By Simon ManchesterSunday 19 Dec 2021Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 1 minute
Christian Growth will return on Sunday 16 January 2022.
Apparently, an American radio station contacted the British Ambassador and asked the British Ambassador what he would like for Christmas. And wanting to show that he was a modest man and not an extravagant greedy man, he said, I would be perfectly satisfied with some slippers and some aftershave. The next day he opened his paper to read that the French Ambassador was hoping this Christmas, that all wars would cease, that the Chinese Ambassador was hoping for good relationships among the members of the United Nations. And the British Ambassador was hoping for slippers and aftershave.
And I tell you that, because how you respond is extremely significant. You need to be alert. You need to be awake. And I want you to know that the message of Christmas is a little bit like a seed. A seed is not necessarily to look at a very powerful thing, but give it the right reception, and a seed changes everything. And you may be here today and you may be thinking to yourself, “The message of Christmas is not that great.” Well, you’re pretty right. It looks like a seed, but when it goes into you, if it goes into you, it really changes everything. And I want this particular Christmas to ask the question, since the message of Christmas has gone out, did it go in? That’s what I want to think about.
You may think that God is unfortunate, really, because he doesn’t have that many supporters. He doesn’t have that many followers. The good day is Christmas day. Actually, God doesn’t lose when we turn our back on him, he grieves, but we lose. And it’s much, much more important to know whether we have been receptive to the message without which we will perish. So, I want to think with you today about responding and to help us to think about this on your service sheet is a little box with some verses, from somebody who was an eyewitness and lived with Jesus for three years, and is probably the best person that we could talk to this morning. And I’m talking about somebody called John, who was the disciple of Jesus, who lived to be an old man. All the others died early.
Is it worth finding out about Jesus Christ? Well, there’s more people in the world following him than anybody else. And his impact in the world has been greater than anybody else. The quantity of his impact, the quality of his impact. Think of the way he has affected care agencies around the world. Think of the way he’s affected education, medicine, science, art, democracy, human dignity. And John tells us in these verses, he will take you beyond this world.
So, this letter, these few verses, which I’ve printed for you are where John tells us that Jesus has come entering the world, to bring eternal life, fellowship with God and joy. And if those things are not interesting to you, you’re an unusual person. Eternal life, fellowship with God, joy. That’s what John is talking about. Now, I’m going to just show you what they are very quickly, and I want to ask you to listen as carefully as you can.
The first thing John tells us, look at the little box, is that Jesus deliberately entered his own creation. See what it says in verse one? John says, and he didn’t go looking for Jesus, he says, “We met somebody.” We met someone, and of course he’s talking about Jesus. “We heard him, we heard his voice with our own ears. We saw him with our own eyes. We’re eyewitnesses. We didn’t just see him walk past, we actually watched him. We studied him, we observed him and we touched him.” Maybe they shook hands with Jesus. Maybe they hugged him, but they travelled with him and therefore says John, “It is not an option that Jesus is fiction.” John is one of 14, early historians, nine Christian, five non-Christian, who tell us that Jesus is a real historical person.
But this is the amazing thing. John says, “This Jesus, who we met, who we saw, who we heard, who we touched, he is from the beginning.” And he uses a little phrase that comes from the beginning of the Bible, where the Bible starts, “In the beginning, God.” And John says, “In the beginning, Jesus.” Now, we trace ourselves back to our birth. Maybe you know where you were born. Maybe you know what hospital you were born in. John says, “We traced Jesus back, way, way, way before Bethlehem. He was in the beginning before the universe was made. So we met him,” says, John, “we heard him. We saw him. We touched him. And after we’d been walking with him for about three years, we are quite slow,” says John. “It took us a long time. We worked out that he was from the beginning.”
Somebody who deliberately entered creation. The only person who’s deliberately entered creation. None of us here this morning, deliberately entered creation, but Jesus did it. Now, it’s a very big claim, isn’t it? But I think when you read about Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the claims and the deeds of Jesus back up that he really did come into his own creation. And his impact on the world backs it up. “And you,” says, John, “must come to this realization yourself.” Don’t fall for a slippers and aftershave response to Jesus. The person, Jesus, the historical person is prehistory and he’s post history and he’s history.
One of my fellow pastors, Gareth Perkins, gave me a really unusual present. And it’s a little piece out of the British Museum. The British Museum have found a mosaic, on a floor of a home in Britain from about 350 AD. And the floor, the mosaic is a picture of Jesus. We know it’s Jesus, because it’s got CHR just behind him, the first three letters of Christ. And what Gareth has given me, is just a little memento. It’s the face of Jesus. It’s a fake copy of this mosaic floor. And with the face of Jesus comes a CD, which talks about the background to this mosaic floor. And these BBC history programs are always fantastically impressive. And the experts, the professors are saying, “You know, this is a real piece of history.”
