søndag 27. mars 2016

Easter Sunday 2016: An Indestructible life

MP3 link…

Luke 23:33-24:12

A friend of mine asked me this week how I could believe in God. He said it is absurd. He challenged me: how can God allow all these terrible things that are happening in the world? Why, if he is so loving, does he allow all the evil?

It’s a good question. But he didn’t like the answer I gave him. Because I didn’t sugar-coat the truth! I said this world is under judgment. I said we are at war with God.

He pushed back and said but you believe God could stop it all?
Yes, but that would be judgement day.
Then all this, this is just a play, a wild and meaningless game for God. We all just go through the motions so that God can have his glory? I can’t believe in a God like that.

Well, you know what, it doesn’t matter what we believe about God. It doesn’t change whether God exists or not. Whether I think God is a raving lunatic or the best thing ever doesn’t change who he is because God is not a figment of my imagination or yours. He is not a creation of the church. He is not ours to edit into a more suitable picture of who God is – or who we would like him to be.

What we know about God is only what he has revealed to us. We don’t know what God hasn’t told us. He does not tell us why he allows the amount of suffering he allows. He doesn’t not tell us why he doesn’t allow much more evil and suffering. He limits the evil we do. Why? We are not told. Perhaps we cannot understand? Perhaps only when we are renewed, with a new body and a new mind can we understand the weight of the truth. Perhaps now our minds would explode! Who knows?

But we do know what God HAS revealed. What he has told us. We know what God WILL do. We know that he has set a day, judgement day, when all suffering and evil will come to an end. And we know what he HAS done. And this is the heart of the matter, and the real answer to the question my friend had “How can you say that God is loving when faced with all the suffering?”

And the answer – the huge, amazing, loud answer echoing throughout history is: the cross. The cross of Christ is God’s answer. It is at the cross we see the heart of God. It is at the cross that we see that he is not at a distance playing with us, uncaring, unfeeling. At the cross he enters our world, in poverty, in being hungry, thirsty. He experiences injustice and betrayal. Everything we’ve been through he has known. He even knows what it is to sin, not because he sinned but because he took our sin, my sin, your sin, upon himself.

It is the cross which speaks loudest about who God is. And it is the cross we celebrate today.

Because what hope is there otherwise. This is a cruel and evil world. It is terrifying, it is war, it is bloodshed. It is bombs and terrorism and evil. It is broken promises and broken homes. Even in our own homes there is violence, there is shouting, there is cheating, betrayal, hurt. Some of us are parents and making massive mistakes. Some of us know we’re not doing enough but we don’t know what to do? We can’t change ourselves to find a way out.

The Cross of Christ offers hope. For there Jesus took all our failings upon himself.

Haven’t you ever wished that you could start again? Haven’t you ever wished that you could simply hand over your life to someone else to fix.

Well, the cross says you can. Why? Because on the cross Jesus swapped places with us. He took our life, so that we can get his.

He deals with our failings and gives us his righteousness. And that righteousness, that goodness starts to work its way through our lives. We are changed from the inside out.

It’s like an old, run-down dive of a restaurant. Then one day you see the sign “new owners - under new management”. Hm. And you start to hear rumours that the food is really good. And then you see the windows are cleaned, and the floor is gleaming and the tables shining. Wow. And then there’s a fresh coat of paint on the outside. And before long the restaurant is completely different. The new owners have taken over and set about transforming the place.

That’s what coming to Christ is like. A complete transformation. That is what is on offer this Easter.

1. Jesus can save anyone, even you

39 One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!” 40 But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? 41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” 43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

All of us know a time when we’ve messed things up. Some things big, some things small. But you know you’ve really messed things up when you’re such a terrible criminal that you’ve been sentenced to death by crucifixion – through hanging on a cross. This was for murderers, terrorists, that kind of person. Think Breivik. Or the guys behind the bombings in Brussels. Those type of people. Down the totally wrong path.

And that’s the type of man who turns to Jesus and asks for mercy “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom”.

What would you say if you were Jesus? “No, you don’t deserve forgiveness!” Any other religion would give the answer “but you have not done enough good things, and you cannot do any before you die. There is no hope for you”. Humanism would say “It’s too late, you have made your choice. You have a mental disorder or something.”

But Jesus? Jesus says this “Today, you will be with me in paradise”.

Amazing words. Ridiculous words. Words which my friend reacted to: “So I will go to hell but you won’t? Just because I don’t believe in Jesus?”

