However, with lockdown, I have been enjoying (looking at) the garden more, and have come to appreciate better the marvel of how things grow.
I am also surprised how fast changes take place: the leaves in spring, the flowers, and in no time at all (it seems) the flowers die and the fruits start to develop.
The words of Paul at Iconium come to mind:
“God has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” (Acts 14:16-17)
The process of growing, flowering, fruiting gives us our food, as well as much pleasure en route as we see the pretty colours.
It is part of the cycle of life. And we are part of that too. We are born, we grow up, we flourish for a bit and hopefully produce some good fruit, and then we die!
What is the purpose? As far as plants are concerned, it is to carry on the plant life. The main plant dies, but the fruits produce seeds, the seeds grow, so the plant as a species carries on.
And what of ourselves? The same could apply to us, that we live on in our children!
But it is more than that. For human beings, the purpose is greater and grander.
At the time of Jesus, there were two schools of thought.
There were the Sadducees, who believed that this life is all. Death is the end.
There were the Pharisees, who believed that those who had died would be raised by God to new life.
Jesus had confrontations with both the Sadducees and the Pharisees. But when he was challenged over the subject of life after death, he sided with the Pharisees. However, he produced an argument, as far as I am aware, a new argument. Certainly, I have never seen it used elsewhere before Jesus used it. To the Sadducees, Jesus said this:
“You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.
… about the resurrection of the dead — have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” (Matthew 22:29,31,32)
Now, my understanding of what Jesus meant is this. The famous ancestors of the Jewish nation, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – all long dead – had a relationship with God. It doesn’t make sense of the world or of that relationship, if death puts a final end to that. If God is eternal, if God worked with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as their God, then He must have a purpose with them beyond this life.
And that is our belief too. It is why we gather as a church, it is why we have the Life Training Club — to train us for a good, God-serving life now, and for a purpose in life that has greater meaning for the future. “Life Training” is for us all. Someone was once asked “When did your education end?”. He replied, “It didn’t end. I’m still learning!”
That commitment should be for each of us. And likewise, the hope of a bright future in the Kingdom of God, for as it says in John’s Gospel:
“God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ (John 3:16)
During the Coronavirus lockdown I have had time to enjoy the countryside around where I live. This has demonstrated to me the wonder and beauty of God’s creation.
Less than ten minutes from my house is Carron Dams nature reserve. This was originally part of the Carron Iron works 1759-1963. 57 years ago, this area would not be that pleasant to visit. The main dam held water diverted from the River Carron to provide water to cool the forge in the Carron Ironworks. But that is long ago, and nature has reclaimed the land. The lake is almost completely covered in reeds and bullrushes. Trees have self-seeded and wildlife has moved in – deer, foxes, grey squirrels and ducks. As I have walked through the park, I have particularly noticed the trees. They have not been managed – they have been allowed to do their own thing.
I noticed several large trees with branches extending precariously away from the main trunk a huge distance. They have not chosen the best or easiest path and have made life difficult for themselves. Despite the seeming mistake they continue and make the best of it producing a good crop of leaves. This reminded me of Elimelech and Naomi in Ruth. They made the decision, no doubt prayerfully to leave the promised land and move to Moab due to a famine. They were godly people and I suspect were convinced this was the way GOD was leading them. Although this looks to us, and no doubt to many others at that time, to be a wrong move, it was indeed GOD’S will. If we had provided advice to them, although it seemed sound to us – it would have been wrong! There is a lesson for us to accept decisions made by brothers and sisters since we may not understand how GOD is guiding them. The result in Ruth is that Ruth marries Boaz and is an ancestor of Jesus. The lesson is to be guided by GOD and make the best of whatever situation you find yourself in. Remembering that even if you get it wrong, as we so often do, GOD will never leave you or forsake you.
I have also noticed trees have a great ability to live and get on together – at one point there is a silver birch and a beech tree growing together with their trunks touching. Amazing how different trees can grow and flourish together, a great lesson for us to be tolerant of each other. Philippians 2:1-4. We should accept each other. As we come around the table to break bread we remember Jesus gave us the command to LOVE ONE ANOTHER. John 13:34-35.
Our family loves bread – it’s often the best bit of a meal for us. The breaking of bread is the most important part of our church activities, and Jesus says in John 6:48 “I am the bread of life.”
Over the past few years, we’ve periodically tried to make our own sourdough starter but have never done so successfully. Then lockdown came and we were running low on yeast so (inevitably) turned to the internet for help. Lo and behold, you can buy starter that’s guaranteed to work.
Since that special day when it arrived, we have eaten more sourdough than anything else. Some days have been successful, some not so much – but every attempt has taught us something. It’s like our spiritual journey in so many ways…
Once our starter was well fed and joyously alive, we made sure to freeze some and dry another batch just in case something happened and our original lot died. It’s always good to have some spiritual juice in reserve for when we need it; for each of us, we get this in different ways. Sometimes an uplifting Zoom session will do it, other times it’s hearing bird song or a lovely hymn.
The way sourdough works is simply by mixing flour and water together and leaving it so that the natural yeasts develop. In order to keep it alive, some of this mixture is discarded and replaced with fresh flour and water.
