Those who know me well will tell you I'm into my films! One of my favourites comes from 1992 and is called 'A Few Good Men'. Amongst many others it stars Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson and it is a powerful and compelling courtroom drama. The climactic scene is quite famous. Tom Cruise's character (the lawyer) is trying to get Jack Nicholson's character (a US Marine colonel) to admit that the he ordered illegal action on a Marine to toughen him up… action that ultimately led to his death. The dialogue goes something like this:
Jack Nicholson's character: "Do you want answers?"
Tom Cruise's character: "I think I'm entitled to them."
JN: "Do you want answers?"
TC: "I want the truth!"
JN: "You can't handle the truth!"
It's an explosive scene and one that really brings out the fact that at the heart of any good courtroom drama is the desire to get to the truth. Now, don't worry, it's not my style to shout and scream like Tom Cruise's character, and this is no courtroom, but I do want us to pursue truth in this place tonight. I do want us to be ready and willing to handle the truth. Because, as I hope we will come on to see, there is absolute truth that brings real justice and there is absolute truth that can set you free…free from lies that you may not even have realised you've accepted.
But before we even get started you may be questioning whether truth itself is actually a valid concept. Maybe you've seen this advert on bus shelters recently for a new online series called 'Sneaky Pete'. I've no idea what it's about, but the tag line is interesting. It says: "The truth is always changing." Really? How can truth change? How can 2+2 equal 4 today, and 5 tomorrow? It seems silly when I say it like that, but this idea that 'truth can change', that 'absolute truth is an illusion' and that 'reality is defined only by our own personal experiences' is the prevailing way of thinking in our culture at the moment. And I want to say at the outset that Christianity does not agree that the truth is always changing. It does not agree that truth is relative. To be a Christian is to believe that there is absolute truth (there is right and there is wrong) and that there is a way of discerning what that truth is. So, as we get going tonight, that is one conviction you need to know that I hold.
The other is this: I'm convinced that there is someone who doesn't want you to know that there is absolute truth. There is someone out there who wants you to believe his lies, half-truths and misinformation. We have a variety of different names for him – Satan, Devil, The Evil One. There was a chap in my previous church who called him 'old foggy' which, it occurred to me, is a pretty good description of what he tries to do to the truth. He tries to make it all seem foggy and blurred. This is how the Bible describes him (John 8.44):
"He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies."
So, I have my work cut out, because this 'father of lies' doesn't want you to believe the truth. So, I'm going to ask God for his help this evening. Allow me to pray.
Lord God we simply ask for your help tonight – help us to see and believe truth. In Jesus' name, Amen.
So my plan tonight is to try to expose a couple of Satan's more common lies. Lies we are all tempted to believe at one time or another.
Lie Number 1: There is no God!
So, here's the first. And it's a 'biggy'! There will come a time, if there hasn't already, when you are thinking through the big issues of life and questioning whether or not you believe in something more than the here and now, and you will hear a voice in your head say: 'There is no God! Why are you wasting your time thinking about this? There is no God!' 'We live. We die. That's it! There's nothing more.' Sometimes there are other issues that make this lie even more convincing. 'There is no God – science and evolution prove that! There is no God – if there were why does he allow such suffering in the world? There is no God!'
I mean of all the lies that Satan pushes, this has to be one of the biggest! Because, actually science and evolution and suffering only make sense when understood alongside the existence of Creator God in relationship with those he has created. But before you even get to those issues, and we're not going to look at them in detail today, but before you get to them, you have to consider: 'How can I know if there is a God?' And the good news is that God wants you to know he's there and he's chosen to make himself known to you in many different ways. Let me share some of those ways with you now…
i) God makes himself known through Creation
There's a book in the Bible that was expressly written to explain the Christian message. In fact, it's actually a letter to believers in Rome. Early on in the letter we read this (Romans 1.19-20):
"For what can be known about God is plain … because God has shown it ... For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made."
Friends, you've only got to take a look at the world around us for more than one second to realise just how incredible it is. There is power, there is beauty, there is design, there is purpose, there is so much evidence of a creator. And whether we're looking through a microscope at the detail of DNA or looking through a telescope at the vastness of the galaxy beyond this world, there is just so much to amaze and explore. God has made himself known through his creation and he continues to do so.
ii) He has made himself known through his Word
This book that we call the Bible and that Christians hold so dear was actually written over a period of 1600 years by about 40 different human authors. And yet, there is an incredible unity from start to finish. That unity over that time span, by that many different authors could not have been achieved by humans alone – this book is God, who created everything, revealing himself to humanity through inspiring the authors to write what he knew we needed to know. And what chiefly do we need to know? Well, that's the third, and most important revelation:
iii) God has made himself known through Jesus
You see, Jesus is the unifying theme of the Bible. Jesus Christ is actually God almighty become a man and the Bible is pretty clear about the fact that Jesus came to earth to reveal who God is and what he is all about. I want to come back to this when we look at the second lie, but suffice to say for now that Jesus is the most glorious revelation of God. When we see him, we see God.