Yes. Because all of us deserve Hell. But Hell isn’t fire and pitchforks and hehehe. Hell is simply the absence of God. We get what we want. We reject God. All of us are hell-bound, and without Christ that is where we will all end up. Because we want to be there. We want there to be no God. That’s the amazing thing which God does. He comes down to his enemies, and dies in order to save them. That’s not fair. It’s not fair that good people go to Hell along with bad people – but it definitely not fair that bad people go to Heaven. No it’s not fair. The gospel is spectacularly unfair. The innocent dies for the guilty. And the guilty go free.

That – is love.

Not namby-pamby ooo, I looove you, sentiment. But love. Brutal, heart-wrenching, go through fire and mud – that kind of love. Hard as steel. It is love which looks people like us in the eye, people who have rejected God, people who have messed things up, people who are not good like God, perfect, holy… compared to Him we are all like the criminal on the cross next to Him.. that love looks us in the eye and says “today, you will be with me in paradise”.

All you’ve got to do is ask.

Because we’re all a bit thick – really, could God really forgive me. No, I’ll have to sort myself out a bit, do a few good things, put on my best suit, wash my face – stupid stuff like that. Because we are a bit thinck and think that God can’t really mean forgiveness forgiveness, forgiveness for everything – Luke, the writer, tells us two more times that yes, this is really true.

33 When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

Forgive the guys who used me as a punching bag, spat at me, mocked me whipped me, stripped me naked, and then hammered nails into my hands and feet causing me agonising pain – those guys, Father, forgive them.

And if we haven’t got the point yet from Luke points out that the most unlikely person responded: the Roman Centurion. The man in charge of the crucifixion!
47 When the Roman officer overseeing the execution saw what had happened, he worshiped God and said, “Surely this man was innocent.”

Jesus can save anyone. Even you.

2. Jesus died, really died, so that you can live

44 By this time it was about noon, and darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. 45 The light from the sun was gone. And suddenly, the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn down the middle. 46 Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!” And with those words he breathed his last.

It went dark, a symbol of judgement, as Jesus hung on the cross. He is being judged for our sins. He’s taking our place. Then Jesus shouts his innocence – Father... – because he is not a sinner and he will be vindicated. And then he dies. Death came because of sin. And so Jesus, carrying our sin, dies.

The soldiers think job done. The Roman officer is amazed and wants to know more “Who is this Jesus”. The crowds were sad. And Joseph comes and asks for his body. We know from the other gospels that when the soldiers checked to see if Jesus really had died, they also stabbed him in the side. Yes, this dude’s dead.

His friends, his disciples, women and men - they saw Jesus die. All went away sad. There was no cunning plan, no oh, don’t worry it’s actually Judas with a changed face on the cross. (We know it wasn’t Judas because we know how Judas died - He tried to return the money after Jesus’ death on the cross – pretty difficult if HE was the one on the cross. And then hanged himself.)
There was no big conspiracy. Everyone was depressed. The baddies won. The goodies lost.

53 Then he took the body down from the cross and wrapped it in a long sheet of linen cloth and laid it in a new tomb that had been carved out of rock.

I think the most damning evidence is this in verse 1 of chapter 24 24:1 But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared – they went to the grave with burial spices. Not with party packs to welcome him back – hurray you’re alive! Not even with medical stuff – bandages etc. No: burial spices. Spices for dead people. Nobody thought Jesus was alive. He was dead. Dead, dead, dead. They’d seen it happen with their own eyes, heard his cry of agony, carried his dead body to the tomb. Dead.

And that is a very, very GOOD thing. It is the reason we call Good Friday Good Friday! Because if Jesus did not die, then our sins are not paid for, and there is no way back to God. We are at war with him, we have rejected him, and we are hellbound. An eternal existence without God.

But because Jesus DID die. Well, our sins are dealt with, and the way to God is open. Jesus is the way. Because he died, we can live forever, eternal life – which is life with God.

Jesus died, really died, so that you can live.

3. Jesus rose, really rose from the dead, so that you can live.

5b Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? 6 He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”

Ah, now we get to the part that many of us struggle with. Rising from the dead? Really? But this the heart of the matter. Everything hinges on this. Because if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then everything else is lost. His death is meaningless, just another death. Christianity is a cruel joke if he did not rise.

