The King of kings and Lord of lords

We are living in a time of change and political leaders are in the news. In the USA, President Trump is making the headlines every day. In Britain, Teresa May is preparing for Brexit negotiations. In Russia, President Putin has become active in Ukraine and Syria and is raising new challenges for NATO. France is preparing to elect a new leader to succeed the unpopular President Hollande. In Germany, Chancellor Merkel faces significant opposition when she stands for re-election in September. In Turkey, President Erdogan is seeking to make his position inviolable. In The Gambia, President Jammeh has eventually given way to newly-elected President Barrow. In South Korea, President Park Geun-hye is facing impeachment. In North Korea, President Kim Jong-un reigns supreme as he develops his nuclear capability.

There has also been a rise in populism in some democratic countries. Populism mobilizes large alienated sections of the population against governments that are perceived to be controlled by an out-of-touch elite that acts in its own interests. Sometimes populism creates a situation that encourages extremism of both left and right elements in the population. Populism does not always lead to good things. There were great hopes in some countries for the “Arab Spring”, but the outcome has by no means been a happy one.

The example of the early Christians to their rulers has much to teach us in our uncertain world. They lived in the Roman Empire and suffered under Roman rule. Jesus was crucified at the order of Pilate, the Roman governor. The apostle Paul was arrested and beaten at the command of Roman magistrates, even though he was a Roman citizen. Later he was executed at the command of the Roman emperor. After the Great Fire of Rome in 64AD, Nero instigated a violent persecution of Christians and many died in unspeakably cruel ways.

Despite the persecution they experienced, the early Christians firmly believed that God is supreme. Because they believed the authorities that existed had been established by God they did not rebel against them but, as a matter of conscience, submitted to their rule. They prayed for kings and those in authority so that they might live a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and holiness. They honoured their rulers and paid their taxes. They knew that one day all earthly rulers will be called to account for the way they have exercised their power and will stand before the judgement throne of the One who is King of kings and Lord of lords.

Fighting the hate that killed Jo

The response of Jo Cox’s family to her tragic death has been deeply moving. Her sister Kim said, “For now, our family is broken but it will mend in time, and we will never let Jo leave our lives. She will live on through Brendan, through us and through her truly wonderful children who will always know what an utterly amazing woman their mother was.” Jo’s husband, Brendan, said, “Today is the beginning of a new chapter in our lives. More difficult, more painful, less joyful, less full of love. I and Jo’s friends and family are going to work every moment of our lives to love and nurture our kids and to fight against the hate that killed Jo.”

Evil and hatred are a very real part of our life in this world. The cold-blooded murder of a young mother and MP, in a small Yorkshire community, is one example of this evil. So are the events in Syria in which the daily fighting and bombing claim the lives of ordinary men, women and children. Jo campaigned passionately for the people of Syria and other needy nations around the world. In the face of evil people, and the finality of death, we all feel our helplessness but, nevertheless, are determined that evil, in all its forms, must be defeated.

The death and resurrection of Jesus give us grounds for real hope and confidence that evil will not triumph. The ministry of Jesus brought great blessing to the lives of many people as he healed the sick, cast out evil spirits and raised the dead. Yet, those in authority hated him and determined to destroy him. He was betrayed by one of his disciples, arrested, falsely accused, mocked and condemned to die. He died in deep agony and pain on a Roman cross. His disciples and family were devastated and helpless. They were unable to do anything to change the course of events.

On the morning of the third day after he died, however, Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples, who struggled to realise that he really had conquered death. By his resurrection Jesus triumphed over sin, evil and death. His triumph gives hope to the people of our sad and troubled world because he has “destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Heaven is real. God has also set a day when Jesus “will judge the world with justice” and will make all things new. Love and justice will indeed triumph.

Remembering William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare, the great English poet and playwright, died 400 years ago on 25 April 1616, at the age of 52. A month before he died, on 25 March 1616, he made his last will and testament. It seems he may have known that his life was nearing its end. The opening paragraph of his will is a clear statement of his own personal faith and his hope for the future.

