Weekly Meditation - 18th June 2017
Matthew 9:35 - 10:8
Our gospel reading shows Jesus, fairly early in his ministry, well-established as a teacher, appointing his twelve disciples and revealing more of his purpose as Messiah and Saviour.
When we read the whole Bible, the plan of salvation that God put in place almost from the beginning is amazing in its attention to detail, and in the way in which it reveals his single-mindedness. The calling of an old man, and a woman well past the age of child-bearing, and promising them a son (Genesis 18:10), was one link in the chain that brought Jesus into our world to save us. It is not surprising that Sarah laughed (Genesis 18:12) at the very idea of having a baby at the age of 90, after years of being barren. It was true, however. Nothing proved too difficult for Almighty God, and in due course she gave birth to Isaac. We can see from Jesus’s genealogies in both Matthew 1:2 and Luke 3:33 that he descended from this son of Abraham.
Born into a Jewish family, it was natural that Jesus’s ministry was first to 'the lost sheep of Israel' (Matthew 10:6), whom he saw as 'harassed and helpless', without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36). His ministry was to preach that the Kingdom of God was near and to demonstrate the power of the Kingdom by healing the sick and raising the dead. He similarly equipped and appointed his twelve disciples to follow him in his work.
It was from these small beginnings that the Christian faith grew and eventually became a Church that spanned, first, Asia Minor, then Rome and eventually the farthest parts of the earth. By the time of Paul, Christianity was well-established and thriving – the worst persecution was still in the future – and Paul took advantage of this to set out the important doctrines of the faith, in his letters to the early churches.
In Romans 5:1-8, Paul is well into his argument about the righteousness that comes by faith (not by keeping the Law). He speaks of the 'access' we have gained through Christ, into God’s grace. For any Jewish Christians in Rome – and there were many – these words would have been a reminder of the way in which, under Judaism, access to God was temporarily achieved through animal sacrifice. Gentile Christians would have remembered how non-Jews were excluded. Now all had changed because of the willing sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Paul, then referring to the suffering which often goes hand in hand with faith, writes of the benefits of enduring. Suffering produces perseverance, perseverance produces “character” and character, hope.
I don’t much like the word 'character' – it sounds too much like the quality that boy-scout activities are intended to engender – catching the ball, climbing the tree, putting up the tent. That is not what Christianity is about. The Message has it exactly right; perseverance produces 'the tempered steel of virtue'. So even persecution - and there was far more to come, with the insane cruelty of Nero waiting in the wings – was something to be embraced and valued.
All this is because 'at just the right time' Christ came to save us, as the culmination of God’s plan. He did not wait for us to come to him, nor did he wait for us to make ourselves worthy – which we could never have achieved. He came, and 'while we were still sinners, Christ died for us'.
That is the salvation that God had in mind for each of his children, when many centuries ago he appeared before Abraham, and told him and his aged wife that they were to have a son.
Written by Susan Thorne