Advent 1: Hope

The first week of Advent is traditionally about hope. Talking about hope, right now, feels like a bit of a challenge.

The cost of living crisis is biting. Russia continues its war in Ukraine. Violence against Israel in October was outrageous. The ongoing retribution visited on the people of Gaza is obscene. The COP 28 climate conference is taking place in the United Arab Emirates, a key supplier of  fossil fuel. Political relationships are increasingly toxic. Refugees are crossing continents. People around us, and across the world, are discouraged. Hope, if it can be found at all, is in short supply right now.

Advent is about looking forward. It is about living in anticipation of the arrival of something. If we feel that we’re short of hope we need to lift our sights and remind ourselves what it is that we are supposed to be looking forward to. It’s not about looking forward to Christmas food or drink. It’s not about the parties, the presents, the bright lights – these might make us feel a bit better for a day, but they have little to do with the true meaning of Christmas. As Christians we are looking forward to a gift which is infinitely more important than any of that. We are celebrating the fulfilment of prophecy in the birth of the Christ child, the Messiah. And we are looking forward to the fulfilment of prophecy in the return of the Messiah and the restoration of the Kingdom of God. It’s about encouragement. It’s about hope.

Take Jesus out of the picture and it’s not surprising everyone feels discouraged. Put Jesus in the picture and there’s one major difference. Hope.

Of course we’re praying for peace across the world and for the restoration of hope in our communities. But the true hope for us all in this first week of Advent is Jesus.

Romans 15: 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Do not worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34)

In a few weeks time, I will be stepping down from my role as the Coordinator for Horsham Churches Together. I’ve done this job for just a couple of years. There have been challenges, but I’ve met and worked with some wonderful people and it’s been an incredible privilege to serve local Churches and Christian leaders in this way.

Moving on undoubtedly brings me closer to retirement. That feels like a big thing for me. I don’t feel ready to retire, and I have very mixed feelings about stepping down, but in my heart, I know it is the right thing for me to do.

Last night, I went to a worship and prayer service which brings together people from many of the 31 Horsham congregations.

As I walked to the meeting I was reflecting on my role with and my small contribution to the life of Horsham Churches Together over the last couple of years. Those mixed feelings rose again in my mind. Who is going to take over? What will it look like without me? How’s it going to work?

Then, as I walked up North Street, past the Old Council Offices, God spoke. ‘This story,’ He said, ‘is about me, not about you.’ There was a gentleness to these words, yet a profound directness. Stop worrying about the next stage of the story for HCT. It seemed to say, the future of HCT is part of God’s story. Not mine.

Later, at the service, I found myself praying on my own to one side of the auditorium. I was prayerfully reflecting on my own career – my own story. I have done many jobs – paid and voluntary. If a book were written about my life, I thought, each of them would be a chapter in my story. I have so often been deeply conscious of His presence at so many important points in my life. The start, and the closure, of each chapter has invariably involved a sense of His direction and leading. So, I found myself prayerfully asking God what was next for me. In an instant, in my mind, was the phrase ‘How much better will it be if you let me write the next chapter.’

“6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” Philippians 4:6-7 (NRSV)

“6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” Philippians 4:6-7 (NRSV)

A man with the power of God: Mark 1:29-31

Three verses. Four sentences. So much going on!

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30Simon’s mother in law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her.

Here’s a reason to read and reflect on a few verses at a time. I have read these verses so many times, but there is so much here that I hadn’t noticed before.

First, Mark gives us such a simple, yet such a profound image. Jesus, leaving the synagogue and just walking up the street with a small group of friends. It’s an ordinary, authentic moment. Here is Jesus, Son of God, Lord of Creation – wandering up the street with a bunch of mates. In those few words, you are confronted by the absolute humanity of Jesus.

Next we learn about this household, living together in one or two rooms. Simon and his brother Andrew share the house. This is their family home. It is likely that they group up in this place with their fisherman father Jonah (i). Simon is married, and (as would have been entirely normal) shared his home with other family members including, not just his brother Andrew, but his wife’s mother. This is not life changing stuff, but it’s a glimpse into the life of these young fishermen.