“In the name of God, Amen. I William Shakespeare of Stratford upon Avon in the county of Warwick, in perfect health and memory, God be praised, do make and ordain this my last will and testament. First, I commend my soul into the hands of God my Creator hoping and assuredly believing through the only merits of Jesus Christ my Saviour to be made partaker of life everlasting and my body to the Earth whereof it was made.”

Most obituaries record the main achievements of the person who has died but say very little, if anything, about their faith in God and their future hope. When the person has had a real and vital faith this may simply be noted briefly towards the end of the obituary. Yet as our lives are drawing to a close it is vitally important that we do not simply look back but also look forward. We are about to enter into the presence of God and the realm of eternity, in comparison to which, our life on earth is but a moment.

William Shakespeare took eternity seriously and had prepared for it. Through the work of men like John Wycliffe and William Tyndale the Bible had been translated into English for the first time and the advent of the printing press had made it available to the people. The Bible made a deep impact on Shakespeare personally and on his writings. He knew he had been created by God and was thankful to him for the good health and sound mind he enjoyed. He knew that, after he died, he would stand before God in judgement and his humble hope was to enter into everlasting life.

He “assuredly believed” that Jesus was the way to “everlasting life”. He called Jesus “my Saviour.” He did not trust in himself but in “the merits of Jesus Christ” who had lived a perfect life for him and died on the Cross to pay the price of his sins. He died in the sure and certain hope that through Jesus he would enter into everlasting life.

Blessed are the merciful

Early one morning in October 2014 Brian Herrick dropped his partner and three sisters at East Midlands Airport for an early-morning flight to Malaga. On his way home he was waiting at a red light, just a few miles from the airport, when a lorry crashed into his car. Brian died as a result of the accident. His partner and sisters heard the news of Brian’s death as soon as they arrived at Malaga and flew straight back to East Midlands.

At a recent hearing at Nottingham Crown Court the driver of the lorry, Luke Bates, pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving. He said his attention had been distracted and he had not seen the red light until it was too late. At the court Brian’s family asked the judge not to send Luke to prison because they did not want his 2 young children to be left without a father. They also realised that Luke would have to live for the rest of his life with the memory of the devastation he had caused. The judge said he wished to respect the humbling request from the family and sentenced Luke to a two-year driving ban and a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years. He was also ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid work.

Brian’s sister, Kathleen, told the judge, “We were brought up as Christians and were taught to be compassionate and humble. We felt so sorry for Luke’s wife when we saw her bring their young baby to the court. We weren’t going to benefit from sending him to prison. I’m sure my brother, who was a kind and gentle man, would have done the same in our position.” Outside the court, Brian’s relatives hugged a distraught Luke.

Mercy is a rare, but beautiful, quality. Our society loves to blame people and condemn them. Some people try to justify their wicked acts because they are retaliating against what other people have done to them. Jesus taught that true strength and dignity is seen not in revenge and “getting our own back”, but in mercy. He said, “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.” When we show mercy to someone who has wronged us, and forgive them, we release the potential for healing and restoration both for them and for us. It is also good to remember that one day each of us must appear before the Judge of all the earth whom we hope will show us mercy.

The Light shines in the darkness

In her Christmas Message the Queen quoted John, Chapter 1, verse 5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” She described it as a verse of great hope. John was speaking of Jesus, God’s Son, who came into the world. John also says of Jesus, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” In a world where there are an increasing number of what the Queen called “moments of darkness” we need One who brings light into our lives, and who is invincible. Jesus is that Person.

Jesus was born into a violent world. Soon after he was born King Herod tried to kill him. Herod had been appointed king of Judea by the Roman Senate more than 30 years before Jesus was born. He was a ruthless tyrant; he murdered his wife, three of his sons, his mother-in-law, his brother-in-law, his uncle and many others he suspected of treachery. When the Wise Men told him they were seeking the one who had been born King of the Jews, Herod was determined to kill him and ordered his soldiers to kill all the male children under 2 years old in the town and region of Bethlehem.

