve been answered, and each time a “life-saver.”  

But what about the third one – making forgiveness my priority? Well, that’s been a life-saver too, because I’ve been shafted, lied about and accused falsely during my years in the church, that made me so angry and resentful that several times I was ready to give up on life and God, and seriously consider leaving the church.  

But Jesus, during the most excruciatingly agonizing time in his life, said, “Forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.” And for me to be able to say that too has been a life-saver for me. I don’t want to even think what my life would have been like if I’d been stuck with hurts and offences I couldn’t forgive. 

I can say with total conviction, then, that those three things – calming my fears, peace of mind and being able to forgive – have saved my life, my marriage, my relationship with my kids, and my mental state and sanity in situations where I could have done irreparable damage. 

So, what has Jesus’ resurrection done for me in terms that are easy to understand and relate to? It’s in those three areas, all of which have been life-savers for me, again and again. They lifted me out of the doldrums, and perhaps even from death. In Jesus’ resurrection, therefore, I’ve experienced being raised from the dead too. And what better proof of his resurrection can I give my kids than that? 

Hooray for “doubting Thomases…”

In John 20:25 Thomas wasn’t going to believe what the other disciples said about seeing the dead Jesus alive again “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side.” 

It was a risky move on his part, because who likes being around someone who stands up for himself and refuses to go along with the crowd? Who likes being around someone who’s always questioning what everybody else is excited about? I remember in High School when several of my buddies discovered how easy and exciting it was to shoplift goods from a store, how annoying the party pooper was who kept asking questions like, “Yeah, but – what if we get caught?” 

But in reality the party pooper played an enormously important part in making the rest of us teenage boneheads take a brief moment to put our brains in gear before going into action. It takes courage too, because once a group momentum gets started the party pooper is not appreciated. He’s derided, picked on and isolated, and probably called all sort of derogatory names. Recall those men who refused to fight in the last great war – and put up excellent arguments for doing so too – but were pilloried in their towns and villages as cowards and traitors for deserting their country and countrymen. But Britain’s  most decorated enlisted soldier in WW1 was a conscientious objector who never fired a shot.  

And what if more Christians in both world wars had stood up and said. “No, we’re not going to fight unless you can prove from Scripture that God supports the killing of one’s fellow man”? Would there have been a war at all? And what if more Christians had challenged the obvious corruption and muddle-headed ideas in the church through the ages too? Would there have been a need for Luther? And we remember Luther too, don’t we, for standing up to the bully. And aren’t we thankful he did too, because he brought the reform that was so desperately needed in Christianity.

Luther wasn’t perfect in his own life either, of course, nor were the conscientious objectors in war, nor was Thomas, and nor’s the chap who stands up against a bully. A questioner can be really pig-headed and so negative all the time that no one wants to be around him. Maybe there’s some arrogance and rebellion tucked away in there too, that prevents him ever being able to happily join a group or a team, or a church. 

But Jesus chose Thomas.    

And Jesus knew what he was in for in choosing Thomas too, because he prayed all night in the choosing of his disciples. Perhaps he knew how negatively Thomas would react to his resurrection. Thomas would obviously want proof before he believed. And why shouldn’t he, when there’d be millions of Thomases to follow through the ages, who would deeply appreciate knowing their questioning, doubting, critical thinking minds are no problem for Jesus at all, and that Jesus can make use of anyone?

No one’s personality is a problem for Jesus, because he can take that raw material in their personality and make use of it. He doesn’t knock it out of the person, as if it’s some kind of anathema to Christianity, or a black sheep among all the lily white ones. He chose Thomas in his raw state on purpose, because Thomas would play an enormously important part in all church history to follow, providing courage and tenacity to those who would see huge cracks in traditional Christianity and not be afraid to reveal them. 

But who and where are those people today when we need them? Christianity as a whole has been painting itself into a corner for ages, with its huge buildings requiring massive amounts of money to preserve, and its weird, outdated rituals and traditions that have made the church irrelevant and abhorrent to at least two generations of youngsters, and its myriad number of splits and divisions that have made the church look like a bunch of squabbling brats. 

