On 15 April 2022, Bishop Alvin Witten conducted the Good Friday central AVT divine service at Silvertown congregation. The divine service was conducted in English and interpreted in South African Sign Language (SASL) at the altar by Beryl Botha.
The Bishop was accompanied by Priest Kent Stephens, a music ensemble, the NACTV crew and Deacon Julio Sieni who did the Bible reading. This divine service was made available on NACTV, Cape Town TV on DSTV channel 263 and was also streamed live on the NACTV Facebook page. For members who were unable to watch the divine service, please find a detailed summary of the sermon:
Opening Hymn: I will sing of my Redeemer (EH: 91)
Bible word: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15:13-14)
My dear brothers and sisters, allow me to welcome you to the divine service here this morning and also to all those who are connected here with us. May we experience a blessed time here. There is a Bible reading which is to be done.
Bible reading: Matthew 27:31-50
My dear brothers and sisters, there is so much taking place right now and one cannot help but be moved by one’s experience by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. When my children were very small, I used to read a bedtime story to them. And I'm sure you have done the same, and maybe you have had the same experience. They would have a lot of books that you could choose from, but inevitably they will choose this one book, this one story. Every night you have to read the same story over and over again. And one wonders why they do that. It's a favourite story and it's the one that will put them to sleep. Maybe they love the characters in it. Maybe they love the story itself, and they want to hear it again and again. Very frustrating for you, but for them very comforting. And in many ways, the story of Jesus for me is like that. I want to hear more about Jesus. I want to hear more about His activity. I'm excited about Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ. To relive the experience once again. The singing of the angels saying Jesus is here. And then of course when it comes to Good Friday, in the past I used to be quite sad. That was the drama part. That was not so nice until one got to understand the significance of Good Friday, the significance of the sacrifice. And then it brought about a different understanding. And then there is Easter, the resurrection of Christ, the ascension of Christ. There is so much contained in the story of Jesus. The story of Jesus is the story of the love of God, our heavenly Father. Jesus speaks about this love. He reminds us about this love of God for you and me. And it's therefore not surprising that this sermon today is under the caption, a sacrifice of love.
And the message for you and I today is that we believe in this love of God, and we reciprocate it. When one looks at the Book of John that he wrote, it's often referred to as the Gospel of love. Because it speaks and goes into depth about the love of God, our heavenly Father. The deacon read only a portion of Jesus' sacrifice. And although there is so much contained in the Bible about the love of God, when Jesus’ activity is illustrated in this gospel, more emphasis is placed on the love that Jesus had; on His determination to make a sacrifice than what there is on His actual suffering. One could almost say that the suffering was almost sort of by the way. And therefore, when you read this word, this sacrifice of Jesus is the greatest declaration of love that one can actually imagine. And I read the Bible word again. It says, ‘Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.’ God is love. Already in the beginning, in His creation when He created man, He had a special love for man. He created man in His own image. And by creating man in His own image, He made it possible for man to have a perfect fellowship with Him. And they enjoyed that until of course we know the history. Man fell into sin. And by falling into sin, turned away from God. But it did not stop God's love. When I spoke about the story of Jesus, and loving the story of Jesus, whilst it is a story, we are the main characters. God’s love centres around us as human beings. And therefore, the story is real. We want to know about the end. God loves us. Jesus teaches us that God continues to call us and to call out to us. And in His love, He created the salvation plan for you and me as His people. How wonderful it is for us to be in fellowship with Him for time and all eternity. That's where our story is moving towards.
God sent His Son as part of the salvation plan. This God that we serve, a Triune God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, three distinct persons, completely one. So, the sending of Jesus is a demonstration of the love of God for you and me. In a discussion with Nicodemus, He mentions this. Jesus had a long discussion with Nicodemus because Nicodemus had some questions. And then Jesus said to him also, and we can read this also in the book of John. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son...” In other words, the sacrifice that He was making, is God's love. And that is what it is about for you and me. God sent His Son Jesus Christ. On earth, Jesus demonstrated the love of God, our heavenly Father in every possible way. He resisted evil. He overcame evil by resisting temptation and resisting violence. These things happen to you and me also. And we are not always successful in resisting temptation, resisting violence, or resisting evil. But Jesus did that. Because He understood His purpose and He needed to fulfil this purpose. So, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ therefore became the expression of God's love for you and me.
