Why Bother With Jesus?

Well, this morning is what we call an Invitation Service. From time to time we make a special effort to invite friends or family or people who live locally to come along. And if you're here through an invitation, can I say: thanks for coming - especially if you've sacrificed The Simpsons or The Archers Omnibus, to make time to hear something about the Christian message. The question on the invitation card is: 'Why bother with Jesus?' Let me start by giving you three questions and asking you to decide which you think is the odd one out:

Question 1: Why bother with breathing? Question 2: Why bother looking before you cross the road? Question 3: Why bother with Jesus?

Most people, I think, would say the odd one out is number 3, 'Why bother with Jesus?' Breathing and looking before you cross are so obviously a matter of life and death, you don't even ask the question. Whereas Jesus - well 'Why bother?' I was talking to the hairdresser about Jesus the other day. You know how it is in the hairdressers: no-one else in the shop was talking and there I was talking about Jesus, and people in the queue were hiding behind newspapers thinking, 'We've got a nutter here give him a 'number 2' and get him out quick!' But my hairdresser was interested and kept asking questions and as I paid at the till, I invited her along here. To which she said, 'Oh, thanks very much, pet, but I'm not the religious type. And anyway,' she added, 'Whatever we believe, we'll both live the same amount of time won't we?' In other words, it doesn't really matter, does it? It doesn't really make much difference. It's not like breathing or looking before you cross. It's not life and death. But I hope to show from what Jesus himself said that it is life and death. And if you'd like to check what I'm saying against what Jesus said, the words are taken straight from Luke's Gospel - one of the four accounts in the Bible of Jesus' life, death and rising from the dead. Luke 9.18:

Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, "Who do the crowds say I am?" {19} They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life."

Now if people are guessing that you're a great Old Testament (OT) figure who's come back from the dead, you must pretty out of the ordinary. Which Jesus was. If you were to read Luke's Gospel up to this bit, you'd find accounts of Jesus putting a paralysed man back on his feet; calming a storm at sea; disrupting a funeral by bringing the corpse back to life, to name but three. So the crowds were saying, 'He's supernatural. And the only explanation we can think of is that he's one of the OT prophets, come back from the dead.' Well, they were right on supernatural, but wrong on their explanation. Verse 20:

"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "The Christ of God."

Now, in OT times, before Jesus, the prophets' message was basically this. The root cause of everything that's wrong in the world is that each of us has turned away from God. So for example, if we don't get along with other people, it's because we're selfish. But selfishness has a deeper cause. The root cause is that we've turned away from putting God at the centre of our lives to putting ourselves at the centre. And the result is our pride and insecurity and self-seeking and rivalry and lovelessness. And that root cause is what the Bible calls sin. It says:

"There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."

(Romans 3.10-12, quoting the OT) That's what the prophets said. We've all committed this offence of turning away from God and living our own way. And they also said that at the end of the day, God would judge us all for that offence. Or rather, his Son would. And they gave him the title 'Christ' which means 'selected for the job' - the job of judgement. And that's what Jesus is on about in verse 26:

If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man [which is another title Jesus used for himself] will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

He's talking about the day when he'll judge us. And he's saying, 'If you've been ashamed of me, if you haven't wanted me in your life, then on the day of judgement, I will not want to know you or have you in my heaven.' The judgement for not wanting God in your life is not having God in your life - now and in eternity. Now you may not yet believe what the Bible says about sin and judgement. But at least you can see what Jesus was claiming. He claimed to be the Son of God. He claimed that everyone who's ever lived will meet him as Judge the other side of death. And he claimed that where we spend eternity depends entirely on him. Enormous claims. And therefore claims we have to bother with. Mind you, anyone can claim that sort of thing. A few years ago, David Icke proclaimed himself the Son of God. Do you remember David Icke? First career: goalkeeper for Coventry City. Second career: BBC TV sports reporter. Third career: Son of God. There was a quick flurry of publicity in the News of the World. And he's now in quiet and embarrassed retirement on the Isle of Wight. Anyone can claim that sort of thing. But you shouldn't just believe what people claim. Well that's true. A belief is only as good as the reasons it rests on. (Equally, unbelief is only as good as the reasons it rests on). And to the best of my knowledge, David Icke never did anything which backed up his claim. He never did a miracle. Whereas Jesus did countless ones. Nor did David Icke stick to his claim when it was called into question. Whereas Jesus stuck to his claim to be God even when it got him charged with blasphemy and crucified. And you'd have expected the argument to end there. You'd have thought the unbelieving side had won the day, getting Jesus crucified and safely buried away in a tomb. But the argument didn't end there. Three days later, the tomb was empty and Jesus' followers were claiming they'd seen him risen bodily from the dead. That's why I'm a Christian, but not a David Ickeian. Jesus did more than claim to be God. He did what only God could do. So, why bother with Jesus? Well, one half of the answer is this. Bother because one day in the future, we're each going to meet him as our Judge. So we can't just say like the hairdresser, 'Thanks very much, pet, but I'm not the religious type.' That's like walking towards a cliff-edge and saying, 'Don't worry, I'm not the gravitational type.' It doesn't matter what we say about ourselves, gravity is there and we can't avoid it. And likewise, it doesn't matter what we say about ourselves ('I'm not the religious type', 'I've always lived a decent life', 'I've always said it doesn't matter what you believe so long as you're sincere'); Jesus is there, and we can't avoid him. Where have we got to so far? The Christian message starts with what's gone wrong. We've sinned; God is offended; and Jesus his Son is going to bring us to judgement. But the whole point of his coming into the world was to mend the relationship before it comes to that. Just think about a situation where someone is treated wrongly, and offended. Imagine you came up to me after the service and said, 'You know, I hated every minute of that. It wasn't just the content. It was your whining voice and that dreadful tie you're wearing. And I kept wondering why you southerners don't just stay down there' And so on. And I take offence. In that kind of situation, for the relationship to have any future, two things must happen. The offended person must be willing to forgive. And the offender must admit he's in the wrong, and be willing to change. Two musts. The offended willing to forgive. The offender willing to admit and to change. Well, God is offended with us. Judgement is a certainty. And unless something is done, the relationship has no future. So the question is this: is God willing to forgive? And the answer is: yes. Verse 21:

Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. And he said, 'The Son of Man [ie Jesus] must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and be killed and on the third day be raised to life.'

The symbol of Christianity is the cross: the way of execution by which Jesus died. People wear crosses, church buildings are built that shape, we have hot cross buns at Easter, and year-round we have communion services to remember Jesus' death on the cross. Because his death was no accident. It was the reason he came into the world.

'The Son of Man must suffer and be rejected and be killed.'

Why that must? Why did Jesus have to die? Here's what another part of the Bible says:

Christ died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (1 Peter 3.18)

The Bible sees death as the moment we are brought to judgement for sin. So why did Jesus - the Son of God, who never sinned - have to face death? If he committed no sins of his own, what judgement could he possibly have been facing? There's only one answer: ours. Imagine this hand stands for me (or you), and God is up there above us, and this book stands for my sins. Everything I've ever thought, said or done wrong in his sight. Everything that should be held against me in judgement. The book rests on me, and cuts me off from God. God's character is such that he can't turn a blind eye to that sin or say it doesn't matter. His justice demanded that it be punished. But his love moved him to forgive me. So what he did was this. He sent his Son (this other hand) into the world as a man like us - except he never sinned. He had no judgement of his own to face. So he was qualified to take our place and take the judgement we deserve so we could be forgiven it. The 'book' of my sins was laid on him; he was cut off from God so I could be brought back to God. 'The Son of Man must suffer.' And that must is the must of forgiveness. It's what had to happen if we were to be forgiven the judgement we deserve. So, Jesus' coming into the world says God loves us enough to warn us about sin and judgement. But it says far, far more than that. His death on the cross says God loves us enough to take his own judgement on himself so we can be forgiven. Why bother with Jesus? The first half of the answer was this. Bother because one day in the future, we're each going to meet him as our Judge. But the second half is this: bother because he so much wants to mend the relationship that he came to die for us. Just try to take that in. The person who made you, the person who will judge you, died under the judgement you deserve to bring you back to himself. So much does he love us, even as we are in our sin. If there's any hope for our relationship with God, he must be willing to forgive. And he is. That's the must of v22. So, the question comes back to us. Are we willing to come back? Are we willing to admit we're wrong and change? That's the 'must' for us, and it's there in verse 23:

Then [Jesus] said to them all, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.'

Your life and mine is like a miniature kingdom. It has different regions in it: regions like relationships, marriage, sex, family, work, leisure, money, thought, speech. And at the centre of that kingdom is a throne. The person who rightly belongs there is God. But until we've turned back to him, the person who is in fact there is you, is me. And if we're to come back into relationship with God we have to admit that that's wrong, and change. I have to get myself off the throne, apologise for having taken it, and let Jesus have it. Or, as Jesus puts it, I must 'deny myself'. I must say to my self, 'Self, you are no longer the most important person in life. I now recognise that Jesus is. Self, from now on, the ruling principle in life will not be what do you want, but what does Jesus want? Self, from now on, you are dethroned.' In fact, Jesus says it's like putting your old self, your old life, to death. Verse 23: 'he must deny himself and take up his cross daily.' And crosses were things they put people to death on. Imagine a newly married husband. He has to put an old life to death. He has to work at being home at a certain time, whereas before it didn't matter. He has to work at squeezing the toothpaste the right way and leaving the loo seat down. And it's a daily business killing off the old bachelor ways. And it's like that coming back to God, to Jesus. It's a new relationship, and it's a daily business killing off the old sinful ways. And it's even more life-changing than marriage. In marriage, you lose control of your life to an equal. In coming back to God, to Jesus, you lose control of your life to a Lord and Master. You say in principle: 'I'll go where you want me to go, I'll do what you want me to do; I'll be what you want me to be.'