Simon’s mother in law is sick. She has a fever. There is no health service. No paracetamol. No antibiotics. A fever is serious. The lady is very sick. It’s natural that when a visitor arrives at the house, that they would be told about the suffering of the woman at the heart of the household.

31So he went to he, took her by the hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

I recently suffered a bout of Covid. Several weeks after the infection I still have some lingering symptoms. The idea of leaping out of bed at the height of the infection and getting straight back to work sounds like some kind of medieval torture. Make it a sick woman, being turned out of bed to serve the men and it smacks of abuse or even slavery. But something very different is going on here.

Jesus, the man, moved by compassion for a sick woman in the household of a friend. Jesus,   taking her by the hand – offering the healing touch with the power of God.  In that instant, at His touch,  the fever is gone. This lady doesn’t just feel a bit better – she is healed. She is cured. No lingering symptoms here. In an instant, her health is fully restored. Absolute healing.

Right next to an image of the true humanity of Jesus, here is an image of the supernatural and generous healing power of the Son of God. The very healing power of God. Jehovah-Rapha (ii).

Her immediate return to work doesn’t reflect some kind of prematurely forcing back into service. It demonstrates her complete healing. It shows her readiness to step straight back into her cherished role of providing hospitality to her guests. Her desire to serve Jesus is a reflection of her gratitude for his grace.

Jesus, in his humanity. Jesus, with the power of healing. A woman, responding to the encountered with His grace.

Three verses. Four sentences. So much going on!

(i) See Matthew 16:17,
(ii)Jehovah Rapha (more correctly Yahweh Rapha) is a name attributed to God in Jewish tradition, which means ‘The God who Heals’

Beatitudes: Dr Michael Frost

Dr Mike Frost is the founding Director of the Tinsley Institute, a mission study centre located at Morling College in Sydney, Australia.

This is quoted from:

I don’t read these as conditions – if you do these things you will be blessed, but as proclamations of the upside down kingdom

  • God is for those who are down and out, for the freaks, the weirdos, the awkward, the suffering, the irreligious and the profane;
  • God is for those who are deep in grief, whose pain makes them unable to participate fully in the strategies of a successful modern life;
  • God is for those who do not use power and strength over others in order to make their way in the world;
  • God is for those who long for things to be put right and for the unjust systems of the world to be torn down
  • God is for those who show mercy and forgiveness to one another, rather than seeking revenge for the ways in which they have been wronged
  • God is for those who can see that the external markers of religiously approved behaviour don’t mean much after all;
  • God is for those who resist  ways of violence and oppression in the world, and instead seek to become agents of peace and reconciliation between those who do not yet understand or love one another
  • And God is for those who, because they seek to live in this kind of reality, encounter the impression, exclusion and disdain of those with power, wealth and status.’

They were amazed at His power… Mark 1:23-28

A few months ago, a local man called Douglas who has mental health problems and spends much of his time wandering around the town, walked into the Church during a service, straight to the front, and started shouting at the musicians who were leading worship. He had been drinking, he was quite agitated, and he was very loud. In an instant, the atmosphere moved from calm and worshipful to tense and uncomfortable.  One of the Church people who obviously knew Douglas,  immediately and confidently responded to the interruption. Standing alongside Douglas, he spoke gently to him. Within moments the pair were sitting, chatting  quietly in the corner of the Church.

In any religious ceremony, there is always a tension when someone other than the speaker raises their voice and disrupts the service. When that person is unwell or drunk, most of us feel very uncomfortable.

In Mark 1:21-23 we see Jesus preaching in the synagogue. Unlike other teachers and preachers, this Jesus speaks in his own authority. People are amazed and excited about this young rabbi. And then, while he is speaking, a man stands up and starts shouting. ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?’ Do you sense the tension in the room. ‘I know who you are, God’s Holy One.’

Jesus, the preacher, deals immediately and confidently with the problem. No need to raise his voice. ‘Hold your tongue and get out of him.’ The problem is not the man, but something deep inside the man. In an instant, the man is on the floor convulsing. He screams. And then he is still. The spirit has fled.