So of course. Much nonsense spoken about this. I read recently that that we can’t really know. That we just have to have faith. The humanists love to prance around shouting about how rational they are, and how irrational Religion is. Well most religion is. But the resurrection of Jesus is not irrational. It is rational. It is based on evidence, not faith. There is a reason why many of the top scientists – rational people - in the world even today, are Christians. Science itself was birthed out of Christian thinking, out of the Christian worldview. People who say the resurrection is irrational know nothing about rationality or about history.

Because we have the eyewitness accounts. We know that their lives were changed by this. We know that within about 10 years this new religion, based on the resurrection of Jesus, spread across the whole known world, coming to the attention of the Roman Emperor. This brand new religion had huge growth – but it had an enormous weak spot. The message they went out with was that Jesus had risen from the dead. It’s a stupid, hard-to-believe message now. It was a stupid, hard-to-believe message then. People weren’t dumber then. In fact, with all the nonsense posted on the Internet, I think we’re dumber now!
But, back then, they would have checked out the story. Spoken to people. Looked for the body. Just like today, people reacted to this ridiculous claim, and set about to prove it wrong. And nobody could, and many, like, many today, looked at the evidence and had to say “I believe”. The evidence was so strong that they continued to believe it even as they were arrested, beaten tortured, and killed. The reaction to Christianity was very harsh – yet people still flocked to the new faith in numbers.

Now, you don’t have to believe in the resurrection – but then you’ve got to come up with another explanation as to why thousands of people who could easily disprove the resurrection rather died than give up their faith in Jesus.

The most rational explanation is the one the eyewitnesses give us: Jesus rose from the dead.

And if he rose from the dead, then you and I can live forever.

Jesus can save anyone – even you.

Jesus really died – so that you can have life.

And Jesus really rose again so that you can live forever.

So, what does that mean for me?

First there is hope. Evil and suffering is not the end. It will not be victorious. Death does not have the last laugh. Jesus has beaten death. Life has overcome – and is offered to you.

Second. No matter what you’ve done there is forgiveness. No matter how bad you are, or have been, or even will be – his grace is bigger, his blood has paid the cost, his love can cover you. You are forgiven.

Third. You have to deal with Jesus. You have to humble yourself, and ask for forgiveness. Ask to come under new management. There were two criminals on either side of Jesus. One went on to eternal death. The other two eternal life.

Which one are you?

søndag 20. mars 2016

Life! The New Creation

Revelation 20:7-21:8

MP3 link here

Two weeks ago I was in the car on the way home from Kongsberg – and I was sitting in a long traffic jam – an hour and a half. Now that was an everyday thing in Cape Town, even in Oslo - but in Notodden?
That traffic jam meant something. It meant that something had gone very wrong. And as I finally reached Notodden I saw the reason why: a truck with a damaged front on the left side of the road… and on the right - a car smashed up really badly, front end collapsed. The car had drifted over into the wrong lane and collided head-on with a truck. The driver of the car was killed.

Death sucks. Whether it’s sudden like a car accident, or “expected” after a long life - death is always brutal. And we feel it. It’s a strange thing really. Death is a natural part of things. It’s the circle of life, and all that. But we hate it, we rebel against it.

Dylan Thomas, the Welsh poet, wrote these words:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Is that all there is? Is that what is left to us? To simply shake our fist at death, at hopelessness, to rage against the dying of our light until we snuffed out like a candle burned down to the end?

Actually, yes. That is all there is. Without Christ.

Death is just one of the reminders that something is wrong with the universe that we live in. We rebel against something so natural because for us it feels anything but natural. We fight it with anti-aging products and Artificial Intelligence and Freezing our bodies and anything we can to desperately push back against death. We rage against the dying of the night because we feel – no we KNOW that night should not fall.

And we are right. We were created to life forever. We are eternal creatures, all of us. We have the spark of the divine, you and me, every human being who was ever conceived in their mother’s womb (or in a test tube) – we are eternal creatures.

But we are in a war. We are at war.

1. We are at war

Rev 20:7 When the thousand years come to an end, Satan will be let out of his prison. 8 He will go out to deceive the nations—called Gog and Magog—in every corner of the earth. He will gather them together for battle—a mighty army, as numberless as sand along the seashore. 9 And I saw them as they went up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded God’s people and the beloved city.

The picture here is of a battle. Satan released in order to gather the nations – all the peoples of the world, in a war against God and his people. And this picture of war is one that is used throughout the Bible.

