LETTER FROM OUR MINISTER, REV. BARTHRAM
As a preacher, one of the challenges is what to preach on each Sunday. To help, there are suggested readings from the bible for the whole year (with the churchy name Lectionary). That can be a help with the added bonus that if others use them there might be some consistency. At the moment Luke’s Gospel is largely being used and it has been good for me at least to spend time with what he himself calls his ‘orderly account’ (1:3).
As this April edition of our newsletter covers the days when we recall the events that form the centre of our faith, my thoughts have gone to that part of Luke’s account. He describes how Roman soldiers lead Jesus to the place of execution and how behind him was Simon of Cyrene carrying the heavy cross-beam. Then Luke alone tells us of events on that short journey, how the usual crowd of onlookers has gathered, among them women wailing in the customary manner. He records Jesus’ words to them that conclude with a proverb:
“For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry” (23: 31).
The proverb draws on the Old Testament where fire represents God’s judgement; it draws a contrast between green and dry wood – when wood is still green and wet it does not burn easily but when it is dry it burns well and is consumed. Jesus sees himself as represented by the green wood and those who watch by the dry wood. It is unnatural for succulent green wood to be burned, as it is for one without sin to die a criminal’s death so how much worse must it be for others. In recent weeks I have often quoted the late George Caird on Luke’s gospel. He writes here:
“If the fire is now hot enough to destroy one whom Roman justice has pronounced innocent, what must the guilty expect?”
Nowadays, we like to avoid difficult subjects like judgement but how lacking in love that is. Jesus had no such self-pity and so would warn people. The Bible tells us we are all guilty, so if Jesus could be the object of God’s judgement as he is for our sakes, we can be sure we will be. As the reformer John Calvin put it, ‘but if what is moist and green be burned, much less shall the dry be ultimately spared.’
In the death of Christ, we see the greatest demonstration of God’s love for us. It is so because He himself bore the judgement due to us. That same love meant Jesus spoke so often of the need for repentance and faith, genuine repentance and sincere faith in him. In his words to the onlookers it was a final warning founded in love, not seeking sympathy for him but faith in him.
As we mark our Saviour’s death this year, seek to sense something of the depth of his love and have that same love for others, for if this happens when the wood is green what will happen what it is dry?
Yours in Christ,