And at one point, one of the professors says this. “I wonder if people who crossed that floor realised that we were leaving behind myth,” meaning the Roman gods, because none of them ever came to earth. They were just figments of the imagination. “And we’re moving into,” and I waited for her to say fact, or history, and she said, “faith,” meaning it’s optional. Now, John won’t do that. John says, “We heard Jesus. We saw him. We touched him. He is prehistory into history, post history. And that’s the view of Jesus, which you must come to. That’s the response.
The second thing that John says is that Jesus arranged excellent communication. Look at the little box again. John says, “We testify,” in other words, we give evidence, we proclaim. He says it twice. In fact, he means we announce and we write, in other words, we publish. So Jesus Christ has made sure the message of Jesus Christ has gone around the world. And it has. Jesus gave John an experience, an incredible experience of walking with him for three years.
John is not able to keep that to himself, he says, “I’m talking about it.” And then Jesus said to John, “I want you to preach this, proclaim it. I want you to announce it.” And John didn’t say, “Well, that’s going to be costly and that’s going to be awkward. I don’t want to do that,” he began to preach, publish and announce the news of Christ. And then in God’s goodness, he arranged for John to write. Jesus said, “The Holy Spirit will help you, John, to remember what I’ve said and done. The Holy Spirit will help you to record what I’ve said and done.” And John has written his gospel and three letters and the book of Revelation, five books in the New Testament, to help us in every generation know who Jesus is. And those books have gone around the world, so Jesus has arranged excellent communication.
I love the words of the Welsh preacher, Martin Lloyd Jones. He said, “There is no hope for the world if we’re left with opinions. No, we have an announcement,” says Lloyd Jones. “So be modest about your opinions. Be bold with your announcement.” And John tells us here, “You can take the message of Jesus, like a seed into your heart, and you will live with eternal life, or you can reject it and you will die. The seed has come.”
The third thing that Jesus has done according to John is that he’s provided a very costly connection. See three or four lines down in the box. This is for fellowship. God wants you to have connection with him, closeness to him, life with him now and forever. And this fellowship is not just with us, says John, like being part of the church, but it’s with the Father and it’s with the Son.
Now, I want to ask you this morning, everybody, are you conscious of having close, real fellowship with God? Or is he a stranger? Will he one day meet you face to face? Will Jesus one day meet with you, and will he suddenly look at you and say, “Loved servant, welcome?” Or will he look at you and say, “Tragic stranger, why did you never take up my invitation? Loneliness is a very painful and terrible thing. And the one person who’s dead against loneliness and isolation and separation is Jesus Christ. And that’s why he came. And that’s why he communicated. And that’s why he has paid a very, very great price to bring us into connection with God. The key to the universe’s relationships. We know this, but we’re just not that good at organizing them. And before the world was made, God had relationship, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, before the world, in perfect happy relationships.
And then they made the world and they put us in the world for happy relationships. And the first couple said, “We don’t want a relationship.” And everybody since has done the same. We’ve all said to God in our own way, aggressively, or politely, we just don’t want to have that kind of relationship. And we’ve all either ignored him, avoided him, disobey him, or abused him. God has made us for relationship. And so the breakdown across the world, with God, spills over into breakdown with people, at an international level, and a national level, and a social level, and a family level and a personal level. And even the nature that we live in, which we abuse and is dangerous, is just another reminder to us that our relationships are broken down.
Now friends, the sequence is absolutely crucial. When the upwards with God breaks and it has, then the sidewards is difficult and the downwards is alien. But when the upwards gets fixed, then the sidewards has a hope, and eventually the downwards will follow, but you’ve got to follow the sequence. One of the craziest things of this world is to try and fix downward relationships with the earth before there is an upward with God, or to fix sideways relationships with people, before there is an upwards with God. The sequence of breakdown is with God, with people, with the world. The sequence of co connection is with God, with people, with the world. And to mend the upward connection, Jesus Christ came and he paid the absolute separation himself. That’s why he called out of the cross. As he’s dying on the cross, he calls out, “I’m separated.” And he does that so that you, at his expense, might be connected , by putting your trust in him.
