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Who is Jesus?

 

I’ve just been reading part of 1 Corinthians.  It is extraordinary how Paul says that preaching Jesus i.e. telling people about him, simply and without eloquence, carries God’s power.

So here am I saying, in simplicity, that Jesus was God coming to earth.  He was born in humility and he lived his life obediently to God.  He was the only person ever not to have sinned.  He was perfect.  He died, aged something like 33, on a cross: the appalling torture and death that was reserved for the worst criminals.  Yet he had done nothing wrong.

And then he rose from the dead.

That is the short answer.  Feel free to stop reading there.

But it is such an amazing statement - no-one else was perfect, no-one else has risen from the dead and not died again - that it makes us want to look more closely at Jesus.  What was really going on?

Here are some thoughts about that.

We kill off God

Very sadly (but hold on because the story has an extremely happy ending) we all try to kill off God.  We put ourselves at the centre of the story.  We behave selfishly.  We do things that we know are wrong, acting as if God wasn’t there.  We write him out of the picture of our lives.

So in one sense the people who killed Jesus were doing what we all do.  They did it in a most horrible way.  But (I say this very gently, partly because I am the guiltiest of all at this) many of us do things, or fail to do things, resulting in horrible consequences.  The needy person who approaches us, whom we don’t help.  The millions of needy people whom we don’t even think about for more than a minute or two.  The person dear to us whom we wound with words.  The elderly relation or friend we don’t talk to or visit when we should.

We come up with excuses.  So did Pontius Pilate.  I know – that comparison hurts.  But each of us has power, like he did.  And each of us, at times, fails to use that power in the way that would be most loving to God, most loving to others.

Funnily enough, I think our words are sometimes more of a give-away than our actions.  What we do can look pretty good to our friends – and they’re the people whose opinion we hear.  They may think well of our work, or our character, our kindness and generosity.  But our words give away what we’re thinking about – they show what is going on in our heart because our speech is the overflow of what’s going on inside.

That holds the mirror up to me pretty effectively.  I’m not talking often enough about loving other people, and particularly the most needy here at home and around the world.

But God still loves us

In response to me falling far short of what God wants for me, what does God do?  First, he lets me kill him off – in the sense of letting me write him out of my life.  He gives me freedom.  He respects my choice, even though it grieves him.

That is amazing.  Like a parent knowing that their son or daughter must be free, and stepping back to allow them to make their own decisions when they’re old enough, God sets me free.  That is doing me a huge honour – especially as he can see I’m not getting it right.  He treats me as if I’m very special, deserving of real freedom.  He hopes, lovingly, that I’ll come to my senses, but he leaves it up to me to choose.

Second, God puts himself on the line.  He sends his Son to earth, to reach out to me and to everyone else.  Jesus shows us what God is like, and gently – without forcing at all – invites us to put our faith and our trust in him.  To turn back to God by following him.

There is a magnetism about Jesus.  His perfect life, his gloriously profound teaching that is often simple and clear so a little child can understand it, yet changed the world.  Because it is God’s wisdom and truth.  It shines through the fog of our moral confusion.  It clarifies.

Jesus puts his finger on who we are, why we struggle with life, and what we most deeply yearn for.  Life.  Love.  Full, deep, complete forgiveness.  Hope.  Freedom from fear or anxiety.  Reassurance and comfort.  Power to live by.  Restored relationship with God – which we discover is the same thing as relationship with Jesus himself.  Purpose.  Faithfulness and peace.

And the deep reassurance of knowing that when we die, we go to heaven.  Unutterably exciting and marvellous – so much so that even once we’re convinced it’s true, we find it hard to grasp enough to marvel properly at it.

Third, God invites me back.  For free.  Completely forgiven for any straying or writing God off that I may have done.  Utterly loved and welcomed.  Given a fresh new start, with no condemnation at all.  Instead he wants me to be his cherished son or daughter.  The Bible says he made us ‘a little lower than the angels’ which shows what elevated beings God has created us to be.  He wants to restore every one of us to that state, humbly accepting his forgiveness and at the same time boldly stepping out to accept his calling to new life.

So what do we do about it?

God’s invitation is there.  Which means we have the following options.

We can ignore it.  That is so painful even to write.  Ignoring anyone’s invitation is hurtful.  Why would we do that to God?

We can say no.  It would be a brave man or woman who faced God and said no.  So most of us don’t quite do that directly: we find some other way of putting it.  For a time.  We soon find that there are consequences, just as when you block out the light from a room.

Or we can say yes please, thank you, that’s wonderful, can I start right now, I can’t wait, is it really true?  Please let it be true, let me find out more, I’d like to dive right in, or dip my toe and then a foot, and then more…  We find that Jesus is speaking to our deepest selves, to our deepest needs, we look to him more and more and find that not only his teaching rings true but his life rings true.  Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’

Jesus then went on immediately to say, ‘No-one comes to the Father except through me.’  He is the way back to God.  By placing our trust in him, we find the door opens.  Jesus said, ‘I am the door.’

And then the fun begins

When you switch the lights on, so much happens that it’s hard to summarise in one go.  You can see your way around.  Things make sense that didn’t before.  Colours appear.  You can navigate much more easily.  You can see exciting opportunities.  The whole thing is much more cheerful.

And you can begin to describe how it all looks.  That may help other people.

That is just one of many ways of describing what it can feel like after placing your trust in Jesus and accepting his offer of forgiveness and love.  It can feel like coming home, truly home.  It can feel like collapsing into his arms, exhausted and miserable about the past, but safe and totally secure, and utterly loved, accepted and welcomed.

It can feel as if life makes sense, that there’s a new spring in your step, that it’s like having a marvellous and totally reliable shield placed over you in the sky, so that nothing can go wrong in a way that God can’t cope with.

A new family appears – you have sisters and brothers who have also entered God’s family.  They are all over the world.  And they’re right next door.  A community of love, journeying together under God’s care.

And we have freedom, profound freedom.  Freedom from fear, from hopelessness, from condemnation.  Freedom to live life courageously and boldly as God’s beloved child.  Freedom from other things that bind us or weigh us down.

The Bible says the Holy Spirit comes to live within you, the moment you place your trust in Jesus.  The Holy Spirit is God, dwelling within you.  He brings joy that bubbles up from you don’t know where, sometimes at the most unlikely moments.  He gives you peace.  He gives you deep wells of love.  He gradually changes you, as you let him, to make you more like Jesus.  Quite extraordinary.

We fight back of course.  It’s a great pity, because we wish we didn’t and we don’t like it when we do.  But our sinful nature sees to it that we partly spoil God’s plans for us.  Selfishness shows through.

The great thing is that – as the most loving parent imaginable – he continues to forgive us, love us, guide us, and he never gives up.  He has promised never to leave us.  Every Christian learns to say sorry (again), ask for forgiveness, and remember that God has promised to forgive them.  Then they need to trust that, pick themselves up and carry on.  Jesus said, ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’  The Bible says God’s mercies are ‘new every morning.’  Like a bright new day.

And so we live our lives obediently, expectantly, following God’s call wherever it takes us.  We do so in company with the family of believers, who gather as God’s people and welcome us in.

Like us, our Christian sisters and brothers are wonderful, and also work in progress.  So part of being together is to learn how to be united in love and truth, in kindness and in shared worship of our loving Father.  Which flows into loving and faithful service to the whole community in which we live – both the local community and the wider global one.

It is so powerful.  And a lot of fun.  And quite scary – but then you remember God’s got it sorted, so you relax.

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