[Jesus] said to them all, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.' (v23)

And our natural reaction is to say: 'Hold on! I don't want to lose control. I could lose out badly. He might want me out of bed with my girlfriend or boyfriend (which he would). He might want me to be a missionary (which he might).' So we think of saving the throne for ourselves, because we don't want to lose control. And Jesus answers that. Verse 24:

For whoever wants to save his life [ie, stays on the throne] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me [ie, gets off the throne] will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

If I hold onto the throne of my life, I may pull it off successfully. I may not - I may make a complete mess of it. But take the best case scenario: verse 25 - I gain the whole world. Everything I set my heart on. It all comes good. Job. Marriage. Family. House. Success. You name it. But what good is that if at the end of the day I lose or forfeit my very self (v25)? What good is all that, if at the end of my life (verse 26), I meet the Jesus I never bothered with, and he tells me to go away forever? There is a cost to coming back to God - just like there's a cost to every relationship worth the name. With God, you do have to get off the throne. But can I ask: are you really that sure you can make a better job of running your life than the God who gave you life in the first place? And can I ask: have you counted the cost of not coming back to God? And we're talking not just this life, but eternity. Why bother with Jesus? Well, for the same reason we bother with breathing and looking before we cross. In fact, for bigger reasons. Not just life and death. But eternal life and eternal death. Bother because one day in the future we'll each meet him as Judge. And bother because one day in the past he died for each of us to bring us back to himself. I wonder what your response is to all this. You may be saying, 'I'm not sure what you've said about Jesus is true. What you've said about his miracles and his resurrection. The way you seem to trust Luke's Gospel and the Bible.' If so, three quick things: all on the Welcome Desk at the back. One, please do take a copy of a Gospel to read. Two, I've written a booklet about the four Gospels called 'Why Trust Them?' - you're very welcome to a copy of that. And three, we run a course where folk can talk these things through - it's called Mustardseed; green leaflets tell you about that. Then again, you may be saying, 'I'm not sure what you've said about people is true.' You may not be prepared to think of yourself as a sinner who's offended God. I can't really help you with that. All I can say is: I've only been saying what God says, and it's his word against ours. And in the privacy of our own hearts, we must be ruthlessly honest about ourselves, however hard it is to face realities. But you may be saying, 'I think this is true - what you say about Jesus and sin and judgement and the cross and forgiveness and God being willing to have us back.' In which case, the question for you is: do you want to come back? You may need a bit more time to weigh up the implications of doing that. But you may be as ready as you'll ever be. Either way, I'd like to end for anyone in that position by explaining how you could respond to God. Here are three things that would begin this relationship with God. Three 'A's. Firstly, admit. You need to admit that you've been in the wrong, running your own life when God should be on the throne. Secondly, accept. You need to accept that Jesus died for your sins, and that he'll forgive you right now, because of what he's done, and not because of anything you've done or promise to do in future. And thirdly, ask. You need to ask him to forgive you and to come into your life by his Spirit, to help you to live for him from now on. I'm going to end with a prayer that would say those things to God. And I'll read it out first so that you can gauge whether it would be appropriate for you: Father God, I admit that I have lived my own way and denied you your place on the throne of my life. I now want to give you that place. I accept with wonder and thanks that your Son died to take the judgement my sins deserve, so that I can be saved from it. I humble myself now and ask you to forgive all my sins and to come into my life by your Holy Spirit. Please help me to change and please forgive me where I fail you. Amen. Jesus calls us not to be ashamed of him, that is to follow him publicly. So I would only encourage you to pray that prayer if you're willing to be known from now publicly as a follower of Christ. But if you are ready to respond to him, and to line up publicly with him, then you could do so by echoing that prayer in your own mind as I pray it. If you have prayed that prayer, it's been heard and answered. It's a great thing to make that beginning. And the next step is to find out how to live the relationship you've just begun it. The best way to do that is to tell another Christian and ask them about getting going. If you've come with someone, or know another Christian, do tell them. If not, you'd be very welcome to tell me. You could find me afterwards. Or you could just take one of these welcome forms, fill in your name and address and write 'prayed' at the top - and I'll drop you a line.

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