Another disciple put it like this. Peter said, “Christ died the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” So, Jesus entered creation. He arranged communication. He’s organised and paid for connection. And we read in the last line of the box, he’s done this for our joy. He’s done this for our joy. Imagine, the God of the universe. You may think of him as being distant, difficult, alien, sadistic. The Bible says he’s aiming for your joy. Sometimes, I meet a family where the parents and the children are great friends and the children and the children are great friends. And I can imagine the father sitting at the table and looking around at his family with a tremendous sense of joy and gratitude. It’s not the home that I came from. My own home is a work in progress.
But John says that when people respond to Christ, it is as if he, John looks around and says, “This brings me great joy.” Because as the Father looks around, the heavenly Father, it brings him great joy. Joy is not just a feeling. It’s a security, It’s a knowledge.
Well, I want to take a minute as we finish this morning to ask this question, why has this message that has gone out failed to go in? Why is it for so many the message has gone out to them, but has not gone into them? I was reading that a man in England received a 60 pound speeding, fine, and to avoid paying the 60 pound speeding fine, he claimed that he had sold his car to another company. And then to back up the lie, he created a phony website for the company. And then he began to produce more and more documents about the company, to try and persuade the people that he’d didn’t have to pay a 60 pound speeding fine. And it was all to no avail. He was caught and he was jailed for eight months.
Now, we can understand can’t we, when an unpleasant message comes, that we don’t really want to receive it, but why would people not want a pleasant message to be received? Why don’t people at funerals, and we’ve had quite a few funerals this year. We’ve had a number of our congregation pass. Why don’t people at most funerals come up to me afterwards and say, “Just go over that again. What were you saying? There’s a future with evidence, with reason?” Why don’t people do that? No, they just change the subject. Why do people in the first century and the 21st century want to get rid of Christ, either violently or subtly? Why is that? Are we doing that well without Christ in this world? Are we doing that well without Christ in this country? I want to help you just quickly to face the reason why the message that’s gone out has not gone in.
And this is what John says later in his letter. And I hope this will help you. Some of you, this is going to ring true for you. The first reason the message has not gone in, is because you’ve never really faced your guilt. The way you’ve treated God, the way you’ve treated Jesus, so dismissively, all the focus on self is really, according to the Bible, the worst offense, crime, evil imaginable. And it separates you from him and no wonder he is a stranger. It’s just possible that there are people here this morning, you’ve never stopped to face your guilt.
Second, you’ve never really appreciated his expensive rescue. That your maker would become part of creation, and then go down to the crucifixion to take the separation, so that you would have the connection at his expense. There is no earthly illustration to back this up. It is the greatest dissent for the greatest ascent in the universe. And if the cross is a small issue to you, you’re probably still in the dark.
Thirdly, it’s possible the message that’s gone out has never gone in, because you are not willing to bend, or yield, or surrender, or submit to the King of Kings. You think that if you lay down your life to him, or hand over the keys to him, or give way to him, it will wreck everything. Not realizing that every single person that ever comes to him is incredibly, immeasurably, enriched. Life doesn’t necessarily get easier, but you are measurably enriched. It could be fear on your part. It could be foolishness. Maybe you’re the sort of person who says, “I may be on the Titanic, but I want to keep playing cards. I’m not bothering with that lifeboat.” And John says, he wants you to know that if there is a failure to have fellowship with God, eternal life and his joy, that the failure is not on God’s site, the failure is on your side.
In the Old Testament, Isaiah says, “The Lord’s arm is not too short. His ear is not too deaf that your sins have made a separation.” And the only hope you have is Jesus. And Jesus came from heaven to Bethlehem and he died and he rose in order to change you and make you brand new. He didn’t come to bandaid you. He didn’t come to do something superficial. He came to make you a brand new person with a brand new past and a brand new present and a brand new future and a brand new hope. He came to change everything, like a seed going into the ground to produce the most magnificent tree. That’s why Jesus came.
Now friends, I’m not sure he could do anymore. I’m not sure that he could do any better. He comes into the world. We don’t deserve him. He communicates, we don’t listen. He dies, we don’t care. And he does it that we might have joy. The seed has gone out. Now it needs to go in.
I was reading in Time magazine that whatever you think of him, the new Vice President, Mike Pence, said he got to university. Pretty vague about Christian things. He said he saw a Christian group that it was pretty clear they had a relationship with Jesus Christ. He said, “It wasn’t long before I gave my life to Jesus Christ. Everything changed.” It’s not complicated Christianity, is it? But there is a great resistance and the resistance will kill you. But the acceptance will bless you. And my hope this particular Christmas is that your Christmas will be marked by the kind of joy that says not only has the message gone out, but the message has gone in.