Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Ultimate Question

Script from TVU Christian Union today. I confess I've been helped by hearing Marcus Honeysett and Orlando Saer preach this passage recently, and influenced by the passion of Driscoll and Piper speaking about Jesus...I was asked to speak on "What is CU?" - I figured that since the Bible doesn't directly address that question I'd seek to answer a rather more important one, which ultimately provides the required answer.

What's the biggest question people want answered from their time at Thames Valley University? What are the priorities that people have? What questions are they asking? How can I pass my exams? Can I pay the bills? What should my image be? Will I meet the girl/boy of my dreams? Where will this qualification get me? Can I form a band? Will we get discovered through MySpace?

Some questions go a bit deeper.... like, how do you solve a problem like Maria? Who will win X-Factor? Is it good that Karl and Susan are back together? Will Wayne Rooney ever score again? Should Madonna adopt children from Africa? Is Richard Dawkins right to say that people who believe in God are deluded? Is Jack Straw right to ask Muslim women to remove the veil?

And the big questions of our age. Isn't it arrogant to claim that what you believe is right? Isn't it morally repugnant to say that Jesus is the only way? What right does God have to tell me how I can and cannot express my sexuality? Why doesn't someone take away the pain? Why doesn't he make himself clearer? Can we really know anything? Doesn't religion just make people into terrorists?

And then there are the one we simply can't avoid. What will I eat today? Which socks shall I wear? Where is my next lesson or lecture? Do I have bus-fare to get home?Life is full of questions. Everyday we ask and answer hundreds of them. Some of them matter. Some are trivial. Some are very significant.

The challenge for us, as a Christian Union - as a Mission Team at TVU - is that we want to live for Jesus and speak for Jesus. So we're asking ourselves how can I live for Jesus? How can I speak for Jesus? We're asking people around us the biggest question in human history. The one question that trumps every other question.

And it's not overstating the case to say that it would be a waste of your life, and the life of anyone else here at TVU to pass through your one, two or three years here without giving serious consideration to that question. The one big question. Don't waste your life - find the answer to the one big question.

That question, simply: "Who is Jesus?"

Its widely acknowledged that Jesus is the most famous person in human history. Born in a backwater of the Roman empire 2000 years ago, in rural Palestine. His mother was an unmarried teenager. He was adopted by a local carpenter. We know almost nothing about him until the age of thirty when he became a traveling preacher. He spent three years preaching, healing, casting out demons... spending time with the religious people, but more time with the scum of society... with sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes.

He was famous in the whole region, but also hated by people. Adored by many but others hated him. People accused him of being a blasphemer for claiming to be God. Others said he was demon-possessed. And his family? They said he was insane.

And in the 2000 years since people can't avoid him. His biography – The Bible – is the all time best seller. He's the subject of more songs than anyone else who ever lived. And a third of the people on planet earth – most of them in Asia and Africa worship him as God. And everyone else can't avoid him. He's the centre of history – the turning point our timeline. His death on a cross is the greatest symbol in the world – of celebration, mourning or fashion. Yet he died the most gruesome and shameful criminal's death.

And the key question is - Who is he? It was the question that everyone was asking when he walked on earth. And it still matters today. Jesus even asked it of his followers... sentence 27. Look at the answers he received in sentence 28. What do they all have in common? They're all great preachers.... and they're all dead preachers... Oddly enough isn't that what people say of Jesus today? He's just a good teacher, a dead preacher...

Gossip columns are one thing, but Jesus makes it personal. He turns the question on those with him... Sentence 29, "who do you say I am?". Peter replies: "You are the Christ". Contrary to popular opinion Christ is not Jesus' surname. Its his title. It means “God's King”. God's promised King who would come and save his people. There is only one Christ. And this idea blows away every other answer to the question – who is Jesus – and if people don't realise this then it means they've not understood who Jesus is. If we've not come to this conclusion we ought to get a Bible examine the evidence.

Peter makes this claim because he's seen what Jesus has done. Peter has seen Jesus in action. You need to realise that Peter was a hard-as-nails fisherman, and a man who wasn't afraid to speak up about what he was thinking.

Earlier he and Jesus had been in a boat on the sea of Galilee. In a fierce storm. The kind of storm that scared even Peter. And he saw Jesus with two words flatten the waters - "be still" - and the water was stilled. Then he'd seen Jesus with a dead girl, and with a word he'd brought her back to life - saying "rise" and she did.

