No – the congregation has not slipped off the left of the shot: the angle is for artistic impression and Portadown Baptist Church does a good job of filling these seats on a Sunday. What you’d never guess from the photo is that the pews are heated – I suppose if you are going to put radiators somewhere, you might as well put them under the pews!
For my second Sunday in Portadown this year I preached in the morning on the story of the raising of Lazarus from John 11. We looked at the story from the point of view of the progression of Martha’s faith through the story.
- At the start, she believed that Jesus loved her brother.
- She believed that if Jesus had been present, he could have prevented the death of her brother.
- She believed that even though her brother had died, Jesus was still powerful.
- She believed that her brother would rise at the last day.
- She believed that Jesus was the Christ.
What an amazing moment it must have been for Martha to realise that the power of resurrection, which she affirmed as part of her faith, was present, incarnate in the man called Jesus.
I am the resurrection and the life.
As the resurrection, Jesus promises that for anyone who dies believing in him, death will not have the final word. As the life, Jesus promises that anyone who believes in him will have a quality of life that death cannot touch.
It is one thing to make these claims. (I could claim to be able to fly between tall buildings: the fraudulence and futility of my claim would be revealed at the first attempt). By commanding Lazarus to emerge from the tomb, Jesus demonstrated the reality of his claim.
Return to the Prodigal.
In the evening, I preached what we commonly call the story of the Prodigal Son, but which I prefer to call A Tale of Two Sons. After all there are two sons, not one; and it is the often neglected older son whose response to the return of his wayward brother allows Jesus to leave his critical audience of religious zealots with a challenge. And, of course, there is a father whose acceptance of shame, rejection and dishonour (distinguished men did not run in public) paved the way for the return of the lost boy. If the older son’s story tells us something about the stumbling-block of grace, and the father’s story tells us something about the scandal of grace, the younger son’s story tells us about its scope.