The following is a small taster of what I believe. I wish I could convey to you the richness and the beauty of this gospel (which just means ‘good news’). I don’t have the words, and perhaps it isn’t something that I could ever hope to do for you in full, but I want to share what I can with you here and now.
Someone wise said that sharing the gospel was like ‘one beggar telling another beggar where to get bread’. I know that I am that beggar. I know that I can’t answer all the questions I have about life by looking inside myself. But I know where to get bread. I know what hope is and I know who hope is. It has changed my life, and I know that if it can do that for me it can do that for you too.
I am now going to take you through the key parts of this gospel as clearly and as briefly as I can. We start with God.
Who is God?
God is Love. He created this world because of love, through love and He continues to love every day.
God is Holy. God is holy because he is love. From the glimpses of love that we know of from our own lives, we know that love is good. Pure love is purely good, and what is purely good is purely holy. God then, is goodness in its entirety, the most pure good.
God is Just. I am yet to meet a person who is able to truly regard the moral good and moral bad as only preferences. There is something that cries out in each one of us when we see wrongdoing that goes beyond being upset or emotional – it is something that cries out ‘injustice’. God is the source of justice and the denouncer of injustice.
Where do we fit in with that?
When I look at the world around me, I do not see a world that is just. I see the inequality in my own country where the top 20% have 84% of the wealth and the bottom 40% have 0.4% of the wealth. I see child brides, domestic violence, flooding, malnutrition, sickness, and a world in which the average stay in a refugee camp is 17 years.
I see brokenness.
It’s a brokenness that I see in my own life. For however much I understand of what love is, what goodness is, and what justice is, it doesn’t take 30 seconds of reflection at the end of the day to know that my thoughts and actions have not been all of those things. Thoughts that reflect a self-interested heart. Moments in which I chose not to pay someone my whole attention in a conversation. Impatience with someone that means well. In myself I see more brokenness.
Where does this leave us?
When I look at the world I want an explanation. I want a recognition for injustice. A God that is just corresponds to the recognition of injustice, He is the standard by which we recognize what is good and what is evil. A God who is just offers condemnation and declamation of injustice. But I also want an answer for suffering: where could a God of love be in that? Why sickness? Why death?
And when I look at myself, I realise that I don’t know how I could stand before a God that is wholly good. I know – I can feel – the shame of being around someone whose good character exposes mine for what it is. Have you ever been caught off-guard by someone deeply good? Someone who has inadvertently drawn attention to an unkindness or lack of generosity on your part, simply by being themselves? I have. Embarrassment and mortification swiftly follow. I can’t imagine what sort of contrast would reveal itself if I were to be compared to One who was wholly good. I imagine the resulting shame would leave a gulf, an awful sort of distance, between me and that kind of goodness.
This leaves me in a very difficult place: I look inside myself and I see problems I do not have answers to. But then I look elsewhere towards something which could provide answers – the possibility of a just and good God. I find myself asking whether I would want to relate to a God who created and presides over a world of injustice and suffering. And if I did want to, I ask how I could relate to this God if I am so distanced from him by shame, shame because of who I am and what I’ve done.
How does Jesus fit into this?
If God is a God of justice and goodness, I know that I would have things to answer to. And I know that I would have no defence. I cannot recover the distance between us: Him, the ultimate good – completely holy; me, full of shame for all the ways I fall short of goodness. There’s nothing I can do to make things right.
Here steps in a God of love.
A God that wants to make himself known to us, to be connected with us. And because we cannot get to God, God comes to us. He comes to earth. He joins in with the business of being human and messy and part of a world of suffering. Even when our suffering is bewildering, it is a suffering that is shared in by God. A God who can say ‘I know your pain’, because he knows the grief of friends dying, betrayal and rejection by those close to him, and the humiliation of a criminal’s death on the cross.
And this – the crucifixion – the death of God in Jesus dying on a cross, provides the answers to the questions we find ourselves asking.
Why does Jesus have to die? Because God is still a God of justice. In the ancient world, God’s people would provide the purest animal they could find to be sacrificed for them. Their sins – all their wrongdoing, all their shame – would be put onto this pure creature – usually a newborn lamb – and the lamb, bearing their sin and shame, would be punished instead of the person who committed the wrongdoing. Sounds barbaric perhaps, but injustice and sin are things God wants us to take seriously – so something has to take the punishment for that sin. Instead of us, the lamb would suffer the penalty, and we would walk away free and pure once more.