But Herod’s evil plan failed because God had already warned Joseph and told him to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt. Within a short time Herod was dead and it was safe for Joseph and his family to return to their own town of Nazareth. It was the first example of Jesus, the Light, triumphing over the darkness. Throughout his ministry Jesus faced increasing hostility which culminated in his death on the Cross, yet on the third day he rose from the dead. Once again darkness had been defeated and Jesus had triumphed.

Today Christians and other minority groups in Syria and Iraq are experiencing fierce persecution. Men, women and children are being killed. Many have fled their homes in search of safety. We remember them and pray for them. We are also confident that Jesus is still the Light which shines in the darkness and that he will triumph. Like the mighty Roman Empire, the evil movements of today, which seem so powerful, will all fall and pass away and the evil tyrants who lead them will stand before their Judge. None of them ultimately triumphs because Jesus, the Light of this dark world, will execute perfect justice for those who are poor and powerless.

The man who saved 669 children

Sir Nicholas Winton has died at the age of 106. About 6000 people in the world today owe their lives to Nicholas. He was a stockbroker who became aware of the plight of Jewish families 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 kept the wonderful things he did, in saving so many Jewish children, secret for more than 40 years until in 1988 his wife, Greta, found a detailed scrapbook in the attic. In 2002, at the age of 93, he received a Knighthood for this work.

Nicholas 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. He said, “If something is not impossible, then there must be a way to do it.” The death of millions of Jewish people in 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 of the human heart for evil. The courageous act of one man in saving so many lives also shows us the amazing capacity of human beings for goodness and kindness.

The reticence of Nicholas to tell people what he did is remarkable. Jesus spoke of the great day when we will all stand before God in 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.” When the righteous say they can’t remember doing these things for him, 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.”

Understanding corruption

Corruption is in the news. Prime Minister David Cameron has said, “Corruption is the cancer at the heart of so many of the problems we face around the world today.” He has in mind particularly the misuse of the billions of pounds given in overseas aid to developing nations by Britain and other countries. Criminals and unscrupulous politicians are siphoning off much of the money. Poor people are not receiving the help they need. It is estimated that as much as £1 trillion is paid in bribes across the world every year.

Corruption touches every part of human life. The world of football is facing a major investigation into corruption in FIFA. It seems that very large sums of money have been paid to secure the rights to host major football tournaments around the world. Dishonesty in managing the international LIBOR exchange rate has led to heavy fines for some banks. Individuals have been found guilty of child abuse, as have institutions including children’s homes and churches.

The Bible says that corruption comes from our hearts and especially when we live as if there is no God. Psalm 14 says, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Nobody ultimately escapes justice because of their corruption, dishonesty or wicked abuse of children because, one day, all of us must stand before God. He sees all things and he judges justly.

We all need spiritual heart surgery. Five hundred years before Jesus was born the prophet Ezekiel gave a wonderful promise about what God was going to do through his Son. He said, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” That inner change is always seen in a transformed life. In his letter James writes, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Finding peace in an uncertain world

The sight of millions of people marching through the streets of Paris was deeply moving. Men, women and children were there. Most were French, but people from other nations joined them, including 50 heads of states. Many were secularists or Christians and some were Muslims. They were united in their horror at last week’s bloodshed on the streets of Paris in which French Islamic terrorists killed 17 people including journalists, cartoonists, shoppers and police officers. The marchers were expressing their identification with those who died and their families in their grief. The marchers were determined to affirm the founding values of the French Republic: liberty, equality and fraternity. After a minute of silence many chanted over and over, “We are not afraid!”

The marches expressed the unity of the human race that underlies our superficial differences. Some events are so significant that they bring people together in an expression of our common humanity. The graphic images of gunmen killing defenceless people mobilised a united opposition to such subhuman barbarism. Because of the way God has created us we must reject evil in all its forms and affirm the preciousness of every human being. We have a responsibility of care for one another, even those who are strangers, and are commanded to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.

