The civil unrest in Tunisia and Egypt has brought tens of thousands of people on to the streets. The demonstrators have been ready to confront the police and army and to put their lives at risk. Some have died and many more have been injured. Most of the demonstrators are ordinary people protesting against the injustices of life imposed on them by oppressive regimes. The Presidents and government officials are very rich and corruption is rife. In a desperate attempt to bring change people have been ready to put their lives on the line.
But regime change is complex, whether through intervention by other countries or through popular uprising. There is no guarantee that the new regime will be better than the old. The hopes of many people in the former Soviet states have not been fulfilled. The material prosperity they were seeking has not reached the ordinary people and, in some ways, life for many has become even harder. The people of Iran, who demonstrated for the overthrow of the Shah, have not found it easy living under the Ayatollahs and an authoritarian President.
The early Christians lived under the authority of the Roman emperor. They were persecuted because they would not worship the emperor and affirm “Caesar is Lord!” Some were put in prison, others were executed. The apostles Peter and Paul were executed by the Roman emperor.
How did the Christians respond to this? They were encouraged to be content and to pray. Although many of them were poor, and some were slaves, they were encouraged to be content with their situation. Paul wrote, “Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” In the 21st century discontentment is common. The media and internet make us very aware of what other people have. But it is still so important for us to thank God for what we have and to seek to be truly contentment.
Paul also urged the Christians to pray “for kings and all those in authority, that we may lead peaceful and quiet lives, in all godliness and holiness.” Those in authority over us need our prayers. One day God will call them to account for all they have done, whether good or evil.
Not many people know the name of Nicolas Winton, who is now 101 years old. He was a stockbroker who became aware of the plight of Jewish when he was on holiday in Prague at Christmas 1938. In the months leading up to the outbreak of World War II he organised the rescue of 669 Jewish children from German-occupied Czechoslovakia through an operation known as Kindertransport. He found homes for the children and arranged safe passage for them to Britain. The last group, which left Prague on 3 September 1939, was sent back because the Nazis had invaded Poland. Many of the parents perished in Auschwitz.
Nicholas Winton kept the wonderful things he did, in saving so many Jewish children, secret for more than 40 years until his wife, Greta, found a detailed scrapbook in the attic in 1988. In 2002, at the age of 93, he received a Knighthood for this work.
Nicholas Winton illustrates the amazing contrasts there are in the actions of human beings. Seeing the growing power of the Nazis in Europe, which led to the death of millions of Jewish people, he took action to save lives. The death of millions of Jewish people in the Nazi concentration camps was one of the greatest acts of evil in the history of the world. It is a warning to us all of the frightening capacity for evil in the human heart. The courageous act of one man in saving so many lives shows us the amazing capacity of human beings for goodness and kindness.
The reticence of Nicholas Winton to tell people what he did is remarkable, especially in an age of shallow “celebrities”. Jesus spoke of the great day when God will judge all people. No-one will escape his righteous judgement. The King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” The righteous will say they can’t remember doing these things for him to which the King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these my brothers, you did for me.”
The reports of the floods in Brisbane have shown the great power of natural forces. In moments flash floods swept away cars and destroyed property. The story of 13 year old Jordan Rice is deeply moving. The car he and his family were travelling in was hit by a wall of water which began engulfing the car. Mike McErlean and Chris tried desperately to help the family in the swirling torrent. As Mike and Chris got to the car Jordan, who could not swim, was nearest to them. He insisted that they take his 10 year old brother, Blake, first. Before the rescuers could get back to the car it was swept away taking Jordan and his mother, Donna, with it. They both died.
Out of the tragedy and deep sadness of natural disasters amazing stories of human courage and kindness often emerge. These 2 men risked their lives to save strangers. One man said that in Brisbane they have proved the truth that, “A stranger in need is a friend indeed.” Human beings have a great capacity for selfless and sacrificial action. Life is so precious that we may be ready to put our lives on the line in order to save people we don’t even know.
This is because we have been created by God and bear his image. We are not the result of time and chance, but have been made what we are by a gracious, wise and loving Creator. At our best we are like him, we are essentially relational. In the Bible the 2 greatest commandments are to love God with all we are and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. These are not arbitrary commands but express the heart of what God made us to be – people who love him and love each other.
Jesus came from heaven to earth to rescue us. He was ready to die on the Cross so that our sins might be forgiven and that we might be reconciled with God. Like little Jordan, Jesus did not put his own interests first. One hymn says, “Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God, he to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood.” When we realise the love of God for us in Jesus our lives are changed forever. For the first time we really love him from our hearts as we respond to his amazing love for us.
This year is the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible, the Authorised Version. There have been a number of special events to mark the anniversary including lengthy readings from it on Radio 4. The text of the King James Bible is memorable and many have commented on the impact the translation in terms of its literary excellence.
The main significance of the King James translation, however, is that it was an authorised translation of the Bible into the language of the English people. This was the culmination of a long process in which Christian men had committed their lives to ensuring that ordinary people in England would be able to read God’s Word in their own language. It was a costly struggle. Just 75 years before the King James Version was published William Tyndale was burned at the stake, at the age 42. because he had translated the Bible into English. It is estimated that 75% of the King James Old Testament and 84% of the New Testament is Tyndale’s translation.
Why have Christians committed their lives, and even died, to translate the Bible into the ordinary language of people around the world? The answer is because the Bible is no ordinary book, it is God’s Word. Christians believe that what the Bible says, God says. It is the authority for everything they believe and do. It is a guide through life and a comfort in all the circumstances of life. It reveals God and his great love in his Son, Jesus Christ. The Bible is true and is full of God’s wonderful promises. Countless people have experienced this personally.
The King James translation of Psalm 23 has brought comfort and strength to countless people.
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.“
As another year begins it is pleasant to greet family and friends with the words “Happy New Year!” The greeting is sincere and comes from the heart. A new year brings new hopes and expectations. It is a new beginning, full of possibilities. This year, however, I have been very conscious that the coming year will not be easy for many people in the world and for a number of my family and friends. We are passing through difficult times and the future for many is uncertain.
A few weeks before Christmas one of our neighbours lost his wife, who died suddenly while in hospital. He faces this year living alone in the home they had shared for so many years. Some of our good friends are receiving treatment for cancer. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy are very unpleasant and underneath the surface there are many fear and anxieties. The 9 year old daughter of some friends faces a major operation this week to remove a brain tumour. If all goes well there will be a long period of recovery and adjustment. Some are experiencing long-term unemployment and wonder if they will find a job this year, others are anxious about possibly losing their job. They are uncertain how they will cope with the loss of income and, possibly, the loss of their home. So I have not greeted them with the words “Happy New Year!” but, “May the Lord go with you into the coming year!”
Some years ago a young man whom we knew died following a road accident between Christmas and New Year. He was driving to work early one morning when his car skidded on ice and hit a tree leaving him seriously injured. For some days he was unconscious in hospital before he died. His young wife was devastated by the loss of her husband. They had only been married for a short time. She chose a hymn for his funeral service which expressed her faith in God as she faced a very difficult and uncertain future. “I know who holds the future, and I know He holds my hand; With God things don’t just happen, everything by Him is planned. So as I face tomorrow, with its problems large and small, I’ll trust the God of miracles, give to him my all.” God did indeed go before Brenda and provided for all her needs. As you enter this New Year “may the Lord go with you!”