‘If his words had amazed the people in the synagogue, his deeds left them thunderstruck.’(i)

They had been amazed by the words of Jesus. Amazed by the authority with which he spoke. And now they see his sheer power, demonstrated through his actions. This was a dramatic scene. Small wonder that the news about Jesus rapidly spread far and wide.

‘Jesus, with one word of clear, simple, brief authority exorcised the demon. No-one had ever seen anything like this before. The power was not in the spell, the formula, the incantation, the elaborate rite; the power was in Jesus.’ (ii)

Previous post in this series

  • Wm Barclay, New Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Mark, [Kindle DX Version Loc 1001]
  • Wm Barclay, ibid., [ Loc 1037]

Look for something beautiful

Each day, look for something beautiful. Take time to notice. Take time to breathe.

‘We do not want merely to see beauty… we want something else which can hardly be put into words- to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.’

CS Lewis, ‘The Weight of Glory’, p.42, Harper Collins

They were amazed at his teaching… Mark 1:21-22

To our eyes, Capernaum was more of a village than a city.  Close to the beach where Jesus had been walking, there was a synagogue. The synagogue was a place of teaching (sacrifice was reserved for the Temple in Jerusalem).  The indications are that Jesus was, for the time being, resident in Capernaum, so he would be known and recognised at the synagogue.

If we walked into the synagogue we might see some practices which remind us of Church, but there are some significant differences.

‘One thing the synagogue did not have was a permanent preacher or teacher. When the people met at the synagogue service it was open to the ruler [of the synagogue] to call on any competent person to give the address and exposition.’ (i)

The Teachers of the Law followed the strict practice of careful interpretation of the Law of Moses and the Torah, which contained many clarifications intended to apply the Law to everyday life. Their teaching would draw entirely on the words of the Torah, and the interpretations and comments of other teachers, scribes and rabbi’s.

Yet here is a young rabbi, speaking from Scripture and applying it, interpreting it, teaching from it, without reference to other teachers, but on his own authority. It is this break from tradition which sets Jesus apart from other teachers of his day. It is this assumption of authority which attracted attention to the young man called Jesus. It is the power and ownership of his own words which amazed the men of Capernaum.

22 The congregation was surprised at his sermon because he spoke as an authority and didn’t try to prove his points by quoting others—quite unlike what they were used to hearing! (Mark 1:22, The Living Bible)

Previous Post in this Series

i. Wm Barclay. New Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Mark, loc 944 (Mark 1:21-22)

Follow Me: Mark 1:16-20

In the past, I have encouraged people to engage with this moment in a contemplative way. In short, close your eyes, and imagine you were there on that foreshore.

Listen to the waves, lapping on the shore. Smell of the lake. Smell of fish.

Scores of fishing boats spread out along the shore. Fishermen. Several hundred fishermen are doing what they do. Young men and small boys. Old men. Generations from the same families. Hired men. Cleaning boats and equipment. Clattering and banging. Mending nets. Telling stories. Shouting. Chatting. Laughing.

Simon and Andrew, James and John. Young working men. Hard working. Not ignorant people, but not educated in any way we would really recognise. No different from the scores of other young fishermen on the beach that day. Ordinary young fishermen, working in the family business.

And then this young rabbi, with his unusually rough, hard working, carpenter hands, walks by.  The one who was baptised by the prophet John. The one who had met some of these young men when they were following John.

First, Simon and Andrew. ‘Follow me.’ An invitation, yes, but actually an instruction. A command. Yet also an offer of sorts. ‘Follow me. And I will send you out to fish for people.’ Follow me because I’m worth following. Follow me because there’s work for you to do. No hesitation. They followed Him.

Then, a little farther on along the beach, James and John. Zebedee, the father,  turning to his hired hands, watching his sons walk away from the family business.

They followed because He was worth following. He called them because there was work to be done. No hesitation. They followed Him.

Four very ordinary looking young men. You could walk past them and just think, ‘fishermen’. Unschooled, ordinary people. Nothing special.

Moses was tending to flocks when God called him. Amos was a shepherd. Elijah was a farmer. These guys were fishermen. God calls ordinary people, because he has things for them to do, and because he sees their potential.