Now the march is over, however, and people have returned to their daily lives there is a heightened sense of anxiety and vulnerability. There will be more terrorist incidents because some people in our world are committed to using violence in order to achieve their ends. These problems will be with us for many years. How are we to respond?

We can be sure that justice will be done because God judges all people in righteousness. All of us must one day stand before his judgement throne. When we die we pass into his holy presence. Those who committed the terrorist atrocities in Paris have already been called to account by the living God who does what is right.

We can also find personal peace and security in an uncertain world through experiencing God’s love in Jesus. In the letter to the Romans the apostle Paul wrote, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Amazing Grace!

The trials of high profile people found guilty of child abuse have revealed a dark, hidden side to their character. They have been called to account for crimes committed many years ago. Their previous good reputation has been destroyed. The book of Proverbs tells us, “Choose a good reputation over great riches; being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold.”

These cases remind us that the wrong things we do really matter, even when they happened a long time ago. Those who have been found guilty of abuse have done many good things and have helped people who are in need. They have been kind to their families and friends, but all this is now of little consequence because of the sins they have committed. No amount of good actions can compensate for the wrong things they have done. They will not be remembered for the good things they did, but for the evil deeds they perpetrated.

There is a deep sense in each of us that those who do wrong should be punished. We identify with the victims who have suffered greatly for many years because of the abuse done to them. We want the truth to come out and justice to be done through long prison sentences.

This raises important questions for us all because throughout our lives we have done wrong things. Will we one day have to give an account to the God who made us for how we have lived? Will it be enough for us to say that many of the wrong things we did happened a long time ago and that the good things we have done outweigh the bad things we have done?

Jesus Christ, God’s Son, came into the world to be the Saviour of sinful people like you and me. He came not for self righteous people, but for those who know they have sinned and want to find forgiveness. Isaac Watts wrote, “Alas, and did my Saviour bleed, and did my Saviour die? Would he devote that sacred head for such a worm as I? Was it for crimes that I had done he groaned upon the tree? Amazing pity, grace unknown, and love beyond degree! Thus might I hide my blushing face while his dear cross appears, dissolve my heart in thankfulness, and melt my eyes to tears. But drops of grief can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe; here, Lord, I give myself away, ‘tis all that I can do.”

The Judge of all the earth will do what is right

The trials of high profile men who have been accused of historic sexual abuse are in the news. Some accusations go back more than 40 years. Children and young girls were abused by powerful men who told them that, if they reported the abuse, no one would believe them. As a result, many have suffered in silence, while the abusers have enjoyed successful careers and big salaries. But the past crimes of their abusers, now elderly men, have come to light and justice is being done.

Many, however, are troubled that some of the most serious abusers of children have died and escaped justice in this life. They seem to have “got away with it.” But, is this true? Can we escape the consequences of our sins by dying? Something in the very depth of our being says that this cannot be right. The wicked acts of those who, for example, sexually abuse young children or torture and kill innocent people must be called to account. The Bible teaches us that, after we die, we must all appear before God. He “will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.”

Justice is something to be admired. The wisdom of King Solomon was widely known. One day two prostitutes came to him. They lived in the same house and each had a baby boy of the same age. One night, when they were asleep, one of the women lay on her son, without knowing it, and he died. When she realised what had happened, she took her dead son and put him next to the other woman, then took the live baby as if it were her own. When the other women awoke, and saw the dead baby next to her, she knew it wasn’t her baby. She came to Solomon in the hope that he would give her justice.

After listening to both women Solomon said, “Bring me a sword. Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.” One woman said that seemed fair, but the other said, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!” Solomon said, “Give the living baby to her; she is his mother!” Everyone who heard what Solomon had done held him in awe because of the way he administered justice. We, too, should hold God in awe because he is the Judge of all the earth and he will do what is right.