The ‘discard’ is then used to make something. In our spiritual lives, we need a central source of life – and as the hymn says, “for this, we have Jesus”; just like he saw the outcasts from society and saw their worth, it’s the sourdough discard that actually makes the delicious bread. But it’s not just bread that it’ll make – anything that requires water and flour can be given the sourdough treatment and it’ll turn out tasty. We might not think we’re impressive enough to be a showy big loaf of bread, but everyone loves pancakes just as much.
If you search the internet, you’ll find hundreds of recipes to make sourdough bread. We tried a few but weren’t overly happy with the end result – they were still perfectly edible, but not quite what we wanted. In the end, it turns out the least amount of effort and plenty of time left alone gave us a loaf that was light and airy with just enough sourdough tang. All the mixture needed was to given a few pulls every now and then, and just left to get on with its job. When dealing with other people, it’s hard to know when to interfere and when to leave well alone.
The baking process starts by having the loaf hidden from sight. It’s such a sense of satisfaction to remove the lid part way through and see how it’s risen and started to turn golden. Our efforts with others often don’t bear fruit straight away, and then something happens and it all feels worthwhile.
Sharing our new-found love of sourdough making is something that comes naturally because we’ve been excited about it and enthusiastic about the end results. Imagine sharing the joy of God’s message in an equally enthusiastic way to anyone who asks. Just as others have gone and bought their own starter after our recommendation, how lovely it would be if others came to know God and Jesus because of our passion.
We learnt so much on our sourdough journey – we needed help to get started and couldn’t do it on our own; the starter needs fed regularly; it’s the discarded bit that is valuable; and sharing the joy gives great satisfaction. The same principles apply when we (virtually) share the bread and wine, and throughout our journey to the Kingdom.
When we think about the way Jesus spoke about sin, we remember that he put a price on our sin against each other and against God. Read Matthew 18 v 21-22.
Then follows the parable of the unforgiving creditor, read Matthew 18 v 23-27. The sins against God, depicted here as the King, were represented by a debt of ten thousand talents. To put that into context,1 talent was equal to 6,000 denarii and a denarius was a man’s wages for 1 day. 10,000 talents are therefore equal to 60m denarii or equivalent to about 164,000 years of wages for one man. That is the size of our debt to God – HUGE. The parable continues in v 28-35. Our sins against each other are represented by a debt of 100 denarii, or just over 3 months wages. Our debt to God is impossible to repay compared to any trivial debt owed to us. If our debt to God was in monetary terms, it is more than we could ever repay. Our sins against each other are as nothing by comparison. Verse 35 is a warning about the penalty for not forgiving others when our sins are forgiven by God.
When we live in Christ, all OUR debt is wiped away and we are justified freely by God’s grace. This is nothing that we deserve. Cancelling our debt is God's free gift to us. It costs us nothing though we deserve none of His grace.
Because we have been freely forgiven and justified, let us be thankful for God's grace on us and freely pass on the blessings to others as we forgive them for what they may have done against us.
Notice that we have been “justified freely” It is one thing to be “justified” but the emphasis here is that it is “without price as it is written in Isaiah 55 v 1 “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat”. Bible echoes are found in Revelation 22 v 17 “…let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” Without a price, because Jesus has paid the price on our behalf. Consider how we have been redeemed.
Redemption means to deliver someone or something by paying a price. Redemption is spoken of many times in the OT. Animals were offered as a sacrifice for sin. The 1st animal sacrifice was to cover the sins of Adam & Eve and they were covered with animal skins.
In Egypt God’s people were saved by the blood of animals. Read Exodus 12 v 12 – 14. It pointed forward to the deliverer of all people as the perfect Passover lamb. John the Baptist announced “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
We see another example of redemption in the OT in the lovely story of Ruth and how Boaz acted as her redeemer. The redeemer had to be a relative, and so Boaz purchased the land that had belonged to Ruth’s husband and with it Ruth herself and she became the great Grandmother of David from whose line our Lord sprang. The redeemer had to be a relative and pay the price in full. Jesus is our brother and paid the ultimate price for our redemption.
Ephesians 1 v 7 “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.”
Romans 5 v 19 tells us “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” It promises a new relationship with God. 1 Peter 3 v 18 “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God”, and it promises a new life in Christ.
The Priests in the Tabernacle and the Temple offered animal sacrifices for the people’s sins, but Hebrews speaks of a better sacrifice. Read Hebrews 9 v 11-15 & v 25-26. By this sacrifice of himself, Jesus put away sin which is something that was absolutely impossible for the Levitical sacrifices to do v28.
Conclusion - Romans 3 v 22 – 24 “the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”. No one (except one) has lived up to what God created us to be; we all fall short. We cannot save ourselves because as sinners we can never meet God’s requirements. Our only hope is faith in Jesus Christ. Those who believe are justified, that is declared righteous, freely, without cost, by God’s grace. Jesus died to provide redemption; he died to pay the price required to ransom sinners. And so we, who were once without hope and estranged from God can approach His throne and be restored to a proper relationship with Him.
Ephesians 2 v 12 – 13 “Remember that you were at one time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” v18 “For through him we both have access in one spirit to the Father.”
So, to answer our original question – is there something for free that has been offered to us? Yes, but not because of us, but because of our Lord and his sacrifice, for our redemption.