But who has dared stand up as a conscientious objector? Who has dared stand up against the bully of mainline Christianity that demands adherence to its ridiculous beliefs about heaven and hell? Where are the Thomases and the Luthers who say, “I’m not darkening the door of a church again, unless there’s a willingness of the church to put aside tradition and outdated ritual and all the other idols the church worships, and it seeks unity of belief from Scripture alone?”  

Hooray, therefore, for the Thomases to come who will challenge, question and perhaps even dismantle this creaking old relic of a.church, and install the desperate improvements it needs. Unless, of course, the Covid-19 pandemic gets to us first, because in the state the church is now in, even a million Thomases could not make a dent in stifling church tradition. But a pandemic can, and it has. Perhaps we could call this Covid-19 crisis the “Thomas Pandemic,” therefore, because of the much needed reformation it is bringing into the church.  

Jesus’ resurrection: when the new creation began 

But if a “new creation” did truly start with Jesus’ resurrection, why aren’t we seeing huge changes in our world for the better? Jesus also said – right after his resurrection in Matthew 28:18 – that “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” So he’s had the power to make huge changes, but where are they? And in Colossians 2:15 his “triumph on the cross” had “disarmed the powers and authorities” and “made a public spectacle of them” like a victorious Roman general parading his defeated enemies through the streets of Rome, but where do we see those defeated enemies today? Evil is still rampant.

So if the world hasn’t changed much for the better since Jesus’ resurrection, what has changed, if anything?

There’s a clue in John 20:17 when the resurrected Jesus says to Mary Magdalene, “Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 

Well, that was different, because only moments before that – when Jesus calls out to Mary by name and she recognizes him – she blurts out, ”Rabboni,” and in brackets it says: “which means Teacher.”

So up to this point Mary sees herself as Jesus’ student. She loves him dearly, but there’s still that respectful distance between a student and teacher. Did she catch what Jesus had just said in verss 17, then, about the Father being “your” Father?  

This was extraordinary, because never in the gospel accounts had the Father been the Father to anyone but Jesus. Jesus had called his disciples his “brothers” before, because they all worshipped the same God, but never had Jesus said, “My Father is your Father too.” The relationship between the Father and Jesus had been reserved for Jesus alone. Only Jesus was called “My beloved Son” by the Father, no one else.

But here was Jesus telling his disciples that his Father was now their Father too. Their relationship with God was now as much Father and son as the Father and Jesus were Father and Son. They could now address God as “Father,” just like Jesus had been doing. Jesus had hinted at such a relationship in the Lord’s Prayer which began with “Our Father,” but that was acknowledging we’re all God’s children, rather than a clear statement that we have the same relationship with God that Jesus had. 

So verse 17 was a watershed moment, when the relationship between humans and God was no longer teacher and student, it was Father and son – or in Mary’s case, Father and daughter. And because God was now their Father as well as Jesus’ Father, it literally made the disciples Jesus’ “brothers” (verse 17), and Mary his sister. 

And this was the great change that Jesus’ resurrection made. It elevated us humans to the point we can look upon and address God as our Father. The evidence we’re looking for, then, that the new creation began with Jesus’ resurrection is in the new creation we humans have become, who catch on to what Jesus said to Mary in verse 17.  

It takes us back to the Garden of Eden and the relationship with God we had back then, when he walked and talked with that first man, gave him charge of his creation, had the man care for his beautiful oasis in Eden and name the animals. It was a lovely open relationship we had with God, but we lost it. 

How significant, then, that our relationship with God was restored in another garden at Jesus’ resurrection, and two angels were present at that restoration too, just as two angels were present in the Garden of Eden at the loss of that relationship. It pictures so well what God made possible for us through Jesus’ resurrection, and how it’s all about our relationship with God being restored to what it could have been in Eden, and how that relationship now changes us.   

So it’s not changes in the planet that Jesus’ resurrection began, it’s the change of relationship between us and God, and what that new relationship does in changing us. So that one day, when God gives us charge of his creation again, we will bring about a vastly new creation to what we see today. 

And that’s when we’ll see the huge changes in our world for the better.