Have you ever heard anyone refer to Jesus as the Lamb of God? It’s because, in Jesus, God sent the ultimate lamb – the purest creature of all – one who is completely good. And only a completely good sacrifice, dying in the place of the world and all its injustice, pays the price once and for all.
This is where we see that God is truly a God of Love. Love expresses itself by paying the ultimate price of death, even though there is no duty or obligation to do so.
Jesus died for us. God chose to die for us so that that distance could be bridged – so we would have a chance to know Him. A chance to find life if we want it, because the punishment for all our injustice has been paid. And because death has been overcome through the power of God: three days after Jesus died for our sins, he came back from the dead. He overcame that ultimate final barrier of darkness. We are living with the certain hope that ‘it is finished’: love wins out, and justice will be done. Living as we were made to live, knowing God personally.
And Jesus died knowing that we may not want to know Him. We are given that choice.
What does knowing God mean?
I don’t know what you consider your greatest need to be, but I would like to challenge you that in knowing God you will find that need answered.
If what you want is connection, it is here on offer. Be loved deeper that the pop culture trope of two people craving to possess each other. Be loved in the way that is being fully known, by One who will not let you down and whose love for you is unending and unchanging. Be loved by One who has given everything of themselves for you without demanding anything in return.
If what you want is rest and peace, it is here on offer. If you want fulfilment, it is here. Jesus says, ‘Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest’. He promises us peace ‘that surpasses understanding’. Life is tiring and painful. It wears you out. It’s puzzling and bewildering at times. And there is the offer of peace from that. I never knew peace until I knew Jesus. Real peace comes with the presence and power of his Holy Spirit – the strength of certain hope beyond anything the world can offer.
If what you want is to know why you’re here, and if you want an answer to death, it is here on offer. Do you matter? Yes. Infinitely much. You are loved so much that the One who is ultimately good was willing to step in on your behalf just so that you have the chance to know him.
Is there an answer to death? Yes. There is life. Life in all of its fullness, and life beyond what we see here. There is a really beautiful expression used in the book Ecclesiastes which talks about ‘eternity in the human heart’. I think we share an intuition that there is more than just what we can see, and I reckon we have that intuition for a reason.
A decision to be made
We all have to make a choice about our lives. No one gets to ‘opt out’ of deciding what they want their life to be about. Spend a moment looking at your bank statement, or your weekly schedule – what are you prioritising? What does your life revolve around? You are making choices every single day.
Quite a lot hinges on these choices, for it is in these day to day prioritisations that we either choose or reject God. If everything I have said about Jesus is true, then there is a chance to know God – to experience answers to prayer, to find the peace and joy that is promised in scripture, for your entire worldview to change.
If it isn’t true, then life can keep on going just has it has been going for you up until this point. Nothing will change.
I think this is true, and so while I’d honestly be sad if you look into who Jesus is and decide that you don’t think it’s true (or that it’s true but you don’t want your life to change) I would so much rather that you did this than never looked into what Jesus offers at all.
Please consider that this is too important a thing for you to just sit on the fence. Because I am a beggar who has found where to get bread. And if you know yourself to be a beggar too, then please – come, share in this bread that I have found.
If you have more questions….
Ask – I am always happy to chat, we can go out for coffee, or read an account of Jesus’ life (in any of the gospels, Matthew/Mark/Luke/John) with you! And if you’re in Cambridge? Well, next week there are exciting things happening as part of the REAL week which I am sure will probably not have escaped your attention….
Lunchtime Talks (inc. lunch!)- 1.10pm-1.50pm, St Andrew’s Baptist Church
Monday – Does it matter what I think?
Tuesday – Jesus: myth, man or more?
Wednesday – Evidence: did Jesus rise from the dead?
Thursday – Suffering: where is God in my pain?
Friday – are all religions the same?
Evening Talks (live music, interviews and talk, food+drink) – 8-915pm, St Andrew’s Baptist
Monday – Real news: the disgraced cabinet minister.
Tuesday – Real love: a laughing stock.
Wednesday – Real change: the mafia boss.
Thursday – Real life: a sceptic convinced.
Friday – Real hope: can you change the world?
Please let me know when you’re free because I’d love to go with you!
And finally, if you’ve read all this, thank you so much for getting to the bottom! I am impressed!