“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only so, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him - John 3:16
If you were to ask what makes up our core it would be centred around Jesus. You could never hope to understand us, what motivates us or why we do what we do without understanding Jesus and why he is so important to who we are. Why is that?
The Bible makes it very clear that we are all messed up broken people, and that the root of that brokenness can be traced back to the the fall of Adam and Eve, told in Genesis chapter 2. There we read that Adam and Eve, given a perfect relationship with God, a perfect world to live in and the whole of the garden of Eden to enjoy did the only thing they weren't allowed to do and ate the fruit from the tree of life. That immediately created a series of barriers which impacted their relationship with God (theology), their relationships with one another (sociology), their relationship with themselves (psychology) and their relationship with their environment (ecology). Each one of us lives today with the impact of each of those broken relationships, seen in different areas of each of our lives. Whether it's a teenager self harming, a couple going through a divorce, an addict struggling to break free, a parent struggling with their temper as their child misbehaves or a community without enough food because of climate change then all of it can be traced back to sin entering the world in Genesis 2.
Yet the impact went even further than that. We not only inherited the effects of living in a fallen world, but each of us are born with Adam and Eve's fallen and sinful nature too. We are not only living with the problem, we are by our very nature part of and at the root of mankind’s greatest problem — the problem of sin.
And that sinful nature in us messes up everything.
Firstly it pollutes us. I remember when our daughter Alice was born, and for a short time I was put in charge of operating the washing machine. I sort of got the concept of separating washes into coloured loads and white loads, but couldn't believe it when one day I did a white load but by accident left in one of Alice's tiny red socks. It was so small. So insignificant compared to all the white stuff in the load. And yet it managed to irreversibly turn all the white stuff pink — unbelievable! Yet that's exactly what sin has done to me and to you. It's taken the masterpiece which God created called you and messed it up. And it doesn't matter whether you've lead a mostly good life (well I'm not as bad as that person) or you've messed up big time, we've all messed up and have been polluted by sin (Rom 3:23).
We need to realise that we're all in the same boat. We're all messed up broken people. The world doesn't divide into good people and bad people. That's what can often lie at the heart of coconut communities, this idea what we're better than those terrible people over there — that was certainly what lay at the heart of the pharisees view of the world. But the message of Jesus was that we're all broken people in need of a saviour.
Part of our heart of Kerith is for every human being to achieve their full God given potential, but we can't do that by just putting people into a self help programme and working on their self image - we need to deal with the pollution of sin.
Secondly sin has a power over us. For some, people with drug or alcohol addictions, that power can be really obvious. But all of have areas in our lives which we feel powerless to change — those secret areas which we hope others don't notice or will never find out about about. Or those failures in the past which consume us and define who we are today. Or those past hurts, unkind words, abuse and pain which others have inflicted us and from which we have never been able to move on.
Thirdly as we've already seen sin creates barriers, the greatest of which is the barrier between us and God. And it's an enormous barrier. A few years ago I was lucky enough to go the the Grand Canyon. It's one of the most amazing sights I've ever seen. As you stand on one edge there is a vertical drop of a mile down to the bottom of the canyon. Then the base of the canyon is five miles across, before you get to the other side, where there is another mile long vertical wall. It truly deserves the description of being awesome. Yet that is nothing compared to the barrier that exists between us and God. It is so vast that there is nothing we can do to bridge it, however hard we try and however good we attempt to be. In a sense all religions are mans attempts to cross that great divide, but the barrier is so vast that there is nothing any of us could do to cross it.
And finally the Bible says that there is a penalty to be paid for sin. When we hear of somebody doing something terrible to another human being there is something deep inside each of us which cries out for justice. I remember when I first heard of the killing of Damilola Taylor on a housing estate in south east London. The sheer brutality and senselessness of his death caused me and many others to cry out that the killers must be brought to justice, that they must pay for what they have done. Yet we lose sight of the fact that we have messed up too. What we've done might not seem that bad in our eyes, but in the eyes of a holy perfect God it is totally horrific and somebody has to pay the price for it. The Bible says that “the wages of sin are death” and if somebody doesn't pay that price for us then we are going to pay it by being eternally separated from God.
But God's heart was never that we should remain separated from him. When Adam and Eve messed up God didn't just give up on them, write them off and go and create a new universe which wasn't ruined by sin. Instead he began a plan to deal with the impact of the fall.
In one of the most shocking stories in the Bible God tells a man called Abraham to take his son Isaac, the son through whom God had promised Abraham all the nations on earth were going to be blessed (Gen 26:4), to take him up a mountain and there to sacrifice him as a burnt offering. We pick up the story in Genesis 22:6.
Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, "Father?"
"Yes, my son?" Abraham replied.
"The fire and wood are here," Isaac said, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"
Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." And the two of them went on together.
Having sons myself I can't imagine how that journey felt for Abraham, each step up the mountain taking him a step closer to the place of sacrifice. And how that conversation with his son felt, knowing that this could be their last words together.
