The Cross that really makes a Difference

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In four days time I trust that all of us who are allowed to vote will be putting a cross by the name of one candidate, after considering the different manifestos and the voting records of the MP's who are standing for re-election.

But although good government and policies about education, health, law and order, Europe, employment, defence etc are very important none of the political parties address mankind's greatest need. For actually our greatest need is not food and clothing, housing, a good job, good health or even exam success even though that will be a top priority for some of you at the moment.

And some people are beginning to realise it. Never have more people been wealthier in this country than they are today and yet never have more people been as unhappy, dissatisfied, depressed, suicidal and lonely. Yet they are lost. For example, most people know that money doesn't buy happiness, yet still millions of people buy lottery tickets every week in the hope that they'll win millions. One man, aged 64, was one of a syndicate of elderly people who shared one of the very first lottery jackpots. But after the group of friends won over £200,000 each, they stopped getting together. The gentleman said,

We used to meet two or three times a week, but that has stopped now. Since I won the money, I have been more lonely than ever before.

Another man regularly bought a batch of lottery tickets and always used the same numbers. On checking his tickets one week, he discovered that he had all the winning numbers, meaning a win of millions of pounds. However, on rechecking the dates on the tickets he realised that they had expired, and were therefore absolutely worthless. In a state of shock he went upstairs and shot himself. The newsagent, from whom the man had bought the lottery ticket, commented that…

The national lottery does strange things to people. They become obsessed. For some of my customers it is all they seem to live for. They spend their last pennies on it each week.

More and more young people appear to be turning to drugs to find that extra something. A recent survey found that 400,000 children under 16 are regular drug users in this country. In Wallsend on Wednesday seven young teenagers ended up in hospital after being supplied a cocktail of drugs.

And some of you here this evening know there's something missing in your lives and that there's something wrong. The French philosopher Pascal said that all human beings have a God shaped hole, meaning needing to have a relationship with God.

You see we were made to have a relationship with God. But there's a problem. A number of years ago there was some correspondence in a newspaper about what is wrong with the world. Many things were suggested. One writer, G.K. Chesterton, famously replied in just two words. 'Dear Sir,' he wrote, 'I am, Yours sincerely G.K. Chesterton.' He recognised that he was part of the problem, that he like us is a sinner. Sin simply means 'I' in the middle, me first not God. And the Bible says we have all chosen to rebel against God. And that separates us from God because God hates sin and cannot ignore sin. The Bible puts it truly and starkly:

The wages of sin is death [meaning eternal separation from God, eternal punishment in hell], but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So people's greatest need is acceptance by God. A need which a politician can do nothing about. But God has. He gave his only Son Jesus Christ to die in our place. Listen to Jesus' 'manifesto' so to speak and how he was going to achieve it.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.

The Son of Man [that is Jesus] did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Christianity is about Jesus Christ and what he's done to bring us back into relationship with God. And v18 of 1 Peter 3 which is to be our main focus this evening sums it all up:

For Christ died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

So let's now look at the problem in more detail.


V.18 again:

For Christ died for sins, once for all, the righteous [meaning Jesus] for the unrighteous [meaning us].

We are unrighteous. In other words we haven't lived right. We're in the wrong with God. That's God's verdict on us. Another passage in the Bible says:

There is no-one righteous, not even one…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

We see human sin and its dire consequences all around us every day. Only in the last few days many of us will have seen a former politician accused of lying and 17 teenagers blown to bits in Israel.

But perhaps some of you are thinking, well I've never done anything like that. I've tried to be nice and to live a good life. I've been to every student supper for the last 3 years – I've even helped to cook some of the suppers. Or others of you are thinking I've attended every single CYFA (youth fellowship) meeting for the last 4 years, or others still are thinking I've helped out in the orchestra and the choir regularly. Now don't misunderstand me those things are good and helpful things to do and we shouldn't stop doing them but they won't earn us acceptance with God. That is only by faith in Christ.

Our definition of good is not the same as God's. The Bible says, "Only God is good". Only God is pure, holy and righteous. We are not. But our definition of good might be, I've never committed murder or adultery. Yet Jesus said:

You have heard it was said, 'Do not murder', but I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement…You have heard it was said, 'Do not commit adultery', but I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:21-22; 27-30)

Have we not all been wrongly angry with someone or looked at someone lustfully? Have we never thought, 'I could kill him or her?' We may never have robbed a bank but I can't imagine that we have never stolen anything. Last week a Christian speaker was preaching at Liverpool Cathedral on the eighth commandment, 'Do not steal'. He urged the congregation to return any stolen property they had. They filled two wheelie bins with NHS crutches, videos, company pens, ashtrays, CD's, and library books. But the bulk of the contents consisted of bath-robes and towels which are being posted back to hotels all over the world. We all fall short of the glory of God, of God's definition of goodness.