See, we like to think of God as an old kindly man in the sky, long beard, slightly senile – just sort of smiling down on us and going tut tut when bad things happen. Maybe wringing his hands and saying oh dear.

But the Bible’s picture of God – the way God has revealed himself – is something entirely different. He is a warrior, a fighter. He is not smiling kindly down on us, because we are at war with him. He’s more Rambo than Old Man. Armed to the teeth rather than losing his teeth!

We are at war with God. Now rightly enough it was we who declared war on him. We want to decide for ourselves how our life will go. We want to decide what is right and what is wrong. We want to be God in our own lives. In effect, we want him to be dead. Nietzsche even said, defiantly, that God is dead. It appears, however, that Nietzsche is dead. And God is still very much alive.

But that is the cry of the human heart. No God. We are at war.

What is it like to live in a war zone? We’ve heard the stories from the Ukraine, from Syria. I remember my friend 20 years ago telling me stories from Sarajevo as the former Yugoslavia broke up in war.

Life takes on a different flavour. You become kind of numb to the destruction around you. You go to sleep and are surprised when you wake up. You walk outside and see that where your neighbour’s house stood – now there’s just a big hole. The house blown apart by artillery fire. You walk to the shops, hoping that today there’ll be some food there – that someone will have got through the blockade with supplies. Life is a struggle, death around every corner. You barely flinch anymore when you hear the bzzt – thunk of bullets whizzing overhead. You scrounge for food, for water, anything to keep you alive. When you hear the boom-boom of the artillery guns you run for cover, and hunker down, just trying to survive.

And that, for a while, becomes normal life. That’s the way things are. You know there’s a different way to live, but it was so long ago when you lived in freedom, in gladness.

That is what we are like. The entire human race. We live in a spiritual war zone. Some of us have given up and say this is the way things are. Some of us have a sense of that which could be. That which we were made for. We have a longing in our heart for a world that we have never seen. A world without death, without sin, without evil. A world where we belong.

We long for a world at peace with God. But how?

Well, what do you do if you’re in a war you can’t win?
You surrender. You raise the white flag, send your envoys (messengers, diplomat), and ask for mercy.

The problem is, we don’t want to. We are the ones who started the war. And we still think we can win it!

But just look at v9. It’s one of my favourite verses. Because the build-up is for some epic Lord of the Rings style battle. V8 the mighty army from every nation numberless. You can see them roaring their victory cry, banging their weapons against their shields “here we come God, we’re coming for you!”. And then… nothing. No epic battle. No charge of glory. No once more into the breach men. This seemingly great and powerful army is not at all a threat to God. Our rebellion is nothing, a mere inconvenience, an annoyance. V9 But fire from heaven came down on the attacking armies and consumed them. And then everyone was thrown into the lake of fire. Like you brush a bug off your shoulders.

We cannot win this war. Our rebellion is a joke. But because we’re locked into sin – that is wanting to be God – we cannot surrender, we will not surrender. But we cannot win. We’re fighting an unwinnable battle. Things will just get worse and worse. So what do we do? Well, because WE wouldn’t send an envoy of peace, God, in his mercy, sent HIS envoy of peace.

Dear friends, this is why the gospel means good news. Momentous, huge, good news.

2. God’s has sent an envoy of peace

21:5 And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” 6 And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. 7 All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

The one on the throne, God, says that he is making all things new. He says it is finished! He says whoever is thirsty can receive freely the water of life, and then that anyone victorious – those who overcome will inherit the blessing – the blessing of being with him. Not at war, but as children, part of the family. Closer you cannot get.

This is what Jesus did. These are his words, his actions. He was the envoy of peace from God to us: his own Son. We heard John 3:16 last week, those famous words that God loved the world so much he sent his only son… not to judge the world, but to save it.
Every Christmas we read the story of Jesus’ birth (Juleevangeliet). What do the angels announce to the shepherds in the fields: Glory to God in the Highest and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased. (Luke 2:14) Jesus’ birth announces peace, announces a way out of war, a way to be made right with God, a way to regain the reality that we lost when we went to war with God.

It is finished because the cost of making peace has been paid, not by us, but by God himself. Peace costs. Peace comes at a price. War crimes need to be judged. Restitution needs to be paid. Someone needs to answer for the evil that was done.
Those words “It is finished” are the words Jesus cried out on the cross, as Jesus gave his own life so that he could bring peace. He paid the crimes of war – our war, in order to bring the war to an end. It is like the captain falling on a grenade to save his men. Or more like the enemy soldier rushing forward and falling on the grenade to save his enemies. Who would do this? Only God. Only God has love even for his enemies. He paid the cost.