Many Christians around the world celebrate and remember Jesus Christ on the cross. And even on the cross and in His suffering, as the deacon read, how they mocked Him, how they scorned Him. Those closest to Him had betrayed Him and left Him on the cross. When He was there, despite the hardship, despite the difficulty, despite the pain, He still demonstrated the love of God. He forgave His tormentors. Think of this. Here He was nailed to a cross. Nails kept Him on the cross. Nailed in His arms, nailed by His feet. It means every slightest movement must have been agonizing for Him. And yet, in that condition, He looked and saw His mother. In His pain and suffering, He must have seen the anguish that she had, because she was there. This was her Son. He felt what she was going through even though He was on the cross. And then He looked at this disciple which is written of here. It says the disciple whom Jesus loved. He looked at the disciple, He looked at His mother, and then He said, mother, behold your Son. Son, behold your mother. In other words, even in His agony, He took care of those whom He loved. That's the pure love of God for you and me. A beautiful demonstration of God's love for us. And that love continues. Our Chief Apostle says for him, this sacrifice of Jesus is a message of God saying, I love you. I have opened a door for you so that you can enter. It's an invitation to you and I and everyone to salvation. Salvation offered by God, our heavenly Father. We read in Scripture, for God so loved the world. But we also read that God wants everyone to be saved. That's the love of God for you and me.
Now, we've heard the first part of our Bible word. It says, ‘Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends.’ Now comes the second part. And the second portion says, ‘You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.’ So let us be reminded of the message today. We believe in the love of God. Now we have spoken about that. We have experienced the sacrifice of Jesus. We believe in the love of God. In the second portion of the message, what are we supposed to do? Reciprocate this love of God. To reciprocate means to pay back a kindness in a likewise manner. When somebody has done something nice for you, you feel compelled to want to do something nice for them also. I'm thinking now about when I moved into my home, a young man, new home, newly married. And I went out one day to cut the grass, but I didn't have a lawnmower, so I was using the shears to cut the grass. And then one of the neighbours came over with his lawnmower and just started cutting the lawn. It was such a beautiful gesture. Now I wanted to reciprocate that because I thought this was something nice. But I didn't have a lawnmower to go and cut his grass. Then Jean, my wife, said she’ll make a cake and we'll send it over. When someone has done something nice for you, you feel almost compelled to do something back. When I learn of this beautiful love of God, I have an urge to want to do something about it. I don't just want to sit idly at the side. It urges me to want to do something in return. Lord, what can I do for you? What can I do for you in return? I listen to the brothers singing, the instrumentalists. How we are blessed with so many talents and gifts that we can give to the Lord. And when we do this, you make the experience here a blessed one for everybody. Just by these beautiful gifts, reciprocate. Give back to the Lord. That's what we are called to do today. I'm reminded now of an experience that our District Apostle spoke about one day. It was a long time ago, so I don't remember the detail of the experience. But I do remember the punch line. He spoke about meeting someone at the airport, and I think it was in Namibia. And he met this man. And this man got to know him to be a minister and then the conversation ensued in a godly way. And I remember him telling us about what this man said. This man said, I'm working all the time, I fly around a lot. I can't always go to church. But the Lord has blessed me. He's blessed me with an income. He's blessed me with money. And I give my offerings. I send my offering to Him. In other words, what a beautiful teaching. Even if I cannot be in God's house, I still make sure my offerings are there. We have so much that we can do for God and in His work. But God does not force us in any way. He doesn't coerce us in any way. He simply gives His love to us. And having an understanding of this love almost forces us to want to do something in return. We want to praise Him. We want to worship Him. And the best way we can do that is by giving of our gifts and giving of our talents to build His work. Amen.
Thoughts from Bishop Alvin Witten