Until this moment, Christ was working alone. Now he had started building his team. A team of ordinary people. A team with things to do. There was a church to build.

‘Every group of believers calling themselves a church began on the morning Jesus walked along that shore and said to four fishermen, ‘Come, follow me.’ So simple, so utterly sublime.’ (i)

Listen to the waves, lapping on the shore. Smell the lake. Smell the fish.

Next Post in this Series

Previous Post in this Series

(i) David Pawson, A Commentary on the Gospel of Mark, p32


‘How do I get ready for the power of God to break into my life and give me the victory? I repent.’ (i)

There is a theme of Scripture which affirms that the people of Israel have turned away from God. He repeatedly calls  on them to return to Him.

Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.   (Malachi 3:7)

A tendency to turn away from God, go our own way, do our own thing at the expense of our relationship with God is, it seems, part of the human condition.

The word ‘repentance’ means ‘turning’, or ‘returning’. But the act of repentance is more than simply turning away from, or back to something.

In Mark 1:15 Jesus says ‘Repent, and believe the good news.’  The word, translated here as ‘repent’, is from the Greek root ‘metanoia’ (Μετανοεῖτε). To the sense of ‘turning’, this Greek word brings both ‘change of mind and attitude’ and ‘regret’.

We still need to go one step further. ‘We are very apt to confuse two things – sorrow for the consequence of sin and sorrow for sin.’(ii)  A child, caught with their hand in the biscuit tin might have a change of mind in the face of imminent chastisement. They may even express regret. However, in turning from their failed attempt at illicit appropriation of a biscuit they may retain the desire to return, devising a way to avoid detection. Their greatest regret may actually be that they have been caught in the act. They turn from their actions, they regret their actions, but they do not necessarily repent.

For the Christian, repentance is not something which can wait until we are caught out.  It is the recognition of every sin: large, small, seen and unseen, and it is the nurturing of a true desire and commitment to be rid of it.

As I am writing this I am recovering from covid. My health is improving, but I want rid of the bug completely. Until it is utterly gone, I am still, to a degree, suffering from covid. Repentance cannot be complete until the desire to sin has been recognised and dealt with before God.

One thing more. We need to remember that for a Christian, repentance alone is not enough. We are to repent and believe.

‘Jesus preached that people should repent (change their minds) and believe. Repentance alone is not enough to save us, even though God expects believers to turn from their sins. We must also put positive faith in Jesus Christ and believe His promise of salvation.’ (iii)

Our return to God is characterised by a change of mind, regret at our weakness, and a commitment to absolutely separate ourselves from both the sin and from the desire to sin. That separation should be ‘as far as is the east from the west’. When our repentance is heartfelt, His forgiveness is absolute.

11For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
(Psalm 103: 11-12)

Repent,’ says Jesus, ‘and believe the good news.’

(i) Pawson, A Commentary on the Gospel of Mark, , p27
(ii) Wm Barclay, New Daily Study Bible, the Gospel of Mark, (Mark 1:14-15) (loc843)
(iii) Wiersbe, ‘Be Diligent’, p20

The time has come… Mark 1:14-15

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

John the Baptist in his camel hair coat had preached, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.’(i) Now we see how his message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins truly prepares the way not just for the coming of the Messiah, but for the message and the moment of his appearance on the road to the cross.

The kingdom of God is not about places but about power.

‘Wherever God’s power reaches out and controls, that is the Kingdom of God’ (ii)

The power of God is there throughout His creation, but as the Messiah draws close, so the power is amplified. That is at the heart of the good news. The kingdom is where God’s power is, and Christ is the very manifestation of that power.

The arrest of John in some way defines the moment. The time has come. It is a moment which calls for action. It’s time for a new Chapter. A new narrative.

‘God wants a new poetry to be written, and is calling a new people to write it. And the name of the poem is ‘the kingdom of God. This is what all Israel had been waiting for.’ (iii)

Previous Post in this series

Next Post in this series

(i) Matthew 3:2 (NIV)
(ii) David Pawson, A Commentary on the Gospel of Mark, p25
(iii) NT Wright, ‘Mark for Everyone’, p5