iv) God has made himself known through our conscience
I remember when my eldest son Nathan was born. I had him in my arms and said 'How did this happen?'! Now, don't worry I knew what it took, biologically speaking, to create this new life, but I also knew that I was holding a new life, capable of independent thought and reason – how did that happen….explain that biologically? I couldn't! I knew too, that he would have a sense of eternity placed deep in his soul – a longing that would have to be satisfied – where did that come from, how did that happen…explain that biologically? I couldn't! And I also knew that he would have an intrinsic sense of morality which I could not teach him – a sense of right and wrong, of fair play and justice deep within his psyche. How was that going to happen… explain that biologically? I couldn't - because these things (independent thought and reason, a sense of eternity, an intrinsic morality) are God-given revelations, planted deep inside every human being.
Interestingly, Richard Dawkins tells the story of how his daughter believed that there must be a purpose to her existence and how he tried to drill that belief out of her consciousness. He tried to do that! Most of us would feel that is brainwashing wouldn't we? But sadly, that is the reality. Conscience can be moulded and twisted and changed and suppressed. Back to that letter to the early Christian believers in Rome, it also says this (Romans 1.18):
"… the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth."
In other words, the Creator God is angry and rightly so when people suppress the truth. You know, I find it so sad that we can watch an incredible programme like Plant Earth 2, which was on just before Christmas, and we listen to the amazing David Attenborough and we can watch him in all these exotic locations interact with creation, and yet he believes the lie that there is no God and that all around him is simply the product of chance. Sadly, God has a word for people like him. Again, that letter to the early Roman Christians, that letter says that those who suppress and deny the truth… (Romans 1.20-23)
"… are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but… claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged [the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator]"
God's a bit more direct in another part of his word (Psalm 14.1):
"The fool says in his heart, "There is no God.""
Only a fool denies that there is an author to Creation, only a fool refuses to read God's love letter to humanity, the Bible, and only a fool denies his God-given conscience. Please don't be called a fool by God tonight and believe the lie. You can handle the truth – God is real and he is making himself known through creation, through his word, through Jesus and through your conscience. That's truth number one: there is a God. Hot on the heels of that comes another lie though, that says something like 'even if there is a God, I'm not sure that he could care about or love me, 'cos in fact I'm sure that…
Lie Number 2: No-One Loves Me!
Again, this is a lie that can strike at any time and affect us all. And very often it is brought as a result of our circumstances – either because of something that was done to us, or that we have done to others. It can manifest itself in a number of ways. There's the side that says 'no-one really loves me, 'cos no-one really knows me. If people knew what I was really like underneath this façade, if people knew what I had done, then there's no way on earth they could love me.' That's the guilt side. Then there's the side that 'no-one really loves me because I'm completely unlovable. Because such and such happened, I'm so damaged, I'm so hurt no-one could possibly love me, I'm worthless.' That's the shame side. Then there's the side that says 'I'm just so alone, I have no-one to talk to, share life with, in fact often life doesn't feel worth living.' That's the loneliness side.
Now I don't know you, but maybe you are here tonight and you're raw because of a failed relationship; maybe you are here feeling so alone and wishing you had a relationship that could fail in the first place. Maybe you are here suffering from some past abuse. Maybe you have made some poor decisions in your life and you have no idea how you're going to live with them for the next few months, let alone the rest of your days. If any of that is true of you tonight and as a result you are thinking 'no-one loves me' please listen very carefully to me. Because the truth is that God wants you to know that there is someone who loves you very much.There is someone who loves you so much that he was willing to die to remove your guilt. There is someone who loves you so much that he was willing to die to cover your shame. There is someone who loves you so much that he was willing to die so that you wouldn't be alone. That someone is Jesus. And, if you haven't met, let me introduce you!
Jesus was a man who lived, died and came back from the dead on this earth 2,000 years ago. His life is recorded by four separate people in the Bible. No ordinary man. He made some astonishing claims, which if true, are wonderful. He claimed to be the Son of God, the forgiver of sin, the great healer, the long-promised King. He claimed authority over nature, sickness and death itself. We heard some of his words read earlier for us. If you can find a Bible do pick one up and turn to John 14. Let's remind ourselves of those words. Jesus is talking to his disciples who were getting worried about the future and his words are as valid now as they were then. He says (John 14.1):
"Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me."
