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Tuesday 1st. June
ÂRespect, Reverence and Awe
One of the things we say when training our hosts and helpers for Alpha is that the small groups should be low key, unpressurised, non-confrontational, and based onÂ respect for people regardless of their background or their beliefs. The Alpha small group always works best when each person listens respectfully to all the others in the group. It is this atmosphere ofÂ respect which makes the group a non-judgemental, enjoyable, safe environment where people can explore the Christian faith.
There are many blessings to living in Western Europe in the twenty-first century. However, we live in a society in which respect, reverence and awe do not seem to be as valued as they once were.
Each of the passages for today reflects on what these words mean and why they are important.1. Respect
A culture of respect underlies the book of Proverbs. We see three examples in this passage:
i. Respect for the Lord
â€˜The person whose walk is upright fears the Lordâ€™ (14:2). As we have seen, the word â€˜fearâ€™ is probably best understood as â€˜respectâ€™. Respect for the Lord is the starting point for respect in all our other relationships.
ii. Respect for the wise
â€˜Whoever walks with the wise grows wiseâ€™ (13:20). Our society increasingly devalues the wisdom that comes with age. Wisdom often comes through the experience of a long life. There is a huge amount of untapped wisdom in older people in our society.
iii. Respect in the home
â€˜Those who love [their children] are careful to discipline themâ€™ (13:24). This teaching has sometimes been abused by an over literal interpretation. What the book of Proverbs is encouraging is a culture of respect in the family â€“ respect for parents and also respect for children, which involves loving discipline.
Lord, help us to gain wisdom as we spend time with those who are wise. Help us as a church community to model good parenting, combining love and discipline. Help us to live lives of uprightness in respect for the Lord.
John records four resurrection appearances of Jesus â€“ three of which are in this passage:
i. Appearance to Mary Magdalene
In the culture of the day, a womanâ€™s testimony would not have been considered as weighty as that of a man. If the disciples had been making this up, they would not have devised the first appearance as being to Mary Magdalene. It shows a huge amount about Jesusâ€™ respect for women. By this one act, and others during his life on earth, he laid the foundation for a revolution in the worldâ€™s attitude to women. Sadly, it has taken 2,000 years and we are still not there yet.
The respect goes both ways. In Maryâ€™s case it is one of awe and amazement. As she realised it was Jesus, she cried out in Aramaic, â€˜ â€œRabboni!â€ (which means Teacher)â€™ (v.16), and rushed off to tell the disciples, â€˜I have seen the Lord!â€™ (v.18).
The great theologian, C.H. Dodd, wrote of Jesusâ€™ appearance to Mary that it â€˜has something indefinably firsthand about it. It stands in any case alone. There is nothing quite like it in the Gospels. Is there anything quite like it in all ancient literature?â€™
ii. Appearance to the disciples
Jesusâ€™ appearance to the disciples brought them overwhelming joy: â€˜The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lordâ€™ (v.20). He also spoke peace to them; â€˜Peace be with you!â€™ (vv.19,21). The presence of Jesus always brings joy and peace.
Not only did he give them joy and peace, he also gave them a new sense of purpose: â€˜As the Father has sent me, I am sending youâ€™ (v.21). The resurrection is the message of hope for the world. If this life were all there was it would ultimately be meaningless and purposeless. But Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. There is life beyond the grave. This gives our life on earth a whole new meaning and purpose. We are sent out by Jesus to proclaim this message to the world.
Finally, not only did he give them peace, joy and purpose, he also gave them power. He â€˜breathed on them and said, â€œReceive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgivenâ€ â€™ (vv.22-23). The same power that raised Jesus from the dead was available to them. He gave them the power of his Holy Spirit and the power of his word to declare the message of Godâ€™s forgiveness to human beings. This is the message which brings eternal life, and the same power is available to us.
iii. Appearance to Thomas
Thomas was a cynic and was sceptical. I think I would have had the same response as him when he said, â€˜Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe itâ€™ (v.25).
He must have felt so stupid when Jesus appeared to him and said â€˜Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believeâ€™ (v.27).
His response was the pinnacle of respect, reverence and awe. He said, â€˜My Lord and my God!â€™ (v.28).
Jesus went on to tell him that belief leads to blessing (v.29). In fact, it leads to life. Belief and life go hand in hand in Johnâ€™s Gospel (v.31). If you believe in Jesus you have life. This isÂ real life of high quality, an abundant life (10:10) that goes on forever (3:16).
Lord, thank you that you give us your peace and your joy. Thank you that as the Father sent you, you send us and equip us with the Holy Spirit and the message of forgiveness for the world. May we not be cynical like Thomas, but rather be those who believe without having seen and worship Jesus with reverence and awe.
Davidâ€™s attitude to Saul was quite extraordinary. He said to the Amalekite who claimed to have finished off Saul, â€˜Why were you not afraid to lift your hand to destroy the Lordâ€™s anointed?â€™ (v.14) In the light of 1 Samuel 31, the Amalekite may well have been trying to benefit from what would have been a perversion of the facts. He may have been a human vulture, who took the royal insignia from Saul to gain favour with David. In any event, it did him no good because of Davidâ€™s reverence for Saul.
Davidâ€™s attitude to Saul is a wonderful example of how to respond to those who try to do us harm. (For example, unfair criticism from Christian leaders.) David did not seek revenge. He was not bitter. He treated Saul with the utmost respect. After all, God had used Saul greatly in the past. The fact that Saul had gone off the rails did not lessen Davidâ€™s respect.
Supremely, David reverenced God. He â€˜enquired of the Lordâ€™ (2:1). He asked, â€˜Shall I go up to one of the towns of Judah?â€™ The Lord answered, â€˜Go up.â€™ He then asked, â€˜Where shall I go?â€™ The Lord answered, â€˜To Hebron.â€™ David obeyed and was anointed king over the house of Judah.
Lord, help us to have the same love that David had for all those you have anointed in leadership roles, whether they support us or whether they donâ€™t. Help us to never take revenge but always to treat people with respect. Help us, most of all, to live a life of reverence and respect and obedience to you.
'Whoever walks with the wise grows wise'
After the Holy Spirit Conference last week (with eminent theologians such as Prof JÃ¼rgen Moltmann, Prof Miroslav Volf and others speaking) I am hoping some of their wisdom has rubbed off, even if I couldn't quite follow it all. I did walk Prof Moltmann back to the conference so that should have helped!