Jesus was asked: 'Of all the commandments which is the most important?' He replied,

The most important one is this… 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength'. The second is this: 'Love your neighbour as yourself'. (Mark 12:29-31)

I don't know about you but I still struggle with the second one, especially when our student neighbours are in party mood and you watch in horror as the people and crates of Beck's move in. It is much easier during exam time when it all goes quiet – briefly! And of the first – well don't we all fall short of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength? In fact that's the root of what's wrong between us and God – we've displaced him from his rightful place as the centre of our lives. Displacing him and putting ourselves at the centre is sin. The behaviour it leads to are called sins and the Bible says the judgement we deserve for our sin is to be cut off from God – now and when we die. We are unrighteous and without Christ we have no hope. Are we ready at this end of term service to admit that? – you may never have a better opportunity.

With Christ we have hope, says Peter here in v15, Christ the hope of glory, a sure and certain hope of heaven.

So what is the solution if we are under God's judgement of separation from him? How can we have a relationship with God?


Look again at 1 Peter 3:18:

For Christ died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

God hates our sin but he loves us and wants us to come back. Probably the most famous verse in the Bible says this:

God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son [Jesus], that whoever believes in him might not perish (go to hell) but have eternal life.

And this verse from 1 Peter also tells us what God had to do to get us back:

Christ died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

God wanted to forgive us and remove the judgement that we are under and come back into relationship with him but he couldn't just sweep our sins under the carpet. God is just and must punish sin. So how do you punish sin and forgive the sinner?

1 Peter 3:18 again:

Christ died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

The Son of God, Jesus Christ, became human but never sinned. When he died on the cross he wasn't paying for his own sins. No on the cross he took the punishment for our sins. He paid the price, so that we can be forgiven. The righteous died for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

If we respond to Jesus, if we put our faith in him then we have peace with God and new and eternal life. Eternal life, which begins when we put our faith in Christ and goes on forever in heaven. V18 goes on to say this:

He was put to death in the body, but made alive by the Spirit.

Jesus rose from the dead, which is why above all we believe he was and is God and that there is a heaven for Jesus went through death. The cross of Christ and Jesus' resurrection really does mean that our lives can be different. If you turn back to God and trust him to forgive you, he will. And he won't just forgive your past but also your future sins as well. That's why it says 'Christ died once for all', once for all time. But that is not a licence to keep on sinning! No when we do turn back we receive the Holy Spirit who begins to change us from the inside out and we are no longer to live for ourselves but for Christ who is Lord. As some of us heard this morning from 1 Corinthians 6:

You are not your own, you were bought at a price.

That's how valuable we are to Jesus. And after accepting him as our Saviour and Lord we are to live for him and have the same attitude as him. Look at 1 Peter 4 for a moment:

He does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do – living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.

Jesus never said following him would be easy – there will be suffering at times and opposition – some will heap abuse on you for being a Christian and for standing up for Christ (1 Peter 4:4). But Jesus promises to be with us to the end of the age and in him we have a sure and certain hope.

Christ died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.

That's what God's done for us so that we can have a relationship with him and there is no other way. Jesus said,

I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me (Jn 14:6).

Neither our attempts at goodness nor other religions can bring us back to God. A recent Readers Digest article told of a man named Bill who had donated over 100 pints of blood over the years. No doubt many people owe their lives to this man's kindness. How do you think this man's good deeds go over in heaven? Bill said:

When that final whistle blows, and St Peter asks, 'What did you do?' I'll just say, 'Well, I gave 100 pints of blood'. That ought to get me in.

But if he's counting on the giving of 100 pints of blood to get him into heaven – he is trusting in the wrong blood.


So what is our response to what God has done for us? As we come to the end of an academic year and maybe to the end of your time at university, college or school how will you respond? Jesus has paid for us on the cross to be forgiven back into relationship with God. But that doesn't automatically mean anyone of us is. No we have to accept that Jesus has paid the price for our forgiveness and that we can't do anything to put ourselves right with God. We need to admit that we have rebelled and deserve punishment and need mercy on the basis of Jesus' death in our place. And then put our faith in Christ - ask Jesus to come into our lives as Saviour and Lord. It may be that some of you want to ask more questions before responding in that way – if so we have groups such as Just Looking and Food for Thought that help people explore further. But it may be that you want to respond now. If so I'm going to pray a prayer that you can echo in your heart.

Dear God, I know that I am not worthy to be accepted by you. I do not deserve your gift of eternal life. I am guilty of rebelling against you and ignoring you. I need your forgiveness. Thank you for sending your Son to die for me that I may be forgiven. Thank you that he rose from the dead to give me new life. Please forgive me and change me, that I may live with Jesus as my Ruler. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer please tell someone, if you did or still want to think further do pick up a copy of 'The Choice We All Face'. And for those who are already Christians here this evening take Peter's teaching to heart and keep going!

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