What is the basis for believing in Jesus? Look down to verse 6:
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
Here is God himself in human form showing how much he loves us. He claims to be the way, he claims to be the life and he claims to be truth. And when it comes down to it, one of the amazing things about truth is that it is not idea, but rather truth is a person! Truth is a person who loves you so much he would die for you. Truth is a person who would set you free to be the person God intended you to be. And his 'loving you' is intrinsically bound up with his death on the cross. Now, that may sound a bit weird to you. Why does death equate to love? Well the Bible says these two things on the issue. Firstly this (John 15.13):
"Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends."
In other words, the best love is defined and demonstrated through sacrifice. Secondly, God also says directly (1 John 3.16):
"By this we know love, that he [Jesus] laid down his life for us"
To fully understand this we have to backtrack a little and go back to the beginning - and in the beginning God tells us that he made the world good. Try not to get hung up on the fact of when the world was made and how. The Bible isn't interested in answering those questions. It's not into the when and how of creation – but it's very much into the why and who! Who? God! Why? Love. God made the world out of his love. So God made it good, he was in charge of the world and he made us to rule the world under him in relationship with him. Problem is, the Bible teaches, humans rejected that order – we thought we could do better if we were in charge and so we rebelled and we disobeyed him. The Bible word for that is sin. And sadly it has a deadly serious consequence. Because God is good and pure and holy and just, he cannot and will not be near to sin.
So he could not be near to his beloved creation and we were cut off from him. But that is not what he wants – because he loves us. And it is for this reason that Jesus died. Because God is abounding in love for you, He sent his only son, Jesus, to die bearing the penalty that we deserve, in order to bring us back into a restored relationship with him.
Why did God choose this method to rescue us? I don't think we can fully answer that one. The Bible says that there can be no forgiveness without the shedding of blood. It's his standard. He is the Creator. But the great thing is – he has paid that price, the shedding of blood, himself on the cross. Maybe you think that this grace sounds too good to be true. Maybe you think 'that's fine, but really you don't know what I've done, you don't know what I've been through.' Well God does and the truth of his Word says that your shame is coverable, your guilt is forgivable and that you are lovable! In fact, through one of his spokesmen, in the first part of the Bible he invites you to discuss it with him. He says this (Isaiah 1.18):
"Come now, let us reason together…
though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool."
Just think for a moment about what happens when it snows heavily. Newcastle is covered with three foot of snow. Everywhere is covered. Not just some parts and not others. Imagine it a bit like that classic film 'The Snowman'. When the boy wakes up in that film everywhere is covered with white. Is there any rust or dirt or mud or litter to be seen? No, and this is what God tells us he sees when he forgives us. Everything is covered. There is no junk or dirt or rubbish or shame poking up through the top of that snow! God used another one of his spokesmen to say this; we heard it read earlier (Jeremiah 31.34):
"For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
Incredibly, God says that he will choose to forget the sins of those who confess the name of Jesus, a kind of spiritual amnesia! Not only that, but God chose a songwriter to proclaim this truth (Psalm 103.12):
"as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us."
It's long been a question to make any geographer's head hurt, hasn't it? When does the east become the west, or when does the west become the east? Of course it's a way of saying forever! And if that's not enough we're also told that God will (Micah 7.19):
"…cast all our sins into the depths of the sea."
Do you know that there are parts of some oceans that have never been mapped out? There are parts of the Pacific apparently, that they are still to figure out just how deep it really is. And here is God saying that that is where he is throwing our sins! A place that is so far away, so deep and dark, where he won't see them again. If God has put them there – don't dredge them up again!
All of this is figurative language – the snow, the amnesia, the east and west, the depths of the sea – to say that if we come to Jesus in repentance and faith, our sins and problems and issues won't be counted against us. This is truth to set you free, people! This is truth to set you free. Please don't believe the lie that you are unloved. You can handle the truth – God loves you and he has shown that love for you through the death and resurrection of Jesus – opening up a way for you to be in relationship with him again.
And to enter into that relationship all you need to do is simply ask for his forgiveness and you will never be alone again. He will give you the gift of himself in your heart. Maybe you are here tonight and you know that God has been speaking to you and you are ready to stop believing the lies and to start believing the truth. Well it all begins by asking for his forgiveness. And I want to give you an opportunity to do that right now. And the best way I can do that is to pray a prayer and invite you to pray it with me in the quiet of your own hearts. I'll go through it now so that you can decide whether you want to pray it.
Heavenly Father I want to be a Christian and follow Jesus.
I realize my sins have separated me from you. Please forgive me.
Please help me to believe the truth.
Please come into my life and help me live for you however tough it gets.
Thank you Lord.