This is Jesus the incomparable. Jesus who owns the world. Who rules it with a word. Jesus who looks down on planet earth, and says of every square metre - "mine". (Kuyper) Jesus who wields greater power than Tony Blair or George W. Bush... has greater resources at his command than Roman Abramovich or Bill Gates. Jesus whose knowledge is greater than everything on the internet and whose compassion is greater than a a million Mother Teresa's.

But that's not because I'm looking at the best of the world and projecting an image of God from it. “Humanity but bigger and better”. No it's the other way around. God speaks to show us who Jesus is, and we see faint shadows of that on earth.

Peter saw Jesus the one who has all authority. The man who spoke and healed his mother-in-law. Who spoke and offered forgiveness to a paralysed man, and proved his point by telling him "get up" and he did.

Jesus never asks for blind faith – the evidence is always presented and then we're invited to believe it. And the evidence doesn't come like Da Vinci Code clues – trite and inaccessible. No it is set out plainly to help us believe. Peter checks the evidence and concludes: Jesus is God's King.

Strangely, in sentence 30, Jesus tells them not to tell anyone. Why? Well see what happens next. Sentence 31, Jesus tells them that the Son of Man, a title he uses of himself, must suffer, be rejected, be killed and rise from the dead... Jesus puts it very plainly. And up steps Peter once again, sentence 32, and he's having none of it. He rebukes Jesus. Stands up to him and says "No, Jesus you're wrong".

Peter gathers the evidence about Jesus but has his own ideas about who Jesus should be. And that isn't the kind of King who dies. He wont have it. He wants his own kind of Christianity. The kind where he is Jesus' right hand man as they kick out the occupying Roman empire. He couldn't be more wrong. And Jesus replies... sentence 33, "Get behind me Satan". Two minutes ago Peter was the hero but he had the wrong idea. He thought Jesus was God's great political king.

Jesus says - "Yes I'm the King, but this King must die to save his people". And Peter takes offense. He wont have it. Jesus must go and seize power... not die. Jesus says, Peter you don't have God's ideas in mind. You're thinking like a human being. And that's why you couldn't go and tell people yet. You'd have given everyone the wrong idea and caused a riot. Peter has much to learn.

Jesus is God's King. But he is God's dying King. The King who gives his life so that people can come to new life with God. He's a substitute. Humanity stands under God's judgement and Jesus takes our place. Jesus later says that he "came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many".

Christianity is the amazing news that we cannot save ourselves... but that Jesus came to save us. He came to take our place on death row and bring us into eternal life. Heaven – which means being with Jesus forever.

This is the business of the Christian Union. We're a Mission Team, not a social club and not a church. We're a team who work together to speak for Jesus here at TVU.

About the Jesus. The Crucified Jesus. We might want something more powerful or clever... but this is him. Christ, crucified. What does it mean to be a Christian? To live for Jesus? Look at sentence 34 and 35.... what does it look like? Cross-carrying... which is another way of saying to live for Jesus is to die... Christians save their lives by letting them go. Sentence 35. If we lose our lives for the gospel we will save them. Die. And rise. Like Jesus.

Sentence 36. Jesus presses the issue – whats the use in gaining the whole world if you lose your soul? What's your ambition? A-grades or a first-class degree? Anything less than gaining Jesus is to sell yourself too cheap... Aim higher! Don't eat Tesco Value when you can eat M&S Food. Don't collect junk when you can collect jewels.

We could say that Jesus is simply a dead preacher, and then pursue the whole world. But that is bankrupcy. That is poverty. That is the way to lose in life. This world is a company that has already gone bankrupt. The building is condemned. Don't invest in it. Don't move in. You only have one life – don't waste it... this is not a rehearsal.

What then? Go big. Go better. Go for Jesus. Go for the Crucified King! Entrust your life to him. He's not asking you to be good or behave better. You cannot save yourself from God's judgement. Nor would you choose to. But Jesus will save you from that and to eternal life – to an eternity with him.

Obsess yourself with Jesus. Be living for Jesus. Be speaking for Jesus. Be unashamed of Jesus while you're at TVU. Each week, open the Bible together. Encounter Jesus on the pages of God's word. Let it equip you for every good work. Let it make you wise for salvation. Let it rebuke and challenge you. Let it work miracles in your heart. Hear what Jesus is saying! And here's the thing If you do that you'll change the world. People don't know what they need. They think they need education and money and happiness but really they need Jesus. But they wont know unless we tell them...

People dismiss Jesus as a good teacher, worth a look but dead and gone. They're out of step with reality. Don't waste your life. You only have one life and it will soon be gone.. One question matters. Who is Jesus?

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