A few weeks ago we read the story of the siege of Jerusalem in Isaiah 36. The great and powerful Assyrian army surrounded Jerusalem. But they didn’t attack. No. They sent envoys – representatives, diplomats – to see if they could negotiate a surrender without a fight. “Surrender now, and we’ll look after you. No one can save you. Don’t fight. Don’t throw away your lives on a lost cause, a battle you cannot win.”

Jesus is God’s envoy, and it is his message today: don’t throw away your lives on a lost cause, on a battle you cannot win. Surrender to me. Seek peace. I will look after you.

And unlike human beings, when God makes a promise to look after us if we surrender to him, he means it. He really does look after his people. There is not hidden agenda, no trick, no bait and switch, no small print.

God has sent an envoy of peace, Jesus, to us, his enemies. And to those who accept, those who surrender their lives to him, he promises a new life, a new hope, yes, a new creation. Look, I am making everything new He says in verse 5. And he’s not joking.

3. The New Creation

21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” 5 And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!”

This is a picture of eternal life. Not sitting around on clouds strumming harps – good grief that sounds deathly boring. But it is a fantastic place to live. A city buzzing with life, with vitality. It is life at its best! And God will be there, amongst us. We will see our saviour’s face – face-to-face. No more sin, no more suffering. No car accidents. No dementia or cancer or war or theft or terrorism or worries about life. No tears or crying or pain. All gone forever. Everything is renewed.

It is this world, this universe, rebooted, restarted, restored, redeemed. This was just the cover and the title page. The new creation is Chapter One of the Great Neverending story, where every chapter is better than the last.
This is the shadowlands – that is the real country. The Real Country our heart longs for. The real country we were made for.

Revelation continues like this, describing the heavenly city of the new creation 21 The twelve gates were made of pearls—each gate from a single pearl! And the main street was pure gold, as clear as glass. 22 I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. 24 The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. 25 Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. 26 And all the nations will bring their glory and honour into the city.

It is life with God, in his presence, in his holiness, without fear, for we have been made holy. This is a gift, what Christ has done. There is no-one in heaven who will say “this is what I have done” or “I did it my way”. No. This is what God has done. All glory to Him.

He is the Light, the sun and the moon. And the best of this world will be in the new creation. All the good things that are and have ever been and will ever be in this world – the best things of this world: they will be there - but better. Perfect. From every nation, every tribe, every people group and culture – the best of us will be there and it will all be giving glory to God.

And as we look around us we will see – ah, that which we loved so dearly here on earth we loved because it was a shadow, a picture, a reflection of the real thing here in the New Creation.

This is the hope of Christianity. A preacher called Mark Driscoll put it like this “For non-Christians this life is the best it will ever be. For those saved by Christ’s mercy, this life is the worst it will ever be.”

There is a great secure hope. The world we were made for. Jesus has come to bring this message: THE WAR HAS ENDED! Amnesty for all. Freedom for all.

Let me end by using a picture of the gospel. Here we are – people. And we have declared war on God. That is sin. We have turned our back on God. We have made a huge distance between us and God – so big that we cannot cross, even if we wanted to.
Here is God – the new creation. This is what we were made for, what our heart longs for. When we catch a glimpse of the shadow of heaven, of God, our hearts long for it. This is what we were made for. And he is a God of mercy, so instead of just blotting us out like we deserve – he sends his envoy, his messenger, his own Son, Jesus, to bridge the gap.

Now, where are you on this picture?

You may be here saying. Yes, I am a sinner. I’ve made a mess of things. I surrender.
You might be thinking “But I’m a good person” And you might be. Maybe that’s why you’re here this morning. There was a good man called Cornelius and the Bible says “his good deeds have come up before God” – so God sent Peter to him to share the gospel. Your good deeds might be the reason you are here this morning. God has had mercy on you by bringing you here so that you can hear the gospel and respond to it. Your good deeds are not enough. You alone cannot make peace with God.

Or maybe you have surrendered your life to Jesus. You may be filled with joy and excitement. I am! What a future. And you know what. That future is now. We already know God. He is with us every step of the way. The Spirit is with us. He looks after us. He keeps us secure in Christ. What blessings now! But then! Oh then! Face to face. Come Lord Jesus, Come!