Now God's plan was never for Abraham to have to sacrifice his son, he was always going to provide a way out by providing the ram in the place of Isaac. But by understanding what is going on in this human story, by putting ourselves in the place of Abraham, we begin to get a glimpse into what God had to do to deal with the problem of sin.
There was no simple way to deal with the problem of sin. God couldn't just overlook it, or ignore it. It had to be dealt with. That meant someone paying the price, and there were only two options. Either we were going to pay the price which would result in us spending an eternity away from God, or God himself was to pay the price by dying in our place. John 3:16, sometimes described as the most famous verse in the Bible, let's us know the option good took
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Just like Abraham God had to watch his own son climbing the hill on which he was to die, carrying on his back the means of his sacrifice, for Isaac a bundle of wood, for Jesus a rough wooden cross. Just like Abraham God had to agonise over having his son question what was about to happen with Jesus agonising in the Garden of Gethsemane 'My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me' (Matt 26:39). Abraham by being willing to sacrifice his only son demonstrated his love for God, God by being willing to sacrifice his only son demonstrated his love for every one of us.
But unlike Abraham there was no last minute reprieve for God the Father. There was no ram appearing at the crucial moment to be sacrificed in place of his son. God had to witness his son being nailed to a rough wooden cross in a form of death so brutal that even the Romans outlawed it in AD140. God had to deal with not only physically what Jesus went through, but also spiritually seeing all of our sin, all of our messed up brokenness being poured out on him. The result of that was the bond, the relationship between father and son which had existed for all eternity, was broken in an instant. Imagine for a moment how God the father felt as his son cried out 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' (Matt 26:46) That would break any earthly fathers heart, how much more the heart of a God who is perfect.
Some have described what happened at the cross as 'cosmic child abuse'. That would be true if Jesus had been an unwilling victim in all of this, but he wasn't. He willingly submitted to his heavenly father who he loved so much, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane 'Yet not as I will, but as you will' (Matt 26:39). But he also loved you and me with such a passion that he willingly came to die in our place. Properly understood the cross will always leave us not confused but in awe that the creator of the universe could love us so much that he would let his son go through all of that.
But Christianity is about more than just the cross. When Jesus died on the cross the disciples weren't marching around celebrating and declaring that sin had been defeated and all their problems were over. Instead we see them as a defeated rabble, about to give it all up and go back to their homes. Saviours weren't supposed to die, and even though Jesus had talked to them at length about his death and what would happen after, when it actually happened they were left deeply confused.
Something happened which changed them from that dispirited rabble to a group of believers who changed the world with a simple message — Jesus is alive! That thing was the resurrection. The resurrection changes everything. It changes the cross from a tragedy into a triumph. It changes fear into love. Despair into joy. Anxiety in assurance. Guilt and condemnation into forgiveness and freedom. The same power which raised Jesus Christ from the dead is now available to every one of us and we need to live in the good of that power every day.
This resurrection life wasn't just something to give us an assurance that we could have eternity with God in heaven, but that we could experience that resurrection life and victory over sin today and every day!
A guy called John MacArthur wrote this 'The Resurrection is the ground for our assurance, it is the basis for all our future hopes, and it is the source of power in our daily lives here and now. It gives us courage in the midst of persecution, comfort in the midst of trials, and hope in the midst of this world's darkness'.
You need to know what it is to live life in the power of the cross and resurrection.
One day this Jesus, who came in obscurity as a baby in a manger in Bethlehem, is coming again. Christians tie themselves up into all sorts of theological knots as to quite when and how that's going to happen. As a church we're not going to take a strong line or spend much time worrying about whether we're pre-millennialist, amillennialist, post-millennialist, dispensational or one of the many other variants (I did hear someone say recently they were pan-millennialist — they believe Jesus is coming again and the rest will just pan out — I quite like that).
But we are going to be clear that we believe that one day Jesus is coming back, not as a baby but as a conquering king.
Because of Jesus everything changes. The power, pollution, penalty and partition of sin have been dealt with, so that we can now know both is power at work in us today but also the hope of an eternity with God. We want to be a community which lives in the power of that change.
But Jesus doesn’t just change everything, He demands everything. When we make the decision to follow Him we’re taking a decision to put Him in charge of every area of our lives. Our finances, our relationships, our careers, everything. A decision to follow Jesus isn’t a promise that everything will suddenly be right in your life. It isn’t a promise of “health, wealth and prosperity”.
Questions of Life — Nicky Gumbel. The chapters in this book on 'Who is Jesus?' and 'Why Did Jesus Die?' deal very clearly with the centrality of Jesus in the Christian faith.
Raised with Christ — Adrian Warnock. If you want to understand the importance of the resurrection in every area of life then I thoroughly recommend this book, which pulls together what many Christian writers have written through the ages on the importance of the resurrection along with Adrian's own insights.